July 13, 2018

2018 Tour Divide - Banff, Alberta, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico - June 8 to July 7

June 8, 2018 - Tour Divide Day 1 - 100 Miles from Banff, Alberta to Elkford, British Columbia. Race day is finally here!  After a restless night of sleep at the Bow View Lodge in Banff, I loaded my bike and rode to the 8am start at the Banff YWCA with half of my brain riding high from the Washington Capitals' Stanley Cup victory last night and the other half frozen in a petrified stupor. What had I gotten myself into?  All of the riders gathered for a group picture in front of the Y and then we listened to some intro speeches by a Banff relic who refers to himself as "Crazy Larry." His wisest words of advice to all of us:  "If you see a bear . . . take a picture!"  Brilliant.  An addition to Crazy Larry, there was quite the cast of characters at the start.  One guy was wearing a tutu, one guy had a guitar mounted on the back of his bike, one woman was dressed as a princess and one guy had a big take-out pizza box strapped to his back (presumably filled with a full pizza).  At 8am, there was a rolling group start to the trailhead and then we were off on a 2700+ mile journey to the Mexico border with a running clock that would only stop upon our arrival at Donald's big beautiful new border wall.  By last count, there were 182 riders at the start, though some were only unofficially racing and didn't even purchase/rent the GPS spot-tracker. The weather for Day 1 was perfect - highs in the 70s with a light breeze.  However the weather was supposed to drastically change over the next few days to cold and rainy and possibly even snowy.  My original plan was to start slowly with 75-80 miles the first day and another 75-80 miles the second day.  Thinking that I should take advantage of the good weather, I cavalierly made an 11th-hour change to the plan that was so carefully crafted over the prior 5 months and booked a hotel room in Elkford 100 miles from the start.  Dumb decision for reasons that will become evident later.  The first 30-35 miles were on a beautiful wooded trail that meandered and rolled south from Banff before spitting us out on a dirt road for about 5 miles.  On the dirt road, a guy slowly passed me who looked faintly familiar. I rode up alongside him and exclaimed “Hey, I think I voted for you for President the last two elections!"  He laughed out loud. It was none other than former New Mexico Governor and twice Independent Presidential Candidate, Gary Johnson. I rode with Gary for about an hour talking a little bit about politics and a lot about the race and he tried to help me figure out how to work my Garmin eTrex GPS computer as I couldn't get the mapping software to work. Seriously, what kind of moron shows up at the start of an adventure like this and doesn’t know how to use his bike computer? At least Gary was getting a glimpse into the brain capacity of one of his typical voters. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t win! At about mile 45, we hit some amazing single-track that swooped through a rolling forest for about 10 miles.  During that stretch, I lost Gary (never to be seen again), but had a blast. However, during that stretch of singletrack, there were a series of short steep rises that ultimately triggered some leg cramps. Really?  I hadn't cramped all spring. At mile 60 we arrived at the first resupply point of the Tour Divide, a campground grocery store called Boulton Creek.  My legs were starting to feel pretty sore by then and I started to realize that I had taken Day 1 for granted by not accounting for altitude or the cumulative elevation gain as we had already climbed nearly 5,000 feet by the time we reached Boulton Creek.  In short, I did not drink enough fluids and, even dumber, I did not supplement my water with any electrolytes.  From Boulton Creek, the route took a turn upward toward our first big sustained climb of the Tour and first crossing of the Continental Divide, Elk Pass. After cresting the pass, it was a beautiful 30 miles or so of a swooping dirt road known as Elk River Road. This took us to the turn off to a climb called Koko Claims at mile 97, but I had already chosen to stay in Elkford three miles past the turn-off and finally arrived in Elkford at about 9pm, sore and tired and quietly asking myself how the hell I was going to do this for the next 27 to 30 days.  I ate a barely edible pizza for dinner and then quickly fell asleep in the bed of the somewhat seedy Elkford Motor Inn.

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Crazy Larry

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Group Photo - That's me top right

As clean as I'll be for the next month

Suspension Bridge

Wild Horses

Tour Divide Day 2 - 73 Miles - Elkford, British Columbia to Fernie, British Columbia. I awoke at about 6:30am feeling a bit disoriented and lightheaded. I was sore, tired and dehydrated from the previous day, but wanted to get an early start as the next section of the race, a climb known simply as "Koko Claims," was universally acknowledged as the toughest section on the whole Tour Divide.  From Elkford, it was a 3-mile ride back to the Koko Claims turnoff and I took it fairly easy to get warmed up.  It was a chilly morning with temperatures in the low 40s and there was dense cloud cover with the threat of rain. The first two miles after the turn-off were rideable except for one section a couple hundred yards long that was too steep and too rocky to ride. I started feeling a false confidence thinking maybe this wouldn't be such a big deal after all. This was going to be one of the first of many times over the next 2700 miles where false confidence would kick my ass. At the beginning of the 3rd mile, I was suddenly faced with a steep wall of rocks. Forward momentum allowed me to ride about the first 20 feet and then I had to dismount and start pushing on foot. The rise continue for about 1/4 mile before slightly leveling, only to quickly and sharply rise again . . . and again . . . and again.  After about 45 minutes and thinking it couldn't get any worse, it did. Heavy winter snows resulted in several avalanches that covered the trail with rocks, snow and fallen trees. The first one was about the size of a football field and required both dexterity and strength to push and lift a 58-pound bike up, over, through and around the debris. This was followed by several more steep rises of rocky trail and two more dumps of avalanche debris. It was horrendous beyond anything I could have imagined.  I had been told that Koko Claims involved several hours of hike-a-bike.  I have done plenty of hike-a-bike in my mountain-biking life.  However, never had I encountered something this evil. I think the only way to describe it is to imagine sitting on an upright bench-press, setting the weight at 58 pounds, and then pressing about 2,000 times!  And don't forget to do it in a refrigerator . . . one that spits out hail and misty light rain.  And make sure you do this after having exercised for 13 hours the day before.  And make sure you are dehydrated because you didn’t drink enough fluids the day before. And finally, make sure you are at an altitude at least a mile above sea-level. A mile from the summit and almost 2 hours into this nonsense, I went to refill my water bottles with a 2 liter bottle attached to a cage on my front fork only to discover that the 2L bottle had cracked and was empty. To make matters worse, the terrain was so steep that there were no further creek crossings where I could filter water.  So now I was compounding the dehydration from yesterday with a new shortage of fluids, all while burning calories at a dizzying rate. Fuuuuuck! I finally reached the top after 3 hours of absolutely torturous climbing and cursing.  I was feeling dizzy and borderline delirious and needed to sit for 20 minutes just to gather myself.  Fortunately, about a half mile into the descent, there was a stream crossing and I was able to fill my bottles.  I was using a special filtration formula that purified the water, but that was supposed to take 30 minutes.  I couldn't wait another 30 minutes, so I just gulped the water fresh from the stream.  The descent continued through some beautiful forest and then reached an old logging road that would descend another 50 miles towards Fernie.  The logging road was pretty damp and soggy from early morning rains and proceeded to get worse as I descended.  At about mile 30, the road turned to quagmire and I spent a good 30 minutes literally stuck in the mud. Every tire rotation accumulated more mud, my chain kept falling off and I had to keep pulling off to the side of the road to clean the mud from my bike.  I was frustrated, exhausted, dizzy, pissed off and questioning why the hell I chose to do this stupid race in the first place. After cleaning mud off the chain and tires for the 5th time, I finally just threw my bike on the ground and sat on the side of the trail, head in hands, not sure whether to laugh, cry or pass out.  After sitting for about 10 minutes, a woman with whom I had ridden for about 30 minutes yesterday (Jacki K) recognized me and stopped to see if I was ok.  I was definitely not ok. She said I looked really pale and asked me what I had been eating and drinking over the last 24 hours.  When I told her about the lack of water and the failure to use electrolytes the first day, she immediately reached into her backpack, grabbed a full bottle of electrolyte tablets as well as some salt pills and basically force-fed me.  While I didn't suddenly spring to life like Marty McFly at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance in ‘Back to the Future,’ I did start feeling better pretty quickly and was able to muster the strength to get through the rest of the mud and pedal the last 40+ miles to the town of Fernie where I checked into the first hotel I saw (Best Western of Fernie). I was feeling as low as I could possibly feel. I was still a bit nauseous and light-headed and as I reflected on the danger of being alone and unable to get help, I again questioned my sanity and my ability to make rational decisions . . . such as deciding beforehand that the Tour Divide was a colossal dumbshit idea! To make matters worse, cold rain and mixed precip was in the forecast for the next two days. I was seriously contemplating saying “fuck this” and catching a shuttle to the nearest airport. Fortunately Lisa and my buddy Kevin Kane gave me pep-talks by phone and text into the evening and I agreed to sleep on it. I ate a huge plate of Lasagna at the hotel restaurant and was asleep before 9pm.

Koko Claims Hike
Koko Claims Avalanche Debris
Looking Back at Avalanche Crossing

Feeling a Little Better
Funny Sign Approaching Fernie

Tour Divide Day 3 - 47 Miles From Fernie, BC to Butts Cabin, Flathead Valley, BC.  I woke up at 6:30am in my Fernie hotel room still feeling queasy and weak. On top of that, I felt very alone, very nervous about continuing, very doubtful about my ability or desire to successfully complete this race and completely unmotivated to go out into the cold rain and, even worse, camp out in the cold rain . . . in grizzly-bear country no less.  I was 107 miles from the US Border and 118 miles from Eureka, Montana, the next town with full services and indoor accommodations. In between was nothing but muddy roads, thousands of feet of climbing, wildlife that wanted to eat me and a miserable weather forecast. The only chance I had of making it to Eureka was if I had left Fernie at 4am and that ship had already sailed. In looking at the maps, I saw that there was a shorter option for the day that would entail 47 miles of riding and ending at a rustic public cabin called Butts Cabin. Maybe that should be my plan. I called Lisa and she encouraged me to get moving as she was afraid that the longer I sat in the hotel room, the more likely I might not leave at all. I got partially dressed and went down to have breakfast. While eating, I found myself seated next  to a father and son who were poring over the race maps and seemed equally as unmotivated to leave as I was. I learned that they also had a really rough day going over Koko Claims and didn't arrive to Fernie until nearly 10pm the night before. I let them continue their discussions, went back to my room, called Lisa one more time to tell her that I was leaving, got dressed and decided to man-up and get out of there. While pulling my bike out of the storage room downstairs, I ran into another racer named Wayne who was also pulling his bike out. He was a very friendly and jovial guy and I took an instant liking to him.  We talked for a few minutes and I quickly learned that he was from Pittsburgh and was a Pittsburgh Penguins' season-ticketholder. I shared that I was a lifelong Washington Capitals fan and season-ticketholder and, although that made us rivals, the hockey commonality gave us an instant bond. A few minutes later, he was coincidentally joined by the father-son combo from breakfast. Apparently they were friends and were riding together. I asked them if they minded if I tagged along with them for the day and they said sure. More introductions were made.  Mario (the father) and Vincent (the son) were from Montreal, Canada and had only decided to do the Tour Divide about 5 weeks ago. Vincent was 24 years old and Mario thought this would be a great father-son bonding experience before Vincent got too busy with career and family.  And Vincent, as it turned out, was the guy who on Day 1 was riding with the box of pizza strapped to his back!  The other common bond is that we were all roughly the same age (except for Vincent).  In fact, Wayne and I are exactly two weeks apart in age. We left the hotel around 10am and made several stops for food, provisions and, most importantly, a large supply of electrolyte tablets. We were finally ready to hit the road from Fernie when we were further delayed at a train crossing by a train that seemed to have 600 cars. Omen? 47 miles to Butts Cabin was starting to look like the most likely destination.  The roads out of Fernie were wet, but in decent shape and we began to climb pretty quickly once beyond the town limits. The climb was pretty long and gradual, ultimately cresting at the Flathead Pass before giving us a sweet downhill. During the ride, we thoroughly basked in the light rain and hail as well as the tropical  38 degree temperatures. (Apologies in advance as I tend to rely on sarcasm in place of actual humor.)   In addition to the alluring weather, I was starting to feel a burning feeling in my left Achilles Tendon that got worse and worse as the climb progressed.  Yep, the Tour Divide was just going swimmingly for me.  As we descended from the pass, we came around a curve and about 300 yards in front of us were a mama black bear and her two cubs. At least I assumed that they were hers, though I guess theoretically she could have cubnapped them. We screeched to a halt and just stood there staring. They were too far away for a good picture (sorry Crazy Larry) but too close for comfort. The mama sensed our presence and stared at us for a few seconds. I quickly remembered the warning that the only thing worse than a grizzly is a mama who feels her cubs are in danger. I then remembered the second warning that a bear in attack mode can move REALLY fast. On impulse, I grabbed the whistle attached to a string around my neck, put it to my lips and blew three sharp blasts, not knowing whether that would actually do anything. I was certainly banking on the sound of the shrill whistle not being mistaken by mama bear for a mating call!  The mama looked up one more time and then all three scurried into the woods. We waited about 5 minutes, slowly coasted toward the spot where the bears disappeared and then pedaled furiously for a few minutes until we felt we were safe. Of course I was reminded of the joke that you don’t need to be faster than an attacking bear. You just need to be faster than the slowest guy in your group. My apologies to Vincent who just happened to be bringing up the rear at that moment. Because of the 300 yard distance, it was much more a really cool experience than anything terrifying. However, it was another stark reminder that nothing should be taken lightly or for granted on the Tour Divide. It was nearly 4pm when we passed that first bear attraction at the Tour Divide carnival and the already dark and miserable skies were starting to look darker and more miserable. At 5:15 we arrived at Butts Cabin, just as it appeared that a big storm was about to hit.  Butts Cabin is essentially a one-room shack no bigger than a typical American kid's bedroom. Inside was a table, an old spring bed and a couple bunks. I have no idea who "Butts" is or was, but it was clear that not too many butts could comfortably fit in such a tiny space. When we arrived, there were already four racers inhabiting the cabin who had made the decision to call it a day and stay.  Fitting 8 of us was going to be tight, but our options were limited as after Butts Cabin, there was nothing except a sparse campground about 40 miles away.  None of us liked the prospect of venturing out in a storm and trying to ride 40 more miles, so we decided to also hunker down at Butts Cabin for the night and each of us made a claim to a section of the floor. Then three more racers showed up with the same idea in mind.  So now we had 11 guys crammed into a single-room cabin with every square inch of beds, floor and even table covered with cold, wet bodies. We all went to sleep around 9pm, but I did not sleep much as the inside of the cabin was a cacophony of snores, creaking bed-springs, creaking floor boards and farts, all of which, when combined with the outside sounds of wildlife, thunder and spattering rain on a metal roof, could be likened to the end of the Beatles’ song "A Day in the Life" from the Sergeant Pepper's album when 17 instruments are played at once, rising to a discordant crescendo. At least I got to sleep on a cold hard floor.  For the 15th time in three days, I asked myself what the hell was I doing here?!?! 

Flathead Valley Road
Flathead Valley Road
Just saw three bears!

