Saturday, July 18, 2009
Well, I never got around to writing some more on the Divide. Perhaps that'll come later this year. Tomorrow I'm heading north to Baffin Island for 5 weeks of field work. The first half of this will be spent studying the history of the dozens of small ice caps on the central part of the island, as well as the spatial patterns of ice sheet erosion on the landscape. Then I'll be flying south to Qikitarjuak to spend a few weeks collecting samples from the sea cliffs on near Qivitu. The marine and glaciomarine sediments preserved here span the past 2.5 million years and tell a story about the long-term glacial history of the region.
The first half of the summer was spent on the bike. This'll be some good forced time off training. By the time I return, it'll nearly be cyclocross season - time to get some speed in the legs and hit the races with an expanded FORT Factory Team. Until then...
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Day 1 was lonely for me. So many racers started and yet it was just me, the mountains, and woods all day
We weren't sure what this was, but we slept in the rickety loft on the right side. It was nice to have a roof to keep us dry and something to get us above the grizzlies.
Tandem-onium caught us and we rode with them for a while. Then we stood along the road and showed off our tan lines for a few minutes.
This photo doesn't do justice to the amount of sandy mud we had just ridden through. Miles and miles and miles of it.
Getting through more gooey clay mud to this pass was a huge accomplishment. Little did we know that things got worse on the other side, and Joe's bike would never be the same again. He was forced to spend a day in Lima waiting for replacement parts.
At the end of a long day, Chris and I pushed up the pass and across the border into Idaho. This was a huge accomplishment, and as we approached the pass, Idaho welcomed us with a rainbow.
The top of the pass presented a hike-a-bike of unknown duration. It turned out that it took ~3 hours, it was just above freezing, and we didn't quit riding/pushing until after midnight. Ouch.
Coming down from Union Pass, my lower derailleur pulley started acting up. Then it quit turning entirely. Closer inspection showed that the sealed cartridge bearing had self-destructed, and I was left with only one pulley and two gears to ride the 40 miles into Pinedale.
We stayed in an awesome campground near Boulder, WY. The owner let us sleep in his barn, shower, and do laundry, all for $10. It was a good night.
The end of a good day - Boulder, WY to the end of the dirt in the Basin. That felt huge. And a warm breakfast was only 40 miles away in the morning.
We wanted to sleep inside this instead of next to it, since it was the only structure around for miles and there were more storms to the west, but the cattle had filled the shack a couple feet deep with manure. Impressive.
Southernmost Wyoming was a battle. Wind and incredibly steep climbs took a lot out of both Chris and me.
Heading out of Del Norte on a moist morning with Gary along for some great company for the first bit. A 4000' climb loomed in front of me, and then to top things off, 4 hours of steady rain.
Looking back up the Conejos Valley toward Platoro, where I got a fantastic meal and dried my clothes in front of their raging fireplace.
Heading into New Mexico. That just meant more mud and a tough evening as I raced a storm to get through an already-nearly-unrideable section of sticky mud.
Riding out of Grants and toward the cliffs of El Malpais after a 5-hour afternoon drenching. Skirting the base of the cliffs in the moonlight was magical, and Pie Town wasn't too far away. Too bad I got there before the cafes opened, so no pie for me.
Tracey and JayP caught me in the evening, and we enjoyed what the Beaverhead Work Center had to offer: a pop machine! This section was something like 160 miles between towns.
I thought I was homefree after the last climb in the Gila. Nope. A couple miles of unrideable mud tried to keep me from getting to Mimbres and Silver City. Fortunately, this was the last mud I had to deal with.
After Silver City was some amazing riding through the Separ desert. And the border was only 100 miles away!
Mother Nature decided to throw one last challenge at me - a giant storm. It provided a nice tailwind, but the lightning and heavy rain behind that pushed me to my limit. I was already going hard to try to hold off Tracey and JayP, but this storm honestly scared the hell out of me.
Pushing hard. Note the giant cloud of dust and sand behind me, and behind that the storm as it was starting to grow more quickly. I raced the storm for the next 30 miles and actually won. That's never happened before.
