Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tour Divide - Quitting is Simply Not an Option

It’s going on two weeks since finishing the Divide, which I’ve spent recovering, healing, reflecting, and catching up at work and life. My energy is coming back and with the exception of a broken thumb, starting to feel normal again.

The Tour Divide turned out to be everything I hoped for and more; brutal, joyous, challenging, painful, exhilarating, disappointing, rewarding, inspirational, encouraging, frustrating, and triumphant all in one. It tested me to the very core. There were times when I loved it and never wanted to end and other times I just wanted to be done. We faced snow and hailstorms, insane climbs, days of steady rain and mud, endless rolling hills, numerous mountain passes, wind, excessive heat, and lack of water. All the makings of a great adventure. In the end I met my goal of finishing in 25 days; 25 days, 4 hours, and 42 minutes, despite making several rookie mistakes and decisions that ended up costing at least a couple days.

The Race

I arrived in Banff on Wednesday, two days before the start which gave me time to put my bike back together, fix any issues (derailleur hanger got bent during transport), and explore Banff, which is an amazing place.
Banff, Canada

Upon preparing for the race, I discovered my first mistake; electing to use a Garmin 1030 for navigation. The preferred navigation device is the Garmin Etrex. The GPX file of the course was not released until just a few days before start, and the 1030 couldn’t load the file without crashing. In the end I segmented it to four separate files. At the race headquarters there were several others with the 1030 with same problem. I gave them the separate files and they were able to load each. I would have system crashing & navigation issues with the 1030 throughout the race, culminating in many hours lost.

The morning of the start began with beautiful blue skies and an excited and justly nervous 160+ racers. Crazy Larry (not me) gave us a final briefing, continuing where he left off the night before on bear and hypothermia safety. After posing for pictures and videos we were off, led out of town at a controlled pace by Crazy Larry himself.
Excited and Fresh Before a Long Journey
Right from the start my GPS began giving me problems. I had answered “yes” to “navigate to the start”. Unfortunately, once we passed the official starting line, for the rest of the day it wanted to go back to the start. All day long it kept telling me to make a U turn. I didn’t know this was the problem, so I was naturally quite concerned that I was embarking on a 2,700 journey with a navigation tool that wasn’t working. I had maps of the Great Divide Route, but the race course varies from the GDR quite often. Luckily had a phone app as a back-up called “AllTrails” that saved my butt many times. So, I spent the day hanging on to groups, following tire tracks, stopping to check AllTrails, or waiting at trail crossings/junctions for someone to come from behind. A one point we were riding and incredibly fun single track with steep short descents and steep short power climbs. It was a blast. After a few miles it crossed a dirt road and I shot across the road and continued climbing up a steep hill. After a while I noticed there were no tire tracks. Checked AllTrails which verified I was off course. Dang! Turned around and saw where everyone had taken a right turn at the road. The first of many such mistakes.

And We're Off!

Well This is Cool!

The descent into the Valley was Awesome

Checking Progress

After just over 100 miles we came to the Koko Claims climb, the first real obstacle of the race. Koko was added to the course in 2017 and became the subject of many online discussions. It’s a brutal six-mile hike-a-bike, that, as I understand it, some petitioned to have removed from the race. 
The Start of Koko Claims
(Pictures cannot come close to depicting how steep)
While many chose to stay overnight in nearby Elkford and tackle the climb in the morning, I chose to get it over with and climb it that evening. The climb was made even more difficult this year due to tons of snow and debris at several points, caused by avalanches. 

Avalanche Debris made an epic climb even more epic

One of Several Avalanche Crossings
Photos or video cannot come even a little bit close to depicting how steep and difficult this climb is. To add insult to injury, during the entire climb, clouds of mosquitoes swarmed and attacked relentlessly. For the next 4 ½ hours, it was take a step, push bike by extending arms, hold the brakes, swat a half dozen mosquitoes, repeat. At the avalanche sections, add; lift 50+ lb. bike over rocks and trees, while trying to not slip in the snow. 

