Tour Divide, Chapter 9

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“Got out of Montana, Thank God!”

 

The next day was rough. This section of the route had the riders pedaling through volcanic sand and washboard-on-crack.  That’s right, it’s time for old rail-car track day. My route out of Idaho and into Wyoming started with a long stretch on an old railroad route.  The track had long since been pulled up, but the raised trail was still there.

 

Volcanic sand has slightly larger granules than beach sand, but that just makes it less dense. Also imagine washboard, but increase the wavelength and amplitude of the waves by a huge amount and you would have our track for the day.  Thirty miles of this.  It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that it runs right through a swamp.

 

And where there’s standing water, there’s mosquitoes.

 

Let’s recap.  We had incredibly deep volcanic sand that made 6″ rollers for 30 miles through a swamp where an old rail-car used to go.

 

I, of course, attempting to keep my 8 mile per hour average in this linear sandpit, did not notice the growing cloud of vampiric insects following just out of proboscis range. Until I stopped for a bite, that is.

 

I had a gas station burrito with me.  I stopped for about 2 minutes at a section of the road that had a concrete slab sticking out of it. I unwrapped my food, took a bite, and was engulfed in a swarm of bugs.

 

I decided to finish the rest of the food on the bike.

 

Finally, however, I emerged from this sandpit and climbed up to a ridge that overlooked a roaring river.  The famed railroad tunnel was caved in, which was tough to see.  I had been looking forward to this ever since I watched Ride the Divide, the documentary by Mike Dion. But hikers pointed out that there was a way around it. The trail narrowed to singletrack and went down. After navigating rockfall and loose gravel, I made it to a parking lot full of cars.  People were all  out enjoying this beautiful day.  The cool river attracted all sorts.  A boy scout troop was apparently working on their swimming and hot-dog-eating badges that day.

 

I met up with the German racer and a Scottish racer, as well as a couple from South Africa. They were all lounging in the shade and resting after the brutal 30 mile sandpit.

 
After a few jokes and a lot of water, I decided to head out. I had to remove my tights at this point, since the weather was becoming fairly hot. Reinhold, the Scottish man, and James Hodges met up with me at a stop-sign.  We were all a bit confused on where to go. This was a detour section, and so the directions were a bit iffy. And since I was almost out of battery on my GPS, I decided to hang with these guys for a while.

 

We made our way up and down quaint country roads through rolling pastureland and big-sky. The air was calm and the mountains were in the distance now.  It was a fantastic day to spend riding with a group.

 

We stopped to wait on James Hodges at an old grain silo. In its shadow we rested for a bit. James’s neck had given out on him.  He couldn’t lift his neck up at all.  He rode by staring at his GPS and hoping what was ahead of him was ride-able. He was 61 years old.  A true inspiration in perseverance, if you ask me.

 

While waiting I grabbed a Powerbar from Reinhold.  I was bonking pretty terribly, but this bar really did the trick.  From then on I’ve been convinced of their effectiveness.  I pushed hard into Tetonia, a town nestled where the plains meet the mountains. We all ate at a local restaurant and began sharing stories of the ride and cracking jokes with the pretty young waitress.  Reinhold gave everyone his card and told us to look him up next time we’re in Germany.

 

I’ll get right on that.

 

We pushed 12 more miles after dinner to Victor, ID. This was the town right before the Jackson Pass, which was a huge paved climb through the Tetons and into Wyoming. I thought about pushing up that at night, but I chose to stay in Victor with the Scotsman and Reinhold.  James stayed behind to see a doctor about his neck.

 

I think I stayed in Victor that night to get a fresh start on the climb in the morning.  And, of course, the best part about a climb is the downhill.  We had to take the highway all the way down into Jackson, WY. It would have been a cold, dark climb with plenty of speeding motorists and then a dangerous, fast descent amongst vehicles.

 

Plus I was just really, really tired.  Not even Reinhold’s snores could have kept me awake.

 

Morning came earlier every day it seemed.  After my microwaved burrito breakfast I headed out.  Reinhold and the Scotsman decided to hang around for a little while.  But I was sure they would catch me on Jackson Pass.

