Sunday, June 5, 2016

Running Down a Dream


My 2015 Tour Divide story from the Cordillera volume 7.  I've mentioned the Cordillera before in this blog.  The compilation of stories and information from Divide racers and fans is great material to get a feel for this event.  Proceeds from the Cordillera sales go to a college fund for Dave Blumenthal's daughter.  Hopefully you'll purchase the book to get a better insight into the mindset of some of us riders and to support the family of another racer.  Also please consider contributing this year, either as a rider or a dot watcher. 

As I get ready to leave for Banff to set out on my 3rd start of the Tour Divide I can't help but recall the previous 2 years.  How different each of those years was.  No Divide run is ever the same.  I can't wait to see what this year brings for all of us racers.

I thank all of you that have cheered me on, offered congratulations and supported me in any number of ways.  Thank you!  The heartfelt congratulations of my peers, friends and family means more to me than any record.  The first photo in this story below was snapped in Wyoming, around mile 1100 in the race, shortly before I got to Atlantic City.  I had just made a promise to myself.  To try and finish for all the dreamers that have given their heart and mind to succeed at something and come up short.  It's easy to say, "keep trying, keep going".  Sometimes you can't.  Sometimes you can.  Sometimes you catch your dream however distant and hazy it may seem.  Sometimes you have to change your plans, sometimes you need to stop chasing.  However, you never need to stop dreaming.

Running Down A Dream


A deep reddish, golden hue illuminated the western half of all the world around me.  The eastern half of the world began to darken into mystery, into dream.  Several Choristoneura occidentalis fluttered with spastic joy around the loosely hung string of Christmas lights overhead.  My mind momentarily had me wandering into a western trout stream with a vintage bamboo fly rod in hand and a Spruce Moth imitation at the end of my line.  My eyes were open but all I could see was a beautiful dream.
I was sitting on a porch, in New Mexico, in a place called Pie Town, at a magical little abode called the Toaster House.  It was sunset.  The air was totally still and retained the raw warmth of a southwest summer day.  Storms danced opposite the setting sun and seemingly not wanting to be outdone by the giant color wheel on the western horizon they lighted the sky repeatedly with powerful bolts of electricity.  I had a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in one hand and a Totino's microwave pizza folded over like a taco in the other.  I was comfortably lounged back in a slightly reclined position in a bucket seat that had been removed from an automobile.  Sitting across from me was Matthias, a young 19 year old German who had come to this place along his journey.  A journey taking him from US east coast to west.  He was walking from coast to coast pushing a heavy, unwieldily stroller.  Mostly alone.  He sat on bench seat that looked like it had come from the back of a Chrysler minivan.
A few days earlier I had finished the Tour Divide in first place, in record time.  I recounted to Matthias how I had been lined up for the start in Banff, Canada about 20 days earlier with my sister-in-law Charlene and our friend Jen as my spectators.  Jen said to me, probably to calm my nerves, “You are totally gonna win this thing.”  I responded, “Wouldn’t that be funny.” But somewhere inside I dared dream it could happen.  It was a distant, hazy dream. Very distant, extremely hazy.
Matthias and I had proclaimed the other insane during our initial meeting earlier in the day.  Now, at this late hour on a June evening we sat in our respective chairs, buckled in by seat belts still attached to our vehicle-less seats.  Each of us engaged in the art of conversation with someone the other considered a bit off kilter.  Nita, the owner of the Toaster House stopped in to see us.  The glow of the New Mexico sunset graciously gave way momentarily to her radiant spirit.  She had brought more pie from Kathy at Pie-O-Neer Pies just in case a few after-hours Divide racers stopped in later.  With an “Aloha”, she wished us goodnight and happy travels.
“What’s your dream?”, I asked Matthias.
“You’d think I was crazy.  You’d think I was nuts.”, stated Matthias
I paused for a time, smiled and said, “Try me Matthias.”

I was unable to turn the pedals.  My left leg locked into a fetal-like position.  No amount of will power would turn it over in a circular motion.  No free ride via the right leg this time.  I had come so far, worked so hard, eaten a king’s ransom of junk food.  Visions of my last year’s race played in the shortcircuiting neuronal connections under my helmet.  The real fear of not finishing again engulfed me.  A few tears rolled from my eyes.  The third of four times during this race I would shed tears.  Here I was, alone.  Only about 10 miles from Antelope Wells.  10 miles from the finish.  10 miles short of keeping a promise to myself.  10 miles short of realizing a dream.  No thoughts of first, second or third were in my mind.  Only disappointment in myself for not rationing water better in the hot New Mexico sun where the temperature approached the century mark on the thermometer.  I had been out of water for nearly 40 miles.
My speed was decreasing from a full powered 24 mph time trial effort to an ugly, wobbly coasting speed that could have allowed a kid on a trike to blow by me.  I pleadingly took a pull on the hydration hose from my frame bag.  Nothing.  I clumsily pulled the liter sized bottle from the downtube of my bike as I swerved into the left lane of roadway, unscrewed the lid and tilted it towards my parched lips.  One drop.  A drop of hot, rancid orange juice fell to my swollen tongue.  It burned and irritated my desiccated mouth.  My eyes scanned the side of the road.  I looked frantically for liquid in any form.  A bottle tossed out by a passing motorist, a cattle water tank, a 10 year old selling lemonade.  Nothing.  For the first time in over 100 miles I looked behind me.  Empty road made blurry by the heat waves rising from the tarmack.  Glorious rain storms vignetted the blurry image.  Rain poured from the sky in the distance; too far away from me to be of any aid.  I squinted to try and focus the image.  Nothing but a blur.  Yet somewhere in those heat waves rising from the roadway I knew one of the most powerful and talented ultra-athletes in the world could materialize at any moment.  I swerved severely again as I turned my head forward almost toppling my bike into the ditch.  The lyrics from Marty Robbins, Cool Water evilly played in my mind.  “This may be it”, I said aloud to no one other than a jackrabbit crouched beside the road.  It seemed like hell to me.  Winston Churchill’s quote, “If you’re going through hell, keep going” echoed in my head.  Just keep going I chanted to myself.  My mind began to wander uncontrollably.  I was no longer the keeper of my body.  It was as if I was a spectator to all that was happening.  A silent, helpless observer of a grand dream unravelling.  I could no longer see the road.  All I saw was the replay of my previous days.  I was in a waking dream.  The visions of those previous days on the Divide began to consume me.

