Wednesday, June 1, 2011
This past weekend, Caroline and I headed out on one last bikepacking trip before leaving for the grand adventure that will be the 2011 Tour Divide. We opted to stay close to home, spending our precious time in the saddle rather than behind a windshield. It was, as always, good to make a few minor adjustments to gear selection, bike setup, component adjustment, and so on. My legs felt like they had finally recovered from drilling it on the Kokopelli Trail.
A beautiful evening and a warm first night was a nice change after so many chilly, snowy bikepacking trips in the past few months. That was all about to change, though, as we decided to climb Trail Ridge Road to the end of what was opened so far. The Park Service has struggled to get the road opened up this year due to record snow on the continental divide. So we climbed for 12 miles into a road through thick fog filling the void between two walls of snow. The number of Memorial Day drivers heading up the dead-end, fogged-in road was astounding. I think there was more traffic on that climb than any I've ridden in several years!
A chilly descent was followed by a quick, warm meal in town before it began raining. After a day of seemingly endless climbing, we quickly logged 30 effortless miles, but with all the canyons filled with no tresspassing signs and private residences, finding a dry place to sleep out of the rain was an unexpected challenge.
We stopped at a picnic area to fix a sliced sidewall (from pavement riding?!), found nowhere dry to sleep, and continued descending. Darkness fell, the rain picked up, and we rode on. I thought of an open space park that might work...we rode up the muddy entrance road, past 'day use only' signs, found a nice deserted out building, only to realize that the park ranger lived in the house just a few hundred meters away. We continued on, failing to find any dry spots in the next tiny town. The rain let up, we stopped to eat, and then big drops started falling with the greatest intensity yet!
It dawned on me that there was a school 8 miles down the road. With new motivation, we quickly pounded out some more pavement miles and soon had a dry place to sit down, cook up some dinner, change out of damp clothes, and stretch out.
A few minutes after dozing off, a hissing sound awoke me with an instant sense of alarm. Sprinklers! Luckily, they were at the end of the building. I jumped out of my sleeping bag and searched out the nearest two sprinkler heads and hid them beneath my empty handlebar bag and the hood from my jacket, each weighted down with a pair of shoes. Caroline never even awoke enough to realize how close we came to a miserable awakening!
Sunday morning brought more drizzle, but the clouds gradually broke up, revealing a very intense sun. We rode pavement back home as my mind wandered to the Tour Divide course, thinking about the dozen heavily snowed-in passes, the severely dry conditions in New Mexico that are resulting in entire National Forest districts being closed to all access, the flooding rivers in Montana and Wyoming. In a world of contrasts such as these inflicting such an uncontrollable influence on this year's race, it's going to be an adventure just to sit back and watch what happens. Racing is going to be a whole other level of unpredictability, demanding flexibility, mental strength, and, um, snowshoes.
All plans for a run at Matthew Lee's course records flew out the window when it was clear much of the high-altitude course sections in Montana wouldn't be melted out in time. I changed my mind on where to start and settled on a northbound attack, giving the north more time to melt. That plan failed when it became obvious that the mountains and passes of NW Wyoming will be shrouded in a deep, record-breaking snowpack until well into July. Revert to a Banff start and enjoy the company? Settle on the first-ever snow detours to avoid some of these nearly impassable stretches? Delay and start in late summer following the traditional TD course?
Self-reflecting on what drives me to challenge myself to these endeavors reveals no Earth-shattering revelations to help make any such decisions easier. But I realize that no matter how anyone takes on the TD or GDMBR this summer, the adventure will be a huge one. Challenges will differ for everyone and every start date, and each adventure will be unique, unrepeatable, memorable. Sure, one attempting to break such records could wait for ideal conditions, but there's something mentally unsettling to me about this, akin to almost trying to minimize the experience. Then again, any of these ultras are more than long enough to provide ample material for future enjoyment and reflection with even the most perfect luck, conditions, and preparation.
So I sit back in my chair, chuckling at how easy it is for one to become frustrated with the seemingly stochastic means through which the weather gods play out their annual game. But the scientist in me just grins, quietly reminding me that it was obvious in December that this wasn't going to be any ordinary spring. Take it as it comes, for a life without uncontrollable variability would be rather dull, no?
Borrowing a term used all too frequently by the famous cyclists who find themselves implicated in doping scandals, I find myself tranquilo with a week and change before the Grand Depart from Banff. It's going to be a memorable June, worlds apart in so many ways from my June of two years ago.