Welp – this year’s adventure seems all but chosen: http://crosswashington.weebly.com/ . This route crosses washington west to east, La Push to the Idaho border. A fit rider should make it in 7 days (+/- 3 in my case). The planner says it’s a quarter of the divide – 25% as long, 25% as tall (at the height of the elevation).
June 20-22nd are somewhat lost days. My phones were on the fritz (refushing to charge), so I have only a few photos. Also, this was the time of the Lost Wallet, so I really made pretty limited forward progress (I blew a whole day going from Ovando, Mt back to Seely Lake to try and find my wallet). But the 20th was also one of the best days of the whole trip – a whole raft of completely unrelated people were incredibly kind to me during the process of wallet retrieval. It really restores my faith in humanity, and impressed the kindness of Montana people on me.
On the 21st I rode with Bonnie Gagnon and Grant from Ovando to Lincoln Montana. Along the way we ran into the Florida Boys, a group of 4 who were touring the Tour Divide route at a more relaxed pace than we were.
I got to ride with Matt Bort for an hour or so – a more bicycle Buddha I’ve never met. He works, then tours, works, then tours, works then… well you get the picture. When I asked him where he was from, he said “the campground 15 miles back” – not exactly the answer I was looking for but it was just so Buddha perfect I decided it was as good an answer as I’d ever need.
Bonnie’s amazing – she was riding with a torn minuscis and using 130mm cranks to try and minimize the pain. I could pull ahead of her and Grant on the uphills, but man they blew past me on the downs. I wish I’d kept up Bonnie and Grant’s discipline, as I would have made it quite a bit farther down the road.
Lincoln is a tiny tiny town. When I rolled in I was a good half an hour ahead of Bonnie and Grant and I decided to stop at the first building I saw to wait up. Turns out it was a Drs office, and I walked in to say hi to the folks could see from the window. I told the Dr. that I had locked up last place, and he looked at me a bit incredulously:
“You’re not in last place, you’re ahead of 330 million people who haven’t even thought of starting this”.
Quote of the trip for sure.
The trip out of Lincoln to Helena was pretty straight forward, but I managed to take a fairly significant detour up a pass. This happened to me a lot – part of it was that I was ‘in the zone’, but I also blame the wind. Wind on passes has 2 modes: cooling you down (if it’s blowing down hill on to you), or pushing you up. The wind was so strong behind me on this pass that it was just obvious that up was the way to go. I had a lovely lunch on the pass before discovering I’d ridden 2 miles (and 4oo feet or so) off route.
Coming down off the pass I’d lost Bonnie and Grant, and when I pulled into Helena I stopped at a convenience store for some Ice cream to wait for them. I wasn’t there more than 10 minutes before Eric and Johnanna pulled up. They’re avid adventurers and intention trail angels, not to mention related to some of my Seattle friends. They offered to put me up for the night, and gave me a great dinner and breakfast send off. More examples of Montana goodness right there!
I left Helena on my own pretty early the next morning, but I wasn’t 5 miles out of town before I ran into the next Montana Friendly – Kathy M. She was just getting ready for a mountian bike ride, and gave me a bit of chain oil. Kathy sent me several encouraging emails in the next couple weeks, pretty amazing given that we only chatted for 3 or 4 minutes.
About 10 miles later, Nolan and Mykela caught up with me. A couple of 20 somethings out fast-touring the divide. Great company, nice to ride with and fun to talk to. They rode away from me pretty quickly on the technical session over the top of this pass (I walked almost all of it), but I caught them about 20 minutes later on the other side and we rode the rest of the way into Butte together. They rescued me from yet another off-route diversion after I descended 200 feet into an amazingly nice looking down hill. Ooops – only my pride was injured.
Butte is a weird place – I stayed in uptown, which is the older part of the city that thrived on mining back in the early part of the 20th century. To my eye, the thriving stopped quite some time ago. I stayed at the Hotel Finlen, and spent most of my time their sneaking around in a bath towel after the laundry was supposedly closed. Ahh what we won’t do for clean clothing.
In the morning I had more financial difficulty – I got breakfast at a Cafe that didn’t take credit cards. My ATM card was eaten by a machine in Helena, and I was cash free. Another 4 hours wasted trying to get a cash advance, and I missed my chance to ride on with Nolan and Mikela.
