Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tour Divide 2015: Part 3 of 3 Colorado to Finish

This post is part 3 of 3 covering my adventures during the 2015 Tour Divide Race. Part 3 covers the days between Colorado and the finish in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. If you missed parts 1 or 2 be sure to check out Tour Divide 2015: Canada to Idaho (Part 1) and Tour Divide 2015: Idaho to Colorado (Part 2)

I had spent the past few days riding with Jon, a fellow competitor while nursing an injured knee. We pulled into Steamboat Springs together.

Hitting Steamboat Springs on a weekend was challenging. It took forever to find a hotel and the one we finally found was well off the route up at the ski hill. At this point I was using my knee more as an excuse than a necessity for finding a hotel. I had grown to enjoy the comforts of a hotel room any chance I had.

Day 16: Steamboat Springs, CO to Silverthorne, CO
125 miles – 9,890 feet of climbing - Strava

On Day 15, Jon and I went our separate ways. Jon wanted to wait for the bike shop and post office to open in the morning so I headed out on my own again.

While my knee still hurt, the pain was getting much more manageable each day. I decided today was the day to get back in the race. I wanted to get to Silverthorne tonight.

On my way over the last pass into Kremling, I was under heavy attack by mosquitos. A swat of my hand onto my leg would easily kill 10+ mosquitos but they would instantly be replaced with another wave of combatants.

Distracted by the demon spawn mosquitos, I completely missed a bear crossing the road 100 feet in front of me. I noticed a car stopped in the road and as I passed by he told me what had happened. This was my only bear sighting the entire race and I didn’t even see it.
I had finally had enough so I took a quick detour into Kremling and bought some mosquito repellent. Ah. Relief!

After Ute pass I hit the wall. While it was a tough day, the real cause was poor planning. I thought Silverthorne was about 30 miles closer than it was. Not knowing how far it is to a destination just saps my energy like nothing else. I became so tired that I couldn’t make it to Silverthorne. I slept on the side of the highway just 10 miles short of Silverthorne.

Day 17: Silverthorne, CO to Salida, CO
124 miles – 6,534 feet of climbing - Strava

The best part of stopping short of Silverthorne is I was able to roll into town in time for breakfast the next morning. 

From Silverthorne to Breckenridge is a beautiful bike path that connects the towns and goes around a man-made lake. I assume this trail can get pretty busy on a nice weekend day.

Silverthorne, Fisco and Breckenridge are all reasonably sized towns with all supplies. Yet I didn’t resupply in Silverthorne and found myself struggling to find anything along the route in Breckenridge. I’m sure I could have found a grocery store, but not knowing the town made it hard to navigate. For next time I need to make sure I know where good resupply options exist in every town.
After Breckenridge is Boreas Pass. This is the first time over 11,000 feet in the race and I was concerned. It turned out to be a non-issue. The course overall does a good job of gradually increasing elevation which helped. Plus the ride up to the pass is steady, but not too steep. It was a very scenic and enjoyable climb.

I was looking forward to more of the same on the descent, but it wasn’t to be. The route turns off the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route to take the Gold Dust trail. This starts out as a rocky steep and muddy trail. By this point, my singletrack skills had significantly atrophied and parts of the trail were a challenge. This was another great opportunity for suspension.

I soon dropped down into Como. This town has some art galleries, but nothing else. I’ve heard rumor they may re-open the mercantile which would be awesome. If you’re on a more leisurely pace check out the Como Depot where a guy has been restoring the train depot to its original glory. I’ve been following progress on Facebook, but have never seen it.

That afternoon some thunder storms rolled in and the lighting was hitting the ground too close for comfort. I took shelter and after I thought it had died down I headed back out. This time I got caught in the storm with no shelter for miles. Lightning strikes all around me and nothing taller than six inches (other than me). 

I pedaled like there’s no tomorrow driven by fear and pure adrenaline. I eventually found a house in the middle of nowhere and huddled by the garage for cover. The owner came out and let me inside his garage for better shelter. I used my down time to take a nap and book a room in Salida.

The storm eventually blew over and I was back at it and on track for a late evening arrival in Salida. However, the one thing I didn’t count on was the storm turned the roads heading to Salida into impossible mud. 

