Day 18: Gila Wilderness to the Finish at Antelope Wells Border Station

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

Final thoughts:

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.

Day 17: Into the Gila Wilderness

I awoke a couple minutes before my 4:30a.m. alarm. I was in my bivy, but since I neglected to blow up my pad, the hard ground had become cold and uncomfortable. My shoulders were sore from curling up on my sides all night, too. I’ll mention that I simply had too much stuff in my cycling jersey pockets to comfortably lay on my back. The effort of emptying them out before falling asleep was too great, but at least the discomfort of it all made it quite easy to get up.

By 4:30 a.m., I was back on my bike to finish the rest of the paved stretch to Grants, NM. The darkness paired with the mostly flat, silent road made it hard to wake up. I blasted EDM music in my headphones, to prevent any dozing. It hurt, but it worked to keep me awake.

Imagine wanting to sleep in on a peaceful, Sunday morning, and then your neighbor starts blasting club music–the loud and fast beat and bass all working together to rattle your brain awake. Although this was self-inflicted, that’s what it was like.

I powered down the highway, riding surprisingly well in the early morning. The first faint signs of light began to illuminate distant hills and a road that was visible for a mile or more. Despite the loud music, I was still starting to get sleepy again. I straddled my bike and dug out a half crushed in its package caffeine pill. I ate the pill and the crushed remnants all the same. I also took the time to brush my teeth on the side of the highway as several cars passed by. The caffeine, mint freshness, and blasting music propelled me down the highway, awake and in a good mood. By 6:30 a.m., I was on another high.

The sunrise was beautiful and I relaxed in my aerobars eating a leftover breakfast burrito from Bode’s. It was nearly 24 hours old, but still tasted great. When I was done, there was egg and cheese all over my aerobars and front roll that housed my sleeping gear. That had been my dinner table for much of the last few weeks, so I figured there should just be some crumbs on there. I didn’t bother cleaning it up.

The sun was beginning to heat up the morning, and I began to strip layers of clothing as I approached Grants. Finally, after a few more miles of riding through the small town of Milan, I turned on the old Route 66 and entered the town of Grants, NM.

Before the interstate was laid down just parallel to highway 66, tourists driving the route would have ate and stayed here. Now it felt more like a relic, with half the shops and restaurants closed and vacant. The area surrounding it was beautiful, though. I swung into an open gas station.

I fulfilled my cravings for chocolate milk, Pepsi, pop tarts, ice cream and bananas. I asked the cashier about any sort of diner that might be open. She said, “Nope, it’s Sunday, all the restaurants are closed.” I was disappointed, so I bought more gas station food and ate it on the curb. As I ate, I looked at my maps. I realized I was finally on the last map section of the route. It gave me a boost of energy, and now the finish really felt within reach. Map 6/6: Grants to the finish. With melted chocolate and oil stains on it.

I got back on my bike and continued forward. I took accidentally took a wrong turn and went a few hundred yards off route. Here, I noted there was a Denny’s Diner. It was open and serving all the pancakes I could ever want. I felt betrayed by the gas station clerk, but I was too full of gas station junk to eat anything more. I turned around and corrected my missed turn. Next stop: Pie Town, NM. I couldn’t wait. Where they, of course, would serve Pie!

The sun was full bore at 10a.m., as I rode away from Grants. I focused on finding a good rhythm. I turned on a playlist I made a couple years back when I biked from Minneapolis, MN to Ferdinand, IN. It brought back tons of fond memories, and it passed the time nicely. The route took me winding through the beautiful El Mapais National Monument. Those 38 miles after leaving Grants flew by. But then the route turned off the nice pavement onto Pie Town Rd.