Butts Cabin
Tour Divide Day 4 - 71 Miles - Butts Cabin, Flathead Valley, British Columbia to Eureka, Montana. When 11 guys cram into a small cabin for the night, it is inevitable that when the first guy gets up, everyone gets up. For some reason, the first guy was up at 4:45am. I was pretty much awake anyway because I pretty much didn't sleep and I pretty much couldn't wait to get the hell out of there. By 5:30, we were all packed and ready to go again.  The skies had partially cleared and, while it was a bit chilly, there was no imminent threat of rain. To get everyone in the mood for the day, I cranked Christopher Cross's "Ride Like the Wind" on my bluetooth speaker for the first of many times over the next 30 days.  If you aren't familiar with the song, the chorus goes "Well I've got such a long way to go, to make it to the border of Mexico, so I'll ride like the wind, ride like the wind."  I followed that up with Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again."  Now not only did I want to leave, but everyone else wanted me to leave. Thankfully Wayne, Mario and Vincent didn't kick me off their island! The first 10 miles from the Cabin gave us a nice climb of about 1300 feet to get the blood flowing and legs moving. This was followed by roughly 15 miles of descending along a gorgeous mountain road with stirring mountain views and quiet forests. At about the 25-mile mark, we started slowly climbing again and wound our way on a road that cut a quiet path through two mountain ranges. And then the fun began. After missing a barely marked turn and having to retrace our steps, we rode a twisty-turny little single-track trail alongside a river and across several creeks for a few miles until it abruptly ended at a wall. In Tour Divide lore, there are several spots along the route that have gained notoriety for either their hardship or their unique nature. After Koko Claims, this was the next big one.  It is hard to truly explain "The Wall."  It is essentially the start of a huge 2,000 foot climb but the only thing any of us were thinking about was how the hell to get up this wall in front of us. First of all, but for the red line on our Garmin computers, it was difficult to even discern that the Wall was a trail. It had about a 45% grade and looked like something that was formed by a mud-slide. On the bright side, we had heard enough of the lore to know that it was only about 1/4 mile long. The only way to get up the infernal thing was to approach it like a chess match or puzzle, carefully plotting every move.  It starts with an upward push of the bike and a quick locking of the brakes. Then look for a foothold for the right foot and one for the left. Once feet are secure, push the bike another 2 foot and repeat the foothold search. Do this 2 or 3 more times and then stop and catch your breath. Then proceed for another 10-20 yards and stop.  Then another and another. Whatever you do, don't slip because if you fall to your left, you are falling 50 to 100 feet down a steep ravine and, if you don't break your neck from the fall, you'll have to circle back around to the base and start all over again. Fortunately for us, the conditions weren't too bad and we managed to make our way to the top of the Wall in under 10 minutes. I can't imagine how people make it up if it is pouring rain and I don't see how anyone with poor upper body strength can make it up. Anyway, I felt like we did a pretty good job conquering the Wall. After the Wall, we continued to climb and climb and climb, with the knowledge and anticipation that upon reaching the top, we would have nothing but downhill all the way to the US border. And what a downhill it was. Steep. Fast. Rocky. FUN!!  This downhill was also the first time that the difference in mountain-biking skills between me, on one hand, and Wayne, Mario and Vincent, on the other, became glaringly apparent.  Those three were strong dudes and great riders.  In fact, Wayne and Mario were very accomplished ironman triathletes and Wayne had competed in a cross-country road-bike race called TransAmerica. Actually, "strong triathletes" is an understatement.  These guys competed in "Deca" ironman triathlons.  I had never even heard of the concept, but a Deca is where you do a full ironman triathlon every day for 10 straight days. Certifiably nuts. In fact, go Google "Wayne Kurtz" and read about some of the crazy shit he has done (or check out Wayne's webpage about the deca at http://info.wayne-kurtz.com/the-deca.)  Anyway, this would be the first of many technical sections where I would end up racing ahead and then have to wait. I recognized quickly that this was a trade-off that I would have to make if I wanted to stick with them and, even though it had only been two days, I think I had already subconsciously made the decision that I was going to stay with them for a long time.  The only other negative with the descent was that every jolt was sending a sharp pain into the left achilles and by the time we reached the bottom of the descent, I could barely put pressure on my left pedal. However, by then we were only 3 miles of smooth pavement to the US border in Roosville, Montana and the excitement of entering the US masked a lot of the pain I was feeling.  Border entry was a smooth 2-minute process and then it was a fairly easy but rolling 10-mile ride to the town of Eureka, Montana where we checked into a cheap roadside motel and had some juicy cheeseburgers at a greasy spoon across the street.  Meanwhile, by the time we dismounted from the bikes, my achilles hurt so badly that I could hardly walk. I had finally turned the mental corner and was now seriously concerned that the sore achilles might end my race. I called my good friend and podiatrist Gary Feldman after dinner and he advised me to start loading up on Advil three times a day and to try different positions with my seat and shoe cleats. I asked whether I was putting myself at risk of a complete tear while riding and he said that a tear was unlikely. He said that my ability to continue was going to simply be based on how much pain I was willing to tolerate.  Wonderful.  Nothing left to do but go to sleep and hope for the best in the morning.

Mario and Vincent
Damn it's pretty out here! 

Flathead River
Base of The Wall

Top of the Wall

Entering the last country of the race! LOL

Tour Divide Day 5 - 92 Miles - Eureka, MT to Whitefish, MT.  My achilles was still in a lot of pain when we got moving on Day 5.  I added more KT tape, took 3 Advil, stretched it out and decided to just start pedaling and hope it loosened up.  After grabbing provisions at a local grocery store, we were on our way at around 9am.  It was a cool but sunny morning and the first 10 miles were on easy rolling pavement from Eureka.  I was able manage the achilles by slightly lowering my seat and by unclipping my left foot from the pedal and essentially just using my heel to push the left pedal down (thus reducing the flex of the ankle). Funny sidenote: we rode the pavement section between 9am and 10am on Tuesday, June 12 at the same time that the Washington Capitals were holding their Stanley Cup victory parade up Constitutional Avenue in DC.  Since I still had phone service on the pavement, I propped my iPhone on my handlebars and was able to watch a chunk of the parade simulcast!  After we turned off the pavement, we took a snack break on a dirt road in front of a little farmhouse adorned with Jesus Saves, Trump and Pro-Gun signs. This was particularly amusing as we were on a remote country dirt road in the middle of nowhere and I’m sure the number of cars that passed this house each day could be counted on one hand. While admiring the passionate signage, a little lady came out of the house and asked where we were from and where we were going. We told her about the race and she proceeded to bless us in the name of the father, son and holy-ghost (while I probably smartly withheld the fact that my last name ended in "stein"). Then she asked "why the hell don't you boys have guns if you're going into bear country?" We showed her our cans of bear-spray and she said "well, I guess that'll do. But be careful now, ya hear?"  We nodded and she waddled back into her house, presumably to light candles for us or something.  From there, we entered the Flathead National Forest and we had an absolutely incredible climb up and over Whitefish Pass on a rocky dirt road very similar to the roads I often ride in Colorado. The views at the top of the pass were nothing special, but that changed in a hurry as the route swung to the west and came face to face with the breathtaking west wall of Glacier Nat’l Park. We descended through thick forests as well as sparse pines that seemed to be victim of an old forest fire, but which gave the terrain an otherworldy appearance. We had lunch on a bridge at the bottom of the descent which coincidentally, turned out to be no more than 1/4 mile east of a mountain retreat owned by my friend, Chuck Ludden. As quick background, Chuck is the father of Brad Ludden, the founder of First Descents and the guy who hired my buddy Allan Goldberg as Executive Director back in 2006. That hiring directly led to my affiliation with First Descents and was arguably the genesis behind my doing this race 12 years later. Following lunch, we rode about 15 miles of chillaxed pavement before turning off for a 15-mile climb to Red Meadow Pass. Back at Butts Cabin, one of our fellow denizens (Ron J) told us that he had ridden Red Meadow Pass 3 weeks ago and it was still covered in 2 feet of snow for a good 5-10 miles. Hopefully a lot had melted since then. About a mile from the pass, we learned our fate as we reached the snow.  Fortunately it was well packed down by previous riders, not well enough to ride over, but well enough that the push on foot wasn't too bad. At the top was a pristine mountain lake where we stopped for food before another snow push of about a half mile. We finished the day with a 30-mile descent into the town of Whitefish where we washed our bikes at a car-wash, checked into a hotel (one with a washer/dryer!), enjoyed a hot meal at a local mexican restaurant and got into a warm bed! The achilles was no less sore when I got off the bike than the day before, but I was able to ride 92 miles over two passes without huge issue and felt that I could continue to deal with and manage the pain.

Whitefish Pass Flow

Views going up Whitefish Pass

Bottom of Whitefish Pass Descent

Wayne Descending from Whitefish Pass

Having fun with Camera Filters - West Glacier Park

Red Meadow Pass

Red Meadow Pass Lake

Tour Divide Day 6 - 85 miles - Whitefish, MT to Flathead National Forest, MT.  Along the Tour Divide route, there are not many places where one can find a quality bike-shop, so when you need any service on your bike, you can't assume that you can take care of it in the next town.  I had a couple broken spokes on my rear tire.  Additionally, I was starting to experience some numbness in the fingertips of my left hand and wanted to switch my grips to thick Ergon grips.  Finally, I needed to find some relief for my left achilles and decided that my best option would be to swap my clipless pedals for flat pedals. Mario wanted new tires and Wayne needed a new chain, so we started the morning of Day 6 at the local bike-shop and took a few hours to have our bikes serviced, departing at about 11am.  However, let me back up a moment. Before the bike shop, I had the pleasure of being treated to breakfast by my friend and Whitefish native, Chuck Ludden (also mentioned in my Day 5 post). Not only was it great to see a friendly face, but Chuck brought me some prescription pain-relievers from an orthopedic medic friend of his that would hopefully help the achilles over the coming days. Digression over. The first 40-50 miles from Whitefish were pretty ho-hum as they were fairly flat and mostly on pavement. The most noteworthy thing to happen over that stretch is that Wayne broke his brand new chain 5 miles into the ride and returned to Whitefish to have it fixed again. Mario, Vincent and I stopped in Columbia Falls for some medical supplies (as Vincent's achilles was starting to bother him) and then we "slow-pedaled" for the next 30 miles until Wayne caught us.  We tackled a bug-infested dirt climb at about mile 40 that rose about 1600 feet over 6 miles in the Swan River National Refuge, another short climb at mile 60 and then a final climb from mile 67 through 80 before a final 5-mile descent into the darkness as it was nearing 10:15pm. We discussed riding with the lights for another hour, but we were fortunate to find a nice open flat area at the bottom of the descent and you never know where the next good camping spot might pop up. This was actually my first night staying in my tent and it took me a little extra time to remember how to assemble the damn thing. We were also still deep in grizzly country, so we had to pull all of our food off our bikes and out of our bags and drop everything in a bear-proof bag that we hid about 100 yards from the campsite.  We were asleep by around 11pm.

A rare flat section of road
Sunset over the mountains

Sunset with camera filter
Tour Divide Day 7 - 87 miles - Flathead National Forest, Montana to Ovando, Montana.  For my first night in a tent, I had a decent sleep, but it rained during the night and that made for wet gear in the morning.  The day began with a lot of promise as we enjoyed a cool, but not cold morning and clearing skies.  The first 3 hours consisted of about 30 miles of rolling dirt and gravel culminating with our arrival at a beautiful little resort on a lake called Holland Lake. As we didn't have much breakfast, we decided to pig out in the lodge restaurant with giant cheeseburgers and heaping sides of fries and chocolate chip cookies. We probably stayed longer than we should (this was becoming a pattern), but the confines of the lodge were so warm and inviting and the view of the lake was so serene that it was hard to rush out.  From the lodge, we next had about 15 miles and 2,000+ feet of ascent up to the snow-covered Richmond Pass in the Lewis and Clark National Forest.  The snowy hike-a-bike over the pass was very similar to the hiking we did over Red Meadow Pass two days before, except for one 100 foot section where we had to walk at an awkward sidehill angle and plant our feet in the snow to keep from falling over.  Once through the snow, we had a phenomenally fast and scenic 12-mile descent that ended near a resupply area called Seeley Lake.  However, as Seeley was 2 miles off the route and we only had some 27 miles to our stopping point for the day in Ovando, we decided to bypass Seeley and continue on.  We had a couple more small climbs at the 60-mile and 70-mile marks and then another super fast descent (where Mario suffered a flat tire) that took us practically the rest of the way to Ovando, where we arrived at about 8pm. Ovando is a small one-street town with an Inn, a Tipi, an old Jail, a fly-fishing store and two restaurants.  We stayed at the Ovando Inn, which was a quaint country farmhouse, and were warmly welcomed by the owners, LeeAnn and Fred.  In fact, they stayed open for an extra hour just to await our arrival and then let us shop for food and drinks in their attached grocery store.  LeeAnn also placed a call up to Trixi's Antler Saloon and convinced them to keep their kitchen open for us for a late dinner. We couldn't have asked for better hospitality all the way around.  

Good Morning Day 7!
Holland Lake

Holland Lake Lodge

View from Richmond Peak
Ready to ride through some more snow!
Snowy Richmond Peak

Descending from Richmond Peak

Tour Divide Day 8 - 102 miles from Ovando, MT to Helena, MT. Part two of the dining experience in Ovando consisted of a giant 7am breakfast at the Stray Bullet Cafe across the street from the Ovando Inn.  We had high hopes for today as we were going to make a 102-mile push for Helena, our biggest day yet.  The ride was an absolutely glorious ride with climbs over 4 mountain passes, including Huckleberry Pass, the steep and rocky Granite Butte (which I somehow managed to clean without putting a foot down - that’s mountain bike lingo for “riding the whole damn thing”) and the breathtaking Priest Pass, which we crossed at sunset. We also enjoyed a fantastic lunch on the sun-deck of the very welcoming Scapegoat Eatery in Lincoln, MT.  I say welcoming because they also plied us with complimentary home-made cookies and provided a hose to wash down our bikes. Apparently the owner of the restaurant had a son racing the Tour Divide. It was sunny most of the day, but the skies turned ominous around 4pm. Fortunately, we stayed dry through our arrival at the Budget Inn Express in Helena at 10pm, where we quickly ordered several pizzas from Domino's. Tour Divide veterans spin the tale that you feel the most fatigue between days 5-7 and then you break through the wall and feel like Superman. Sure enough, that happened to me today. I felt great all day long and wasn’t even that tired after 102 otherwise grueling miles. I'm sure I'll be knocked down a peg tomorrow as that seems to be the way of the Tour Divide.