June 26th was Fleecer Ridge day – a long ride up to a harrowing down hill that had me nervous from the start. Riders talk about Fleecer Ridge in hushed, urgent tones. For good reason – it’s steep. Really steep. I’ve been on steeper glaciers, but I’m not sure I’ve been on a steeper hill. To make matters worse, the trail was basically Scree – loose rough gravel that afforded no traction. I walked the worst of it, and fell even though I was careful.
After the infamous ridge, I was looking forward to 20 or so miles of easy downhill to Wise River. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, a bit more rolling than down hill. I didn’t make it to Wise River until almost 9:30. Little did I know it was Friday night and a harley club had rolled into town. The place I was trying to get dinner was a disaster – my food took an hour to get, it came without napkins, and the accommodation was ‘someplace on the grass outback’. In the middle of the night, the harley gang stopped out and asked what I was doing. ‘Sleeping’.
Wise River to Polaris was mostly exciting because I was right in the middle of RATPOD. I spent a lot of time with people wearing plastic clothing and on plastic bikes, but they were lovely none the less. Late in the day I pulled into one of their rest stops and bought some Watermellon. Asking how far it was to the High Country Lodge, one of the riders said “You’re there now!”. It was early, but I decided to pull in there rather than push on to Bannak or Grant. Good thing too – Jo and Terry pulled in an hour later and we split a room.
Jo’s a fellow Seattleite a lovely and very determined person but perhaps slightly over packed by my standards. Terry was out from England after spending many years doing auto parts distribution, and was working his way up to bail out of the race.
We rode together through Bannak and Grant, but I pulled pretty far ahead as we were headed into Lima and they stopped a bit earlier than me. Lima is tiny and the cabin I stayed in I was sure would burn to the ground with me in it. Fire trap for sure.
In the morning I saw Jo and Terry as I was getting ready to go, but Gary Macfarland was the guy who was ready, so we rode out together. Gary’s an engineer down in Antartica for the New Zealand government. Great fun to ride with super nice. We came across one of the multitude of run down log buildings out on the prairie and stopped there for lunch. Dead wolf inside. We ate outside. Later that night a lovely couple drank beers with us at Island Park, the wife even brought us sandwiches since the kitchen was closed by the time we go there.
June 28th was one of the hardest days of the trip, but in terms of elevation, one of the smallest. The Rail Trail ride was about 36 miles long (only 25 or so on the actual trail), but brutal. Bead sized gravel, fairly deep, with mini-washboard from the ATVs that drive this. 2 rutted lanes with an island in the middle. Relentless washboard, with constant switching from side to side. If you think you know the kind of washboard I’m talking about… you don’t. Because of the tiny wheels of ATVS, the washboarding is closer together and seemingly deeper. It was horrible. Boring road at it’s boringest, more ATVs than I could shake a stick at, and horribly bouncy. Near the end I had my worst spill of the race, really banged up my hands. I limped into the Squirrel Creek ranch and had dinner with Candyce before heading to bed. Maybe the 29th would be better.
Waking up in Sparwood was hard. All my stuff was unpacked, and I had a very, very hard time getting rolling again: packed and rolling by noon was as good as it was going to get, with a Subway sandwich to tide me over.
My new tire worked great. I rode alone for the day. In the evening, I came across Butt’s cabin which was occupied by an angry Canadian with an Axe. I decided not to argue. He mentioned that there was a Planters Camp up the road giving out water.
The planters (Tree planters, hired by the forest service) was huge. A large tent (50 feet long 25 feet wide), smaller buildings and many, many tents and trailers. I spotted a tiny, 1 person tent and knew that another rider (Ralph) was camped. As I setup my spot, Mim the camp cook introduced herself and told us we were welcome and offered bean stew. YAY MIM! Ralph and I ate well, slept well, and had a great breakfast w/ the planters.
The next morning Ralph and I rode together for a while but ultimately parted ways. Riding alone turned out to be not nearly the problem I’d thought it might be, and I made good time. In the afternoon I ran into Stephen, a 15 year old who was riding 3 or 4 days of the divide on his own. He and I navigated the infamous Connector together and rode a stupendous downhill in the hail, then onwards to the highway leading to the US border. He met his Dad there, and I proceeded South.