Just Keep Pushing, It's Only 6 Miles
I couldn’t help but wonder how a small, petite woman could ever get her bike up this. Right about the time I was thinking this, Wendy, a small, petite woman of possibly less than 100 lbs. from Australia came by. All I could do was get out of her way and watch her disappear up the mountain. 

At the top was what looked to be a cabin that was under construction. I heard it was OK to stay there and myself as well as several others decided to call it a night. Day 1 complete.

A wood burning stove and electricity!
I slept on the porch and woke up to a hard rain around 4:00 am. It pretty much rained all day and the descent down Koko was pretty treacherous. On this day, I found that waterproof socks are not waterproof. Actually, they hold the water in, ensuring your feet stay cold and wet. 

After another 60 miles of amazing but wet riding, I entered the town of Ferni which was incredibly supportive of the race. There were bike washes set-up and a motel providing free sandwiches and drink to the racers. After refueling and drying out somewhat, I began the climb out of Fernie up to Flatland Pass. Near the top I came upon a group making camp for the night and with the amount of grizzly bear scat in the area decided it better to camp with a group than alone. These were the first of so many amazing people I met on this adventure. A couple Brits that regularly did expeditions in places like the Amazon. And Isaac, an Australian who had been touring since February. First Australia, then New Zealand, Tour Divide, and after Tour Divide he planned on continuing to the tip of South America. Him and I would pass back and forth and camp together often throughout the race. During the night it rained. 
Isaac, with the beard, had a very nice set-up

I discovered my second bad choice – choosing a bevy sack over a tent. You cannot get dressed in a bevy sack, and with the sleeping bag flush against the sack, water seeps through and soaks the sleeping bag. Getting up in the morning was a test of will. Already wet and cold in my sleeping bag, I now had to get out in the cold rain and get dressed in cold wet riding clothes. I told myself that this is what adventure is all about and dealt with it. Since we were at the top of the pass, the morning started with a cold, rainy descent in wet clothes, it was awesome!

A Lull in the Rain but not for long
As far as weather, day three never got any better, which made this day truly epic. We had two big climbs in which it was either raining, snowing, hailing, or all three at once. We had our first encounter with peanut butter mud, which stops the bike in its tracks. Lots of pushing and stopping to clean out mud so the tires could roll again. Then our second big obstacle; The Wall. Preceding the wall was a technical single track through a swamp. A lot of this required wading through calf deep water. The Wall was nowhere as long as Koko but it was ridiculously steep. Some people actually unloaded their bikes, carried their gear to the top, then came back for their bikes. After pushing, lifting, pulling, slipping, and sliding, I managed to get over the wall without having to unload my bike, but it wasn’t easy. I didn't bother taking any pictures because no picture could depict how crazy the "Wall" is.

Beginning of Single Track to the "Wall"
We ended the day with another long climb over Galton Pass accompanied with another bout of snow and hail. Soaked to the bone the 10-mile descent was fast and cold, putting me on the verge of hypothermia. My thoughts  were “this is serious, one could die out here”, “no crashing or flat tires, hypothermia will kill you if you stop”. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but that is what I was thinking at the time. 
In a matter of minutes the ground was covered
Eventually I descended to pavement and my GPS was not cooperating again. While pulling out my phone app, Isaac came up behind me and I followed him to the US border. Once across the border we stopped at small restaurant in Roosville where I met Jason, James, and Andrea, who I would ride with off and on for the rest of the race. After eating and warming up we headed to Eureka, where I got a motel and dried my stuff out. Andrea, by the way was riding a single speed. A real bad-ass!

Day 4 began out of Eureka with two passes to climb; Whitefish and Red Meadow. Both were covered in deep snow that required hours of hiking. The snow was deep, but had melted and re-frozen enough that it held my weight and I could push my bike without too much post-holing. I had a post office drop of food re-supply, but arrived just after the post office closed, a re-occurring theme for three of my five drops. I decided to head to Columbia Falls and camped about 10 miles past at Holland lake.

