Friday, May 20, 2016

2015 Tour Divide - Reflections and Thanks

I've had a number of people ask me if I would go back and race The Tour Divide again. After taking time to reflect on the training as well as the event, I would have to say that 2015 will likely be the only time that I race the route. As I was speeding south to Antelope Wells, I was often disappointed that I didn't have the time to enjoy the route and surrounding area more. South of Polaris, MT,  I WANTED to photograph that ghost town that was 7 miles off route. Taking time to enjoy hot springs and tube the Yampa River in Steamboat would have been a great way to spend a day. I might never be able to take a side trip to the VLA east of Pie Town again. No, my desire is to get back to Banff, head south, and drink in the GDMBR over a period of 3 or 4 months. I want to be able to take those side trips, ride the roads that climb even higher from the top of a pass, and maybe see the other side of a mountain or two.

The Tour Divide is a solo, self-supported race. However, the months of preparation required to mount a successful attempt are anything but solo or a self-supported effort. I'd be remiss if I didn't publicly thank the people that gave me significant amounts of help and support in the time leading up to the race.

Kathy - If you are married, you're not going to get to the starting line of Tour Divide without the blessing and the support of your spouse. There aren't a lot of women who are willing to allow nearly two years of their life and time with their spouse be dictated by a training schedule. Fortunately, I managed to find one that was. Thank you for holding down the fort, allowing me to "play bikes" seriously for so long, and for letting me tilt at this particular windmill. There was no way this was going to happen without your support. :)  Now, you're going to have to re-learn how to deal with having me around all of the time. :)

JJ Bailey - My coach, sounding board, friend (and sometimes part sadist). JJ somehow turned this middle aged body into some sort of cycling machine in the space of 18 months. I did the work, but he was the one looking at the results and planning out a path to success for me, right up to the start of the race. I may have sworn at him under my breath more than once for turning the volume knob to 11 (or 12) on some of the workouts, but it was always what was best for me, when it was best for me. Thanks man!

Rasmussen Bike Shop - I can't begin to say enough about the guys at Rasmussen Bike Shop. Adam Thompson dialed my fit in and constantly made small tweaks as my body and seat choices changed. The lack of any unexpected post-race issues with my knees, legs and hands is due to his skill. Greg Rasmussen, Matt Buchanan and Sterling Heise kept my bike in tip top shape, dealt with my weird equipment requests and were just an awesome support team. Nothing better than being able to swing in and warm up a bit during a wet ride, or have a beer and a spot to relax after knocking out a windy century. Matt and Sterling had my Salsa Fargo looking and running better than new for the race. Apologies for how it was running when I brought it back, fellas. ;)

Cindy McGuire - Cindy IS the best sports massage therapist in town. She made sure I was uninjured and in tip top shape going into the race, and worked out all of the kinks in my body afterwards. She was an important member of my "team".

Beaverdale Bicycles - Ed Veak helped me out with dyno hub advice and expertise on multiple occasions. They both helped me get fit and stay limber with early morning strength classes and yoga on multiple occasions in the two years leading up to the start.

Mike Johnson - Mike finished Tour Divide in 2013 and was a constant source of advice and the occasional ride in the two years leading up to my attempt. Thanks for all of the advice and gear discussion buddy! Looking forward to riding with you again soon!

Joe Schmidt and Tom Anderson - I spent a week following these two on the GDMBR from Port of Rooseville to Ovando and then back to Swan Lake in the summer of 2014. Tom's willingness to set up the trip, housing at his childhood home, and Joe's immense back-country knowledge allowed me to learn how to climb mountain passes, give my equipment a thorough test, and allowed me to just relax and ride on days three, four and five. Thank you for the great week fellas!

Taylor Webb, Rick Blackford, Kyle Sedore - The three amigos. Always up for a ride, never taking it easy on me, even if I was trying to sprint on a load backpacking rig. I can't ask for three better guys to call friends. The custom top cap on my bike was next best thing to having you guys riding with me. Thank you for your constant support and friendship.

Sarah Cooper - Sarah and I shared a lot of miles together getting ready for TIv10 and various other events together. Thank you for the rides, company, and conversation over many many miles. Thanks for pushing me, even when I didn't want to push. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