Crossing into the US was a snap. Only 10 more miles to Eureka. Huge storm clouds loomed as I got closer, and there was a little squall of rain but I was so used to getting rained on by now it didn’t matter much. Eureka was smaller than I expected, only 2 hotels in town. The nice people at the Pizza place reccomended one to me and I stayed there. Later that night Ralph made it through the connector (on his own!) and I saw him briefly at breakfast.
One Minor mishap after riding out of Eureka – got off on the wrong road and headed up the highway for a mile or two, but I figured it out and got back on the back roads. Nice, mostly solitary day of riding to Red Meadow Lake campground. I ended up running into The Boys from Florida (TJ, Thomas, Kyle and Matt) on and off all day: they weren’t on the race but were riding the route for a couple months. After teaching Tuchuck campground earlier than expected, I decided to push on to Red Meadow Lake, which I expected would be a big campground with people. On the way my new pedals started to squeak – it took several hours for me to diagnose what was causing the problem and decide it wasn’t really a big deal (very annoying though). This was the day where I decided it was better to meet people than make massive mileage, and I ended up talking with a family at a park service cabin and a kooky old guy hunting gophers.
The road up to Red Meadow was a bit creepy as the evening wore on, and I saw lots of bear scat.
Once at the camp ground, I discovered it had all the amenities (vault toilet, bear boxes), but none of the people I’d imagined. I was really worried about a bear coming into camp, but put all my food away in a bear box and got to a fitful sleep. Around 1:00 AM Nick Wagers rode into camp. I was happy he wasn’t a bear. I woke up to cold and a bit of wet snow – packed up and got going.
The route out of camp was a long, solitary descent – I got off on the wrong track again but figured it out after a while. I stopped in Whitefish (big town) for some Bike Repair and electronics ( new cables so phones would recharge). The nice mechanic ended up breaking my Derailleur Hanger because it was cracked (probably from all the huffing and puffing on the Connector), but I had a spare in my kit so I was able to keep riding. I also met Kathy and Richard (?) of ItTakesTwoToTandem that say, lovely folks on a cross country tandem ride. On the way out of town I found Ralph again, and we made our way to Columbia Falls where we had a lovely Mexican meal in a strangely well decorated restaurant.
The ride to Swan Lake was great, particularly the descent – one of the best of the whole trip. Not too difficult, and it just kept on going! So much so that I kept right on going past the turn off to Swan Lake. The mosquitos were so intense when I stopped that I had to apply Deet just to get my map out. Really. Swan Lake was my first major experience with Trail Magic – that thing that happens when strangers help you for no good reason. I rolled into the Swan Lake Guard station to see if the cabin was avaliable, and the people who were staying there invited me to eat some food before they even found out my name. They had an extra bed in the cabin, and so they fed me and housed me for the night. It was a lot of fun, and I really appreciate meeting the Mengs!
In the morning, the Meng’s saw me off with some coffee and I headed down to the Swan Lake general store for provisions.
After 2nd breakfast and restocking, I headed to Holland Lake. The trail was fairly rough and unused in some locations. My bear spray bounced off my bike, and I had to walk up and down the trail 4 times before I found it laying very close to the route I rode but hidden in the tall grass of the trail. I wasn’t leaving without it. After chatting with a couple of hikers, I knew I was about 20 minutes behind several other riders, so I rode hard to catch up and finally found the at a casino (common in Montana) near Holland Lake. The lake has a lovely resort (for >$200 a night) and a camp ground, so I resigned myself to camping.
But… on the way in I saw some kids playing at what looked like a large lodge, so I decided to say hi. Lucky me – the lodge was huge and the people invited me to stay and have dinner with them (I think the wife was impressed by my Ibex clothing 🙂 ). Amazingly good luck as they were lovely to talk with and the accommodations were amazing. I did laundry for the first time on the trip.
