I feel better now. Today was baptism by fire. Brutal uphills, endless hike-a-bikes, treacherous downhills, sleet, rain, mud, you name it. Bear scat everywhere too. What is this? The Tour Divide or something?! I made it to the campsite at Weary Creek (aptly named, I think). Not my goal destination but not too shabby for the first day either. I was absolutely TOAST when I got here. Knee issues and nausea (the tuna at lunch did me wrong). Just plain worn out.

By some miracle of God I was able to get a cell signal. I called Kate and asked her to “talk me down,” which she dutifully did. I’m sure this was the first of many conversations of this type! What a bizarre experience. A couple days ago it’s business as usual. Work. Home. Arkansas heat and humidity. And tonight I’m in a forest in the middle of nowhere Alberta, Canada sitting by a cold sub-alpine creek, shaking from low blood sugar and sinking into that “what have I done?” feeling. The transition is so stark. And somehow this complex network of satellites and cell towers is able to unite the two radically different worlds. And I’m grateful.

I couldn’t eat the Velveeta Shells and Cheese I had packed all the way from Little Rock. They were supposed to be a camping delicacy—an homage to my days on the Appalachian Trail. But my stomach just wouldn’t do it. I wanted bed.

A few folks showed up a little later. It raised my spirits to have some company. A father and two sons from Malawi, all riding blue Salsa Fargo 2’s, and a Canadian dude who didn’t like the way I hung my food. Too close to the ground, he said. I figured that if a bear got at it, well, then it could enjoy a snack. It was far enough away from the campsite. Plus, I was really too tired to care. I had met that guy earlier in the day anyway and I wasn’t too swayed by his judgement. We were together when it started to sleet and stopped to break out our rain gear. He promptly ripped a leg off his rain pants while putting them on and cursed the cheapskate impulse that caused him to by the Walmart brand.

The Grand Depart this morning was pretty cool. After my final grande Starbucks bold roast I saddled up and pulled on to Banff avenue and ran into none other than the TD champion himself, Jay Petervary. He was riding the famed Salsa Cutthroat, the prototype released early only for him. I had seen this guy on lots of Salsa videos and was duly impressed by his exploits in the world of bikepacking. I think he had even done an ITT of the Iditarod. Truly hard core. So, what do you say to a guy like that? “So, JayP,” I began. “Are you going to break the record again this year?” He looked over at me and the other starstruck riders nearby and said, “One day at a time, man. One day at at time.” We all nodded in agreement at the veteran’s wise words. We then came to a stoplight and watched him do an impressive track stand, further building up his God-like status in our minds, and then he took off. Never saw him again, of course.

All the riders congregated in front of the YWCA for a group photograph and then a brief sort of motivational speech by Billy Rice (another accomplished rider, having “YO-YO’d” the TD route once or twice). His plan was to ride a tandem with his daughter this time around. Due to some stupid accidents due to congestion on the ride out of Banff in previous years, Billy wanted to organize a start where the faster riders would leave first. “Those of you who think you’ll go faster than Petervary, line up in the front. Then those wanting to go to Sparwood behind them. Elkford people next. And finally, those of you who didn’t know this was a race can bring up the rear.” Funny guy. I lined up in the back (but not all the way in the back). Oh, and Salsa was there handing out top caps entitling the bearer to two free slices of pie in Pie Town, NM. I got mine! There’s some motivation for you.

A couple miles out, while we were all still doing some low key cruising, I pulled up next to Jill Homer. Starstruck yet again! I had read Jill’s book, Be Brave, Be Strong while planning my ride. It’s a highly personal account of her 2009 Tour Divide experience. Easily the best of the genre in my opinion. I was particularly interested in talking with Jill because we shared a connection to Juneau, Alaska. I did most of my growing up there and she wrote for the local paper for a few years. We surely knew some of the same people. So, I brought up Juneau and threw out some names but instantly felt weird because it was obvious that I’d learned of her Juneau past from reading her book. I got the vibe that she was more into enjoying her first day on the trail than being doted on by a fan, so I sped up and gave her some peace.

A couple hours later I pulled up along side the guy I put my bike together with back at the YWCA—the UCA grad. We got to talking and it turns out he’s David Horton, the famed ultra-runner who once held the record for the fastest run of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. Who knew? What an honor it is to share this rugged path with such accomplished people!

Looking forward to tomorrow. Now, sleep. As JayP says, “One day at a time man. One day at a time.”