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The Story of Eight - Bikepacking.net

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					The Story of Eight
Introduction
It’s a little after six in the morning and I’m riding along a dirt road that skirts along the
southern boundary of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. I’m pushing out an intense
pace in pursuit of my compatriots and fellow racers John Fettis and Alan Goldsmith. I
rest my forearms on the bars to relax my upper body and gain some aerodynamics, and
focus on trying to steer a smooth path around all the bumps and potholes. I haven’t seen
John and Alan for seven days, since I watched them disappeared into the distance on a
straight paved road out of Sparwood up in Canada. Now I have news they are just a few
miles ahead and I want to catch up to them.

This is my ninth day of racing. Over the last eight days I’ve managed to average about
130 miles a day, making just over 1,000 miles since the start of the Tour Divide
Mountain Bike Race up in Canada. The Tour Divide, or TD, is an ultra-cycling challenge
to race self-supported along all 2,745 miles of Adventure Cycling Association's Great
Divide Mountain Bike Route. There is no entry fee, no prizes, and no designated rest
periods or set distances a racer must travel daily. The clock runs non-stop. The Route
threads it way though the Rocky Mountains with some 200,000 feet of climbing,
crisscrossing the Continental Divide from Banff in Canada to the US/Mexican border at
Antelope Wells in New Mexico.




So far the route has traversed rough roads through a little of the Canadian wilderness,
what seems like every mountain pass in Montana, and a tiny corner of mosquito infested
Idaho. There are still 1,750 miles left to the finish line, through Wyoming, Colorado and
New Mexico. Up to this point the terrain and weather has been demanding; with snow
still covering the high passes and persistent rain creating muddy trails.

Last night I camped in long grass at the side of a quiet paved road in Idaho with Josh
Ficke. Josh and I have been racing in each other’s company since Canada. Good sleep
eluded me; I was too hot and Josh was snoring. The previous day we had put in a
concerted effort to hunt down a pack of six riders. We need to catch them riding the trail,


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rather than meet in passing as they leave a restaurant when we arrive. These are the
only type of encounters we’ve had with any of them for the last week; mostly we just
hear reports at restaurants and bike shops that some cyclists left an hour ago.
Constantly they have been one step ahead of us.

Soon after Josh and I set off in the morning we saw one of the six racers we’ve been
chasing, Cannon Shockley, strolling out of the bushes with his toilet roll in hand. Cannon
told me he’d bivvied up last night a few miles back with John, Alan, Blaine Nester, and
Leighton White. We must have only been camped a couple of miles apart. John, Alan
and Blaine are only a few miles up ahead, and when Cannon left, Leighton hadn’t
managed to get out of his sleeping bag. He must have still been hidden in the bushes
when Josh and I passed too. Cannon also informed me Erik Lobeck made a break the
previous day and disappeared off the front. I left Josh and Cannon standing on the trail
and took off to catch up to Alan and John. I have to chase them down before the next
stop at Flagg Ranch some twenty miles away, so we can share a meal there and our
stories about the past seven days. Maybe we’ll share some of the upcoming miles too.

Every time I round a bend or crest a hill I expect to see them so I can let this effort relent,
but they don’t appear. Half an hour passes and I see Blaine. I last saw him two days and
300 miles back leaving a restaurant in Wise River, Montana. With my head down I blast
past him and give him a fright as I wish him good morning. After over an hour I round a
bend and see John and Alan climbing a short hill a few hundred yards ahead. I creep up
as silently as I can and as a gap opens between them I shoot through the middle calling
out, “Common, soft lads!” Alan blurts out an expletive in his surprise as I nip through. At
the top of the climb I slow to greet my friends and fellow British racers, and together we
ride on towards breakfast at Flagg Ranch only a few miles further. I’m pleased to see
them.

