Sunday, August 06, 2006

What we have here...

... is more than probably anyone would want to know about the Divide. But maybe not -- when I was doing my research for this trip I didn't find much on what to expect going north to south. And details on what to expect and what to bring weren't always in place.

So, here is a collection of stuff I wrote while I was on the trip. A little guide to what's here may help. First, there are posts that are lifted from the notebook that I took along. I typed those up over the last few days, and they are in order from beginning to end below. Second, there are some summary posts I put together that have to do with equipment. Those are found after the notebook posts. After that, there are posts that I wrote as I went along. Those are more for friends and family but do contain useful information for riders from time to time. Those are in reverse order because of the way this blogging program works. To get to those directly, look at the archives for May, June and July. The May archive also contains some information about getting ready that I wrote up before I left.

I always like to read everything I can about places I'm going either while I'm there or beforehand. So this is offered in that spirit.

It's also offered in the hope that people planning to ride the Divide will consider the south to north direction, starting earlier in the summer, as a viable option. This year, the south to north route opened up in Colorado around June 1, allowing a start around May 15-May 20. The New Mexico section was hot (and dry), but from Colorado on the route basically followed spring north, with some snow on the ground from time to time throughout. Because it reached Colorado early in the season, it missed the major part of the monsoon season.

Going south this year (at least according to what I've heard) meant hitting the major part of the monsoon season in Colorado and lots of wet in New Mexico. Plus, I imagine (although this is just a guess) that temperatures in Colorado were significantly higher in July than they were in June. Plus, if a person rode the route at a high pace (say in 45-50 days or so) they would end up in New Mexico while it was still at least as hot as it was in late May.

This is only one year, and perhaps we got lucky. But my prediction is that the south to north route will be a better route in hotter years (because the passes in CO clear out earlier, allowing an earlier start). If current trends hold true, more of those years are on the way.

In any case, I hope that this account will be helpful, and encourage anyone thinking about doing this not to hold back. I really can't think of a better way to spend a couple of months.

Saturday, May 20 – Day 1 – outside Columbus, NM

It’s about 100 degrees out here. Dry heat, but the next person who says, “yeah, but it’s a dry heat” will be pummelled into submission. The locals don’t say crap like that. They say, “pretty hot out there for riding a bike.” And it is.

We (that would be me and my homey Tim, who is going to tear this up with me) dropped off the rental car in El Paso at 11:00 central, 10:00 mountain – right on time. We had to go in and assure the attendant that yes, in fact, this was the car we picked up in Minneapolis less than 24 hours ago, and no, the 1700 miles we had put on it are not a mistake.

We have Lewis Black to thank for getting us here. Tim has a bunch of standup on his iPod for driving at night. He’s right – there’s nothing quite like standup and strong coffee for getting you through 400 miles of Texas at 3 AM. All the way from Fort Worth to somewhere out in the middle of the desert that good fellow was screeching at me about the sad state of affairs in America. It was a high price to pay for staying awake, but better than the alternative.

So anyway – the trip. We dropped off the car at 10 AM and were loaded up and good to go by 11. By that time it was over 90 and full sun. I drank 3 waterbottles just getting the 10 miles to the other side of town.

El Paso is a junk town. Like other towns we drove through in TX, it reminds me of Gatlinburg, TN – so many signs you can barely see the buildings, cars everywhere, noise, dirt, pollution, the works. Broken glass was everywhere. And the people were rude – honking and yelling even though there was nowhere to get out of the way. (This is in direct contrast to NM, where everyone has been ridiculously friendly.)
So, we got to the other side of town by noon or so. By that time the sun was beating down hard enough that it felt like a hot iron on my back. We stopped at a Village Inn (Perkins for southerners) and loaded up on eggs and such.

We got back out around 2:30, loaded up a ton of water (about 3 gallons apiece) and headed out. There wasn’t really a plan except that we figured we’d get as far as we could, then camp. Columbus was still 75 miles away – too far for one day. We ended up riding for another hour or so, then stopping in a cemetery for an hour or two, just waiting for the sun to get a little lower. We tried it again at that point and managed to keep going until about the time the sun went down.

Once we got out of El Paso all there was was a straight, flat road through the desert. There wasn’t much traffic – just the occasional Yukon bombing through at 85 mph. But everyone gave us plenty of room.

We started looking for a campsite about half an hour before the sun went down. Ordinarily, we’d just wander 100 yards back in the brush somewhere, but here there were good barb-wire fences on both sides. But, every once in awhile there would be a side road with a cattle guard. We found one of those on the north (away from the border) side of the road, went down 50 yards so we were out of view of the highway, and camped in a sandy spot. The campsite probably fell into the “you have any better ideas” category. The site itself was OK, but we were only about 5 miles from the border and had nothing to do with our food but put it in Tim’s food bag and leave it in the sand.

I got myself rehydrated and ate a bit more. Despite being dog-tired I didn’t get to sleep right away. The desert has its own set of noises – coyotes, birds, and little things that skitter around on the ground. Then add the border – a helicopter and a truck rooting around on the other side of the highway. (The truck eventually came out onto the highway on the other (south) side of the same gravel road we were camped next to, but they didn’t stop to hassle us.) Then, add a ridiculous snore and the occasional car flying by 50 yards away. It took me awhile.

Day 1 stats:

40 miles
5 hours
500 feet of climbing (all in El Paso)
2 gallons water/Gatorade

Sunday, May 21 – Day 2 – Columbus, NM

We got up at 5 this morning and headed out just as the sun poked out from behind the mountains. (There are these big rocky mountains around – but most of the terrain is just this long, steady, barely perceptible grade.) By 10:30 or so we made it to the top of a long grade, and Columbus was visible but still 15 miles away, straight across a shimmering lake of sand. And by then it was hot.

I got moving and just sort of tapped out a rhythm at about 12-13 mph. But it was incredibly frustrating – the town so close you could almost reach out and touch it, but you look down at the speedo and it says you still have 9 miles – 45 minutes – to go.

What a bizarre place the desert is. I really liked it out there last night, and this morning’s ride was phenomenal. But it is such a struggle from 11-6.

One more note for today. The place we’re staying at is called Pancho Villa state park. Villa was one of several Mexican generals locked in a power struggle in the 1910s. He attacked Columbus in 1916, apparently because he was pissed at somebody in town who had sold guns to one of the other generals and because the other general had gotten some US help against him.

Anyway, after his raid the US government sent a bunch of troops down here and chased Villa around Mexico for awhile. (They never did catch him.) So there was this big military operation based out of Columbus, and now there is a museum about the whole thing.

So I walk into the museum, and the first thing I see is a big FWD truck that says, “Clintonville, Wis.” on frame above the radiator. (I grew up in Clintonville, where the FWD is the biggest employer. The town’s claim to fame is that the first four wheel drive truck was invented there, and they would get all the old trucks out and run them around in parades when I was a kid.) So I tell the manager or curator about this, and they get all fired up about it, and now they’re going to try to get ahold of the people at the FWD in Clintonville to see if they want to send some more trucks down here for a reenactment that the park puts on. I guess this battle chasing Villa around was the first time that trucks were used for military supply lines, and the trucks they used were FWD ones. Small world, eh?

All my gear made it the first 90 miles here with no problem. The only issue so far is that the whole front of the bike has a wobble at speed if I’m not holding onto it, which I think is just poor weight distribution in my front panniers. Also, I need to adjust the rear derailleur – the bike shop never adjusted it when they replaced the cable. Boo.

I’ve been quite a bit slower than I expected – cruising speed on flat pavement is around 12-13 mph. 15 mph takes a downhill, a tailwind, a favorable grade, a strong push, or some combination thereof. Headwinds suck with this setup (as expected) but on the flats I think I’m a good bit faster than Tim with his BOB (also as expected).
Both knees have held up without so much as a hint of complaint, as have the muscles. The show stopper has been all around exhaustion brought on by the sun and heat.

Day 2 stats:

45 miles
5 hours
1.5 gallons of water

(Note: reading this I noticed that we started out with 3 gallons and drank 3.5, which would seem to violate the laws of physics. But that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.)

Monday, May 22 – Day 3 – Faywood Hot Springs, NM

We left Columbus at about 5:30 AM. I got up at quarter to five and packed the tent and all my gear in the dark, and we cruised out just as the sun started peeking out.
Morning riding out in the desert really is glorious. There’s a cool breeze, soft light, and often nobody around. We did the 30 miles into Deming by 9:30 or so, made a quick stop at the grocery store and BK, and hit the highway.

Just after BK I had my first mechanical. The bike felt low in the rear, so I stopped to pump it up and all the air came out through the valve stem when I took the pump off. I’ve never had that happen before – strange. But I replaced the tube and we were back on the road pretty quick.

US 180 out of Deming wasn’t as much fun as the other highways so far. Traffic was heavy and the limit was 65 mph, so it came by fast. But everybody was giving us plenty of room. But, about 10 miles down the road somebody in a red pickup chucked a half-empty bag of Lay’s potato chips out the window and hit Tim square in the back of the leg. That freaked him out, and he said he was riding the rest of the way on the rough asphalt shoulder. I wanted nothing of that – I was having a ball and even the potato chip guy gave us plenty of room – so we said we’d meet up at this campground up the way.

All the way from Deming we had a crosswind out of the west that was just enough behind us to give us a little bit of push. It got stronger as the day went on – probably gusts up to 30-40 mph by the time we quit. But the wind was just right so that when a semi would go by me, it would pass on the upwind side and create this tremendous suction that literally grabbed my bike by the panniers and accelerated it forward like it was being shot out of a shotgun. The first time it happened it freaked me out, but it was a straight pull (not out into the road or toward the dirt or anything) so it was fun after I got used to it.

We ended up at this vaguely hippie place called Faywood Hot Springs – complete with clothing optional pools and a person who looks like John the Baptist wandering about. Right now I’m sitting in their little meeting house listening to the wind kick stuff around. It must be gusting over 40 mph by now – big gusts that shake everything.

But, it’s a good place, the weather isn’t too warm (I think we’re getting into a little different weather pattern up here) and I am looking forward to some pasta tonight.

One note about yesterday. After I finished writing, I got sort of pukey sick – at first just a bad feeling, but we went out for pizza and after a couple of slices I felt like vomiting. But I felt good this morning, and feel fine now. It must just have been a little too much heat, a little bit of dehydration, or both.

Gear note: Looks like the valve stem on that tube is shot. I threw it out. Strange. Tonight is tune-up time – my speedo quit working after I changed that tire, and I still need to do my derailleur adjustment that I never got to because I got sick. Also, I’m only using the GPS for finding towns, then turning it off. I don’t have the juice to leave it on all the time. So, no perfect climbing numbers. Sad but true.

