Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tour Divide. More Than A Silly Bike Race. Part V. The final days.

My apologies on taking so long to finish this.

After turning my alarm off, and sleeping later than planned, I still managed to wake up at about 4AM, pack up my tent, etc, and be moving by about 430. I was now in second, and there was no one realistically left to catch, but I didn't want to be caught either. I suppose it didn't really matter, as the pace I was riding at was pretty much the only pace I could ride at. If I intentionally dropped my pace, I would soon find myself back at my normal cruising speed, and if I tried to push harder, I would burn out and end up back at 'my' pace. Each mile I rode that morning I kept thinking "I could have ridden this last night," so I constantly tried to remind myself how terrible I was feeling, and justify why I had stopped so soon. There were some beautiful views with the early morning sun as I made my way through Canon Plaza. Not much of a town per say, but just before the descent was an amazing gorge, and the sun glistened off the pines and sandstone. Soon after, I had to go through the small locality of Vallecitos. Nothing more than a post office in a trailer, and a few homes which looked more like shacks. It was certainly a bit of culture shock.

Vallecitos was my first experience with New Mexico dogs. I had read about dog issues down south, and having been chased countless times, and even bitten a few on road rides back home, I have a fear of dogs while riding. Barking was the town sound, and the chain link and scrap wood fences 'containing' these junkyard dogs did not increase confidence. Sure enough I was soon surrounded by about 8 or so haggard looking mutts. I was now off my bike trying to keep it between myself and the dogs, but the were too many, and they started coming behind me as well. An equally haggard man came out of a nearby shack, and I felt relieved, "Maybe they are his dogs," I hoped. He was clearly high/stoned/drunk or some other sort of messed up and who-knows-what? Instead of calling the dogs off, he simply muttered, "Sorry about the," and wandered back into his shack.  I had carried my bear spray the entire length of the race, and was feeling pretty silly about that while riding through the Basin and other desert like areas, where the only form of visible life was cattle and sage.  I was now in a sticky situation. The can of spray states "Do not use on domestic animals." This didn't bother me, as these dogs were far from domesticated. I had used HALT, a dog specific pepper spray, before, with poor results. (Imagine trying to pee on a viscous animal while being attacked on a moving bicycle.) I took the safety off the bear can, timid of similar, less-than-impressive results. Thankfully, as I made a fanning spray of the 5 or so dogs now behind me, they quickly backed off, stumbled away, and began licking their butts trying to get the taste out of their mouth. Free enough to move, I began to pedal on, and was chased by another dog and puppy, which I was able to fend off with foot to face tactics. I have never been happier to cross a cattle guard and get out of a small "town."

I had some leftovers for breakfast, but was really getting quite hungry. The map showed a restaurant in El Rito, just a few miles away, so I began imagining what wonderful breakfast I was going to order. Turns out, El Rito is also not much of a town, and the restaurant didn't open 'till 11AM and it was only 9 or so. Thankfully there was a very small convenience store, where I got a microwave burrito, some canned fruit and a few beverages. On my way into El Rito, I ended up off the road, and nearly crashed twice as the road was so sandy in sections. Just as I would pick up speed, I would crest a knoll, with seemingly bottomless sugar sand and washboard bumps. There was no way to react other than try and keep the front wheel light, and not touch the brakes. The 15 or so miles from El Rito to Abiquiu were slightly downhill and paved, a welcomed ride, although there were some headwinds which hindered progress, but nothing intolerable. A wonderful pleasant surprise after the few towns I had just come through was the Abiquiu Inn. Clearly a touristy destination, the upscale yuppies were actually a pleasant sight after the run down towns I had come through within the last 50 miles. I ordered way too much food to eat within reasonable time. I didn't want to leave. They even had fruit! I spent nearly an hour in this spoiled paradise, eating as much as I could, before I ventured back into the desert.

The remainder of the day was fairly unremarkable. I was nearly hit buy a woman in a Civic ready for the demolishion derby about 3 miles out of Abiquiu. There was a 4000+ foot climb right after my excellent 3rd breakfast, which put my back to over 10000feet, and I stayed between 9000 and 10000 for most of the remained of the day. The roads were terrible, a mix of sand and cracked slab rock, which appeared as it someone emptied a concrete truck, and walked away without doing anything else. There were brutal headwinds scattered throughout the day, which just added to the pain, and reminded me of how much I just wanted to finish this race. I just wanted to not ride for a few waking hours. The day continued in a very lonesome manner, and I was so thankful to have brought my iPod and have some music to zone out to. Just before the final descent into Cuba, I passed through a campground in the San Pedro Wilderness. I could hear families laughing, as I smelled what they were grilling, and tried not to look too closely into their camps as I passed through. The laughter and happiness really hit me hard, and I was once again reminded of how lonely I felt, and how far from home I was. Did I mention I was now ready for this to be over? The descent to Cuba was paved, and steep. I maintained about 35mph most of the way into town, making the last 5 miles fly by. Excited to find more than McDonalds, I got a decent meal in BBQ joint, and stocked up for the next day in the convenience store, while catching more than usual snied looks and remarks regarding my now quite disgusting lyrca attire.