Heading toward the high slopes

Lots of Snow up High

Which Meant Lots of Pushing
After packing up camp I made another navigation error that resulted in racking up 5 miles before even getting started. Rode most of the day alone, seeing no one until later in the day as I approached the climb to Richmond Peak. There I came upon Gary & Joel, both who were on their second TD attempt after failing to finish in 2016. The grizzly bear scat was the highest concentration yet so we stuck together, riding through clouds of mosquitoes as day turned to night. Our plan was to climb high enough that it would be too cold for the mosquitoes and make camp. We finally reached that point but the bear scat was as dense as I’d seen the entire journey thus far. We were smack dab in the middle of grizzly country. We found a place to camp, hung our food in trees, and aside from Gary having nightmares about bears, we slept without incident.

I was the last leaving camp, and climbed to the top of Richmond Peak. Being that this appeared to have the highest concentration of grizzly bears, I was really hoping to see one, but no such luck. At the top was more hike-a-bike deep snow, and once through the snow, an incredibly fun single track to the town of Avando.

More Snow Hiking

Heading Down the Other Side
Avando is cool, typical of other small towns we passed through. Dirt road, with downtown consisting of a saloon/restaurant, small general store, and a fish & fly shop. Very supportive of the race with the fish & fly shop converted to a limited bike shop. Spare parts and supplies just for cyclist. I’d love to come back here someday.

Avondo General Store

Saloon & Bait Shop
After having lunch, as I was getting ready to leave, an ol racing buddy, Jan Bear, came into town. He and I decided to ride together. We pushed each other hard, and pretty much raced up Huckleberry Pass. This is where I started having problems due to another bad choice. I decided to do the race with Crank Brothers Egg Beater pedals. They are minimalist pedals with no platform to support the feet. The intensity that Jan and I rode caused me to put a lot more pressure into the pedals and I began getting what is called hot feet: 
A condition affecting one or both feet, otherwise known as Metatarsalgia, where the nerves and joint tissues close to the ball of your foot are repeatedly squeezed and aggravated by the long metatarsal bones which run down through the feet to the toes, leading to a burning sensation in the base of the foot. (J. Allen, Active.com).
We rode into Lincoln, bikes a mess from the mud and snow. I found a motel that was set-up to support racers with a bike wash and tools. Cleaned up my bike, did some sorely needed maintenance, showered, washed clothes, and went to bed.

The next morning my feet began hurting almost from the start. Jan and I agreed we would ride our own pace rather than push each other like we did the day before. I could not put a lot of pressure on the pedals as the pain was too great. Today was very emotional, as the pain, at times, was almost unbearable. I was being passed regularly and walking climbs I would normally ride. I climbed over 12,000 feet today, with a lot of it walking. At the beginning of the race I programmed in my mind that “quitting was simply not an option”. I had no intention of quitting at this point, but wasn’t sure how I could continue. There was an incredibly long way to go. The last climb of the day was approximately 15 miles with the last few miles of steep, rocky, un-ridable single track. It was getting dark as I approached the top. The single-track descent was pretty treacherous and I walked a few sections. Even while descending the pressure of the pedals into my feet was excruciating. After dark I came upon a dirt road and continued the descent. My headlight came loose so I had to use my camp headlamp. The descent was slow and cold. I began to get very cold and shaky. Eventually, I came upon some campers with a big bonfire. I fixed my headlight, while warming up by their fire, then continued on to Basin, where I found a campground around 11:00 PM and just slept on the ground. In the morning I discovered Isaac and Jan had camped there as well.

Day 8 proved to be very frustrating and disappointing. I felt good today, my feet still hurt but not anywhere near as bad as the previous day. I arrived in Butte around mid-afternoon, with plenty of time to pick up my second postal drop. 

Coming into Butte, MT
It took me a while to find the post office, which turned out to be the wrong one. My package was at another post office on the other side of town. It took a long time to find it, as people I asked gave me conflicting directions. I barely made it before it closed. Now I had to get back to the exact point that I left the official route. There were several road closures and detours and my GPS pretty much lost its mind. It was 7:30 PM before I finally got back on route. While navigating through town, I got off course several times. In the meantime, a storm moved in and it began raining hard. I decided to get a hotel. Although, I had ridden close to 60 miles, I only covered 31 miles of the course. Huge set-back and major disappointment.