Day 3 stats:

60 miles (all pavement)
6.5 hours
600 ft of climbing
2 gallons of water

Tuesday, May 23 – Day 4 – near Mimbres, NM

We’re camped at about 6500 feet now – almost 2000 feet higher than yesterday. And I can feel it. All in all though it was a great day – good weather, no mechanicals, and – best of all – stuff to look at! We’re in the mountains now, baby. This was our first day on the official ADV Cycling route, and this gravel sure beats that desert highway.

We started out a little after 7 AM, with 20 miles to the first town (the name escapes me now). I had a double QP with a shake. Then we talked to the ranger, who said that the route through the Gilas was OK and that there was some water around, although not much. So we stocked up on 7-8 days food and 2 days water and headed out into the mountains.

Today was the first real mountain stage, and the grades came one after the other. We gained about 2000 feet of elevation total, and gained and lost a lot more going through the foothills. Tim says this place (scenery and people) reminds him of Colorado “before they (screwed) it up.” Everyone has been extremely friendly so far – just good people.

We saw deer and wild pigs today. Tim is afraid of the pigs. He has seen movies (Snatch in particular) where pigs eat people’s feet. (“Never trust a pig farmer” says the character in the movie.) We’re in the trees now and everything is starting to change.

Both bikes will be tuned up in the AM. Tim is having some shifting problems. I want to adjust the rear brake (again) and make sure everything is tight. The downhills just shake the crap out of everything – to an extent that is hard to believe. Also, strapping stuff on top is not going to work anymore. I lost bottles, sandals, you name it virtually the second we got into the gravel. From now on, everything goes in the panniers.

Day 4 stats:

40 miles
3000 feet up

Wed & Thu, May 24-25 – Days 5-6 – North of Gila Nat’l Forest

I’m writing by flashlight and I’m tired, so this is going to be short. These were my first two days on gravel. Yesterday we made it only 25 miles or so, with one steep climb after another. Today we made it about 35 – half on those steep climbs and half on some broad plains that remind me of Kansas, only browner.

The campsites for both nights were absolutely superb. Last night we camped up on this high draw under big pines and next to an old broken down cattle pen. I got a bunch of pics of the camp just as the sun was coming up. Today we’re on a high (7500 ft or so) plateau sort of thing, but down next to this big rock formation. There will be pics of that as well I’m sure.

There has been lots of wildlife around. This morning we were cruising down a long downhill and turn a corner and here’s this bear out in the middle of the road. He turned and breezed right away, before Tim got there. He was a big fellow – a big blackie. I swear he was up to my waist at the back, but Tim says no bears are that tall. Maybe he just looked bigger because the adrenaline was pumping so hard. Later on we ran into a big herd of elk, and there was another herd about 500 yards from our camp on the other side of this little depression. Very cool.

There has been some conflict about riding style and pace between Tim and I. Tim really likes to smell the roses, and he takes long breaks with naps in the middle of the day. He also is sort of a start late/ride late sort of guy. I would prefer to start early and either push to get done by early afternoon or take one long break with food and a nap in the middle of the day. Riding late is a good idea because the weather is so much more favorable, so we agree on that. But the rest is difficult for me.

Pace has also been an issue. Tim is as strong as I am on the big tough climbs, but he can’t seem to put out a sustained effort on flats or the uphill grades. I’ve been really lollygagging on the flats, to the point where I can’t really go any slower and still pedal, and I still put time on him between all the corners. If I put out any effort at all I end up way ahead in a matter of minutes.

Hopefully he’ll get stronger as things go on, and it’s actually good for me with my knee the way it is to have to moderate my pace. But we have a lot of flats ahead so hopefully the pace will pick up. It hurts my bum to go so slow.

Day 5 stats:

27 miles
4500 feet of climbing
all day (with long noon break)

Day 6 stats:

37 miles (plus 7 going back to look for Tim’s camera)
3500 feet of climbing
all day

Friday, May 26 – Day 7

Today we cruised across the edge of the Plains of San Augustin on a shortcut. The ranger said there was no water for 60 miles on the official route through Collins Park, so we said the heck with that.

We filled up the bottles about 10 miles from Old Horse Springs. We were about to filter out of this nasty cattle trough when a lady rancher came by on her truck and said hi. Turns out there was a well about a half mile down, and she was going down there to turn it on. We were in luck – and, even more good luck, I ran over a barb wire fence that was on the ground on my way into the well. Never saw it. But my tires must have gone between the barbs and I didn’t flat.

Lots of wind and heat again today. We’re going through water like you’d have to see to believe.

For some reason, I have had camp anxiety these last few nights. We hung the food tonight but couldn’t really get it high enough, and other nights we’ve just put it in a bag away from the tent. Then I sit there and listen to see if anything is eating it. I have to knock this off or the trip will be a lot less fun. Who cares if the bear eats our food – as long as it isn’t in the tent he isn’t going to eat us.
Morning note: I slept better last night than any night so far – not because the camp was in better shape, but just because I decided not to worry about the gear. I will take that approach from now on.

Bitter cold last night, but the water bottles weren’t frozen this morning. I had the hood on my bag all the way closed except for a little hole, and wrapped the sleeves of my fleece around my head. I really wish I had a stocking hat.

Also – had a dream that I was watching Lance Armstrong ride a tandem with a one-legged woman. I have no idea why. This was the first bike-related dream of the trip and hopefully the last.

Also – had another dream that the building we had lunch in yesterday (this ramshackle abandoned house with a nice shady porch on the downwind side) collapsed on us. The only thing was that in the dream it had a second floor. Tim and I were up there talking about how the building probably would get knocked down in the wind. And guess what – it did.

Day 7 stats:

38 miles
2500 feet climbing
7 hours

Sat-Sun, May 27-28 – Days 8-9

Yesterday we cruised into Pie Town in the morning and feasted on pie and chili burgers. The lady (Kathy?) at the Pie-O-Neer told us about a house where the CDT hikers hang out, so we stopped there and I fixed another flat. Nobody was home, though, we cruised out again at 5 or 6 after the burgers had settled a little. There were fences for miles, and we ended up pulling off and setting up camp right behind two “no trespassing” signs – the only place that wasn’t fenced in.

Turned out it was about 300 yards from somebody’s house – basically in their front yard. They drove in about 25 yards away and I swear the guy looked right at us, but either they didn’t notice us or they didn’t care.

We packed up early, and I left just as the sun peeked out. Tim was going to take the paved road (60 miles), and I was going on the official 75 mile route on gravel. We’d meet up in Grants. It was one of my best days ever on a bike – great scenery, favorable winds (gale force by the end), good roads, the works. I was into Grants by 3:00 or so. Tim made it by one and already had a hotel by the time I got there.
The knee is a little stiff, but in a different spot than it was before. I will survive.

Tim and I have at least a temporary fix for our pace issues. We’re just going to set a spot and meet there at the end of the day. The miles will stay sort of low (we need 50 a day to avoid me being divorced when I get back, and we’ve been well short of that so far). But, we both get to ride at our own pace, and I suspect that at some point the totals will edge up. Tim is already a lot stronger than he was when we started.

Water is still an issue, but it’s becoming a little less critical. Everything is very dry, and some of the forest along the way was closed. But it’s a little bit cooler, we’re also covering more miles a day, and I think we’re getting more used to the heat. All of those things mean we don’t have to carry quite as much water as before.

Day 8 stats:

45 miles
2500 feet climbing

Day 9 stats:

75 miles
2000 feet of climbing

Mon-Tues, May 29-30 – Days 10-11

Two sort of strange days. Yesterday we took a sort of half rest day, then headed out on what was supposed to be a 2000 foot climb. But we got up 1200 feet or so and the whole forest was closed – road closed, campsites closed, the works. We debated going around the barriers, but figured there would be no water and maybe surly rangers out there.

So, we headed back down. The map and GPS showed a shortcut over to the paved alternate, so we took that. Big mistake. The road was closed, but we hopped the gate. Then it turned to sand. Then it disappeared. The GPS said it went right through a fence, so that’s where we went (we were halfway and the way back was uphill). We jumped the fence and found it, but from there to the road it was all sand. We had to hike-a-bike 3 miles or so from there to the highway. It must have taken us 4-5 hours to get the 8 miles through the shortcut. Ugh.

Then, it was getting dark, and the spot marked as a campground on the map had no campground. There wasn’t even a spot to pull off – nothing but fences on both sides. So we went to the bar (there was a bar) to ask directions, and ended up talking to this Navajo fellow named John. He said we could camp at his place up the way. We threw the bikes in his truck, got going, and he ended up driving us something like 50 miles. I ended up a little crabby about the whole thing – our new buddy was a good bit drunk (although he drove steady as a rock), we ended up cutting off a bunch of the route, and we never got dinner. (Probably the lack of dinner is top of the list.)

But, it turned out the next day it was probably for the best. Tim’s derailleur, which has been giving him problems all along, must have gotten more wrecked as we hopped over those fences on the shortcut. (We think that the BOB is pushing on the derailleur when it gets at an acute enough angle, like when the whole thing is getting hauled over a fence.) So without the help from our intoxicated compadre we may not have made it.

Then today Tim broke a spoke. Ordinarily this isn’t too bad of a repair, but this was Tim’s bike, plus the spoke was on the rear wheel on the drive side. The whole thing was this tremendous exercise in frustration, partly because the back end of Tim’s bike is so out of whack and partly because we didn’t carry the (heavy) cassette tool you need to get at the drive side spokes. We pretty much had to take the whole back of the bike apart to get the BOB out of the way, and we never did get the new spoke in. Tim had to ride it into Cuba missing a spoke. He’s going to work on that tomorrow.

Budget bike is overnighting (except it’s actually two days) a new derailleur hanger for Tim. Tomorrow I’m taking off on the official route, and Tim will take the highway around. That should leave me with a much needed rest day in Abiquiu.

Two notes here – first, Tim was ready to quit today because of his equipment. He has mostly cheaper gear – used BOB, $400 bike, cheap commuter panniers – and it’s just sort of giving out here.

I don’t know what I’d do if Tim quit. Probably just keep going I guess – what else would I do – but maybe I’d put some slicks on the bike and try riding back to WI. This stuff is awfully rugged to try to do by yourself.

Also – we visited some ruins today that were on the route. The ruins are this outpost put together by the Chacos, who also made some much bigger, more famous ruins that were too far off the route for us. Anyway, I was wandering around, minding my own business, and I hear this rattling. Here’s this little rattlesnake (maybe 2 feet long) about 3 feet away from my foot. I got out of there immediately, and wrote “watch out for snakes!” in the little guest register they had at the entrance. That ought to make some people think. John (our Navajo buddy from the other day) says that the ruins are sacred, and that it’s bad mojo (my word, not his) to be hanging out there without undergoing the proper rituals. I wonder if there’s something to that now. Man I hate snakes.

