Here is another post written by Caroline!
Clean and happy at the start outside the YWCA in Banff.
What’s it like being a stoker in the Tour Divide? Fun, hard, sleepy, exciting, sick and sometimes bumpy; I would have loved to just post a photo dump of our all our pictures but Kurt wouldn’t let me get away with that. It seems that others are also intrigued by a bike with two wheels that holds two people and are curious as to how it compared to our past experiences racing it alone. Maybe there are other couples interested in taking on this challenge? Instead of a day to day recap of our ride, I wanted to write about some of the unique experiences that I encountered while racing across the country with Kurt and Babe the Blue Tandem.
Clouds already thickening on the first day.
Lots of snow hiking.
If you have never ridden a tandem I will clue you in on an obvious fact that you will first learn. Tandems go uphill slowly and descend fast. Let me reiterate, Babe (Blue Tandem) climbs like a gigantic boat and descends like a rocket. The Divide has lots and lots of climbing which means lots of slow miles. There were a few occasions where we were standing and churning the pedals so slowly that I burst out laughing because of how slow we were going. That almost always ended up with us toppled over and me trying to catch my breath from laughing. Sometimes it just made more sense to walk the bike.
Another snowy pass completed.
The plus side to being the stoker is being able to look around a lot more, especially when descending. I am a very tentative and slow descender, but when on a tandem I can actually go downhill… fast, scary fast. There were many instances where I closed my eyes when going downhill for fear that we would crash because of how fast we were going. Normally I consider myself a good passenger in the back who doesn’t yell, scream or squirm about, but when Kurt got Babe airborne going down the first descent since leaving Lincoln, MT it caught me by surprise and I can’t remember what I said but I’m sure I let out some kind of yelp and scream.
Pushing up Richmond Peak.
A cold, damp morning outside of Ovando.
The real kicker is being able to sleep on the bike while pedaling. No, joke! The first time I feel asleep going downhill was on the Galton Pass descent. This was not any typical descent. The descent is long, steep and treacherous. This descent has ended other riders’ Divide quests, and I did not want to be on that list. We had a few added challenges like lots of fresh snow, cold, and darkness. It was snowing while we were climbing and descending with 6 inches of fresh snow. The sun was setting, the temperatures were dropping and we were both cold. We stopped to put all of all clothes before continuing the trudge down. We hiked until Kurt felt it was safe to try riding. Once on the bike we were riding over slushy snow that was starting to freeze. The descent seemed to go on forever but somehow I feel asleep a few times. It was never for long but I would wake up from my own weight shifting. I think once Kurt even said to stop moving. Oops. My excuse was that it was 11pm and I was tired. Hey, it was the truth and we were still miles from Eureka, MT.
There were numerous other times that I briefly feel asleep and sometimes it even happened in the daytime. When I move around too much on the back of the bike Kurt always says, “Are you playing with a monkey back there?” Oh, I wish I had a monkey.
Navigating Lava Mountain.
The classic Red Rock Pass photo.
There are a few negatives to being a stoker when descending. I have to keep my weight low and basically not move. I normally descend with my butt in the air but I wasn’t able to do that being a stoker because it makes the bike more difficult to handle. Instead I had to sit still with my butt on the saddle to avoid extra shifting. This caused extra saddle soreness but I got used to it.
The infamous Rail Trail section in Idaho - 20 miles of washboarded gravel.
The singletrack sections on the Divide were entertaining and people always seem curious to how we fared. The first singletrack section was the short, heinously steep climb in the Flathead that connects two remote forest roads. It was raining which made the short of hike-a-bike section even more difficult since traction was nonexistent. There wasn’t much room for me to stand behind and help push so Kurt somehow dragged Babe up to the top on his own. The short singletrack section in the Mission Range was easy to ride. The trails on top of Lava Mountain outside of Butte in Montana were not easy and required lots of hiking. The trail was steep, rocky, and slippery from all the earlier rain. Gold Dust outside of Breckenridge was the next singletrack challenge and we rode it with flying colors. There was even a large group of riders at the bottom cheering us on. The last singletrack stretch was the CDT section outside of Silver City, NM. I was not looking forward to it since I walked most of it last year. We hit the singletrack section at the hottest time of the day and did the short hike a bike section up to the more rideable terrain. After the first mile we were able to ride the majority of the trail. I am still amazed at all the things a tandem can do.
Climbing Union Pass.
High up and worn out between the Wind River Mtns and Gros Ventre Range.
This year without the snow detours we had more snow to hike through in the Flatheads and Montana, maybe a total 20 miles. As long as there were already bike tracks and footprints in the snow we were able to reasonably push Babe thru. Sometimes I was in front pushing with Kurt helping in the back and vice versa. An interesting fact I learned while hiking down snowy trail sections. Kurt can walk with Babe faster than I can walk on my own. I practically had to run to keep up.
Gravel road snaking along the Continental Divide in Wyoming.
My Impaler Bars.
