Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sitting Duck in Fernie

The Three Sisters of Fernie, BC have kept me in awe for the last couple days. I can't help but equate my journey to a mental plot of the same shape. Starting from the left and going steeply uphill to the first point is a representation of the miles from Antelope Wells, NM to five miles shy of Butts Patrol Cabin in the British Columbia wilderness. The break in the terrain and big gap where the first sister ends is the point, by a stroke of pure luck, where found a way into Fernie to attempt to repair a blown rear hub that left me without a functioning bicycle.

Hoping to return and resume the proverbial continuous line on the plot represented by these surreal peaks, has proved empty. I was able to get my bike fixed at a local shop. It's still not right but will make it 200 miles. The part that is tough and that I was stewing over even before I knew my bike could be repaired was the ride back to the point on the course things went up in smoke. On the map, it doesn't look that far, but when I counted hour three on my way IN to Fernie bouncing around in a work truck, I felt a cringe of fright that finding a ride BACK here was going to be a bigger chore.

None of the bike shops, although they wanted to help, had anyone. Coffee shops, little cafes, gas stations---same story. Craigslist ad, Facebook postings, friends of friends who now have a random voicemail from some American girl named Jill have given me nothing so far.....

Suggestions of riding back out to the spot would be an option if this race didn't contain another race within itself to "run." The Roosville border patrol agents think I am a penniless bike transiet who cannot support herself in the backcountry and will be a drain on the healthcare system in the event rescue becomes necessary. I was granted an "Allowed to Leave Canada" form on my first attempt. My second attempt at 3am the following morning resulted in far fewer questions. I was flagged in the system and had to prove a few numbers, but this time all the talk was regarding their concern that I was going to work in the country and not leave. The agent let me in until Sunday, meaning I have another form stapled to my passport that I must return to the Canadian border before entering the United States. Many thoughts ran through my head as to why this was such a chore since I have been to Canada three times prior without hassle---the best I could come up with is that I was entering on a bike loaded with camping gear, look like a skinny little dirtbag and probably smell of campfire, sweat, sunscreen and bug block. Um, yeah, I didn't lose any sleep over it. Why? Because I had something to finish in Banff....

My bike first started making weird popping noises and the chain skipped a bit on the final ascent of the Whitefish Divide outside of Eureka. Once I crossed the now minor avalanche debris, it is a speedfest on beautiful roads all the way into Eureka and I didn't notice it much. No bike shops in Eureka although there was a bike shop symbol on the map as I came to the main highway. I spent some time searching around for it, but no signs or evidence that there was anything but private residences in the area. So I bombed on into town. As I was climbing Galton Pass, I could hear the popping, clicking  and now grinding getting worse. As I descended, I noticed some instability in my back wheel, feeling new bend and flex as I cornered. Uh oh, I thought. Feels like the hub....

Sure enough, around five miles from the crest of Cabin Pass, shit went sour. Slipping chain, sometimes unable to pedal as the crank did not turn the chain. Looked down and could see my cassette slipping and derailleur interfering with the spokes. Soon after I found myself sitting off to the right side and my wheel almost sideways between the seatstays. The amount of play in the back wheel was evident to anyone who had seen a bike before and sitting on the seat was scary even to me.

Damn, now what?

I pushed on for about a mile weighing my options. Stay in Butts Cabin tonight and take Harvey-Lodgepole out to Fernie? Hope someone is at Butts that can get me to a shop? I wasn't sure but looked up to see a work truck.

"No freaking way!" I vocalized.

No one was around but it was evident that they were going to return. So I waited. Not really what I wanted to do, but my logic kept telling me to sit my ass down and be patient because these were the only other human life forms I was going to see today. And, in the end, my logic was correct. I waited for about 2 hours and began to hear the two timber cruisers who saved the day returning to their truck.....

So that's why my pink dot is in Fernie. And, believe me, I have had a lot of time to sit and think (and write) while in Fernie. Much of it is analytical, asking myself some hard questions about life, my choices, my motivations, my decisions.....but just in the past week I have really been thinking about the role of gender in bikepacking.

The fact that the dots are blue and pink make a difference in the experience of a journey such as the Tour Divide. It made me begin to wonder what the other women out here think about in the long hours of solitude, what emotional responses they experience to certain places, events, sections, challenges and how they emulate or differ from my own. And, if, in general we think and act like the men out here (Admit it, girls, everyone of us blows snot rockets at trees and road signs and inevitably farts all the way up a couple hills per day after checking to see that no one is around..hehe) or if gender even plays a role in our similarities and differences? What role does femininity play in this? On somedays does our dot have a purplish or blue tint when the going gets really rough and the miles never end? On other days is it a soft PeptoBismol color when we are rolling along the Wigwam River singletrack or out near Henry's Lake pretending we are fairies or princesses on fast, white horses or unicorns?

And how do we relate or support/not support each other? It has been my experience that 90% of the women I have met who bikepack, race or just ride are super encouraging and supportive, engaging and sincere and I love to chat, email or ride with them....And there are about 9% who really don't respond for whatever reason and 1% that are a bit snarky. Where does the competitive fire play a role? How does it? How much importance is placed on it between women?

All this shit goes through my head, and in the last month with the time I have had to ponder, this is not even scratching the surface. I began writing down ideas for initially, a blog post, and maybe even a website or something that women could contribut their thoughts, writing, stories, struggles, accomplishments, questions, problems and ideas about bikepacking, racing, adventuring, riding to the park, the store--whatever. I think "The Pink Dot Perspective" kind of encompasses it all. We are a different "color"--so to speak--from the men who are out there with us.

I am not a bra-burning feminist and this is probably just a result of a lot of questions I am trying to figure out myself, but something I want to slowly plug away at and maybe learn a few things. I also very much want to include the men's perspective and see if there are any trends, patterns, etc, that appear. So, blue and pink dots out there-- if you get an email from me with some questions, I do hope you will respond.

Ok, enough libary internet loitering. It's time to become a Great Divide tourist and head north. Sad and mad have to take a back seat to glad right now. 2500+ miles is nothing to be sad or mad about.....Its a time to be glad, humble and ever so gracious that I have been blessed with the physical, mental and emotional strength to make this journey. Sometimes shit just doesn't work out. Sometimes we can only control so much. Sometimes, its time to walk away with a smile, knowing I gave it my all.

And be thankful for the time I got, the places I traveled through and the people's lives I intersected. And let go of the fact I am just not strong enough or fast enough to pedal for an entire day to where I left off to finish. That's life. Can't say I wish I wasn't stronger or faster....just that I am not.

And it took 2500 miles and four states to finally say that without hanging my head in disgust with myself for not being what I wish I was.....