Day 10 stats:

25 miles (plus 50 in the truck)
1500 feet climbing
5 hours

Day 11 stats:

70 miles (all pavement)
7 hours
2500 feet of climbing – mostly rollers

Wednesday May 31 – Day 12

Last night in Cuba we made a bunch of calls and tried to figure out what to do about Tim’s bike. Turns out the part won’t be to Cuba until tomorrow AM. So, what we figured out is that I’ll ride to Abiquiu on the official route through the mountains, and Tim will take a rest day here, then catch up later. I get three days; he gets two.

So, right now I’m camped by myself up at about 9000 feet. All I did today was one big climb – 2800 feet over 20 miles. It’s really gorgeous up here – all big timber, with some spots where they cut some of all of the timber a few years back. The cuts make excellent spots to camp, though, so I don’t have too much of a beef. They ended up just as big mountain meadows with wildflowers and such – not as ugly as you think of when you think of clearcuts.

But this is a unique day in a whole bunch of ways. First, it’s my anniversary (or our anniversary, as the case may be). It’s a shame I can’t spend the day with Sarah – all I can do is just say thanks here to her for letting me spend my anniversary in a smelly sleeping bag. Here's to you, baby.

I keep thinking I should be worried about camping up here by myself, but I really actually feel at peace with the whole thing. The main thing that it’s nice to have someone around for is the riding – somebody to help you out if you fall and hurt yourself – not the camping. (It’s nice to have somebody to talk to at night, but that’s different. You don’t get worried when that doesn’t happen, just a little lonely.) Also, the big mountains remind me of home – big trees, like up in the Porkies, and familiar bird sounds, bugs, and so on. Plus, I took textbook bear precautions – camp in one spot, cook in a second, and stash the food and smelly stuff in a third – all in a nice downwind triangle.

Just reflecting here, there’s a chance I might not see Tim again for awhile. The repair he has to do is an awfully tricky one without the cassette tool, and it looked like he may have stripped the nipple on the spoke he was replacing, which would mean more waiting.

One thing is for sure – it’s going to get cold tonight. I stopped early and set up camp so I wouldn’t have to cook or set up in the dark.

Day 12 stats:

20 miles
2800 feet up
5 hours

Thu-Fri, June 1-2 – Days 13-14

Yesterday I cruised the full 65 miles into Abiquiu, thinking I was going to get my rest day. But, 5 minutes after I get into town here’s Tim Davis grinning at me from across the street. Turned out it was only about 65 miles on the road, so he did it in one day. So there went my rest day. But it was probably for the best, since the only hotel charged $70 a night (and that down from $140 after we threatened to camp).

Up at 10,000 feet it’s a whole different ball game. It reminds me of the Porkies – cooler and moister than anything else so far. I spent the whole day with my layer on, and even then I got cold on the descent.

The descent was nuts – from 10,000 feet back down to around 6,000. I must have coasted for 25 miles or more. But all the jerking around (or maybe it was powering up a short climb in the middle of that long cold downhill) made my tendinitis flare up. So, I rolled into Abiquiu wondering if I was going to be able to ride today.
But, I was careful to stretch and spin today, and it held up fine. It’s a touch sore right now, but still a lot better than it was. I guess it’s just trying to teach me that despite my best efforts, a big part of this trip is out of my hands, and I just have to trust that it will work out.

There were some interesting things to look at along the way here both days. Yesterday I saw two different single elk along the roads, and snuck up pretty close to one. Once they saw me they took off through the timber, crushing everything in their path. One went off the road at a spot so steep I would have had to crawl down on all fours to get down, but he made it somehow.

Today the sights were more of the human variety. It never ceases to amaze me how much junk people have around here, or how many abandoned houses there are. People just pile crap anywhere, until they fill up their yard, then either move down the street and leave the works behind or pile higher. What a crazy thing.

But, my camera crapped out yesterday, so no pics of any of this. Sad but true. I’m going to try to get Sarah to get me a new one off eBay.

Day 13 stats:

65 miles
2000 feet climbing (up & down up top)

Day 14 stats:

40 miles
3500 feet climbing

Saturday June 3 – Day 15

Today was sort of a second ginger day to see how the knee would hold up. Turns out it did pretty well, although it got a little tight on me on one of the early climbs. But it seems like it will be fine as long as I warm up, stretch, and take it easy. But I need that full rest day – maybe 4 days from now in Del Norte.

Tonight was sort of an emotional one for some reason. I think it’s just the isolation – I ride by myself, set up by myself, and then (usually) hang out by myself until Tim shows up, which can be awhile. Plus, working so hard every day really drains down my body and leaves me more susceptible to that sort of thing, I think.

I think I figured out part of what’s been slowing me down – I just haven’t been eating enough. I stopped and cooked an extra lunch of easy mac today, and felt a lot stronger throughout. (Later note: by this point in the trip I’d probably lost at least 12 pounds off my 6-3, 180 pound start weight. After I started eating more, I stabilized in the high 160s.)

Most of the ride today was open ranch country, some of it in a park with great views of the mountains. There were some shorter climbs to start the day, then some rollers once we got into the park. (One of the rollers right at the end was this super steep 400 footer with loose gravel all the way to the top. I was feeling the burn on that one.)

Tim is having a tough time again. Even nursing that sore knee, I was an hour and a half ahead of him by lunchtime. I stopped, drank a bunch of water, cooked up some easy mac, relaxed in the shade for a bit, then he rolled in. Same thing at the campsite – I got here at 5:30 and he dragged in after 7 saying he’d gone about six miles too far. That last climb was rough, but overall today did not seem like that tough of a day.

I looked at the map, and I think we can make it to Del Norte in two days. The second will be rough (65 miles, 40 up then 25 down) but the only other option is to do a 25 miler right in the middle. (The water is contaminated from Platoro to the top, so breaking it up into three more even sections is not an option.) I have not yet said anything about this to Tim. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.

Day 15 stats:

42 miles
3500 feet up

Sunday June 4 – Day 16 – Chama, NM

What a crazy day this was. Lots of action. To start off, Tim and I decided to split up and meet in Del Norte. I was going to do it in two days, then take a rest day in Del Norte. Tim would do it in three and keep going.

So, I took off early looking for about a 50 mile day. The first part was all climbing – mostly up for about 20 miles. At about mile 22 I pushed up over the top of the last climb (including over some snowdrifts) and stopped to talk to a fellow on a dirt bike. We were shooting the breeze when a third guy comes over – a hiker. Turns out this guy was out shooting a documentary about the hikers out here. (The CDT – continental divide trail – is mostly off road but occasionally uses some of the same roads as the Divide Route.) Anyway, we talked for awhile, some of it on camera, and he filmed me struggling up the last stretch of the climb. I got his name (Mark Flagler) and took off.

I cruised down the hill, hit the Colorado border, and got all fired up. Not a mile past the border I hear this huge BOOM and start fishtailing. Turns out the whole right side of my rear tire was blown out. So, I tried to fix it with these tire boots I had in my repair kit (they’re supposed to be able to fix stuff like this) but that didn’t work – the only thing it did was blow out one of only two spares I had. So, with the last spare I patched up the tire with tape and the boots again and pumped it up to about 15 pounds – enough to keep it rolling walking – and started pushing.

I made it to the highway, and inexplicably turned the wrong way (first time on the trip – no lie). I was oblivious – just kept walking – but a mile or two down the road the filmmaker guy from up top stopped and picked me up. He knew the town and dropped me off at a campground where the UPS guy can find me tomorrow.

This place is pretty much an RV park, with a couple of cabins and a spot for tents. I’m the only tent guy. Lots of retired folks are hanging about. I met a couple named Ray and Ann who gave me a camp chair to use. Brilliant!

Day 16 stats:

25 miles
3000 feet up
one busted tire

Monday June 5 – Day 16

Rest day. This is a nice place – showers, laundry, and a shady place to sit. All sorts of little aches and pains are showing up, but such is life.

I’ve been trying to catch up on my calories – I ate an entire medium pizza with crazy bread for dinner last night, six hard boiled eggs this morning, and I’m about to bust some oatmeal out here I think. There’s a library in town, so I’ll probably hit that up soon too.

Ah, lazy day. I really needed this one.

Tuesday June 6 – Day 17

I’m sitting out in front of the lodge waiting for the UPS guy to show. Roger (the guy who owns the place) is taking off for the bank, so I have the porch staked out. Ann says I have too much faith in the UPS guy.

Last night I was talking to Sarah on the phone and somebody cruised by on a Cervelo road bike – I think the same one Ivan Basso rides. I didn’t get a chance to track him down just then, but this morning I ran into someone in the laundry room who happened to be his training partner’s mom. Turns out the training partner is named Caleb, and he’s on the US national team for cycling. He’s only 19, so he lives with his folks and trains…


OK – now it’s nighttime. Continuing the thought – those two guys from the campground passed me like I was standing still on the way up Cumbres Pass. Then they passed me again on the way down while I was still forever and a day from the top. What a couple of animals.

One more note about the national team guys – last fall (I think) Bicycling magazine ran an article about American kids over in Europe racing. This Caleb was over there while the reporter was there, but with sort of a different group of guys than the reporter interviewed (Caleb was junior nationals then).

Also – ran into a fellow by the name of Stix Largo at the DQ. Stix is an Apache, and was telling me all these stories about running expeditions a crew in his tribe used to do. He claimed that they used to run ridiculous distances – like 100 miles a day. He said they haven’t done one in awhile, though. I want to believe the guy, but 100 miles is so far it boggles the mind. Maybe the Apaches are in better shape than the Navajo – most of those guys would be lucky to run one mile – but still. Come on.

So – the ride. I run out of things to say, because a lot stays the same. Every day I get on and drag myself and my gear up some big slope. It feels great to get up there, and the view is even better. Then I coast down. By the end of the day, I’m dog tired, sweaty and grimy, and ready to eat everything in sight. And my bum hurts.

Today I got rolling by 2 after putting my new tire on and having a burger. And I now have a camera! So things are looking up. I got rained on somewhat on the pass, but the big rain missed me. I made it to a campground just on the other side of Horca, called Conejos and camped next to some folks from Texas (one is named Justin). They invited me over later on, so I may be forced to drink one of their beers. Mmmm… beer.