I got an early start the next day, with a decent nights sleep. The race route leaving Cuba follows an all paved alternated all the way to grants, and another paved route about half way to Pie Town from Grants. I rode for almost two hours the next morning before I had enough natural light to turn off my bike lights. The paved roads were, again, a welcome treat, and I was making good time. The elevation plot on the maps were a bit deceptive, and seemed to show the route being much flatter than it felt. Even though we were on a paved road, this section was still fairly remote, and there wasn't much going on roadside. I did have another dog encounter, this time at speed, and my quick draw on the bear spray brought the beast to the pavement at about 25mph. The woman on the porch of the house the dog ran from did not look impressed. My adrenaline skyrocketed and I began riding faster as if I could outrun a car if she decided she didn't like what had happened to her mutt, thankfully this never happened, but the imagination does crazy things when your bored, lonely, and exhausted. When I reached Grants, I was, surprise...., very hungry. Most of the restaurants where closed. I stopped to ask a biker, like motorcycle biker, if there was any food farther east, and he said there was a Denny's. It ended up being early a mile off route, but my heart was set on Denny's once I heard the name. A few breakfasts for here, and a couple lunches to go please! With pavement I was making excellent time for the day, and I had a bit more to go. I saw a natural stone arch along the El Malpais Alternate, but otherwise that section of the ride had no other excitement.  Soon, the route way back on dirt. Loose sandy gravel, washboard side to side kinda dirt. The road to Pie Town was terrible. At one point I gave up on the road, and rode on the 4 wheeler path near the fence for a few miles. It wasn't fast, but it was smoother, firmer, and faster than the road. I was happy to see Jefe's CrossMark track on this path as well. I felt less alone in the struggle, even though we were hundreds of miles apart. I just kept thinking PIE TOWN. I had a hankering for some chocolate pudding pie, or apple, or peach, or...., or..... Upon entry into town, I found one person, taking a picture of a Restaurant. I was shattered to see it was now closed, but she was the owner! All sold out of pie, but she got me a few root beers, left over quiche, chili, and cantaloupe. Sure, a random meal, but it made my night. I ate it on the porch, before riding out of town during sunset. I was planning for another 30+ miles, but as soon as it was dark, my bike light began a strobe effect, and I couldn't see at all. I put on my camp headlamp, and rode a bit longer. The rode was lined with fence and posted signs. This continued for 10 miles or so, and eventually I found a spot where I could get far enough off the road to get my tent behind a juniper tree and be out of sight. Note to self: I really need to get the reflective tent strings off for more incognito camping abilities.

Leaving camp in the morning I smelled smoke. When I rounded a corner, the sky was filled. For a few miles the air was so thick, I could feel it in my lungs. I turned on my phone and called home to see if there were reports of local wildfires, or re-routes I hadn't heard about. Reports were clear, and after a few more miles things seemed to clear up a bit, and I never saw any active fire. I will admit, I underestimated the remoteness of the Pie Town section. Between Pie Town and rt 35 leading into Pinos Altos and Silver City, there is next-to-nothing. I really don't know how the guys with 3 liter water capacity made it through. I was carrying about 6-7 liters, and I began filling reserve bottles from fecal lined puddles in the desert. Thankfully, I came to the Beaverhead Work Center and was able to get clean water before I needed to use the extremely questionable water I began collecting just-in-case. I sound like a broken record, but my broken butt certainly remembers, the washboard was endless. I felt like I was being beaten to a pulp. After a few big climbs, the route eventually came to paved Rt 35. The race route dictated that we follow a single track alternate which followed the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) for a few miles, and then connected with Jeep trails. This section of trail was the same as every other single track section in that I would have loved to ride it, just not at that point in the day, with feet as painful as mine were. I should have taken more pictures of the CDT alt, but it was basically 12" benchcut on steep grade, with a loose gravely base, and tons of baby-heads scattered amongst. I kept myself going by promising myself the last jello-fruit cup in my pack, once I got back to the main route. Back on pavement, there was a good descent, and another small climb into Pinos Altos. It was getting dark, and I had my lights on more so I could be seen, than to see. I kept my sunglasses on simply because there were large swarms of bugs, and I didn't want them in my eyes. From Pins Altos to Silver City was mostly downhill, and now quite dark. I had to watch for deer, which seemed to be everywhere, and could cause a catastrophic collision with a bicycle. My original plan was not to stop in Silver City, and deplete myself in a Pie Town to Border push. If i had a chance of catching anyone, I would have made the push. Same thing from behind, I had built a large enough buffer zone, that I was confident no one would catch me if I stopped and slept for a few hours. The Golden Arches of McD's were the first thing I saw coming into town, and only having resorted to McD's once before during the race, I decided not to search any farther for other food. I got a hotel across the street, so I was back just a few hours later for breakfast.