About four hundred miles ago I had laid down in a ditch alongside highway 509 north of Milan, New Mexico and had mentally declared my race over.  My legs were still strong.  I had been cruising all day.  I had caught up with Jay and Neil three times on this day.  The first contact I had with them since the beginning of the race.  My legs felt unstoppable.  I had been riding so fast, so far that it literally felt as though a rope or cable was attached to the front of my bike and was pulling me forward.  At one point I even reached in front of my bike and waved my arm to look for illegal “assistance”.  Nothing was there.  Just some sort of powerful invisible force pulling me south.  Yet after passing Jay and Neil for the third time I pulled over, they passed a few moments later and then I silently rolled into the ditch along the highway.
I looked at the glowing screen of the phone in my hand and the message I had just typed to my wife Valerie.  One word, “Done”.  I turned off the phone as soon as the message confirmed as being sent.  A few cars whizzed by as I laid on the ground behind a large shrub, eyes now fixed on the endless expanse of stars overhead.  I had allowed myself to be caught up in a race with other people.  I was plotting out splits in my head, crunching numbers, calculating caloric intake, figuring out when to attack.  The intimate dialogue I had been having with the Divide was gone.  My thoughts were not my own but those of someone who was intent on “crushing it”.  The negativity of my thoughts towards bike racing, towards my fellow competitors and the Divide in general made me ashamed.  A tear ran down my cheek.  I began to doze off.
Although sleep comes easily on the Divide I had no dreams after day one until tonight.  There is not enough time for dreams, just enough sleep for exhaustion to give way to slightly less exhaustion before you are back on your bike again.  This night was different for me.  Dreams rapidly set in.  Not my normally disconjugate dreams like the one I had the night before the grand depart.  It was odd but a normal style of dream for me.  Kermit the Frog was chasing me around with a fine Swedish made Gransfors Bruk axe while Tinkerbell swooped in to save me with a giant fly swatter.  No, the dreams I’d have tonight were of reality.  Replays from the previous days.  Dreams that made me remember why I was out here.  I fell asleep to the visions of the dream I was currently in.  The Tour Divide.
Somewhere on the Navajo Nation Reservation a couple of exuberant teenagers on horseback came riding up along side me.  Horses in full gallop.


“Where you coming from, cuz?”, they shouted.
“Canada, Eh”, I yelled back.
“Where you going to, cuz?” they bellowed back with smiles from ear to ear.
“Mexico!  Ariba!!”, I bellowed.
We all hooped and hollered over the desolate landscape being illuminated by the setting sun.  I attempted to do a bit of a wheelie which turned into an awkward yank on the handlebar followed by about two inches of air under my front tire for a nanosecond followed by an ungraceful swerve.  The teens howled with laughter.  I’m pretty sure their horses snickered a bit too.  I shifted a gear, my muscles pulsed, I let out a shout as I waved my right arm over my head and declared a race.  They shouted with excitement as I cranked ahead of the running horses.  As I glanced behind me and saw the dust rising from the horses I could hear their joyful shouts behind me, “Mexico! Mexico! Ariba! Ariba”.  I waved to them and was off.

A large truck rolled by on the 509.  I rolled over in my sleeping bag.  Sleeping in ditches is noisy I thought to myself and then fell back to dreamland.

