I was woken by my alarm somewhere near 6am. Race start is usually 8am from the front of the YWCA where I was staying. To say I was a mess of nerves and utter disbelief in myself was an understatement. I jogged round the room desperately trying to trip and do myself an injury good enough for an excuse to go home.
I realised that I was absolutely not ready for this ride at all. Not enough planning, not enough training and massively intimidated by the riders around me who all looked much fitter and better prepared.
I hated the preamble of group photo, Larry’s pep talk and general mulling around. I just wanted to get on with it and seal my fate which felt like a DNF after 50 miles.
I chatted to nobody and made the massive mistake of weighing my bike on a set of scales that had been left lying around. 53lbs, oh shit. I was definitely going to die hauling that weight all the way to Mexico.
Finally we were off. Tons of riders headed out to the Goat Creek Trail, I still wasn’t happy as there were too many around me and I wanted some solitude to gather my thoughts. This came quickly. I have no idea how but in minutes the riders had spread out and I was mostly pedalling alone. This allowed me to relax a little and enjoy my surroundings, shed loads of evergreens filling a large river valley with the constant rush of water assaulting my ears.
Some neat singletrack cheered me up a lot. Then my GPS and SPOT Tracker both died within minutes of each other. Piss poor preparation on my behalf as the batteries were flat. I rushed to change them forgetting that this race was days long and these minutes didn’t really matter.
By Spray Lakes Reservoir I was in the groove. Nerves dispelled by easy trails and good weather. I let the first-day-heroes do me on all of the climbs and promised myself to stay out of the red in the name of moving forward.
Dirt roads, singletrack, suspension bridges and ever more isolation saw me on to Boulton Creek Trading post and my first fill-up of the tour. Crazy Larry was there egging us on and another rider greeted me by kicking over my coke. It was comical watching us all rushing about as if the race would finish in an hour. Relax you idiots.
Elk Pass next. Nice and green and “passy” with a picnicking family at the top bemused by the stream of laden riders interrupting their scoff. Then down onto the service road which undulated us for miles and miles towards today’s tricky little problem. Koko Claims. This was about 90 odd miles into the route and was a recent addition. If you wanted to keep mountain bikers off your hill Koko Claims is what you would build. A super steep gully with no escape filled with rocks perfectly graded to turn ankles.
It was hot by the time I got there and the track begins with false hope, an almost rideable gully with the occasional walk. You think to yourself “it’s not that bad, I reckon I could cope with this”. You can’t. I knew the game was up when I spotted Steve Moat sat on some rocks shaking his head and perspiring a lot. He was surrounded by a hell of a lot of rock which went upwards very steeply.
I cursed my way up for hours. Mostly carrying, sometimes dragging the heavy bike over boulders and scree. My early confidence lay in bits at the bottom of the climb as progress became glacial like the ice that had probably formed this route.
A cabin at the top signalled the end of the struggle. I was pretty much done by now but decided to push on until it got dark. I headed towards Fernie on a decent set of tracks. Pretty much alone, pretty battered but starting to feel the “joie de la guerre” already. My route cues told me of a campground 20 miles away and I arrived at the Norboe Creek Recreation area as the light began to wane.
A bench, stream and toilet were present. What more could one ask for so I set up camp and ate a glorious evening meal of squashed, sweaty ham sandwich. Within an hour I was joined by six others. I hardly noticed as the alarm was set for 5am and I’d necked a sleeping tablet.
Day one done. 120 miles and I’d not died. Nothing had broken on the bike but lots of me was sore. I think I was enjoying it, sort of. I was still hugely daunted by the task and didn’t yet feel like a Tour Divide racer. Even though that’s exactly what I had become.