Waking up....never got easier. The last day!! As I rode out of Silver City, the sky was scary. Storms on all sides of me, I got a sprinkle or two, but thankfully dodged the rest of the inclement weather. These storm clouds made for an epic sunrise to my left as I rode south on the Separ road. I was making good time that morning, undoubtedly adrenaline driven, making the push to be finished. A quick stop at the Continental Divide Store for a few more calories and to call the guy who would pick my up at the border. "Silver Stage Lines, this is Michael." The remaining 70 miles where, well, boring. 5 miles of dirt frontage road paralleled Interstate 10 east, until I hooked South and followed the paved, flat, and straight road for 65 miles to the border. I never left my saddle from the store to the border. Just 4+ hours of head down, cranking. Most of the time I had a ridiculous smile of accomplishment. Of course this cam as soon as I hit that road, thinking 65 mies was nothing. 4 hours later I was still waiting to ACTUALLY be done. From the "5 miles to US/Mexico" border sign I sprinted. I'm not sure why, but it felt like the right thing to do. I was recording video as I rolled into the US border Patrol building area, and one guard felt the need to go through my photos and hassle me about a picture with my watch and the side of a building with no identifying nature. Apparently I had stopped about 100 yards before the border, hence adding about 2 minutes to my total time...I won't cry about it. I took pictures at the border line, and got my passport stamped in Mexico, just because I could. I walked back to the US building, and was stoked to see the vending machine. I cannot remember his name, but a very friendly Border Patrolman brought me an Ice Cream. I rode a bicycle from Banff, AB to the Mexican border in 18d5h29min, finishing second in what is claimed to be the toughest, longest, mountain bike race on the planet. I won an ice cream, and it was awesome. Finishing TD was quite emotionless. I was happy, but I was alone. I had some small talk conversation with the border patrol guys until my ride was there. We stuffed my bike in the back of a Cadillac, and made the drive back to Silver City, boy, that was way quicker than on the bike.

I made it to Gila Hike and Bike in downtown Silver City, just a bit before they closed. I was happy to buy some flip-flops and a new shirt. They even let me take a rental bike across town to buy some casual shorts and underwear. After spending 18+ days on a bike seat that fits well, riding on a rental saddle was extremely painful, not to mention riding in flip-flops, for a guy who has never owned flip-flops before! I headed back to a hotel downtown, where my options where a 3 room suite with AC, bathroom, shower, and TV for $75/night or a dorm-style room, with a box fan for $60/night, I was rollin' in style, in the creaky old building with no light in the shower. I showered with the curtain open so I could see, and went out on the town, feeling super fly in baggy shorts and a T-shirt. I met some of the guys from the bike shop and had a great meal and a beer. I hadn't yet adjusted back into a social life, but it felt like a good beginning back to normal life. The next morning I woke up, and jumped out of bed and started searching for my lyrca when I saw it was light out. "I'm losing time," I thought, before I dawned on me, I'm done, it's OK to sleep past 4AM. If only I knew what the next 2 weeks of transition back to life had in store.

There it is folks. That's my story. There's more to come on returning home, recovering, re-adjusting to life, etc. I will also be writing with some generalized insight, and mid flight oversight about the race. What I thought before the race, what I was thinking during the race, and what I think now. I will also review my gear, what I used, what I loved, what I hated, things I'll keep the same, things I'll change, and maybe some rookie now veteran advice for those looking into TD. But seriously, I've been typing to long, I've got a 6" travel All Mountain bike calling my name! Braaapp.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tour Divide. Most Than a Silly Bike Race. part IV Kremmling, CO to the side of the road somewhere in New Mexico

Leaving Kremmling, CO I knew Evan had left a few minutes before me. I honestly came into Tour Divide not caring about how I was going to place. I had time goals, personal goals, but had no idea, or concern about how those would compare to others riders. At some point, when I found out that I was actually riding quite competitively, I started caring. At this point, it was a race for second, in my opinion. Jefe was days ahead, and there was no way I could catch him.  Sam and Kate (tandem team), had built a decent gap over Evan and me, but I needed something to help push myself, so I set out to try and catch them. In central CO I was feeling stronger than any other point in the race. My feet were beginning to get soar, but my knees were no longer an issue, and my recovery plan was allowing my legs to get stronger each day, rather than just digging a deeper hole into exhaustion. It was time to make up some more mileage.