The next morning it was still raining hard, but I couldn’t just sit in the hotel all day. Once out of town and into the National Forest the rain turned into a full-on deluge. I found a forest service crap-house and took cover. I was shaking almost uncontrollably. I got undressed, wrung out my clothes, put on my jacket and sleeping clothes until I stopped shaking. It continued to rain and after an hour or two I decided I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in a crap-house, so I put on my wet clothes, got on the bike and began the climb up Fleecer Ridge. The rain did not let up and as I approached the top it turned to heavy wet snow.

As I got Higher the rain change to heavy wet snow

With the Wet Cold, Blasting Wind, and Mud, Things were getting Interesting

I was cold, wet, and the wind was blasting. I had to keep moving. I thought to myself, “OK this is another point where things are getting serious”. On the descent I kept a low gear and pedaled like crazy just to generate heat. The map showed the course passed under an interstate and I hoped like Hell there was a gas station there. No luck, it was just an underpass. Approaching the underpass, I noticed another rider huddling underneath. He was in bad shape, definitely hypothermic and not doing well. I stopped and suggested getting into a sleeping bag and offered him my puffy jacket. He didn’t want to take it, as he said I would soon need it, which he was right. So, we did jumping jacks, ran in place, and jumped up and down for over 45 minutes generating heat. He said he has climbed the seven highest mountains in the world, including Mount Everest, and this was the coldest he’d ever been in his life. As it turns out, not only has he climbed Mount Everest among other adventures, he completed this race in 2017, and is none other than Gary Johnson the Libertarian candidate for US President in 2016! There was nothing we could do but keep generating heat and eat. Eventually a third rider joined us also in pretty bad shape. Eventually, the rain slowed to a drizzle and we continued on.

Finally, the rain stopped and I made it to Wise River, about 53 miles from Butte. There were several racers there and after such an epic day in the rain and snow they were all staying in Wise River to recuperate and dry out. There was still some daylight left, I was still bummed about my screw-up in Butte, so I decided to ride the 40 miles to High Country Lodge near Polaris.

High Country Lodge was paradise and the owners are incredible. When I arrived around 10:00 PM they already had dinner ready (I called before I headed out). A special vegetarian meal just for me. In the morning they served breakfast and packed sandwiches for us to take along. All for an incredibly low price. 

The next three days I kept a theme in my head from an army poster my son has. Basically, my theme was, “I like the way this sucks”. 

I didn’t take it to the “I wish it would suck more” level though. It rained consistently for two days. We rode primarily ranch roads that became un-ridable for miles upon miles. Mud and cow shit. At one point I got caught behind a cattle drive that made things even worse. 

Endless Miles of This

Montana Nightmare

Two days of endless mud
And Wheels that would no longer turn

Caught Behind a Cattle Drive

In a Lima motel, after being drenched for hours, I met up with Isaac, Jason, James, and Andrea again. We continued to meet up, camp, and ride together throughout Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

Checking into a Motel to dry out
After three days on ranch roads, miserable mud and rain, we crossed into Idaho. Almost like magic the sun came out and we were back on real trails again. I was SO glad to leave Montana. Just as nightfall came we camped in the town park, under an awning in Sawtelle, ID. Nice to have cover, because it rained.

Nothing Against Montana but I was so happy to cross into Idaho

Although Overcast, the Rain had Stopped

And Off Ranch Roads!

Although Not Raining there was left over flooding in spots
Jason, James, Isaac, Andrea, Larry getting cookies from a Trail Angel

Through Wyoming, Jason, James, and I rode a lot together. We seemed to be matched in speed and the company was awesome. James is from Ireland and Jason from Iowa. 

In Less than a day we were through Idaho and into Wyoming

This was Jason’s second shot at the TD. His first attempt ended in Butte. We were making good time, climbing one pass after another, crossing snow fields, and occasional mud hike-a-bikes. 
More mud in Wyoming

One of our Many Crossings

Back on the trail after a wrong turn

With more Snow

And at the end of the snow fields mud
I had to work to keep up and the hot foot issue returned. It steadily got worse and when we got to the Great Divide Basin, it became almost intolerable again. We rode over 140 miles in one day over the rolling hills of the Great Basin. 

