I rolled over in my Bivy and woke up to something hard beneath it. I must have laid down right next to a rock, I thought. It was 4 a.m., and bright stars still lit up the sky. I flipped on my head lamp and moaned and groaned out of my dirty bivy sack to start another day. I quickly found that the “rock” underneath me was a dried up cow patty. Nice.
I didn’t dwell, just packed things up and was back on the bike at 4:25 a.m.. I wondered if Ryan ended up riding through the night. We had talked about one big push to the finish in the days before. It wasn’t long before I had my answer. I saw his bike and bivy aside the road just a couple miles down the road. Like so many mornings before, I figured it would be within the hour that Ryan would catch up to me. Sometime around 5:30 a.m., he did. We rode together some, but mostly leap frogged each other riding our own pace.
I had my mind set on reaching Silver City, NM–135 miles and 12,000′ of climbing away. It was a bit of a daunting task, thinking of the whole thing. It would be hot, with only one water source in between: The Beaverhead Work Station. It was a work station for forest rangers and firefighters in the Gila National Forest. But, by all accounts, we had heard they have potable water and a soda machine that may or may not be working. I really hoped it was working. We rode hard all morning gunning for the Beaverhead Work Station. It was still some 50 miles away.
The morning was beautiful, sunny, and warming up fast. I watched a small herd of Elk sprint across the road and jump a fence. They were incredibly fast and majestic. I was slow and sore. I ate my second of three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast. There was at least a full day of riding ahead of me with notably less calories packed away than in days passed. I savored every single bite, knowing I would be rationing food and water for a while.
There were some short climbs here and there but the roads were in good shape and mostly seemed to trend downhill in the morning. We were making good time. At one point I stopped to look at my maps and realized that most of the climbing for the day was after the Beaverhead work station. So this was the easy part. And it still wasn’t that easy.
Ryan organizing his handlebars. At this point in the race, he was using a woman’s belt he found on the roadside to secure stuff to his aerobars. Somewhere in the Gila NF.
Hour by hour we chewed up the morning miles at a relatively quick pace, finally reaching the Beaverhead Workstation by late morning or early afternoon. I could see the water spigot on the side of the ranger office building, and more importantly, the Dr. Pepper machine. I rode straight for it. Ryan also pulled up in anticipation. It was on. I could hear the humming of the machine refrigerating ice cold Root Beers, Dr. Peppers, and Coca Colas.
The yearning for sugar may seem ridiculous, but you have to remember, we had already been riding for around 7 hours when we reached this machine.
I stuck quarters in the machine and pushed on the Root Beer button (Root Beer has the most sugar). And…Nothing. Nothing came out. I put in more quarters trying the other flavors. Still nothing. We looked around and found a super friendly Ranger. He said “Let me grab the keys”. He got on his radio to ask a colleague where the soda machine’s keys were, and within minutes he came with them and unlocked the door. I had never anticipated a soda so much in my life. He stated, “Looks like we only have Root Beer left”. No problem there.
I handed him a $5 bill and we each got a couple of Root Beers. Although I wanted every last one, we did leave a Root Beer or two for David Langley and Alexandera Houchin who we figured were somewhere behind us. We sat in front of the building chatting with the friendly Ranger as I looked at my maps and drank the A&W.
After a few minutes he said, “Are you guys hungry?” I answered with something along the lines of, “At this point we’re always hungry, and I would literally eat anything”. I wasn’t doing a great job of not sounding like a beggar, but I just thought it was a curious question he was asking. Then he said “Let me go check and see if we have anything left”. Within minutes he walked back and pulled two homemade breakfast burritos out his big cargo pockets and handed them to us.
I wanted to hug the man. I was already quite hungry from rationing my food and this was quite literally a godsend. I will never forget that breakfast burrito so long as I live.
We chatted with him a bit more as I gobbled up my burrito. Then we filled our water up, thanked him again, and were on our way with some renewed vigor.
