It was raining when the tour began. The organizers tried hard to whip up some enthusiasm from the 300 odd cyclists assembled at the start line. It took repeated calls of "How's everybody doing today?" to finally elicit any kind of heart-felt "Woo Hoo!" from the crowd. Because of the rain, only a few brave souls risked removing their helmets during the singing of the national anthem thereby exposing their unprotected heads to the wet skies.
By the time we reached the first checkpoint, the skies had turned blue and the sun began to shine on a forest with the first tinges of fall colours dappling the deciduous trees. That is not to say that everything was sudddenly wonderful. Following a pretty river, the trail became a slick mud bog and gave us a taste of what riding in slippery conditions could be like. At the crossing of a small brook, one rider decided to place his bike in the middle of the stream and wash off the accumulated gumbo.
With blue skies and a climb of some altitude, there were plenty of photo ops and I'm sure most participants were like me and relishing being in the mountains on such a beautiful afternoon. My newly found dryness ended less than one klick from the lunch stop at the Black Cat Ranch when we had to navigate a stream by crossing a log whose top had been milled, creating a narrow bridge. I was feeling cocky by this time and decided to pedal over the bridge rather than walk the bike across as the riders ahead of me had done. In a flash, my front wheel rode off and I gracelessly tumbled into the stream and got soaked from head to toe. It did wash my bike off though.
Rocks and branches and roots and trees were not the only obstacles to be negotiated. There were man - made barriers placed at irregular intervals alond the 45k route. Maybe it was a homemade cattle guard but when we came across a gate made from a number of hanging plastic road posts, it was best to dismount and walk through this eccentric opening.
Pumping up a gravel road to the first checkpoint after lunch, I could hear the booming artillery of thunder from the wall of dark clouds up ahead. I paused only long enough to eat a couple of pieces of watermelon and decided to skip whacking a golf ball from on top of a cliff behind the checkpoint. When asked, I was told that hitting golf balls from the ridge had become a tradition and when the practise had been discontinued, the chorus of grumbling from riders had gotten the odd diversion reinstated.
It was a torturous pull from the next checkpoint to the finish line at Blue Lake as we came across the results of the thunder we had heard earlier. The uphill trail became a slippery trough with many, many puddles dotting the center line and I followed the advice that our instructors had given us on a wet training night - go through the puddle instead of trying to go to the side where the risk of sliding and toppling into the puddle was likely.
It seemed we would never reach the end and it was a welcome relief to reach an unmarked checkpoint where two volunteers were recording bib numbers (I suspect that in the past someone may have been left behind on the mountain) and they informed us that there was only half a klick to go to the finish line.
I'm sure most riders feel gratified when they are cheered into the finish line and this goal we had reached was no exception as we were cheered in. The grounds of the lodge at Blue Lake were strewn with filthy bikes and exhausted riders. There was a long line-up at the bike washing stand and wanting to get back down to Hinton as soon as possible, I figured that if it rained in the night, the washing my bike would receive would be good enough since th bike was going to get scuzzed up again on day two.
Since beer was for sale at the finish line, the chatter on the bus was full of laughter and the excited exclamations of bikers who had done something difficult - and as one sage put it "No matter what we faced on the trail, it was better than having MS."