“What the hell is that!”, I internally shouted in my sleepy head.  Dylan?  I was laying somewhere outside of Lima, Montana near the Sheep Creek Divide.  It was before dawn on day five.  The previous couple of days I had managed to make a bit of a gap between me and a few riders who I knew were super strong, and as it turns out, super nice guys.  Ryan Correy and Dylan Taylor.
I knew of, but had never met, these guys before I started the race this year.  Dylan was in for the triple crown of bikepacking and Ryan has a list of impressive achievements to his name.  I felt honored to be riding near them.  I had met them both on day 1.  Dylan and I met and chatted a bit back before Elkford, BC and I had subsequently met Ryan at the most popular Divide stop before leaving Canada.  The A&W in Sparwood.  I had read Ryan’s blog before the Divide and viewed him as a top contender for this year’s race.  I introduced myself to him and was greeted by a smile rather than the all too often ultra-competitive scowl given out by many top athletes in the heat of competition.
We had all eaten breakfast in Lincoln, Montana on the morning of day four.  Ryan made mention of his knee bothering him and something about the blazing pace we were all caught up in.  “This isn’t sustainable”, Ryan commented.  He looked tired.  Ryan left the restaurant as Dylan and I mowed through 4 plates of food apiece.  I think there was some magic on my plates.  The huge heap of what was called but didn’t really look like chicken fried steak would prove to fuel me over the multiple Divide crossings that lay between breakfast and Butte, Montana.
I was going uphill and I was flying!  What the heck?  How is this happening?  Last year I was crawling through here.  Of course I had a fractured leg and torn muscle then.  It’s a whole lot easier riding with two good legs I mused.  After my 2014 attempt on the Divide had proved to be a bit of a bust, so to speak, I had engaged in a promise to myself.  Finish the Divide.  Don’t go out to beat anyone.  Go out to do it as fast as you can.  Go out there to live your dream of completing a grand tour of racing as fast as you can.  Go out and have fun while going fast.  The more fun you have, the faster you’ll go.  I rode my heart out in training.  I stretched, I ate right, I meditated, I tuned my bike to perfection.  I would finish this race and I would have fun no matter what.
Here I was, powering like crazy up some rather rough and steep climbs.  Dylan had stopped briefly and I zoomed ahead.  I never intended it to be a breakaway of sorts.  I just felt incredibly good all of a sudden.  Over the previous few days Dylan and I had formed a bit of a Divide friendship.  This happens when you just can’t shake a fellow rider.  You may try but alas, you find a fellow cyclist whose overall speed through a 20 hour day ends up being the same as yours.  Last year Calvin Decker, second in 2014, and I had formed this type of relationship prior to my early departure from the race.  Friendships on the Divide are few but strong and a bit odd.  Afterall, you are friends with someone you are competing against.  I think that the attitude of not competing against one another but challenging yourself over a course is the main reason many racers on the Divide can share lasting friendships during and long after the race.   There is a commonality of the challenge but it is a wholly personal journey.  You don’t work together but you do share some amazing moments.  Embracing those moments and not the race can make for the experience of a lifetime.
At some non-descript point early in the race I made some non-memorable comment to which Dylan replied, “No regrets out here.”  I took this to mean don’t have any regrets from your race.  Don’t finish wishing you could have done more.  Don’t finish with unfinished business.  Those simple words set the stage for my Divide.  It’s a simple statement.  Words we probably all contemplate and think about before the race.  For some reason hearing those words from someone else really made it sink in.  From that point forward if my legs felt good, I’d go for it.  “It” being an abstract version of some race I have never finished before.  A challenge we all compete in at some level or another, at some point in our lives.  Often “it” is just a dream.  Here I was pedaling my legs off and thinking way too deep about the simple things.  Dangerous.  I came by Ryan on a brutally rocky bit of an ascent.  I made a comment to him, something to the effect of, “I’ll see you up there!”.  I never expected it to be the last time I’d share a moment with Ryan in this race as I was certain he’d come flying by me further down the road.
Laying near a large rock wall in the Big Sheep Creek area I again yelled, “Dylan!”, this time aloud.  Heck!  It was 3am and this goofball has caught up to me and is going to let me know it.  Damn!  I grabbed my bear spray and my helmet which had my Fenix LD22 light mounted on it and turned it on.  No bicycle?  Teeth.  Eyes.  Fur?  That’s not Dylan!  In my exhausted state I had found a rather comfy little patch of gravel to lay down on.  A rock wall behind me formed part of the narrow canyon I was in, it still radiated some warmth from the day.  As my eyes focused a bit better on what I was looking at in the beam of light I realized it was a rather put-off coyote.  From what I surmised I had slept in the only path to and from her den at the base of the rock wall.  The canine was likely out on her nightly shenanigans when I decided to put my sleeping pad in her pathway.  Now, at 3am she was coming home for some shuteye only to find a rather smelly cyclist trespassing on her front porch.  I fell back asleep when I realized it wasn’t Dylan.

BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP!  My eyes lazily opened.  Stars still blazing overhead.  Jay P and Neil are probably far down the 509 in Grants by now I thought.  I contemplated getting up then pushed the snooze button on my small Casio travel alarm.  Time for more dreams.

Night began to push the sunset from the horizon in Montana.  I was descending from the Sheep Creek Divide, one of the least traveled roads in the US, or so I’ve read.  My battery powered headlight on my handlebar was begging for a fresh set of double A’s.  I didn’t oblige.  I decided instead to pedal on into the darkness along that stretch of dirt road.  It’s a piece of the Divide I’ve covered three times previously.  Twice on tour and once in my abbreviated 2014 Divide attempt.  It’s a lovely stretch of road to me.  An isolated, undulating, broad valley, mountains in the distance, a few creeks.  I pedalled slowly into the welcoming darkness.  Intense starlight and a touch of crescent moon illuminating just enough my two track pathway.  I began to hear breathing that was not my own.  I stopped and switched on the light atop my helmet which still housed fresh batteries.  There were eyes everywhere.  I had ridden into a huge herd of elk.  As my light shown upon them they began to bugle in chorus.  The sound resonated into my soul and physically vibrated the ground beneath me.  I turned off my light and remained motionless.  It felt as if a huge hide-covered cedar drum was being beaten as the herd scattered.  I left my lights off and continued down the dark two track road along the Divide.  The world was beautiful.

BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP!  Ugh!  What am I doing here?  Laying in a ditch in New Mexico along a highway.  Racing my bike down the Continental Divide.  “I hate racing!”, I cried out to the starry sky.  Tired, sore, hungry.  I pushed the snooze button again.

I was in Colorado.  It was day 8.  Early that morning I had left the comfort of a warm breakfast, hot shower and the embracing hug of Kirsten at Brush Mountain Lodge.  I plugged away at the climb over the Watershed Divide Crossing.  I had just reached the summit, head down, as another cyclist heading north, head down, summited out as well.  We nearly collided.  We both looked bewildered in the high mountain air.  I stated, “I must be at the top”.  The other cyclist, a tourer from Croatia, stated, “That must mean I am at the top too.”  We exchanged greetings and were on our respective ways.  I began descending towards Clark, Colorado.  I was cruising again, flying downhill.  Rough two-track transforming into buff gravel road.  Fast surface.  Ahead I could see another cyclist approaching.  He was out of the saddle and powering uphill as I glided down.  It was the first northbound racer, Kevin Jacobsen.  I shouted at Kevin and air-high-fived him as we passed, not wanting to slow his singlespeed progress.  I was still flying when a sense of wanting to stop overwhelmed me.  I applied the brakes as I rounded a corner and came to a full stop.  I looked around.  The greenery around me was astounding.  I had just come through the desolate Great Basin the previous day, it’s a place where your color receptors don’t get much of a workout.  I think the only color out there was the red jersey of Seb Dunne.  Dylan and I had caught up to Seb in Atlantic City, Wyoming.  After crossing through the Basin with Seb and Dylan I made a hard push and separated myself from fourth and fifth place.
The yellow flowers of the Wyethia mollis, aka Mules Ear, carpeted the slope next to me.  The leaves of some quaking aspens melodically rustled in the cool breeze.  A few small colorful wildflowers of red and purple competed with the canvas of green and yellow .  As I looked slightly uphill I noted a large metal cross with a wreath hanging on it.
I paused.  Tears began welling up uncontrollably in my eyes.  I dismounted my bike and bowed my head.  I never knew Dave Blumenthal.  During my failed attempt on the Divide last year I had an early layover in Lincoln, Montana.  I stayed at the Three Bears motel.  The owners and I chatted for some time while I shivered in their lobby checking into the establishment.  As we chatted they asked me if I ever knew Dave.  I told them no but that all Divide racers know of him.  They sat for some time telling me of Dave.  I got the impression they only knew him from the one night that he had stayed there a few years prior.  I could obviously tell that he had left a life-lasting impression on them.  I remounted my bike, waved to the cross on the hill and said,  “I hope we meet down the road, Dave.”

BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP!  I awoke from my ditch on the highway 509 outside of Milan, New Mexico.  “Time to get back on that bike and pedal forward” I stated to myself and my rubber ducky, Lucky.  I had attached Lucky to the seat stay of the bike prior to my 2014 attempt just as a bit of fun, but also a companion to my sleep deprived mind.  He had traveled far with me.  He is a better conversationalist than a cow, the oft default interlocutor on the Divide.  His beak was in pretty poor shape at this moment.  I had been riding near Dylan somewhere in Montana when I started to hear an odd noise from the back of the bike.  Dylan began to shout, with great urgency, “Duck, Duck, Duck!”.  Initially I looked up, afraid of being clotheslined by an unseen object.  I quickly realized Lucky had taken a bit of a swan dive and was kissing rubber.


I looked up to the dawn sky and said,  “Let’s get out of here; absolutely zero regrets.  There’s a big dream unfolding out there.”  I looked back at Lucky, “Not everyone can be out here.  There are lots who would love to be.  All we gotta do is get to Mexico and have a lot of fun.”  I shook off sleepy dreams for the last time and climbed out of the ditch, swung my leg over my bike and headed down the road toward Grants and the end of the race.