Day 17 stats:

35 miles
3000 feet up
some cool pictures of the train

Monday June 7 – Day 18 – Del Norte, CO

I made it into town, and I’m at a restaurant/hotel called the Country Family Inn. Last night the café had all you can eat meatloaf for $7. Good deal for me, bad deal for them. Pretty good meatloaf, too.

I was talking to the owner (Sheri Szatkowski – good Polish name if ever there was one). Turns out she’s from Wisconsin and has cousins named Korte in Clintonville. I don’t know them, but still – small world.

The ride from Conejos may have been both my toughest and best day on a bike ever. I started out at around 8500 feet, then went over three passes – a 10,000 footer, an 11,000 footer, and the highest point on the route at just under 12,000 feet. Not bad for a stinking flatlander. By the last one my legs were burning and my hammy felt like it was going to pop. And this morning I had all kinds of little aches and pains in my knees and elsewhere.

I met two bikers last night while I was trying to find a place to stay. They were two young kids – Mormons – who were biking across the country for their honeymoon. I told them if they still can look at each other by the time they make it to the Pacific, the rest will be downhill. (Downhill in the sense that it will be easier – downhills for bikers good.)

Day 18 stats:

65 miles
7000 feet up
two sore legs

Thursday June 8 – Day 19

I’m getting pretty tough out here. I did another 65 mile day today, trying unsuccessfully to catch Tim. I had to deal with a little weather – in fact, a full-on t-storm – but my luck held again. This time, the storm hit right as I was going by this big cottage with a full front porch. So I headed over there, figuring it was an omen, and man did it pour. There was somebody there, and she was a bit surly at first but after the rain quit she came out and said hi and was much friendlier.
Right now I’m finding out how well my tent does in a Colorado thunderstorm. It’s loud as hell, the tent poles are bending in the wind, but not a drop has come in here so far.

I feel bad for Tim in his Wal-Mart special. I don’t know where he is exactly but I suspect is is or will rain there too. Here’s hoping your tent holds water, brother.
The rain is dying down. Still, I don’t think I can get to sleep with the noise. So much for my early start tomorrow. I don’t think I’m going anywhere until these roads dry out some. I’m sure glad I stopped here, that’s for sure. It’s a little higher than I’d ordinarily like (around 9700 feet) but it’s a nice sheltered spot.

Day 19 stats:

65 miles
4000 feet up

Friday, June 9 – Day 20 – Salida, CO

Monster miles day. I started the day pushing to try and catch Tim, and ended it flying into town on a 25-mile downgrade. All told, I did 88 miles. This blew Tim’s mind.

Today was Tim’s last day – a good one for him too I think. He really likes being out here, but the long days on the bike got to a point where the riding just wasn’t any fun for him. Tomorrow is a rest day – his boys are going to be here around 3, and we’ll hang out and possibly drink some beers. Then I’ll be off for Silverthorne on my own.

Our last pass today was Marshall Pass – a road built on an old railroad grade. That means it wasn’t steep, but 2500 feet over 20 miles will really put the hurting on a person. But neither of us felt like stopping on the uphill (the original plan) so we just kept going over the top and down into town.

My bike is making a sound like a rub, but nothing’s actually rubbing. I fear it’s a bearing, but we will see. Hopefully they can just clean out the hub and it will be all good.

Last night Tim was about 20 miles ahead of me on the other side of the climb. Over there he got more wind and less rain. I guess the tent did its best to blow loose, and he had to put rocks and stuff on it and tie it to his bike. But it did hold water – the only issue was that it had a flat spot on top so Tim had to keep pushing on it to dump the water off. Let’s hear it for the low price leader.

Day 20 stats:

88 miles
4000 feet up
one sore bum

Saturday June 10 – Day 21 – South Park, CO

My odometer went over 1000 miles today, just as I caught up with some elk. So I have a pic (I think) of the speedo with the elk in the background. (The picture didn’t turn out.)

Today was supposed to be a rest day, but Tim’s boys called and said they were going to be late, it was looking like camp would be back into the mountains 15-20 miles, and by noon I was jonesing to be back on the bike again. So Tim and I had lunch and I headed out around 2. I did about 30 miles – mostly uphill – enough that I ought to be able to make it to Silverthorne tomorrow.

Word to the wise – don’t eat two Chicago style hot dogs, then do a 3000 foot climb. I got stomach cramps so bad going up I thought I was going to hurl. So much for my rocket fuel. I had to stop a couple times and let things settle down, and didn’t feel right until the end of the day.

I had to settle for camping tonight. I’m in the middle of this big open park (South Park), and it’s all private land with houses here and there. (Most of the lots are something like 10 acres.) But it got to be 8:00 and I was running out of daylight with the houses just getting closer together. Eventually, I just pulled off in a cow pasture – in view of at least one house – and set up. I’ll be out of here early in the AM, maybe before anyone notices me.

Although this is my first official day riding solo, I’ve been riding by myself for awhile now, so it doesn’t feel that different. I did have a bit of a bad feeling in my gut riding up here (distinct from the hot dogs). But it’s clear that things turned out for the best – both for me and him. So no regrets.

Oh, and props to Absolute Bike down in Salida. They tightened up some stuff and took the little plastic shield off my cog (that’s what was making the noise). And best of all, no charge. Word.

Day 21 stats:

30 miles
3500 feet up

Sunday, June 11 – Day 22 – Silverthorne, CO

I started south of Hartzel in bitter cold. I was up early to try to get moving before I got hassled, and to get some miles in in the cool of the day. But it was more like cold of the day – I couldn’t figure out why my fingers kept freezing as I was taking down the tent, until I picked up a waterbottle and it was more ice than water. Then I realized what the game was and crawled back in my sleeping bag until the sun started coming down into the little valley I was in.

I had breakfast in Hartzel and headed through South Park toward Silverthorne. The park has absolutely gorgeous scenery – fourteeners all around – but the riding itself was mostly vaguely rolling stuff on wide, dusty, washboarded roads. Especially in the south end, though, it struck me as very desolate. Nice place to visit, but you’d go crazy living out here.

I had one pass today – Boreas Pass at 11,500 feet. It was another old railroad grade, like Marshall Pass, so the way up was nice and steady. But I got heartburn again (this time with no hot dogs to blame it on) and that slowed me down quite a bit.

On the way down I got on the bike trail from Breck to Silverthorne. Tons of people were out. I got passed by some folks who wanted to know where I was going. We talked about the route and all, and they got all fired up about it and eventually bought me a burger and a drink at this place down by the wharf. (I forget the name, but the burger was delicious.) I’m staying at a hostel on the north side of the dam, but it’s like staying in a motel because there’s no one here.

One funny story from today – I was sitting in Como, which is this little town at the base of Boreas Pass. Up drives this fellow in a big new Toyota SUV (a Highlander I think) and asks if this is the road to Breckinridge. I say yeah, and he says, “is it paved all the way?” (The part at the bottom was.) I said no, it’s gravel, but I’m sure he’d make it through with that beast if he didn’t mind getting it a little dirty.

I was just kidding, but he got this worried look on his face and mumbled, “I don’t know if that’s a good idea – my wife has to go to the bathroom.” And drove back to the highway. (The highway route was at least twice as far.) What a weiner. Buy yourself a Camry, homey.

(Later note: In Montana when I was waiting for the train I stopped at a bookstore to find something for the ride. I came across a book called “Goin Railroadin’” by a fellow named Sam Speas. Turned out old Sam was an engineer on the Boreas Pass line that I rode over on my bike – known at that time as the Denver, South Park and Pacific RR – and the book had all sorts of stories about what it was like to run narrow gauge locomotives 100 years ago. Interesting stuff.)

Day 22 stats:

70 miles
3000 feet up
one burning heart

Monday, June 12 – Day 23 – Radium, CO

If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. I put in another tough day today, and by the end my hammy tendon hurt so bad I was pretty much pedaling with one leg. It hurt a little bit yesterday, and a little bit on Ute Pass (the first big climb of the day) but on the last two climbs toward Radium it really came after me with a vengeance. Yesterday it cleared up by morning, so here’s hoping it does the same today.

I got a late start this morning – last night the heartburn got worse and I wasn’t sure I was even going to ride today, and so I didn’t even bother to set an alarm. But I did get going around 9, got over Ute Pass by 11, and had a hot lunch on the other side of the ridge by 12. The view back from Ute Pass was breathtaking – my last good look at the Fourteeners.

From there the route followed river valleys, with small risers that were more down than up, until I got to the Colorado. It should have been easy riding, but the wind kicked up enough to force me to pedal the long downhill grades.

I had second lunch in Kremmling (footlong Subway meatball sub – mmm) and then climbed over the top to Radium. The 15 miles or whatever it was between Kremmling and Radium were absolutely vicious. It started out with this climb straight up the side of the hill that was so steep the semis were barely crawling past me. Once I got on top the view down into the Colorado gorge was really something.

My campsite isn’t half bad either – right on this rushing stream with shade, and I’m in relatively early (6:30). But I’m awfully worried about that hammy – having one of these “what am I doing out here” moments. Tomorrow’s ride is 60 miles into Steamboat and (I think) either a full or half rest day. Here’s hoping the leg holds up.

Day 23 stats:

55 miles
4500 feet up
one burning tendon

Tuesday June 13 – Day 24 – Steamboat Springs, CO

I made it into Steamboat today – but what a day. Climbing out of Radium was the toughest climb since the Gilas. Straight up for 2000 feet, then straight up and down on these short steep risers. The grades were so steep I had to get off and push a couple of different times – not because my tires were slipping, but just because I just didn’t have the push.

But, the second half of the day was as easy as the first was hard. It felt like all downhill, with a little breeze from behind. I stopped at a little state park boat launch and drenched my shirt and helmet. I was tempted to just run right in, shoes and all, but restrained myself. Even with practically coasting the last 30 miles, though, the leg still gave me trouble by the end. Maybe I need to do a couple 30 mile days and get that straightened out before I try to cruise across Wyoming.

Steamboat is about as close to the halfway point on the route as you get. (Rawlins is close too, but Steamboat works for me.) So, tonight I will celebrate with a beer and a big plate of lasagna.

Day 24 stats:

65 miles
4000 feet up
(still) one bum wheel

Wednesday June 14 – Day 25

Tonight is my last night camping up high for awhile. But the spot was so good I just had to stop. It’s going to be cold, though – I can tell. The spot is just past Steamboat Lake on a FS road that is closed for another month. It’s more of a snowmobile trail anyway I think.

I didn’t get out of Steamboat until 2, but still managed to do about 35 miles and camp up high. I think it wasn’t the miles so much as the pace that was hurting me. I can spin and go a little slow and still get 60-70 miles a day I think.

