As I write this, I am in Banff awaiting the start of the 2018 Tour Divide to start on June 8th. I've been spending the last couple of days getting acclimatized to the altitude, checking out my bicycle and generally over-obsessing over the last little details. There has been a lot of "should I bring this", "should I bring that" thoughts going through my head. I have to be careful as my bike is already at about 75 pounds (34kg) fully loaded.
These last few days have also allowed me to better test out my equipment as it will be in the race. I've been camping at Two Jack lake above Banff. Last night the temperature went down to about freezing and it gave me a good sense of a cold night on the trail. That definitely had me wondering if I need more clothes but I do have lots of layers and in the worst case, I'll just put everything on! As it turns out, the weather is looking spectacularly good. On most previous races, it has rained, snowed, hailed and lightning stormed on the first day. Keeping my fingers crossed.
The first night will likely be spent at Round Prairie, BC, a spot on the map a few kilometres north of Elkford, BC. As far as I can tell, there is nothing there other than a right turn up a trail called Koko Claims. Reaching Round Prairie will be a really good first day for me (~175 km/110 miles) and a lot of climbing.
From the sounds of it, Koko Claims will likely be the biggest physical challenge of the whole race. It's about 8 km (5 miles) up a steep, mostly dry, and rocky creek bed. Over the last winter, there were a number of avalanches that crossed that route so we will have to drag our bikes through that debris. Recent reports are that it will take at least 6 hours to move that short distance so I want to start that climb first thing in the morning of the second day. If I'm lucky, I'll make it to Fernie, BC by the end of the second day. That's another 87 km (54 miles) after reaching the top of Koko Claims. It's mostly downhill but it sounds like it is fairly technical in places so day two will likely be pretty long.
From Fernie, I'd like to make it into the US and reach Eureka, MT. That is 190 km (118 miles) with 2600 meters (8500 feet) of climbing and includes a short bit of trail that has been called "the wall". That seems overly optimistic. More likely I'll end up staying at Wigwag campground, about 119 km (74 miles) from Fernie and the cross into the US the next day.
I haven't thought through the route much beyond the US border. Weather, my knees, and my own conditioning will have a big say in my pace. I am trying to camp for most of the route but I will take advantage of motels and other lodgings if/when I come across it at the end of the day. There will likely be a lot of days where I will just pull off the trail and pitch my tent on a flat bit of ground.
Once the race starts, I won't likely be updating this blog until after I've finished. There really won't be much time or internet access for me to do much. I will try, after getting home, to back post my thoughts on the race. I'm also carrying a GoPro camera with lots of batteries and SD cards. It will be interesting to see how much of a filmmaker that I will become.
About 10 days ago, while on a weekend test ride, I fell off my bike going down a steep, rocky, washed out forestry road. I skinned my elbow and banged my knee. It didn’t seem too bad but the pain in my knee was worrying. I’ve had this same pain a couple of times over the last few of years. The doctor suggested that it was the beginning of arthritis and that I could mostly just keep riding if it came up. Luckily, it hasn’t really bothered me much for a couple of years. I was worried about it when I rode across Canada in 2012 but my knees worked flawlessly the whole trip.
To help make sure the knee wouldn’t be an issue, I didn’t do any training rides over those 10 days and only did light “running errands” rides around town just to see how the knee was doing. The pain mostly went away and I felt like this was only going to be a short term issue.
Yesterday morning, I started my ride to Banff. The idea was to give myself a good warm up for the Tour Divide and make sure that I could "hit the ground running” from day 1 of the race. It was also to counteract the effects of not training over the last 10 days.
Unfortunately, from almost the first peddle stroke, the knee pain was there. I stopped a couple of times to give the knee a rest, hoping for a “reset” but the pain would come back pretty quickly once I started riding again. The pain was manageable so I keep riding. My route took me on road up to Cultus Lake where I started the cross country portion of the ride and it the forestry roads. That was about 110 km into the ride with about another 110 km of forestry roads to make it to Hope where I expected to spend the night.
The forestry roads were not particularly difficult at this point but it was becoming increasingly evident that the pain was getting worse and I wasn’t going to have the power in that leg to get up the much more difficult trails on the east side of Chilliwack Lake. Even if I “powered through”, there was no way I was going to get to Hope by evening. In itself, that wasn’t a problem. I had the equipment to camp anywhere. But what about the next day?
I considered backtracking a bit and heading to Hope via paved roads. Maybe the easier pavement would let my knee settle down. I turned around, heading back towards Cultus Lake and then back towards Yarrow. The knee wasn’t getting any better, in fact, it was getting worse. It was locking up and the pain was really getting bad, even if I peddled only with the other leg. I decided to start heading home and was hoping to make it to Surrey so that I could catch the Skytrain home. Even that was too much so Rochelle drove out and picked me up in Abbotsford.