My fuzzy brain began to come back to the here and now for the final stretch of the Tour Divide.  My cottony mouth ached for water.  My left leg was contracted up involuntarily.  Just a little bit ago I was turning over the pedals with the force of a driven man.  There had been a few spectators in cars and vans shooting photos, and video.  Now, just several miles from Antelope Wells I was alone again.  The spectators had all driven ahead to the finish.  The main thought in my head was that I wouldn’t be the first rider they’d see at the border.  Heck I may never get to the border.  I should probably be in the back of an ambulance with some IV fluids running into my veins.
Just a couple hours ago I was at Separ.  I had come blazing down the dirt road from where I decided to make my “run for the boarder” at the turn near White Signal.  The final real stretch of dirt on the Divide, the Separ Road.  Something like 125 miles from the finish.  What made me think I could hold onto a break for that amount of time?  I really didn’t know if I could but several dreams kept bouncing around in my head and I for one wasn’t going to have any regrets.  I needed to chase those dreams.
Before making that final charge at White Signal I was in the company of Jay Petervary and Neil Beltchenko.  Both are amazing cyclists with some pretty impressive wins.  Jay is of course legendary and can consistently put in win after win in ultra races.  He works hard and earns his keep.  The guy is absolutely amazing.  I felt like a poser out there with my heavy kit, backpack and rubber duck.  I knew these guys had been up front together most of the race but I had no idea the type of racing relationship they had formed over the past few thousand miles.  Earlier in the day we had all rolled into Silver City together and aimed directly for the McDonald's on route.  Nervous would be a grand understatement for how I felt there.  I couldn’t bring myself to eat in their company.  I was a wreck.  I ordered a milkshake and then proceeded to go to the Exxon Gas Station kitty-corner away.  I aimed for the comfort of the glass heated cabinet full of fried delights.  Two burritos were all I could stomach.  Normally I’d down several burritos followed by a few donuts and a Redbull.
I had unknowingly pedaled up alongside Jay on day one of the race.  About 55 miles into the Divide.  I was cruising downhill towards the Boulton Creek Trading Post when I pulled up alongside another rider.  As I glanced left at the rider I realized that it was Jay P.  Jay P!  I started to make my introduction just as Crazy Larry leaned out the passenger window of an SUV.  He held a camera out at us and in his usual super enthusiastic voice began cheering us on.  I recall thinking at that moment, “What the heck am I doing up here alongside Jay?”.  I rolled into the Boulton Creek Trading Post ahead of Jay and several other front runners.  I think I was in third at the moment that I pulled into the store.  Standing there, like last year, was Joe Polk from MtbCast.  I resupplied as most of the front racers whisked by without a stop.  I was happy to get a treat and chat with Joe for a brief time, reset my internal dialogue and charge ahead with my personal race.
There in Silver City, New Mexico I wanted to do the same.  I didn’t know what to do.  I’m no racer, not anymore I thought to myself.  What am I doing up here?  I’m just some 40 year old guy with a dream of finishing the Divide as fast as I can.  What the heck!  I kept telling myself, “I’m not here to race these guys.  I’m here to race myself.  I’m here to have fun!”  Apparently I was talking aloud as a few patrons of the gas station stared at me as they entered the store.  I was sitting there talking to half a burrito and a beakless rubber duck.  I got back on the bike.
Shortly after exiting Silver City I caught back up with Jay and Neil.  We exchanged pleasantries and made a little idle chit chat.  Occasionally either Jay or Neil would pedal ahead just a bit and the other two of us would catch back up.  It was a pretty leisurely ride really.  No definitive push but just enough perhaps to see what the others had left in their legs.  I guess I really had no clue what was going on.  Here we were, less than 150 miles from the end of this monster of a race and the three of us were out for an afternoon cruise on loaded bikes.  My legs were feeling good.  Really good.

The night before I had made a huge push until about 3am.  Not so much in order to catch anyone but just in order to reach a point on the Adventure Cycling Association Divide maps.  It was a pretty arbitrary point.  When I sat in Pie Town munching away on pie I pointed at a place on the map and decided I HAD to make it there that night.  I was in Pie Town for some time.  I got two pieces of pie and small chicken pot pie.  I had been dreaming of pie most of the distance down the Divide.  Prior to leaving Banff, Salsa Cycles handed out stem top caps with a little engraving of a pie on it.  The “token” was worth two pieces of pie in Pie Town.  Free pie!  I mounted that topcap on my bike before departing Banff.  Every time I’d look down I’d see that little laser engraved pie taunting me just a touch.  I had been wanting pie for literally thousands of miles and I’ll be darned if I was going to pass it up just cause I was in a race.  There in Pie-O-Neer Pies I made my decision to get to the top of a hill near a primitive airstrip close to Divide crossing #27.  Nearing my randomly selected end point of the day, around 2:30 a.m. I weaved back and forth up a moderate climb in the dark.  My headlight shone upon something alongside the road.  I looked, with my helmet mounted light I could see a couple of bikepackers laying there.  Was it Jay and Neil?  I didn’t know.  I thought maybe, but no, they’d be way ahead of me by now.  Right?  Maybe not.  Nah, there are a lot of tourers out here too.  I pulled out a piece of to-go pie from my feedbag and downed it in two bites.


When I got to my stopping point, it was close to 3 a.m.  I rolled off the bike behind a large juniper shrub just off the road.  I put on my Montbell down jacket, laid on the ground, took note of the gorgeous stars, made a wish upon one shooting through the sky and fell fast asleep.  No dreams.  I awoke at around 5a.m to the sound of my alarms, I had set three separate alarms, which were almost immediately followed by the sound of bikes rolling down the gravel.  It was Jay and Neil.  I pushed snooze on one alarm and slept at least another 15 minutes.