There’s something roaring way off out on the mountain. It sounds vaguely like trumpeting – must be an elk or a moose. Here’s hoping yellow tents don’t get him all horned up. I saw a fox today – the second of the trip. (The first, strangely enough, was on the fairly well-traveled Boreas Pass coming into Breck.) This fox was more grey, where the other one was red.

I’m camped way up high here, probably half a mile or so short of the summit in this mountain meadow/clearcut. From my tent, I can see way down the valley toward the lake and over a few ridges past that even. The sunset up here was gorgeous. It is obvious that nobody has been through here in quite some time – the road is closed, branches are down, and there are no tracks whatsoever. Rugged stuff.

Day 25 stats:

35 miles
2500 feet up
less sore legs

Thursday June 15 – Day 26

One more state down – I crossed the Colorado state line today (and without any catastrophic mechanicals, either). I expected desert, and it was hot at the state line, but I actually spent most of the day in a national forest that was lush and actually a bit chilly. I had my layer on pretty much all day. I wonder what the country on the other side of Rawlins will be like. It may not be all that warm, especially if this weather pattern holds.

Despite the balky hammy, which gave me some problems again today, I managed to put together a pretty long day. The first 30 miles were mostly down, through dense pines on what was basically a washed out snowmobile trail. I saw more elk and some big birds of some sort (cranes?) on the way down. From there, it was 20 miles up on a surprisingly tough pavement climb. Then up on top it was mostly short, steep risers. By the end I was cold, sore, and it was starting to rain, so I just set up camp here pretty much right on the side of the road. Quite a few cars have gone by, but nobody bothers me. It’s definitely a change for the worse from yesterday, though.

Day 26 stats:

70 miles
2500 feet up
one sore hammy (again)

Friday June 16 – Day 27 – Rawlins, WY

Today was a half day – 35 miles and into Rawlins. Most was on pavement, but with a lot of sharp ups and downs that made it tough to get into a rhythm. But I made it by 11:30 – just in time to hit up the Pizza Hut pizza buffet. I ate until it hurt, then waited until I had a little bit of room and ate some more. Then when I went looking for a hotel room I had to walk the bike – I was so stuffed that there would have been a pizza on the sidewalk had I tried to ride.

Surprisingly enough, all of the hotels with vaguely respectable names (like Quality Inn – is that even vaguely respectable?) were about $80. The RV parks were 4 miles away on the other side of town, and I wanted to get out of the wind, so eventually I ended up at this place called the Key Inn -- $40 flat for the room. But no ESPN, so I had to watch my World Cup en espanol. This Key Inn was quite the place – the sign said no vacancy, the fellow who gave me the key came out from the back room at 1 PM with rumpled hair and a white T-shirt with holes in it, and this (very nice) woman who looked like she had danced around a pole from time to time in the past was cleaning the rooms. May God bless cheap motels and the USA.

Also – I stopped at Murray’s, this little bike shop in town, and tried to work on my hand problems. I’ve been having some numbness since Steamboat. I got a new pair of gloves, although they didn’t have any good ones, and wrapped some rubber from busted tubes around my bar ends. Hopefully that will help.

Day 27 stats:

35 miles
1500 feet up (all little risers)
40 antelope (from the forest line)

Saturday June 17 – Day 28 – Jeffrey City, WY

Since Steamboat or so I had been thinking about going around the basin on the highway. It’s 124 miles without water, and going south to north the route is mostly straight west, into the prevailing wind. I made up my mind yesterday, as I watched the wind try to pull swinging plant pots off of the Key Inn, that I wasn’t going to try to do that on my own. It's gorgeous country, so they say, but this wind could pin me down with no water for a couple of days if it decides to kick up. (Apparently they had 70 mph gusts the other day.) So I’m going to take the highway.

Today I was out of the room early – around 7 AM – and it was cold. But, the sun was out, and the wind was pushing but not howling from the side (that would be the SW). I made it to the halfway point, this café called Grandma’s, by 11 or so. Grandma was a little surly, but the food was good. She told me that where I was going there were mosquitoes so thick you couldn’t see your legs through them, and so strong that the wind (which by 10 AM was pushing 20 mph) couldn’t blow them away. Turns out the mosquitoes numbered about three, and one squirt of Off sent them packing. (I would later learn that exaggerating the cruelties nature will inflict on tourists is something of a WY spectator sport – even when there aren’t any spectators.)

I met lots of people today. First up was this fellow named Dane, who was sort of a racer looking fellow. He had the shaved legs and kept talking about the Trek Madone he had in his garage and how he was getting so strong that he was going to win all kinds of races with it when he got back, and win back the money he spent on the trip. He was planning on doing consistent 200-mile days once he got out of the mountains (he was doing about 70-mile days in the mountains). I think he underestimated the country west of the Rockies, but we’ll see. Doing a 200-mile day is possible on the right day, but averaging 200 a day loaded (and he was pretty heavy loaded) would take help from a supernatural force. But whatever…

Later on today I ran into Alan, a fellow I met back in Steamboat. He was driving sag for his buddy Jack, who is going to try to ride all the way to Anchorage. I ended up camping with them tonight in a city shelter in Jeffrey. They’re both retired military, and a real odd couple. Jack doesn’t talk much, and Alan will absolutely talk your ear off, but they’ve been buds for 25 years nevertheless.

The wind turned vicious today around 2, when I still had about 15 miles to go. It took two hours to do those 15 flat highway miles, sometimes in my granny gear just spinning to keep the bike going. Those panniers are like trying to pull a sail. That wind is really something though. I saw a tour bus almost fishtail when the wind swirled around suddenly. Man I’m glad I’m not out in the basin right now.

Jeffrey City is not a pleasant town. There was a mine/air force base here awhile ago, but it closed and just about everyone left with it. Most of the town got boarded up at that point (the map lists the population in the thousands – I’d say it’s 100 tops, and probably more like 50). The grocery store there doesn’t have much of anything either. Also – apparently I made enemies with the bar guy by bringing in a PBJ. People in this part of the world sure are surly. Maybe it’s the wind.

Day 28 stats:

68 miles
1500 feet up
one vicious headwind

Sunday June 18 – Day 29 – outside South Pass City, WY

People in Wyoming are straight up jerks. That’s all I can say.

I’m sitting here in a rest area on WY 28, the road from 287 south toward more nothing. It’s blowing hard – probably a steady 20-25, with gusts at 35-40. The flag next to me hasn’t stopped snapping since I got here.

So I come out of the can and I see this guy sneaking back toward his truck from my stuff, which was spread out on a picnic table. He comes back over, and I say hi, trying to figure out what he was up to.

This idiot was just like out of the movies. I tell him where I was going, and he says, “that’s the road to Big Sandy! Right into the heart of Wyoming ranching and mining country. We don’t mind tourists on our highways, but have you ever seen Deliverance?” Then he started telling me about how the bears, mountain lions, and wolves would join forces with a herd of wild horses and wipe this tourist off the face of the earth. Then he got out his binocs and claimed that he was looking at a wolf (when I asked to see he said the wolf had gone up over the ridgeline). He did have a bit of useful information though. He suggested what I was kind of thinking of anyway – that I camp at the wayside and ride in the morning when the wind died down. That’s what I’m going to do here. (It worked out fine – the worst that happened was some kids on shrooms stopped in the middle of the night and woke me up.)

My goal for tomorrow is Boulder – something like 60-70 miles away with no big climbs, some of it on pavement. Hopefully I can get 40 miles or so in the morning before the wind picks up, and if I have to fight the last few miles I should still be OK.

I absolutely hate this wind country. I can understand why everyone is so surly out here – I would be too if I had to listen to it whistle in my ears all day. Ugh.
Anyway – today’s ride. Today started out great – rolled out to an easy breeze at 6 AM, hung out at a place called Sixth Crossing with some Mormons about 20 miles in, and hit my turnoff back toward the route (WY 28) before noon. But because I was off the map, I hit this monster climb that I wasn’t expecting. It must have been all of 3000 feet, made all the more cruel by the fact that it had three false summits. Every time I thought I was at the top I would turn the corner and there would be another stretch just like the one I came up. After 20 miles straight up – the last five into the wind, which started picking up around 1 – I was dead beat, with nowhere to camp. I just kept plodding into the wind, looking for someplace to camp, and ended up at this wayside. By then, I was seriously wondering why I do this. But now with some food and a plan I’m feeling better about things. Tomorrow is another day.

Day 29 stats:

82 miles (all pavement)
5000 feet up
one screaming headwind

Monday June 19 – Day 30 – Pinedale, WY

Depending on how you count it, this is one month. There’s really no denying it – I’m sick of being on the road. I love the riding, but the camping, eating crappy food, being by myself are taking their toll. (Camping is the least of the three – I actually really prefer camping to crappy motels now, and it’s going to be tough to sleep inside after this.) But the last three days have been tough because I haven’t had the great rides to balance everything out.

Today actually wasn’t bad at all. I actually had a tailwind to start out the day (the first 40 miles or so). It only started to come around into a headwind for the last 15 miles or so, and even then it was more from the side than anything. The views on both sides were gorgeous, but I’m really jonesing for more mountains to climb. This wind/valley/flat just really isn’t why I came out here.

The goal for the day was Boulder, but I actually made it to Pinedale, one town past Boulder. Boulder didn’t have much anyway – Pinedale is the real town. I found an RV park with a shower and am feeling pretty good. I think I’m out of the wind country for the most part now.

Day 30 stats:

75 miles
2000 feet up (mostly shorter risers)

Tuesday June 20 – Day 31 – Union Pass, WY

Funny how fast things change out here. I was flying today – cruising through the mountains, checking out these cool mountain meadows, and came up over the pass looking at a nice cruise down. There were supposed to be two things on the way down – a café/motel/camping spot and a “cyclists only” spot with camping and breakfast. Only problem is, I called the cyclists only spot yesterday and the number was disconnected.

The cyclists only spot was down a monster hill to the highway. So, if it isn’t there anymore I was SOL – 80 miles in with 15 miles up to go to the next campground. No thanks. So, my plan was to ask at the first place, which is just out of the national forest, about the cyclists only place.

But, the first place was closed, and I was getting a vicious cramp in my quad. So, I ended up going back across the national forest line and setting up camp. I was exhausted, hungry, pissed and tired. But now I’ve had my easy mac and am feeling better.

Man does my leg hurt though. I think it’s just a really bad cramp, but maybe I pulled it. We’ll see in the morning. Like what seems like a million other injuries I’ve had, a pulled quad could be trip-ending. But I suspect this is no worse than anything else on the laundry list.