Cow Stoppers

Really cool filtered shot of Mario and Vincent

Priest Pass at Sunset

Tour Divide Day 9 - 78 Miles- Helena to Butte - 7800 feet of climbing. The euphoria over the Day 8 badass century ended quickly this morning with a cold wet thud. We were due for a bad day and today was bad. Wait, let me rephrase: today was abject torture. It started with a restless night of sleep at the Budget Inn Express in Helena. I am not exaggerating when I say that FLEAS would lose street-cred in the insect world by staying in that dive. I slept in my sleeping bag because I was afraid to touch the sheets and bedspread (both of which probably pre-dated my birth in 1967). Unfortunately, it was literally the only hotel near the route with vacancy as this weekend is the big annual drag queen festival in Helena. Seriously. Freakshow central. If only I had more room in my bags for the proper attire to join the party. Around 2am this morning it started to pour rain. At 6 am it was torrential. We headed out at 9 after a stop for breakfast at the local Hardee's. It was a balmy 47 degrees in Helena. That would be our high temperature for the day. We were only going 78 miles to Butte, so we thought it couldn't be too bad, even with the rain.  We thought WRONG WRONG WRONG. 3 inches of rain turned the dirt roads and trails to virtual quicksand and turned small puddles into ponds. The frogs were happy. They had even erected diving boards and docks. We, on the other hand, were not happy.  We did 3 climbs with the second being 15 miles long into a cloud. It was 35 degrees at the top of the climb. Even the best rainproof clothing failed miserably. It took 7 hours to go the first 40 miles and by the time we reached the Leaning Tower of Pizza in the village of Basin at 4:30pm, I couldn’t feel my fingers, toes, lips, cheeks, eyelids, etc. After making out with a space-heater and knocking down 3 hot-chocolates and a Pizza, we headed out for the last 37 Miles to Butte. These should have been easy miles as there was no big elevation gain, but the soft conditions made riding flat ground feel like climbing a steep ascent. We finally rolled into the outskirts of Butte at about 9:30pm, thoroughly torched.  From an overlook perched about the town, we were a simple paved downhill to civilization. The road was right in front of us. But wait!  Why does the red-line on our Garmin show us going up another hill? WTF?  All we could see was a dirt parking lot to our right, but the red line went right through the parking lot. We dutifully followed the line and, sure enough, found a single-track trail at the end of the parking lot that headed up another hill that we surmised must have an even better overlook of Butte.  Because at that moment, it was very important that we have a better view stinkin' view of Butte.  So we climbed for about 10 minutes, cursed the better view, and then rode a zig-zaggy trail down into the heart of Butte, arriving at the Quality Inn and Suites at 10pm.  78 Miles felt like 150. I took no pictures until Butte as there was nothing to see and I couldn’t use my fingers anyway. We have 311 more miles in Montana. Happy Father’s Day to all fathers! Oh, and my First Descents cash donations surpassed $100,000 this weekend! Thanks everyone! Yeehaaa!

A Cold and Motley Crew in Basin, MT
Overlook upon arrival in Butte

Tour Divide Day 10 - Butte to Wise River - 53 Miles - 5200 feet elevation gains. Day 10 was another freezing cold and wet day in the Montana wilderness. We got a late start out of Butte this morning as we were still reeling from yesterday's sufferfest. Our goal was to go  92 miles to the town of Polaris.  We started with a smooth 10 miles of pavement into the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest where we climbed a couple thousand feet in a cold misty rain. At the top of the climb, we came upon a stone public outhouse and there was a bike leaning up against it.  We went inside and found none other than Ron J, one of our fellow bunkmates from Butts Cabin back in Canada.  We shared some beef-jerky, told a few quick trail stories and then continued onward. From the outhouse, we had a few miles of rolling dirt roads followed by a really fast downhill that dropped us into a valley alongside north-south interstate 15 before turning off onto another dirt road that would take us up to the infamous Fleecer Ridge.  The start of the climb gave me a chance to ride alongside Vincent for awhile and get to know him better.  He is finishing his education in Montreal, but most of our conversation consisted of sharing our stories as fellow former ski-bums, 1990 in Vail for me and 2013 in Banff for Vincent.  As the climb steepened, Vincent dropped back to join Mario while I found a great rhythm that resulted in my riding the last few miles alone into an eerie fog that obscured the peak of the climb except for a gigantic tree at the top that seemed strangely out of place for what had become primarily tree-less terrain for the final 1/4 mile of the climb.  Just after the big tree was a fairly nondescript right turn that would take me the final few hundred yards to Fleecer Ridge. I mentioned several posts ago that the Tour Divide has several famous/memorable locations and challenges such as Koko Claims and the Wall.  The next one on the list is Fleecer Ridge, which is a sloppy, muddy 1/2 mile trail that starts steeply down at about a 20-25 degree incline and then precipitously drops over a final ridge at about a 35 degree incline. Only the truly foolish try to ride it and, for some, their race disastrously ends there. The rest intelligently walk down in the grass alongside trail. I tried to ride it. I wasn't aware of the steeper drop over the final ridge. I was feeling pretty heroic on the top section. In fact, I was thinking what's the big deal and why is everyone else walking down?  Then suddenly the earth (and my stomach!) dropped out from under me and I was accelerating uncontrollably with my wheels in a v-shaped muddy rut that made braking or escape impossible.  I made it about halfway down that final drop before the rut narrowed and swallowed my front tire sending me in a swan dive over my handlebars. The Swedish and American judges each gave me a 9.0 on form and a 9.5 on splash, but the Russian judge screwed me with a pair of 7s.  The wreck zone is to the left of the trail in the picture below. Fortunately, I landed in soft wet grass, rolled a few times and just suffered a few keepsake bruises (including one to my ego) and a slightly rung bell.  From the base of Fleecer Ridge, we had a 10-mile downhill through the forest and across a few creeks that dropped us into the village of Wise River at 5:45pm. It took us 8 hours to go 53 miles and when we arrived in Wise River with our teeth chattering and a choice between a warm country inn (the Wise River Club) or another 39 miles to Polaris, we chose the warmth.  That being said, the warmth was limited solely to the air-temperature inside the Wise River Club as the owners of the place were anything but friendly.  In fact, when we first walked into the place, the proprietor looked up at us and said "What do you want?"  We responded that we would like a couple rooms.  She looked us over with a scowl and then said "Fine, but your bikes must stay in the area below the stairs and you can't wash your clothes in the bathroom."  Nice to meet you too!  When we went back downstairs for dinner, the service didn't improve much as it took an hour for our food and another half hour to get our checks. Oh well, at least we were dry.  We are hitting the road early tomorrow morning to try to make up the miles that we lost today. Our goal is Lima, MT, 138 miles away. Just checked the forecast. Cold rain predicted again.

Making so many new friends.

The Bottom of Fleecer Ridge. 
This photo does not adequately depict how steep that is.
I wrecked about halfway down.
Tour Divide Day 11 - 40 Miles - Wise River, MT to Polaris, MT - 2800 feet of vertical. So, Tour de France racers are among the fittest athletes on the planet and they get a rest day each week. After 10 straight grueling days, it turns out we all needed one as well. We woke up this morning to more cold hammering rain and resignedly donned our gear and headed out into the elements. Our ambitious plan was to ride 138 miles to the town of Lima with a stop for lunch at the High Country Lodge in Polaris at the 40-mile mark. I actually got out ahead of Wayne, Mario and Vincent and somehow rode right past the sign for the Lodge. After about 3 miles, I realized my mistake and had to back-track.  By the time I found the Lodge, the boys were already fully unloaded and sitting around a lunch table.  I was just excited to be inside after another cold wet ride. The inside of the Lodge was beautiful, warm and inviting and we were immediately treated to a tasty lasagna lunch. We then looked at the horrible forecast, got some intel about extremely muddy trail conditions over the next 98 miles and realized that we would likely end up camping in the mud at 8,000 feet if we decided to press on. All in favor of forging on, raise your hands. None raised. All in favor of a rest day on leather couches in front of a fireplace while all of our clothes are getting washed, raise your hands. Four hands go up. Done. National rest day declared. In case we were feeling like wusses for this decision, the owner of the Lodge (Russ, pictured with me below) shared that the weather over the last 4 days has been the worst in the history of the race. No regrets. I spent 6 straight hours melded into a soft leather couch taking a nap, making some phone calls, catching up on some news and rotating an ice-pack among my various sore spots.  Then we ate a huge dinner with several courses.  Did I mention that Russ is the man!  We hope to start tomorrow early and fresh and knock out the 98 miles to Lima. By the way, thanks to everyone who comments on these posts. The comments are truly my lifeline out here.

Not Sure How I passed Right by This Sign

High Country Lodge

With Russ, High Country Lodge Owner and Great Guy!
Tour Divide Day 12 - 100 miles from High Mountain Lodge in Polaris to Lima, MT - 4300 vertical feet gain. On the Tour Divide, there is no such thing as just jumping out on the road and belting out an easy 100 miles. Every day has to be a (fucking) adventure. Why would today be any different. We left the comfy confines of the High Country Lodge at 7am feeling physically and mentally refreshed. We had a smooth and speedy first 23 miles which we covered in about 90 minutes. Then we turned onto Bannack Road.  On a normal sunny day, Bannack Road would be nothing more than non-descript 10 miles of fast dirt through cow-country. However, Bannack Road was also infamous for its impassable mud when wet, and it did not disappoint . . . if you were a pig.  We immediately encountered thick, pasty, clog-the-drivetrain, pop-the-chain-off, curse-the-universe, cementish mud. It was a constant cycle of churning and collecting mud, cleaning the mud off, pedaling 50 yards and starting all over. Why not just walk the bike you ask?  Even walking the bike, the mud would quickly accumulate on the treads of the tires and spread across the entire drive-train. It was similar to making a snowball in wet snow and starting to push it across a lawn. The snowball immediately starts collecting new snow with each rotation until you have yourself a snowman. With each tire rotation, the bike would add what seemed like 10 pounds of mud.  It took us 90 minutes to go a mere 1.5 miles. Finally, after about the 8th time scraping all of the accumulated mud from the tires and chain, and after I had already yelled out every cuss word in George Carlin's dictionary, I abandoned caution and reason and just started riding in the prickly scrub brush alongside the road as I figured the brush would provide better traction than the soft ground. This went on for another hour before we finally hit some drier road. Good Times Baby! It’s like being a kid and playing in the mud without a curfew. NOT! Fortunately, the REALLY muddy stuff ended around mile 27 and even more fortunately there was a farmhouse at mile 27 and even more fortunately than that was that the owner of the farmhouse took pity on us and let us use their garden hose to wash off our bikes. In exchange for their kindness, Wayne played with their dogs. Then it was about 50 miles of just regular slow-you-down, skid-you-around mud. Then my chain broke at mile 37. Then my quad muscle exploded (or felt like it did) at mile 45. Then I climbed 20 miles in excruciating pain because I couldn’t just call Lisa to come pick me up. I couldn’t call anyone for that matter, so I just had to grit my teeth and suck it up Buttercup. Then at mile 55, our good friend cold rain showed up to accompany us for the next 3 hours. Apparently the scenery was great at the top of the climb, which I think was called Big Sheep Pass, but I was too far deep in the pain-cave to take notice. 3 Advil seemed to loosen the quad and the pain abated a little over the last 20-30 miles into Lima, where we found accommodations at the Mountain View Motel & RV Park.  This motel was pure gold from a Tour Divide standpoint as it provided us with a hose AND a washer/dryer.  Clean clothes and clean bike made for clean mind . . . or something like that.  Anyway, I hope this adventure gets fun again soon! I was so miserable today that I only took one stinkin' picture and that was of Wayne playing with a dog.  Tomorrow we finally leave Montana, which has been holding us hostage for the past 4 days. Hopefully Idaho followed quickly by Wyoming plus better weather will turn things around. Hopefully my leg allows me to make it to Idaho! Every 100 miles results in a new $1400 in mileage pledge donations to First Descents. So I’ve gotta keep fighting because I can. To be continued . . .
Wayne playing with Dog. Best moment of the Day.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD:  One question I have gotten several times via social media is “what do I eat all day?” The easy answer is calories, calories and more calories. For example, yesterday's menu included a breakfast of four scrambled eggs, 6 pancakes, 4 pieces of bacon, hash browns and a bagel, followed by two protein bars and a blueberry muffin during the morning ride, a turkey sandwich, snicker's bar and apple pie for lunch, 3 more protein bars and 4 pop-tarts in the afternoon, a PBJ and two 2 choc-chip cookies in the late afternoon, another protein bar, several pieces of beef jerky and a cheeseburger, fries and ice cream for dinner. This is more of a Food Divide punctuated by some biking!  It is simply impossible to take in as many calories as we are burning each day.  I have probably already lost 5-7 pounds and will probably lose 10-15 pounds when this is over.  As most of our meals come courtesy of local convenience stores, we don't often have the luxury of a sit-down meal from a menu. The most important thing from an eating standpoint is to properly plan ahead. I was always calculating the distances and times to the next resupply points and then further calculating my calorie intake needs between those points. In my prior one-day race experience, my body worked best during long efforts if I could take in between 250 to 300 calories per hour on average.  Thus to be safe, I would load my pack based on the formula of 300 calories times the maximum number of hours until the next resupply point. So if the next store or restaurant was a maximum of 8 hours away, then my goal was to find 2400 calories worth of food.  The first place I went in any store was straight to the freezer to look over the selection of frozen burritos. Burritos are not only a great source of calories, carbs and proteins, but they last for days and are easy to stuff in a back-plack. Two pop-tarts provide 380 calories. That is a perfect snack to provide an hour of energy. Chuck (who will be introduced in a few days) and I were connoisseurs of honey buns and processed dry desserts. We joked about how most people will go into a store and look at wrappers to determine what foods have the least calories.  Chuck and I would go seeking foods with the most calories.  I would find an apple-pie on a shelf with 350 calories.  Suddenly I would hear Chuck yelling my name from across the store: "Brent! Jackpot! Here is a honey bun with 475 calories!!"  As for fluids, I mostly relied on water mixed with electrolyte tablets during the first half of the race (except for my epic failure to use electrolytes during Days 1 and 2).  In Canada, Montana and northern Wyoming, I didn't have to carry much water as there were plenty of streams where I could fill a bladder and purify the water.  However, as the race went on and the terrain became drier, we had to rely on store-bought (or motel sink).  Also, as the cumulative exhaustion set in, I started relying more and more on Gatorade, Cokes and Dr. Peppers to carry me through. I joked that I was a sugar diabetic and caffeine addict by the end of the race and would need to detox as I haven't really had a steady flow of caffeine since my law-firm days in my 20s and early 30s. One thing that shocked my riding cohorts is that I have never had a cup of coffee in my life!

Just a sampling of an average day in my backpack!
Tour Divide Day 13 - 103 miles - Lima, Mt to somewhere in Idaho. After what seemed like a month being held as a prisoner of Montana, we finally made our escape today and are seeking political asylum in Idaho. The assholes at Montana central command did everything they could do to stop us including throwing down several more miles of muddy roads and a last-minute rain squall, but our run for the border (which was also our 7th crossing of the Continental Divide) succeeded.  The day started with a scrumptious pancake breakfast at Jan's Cafe where I spent a good 30 minutes icing and massaging my quad.  That must have done the trick as although it was sore throughout the day, it was nothing like the intense and acute pain from yesterday. In retrospect, I think the muscle was simply severely overworked from grinding through all the mud on Bannack Road and it essentially shut down saying "NO MAS!"  Of course that’s a law-degree diagnosis, not medical degree. Today was also notable as we were joined by a guy named Chuck who Wayne knew from the TransAmerica race several years back.  Chuck had apparently been chasing us for days and was thrilled to have some fellow riders to share the experience. Chuck would ride with us off and on through Pie Town, New Mexico on Day 28.  Montana's last hurrah was a steep 300 foot climb over Red Rock Pass where we partied like it was June, 2018.  Once in Idaho, the sun came out, the angels sang, the cicadas rejoiced and we hit a flowy 4-5 mile trail in the woods that dropped us in the town of Sawtelle at mile 86. After a 5-Star dining experience at Subway and some grocery shopping, we headed out for two more hours on an old sandy rail trail known as the "Rail Trail" and stopped to camp at mile 103 for the day. Today was not just momentous for reaching Idaho, but for passing the 1,000 mile mark for the journey. Apparently, if a racer can make it to 1,000 miles, his/her odds of completing the TD shoot up from 40% to 80%. Considering everything that I had been through and survived over the first 13 days, including pretty much every one of the biblical plagues, I was finally starting to feel that I just might actually be able to lend support to those odds and finish this thing.

