Elkford to Crowsnest Pass. 102Km and 2998m of climbing.
So a little bit chastened we’re on the start line in Elkford. But the weather is absolutely amazing and I think we’re both determined to leave yesterdays crash behind us. The route looks stupid hard again and I’m dreading the 3 * 200M elevation changes right before the finish. Those are going to be brutal.
But we do know now that if we do today, we’ll do tomorrow, so we set off in a pretty positive frame of mind. For a change we actually get some tarmac road to start on. Naturally its steep uphill but who would expect anything different? Actually, if you’ve got 478 mountain bikes (and one tandem) you do have to figure out a way to get the field split up or it just becomes gridlock. So its not just total cruelty on the organizers parts, only partially. And it does become a bit of a traffic nightmare in the first single track section as we are backed up on top of each other. But the views down into the gorge are amazing and initially we’re not that fussed.
But it does seem like an age before we break out onto a fire road and by then I am a bit worried that it took us so long, with all the traffic, to do the first few miles. We’re rewarded though with a decent downhill section and we’re motoring. We pass a ton of folk which is really rare and get to the first stop with a whole crowd of people. This is more like it. We even get a chance to talk to the friendly video guy. We don’t stop for too long because it just feels right today and we’re both going really well. I don’t want to do anything to upset our rhythm.
All too soon though its back to the uphill grind. We must though have pushed through some kind of pain barrier as we’re making solid progress and arrive at the second aid station in pretty good shape. Even my wife is showing her arms now it’s more than 90F. Still got the heavy black leggings on though- amazing.
Another hysterical moment as I grab a piece of water melon for my wife and hand it to her to take. Instead she just face plants into the melon and half ends up in her mouth and half all over her face. Once I’m satisfied I don’t need to rename the team “15 fingers” and that they are not about to spurt blood everywhere we both wet ourselves laughing.
After we pull ourselves together its back on the bike and up and up again. I think we’re walking again but so is everyone else and we have to do this for a while before we can ride up and over the continental divide. It’s a brutal pull up and over but the views are worth it. And we know we have some massive down to come so are feeling very pleased with ourselves.
Its fast coming off the continental divide with a lot of shale fields to cross. Most of them have a rough line across them but the thought of going down on this super sharp stuff does make me slow it down a bit.
We must make a turn into a different valley somewhere because although the direction is still downwards there is a huge headwind. The 2 person teams are really struggling here. We see folk holding onto one another’s camelback as the stronger person leads into the wind. We figure we might have a bit of an unfair advantage but given Days 1-3 we probably don’t feel overly concerned. In fact, we get absolutely rocking and the surface is great, so nothing to really worry about. We’re absolutely spun out and we’re both ducking down to be as aero as possible. We yell to folk as we come up on them to pedal like crazy and get on the back but its just not possible. We spit folk out of our slipstream like a wood chipper. Of all the folk we pass on that long wonderful section there’s only a couple of crazy English Clydesdales that are able to get on and stay there. Respect my crazy friends, respect.
As the saying goes “all good things come to an end” and we turn up at the last aid station in the knowledge that we’ve got the last 3 power climbs to endure. Still we get the best complement possible, and it’s good to keep us going over at least one of the last three climbs, when one of the teams goes bug eyed and says “What are you doing here?” The fact that we’re this far up the field (remember this is relative to Days 1-5 – the Italians need not worry) amazes us and we are a couple of happy campers (literally I guess).
Anyway as we leave the last aid station the 3 climbs are everything they were described as. Basically just get off and push. Brutal, just brutal. The descents are similar but they tend to be in the shade and they are incredibly steep. Throughout the last 5 days I’ve never worried about keeping the tandem’s speed under control but these downhills are the ultimate brake tests. I have absolutely everything yanked on as hard as possible and I actually breathe a sigh of relief as we start back up the next col.
At one point it gets a bit slick and I’ve got Gina suddenly appearing in my peripheral vision as the whole back end travels independently along a slimy root as if it was a rail. I get off the front brake just quick enough to get Gina back into her rightful place behind me. Talk about an adrenalin rush. I can tell Gina is either confident in what I’m doing or getting tired and not caring because she simply says “Did we get totally sideways then?” to which I reply “yes, dear” and leave it at that.
At the third col the bike demon is having his say telling us that our tires are going flat and that the brakes are stuck on. But we manage to keep the demon at bay and make it onto the run in to Elkford. It is proper scorching as we cross the finish line but we are both just so thrilled to have had such an amazing day. My wife says she refused to think about how far it was to go because she’d been asking the previous few stages and had only been disappointed when “just around the corner” turned out to be a couple hours away. Today, she says, “I didn’t even allow myself to think the ride had started until the third checkpoint.” Wow. Whatever the reason that was our best day on a tandem. Ever.