Kremmling to Salida had some of the most urban-like riding of the race. After Ute Pass (mostly paved), we soon connected to  paved bike path which would bring us through some touristy mountain towns from Silvethorne to Breckenridge.  The hardest part with all of that was not get distracted by all the great smelling food and pretty ladies. Yayyyyy, shiny things! Okay, south of Breck, Boreas Pass. I could climb all day, so long as I see progress, I can crank out at 5-7 mph all day long with a smile on my face. On the descent of Boreas, TD race route has a not-on-the-ACA-map alternate, known as the Gold Dust Alt, a "steep" single track descent. This section of trail would have been a blast without all the gear and painful feet. Not that it want fun, but my condition definitely limited what I could enjoy, and the speed at which I could enjoy it. The rest of the day was generally uneventful. Another long day had me descending into Salida via lights that night. Salida seemed like a big town compared to what we came through. I was hoping to be able to find some decent food still open, but at 1030PM McDonalds was the the only thing still open. Coming into town, I was asking an police officer to directions to a h/motel, and food, and I saw Sam and Kate getting ready to push on for the night. I was a little bummed to admit I was to tired to ride on that night, but I was excited that I had at least gained enough ground to have them in my sights. McDonalds that night, and a bunch to go, as I had to stock up on something for the next day, calories are calories at that point.

I was a little slow getting going the next morning. As I pedaled on, going through Poncho Springs, just about 5 miles after Salida, I was kicking myself for not making Poncho Springs the night before, especially after all my off-route adventuring to find such crummy food the night before. A big day of climbing ahead, a highway climb out of Poncho Springs quickly turned to a more standard dirt road pass. Due to a silly GPS mistake and not zooming in far enough, I ended up taking a wrong turn for about a mile and climbing about 250vF extra. On the other side of the pass, the map showed that the small town of Sargents had a store and a restaurant. The very unaccommodating town had next to nothing on the shelves of the store, and the restaurant was not open for another 1/2 hour or so. A Gatorade and a few nasty granola bar like snacks, and I continued on my way. Some generally un-notable passes and some brutal headwinds later, I was working my way into Del Norte, CO for the night. A few miles before town, the winds were nothing short of crushing. A dot on the horizon was growing and growing. I had once again caught Kate and Sam. The winds were so strong we rode at about 7 mph on the flats, and when the winds were crossing I had to lean into them like I was railing a turn. Getting a slight wind break from a ridge, the route brought us through some extremely fun almost single track, which wove its way through the desert like landscape. I ran over a rattle snake and my feet were shaking the rest of the way into town, I hate snakes!!! The circumnavigation of the airport just shy of Del Norte was nothing short of frustrating as the winds once again seemed to fight me the entire way. But at least we had official Great Divide Mountain Bike Route signs to find our way! Del Norte had a nice little grocery store, and I had planned to meet Sam and Kate at a restaurant, which ended up being closed, so I retreated to my motel room that was so gross I think I would've slept better if I had just camped. The ants were marching, 1x1, 2x2, ... etc.

Sam and Kate has once again, gotten a jump on me in the morning. This time I caught them sometime in the early-ish morning. The first pass os the day was the highest elevation of the route, 11990, and then through Summitville and past some mining operations. The descent into Platoro was rougher road than I hoped for, and my feet were really starting to hurt. While eating a huge breakfast in Platoro, a guy tacking the race came in to say "hi." I felt weird, being greeted by strangers in random places, who knew who I was, and what I was doing. Weird, but really cool at the same time. The road after Platoro was just as rough, if not worse. The day kept us at considerably high elevation, and pushing as hard as I could, it eventually took a toll on me. That day I had crossed the New Mexico border, and I can't even say how much I underestimated New Mexico. I kept thinking it would be sort of a victory lap. I was wrong. Dead wrong. The climbs continued, the roads got worse, and I was getting tired. The elevation got to me, I was dizzy, started feeling sick. My diet was far from ideal, and I didn't have the food I wanted to be fueling off. I had enough water, but my electrolytes were low as I was avoiding the sugar of sports drinks because my mouth was starting to get soars from too much sugar, just trying to keep myself going.  Lunch got returned that afternoon, and I continued to push on, feeling sick as a dog. I couldn't concentrate, my body had become numb. I had a few conversations with people that I may never know if they actually existed.  About 730PM I had to call it. The weather was amazing, and I found a flat spot to pitch my tent. I slept from about 830PM till 400AM probably the longest night of the race, and I woke up feeling a world better.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tour Divide. More Than a Silly Bike Race. pt III Sawtelle Resort to Kremmling, CO