James & Jason crossing the Endless Great Divide Basin


The last 20 or so miles I was almost in tears. I finally had to let them both go, as I just couldn’t put any significant pressure on the pedals. Somehow, an hour or two later, I caught them again and we made camp. Again, I was determined not to quit but just wasn’t sure how I could keep going, other than one pedal stroke at a time. 

Sunrise on the Great Divide Basin
The next day we continued on, crossing into Colorado and stopping for breakfast at the Brush Mountain Lodge. What an awesome place! The Brush Mountain Lodge caters specifically to TD riders, Great Divide touring cyclists and hikers, with great meals, lodging, bike stands, tools, and a very welcoming hug from the proprietor.  
Brush Mountain Lodge

A True Trail Angel
Steamboat Springs was 44 miles out of Brush Mountain Lodge starting with steep climb up the Watershed Divide. 

Back in my Home State - Colorado!

Starting our Climb out of Brush Creek
My feet were on fire and upon arriving at Steamboat, the first thing I did was head for the Orange Peel Bike Shop for flat pedals. I can’t say enough good things about Orange Peel. They had a full staff of very high skilled mechanics totally serving Tour Divide Riders. They spent 4 ½ hours on my bike as the mud had pretty much destroyed it. Wheel bearings, bottom bracket, and a host of other items were fixed or replaced. Once the bike was fixed I re-supplied at a grocery store and ate dinner with Jason, James, Isaac and Andrea. We left Steamboat just as it was getting dark. I felt like a new man with the flat pedals. The pain was gone instantly! It began raining shortly after we headed into the forest and we eventually found a state campground. The campground was full, but the park ranger, who absolutely loved what we were doing, allowed us to camp under the pavilion.

Packing Up after spending the night under a roof
The morning found clear skies with a forecast of afternoon thunderstorms. We had three major high altitude passes plus a few lesser climbs to climb before covering the 116 miles to Silverthorne. My intention was to make it to Breckenridge at 132 miles. Right from the beginning I couldn’t believe how great I felt. Climbing Lynx pass was an absolute joy. I was in my Colorado Mountains, feeling totally at home, with no hot foot. I was loving every pedal stroke. At the top I waited about 10 minutes for James and Jason. We had a quick snack and started the descent. The next climb, Gore Pass, I felt even better. Upon reaching the top, a thunderstorm was brewing with lightening striking uncomfortably close. I decided not to wait and descended on my own. 

With Long Steep Climbs and No More Foot Pain I was in my Element

With Thunderstorms Threatening - Had to Keep Moving

I Love Colorado

Not the first nor the Last Trail Magic along the route
I continued on through Silverthorne, ate dinner in Frisco, then headed for Breckenridge after nightfall. The temperature dropped quite significantly and I was getting cold. The route from Frisco to Breckenridge is via a bike path, but my Garmin started acting up again, and I found myself going back and forth trying to get the Garmin synced up and happy. Eventually, I gave up. I know this area, and I know the bike path is the correct way.  I don’t know why I wasted so much time trying to make the Garmin happy. Finally, I arrived in Breckenridge just past 11:00 pm. The temperature was dropping fast and it was going to get below freezing. I didn’t think it a good idea to climb up the Boreas Pass and camp at an even higher altitude, so I checked into a hotel in Breckenridge.  Didn’t get to bed until past midnight and couldn’t sleep; should have continued up the pass and camped.

Breckenridge from Boreas Pass
Started up Boreas Pass in the morning feeling the effects of the long ride and almost no sleep. At the top, I came upon Anthony, a Brit who stayed in the same hotel I did. We shot down Gold Dust Trail, which is an awesome single track. 

Top of Boreas Pass
I know it well, as it is part of the Breckenridge 100, which I’ve raced numerous times. Knowing it well, and riding full suspension, I was able to instantly open a gap on Anthony. Once at the bottom I rode through the town of Como then headed across the South Park Plateau. South Park is an open rolling plateau that seems to go forever. Like the Great Basin you just ride what seems like a never-ending dirt road that disappears into the horizon. And it seems no matter how long you ride the picture never changes. 