15 Miles west of Lima

Lunch Time

Lunch Time

Group Cheer upon leaving Montana

Goodbye Montana; Hello Idaho

Bridge on the Rail Trail
Idaho Marsh

Tour Divide Day 14 - 95 miles - Targhee Forest, ID to Heart Six Ranch, WY. To successfully get through the Tour Divide, one must have enough amnesia to forget about the pain-and-misery days and the discipline to not look beyond tomorrow as the scale of this race is simply too overwhelming. All one can do is live in the now and today's now was simply spectacular. Unfortunately, the day didn't get off to the best start as our campsite last night was in a low-lying area and everything we owned was soaking wet this morning when we awoke.  Camping sucks. Wait, did I say that out loud?  Fortunately, the beauty of the day unfolded quickly with cloudless skies and warm temperatures. We started with the completion of the last 5 miles of the Rail Trail (which we renamed “Mosquito Alley” . . . because there were a shit-ton of mosquitos and because we are so clever). At the end of the Rail Trail, we enjoyed our first glimpse of Wyoming’s Grand Tetons some 50 miles to the southeast. We also had a humorous moment when we reached a point where the trail was completely submerged in about 40 yards of foot-deep water and there was no way around it on either side.  Wayne and I just shrugged, plowed into it until we couldn't pedal, hopped off our bikes and waded through to the other side.  Mario and Vincent decided that it wasn't worth getting wet, so they went through a whole production of taking off their shoes and socks, stowing them in their packs, wading through to the other side in their bare feet, drying off their feet and putting everything back on while Wayne and I just chuckled at them.  15 minutes later, they were finally ready to go again . . . until Vincent discovered that he had dropped his gloves and we could see them back on the trail on the other side.  So Mario, being the good dad, took everything off again, waded back through the water, grabbed the gloves, returned through the water, dried his feet again and put his shoes and socks back on again.  By then, Wayne's and my feet were dry!  Our next 15 miles were pure joy as we descended through a beautiful pine forest on a double-track trail that sat high on the cliffs overlooking Idaho’s Warm River. From there we connected to the Targhee National Forest and climbed up and into Wyoming. Unfortunately there was no welcome sign, so we didn’t even realize we were in Wyoming until I got a text from my dot-watching friend Gary Morris letting me know that we’d been there for an hour. From Targhee, we made our way to the Flagg Ranch visitor center and campground where we came face to face for the first time with a curious species known as vacationing tourists. Though we knew assimilation would be impossible, we did our best to behave and not offend anyone.  As usual, we spent far too long at the Flagg Ranch as they had this little area with comfy leather chairs that far outcomfied our leather bike seats.  From Flagg Ranch, we swung around north of the Tetons and then south alongside the Tetons with stunning views over Jackson Lake. Finally, we finished the day lodging in TiPi tents (with beds) at the Heart Six Ranch near Moran, WY. We have covered nearly 300 miles in the last three days. I am thoroughly exhausted, bruised, scratched, bit-up, sunburned, chapped, numb in a few fingers and sore in multiple places (including a place we don’t like to talk about). However I am extremely gratified that I am able to take this journey and recognize that any hardships I suffer pale in comparison to the cancer hardships suffered by those for whom this ride benefits. Finally, I am loving sharing this adventure with all of my friends and family through Facebook. Week 3 starts tomorrow.
Soaking Wet Campsite
Our First  View of the Tetons
Mario and Vincent Crossing the Pond

Warm River Overlook

Targhee National Forest
Jackson Lake and the Tetons (Chuck, Brent, Wayner, Mario, Vincent).
My Favorite Picture of the Tour Divide
Heart Six Ranch, Moran, Wyoming
Tour Divide Day 15 - 83 miles- Moran, WY to somewhere in the wilderness. Today was magnificent and leg-destroying. We left our comfy TiPis at 7am and had a quick breakfast at the Buffalo Valley Cafe before heading up past a rustic lodge called Turpin Meadow followed by a 1700 foot wilderness climb up to the Togwotee Mountain Lodge where I was able to fortify my burrito collection. From Togwotee we continued to climb to an unnamed pass on the Continental Divide and then a very interesting and fun 5-mile section of dirt, rocks and snow, before hitting one of the smoothest dirt-roads on the whole Tour Divide for an incredible 7-mile downhill that ended at a small resort called Lava Mountain Lodge. At Lava Mountain, we enjoyed a nice lunch and restocked our supplies as we were 92 miles to the next supply point and would be camping tonight. The rest of the afternoon consisted of a series of steeper and steeper climbs, including one hike-a-bike section that rose 600 vertical feet in under a half-mile and made the Wall seem like a bunny slope. In other words, HEINOUS! However, we earned a reward at the top with a breathtaking 360-degree above-treeline view in all directions. The top of that climb also took us to 9,750 feet in elevation, which is the highest point of the Tour Divide thus far. The rest of the ride consisted of endless rolling hills across a mountain-top meadow that was beautiful, but that sapped my legs more and more with each rise until I could barely turn the pedals over. Because of all the climbing (nearly 8,000 feet over the day), we were only at 83 miles when light started to fade and we decided to camp for the night.

Horse farm that struck my fancy

Lava Mt Lodge - Lunch Break

Hey, that's me!

Mario under the rainbow

Descending from Union Pass

Mosquito Netting - Best purchase for Tour Divide
Tour Divide Day 16 - 130 Miles - Wyoming wilderness to Atlantic City, WY. The mental highs and lows of this race are only exceeded by the actual highs and lows of the terrain. I awoke this morning in a funk. For starters, we slept at 8,000 feet and froze our asses off. I wore every layer of clothing I owned and still spent from 3am to 6am shivering in my sleeping bag.  Additionally, I am losing track of all my maladies (at least 8 by rough count). A new one arose yesterday as my right knee started hurting mid-ride and got worse as we went. This morning it hurt to the touch. I think it is the result of all the re-positioning I have had to do to first protect and manage my left achilles tendon issue (which popped up on day 4) and then my left quad issue (which popped up on day 12). So far my body (and my brain) has shown a decent ability to both heal and manage pain, so hopefully I’ll be able to deal with this one like I have dealt with the others. Finally, throw in the major miles we have covered over the past 4 days and I was feeling pretty mentally and physically fried. Anyway, enough groaning. We left the campsite at 8:30am and grumpily covered 40 miles (including two cattle-crossings . . . one of which was overseen by a group of city folk on some kind of City Slickers adventure) to the town of Pinedale. None of us were in any hurry as we really didn’t have an end-mileage destination in mind. Plus, half the times we tried to set a destination, we encountered much harder trail conditions than anticipated and couldn’t cover the expected distance. In Pinedale, we were more interested in a nice sit-down lunch with real food and real food-service than in hurrying back out. Because of my worsening right knee, I was even contemplating only riding 11 more miles to the town of Boulder, WY, checking into a motel and calling it a day. We spent 2.5 hours in Pinedale having a gourmet pasta lunch, picking up supplies and generally lollygagging. Ok, it wasn't really gourmet. But other than Russ's High Country lasagna, we hadn't seen pasta since Fernie, so it felt gourmet. We figured we’d ride another 40-50 miles and then camp out in the Wind River valley. But then Tour Divide karma finally swung our way. Leaving Pinedale, we enjoyed a strong and direct tailwind. Before we knew it, less than three hours had passed and we had covered 40 miles. Then we covered another 25 miles in the next two hours riding well-packed dirt roads through the incredibly beautiful and desolate Wind River Valley deep in the heart of cowboy territory, bringing the day’s total to 105 as of 7:30pm. We stopped for a quick snack, my 48th burrito, and looked at a map and discovered that we were only 25 miles from the town of Atlantic City, WY. Using my satellite device, I texted Lisa and asked if she could find us two rooms in the town. Within minutes, she responded that we were booked at a bed and breakfast called "Wild Bill’s." Lisa rocks! At the rate we were moving, we figured we would be there by 9pm. Lesson: when you get cocky on the Tour Divide, you are bound to be smacked in the mouth, and usually without having to wait very long. Over those last 25 miles, the route turned north dead into the wind. Additionally, we were hit with successive steep rolling climbs that did not appear on any of the maps. Instead of taking under 90 minutes and relaxing in front of a fireplace by 9pm, the last 25 miles took 2.5 hours with the last hour in complete darkness other than the glows of our four headlamps. We arrived at Wild Bill’s (and were greeted heartily by Wild Bill himself) at 10:30pm. We were tired and cold (it was 38 degrees), but  thrilled to shower and sleep in a bed. Moreover, we were very satisfied by the 130-mile effort (the longest ride of my life) after only managing 83 miles the day before and after I entertained quitting for the day after 50 miles. The human body is truly a marvel. Oh, a couple other things. An hour after our arrival, a crazy thunderstorm rolled through the area. That would have been horrifying in a tent. Also Wild Bill’s B andB doubles as a gun shop with enough artillery to arm a small militia . . . which is funny considering Atlantic “City” is essentially a quiet street with about 70 residents within a 3 square mile radius.

Tour Divide meets City Slickers

Wind River Valley 

Wind River Valley

Wind River Valley

Wild Bill's B and B, Atlantic City, WY

The Man, Myth and Legend - WILD BILL

Tour Divide - Day 17 - 99 miles from Atlantic City, WY to Wamsutter, WY. We awoke this morning to a food-overdose breakfast at Wild Bill’s served up by Wild Bill’s wife Carmel. I forgot to ask Carmel whether she is also wild. Not appropriate? I ate a good 6 pancakes, 4 pieces of bacon, 5 scrambled eggs, 3 pieces of toast and a huge helping of hashed potato thingies . . . and was still hungry . . . so I ate two more pancakes coated with peanut butter on the go. Calorie-deficient much? Today we had to cross what is known as the Great Basin of Wyoming, which is essentially about 100 miles of absolute nothingness. Think Sahara desert with cooler temps and grass instead of sand. The first ten miles were pretty fast and we thought we were in for a fairly easy day. Now go back and read yesterday’s post with the lesson about getting cocky on the Tour Divide. At about mile 10, the road turned into a sandbox from the previous night’s thunderstorm. Every pedal stroke was a chore to push through the soft ground. This went on for about five miles when thankfully the ground became firm again. It’s a good thing as it would otherwise have taken us two days to get through the Basin. At about mile 30, we realized we had missed a turn at the top of a previous hill. So we had to turn around and trudge back up the hill, only to find that what we missed was a barely discernible old jeep trail that had been overgrown. Who mapped out this route? Obviously someone wandering the Basin in the throes of Peyote. So for the next few miles, we basically traversed over a bunch of rocks and grass while staring at the red line on our bike computers to make sure we weren’t going off course again. At mile 40, we internally celebrated another milestone as we reached the halfway point of the Tour Divide at 1,365 miles.  I say internally because we actually didn't realize it until we stopped for a break a few miles later. And I don't know if 'celebrated' is the right word, as there was also something mildly depressing about only being halfway there. Ok, back to the Basin. After some slick climbs and some gnarly descents, the “trail” reconnected with a dirt road at about mile 45. Time for some smooth sailing right? Wrong. My chain started skipping on my lowest gears, making them unusable. This wasn’t a huge deal on climbs and descents, but with a lot of flat ground in the Basin, I was essentially spinning out at 13-14mph because I couldn’t shift into the harder gears. For comparison, the day before we were able to crank out sustained speeds between 17 and 22 mph on flat terrain. Upon inspection, my rear cassette had become loose and none of us had a tool to tighten it. So I spent the next 55 miles riding far behind my compatriots because I couldn’t keep up. Fortunately, it was a breezy sunny day, so I just cranked a vintage 1972 Dead Show on my bluetooth speaker and enjoyed a slow afternoon in the desert. We arrived in the town of Wamsutter at around 7:30pm and we decided to call it a day. As for the loose cassette, we ran into a fellow racer named Derek at the Wamsutter truckstop who miraculously happened to own a bike shop in Oregon and who miraculously happened to have a tool that could fix the cassette and who miraculously knew how to use said tool and fix the cassette. However, while fixing the cassette, he pointed out that I have two broken spokes. It’s 130 miles to Steamboat Springs and the next bike shop. Hopefully my wheel doesn’t fall apart before then! Tomorrow, if all goes to plan, we enter Colorado and the real climbing begins. 

Can anyone see an actual trail?

Wait, there are some faint lines.

Trying to fix the cassette. Fail.
Tour Divide - Day 18 - 99 miles - Wamsutter, WY to summit of Watershed Divide, CO. We pushed off from Wamsutter at 7:30am after a breakfast feast at a mexican restaurant, which happened to be the only restaurant in town. We headed due south on a potholed and washboard dirt road that went in a straight line for 30 miles through Wyoming prairie. Look up the word 'monotonous' in the dictionary and there will be a picture of that dirt road. The next 33 miles wound up and around various treeless hills including one monster wall of a hill about 5 miles short of the Colorado border. Once over that wall, we had a 3-mile downhill to the town of Savery, Wyoming, home of the Savery-famous Little Snake River Museum. The museum had a welcome sign for Tour Divide riders and a basement with chairs, tables and an assortment of fruits, snacks and drinks for cheap prices. I ate about 6 nectarines to satisfy my fruit-withdrawal issues. As we were about to leave the museum, I cranked John Denver's Rocky Mountain High on my speaker to get everyone excited for our coming border crossing into Colorado. I don't know if that got anyone else jacked up, but it worked for me as two miles out of Savery I raced ahead of the group so that I could get a great picture with my bike in front of the welcome to Colorado sign. However, the only sign we got was a crummy little “Leaving Wyoming” sign. C’mon Colorado, step up your game. You’re certainly making enough money in weed tax revenue to stick a sign at every border crossing! Once in Colorado, we started a 15 mile climb up a mountain valley. It was a beautiful climb, but it was scorching hot with no shade and we were dying (as we were anything but accustomed to heat). At mile 83 we found the famous (famous on the Tour Divide) Brush Mountain Lodge. The Brush Mountain Lodge is a converted school-house owned by a woman named Kirsten. Kirsten and her compadres LOVE mountain-bikers, particularly those riding the Divide. They tracked us as we came up the hill and welcomed us with bells ringing when we arrived. That wasn't a cliche. There were literally bells ringing.  Before we could even dismount our bikes, Kirsten was out the door and dispensing her famous hugs. From there she led us to her sun-deck and for the next 90 minutes force-fed us with various pizzas, cold water, lemonade and beer. It was a heavenly place and we were sorely tempted to stay the night, but we wanted to get to Steamboat early the next day. Wayne and Chuck actually decided to stay the night and get up at 4am to ride. Mario, Vincent and I didn't like that plan, so at 6:30pm, after receiving three more hugs from Kirsten, we headed back out. It was only 7 hours to Steamboat with one massive climb in the way. The next 10 miles were rolling hills through a lush valley surrounded by mountains on all sides and above the highest peak was a full moon rising. After 10 miles, the road kicked up and we started to climb and climb and climb. At mile 97.5 of the day, in the fading light, it got so steep and rocky that we had to dismount and push our bikes up the last 1.5 miles under the glow of moonlight. Of all the hike-a-bike sections, this one was actually quite enjoyable and very peaceful. We finally reached the 10,000 foot summit at 9:45, set up our tents and crashed hard in contentment. Tomorrow morning it is mostly downhill to Steamboat where we have set up appointments at a local bike shop for some major needed repairs and TLC.  Best of all, I’ll see Lisa for the first time in three weeks. That is the hug I’ve really been waiting for!