Now, as we all rolled down the highway pavement outside of Silver City I eyed in on my GPS.  I knew there was one last stretch of dirt between us and the finish but I didn’t know exactly where it was.  I could see a few storm cells brewing around us on the hot June day and I wanted to get done with that stretch before the rain started.  My legs still felt good.  Amazingly strong.  At some point the three of us were all within conversation distance.  I nervously made talk.  “You guys probably think I’m a nutjob but I just wanted you to know it’s an honor to be here with you both.”  I meant it.  It truly was an honor to ride with everyone out there.  We were all out there doing something grand.  Something that so many other people wanted to do.  Shoot, there we were, doing it.  That’s pretty awesome.  I continued on, “So what’s the plan here guys?  If someone goes out do the other two knife him?”  I made this statement nervously and I’m not really sure what I meant by it.  I half hoped that they would both say something like, “We grab some beers at Separ and have a blast riding it in”.  The other half of me believed that the Divide is about getting done with your journey as fast as you can.  Stay true to the race, stay true to your dream.  It was just that this dream of mine was taking on a crazy conclusion.  We coasted away from one another a bit so I couldn’t hear any response, if there was one.
I reached down to my barend shifter and pulled it.  I found my gear and began to pedal faster and faster and faster.  I passed Jay and then Neil.  I was moving.  Far faster than I thought I was capable of at this point.  As I rounded the corner to make the left hand turn onto the dirt Separ Road a cattleguard separated the pavement and dirt.  I hit that cattleguard with so much speed I slid from one side to the other in the apex of my corner.  I almost flew off the edge of the road but there it was again.  That feeling that something was pulling me from in front of the bike.  This time I just went with the feeling and revelled in it.  I was flying, effortless power poured from my legs.  I figured I’d start slowing down at some point but it never happened.  I felt like a passenger on the ride of a lifetime.  I didn’t look back.
I plugged my music in.  Only the second time I’d done so in the race.  Tom Petty came on.  Running Down a Dream.  I pondered what was going on.  My legs felt bottomless, I was in the big ring of my triple, spinning smoothly on a hot, sandy, windy road in Southern New Mexico.  My mind wandered again as I tucked into my aero bars.  I began to think about a lone bike packer I had seen way back in Colorado.

I was barely into third place somewhere around day 10 as I pedalled up to the highest point of the Tour Divide.  Indiana Pass, south of Del Norte.  It was early morning as I approached the top of the pass.  The sun was just breaking over the horizon.  I could see the silhouette of a lone bikepacker.  I tried to see who it was but the sun rising behind the lone rider made that impossible.  I slowed to a stop as I approached.
“Hi Josh” said the silhouette.  It was a familiar voice but I couldn’t place it.
“Who goes there?”  I stated.
“Sam”, was the response.
I moved just a bit to see the face of the mystery rider.  Sam!  It was Sam Newbury.  The sometimes pilot and often stoker of the 2014 Tour Divide Newbury Tandem.  He had come out on a “day-ride” to this area from his home in Durango.  Sam’s an awesome guy.  Soft-spoken, kind and one heck of a strong rider.  He’s one of the best guys you’ll ever meet.  I’ve often thought that if he challenges the Divide again we just might have a new record.  My wife and I had met Sam and Katie two years ago on a tour in Montana.  Looks like we had all been out there scouting part of the route.  I got to share about a mile with Sam in Colorado’s high country.  My brain was sorely deprived of oxygen and sleep so I don’t recall a whole lot about that wonderful meeting but I do recall him mentioning something about his brother and aunt who were cheering my blue dot on.  I really wish I could remember the quote he left me with before we parted ways.  Perhaps it was a modification of an old Irish Blessing befitting bike packing.  “May the road rise to meet you, may the wind always be at your back, may the sun shine upon your face, the rains be around you but not upon you and may there always be air in your tires.”  I really have no clue what he actually said but it sure was nice to see one of my 2014 Divide compatriots.  Sam easily rode away into the morning light as I huffed and puffed my way along the high mountain road.  My mind tried to rationalize if I had actually seen Sam or if it was all just a hypoxic dream.

As I motored down the sandy Separ road I was beginning to think that Sam and his aunt cheering on my blue dot were manipulating the situation now.  I had wind at my back, air in my tires, sun on my face and there was rain behind me but not on me.  Surely I was floating over the road as it seemed perfectly smooth.  My GPS registered 26mph.   Still comfortably tucked into my aero bars I pushed even harder.
I reached the famous Continental Divide store at Separ. Came to a skidding hault.  Jumped off my bike and ran inside, passing by the counter I said to the attendant, “Sorry if it looks like I’m in a hurry but I am.  I’m running from two super fast guys!”  I flew to the drink fridge and grabbed two Gatorades to pour into my frame bag and an orange juice that I poured into my downtube mounted water bottle.  As the checker rang me up she looked at me quizzically and said, “Are you running away on purpose or out of necessity?”  As I hightailed it out of the store I responded, “For FUN!”