Anyway – the riding. From Pinedale the big ranch country started turning into mountain country pretty quick. It was pretty much uphill all the way today, but I didn’t mind. I was just happy to be getting back in the mountains. Toward the top there were all these gorgeous alpine meadows with pools of water everywhere, and lots of snow still at the top. This was what I came out here to ride.

Day 31 stats:

80 miles
5000 feet up

Wednesday June 21 – Day 32 – Grand Teton National Park, WY

There’s so much to do on town days. This isn’t really a town day, since there isn’t a town, but all the services are here so it’s like that. Laundry, groceries, a place to camp, and a good meal. Then make some phone calls and maybe find out how the World Cup is going.

Today was a gorgeous day as far as stuff to look at. The first part was a long downhill to the highway, with a great view of the mountains (I think the Wind River mts. still) straight ahead. Then it was up over another pass, with more mountain meadows and little streams. I was forced to ride in a truck for five miles or so because of road construction.

Coming down the other side, the Tetons showed up in the distance. Those mountains are just unreal. They’re so steep it seems impossible, like they aren’t really there. I have never seen anything like it.

The only bad thing about today was I just never really felt good on the bike for some reason. I couldn’t seem to get any push, and always felt like I was running out of gas. Probably the big day yesterday was sinking its claws into me a little.

Day 32 stats:

65 miles
3000 feet up

Thursday June 22 – Day 33 – Mack’s Inn, ID

Today was an absolute monster day. I cruised out this morning with no particular goal in mind except to ride by Jackson Lake early in the morning. That was all I hoped it would be – this big blue lake with the Tetons rising sharp in the background. Not a bad way to start out the day. From there it was up a little pass toward Yellowstone, then off the highway (finally) at Flagg Ranch, another little town set up by the Forest Service.

From there the route cut through under Yellowstone toward Idaho and the back side of the Tetons. There were some short steep ups and downs, but overall not too difficult of a ride. By 4 I was at a nice campground on the Warm River talking to the camp hosts. But I was feeling good, not quite ready to camp, and decided to push on and pull off when I felt ready. The next section was a 30 mile rail trail marked as “soft volcanic soils” (read: sand) so it seemed like a stretch to finish it.

But, I got going, and got in a rhythm and decided to make a push for town (read: shower and food). The rail trail wasn’t as bad as I expected, although it was plenty gnarly in spots. (There were lots of streambeds and puddles, and I actually took a pretty good digger at one point.) It was a nice change of pace, though, to do some vaguely technical riding after all that gravel. For most of it, the main thing was just to stay in the tire tracks and out of the loose stuff, and it wasn’t too bad.

I rolled in at 8, dog tired but feeling great, and ate an entire pizza. Some other folks from Wisconsin were there. They had been riding ATVs in some of the same spots that I had, including that rail grade. It blew their minds (and mine too for that matter) that I’d ridden 95 miles of that crap in a single day.

Day 33 stats:

95 miles (biggest day yet)
3500 feet up

Friday June 23 – Day 34 – Lima, MT

Today I got up late, sore, with the idea that I’d spin and do an easy day. But it just wasn’t in the cards. I spun and dragged all morning, pushing into a little headwind. But there was nowhere to camp, so I just kind of kept moving, and got a second wind around mile 60. From there, I spun into town in the cool of the evening and got there late (around 8:30). The riding wasn’t too difficult – big sky country through a long valley.

I met a fellow out on the road who had been hang gliding all day. He told me he had gone about 75 miles today. I guess he just takes an updraft up as high as he can go, then glides in whatever direction he wants to go until he runs out of sky. Then he catches another updraft. Sounds like a pretty good time.

Day 33 stats:

85 miles
1500 feet

Saturday June 24 – Day 35 – Bannack State Park, MT

I’m at a place called Bannack State Park, which is a preserved 19C mining town. I guess it was the state capital for a few years until the mines petered out. A very cool place, but no showers.

There’s a little crew down in the old restored church singing old country songs. I feel very lucky to have caught this – although the irony of a bunch of Montanans singing “Rocky Top” isn’t lost on me. Now it’s “Dream” by the Everly Brothers. If that won’t bring on homesickness, I don’t know what will.

Today was another big day through big sky country. I was going to stop at mile 70, but there was nothing there but a café. Bannack was destiny, and I’m happy to be here, even if there is no shower. I think I owe the big miles to the flat though. We’ll see tomorrow.

Day 35 stats:

82 miles
2000 feet up

Sun June 25 – Day 36 – Wise River, MT

I was right about the terrain. I got up early this morning to give myself the chance to do a monster day into Butte, but I could tell right away it wasn’t in the cards. As soon as I started rolling, I could tell I was dragging – and not just the normal morning stiffness. It felt like a really deep soreness. Then a climb that should have been easy – 1000 feet over 10 miles – kicked the crap out of me.

I made it to Wise River by 1, had a bite to eat, and pondered. There was a spot called the Wise River Club marked as a hotel, so I figured I would check it out and if it was decent and cheap I would take that as a sign. Turned out it was both – this old style restored hotel with nice rooms and dorm-style bathroom. And at $30 a night it was a screaming deal. So, I was off the bike by 1 or so, and I feel a lot better now. Hopefully I won’t be feeling those monster days in my legs tomorrow.

Some folks from Ireland stopped by while I was cleaning my bike. They were here for some sort of organized road bike ride out of Dillon – 150 miles I guess. One of them married a Montana girl, so they had a local connection, and they (4 guys plus the wife from MT) piled in a pickup and were cruising around hitting up all the local bars. They loved Montana, they said, and the size of the country blew their minds.

My hands are in really bad shape. They keep tingling, even when I’m off the bike (sometimes it gets worse then). I have a different pair of gloves to try out tomorrow – we’ll see if that helps.

Day 36 stats:

58 miles
1500 feet up

Mon June 26 – Day 37 – Basin, MT

What a difference a day makes, especially a rest day. I felt great on the bike today, although a bit worn out by the end.

Today had three climbs, the first two pretty tough, and the last one more of a grade. The first one was Fleecer Ridge, which is a sort of legend among the Divide riders. That one took me almost four hours all told. I took all my bags off the bike, carried them up, and went back for the bike. The slope was ridiculous – would have been a black diamond ski slope here in WI without a doubt. It had crossed my mind to go around, but that’s blasphemy. It actually was kind of a nice change of pace – instead of spinning up, I was hiking, and carrying my gear. I knew it was going to take a long time, so I didn’t hurry, just enjoyed the morning up there.
The second climb was on the other side of I-15. About half a mile in the road was actually blocked off with a bunch of mean sounding No Trespassing signs. But I made it through without encountering any angry ranchers or authority figures.
Then the third was actually a riser coming out of Butte on I-15. I guess you can ride on the interstate out in MT. It’s surprisingly safe (there’s a huge shoulder, and traffic isn’t all that thick) but isn’t the most pleasant sort of riding.

I met my first fellow Divide riders today (other than Tim, but he was with me so that doesn’t count). They couldn’t have been more different. The first was Brandon, a friendly, slightly portly (for a biker anyway) fellow who was riding down the No Trespassing area. He said he was doing one climb a day, usually about 30 miles, and enjoying himself. He was planning to go around Fleecer Ridge. I tried to talk him out of it (I think it would actually be relatively easy going NS – the climb is steady and smooth, and you just walk your bike down) but he sounded pretty set.

The other was Matthew Lee, one of the Divide racers. He was going for the course record (16 days and change) and was doing about 150 miles a day he said. (He started at noon Friday, and I met him just south of Butte at noon Monday – so he’d gone all that distance in right about 3 days.) He was carrying next to nothing – just a CamelBak with a bunch of energy bars stashed in it and a sleeping bag and bivy sack strapped on his rear rack. His mileage blew my mind. I told him he had a sickness, and he just slapped my hand, grinned, and took off. What an animal.

Also, I got some new gloves with monster pads on them (Specialized BG) and some energy bars and energy gel from the bike shop in town. The gloves were a godsend, although my hands are in such bad shape that they probably won’t stop tingling until after this trip is over. I never took much stock in energy bars before this, but we’ll see if they help. (Energy bars are inspired by Lee’s ultralight style. We’ll see if it fits me.)

(Two updates from later. First, Lee ended up winning the race but missed the course record by about a day. He ran into some really bad weather in CO and got behind and exhausted and decided to take a rest day. Second, one of the other racers got busted by a rancher and some cops riding down that No Trespassing section about three days after I went through. But, he explained what the deal was and they let him through and said all the racers could come through. I don’t know what deal, if any, they have worked out for regular Divide riders. But hopefully they work something out – there isn’t any good way around that section except to ride a bunch of interstate.)

Day 37 stats:

82 miles
6000 feet up

Tue June 27 – Day 38 – just past Priest Pass, MT

Today started out great, with a big breakfast, sending back about 10 pounds of gear, and still rolling by 9. (The great sending back of gear was inspired by Lee. I went through everything and sent back everything I didn’t absolutely need – flip flops, my book, my shock pump, and a bunch of odds and ends. None of it weighed anything by itself, but all together it was something like 12 pounds. Amazing how that adds up.)

Anyway, things turned a bit ugly pretty quick. The top of the climb out of Basin was nothing but a bunch of rutted out ATV tracks, with lots of route-finding challenges. It was fun to be doing technical stuff again, but this really was a bit much for my setup. It’s one thing to be jumping off boulders when you’re just out riding. With with all that gear on the bike changing how it moves (and lowering your braking power) it can be a bit nerve-racking. The second climb was a more typical gravel one, but by the time I got there it was the heat of the day and so it was tougher than it should have been.

So, I didn’t roll into Helena until 4:30 – only 40 miles down, with errands to run, food to eat, and so on. (Plus I ended up stopping at the library, so that was another half hour or so. But I couldn’t just ride right by it.) I didn’t roll out of Helena until after 6. But, I still managed to get up the big climb out of Helena (Priest Pass) and do a few miles on the other side.

Ordinarily, this short miles day wouldn’t be a big deal, but back in Basin I decided that I was going to take the train back on July 4, which requires an average of about 70 miles a day. And I bought the Amtrak ticket. So I have that to think about. But, I think I managed to do all right today all things considered.

Also – ran into two guys racing on fixies today. I wrote more about them in my online update, but all I can say is that it’s crazy to ride on a fixie. All cyclists are somewhat masochistic, but these guys take it to a new level. It’s like the ordinary pain that comes with riding 100 miles a day on this stuff is just an appetizer for them. They want more – if the trip doesn’t involve saddle sores (preferably infected ones), crushed sit bones, and insomnia, they don’t want it.

