Day 15: Platoro, CO to Abiquiu, NM

I shuffled myself awake after a couple of snooze button hits on the alarm. I sat at the edge of my bed in the rental airstream wondering how the hell I was going to do it all again. It was 3 a.m. and I didn’t feel like I could ride 5 miles, much less 150. Relentless Forward Progress, I thought–but it almost seemed sarcastic as I stood there and brushed my teeth in the camper sink. I decided I would just quit worrying about it, get dressed (I slept in my rain pants and base layer shirt), and do my best. Mornings, in general, were the worst, and I knew it would get better.

Ryan got up as I was getting ready, and we both packed our things in the airstream. I walked outside to check the temperature and provided my weather report: “It’s pretty cold”.

On my advice, we both put on our cold layers and ventured out onto the road. It wasn’t long before I realized I was wrong about it being really cold. We had the heater blasting in the airstream, and the contrast from our warm camper to the outdoors made it seem colder. It wasn’t long before I was burning up in my down jacket.

The first 20 miles were quite easy with a general downhill grade on a smooth road. We rode through the town of Horca, and then started up the paved La Manga Pass, as the first rays of daylight hit the ground. Ryan passed me, as usual. He hammered his single speed up the hill, and I cruised up the climb in my easy spinning gears. I actually felt quite strong. Compared to when I woke up, I felt like a superhero. The early morning and the views on the ride up the pass made for some wonderful riding. Just a couple hours ago, I felt like I belonged more in a doctors office than on a bike. Now I felt amazing, like I could ride all day again. I’ll give some credit to the cinnamon roll and fruit pie I brought with me from the Skyline lodge.

At the beginning of the race I would feel all the feelings in a day, but now I could feel all the feelings in just a couple of hours.

At the top, I caught back up to Ryan and we chatted about our bikes and geeked out on components, wheels, etc.. It was a great way to pass the time as we approached closer and closer to New Mexico.After over 2000 miles and two weeks of riding, I finally crossed into the final state.

Around 8a.m., we hit the New Mexico border in the Carson National Forest. It was a huge mental boost. It was the final state. I couldn’t believe I was actually in New Mexico. I started this bike ride in Canada!

There was some discussion of stopping to take a picture at the sign, but instead I just snapped a quick one on the bike and we moved forward. There was too much riding to do.

Up next was the infamous Brazos Ridge. It’s infamous because its dirt roads are totally unrideable after a good rain. I had heard stories of a number of riders who’ve had to push their bikes for hours upon hours through miles of mud.

Today, however, the sky was blue, the roads were dry, and Brazos Ridge was beautiful. The dry, deep, tire ruts I danced around were a constant reminder of just how lucky I was to ride these roads in optimal conditions.Brazos Ridge, I thank you for your kindness.

Ryan and I cycled the rolling hills, leap frogging one another. It was a beautiful landscape with no towns or people for miles. This wasn’t the New Mexico that you imagine in your mind. We were riding the ridge at nearly 11,000′ elevation, surrounded by wildflowers and evergreens. We descended the ridge and settled in for a long afternoon of riding. There were still nearly 60 miles until the next potential resupply in Canõn Plaza, NM. We had already ridden over 40 miles on the morning.

Hour after hour, I ticked off miles. Sometimes riding and talking with Ryan, sometimes listening to music and gazing at the scenery, and most of the time thinking about eating food and drinking sodas in Canõn Plaza. If it seems like I was almost always thinking about eating and drinking, it’s because I was. The Tour Divide was essentially an eating contest whilst riding your bike. I was eating and drinking over 8,000 calories daily, and I could still feel my bibs getting looser.

Finally after some 12 hours of riding, I hit the first resupply of the day at the Canõn Plaza summer store. It’s run by a nice woman named Silvia, who tracks the race and opens it up for riders as they come through. Her kids started it years ago, selling drinks and candy bars to riders. Eventually, they built a small shed near the road after the tree they used to sell under got struck by lightning. Silvia kept it going after her kids grew up.

When Ryan and I got there it was closed. We eventually found a little door bell, rang it, and after a couple of anxious minutes, Silvia rode down on a 4-wheeler with her dog to unlock the shed. Inside was a refrigerator stocked with ice cold sodas, water, and Gatorades. We sat down in the shed on fold out chairs and talked and relaxed for a few minutes. I wanted to stay for much longer, sitting there petting her dog, but Silvia gave us some trail beta. She told us most of the stores would probably be closed as we past through the next town and that, if we hurried we could still make it to Abiquiu, NM and the Abiquiu Inn before 9 p.m. –which is when the kitchen closed. It was the only opportunity left for resupply until 7 O’clock tomorrow morning. There was no choice, we had to make there. We said thanks, got some snacks and drinks to go and headed out quickly.

We took off down the road and our paces separated us within a couple miles. 5 miles from the summer store, I rode alone through the town of Vallecitos, NM. This town had no services, save for a post office. The “town” was one little street with one abandoned house after another. Little dogs barked continuously, as I rode down the street in awe. Two kids laughed and I watched them amble out onto the street playing with crutches. The house they came out of had broken windows. It was unlike anything I’d seen in America before. After just a couple of minutes I was through Vallecitos, but I didn’t stop thinking about it. It made me realize how privileged I was to be riding my fancy bike across the Rocky Mountains. No matter how hard this got, I chose to do this. Vallecitos is in rough shape.

Eventually, the route took me back onto a dirt road that climbed up switch-backs for a bit before beginning a big descent. As I flew downhill on the smooth dirt, I could hear cracks of lightning and thunder behind me. Weather was certainly moving in, but I took it as a challenge. I raced the storm, in a huge effort to stay out front of it. Powered by the fig newtons I bought at Silvia’s summer store, I did it. The storm never caught up. I cruised generally downhill for the next few miles through the town of El Rito, NM. Any minimal services it had were already closed. I flew through the little town without stopping. After El Rito, I got onto a highway road and pedaled slightly downhill for 10 miles. I was going anywhere from 20 to 30 miles an hour. It was some of the easiest miles of the race and it felt amazing! A bad picture of the highway into Abiquiu at sunset.

Very few miles come easy on the Divide, so you had to cherish them when they came. I did so by yelling aloud in happiness, and playing air drums to my music as I cruised down the road.

Sometime around 8:30 p.m., I pulled into the Abiquiu Inn. Unexpectedly, It was actually a nice hotel and cafe. It was a place you would actually want to stay. I saw Ryan outside, and we got a table at the cafe.

We each ordered two meals and drank an unhealthy amount of sodas. My tongue hurt so bad with every spicy bite of my enchiladas. Even my other meal, a more mild taco salad, was painful. Each bite had to be followed by water and Coke to be bearable. Eventually, I asked the waiter for a side of sour cream. I would take a bite of the enchilada, chase it with water, chase that with Coke, and then kill any residual burn with a spoonful of sour cream. It was a bit ridiculous, but it enabled me to eat without crying. I really just wanted to order some cold pudding and ice cream and just stick my tongue in it for a while. I didn’t, but it really did burn that bad.

I had thoughts of carrying on further that night, into the desert, but it was a really long stretch without resupply, and I didn’t have enough on the bike food or electrolyte drinks to push through–or so I convinced myself. The general store in Abiquiu would open at 7 a.m.. Ultimately, we decided we’d get a hotel room and be waiting at the general store before it opened. I felt guilty for stopping so early again today, but at this point in the race, it was so easy to cave at the prospect of an actual bed and a shower. To be fair to myself, I had already ridden for some 15-16 hours. We pushed our bikes down to the far end of the Abiquiu Inn property and went inside the room. I was absolutely ecstatic to find it had a coffee maker…and a nice shower!

I laid in bed replying to texts and Facebook posts and actually enjoyed a few moments of “normalcy”. I thought about how, in just a few days, this whole crazy thing could be over. A pang of sadness actually went through me at the thought. I liked the dirtbag lifestyle I was getting to live out, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it to be over. Before long, however, my sleep deprived brain took over and I fell asleep, still replying to a text. I dropped my phone on my face. I decided it was time to actually sleep. I rolled over and reminded myself: I still had hundreds of New Mexican miles to ride and I was still in a race. To those thoughts, I fell asleep hard. Only 500 miles left.