2015 Tour Divide - Days 24 to the end

I woke up at sunrise on Sunday morning. I was glad to see that it hadn't rained any more, and the sun was out. I felt cautiously optimistic after taking stock of the road conditions. I really wanted to make Silver City, but it would be a big push. A quick clean and lube of the chain and I was off. The first thing I noted was no fresh tire tracks, which meant Jean-Michel was likely still in Pie Town and I would be on my own for the day. The little bit of downhill through the valley was a good way get the blood flowing, but soon I began the seven mile climb up to the edge of Mangas Mountain. The next ten miles were all downhill, interrupted only by two or three sections of mud that were better walked than ridden. After crossing Hwy 12, I entered a large valley. The road snaked by various ranches whose houses were set back anywhere a great distance from where I was riding. By this point I was looking for water to keep my reserves topped off. After a couple of false starts, I found an above ground tank that wasn't surrounded by No Trespassing signs. The water was clear, so I filled my bag, filtered it into my bottles and headed down the road. Around mile 50, there were three crossings of the CD in quick succession. I wouldn't have noticed except for the signs noting them. A long gentle descent followed, as did some storms forming in front of and behind me. I took shelter under a small rock ledge until the lightning storm in front of me moved away. I spied a soda machine at the Beaverhead Ranger Station, but it was unplugged and empty. I filled my water bottles from the faucet near the restrooms and moved on. Once I passed the Ranger Station, the roads switched from gentle rollers to steep climbs stacked on top of each other. My legs were getting tired and Silver City was no longer a realistic option. After looking at the maps, the Sapillo campground seemed like a better option. The route and my legs had other ideas. After nearly six hours of riding, I'd covered around 25 miles. It was now pitch black, I had an underwhelming headlight, and the roads were littered with fist sized rocks. At the bottom of a descent, I saw a sign for Rocky Canyon Campground so I pulled in. A group was in the campground with a fire going and radio playing, so I found a spot underneath a large conifer, set up my bivy and crawled in. I was tired and I hadn't made either of my goals for the day. My 25 day race goal meant that I had to be in Antelope Wells before 8 AM on Tuesday. With only 170 miles left, I went to sleep confident that I would finish the race tomorrow. -

I was up with the birds and before the sun lit the valley. I fed myself and packed my gear, keenly aware that this was the last time I would be doing any of this. After nearly two years of sacrifice and preparation, it was  going to be over in a few hours. I wiped a few tears from each eye and left the campground. I started with a mile and a half of climb. It hurt the legs, but it did get the blood moving. It was flat or downhill for the next ten miles to Hwy 35 then paved for another eight miles to the Sapillo Campground. While riding along the highway, I had a small herd of elk run along then dart across the road in front of me to get to another open meadow. While graceful, I couldn't help but think of the hippo dancing scene in Fantasia. After turning into the campground, the Sapillo Alternate started. While shorter than the main GDMBR route, this seven miles was, IMO, the most difficult section of the entire route as it was right on the CDT. It took me three hours to cover this small trail section due to rocks, the trail's location on the hillside, and steepness of some of the climbs. I clearly recall cursing both Adventure Cycling for mapping this out as an alternate bike route and Matt Lee for making us use it. A nice paved descent was followed by a short climb and I was in the historic town of Pinos Altos. The KOM/QOM markers from the Tour De Gila were entertaining to read as I slowly scratched my way up the climb. After this, it was all downhill into Silver City. While stopped at the McDonalds, two women approached me and asked my name. It was Jean-Michel's wife and that of his friend Loic. They had tracked me down and were wondering if I had seen Jean-Michel. After a bit of discussion and looking at Trackleaders, I figured out that he was taking something other than the race route into Silver City. After eating, I called my wife to let her know that I was going to ride through to the finish, I would be finishing late in the evening, and to keep an eye on Trackleaders for my position. With that, and a resupply, I headed to the finish. A couple of miles from McDonald's, the route was blocked due to a damaged bridge. I took photos of the closure and sent them to Matthew, then took the shortest detour I could to get back on route. On the way out of town, Dan Lockery's parents stopped to talk while I was making some tire pressure adjustments. While the hills south of Silver City were big, they weren't mountains and they were paved. I rolled along and tried to soak in as much of the final few hours of the race as I could. Not long after crossing the Continental Divide, I saw a sign giving the mileages to Lordsburg and I-10. I didn't recall Lordsburg being on the route, and the mileage to I-10 didn't match up with what I expected it to be. At this point I flipped to my Garmin's map page which did not have my purple route line on it. I had a hollow feeling in my stomach as I started zooming out. After nearly 2700 miles of riding, I was off route for the first time, and I was off route by a lot. I turned around and headed back north, mad at myself for missing the turn, and feeling sick as saw my 25 day finish slipping away. I can honestly say that I had thoughts of calling my wife to pick me up right where I stood, rather than riding to the border.