(Update: both of those guys eventually dropped out of the race after enduring more pain than most people even can think about. This is mean, but I wonder if that was the subliminal goal all along – not finishing, but causing themselves so much pain that they had to quit.)

Day 38 stats:

60 miles
6500 feet up

Wednesday June 28 – Day 39

What a difference a day makes. Today was a great day on the bike, over some very rough terrain. I started with a short up and long down, but then had to do a tough 2300 foot up over only 6-7 miles. But I pushed up by noon, with the help of some energy gels and Hammer Bars feeling good. Then it was down to Lincoln and a footlong meatball sub and a bunch of cookies. Then, up over another big up and down to Ovando, and about 10 more miles on the flat.

Just before Ovando I ran into the divide racer in last place, a fellow named Kenny. He is a big strong fellow, built like a fireman, rides in a ball cap, and he’s from NY. Not your typical Divide rider (or mountain biker, for that matter) but he was putting in solid 70 mile days and looked like he was having a great time. We talked a little bit about the climbs coming up and the guys on fixies (who were by then probably about 150 miles ahead of him). I wouldn’t be surprised if he caught those fixie guys. His pack size is smaller now than what they were talking about, and if he’s doing 70 a day now he’ll probably be doing 100 before long. Those fixie guys are going to have to slow down here at some point because of the pain I think.

Ovando was just short of mile 80 for the day, and I stopped for some food. I was debating trying to push for Seely Lake, but that would have made it a 105 mile day and I would have run out of daylight. So I stopped at the USFS campground just on the other side of Ovando, which was the right call. It’s actually sort of a madhouse here – people are already camped out here, staking out spots for the fourth and having a good old time.

(Update: Kenny made it as far as Rawlins, WY – further than everybody but Matt Lee, who finished the day before Kenny dropped out. So, Kenny was technically second – not bad for a NYC guy. From looking back it looks like he was a day or two faster than I was through that section, so it wasn’t like he was lollygagging, either. Matt is just so fast that he makes everybody else look like a bunch of little girls.)

Day 39 stats:

85 miles
6000 feet up

Thu June 29 – Day 40

I must have put my dunce cap on this morning by mistake. I just could not seem to find the route today, and my decision making was off. I got up early this morning and was rolling by 7:30 or so. But I couldn’t find any legs, and the 20 miles into Seely Lake seemed to take forever. I loaded up on foodstuffs, left a message for Sarah, and head up the big climb. Turns out the big climb was about as ruthless as a 2000 footer could be. It was a nice grade at the bottom, but toward the top it turned to singletrack where you had to get off and pull over trees, rocks, and rockslide residue. But some amazing views, I’ll grant that.

On the way down I made my first navigation error of the day. I’m not sure how I did it, but somehow I blew right by a turn. It wasn’t that I thought the turn wasn’t the one – I just never saw it at all. I ended up going down the hill the wrong way, so I lost all of my elevation going backwards.

But, it turned out OK. I ended up taking the highway back to the route, I didn’t have to climb up too far, and the traffic wasn’t too bad. Then I got back on the route, got about 10 miles in, and made another wrong turn. This was partly because the map directions were going the other way and the turn was obvious from the other way, so they weren’t clear about the turn. The blame really was mine, though.

By sheer luck, I ended up stopping and camping only about a mile off the route, and realized my error later that night. So again, no biggie. I just hate making dumb mistakes. At the end of the day, though, I did manage to put myself within striking distance of Columbia Falls. So, mission accomplished.

Day 40 stats:

72 miles (on map – more like 80 really)
4000 feet up

Friday June 30 – Day 41 – Columbia Falls, MT

Well, I did make it to Columbia Falls. But after 2450 miles the bike is starting to crap out on me. The rear brake pads went out this morning – worn right down to metal on metal – so I’ve been running with them wide open all day. Then later on the back wheel started making noise – grinding and crunching like there’s sand in the bearings. So the bike shop will be looking at that tomorrow.

Tonight I can hear all the trains rolling through from my site here. One, sometime early this morning, was the Amtrak train. It sucks to be this close but still have three days of riding. There’s a part of me that just wants to be on the train and done right now. But, I have 100 miles of gorgeous riding (and some tough climbing) ahead of me. I intend to enjoy it.

So today I got up early and was rolling by quarter to 7 through puddles and stuff. It was one of these moisty, overcast mornings and stayed overcast until 10:30 or so – long enough to get me to the only big climb of the day. The morning ride was all through this old-growth timber with little creeks and swamps – really a very nice way to spend a morning.

The climb was a long one, with some loose gravel here and there, but otherwise not bad. I was over the top by 1 and into Columbia Falls (after a stop for lunch) by 6. I’m staying at a little RV park where the only spot available was a corner of the lot. But there’s a shower and laundry – brilliant!

One more random note: my mother went and called all the local media – the newspaper and TV station in Kalispell and a paper in Whitefish – and tried to convince them to do a story about me. I don’t think it’s much of a news story anyway – lots of people do this route – but apparently she got at least one person interested. But, even if they would have thought about it, I got trumped by a better bike story – the Divide racer who had his bike stolen while he was sleeping on the side of the road.

Everybody on the route had been talking about this for a week now, but the papers just got a hold of it today, and the people of Montana are outraged that something like this could happen in their state. It blows their minds – I think most of them don’t even lock their doors, especially the old timers. So they took up a collection for this fellow and are going to buy him a new bike.

But, they aren’t going to run two bike stories in the same day, and his is better. It’s probably for the best anyway. I don’t know what I would have said to those guys anyway. “Yeah, my butt really hurts. But it was pretty fun…” The thought of seeing my mug on the tube saying that crap makes me cringe. Although of course it probably would have been kind of fun…

Day 41 stats:

85 miles
3000 feet up

Saturday July 1 – Day 42

Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish fixed the bike by 11. Apparently they took off the cassette and freewheel and there was muddy water in there. Poor bike. So they regreased the hub, put new brake pads on (both front and rear) and sent me on my merry way. The mechanic said it was actually in pretty good shape for how far it’s been ridden, which makes me feel a little better about the whole thing. In any case, the bike was good to go again before lunch, and I was on my merry way.

What a gorgeous day – I never wanted to stop. The first climb got into the trees and out of the heat right away, and never looked back. It’s sort of a temperate rain forest up there – a lot like Juneau, and on the way down it rained on me pretty good for a little while. Then it cleared up, the sun came out, and I was riding through trees again on a gradual up to the campground. I thought about trying to make it all the way to the border, but why? It seemed appropriate to spend one more night out in the woods, the campground was excellent, and I just had to coast down the hill tomorrow to be ready to catch my train. So no worries.

When I got to the campsite, there were two guys doing the Divide right by the entrance, so I stopped and said hi. Turns out they were two guys from Australia named Wilf (short for Wilfred) and Nick. They just started today, and are pretty fired up about the whole thing. I gave them some info on the route ahead, and they filled me in on the latest World Cup and Tour news (they say Basso and Ulrich are out because of doping – go figure). So a great day all around. I feel like I came full circle here meeting these guys – knowing everything they’re going to be up against in the next couple of months. It’s a shame I didn’t run into more people because of the timing of it all.

I don’t know what I’ll do when I finish here. I was talking to Wilf about this – it’s going to be strange to have a car to take me wherever I want to – uphill or downhill – and a fridge with food, running water, my own bed, and so on. I’m so used to being self-contained on the bike – having everything I need right with me like this – that it’s going to be strange to have to learn to manage a whole house full of crap again.

Also, I don’t know what the sensation crossing the line will be. A buddy of mine who did the AT talked about finishing in the rain and how it just sort of happened, without a lot of positive or negative attached. Then he didn’t know what to do, so he went to law school. I’m in a little bit different situation – this trip has been a little shorter (his was five or six months) – and so I still have a sense of what’s out there beyond just riding the bike. I also really am looking forward to seeing Sarah and my dog. So I think this will be a little more of a concrete turning point. We will see.

Day 42 stats:

70 miles
3500 feet up

Sun July 2 – Day 43 – Eureka, MT

Well, this was it. I was going to ride out early in the morning, but the Aussies had run into someone in the campground who had offered to make them breakfast. They said they would bring me along. Done.

We had bacon, eggs and sausage with some horse folks from Eureka. The guy’s name was Dick I think, and his wife’s name I forget. But they had the whole family up for the weekend, and we hung out and ate their food and chatted.

It’s funny to see the Aussies interact with those folks. I don’t know if it’s conscious or not, but they definitely use those accents to advantage. Because of the accents, everyone wants to talk to them, and they end up picking up all kinds of favors from folks who want to find out what they’re all about. Man those eggs were delicious.

The riding today wasn’t much – a short climb to the top, then a long down to the highway, partly on pavement. I saw another couple of riders camped out just over the top eating breakfast, not even close to rolling by 10. Rookies…
From the highway, it was 20 miles to Roosville, all on pavement, a couple of pictures at the border, and back to Eureka on the highway.

I don’t know how I feel about finishing, exactly. The fact is that yesterday was the true last day – last day in the mountains, last day on gravel, last day climbing, last day camping – so today is actually a bit anticlimactic. But thinking about it now I’m starting to realize just how stinking far I rode. Even though I just finished, if somebody told me to turn around and ride back to El Paso, I don’t know if I could do it. And if I had known at the beginning how hard it was going to be, I might never have gotten out of that rental car. The reason I was OK I think was that I tried to think only about the day ahead at the beginning of the day, and while I was riding I tried to think only about the next turnoff, or the top of the climb I was on. It was when I started looking ahead that I had my worst days. But that’s about all the wisdom I can come up with.

Day 43 stats:

50 miles (mostly pavement)
1000 feet up (or less)


I stayed in a bar/hotel in Eureka on Day 43, then headed back to Whitefish on the highway in the morning of the 3rd. My Amtrak train left at 7 AM.

The train is worth noting. First, I didn’t bring enough food, and the stuff (food would be too generous) in the café is worse than anything yet (and I ate some bad stuff along the way). Think vending machine sandwiches that have been in there awhile.

But the story worth telling is about this fellow I ran into known as “Connecticut.” Connecticut was this older, well dressed, vaguely Morgan Freeman looking fellow who said he was going to Connecticut to do “security” for the Coast Guard. He started talking to me, asking what I thought of the Coast Guard (I said I didn’t really have an opinion about the Coast Guard). That was the most rational thing he said all night. From there he was off, rambling on about how “we’re all in prison… subject to federal regulation… don’t talk unless you know what I’m talking about.” The guy sitting next to me, another young guy from Florida named Jerry, started yelling “Connecticut” at him every time he came by, and Connecticut started saying that Jerry was like Jim Carrey, even though Jerry looked perhaps least like Jim Carrey of anyone I know.