Daily stats: 141 miles and 9200′ elevation gain

Ride time: 16 hours

Total route mileage: 2153 miles

Race elapsed time: 14 days, 22 hours

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Tour Divide Day 14: Rio Grand National Forest to an Airstream in Platoro

I woke up on my little patch of dirt in the Rio Grande National Forest. It was dark, dead silent, freezing cold, and the stars were as vivid as I had ever seen. It was sometime around 4 a.m.. It would have been a beautiful place to keep sleeping for 12-14 more hours; however, I had places to be.

I stumbled out of my bivy, and walked over to my bike. It was laying away from me, just in case there were any black bears that had a taste for candy and pop tarts. Everything was intact. I went back to my bivy and rolled everything up under the lights of my headlamp. The faster I worked at it getting my gear put away, the closer I was to warming up. After a few moments, I was back on the bike.

I soft pedaled down the gravel road, deeper into the Rio Grande National Forest. My early goal for the morning was to get up and over Carnero Pass. I was tired but feeling good. I recall being excited for the first light to appear in the sky. I told myself to ride hard, and when the sun rose, I would stop, eat breakfast (more pop tarts) and brush my teeth. It may not seem like much of a reward, but I was genuinely excited. This signaled the end to another cold night, and the beginning of a new day. Additionally, brushing my teeth usually made me feel human again.

I climbed up the forest service road towards Carnero Pass, and, just as first light hit, I spooked a fat black bear. It was easily my closest encounter of the race, but it wanted nothing to do with me. It ran up the road away from me, and I didn’t even slow down. I watched it run up the road for about 10-20 seconds before it finally bolted into the trees. In hindsight, I probably should have stopped and let it get out of my sites more quickly. But, at the time, I kind of enjoyed watching the chubby guy. It did, however, confirm my fears of sleeping next to my bike in this Forest last night. I was just glad he was up the road a few miles, so he didn’t steal my food.

I topped Carnero Pass around 7 a.m.. and cruised down the other side. The next goal was get to the town of Del Norte, CO. for a big resupply and then get to climbing the behemoth Indiana Pass before potential afternoon storms could hit. There is always a chance for afternoon storms at high elevations, and I didn’t want to be caught above tree line during one. Indiana Pass was the highest point on the whole route at 11,913′. It would be a bit of a grunt.

The warmth of the sun was setting in as I cruised the 35 miles to Del Norte. It was another beautiful, hot day.

If anyone has ever received better weather on this route, I’d like to hear about it. I just wondered how much longer my luck would hold out.

In general, the riding was fun dirt roads. There was some buff double-track that pumped up and down and snaked back and forth. It was a blast. Just as I was finishing this section up, I met a north bound rider named Matt. He was super friendly and getting pictures of as many southbound racers as he could. Photo Credit: Matt Hoven

I gave a thumbs up for the picture. Some days that would have just been a front, but today I really was feeling good. We chatted for a bit and headed our opposing directions. I realized this was the first person I had seen or talked to all day. It felt good and provided a big mental boost. I rode pretty happily through the desert-like landscape into Del Norte (Pronounced Del Nort apparently). I had driven through here nearly a year ago and taken note that there was a Mexican restaurant. I planned to hit that, until I realized it was slightly off route. I was all for getting burritos, but I was more in favor of forward progress on the route. Instead, as there so often was, a gas station/subway appeared directly on route. Damn. I knew I was destined for another subway sandwich. I set my bike outside and set about filling my arms with gas station food and ordering Subway. As I was paying, I saw some cheap hats on a rack. I decided I should buy some sort of bandana to protect the back of my neck. The further south I got, the more I was getting torched by the afternoon sun. I found a sweet American flag mesh cap with a little flap for the neck. $4.99. It was definitely made more with a motorcyclist in mind, but I threw it up on the counter as well.

As I was paying for it all, I spotted one of my ultra racing heroes, Josh Kato. Like a fan boy, I said “Hey, are you Josh?” He was in regular clothes, because he was forced to drop after a crash and some other issues. He was previously in first place, and had set the course record a few years back. I had essentially modeled my whole racing kit around an internet post he made a few years ago. I made a point to tell him thanks for that.Photo Credit: Josh Kato

Despite his unfortunate situation, he was so nice and congratulatory on my race. He was genuinely stoked for me. The awesomeness of this whole moment couldn’t have come at a better time. I was about to take on the biggest mountain pass of the whole race. He wished me luck, and I rode away from the gas station a little harder than usual–ya know–just in case Josh was watching.

I rode the pavement that eventually turned to gravel. The gravel road eventually started climbing. Steeply. Very Steeply. I was spinning in my easiest gear and just barely able to keep traction and balance on the bike. A car pulled over and the driver got out to say hi. I really didn’t want to stop pedaling on this incline, but it was pretty cool for someone to drive on the route just to give some encouragement. It felt good to stop for a minute. Eventually, the road got too steep and I just began walking up the road. Walking really wasn’t much slower, anyways. I realized this pass was going to be an all day affair. I also realized that I would be topping out in the afternoon, which wouldn’t be ideal if there were storms. I looked up. Luckily, it was a bluebird day. I pushed, rode, grinded, and spun my way up the pass for hours. I even had to stop and take a ten minute nap under a tree, at one point. Up the road, after my nap, some wonderful trail angel had set out a box of Coke’s and Mountain Dew’s next to a mailbox. I think there were three left. I wanted them all, but just chugged one. I knew Ryan was behind me and figured he would enjoy the magic as much as I did. The big hit of sugar was always a nice boost for climbing.

After hours of climbing, I finally reached the summit of Indiana Pass. There was no big descent on the other side, however. Just a bit of a dip down and then another climb back up towards Summitville.

Summitville is a ghost town that used to be home to a gold mine. The mining ultimately contaminated the surrounding water sources and was forced to shut down. In the 1970’s, a bulldozer operator found a 141 pound gold nugget on the side of the road here. It’s worth around $500,000 today. There’s your history lesson for today. You’re welcome.

I rode around and beyond Summitville’s old 1800’s era structures eating my take away Subway sandwich. There were still some patches of snow to hike over at these elevations. As I was hiking over one, I turned around and saw Ryan. As usual, he was moving much quicker than I. He caught up and we chatted about how awesome those Cokes were from earlier. We talked about how how well placed they were and how good they tasted.

When you’re riding non stop for weeks on end, that stuff becomes huge and worth talking about.

In general, we were both happy to be done with the big climbs for the day. It would be mostly downhill to Platoro, CO., or at least I thought.

We descended down from Summitville and what I thought was Stunner Pass. It wasn’t. I saw a sign for Stunner Campground and stopped, a bit confused. I checked my notes, mileage and maps. To my dismay, I realized I had yet to climb Stunner Pass. I cursed under my breath. It was a big mental hit in my tired state. I got back on the bike and pedaled forward with a bad attitude. I knew I was in a bad mood, and usually I would use positive self talk to change it, but I let myself have this one. It felt good to just be mad for a bit. I had another 1000′ climb over the next 5 miles blocking me from a cheeseburger in Platoro. Ryan pulled away up the climb and I spun it out for another hour. Finally, after topping out the unanticipated extra mountain pass, I hit the Skyline Lodge in Platoro. It was 7 p.m.. Ryan was outside getting off his bike, as well. We went inside and hit the little lodge store. It was minimally stocked with candy bars, baked goods, and sodas, but it was the only true resupply for a while, so that was what we worked with. They also stocked some chain lube for cyclists who pass through. I was in dire need so I went to purchase the overpriced bottle. I was lubing my chain multiple times a day in the dry, dusty weather. The store clerk pulled out a bottle of lube and asked If I just wanted this one for free. She said a rider came through earlier and had too much. He left it behind for someone who needs it. How’s that for some trail magic? I never thought I’d get so pumped for some free chain lube.

We checked out and then sat down in the lodge cafe. We ordered sandwiches, fries, and Coke refill after Coke refill. The burger hurt my tongue, the salty fries hurt it even worse, and the sugary Coke provided relief with each bite. My tongue was in really rough shape with sore little white bumps. Luckily, they had some ice cream on the menu to help soothe it.

The menu also advertised a pancake eating challenge. Something like–eat this many pancakes and get the meal free or get your picture on the wall, or something like that. I didn’t want any rewards, I just honestly wanted that many pancakes. I was sorry I wasn’t there when they were serving breakfast. I have no doubt that that challenge would have been amongst the easiest things I’ve ever done. We ordered sandwiches to go to supplement our food supply. On our way out we signed the lodge’s Tour Divide riders board. All the lodge employees were super friendly and tracking the race. They indicated Ryan and I were in 14th and 15th place out of some 167 starters. Not too bad. Photo Credit: Craig Kerwein. Skyline Lodge Tour Divide board signed by almost every 2019 rider. If it looks like chicken scratch, it’s because most of our hands were numb or weak at this point.