The pity party didn't last long. I needed to figure out how far I was off course and, more importantly, come up with a new plan for getting to Antelope Wells. The first goal was getting to the store in Separ, the last spot to resupply before the border. I stopped, turned on my cell phone, and opened up my last ACA map to get the store's phone number, but none was listed. As I looked at the map, every alert noise in my phone's library was going off. I had a pretty good idea what every one of the messages was going to say, so I turned off the phone and kept moving. Glancing at the GPS, I had estimated it was 8 miles back to White Signal and the turn onto Separ Road. 14 miles later, I was back at the turn and back on route. With the temps hovering in the mid 90s, I had been drinking a lot of water since I left Silver City since I was going to refill in Separ. I was now faced with the possibility of making 3L of water last me for 80+ miles of desert riding. I rode into a fairly stiff headwind not too long after getting back on route. As I rode on, my route shifted SE and the wind shifted to the NW. As I turned a corner, my speed jumped from about 4 MPH to well over 20. Things were starting to look up. As I cruised along, I saw one or two potential water refill spots, but making Separ before it closed was more important. I leaned down on my aero bars and let the adrenaline move me forward. At 7:00 PM, I backed the pace down a bit. I was about 10 miles from Separ, so the store was either closed for the night, or I would make it with some time to spare. In either case, there was no sense in wasting energy. As I rode under I-10, I was pleased to see lights on the store. It was still open. I grabbed my wall charger and ran into the store, asking when they closed. I had about 25 minutes to rehydrate, refuel and rest. I charged my GPS and phone on their counter and grabbed some ice cream and drinks. I chatted with a few people that had either just finished the race or were on their way down to pick someone up. As the store closed, I grabbed a couple of 5 hour energy drinks for insurance against the sleep monster that was certainly on its way. With the wind still in my favor, the frontage road along I-10 went by quickly. Before I knew it, I was turning south towards Hachita and the last few miles of the race. The road to Hachita, was flat, straight not terribly exciting. The monotony was interrupted by a couple of passing immigration vehicles and a spectacular lightning show to the southeast of my destination. I was happy to be riding in the dark. I turned on my iPod and started counting down the mile markers. While I was stopped and taking in calories in Hachita, a Border Patrol agent pulled up next to me. He expected to see a few of us rolling through and wanted to know if there was anyone behind me. After I told him I didn't think so, he told me he'd radio ahead to let the others know I was coming, to look out for the cows ahead, and with that he was gone. As I left Hachita, two women sitting in their yard called out and wished me luck. I thanked them and headed into the dark. The ride from Hachita to the border felt effortless after all of the strain of the previous three weeks. My legs were turning over the pedals and I was making good time, especially with the tailwind that was gently pushing me along. I kept myself occupied looking out for cows, listening to my iPod, and counting down the mile markers. I stopped for a spell,every 15 miles or so to stretch, eat, and enjoy the last few hours of my adventure. With 20 miles left, I saw a sign warning of buffalo for the next 15 miles. I figured my luck would have me getting flattened by a buffalo five miles from the border. I took comfort in the fact that if it happened, the border patrol would find me. With just 3 miles to go, Christopher Cross's song, Ride Like the Wind, came through my speakers. I blurted the lyrics out loud as a few tears fell down my cheek. A mile from the border, I removed my headphones, took my hands off of the handlebars and pedaled slowly up to the fence outside of the border station. I had finished The Tour Divide. -

2015 Result: 56th place 24:17:02

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

2015 Tour Divide - Days 21 - 23

Not wanting to cause any issues, we set our alarms early and were on the road before 6 AM. The famed dogs of Vallecitos were still asleep at this time, and it wasn't until we were out of town that I remembered that it was the one spot on the route where the dogs concerned me. The climb leaving Vallecitos was a reasonable grade and scenic. When we arrived in El Rito, but the restaurant wasn't open, so we ate from the food on our bikes and continued on the paved descent through Tierra Azul and into Abiquiu. Jean-Michel and I rolled into Bode's General store and ate some delicious breakfast burritos and refreshed our supplies. We had a brief talk with some north bound touring cyclists and a few other people before beginning the long climb out out of town on Polvadera Road. The climb to the base of Polvadera Mesa was steady and beautiful. The ride  to the top of the mesa seemed like it would never end. There were miles of stair steps across the lava flow that was exposed on top of the mesa, and the thumping of each step grated at my nerves. Half-way up, I spied a green bag on the ground. It was Jean-Michel's bag of extra fluids. After little debate, I opted to pick it up and bring it with me as the temperatures were climbing. If I didn't find him, I'd at least have the extra fluids for myself. As I approached the top of the climb, the temperatures dropped suddenly and rain soaked the course. Soon I was pedaling both up and down hill, and the extra weight of Jean-Michel's bag was not making things any easier. It took 5 hours to cover the next 40 miles of undulating gravel roads. The effort combined with the drop in temps made it feel like I had ridden twice that far. I finally reached  Highway 126 about 9 PM, where I stopped to add extra layers of clothing. The ride into Cuba was quiet and unremarkable other than the lightning in the distance. At 10:30 PM the streets of Cuba were quiet save for me and a passing pickup truck. I pulled into a gas station and inhaled a pile of food from the attached McDonald's. I spied a hotel from my seat and made a bee-line towards it, hoping to find a room. As I pulled up the lobby attendant came out and asked for my name. Once I answered, she pointed across the parking long and said "Room 19". I rolled over, knocked on the door and Jean-Michel opened the door. He had left my name at the front desk to ensure I had a room for the night. I rolled my bike in, handed Jean-Michel his bag, and took took a shower. After a bit more conversation, I crawled into bed and fell asleep. -

I prepped myself and my bike for the ride to Grants. My driveline needed some tlc and some extra air in the tires would make the pavement roll by just a little bit easier. After a breakfast at McDonalds and resupply at the C-store, Jean-Michel and I headed out of town. The miles rolled by quickly and we made a quick stop at a convenience store about 30 miles in. A few miles down the route, the road signs changed from New Mexico 197 to Navajo Route 9, and suddenly we were riding through the Navajo Reservation.  In addition to the Route 9 signs, the other obvious change was the graffiti hiding all of the mile markers, making it difficult to distract myself by counting down the miles. Not  long after a stop for some food, shade and a nature break, we encountered two riders touring northbound. While we were having a good chat, all of us wanted to move on. I stopped at an area called Whitehorse to top of my water supply. I rode into the group of houses where I expected to find a well. Instead, I found houses with open doors, no people, and mattresses laying on the floors. For better or worse, the conditions were making me uncomfortable, so I turned around and headed down the road onto NM 509. I saw a large hill off in the distance and as I approached it, I realized that it was huge overpass made for the trucks at the nearby coal mines. Further down the road, I stopped to take a photo of a roadside memorial I spotted in the ditch. Something about it's location compelled me to stop. The remainder of the ride was uneventful. Jean-Michel had stopped to wait for me just outside of Milan, and a brief stop at a truck stop for fluids, we rode down old Route 66 into Grants. After some discussion and map inspection, we rode a bit off route and grabbed a room at a Comfort Inn near the freeway. We had 125 miles behind us for the day, and Grants was the last major resupply before Pie Town and the Gila wilderness, so it made sense to stop. We tossed our clothes into the laundry, filled up at the Chinese buffet across the street and then went back to the hotel to catch some sleep. -