Seely Lake and Ovando were up next. Another long solitary ride to Seely Lake, but once I arrived I found John and 2 other riders just leaving the BBQ place I wanted to stop at. I ate quickly and bolted out of town, trying to catch them. I didn’t catch them until Ovando where we stopped for the night. It was at this point that I realized I’d lost my wallet and couldn’t pay for the Pie I’d just eaten. Gregor (one of the 3 riders I saw earlier) paid for my pie, and I snuck my sleep setup onto the lawn in back of the Hotel and huddled up for the night to the pleasent sound of drunken fishermen on a friday night.
Thus begins the story of the Lost Wallet – one of the more amazing strokes of luck during my trip. It’s worth a read if you haven’t read it already.
After a restful few days in Banff, my Tour Divide experience got off to an ignominious start, and I was rescued by strangers (hint: recurring theme).
The Tour Divide is both a race and a start date, although they’re not necessarily the same. People race the route during the summer months starting on a day of their choice, or get together for the Grande Depart which occurs on the 2nd friday at June. Crazy Larry presides, and I attended.
Nate Boxer and I drove a rental car up early that week to give me a bit of time to adjust to the high altitude of Banff (4,500 feet – almost as high as Mt. Rainier’s Paradise). After seeing Nate off, and lost of last minute shopping I was ready to go. At 8:00 Thursday evening, one of my 3 GPS units broke – so plunk it went into the box of crap I was shipping home. What the hell, I had 2 more.
I was up until 3:00 AM Friday morning screwing around with shipping things home and excitement. Not a great plan, but hey. I was even up early enough the next morning to get FedEx packages from a near by hotel. Not enough sleep but plenty of excitement.
June 10 (Day 1): The race start was a mob scene of adventure cyclists. Use your imagination.
We pedaled off into the forests, with me in the middle of the pack. After a short while I found myself talking with a gentleman from the UK who’d just finished the AZT 750 (packing his bike on his back through the grand canyon) and figured the Tour Divide was a bit easier. I felt intimidated.
I rode for a while with Tim Glover, 2 time veteran of the Tour Divide, and heard some of his stories of past tours. Tim shows up later in the story.
After stoping for a quick break, I got separated from Tim and the others and ended up riding along the Spray Lakes road basically alone. This is when I first noticed the ‘lump lump lump’ sound.
The sound was my tire sidewall giving way at the bead. The inner tube was bulging out, but not because of a side wall tear, just because the bead gave up it’s grip on the side wall. This is actually tricker than a sidewall tear to repair, since the rim will slice the threads you use to sew this back up. But sew I did. And boot. And tape. And zip tie, and sew and sew and sew again. The tire ultimately failed in 4 separate places, and I ended up loosing my needle in the forest underbrush (sewing with my Leatherman knife and needlenose) and running out of boots and thread before giving up repairs on Day 2. In the evening of Day 1, I made it to the Bolton Creek Trading post and a camp site with Randy Neil, and lived through my first bear encounter (juvenile grizzly Randy thought). Compared to the self-destructing tire, this was no big deal.
Day 2: Randy started off ahead of me while I sat down to repair my tire again. The path up to Elk Pass was really steep and the weather was pretty crappy (snow, rain, hail), but on my newly repaired tire things were going pretty well. I saw Bear 2 up on the pass, a larger bear who was definitely interested in speaking but because of my foul language decided to pass on speaking to me. This is when the snow really hit. Not deep snow, but definitely enough to turn things white. I got cold. Really cold.
I was still feeling pretty good about scaring off the bear when I hit the elk pass Cabin, and found about 3 people inside. They all scampered off and left me to tend to my business with the still warm cast iron stove, which I did by taking a short, shivery nap.
After the nap I discovered my tire had bulged out yet again. This particular repair used Zip Ties.
I was so distracted by the tire bulge and zip ties that I left 3 pieces of clothing in the lodge (gloves, knee warmers and warmer glove) drying on the stove when I rode away in a daze. Ugh.
The zip ties worked well, but periodically rubbed against the chain, chain stays and other metal parts. Very annoying. Ever kilometer I rode became a struggle, and I took to cheering myself off with each passing sign post. Eventually they gave up the ghost (no needle, no thread, no boot material) about 10 miles out of Elkford. I was near a reasonable place to camp and since I had nothing else to do, I settled down to setup camp and make a fire.
