2014 Tour Divide, The Land of Entrapment

The morning wind whispers through the aspen leaves, a peaceful sound that reminds me of home. The vista is also comfortingly familiar, patches of fir, pine and aspen trees, wide golden parks, elk darting to and fro. Close my eyes and breath it all in, open my eyes to absorb the gorgeous glory of this place. This place, like so many along the route pull at my heart, wanting me to slow down, set up camp, explore, enjoy. Only the whole time I attempt to soak it all in I am rolling along at 10 miles an hour, hurrying off to the next resupply. My body filled with discomfort, my mind a mess of conflicting desires.
This is the dichotomy of a TD racer. You see amazing sights, experience small slices of landscapes, places, people of varied color, shade and description, but you never really slow down enough to truly get to know any of it, to really enjoy it. Always packing up, rushing along, your sights on the next place, the next challenge, dreaming mouth watering dreams of the next meal.
With more miles behind than in front of my madly spinning wheels and a feeling of lazy nostalgia seeping through my once raw determination, it is becoming harder to stay on target and race for the border. Despite being closer to the end, it is more painful to push hard on the pedals with my swollen feet and my heavy lead filled legs. My tired eyes are even less willing to go far into the night or awake and crank out the early early morning.
New Mexico, in some ways, forces you to keep rolling. It is the second longest state on the GDMBR, right after the monster of Montana, with 707 some miles before it is all said and done. There are some pretty great distances to cover between food and more importantly water. The final state also hides some truly brutal terrain, the Brazos, the Jemez/Polverdera Mesa and my personal nemesis, the Gila. With my limited capacity for carrying food and water I am forced to rally along and make time in order to stay fed and hydrated. The increasing heat as I get further south, begins to kick my ass and makes it even harder to go faster.
If you just keep pedaling, you will get there. That is exactly what I do, I just keep pedaling, despite the agony of my bruised right foot, my empty dead legs, my sore and swollen hands and my bruised and battered ego. I just keep pedaling and the state slowly slips behind me. Even the long tough sections eventually do end, both a blessing and a curse. For the toughies are also quite remote and lovely, but in my deranged racing mind they are only obstacles in the way of success, the finish.
With a good bit of luck and plenty of blood sweat and tears I leave Pie Town and head out into the hot lonely Gila, the last backcountry section of the route. Here last time in 2011, I was reduced to a shell of myself when I ran out of food and water many miles and hours from Pinos Altos, where my life was saved by two cherry cokes and a banana split. This time I was determined to be better prepared and not fall apart in those endless desperate hills.
The Gila lives up to the monster image I have created in my mind. It breaks me down making me feel so damn small. It cooks me to a crisp, leaving me hot, sunburnt, and dehydrated. I am lucky enough to have bumped into a group of mountain bike folks touring for fun. (I bounce this thought about in my head for a while, who the hell would volunteer to come out here, and for fun? Hmmm, guess I deep down I chose that as well! So lighten up Jefe!) It is great to have someone to ride and suffer with, they take my mind off the heat a bit and keep me from talking to myself. It really is a fantastic relief to share the trail for a while.

part of the Gila Fun Crew

part of the Gila Fun Crew

Still pretty early in the afternoon they stop for camp and I push on determined to get to Silver City and eat ice cream till I can not move. Another teaser moment leaves me wanting to hang out and camp with these great peeps instead of pushing on in the hope of making it to the finish sometime in the morning. I ride on cursing the wondrous hell of the wash-boarded road so bumpy that my GPS flies off for the first and only time in the 2700 miles.
My increased knowledge of water sources makes staying hydrated much easier and I make it without running out of water. I still manage to run out of food right before the Sapillo hike a bike. What is it about the Gila that ends up crushing me so solidly, how did I underestimate this beast once again? No matter I crank out the bit of singletrack and the steep hilly pavement to get to Silver City right about sunset. I meet Glen whose been watching my spot dot and we ride straight to the grocery store where I throw a whole rotisserie chicken, a pint of B&J, half a bag of Fritos, two Cokes and a handful of cookies down the hatch. Now I am feeling OK enough to venture back out into the void of the Divide world and get this sucker done, once and for all.
I climb out of Silver City stuffed full of food, both my stomach and the bags on my bike. I am not gonna run out again, not in the next 120 miles and not even if my ride does not show up at the border. Food security, Check! Due to the weight and bloating I crawl out of town on the highway, slow and steady, just keep pedaling. I turn onto the Separ road and can feel the familiar ghost of exhaustion lean over my shoulder. Trying to ignore this persistent pest I crank along, trying so hard to rise up on these last 100 or so miles, wanting badly to be done, to maybe break 16 days..no really just to get this done. Only I have to stop and take a cat nap, 10 minutes down and then right back on the bike. I make it a few more hours and another cat nap, then another. My eyes are in full revolt, unwilling to stay open, despite the pleading from my mind and body to just get this done.