It was now dark and my wheels wouldn’t turn due to the heavy buildup of mud. I spent hours dragging my bike through the mud again with no idea how much farther I had to go. To make things worse, I had planned on reaching Salida around 8pm so I didn’t have enough food for the seven extra hours of travel time. I ran out pretty early.

Eventually I hit the last summit before Salida and the road dried out instantly for a screaming fast descent into town at 3am. Starving and exhausted I found my hotel, but didn’t see any options for food. I went to sleep hungry.

Day 18: Salida, CO to Sargents, CO
55 miles – 4,383 feet of climbing - Strava

I had caught back up with some riders that passed me during my earlier troubles so I decided to get up at 6 so I could keep up or even pass them.

This was a huge mistake. No food and no sleep is not a winning combination. When I got up in the morning my IQ was barely high enough to remember how to breathe. I wanted to ride into town to get breakfast and have my bike checked out by Absolute Bikes. In my suboptimal mental state I went the wrong way and rode an extra 20 miles just trying to find down town.

I ate three breakfasts and was still hungry and I had no energy or desire to pedal. I eventually made it out of town (the final time) at 1pm. I then struggled to haul myself over Marshall Pass and dropped into Sargents. After eating lunch, I just couldn’t see myself riding more so I rented a cabin and went to sleep by 6:30 PM.

Day 19: Sargents, CO to Del Norte, CO
114 miles – 6,076 feet of climbing - Strava

I woke up at 4 feeling like a new man and headed out into the darkness having lost all the time I fought so hard to gain back.

After riding much of the day I came across an unmarked intersection that I was pretty sure led to La Garita. La Garita is a small town just off route with a store/restaurant/gas station. I didn’t have this mapped on my GPS so I took a flyer and turned off route.

I found the La Garita store just over a hill. It turns out the lady that runs it had to go into town and was closing early for the day in just a couple minutes. She was nice enough to make me a burger which I ate out front while she closed up.

Missing this store wouldn’t have been the end of the world as Del Norte is just 20 more miles but the burger and ice cream were no less amazing.

I also had to stop because I spent the last several hours enjoying the sound of saying “La Garita” in my best Spanish accent. It sounded much like the La Quinta ads on TV.

In Del Norte I stayed at a bed and breakfast just off route. When checking Expedia the night before there weren’t many options, but once in town I found there were a few options and even a hostel. I don’t recommend the B&B route as it becomes very hard to maintain a true TDR schedule.

Day 20: Del Norte to just shy of the New Mexico border
82 miles – 8,278 feet of climbing - Strava

I talked the B&B host into an early breakfast and headed out for the high point of the route. It was all uphill from here to Indiana Pass just below 12,000 feet.

10 miles into the day and after some significant climbing I realized I never filled my water. I had a big day planned and only about a cup of water. Uh Oh. 

I didn’t want to turn back and ride that climb again so immediately began rationing my water. I’m not sure which was more stupid. Forgetting to fill my water or thinking I could ration enough.

Fortunately I caught a break. Three riders going Northbound touring part of the route stopped to chat. After a while I mentioned my predicament and they all offered me their water since they only had an easy descent into town remaining. This was Fixie Dave, Cricket, and another guy who’s name I can’t remember. They are amazing people with big hearts and I can’t thank them enough. They also told me not to filter water from that area because there is a super fund site cleaning up the environmental mess from a strip mine at the top of the mountain. The water here is full of heavy metals.

At the summit I ran up the hill beside the road to ensure I broke 12,000 feet. For some reason this was important to me. 

After that, I expected some descending. But oddly there wasn’t much. The next couple hours were short descents followed by more long climbs and more short descents.

Eventually I made it into Platoro for a burger and then found the long descent heading into Horca.
I made it up over the paved pass after Horca just in time for another thunder storm. Again, the lightning was too close for comfort so I needed shelter. I found a good spot and rather than just sit there and wait out the storm I decided to set up my tent and go to sleep. It was still far too early, but I wasn’t going anywhere soon. 

Day 21: Just shy of the New Mexico border to Abiquiu, NM
108.9 miles – 7,485 feet of climbing - Strava

I slept far too long and got back on the bike around 7:00. The pavement ended almost immediately and then I ran into Jon. I thought he was still behind me, but he made up time while I was in Sargents and then got up early and passed by me as I was loading up again.