Ryan and I talked about plans for carrying forward into the night, but ultimately talked ourselves into splitting an airstream camper that was on offer. Ultimately, it was too comfortable, and I hadn’t had a shower for about four days. I also had the same Achilles tape job from back in Montana. It was time to take care of my body for a few extra minutes.

Ryan and I agreed on an extra early alarm. I think it was set for around 2:30 a.m. I passed out warm and comfortable in the airstream camper around 9:30 p.m., and it was glorious.

It had been a short day, based on mileage, but getting over Indiana Pass in good weather was a big moment. It was the highest point on the Divide route. Tomorrow we would be in New Mexico. Before I fell asleep, I let myself think about finishing for just a bit. It actually seemed within reach, with just one more state to go, but to be honest, New Mexico scared the shit out of me. There would be extreme temperatures, potentially impassable roads after rain storms, and long distances between resupply. Although, the worries did nothing to keep me awake.

Total race elapsed time: 13 days, 12 hours

Daily stats: 93 miles, 9300′ of elevation gain. Ride time~ 14 hours.

Total Mileage: 2010 miles.

Number of Subway sandwiches eaten: Probably around 150.

Tour Divide Day 13: From Dirt To Dirt.

I shook awake in the morning dazed and confused. My alarm had gone off about a half hour prior, but for some reason (probably because it ended up beneath my sleeping pad) I didn’t hear it. I peered outside, and it wasn’t still completely dark. This meant I was late.

I deflated my pad, rolled everything up, and had it on the bike within a couple of minutes. I was getting quite efficient at it. I was also completely dressed, because I didn’t take my shoes, nor my helmet off. In fact, I never took my helmet off any of the nights I camped. It functioned as my pillow.

Back on the bike, I began my stand up, sit down, warm-up-the-joints routine. This had been getting easier every morning, but I also knew and expected each and every pain like the back of my hand, by now. I was also learning the power of Advil. I popped three of those, chased with s’mores Pop Tarts. I also dug into my camelbak pocket, and pulled out a caffeine tablet for dessert.

Advil, Caffiene, and Pop Tarts–indeed–the breakfast of champions.

I had around 30-35 miles to make it to Salida on this morning. The roads continued to be nice gravel and big, open rolling hills. There appeared to be some attempt to build subdivisions back here at one point, but there were no houses built on the signed roads. Maybe just a few campers here and there. It was an odd sight to see. The oddity occupied my mind for miles, along with the beautiful landscape.

I rolled by Ryan who was still in his bivy aside the road. Actually, if memory serves, I believe he was in his bivy, in a ditch, aside the road. Ditches were nice. They would allow you to elevate your legs while you slept.

I hadn’t seen him since Silverthorne, and wasn’t sure how far he had made it, or if he had gotten ahead and pushed through to Salida. I actually looked forward to him catching up to me later in the day–he was going to, regardless. Talking to another rider, even for just a few minutes, always lifted my spirits.

It wasn’t more than thirty minutes later, I turned around to see Ryan cresting one of the rollers in the full morning sun. He caught up to me quickly. I think he got up when he heard bike wheels roll past him. Among other things, we talked about our plans for Salida. Ryan needed to hit the bike shop for a new tire, and I needed to hit some sort of breakfast joint that would be capable of satiating an enormous appetite. I actually needed a whole new drivetrain on my bike, but the mechanic in Steamboat Springs said, “It’ll probably make it to the finish.” So that was good enough.

We leaped frogged each other as we stopped to peel off layers. The sun was heating up the day quickly. After a few hours of riding we finally hit the 1000′ climb between us and Salida. As usual, Ryan got further and further ahead until he was out of sight. I spun the pedals and enjoyed the beautiful terrain. Cows moved all about the dirt road as I climbed. Some held their ground and others darted away–scared of the orange thing moving up the hill, slow and breathing heavily.

I worked hard and finally got to the top of the climb. The views as I started descending were incredible. It was hard to keep my eyes on the road. Lael Wilcox’s film crew was out filming here. I noticed the camera turn to me, so I assumed a more proper downhill mountain biking posture. I thought, “If I’m going to get a brief cameo in some race documentary, I better at least look like I’m trying to race.”

Previously, I was just sitting up, one hand on the handlebars, coasting downhill easily. Now, I was pedaling hard, downhill, and in the drops. I wondered if the film crew noticed my little performance.

The downhill got steeper and steeper, and now I really did have to focus on riding. It was smooth dirt and switch backs. I let out some “Yahhoooo’s!” and “Yeeehhaaa’s!”, as I sped down. It always felt good to do that, for some reason. I knew this descent would spit me out in Salida, which added to the high. Breakfast was just at the bottom of the hill.

I hit the outskirts of Salida and realized any resupply would be a bit off route. Just then, a lady in a car (who was dotwatching the race on trackleaders) got out and greeted me. Her name was Janet and she was photographing riders as they came through. Photo credit: Janet Blessington

I stopped and chatted for a minute or two, and she mentioned that Poncha Springs, just ahead, would have food right on route. Any mileage off route was a soul crusher at this point. Kremmling was off route yesterday, but it offered coffee and doughnuts, of which I had wanted for days. Poncha Springs it would be. I cruised the pavement for a few miles and called my mom on the phone as I was riding. She and my dad had kept sending me encouragement the whole route, and it felt good to talk for a couple minutes. As I hit Poncha Springs I spied a green food truck called the Hunger Shack that advertised breakfast. The name suggested it might be able to satiate my hunger.

I ordered a breakfast burrito, tater tots, biscuits and gravy, coffee, and a root beer. I realized creamer has a lot of calories, too. I added two or three little creamers to each cup, as well. As I ate, I chatted with some locals who knew about the race. They said they’d track me the rest of the way. One of the guys jokingly questioned whether I’d be able ride after all the food. Absolutely.

First the film crew, then the awesome encouraging lady in the car, and now these folks. The encouragement had me feeling really good, and it made me want to ride even harder. I crushed the last of my burrito and hit the gas station for more food and drinks for the next long stretch.

Next up was a partial climb up the paved Poncha Pass road, before turning on a dirt road up to summit Marshall Pass. It was a nicely graded dirt road and not too steep. I found a good rhythm to “Sweet Emotion”, by Aerosmith and spun my way to the top in the heat of the afternoon. My hands were getting torched by the sun. I never really wear cycling gloves (just cold weather gloves). I climbed and applied sun screen all at once. I kept thinking about Alex. My wife, Alex, told me I needed to start wearing cycling gloves. Of course, I didn’t listen. Instead, my hands were burned on the tops and blistered on the palms. I could see her rolling her eyes at me quite clearly in my mind.

I made it to the top of Marshall Pass.

It was the first of three significant passes I had hope to summit that day. I coasted down the other side, getting drowsy in the process. It was literally everything I could do to stay awake. Ultimately, I put on the brakes and napped in the dirt, underneath a tree, for ten minutes. After my nap, I descended down the rest of the way and hit the Tomichi Creek Trading post for a re-up on some Gatorade. I wanted nothing more than to sit in the air conditioned cafe, but instead, I left it as quickly as possible to carry forward. I rode away, eating an apple on the highway pavement. It was a 13 mile stretch of pavement, and I hammered it as hard as I could.

The pavement eventually turned to some brutally thick, graded gravel that was slow and difficult to maintain traction on. I used all sides of the road to try and find a good line to ride. There really were none. It took its toll. I stopped and put my head down in the arrow bars for a bit, as the afternoon hours ticked away into the evening.

It was just me, silence, green pastures, and a gravel road. It was majestic, but for some reason, I was washed over with a huge pit of loneliness. I missed everyone and everything in my “real” life. For a brief moment, I kind of wanted to just stop and quit. It was odd. I had felt much worse, the roads had been much harder, and the weather was perfect. There was no real explanation, but the feelings persisted strongly.

“Relentless Forward Progress!”, I said aloud. It was the mantra taped on my handlebars. I started riding again, feeling lonely, but reminded that if I just kept going, I’d feel better. I rode for many miles telling myself that. I refocused my mind on pushing over Cochetopa Pass.