Two Riders Ahead of Me Crossing South Park
As I approached the town of Hartsel, I could see Pikes Peak, my home, in the distance to my left. I felt like I could almost reach out and touch it. Upon reaching Highway 24, the thought occurred to me, “I could turn left here and be home today”. It was only a fleeting thought and I continued on through the endless sagebrush. Eventually, I came upon the forest again and another climb over the Continental Divide. The descent into Salida was one of the most scenic of the entire ride. Long and fast through an amazing Canyon. I was grinning from ear to ear!

Salida was hot with temperature in the 90s. I stopped and ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant and ordered a burrito to go. I tried to drink a slushy but absolutely could not take even a sip without getting brain freeze. Not wanting to waste a lot of time, I quickly left Salida after buying an oversized water bottle at the bike shop. It was going to get hotter with water becoming scarcer from this point on. I left Salida, late afternoon and immediately started the long climb up Marshall Pass. I felt strong and was really knocking the climb out. I climbed into the night and just short of the summit was a sign for a National Forest Campground, about a mile off the route. It was a mile almost straight up. The camp host, although it was fairly late, was very gracious and let me camp for free.

I even had a Picnic Table

Looking at the Campground from Above

In the morning I wasted no time getting back on the trail, had a wonderful descent down Marshall Pass into Sargents, ate a stack of pancakes at the restaurant (and ordered a stack to take with me), re-supplied at the gas station and continued on toward Del Norte where I had my last mail drop. 

I had approximately 120 miles, with Cochetopa and Carnero Passes to cross to get there. I felt great climbing the passes and the descents were awesome. After the passes the route turned into a long stretch of rolling dirt roads through sage country that I found quite demoralizing. 
At the end of a Long Day, this can be Demoralizing

Seemingly Never Ending Sage

As the day turned into night it was evident I wasn’t going to reach Del Norte. This was ranch country and everywhere seemed be no trespassing signs, so all I could do is continue to ride. Finally, I looked on the map and saw I was within 5 miles of a place called “The Mermaid Cottage”, a place that allowed TD riders to camp on their property.  A couple of phone calls confirmed this and I was soon at The Mermaid Cottage. The proprietor set me up and we sat on the front porch drinking beer and had great conversation well into the night. 

I reached Del Norte around 7:00 in the morning, ate breakfast then went to the post office to pick up my stuff, but the PO didn’t open until 8:30. So I went and ate breakfast again. 

The First Sign for the GDMBR Since the Start

From Del Norte began a 23-mile climb to the top of Indiana Pass. At 11,910 feet, it is the highest point of the TD route. It’s not super steep but long. I took my time climbing steady and consistent, these types of climbs are what I’m best at, and what I love. 

Passing by Charlie Taking a Break going up Indiana Pass
At the summit, I took a break, ate lunch, and enjoyed the view. What makes this section difficult is once at the top, it’s not a direct decent into Platoro. 

Veiw from Top of Indiana Pass
There are short descents followed by climbs; about five additional climbs before finally descending into Platero. 

The descent Off Indiana Pass includes additional Climbs
Upon reaching Platoro, I stopped at the lodge for a midafternoon lunch and re-supply, before heading into New Mexico. At the lodge were other racers who decided they were going to stay the night to get a shower and recuperate before making the last 700-mile push to the finish. I planned to move on, but then I was told that James and Jason were right behind me. I had ridden the past three days alone through Colorado and it would be nice to ride with them again. I was torn because I wanted to continue on and the last I checked, I was only 16 miles behind Charlie Hayes, a friend from Colorado. In the end, I decided to wait. The problem with that decision was “right behind me” was something like 5 hours. The positive part of that decision was that these guys are awesome and I really enjoy riding with them. We each have our strengths and really push each other when the going gets tough. They arrived late afternoon, decided they needed to stay the night at the lodge, so I did too.