Right now I was having a minimal amount of fun.  My cramped leg unable to turn a pedal.  I needed liquid.  I had been drinking at a rate commensurate with my speed these past 100ish miles.  My starting point of the morning was some 200 miles behind me.  It was hot.  “Cool clear water…”  The torturous lyrics of Marty Robbins still played in my head.  I was traveling at about 5 miles per hour and ready to topple over.  I looked up to the sky and said, “Sorry”.  I’ve let down my spot watchers, myself, those who can’t be here and those people who always wanted to be out somewhere, anywhere doing something great.  Something monumentally fun.  I looked over my shoulder again expecting to see the freight train of Jay and Neil bearing down on me.  The bike swerved uncontrollably again.  My head whipped around forward as my bike careened towards the edge of the road.
I righted the bike but did not aim it back to the center of the road.  I continued in the line the bike was aiming.  Towards a culvert along the side of the road.  A culvert of water!  I bounced off the road, slammed on the brakes and toppled off the bike into the dirt.  Grabbed my liter bottle from the downtube and took off the lid.  Down on my hands and knees I looked into the water.  Not healthy was my assessment.  I’m pretty sure I could flagella equipped beings finning around in the puddle.  I plunged the bottle into the abyss of goo.  As my bottle filled my eyes tracked the source of the water to the culvert.  As my eyes raised along the line of the water it met a fenceline and there behind the fence a face looked at me.  “Moooo”, was the response.  A lone cow peered back at me.  Think of it as chocolate milk I thought to myself.  I downed the entire bottle and thrust it back down into the semi-liquid puddle.  Two in the stomach and a third to go.
Almost immediately my seized leg relaxed.  My whole body eased up, except my stomach, and my eyes became clearer.  I remounted my Salsa Fargo and was off.  The cow proclaimed, “Moooo!” as I rode away.  I had the bottle in my hand and was slowly drinking it down as my speed increased again.  I peered over my shoulder one more time as I made the final corner and slight climb towards Antelope Wells.  I saw no one behind.  Just storms in the fading light.  Over-splash of muddy, nasty water dribbled down my chin and onto my orange jersey.  Full-bodied, earthy a bit smoky, nutty and with heavy overtones of….mooo.  I holstered the bottle and rode on.
Involuntarily a huge smile formed on my face and tears filled the eyes hidden behind my polarized lenses.  An overwhelming sense of joy grabbed me and almost tackled me to the hot pavement.  I sat upright and zipped up my jersey.  I was there.  I could see the border.  Antelope Wells in all its glory.  Several people had made their way to the finish.  It was well after the 4pm gate closing time but local Hachita stalwart Jeffrey Sharp had somehow managed to coax the border agents to leave the gate open so that we could roll all the way to the US/Mexico bronze plaque border monument.  The prize of the Divide.  A photo by the monument.

I recall Jay rolling through as we high-fived.  I recall Neil giving me a big hug.  I remember sitting with the two of them, bikes behind us, with beers and oranges in our hands.  It all seems like a dream to me.  A fuzzy sort of dream.  Luckily no axe toting frogs were there.  Just a few guys who had found their way down the Continental Divide in a friendly wager to see who could get there first.  It was indeed surreal and I’d had a blast doing it.

My dream was a reality.  What do yo do with that?  You embrace it.  Much of my youth revolved around cycling.  I’d ride the endless country roads of my childhood dreaming of being in the Tour de France.  Mostly I’d ride alone.  Just a weird kid on his ten-speed.  Dreaming.  Time trialing through France, climbing the Pyrenees, racing the peloton, a winning breakaway, zipping up my jersey on the final stretch down the Champs-Elysees.  Running down a dream!

On the porch in Pie Town, New Mexico, strapped into my bucket seat the sun faded ever more leaving behind deepening tones of ruby in the sky.  Lightning continued to flash with authority in the east.  The string of Christmas lights overhead happily shown on without a care in the world.  Spruce moths continued to flitter away.  Matthias looked at me.
“You’ll really think my dream is crazy” Matthias stated again.
“What is your dream?” I repeated.
He looked me square in the eyes and read my face.
“Tonight we dream big.  Tomorrow we run after those dreams.  We may not catch all of them but we’ll have a whole lot of fun trying!”

Photo by Dot Chaser ~ JMH~ Thank you!

2015 Result: 1st  Place - 14:11:37

Friday, February 19, 2016

Tour Divide Version 2.5

Synopsis of my 2014 Tour Divide run:  DNF, broken leg, torn muscle, infected wound, bears who wanted my chicken strips, power sapping wet/muddy roads. grin and bear it mentality and more rain than Seattle in December.

2014 Rain
Synopsis of my 2015 Tour Divide run:  First place, course record, free pie, sunshine every day, singing elk, smooth buff roads (well sort of), miles by smiles and less rain than Death Valley in July.

2015 Free Pie!  Yeah Salsa Bikes!
Two totally opposite runs down the Divide for me.  Should be happy with that right?  Should be able to pack my bags head out on long tours and smile from here to eternity based on what I had been able to achieve through hard work and perseverance.  Pat myself on the back and ride off into the sunset.  A fellow should be good to go on a result like that.

Day 1 2015
Then what the hell am I doing signing up for this race again?  The conditions and my luck in 2015 were about as prime as any rider can dream of.  The conditions and my luck in 2014 were like a bad comical tragedy.  I've used a certain word more than once to describe my 2014 ride.  Horrid.  The weather was horrid, I felt horrid, the food I put in my body was horrid.  Quitting was indeed horrid.

Of course despite everything in 2014 I was truly happy.  I had a blast!  My 2015 run, there is video evidence in the last 100 miles of the Tour Divide on Facebook somewhere of me being "super happy!"  I had worked so hard to get back out for another shot at the race in 2015 that I could have been dead last place and my reaction would have been exactly the same.  Super Happy!  A theme from my 2015 run was being happy on the bike and smiling.  That is true.  I was happy.  Yes, it hurt a whole heck of a lot and I shed some tears too but man oh man was I happy.  As I mentioned in one of the online interviews post-race it was like being a kid with a really cool bike, a credit card and carte blanche in the candy aisle.  It's a whole lot of fun!