We quickly ran into the aftermath of the previous night’s storm. The roads were thick peanut butter and again impossible to ride. But the good news is we were now in New Mexico.

We rode together for much of the day. Then I started dragging. There was a lot of riding in my lowest gear. I couldn’t handle it any more. Either I needed to pick up the pace or I needed to walk for a bit. I chose to pick up the pace. 

I attacked the next hill dropping Jon. I then pushed hard on the descent into Canon Plaza where a lady has a snack shack along the route. I ate some food and waited around for a while, but there was no Jon. Eventually I pushed on without him.

It turns out Jon had a flat that caused a pretty nasty crash. He was OK and finished, but this was the last I saw of him.

I rode on to Abiquiu following the tracks of two guys I would call the Aussie and the Welch. (Mic and Richard). 

The rains came back and the roads again deteriorated. They were still ridable, but my drivetrain was not happy. I only had two gears. My lowest and my highest. 

When I hit pavement it was a nice big gear romp into Abiquiu so my limited gearing wasn’t too bad.
For some reason I thought Abiquiu was bigger than it is. I had heard people talking about the pizza place and my notes said all services. But when I got there, I was surprised to find a whole lot of nothing.

I had passed the Abiquiu Inn, a super fancy looking motel, with the hopes of finding something more appropriate for a mountain biker covered in mud. But there was nothing. 

I was cold and wet and really wanted someplace warm to dry out. So I backtracked to the Abiquiu Inn. My wife had told me they were all booked, but I had to try. It turns out they had rooms and even gave me a 60% discount. 

The room was amazing, and the food was spectacular. I set out all my wet clothes in front of the fire place and turned on the AC as the fire made the room way too hot.

Unable to come up with a pun for New Mexico, I pondered whether my old sombrero would be compatible with the New Mexico or if I’d need to buy a new sombrero. What about my burro? Would a new Burro work in Old Mexico?

Day 22: Abiquiu, NM to Cuba, NM
78 miles – 8,365 feet of climbing - Strava

The next day I decided to continue with my approach from the night before and push harder attacking hills. This turned out to be a pretty good strategy as the climb out of Abiquiu is a long and technical one. There is no way to take it easy and be successful.

I passed the Ausie and the Welch and pushed on. Near the summit I then passed Nicklaus (the Swede).

As early afternoon approached so did the thunder storms. The roads were starting to deteriorate, but were still ridable. I didn’t want to stop and convinced myself the lightning was far enough away. Then suddenly there was a flash and crack seemingly right next to me. I almost fell off my bike from the sound. That was too close. It was time for shelter.

Once the storm passed I proceeded with my all too familiar lowest or highest gears only and limped into Cuba where I found the crappiest motel of the trip but didn’t care. 

I bought a rag at the dollar store across the street and proceeded to clean my bike so I’d have more than two gears to choose from in the morning.

Day 23: Cuba, NM to Grants, NM
121 miles – 3,889 feet of climbing - Strava

The next morning was a long road ride. The longest road of the entire route. It was 120 miles of flat and straight pavement to Grants. In other words torture.


I pulled into Grants exhausted. I was paying the price for pushing so hard out of Abiquiu. 

The Aussie, Welch, and Swede were ahead of me all day as they took off earlier out of Cuba. Where they were today didn’t really matter because I expected we were all heading to the same place. It wasn’t until that evening that I realized they had decided to push on past Grants and go all the way to Pie Town. “That was the winning move” I thought. None of us were anywhere in the conversation for the win, but it was a race so I really wanted to beat them. They now had a 70 mile lead on me and that was a lot to make up. An impossible task.

While I was disappointed they had pulled ahead, I was comfortable with my decision to stop. I needed some rest. The best part of stopping in Grants is I found a hotel next door to a 24 hour Denny’s and Walmart. I had everything I needed and I could start early the next morning.

Day 24: Grants, NM to the Gila, NM
110 miles – 4,439 feet of climbing - Strava

On the ride into Pie Town I could see their tracks. It was clear they had a hard time of it with the mud. By morning it was mostly all ridable. 