Then Randy Karsten happened by. He lent me thread and a needle, and I got to sewing again and got my tube re-inflated. Not but 2 miles later my tube was leaking and my tire was flat. Major mechanical – I was done.
I flagged down 2 motorists, the 2nd of whom (Christian F.) gave me a ride into Elkford. The first of the trail angles – Christian and his nephew were super helpful and tried to get me to the correct hotel. However, I ended up in the Incorrect Hotel – the one with the Metal band playing in the basement (just underneath my room). Thus began restless night #3.
The next morning, the hotel manager said that Albert Wen, the Designated Driver for the hotel, could drive me to the nearest town with a bike shop: Fernie. After a very long shopping trip, I had a new tire, new needle and new thread. I was back in Elkford by 4:00pm and raring to go. That evening I rode from Elkford to Sparwood, with a tricky single track section (I got lost twice) and an amazingly lovely long descent into Sparwood. Tim Hortons is open late, and the hotel I stayed at that night was really much nicer than the one in Elkwood.
So far this trip was off to a very, very rough start. The tire trouble had cost me 2 days of a race that I was only 3 days into, and my sleep had been really bad. No wonder I felt like quitting.
I’m back in Seattle after exiting the Tour Divide in Steamboat Springs, Co. I made it 1546 miles in 28 days, more than half way on the Tour’s 2,745 miles, and decided to honor my time commitments and come home. There’s a teeny tiny sliver of disappointment that I didn’t figure out how to finish, and a huge wedge of pride at how far I came. Instead of talking about finishing half of the Tour Divide, I’m saying I finished All of the Tour Davide.
Tour Divide, scratching, and disappointment:
I really liked what Diana Nyad said about endurance athletes who succeed: “We’re so afraid of failure, we can’t”. I thought about Diana a lot, and I’d love to count myself in her company. Certainly her achievement (swimming Cuba to Florida at 60) is singular, but I would like to hold a tiny candle up to her huge flame and the Tour Divide qualifies I think.
Sadly, that’s not this year. Pretty early on in the race I did the math and figured out that with my tire being destroyed on day 1, I really didn’t have a huge chance to catch up unless I put in mamoth days (like many 100+ mile days in a row). Given my relatively low level of fitness, it just didn’t seem believable.
I think that was a failure of imagination. I could have turned it around at a couple different points, but basically decided to ride a different race. Honestly, I’m a bit sad that I didn’t and also happy that I didn’t. It would have meant a *vastly* different experience, and I’m pretty happy with the experience I had.
The Tour Davide
So what, exactly, do I have to be proud about anyway? After all, I barely made it half way along the longest, hardest mountain bike ride in the world!
Well… there’s that: I made it more than half way on the longest, hardest mountain bike race in the world. On the first try!!!In the face of serious obstacles! By myself! Given that the chances of even finishing are 50/50 even on a good weather year, I’ll take it. It’s a huge accomplishment, and something to be proud of for sure. What’s more – I didn’t quit because I couldn’t go on (mechanical failure, medical issues, boredom). I quit because had my priorities right:
In those terms, I think I finished at exactly the right time.
But really there’s something more. Once you realize you’re not bound for Antelope Wells, there are quite a few options open to you. Honestly, I’m pretty proud that I stuck to the race route, kept at it, and prioritized seeing things and meeting people above speed. The image above is right: I finished behind the leader, but me with my pastie sitting in the grass in Montana is actually winning.
The folks who win this thing basically don’t sleep. Sleep is how our brains make memories. I’d hate to go through all that effort and miss the opportunity to remember the things I saw and the people I met.
For those not on facebook – here’s what I wrote there a few days ago:
Well, the time has come friends – I’m headed back home! My trip on the Tour Davide is complete and I think a success. Mixed emotions for sure, but I am incredibly thankful and happy to have had this adventure.
This won’t be my last update on this topic, I’ve still got some thinking, writing and organizing to do before I’m tapped out.
One of the things I’m proudest of is finishing strong, on my own terms. I’m not out because of poor preparation or mistakes – I’m done because I know what my priorities are, and have from the start. Very much looking forward to seeing my family. Hopefully I get a chance to catch up with you soon too!
P.s. special thanks to the trail angels and riding companions – it was a joy meeting you, the very best thing on my adventure. You know who you are