The following day, day 20, turned out to be a very rough day for me.  We left Platoro early on a chilly morning on a long 20+ mile dirt road descent. We then climbed a paved road up La Manga Pass. During the climb I felt totally in my element. I rode ahead of James and Jason and missed the turn into the national forest at the top. 

Back in my element and climbing strong I got ahead of James & Jason

I descended into New Mexico like a rocket, thinking how many miles I was eating up at this speed. I was totally familiar with this descent as it is part of an annual Spring road ride a group of us have been doing for years. The problem was I was off course. By the time I realized it I had descended over 9 miles of steep pavement. Nothing to do but turn around and ride back up. 

Got to Climb Cumbres from both sides

Unfortunately it was the wrong way into New Mexico
Good thing I was feeling strong. I rode hard. Partly because I was feeling strong and partly because I was pissed. Once at the top I found the trail and continued to ride with anger for the best part of the day. By late afternoon, I caught up with James and Jason as they stopped at a national forest campground to eat and top off with water, just before the start of the climb up Burned Mountain. 

The climb up Burned Mountain was about 10 miles followed by a rolling 17-mile descent into Canon Plaza. On the last switchback just before entering Canon Plaza, my front wheel slipped out from under me and I went down hard. I was in a bit of a daze and gashes above and below my eye were bleeding bad. James patched me up the best he could with Jason’s first aid kit and we continued to Canon Plaza. Canon Plaza has a roadside stand with snacks and drinks, which appeared in the “Ride the Divide” movie. It’s a small roadside stand with a buzzer that rings the house. The lady that runs the stand came down and upon seeing me, insisted I come to the house and see her daughter who is a nurse. At the house, her daughter without hesitation began patching up my wounds and testing me for concussion. She recommended that I go to the hospital and get stitches for my facial cuts, but I didn’t want to quit. “Quitting was simply not an option.” She patched my cuts up with butterfly bandages and tended to all my other wounds. A true trail angel. The only issue was my thumb was swollen and sore, but nothing I couldn’t deal with. These amazing trail angels stretched out their hospitality even more, by fixing all three of us dinner and putting us up for the night. A rough day, but we had the pleasure and honor to meet an amazing family.

Beat and Battered -Quitting is simply not an option

Roadside Stand that turned out to be a roadside trauma treatment center

Needless to say, the next day, I felt like I had been beaten with a baseball bat as we continued through the heat of New Mexico. The pain in my thumb increased, my hand swelled, and for the rest of the journey, I had to use my left hand to shift.

We made our way to Cuba primarily on paved roads. The National Forest was closed due to fires and we were rerouted along highways. In Cuba we re-supplied, ate, and continued to ride on predominately pavement. We were in true desert and sage country now. Totally exposed to the sun as well as cross and headwinds. Progress was steady but hard. Our next destination was Grants, another 120 miles from Cuba. 

Jason "Motoring"

We rode into the night crossing a Navajo Reservation. There were memorials all along the highway, and motorists felt compelled to stop us and let us know this was a very dangerous highway. We looked for a place to camp but didn’t want to camp alongside a dangerous highway. Eventually, we came to a laundromat/gas station that was just closing. The young Navajo man was locking the gate as we pulled up. He offered to let us camp in the parking lot and even brought us snacks and water. Another trail angel.

After reaching Cuba the next day, we ate and headed to Grants, another 120 miles away. Grants is a decent size town and we arrived late afternoon. Ate and re-supplied then headed into the evening toward Pie Town. Finally, back on dirt, we rode well into the night before “cowboy camping” in the middle of nowhere. My air mattress sprung a leak the night before, so I was now sleeping directly on the ground. I still slept very well. 

Sunrise after "Cowboy Camping"

The next morning, we arrived in Pie Town. At the beginning of the race, Salsa provides a head tube cover that is good for one free pie at Pie Town. I don’t know if it was because I was extremely hungry, but those pies met every expectation for having a town named after them. I’m convince those were the best tasting pies I’ve ever eaten. I ate a couple, then packed one for later!

