Tour Divide, Chapter 17

“…That’s right, I am sitting naked in a teepee, eating Doritos and drinking orange Gatorade.”


I rode through ranch-land today. Nothing but eaten-up roads and cattle for what seemed like forever. By the time I had started getting into the heart of the Gila, the sun was high and all thoughts of nearly dying of hypothermia had left. In its place was a hatred for washboard and a growing concern of running out of water. I happened across another windmill-powered water trough just as I was nearly out of water. It was some pretty nasty water, but with a few purification tablets and a pinch of Gatorade powder, it was almost drinkable. Just had to spit out the bits of grass and bugs.

The landscape had turned from ranch-land to rock-land. Red rocks and conifers lined the canyon I found myself in.  I began climbing steadily upwards.  By the time I had stopped my gradual ascent, I found myself in an entirely different area.  I was now looking at small, hill-like mountains that surrounded me. I was in a high valley, with wispy green grass nearly obscuring the old road I was traveling on. I was standing in front of a sign that was also noted on my map. In essence, it read “Go left.”.

The clouds blotted out the burning sun for now, and I rolled along. Miles down where the path became more of a road, I found a few houses. Smallish places, built as retreats of isolation for weekend trips.

I was rolling down and up vast hills that held up grasslands between the Gila’s large hill-mountains. I was getting low on water, which wasn’t good. I had been rationing it all day, not drinking nearly enough as I should. My map indicated I was roughly 15 miles away from the Beaverhead Workstation, which was a forest service compound. I could find water there, hopefully.

Ten miles away from this, however, my water completely ran out.

I had been rationing my water until this point. No more than a sip every mile or so.  I was hurting, but there was no water to be found anywhere. I limped into the Workstation probably an hour later.  I was drained and out of everything almost.  I sat on some steps and gathered my thoughts.

First: I can’t believe I made that.  I’ve never been this thirsty in my life.

Second: Where’s the water?

I found a pump-faucet and drank heavily. My head hurt. I had to sit down. I rummaged through my pack and found the old pancakes.  I still had a bit left, which was good. But I wouldn’t need them, since a trail angel poked his stubble-specked face out of the door I was resting close to.

“Hey man, you ok?”

The park ranger listened to a short synopsis of my day.  He thought I was crazy, but was not unwilling to help.  He told me to sit tight for a moment.

I was enjoying the shade of the large pine tree next to the workstation’s office and sipping more water out of my Camelback when he came back.  He tossed me a large gallon-sized Zip-lock bag of salsberry steaks, a third of an apple pie, an orange, and an orange soda.

I did my best to stifle the girlish squeal that was slowly escaping from my lips.

The bag contained no less than 14 smallish salsberry steaks.  I consumed half the bag.  Then I went to the pie and demolished it as well.  The orange soda washed everything down.  I packed the orange with me and filled up my water once again.  I was absolutely stuffed, which was a fantastic feeling.  I felt like a human again. I thanked the park ranger.  I’ve had a lot of luck on this trip when it’s come to random trail angels. Pretty sure I’d be dead without them. If I do this trip again, I’ll know to be much more prepared.

I pushed off, saluting my salvation as I went, and climbed into the heart of the Gila national forest.

Which meant I was going up and down hills at all times.  Tiny ring, big ring, tiny ring, big ring, for a few miles. I knew I wanted to get about fifteen miles into the Gila before I made camp.

I rolled through tall trees and down into a valley.  A tiny lake occupied most of its space.  Elk and deer grazed at its banks and barely gave my bike notice. I was contemplating a campsite when I rolled up to the dude ranch.

Nestled between the hills, this tiny ranch catered to individuals looking to get in touch with their inner cowboy/cowgirl.  My map indicated that they may have shelter for me.  It was worth a shot.

I stood my bike up against the main house.  No lights on there.  I walked around the property, which was heavily shaded by trees and well kept, for a few minutes before I heard a guitar. The sounds were coming from one of the cabins.  I saw the door was open and light poured out of it. As I approached and sneaked a peak inside, it looked as if the owners and workers were going to put on a tiny little country-western concert for a few of the way-too-clean-to-be-on-a-ranch-looking guests. I politely knocked, introduced myself, and inquired if there was anywhere around a poor soul could find shelter for the night.

The husband/owner said that they had a teepee I could use. But while we were chatting, his wife/owner was giving me dirty looks.  She then told her husband that their guests were here to be entertained, and that I should be on my way.

Money talks, I guess. I thanked the man, and began to walk across the compound.  Before I got too far, however, one of their workers ran up behind me and asked me to wait. He offered the teepee again, no charge, and even said he would let me use his sleeping bag and bring me a bag of chips.

Apparently, he toured the US on one of the Adventure cycling routes last year, and knew what it was like to be without proper sleeping arrangements. I thanked him and took him up on his offer.

Never slept in a teepee before.  New adventures, so on and so forth.

The teepee was a spacious one, probably 20 feet in diameter. I ate the potato chips and set up camp for the night.

The teepee stayed pretty warm, even without lighting any buffalo chips.  I nearly didn’t need the sleeping bag, but I wasn’t going down that road again.

The morning came sooner than I’d have liked.  I ate some pancake and an orange, packed up, and headed out. I wanted to make it to Silver City that day.

The Gila is a large place.  And, as road conditions go, it’s rather rough.  I had about fifty miles to go before I was out of the worst of it.  The going was slow, arduous, and hot. This wasn’t a very fun time on this tour.  So much so, that until I hit the short highway section before the insanely awful “alternate” trail, I don’t remember much. Most of my time was spent getting dusted out by vehicles and climbing up severely washboard-eroded roads.

However, as bad as the first part of the day was, it didn’t compare to the “alternate” course.  In the past few years, part of the CDT trail has been added to the Tour Divide race course.  It cuts out probably ten miles of pavement riding, which sounds awesome at first.  However this is the CDT trail, which is a hiking trail for the most part.  It’s not bike friendly in the slightest, so while on a map this appears to be a “shortcut” it’s in reality a rough 6 mile hike-a-bike.

I rode all of it I could, don’t get me wrong.  If I wasn’t carrying 20 pounds of gear, not already biked for the last twenty-eight days straight, and had proper nutrition, I’d be up for the challenge.  But in light of all this, it was a bit tough.  At one point I was getting very fed up, very angry and upset, and on the verge of sending another tirade of curse-words at the next rock that happened across my path.

Then I heard “Rider up!”


2 comments on “Tour Divide, Chapter 17

  1. Marty says:

    Nick, You mentioned in this chapter about being more prepared next time. What specifically would you do next time, carry more food and water?

  2. Nicholas says:

    Easily more food and water for this section. I had no idea what it would be like. My friend raced the year after me and had ample water, but nearly no food for miles and miles through the Gila. Like I’ve said, the route changes every year. It’s important to be ready for anything.

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