So what to do now? The Tour Divide starts in 13 days. I could take it easy, hope the knee heals, and give it a shot. One problem with that is that I’d be starting a 4400 km race with having almost no training in the month beforehand. Also, from experience, this knee issue has taken months to really heal so it seem unlikely that even that amount of time off would do solve the problem.
So it looks like the Tour Divide is off for me, at least for this year. It’s incredibly disappointing. I’ve spend about 8 months training and preparing for this event. Up until that fall, I was feeling really good about a successful race. Our whole summer was built around this so there is a lot to reevaluate.
My default feeling is that I will aim at trying this again next June but I’m going to have a deeper look into the knee problem before then.
On May 20, 2012, I began a cross North America bicycle tour from Vancouver, BC to St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was a huge challenge but it turned out to be one of the most rewarding things that I have done in my life. Within weeks of finishing in St. John’s, I began longing to get back out on another long ride. That longing has not gone away but it’s difficult to top an 8500 km transcontinental bicycle tour.
In June, 2014, I stumbled across TourDivde.org, a website dedicated to a 4400 km, single stage, bicycle race from Banff, Alberta to the Mexico/New Mexico border staying close to the Continental Divide, mostly within the Rocky Mountains. This follows The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route that is the world's longest off road cycling route. This race is held once a year beginning on the second Friday in June (June 12th this year). As it turned out, I found about it just a couple of days before last year’s race began so I could follow it. I immediately had a “this is what I’m looking for” feeling and started to think about possibly entering into the race for 2015.
When you see “Tour Divide Bicycle Race” one might immediately think about the Tour de France or other “tour of” races and the circuses that accompany them. The Tour Divide is the complete antithesis of this. There is virtually no organization, no course workers, none at the finish line, just a website that contains the rules and a leaderboard for tracking the participants via a satellite GPS system. The rules are pretty straight forward. You are on your own! You cannot have any help along the way although you can purchase stuff from any normal stores on the route. You can’t even have help from other participants in the race. You have to be self-sufficient. While not strictly a rule, everyone carries a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger that updates your position on a map every few minutes. This helps everyone to be able to keep track of where everyone else is but more importantly, is a safety system. There are long sections that without any services or cellphone coverage that can take days to cross so being able to summon help is important.
So I am seriously considering entering the Tour Divide on June 12, 2015 starting out in Banff Alberta. I’ve kept up my cycling throughout the fall and starting in the New Year, I’ve started seriously training for it. This is a “single stage” race, which means your time starts when you leave Banff and the clock doesn’t stop until you reach the border crossing at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. You stop to sleep and eat when you have to but mostly you just ride, day and night. The record for the trip is a bit over 14 days. I am expecting it to take me more like 4 weeks of riding 16 hours a day. The route is almost all “off road” following dirt roads and trails that cross the Continental Divide 22 times — think mountain passes — and amount to about 60,000 meters of climbing.
I am currently planning trying to figure out what take with me. I have to figure out the right kind of bike, camping gear, clothing, tools, parts, food, water storage, lights, electronics, batteries and bags to mount it all to the bike. It’s got to be light, rugged, waterproof and handle every kind of weather (snow, rain winds, hot sun).
Many call this the toughest bicycle race in the world. It will be a huge challenge for me but I do think that I have at least a reasonable chance to complete the route, just not in any record time!
Riding across Canada was not actually a dream that I have had. It was less defined than that. Over the years, I have often read about people making this trip and was amazed at the scale of the challenge. For me, this wasn't a dream because it was never something that I thought that I could do.
What changed that was a combination of two things. First, Rochelle had stated, in no uncertain terms, that we were going to do something amazing for my 50th birthday. She had a number of great ideas but instead of just springing one of them on me, she thought that I should have a say in what it was. So she told me about them last summer. The one idea that really stuck with me was a trip to England for a weekend of racing various exotic cars including a F1 car! After a few laps at a local go-cart track, I realized that I can make myself quite sick in high G-force turns. I had to find something else.
In November, I happened across a website for Brek Boughton who had just started a bicycle journey. Not just across Canada but from Vancouver to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean and back again. In the winter! Unsupported! Following his blog was astonishing. I would never have thought that anyone could do that. One little bit of information that I got from his blog was that he had ridden from Vancouver to Halifax a couple of years ago. It struck me, at that moment, that I could do something like that. After a couple of days researching and reading about others that have done similar trips, I could not find any really good reason why I couldn't make the trip.
