by | Jul 25, 2010

The Great Divide Trail: Mile 0


Slideshow: Alberta to Montana


By the time I had done my shopping, packed up, and found my way to the back parking lot of the massive Victorian Banff Hotel where the north end of the Great Divide Trail begins, it was past noon on July 29. An accommodating German tourist snapped a picture of Succotash and asked where I was going.

“Mexico,” I said.

“On that?”


Poor Succotash. And then I was off.


The trail ran south beside a clear fast flowing stream, the rugged mountains of the Canadian Rockies bracing the sky, the forest deep and green, and the trail, at first smooth, perhaps groomed for the many tourists, soon turned rough and rocky. Succotash was banged and jarred, she rattled and lurched. I couldn’t, for the life of me, see how she could withstand 2,700 miles of this kind of abuse. I was right.


First Days on the Trail


For the first time I felt—not transported, it was too small, too tentative, too early in the trip, to call it that—say it was more of a joyful hop;one charged by the beauty of the country, the starting of a great project, of the body, mind, and soul all aligned and ticking over with the frictionless beauty of a good front wheel, and an absolute absence of traffic.


I climbed over my first continental divide crossing on the Trail and camped by a clear-water stream that rushed thru a rocky gorge. On the afternoon of my second day, I left the Trail, turning down a side road, and biked a few hundred yards to my cousin’s summer cottage in Peter Laugheed Provincial Park. I found the hidden key and let myself in. Cousin and family showed up later that afternoon.


Her kids were my second cousins and, somewhat to my surprise, were easily pried from their electronics. In fact, I spent a long Sunday morning, with several neighborhood kids, getting stomped without mercy in a retro game of Risk. This was somewhat distressing since I rarely lost at the game and because world domination was one of my career options.


Years ago, thirty-five, in fact, I’d abandoned my scruples and had taken a job on the Alaskan Pipeline. My very first night on the job—I was on the North Slope, it was 40 below, the wind was screeching—and the foreman shows up with a brand-new, still cellophaned game of Risk. We spent the entire shift—it was night and very black outside—playing two games. I won both.


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