I stopped in at Pie-O-Neer Pies and got two free pieces of pie thanks to Salsa Cycles and some stew. It turns out Pie-O-Neer doesn’t really sell much other than pie. The other place has more food options which would have been better.

I scarfed down my Pie and was back on the bike heading into the Gila. 

The rains came early this day and my drivetrain was quickly crippled again. Sometimes I could ride and other times I would have to walk dragging my bike. But I wasn’t making particularly good time. I had hoped to make it half way through the Gila, but I was only 40 miles out of Pie Town when I decided to call it.

I found an abandoned old farm that still have a covered porch. I set up camp on the porch and went to sleep planning to get up after the rain stopped. It didn’t stop until the next morning.

Day 25: The Gila, NM to Silver City, NM
136 miles – 9,458 feet of climbing - Strava

As I was packing up in the dark, a few riders went by. I couldn’t tell who they were but they would be my target for the day.

I set out at as brisk of a pace as the conditions would allow and after just an hour I caught up with the riders who passed me in the dark. It was the International trio I thought was gone forever. It turned out they didn’t reach Pie Town until very late and left Pie Town just 30 minutes ahead of me. After a rough night, they got frustrated with the mud and stopped after a very short day a couple miles before I did.

We chatted and I rode with them for a bit but then decided I had to ride my own pace and pushed on without them.

I really wanted to get to Silver City today. With the shorter ride than planned the day before, this was going to be a long day. I both ran out of water and food. I found a stream for water, but was SOL for food.

I hit the singletrack for the CDT hiking trail just at sunset. The trail could have been fun in the daylight, but in the dark there were hidden rocks everywhere. I kept trying to ride it but would hit rocks and flip over the bars. After several failed attempts I resigned myself to walking. I didn’t know how long the route would be like this, but I knew I was going to be there a while.

Around 2 am I pulled into Silver City with fatigue winning out over elation. I found a hotel and then a 24-hour McDonalds. I wouldn’t be going to bed hungry tonight.

The International Trio had stopped in the singletrack so I had a bit of a lead.

Day 26: Silver City, NM to Antelope Wells, NM
124 miles – 2,275 feet of climbing - Strava

The next morning I got up with just three hours of sleep. I knew I would have adrenaline on my side today so I didn’t need sleep. This would be the day I crossed the finish line.

It was a fast ride to Separ. I could see tire tracks in the sand and imagined they belonged to the international trio. This made me push harder. I spent a lot of time above 20 MPH. I called my wife, who was picking me up, to tell here I was ahead of schedule for the day and would be at the finish line between 3 and 5 PM. She also informed me that I was well ahead of the Trio.
I then headed back out into the New Mexico heat. It didn’t feel too hot until after Separ. This is where the heat suddenly became oppressive. 

Seeing the first road sign for Antelope Wells was pretty exciting. This was really happening.
I wasn’t racing for position, but I still felt the need to push hard. This was the last day and I didn’t want to leave anything on the table.

I got into Hachita and found the water spigot next to the community center. I took a quick bath in the cool water then was back on my way.

With about 10 miles to go I heard cowbells behind me. It was my wife cheering me on. I continued to sip on my now scalding water knowing there were refreshing and cool drinks in the car with my wife.
It was torture knowing my wife had ice cold drinks in the car. All I had to do was ask. But the self-supported nature of the race forbid even this level of assistance. So I continued to sip on the Scalding water in my bottle and push on for the finish.

Crossing the finish line released some powerful emotions. I cried for a moment and then it was over. Just like that. 25 days 9 hours and 8 minutes of pushing myself to extremes and it was all over in an instant. 

I had pushed so hard for this moment and the second it was gone I was sad. I went from elation to sorrow in seconds. I immediately missed it and I have missed it every minute of every day since.
That much time alone with my thoughts while pushing my body to its limits was beyond amazing. It was like a reset button for my soul. 

During the race I wrote poetry, I reflected on life decisions, smiled like never before, and I met my true self.

I loved the Tour Divide.


1 comment:

  1. Finally got around to reading this whole write-up Troy. Great job! Your finishing words really resonated with me. I know what that feeling is like all too well. I know you've got some big plans for the next two years and I'm looking forward to following along on your blog and cheering on your blue dot.

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