I rode pushed forward and began climbing the mildly graded gravel road. It was nice, and the effort made me feel better for some reason. The sun was setting just as I reached the top of the pass. This time I stopped to admire the sunset. I also took a bad photo of it.

The Sunset on Cochetopa Pass. If ever a photo did not do something justice, it was this one.

I stood and straddled my bike for a couple minutes just soaking it in. I’ll admit, I even welled up with tears looking at it. It felt like I had been gifted justification for carrying on earlier.

I cruised down the other side of the pass as the last light faded away. Just like yesterday, I had no idea where I would sleep that night. Once again, I flipped my head lamp and bike light on, and decided I would ride until I was tired enough for the dirt to look comfortable. I rode for another 20 miles or so before getting close to the climb up Carnero Pass in the Rio Grande National Forest. It was here I found a nice patch of dirt next to an old broken down wooden fence that wasn’t fencing in anything. For some reason, sleeping next to it felt safer than not. I rolled my bivy out next to it and then moved my bike about 30 yards away, because—black bears.

I was a little sketched out being alone in prime black bear and mountain lion habitat, but sleep quickly took over, preventing further worry.

I had woken up on a patch of dirt that morning, rode hard all day, and ended up on another patch of dirt some 150 miles down the road. It was a humble ending to the day, but that new patch of dirt was earned, and it felt damn satisfying to be there.

Mileage: Somewhere around 140-150 miles. Elevation gain: ~9700′

Total Mileage: ~1875 miles

Day 12: Radium Campground to a pasture fence near Salida

I woke up to my alarm in the dark, cold morning at Radium Campground. I had to remind myself where the hell I actually was. It was quite cold, and I decided that the only chance for more warmth was to start riding again. It was sometime around 4:30 a.m.

I twisted the valve on my inflatable sleeping pad to deflate it while I was still laying on it. This was both the fastest and most demoralizing way to do it. After just a few seconds of deflation, under the weight of my body, I’d hit the cold hard ground. This would usually make things uncomfortable enough to want to get up, regardless of how I felt.

It’s the little luxuries in life, you know?

I rolled up everything and strapped it back to my bike, ate about half of yesterday’s club sandwich, and brushed my teeth and super sore mouth. Somehow, this all took me about 45 minutes. Finally, around 5:15 a.m., I was riding my bike.

In days past, I had always had a goal in mind for where I wanted to stop that night, but this morning my mindset changed. I didn’t care where I stopped. My “plan” was to literally just ride until I couldn’t ride anymore and sleep wherever that may be. I was kind of already doing that, but telling myself I would do it gave me a surge of energy. It gave me a bigger sense of freedom.

I was riding pretty strong on a steep, morning climb and saw Peter Kraft ahead in the distance. I was always able to ride faster when I had someone to chase. I didn’t care to pass him, I just wanted to talk to someone. Also, when you pull up to someone who has been riding their bike in the wilderness for 12 straight days, they are bound to have an interesting story or two. I finally caught Peter on the gravel descent on the other side of the climb.

I have no idea what we talked about, but after a mile or two of fast descending, I yelled into the wind that I was going to go off route two miles into Kremmling. I had been to Kremmling before because some family friends own a cabin out there. I had also been to its gas station a few times before, and knew that they had hot breakfast sandwiches and doughnuts. It was impossible to pass up. So I didn’t. Peter made the right turn to stay on route and I headed straight. I never caught back up to him.

Peter pushed incredibly hard the last week of the race and finished over a half a day ahead of me. It was an amazing feat, because I knew he was dealing with some painful stuff when we rode together in Montana. He was in Superman mode to finish the way he did.

I hit Kremmling just a couple miles down the road and reloaded on food and drink supplies. I sat outside the gas station and pounded a large coffee and a huge apple fritter. It was incredible. Having morning coffee was a true luxury. Having it with a doughnut was really livin’.

On my way out of Kremmling, I passed Ryan who was heading towards it. I hadn’t seen him since Brush Mountain Lodge, and because of the lack of cell service, I had no other way of knowing what racers were around me. I was glad to see him just behind me, because I knew he’d eventually catch up later in the day. I looked forward to the company.

A few minutes later, I was back on the route. It was a smooth dirt road. The morning was clear and sunny, and you could feel that it was going to get hot. I cruised for miles enjoying the riding that was powered by coffee and doughnuts. The views of the Gore Mountains were incredible.

The road took us around a reservoir, and at one point I stood up to gain some momentum on a slight uphill and —“YAAAAOOOWWW! That’s a new pain!”

A sharp, painful twinge shot up where my left quadricep muscle met my knee. I immediately sat back on the saddle and pedaled gingerly. I stood back up to test it, and screamed a choice word loudly. I couldn’t stand and pedal without a sharp pain in my left quad.

I sat and pedaled lightly, which was manageable, but there was no way I could keep riding like this. My backside was doing okay, but that didn’t mean I could tolerate sitting on a hard saddle for 16 hours a day without standing for a bit here and there. Something had to be done.

After a few miles of going through every emotion–sarcasm, anger, sadness, anxiety, etc. I pulled myself out of my pity party and spoke aloud to myself. ”

“You gotta get your shit together, man!”

I put on the brakes and sat on a rock aside of the road. The sun beat down hard in the mid-morning. I pulled out all the stops. First, I applied some Salonpas pain relief cream I had bought for my Achilles. Then, I swallowed four Advil. Lastly, I took out my trusty Leukotape and went to work taping my lower quad muscle. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I stuck the tape just above my knee and surrounded my quad muscle on both sides. I pulled the tape up tight which seemed to support the muscle a bit. It also yanked painfully at my leg hair. With my fingers crossed, and no reason to think it would actually work, I stood up and got back on the bike.

The Leukotape had done it again. I honestly could not believe it. I could pedal standing up again. Not five minutes ago, it was unbearable. It still hurt a bit, but then again, everything hurt “a bit” at this point in the race. The most painful thing was actually the new tape ripping out my leg hair with each pedal stroke. This subsided after a few minutes. It was a huge feeling of relief knowing that I could at least manage the new pain.

After the scare, I began up Ute Pass. Relative to all the passes on the Tour Divide, Ute Pass was a walk in the park. I turned on some bluegrass tunes, found a solid rhythm, and was surprised by how quickly I reached the top. I flew down the paved descent and hit the highway that would take me into Silverthorne.

It was some nine or ten miles of flat, hot pavement. I tucked into my aerobars and tried to lay down some power. I turned my music up just a bit louder so my mind didn’t go to any weird places. I had begun to realize that anytime I hit a stretch of pavement, my mind would quickly wander, often into dark places. Physically, they were the easiest miles, but mentally they were always the hardest. Loud music helped drown out the thoughts.

Eventually, the sides of the road got more and more populated with houses and buildings, until it was totally lined with stores and business. I had reached Silverthorne. I pulled into the first gas station I saw. They had a banner outside indicating that there was pizza inside. I went in and got a Big Gulp Pepsi, two slices of pizza, and a whole basket of high calorie food. Namely, fruit chews, pop tarts, and peanut m&m’s. They also had a little fresh food grab and go refrigerator. I grabbed a vegetable tray of carrots, cauliflower, and celery with ranch dressing. My diet had been sorely lacking vegetables up to this point. I took it all up to the cash register and rang up some ridiculous $45 gas station food and drink tab. They had a little tabletop with barstools next to the window and I set my pizza slices, big gulp, and plastic bag of groceries down on it. Before I could even sit down, the contents of the plastic bag shifted, knocked over my 32 ounce Pepsi, and spilled it all over my pizza, the counter top, and the floor. It was a huge mess, wet mess.

Without hesitation, the nicest gas station clerk in the world ran over with some towels and assured me it was all okay. I tried helping her clean up the mess, but she insisted that I go refill my soda and get two new slices of pizza. I felt too bad, so I kept wiping the floors until it was at least mostly cleaned up. I took her up on the free refill, but I still ate my two very soggy slices of pizza. The soggy pizza was terrible, but the gas station clerk couldn’t have been nicer about the whole situation.

In fact, almost every person I met along the route was extremely nice. Lots of people asked if I needed anything, told me they admired what what I was doing, and wished me good luck. All were total strangers, but all were overly nice. I think I looked bad enough, though, so maybe they just felt sorry for me.