 

It started out as a fairly cold morning. I made my way through the streets of Victor and found the bike pathway we were to use until we hit the highway.  Neat looking houses at the foot of the mountains were lining the streets as I rode up and down a few small hills. The climbs were nothing compared to Jackson Pass.

 

Jackson pass is a highway route over the Tetons. It connects Idaho and Wyoming, and ends in Jackson, Wyoming. This is a pass that gets closed all the time during the winter due to snow.  This is not a piece of highway to take icy. It is very steep, very twisty, and quite narrow.

 

But on a bike it wasn’t too terrible.  I was passed by last night’s room mates early on in the pass, however.  They were incredibly strong riders.

 

Or perhaps I was just very weak.

 
We all caught up about halfway to the top of the pass, however. We stopped for a very special occasion.  We were crossing into another state.

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Crossing into another state is about as exciting as coming to the end of a map. It gave you hope.  It showed you, “Hey, you aren’t just spinning your wheels for nothing!  You’re actually going somewhere!” And to be done with both Montana and Idaho felt good. We all had pictures taken at the “Welcome to Wyoming, where the West lives!” sign.

 

They quickly pushed ahead of me again.  That’s fine by me, I didn’t want to be seen pushing my bike up the highway on a particularly steep section. Cars were crawling up the pass next to me as I pedaled hard and in my lowest gears I could find. My legs, lungs, and heart were asking me to kindly quit this nonsense.

 

Then I was passed by a guy on a road bike. He looked at me and said “Whoa, Tour Divide right!?”

 

He was on a fairly standard road bike, but the rear wheel had an electric motor that helped him drive it up the pass.  He said he worked in Jackson and lived in Victor, and he was testing the bike out for a local shop.  Was working great from my view.  He was barely pedaling and it was pushing up the hill like a champ. We said goodbye and he sped ahead. Another 10 minutes, though, I hit the sun and found the apex of the pass.

 

Snow was piled up on the sides of the road and there was a dirt lot next to the road.  Many drivers and riders had stopped here to see the view.  It was breathtaking.  At our elevation, time of day, and clear weather, the eastern sun blasted the entire Jackson valley with glorious life-giving light. You could see the details of the valley an the mountains that surrounded it perfectly. It really was moving.

 

The commuter was even there.  He took my picture with my phone  with the valley in the background.  We shook hands and he told me that if I was ever in Victor again, look him up and we could go riding.

 

Too bad I didn’t catch his name.

 

So freshly warmed up after a climb that took an hour and a half, I reserved myself to breakfast in Jackson.  The town was 7 miles away, but most of that was a downhill ride.

 
How downhill?

 

Well I was passing cars.  Then I caught up to the commuter on a road bike and waved as I passed him.  Then I passed a few 18-wheeler trucks. Weaving around the cars and in the turns, I noticed that my speedometer clocked me at around 40 miles an hour.  This went on for at least 5 miles.

 

Dangerous? Very. But you reach a point where crashing at 20 mph or 40mph or 60 mph doesn’t mean much.  It’s falling off the side of a mountain pass or getting hit by a car that is really dangerous. So I kept going, reaching speeds that would have very much worried my mother.

 

But thankfully I was wearing a helmet, so I was completely safe.

 

Once I hit level ground again (Wherein I felt very slow) I pedaled into Jackson, sat down at The Virginian restaurant (In Wyoming, oddly) and ate three breakfast entrees.  I had to convince the hostess to let my bike inside while I ate.

 

I am not a trusting individual as it is, but when my only ride to Mexico could be stolen at any moment, I get a little crazy. The entire trip I was never more than 25 yards from my bike, and the times I was it was locked in a motel room.  When I was at a grocery story I made sure I had at least one employee watching after it.

 

After a quick stop at a grocery store I was on my way out.  Today was an easy day of asphalt. Boring, but easy enough.  130 miles to Pinedale through relatively flat and rarely traveled highway.  On the “scenic route”, as Wyoming DOT calls it, I didn’t have much traffic to contend with. The day was sunny and warm.  I was alone for most of the ride.