Pie Town Rd. was nearly all washboard gravel. My rigid bike rattled beneath my arms and feet. Every mile of this washboard was like 3 miles (maybe more) of pavement. It was tough. On two occasions, I had to pull over as I felt myself overheating from the effort and baking sun. The first time, I laid in the dirt underneath a scrub oak tree (sorry Arborist’s, I could be totally wrong on that). There were flies and dried up cow patties all around, but it was the only available shade. The second time, I literally just sat in the dirt aside the road, next to scrub brush, sun baking down, and drank a warm gatorade. It was hotter than just riding.

It was a bit of a hopeless feeling, sitting there exposed. Mileage-wise, Pie Town wasn’t that far. But at the pace I was keeping, it would be hours more of the same brutal riding. It took its toll, mentally. Nonetheless, I gritted forward. Mile by mile, minute by minute, moment by moment.

I kept doing the math in my head: this many miles at this speed would put me in Pie Town at this time. It just had to be before 5 p.m., because that’s when the cafe (the only open business) there would close.

I picked the best lines I could on the ridiculous gravel road, but some times there wasn’t one. Finally, around 4:30 p.m., I rolled into Pie Town. Just 30 minutes before the cafe would close. Those 31 miles on Pie Town Rd., were some of the toughest miles of my race. I was genuinely proud of myself for staying mentally strong throughout it, because I could feel myself on the verge of cracking for the last couple of hours.

The restaurant staff welcomed me in with open arms. They were well aware of the Tour Divide race and seemed happy to serve us desperate and smelly riders. I ordered Coca Cola, a quesadilla, a breakfast burrito, and two huge pieces of pie. Coconut Cream and Banana Cream. I thought those would be the most soothing on my tongue. This was hands down the best Quesadilla I’ve ever eaten. It was the size of a pizza. And look at the size of that Pie compared to a standard Coke can. It was heaven.

They wrapped a quarter of the quesadilla and breakfast burrito in foil, to go. I also wanted to take the coconut cream pie to go, so they put it in a styrofoam container. It didn’t seem like it would travel well, but I was more than willing to risk it. I paid my way-too-cheap meal and tipped 50% on the total bill for accommodating my to-go meal requests. It still only came out to be like $25. Thank you, Pie Town Cafe.

Next, I rode my bike on route for less than a mile to the “Toaster House”. There is a trail-angel woman (I can’t recall her name) who keeps this house open for refuge for CDT hikers and GDMBR cyclists, like myself. It’s donation based but she stocks some food there and has potable water. The house is easily spotted because there are actually a number of old toasters hanging from the fences and trees surrounding the house. If it was dark, it would have been downright eerie.

I was too focused to take a photo, but you should google it.

I rolled up and spotted a single speed Salsa El Mariachi. It was Ryan’s! I was pumped to see him. I wasn’t sure how far ahead he was. I hadn’t looked at the race tracker since Abiquiu. He had stopped and taken a nap on one of the couches inside. He showed me around the old house and directed me to the restroom at my request. It was an outhouse, and woof!, the heat of the day did nothing to help that smell. I quickly took care of business and then went back to the kitchen. The selection of food at the time was quite barren, but there was still a package of hamburger buns, a half full jar of off brand peanut butter, and a squeezable container of Welch’s grape jelly. I made three PB & J’s and stacked them in a plastic bread bag. They were subsequently shoved in my frame bag. There was also a large pack of raisin mini boxes. Ryan took some of those. I thought about it, but I didn’t have any more room on my bike. I threw a few bucks into the Toaster House donation bin, and Ryan and I cycled away as the evening set in.

We had a huge stretch of riding ahead through the Gila Wilderness. I estimated that it would take around 30 hours to get through–including a standard four hour sleep. There would be no services and only one real water source throughout that time.

We could see a storm ahead of us in the distance, but we decided it appeared to be moving out of our way. The gravel roads leaving Pie Town were nice and we cruised at a good pace. We came up on another rider, Evan Deutsch, rather quickly, and we slowed our pace to chat with him. Evan is an elite ultra-distance racer, and an extremely friendly guy.