Last Meal in Wyoming

Last Hill in Wyoming. Yes, it is as steep as it looks!

The Only Sign at the Colorado Border.  Lame

Brush Mountain Lodge

The Famous Kirsten

Moon Over the Valley

Tour Divide Day 19 - 53 miles from Watershed Divide, CO to Stagecoach State Park, CO.  At the beginning of my Day 19 synopsis, I decided to test the power of social media. It costs roughly $1750 to provide a First Descents program experience to a young adult cancer survivor. There are roughly 250-350 people who followed my Tour Divide daily updates on Facebook. I put out the request to to change two lives in the next 48 hours by raising $3500 in small change. I asked everyone to think lunch money or coins under the cushion. I asked First Descents to make all money raised during that 48 hours to be marked for specific scholarships in the name of FOBTD (Friends of Brent Tour Divide). I figured that a $10 average donation by 350 people will get us there. I paid $28.35 for all my food on Day 17, so I started off with a $28.35 donation. For some additional color, I asked my friends Lindsay Forbes (“Smurfette”) and April Capil(“Lemondrop”) to briefly provide some comments about what the First Descents experience meant to them. Below the Day 19 recap are their comments.  The experiment worked as over $4,000 was raised over the 48 hours!!
On to day 19.  We awoke at 10,000 feet, packed up camp and started the day with a very  rocky and challenging 10-mile downhill that required a heaping portion of focus for breakfast. Ironically, I made it through the technical section without any problems, but within minutes of cruising out on the road at the bottom, my chain snapped. The timing of the bike-shop visit in Steamboat couldn't have been more perfect.  After a quick stop at the Clark General Store for Mario and Vincent to get their coffee and for me to post my 48-hour solicitation on Facebook, we then enjoyed a mellow 25 miles to Steamboat Springs, arriving at the Ski Kare bike shop at 10am. All of our bikes needed major work, mine to the tune of about $400 in a rebuilt rear wheel, new chain, new front ring, tune-up, replacement gear cables plus labor. Interestingly, the one thing I didn’t need was new break-pads. The technician said to me “Dude, 1550 miles? Have you used your brakes?” Apparently I was only about the third Tour Divider to come into their shop this summer who didn’t need new brake-pads at that point. So I had that going for me . . . which meant absolutely squadoosh. The best part of the day though was having Lisa meet us upon our arrival in Steamboat. After the most welcome hug and kiss ever, she wasted no time pulling out a new razor and saying “use it!” So we took a quick drive up to my college friend Josh Kagan’s house and I enjoyed a great shave and shower, emerging human again. After a tasty lunch with Lisa and Josh, I did some grocery shopping and went back to the bike-shop to check on progress. As of 1:30pm the bike was still being serviced. Next was a long nap in the car and more patient waiting. At around 3:30pm, I was sitting in the bike shop when Smurfette's and Lemondrop's comments hit my Facebook page (again, both are reprinted below). As I read them, my emotion swelled to a bursting point and I started crying uncontrollably in the middle of the bike shop.  Nobody, including Lisa, knew what the hell was going on with me.  All I could do was hand Lisa my phone and let her read what I had just read. She starting tearing up and handed the phone to Wayne and he simply nodded in understanding.  It was a powerful moment.  After a few minutes and a few wet sleeves, I was able to get myself back together. My bike was finally ready at 4pm along with Mario's and Vincent's bikes, but Wayne’s bike still needed work. Mario and Vincent asked if we minded if they took off, figuring we would catch up in the next 24 hours. Chuck and I said "go forth young men" and assured them that we would wait with Wayne. I was fine waiting as this not only gave me more time to spend with Lisa, but also some more much needed rest after a 7-day spree averaging 100 miles a day. About 30 minutes after Mario and Vincent left, we learned that Wayne's bike needed a part for his front shifter that was nowhere to be found in any of the shops in Steamboat or, after calls everywhere, any shop within 200 miles of Steamboat. Now what? As a last resort, Mike, the main technician at Ski Kare, remembered that there was a local Steamboat guy with a bike like Wayne's and maybe the guy would give Wayne the part and Wayne would in turn buy him a new one. However, as we of course needed a greater challange, it turned out the guy was traveling in Europe. Somehow he was tracked down by phone and he gave Mike instructions for getting into his garage and getting the part. So Lisa and I went and had a nice dinner in town while Wayne grabbed Lisa's car, drove to the guy's house, grabbed the part, brought it back to Mike and Mike and his crew agreed to stay late to get Wayne's bike fixed and ready to go. I have no idea how much money and beer Wayne had to promise to those guys to make that happen!  Wayne’s bike was finally ready at 8:15pm and Chuck, Wayne and I took off from Steamboat at 8:30 under darkening but starry skies. We considered staying in Steamboat, but we were a little restless from loitering around the bike-shop all day and were determined to eat up some of the 113 miles from Steamboat to Silverthorne that we are doing tomorrow. We rode 18 miles into the night, the last 4 climbing up a peaceful mountain dirt road, before stumbling upon the entrance of Stagecoach State Park and setting up camp in the parking area (as there was nobody else around). Just another uneventful day on the Tour Divide.


Lindsay "Smurfette" Forbes:  Grit. Courage. Determination.  Brent Goldstein, with the love and support of his beautiful wife Lisa Goodman Goldstein, (AKA Stepmom), is just over half way through the hardest race of his life... and all to save the lives of young adults with cancer.
Brent Goldstein helped SAVE MY LIFE. Beaten down by cancer, I arrived at First Descents struggling to understand a new sense of normal. Life was different now. Life was filled with the insecurities that revolve around a cancer diagnosis. Was my body strong enough and my mind powerful enough to get through everything I had to face? Would I be on this earth long enough to marry my best friend and grow old with him? Would I be here in 10 years to experience the birth of my children? No one could give me the answer those questions, but what First Descents did give me was the strength and courage to face it and look towards my new normal with hope, laughter, and an incredible new family.
This man was at my very first week with First Descents and we became instant family. There are no words to explain the overwhelming connection that is felt the minute you meet someone at FD. Love, understanding, acceptance, and a mutual agreement of "F Cancer."
This man came to First Descents camp possibly more nervous than the rest of us. But it didn't show. He was quiet and we weren't sure of his story, but Lord knows, we were all there with our own story to tell when we were ready.
This man has a heart like no other. After a few days on the river and ranch together, we heard the story weighing on his heart and why he came to join us that summer.
This man has raised over ONE MILLION DOLLARS to support cancer survivors like myself and allow them to experience the life changing power of adventure.
This man and his amazing family have been my family now for almost 10 years (WHAT?!). Jonathan Forbes also knows the incredible heart that Brent Goldstein has and has also been able to take part in his own week at First Descents thanks to him.
This man just passed the half way point of the Tour Divide - a self-supported, ultra-cycling challenge from Canada to Mexico. He is doing this crazy, grueling race all in the name of First Descents. I invite you to follow his story through the link below and donate to his race in support of him and the lives, like mine, that he is forever saving.
This man is incredible. We love you Brent Goldstein

 Brent Goldstein I am so proud of you!! For those peeps interested in First Descents just know that the love and support you’re showering him with on this journey to help him stay strong and keep going is EXACTLY what First Descents gave me in my cancer journey. So often, I didn’t know if I would have the strength to make it through a day, a week, a month, but my FD family was there to remind me I wasn’t alone and they were cheering for me to hang in there. I’m so SO thankful to this organization and I would not be here today without them. Please share your support and if there is even a shred of doubt about the impact that your donation can have on the life of a young adult facing cancer, reach out to me! FD and my FD family saved my life and made sure I could spend the rest of it #outlivingit,

Good morning from 10,000 feet!

Ramshackle or rustic?  You decide.

Pit-stop on Way down to Steamboat.

Before                  After
Tour Divide Day 20 - 107.2 miles from Stagecoach State Park, CO to Silverthorne, CO - 9,000+ feet of climbing. After a perfect night sleeping under the stars (I didn't even attach the fly cover to my tent), we were on the bikes by 7am and immediately climbed up a beautiful path that led to a mountain lake that looked more Norway than Colorado. The path circled half of the lake before sending us up into the mountains toward Lynx Pass. The first 10 miles or so rolled through several large ranches before the trail steepened in the final miles approaching the pass. Typically for a climb, I put on music that energizes. For this cool peaceful morning, I decided to slow things down with a playlist of mostly mellow acoustic cover songs. Over the next 30 minutes, everything came together for me. It was a gorgeous sunny morning, I was in my favorite mountains (Colorado), every turn in the road provided a postcard view and I was on a pristine trail doing something I love. It was pure contentment. I didn’t know the date or the day of the week, I was three weeks into knowing nothing about what was going on in the world, I had no calls or messages to return, I had nowhere to be and was in no hurry to get there. For the first time in weeks, all of my physical maladies as well as my self-doubts, fears and concerns simply melted away. THIS is what the Tour Divide is all about. THIS is what adventure is all about. THIS is what life should be about. It doesn’t have to be an insane 2700 mile bike race. It just needs to be an escape and it is even more rewarding when you can find an escape that is outside of your comfort zone. As I crested Lynx Pass, a cover of Louie Armstrong’s “It’s a Wonderful World” was playing. How perfect. Amazingly, the next 15-20 miles were even better. It was a roller-coaster trail that went up and down and back and forth and ended with an exhilarating and harrowing 5-mile descent to a campground on the Colorado River in a village called Radium. As the only real mountain-biker among the three of us, I actually got down to the campground about 15 minutes before Wayne and Chuck. I used that time to take off my shoes and socks and eat, you guessed it, a burrito, while dipping my feet in the river. So far, it had been my favorite day on the Tour Divide. While finishing up lunch, I received a text from Lisa saying that there was a crew of friends who wanted to meet up for dinner with me in Silverthorne at 7:30. It was 1:30pm as we finished lunch and we still had some 58 miles and two huge climbs to go. The only way I would make it is if I took off alone and basically rode those miles at a race-pace with few stops. And that’s what I did. I was able to hammer the first climb because I felt pretty good from lunch. But then I started to wilt as it was a blisteringly hot cloudless day and the next 40 miles had no shade. Around mile 65, a car pulled up next to me and inside were Ray Shedd, Andrew Coulter and Emma Burick from First Descents. They were certainly a sight for sore eyes. They drove alongside me for about 4 miles and took some great pictures and video before letting me return to my overheated pain-cave. I hit the last climb up to Ute Pass at about 6:10pm (catching and passing Mario and Vincent halfway up) and was pretty confident that I would make it to Silverthorne by 7:15 as I only had 12 miles to go. Or so I thought. The section from Steamboat to Silverthorne was supposed to be 113 miles. We did 18 the night before and thus should have had 98 today. I was therefore not amused when my odometer hit 98 miles on the descent from Ute Pass. As I descended, 98 became 99 became 100 and Silverthorne was nowhere in sight. Worst of all, the road then turned upward. 7:15 came and went. So did miles 101, 102 and 103. By then I was both exhausted and aggravated (and starving). Then it was 7:30. 104, 105, 106. I finally reached the hotel and Lisa in Silverthorne at 7:45 after 107 hot miles and over 9,000 feet of climbing. Not sure how we got such bad mileage intel. I quickly threw my stuff in the room, showered and headed to the restaurant to celebrate 1684 miles with a group of local friends as well as home friends visiting Colorado (while downing two full entrees and a giant chocolate milkshake!). It was a great end to a memorable day. Endnote: A big moment of the day was at mile 96 as that was the point where the race has less than 1,000 miles to go. If we can average just under 100 miles a day, we will finish on Day 30 - July 7. Tomorrow should be interesting as today's 6+ hours of race-pace are sure to take a big toll on my legs. Hoping for my 65th 2nd wind!

Stagecoach State Park - Parking Lot/Camp

Morning Lake

Up up and away

It was worth killing myself for these folks!
Happiness in my Colorado Playground
Tour Divide Day 21 - 78 miles - Silverthorne, CO to an abandoned roofless prairie shack on the side of a dirt road south of Hartsel, CO. Yesterday was one of my great days on the Tour Divide. The morning ride was incredible and getting to have dinner with Lisa and friends in Silverthorne was emotionally uplifting. However, on the Tour Divide it seems that every high is followed by a low. First of all, race-pacing the last 65 miles in the blistering 95 degree sun wrecked me. Every rotation of the pedals this morning was a laborious chore from the second I mounted the bike. Before I get to the ride, there was a special surprise for breakfast. Wayne and I had just sat down at the “Morning Lyon” in Silverthorne when my friends Larry and Kim Weinberg pulled up to join us. They left McLean, Virginia, destination Vail, early yesterday morning and drove through the night so they could surprise me for breakfast. Thanks to Lisa for coordinating the surprise. So awesome to see them and so touched by the effort. The ride started with a steep set of switchbacks to rise up from Silverthorne to the Lake Dillon bike-path about 150 feet above. We circled the lake past the town of Frisco, where I thought for a second that if I just turned right at the main Frisco intersection instead of left, I could be on my couch in Avon in three hours. Fortunately, it was only a fleeting thought and we continued on the path over to Breckenridge. We had a bit of a headwind and I just couldn’t get anything going. On the outskirts of Breck, we were joined by my buddy Matt “Mateo” Hayne and his lovely girlfriend Emily, who rode with us into town. Mateo is a two-time cancer survivor, a First Descents’ alum and a former First Descents program leader who now lives in Breck. He also raced the Leadville 100 with me in 2011 and 2012. Also joining us for the morning was Dan, a local buddy of Wayne’s. We briefly stopped at a bike-shop and grocery in town for a quick gearing adjustment and some supplies, before heading out on an 1800 foot climb up to Boreas Pass at 11,450 feet. Thankfully, it was a smooth low-gradient climb that didn’t crush my weary legs. Dan and Mateo said goodbye at the Pass and headed back to town while we descended on some really sweet single-track called the Gold Rush Trail, arriving in the village of Como at mile 37. And that is where everything fell apart. The next section should have been a smooth and fairly easy 76 miles to the town of Salida where we could find beds for the night. Instead we were greeted with nasty whipping sustained headwinds of 25-35 mph that reduced forward progress to a crawl and made flat ground seem like climbing a steep ascent. It was relentless and miserable and it took us some 4 hours to go a mere 32 miles on otherwise easy terrain. As a point of comparison, when we had the tailwind in the Wind River Valley in Wyoming on our 130-mile day last Saturday, we were covering 32 miles on similar terrain in just over 90 minutes. We arrived in the town of Hartsel, CO at mile 67 at 6:15pm completely worn out and defeated, despite our attempts to "live in the moment" and "peacefully accept whatever the elements throw at us."  We went into the Highline Cafe (the only restaurant in town) and I felt like crawling under a table and passing out. We sat down and ordered some food and looked at the maps to figure out our options. Salida was 46 miles away. With the wind, that was out. Between Hartsel and Salida was mainly more open windswept prairie with few to no camping options. There also weren’t really lodging options in Hartsel and it was too early to call it a day. So we ordered milkshakes to try to lift our spirits and then pulled out at 7:30 figuring we would ride until 9pm and hope to find a ditch or set of trees that would block the wind just enough so that our tents wouldn't blow away. We made it about 10 miles with neither a ditch, nor any trees in sight.  Just as the sun was setting over the mountains to our west and we had resigned ourselves to riding into the night, we saw in the distance what looked like an old wooden log cabin about 100 yards off the dirt road. As we got closer, we saw that it had no floor and no roof, but that it would be a perfect shelter from the wind. We put our bikes inside, tossed several hardened cow-pies out a cabin window, set up our tents quickly and then turned off all headlamps so no passing cars would see us (as there was a sign in front that said “Private Property - No Trespassing”). Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day. I’m not sure if the Tour has any more evil tricks left to throw at us as we have now faced, in no particular order: snow, hail, torrential rain, freezing temps, swarming mosquitos, blistering heat, avalanche debris, hellacious hike-a-bike sections, horrendous peanut-buttery mud and a ferocious headwind. Can’t believe I’m still at it!