Ryan came in the store and sat down where the drink spill once was. I went and bought a third slice of pizza and we talked about the route ahead. We had some easy bike path riding through Frisco and Breckinridge and then a big climb over Boreas Pass. I took off before Ryan.

I wound my way through the crowded bike paths next to the Dillon Resevoir. It felt odd to ride next to the clean, fast road cyclists. There bikes had not one spec of dirt them. My bike and I were dirty, disheveled and looking pretty worn. I felt proud, however, too look the way I did. I had earned that mud on my legs.

Eventually, I made my way around the reservoir and through the bustling streets of Frisco and Breckenridge, Colorado. I almost breathed a sigh of relief when the gps told me to turn left onto an uncrowded road. It was the winding road that would take me up and over Boreas Pass.

Climbing up Boreas Pass

I climbed up the paved switchbacks, enjoying the smooth ascent. The views were incredible, and I entered the White River National Forest. This is the huge National Forest that surrounds Aspen, CO, as well. It made me a bit homesick during the rest of the climb.

As the evening set in and sun went behind the clouds, I reached the top. It was cool, windy, and still had snow.

On the other side of the pass was the Gold Dust Trail. It’s notorious for how easy it is to miss. You start going downhill on the Boreas Pass Road, and, just as you’d get going quickly, you have to veer right onto the almost hidden Gold Dust Singletrack. I had my eyes peeled for it. It was something I had drilled into my brain months ago. I was NOT going to miss this turn. I did.

But just barely. I saw a faint wooden sign off to the right as I was cruising past. I put on the brakes and turned around. Sure enough, there it was–the infamous Gold Dust Trail. It was one of those “I can’t believe I’m actually here” moments. I stopped and took a breath and rode the muddy, snow covered singletrack as best I could. It was a hike/ride/hike/ride affair for awhile, until I got low enough that the snow melted to water. The snowmelt water flooded the trail that seemed more like a trench in the mountain than anything else. I plowed through the water that was at least a few inches deep for quite some time. I was surprised at how easy it was to ride through. Finally, this dried up, and it was fun singletrack the rest of the way until the trail spit me back out on the road I was on to begin with.

It was quite possible that you could have missed the Gold Dust trail, descended down the regular rode for a few minutes, met back up with the route, and never have known you missed it. This would, of course, disqualify you from the race, and you wouldn’t find out until you reached Mexico.

It was just another “fun” little Tour Divide detour.

I cruised the gravel through the town of Como, CO–which seemed to be the Anti-Breckinridge. No shops, no stores, just modest hippie homes and some trailers.

It was big rolling hills and beautiful country. There was absolutely nothing around and I felt so free, so I yelled “YAAHHOOOOOO!!!!””‘

I did this multiple time just for laughs. Each time I did it, I smiled bigger and bigger. I felt like I had miles and miles of open country all to myself. It was an incredible high.

I had ridden these rolling hills for about 20 miles when the night set in. I flipped on my headlamp and moved forward. I was feeling pretty good, and I was excited to see where my “ride til I drop” plan would take me. I rode through the town of Hartsel, CO around 10 p.m.. Everything was closed, but I still had plenty of snacks from Silverthorne. I pushed forward riding in the silent, cool night. It was just me and the beam of light in front of me, once again. It was genuinely peaceful. I rode in silent enjoyment for about another hour when I saw a patch of dirt and a sage brush bush.

“Good enough”.

I unrolled my bivy and quilt next to a pasture fence, behind the bush, and made myself invisible to any passing cars. I set my alarm, laid my hands behind my head, looked at the stars, and then passed out quickly.

Like so many other days on the Tour Divide I had felt nearly every feeling. Amazed, inspired, extreme pain, no pain, lonely, happy, insignificant, proud, cold, hot, hungry, full, thirsty, quenched, low, and high. And just like so many days before, when it ended, I just felt an odd sense of ultimate satisfaction, no matter how hard or frustrating the day had been. That night was no different. That ultimate satisfaction was, ultimately, becoming my “why” for doing something like this.

Also, It was only a 30 mile bike ride in the morning to get breakfast in Salida. I was ecstatic about the prospect of breakfast burritos.

Day 12: ~150 miles, 9,000′ elevation gain

Ride time~17 hours

Total Mileage ~1720 miles.

Tour Divide Day 11: Brush Mountain Lodge to Radium Campground

I awoke to the sounds of some chatter and coffee mugs clanking. There were riders scattered everywhere inside the lodge overnight, so as a few woke up, so did the others. I could see the coffee pot from where I was, and that provided just enough incentive to get out from under my quilt. I sat down at the table next to some other riders. Then, Kirsten laid out some cinnamon rolls. Lots of the them. They were already iced with a sweet cream, but she knows how we are, and she laid out a bowl full of the sweet icing to slather on more if we needed to. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you know I slathered on some extra.

Then came the Blueberry pancakes, sausage, and eggs. Each plate was prepared and brought out one at a time. There was one plate that was set down between Ryan and I. In an odd moment of ravenous human behavior, we deliberated on splitting the plate so we could both eat right away. Then, when the second plate of food came out, we’d just split that, too. After a few seconds of this, Ryan told me to have the first plate. At the time, this was an extremely generous offer, and I legitimately felt bad that I was going to eat first. But again, food was becoming everything at this point. At least to me. Thanks Ryan.

Food meant I could keep riding my bike. If I could eat, I could ride until sleepiness made me stop.

Here’s me, looking strung out, and crushing the plate of blueberry pancakes, while Ryan awaits his. Photo credit: David Langley.

Finished with breakfast, I gathered up my freshly laundered clothes, my dried out bivy, and my recharged electronics. I went outside and hosed off yesterday’s mud from the drivetrain. Finally, sometime around 10 a.m., I was off. It was an extremely late start, but the Brush Mountain Lodge felt like a huge reset. It had provided me with pizza, pancakes, cinnamon rolls, a shower, a warm recliner, and a washing machine. I was as refreshed as a Tour Divide rider could feel.

I knew I was going to have snow to push through on the pass before Steamboat Springs. I mentally prepared myself for an all day hike if needed. It had taken one of the leaders over 15 hours to ride the 50 miles to Steamboat Springs in the snow storm the other day, so I was a bit nervous.

As usual, however, I lucked out with an extremely bright and sunny bluebird morning. I realized that of all 160 or so racers, it was possible that I was getting best weather of all of them. Day after day, I kept hitting near perfect weather windows.

I hit the trail at the bottom of the pass at 11:30 in the morning. The late June snow was melting fast and causing a small stream of water to run down the trail. After a few minutes, it became a combo of either too steep, too muddy, or too snowy to ride, and I began the hike-a-bike I had been preparing for. Les hit it around the same time, so we pushed and chatted here and there, and it actually made it quite enjoyable. Eventually, he passed me and I hiked the last hour of deep snow alone. It was beautiful. I had done a lot of pushing through snow this winter and oddly enough, this hike made me feel at home. Les and I pushing our bikes downhill. June 24th, 2019.

As I came out of the trees, Lael Wilcox’s film crew was out taking pictures of riders. Photo credit: Spencer Harding. Taken from the Radavist website. My white gas station gloves were turning black, but they were still holding strong.

After two hours of pushing and hiking through snow, mud and water, I had made it to the other side of the pass and was able to start riding. At first, the descent was rough, but eventually the route turned onto some perfectly smooth dirt roads that felt like pavement. What had taken an entire day for the leaders just a couple of days ago, had only taken me 5 hours. Timing is everything. I ate my 24-hours old meatball marinara sub as I cruised some pavement into Steamboat. For a moment, I questioned eating this old, unrefrigerated sandwich, but, hunger eventually took over as it always did. I was getting good at eating sub sandwiches while riding in my aerobars. More often than not, my saddle was the dinner chair and my aerobars were the dinner table.

The route went on bike paths into Steamboat and took us right past the Orange Peel Bike Shop. I decided I’d have them look at my bike. They asked if I was a Tour Divide rider, and then without hesitation, dropped what they were doing and put my bike up on a stand. I had them adjust the shifting and check to make sure my rear wheel was still safe to ride. My derailleur and chain slammed into the spokes yesterday, and the wheel seemed to be getting slightly wobbly. The mechanic true’d the wheel, changed the brake pads and bent my derailleur hanger back into place. He stated nonchalantly, “your drivetrain should make it all the way”. He also mentioned something about getting a new tire. My front tire still had the plug in it from Montana.