I started training in December. I have almost always ridden a bicycle. I was doing some pretty long day rides 20 years ago and even did a couple of multi-day trips. Knee problems and surgery derailed me for many years but over the last 5 years, I have been doing more riding. My training involved increasing the frequency and length of rides. By April, I was riding 4-5 days a week and 50-90 km per day. On April 1, I did the Pacific Populaire ride and put in 120 km that day. It was a hard day but it showed me that I could do 100 km days. I still wasn't sure I could do that for 6 days a week.
At first, I was going to make the trip on my own, carrying everything that I needed on my bike. That would have been so much harder but I am sure that I could have done it. As it turned out, Rochelle ended up being able to take the summer off and we hatched the idea that she would drive a support vehicle to lighten the load on me and we could experience this adventure together.
To be complete, here is what yesterday's ride was like. I left the hurricane damaged camground at about 9:00 am and took a short cut via a fire road to the Transcanada highway. I could have ridden all the way in on the TCH but there was a more interesting way. After about 8 km, I hit the intersection with highway 90 that took me north to highway 60, Conception Bay highway. Like many back roads I've travelled, this was a relatively quiet road that wound though little villages and along the ocean. It was quite beautiful although there were a lot of hills and some pretty good headwinds. At least, the promised rain did not hit.
There was one last really big and busy hill that I had to climb and then it was downhill into St. John's. Our first stop was the Mile 0 Marker, which for some reason did not say it was the Mile 0 Marker. This was followed by the traditional "dip the bicycle wheel into the Atlantic" at a little harbour called Quidi Vidi Harbour just north of St. John's Harbour. St. John's Harbour is too industrial to accomplish this other than lowering my bicycle off a dock with a rope.
We followed that with champagne, a nice traditional Newfoundlander dinner and a stay in a wonderful B&B near downtown.
It seems like such an enormous thing as I think about it. But while on the road, I was just focusing on the next town, the next corner in the road or the crest of the next hill. I still don't think that I've switched from dealing with the details of each day or moment to looking back at the trip as a whole. I am sure that will come on the drive home or even after we get back to Vancouver in a couple of weeks. We still have to get back home. Driving VanGo back to Vancouver will be its own kind of adventure!
While there are likely to be more posts here as we return to Vancouver and even after that, they will be less frequent. I have a couple of topics that I'd like to write about that there never seemed to be time for while on the road.
I really appreciate all the people that followed this blog and all of the email messages, Facebook comments and words of encouragement. I am truly surprised that so many found interest in our little adventure!
Exactly 16 weeks elapsed time,
Distance: 8,410 km (5,226 mi),
81 days of cycling
VanGo drove 11,831 km (7,351 mi)
The second last day of the ride! I can't really believe that I am here. I feel like I could coast the rest of the way.
It was supposed to be sunny all day but we did not see the sun until just shortly before sunset. Instead, it was cold with low hanging clouds, fog and very "wet air". It didn't rain but I still got very wet riding through this foggy, wet air. It was also a very hilly day with mild headwinds throughout the day.
We had originally planned a shorter day for today but we realized that would leave a 125 km day on the last day into St. John's. It seemed like it would be better to have a shorter day on the last day so we could enjoy the arrival more and savour those moments longer. Instead of the 90 km ride, the next campground was at 144 km.
After all of the warning about moose, I finally saw one:
It was a real grind today with the bad weather, hills and wind. I was really wiped out when I arrived and my legs were really sore. I've pushed really hard these last few days. They have been long and challenging.
But we are here! Just one "lazy" day of about 70 km or so and I will be dipping my tire into the Atlantic. I was first going to do this at Cape Spear but from Google Maps, it looks like a pretty rocky shore. St. John's harbour is too industrial to really do this either so we will stop in a little place just on the north side of St. John's called Quidi Vidi Harbour where there is a little boat ramp that we can just drive down. I found another cyclist online who described doing this.
We are just enjoying a nice little fire while working on our computers. The campground that we are in had just one free spot but it had no services. The hurricane last week wiped out a lot of the electricity and the washrooms and showers are not working. It's interesting that a whole campground can be happy without washrooms. Almost all other campers here are in massive trailers and fifth-wheels so they have their own facilities.
I got an early start today and was on the road by 8:30 am. I felt amazing! I had a big grin on my face as I hit the Transcanada Highway.
Unfortunately, about 10 km into the ride, I ran over something big and sharp and cut a 2 cm slice right across my rear tire. There was a bang and suddenly, I was riding on the rim. The tire was ruined. Well, that was the tire that just yesterday I realized needed to be replace anyway. I sent a message to Rochelle and then tried to see if I could fix it. The tire itself was ruined but I thought I could fix it well enough to get some additional distance before Rochelle arrived with another tire. My first thought was to use a tube patch to cover the inside of the slice but when I opened up my patch kit, my glue had gone dry and my two backup patch kits were not there.