View from Road to Boreas Pass

Boreas Pass with Wayne and Chuck

Boreas Pass with Mateo

Gold Rush Trail

Oops, Wayne put his foot down!

Chuck kept his feet on the pedals

More Gold Rush Trail

Prairie Road into Ferocious Headwind

Hark . . . Lodging on the Horizon
Needs some curtains, but it will do.

Shitty carpeting

Tour Divide Day 22 - 79 miles from prairie cabin to Sargents, CO. After a decent night’s sleep in the roofless Ritz-Carlton, we hit the road at 7am and started heading south toward the town of Salida. Unfortunately, the headwind from Thursday oozed into Friday and we had to fight it the the first 28 miles.  On the bright side, the last 8 or 9 miles in the San Isabel National Forest provided one of the best descents of the whole Tour Divide as we dropped nearly 3,000 feet on a well-maintained dirt road. In Salida we had some minor repairs at the local bike shop (Absolute Bikes) and then had a relaxing lunch overlooking the Arkansas River. After 36 hours fighting the wind, motivation was pretty low to head back out, especially because the temperature was in the mid-90s and because we had a 25-mile 4,000 foot climb immediately ahead. The first few miles out of Salida were on a bike-path with a slight uphill grade, but it was made worse because of, drumroll, headwinds. Four miles from Salida, we were thrown onto the thin shoulder of a 4-lane highway for 5 miles and 1200 feet of climbing. The next 45 minutes on that highway was one of the absolute lowlights of the Tour Divide. Trucks were passing within feet of us, the temperature was 97 degrees, the incline was a fairly steep 8%-9% and the wind, a hot wind, once again was in our faces. Many comments on my posts over the last few days have mentioned admiration for my determination and will. I appreciate the sentiments, but my will is anything but indomitable. Will is easy when there is reason and purpose to serve it. Aside from wanting to do something really epic to celebrate my 50th birthday, I am doing this race to raise a lot of money for a cause near and dear to me and also in memory of my late pal Allan Goldberg. Take away those two incentives, and I probably would have quit 5 different times by now. Today on the shoulder of that highway was one of those times. Halfway up, I wanted nothing more than to turn around, cruise back to Salida, lie down in the Arkansas River and then go home to a couch. But I thought of all those cancer survivors for whom quitting wasn't an option and I thought of Allan and I thought of my wife and daughters who sacrificed so I could do this and I just kept pedaling and waiting for some kind of change . . . change in terrain, change in weather, change in attitude, all of the above. Thank Zeus, once we turned off the highway, change came. The next 16 miles were a beautiful climb on a forested dirt road that stayed the same 2%-3% grade for the entire climb. Best of all, the temperature dramatically dropped once we were ascending into the mountains and away from the highway. The climb up also twisted around in so many directions that we never had to deal with the crazy headwind for very long. The climb crested at Marshall Pass on the Continental Divide. I have lost track of how many times we have now crossed the Divide. Maybe 17 or 18? From the top we had an amazing 18-mile descent into the village of Sargents where we were able to rent a cabin, have some dinner and call it a day. The nasty winds of the last two days have probably cost us some 40-50 miles and half a day. Worse, they have compounded the cumulative physical and mental fatigue that is really starting to hit hard. I am a little disappointed in myself that I have let the wind so negatively affect my mood at times, but I just haven't been able to locate the mental switch to flick to change it. As an aside, the owner of the cabin-park told us that high wind advisories were in effect all over Colorado the past few days. We were just unlucky that we were going in the wrong directions at the wrong times. As I’ve said on many days of this race, hopefully tomorrow will be a better day. About 880 miles to go.
Morning Departure from The "Resort"

The Long and Winding (and Windy) Road

San Isabel National Forest

Marshall Pass

Descent from Marshall Pass

Setting Sun in Haze
GOLDEN SLUMBERS FILLS YOUR EYES, SMILES AWAKE YOU WHEN YOU RISE - Before the Tour Divide, my experience in the wilderness was practically zero. I had maybe collectively spent 4 nights in a tent in the past 25 years and my entire prep for this race came on a single overnight trip this past April.    I still barely knew how to correctly put up and take down my tent and I was a total donkey when it came to rolling everything up and fitting it in a bag. Thus my plan coming into the race was to camp when necessary, but find a bed any chance I got. I was incredibly fortunate to find riding mates who I liked and who were compatible from a riding standpoint. But where I was really lucky is that we all shared the same philosophy when it came to beds. In short, none of us were interested in camping in bad weather, none of us felt the need to prove anything by braving the elements at night and we all tacitly supported tailoring our daily ride plan around finishing the day in a place where there were beds (particularly during those cold wet days in Montana).  That is not to say that we followed a pre-planned itinerary beyond the route itself. As I state elsewhere in the blog, varying weather and terrain conditions combined with our unfamiliarity of the route as Tour rookies made planning beyond 24 hours virtually impossible, so we didn’t even try. A typical morning began with looking at the route map and seeing if there were lodging options between 75 miles and 105 miles from our ride start. Then we would ride for 4-5 hours and see where we were at mid-day in relation to those options. If it looked like our ride was on target to finish between 7pm and 10pm in one of those locations, then we would make one of those locations our ending goal for the day. On any given day, if we had a choice between beds and riding an additional 25 miles and camping, we always unanimously chose beds. During the first 12 nights of the race, I slept in a bed 10 nights, my tent once and the floor of Butts Cabin once. Things evened out once we left Montana as the last 18 nights were split evenly at 9 in a bed and 9 on the ground. Not coincidentally, that is also when the weather drastically improved through the rest of the race. Looking back, there were maybe only two nights of the 30 where I feel that we stopped too early. However, if we had kept going either of those two nights, then many things thereafter would have gone differently . . . and most likely not in a good way.  As for lodging highlights and lowlights, the High Country Lodge in Polaris, MT and the Las Parras de Abiquiu guesthouse in Abiquiu, NM were by far the nicest places to stay . . . I would even take Lisa to both. The Budget Inn Express in Helena, MT and the Country Family Inn in Del Norte, CO were the worst . . . I wouldn’t send my dogs to either place.  Honorable mentions for their amazing hospitality include the Ovando Inn in Ovando, MT and Wild Bill’s in Atlantic City, WY.  I'm not really sure how to rank Butt's Cabin!

Tour Divide Day 23 - 113 miles from Sargents, CO to Del Norte, CO. After two frustrating and demoralizing days in the wind, we decided to get an early 6am start from Sargents this morning and try to go 113 miles to the town of Del Norte. The first 13 miles were on pavement and, holy crap, the wind was at our backs! Hallefuckingllujah! We covered the 13 miles in about 45 minutes and had pretty frozen fingers and toes when we turned into the dirt as it was a nipply 33 degrees. Once the sun rose over the mountains, it heated up nicely and we had a perfect 15 miles of beautiful rolling prairie followed by a mellow 17-mile climb into the Rio Grande Nat’l Park and up to Cochetopa Pass on the Continental Divide (confirmed as our 18th crossing). So far so good. 45 miles covered in just over 4 hours and no hint of wind . . . yet. After a fast downhill and a 5-mile pavement connector, we re-entered Rio Grande Nat'l Park at mile 63 and climbed 10 miles and 1700 feet to Carnero Pass, arriving at about 2:30pm. Sidenote -back in January, I put out a request on Facebook to give me songs that make people happy/smile. I collected about 140 songs and used that playlist on this climb. Thanks friends! Unfortunately, neither of the two passes had any great views at the top. Just signs in the woods. From Carnero Pass, we had an 18-mile descent where we got our first glimpses of the changing topography from green pines to brown and gray “southwest” rock formations. The first 10 miles of the descent were fast and smooth, but the last 8 were like riding in a gravel sandbox. Remember a few days ago when I said there was nothing else the Tour Divide could throw at us? Well, I was wrong. One word: washboard. Washboard is a phenomenon that happens to dirt and gravel roads where a pattern of ripples is formed across the roads from weather or vehicle treads. If the ripples are solid, it is annoying but a mountain-bike can keep speeds through it. However, when the ripples are soft, a bike can literally be ground to a halt or skid out altogether. The last 8 miles of the Carnero descent had some of the worst washboard we have seen on the Tour Divide. If we weren’t grinding to a stop, we were bouncing around until it felt like our teeth would fall out. We finally made it through the washboard and hit mile 93 at about 4:30pm. 20 miles to Del Norte. We were pretty psyched that we would get there by around 6pm and have some time to relax. Oh but wait you silly boy! There is no relaxing on the Tour Divide! The route took a hard turn to the west. Guess what was coming out of the west? A crazy west-wind . . . and another sandboxy road . . . and more aggravating washboard. I screamed out loud “FU Tour Divide!” After 4 miles, the soft gravel road thankfully turned to dirt and climbed north back into the Rio Grand Nat’l Park. The dirt climb was far preferable to the flat gravel. At the top of the climb, we were then treated to about 7 miles of flowy and fun double-track that dropped us on another gravel road about 5 miles outside Del Norte. Now the wind was not only howling, but it was kicking up mini dust funnels on the road in front of us and a full-on dust storm about 1/4 mile to our south. I could only laugh at that point. We put our heads down and finally arrived in Del Norte at 7pm, where we first hit the convenience store to guzzle some chocolate milk (a great carbo re-load source) and then a local brewery for pizza and a beer. We now have 770 miles to go. The next two days have some massive climbs (over 15,000 feet) which might reduce our daily mileage, including a 4,000+ foot climb first thing this morning to Indiana Pass at close to 12,000 feet, the highest point of the race. We are still hoping to average close to 100 miles a day so that we can finish on July 7, but I have learned the hard way too many times out here that there is a wide chasm separating hope from reality. Time for a replay of Christopher Cross's timeless words:
“. . . And I’ve got such a long way to go, to make it to the border of Mexico, so I’m riding like the wind, ride like the wind.” 

Gorgeous Morning for a ride into them there hills

Chuck loves his snacks!

Winding up to Carnero Pass

Does this fence make my ass look big?

Desert above Del Norte
Tour Divide Day 24 - 83 Miles from Del Norte, CO to campsite just short of New Mexico border. Today we finally had a good old-fashioned bike-riding no-issue day on the Tour Divide. We awoke this morning to  yet another beautiful crisp sunny Colorado morning (we now haven't see rain in two weeks), grabbed some provisions at the convenience store and were on the bikes at 7:15am. The ride started with a mellow 11-mile road-ride that climbed about 800 feet from town. At the 11-mile mark, the pavement gave way to gravel and dirt and the incline turned sharply to a 9%-10% grade which continued for about 7 miles and 2,200 feet. During this section, I saw my 5th bear of the trip. He was a black bear who crossed the road about 200 yards in front of me. I tried to take a picture, but he moved off immediately when he saw me  . . . or smelled me! At mile 19 of the climb, my odometer hit 2,000 miles. I can't even wrap my mind around that number. We crested Indiana Pass at mile 22 at 11am at 11,960 feet, the highest point on the Tour Divide. The next 19 miles meandered in and out and up and down various ATV roads behind Indiana Pass, mostly staying above 11,000 feet. There were some really cool rock formations, some picturesque log cabins and a beautiful mountain lake. At mile 47, we reached the village of Plantoro where we ate an overpriced lunch and also ran into Mario and Vincent for the first time since Steamboat. Unfortunately, Vincent snapped his derailleur and now has to wait in Plantoro until Tuesday (today being Sunday) when a replacement can be delivered. From Plantoro, we had an incredible 18 mile descent that paralleled a river that bisected a lush mountain valley filled with horse farms, communes and scenic meadows, ending in the village of Horca, CO at 7pm. This was all land that time forgot as there was no cell service, wi-fi or, in several spots, electricity. After a quick snack, we jumped back on the bikes and did a 5-mile climb to La Manga Pass followed by a fast 5-mile descent as the night air turned cold. At mile 83, we set up camp for the night and were met by my college buddy John Wontrobski (“Wobber”) who had ridden his motorcycle over from Telluride to say hello and surprise us with some food. They say that those who provide surprise help or provisions on the route are called “Trail Angels.” Technically, we weren’t supposed to accept anything from Wobber because I knew him beforehand. Screw technically. None of us are winning this race and he was a frickin’ angel in my book! Although we were hoping to lay down more than 83 miles, the day contained just too much total climbing (over 8,000 feet) to make decent enough time to add more miles. Also, it always seems hard to follow a huge day like yesterday's 113 miles with a 2nd consecutive huge day. Tomorrow morning we cross into New Mexico, our final state! 685 miles to go.

Indiana Pass

Descending from Indiana Pass

Pristine Mountain Lake

Horses Like Singletrack Too!