As I was leaving the Sawtelle Resort, I knew I was nearing the famed ID rail trail, and its sandy washboard. The weather was beautiful, but the trail was everything I hoped it wouldn't be. A few miles down it I cam across a moose cow and calf.  Not wanting to put myself any closer to a potentially dangerous situation, I stopped and made as much noise as possible until they finally decided to go on there way, so I could continue on mine. Mile after mile I continued to swerve around to try and reduce the impact of the washboard on my wrists and butt. Not too long later (In the scheme of the day) the trail improved to a gravel/ sandy mix that was flatter and faster. I was excited to get to the tunnel, since I enjoyed riding trough the train tunnels so much in Wisconsin last year. I was disapointed to find the tunnel fenced off and a re-route around the outside. When the trail ended I was on a bit of pavement, and into WY. Seeing the Tetons both from a distance, and as I was going through them, was incredible. Similar in appearance, to the Canadian rockies, the vast shear rock faces are absolutely incredible, and their reflections off of Jackson Lake where amazingly clear. This was another point I wanted to be able to stop and enjoy the scenery for a bit longer, although the droves of tourists where beginning to annoy me already, and I hadn't stopped for more than a bathroom break. The bit of pavement I was on allowed for some quick miles, and a nice change of pace from the morning. I also had a considerable bit of climbing ahead of me to clear Togwotee Pass, which was about 50/50 dirt and pavement to the top, and an all dirt alternate route from the top, which had a bit more snow and hike-a-bike, but the incredible weather and scenery made it bearable and still quite enjoyable. A few move paved miles brought me to the bottom of Union Pass, where i grabbed a quick snack and had a chat with a guy in a pickup who didn't think it would be possible to ride the pass on a bike....he doesn't know what we've been through. A long steep climb got me about 3/4 the way up Union Pass to Crooker Creek Lodge for the night where I shared a cabin with another rider.  
The next morning I was early to rise (at least by my standards) and off to finish Union Pass. The sun was rising just as I go to the top, and the ground was still frozen. There were a few patches of snow, but given the cold temps, it was like walking on solid ground, and parts were even rideable! The descent on the other side of the pass was a great one. My chain had been through the ringer on the ealry part of the trip, so I was excited to be on my way to the Pinedale Hardware Store and Bike Shop to get a new chain. My chain rings where severely worn as well, but there was no hope of replacing them here. A good breakfast and resupply later, and I was pedaling towards Atlantic City, no not New Jersey....WY. The road to AC was wide, smooth, and rolly. The tail winds were incredible, and they made the ride a blast. Over the rollers and small hills I was able to maintain and incredible moving speed, often maxing out my gearing options, and frequently climbing at about 20mph and cruising at 30-40 on flats and descents. Those few hours were amazing, only to be crushed by the same winds in reverse on a small highway connection for just a few miles before South Pass City, and eventually Atlantic City. The rain storms rolling in simulationausly did not help moral much either. Atlantic City was a tiny little town, and the bar was about to close down. The owner was extremely accommodating and made up some ham and cheese sandwiches for dinner and to-go for the next days food supply through the Basin. Through small town connections Geoff landed some great accommodation in a small apartment for rent that night, and Lorenzo and I bummed a shower and roof for the night.

The Basin. Not much happens there. The Basin is a geographical point of interest in that any precipitation that falls in the Basin is either absorbed or evaporated, it does not drain to anywhere but within itself. That said, it doesn't rain much there. In fact, I'm pretty sure Sage brush is the only thing, other than a few idiotic bikers, that inhabits the basin. I kept picturing a meeting amongst rattle snakes and other desert dwelling creatures having a meeting, and deciding "Well it sucks here, let's leave." I suppose the Basin experience could've been much worse, the cross winds COULD have been headwinds. Getting to paved Mineral X road felt like a celebratory event at the time, but I was quick to discover a road so flat and boring I needed a map to discover I was actually making a ~30 mile long sweeping left hand turn. The expansion joints frequent "thud thud" on the tires certainly was annoying, but it may have actually helped keep me awake.  Continueing on out of the basin, next stop, Rawlins. A quick resupply and than a good warm meal with Geoff, Walter, and Lorenzo, we all planned on pushing father (It was only about 5 PM) especially with the construction zone about 30 miles south and only passable during non-working hours. The climb up Monument Hill should not have been so bad, but between the wind and the grade, it felt like we were in Turtle Races, climbing at about 3-4mph for longer than I would have liked. Soon after the climb, it was getting dark, and we decided to camp out just beyond the active work zone, behind a pile of rocks. The adventuresome me is a bit ashamed to admit this was my first night in a tent for the entire trip, but with the constant wet weather and cold temps, the competitive me was, and still is, OK with my logistic decision. I slept really well that night, and I really do like my little tent! We began moving at about 4AM, little did I know I was starting the longest day (time wise) of the trip. We were about 60 or 70 miles short of Brush Mountain Lodge, a famed must-stop resort in the middle of no-where. Before Brush Mountain, that morning we also crossed the CO border and rode though Aspen Alley, a beautiful hallway of dirt road lined with perfect mature Aspen trees. Unfortuneatly my piece of garbage camera had a dead battery...again. Upon arrival at brush mountain, the place appeared to be still sleeping. I had enough food to push on, but just as I was about to continue south Kirsten came around the corner. Another wonderful person with fantastic TD rider accommodation, I am glad we got to meet. I charged my phone and camera while I ate a delicious breakfast or 3. Still feeling recharged and energetic on my back-swing from Ovando, I eagerly continued forward from Brush Mountain, just at Geoff and Lorenzo touched down for a meal. I was Steamboat, CO bound with a cassette that was creaking more than an old rocking chair. The pass just before Steamboat (I cant remember the name without the map in front of me,) was a doozie. A long climb up, finished off with a few hundred feet of cobble-rock-rubble ATV path, and a similarly rough descent. This was another situation where the riding could have been much more enjoyable with another bike, fresher legs, and less painful feet. Soon, the trail became dirt road, and the remainder of the descent into Steamboat was a 30+mph thrill ride.