Back on trail, after Beaverhead, was when the climbing really started to pick up. We’d climb for a mile or two, descend, and repeat for hours. It got to the point where I didn’t want to go downhill in trepidation of the climb that would follow. Nevertheless, Ryan and I rode forward non-stop. I was burning up huge amounts of calories and unable to put much back in the tank, for lack of food.
I would essentially ride until I was almost ready to bonk (completely run out of energy). Then I’d stop pedaling, and walk my bike uphill while eating or drinking a couple hundred calories. After ten minutes or so I could feel some energy return and I’d ride again. At one point, I reached into my frame bag to eat the to-go slice of pie from Pie Town. It was shoved in the bag pretty deeply, so it took a bit of digging around–only to find that the styrofoam container had busted and there was coconut cream pie all over my stuff. A large bit of pie was on my sunscreen bottle. I wiped it of with my hand and and ate it. Some was on my bike pump. I ate that, too.
By late afternoon, my top tube bag, which was once filled with fruit chews and m&ms for constant snacking, became completely empty. The only thing that was left was a gelatinous mixture: a melding of old melted chocolate and fruit chews that had since solidified at the bottom of the bag. Although less than desirable, I dug my finger in and ate that, too. It was calories. Old, gelatinous, melted calories. But still calories. It kept me going. It was much better than no calories and not going. It allowed me to wait a bit longer before I had to dig into my last ration: a day old, quarter of a quesadilla. I was saving that until absolutely necessary.
Then, finally, in the evening, we hit some pavement and cruised for a few fast miles. This lifted my spirits, because it appeared Silver City was finally within reach, but I looked closer at my GPS and realized the route would would soon turn us off the nice pavement, into the Sapillo Campground. Here, it would put us on the CDT or Continental Divide Trail–a rough and steep trail made for hiking.
Ryan and I hit the Sapillo Campground right around the same time. He stopped to take care of a few things and I rode ahead into campground, trying to follow my GPS to the CDT trail. After a frustrating 5-10 minutes of riding behind dumpsters and around campsites, I saw a little CDT sign attached to a tree. Instantly, the trail was too steep and rooty to ride. My GPS told me I had 11.5 miles of this trail, gaining 3,215′ of elevation during that time.
Put more simply, this was going to be a real bitch. I was already exhausted and beyond hungry, and at the pace I was hiking my bike, the 11.5 miles were going to take over three hours. Luckily, after the steep first couple of miles, the trail leveled off enough to ride. Relief swept over me. I was able to mostly ride the next couple miles. Just as I was struggling up a tough part, Ryan came crushing it past me. I let him go by. He was standing and mashing the pedals over rocks and the over grown trail. Instead of sitting and trying to spin easily, I copied his style and began moving over the rough trail much more quickly. It was incredibly beautiful along the top of the trail and the sun was beginning to set. Sadly, I could have cared less. Instead, I put my head down and gritted through each mile.
Finally, just before 8 p.m. the route eased from rough hiking trail, to very rideable double track, and then ultimately, pavement. I cheered and hollered cruising on the double track as Ryan danced his bike around potholes. I followed, not too far behind, damn near wiping out in a pothole during my mini celebration. I scolded myself for being so careless but then breathed a sigh of relief as we hit pavement. The pavement into Silver City.Paved road just after the CDT Alternate heading in Pinos Altos and Silver City.
Peter Kraft Jr., who had ridden this race a couple times before, had a told me back in Montana that this decent into Silver City felt like the beginning of the finish. Peter, David, and Evan had all also told me the final 120 or so miles were relatively easy. Now here I was, at the beginning of what felt like the race finish. I flew down the highway into Silver City into the most incredible sunset I had ever seen. I thought about getting a picture, but decided I’d just soak it in. Silver City below was surrounded by a bright, burnt orange sky with storm clouds causing definitive and dramatic lines in it. My bike effortlessly cruised over 20 mph on the paved downhill. I pulled away from Ryan with my ability to pedal downhill (he had a singlespeed) and shot into Silver City.