Tour Divide Day 25 - 110 miles - Campsite just north of New Mexico Border to Abiquiu, New Mexico. Last night was pretty chilly in the tent, so we were up pretty early to shake the bones.  We helped ourselves to the last of Trail Angel Wobber’s provisions and then hit the trail south. We started with a quick descent from the campsite followed by a 3-mile climb that crested at the New Mexico border with entry into the Carson National Forest. All I could think and say was “Holy crap, I can’t believe I made it to New Mexico!” After Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, we were now in our last state. Jubilation was quickly replaced by the realization that we still had about 685 hard miles to go! From the border, we spent the next several hours climbing and descending, climbing and descending, climbing and climbing and sweating and swearing (because of a steep rocky section that required about 20 minutes of hike-a-bike to the top of an overlook called Brazo’s Ridge). Overall, the trails we rode for the first 40 miles were pretty rocky, rutted and more technical than anything we saw in Colorado or Wyoming. I have read that when it rains, these trails are a muddy nightmare, so we were lucky on that front. As I have mentioned several times before, despite Wayne and Chuck both being strong as oxen, their backgrounds are not mountain-biking, so they struggled a bit with the terrain and began to tire and slow down. By the way, have I mentioned that Chuck is 68 years old? He’s unreal. At about mile 47, we began a 5-mile climb on a road that was supposed to end at a campground that had a water pump. I was feeling pretty good and crushed the climb, arriving at the top almost a half hour before Wayne and Chuck as well as two other racers who had been off and on riding with us for the past few days (one of whom was Ron J from Butts Cabin). During that half-hour, I went to inspect the campground and discovered that it was closed and the water pumps were turned off. Fortunately there was a lake about a half-mile down the road off the route. However, I felt that I still had enough fluids to go forward without wasting time going to the lake. Wayne said he was pretty spent and not only wanted water from the lake, but wanted to stop at about 75 miles and get up at 4am to start on Tuesday. As I have trouble falling asleep as it is and also was not into starting tomorrow at 4am, I told Wayne and Chuck that I was going to continue on by myself and try to make it the full 110 miles to the town of Abiquiu by 10pm, get a full night of rest and meet them in the morning. So I left them at 4pm. It was a weird feeling taking off solo. For one, I had not been solo since Days 1 and 2, and nobody was really solo those first days as all of the racers were bunched together. At this point in the race, all of the racers were very spread out and the next racer was a good 60 miles ahead of me. By the time Wayne, Chuck and the other two were done at the lake and back on the trail, they were probably going to be some 15 miles behind me. Additionally, the next 25-40 miles of the route were continuing through a section of the Carson National Forest that was technically closed to the public. In fact, due to recent fires in the region, most of the parks and forests in New Mexico were closed. We learned later that if we had arrived at the entrance to Carson National Forest over the past weekend, we would have been turned away and rerouted. Thus I was literally the only human on the trail for the next 40 miles. It was both liberating (as I could go my own speed without stopping or waiting) and spooky. At the 75 mile mark, I passed through the village of Vallecitos. Vallecitos would otherwise earn no mention on the Tour Divide but for a pack of stray dogs that live in the village that makes sport of chasing bikers up the only street in town. To add insult to injury, the street through town goes uphill. Needless to say, I pedaled quickly and silently through the village, bear spray locked and loaded, and was only chased by one slow three-legged snarling mutt that I was easily able to outpedal. Then it was back into the Carson Nat'l Forest for another 16 miles before arriving in the town of El Rito. By then it was 8pm and I was pretty hungry as I had not seen a store or restaurant since Platoro about 130 miles ago and was down to my last Cliff Bar. If Wobber hadn’t brought us food the night before, it would have been a real painful struggle. Of course nothing was open in El Rito. So I had no choice but to press on to Abiquiu. I did have cell service in El Rito, so I called Lisa and asked her to try to find me a bed in Abiquiu while I started the last 18 miles. Thankfully, all 18 miles were on pavement and the first 10 miles were essentially downhill. I called Lisa again at 8:30 and she said that all hotel rooms in town were booked, but there was a guest-house about 1.5 miles past town that was available. I said to please book it. I arrived in Abiquiu at 9pm ready to absolutely feast at the first store or restaurant I could find. NOTHING was open. With no other options, I rode to the guest-house (called Las Parras de Abiquiu) and was met at the door by the owners, Erin and Stan. They took immediate pity on my bedraggled countenance and plied me with an assortment of fruit, a salami sandwich, 2 candy bars, a Dr Pepper, nuts, raisins and potato chips. Bonus of all bonuses, right next to my room was a washer/dryer. Within 15 minutes of being shown my room, I had voraciously scarfed down everything listed above, showered, and thrown everything I had with me, which all stunk to high-heaven, into the washing machine. I then spent the next two hours blissfully in a robe catching up on emails and Facebook and crafting this post. Oh, and my bathroom had a full-length mirror. I am just skin and bones. I think I may be down to my sophomore year weight . . . from high school!! 577 miles to go. I’m starting to taste it!
Thanks Trail Angel Wobber!

Climb to Brazo's Ridge

Descent to El Rito

El Rito National Monument


Tour Divide Day 26 - 104 miles from Abiquiu, NM to a field southwest of Cuba, NM. On the Tour Divide, nothing ever seems to be as it should and the expected usually results in the unexpected. There is also no such thing as an easy day on the Tour. There are only hard days, harder days and puke. Don’t get me wrong, most of the hard days are still fantastic . . . except those that absolutely aren't. I awoke this morning at 6:30 in the comfort of the Las Parras de Abiquiu and immediately checked the Tour Divide Trackleaders website to see how Wayne and Chuck were progressing. It looked like they would arrive in Abiquiu at around 8:15, so that gave me plenty of time to relax. While brushing my teeth, I noticed a bowl of epsom salts next to the bathtub. Hmmm, a hot epsom salt bath sounded like a great way to start the day. And it soooooo was. After the bath, I packed up my stuff, lathered myself with sunscreen and A and D Ointment (a taint’s only real friend), happily clad myself with my clean and wonderfully non-malodorous clothes, paid my bill and pedaled over to the convenience store to meet Wayne and Chuck and to stock up with food for the day. I also made the bittersweet decision to finally part with my bear-spray to reduce some weight.  The normal Tour Divide route would have taken us into the Santa Fe National Forest, up into the mountains above Abiquiu and across a giant mesa before dropping us into the town of Cuba. However, with all the forest fires in New Mexico, the Santa Fe Forest was closed and we were re-routed via paved roads to Cuba. We were upset to miss the views from the mesa, but figured the paved roads would be an easy ride and we would be able to put in a big day. False expectations. The paved road sucked. Other than the first few miles where we had a great view of Lake Abiquiu, it was thoroughly uninteresting. Worst of all, our old arch-nemesis, Sir Stifford Headwind, Duke of Suckington, made the whole ride an aggravating grind. What should have been a 6-hour ride turned into an 8-hour ride. Art Fleming, I’m not bitching . . . just stating facts. Actually, after 26 days, I am bitching. It’s my party and I’ll bitch if I want to. We arrived in Cuba at about 5pm and immediately stocked up on food and fluids as our next section was 124 miles from Cuba to the town of Grants and we weren’t sure if there would be any stores on the route. Then we hit McDonald’s because (a) it was the first one we had seen since Fernie on day 3, and (b) because Chuck was craving it. After a Big Mac, 6 McNuggets, Large fries, Chocolate milkshake and 2 chocolate-chip cookies (and similar meals for both Chuck and Wayne), none of us felt too motivated to get back out and ride. Plus the temperature was still in the high 80s and the wind was still blowing hard in the wrong direction. The goal was to get to Grants by Wednesday night. Wayne suggested that we check into a hotel in Cuba and just get up at 4am and do the whole 124 miles. Wayne just loves 4am!  I hated that plan because I feared that 124 miles would be impossibly hard if we had another full day of headwinds. I thought that we should just start riding and try to get in 20-25 miles as 99-104 miles tomorrow would be more doable. This pondering and discussing and ruminating and procrastinating and negotiating went on for over an hour until we finally decided at 7:15 to start riding. This is where the expected turned into the unexpected in a good way. We expected a shitty ride into the evening. Instead, within 15 minutes of starting to ride, the temperature cooled into the high 70s and the wind stopped as if someone flicked a switch. We rode for two hours and covered about 27 miles, leaving us with 97 for tomorrow. Faith Goldstein and Elinor Blackstone will love this next part. In Ocean City, Maryland, there is a bar/restaurant called Fager’s Island that sits looking west over the bay that separates the beach from the mainland. Every night during the summer, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is played as the sun sets with the song timed perfectly so that the last sliver of the sun disappears over the bay as the final cannons sound. As the sun was setting over the mountains last night during our ride, I drew inspiration from Fager’s and blasted the 1812 Overture on my bluetooth speaker as we began a climb. It was a surreal experience as we rode in silence to the sound and flow of the music and it turned out to be timed perfectly as we crested the climb just as the final cannons blasted and as the last orange rays of the sun disappeared on the horizon. It was a moment the three of us will never forget. We rode another half-hour with our lights on before finding some flat ground on which to camp near the road. As it was a warm evening with a clear sky, we didn’t even pitch tents. We just laid out our pads and sleeping bags and slept under the stars, serenaded by the sounds of coyotes and crickets. The only thing to spoil the peaceful perfection was that my inflatable sleeping pad sprung a leak and will no longer stay inflated. At this point, there are only 3 or 4 nights left and I’m barely sleeping anyway, so whatever. 473 miles to go. Happy birthday America and happy 4th to you all.

Goodbye Bear Spray. It's been real.

Lake Abiquiu - the only pretty view of the whole day

Sunset to 1812 Overture

Sleeping without cover
Tour Divide - Day 27 - 95 miles from Field south of Cuba, NM to Grants, NM. The brave face is coming off and the levity is waning. I am fried and I want this to be over. This morning started great with sunny skies, a rooster crowing in the distance and a mere light breeze. We started at a relaxed pace and stopped after two hours at the Chaco Laundromat and convenience store at mile 21. It’s funny because none of us really needed anything, but a convenience store on the Tour Divide is like a gift shop at the airport in that you can have 2 newspapers, 3 magazines and an e-book on your tablet and still feel compelled to buy another magazine at the gift shop. Anyway, what caught my eye was a sign offering Grape Shasta. I haven’t seen Grape Shasta since I was a kid at Bar-T-Ranch day camp in Maryland. I had to have some. So my first food stop of the day consisted of a creamsicle (don’t ask), a can of grape Shasta and . . . an apple because, you know, I’m trying to eat healthy. The next 20 miles went by pretty quickly, but it was starting to get really hot (95.7 degrees on my Garmin), so we found the only tree in the desert and plopped down in the shade for some food. I ate a turkey sandwich and then proceeded to take a 20-minute nap. Meanwhile, the terrain was pretty uninteresting . . . basically just desert. In fact, the best way to describe it is to think of the opening scene in Episode 1 of Breaking Bad when Walter White is cooking crystal meth in a camper in the desert outside of Albuquerque. Well, we weren’t too far from Albuquerque, so maybe this was the place! At mile 50, the light breeze turned into our faces and we became uneasy. For 7 days in a row, the afternoon breezes had turned into strong headwinds from the south. To say we were tired of the wind is like saying that we were TIRED OF THE FUCKING WIND!! Sorry, I am metaphorically challenged at this point. I needed something to take my mind off the changing wind, so I reached into my quiver of music playlists and pulled out a Showtunes playlist that I had been saving for the right moment. First up was a medley from Grease, followed by songs from Sound of Music, Pippin, LaLaLand, Greatest Showman, Phantom of the Opera and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. By the time I hit Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at mile 60, the wind was howling in our faces. Even Chim-Chiminy-Chim-Chiminy-Chim-Chim-Chiree couldn’t cure the foul mood that was slowly overtaking me and the boys. The Phaaaaaaaaantom of the Opera is (clearly) here . . . inside my mind!  At mile 74, we started what was essentially a 20-mile descent into the town of Grants. We were going downhill on pavement and had to work our asses off just to exceed 10mph. Even going downhill, if we stopped pedaling, the wind would bring us to a complete stop. Screw you Hakuna Matada and Bippety Boppety Boo! You aren’t helping! With 10 miles to go before Grants, the wind was whipping so hard that if we were at the beach, there would be heavy umbrellas blowing across the sand. Misery index was at Defcon 5! We stopped into a McDonalds about a mile before Grants and figured that we would regroup and try to ride 20-25 more miles like we did last night. I had two quarter-pounders with cheese, a large fries, a chocolate milkshake, a blue icy swirlie thing and 9 cups of ice-water. While my appetite for eating was sated, my appetite for getting back on the bike was gone with the wind (no, I didn’t have any Gone With the Wind music on my playlist). As we stared at the blowing American flags on every street corner (it being July 4th), we said to hell with more riding and checked into a hotel. Winds are not rare in this part of the country. However, it is rare to have 8 straight days of heavy wind, all from the same direction (south to north), which stinks when your riding direction is north to south. I hate to complain about a hardship that in the greater scheme of things is not a hardship, but damn if this isn’t squeezing the enjoyment out of these finishing miles. After checking into the motel, we walked over to the neighboring Walgreens to purchase food for tomorrow. There were 4 other TD riders wandering the aisles. It looked like the frickin’ zombie apocalypse as all of us had 1,000-yard blank stares. On the bright side, we still covered 95 miles and now only have 375 miles to go. Off to the famous Pie-Town tomorrow. Leaving the motel at 5am in the morning to try to beat the heat and wind.
My dorm room last night


Chillin' in the laundromat

Nap Tree

Searching for Walter White
Tour Divide Days 28 and 29 - 248 miles from Grants, NM to Silver City, NM.  I was too tired to type a summary last night, so this is a two-day recap.  After Wednesday’s debacle of a ride and my post-ride melt-down left my psyche in tatters, I went to sleep that night resolved to put it behind me and start fresh yesterday morning. What I haven’t shared up until now for fear of jinxing myself is that one of my goals for the race, aside from simply finishing, was to finish in 30 days or less. To achieve that goal, I need to reach the border at Antelope Wells, NM by 7:59:59 on Sunday morning (today being Friday). All of those windy days were putting that goal in jeopardy. We started early yesterday morning with a 4:45am breakfast at Denny’s. With 375 miles left I laid out a plan to Wayne and Chuck that was a slight reach, but which I thought was doable with a few lucky breaks. The first piece was obviously an attitude adjustment. I was hoping the Home Run breakfast would set me off on the right foot, I mean pedal. The big goal was to somehow go 248 miles in two days and end up in Silver City, NM by tonight. From there, it was a pretty easy 127 miles to the border. Chuck informed us that his wife wasn't going to get to Antelope Wells until Sunday afternoon, so I sensed some hesitance on his part to push that hard.  We left Denny’s by 5:15 and immediately put ourselves on a good pace. Three miles into the ride, Chuck said that he left his light at the hotel and was going back to get it.  We'll probably never know whether he really left his light, whether he really needed his light, or whether that was simply his out for not participating in the mad dash to the finish.  The first 38 miles of the ride were on pavement and it wound through the gorgeous El Mapais National Conservation Area which showcased a series of amazing orange cliffs that towered over the road. At mile 38, we turned onto a dirt road that went for 32 miles and climbed through topography that resembled the African Steppe. The road climbed about 1,000 feet through a series of short steep rises with flat sections in between. The road was a bit soft in places and had a lot of washboard, but we were able to cover the first 70 miles in about 7 hours with the highlight for me being a 10-minute section of blasting the Doors' "Break on Through" and "LA Woman" on my speaker and screaming the lyrics out loud. At the end of 70 miles was the world famous (ok, maybe not world famous, but famous among hikers and bikers) Pie-Town and the Pie-Town Cafe. Pie-Town is known for it’s delicious meat-loaf (just seeing if you are paying attention; there was no meat-loaf). Duh, it’s known for its pies. Wayne and I split a pizza pie for lunch. Nope, not famous for its pizza pies. Then we had real pie for dessert. I had a chocolate custard pie and it was sublime. Chuck arrived in Pie-Town just as we were getting ready to move-on.  Wayne and I left Pie-Town (and also Chuck; it was the last time we would see Chuck) at 2:30 with the goal of putting in 60 more miles before 10pm. Over the next 10 miles, some dark storm clouds started to form all around us and the winds picked up. Somehow, we were able to escape with just a few drops and at mile 94, we entered the Gila (pronounced "Hee-La") Wilderness. The Gila Wilderness comprises some 560,000 acres and was once the home to Geronimo and the Apache indians. There are no services in the Gila, so we needed to pack enough food and water in Pie Town to carry us about 184 miles. Needless to say, every possible square inch of our various packs were filled. Typically, it is deathly hot in the Gila and many racers choose to ride through the night to avoid the heat. We were lucky as this week started the monsoon season in southern New Mexico. While there hasn’t been much rain yet, the temperatures have dropped from daily highs near 102 last week to the mid-80s the last few days. Finally some good weather luck for us. Miles 94 to 110 climbed through some beautiful forests and then provided a screaming descent into a huge desolate valley that was simply aglow (for lack of a better term) with the setting sun. The route meandered along the mountains on one side of the valley and we were treated to a spectacular full rainbow across the mountains on the opposite side of the valley. We continued to ride into the dark and finally quit at about 9:45pm when the odometer hit 131 miles. It was officially the longest ride of my life, beating the Wind River Wyoming ride by 1 mile. Unfortunately, without a sleeping mat that inflated, I had a horrible night’s sleep as the ground was uneven below me and I could never get comfortable. 
El Mapais