the lonely highway...

the lonely highway…

This 2700 mile roller coaster of emotions, physical breakdowns, mental victories and defeats has all boiled down to, “keep pedaling Jefe, just keep pedaling”. I try so hard to turn off my brain and just pedal, yet the mind stays there, wondering, wishing, dreaming, commenting and in the end making it hard for my body to just pedal, the only thing that will get me there. It is a battle, the whole ride, start to finish, no matter if it is stellar pavement, or a forgotten rock strewn jeep road, it takes all I have to keep going, to stay on target, to not let the broken dream of untouchable goals haunt me any longer. My ride home passes me on that last stretch of pavement, it is a glimmer of hope that this will end, it can not go on forever even though hours of riding still remain before me.
The route Does come to a close, the border Does rise up on the horizon and I ride up to a chainlink fence with Mexico on the other side, it is the end, the END. I get off the bike, take a few pictures, take off my awful shoes, sit in the shade and drink a beer. I am done and I am so happy to be done. Thoughts of records, of mileage, of glory and victory are lost to the wonder of simply being done and having someone who cares there to scrape me off the ground and take me home, of having done what I truly set out to do, and that is Ride the Divide with all my heart.

done done and done

done done and done

2014 Tour Divide, the Asskicker awaits

Heavy white curtains of clouds drop low over the forested hillsides slowly descending into the Spray River Valley. The day is still dark and early yet the reality forecasted with but a quick glance out the window, at least for a bike rider, is bleak. It is gonna be a cold wet day, there is no doubt about it. There is nothing like starting a race with your rain gear on, it speaks volumes for both the fickle state of the weather in the mountains and the tenacity and determination of bike racers. Certain types of races always have some strong association intertwined with them from year to year, the cold year, hot year, the fast year, the year so and so won. No doubt this year’s Tour Divide will be remembered as the wet and nasty year.

The first day worked hard to hold onto that title, with rain and snow soaking the trails, drenching riders through layers of high tech materials, soaking them to the bone. Only a few brief hours of partly cloudy skies and no rain broke up the monotony of constant precipitation. The real asskicker was the return of rain before sunset, that continued through out the night into morning, and into the next day, and into the next day and into the next day….No exaggeration is needed to say that in those first 5 days I can count the hours gone without wearing rain gear on one, OK maybe just barely two hands. It was constant state of cold, wet, gritty. Pushing big miles, waking up from 1.5 to 3 hours of sleep the whole body shivering, shaking, with only the weak voice of a single mind to insist on getting up, throwing a leg over that top tube, gently perching that sore ass atop that dreaded saddle.

It became a familiar mantra that I repeated to myself every morning, “get up, get going, it will get better, it has to get better”. Although my body, meaning my swollen knees, puffy ankles, my chaffed butt, my sore muscles and tired back, would get looser, faster, smoother through out the day, the weather remained a beast. Making its climax between Butte and Wise River. Leaving Butte at 8 PM, with warnings of snow up high and a drizzle of rain falling from the swirling purple sky, I knew I must be mad, but I was not about to give up the lead I stretched by sleeping so little and pushing so hard. Madness it was. The descent down to the highway crossing turned out to be slushy mess that ate momentum and forced me to walk. By the time I crossed the highway I was looking at midnight on my watch and Fleecer Ridge loomed dark and scary, high above, deep in the clouds.

Huge white missiles streak hard and fast in front of my lights. Not so much snowflakes as frozen projectiles bent on impact. The air is alive with wind and snow and I can not see more than a few feet in front of me. A myriad of thoughts crash through my head as I crawl up the last mile or so to the top of the ridge, “am I gonna make it?” “could I bivie in this and not freeze?” “will there be any warm place open in Wise River when I get there?” “if I die up here they will say he was going too light and was made crazy by the race”  “maybe I really am insane?”

I make the top, glue my eyes to the red line of my GPS and push over the ridge, walking and walking with inches of snow clinging to the tops of my shoes, to my shins, accumulating on my shoulders. I plunder on trying not to let the nagging questions get the best of me. I am very aware of the fact that I am cold, deep down cold and only ignoring it for I have no choice but to get down and get warm. I make it to below the snow line and gingerly ride the rest of the rain soaked rocky descent, careful to keep the rubber side down and not to go fast enough to increase the windchill. I arrive in Wise River at 5:30 in the morning. The sky is just starting to show signs of getting lighter with the coming dawn, but the dull grey shroud of rain dominates the morning sky. I find warmth and shelter in the small post office lobby, and nod off a few times.