But by evening everything had calmed down. Connecticut was in his seat, about eight rows behind me, writing furiously in his notebook, and Jerry was up in the front of the train somewhere. I dozed off at some point, and woke up to this tremendous scuffling and yelling. I looked around, and here two cops were hauling Connecticut off the train in handcuffs. Connecticut is yelling about the FBI and whatever else comes into his head. It blew my mind – it was 3 AM, I had just woken up, and I thought for sure I was dreaming. My only regret was that Jerry hadn’t been there to see the whole thing.

So anyway, Connecticut got hauled off to jail in Detroit Lakes, MN, which is smack in the center of nowhere. I wonder what ever happened to him. (The conductor said he had been “touching people” on the train, including two little girls who were passengers. “People don’t like that,” she said. So I suspect Connecticut won’t be getting to Connecticut anytime soon.)

Right away when I got back I got thrown right back into work, working on a trial case that I’d done a bunch of work on for the firm I’ve been working at for the last year or so. All of a sudden I was putting tons of miles on the car, wearing a shirt and tie, and sitting at a desk all day. I literally didn't ride a bike for two weeks after I got back.

I’m also trying to figure out what to do about this whole biking thing. My little brother and I are floating the idea of racing RAAM as a two man relay team next year, and I may start racing road races or maybe some endurance stuff. Before this, I did a lot of miles, mostly on the road bike, but never raced or had any particular training goals. I just liked to ride. But now I think I do want to ride with some sort of purpose in mind, whether it’s a big race like RAAM or maybe a series of shorter things next summer.

About random notes

Here’s a little bit of what gets lost in the journal entries. Looking back, I talked a lot about what climb I hit in a given day, how tough it was, where I found food, and so on. What gets lost is the day to day stuff that is so obvious after awhile that it doesn’t make it into the trip log. So, here’s my attempt to fill in the gaps.

Some people consider finding this sort of information out for themselves to be one of the best parts of doing a self-supported tour. If you think you might be one of those people, then don’t read it. But my position on that debate is that what works for one person may not work for another anyway. So, take a look, take my routine for what it is, read what other people have done, and come up with what works for you.

A day in the life

In that spirit, here’s what a normal day would be like. I’d usually start by heating up some oatmeal. The stove would be out from the night before, so I’d get the food bag and start the water going right away. Usually, it was cold in the mornings – sometimes below freezing – so I would have most of my layers on.

Then I’d pack up everything inside the tent – sleeping bag, mattress pad, and whatever I dragged in there the night before. Usually, the water would be good by then, so I’d pour it in the packets and eat right out of the packets. Oatmeal isn’t great for calories, but it warms you up and has at least some energy for the first part of the morning. From there I’d pack up the tent, tent poles, and the works.
I had a rack and pannier system with four bags plus a handlebar bag and a tent bag on the rear rack. The tent poles and my air mattress went in the tent bag. One front bag had my sleeping bag (an REI down bag that compressed down to the size of two softballs) and my rain gear. One back bag had my stove and all my food (easier to bear bag) and the other had bike repair gear and my clothes (layers and gym shorts and a t-shirt for in town).

I always tried to get some hours of cool riding in during the morning. In WY and NM (especially southern NM) I took this to extremes – packing up in the dark and rolling out before the sun was out. Other places it was more of a preference thing – I just like riding when it’s about 60 out – but it never got hot enough that riding in the middle of the day instead of in the morning was a terrible idea.
After a couple of hours it was time for food. Early in the trip I just ate granola bars and tortillas with peanut butter in them. By the end it was tortillas with PBJ and energy bars (usually Hammer bars or Clif bars, but PowerBars would do in a pinch). As the trip went on, I relied more and more on the energy bars, especially Clif bars, and ate them pretty much exclusively throughout the day (often 6-7 per day), with big meals at the end of the day and in any towns I ran into during the day.

For water I had a 64 oz Gatorade bottle strapped to my front rack (Tim and I both had one of these – his in his BOB – and we called them the gas tanks). Along with that I had six regular waterbottles, two in my panniers, two behind my seat, and two in the normal spots. In the desert, I carried additional bottles in my rear panniers that allowed me to carry even more.

In NM water required a lot of planning. We weren’t going very far every day, so a 40 mile stretch without water – which would have been half a day in MT – required a full day’s hydration, maybe plus water for cooking. But we didn’t want to carry extra, so it became a matter of estimating how much we needed at each water source.
In CO water became more plentiful. My general strategy as water got more plentiful was just to fill up four or five bottles and go until they got low, then refill at the next source. The main issue with water was the time it took to filter, not the amount of water around.

At night, I would try to be off the bike by 6. This allowed me to find a good place to camp – I could pedal another hour or two if nothing was around. I also could cook and set up camp while it was still light. This left time for good bear practices and allowed the food to settle a bit while before bed. If I didn’t stop anywhere for a meal during the day I would sometimes eat two dinners a couple of hours apart.

Dinner usually was some noodles (Lipton dinners) with a package of that vacuum-packed tuna thrown in. If I got in early, I would start with maybe 3 packets of that big bowl easy mac, set up camp, then put the noodles on before bed. I got very sick of Lipton dinners by the end, but never found any good substitute.

After dinner, I would pack up all the food and attractants, put them in a garbage bag, and stash them away from the tent downwind. Supposedly the rule is 100 yards away; usually I only went 50 yards or so (sometimes this was just laziness; other times the layout of the campsite meant that it would take serious bushwhacking to get any further). There was rarely anywhere to hang the food up, and I eventually sent my bear rope back for weight reasons. My position eventually became that they can have the food if they find it, just stay away from me and my gear. I never had any problems – partly from good luck and maybe partly because the trash bag did a good job of keeping the smells from going too far.


I did the ride on a Gary Fisher X-Caliber 29er hardtail with a rack and pannier system. The racks were Old Man Mountain, and the panniers were some eBay specials I picked out (had to save money somewhere).

The bike performed great. For a tall guy like me (I’m 6’3”) it fit better than any standard mountain bike. The big wheels did a good job of rolling through washboards, and the bike was crazy stable on the downhills, to the point where it was easy to be having fun, cruising on the gravel, and look down and realize you’re going 30 mph on gravel with a loaded bike. In rocky sections, particularly the snowmobile trails in MT and some downhills in NM, the bike took a significant pounding on the rocks without any problems. I haven’t even had to true the wheels. The only knock on the bike was that it may not have been the fastest rig in the world. Those big wheels took a lot of energy to turn, and the overall feel was sometimes more like a semi than a Ferrari. But maybe that’s the case for all touring rigs that would fit me. I’d have to try out some other setups to say whether that’s really the case.

The panniers did well also. The only issue I had was a hook that actually broke clean out of the backing on one of my rear panniers. But the fix for that was not difficult (poke a new hole and screw it back on). For less than $100 for all four, it was a screaming deal.

I recommend the pannier system over the BOB (the caveat is that I haven’t actually ridden a bike with BOB, but I did ride with Tim and his BOB), for three reasons. First, I think the handling concerns with the pannier system are largely overblown. It does take more effort to turn the wheel, but that’s more of an adjustment to get used to than an actual disability. And with properly loaded panniers the weight distribution feels like you are just riding a really heavy bike as opposed to a sensation of pulling something. Plus, the Divide includes very little technical riding. Second, a BOB itself is significantly heavier and has more rolling resistance. In particular, dragging that third wheel through sand is not fun at all. The weight makes a major difference on climbs, which make up a significant part of every day. I also think that having the BOB is an open invitation to pack a lot more stuff, while the panniers encourage thrifty packing. Finally, the major disadvantage of a pannier system – wind resistance – is not a huge player on the Divide. With the exception of WY, most of the route is spent going up and down mountain passes. On the uphill, the wind is generally blocked for the most part, and the downhills are usually steep enough to coast through any headwind. Plus, tailwinds help you more with a pannier system, so that evens the score a bit as well.

UPDATE (12/9/06): Not everyone agrees with me. I was reading other journals today and came across this quote from a guy who did the divide with a BOB:

I had the privilege to observe and ride with several people that had full pannier setups. Based on what I saw was a little horrifying. Everyone who had full panniers experienced more flats and loose spokes. I also noticed that they rode significantly slower than those who had trailers and they could not keep up on distance. When I watched them ride over rough terrain such as washboard, grave roads, and sand I noticed that they exerted a lot more energy to cross the obstacle, steering was more erratic, and they often had to stop and walk. Another troubling observation was that these riders were often frustrated with small inconveniences and had a negative attitude.

Full page here. He also has a chart that claims the weight savings is only about two pounds, which seems on the low side. (Looking at it again my estimate of ten pounds difference doesn't take into account the bags -- the real number is probably somewhere in between and depends whether you get the heavy waterproof panniers.)

Anyway, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I suspect the surly pannier folk he ran into were just carrying too much weight. Also, it sounded like he ran into a lot of bad weather, but still he did the route in 63 days, which is almost half again as long as it took me with my pannier system. And from the sound of his journal it wasn't like he was sitting back and not pushing or anything like that.

It may be true that if you're going to pack 40-60 pounds a BOB is the way to go, but for people who make a strong effort to go light I can't see how pulling extra weight and an extra wheel is a more efficient way to go. How many divide racers pull a BOB? And, yes, apparently there is some bad blood between the BOB crowd and the pannier crowd. But he started it. OK. Update over.

As far as specific gear goes, other people have provided a full list of equipment, so I won’t do that here except to make a few general observations. First, tools are heavy. Second, even for catastrophic repairs a solution is only a hike and a UPS overnight package away. There are only a few spots where a breakdown would mean more than one or two rest days waiting for a part. Third, mechanicals are going to happen, so it’s important to be prepared for at least the obvious ones that don’t require a heavy tool. For example, you should be able to fix a blown tire, a broken spoke, and a broken chain out on the road. Beyond that, you could carry the needed gear, but going light, keeping on top of maintenance before and during the ride, and hoping is not a bad strategy either.

My final word is not to underestimate the difference that a little bit of weight makes. We all laugh at hikers who cut holes in the handle of their toothbrushes to save weight, and weight conservation can get ridiculous. But the fact is that carrying five pounds up 2000 feet takes a lot of energy. 10 pounds (about the extra weight of a BOB) is even worse. So my advice is this: if you really just want to pedal and have a good time, keep weight in mind, and be prepared to ditch things you don’t need. If you are trying to do more than 50 miles a day, go over every piece of gear and think about what you need it for. If there’s any potential workaround or you can do without, don’t take it. Try to take some inspiration from Matthew Lee and his CamelBak full of energy bars, even if you aren’t willing to quite go that far.

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