At this point, I wanted to see if I could finish with that plug still in. I thought it would be cool. Although, I’m not sure why. It wouldn’t have been cool if my tire blew up in the middle of nowhere, but I never really thought about that during the race. It may have been dumb luck that this thing was still holding.

I got on my bike and headed out of Steamboat Springs. It was already 4 p.m., and I had only gone 50 miles. I felt a rush of urgency and pedaled hard. I had my bike stocked full with sandwiches, snacks, and drinks from the Deli’s and gas stations of Steamboat Springs. I had 124 miles and nearly 10,000′ of climbing until the next resupply at Silverthorne.

I pushed hard all evening. It was smooth roads and relatively fast riding that took us around a beautiful reservoir.

Evan Deutsch and Kim Raeymakers caught up and passed me on a climb, just after this picture was taken. I jokingly told them it was only because of the two large hoagies in my frame bag weighing me down. These guys were seasoned veterans and pushing a really hard pace to reassume their position at the pointy end of the race. I dropped back quickly.

As the sun began to fade, the dirt road I had been cruising on disappeared into a powerful, rushing “creek”. The water was moving fast and it looked to be at least waist deep. The only way to get to the road on the other side would be to wade through. The safety of this was questionable at best. I was alone. I would be soaked from at least the waist down, and it would be dark soon with temperatures dipping into the 40’s at night. I decided I had a big climb up Lynx pass, so that would help me generate heat. Work hard, stay warm. It’s simple.

I put my rain gear on, hoisted my bike above my shoulders, and stepped into the rushing creek. I quickly felt how powerful and cold the water actually was. It took my breath away, and it easily came up to my waist. At first, I felt fear, but it quickly turned to adrenaline as I used all my strength to power through as quickly as possible. I had made it to the other side–wet but safe. I turned around and stared for a moment at the raging creek I had it’s defeated. It felt like I had just won something. The prize? A climb up a big mountain pass.

I got back on my bike, and began up Lynx Pass. I was right, the climb did keep me warm. But my feet were going numb as it got dark, so I pulled over and put my warm and dry wool socks on. I also remembered I had some foot warmers buried in my frame bag somewhere that I had bought in Wyoming. While digging for them, I found some rotten cheese sticks. It was gross, but with nowhere to go with them, I put them back in my bag to rot some more. I eventually found the toe warmers and put them on. My shoes and feet might have been wet, but at least they were warm. That was good enough for me.

I worked my way up Lynx Pass alone and in the darkness for hours. It was just me, the crunch of gravel under the tires, and the beam of my bike light riding on Lynx pass. It was odd, scary, and invigorating at the same time. My world became only what my bike light shone. It was mentally taxing to do that for hours. A few months ago, I had ridden alone through the night in during the GranGravel 500 in East Texas. There is way too much fog and far too many cemeteries down there, so this was much less creepy. I told myself “you’ve been here before! You got this shit!”

It was cold and I wasn’t sure where I would stop for the night either, I just knew it would be outside. Just after midnight, I descended upon Radium Campground. There was absolutely no one around. It was dead silent besides a faint sound of some river. The bright moonlight through the trees made everything look eerie. I layed my bivy out on a picnic table, and I put my bike in a vault toilet to, hopefully, ward off any black bears. I still had a club sandwich in my frame bag, and I wasn’t taking any chances. I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m..

I was disappointed because I wanted to get farther for the day, so I vouched to start pushing myself harder tomorrow. I remember telling myself before I fell asleep that I was going to “leave everything out on the course”. It made me feel better, at least.

Deep down, I wasn’t sure how much harder I could really go. I had already pushed myself to complete exhaustion, joint injury, hand numbness, mouth sores, near hypothermia, near hyperthermia, dehydration, and sleep deprivation. I wasn’t sure what more I could do. I guess I hadn’t starved yet. Although I was eating 8,000 or more calories a day and still losing weight. So maybe I should have added starving to the list, too.

It had been a beautifully clear day and it was a beautifully clear and cold night. My clothes were all damp and I settled in for an uncomfortably cold night of camping. I told myself before the race: “If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right”.

I was definitely doing it right.

Day 11: 109 miles, 7000′ of climbing

Total mileage: ~1,580 miles

Tour Divide Day 10: The Great Basin to the Brush Mountain Lodge.

I woke up just before dawn as my alarm went off in my wetted out bivy. I had slept like a rock, and I wasn’t sure if we had actually got rained on or not. My clothes, quilt, and bivy were all wet. It was most likely just condensation from breathing inside a barely breathable waterproof sack, but it may as well have been rain.

Ryan was up around the same time and said something like, “at least we didn’t get eaten by coyotes.”

I guess there were some howling overnight, but I didn’t hear them. I was happy I didn’t.

We both started packing up our belongings and I got away first, knowing that Ryan would catch up.

Ryan was a machine, and it seemed like he had power from the moment he started in the mornings until the moment he stopped. He was riding on a single-speed bike, and he was gaining on Nico Deportago-Cabrera and Alexandera Houchin, the only other single-speeders ahead of him. He seemed laid-back and extremely motivated about it all at the same time.

Instead of having power right away in the mornings, I had been working the first hour or more of each day just to be able to pedal and sit at the same time. But something changed on this 10th morning. It was easier. Although it was still painful, it was noticeably easier to get going, my joints were less stiff and the other little pains were so familiar that it would have been odd if they weren’t there. I think my body was finally coming to accept its new; albeit, low baseline.

As I rode away in the morning, I began to set my goal to get to Brush Mountain Lodge at the end of the day–about 150 miles away. It would be another long day but it would be as doable as any of the others. I continued riding happily through the desolate Great Basin. The sun rose and the clouds looked to have cleared up nicely from the evening before. I couldn’t believe I was getting yet another beautiful day. It was enjoyable riding. I whipped out a Hershey’s cookie bar to celebrate the new morning.

Ryan caught up as expected. We rode together for a bit, leap frogged for a bit, and then rode together more. The miles ticked by nicely. Ryan wanted to get to Brush Mountain Lodge as well.

Eventually, the gravel road turned to an extremely faded path that went straight up and over the big rolling hills instead of following the contours. It made for tough riding. The path was so faded into the grass and rocks that you might think it only had a year or two before it was totally indistinguishable from the rest of the baron land. Somehow, the path still had a name on my GPS, and it was a good thing it did. There were a few times I was just trusting the purple line on my GPS and following it, despite the trail that may or may not have been there.

The purple line was the end all be all. Through hell and high water, we followed that purple line south. Someday it would get us to Mexico.

After miles and hours of riding the faded paths, it came to a real dirt road. We continued hammering out some relatively flat miles and came within a couple of hours of Wamsutter, Wy. My notes indicated that it had a Love’s truck stop and I was quite excited to see what real food it might have to offer. My breakfast on this particular morning had been a payday, a bag of chips, Welch’s fruit chews, and two Hershey’s 7 layer cookie bars.

That’s some nutrition right there.

I tried to eat the old Mozzarella sticks from Atlantic City, but their hard and salty texture was misery on my sore tongue. The very sugar that was causing my tongue’s misery, was also the only thing that didn’t hurt when I ate it. I could feel little bumps all over my tongue which were the culprits.

I pulled up to Ryan and found out he was worse-off mouthwise. He had just had a crown come off his tooth. He had it in his hand. He wasn’t having pain with it, at least, not yet. We discussed where a store would be that would have some stuff to get it back on. His mouth was sore, too and now this.

Ryan said emphatically, “I’m going to be eating pudding by the time this thing is done!”

It was comical, but it also seemed quite possible that this could be my fate, too.

As we got closer to Wamsutter, the road got wider, the trucks got bigger and the road got muddy. This must have been where storms hit the night before. Each time a big semi passed by, we would be forced over to the right side of the road into the mud. It was ugly and miserable. If there is an armpit of the Tour Divide, it’s the road into Wamsutter. It was all big trucks, views of the interstate, and mined land. I worried about that only until I saw the Love’s truck stop. Then, I liked Wamsutter again.

After some 60 morning miles, I rolled into Wamsutter and hit the Love’s truck stop that (surprise!) had a Subway. I was so sick of Subway at this point, so I went to the Love’s side to look for pizza. The inside was under construction and there was a worker using a jackhammer. There was also a line of around 15 or 20 people at the register and no pizza. I reluctantly sulked my way back over to Subway. Then, a light went off in my head, and I remembered Subway actually makes little personal pizzas. I asked the Sandwich Artist if they made them here. She said yes, and went to the back to get them, but, quickly, came back empty handed and said they were out. I ordered two footlong meatball marinara subs with the enthusiasm of Eeyore. It was the closest thing to pizza I could get. As a consolation, I ordered three s’mores cookies, too. And some chips.