Actually, I’ve never met a true ultra runner or ultra-cyclist that wasn’t extremely friendly. If you’re in need of a new friend, go find an ultra-racer. Anyways–back to Evan.

He was a front runner earlier in the race, but he was in rough shape when we met him. He had crashed twice and was quite sore with bumps, bruises and road rash. He was also having some legitimate gastric health issues. He had stopped for a full 24 hours in Grants to rest up and carry on, but wasn’t sure how much further he would go. He had done the race at least a couple times before and said he loved the Gila, stating that the camping is great. It made me feel a bit better about this huge stretch. As much as I wanted to hang back with Evan and will him to the finish, I ultimately knew we all had to ride our own race. I would have wanted him to do the same. Ryan and I pulled away, and simply hoped Evan’s situation would improve enough to finish.

The evening riding was beautiful, the temps were comfortable, and we were making good time. We both planned to ride as far as we possibly could and just bivy wherever complete exhaustion set in. We rode into the night. Generally, Ryan was 50-100 yards in front of me. I was always chasing his red blinking tail light, amazed at how fast he could climb with only one gear.

Sometime in the early night, I noticed Ryan stop. I rolled up quickly and noticed him by a little sign aside the road that said GDMBR WATER. Another trail angel had set out jugs of water and little baggies filled with Oreo cookies, peanuts, and applesauce. They also had a guest book to sign sitting next to it. It was filled with all the Tour Divide rider’s names that were in front of us. I was ecstatic about the snack bag and water, because I had already raised concerns about not having enough food for this big stretch. Just a few hours outside of Pie Town, and I was already starving. I was going to have to ration my food and drink, but this surprise water refill and snacks was going to be a huge help.

We continued forward into the night, riding together a bit before Ryan’s slightly faster pace put him out of sight. It was around 11:30 p.m. I wasn’t absolutely exhausted, but the stars were stunningly vivid, and there was an open field that looked wonderful to lie down in. I obliged. It had been a 20 hour day start to finish, and I was already becoming a little sentimental about finishing the route. Its a bit corny, but I realized that this might well be the final night I would bivy aside the route. I looked up at the stars and soaked in just how far I had come. It was too much to ingest in my tired state. Instead, I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my bivy sack and mindlessly looked at the incredible sky. There were no lights to dull the contrast of the stars to the pitch black sky. It was one of my favorite moments of the whole route. It was another answer to the “why do something like this?” question. It didn’t last long, though, as sleep quickly took over. Somewhere, next to that arrow, I laid down and fell asleep as satisfied as I’ve ever been.

Daily Mileage: 169 miles, Approx 7000′ of elevation gain.

Total Mileage: 2,475 miles.

Total Race Elapsed Time: 16 days 15 hours and 15 minutes.

Day 16: Abiquiu to Near Grants

My alarm went off around 6 a.m. at the Abiquiu Inn in Abiquiu, NM. I had slept nearly 7 hours in an actual bed. It was the most comfortable sleep of the whole ride. The feeling regarding this should have been satisfaction, but it was more in line with laziness and regret. I had been stopped in one spot for nearly 10 hours now, and that was far too much time to feel good about it. This was a race!

Bode’s convenience store wouldn’t open until 7 a.m., so I spent the first hour repacking my bike and making coffee. Ryan did the same. We created a pile of things no longer needed, in preparation for desert riding and hot temperatures. I ditched my whistle, bear spray, and 99 cent gas station gloves from Idaho. My bear spray was taking up a water bottle cage, and I was far more concerned with dehydration than a black bear at this point.

