Alarms chimed at approx 5 am around me and bodies arose from tents and bivvys in the pre- dawn as day 2 got underway. A few had already set off. "Wade?", I called. "Yo", came a reply from a tent. We were almost the last to leave from about 8 who'd camped together, a few more joining during the night. The early morning roll was downright pleasant compared to the horrors of the night before. And roll we did, for a long time. One quickly learns that although the climbs can go on forever, the descents are not insubstantial either. Terrific vistas on either side of a mostly hard packed albeit soggy dirt road.
Before getting to the resupply town of Fernie a climb would have to be negotiated. Early on we rounded a corner and Wade, who was just ahead called "Stop!". I pulled up next to him. About 70 m ahead on the RHS of the trail was a bear. "Safety off" was Wade's next comment. I was fumbling with my camera when I should have been arming my bear spray. The bear was on its hind legs, peering our way for about 5 seconds before making its decision. It turned and high-tailed it down the road for 30 m before diving into the bushes. Awesome! "I thought it was going to charge", Wade confided. The perfect Grizzly encounter, by all accounts. I'd been using my whistle, and Wade his bell, or alternatively calling "Hey Bear", before rounding corners, but this incident confirmed that they were really out there.
The descent into Fernie was a tight and twisty affair on a good surface, just like a technical road descent, and come mid morning we were holed up in a Tim Hortons coffee house on the outskirts of Fernie, and proceeded to eat our way through several iterations of breakfast, charged batteries from wall sockets and grabbed some food to go. Some texts were swapped with Anita to let her know all was OK, and yes, the previous day was as horrendous as riders were reporting.
Another major pass would have to be climbed to complete the re-route back to the original Flathead Valley route. I was climbing a little stronger than Wade and at the top paused to take some pics and noticed some sizeable prints in the mud next to where I'd laid the bike. "Wolf", was Wade's assessment. Wild place indeed. We descended as light rain fell into another incredibly wild valley which junctioned with the route originale. The Flathead valley was pretty sodden, with water covering the entire road in places. The big melt from a bumper northern snow fall was well under way. We had two main passes to cross before leaving Canada and dropping down to the US border. I was keen to get over the first of these, Cabin Pass, that afternoon/evening.
Before embarking on the climb proper, however, Wade pulled up and bid me farewell. He was obviously having a few issues he wanted to attend to, and I suspect wanted to travel at a slower pace, or rest up before tackling Cabin Pass the following day. This was his second attempt at the divide, having succumbed to achilles issues at the first attempt, so I totally understood. This is the sort of event where you've got to listen to what your body is telling you!
So I set off in pursuit of another rider who'd passed us whilst Wade and I were in discussion. I envisaged another bivvy in bear country was on the cards so was keen to hook up. I soon caught Peter Kraft, a nice young chap from Florida. Despite his age, Peter was a Tour Divide veteran, having completed the ride in 2013, aged 20, with his dad. His aim for this year was 20 days, about on par with my aim, and assured me that the first day was one of the hardest TD days one was likely to encounter. This was reassuring, as I thought I'd survived the first day OK. That is, until the early steeper pinches of the ascent of Cabin Pass which required a bit of grunt.
It's funny how quickly ones mood can change. All of a sudden I noticed a dull sensation in my left achilles. Just an aberration? Unfortunately not. This is exactly what I'd been dreading. I immediately started to soft pedal the left leg. Peter and i became separated on the climb, stopping at different times for different wardrobe reasons. Coincidentallyy, higher on the climb I crossed a small bridge where Heath, my companion for part of the previous day, was prostrate taking a break, soaking up a rare glimpse of the sun. He must have passed me at some stage. We acknowledged each other but I pressed on, just wanting to tap out the climb and get it over with as the weather was closing in again. The top was fairly benign but the descent was a chilling affair in light rain and rapidly fading light. I stopped in one or two places to consult maps trying to work out where a camp marked on the map (Wigwam) might be. Peter, Heath, and a few other passed by. I tried to keep them in sight, but was having issues with the cold, speed, visibility and the sketchy nature of the track. A while later I rounded a corner to see Heath stopped in the middle of the road adjacent an ensemble of rustic cabins and stables that might belong to a hunter. Significantly, each tiny shack projected an awning that would accommodate a body. "I don't know about you, but I reckon one of those awnings has my name on it". I didn't need convincing. Another rider opted for the stables as darkness set in.
(188 km, 2386 m elevation, much in pouring rain)
Wade and I cruise another amazing valley
The perfect Grizzly encounter
Flathead valley road