While I left my bike with the crew at Orange Peel Bike Shop, I went out on the town with a rental bike. Fenders, grip-shift internal hub, beach bars, and a seat wide enough to support Oprah...yeah you know the kind. I was still lyrca-clad, and probably looking quite haggard, so I got some pretty epic looks as I wove through traffic on my new ride, on my way to the grocery store, Post Office, and Deli. I saw my (new) old friend Evan in town, as he was having some bike work done as well. We joked about our appearance on the rental bikes, and made a plan to meet up for the night. We both wanted to make Kremmling, about another 80 miles or so out of Steamboat. His bike was ready, but my pace was a bit quicker so we made the plan that he would cruise easy, and I would hammer to catch up. After a few sandwiches, my bike was tuned up and ready to shredy. Like a dog with a rabbit, I hammered out of town. Around Yampa Lake the headwinds tried their hardest to destroy me. I was happy to be back in the woods soon after the lake to make up some time on the hills without howling wind. It was just before a small river crossing that I saw Evan as a speck on the horizon. Eventually we caught up and crossed said river together. It was cold, and fast moving, but not too deep or dangerous, but it was still nice to be with someone else for the crossing. Riding on that night was somewhere between the most fun and most exhausting experience of the whole trip. I had ridden most of the race alone up to this point. Sure I had some brief conversation here-and-there, but I hadn't spent hours on end with one person. Bonking hard at about 1030, some green-tea caffeine pills and friendly conversation kept me awake and alive to push into Kremmling that night at about 1230. Thanks for pushing me Evan! Long night descents on tiny dirt roads deep in CO made for some exhilarating riding. Upon cresting a big hill we see a "Downhill" truck sign, Evan points and says
"Hey, look, we're like trucks."
"Yeah, we're haulin' ass!"
I'm not sure if it was the fact that I was way beyond exhausted, or if it was actually that funny, but I laughed for miles and miles after that. Upon arival in Kremmling, I chugged a chocolate milk and chowed on some nachos from the convenience store and fell asleep in my bike clothes on top of the covers in the Super 8. It was almost 1AM at this point and I was zonked, so there was no way my 330AM alarm was going to work. I slept till 6, and felt recharged enough for another day. A short trip across to the same convenience store got me some Good Morning Breakfast Burrito calories to start the day, and I hit the road feeling awesome an strong.

To be continued.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Tour Divide. More Than a Silly Bike Race. pt II Ovando, MT to almost ID

Not "Single track" but fun riding!


Top of Fleecer Ridge

Beautiful MT.

Elk Horn Hot Springs with Josh

What other race has ranch life delay?

Big Sky
With a new attitude, a new fire burning, and just enough rest time to allow my knees and other aches to recover a bit, I knew what I was going to have to do to get back on track for my 18ish day personal goal. I needed to hammer. Realizing early on that I needed more sleep than I thought I would, I needed to make up time during daylight hours. TD is interesting in the fact that there are no stops, stages, checkpoint, or limits in general really. Rider X may be able to pedal at a slow steady pace from Banff to Mexico without ever sleeping. Rider Y may be able to ride hard for 12-16 hours a day, stop, and sleep well, be passed and then catch and pass Rider X the next, only to be passed again while they’re sleeping the next night. In this simplified explanation I am certainly Rider Y…Ride hard, recover well, repeat.

Going into the race I thought I would be able to push through long nights and cover a lot of extra ground. Due to weight and recharging issues I decided to change up from my normal lights that I ride at home, so I had significantly less light going forward, and after riding all day and then eating dinner, I was tired. With so much less light and energy, I found my pace would drop so far it often was not worth moving. If I got 4-5 hours sleep, I could wake up and cover the same ground in half the time, and do it much safer. I was fine riding by light before sunrise, because I was rested and had that “new-day” drive.

Due to having lost time in Ovando, I knew I was going to have to put in some extra to get back on track. I couldn’t just keep pace with those around me, I had to try to keep pace with those out front and pulling away, if not try to CATCH them. My brake pads were running thin from long descents and wet weather, and not a single shop in Butte, MT had the pads I needed. Thankfully I was carrying spares, and with dryer weather ahead, I should be able to get the race out of them, and I did. On my way out of Butte, I spotted my buddy Josh on the side of the road fixing a flat. I waited up for a few minutes so we could put on some miles together. We did get separated on our way to Fleecer Ridge, which I had heard was holding some more snow, but to my surprise was dried out by the time I got there. I did has a bit of a push up the last bit to the top to save some energy, but conditions allowed for a full ride on the downhill. Fleecer Ridge is STEEP, and given the secluded nature and the fact that I was riding alone, I probably shouldn’t have ridden it, but the adrenaline of riding steep DH course-like trails on a full rigid touring rig was worth the risk. I had an absolute blast bombing down, and regrouped with a few riders below in Wise River for lunch. That evening I made the cruise to Elk Horn Hot Springs in absolutely gorgeous weather, on primarily pavement, which was actually a pleasant change of pace. Josh and I shared a room in Elk Horn Hot Springs. Unfortunately our time schedule was going to allow for lounging in the springs, but the memory foam mattresses, burgers, milkshakes, and sandwiches for the road made for an excellent choice in stopping point.