I was bonking heavily, but also elated and emotional in every way. I had put forth every ounce of effort I had to get through the Gila Wilderness. It had been a full 28 hours since leaving Pie Town to get here.
At 9:30 p.m., as hungry as I’ve ever been, I pulled into a Denny’s. I hoped Ryan would pull in to join me, so we could talk about everything we’d just done, but he was nowhere to be seen. The waitress sat me down and I ordered: Water, Coca Cola, Orange Juice, the French Toast Slam, and The Lumberjack Slam. The waitress looked me up and down and said: “You sure you gon’ be able to fit all that in there?”
“That will be no problem ma’am.”, I replied.
If you aren’t familiar with those items listed above, here ‘s a photo of my order.Preparing to demolish a long anticipated meal in a Silver City Denny’s.
The waitress and I both just shared a laugh at my order and she went back to put it in. I checked my phone as I waited, calling Alex and checking trackleaders and the weather. Within minutes, the waitress brought out four huge plates of breakfast food, and I went to work. There wasn’t a smudge of butter or a crumb left on those plates when I was done. I actually contemplated ordering a milk shake as well, but thought the waitress was already judging a bit, so I withheld. As she brought me the check, I spotted Ryan at the gas station across the street. I paid up and pushed my bike across the road.
He said he was feeling awful. I told him I was exhausted and considering getting a motel. There was no way I could push through without sleep in my current state. There was also a chance of storms. I told him I was planning to sleep 2-3 hours, let the storms pass by, and then make the final push to the border. I asked if he wanted to split the motel. He accepted without hesitation.
We pushed our bikes into the motel room. Ryan crashed on the floor, allowing me to have the bed. I set my alarm for 1:15 a.m. It was 10:30 p.m. The ridiculous nature of what we were doing was all too normal. But as “easy” as the next 120 miles were, Ryan said, “120 miles is a 120 miles.” I was certainly happy with the decision to sleep first.
I fell asleep and was woken up by the 1:15 a.m. alarm, all in what felt like a singular moment. It was as if no time passed at all. However, I felt noticeably better. The anxiousness of finishing propelled my exhausted body out of bed. Ryan slept a few extra minutes as I gathered my stuff. He also needed some extra time to tend to his feet which were numb from the constant pressure on the bike pedals. I took my time, but by 2 a.m., I pushed my bike out into the warm morning air.
Leaving Silver City in the quiet darkness was nice. I felt calm and was just a relatively quick 120 miles from the finish. I tried to reflect on the race as I climbed on the paved highway out of town, but for some reason, I just couldn’t. I decided I’d just ride and not worry about anything else.
After 19 miles of pavement, I turned onto the sandy Separ Road. My lights lit up the dirt path in front of me, but I kept hitting deep sandy patches and sliding out. I focused hard to pick a good line and not have a wipe out. Around 4 a.m., I saw a bike light approaching as I climbed a steep little hill. I stopped at the top to say what’s up to Ryan. To my surprise, it was a David Langley. I couldn’t believe it. He had ridden the CDT trail at night and pushed through Silver City on no sleep. His elbow was bloody from a crash he had on the CDT, but said he was okay. He’d landed on his chest but, “That’s what rib cages are for!”, he said.
I congratulated him on his extraordinary effort through the night, now feeling soft for getting a hotel. David was an Australian badass. He continued on at what I thought was an unsustainable pace, and his light disappeared within minutes. I rode my own pace, thinking his lack of sleep would catch up and he would eventually slow down, but David was flying.
I continued down Separ Road in the darkness anticipating the sun rise. Just then a small dog came barking out of no where. It sprinted alongside me at 18 mph. I thought it was mean so I yelled and kicked at it. Finally, I stopped riding to see what this mad dog would do. It also stopped and barked with its tail wagging. The dog just loved the chase. I laughed and continued forward with my new pal. This dog ran right out front of my bike light at 15-20mph for over three miles before finally stopping. I decided, in my weary state, that this was one of the most incredible feats of athleticism I had ever seen. Although, looking back, I don’t think it’s that uncommon.