Plan B was a little radical. I ate one of my protein bars and put the metallized plastic wrapper into the tire and installed a new tube. I pumped it up to about 50 psi (I normally use 95 psi). The tire was firm enough to ride but the "patch" was not bulging through the cut. It worked remarkably well with the only problem being a slight bump due to the lack of structure holding the tire together at that point. I think that I could have gone quite a distance on that although I was being careful to not got too fast.
Eventually, Rochelle caught up to me and I replaced that tire with the the one that I had cut a couple of weeks ago. That cut wasn't too bad but the tire was fairly worn so I just replaced it at the time. In this case, a big tube patch on the inside made it perfectly usable until I can replace it with a new one, likely in St. John's. The ride will be over but I still need to be able to ride that bike.
Rochelle made a couple of stops about an hour's ride ahead of me, waiting for me to make sure that my tire was working out. After lunch, she continued on to our destination campground.
Beyond the drama of a tire blowout, the road today was very hilly. There was a continuous succession of very long and steep hills that seemed to become even longer while going through Terra Nova National Park. Most people will likely remember Terra Nova for its beautiful forest and ocean coastlines. I will remember it for grinding up its long hills.
Once out of Terra Nova, the hills became more manageable but there was still 30 km left to go and I arrived at the campground just as the sun was ducking down into the trees. 130 km of that kind of terrain really drains you!
Well, there are just two days of cycling left! Only 225 km to Cape Spear, just outside of St. John's and the furthest point east in Newfoundland, Canada and North America, if you don't count Greenland. (Did you know Greenland is a part of North America? I didn't until just recently.) We are now trying to figure out where we will stop tomorrow night. There are two campgrounds, one is a little too close and the other is a little too far. I guess my legs might make the decision tomorrow!
Today was a bit more reasonable in terms of distance. "Just" 98 km from Grand Falls to Gander. I hadn't really recovered from yesterday's ride so today was not as energetic. Even so, I covered the distance in just over 4 hours so I was still moving pretty well. For the first half of the day I had tail winds and the last half, it was mostly head and cross winds. While it was really cold last night, it warmed up quickly. I was glad to have ice in my water bladder today. Today, when we reached our campgound, it was open!
It was fairly uneventful riding along side of the TransCanda Highway (abbreviated TCH here in Newfoundland) today. Someone played the General Lee horn sound (Dukes of Hazard) for me as they went by. I get lots of what I think are positive honks. I wonder if this is a common sight for people driving along the TCH? I have seen 3 other long distance cyclists in Newfoundland. That's not a lot but then it's a bit late in the season for doing this. Two of them were heading west! I hope that they weren't going too far.
In looking over my tires tonight, I see that my rear tire will need to be replaced soon. It will make it to the end of the ride but just. It had about 5,500 km on it. The previous tire lasted just about as long.
Early in the day, I passed the 8,000 km (4,971 miles) point of the trip. I now have only about 350 km to go! 3 more days. Steve Langston, who wrote the book "Canada by Bicycle" did this bit in 4 days although he was self supported.
I can't believe that there are only 3 more days!
Wow that was a long day.
We took it easy yesterday while waiting for hurricane Leslie to pass. It turned out to be not such a bad day after the rain stopped at about 1pm. There was actually worse weather the day before.
It was really cold over night so we got moving kind of slowly but I managed to away at my typical time of about 9:30 am. It was a blue sky with almost no clouds in the sky and a breeze from the west to push me. The route had me going predominately east so the breeze was really nice. By time time that Rochelle had caught me for lunch, I had already covered 82 km and it was only 1:15 pm. We had expected to camp near South Brook, about 128 km from last night's campground but at our lunch break I was feeling so good, we checked to see if there was some place further that I could get to. We decided to meet up at South Brook and decide but the next campground was at about 172 km.
At South Brook, it was 4:00 pm and I was still feeling full of energy so I decided to go for Catamaran Park campground. The road turns south at South Brook and the next 35 km seemed to be all up hill with a bit of a head wind as the winds shifted to the sourtheast. Finally, in the last 5 km or so before the park, there were some slight downhills to ease me into the end of the day.
I arrived at Catamaran Park at about 7:00 pm to find VanGo sitting at a locked gate. The campground was supposed to be open for another couple of weeks but I guess no one told the owners. We were left trying to figure out what to do. I decided I still had something left in my legs and there was still light so I headed off and covered most of the distance (26 km) to Grand Falls-Windsor by the time Rochelle caught up to me and picked me up. We drove about 5 km to the only "open" campground in Grand Falls-Windsor only to find it closed too. So we are spending another night in a Walmart parking lot. Good thing there was a Walmart here!