 

There was a small rest stop coming up in the distance.  Coming out of a canyon and into a sparsely inhabited ranching community, I spied a small and very new BBQ restaurant.  Sitting in the shade were Reinhold and the Scotsman.  They lounged on picnic tables and ate french fries.

 

I pulled up, had something to drink, declined a burger (I broke a rule here, but I had eaten not an hour before) and chatted with the other riders.  Apparently the two Shielas were just ahead of them. They took off soon after, but I stayed and chewed on some of my food for a little while longer.  It was nice to be out of the sun.

 

Eventually I made my way back to the road and began climbing out of the dusty, scrubby valley. By my map I calculated I had about 30 miles to go before I hit Pinedale. I was having a really hard time riding for some reason. I felt weak and I didn’t know why.  On a relatively easy climb I had to get off of my bike and push. I think it was at that point I became sick of myself and simply tired of having no energy.

 

I know, what a loser.  Biking is easy.  You just sit on your butt all day.  I’m a whiner.

 

But then something happened. I don’t know what, I don’t know where it came from, and to this day it still freaks me out when I think about it.

 

I topped out of the valley and had power. I had speed. It wasn’t a grade change in the road, it wasn’t a food I ate, it wasn’t any external stimulant, and the wind stayed still. I simply could push again. It’s like someone flicked on the light inside of my sleeping legs. Imagine you’re trying to sleep through multiple snooze cycles, but then realize you only have 10 minutes to get ready for work.  All of a sudden your body is rushed with adrenaline and in less than 20 seconds there is no way you could ever go back to sleep right then.

 

It was like that. And I pedaled hard up hills. And down hills. And through the flats. And it was fun again.

 

Then, cresting a hill, I saw two cyclists.  It was my old room mates, but they were already turned off onto the dirt road that would lead through the increasingly steppe-like countryside to Pinedale.

 

That burst of energy went into overtime when I saw those riders.

 

One thing I enjoy about mountain bike racing is the chase. I enjoy chasing down other riders. That’s also the great thing about Xterra, the offroad triathlon series. I’m such a terrible swimmer that I have no choice but to catch and pass the numerous fish-like beings that beat me to a bike. The chase is a beautiful thing that pushes everything from my mind.  It’s cleansing and pure.

 

And this feeling came over me again, as my body was still raging on whatever supernatural injection of power it had received earlier. I began to push hard, my mph getting up to around 17 mph on average. I caught them not 5 miles from our stop. They looked very surprised to see me, and then even more surprised when I proceeded to beat them up hills as we neared the sprawling metropolis (Hah yeah right) that is Pinedale.  We rode in together and eagerly eyed our dinner options. I spied a pizza and pasta buffet.

 

There were no objections.

 

After completely consuming a meal that would give Dr. Atkins a heart attack, the other riders decided to get a hotel room for the night.  I decided not to join them, however.  I took out my map and saw that Boulder, Wyoming was only ten miles away on what looked like a gentle sloping highway. With a belly full of pizza I felt like I could take on the whole Divide, so ten miles should be a piece of cake.

 

I loaded up my bike and bid my friends farewell. Not even twenty-five minutes later I was pulling a six-inch nail from my tire.  I was in view of the hotel. My thoughts were something akin to this:

 

“Ok, I flatted pretty hard, let’s see what the problem is. Is that the head of a nail? Who throws nails onto the side of a busy highway? Ok let’s just pull it out, it can’t be that big… My god, it just keeps coming.  What is this dark-magic?”

 

I tore a pretty big hole in my tire.  There was a bike shop ten miles back, but with a bit of electrical tape and a tire boot I was able to fix it.  I slapped my spare tube (Non-Slime) into the bike and took off again. Two-hundred yards later I was walking into a smokey bar full of bad haircuts, big beards, and broken dreams. I asked the I’m-Very-Proud-of-my-mammary-glands bartender for a room and put in for the night. It had been a long day.  I had pushed close to one hundred forty miles and I wanted a shower.

 

I shared the room with my bike that night.  Not great at conversation, but a fantastic listener.

 

“I hit 41 mph going down the pass.  very fun.  I am currently sitting in The Virginian (in Wyoming…?), getting brunch.  Gas station burritos will not cut it.”

 

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