Daylight finally illuminated the desert landscape. This was true desert. Flat and sandy with sage brush and plants I’d never seen before. Early morning riding on Separ Rd.
I finished up the dirt road and road next to the interstate for a bit before finally turning onto the final road of the whole race. The sign read ANTELOPE WELLS 65 MILES. Seeing a sign for the finish was a bit of a surreal experience. I had started in Canada, and now I was only 65 miles from Mexico.
It was 65 miles of painfully flat and straight pavement to Mexico. It felt so close, but 65 miles was still 65 miles. After an hour or so, Ryan caught up to me and we rode together into Hachita, NM, just 40 miles from the finish. I decided I’d get my final Tour Divide snacks here and a Pepsi to give me a boost for the last 40 mile sprint. I decided on some off brand Oreos and put them in my top tube bag to munch on for the last couple hours. I thought, hey, you may never be able to eat junk food like this again, so you might as well enjoy it. It’s quite fitting that my last photo taken on Tour Divide route was a bag full of cookies.
After Hachita, I rode with Ryan for a few more miles, but with his singlespeed gearing, he was spun out at a much lower speed. With around 30 miles to go, I clicked into a high gear, got into my aerobars and rode as hard as I could. The road was so boring and flat, it was mind numbing. I decided that I would ride as hard as I possibly could for those last miles to at least make it interesting. Painful, but interesting. I turned on some music and went to work.
25 Miles. 20 miles. I began slowing down. No problem, I just chugged my can of Pepsi from Hachita. My body knew exactly what to do with sugar. 15 miles. 10 miles. 5 miles!
I began thinking about how I should have seen Alex by now. She was driving to meet me at the finish and this was the only road to Antelope Wells. 2 miles to go. Was I going to finish this thing completely alone?
With one mile to go, I burst out in tears of happiness. I was actually going to finish this thing. I could drag my damn bike there if I had to. I was about to accomplish this dream that I had obsessed over for years. I couldn’t believe it. It was too much. Tears continued down my face.
Just then a car pulled up next to me. It was Alex. She couldn’t believe how quickly I had made it down the road, and had been worried she wouldn’t make it before I finished. I just remember looking through the car window with tears in my eyes. I don’t remember what was said. She drove ahead to meet me at the finish a half mile down the road. Then a quarter mile, then just a few more pedals and then, there it was. In all its humble glory–The Tour Divide finish. No prizes, no finishers party, no swag, just a sign at the Mexico border that read: Antelope Wells Border Station.
It took 18 days and 3 hours of giving everything I had to get there, and I was beside myself with happiness. There could be no greater reward
I gave Alex a huge hug and she handed me a cooler full of ice cream and Gatorades. Bobby Wintle and Seth Wood were both there, too, waiting on their good friend Ryan to finish. Even though we had never met, I knew who they were, and I hugged them, too. They proceeded to hand me a cold beer and invite me to come to their race, The Land Run 100, in Oklahoma. I was so stoked I told them I’d be there, on the spot.
David Langley was there, too, with his wife. He had held on and finished his all out sprint to beat Ryan and I to the finish. I hugged and congratulated him on an incredible race and an unreal final push through the night. A few minutes later, Ryan came into view, and we all celebrated his finish. He just said, “that route is special” and then proceeded to pop a bottle of champagne. It was awesome. For a moment, we had ourselves a small finishers party in the middle of the desert. It was a feeling I can’t describe, but will never forget.Left to right: Myself, Ryan Simon, and David Langley after finishing the Tour Divide 2019.
Out of 167 starters:
David’s final push gave him a 13th place finish, I took 14th place, and Ryan took 15th place overall–1st place single speed.
Mileage from the final push with a 2 and 1/2 hour sleep in between: 257 miles, 14,000′ elevation gain
Total Race Mileage: 2,631 miles
Race time elapsed: 18 days and 3 hours
1. The Tour Divide is hard.
2. The Tour Divide is incredible.
3. If you ever get an opportunity to push yourself harder than you ever thought possible, you should.