Well rested and repacked, Ryan and I rode our bikes to Bode’s store. I grabbed a basket and filled it with breakfast, lunch, and snacks. My tongue was on fire from the spicy enchiladas last night, and I needed a breakfast to help cool that off. A Nestle Ice Cream cookie sandwich was just the tool. To be honest, I knew walking in that I was going to eat ice cream for breakfast. I ate that along with some chocolate pudding, followed by a breakfast burrito, and then more pudding to re-cool my tongue with a pre packaged Starbucks iced mocha to top it off. I was also stocked with another breakfast burrito, Welch’s fruit chews, M&Ms, Pop Tarts, fig newtons, and lots of water, Coke’s, and Gatorades. 7.5 liters of liquid to be exact. My bike was the heaviest it had been all race, because the heat of the desert scared the shit out of me. I packed my fears. Outside of Bode’s, we saw David Langley. He was in good spirits and looking strong. He camped somewhere outside of Abiquiu, and had ridden into town just now. I took note of his efficiency. I needed to be more like David. He snapped this photo. Ryan and I loading up our food and drinks outside Bode’s. In my right hand is a fig Newton. Always eating. Always. Photo Credit: David Langley.

I asked Ryan how much water he was bringing to cross the Polvadera Mesa. He looked at his bike and said “2.5 liters”. “That doesn’t seem like enough, does it?” He bluntly stated. I think I just smiled in agreement. I told him about how much I had. He went back into Bode’s and got more. I headed out of Bode’s parking lot before Ryan and David.

It was sometime around 7:30 a.m., and the heat of the sun was already present. I biked down the road needlessly worrying about just how hot it could get. I would keep riding regardless, but I just didn’t feel like getting roasted all day. After a few miles, I crossed a cattle guard and fence post and the paved road became gravel and dry dirt. I rode for a few miles and stopped to dip my American flag skull cap in a stream. It felt incredible on my head. Then another mile or so down the road I was stopped in my tracks.

The coffee, ice cream sandwich, and breakfast burrito were screaming to come out. I ran behind the biggest bush I could find and took care of business. Of course, the moment I dropped my bibs, Ryan came riding by on his bike. Luckily, I was off the road and hidden behind the bush well enough that he didn’t see me. Public indecency averted.

Back to “racing” bikes.

I got back on the gravel and immediately started a steep climb. I settled in to it, feeling strong. I mentally prepared for a challenging 70 miles and 7,000′ of climbing through the Polvadera Mesa. It was an incredible place, with rough roads, beautiful landscapes, and lots of climbing to get to the top of the Mesa. At some point, I crossed into the Santa Fe National Forest. I rode for hours picking the best line through and over rocks, sand and dirt. The focus it took to ride these roads well did lots to take my mind off the heat and the difficulty. I wasn’t thinking, just riding. It was actually quite enjoyable.

As I climbed, the landscape changed from desert browns to forest greens. The sky also changed from blue, to cloudy, to impending storm. The prospect of getting caught in a storm on the Mesa was a bit unnerving.

I continued climbing. The rain started falling. By this time, it was early afternoon and it was hot. The rain felt wonderful. I didn’t bother with the rain coat. Thunder clapped loud as I climbed up to the top of the Mesa. Open range cattle were scattered all over. The once parched dirt road was turning muddy, and the rain continued to shower. I saw flashes of lightning in the distance, followed by more thunder.

“Shit is getting real, now.” I thought. I put on my rain gear and rain gloves and continued forward, paranoid, about the impending storm. My eyes darted from road, to sky, to road, and again back to the sky. My eyes and mind were alert to lightning in the distance. It didn’t seem to be getting closer. I pedaled through the rain, in silent observation of the cows, boulders, and muddy road.

As always, I also needed to eat, so I stopped to eat for a couple of minutes in the pouring rain. Curious cattle approached me as I ate. I moo’d loudly and they immediately darted in a stampede-like fashion. Their hooves plodded loudly in the muddy grass.

I realized as I was eating, that I was actually comfortable with my rain gear on, it was keeping me dry, and the roads were rideable. So long as there weren’t rods of lightning nearby, the weather didn’t matter. It made me feel unstoppable. I began riding hard through the rain and thunder.