Early in the morning of July 4th, Jean-Michel and I got ourselves and our bikes in order, stocked up at the neighboring convenience store, and then hit the breakfast in the hotel lobby. It was going to be at least two days until our next resupply opportunity in Silver City, so starting out with plenty of food in our stomachs and on our bikes was a must. I went for calorie density and variety - six honey buns, seven packs of pop-tarts, three fruit pies, two packs of vanilla sugar wafers, three packs of oreos, three Snickers bars, and a dozen assorted granola bars. At least 8000 calories and probably wasn't going to be enough. Despite wanting to get on the road early, it was 6:45 by the time we were on our bikes and moving. The first 35 miles out of town were along the cliffs in El Malpais National Monument. The roads were in good shape and devoid of traffic. Around mile 15, I stopped and moved my food from my backpack and into my seatbag to take the extra weight off of my sit bones, which were really starting to suffer after 20+ days in the saddle. I met back up with Jean-Michel where we left the pavement and headed south towards Pie Town. We rode together for a while, but soon the difference on our pace caused us to separate. The scenery along this section of the route was sandy and barren, save for an occasional ranch, cemetery, or homesteaders cabin. As I got closer to Pie Town, I was once again dodging building storms. I missed the severe parts and only had to deal with a few rain showers. I thought it was about 62 miles from Grants to Pie Town, but it was closer to 70. The extra 8 miles to get to pie really bothered me. I met Jean-Michel again as I approached Pie Town Cafe. I knew it would be closed and proceeded to the top of the hill where proprietors of the Pie-O-Neer Cafe welcomed us. I ordered both of the available entrees, chile verde with pork and a gluten free pasta salad with fruit, and I claimed my two free slices of pie, courtesy of Salsa Cycles. While we ate, drank, and charged our electronics, I noted that the skies south of town were starting to darken. Soon the dark skies turned nearly black and filled with lightning. Jean-Michel was ready to leave, but after checking the radar, I didn't see the sense in leaving until the storms passed. As soon as the hail started and the winds tipped our bikes over, I knew I had made the right call. I ate two more slices of pie and had a cup of coffee while the storm raged outside. With the food, hospitality, and the friendly patrons, there were worse places to wait out a storm. With the worst of the storms past, we left the Pie-O-Neer. I wanted to stop and spend the night at Toaster House so the roads would have a chance to dry, but Jean-Michel wanted to move on. Against my better judgement I followed him. A few miles down the road we encountered a couple on BMW motorcycles. They were in the process of righting the larger of the two bikes after it fell over in the mud. They mentioned the roads ahead were bad. I kept my comments to myself and rode on. A mile or two down the road, we hit one of the infamous sections of New Mexico mud. Fortunately it was only about 3/4 of a mile long. We stopped for a bit to clean our drivelines and figure out what to do. Jean-Michel went to a nearby house to borrow a hose, but no one was home. I dammed up a water runoff area in a ditch, used that to fill a spare water bottle, and poured the water over mine to clean it off. At this point Jean-Michel decided that he was going back to Pie Town as he was worried about his bike breaking down and being unable to fix it. He asked me to come along with him. Before the race started, I had promised myself that I would keep moving forward, never backward, no matter the circumstances. I followed Jean-Michel back towards Pie Town for about 10 yards, when I decided that I had to ride my race, and not someone else's. I turned around, got on my bike, and started riding into the Gila. That was the last time I saw Jean-Michel. It took me 45 minutes to cover the next two miles due to the road conditions. The temps were dropping, it was getting hard to see, and my driveline was skipping horribly. I found a small stand of trees next to the road, shoved some food and fluids in my body, and crawled into my bivy for the night. It was just 7 PM. I was alone in the middle of New Mexico, but I was warm and I had made the right decision. -