Les and David were in Subway as well. They ended up ahead of us a few miles last night and got rained on by the storms we saw, and then they hit some rough mud in the morning. Their bikes were caked in mud. Ours were shiny in comparison. It confirmed Ryan and I had made a wise decision to stop when we did.

I crushed my tired old subway sandwich and Ryan ate a load of fried chicken. We realized here many of the lead group were stuck at Brush Mountain Lodge due to impassable mud on the route. We were about to catch up to people who had previously been much further ahead. Things were getting interesting. You might think this would have been motivation to quickly get on our bikes to catch up, but we went back over to the Love’s side and got more calories, instead. Specifically, Welch’s fruit chews and peanut butter M&Ms. Photo credit: David Langley. He was impressed by my “just dump the candy straight in the bag” method. There was a congealed mess of melted chocolate and fruit chews below the new candy. It really was getting a bit gross. I didn’t care.

David got away first. I was glad he seemed to be riding strong, because that meant his knees must have feeling better. I rode out of Wamsutter with Les, but eventually I couldn’t keep up, and he pulled away. I was slower than everyone I was riding around these days, so I always just tried to stop less and for just a bit shorter. The road eventually took us away from the mines and back into the same Great Basin landscape. As the gravel miles ticked by slowly, I grew more and more stoked knowing that I was about to enter Colorado. I was about to enter my home state and for some reason it was a huge mental boost.

The riding just before Colorado. If you squint you can see Ryan.

It was truly beautiful riding, and I started to do the math when I might get to Brush Mountain Lodge. I figured at this pace I’d be there around 8 p.m.. Brush Mountain would have pizza, and I couldn’t wait.

Colorado was threatening its afternoon thunderstorms–per usual.

I was cruising along the rolling hills and high country dirt roads when I spotted Ryan start pushing his bike. Even further ahead, I could see Les and David pushing their’s.

I wasn’t sure why…until I hit the mud. It started accumulating on my tires with each rotation. My tires, which were 1.9 inches wide, were now 3 inches wide with mud. Then bam! My cranks stopped and my derailleur and chain jammed into my rear spokes. I felt it happening and nearly fell off my bike to prevent myself from putting pressure on the pedals. Continuing pedaling would have broken my derailleur and probably broken spokes on the rear wheel. I got off the bike to assess the damage. I bent down and had to physically hand pull a jockey wheel out of one of my spokes. It was in there solid and took all of my strength to get it dislodged. I was scared. This could have badly damaged my bike’s rear wheel and it’s shifting. I thought I was going to have to be single-speed like Ryan. That would have crushed me. Somehow the spoke remained intact, the wheel was still mostly true, and the derailleur hanger was only slightly bent. If you don’t know bike lingo…just know I narrowly escaped a bike disaster here.

I said, “Thank you, Darren” under my breath. Darren, the owner of Aloha Mountain Cyclery, had built me the rear wheel just days before the race. It was a damn strong wheel at that. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t any real damage.

Escaping disaster, I decided to not be a dumbass any longer and follow suit with Les, David, and Ryan. I pushed my bike. We pushed and pushed and pushed even more through the mud. For about an hour and half or more. My 8 p.m. pizza date at Brush Mountain was slipping away fast.

Eventually, the mud began drying up enough to ride. Until I hit the bottom of a hill, then, it was push time again. The bottom of each rolling hill on the Wyoming/Colorado border was thick, slick mud. Cattle had also been trudging through it, creating little potholes of their own. On one of the muddy downhills, my rear tire slid out from underneath me, and I jumped of my bike to avoid crashing hard. I landed and rolled in the mud in a controlled fashion. No injuries but one side of my body and one side of my bike ended up quite muddy.

Climbing up one of the last big hills before reaching Colorado, I turned around and saw a rider in a red jersey. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was Peter Kraft Jr., who we thought was miles behind us. He made some significant time on us because the mud we pushed through had dried for him. He was riding strong and looked good. I was happy to see him. We rode the last couple of hours in the dark to Brush Mountain Lodge.

We talked about the race and joked that because all but four of the leaders were still at the lodge, we should park our bikes a couple minutes further down the road. This would cause our trackers to send a ping further down route and we would show up on trackleaders in 5th and 6th place–although we didn’t bother following through on our little prank. Too hungry.

Turns out the washboard roads had shaken some of Peter’s dental work loose, too. It was dark, but I think he said he was actually missing a tooth. I considered myself lucky that all my dental work remained intact. It was something I didn’t know I needed to worry about 24 hours ago, but, I suppose if it has a chance, the roads of the Tour Divide will shake anything loose. You bike bolts, your water bottles, your dental work, etc.

Maybe we really would be eating pudding by the end of this thing.

We counted down the final miles to the lodge and finally saw the lights around 11 p.m.. There were no less than 20 bikes parked outside. Most of the leaders were asleep when I got there. They were prepped for a 3 a.m. departure.

We learned that rain and snow storms had pummeled this area of Colorado for the past couple of days. The first four race leaders got through it (just barely), but those that came only a few hours later were faced with more storms and a totally impassable road due to mud. The road remained impassable for them for over 24 hours. Riders kept trying to brave it, but they would ultimately turn around, totally shelled, and covered in thick mud. It broke the spirit of many of the lead riders. Some quit all together, others decided to just continue on at a touring pace. As for me? I was about to go from somewhere around 30th place to somewhere in the top 15. So were Ryan, Les, David, and Peter. We had hit a near perfect weather window and we would not be slowed by this impassable mud. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe it was just my beginner’s luck.

As I walked into the lodge, Kirsten (the wonderful lodge owner) gave me a hug, sat me down, and brought me a Budweiser. She proceeded to make us large pizzas and also spaghetti and meatballs. Kirsten was an angel from heaven. I wanted thousands of calories of pizza and that’s just what I got. It was incredible. I sat around the large table with a few other riders eating in just my rain pants and my under shirt. My jersey and bibs were getting their first and only wash of the entire race. At this point, the smell was probably becoming a public health issue. I also took my 3rd shower of the race. I had ridden over 1000 miles with no shower. You can imagine the smell of that. It wasn’t like I was embarrassed, though. We all smelled like shit.

Kirsten explained she would have coffee, pancakes, and sausage ready at 7 a.m.

I originally wanted to leave a little earlier, but I was happy to change my plans.

All the rooms were booked, so Kirsten let us stay on the floor wherever we could find room. I found an old recliner and passed out quickly. Other riders were sprawled out on the floor, the couches, and every nook and cranny of the lodge. Sleeping bags, bivies, gear, and clothing were also strewn everywhere in an attempt to have them dry out. It was a sight to behold.

I would hit Steamboat Springs, CO tomorrow and I was stoked. My body was wrecked from the tough day and from fatigue accumulated over all the days, but my mind was happy, strong, and satisfied. Getting some pizza, instead of a subway sandwich, might have had something to do with that. My second meatball marinara from Wamsutter was still in the framebag of my bike. It was marinating in its wrappers for my lunch tomorrow. Gross.

Food and miles. That was literally all I cared about at this point in the race. I dozed off without an alarm. I wanted to be woken up by the smell of blueberry pancakes.

Day 10 mileage: ~150 miles. ~5,000′ elevation gain.

Total Mileage: Nearly 1500 miles.

Day 9: Into The Great (Lonely, Beautiful and Desolate) Basin.

The 6a.m. alarm went off on Rob’s phone, and we both shuffled around for a few seconds in our respective bivy sacks. It had been a cold night, but I had a four season alpine bivy and a down quilt rated for 30 degrees. I also wore my down jacket and all of my rain gear for the extra warmth. It was manageable, but it was still curl-up-in-the-fetal position cold. This was even inside the pit toilet. As cold as it was, it would have been much colder outside (Below freezing). I considered myself lucky for having the shelter. No matter the kind.

Rob, however, had a much tougher night. He was equipped with only an ultralight bivy and a half down quilt for his legs. The upper half of his sleep system was just his down jacket. Being late June, you might rightfully think that would be enough warmth, but incredibly enough, it wasn’t even close. I felt bad for Rob. He had shivered and grunted through four hours of minimal to no sleep.