At Flagg Ranch without hesitation we head straight for the restaurant. It’s an eat-as-
much-as-you-can buffet, and I think we may just get our money’s worth. As we sit down
Blaine arrives, followed by Cannon and Josh a little later. We’ve just missed Erik Lobeck
who left a moment ago. I’m excited to have caught up to the group I’ve nicknamed the
peloton so early in the day, as it means I’ll be able to stay with them. After lying in his
sleeping bag too long Leighton misses the buffet breakfast by only two minutes, arriving
just as we are getting ready to leave. A costly mistake – since every real meal you can
get out here instead of eating gas station junk food counts.

My journey this far has been incredible, yet as I race with and against these other guys
for two more weeks toward the Mexican border, there are many more high and lows to
come. Unfortunately not all of us are going to make the distance; towels will be thrown
in, sickness will take others, some will go missing off the back or the front for days at a
time, new racers will join, and some will just make the whole thing look easy. This is my
story of how after 21 days of racing, and riding 2,770 miles, I was one of eight racers to
finish the 2009 Tour Divide within only eight hours of each other.

What brings me back to the Divide?
The Tour Divide is my second Divide race. In 2007 I competed in the 2,490-mile Great
Divide Race, which covers only the US border-to-border section of the Great Divide
Mountain Bike Route, or GDMBR for short. Of the field of twenty-five that started that
year, I was one of ten to finish, coming home in fourth place with a time of 21 days 22



                                         Page 2 of 72
hours and 13 minutes. To get to the border start line of the Great Divide Race I rode 220
miles over three days down from the GDMBR trailhead in Banff, Canada, thereby
completing the full 2,710 mile Route in 25 days and 8 minutes. Although the border-to-
border Great Divide Race still exists, the following year Tour Divide was born to
challenge the complete Route from Banff to Mexico. In 2009 Tour Divide pioneered a
Route extension up in Canada, extending the route to 2,745 miles. Choosing to race
over the complete GDMBR makes sense to me; however some still wish to challenge
the original distance and records.

The Great Divide Race was one of the most amazing things I’d ever been a part of.
Before I finished I was already planning my next run at it. My mind deep in thought for
the last few days considering strategy and tactics to travel faster; mentally making lists of
changes to bike and gear; and planning how I could improve training and condition my
body better. Not only did I feel a need to improve and implement on all the lessons I’d
learned, and correct the mistakes I made, I also felt I needed to prove to myself that it
wasn’t just down to chance that I ridden this thing; that I could do it again and confirm for
myself that I did know a thing or two about riding bikes. Although I’d completed 3,000
mile solo tours previously, it had been my first multi-day ride on that scale, and wanting a
guaranteed finish I had ridden conservatively, always leaving something in reserve,
since I didn’t know how my body would react over such a long period of time.




                               Eat, sleep, ride, Great Divide

Once back in England I immediately started thinking about racing the following year, but
with a change in job, moving home 350 miles away, and meeting a girl, it wasn’t to be. I
relaxed for a while and enjoyed not riding bikes until the following summer when I started
training again for the Tour Divide in 2009. I ordered some bikepacking kit and started
testing saddles. I replaced my steel frame with a titanium Van Nicholas 29er, and
shaved off about 5lb from my total bike and gear weight. Most of my kit remained the
same, however with more attention to detail and refinement in packing and distribution.



                                        Page 3 of 72
Previously I carried the bulk of my stuff in a backpack, and suffered awfully from bruised
sit bones. This time I planned to carry only a small 10-litre backpack that would be for
food only, so often it would be practically empty. I’d let the bike carry the rest in a frame
bag, saddle bag and bar bag. Being able to sit down all day would make the thing a
whole lot easier.

