Once again Heath and I had set alarms at 4:30 and were on the road soon after 5, fully layered, in my case with down jacket under heavy shell, to protect from chilly air. A couple of hours later we were in swanky Whitefish, looking for a cafe as we crossed paths with Peter, already breakfasted and heading out. Smooth operator, that Peter. We eventually found a cafe. I opted for what I thought was the rough equivalent of an egg and bacon roll and got something quite different altogether. It was an oddball construction with a slab of fried processed meat and a solid cheese-like layer of God-knows-what sandwiched between what were effectively two halves of a sweetish muffin. "Everything about that is wrong", chuckled Heath, as he tucked into his farmers breakfast. To make matters worse I'd ordered two of them, and did my best to at least down half the second one before leaving. A couple of cafe goers made a point of coming up to us and suggesting we were doing well, which was nice, although I wasn't so sure, given the state of my achilles.
Heath picked up some heavy duty gloves at the local bike shop and we were out of there. We soon caught another rider, another Australian, Paul Lester, from Cooma, who had done this race the previous year and was back for another helping. There were only a handful of Australians in the race and here three of us were, riding together. After a bit of a chat Paul let us go and we enjoyed the bitumen while it lasted. Well Heath was enjoying it, time trial bars and all. I was feeling increasingly crook in the guts, and eventually had to attempt to expunge whatever had disagreed with me in a local patch of woods. It wasn't to be the last time.
Feeling temporarily relieved I again passed Paul and eventually caught back up to Heath. We stopped at the small restaurant that was Swan River, just as Peter was leaving, again having topped up his reserves. My arriving at an establishment whilst Peter was leaving was a pattern that was to repeat many times over coming weeks. Rather than fill up at Swan River, Heath and I decided we'd hit up the next town of Ferndale, even though the resupply shop was slightly off route. We rolled out with Peter and despite his best instructions we shot off without him and somehow managed to bungle the turnoff, adding another few extra kms to the tally before resupplying at the general store. Idiot Australians, he must have thought. Speaking of which, Paul, Heath and I crossed paths probably half a dozen times that day. Paul was the type of rider who could seemingly go all day, just tapping out the same rhythm without the need for stops. Heath and I would burn a little hotter, then stop for whatever reason, only to have Paul file past again, and the whole scenario repeat - classic hares and tortoise. He must have thought we were idiots as well.
The main obstacle of the day was a climb that for the first time in the tour involved a bit of heat, coupled with minimal shade and a terrible gravel surface. The sort of climb you'd go out of your way to avoid, especially the descent. Coupled with my increasingly complaining ankle and crook guts i was not happy. Heath seemed to be having a rough time of it as well, and we separated on the descent and I pushed on through what turned out to be a much more pleasant shaded sector of ancient woodland complete with lovely buff surface that at times reminded me of Rotorua. My mood improved, so I kept tapping away on a gradually climbing road through lots of interesting single and narrow double track lined by tall grass and concealed corners with stunning vistas periodically showing themselves through avenues of trees. Definitely bear country I thought, although all I saw were the occasional elk and white-tailed deer.
Somewhere through this sector I stood for another rise and felt my left Achilles go "twang". Not a reassuring sensation. Something down there had failed that shouldn't have. I sat by the road to eat a sandwich, feeling dejected, as Paul and Heath filed past. On reflection I'd been stuffed physically ever since day one and now my emotional state was fraying as well. I was covered in filth and desperately needed a room and a shower to lick my wounds and give me space to consider options given my deteriorating state. I caught Paul, then Heath, and ground out the last painful hour on some awful gravel roads to gain Holland Lake. The sight of the restaurant at the far end of the lake was enough. Blow the expense, that's where I was eating and sleeping that night, despite there being time to get some of the following pass knocked off.
Upon arival there was another rider whose ankle was way more inflamed than mine and whom had decided to take a few days off. I didn't have a few days to spare. I had counted on averaging 220 km/day to complete the route in 20 days for my rendezvous with Anita and was already considerably behind schedule. My ankle was puffier than normal and on closer inspection I was shocked to find my achilles wearing a painful lump, presumably the result of the "twang" I'd felt earlier in the day. Surely my goose was cooked.
The weather was predicted to turn bad during the night so quite a few riders, including Peter, Paul and Nic Brown (a kiwi), had opted to pony up and stay the night. When asked by the waiter what he'd like for dinner, Paul replied, "I'll have the lot!", in classic Aussie drawl, which cracked me up. He looked at me seriously and added, "there'll be nothin' left of you at the end". Heath baulked at staying and decided to head off and bivvy for his 4th night on the trot. Over dinner and a beer I delicately raised options for quitting. The only problem was that one does not simply hop on a Greyhound from Holland Lake. It seemed the only way out was over a few more passes first. In any case, and I can't remember who said it, but when you're on the Tour Divide, you don't talk of quitting when you are tired, cold, wet or hungry. That leaves little option for bailing.
In any case, the taste of another beer eased my disposition, and I filed up the stairs for what must be said was a disappointing shower, but at least the bed was up to scratch. I slept like a baby till the alarm chimed.
(229 km, 2354 m)
Peter and Nic discuss options