A Message From Paul Attalla!

Hi Everyone!

Paul Attalla here.  Wow, what a ride.   

From the very start I knew this year’s race was going to be tough as I was setting out to beat the world record.   To do this, I knew I would be pushing my physical limits which potentially invites injury or break down.  I wanted to see if I could do it!  Unfortunately, 2 days after starting, 850 kilometers in, we all know what happened.  Let me walk you through my journey.

Banff Start:

In 2011’s race, I started from South to North hoping that the snow would melt enough before I reached up North where part of the “Official” route was closed due to high-snow pack (all the North to South riders who set out that year knew they couldn’t feasibly do the “Official Route” but by going South to North, I was hoping it would be open by the time I made it up there).  Unfortunately, by the time I reached up north, the snow hadn’t receded that much and I was forced onto the alternate route.  The good thing was that I came first going South to North and did it in 16 days which gave me a lot of confidence this year.

This year, with the lower snowpack, the “Official Route” was open, so, North to South I go.  The Grand Depart where most riders leave together is usually set for the second Friday of June, but I was worried about the risk of having to take fire detours in Colorado and New Mexico, meaning, the longer I waited, the more likely it was that a fire down South would force the racers off the “official” route and bust my chances at beating the record.  So, I set off on the Tuesday before Friday’s Grand depart.  

I arrived in Banff on Sunday night and spent most of Monday just getting ready.  Walking around Banff I looked like a HOBO in an old pair of clothes I was going to leave in the hotel the next morning.  I did my shopping, some grilled Cheese Panini’s for the next day, and basically tried to rest.  The rest didn’t come. I barely slept 2 or 3 hours the night before.  The one bit of solace I found is that I was reminiscing about where I was two years earlier at the start of 2011’s race.  I was at the New Mexico border the night before the race trying to sleep worried about scorpions and snakes.  There weren’t any here.

Day 1:  355 Kms (220 miles):  Banff to Cabin Pass (Flathead)

I woke up at 3:30am, downed down some carrot juice, yogurt, berries, ham and a hotel coffee and headed for the trail.  I arrived a little early at 3:50am.  It was raining and pitch black.  It was kind of funny standing there all alone waiting for 4am to hit it.  I’m standing in the rain, it’s pitch black, but all I can think about is “let’s do this”.  I was mainly concerned that I wanted a clean first day.  I’m normally a slow starter in the first few days and didn’t want anything bad happening:  No bears running me into creeks and no mechanical breakdowns.   With my rain jacket on, my 200 lumen bike lights on, and my knee warmers on, I set off.  It was clean.  I only saw one cougar and one grizzly that morning.  Even with a headwind I was on record’ish world record pace arriving into Elkford 8 hours later.  I didn’t spend more than 5 minutes there.  Some guy was washing his car and I asked to borrow his pressure washer for a moment to wash my bike as it was so muddy.  At the gas station I bought some apple turnovers, ate one of my cheese panini’s, and downed a vitamin water.  It was a fast turnaround, literally, no more than five to ten minutes.

I booked it to Sparwood, and disappointingly the Subway line-up was too big so A&W it was.  I ordered five chubby chickens to last me until noon the next day and a fully loaded teen burger for right now.  The gas station provided me with some more chocolate bars and some wine gums.  It was another fast turn-around.

Unfortunately more headwind faced me all the way to Flathead Pass.  I wasn’t cold though until I had to start wading through these streams.  With all the avalanches and run-off’s there was a good 30 minutes of stream-traversing which required me holding my bike above the water line.  It’s part of the fun, but the consequence is that my feet were freezing wet until what seemed like the next day.

At 9:00 I arrived at Butts Cabin, a little cabin in the middle of nowhere in the flathead.  After 200 miles I was very happy to call it day.  There’s a wood stove where I can get all my wet gear dry, but there were campers there having beers and a bonfire.  They invited me to join them, but I could tell from the amount of beer they were just getting started.  So I pushed on up Cabin Pass.