Pie Town Magic
The Divide is so much more than a bike race.  Or at least it is to most of us who never, or only very secretly dare, dream of winning.  Most of us enter the Divide with the knowledge, which seems like fact, that we will not place first in this race.  Heck, most of us have no clue what we are doing out there.  Many of us have no idea how our bodies will react to such an ultra-distance event.  Most of us are just out there to challenge ourselves over the course.  We all have our reasons.

Children at Play
So what are my reasons for wanting to return in 2016?  No clue.  Some of my friends tell me, "Well you are the defending champion, you have to race."  I'm not sure that in a race like the Divide there is such a thing as a "defending" champion.  We all survive the course.  None of us conquer it.  None of us "own" this race.  It's a monster!  Statistically, there is about a 60% completion rate for the racers.  Let's just say 50% as it sounds more impressive.  So all of us that toe the line for the Grand Depart have a fifty-fifty chance of finishing.  Indeed, my own stats from the two years I've lined up match these numbers.  One DNF, one finish.  Why play the odds?

I keep coming back to one simple reason.  Simplicity itself.  After dropping out in 2014 and before starting in 2015 I wrote my account from my 2014 run.  I ended that story with a statement.  "I yearn for the simple life again."  The Divide is so complex, so vast, so encompassing that it requires simplicity to understand it and to finish it.  The less we take, the faster we go.  The times I was having the most fun were the times I was going the fastest.  Riding your bike is easy.  Everything else is hard.

Perhaps I'll just be taking the easy, simple path this June.  I'll just go ride my bike.  I'll be a kid on a really cool bike with a credit card, stars overhead and miles and miles of the unknown before me.  A great story ready to unfold.  It doesn't matter the placing.  I know, many people wonder why race if you aren't concerned with first place.  It's simple and if the simplicity of it escapes you then I urge you to take on some grand, crazy personal challenge.  I believe that most of us that dream of the Divide are simply that.  Dreamers.  However, as I can fully attest, dreams can come true.  It's simple, you just keep chasing them.  If you don't catch them you can have a whole lot of fun trying.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Some Wintertime Fun!

Oh what a wonderful world!  Been out having some fun this new year.  Fatbiking, snowcamping, backcountry skiing.  It's been a blast!  Lots of the year yet to come.  Excited to see what's around the next corner.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Cordillera

Do you need a good book for a cold winter day?  Do you want to race the Tour Divide?  Do you want to read stories from some of the racers of the Tour Divide?  Do you want to know what gear the racers used?  Do you want to read my personal 2015 Tour Divide story?  The Cordillera is the place to find it.  Here is the most current volume of the Cordillera, Volume 7, which contains insights, stories and data from the 2015 Tour Divide.  

Sam Newbury - Cordillera V7 Cover Photo Photographer

I have read every volume of the Cordillera and consider it essential training material for the Tour Divide.  Bikepacking racers are a weird little clan and this book is probably the highest concentration of stories and thoughts from our little band of misfits.  The proceeds also go to a college fund for Linnaea Blumenthal, the daughter of our Tour Divide brother Dave Blumenthal who was killed on the route in 2010.

I'm sure this new volume will contain many laughs, emotions and tears from this years race.

Here is an excerpt from my story in the Cordillera, Volume 7

My speed was decreasing from a full powered 24 mph time trial effort to an ugly, wobbly coasting speed that could have allowed a kid on a trike to blow by me.  I pleadingly took a pull on the hydration hose from my frame bag.  Nothing.  I clumsily pulled the liter sized bottle from the downtube of my bike as I swerved into the left lane of roadway, unscrewed the lid and tilted it towards my parched lips.  One drop.  A drop of hot, rancid orange juice fell to my swollen tongue.  It burned and irritated my desiccated mouth.  My eyes scanned the side of the road.  I looked frantically for liquid in any form.  A bottle tossed out by a passing motorist, a cattle water tank, a 10 year old selling lemonade.  Nothing.  For the first time in over 100 miles I looked behind me.  Empty road made blurry by the heat waves rising from the tarmack.  Glorious rain storms vignetted the blurry image.  Rain poured from the sky in the distance; too far away from me to be of any aid.  I squinted to try and focus the image.  Nothing but a blur.  Yet somewhere in those heat waves rising from the roadway I knew one of the most powerful and talented ultra-athletes in the world could materialize at any moment.  I swerved severely again as I turned my head forward almost toppling my bike into the ditch.  The lyrics from Marty Robbins, Cool Water evilly played in my mind.  “This may be it”, I said aloud to no one other than a jackrabbit crouched beside the road.  It seemed like hell to me.  Winston Churchill’s quote, “If you’re going through hell, keep going” echoed in my head.  Just keep going I chanted to myself.  My mind began to wander uncontrollably.  I was no longer the keeper of my body.  It was as if I was a spectator to all that was happening.  A silent, helpless observer of a grand dream unravelling.  I could no longer see the road.  All I saw was the replay of my previous days.  I was in a waking dream.  The visions of those previous days on the Divide began to consume me.