The end! I couldn't quite get to the border, so 200 feet shy had to do. I'm not sure what the ever-present Border Patrol would have done if I had snuck past this gate.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
I'm sitting in Saguache right now, a mere 12 miles off the GDMBR/Tour Divide route, starting to feel quite a bit more human again. It's going to take me a while to completely get my head around the events of the past three weeks. I'm astounded that I finished the race, much less in 2nd place only half a day back from Matthew Lee. At the start in Banff, I tried to keep my mind off the incredible odds stacked against each and every rider about to head off toward Mexico - injuries, mechanical problems, horrendous weather, sickness, crashes, getting lost . . . the list could go on and on. We all ended up facing the same awful weather, mud, and trail conditions. Some bikes and bodies took it, and some didn't. My one mechanical fortunately didn't stop me, and my injuries (minor sprain to right ankle on day 3 and some tendonitis behind my left knee for the 2nd half of the race) were minor enough that I could push on. The bike setup was perfect, and my gear was just about perfect, too.
Riding with Chris Plesko for something like 12 days, and with Joe Meiser for half that time, was fantastic. Great company like that helps the motivation, mindset, and morale more than I could ever have imagined. One of the toughest parts of the race for me was leaving Chris behind outside of Kremmling. My eyes are tearing up now remembering that evening. At that point we had different goals on our minds - Chris seemed pretty spent from a tough couple days of riding, and I was trying to get to the Salida post office before closing the following day. I knew I had to push on, and he knew it was best for him to get a good meal and sleep. So we parted ways and I struggled through some tough emotions for the rest of the night. The toll an endeavor like this takes on your body is phenomenal, but the effect it has on your mind is infinitely greater. Though Chris and I were never far apart since Kremmling, that was the last I saw of him. I crossed paths with Jay and Tracey numerous times during the remainder of the race, and I was always excited to see them and share stories, even if it only lasted a few minutes.
The people I met along the way in small towns, remote lodges, and rural gas stations were also incredible. Some knew about the race and were expecting me, while others had no idea anyone would ever try to race a bike all the way down the Rockies. But their encouragement and support always provided an unexpected boost, and all the individuals that went out of their way to prepare my meal a little faster, fix my bike a little sooner, or simply offered to help in any way they could was truly heart-warming.
As for the GDMBR course - absolutely spectacular. I love techy singletrack, but I also love stitching together rides through remote countryside using roads less traveled, and that's just what the Adventure Cycling Association did with the GDMBR. I commend them on this route, and the new Flathead section in southern Canada is a great, though very burly, addition. The scenery kept me distracted from the otherwise monotonous pedaling for hour after hour, day after day, and the abundant wildlife provided flashes of excitement at the most unexpected times.
The finish of the race stands out in my mind more than anything right now, though. I was anticipating all sorts of mixed emotions. A thousand miles from the end I started to think about the prospects of actually making it to Antelope Wells, and I'd almost start to cry. Leaving Silver City, those emotions came back stronger than ever, finally starting to realize what I was just about to accomplish. But at the same time, I knew Jay and Tracey were not too far behind on the tandem, and the last 125 miles were ideally-suited for them to gain big ground on me. So I started a carefully-paced time-trial effort to try to stay ahead of them. I had a good gap of at least an hour by Separ, and from there it's only 65 of pavement and a few miles of dirt to the border. I fought a strong, frustrating headwind for a few hours, but as a strong storm blew up behind me, I watched a dust cloud race south toward me. Two minutes later my speed rocketed from 12 to 30 mph, and I was worried about being blown off the road. This wind kept up for the last 40 miles as the storm grew larger and more frightening, and my effort increased more and more as the lightning became more and more frequent. Instead of dwelling on the events of the past few weeks, I was in an adrenaline-fueled, fearful run from this thing. Maggie was waiting at the finish, and I arrived more than an hour earlier than expected, and we spent the an hour sitting in the back of the car watching the lightning show that stayed just a few miles north of the border. It was not quite the ending I was expecting, but it was the end, never the less, and I was very, very relieved to have completed the Tour Divide.
And I have to once again thank all the people that made this possible for me - friends, family, and sponsors. Your support for something like this means more than you probably realize. Additionally, thanks to everyone who donated to my World Bicycle Relief fund raising effort and helped me reach my goal!
That's all for now. I'll put up some photos at some point in the next few days hopefully. I feel like there's so much to tell about the past few weeks, but it's going to be a challenge to get everything into words and coherent narratives. I'll see what I can do, because it sounds like many of you are curious about what it's really like to do a race like this. To put it simply for now, it was the hardest thing I've ever done.
More to come...