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

2015 Tour Divide - Days 18 - 20

I woke up the next morning, packed my gear, and hit the diner across the street for breakfast - a large omelette, coffee, and two bowls of fruit. I took two grilled cheese sandwiches to go. I met Jean-Michel at the convenience store next door and soon we were headed down the trail. The first seven miles of our day was road and bike trail into Poncha Springs. I noted that we should have ridden here last night and put another 7 miles in the bank. A five mile climb on Hwy 215 was next then we turned off toward Marshall Pass. Not too long after we made the turn, I saw an older mountain bike pulling a bob trailer ahead. I pulled up next to a 77 year old man who decided to embark on his first off road tour after years of paved touring. He informed me that his destination for the day was where were are headed for lunch. He didn't get why "you racers" were in such a rush, but he was impressed by our ability to crank out the miles say after day. I wished him luck and headed to the start of the Marshall Pass climb. Since it followed the old route of the Denver and Rio Grande Railway, it was a steady meandering climb for the next 14 miles. The solitude of the day was briefly interrupted by the arrival of three northbound riders. After a short conversation with them, I continued my steady ascent of the pass. The descent down into Sargents was fast and enjoyable, including a brief cheer from some teenagers relaxing in a driveway on the hood of their jeep. I sat down in the Sargents store and ordered a beer and giant bison burger. Jean-Michel came in soon afterwards, I had passed him at the top of the pass while he was taking shelter in a kybo from a small hail storm that had developed while we were nearing the top of the pass. We left Sargents in the rain, but a few miles down the road the sun came out and I was forced to take my rain coat off so I didn't overheat. We left the pavement and went back on ranch roads at the blink or miss it town of Doyleville. The rest of the day was uneventful and ended with with wild camping under three large conifers at the base of Mount Lion. -

It was the morning of June 30th, and I was getting ready to start Day 19 on The Divide. As I climbed towards the top of Carnero Pass, I set my sights on making Platoro and then figuring out what to do after resupplying there. I saw Jean-Michel as we reached the top of the pass and we rode together and chatted for a bit. We stayed in sight of each other throughout most of the descent, and we both ventured off route to the hospitality of Hachita, where I had one of the best breakfast burritos of the entire trip. Forest road 667 was an enjoyable, twisty run of two track towards a pair of buttes. During this section I was imagined a stagecoach full of mail, money and passengers rolling across the desert plains. That vision was quickly dispelled by the tricky, sandy descent down the dry creek bed on the other side of the saddle. After exiting the creek bed, I was staring at the infamous set of signs warning us not to ride onto the airport runway. After a bit, I was in Del Norte, making a bee line for the first convenience store I spotted. Jean-Michel joined me there as we filled up on fluids and grabbed some Subway to go. I opted to ride up the route a few blocks and eat at a diner my friend Matt had told me about. Not exactly the smartest move from a race standpoint, but I was hungry and it sounded better than Subway. After a big burger and huge slice of banana cream pie, I left Del Norte and began the climb towards Indiana Pass. In the hour that it took to eat at the diner, the temperature had climbed considerably. That, combined with the lack of tree cover meant the climb up to the top of Indiana Pass was going to be long and miserable. It took me a  3.5 hours to reach the top of the pass, with temps during the first 90 minutes hovering somewhere between 90 and 100F. After reaching the top of the pass, I once again found myself looking towards the clouds in the sky. At this point I went from tired to completely overcast. My climb to the top was rewarded with miles of big rollers all the way to Summitville. After a few more large rollers and another long climb, a descent started, but my mood wasn't improving. About half way down the descent I ran into TD finisher Fixie Dave Nice and his friends Cricket and Keith. I stopped, Dave asked me how I was doing, and I just completely lost it. After the race, I apologized to Dave and his friends for my outburst. After taking leave of Dave and his friends, I dropped down a little further, suffered through the climb up Stemple Pass, and then flew down the descent into Platoro. As I pulled into the front of Gold Nugget cafe, Jean-Michel came out with a menu in hand and told me the cafe was waiting for my order. I stumbled in and the cook asked me what I wanted, and then  told me what I was going to get. After a delicious chicken fried steak, gravy, and a slice of pie, we made a quick pass through the meagerly stocked general store, where I bought a rain cape to replace the raincoat I lost during the day, along with some food to restock my stores. Afterwards, Jean-Michel and I retired to the comfort of an old airstream trailer for the night. -

The alarms went off early. I stuffed my face with food and drank a room temperature Coca-Cola while getting ready. I also took the opportunity to replace my brake pads and adjust the calipers while I was still inside the comfort of the Airstream. The day started with a long mile descent along the Conejos River valley. This would be the easiest part of the day. After the descent, the route took turned onto Hwy 17 and then climbed up 1500 feet over the next 6 miles to the top of La Manga Pass. After a bit of a paved descent the route turned back to gravel and quickly dove across some narrow railroad tracks and down into a valley. Earlier, I noted a water tower off to one side as I descended off of La Manga Pass. Not long after crossing the railroad tracks, I heard the sound of a steam whistle echoing throughout the valley. I would later find out that this was the Cumbres and Toltec narrow gauge scenic railroad. One of many pieces of history that exist along the route. Soon I was at the entrance to Carson National Forest, and the Colorado/New Mexico border. I was nearing the final steps of my journey, or so I thought. The next 25 miles were some of the roughest on the route, with many sections that were unridable due to either steepness, fields of rough rock, or combinations of both. After about 12 hours of riding, I found myself once again dancing with the lightning filled storms that seemed to occur at the end of the day. After dropping off a ridge, I found myself in the middle of another scene from Ride the Divide, sitting in the snack shack with Jean-Michel talking with Silvia and watching the lightning in the distance. After our snacks were done, it was dark due to the time and the storms. We motored down the road towards Vallecitos and spent the night in the lobby of the Post Office. We couldn't turn the lights off, but it was dry, warm, and sheltered from any storms that might pass through. I used my rain poncho as a pillow, laid down on the floor mat, and fell asleep around 10 PM. -