Pie Town - Sounds Sooo Good

A Destination I'd been thinking of since the start. Couldn't believe I actually made it this far

The best Pies I ever tasted

Our next destination, Silver City, 184 miles, almost all dirt and no re-supply along the way. Water was very scarce as all the creeks and rivers on the map were dried up. We were lucky though because the temperature was in the 90s vs the usual 100s. Most of the route was fairly flat with fast dirt roads. 
Hot and Dry

More Very Welcomed Trail Magic
Again, we rode well into the night and cowboy camped. 
An Beautiful Sunset as we rohtde into the night

Morning at "camp" Just get up and go
My Jersey could almost stand on its own with over a weeks worth of salt holding it up

The second day as we came within 30 or so miles of Silver City we were low on water and came upon a campground. The water spigots’ were dry and we found ourselves begging water off the campers. They were more than generous, not only giving us plenty of water, but ice-cold sodas as well. This was a good thing as we had some pretty brutal single track immediately afterward. This single track would have been a blast in any other situation, but it was brutal and annoying here.

Pushing up steep sections of single track in the heat of the day

 Finally the climb up to Pinos Altos. I knew this climb as I raced the Tour de Gila stage race many years ago, and the final stage finished here. 

The "Town" of Pinos Altos
A quick stop in Pinos Altos for drinks, then we descended 7 miles into Silver City. Eat, resupply, and keep going. We had 19 miles of pavement before turning on to dirt. We rode another hour into the night then cowboy camped with the intention of getting up early and getting as close to the finish as possible before the afternoon heat. 

The final 90 or so miles are fairly flat but totally exposed to the sun and wind. The last 65 are paved. We started early and worked into a fast pace. My strength may be the mountains, but Jason’s strength is the flats. He’s like a freight train. I dug so deep to keep up. I was tearing myself inside out but still falling behind. 

For me, the last 46 miles may have been the hardest
We took breaks at Separ and Hachita then hammered the last 46 miles to Antelope Wells finishing together. In the beat and battered condition I was in, and the speed we were going, I almost felt this was the hardest part of the race. Those last miles seem to go by so slowly. We were so near, but as I turned myself inside out it seemed so far. But we made it, 25 days, 4 hours and 42 minutes. Mission Accomplished!

What a Ride!
Afterward: After taking time to recover and reflect, I realize that I love everything about this race. The amazing people, the new friends, the trail angels, and the challenges we faced every day. I also realize that rookie mistakes cost me days. I’m convince if I did it again, I could improve by 3 – 5 days. Would I do it again? Absolutely, given the opportunity. Unfortunately, I think this is a one and done. The time investment is huge and it just wouldn’t be fair to my family to spend the better part of another year eating, breathing, sleeping, and obsessing over the Tour Divide. I have to admit, even as battered and beat as I was the last few days, I found myself thinking, “it’s almost over, I’m really going to miss this”. On the other hand, there were times when I thought “when this is over, I’m gonna go home and just be an old man”.

This race would not have been possible if it weren’t for the so many people who supported me from beginning to end. ProCycling Bike shop in Colorado Springs was pivotal in helping me put my tour rig together as well as acquiring the equipment. My employer gave me the time off and enthusiastically supported me the whole way. It was my employer that convinced me to quit talking about it and actually DO it in the first place. So many individuals, too many to name, that gave so much encouragement throughout this adventure. The many trail angels along the way. I never had a single negative encounter the entire 2,740+ miles. The generosity of everyone who contributed to our project to help Children’s National and families experiencing childhood heart defects. And finally, my wife Roswitha, without her I am nothing. She lived and supported me 100% throughout the training and obsession, then stayed home and "manned the fort" while I “was out riding my bicycle”. I can’t thank her enough. I’ve tried to cover the details and timeline the best my memory will allow. After a while, one day just blended with another. 

One final word. As of today, July 17, 2018 we reached our goal of over $10,000 for Children's National. Donations hit $8,189 and my employer matched another $2,500 for a grand total at this point of $10,689. The outpouring of generosity, love and support for this project has been incredible. This was not me, but we, that did it. I am truly grateful. Thank-you so much. 

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