Mileage: 104.98 miles
Cumulative mileage: 104.98 miles
Climbing: 7628 feet
Cumulative climbing: 7628 feet
Elapsed time: 14hrs 28min
Riding time: 11hrs 55min
The night before the start we stayed at the Douglas fir resort Banff, a luxury spot, shame we didn’t arrive till quite late the night before though, didn’t really get much chance to appreciate it.
We’d heard through the grapevine in the TD facebook group that it was a staggered start, with groups of twenty being set off in waves. The park authority was restricting the number of people in the park at any one time. Seeing as we were touring it and not racing, we didn’t even register on the race tracker, so we bypassed the start and got onto the trail early.
At the trail head carpark Chris’s rear tyre needed some extra air putting in it, this had given us untold amounts of hassle when we first built the bikes back up after the flight. We had to go into Calgary and get some CO2 canisters to finally get it to go up. So we were left feeling a little nervous as to whether there was a bit of a problem. Fortunately it turned out there wasn’t. Out onto the trail and in the first mile we found a can of bear spray and a pair of flip flops. I’m not sure quite how I’d feel if I found the bear spray was missing after just a couple of miles.
We started on the Goat Creek Trail, then a succession of fire roads, then singletrack wound round the shore of the reservoir, it was way emptier than when I had previously visited. The Spray lakes gravel road is like the width of the M25 and way wider than any of the gravel trails we get in the UK. It is actually classed as Alberta Highway 742.
On the Spray Lakes road I also had a rather amusing interaction with someone from the UK who rode up alongside and said “are you Josh Ibbett?”, I explained that I was his older, slower, work colleague and we both had a good laugh. That’s what comes from having the same bike, the same colour.
There were quite a few people strung out along the Spray Lakes road, and while we were stopped filtering water a guy called Paul, a fellow UK compatriot, rode up looking in pain. He’d torn his rotator cuff two weeks before the trip and taped himself up and decided to start. Unfortunately he’d come off in the singletrack and done further damage. There wasn’t anything we, or indeed he, could do. We wished him good luck and he carefully rode away down the trail.
At the North Kent Peak trailhead the route branches off onto the High Rockies trail, which started off with snow that we had to walk through. The weather was a bit nuts, hot, cold, headwind, tailwind, a bit of everything really. The High Rockies trail lasted an hour, it was a bit reminiscent of the Yogurt Pots trail in the Surrey Hills, but a decent length. We hadn’t seen any bear poop up until this point, but I must admit with the closed in nature of the trail I was feeling a little nervous with all the blind corners. It also had a big suspension bridge at Blackshale Creek, I’m pretty sure I’ve not ridden on anything like that in the UK and it was slightly disconcerting, especially as it was so long we really needed to get a decent speed on the downslope to make it easy to get up the other side. My nerves were frayed slightly more as we had to wait on one side while someone was busy taking photos on the far side, I assume for the ‘Gram.
In 2016 I had started an ITT two weeks after the grand depart, and one of the nicest things about starting with the group this time was just how many people we met, rode, and chatted with. Whilst riding one of the fire road sections I finally met Randy Neil from the facebook group, who I have chatted with often on line. So it was nice to talk in real life, he said “you’re Jim Barrow, I’d recognise that face anywhere”. I guess that says something about my social media usage.
Our first chance to stop for resupply was Boulton Creek trading post. If ever there was a good advert for Salsa bikes this was it, the bike rack outside was basically all Cutthroats and Fargos. It was nice to stick a couple of Mason ISOs in amongst them and fly the flag. We had Gatorade, ice cream sandwiches, and rocky road, hoping that would be enough to keep us rolling over Elk Pass.
Elk pass was the first of the trip, it’s not a monster at 6443 feet. I remembered this from 2016 and I was not looking forward to it as back then it involved some pushing and it was a bit of a struggle, but as it turned out with even more training actually it was relatively straight forward. We overtook various people on the way up, and met a guy who had snapped his derailleur. It must be gutting to have a mechanical this early in the trip, especially when it’s a bit of an effort to get to a bike shop from there. We ended up doing the last bit of the climb with Sean the Australian, and we stopped to take celebratory photos with at the top.
The 48 mile (mainly) descent to Elkford started. Then almost immediately there was a black bear pretty close, our first actual encounter of the trip. Fortunately he wasn’t a big boy. We had decided on the rule: if you see a bear, shout bear. This seemed to work quite well, even if the bear was largely disinterested in us. With a heightened state of awareness after that pretty much every tree stump or rock looked like a bear, and we were taken somewhat by surprise by a group of “bear horses” when we turned a corner on the descent.
The day was continuing and and as ever thoughts turned to food, who am I kidding? My thoughts are always centred around food. We nailed ourselves to get into Elkford before Kapps pizza place shut, but it had closed at 21:00, an hour before. I guess Elkford isn’t that exciting on a Friday night! Absolutely nothing else was open so it was food remnants from the day. Cereal bars just don’t cut the mustard after a day like that. As per my previous visit we camped in the Elkford municipal campground. There were many other riders camped there too, honestly though I was too tired to socialise and I just got my tent up and pretty much went straight to bed.
It was a successful first day, we’d kept it steady, covered a decent distance and more importantly not burnt any matches.
Heroic kit of the day went to the saddle, a Brooks C17. After 11 hours riding the day before there were no issues sitting on it for another 12 hours.