Monday, May 16, 2016

2015 Tour Divide - Days 15 - 17

I woke up the on the morning of Day 15 and dove into a leftover pizza while I checked on the status of my replacement hub. Bad news. It was delayed by bad weather in the midwest. I got a text from Mark and Dan about this time, so I joined them for second breakfast at Creekside Cafe. After checking the UPS site a second time, I needed to figure out a plan B, so I was at the shop when it opened and bought a regular hub so they could complete the wheel build. While that was being done, I took a shop bike up the street to get some good coffee and chill out. After returning to the shop, they gave me a spot in their storage area to hang out and start putting my bags and everything else back on the bike. After a late lunch, I  put my repaired front wheel on the bike, paid my bill, shipped some stuff home, and headed out of town. It was 4:30 PM. I rode out of town until the sun set, which allowed me to sleep at Lynx Pass Campground for the night. It was here that I met up with Jean-Michel Monot, from Tahiti, whom I would be spend a lot of time with for the remainder of the race. -

The temps were cool the next morning while Jean-Michel and I ate our breakfast. I packed my gear and headed out, but stopped a few minutes in to put on warmer gloves. This section of the route had some very cool single lane roads with great views. The seven mile descent into the Colorado River valley was both gorgeous and nerve wracking due to the exposure, pitch and tight corners. The next ten miles had two short climbs that really worked my legs over for some reason. Half-way up the second climb, I heard my name being shouted and see a man and a dog standing next to the road. I slow down and realize it's my friend Jubil, who moved to Colorado a few years back. After a few minutes of conversation and catching up, I needed to get moving along. I dropped off route into Kremmling to get some food. Choices close to the route were limited, but I put some tacos in my stomach and refilled my food and liquid supplies at a convenience store before heading out again. I rode on a number of false flats and undulating hills as I slowly made my way to Ute Pass,  the beauty of the area abruptly interrupted by the presence of mining buildings and the sight of the Henderson Tailings Pond. After a brief stop at the top to check on the clouds, I descended off the pass and into Silverthorne. As I crested the face of the dam, I saw someone sprinting across traffic towards me. Andrew Carney, a TD veteran and Iowan turned Coloradan, had spotted my kit while driving back from the store. We chatted for a bit, discussing the race so far and his from a few years back. After receiving some Breck restaurant recommendations from Andrew, we said our goodbyes and I took the bike trail to Breck. I rode through most of town and stopped briefly to look for a place to eat. Out of nowhere I hear someone yelling my name and closing in quickly. This crazed man is going on about me, the race, how good I'm doing, etc. The next thing I know, I'm sitting at a table with Jason and his girlfriend Paula stuffing myself full of food. After talking with them about the race and enjoying their company, I ask for my bill. The waiter informs me that Joe and Paula have taken care of it already. After insisting that I couldn't let them buy my meal, I finally gave in to Trail Magic and thanked them for their generosity. We parted ways, and after a couple of phone calls, I found an open hotel room not too far from the restaurant. My bike had to go in a locked room in the basement, and I had an interesting ride in the elevator with couples in their suits and evening gowns who were leaving a party in one of the meeting rooms. -

The next morning, I woke up, prepped myself, grabbed my bike from the basement and proceeded to the Blue Moose Cafe for breakfast. Afterwards, I was right on to the slopes of Boreas Pass. As Andrew had stated, the paved portion was the steepest, and soon I was chugging steadily up the 3.5% grade on the gravel. I spotted Joe and Paula, who had slept in a small spot along the pass. They were surprised that I hadn't passed by a lot earlier in the morning. I told them the large breakfast was worth leaving town a little late. I reached the top of the pass after about 90 minutes of riding, then began the descent down Gold Dust trail. It started out a little steep and rocky, but I quickly got into a groove. I rode half of the descent with a couple who were just out for a morning ride. The conversation was a nice way to make the time pass. I passed through Como, which was nothing but a few houses and some closed businesses. I kept heading south through sparse vegetation and a number of speculative development areas, which consisted of multiple blocks of dirt roads, scrub brush, and occasionally a basketball or tennis court. I passed Jean-Michel, who was talking to some men in a pickup. Soon the dirt roads ended and we were both on narrow, almost shoulderless pavement heading into Hartsel. A few hours after our burger, fries and beer at the bar, we were both sitting in our rain gear in a low area waiting for the lightning and rain from a late afternoon thunderstorm to pass. During the 15 minute wait, the temps dropped from the mid 60s to the mid 40s, so I pressed up the climb to the top of the watershed divide to generate some heat. Soon, we were enjoying a dry, steep, twisty descent into the edge of Salida. After some searching, we found some food, and a hotel for the night. I quickly fell asleep while Jean-Michel talked with his family. -