Enter washboard. Day 8 was a long one, about 190 miles. I had a bit less climbing, sunny skies, and a big smile, the perfect combo to make up some ground. In the morning I started with a FAST road descent, pretty fun cruising at 35mph before down with a small bike light!! Back to dirt roads I found myself held up by some cowboys and cowgirls moving a few hundred head of cattle down the same road I was traveling…. the only road around for miles. Although the time 30-40 time delay was annoying, I was fun to watch. I’ve grown up around farming…east coast style. To watch real ranchers work a heard was a really neat experience, and At one point I actually helped out by just following them down the road while the crew controlled the sides and front of the heard. Soon, the road was clear, and I was on my way to Lima for lunch.

The rest of the day was spent swerving all over the road like a drunken fool just trying to find a line that wouldn’t continue to make my seat pound my ass like hammer and anvil. It’s hard to explain what washboard feels like. “Its just a bunch of small bumps.” THAT DESTROY YOU. As soon as you think you begin to get to a nice cruising speed, you are shut down and shaken out of riding position, and all efficiency is gone, back to the drawing board. Many times, there is no smooth line, so you’ll spend miles on end standing while pedaling, just to be able to absorb the conditions with something other than your butt and wrists (or elbows and shoulders if you happen to drop into aeros.) Trying to stay positive I focused on the classic Montana big sky I was riding through. I was truly beautiful, and I really wanted a lawn chair, and a beer to sit and enjoy where I was, but every time I am in a lawn chair with a beer I’m thinking about riding. To finish the day off, I had some fun “1.5 track” through four wheeler/ xc ski trails to wind up at the Sawtelle Resort. Is it weird that I remember the meal I had in almost every town I stopped in? There comes a point in this race where just to get to the next place, I began imagining the menu and what I was going to order, often just hoping strongly I can get a chocolate milkshake, because what’s a ride without a milkshake recovery??? A huge grilled chicken salad and a burger later I got a good nights sleep after a long days ride.

ID & beyond, soon to follow! 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Tour Divide. More Than a Silly Bike Race. pt I

Beautiful AB, When not raining.


Josh Kato

Richmond Pass

KT Tape...keeping me going

In jail in Ovando for the night.
I don’t even know where to begin. I guess I’ll start by saying that I am writing this without reading Jefe’s blog first, so I can portray my most honest opinions of what went on without trying to somehow compromise my own reality with viewpoints of others. Perhaps, we saw things the same, perhaps totally different.

There is no other single event in my life that I could compare to Tour Divide. Neither heaven nor hell on earth, rather both, often within a few minutes of one another. I would’ve needed a constantly running video camera to capture and remember every moment, good and bad, and after a warm meal and a shower, it is quite easy to forget the struggle you have just come through. Most pictures I took were of the good times, the beautiful sights, and the smiles. The few pictures I did take to try and portray the hardship of the weather (28 degrees and snowing, 35 degrees and raining, or 103 degrees in the desert,) the conditions (miles after mile of rotten snow field, 6” washboard side to side, deep sand you struggle to stay upright in, non-the-less maintain your speed, “roads” that look more like riverbeds [or were active flowing river beds], or mud so sticky and deep Chuck Norris couldn’t roundhouse kick to dry out,) will never do justice to what is was actually like out there.

Disclaimers aside, I will try to recollect my story as closely as possible, without going into too much boring detail…..damn, I’m gunna have to make a sandwich and chocolate milk before I type anymore.

My flight was delayed about 12 hours, killing my plan to ride from Calgary to Banff as a warm up. In Chicago I met Jason, who was racing on a fixie….wow, nutty, but huge props! Not having a chance to ride up, I was a shuttle to Banff, and ended up meeting a few other riders. Banff was incredible, beautiful weather for the day and a half before the race. A small touristy town, but loaded with bikers of all kinds and most notably all the TD participants cruising around/ Interacting with so many like-minded people was an amazing experience, especially since I normally ride alone! I had been having knee issues for more than a few weeks leading up to the race, so I had decided to lighten up my training to try and recover, and is it was, I was starting the longest mountain bike race with my knees in pain and supported with KT tape. I was confident that with tape, stretching, and a few “short, easy” sub- 150 miles days to begin, that I could rehab in the first week, and come back strong in the end.

