“90 miles and I had 15 hours of daylight. No problem. Except a huge pass with a few miles of snow, huge elevation changes, mosquitoes, and I finally burned…”
I looked up the number for a bike shop an decided to call them in the morning. I went to sleep around 1 AM and woke up at 7 AM to go shopping for a new wheel and tire. Sadly, the individual who owned the shop was at a funeral and the shop was closed. They wouldn’t be in until around 1 PM.
But as luck would have it, there were two Tour Divide racers stopped at that same shop when I got there. One of them had a pedal bearing that was going bad. I instructed them to get it switched out in Steamboat Springs, CO, but that it would be fine until then. I bid them farewell, grabbed a few supplies, and slept until that afternoon. I returned to the shop, switched out wheels, got a new tire (Ritchey) and tubes and headed out. It was around 3 PM when I left, so I had some ground to cover that night.
Quick mechanic’s note: That rear wheel I bought? 40 dollar no-name wheel, single walled aluminum rim, rim-brake only. The hub didn’t support a disc rotor, so I would be running a front brake until Steamboat. I hope there aren’t any technical, rocky downhills ahead! (Spoiler: There are.)
Southern Wyoming was a beautiful sight that evening. I was away from the high steppe, slowly climbing towards aspen trees and mountains. There were snowbanks still on the ground here and there. The land was barren and rough, but this only made the view more spectacular. I felt good. The sleep and food really helped raise my spirits.
Also, a girl I was currently courting happened to be meeting me in Steamboat Springs. That’s enough to encourage spinning a big gear, for sure.
I rode even when the sun went down. Up and down the old roads I traveled by headlamp. Once, while pushing my bike up a steep hill, I looked to my right and saw the eye-shine of a large animal. It was around 20 yards from the roadside, past the ditch. It watched me very closely.
From the size and shape of the eyes it looked like a mountain lion.
Also, by the way it stalked me for the next few minutes. That was a dead give-away.
It was around midnight when I decided to call it quits. I didn’t know how far from the Colorado border I was, but I knew I was tired of traveling and felt like finding a little spot to call my own for the night.
My best memories are of camping. Next time I do this race, I will do it more often. I was not prepared for the grueling pace and conditions, and thus a hot bath and soft bed were required many nights. However I looked forward to camping out on the route. It was revitalizing for my mind (My body thought otherwise).
So on the side of a dirt road, cradled on both sides by dirt, I slept. The ditch was nice. It kept the wind off of me, which was nice. The dirt was also fairly soft. I ate a banana and some bread, drank some water, and passed out.
Shivering and light woke me up. I got about 5 hours of sleep. I woke up hungry, and after a short breakfast I got on my bike and began my trek to Colorado.
I began to pass through groves of Aspen trees. I knew I was getting close then. After climbing up through a beautiful National Park and dodging a few inconsiderate campers, I found myself at a highway. To my left, it went up the side of a mountain. To my right, it went downhill for what seemed like forever.
Crossing my fingers, I checked my map.
Bingo. Right it was. Onward, to the downhill!
Wyoming would through one more curve-ball at me, it seems. The road flattened out and then disappeared. No, it didn’t turn to a dirt road, it disappeared into the ground. Apparently a sink-hole destroyed parts of the road, dropping it some 10 to 15 feet below into the earth. It was like a giant stepped on the road on accident. I had to dodge these giant potholes and maneuver through the caution tape and road signs. Once this was done, I was blessed with a fantastic downhill highway descent through absolutely stunning green snow-capped mountains and rolling ranch-lands. It was easily one of the highlights of the entire race.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, checking off a state on this trip is worth celebrating.
I sang my way down the mountains, pushing my bike to 40 mph on some of the descents. After finally reaching level land again, I turned off onto a dirt road that ran straight up my next climb. I stopped for a quick mid-morning snack, called my friend, ate, was bitten by mosquitoes, and looked at my map. It seemed like I had 30 miles of climbing until I reached the top of the pass.
The grade looked fairly easy, except for the last mile or two, which shot straight up. I was about 15 miles into it and not looking forward to having to find a flowing stream to drink out of.
I’ll just stop right here and thank The Lord and all my Guardian Angels for every ounce of water I drank from streams up north. I know rats and mice and other things poop in it, and I know their poop has a lot of potential stomach-bug inducing elements. I knew the risks and did it anyway most times. Was it smart? No. Did I have any trouble? Not at all. A gut of steel, I have.
I attribute this to my weakness for Hot Pockets and Moonpies.
Back to running out of water. I found a ranch house where two Mexicans (Chihuahua, if I remember right) were tending to the garden in the front of the house. I spoke what little Spanish I knew and asked for water. We spoke for a bit, and I thanked them and got back on the bike.
The ride was beautiful. It was a spectacle. Marvelous. Breathtaking. Really tiring.
Then my front shifter decided to break. Fantastic. I set my bike in the middle ring and pushed forward. I was really going to miss that 22 tooth ring for those climbs. I set it in the middle ring and left it until steamboat.