Typically, even during daytime, the 13 mile Cabin Pass is a nervous ride due to the high number of Grizzly bears and cougars.  Doing it in the dark in a big thunderstorm on 200 mile legs was nerve racking.  Visibility was poor with snowy rain and freezing conditions.  I was actually little scared! but the positive of that is that I made good time (thanks to fear induced adrenaline) and arrived towards the top at around 11pm and settled down.  It took me a good hour to fall asleep as my feet were so cold (and with the adrenaline still in my system), and I slept really poorly that night.  Probably nodding off around midnight only sleeping for about 2 or 3 hours.  

Day 2:  266 Kms (166 miles): Cabin Pass (Flathead) to Columbia Falls Montana

My GPS Alarm rang at 4:30.  Waking up was very cold, wet and difficult.  The impact of day 1 weighed heavy on my body.  My IT bands were sore, my bum was sore, but this is all expected even with doing a big training weeks (my biggest training week was three days in a row doing: 160 miles, 180 miles and 120 miles), but even though I’m going hard on these, it doesn’t prepare you for the first day.  Hence I know races like these I start out slower in the first couple of days but then those first few normal body aches go away.

Still, starting out that morning I couldn’t get warm.  My chubby chickens were cold and soaking wet.  I felt like I was pulling weight.  Going down the backside of Cabin Pass there were potholes and debris everywhere.  It was really cold.  I made it to the section where you have to hike your bike.  It was wet and sloggy.  The push up the hill was fine as I’ve done it a few times before and knew what to expect.  I remained patient and knew that everything would be better after this next section Galton Pass. And sure enough it was.  I even had a few laughs.

I made it to the border and Eureka by 11:30.   In Eureka I physically regrouped with a 40 min lunch break and resupply and felt much better.  It’s amazing what a Subway footlong triple bacon cheese (extra cooking on the bacon so it drips into the bread), pickles, jalapenos, cucumbers, and lettuce will do to you!  I bought three of them!! as well as a Philly Steak and Cheese.  Some hot chocolate, coffee, coke and chocolates bars later, I was refreshed and raring to go.

By 2:30pm I was up and over Whitefish divide with no snow.  It was no longer raining and I started to find my zone.  I had glimpses of a clear mind which were encouraging.  I made great time and was enjoying the ride.  Then all of sudden things changed.  Let me explain what happened.

By 4pm, it was pouring rain again, I was on Red Meadow Lake Pass but it had snow covering it.  I decided to run it, not only to keep a fast pace but to also keep my feet warm.  With the warm rain it made the snow very soft and my feet would sink deep to my shins with every step.  I was near the end the of the snow when I stepped on fallen tree below the snows surface.  The stepping action of my toe actually caused the tree to snap back against my toe and I felt something happen.  It should have hurt, but it didn’t.  I didn’t think much of it, and continued to run.

Coming down the other side into Whitefish another 50km later I felt a bit of stiffness but I wasn’t too worried as I thought it was normal wear and tear after doing 600 kilometers in less than two days.

Arriving into Whitefish at 8pm and there were some people with signs.  At first I thought that they were holding some charity car wash but they were actually some people cheering me on.  That buoyed my spirits.  I saw some guy watering his lawn and borrowed his hose to wash my bike.  After a quick stop at the 2nd best gas station in the world for some food, I continued to Columbia Falls.  

I arrived there at 9:30pm.  At the local grocery store I bought five subs, 2 bowls of salad, some apples, lots of chocolate bars, some batteries for the petz, gps, lights, and a bunch of juices.  I also borrowed their phone and called ahead to the hotel in Ferndale wanting to know if they had a room and if they would serve food tomorrow morning.  They said no, and at 100 dollars a night versus 60 bucks in Columbia Falls where I was, it was a no-brainer.  I got a hotel room there and ate and ate and ate.  I fell asleep by 11pm.

Day 3:  225 Kms (141 miles) Columbia Falls to Seeley Lake Montana

By 3:15 am I was cycling again.  When I got up, I knew something was wrong.  My left achilles was swollen but I was happy that it didn’t hurt that much.  That feeling of happiness was short-lived when I made it to the first climb.  Going up that hill, I was using my legs pretty hard to keep with World Record pace and at one point I felt a twang.  I remember thinking “Fawk, this is bad”.  I knew I had a problem.  I had sharp left leg pain.  I pulled over.  I felt it.  It was pretty sore and swollen.  I re-grouped.  I decided, OK, let’s see if I can climb a different way.  My toe cleats were already to the back, so I moved my seat down to take strain from my calves.  That didn’t work the pain got worse and riding out of the saddle up hills wouldn’t work.  OK.  So, no standing up.  I continued on.

