Crossing into Idaho over Red Rocks Pass is always a milestone for Divide riders. The long, challenging state of Montana is left behind. The roads ahead are faster and generally less muddy. The weather improves, and there is not much grizzly bear territory remaining. And Divide statistics also show that if you make it to Idaho, you’ll most likely make it to Mexico. Caroline and I were in pleasant moods that morning. We had slept along the edge of the forest in Centennial Valley and slept well. We even had enjoyed a quick campfire to warm up when we stopped, a first for me on the Divide. The following morning, we paused at the Idaho border to take a few photos and eat a snack before pushing on.
A night in Pinedale provided us with much-needed showers, a huge pizza, more food than we could carry for the next section of the route, clean clothes, and a comfortable bed. My legs were absolutely exhausted after another tough day. We were both looking forward to getting out into the barren Great Divide Basin the next day, but the forecast for 40 mph winds had us a bit nervous. It turned out that this wind would push us toward Rawlins at an alarming rate, allowing us to cover 180 miles that day, our biggest single push of the ride.
But we did eventually make it, and Matthew and Katie Lee were there to greet us. Matthew is the race organizer and a good friend of mine, and he and Katie were temporarily acting as lodge caretakers. Another friend, Scott Morris, as well as photographer Eddie Clark, were there, and Dylan and Josh had arrived an hour or so ahead of us. Just like last year, it was a festive atmosphere and lifted our spirits after an absolutely crushing day.
The subsequent days saw us riding deep into familiar Colorado territory. The scenery was spectacular, the climbs long, and nights short. Each evening, we struggled to make it anywhere close to our goal for the day. Caroline continued to battle with coughing fits, my calves more often began to protest on long climbs, and finding food that sounded good to eat became more difficult. We were both already tired of eating nearly continuously it seemed, and we often missed open hours at ideal resupply points. Conversely, I really enjoyed the sunrises and sunsets, we were having fun comparing stories from our rides in 2011, and we still were managing to average around 140 miles per day. That being said, by the time we reached Del Norte, Caroline’s cough was worsening, and we nearly decided to spend a day there so she could rest.
We arrived in town after a brief but challenging struggle against a 30+ mph headwind in the San Luis Valley. The gas station and Subway provided shelter and lunch, and we sat,ate, and debated what to do. After a good meal, Caroline decided that we should push on rather than resting. She seemed to be in the mood to simply get the ride over with. With our timing for resupplying in Platoro or Horca looking bad, we wandered through the gas station and picked out enough food to get us all the way to Abiqiui, well into New Mexico. A bit of extra food was added to the pile to replace whatever Caroline might vomit back up. The cashier, familiar with the race, asked us about life on the tandem as he scanned the items. Then his computer beeped, signaling that he had reached the maximum number of items allowable in a single transaction, something he had never seen before. $108 later, our bags and pockets were bursting at the seams, and we headed off into that awful headwind.
The steep, relentless grades of the 4000’ climb up to Grayback Mountain and Summitville provided far more of a challenge than remembered from years past. Our lowest gear didn’t seem low enough, there wasn’t enough traction to stand on the pedals and use some slightly different muscles, and all the extra food weight we carried was clearly noticeable. Eventually, though, the grades slackened, the forests grew thicker, the air cooler and calmer, and we neared the high point on the route. As the sunset, we popped above treeline and were treated to a beautiful panorama of the easternmost San Juan Mountains. After nearly six hours of slogging uphill, we dismounted, put on some warmer clothes, snapped a few photos, and enjoyed a small feast. Platoro, our destination for the night, still seemed far away, but we managed to make it there by midnight. We slept in the trees at the edge of town and were gone in the morning before anyone else was stirring.
“Honk for assistance,” the sign read. In the dimming twilight, I could just make out someone beside the house set back a ways from the road. Caroline laughed as she tried to find our horn. Then the person waved at us and eventually came over on an ATV. The jolly woman opened up the shed, and we grabbed $20 worth of food off the shelves stocked with chips, soda, candy, crackers, cereal, and tins of sardines. We immediately ate the ice cream and drank much of the soda before going back for more soda to take with. We took some sardines and crackers for dinner, and thanked the woman before getting back on the bike. She chuckled and wished us well.
Our moods were much improved, but with it already dark, the sleep monster wasted no time in returning to do battle with Caroline. The stretch of pavement disappeared quickly, and we rode through the infamous Dog Alley of Vallecitos without incident. (Between the two of us, we have now ridden through there four times without being chased by a single dog, so I do not understand why the place has become so notoriously dangerous.) I navigated the rutted roads beyond with care, but as the ruts deepened at one point, we clipped a pedal and slid against the side of the rut before toppling over. Our speed had been quite low, and I managed to stay upright, but Caroline was sent to the ground. I pulled the bike off her and helped her up.