The weather, cold and raining, supported my easy-start plan quite well. Lead out of town by Crazy Larry, at 0800, June 13th,(Did I mention Grand Depart was on my 22nd birthday?) we were off into what a rookie cannot accurately imagine. Mile 0, I went to reset my cyclo-computer to 0 after the prolouge-parade ride, popped the computer off into a field of 110+ adrenaline driven riders, so now I’m off bike, walking against traffic trying to pick up a computer the size of an iPod shuffle before it, or I, get run over. Now, all hyped up, I get everything reset, and take off like I’m heading into a 25 mile sprint race. I came back through much of the pack to about 3rd or 4th, and set into a comfortable pace. Mile 11, I was already riding alone, and it was dumping snow. Could this really be setting the tone for the remaining 2730 miles? The weather began to clear slightly, and I spent much of my day alone until our first re-supply in Bolten (Bolton?) where I met Josh Kato, a rider who I ended up spending a lot of time with early in the race, and someone who I hope I may be able to continue to adventure with in the future, maybe at touring pace (Think 70-100 miles a day, beers, hot tubs, and single track fun ride days!!) Rolling into Sparwood the first night I was cold, wet, and generally drained. I couldn’t imagine having any desire to push beyond in that weather only to sleep for a few hours and wake up colder, and wetter. I could hammer all day, but recovery was very important for me to be able to repeat the next day. The following few days were more or less the same. Whitefish Divide was the first snowy pass I heard warning of. Aside from a few trees and a bit of glacial-like snow Whitefish Divide wasn’t too bad. I had quickly discovered that my rookie over-preparedness and the idea of kids snowshoes were not going to work. Red Meadow Pass had yet more snow, but for a longer section, and harder to walk through, and really took it out of me. I was still carrying the snow shoes so I could mail them home.

Day four I came up to Richmond Pass, and unsuspectingly (rookie move) found more snow…much more, on a steep slope, with trees to cross, and a split path. I took the high road, which ended up being the wrong one, and didn’t catch my mistake until I was about 250 vF about the real trail. I continued to now post-hole my way back to the trail, falling into tree wells, miles and miles into the deep Montana Wilderness (Grizzly country), alone, down a virtual cliff. Keep in mind I have a 50lb bicycle and silly plastic shoes with neoprene covers and wool socks to stay “warm.” While your moving and in the snow, it’s not so much the issue, but after to spending 2 hours in this frozen hell, you find yourself atop a 3000’ rainy steep descent. Ever heard of wet bulb temperature…yeah…wet everything. You try to decide if it is worth it to coast/pedal down fast, freeze and get it over with, or go slow, freeze slightly less and bear the pain that much longer. As I was layering up for the descent, Dave caught up with me and mentioned Seely Lake for a real warm meal. My plan was to keep pushing that night to get to Ovando (about 30 ish miles farther,) but a warm meal sounded like a terrific idea. Eating ribs felt great, and with a hotel across the street I caved in and never made the push to Ovando that night. I was able to send home about 8 pounds of unnecessary equipment though! Positive company, good vibes, good food and laughter got me excited to go again.

Laughing at what we had just come through Dave jokes, “We’re in the middle of grizzly country, up to our knees in snow with a bloody whistle and a jam sandwich.”

I couldn’t think of a better description.

The first 3 days went well, day 4 was a bit of a let down, and day 5 came to be a giant turning point in the race. In the morning I felt good, and headed out early toward Ovando in hopes to make up some lost time from the day before, only to discover it would be my biggest loss of the whole trip. It was about 35 degrees and a driving rain. I was wringing water out of my gloves without taking them off. I could not feel my feet, nothing I was wearing was dry. I was now riding a single speed. No, the bike worked fine, but I couldn’t shift because my hands were too cold. The road was deep, regraded mud. I had never felt more beaten down in my life. Arriving to Ovando, I was excited for a warm meal, but I couldn’t work the latch on the door to the CafĂ© because my hands were too cold. It was reported it was actively snowing on the pass into Lincoln (Huckleberry Pass.) I had nothing dry, and finally started feeling human again after a ton of coffee and 3 breakfasts. More cold riders rolled in, some more positive than others. Personally my mind was made, I was staying. I counted the day as a loss at <30 miles. To this day I’m not sure how I feel about that decision. Certain other riders said things that pissed me off, but I had to make my own decisions. I knew I could finish the race, and if Huckleberry was as snowy as rumored, I may have scratched from the race completely with the mental state I was in. It was an all time low. I spent the day with a like minded rider, and by the end, I had a positive spin, and I was feeling recharged, refueled, happy to be on my bike, and just pissed off enough to want to kick some ass in the race. I left Ovando at 330 AM feeling great, and charging hard. An awesome breakfast in Lincoln kept me rolling, and I had a good day with big climbing day to Basin with a total of about 140 miles and just under 14000 vF of climbing. I had caught several riders who pushed beyond Ovando when I stayed, which gave me the feeling there was still hope to place well. Descents like the first out of Helena had me feeling like I was actually mountain biking and not simply surviving in motion. My drive was back, my enthusiasm had returned, a high you can only feel after recovering from an all time low.

To be continued….