Friday, May 13, 2016

2015 Tour Divide - Days 12 - 14

I rolled out of bed the next morning knowing that I would be ending my day near or in the Great Basin. I stuffed the previous night's extra burger and fries into my mouth, loaded up and headed out into the vast unknown of central Wyoming. After a quick stop for a cold drink in Boulder, I found myself riding with Rob Milburn from Minnesota. Rob and rode together for a few miles but Rob's back was giving him some issues and soon I was riding alone. Rob would go on to finish in a very respectable 23.5 days. About 40 miles in, the road went up and so did the temps, eventually topping out in the mid 90s. The most remarkable thing about this section of the route was the views, which went on uninterrupted for miles in every direction. Rob and Josh Johnson caught me as we reached Highway 28. I'm not sure if it was due to heat or fatigue, but I found myself struggling on this short section of pavement. I did chuckle at seeing JayP's logo painted on the shoulder of the road, a reminder of just how far ahead the leaders were at this point. The four miles between the South Pass City and Atlantic City was a a soul crusher, with three short, but steep hills really putting the hurt on my mind and body. Finally, I made the descent into Atlantic City and made my way to the Miner's Grubstake where rested for and refueled.. A number of riders and locals were inside enjoying food and drink. After some food and a couple of beers, I decided that my best option would be to wait for the heat to die down a bit and then ride as far as Diagnus Well to camp, that way I could hydrate before bed and start the next day with a full load of water. I arrived at the well around  9 PM, just in time to stop and take in the beautiful sunset. I quickly set up camp outside of the well, and had one of my most peaceful nights of sleep of the entire race. -

I didn't set an alarm, opting to let the sunrise and the sounds of nature act as my alarm. I was treated to the sound of coyotes coupled with the silhouette of an antelope family while I ate breakfast. I got back on the road just before 6 AM, with a goal of getting to Brush Mountain Lodge before the end of the day. Early morning in The Basin was quiet and peaceful, with the beauty occasionally broken up by the sight of fracking wells. The new route towards Wamsutter was enjoyable, but tough for the first few miles. The "barely there" two track at the start combined with the proximity to a cliff had me wondering what this "road" was used for. After getting back on more maintained roads, I settled down in the aero bars and let the miles tick by, my iPod providing for some amount of mental distraction. I stopped for a quick break at the solar powered cow tanks to refill water and got back at it. The truck traffic, fracking well density, and the heat increased as I rode closer to Wamsutter. Knowing I was in the middle of their work zone, I made sure to wave and pull over when it appeared that I was causing the drivers any issues. I am sure my actions were radioed ahead, as I had no issues with any trucks during the rest of my ride in The Basin. I reached Wamsutter after seven hours of riding and made a bee-line for the truck stop. The temps were in the mid-90s again and I shoved as much fluid and food in me as I could handle. After a brief call to my wife, I left the cacophony of the truckstop and continued south. After 40 more miles of trucks and dust, I left mining country behind and started working my way uphill. I could see storms forming behind me and while I wanted to outrun them, I quickly determined that out running them while riding uphill was not in the cards. After riding through a brief shower, I was caught by Lane Bergen, who was touring the route from Wamsutter to points south for a few days. The company was welcome and Lane and I rode together to the Colorado border. Brush Mountain Lodge was ahead somewhere on the climb that started after Slater, but I didn't have a solid idea where. After climbing for what seemed like hours, I called to let Kirsten know I was coming and to make sure I hadn't passed the lodge. Kirsten took my food order and told me I had about another seven miles to go. I was exhausted, but continued to the Lodge, pulling in around 11:30 PM. Everything good you have read or heard about Brush Mountain Lodge is true. After a giant hug and welcome from Kirsten, her famous "mom" mode took over. "You can have a beer, but only after you've had three glasses of water or lemonade." "Do you like cheeseburgers? I bet you can eat two. Here you go." "We'll have breakfast for you early in the morning. Here's towels. There's the shower." After a plate full of food some conversation with Kirsten and other riders, I stumbled into a room and fell asleep around 1 AM. -

Morning came early as my room was next to the kitchen and Kirsten was busy making coffee and pancakes for bunch of hungry bike riders. I got my affairs in order and walked out of my room to a cup of coffee, a glass of chocolate milk, along with a plate of fresh blueberry pancakes. I settled in while Kirsten cooked my eggs to order. Did I mention the service? As comfortable as it was, it was finally time to leave and make my way to Steamboat. With one last good luck hug from Kirsten and a tear in my eye, I left Brush Mountain Lodge and headed down the route. I covered the first 15 miles in about 3 hours. There was about 500' of gain in the first mile and a half and then a false flat until we hit the ascent of what was marked as a "watershed divide" on the map. I walked the last half mile to the top of this "divide". The grade was averaging 15% and walking was just as fast as riding. The descent off the divide was one of the roughest so far - a closed, unmaintained logging road with a lot of rocks. I stopped at the Clark store for a large bowl of ice cream and then enjoyed the pavement and downhill heading towards Steamboat. On the gravel climb into town, someone had placed signs containing my name and messages on signposts along the edge of the road, a welcome surprise. The culprit turned out to be Alan Johnson, former Iowan turned Steamboat local. I stopped and talked to him briefly on the descent into Steamboat, but declined his invitation for a beer at the brewery so I could get my bike serviced at Orange Peel. I pulled into the shop, told them what I needed to have done to the bike and stripped all of the bags off my bike so they wouldn't be in their way. Since there were a number of bikes ahead of me, and I was having a replacement dyno hub overnighted in,  I grabbed the things I needed and grabbed a room at the Norse Hotel a few blocks away. I also took this opportunity to take a bus to the local walk-in clinic and get my finger looked at. After a short wait, a doctor drained an infection from behind my nailbed and sent me on my way with some antibiotics. I spent the rest of the evening doing laundry and stuffing myself full of food and fluids and getting caught up on rest. -