It seemed like every time Kurt and I rolled into town we would get questions about where we were heading and what it is like to ride a tandem. “That looks like lots of fun”, “You guys must be enjoying yourselves”. I would always reply, “Oh yes, lots of fun”. However in reality, all I wanted to do was crawl into a bed and sleep…for days. One of my biggest battles this year was sleep. I could not stay awake for the life of me. We would wake up, ride and thirty minutes later I would be sleepy and have to take a caffeine pill. One big difference that attributed to my sleepy state were the reduced number of hours slept. This year we averaged 5 hours of sleep compared to my 7 hours last year. We also rode more hours in a day, and being the stoker can sometime be boring. Yes, I said it. Boring. I didn’t have to think about shifting, braking or steering, and it was even more difficult staying awake when it was dark out. I had the cues and computer on my handlebars, and Kurt had the GPS and generally knew the route since this was his 3rd time riding it, so I didn’t have to call out every cue. This gave me even less to do. I think in the future I should stick with 12 hour races or shorter.
Taking a break from battling a strong headwind in southernmost Wyoming.
Snack Break above Gore Canyon.
From the few rides Kurt and I had done on Babe we knew that both of our comfort on the bike was going to be a compromise. When Kurt stands I stand, when he sits, I sit. Both riders need to be pedaling at the same cadence. We both had to get used to not being able to coast, stand, sit and stretch whenever we wanted. It took some getting used to it but we made it work. Going into the race I knew I wasn’t going to be able to use areobars because they would have been sticking into Kurt’s back. I thought I would be okay with just the handlebars and bar ends. I soon found out that on the long paved stretches that I needed something to get my weight up higher because there was too put pressure on my sit bone area. We stopped at the Outdoorsman in Butte, MT for a few things, and I bought a pair of bar ends to install facing me. I only used them on flats and when both my weight was equally for fear that it would snap my handlebars that didn’t recommend having bar ends on in the first place, and now I had two sets of bar ends. I called them my bull horns, but Kurt likes to call them the Impaler Bars.
Atop Boreas Pass.
Evening light outside of Sargents, Colorado.
Being sick sucks, and when on a tandem it affects both riders. I felt great the first week of the race and was hoping I could maintain it through the remaining weeks of the race. However all good things come to an end…right? Doom came when we camped up high a few miles from the top on the Wise River climb, and I fell asleep shivering and also woke up cold. My nose and throat were both stuffy but otherwise I felt okay. It wasn’t until later in the day that I would start having sporadic coughing fits that were sometimes alarming. The following day I continued coughing to the point where I threw up a few times. For the next two weeks this itchy cough would not go away causing me to gag and then throw up. I have lost count the number of meals that painted the ground. It became frustrating having to replace the food I just put in my body because the desire to eat had long vanished. How I wished I had Eszter’s appetite. I could feel my body growing weaker as my fuel was slowing be drained. I had a mix of good and bad days on the bike since getting sick but it wasn’t until getting to Grants, NM where I was scared I might not be able to finish. We decided to carry extra food for when I did throw up so that I could replace those calories without eating all of our food. In the end I’m still confused on why I constantly threw up since this has never happened to me in the past.
Finally to New Mexico!
Outside of Pie Town.
Besides being uncomfortable on the bike, being sleep deprived, and throwing up I did enjoy my time on the Divide. I got to see first hand why Kurt does well in these types of races. As I said before it was hard on a tandem but I really did like riding with Kurt. I also enjoyed riding and passing back and forth with Josh Shifferly, Dylan Taylor and Ryan Correy. Josh and Dylan caught us in the Great Divide Basin where we had an awesome 30mph tailwind, only to have that tailwind turn into a brutal headwind the following day when headed toward Brush Mountain Lodge. We saw Dylan off and on for a few more days in Colorado and were happy to see what a great ride he was having. I also really enjoyed seeing other racers and friends touring the route that were heading north.
Strange and annoying dirt a few miles shy of Beaverhead Work Center.
Continental Divide Trail singletrack.
For much of the earlier part of the race Kurt and I were following the tire tracks of Ryan Correy, whom we had nicknamed Hammer. We eventually caught up to him and had a few minutes to chat before he crushed us again on another climb. My favorite quote from the entire race was from Hammer. I had asked him how he found out about the race and why he decided to do it. Hammer said, “This is nothing like the movie,” referring to Ride The Divide. Ah, I had to chuckle at that because the movie didn’t capture the day to day misery the race brings.
Ready to get to the border and Kurt is playing with a tarantula!
After having had some time to reflect on our ride, Kurt and I can both say that racing the Divide on a tandem is much harder than racing alone. There were many new challenges we had to face, but in the end, we succeeded. I am a little lost for words to describe what it feels like to ride 2,700 miles with someone you love on the same bike day in and day out. Thank you Kurt for pedaling me from Canada to Mexico; I couldn’t have done it without you and wouldn’t have wanted to, either.