We both sat up at the exact time in our shared pit toilet. Sitting up put us face to face and we looked at each other wide-eyed in a silent expression of “What the hell are we doing!?”

The ridiculousness of it all made me laugh. I’m not sure why, but I proceeded to ask Rob, “What do you want to do?”

He said in a desperate voice, “Let’s get the fuck out of here, mate! I’m fuckin’ freezing!”

At once, we both got out of our bivies. I could tell Rob was serious. He was furiously repacking his stuff in bags and putting them on his bike. In an effort to get out of his way, I simply threw my quilt, pad and bivy sack outside the pit toilet door into the gravel parking lot. I stepped outside into the even colder air and packed up my things there. Furthermore, just like the last toilet I slept in near Butte, I found myself using the bathroom outside.

You’re supposed to sleep outside with the stars and pee inside in the toilets. I kept getting that backwards. I vowed to start straightening that out.

I pulled the handle on the other pit toilet door. It was locked. This told me Ryan had chose to sleep in longer than his planned two hours. Our little Union Pass survival trio would remain together for just a bit longer. I enjoyed riding alone, but the company was becoming more and more welcomed as the race went on.

Rob stepped outside with his bike fully packed up. He was exhausted and freezing, but he still stood there waiting on me to pack up. I told him not to wait and to start riding to warm up. He went without hesitation.

As I packed up the rest of my stuff, I remember thinking about how in our real lives we would just turn up the heat if we were cold. Out here, you had to physically exercise hard enough to generate your own heat. The harsh simplicity of it all actually me feel happy.

Things really were pretty simple on the Tour Divide. If you were cold, start putting a little more effort and power into the pedals. If you got hot, just take off a layer. If you were really hot, lay down in the dirt beneath a shade tree or pray for rain. If you were hungry, pedal faster to get to food. Then order three meals at the restaurant. More is better. If you were tired, have some caffeine. If you were bored, make up a game in your head. If your bike was making funny noises, turn up your music. And if you were in pain, cuss for a bit, grit your teeth, and then be thankful for the opportunity to be doing the Tour Divide. That usually took care of any issues.

Back to racing.

I took off on the 30 miles of paved road leading to Pinedale. It was a beautiful morning. There were cowboys out herding cattle with their horses, windmills barely turning in the mild breeze, and sunlight coming over the horizon. I couldn’t wait for the sun to hit me to start warming me up. I took my own advice and pedaled harder. Soon enough, I was down to just my rain jacket, cruising on the paved road and eating leftover pizza. It was three cold slices smashed together into a pizza sandwich, and it was excellent. I think I showed it off to Ryan as he passed me. We leap frogged each other for most of those 30 miles into Pinedale.

Once in Pinedale, I hit the gas station/subway for resupply. I had fully planned to go to a diner to feed my French toast appetite, but the pull of the race was too strong for such luxury. Ryan, Rob, Les, and I believe David Langley were all there resupplying, too. Rob seemed to have thawed out a bit.

I ordered my behemoth amount of subway and took to the gas station side to supply even more calories and lots of liquid. We were about to hit The Great Basin and it was going to be sparse in the way of water or food resupply.

I stood outside the gas station cleaning out my bike bags and reorganizing everything. Nothing was were it should have been and it felt like a total reset to get it reorganized.For some reason I took a selfie at the gas station and sent it to Alex. I thought maybe she’d appreciate proof that I was alive.

Reloaded and reorganized, I set off for The Great Basin. The next resupply was Atlantic City which was more than 85 miles of high desert riding away. On my way out of town, I rode with Ryan a bit before he started to pull away. I turned on some music and began battling the sleep monster. It was a battle that I lost. I laid down on the side of the road for a 10 minute nap, and I took a caffeine pill so it would hit soon after getting back up.

Once awake, I got back up and back on the road. I changed up my music and start getting some real power into the pedals. It felt incredible to be out riding in the vast, open landscape, and the roads were both fast and rideable. Just like in the days past, with the late afternoon also came my legs. It’s crazy, but often the best I would feel all day would be after having ridden around a hundred miles. This afternoon my legs felt unstoppable,although in this instance it was only after about 50 miles.

Heading into the Basin. Photo Credit: David Langley

I caught up to David Langley and pulled aside of him to chat. He was an extremely friendly and positive guy from Sydney, Australia. He’d ridden the route before, but unfortunately, he was having some bad knee soreness that he thought might end his race. We talked about our physical ailments, and shot some knowledge back and forth on adjusting the bike to alleviate various pains. I also told him how much taping my Achilles had helped, too. I rode ahead hoping David could find an adjustment to improve his knees, but I honestly wasn’t sure if I would see him again.

The road got pretty lonesome and remote as I continued on. The weather clouded up and it started raining as well. I busted out my waterproof motorcycle gloves and rode through the rain in enjoyment. It actually felt good.

The rain eventually cleared up and I rode through the rest of the afternoon blasting music and eating Welch’s fruit chews and peanut butter M&M’s literally non-stop. After about 115 miles of riding for the day, I finally hit Atlantic City.

Somewhere in the Basin before Atlantic City and after the rain

Despite its name, Atlantic City, Wyoming is not an actual city. However, it does have a restaurant, and you can also find lodging at Wild Bill’s Gun’s and Ammo. Wild Bill apparently cooks an awesome breakfast and has cots upstairs to sleep in. I hit the restaurant and opted to push on even further into the basin. It was only around 6 or 7 p.m. and I couldn’t justify stopping–despite the prospects of Wild Bill’s breakfast in the morning.

By this point, my mouth was getting so sore from all the sugar and processed foods that I could barely eat my hamburger and fries. It was a miserable meal because the salt felt like it was searing my tongue. Nonetheless, it was calories. I got an order of mozzarella sticks and three bottles of gatorades to go. They also had some Hershey’s seven layer cookie bars at the bar. I bought three of those.

“Oh and I’ll take that bag of chips… and Actually, can I grab another bottle of Rootbeer?” The waitress ringing me up was kind. She even filled my camelbak with water from her hose behind the bar. Part of me wanted to ask her to push the Coke button and fill my camelbak with that instead. I didn’t.

There wasn’t enough calories in the world to satiate my hunger or thirst despite my sore mouth and tongue.

I packed my bike up and took off up the steep gravel climb leaving Atlantic City. The evening had set in and the clouds began to fill the sky soon thereafter. The wind also began picking up. The roads wound over and around the contours of the rolling hills, sometimes into the wind and sometimes away from it. It was obvious that storms were brewing ahead. Behind me there was still some sun, but in front was an ominous, dark sky.

The impending weather paired with the extremely vast, desolate and exposed landscape started to give me pangs of loneliness and nerves. I had never felt so small. I had also never been more nervous to get hit by a potential electrical storm. There would be little to no cover from lightening.

After close to an hour of riding and worrying about the storms up ahead, I saw Ryan at the bottom of a hill. He was working at fixing a sidewall tear as the wind blew hard around us. I stopped to check and see if he was ok. I was secretly glad to see and ride with someone else in such a desolate area. Ryan quickly got his tire to seal with a plug and we rode together, discussing the storms ahead.

I decided that it was possible that those storms we were seeing on the horizon could be 20 or 30 miles ahead. Truthfully, I had no idea, but we weren’t getting rained on and they didn’t seem to be approaching that fast. Eventually it got dark and we could no longer see the black storm clouds. It was false security, but it made me feel better. At least I’d quit staring at them and focus on my bike light in front of me.

Around 11 p.m., I decided enough was enough. I didn’t want to run into a storm I couldn’t see. I’d put in a solid day of riding and was where I’d wanted to be mileage wise. Right on pace!

Ryan was also in the same mindset. We each found a decent patch of dirt up against some sage brush and bivied a few yards off the road. There weren’t going to be any cars coming through on this old dirt road, anyway.

I imagined it would have been the most incredible stargazing had it not been for the clouds spoiling it. Nevertheless, it felt excellent to be laying outside (and not in a vault toilet), in the middle of the Great Basin, with only sagebrush and dirt roads for miles. I took a few huge pulls of Gatorade and fell asleep hard. Another day on the Tour Divide done.

-Race time elapsed: 8 days and 15 hours. —-Mileage: 145 miles, approx 4,500′ elevation gain

Total mileage: over 1300 miles