Thursday, May 12, 2016

2015 Tour Divide - Days 9 - 11

After the ups and downs of the previous day, leaving Montana and riding into Idaho wasn't too bad. The cruise through the valley at the foot of the Centennial Mountains meant lots of big open skies, long stretches of road, and many old cabins to keep my mind distracted. I made a brief stop at the top of Red Rock Pass to take my first photo with a sign marking the Continental Divide. Soon after, I stopped for a cold drink and ice cream at Henry's Lake Campground, rode a bit further and stopped for Subway and resupply on the edge of Flat Rock. Not too long after, I was on the volcanic soil of the infamous rail trail between Flat Rock and Warm River. After struggling with the trail surface for  30 or 40 yards, I dropped my tire pressure, moved my weight back a touch and rode the loose stuff like I was on a fat bike. That made things to a lot better as long as I concentrated on the trail. I failed to do that once and was rewarded with a broken light mount and a lot of missing skin on my shin. This was, thankfully, my only wreck for the entire race. After I arrived at the Wise River Campground and cleaned my wounds, I  thought about continuing on, but I was feeling a bit beat up and took the last tent spot in the campground for the evening. Not too long after laying down, Michael Kinney rolled into the campground. He had done a significant amount of backtracking to find the Spot tracker that fell off of his backpack. He asked if he could set up next to me for the night. I said "yes" and then passed out for the rest of the night. -

The pleasurable ride into Idaho was made up for upon entering Wyoming the next day. After twelve miles of chipseal and gravel, Michael and I were welcomed to the Targhee National Forest by a sign that said simply "rough road". As National Forest roads are not known for their smoothness, this was a bit ominous. The sign was right - the roads were freshly graveled, rough and had a lot of short, steep climbs that required quite a bit of power to ride up. The misery of this section was interrupted by a chance encounter with Bryan Appleby, a friend I had not seen in years. Bryan had slipped out of retirement and was working as a NPS Ranger in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks for the summer. I  noticed a nice BMW motorcycle sitting off to the side of the road as I was approaching another short climb. As I cleared the top, I noticed a bearded man with two big cameras and a tripod walking towards me and waving. He let me know that he had just spotted a  brown bear not too far away. As he spoke, I noted his shirt, which was from an automobile event in the midwest. When I asked if he was Bryan Appleby, he was shocked. Ten days and nearly a thousand miles into the race, and I am catching up with someone I haven't seen in at least fifteen years. We chatted for a bit, took a couple of photos, and then I moved on. However, running into Brian greatly improved my mood. Michael and I rolled into Flagg Ranch together for some much needed food and sat down next to Brian Jett, Brian Steele, and a couple of other riders. Not too long after Greg Locke came in and sat down with Michael and I. We inhaled some burgers, fries and ice cream and set off down the the route. While the scenery of Grand Teton National Park was majestic, the narrow roads filled with rental RVs and diesel trucks with travel trailers left little time to take in the scenery. Around 8 PM, we pulled into Togwotee Lodge and grabbed dinner. We ran into "The Brians" there as well. After some discussion, we opted to get a warm, but expensive room at The Lodge, rather than ride further. -

The race was starting to wear on me. Greg and Michael opted to get up early and move on, but I decided to get some extra sleep and take care of some issues I was starting to have in my saddle area. I finally got on the road around 6:30 AM. The climb up Togwotee pass was long and steady, but cold. I pulled out my rain coat and waterproof gloves to keep warm as I inched my way to the top of the 9100 foot pass. A quick glance at my GPS showed a temp of just under 40F. This was one of the few spots along the route where I would see snow near the course. I dropped off the pass hoping to eat a big breakfast at the Lava Mountain Lodge. Unfortunately, their restaurant is only open after 4 PM during the summer. I settled for two microwaved sandwiches and a bottle of Coke. After a brief conversation with a northbound road touring cyclist, I moved on down the road. Not long after leaving highway and heading towards the Fish Lake Bypass, I saw a set of poles labeled as a bear carcass station. Not a terribly comforting thought. Nearing the top of the pass, I heard a ping and heard the sound of sealant coming out of my tire. I got off the bike expecting a cut sidewall, but I discovered that I had broken of rear spokes. I sat down and figured out how I was going to repair this and keep moving. I bent the old, straight pull spoke into a J-shape and pushed it through the hub. I made loop on the opposite end, and stretched a fiberfix spoke between the loop and the rim. After a few minutes, I was on my way. The ridge at the top of the climb was amazing. The skies were clear, the views were beautiful, and the breeze was forcing the scent of mountain wildflowers deep into my nose. The next 30 miles were rough and rock strewn. The ride on the pavement to Cora resulted in finding a restaurant that was closed. I stopped, sat on the porch and tossed down some needed calories, then hammered the rest of the pavement into Pinedale. I pulled into a cafe just before closing time, ordered a pile of food and drink, then proceeded to stuff myself while the owners finished their closing chores. -