I’m in Elkford! Where, you ask? Who knows! But it’s in Canada. Isn’t that enough? Canada, land of the metric system. Which, as we all are fully aware, is far superior to our puny and awkward english system , but when you’ve spent a lifetime cradled in the hard hands of miles and pounds, you come across as quite slow to everyone you talk to when they ask how far you’ve come or how far you are going. The nice thing about kilometers is they fly by like nothing else, but then you have more of them to cover at the beginning of the day, and it’s just numbers after all, but these things do have a psychological effect. The other day I was stopped at a small campground grocery to buy a bell and a whistle for my bike, when I was set upon buy a large group of spandex-clad, supported bike tourers, riding part of the same route as me. They were fascinated by what I was doing, and yet I couldn’t quite speak fluently with them about the trip because I was talking miles and they kilometers. It was quite funny, the way being inspected by a herd of spandex-wearing, italian-speaking antelope on mountain bikes would be funny.

When I left Banff several days ago, I was hoping for the best.

On my way: the first few feet.

It’s really all I can do. But as I was fiddling with my bike in the parking lot, a man came rushing off the trail on his bike, talking about the huge grizzly bear he had just startled around a blind corner, and he had dashed back to the trailhead. He confirmed that I had bear spray, said I’d probably be all right, and headed off. Bad omen? Do any of us even believe in omens? As soon as I started off, it began to rain, lightly at first but then turning into a proper, righteous sort of rain that lasted for over an hour. Bad omen number two? And, in the first hour, I lost a pair of underwear that I had washed that morning and strapped to my bag to dry. It’s now a muddy wad of cloth left along some single track outside of Banff somewhere, unless of course, it’s been eaten by a bear already. Bad omen number three?

On the subject of rain, it has rained off and on over the last several days. Lots of rain means lots of muddy single track and roads, means muddy Katherine and muddy Lolita. We look very trail-worn already, which makes us feel tough. You know, experienced (which we’re not, but no one can tell.). There are some problems with the rain though: my glasses don’t function in the rain so I can’t see, my bike bell is muffled in the rain so I’m quieter, and my bear spray is apparently less effective in rain. So on the subject of bears, I can’t see if I’m approaching a bear, I can’t make noise to scare the bear away, and I can’t deter the bear I’m inevitably going to startle as a  corollary to the first two. I thus sing, loudly, and generally on the theme of bears. ‘Katherine met the bear, the bear met Katherine. Katherine was bulgy, the bulge was the bear.’ As I have thus far seen neither head nor rump nor any other part of a bear (except for unimaginably large piles of berry-flecked bear poop), my bluff seems to be working. At any rate, I have bear on the brain, and I thus proceed carefully.

On the subject of losing things. I would lose my own head if it weren’t attached to my body. The first day I lost a pair of underwear. The second day I lost my padded cycling gloves which protected my ulnar nerve. The third day I lost my tent poles, realizing it four miles down the trail from where they lay in a ditch on the side of the road. This was too serious to lose permanently, so I turned around and rode 2 miles back towards where I had taken them off during a lunch break by a lovely river. I had two more miles to go to get them when a vehicle passed me and I flagged them down and begged a ride off them, which they graciously gave. After that little, very annoying hitch, I was on my way again with the poles safely retrieved. If this keeps up, I’m going to be in big trouble at some point, having ridden off down the road and forgotten my bike behind.

However, aside from all these minor problems, things have been really lovely. Breathtakingly beautiful. This is spectacular country with long views and big (big big) mountains.

Mount Shark over the Spray River

Some nameless mountain in the morning

All day, every day, I ride through rich valleys flanked by these behemoths they have for mountains around here. I love it, even in the rain, even at the blind corners thick with bushes dangling fat little berries. I love singing at the top of my voice here, for miles on end. I love that the Canadians I meet, some of the nicest people, tell me they thought I was American, and no it wasn’t my ineptness with distances that gave it away but rather my american accent. I love crawling into my sleeping bag at night and reading (The Catcher in the Rye, in case anyone was curious). I love that I had an entire bag of salt and vinegar potato chips for breakfast this morning. I was thinking about a trip like this, and how in many ways and especially when undertaken alone, it is a longterm commitment to practice denial of the id. You are always cold, hungry, tired, in pain, and you want one of those trailers with a flush toilet and a tv and in there the bugs won’t crawl on you and the bears won’t eat you. You’re often lonely or scared. You think about how you could be watching a movie right now, or reading the New Yorker, or sitting around surfing the sweet sweet internet. But really, who wants to remember a lifetime of doing that? In my two column checklist of time spent on the interwebs versus time spent out in the world, the interwebs are so far winning. So I’m seizing this bit of time, because after all, what the hell will the interwebs teach me any way? (Okay, a bit, like what the ulnar nerve is). Where is the wild, unfathomable, beautiful world in that?

The next part of my route takes me through the Flathead river valley, the last undeveloped valley in B.C., where the bears are sure to be aplenty. I thought about taking the paved, civilized Fernie alternate due to my being alone and minimally armed, and after hearing horror stories of bears and mountain bikers (and don’t worry, because they are all way over blown), but after running into Aaron Teasedale (sp?) and his lovely family (Aaron who worked at Adventure Cycling Association who wrote my maps), Aaron who used the hilarious and apt term ‘bear-anoid’, and after having several incident- and even sighting-free days, and after coming all this way to ride on the dirt in the middle of nowhere, I think riding on the dirt in the middle of nowhere is really what I’d prefer to do. The route I’m taking has no towns or services for 4 days. Just lots of trees. And mountain passes. I’m greatly looking forward to it.