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Location: Banff.
Banff is one of those towns that people ask you if you’ve been to. Not all towns are like that. How often have you been asked ‘Have you ever been to Tumtum?’ If you have ever been to Tumtum, you know why no one ever asks you that. And if you’ve ever been to Banff, you probably know why people have asked if you’ve been there. Banff has the pleasure of being located in a tiny mountain valley surrounded by stunning (absolutely stunning) mountains, on whose sides grow trees half-way up before losing ground to a severe land of rock and ice. Really, you should see the evening sun fall across the valley and alight on one of these mountain faces. Beautiful. Banff also has the less attractive feature of being one of the premier vacation spots for the wealthy. In fact, it was built to be such long ago, and seems to have nobly soldiered on in that tradition ever since. While the economy is tanking everywhere else, Banff is positively thriving, the streets packed with swarms of bag-ladened tourists. More shops and restaurants have hiring signs displayed in the windows than not, which these days seems almost anachronistic. Another thing about Banff is that it is a mountain biking mecca, and almost everyone here rides a good mountain bike, and many are splattered with mud. Coming from Seattle, where everyone rides a good fixie, it’s a nice change of pace to be in a town filled with dirty bikes.

I start riding today. I am excited, sure, but it’s more complicated than that. Actually starting a trip presents a discontinuity, as it were, a sort of letdown that can most generously be described as awkward. For weeks, or months even, in the planning stages, great clouds of energy accumulate as one decides on every bit of minutia (this fork or that one? which tires? hat or not?). So of course, one expects a storm. But a storm never seems to come, because in truth, what I’ve been planning for is a months-long experience, not just the first day. So the first day. The first day, I’m just there, panting through each foot, through each second, and it’s anticlimactic. At least, this describes my past experience, with the addendum that the awkwardness lasts about a week, not just a day. In the planning stage, everything is consumed with decision-making about the future. Once I start riding, everything is about the inescapable present. The juxtaposition of obsession with the future and the ubiquitous, inescapable present is one of the very interesting parts of taking a trip like this. I’ll no doubt return to this in later posts, but I am about to spend several months in the austere, focused company of only myself, and after spending so long in the company of gear reviews, maps, friends, etc. A little discomfort is to be expected, I suppose. At least I feel forewarned.

The map for this section:

Banff to Eureka, MT

I’ll be traveling through some remote stretches in this section, particularly between Sparwood and the border crossing at Roosville, along what has apparently been nicknamed ‘The Grizzly Bear Highway’. Amusing. But at this point, everything is speculation. Well, everything except the fact that on the drive to Banff, we encountered a magnificent thunder storm that pounded the earth with rain and filled the skies with lightning. Riding a bike in the rain is more fun when you don’t have to crawl wet into the tarp afterward: I hope the rain is a little more recalcitrant once I start riding. A note to those who are curious: the drive from Spokane to Banff is indeed quite beautiful, creeping through misty valleys nestled down between tree-and-rock mountains. Here is to more: more beauty, more rain, more food, more wonder. And less grizzly bears (in my general vicinity).

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Welcome!

This blog will recount my travels this summer along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, beginning in Banff (in Canada) and ending at Antelope Wells, NM, along the US-Mexico border. I may have absolutely no idea what I’m getting myself in to, so we can all learn together as the trip unfolds. Watch here for updates as I illuminate the surprises along the way. Some surprises to keep an eye out for: unbridled happiness, soreness, tiredness, lots of climbing, bike repairs, animal encounters, and explicit descriptions of convenience store food. Who can say what will happen, really; maybe one of the above will earn some exposition. Stay tuned for news.

I have my bike ready, mostly: blue, perky, agile Lolita. I have my gear strewn around the house in random piles, but they are semi-organized piles that allow me to strut through them as we work out who is in charge (so far I seem to be winning, but the distinction is, at times, fuzzy). I have fresh batteries and clean underwear. I even went on a five day, pre-trip, gear-test ride: Dan Finkel and I rode from Seattle to and through some of the San Juan Islands. I had seen Orcas the previous year, but this year we went to Lopez Island first, with intentions of visiting San Juan Island as well. However, Lopez was so fantastic we stayed longer, enjoying it’s excellent roads, people, baked goods, and beaches.

An edge of Lopez Island

After Lopez we headed straight to Orcas Island, where I was able to go on my very first single-track mountain bike ride in Mount Constitution State Park. Very first, you ask? Yes, I am an incipient mountain biker. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride: precipitous, dangerous, gnarly trail strewn with loose, fist-sized rocks wherever it wasn’t pulverized to dust by horse tread; steep, unrideable climbs through some of the most vibrantly green stinging nettle I’ve seen; tight, plummeting switchbacks as the trail shot downhill. As I understand it, not too much of my ride will be quite so extreme, but nonetheless, I was glad for the experience. Lolita, with her higher handlebars, was not great at climbing the steeper trail sections, but in every other regard she performed admirably. Given that such rugged steepness is uncharacteristic of all but few sections of the Great Divide Trail, I’m not worried. Will I be surprised later? Maybe.

I’m in a gathering before the storm, a period of goodbyes and great love between friends. I’ve been seeing friends before I leave, rather than slinking away under cover of darkness as has sometimes been my tendency. And it turns out, seeing people is the way to go because sometimes they love you and let you soak in it for a bit before leaving. I’ve been sent off with beautiful words, cards, gifts, and support. I feel great about going, and I know I will feel great about coming home again to all these wonderful people.

So in just a couple days from now, Dan will drive me up to Banff from Spokane, and I’ll be able to begin. Please feel free to leave comments, suggestions (I’m curious how this could be interpreted), or to send me emails. As often as I come in contact with an open public library, I plan to update the blog and check emails, so check back periodically for new posts.

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