So today I actually rode two days distance, 198 km. Endomondo said I burned 8300 calories today! I guess we will be getting to St. John's a day early!
I rode roughly 200 km in a day a couple of times about 18 years ago but nothing nearly this far since. This may be my longest day ever. Surprisingly, I don't feel all that bad. The rest day before helped, I'm sure.
Tomorrow will be a relatively easy 100 km to Gander. It will likely be done more slowly after the energy output today. There are a couple of campgrounds in that area but there is also another Walmart as backup!
The wind really howled over night. There is a small hole in the popup tent part of VanGo's roof and the wind was blowing right through that and onto me. It got me a bit wet when it was also raining. The variable wind, rain and wave sounds kept waking me up so it was really hard to drag myself out of bed.
By the time I got going, it was raining again. It rained almost the whole day except for a bit around the time that I stopped for lunch. I was drenched for most of the day but it was fairly warm so I wasn't cold. I think that this is the leading edge of hurricane Leslie that should hit tomorrow.
The terrain was very hilly today. Between Stephenville and Corner Brook the road rose considerably and then had a lot of hills followed by a long drop into Corner Brook. The highway does not quite go down into Corner Brook but runs around the edge of a mountain and then starts to rise up again. It was very strange that for a 2-3 km stretch, the air temperature dropped considerably. I was concerned that if the air temperature stayed that cold, it would make it difficult later in the ride. But once I was a little ways away from Corner Brook I hit a wall of warmer air (and more rain!) I guess that cold air was coming in off of the ocean.
The road did the same slow rise to a hilly plateau followed by a drop into Deer Lake and our campground for the night. This is where you would drive north up to Viking Trail. I'd like to go up there but would add another 1000 km to the ride. Maybe another time!
We have had constant rain all evening and there is an expectation that hurricane Leslie will hit Newfoundland tomorrow. It shouldn't be so windy where we are but I expect a lot of rain. I've already done one day of riding in the tail end of a hurricane (Isaac, last week) so I'm not all that excited to do it again. I have ridden the last 8 days straight (4 that were very rainy) without much of a break other than the ferry ride so we will likely take tomorrow off. That will leave us with about 650 km and 6 days of riding before reaching our goal!
Because the last couple of days have been so rainy and Internet connectivy has not been good, I've not shown many pictures from Newfoundland so here is a selection from the first 3 days on "The Rock".
This sign pretty much sums up the rest of the trip.
Sunset over the Gulf of St. Lawrence:
One of the oddest things seen all trip: Septic tanks with cartoon characters!
And a Rainbow:
I got a late start again this morning. This time it was setting up the new Koodo phone (on the Telus network) that I will carry because our Fido phones are just about useless here. It wasn't working when I left but by about 1 pm, it started working. It's actually a nice little phone.
One thing that I learned today is not to trust the weather forecasts here!
It was really windy, gusting up to 65 km/h! It looked like that wind would mostly be behind me but not always. As I got going, I realized that it was hitting me mostly as cross winds and the first 2 hours of riding were really tough. The weather did not forecast rain but after about 30 minutes of riding it started raining. The sun was still out so for at least an hour I was getting rained on but still had warm sun and a beautiful rainbow off to my left, lower down in a valley. Eventually, the road turned more northernly, the wind was more behind me but I was also moving under some really dark clouds. I had no rain gear with me. Luckily, just before the rain really started to get bad, I heard the rumblings and anaemic horn of VanGo. I put on more rain gear, made plans to meet Rochelle for lunch at a gas station (almost the only civilization on the route today).
We were low on food so we ate at a gas station restaurant. Not the best meal I've ever had!
The afternoon dried out and warmed up so off went the rain gear again. The winds were not so gusty and were tail winds as often as cross winds so I made some pretty good time.
All in all, the roads today reminded me a lot of those in British Columbia. Lots of long hills in wooded terrain with big bodies of water and mountains to look at.
We are staying at a small, unserviced provincial campground. It is really nice and would be even nicer in warmer weather. Our camp spot backs onto a beach on a small lake and there is another beach/lake just across from us. And only $15/night!
The winds are howling outside and rain is in the forecast. In fact, the next two days look like rain, with Tuesday's forecast as “Heavy Rain”. I'm not looking forward to that! If that actually happens, I might take another rest day and wait it out.
Getting Internet access has been really tough since we arrived in Newfoundland. So posts might not be all that timely in the next few days.