After a few minutes of riding with ramped up adrenaline and energy, the rain began to die down and it simply drizzled lightly for another hour. I laughed at myself. What an emotional overreaction to an afternoon shower. I realized I was probably a bit unstable with my reactions at this point in the race, but at least I was self-aware enough to laugh at it.

I went through a few hundred yards of peanut butter thick mud as the road dried up from the rain. It was a short bit of walking to protect my drivetrain, but it was worth it. The rain had kept me cool through what would have been a very hot climb. Now, I was at the top of the Mesa with the sun coming out. Life was good. I rode hard for a few more hours, finding a good rhythm, listening to music, and shouting at cattle. That seven hours of sleep was helping. I didn’t have to take a nap aside the road this afternoon. Eventually, I descended off the Mesa and down into the town of Cuba, NM around 6 p.m.

The town itself appeared to be a little sketchy, but after 11 hours and nearly 80 miles of extremely challenging riding, the town looked beautiful. It had a McDonald’s inside a gas station. Perfect.

I ordered the pancakes and sausage platter, 4 McMuffins, a large Coke, and an Oreo McFlurry. (2 of the McMuffins were to go, thank you)

Unfortunately, the cashier informed me, the McFlurry machine was broke. I sat and ate my pancakes and sausage, dreaming about how good a McFlurry would have been. As I finishing up, David came in. He ordered and sat down next to me. We talked about the challenging riding and our days, and then our plan for the evening and night. I told him I was set on riding as much of the upcoming pavement as possible.

The next town was Grants, NM. It was separated from Cuba by a 122 mile stretch of pavement. It was June 29th in New Mexico. Riding on a blacktop highway and baking in the unshaded desert sun did not sound appealing. Night riding it would be. David shared my thoughts. It was good talking to him, and I stood up and wished him well, hoping that I’d see him again down the road. He wish me well, too. I hit the gas station and reloaded my bike.

By 7.p.m., I began my night mission for Grants. On the flat pavement, I was cruising around 18-22mph. I sat in my aerobars and blasted some music. The miles went by quickly. The evening was beautiful and the landscape was beautifully baron and lonely. I was surrounded by (I think) Navajo reservation land. The sunlight eventually faded and gave way to a clear but dark sky. It was a Saturday night and I hoped the drunk drivers would be keep off the road. I turned my music down to keep more alert of traffic. Luckily, the road was flat and I could see headlights minutes before the actually passed me. It was eerie and peaceful. Like so many times before, it was just me, my bike light, and the sounds of my tires on the road. Spending hours in such a small, low stimulus, world almost becomes meditative. It also makes you sleepy.

Sometime around 11 p.m., I took out my secret night riding weapon. A Red Bull. I pounded it and rode away, awaiting the artificial energy. I never drink Red Bull, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Some 15-20 minutes later, I noticed my cadence and speed pick up. I felt like I was speeding through the night. That stuff does give you wings! …for about 30 minutes. I came back down to earth quickly, riding slower and getting more sleepy with each passing mile. I listened to music, chewed gum, and sang aloud for the next two hours, doing everything I could to stay awake. I was exhausted and riding slow. Against my own will, the need for sleep took over.

At 1:30 a.m., I pulled off the road, found a patch of dirt hidden behind some sage brush, and fell asleep in my bivy. My helmet and shoes were on, and I didn’t have the energy to inflate my sleeping pad. The ground was hard, but I was too tired to care. I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m.–a short 3 hours later. I was determined to get off that damn pavement before morning.

It had been a big day, despite the late start, and my determination levels were at an all time high. The finish line was potentially just 2 or 3 days away. The only thing making me stop riding now was complete exhaustion. And I liked the thought of that. Eat, Sleep, Ride. There were just over 300 miles to go.

Daily Mileage: 156 miles, Approx 10,000′ elevation gain

Total Mileage: 2,309 miles

Race time elapsed: 15 days 20 hours

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

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.