The next big climb was Richmond Peak.  It’s a monster 15 mile climb.  I actually knew deep down before Richmond Peak I was in big-trouble, but I wanted to do it to prove that I wasn’t just wimping out.  Going up the pass I couldn’t stand on my bike and my leg was getting worse and worse.

At the top of Richmond Peak there are tons of debris from slides and fallen trees.  So, to navigate, you constantly have to lift up your bike, or shuffle around them.  It’s a bit technical, and if you’re fit, it’s not an issue, but now I couldn’t plant (lift off) my left leg.  I started worrying that I was going to have be rescued off this peak!  I knew I was in big trouble.  I was done.  There was no question.  The deal was sealed when I couldn’t jump over all these trees, let alone climb.

I completed the painful obstacle course, cycled the last 20 miles into Seeley lake, arriving at 8pm and called my parents, my wife Nicky, Matt Lee (5-time winner) and MTB Cast to all tell them the bad news.  Matt told me of a friend of his who might be able to pick me up the next day.  

Settling into the hotel was frustrating as not only I was forced out of the race, but the hotel clerk gave me a big lecture about not bringing my bike into the hotel room.  It was the last thing I needed.  In the hotel room I couldn’t stand up without pain.  Not only because of the achilles but because my bum area was ripped from sitting uphill on the saddle all day.  I was in pain.  I grabbed some food from the local restaurant, turned on the TV, ate and felt a little numb knowing it’s over.  

I was sad but I was not devastated.  I took risks and now I felt the consequences: pain, injury, failure, humility and feeling selfish.  The positive was that I tried my hardest, I was loved, encouraged and supported by many people, and that I would be home for Fathers Day.  

The next day Matt’s friend Cricket Butler who tried for the female world record in 2011 but was injured in Colorado picked me up to give me a ride to Whitefish.  She brought along her two kids.  It was cathartic speaking with her as we had similar experiences in getting injured while trying to achieve a world record.  She understood.  

The one regret I have is that I never felt the deep meditative state that Tour Divide brings in the middle to end of the race.  Determination will get you through the first few days.  Then once the determination tank runs dry you are left with a raw sense of emotions brought on from fatigue, being alone in a harsh but beautiful landscape and the vulnerability felt from prolonged exposure to the elements.  These factors combine to bring you to a state of mind that is difficult to find, and rarely visited.  In this place your emotions run unfettered - you may cry or laugh for no particular reason.  You think of “great” ideas for hours on end that you never really execute when you return to your normal life.  You're truly in the moment and at peace with yourself and your existence.  You reflect on life: successes and failures.  You identify the real challenges in your life and look towards them with optisms.  You forgive.  You realise that you need less things, that some problems can not be fixed and some are not even problems at all.  You discover what makes you happy and that emotions are the greatest source of fuel.  

Thanks for Tyler and Ian of Straight Line Ski & Bike in Fernie who set me up and Santa Cruz for their fantastic High Ball!  

Special thanks to Brett, Sean and Dave who helped to raise $1500 for Autism Research and a big thank you to those of you who donated despite the shortness of my attempt.  I had this week off to heal and spent it going to soccer games and changing light bulbs at home and cut the lawn and such.  I hope to be riding in a month.

This ride would have never happened if was not for my ultra-endurance wife who took care of the three kids while I was away and the two months prior during the peak training time.  In fact the magnitude of this event is so large that it takes and an entire village to make it happen.  Nothing beats being with the girls and family!  Lastly, and I know this sounds surreal, but when I was out there riding, I could actually FEEL your support, cheers and prayers.  Your support and push made me go faster.  Thank YOU.

Lastly, for those who have pledged, if you can please donate your pledges to:  
For those in Canada wishing a Tax Receipt:
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Thank YOU,