At 12,500 feet I found a few amazing ranch houses. Out in the distance, against the foot of mountains, huge plots of land, 4x4s and horses, surrounded by Aspen forests from every other side.
I wanted to know what they did for a living, because I want THAT. No one for miles and hours to civilization. Beautiful living conditions if you ask me.
I rode through the aspen trees and passed time by reading all the carvings. Everyone had to carve something into these trees, it seemed. I saw some carvings that dated back to the early 1980s.
I began to find patches of snow on the sides of the road.
Then all of a sudden I reached a wall of snow and dirt.
I was standing outside of a gate that warned “4×4 vehicles only! Do not enter if there is snow! Snowmobiles required if there is any snow! Do not get caught up there and die!” Well that’s straightforward.
This was the part of my map’s elevation plot that showed a 700 feet gain in elevation in around a mile or two. I carried my bike what felt like straight uphill, through snowbanks, rivers of mud, and downed trees for an hour and a half. Sometimes I would be under a canopy of trees, other times I would be in the sunlight. If I was in the trees, I had mosquitoes to deal with. If I was in the sunlight, I had my sunburn to deal with.
So my feet are frozen, legs are wet from snow, torso is wet from sweat, arms/face/lips are sunburned, mosquitoes are biting me all over, and I’m carrying my bike through mud for an hour and a half.
That “Welcome to Colorado!” sign was laughing at me.
But perseverance will always pay off. I saw the end! Just one more snowbank and I would be there! The peak of the pass! the descent into civilization! No more mud, no more snow, no more climbing! Down I would go so fast it would make your head spin!
Smiling, I crest the pass. It’s beautiful. It’s breathtaking. It’s a sea of snow.
As beautiful and breathtaking as Tour Divide is, damn does it get old. Most people would remember that moment for the rest of their lives as one of the most beautiful things on God’s Green (white?) Earth, something only Bob Ross could fully capture on a canvas.
All I saw was damnable snow, and lots of it.
So I walked through more snow, stumbling and tripping on slippery rocks here and there. Three miles later I was able to ride my bike, maneuvering between snowbanks.
But where there wasn’t snow, there were very large rocks. Boulders, really. This road wasn’t exactly well taken care of, and the snow run-off had eroded it terribly. Large boulders stuck out from the “road” (More like a trail, at this point) and if I wasn’t careful, I would be traveling very fast and in danger of crashing.
This would have been super fun on a bike that had a working rear brake and didn’t weigh 45 pounds. But as it was, I white-knuckled and maneuvered through the rocks using just my front brake for a few miles before the road became much more bearable. Now it was a much more comfortable tiny logging road that I slipped down until the high aspens gave way to conifers and I began to see signs of civilization. I came out onto a community that surrounded a high-altitude lake.
If I had money and liked people, I’d live here. It was beautiful. I saw numerous wild deer walking along the side of the lake, while beautiful houses and villas passed to my right. There was even a small “dude ranch” nearby.
Lucky for me, I still had more altitude to lose before I hit the bustling highway intersection of Clark, Colorado. I rode on pavement from here almost to Steamboat. I rode fast down the twisty, windy, tiny road that lead up to the little lake community. Eventually I made it to Clark and was absolutely starving. Lucky for me there was a convenience store (Clark Grocery, or something of the sorts) right at the intersection of the road that would lead me to Steamboat.
Unlucky for me, it was closed.
Lucky for me, the owner was nice and let me buy a few candy bars.
I thanked them, ate, checked my GPS, phone, journal, etc. As I sat there enjoying my Nature Valley Cashew bar, I notice that my butt hurt.
Turns out I had open, nasty saddle sores. That’s what I get for sleeping in my shorts.
NOTE TO ALL RIDERS: NEVER SLEEP IN NASTY SHORTS.
It was 14 miles to Steamboat down a serene highway that snaked parallel to the Yampa river. I rode this on one butt-cheek. The other was too sore to put pressure on. Coming closer to Steamboat, the route took me onto a dirt farm road that cut across beautiful mountainous country homes. One of them had a huge hill in the middle of a pasture with what looked like single-track wrapping all around it, complete with pump-track style jumps and table tops.
Soon enough (but not soon enough for my bum) I crested the last real hill and feasted upon the beautiful sight of Steamboat Springs, Colorado in the summer. The mountains in the distance were white-capped, the flowers were in bloom, the Yampa curled through the city, and the sun was just starting to set on the entire scene.
My butt still really hurt, so I made haste to find a place for the night.
I found a cheap (But nice) room at the Nordic Inn. Sounded manly enough for me. I had enough time for a shower before my friend’s 4-runner cut its engine and she knocked on the door.
Granted, as of writing this section, we have been together for well over a year. But at the time we were two kids with time to kill. We decided, after thoughtful discussion over a fantastic pasta dinner, that dating would be fairly beneficial for both of us.
Who can resist a scruffy beard, ass-sores, smelly clothes, and monster calves?