I get up after 7:AM and wander over to the Wise River Club, the door is locked, sign says opening late due to equipment maintenance. I turn back towards the Post Office just as a shudder passes through me and my body starts to convulse with shivering. I turn back and knock on the door. They let me in and rush me a cup of hot coffee. I can not keep the cup from rattling on the table, I can not stop shivering. They send me up to take a hot shower, dry my clothes and make me breakfast. There are real life angels in Wise River, I know they saved my life. I end up sleeping in a warm soft bed, getting my body temperature back to normal, it feels amazing, simply amazing. Still I wake up two hours before my alarm goes off, my heart thumps hard in my chest, my mind snaps awake; race is still on, I have gone soft, get up, get moving before anyone catches you.

Within the hour I am packed up and gone, the sky still holds pockets of rain, but there are also pockets of sunshine, almost warm glowing sunshine. I push hard using the guilt of stopping, sleeping indoors to fuel my mad rush for the next town, Lima, MT. Along miles and miles of dirt roads that can all turn to gumbo mud I am lucky enough to make it through without much issue. The sun still manages to produce the first sunset I have seen on the whole trip, it fills my heart with hope and I pedal on with gusto, making it through almost every patch of goop without walking much or losing time.

Not long after the light of the day fades from the horizon I begin to climb Medicine Lodge Sheep Creek Divide. Determined to get close to Lima tonight for an early resupply in the morning. As the climb ramps up in pitch I can sense the surface of the dirt changing, within seconds my bike is picking up mud and I hop off to prevent total shut down. Only it is too late. The soil has turned to that peanut butter sort of mud that sticks and sticks and makes your bike nothing but a big messy anchor. I try to rally my forces and push hard, but the mud shuts me down. I scrape the mud off, wash the bike in streams. I feel a scream of pure desperation gathering in my throat. I try and use the energy to just keep pushing, dragging the bike through the mud. Then is starts to snow, again. I swear I was as close to cracking right then and there, as ever before in my life. I muttered to myself “what do I do, what do I do?” only there is no answer forth coming. only more mud, more snow, more wind. In a move of pure heated frustration I hurl myself and my bike into the sage brush in mad sprint for release. Some how it works, the snow laden sage manages to strip my bike of mud and my legs of flesh, but it works and I madly dash forth and down in elevation till I can once again return to riding my poor hammered bike.

I cruise down the road feeling like I just survived a fight with a mountain lion. Triumphant and yet completely beat down exhausted. I manage a few more miles towards Lima and eventually collapse under a tree along the side of the road. The warm dry wonderfulness of that morning’s recovery from the Fleecer disaster that was only a short day ago, is wiped clean. I am cold, wet, covered with dirt, grit and mud and seriously wondering what the hell I am doing out here anyways? So far after 5 days on the trail, I am feeling like it is Divide 5, Jefe 0. The asskicker is in charge and the asskicker is the Divide itself.

As I slip into my bag, in my wet grit covered clothes I repeat to myself…..”It is gonna get better, it has to”:……

Rider of the Storm

Today was my one and only day off this week. There can be no doubt if I have a whole day of no work, I am gonna ride. Thing is Mother Nature was set to kick some ass this Sunday and my bike ride was not part of the grand plan.

I took my sweet time, walked the dogs, drank coffee, tinkered with the bike. While inside listening to music, getting jacked up on coffee and food, wave after wave of a powerful spring storm crashed into my westerly windows. It snowed, rained, thundered and at times the light coming into house would go dark as heavy clouds draped across the sky blotting out the sun. Pretty serious shit was going on out there.

The sky became a light and bright grey, the precipitation eased and I got out the door.

Pedaling East on Highway 50 the wind is at my back without seeming to be too crazy. I turn up the Quartz Creek Valley, leaving the roar of traffic behind. The picturesque valley is melting and turning green with many adorable new born calves curled up next to their mommas or prancing around on new found legs. Few cars pass and most folks wave on this back road, it is just about perfect.

still warm and dry

still warm and dry

I get just past Pitkin, to where the road is no longer plowed. The snow is soft, rotten and still quite deep. I eat a sandwhich drink some water and watch the wall of white that seems to be closing in from all directions. Within a few seconds it goes from calm tranquil and comfortable to the chaos of a spring snow storm. The wind whips the pellets of sleet mixed with flakes of snow sideways through the mountain air. The hard bits of refrozen water sting my face, stick to my clothes and coat the roads almost instantly. So much for avoiding the storm, right?