El Mapais Arch

Road to Pie-Town

Pie-Town Cafe

Entering the Gila Wilderness

More Gila

Vastness of the Gila

Gila Rainbow
We awoke Friday morning at 5:30am and were riding by 6:15. This was going to be a tough day as we needed to go 116 miles to Silver City, most of it through the rest of the Gila, with a massive 8300+ feet of climbing, and on legs that were stretched to the limit from doing 131 miles yesterday. As expected, we started slowly and it took a good three hours before we could shake the cobwebs from the legs. During those three hours, we continued our tour of the giant valley where we saw hordes of elk and several private farms before arriving at the Beaverhead Work Station at mile 39 of the day. This is a work station established to combat forest fires and to generally monitor things in the Gila. Thankfully they had a water pump and a soda machine as we didn’t think we had enough fluids to make it to Silver City. Side note: one of the workers (Chris) was wearing a “Redskins” t-shirt. Upon closer look, I saw that it was the name of a local high school football team. I asked Chris if the native americans at the school were offended by the name. He laughed and said that the native americans are more offended by the holier-than-thou politicians and celebrities feigning outrage over the Washington Redskins name and that they actually changed the name TO the Redskins several years ago just to spit in the face of the fake outrage. After Beaverhead, the next 25 miles were both beautiful and leg crushing. We went up and down some 12 times with climbs that ranged from 200 feet to 1200 feet. It was relentless as there were no flat sections between the climbs. At mile 75 we began a nice long descent that dropped us from 8,000 feet to 6,300 feet over 15 miles. It was 8pm by the time we reached the bottom and we had 26 miles and one more 1500 foot climb to go before reaching Silver City. By then we were running on fumes as we had already put in nearly 14 hours with thousands of feet of leg-churning climbs. The last one of the day was going to be a monster as it consisted of 11 miles of single-track on the Continental Divide Trail with the first half-mile being mostly steep hike-a-bike. The trailhead for the CDT was located at the backside of the Sapillo Campground which was filled with RVs and tents and kids and ATVs and generally happy people. One nice family saw the tired looks on our faces and gave us water, peaches and oranges. During the ensuing hike-a-bike, I was cursing the race directors for putting us through this after the Gila when they easily could have chosen an alternate route that involved riding instead of hiking. But then the trail leveled out and became a great mountain-bike trail. Except that it wasn’t a great trail for Wayne as the trail was slightly off-camber, slightly overgrown and had a lot of exposure on the side. In mountain-biking, as in hiking, exposure means that one false move and you may be tumbling hundreds of feet down a steep hill or over a cliff. I am used to these kinds of trails and was ecstatic. Wayne had never experienced anything like this and quickly proclaimed “no effin' way, I’m walking.” So now I had a huge dilemma. It was going to take Wayne some 3-4 hours to walk this trail. I could probably ride the whole thing in just over an hour. I didn’t want to leave him, but man it was going to be painful to ride a few minutes and then wait, ride a few minutes and then wait, and so on. I decided not to say anything and just see how it went. After 15 minutes of this, Wayne said to leave him. I asked if he was sure and he said it would be ridiculous for me to wait for him and not only miss out on a great ride, but to be stuck out there for 4 hours for no good reason. So the decision was made for me and I took off. By then it was getting pretty dark, so I put on both a headlamp and my handlebar light. I was now in my 16th hour of riding on the day and it required all of my focus not to make a false move and end up at the bottom of a ravine. I got into the rhythm of the trail and the serenity of being alone on the top of a mountain ridge with my sole concern being the patch of trail illuminated in front of me. After about 30 minutes, I realized that this solo venture through the dark was the perfect culmination of my Tour Divide experience. Ironically and poetically, I also realized a direct similarity with a ritual at every First Descents’ program. The ritual involves a graduation of sorts on the last day of a program. The graduation is basically a moment where a participant is sent into the rapids, the surf or the rock wall one last time without a guide and without others nearby. The purpose is to both show that they have accomplished learning and becoming adept at new sport as well as to use that solitary moment to reflect on everything that they have gone through that week and how far they have come (and grown). This solo ride through the woods at night was my graduation ride on the Tour Divide and I used that next hour to reflect on everything that I have been through over the last month, the hardships I have endured, how terrified I was on the morning of June 8 (though buoyed by the Caps’ victory the night before), the beauty and majesty I have witnessed, the friends I have made, the injuries I sustained and yet managed or ignored, the emotional swings, the cancer survivors who will benefit from this ride, the pledges I will collect for First Descents next week and, ultimately, the legacy I will leave through this adventure for my daughters and, someday, their kids. I thought about a lot more, but maybe I’ll save that for a book. After a great descent off the mountain and several rolling up-and-downs on the pavement leaving the forest, I finally arrived in Silver City at 11:15pm. Lisa had booked a room for me earlier in the day at the Comfort Inn and as I arrived, I saw that the McDonalds across the street was still open. I won’t even list all the food I ordered and ate as it would make you sick. The penultimate day of “Survivor - Tour Divide” is now behind me. Tomorrow should be a fairly benign day that will include a “normal” 59 miles of dirt and end with a 65-mile straight shot on pavement. I hope to arrive at Antelope Wells by midnight, well within the 30-day goal. Mostly, I can’t wait to see and hold Lisa at the finish. I could not have done any of this without her love and support. Lastly, I can’t thank you all enough for all the comments, texts and emails over the last month. There really is no way to put into words what that support has meant to me. Peace and love to all and I look forward to my next post as a Tour Divide finisher!!

Morning in the Gila Valley

Gang of Elk

At least one of us was regularly washing!

Rolling Hills of the Gila

Start of the Continental Divide Trail

Night-Riding on the CDT

Goodbye my friend
Tour Divide Day 30 - 127 miles - Silver City, NM to US/Mexico border at Antelope Wells - the final daily recap. I awoke this morning at 6:30 and immediately grabbed my phone so I could determine Wayne’s whereabouts. There was a text from him timed at 6am that said that he got within 7 miles of Silver City early Saturday morning before camping for the night and that he would be at the hotel by 7am. We had 125 more miles to the finish with nothing overly difficult or technical. As Thursday’s and Friday’s rides were long, strenuous and exhausting, we decided to relax a bit, have some breakfast and head out around 9:30am. The first 18 miles were on the shoulder of a highway heading south from Silver City with about 1200 feet of rolling climbs. That was followed by 33 miles of fairly hard-packed dirt road through the New Mexico desert (with a missed turn that cost us 2 miles). Although it was a pretty hot day, we covered the 51 (plus 2) miles in just under 5 hours, crossing under Interstate 10 and arriving at the Bowlin’s Trading Post in Separ, NM at 2:30pm. I mention the Interstate as it was the last of the three major east-west coast-to-coast interstates that we would cross (the first being I-80 in Wyoming and the second being I-70 in Colorado). The folks at Bowlin’s love Tour Dividers and showed us instant hospitality by giving us seats, letting us start a food and drink tab and asking us questions about where we were from, how we enjoyed the journey, why we did the ride, how we got the insanity gene, etc. All the while we filled our now iron stomachs with Cokes, Gatorade, popsicles, potato chips, beef jerky and ice cream. Even though the end was so near, we were hot and spent and in pure dawdle mode. We laughed at all of the crazy and garish souvenirs in the store and considered buying fireworks for the finish. However, with the finish being an actual U.S. border crossing, we realized that shooting off bottle-rockets just might not be a smart idea. We finally had our wheels rolling again at 3:45 after a prolonged 75 minutes at the Trading Post. The next 8 miles were on a dirt road right next to I-10. This was the last dirt stretch of our adventure. At 4:30 we reached Rte 146 which would take us due south for 65 miles on pavement, ending at Antelope Wells. As we made the turn onto 146, we were greeted warmly by Lisa and the dogs, who were parked on the side of the road. The first 18 miles of the paved road were hot, boring and slow. Why slow? Any guesses? If you have been reading these posts, what has been our constant nemesis since leaving Steamboat in Colorado? What are Headwinds for $1,000 Alex! We reached the town of Hachita at about 6pm and found an open convenience store where we once again devoured popsicles and Cokes while waiting for the sun to hide behind a bank of clouds. 47 miles to go. We pulled out at 6:30 as the skies began to darken with the threat of some rain. Fortunately the temperature dropped and the wind direction and road direction both changed just slightly enough that the wind became neutral and we covered the next 27 miles in just over two hours. During this section, we reminisced about some of the highs and lows of the past month and shared some laughs over some of the things we had seen and done. We took one more break at the 20-mile mark where Lisa had parked and used the break to finish our last Gatorade and turn on our lights. Then we simply pounded out the final miles, both pedaling side by side in rhythmic unison, counting down the miles 1 at a time as we passed green fluorescent mile-markers every three minutes or so. With 10 miles to go, it was pitch dark except for the light from my headlamp (Wayne’s headlamp battery had just died) and the glow of Lisa’s tail-lights in the distance. 9, 8, 7, 6. Although, the last 10 miles were actually a 400 foot climb to the border, we sustained about an 18mph pace. Excited much? With 5 miles to go, we could see the yellow lights of Antelope Wells. 4, 3, 2. We finally approached and passed a sign that said “Antelope Wells Point of Entry 1 mile.” We were three minutes away. Emotion and excitement were running high. Would I cry? Would I laugh? Would I scream? With 1/4 mile to go, we could see Lisa’s car parked by a sign in front of a lit-up but otherwise deserted complex. We finally slowed down after an hour of pretty hard pedaling and coasted the last few hundred yards, rolling to a stop next to Lisa. Wayne and I gave each other a monster hug, a few whelps of joy and then I looked at Wayne and said “I’ll race you back to Canada. Let’s go!” Lisa handed us some beers, we toasted, posed for some pictures,packed up our stuff and that was that. Kind of anticlimactic. We were finishers number 58 and 59 out of 182 starters and only 2 more would finish during the night to break the 30-day mark (actually, we were 54th and 55th as the four people ahead of us in the final standings were detoured from a difficult section of the course that we rode; a detour that gained them a 24-hour advantage). Our placement was significantly better among first-timers as I think the finish percentage among first-timers is something ridiculously low like 15%-20%. My final tally was 2,731 miles. Although I know I just rode all those miles (and my body feels every one of them), it will probably take me days or even weeks to truly comprehend the magnitude of this achievement. There is no way to crystallize all of the thoughts and feelings swirling tempest-like in my head right now, so I am not even going to try. I am pretty sure that I will attempt to write a book about this experience. I’ll therefore save any in-depth meaning-of-life ponderings as well as a bow-tied wrap-up for the last chapter of the book. That being said, there are some very simple and obvious things that I am very proud of. For one, I finished. Two, I persevered and managed after several injuries threatened to end my race after various stages. Three, Wayne and I finished strong as we covered 375 challenging miles in three days to finish in under 30 days. Fourth, I was able to share this adventure and interact with my friends and family through Facebook and, unless everyone was blowing continual smoke up my ass, I believe these daily updates provided both entertainment as well as a vicarious summer diversion for everyone. Finally, the most important and obvious achievement of all is the incredible impact this ride will have on First Descents and the young adult cancer community. I have gotten a lot of comments telling me how heroic I am for what I have raised. But that isn’t entirely accurate. I didn’t write a massive donation check. What I did was shamelessly ask and hopefully inspire you all to give. The money came from all of us. Everyone who clicked on the donation link and parted with some shekels shares a slice of heroism. For that, I can’t thank you all enough and First Descents can’t thank you enough. Together, we have raised over $170,000 for FD, an amount which covers nearly half of all of FD’s new programming in 2018. That is incredible and impactful and over the coming weeks I will continue trying to find ways and avenues to reach our $200,000 goal. So that’s pretty much it for now. I have no other bucket-list items that could ever top this. Time for a lot of much needed rest and sleep and going through a month’s worth of mail and re-watching Game 5 of the Cup! Before I sign off, just a few quick shout-outs. I used a Garmin Inreach satellite device that allowed me to communicate by text when in the wilderness. My buddies Gary Morris and Kevin Kane were always by their phones and/or computers to text me information about upcoming distances, elevation changes or weather changes. Thanks boys. I also got daily texts of encouragement from my riding buddies Larry EtmanBrian PeyserKenny Lipsman and David Flyer and countless similar periodic texts and messages from various friends and family that carried me through some low times. I will remember all of them. To the Bernstein sisters (Lisa and Amy), you both were amazing in sharing this story on Facebook at every turn. Special similar thanks to Mano Leisure (aka Eric Fretz), Melissa Rebecca MaddenAndrea Obbie KayJoe LaycockMIchael WilsonJolie DeutschmanMark RakerStephen RodgersMatt DelaneyBrent CantorDaryn GoldsteinLindsay ForbesApril Capil and Alyson Achorn for sharing the story and donation link on their Facebook pages. To Brian at the Bike Doctor bike shop in Frederick, all of your advice, fixes and fittings were spot-on. Thank you for turning my Salsa Timberjack into the perfect Tour Divide machine.  To my parents, siblings and kids, I hope I have made you proud. To Lisa, you are my everything and I wouldn’t have even made it on the plane to Canada without you. (Though I guess I could have taken an Uber to the airport). 😘)

The final dirt climb of the Tour Divide

My steed's final nap on the Tour Divide

We did it!
The final stats

BRIEF POSTSCRIPT:  It has now been a week since the end of the race.  I still have so much to say and add, including back-stories, front-stories and side-stories, but feel like I need more time to process everything.  I will probably eventually convert this to a book, but my main mission right now is to try to successfully hit one more big goal and that is to hit the $200,000 raise for First Descents.  As of July 15, we are at $173,000.  If you enjoyed this Blog, I would appreciate your support by clicking this link and making a donation.  If you have previously made a donation and work for a company that makes matching charitable gifts, maybe you can take a few minutes to make an inquiry.  If you have friends that would be interested in the Blog, please feel free to share it before I take it down to make way for formal publishing.  Thanks!! Brent