end of the easy road

end of the easy road

Luckily I have most of my Tour Divide kit, plus a bunch more clothes loaded on the bike. Constantly testing, dialing and getting the body used to all the extra weight on the bike. So I simply stop and layer up, stop and layer up, stop and layer up. It is down right nasty out. The only thing I didn’t bring was booties for my poor feet, instead just some old plastic grocery bags to keep my feet warm. Whups, there is always more to learn!

getting pummeled

getting pummeled

ok my feet are cold, really cold

ok my feet are cold, really cold

The storm eases up after a while, lessening it’s intensity. Still the wind rages. The calm tailwind I milked on the way out has stepped up into a terrible, push you around headwind. For about 18 miles I fight my way home. For the first time I can remember my ankles actually hurt from being so cold. The wind never lets up and I am forced to admit defeat to it, slowing down with every mile eventually crawling into town, my tail between my legs, cooked, tired, exhausted and weirdly happy.

thank goodness for heavy bikes....

thank goodness for heavy bikes….

Something extra real about riding through a storm, so much more satisfying than a sunshine filled joy ride. I really do enjoy the power dished out on a regular basis by ole Mother Nature, even if at mile 45 I was cursing that damn wind and dreaming of hot food and warm dry feet. Some like to say HTFU, so GO out there it is always worth it!!

One Trick Pony

Lately I have been feeling like a one trick pony. I ride and ride and train my body to ride even more. I love riding, and honestly I love seeing myself becoming more dedicated and disciplined. Thing is I am doing it for a reason, one big reason. No matter what, I would be training hard, looking forward to the races, working towards my goals, reaching higher to hit my limit. There is something else though that pushes me harder, makes me get out of bed early or gets me out the door, when it is dark, cold and snowing. The Damn Tour Divide.

Back in December when the Tour Divide bug bit deep, I knew as I took a step forward into accepting this obsession that the TD would somewhat take over my life. It has. Training, planning, scheming, sewing, trying to save money. I have little time and money to do other races, to leave town to go to the desert, really to do anything other than work towards this one singular goal. I am not complaining, I knew it would go down this road the second I said yes.

I have to admit I envy those out skiing big mountains, racing the Grand Traverse, the AZT, the Growler. I want to go to the desert to ride, camp, thaw out, like so many of my friends are doing. I take much inspiration from these folks that are out there chasing their own dreams.

It all leads to much reflection on my decision to race down the spine of North America. It isn’t that I don’t want to chase this dream, I do, it still haunts my every moment. I can hardly wait to line up in Banff and ride my heart out. Still it is not a simple event, this TD. The weather can make or break the whole single minded pursuit. I knew back in December that I wanted to ride the whole course, I missed much in 2011 due to snow, lots of snow. This winter hadn’t even begun, would it snow or be dry, I only knew that the Divide was calling me and one needs as much time as possible to be prepared for something like the TD.

Now with less than 3 months to the Grand Depart in Banff I am wondering what will become of my dream. In Colorado, Wyoming,  Montana and Canada once again there is so much snow, and it keeps on coming down. Sure it could melt, or keep piling up. The cards are not all out on the table, not yet.

This ride big deal for me. The planning, taking a month off from my life, spending a large chunk of my income, it is huge and I can’t take it lightly. It requires so much energy. There is the thought of going northbound to give the snow a chance to melt. There is the thought of doing an Individual Time Trial, options yes, but I want to race. Line up with everyone else and get after it.  

Here I am, the one trick pony with all my eggs are in one basket. Wondering if it is time to be smart and start spreading them around. 

 

Limits

I get obsessed over things, thoughts, ideas, dreams enter my head and I can’t let go. Sometimes this works out, like preparing for races and such, I get the details nailed down, over and over again. This side of it is exciting, heart pounding fun. Sometimes it keeps me up all night, thinking about things I could have, should have done, things I could have should have said. This side is torture, painful, heart breaking…

Lately I have become obsessed with the Tour Divide, that little race from Banff to the US/Mexican border. I almost thought I was done with the damn race after my 2011 run down the spine of the continent. Alas it has returned, it haunts me, draws me forth. Sure I could resist, deny the gravity of my desire. Yet so much of my life lacks the things I want so badly, I deal with it. But the TD is something I can happen, it isn’t dependent on the whims and desires of another. It is all about my own drive, focus and hard work.

Still I do live in the real world. I have to make a living. I have to hold a job, or two. It is inescapable, it is reality. Right now I want the Tour Divide so bad I can taste the day old french fries. Yet I need to keep eating from now till then. I need to work, so I can eat, pay rent, feed my dogs when I get back. Oh the balance of feeding my dreams and desires and keeping my head above water in the “real world”.

I do not want to say no to my dreams, what else do I truly have?

No matter my desires to go beyond limits, there are limits to everything in this life, limits I am having a hard time coming to terms with….oh what a world….