I’m meticulous about my preparations and the attention to detail I pay to every single
article of kit. A spreadsheet details every gram, and each item is packaged so it can’t
wear against another and I know its place when it’s dark and I’m tired. It can take me a
weekend of research, testing, packing, and weighing just to decide on which inner tube
to take. I don’t want to risk any problems out there; I just want to ride. Just in case
anything does come up though, my preference is to travel on the heavy side so I can
avoid, fix, or solve, pretty much any problem with the bike, and sleep and travel through
all but the very worst of conditions. In addition to tools and repair materials, I carry a
spare cyclo-x tyre with a lightweight inner tube, and a tent and warm sleeping bag. My all
in weight of bike, gear, and the cycling clothes I stand in is 49 lb, which at sub 50lb is
okay, but sub 40lb is the target to aim for. I know where I could lose those 10 lb, but I’d
have to toughen up and the risks increase. My thought is that at my level, I’m not truly
sure of my capabilities, and weight slows me down less than a split tyre, or a bad night’s
sleep. On only my second Divide race a finish is still the most important thing to me.
Finish and enjoy the journey first, go for a time second.

Getting to the start line
As is often the case in my endeavours, getting to the start line proves to be the toughest
part of the challenge. On weekends away cycling new trails with the guys I’m well known
for arriving at the chosen Friday night lodgings around 11pm with a box of bike parts that
need assembling into something to ride by early Saturday morning. Life is busy, and bike
parts were once in short supply; I hadn’t the funds to run two complete bikes so shared
components between bikes, so commuting or training during the week I had a road set-
up, then I’d have to strip down and rebuild a mountain bike for the weekend.

Getting ready for the Tour Divide is no different. In the several months leading up to
June I’m stretched to the limit working hard in my new job responsible for the design and
engineering of the world’s largest sub-sea rock-dumping vehicle. A specialist 30 tonne
remote operated vehicle, ROV for short, which is suspended from the bottom of a ship to
guide the end of a fall-pipe and dump 2,000 tonnes of rocks an hour into position on the
seabed. At weekends I’m trying to train but also trying to spend time with Jill, my
girlfriend. Jill lives 80 miles away and I spend most weekends either with her at her
house in the Lake District or we go somewhere else. However going out on the bike for
long rides on Saturday and Sunday pushes our relationship to the limit, and I’m unable
to train as Divide commitment requires.

With mostly only spending four evenings a week at home for a few hours, I have little
time to cram in all life’s tasks. Monday I unpack and sort the weekend’s kit, Thursday I
repack. Trying to also fit in training, fixing bikes, and preparing my TD kit means I don’t
get much sleep. I’m stressed and have built up a deep exhaustion both mentally and
physically. Every time I put in a big training session I seem to get a cold, which puts me
out of action for long periods. Over the Christmas and New Year break I spent a week in
bed with the worst flu I’ve ever had. This was ten days I had off work while Jill was on




                                        Page 4 of 72
holiday in Spain with her friends, so I was supposed to be putting in some quality miles
and preparation time.

To add to these background difficulties that I’m sure many racers face in the run up to
any big and selfish endeavour, a week before the start I receive some devastating news
that is to have a profound effect on my mindset and actions during the race. My good
friend John Lees suffered a seizure and died on his way to another friend Mike’s
wedding. John had been sick for a while with a heart problem but I’d never accepted that
he might not get better. John’s wife Alison had called only to say he was sick and we all
carried on at the wedding talking about going to see John in hospital the next day. I’d
known John and Mike for some 15 years. We met at university on the same course,
shared houses together, and went travelling together in Thailand after we finished
university. I’d shared some of the best moments of my life with John. The morning after
the wedding when Alison called to tell me John had died I was overwhelmed with grief. It
was the worst day of my life and I felt far too young to be losing such a close friend and
going through such an experience.

From the moment I was told about John, my heart and mind no longer cared for the Tour
Divide. My state of mind shifted from wanting to persevere through the difficulties that
lead up to a Divide race start, to not wanting to go. However despite that part of me
wanting to pull out, I couldn’t stop the momentum of all that planning and preparation
from pulling me towards the start line. I moved into an autopilot and wearily pushed on,
seemingly watching myself go through the motions, very self-aware of every time I
laughed, smiled, or acted like everything was normal.

In the following days Alison called again to give me the news that John’s funeral would
be on Wednesday, the same day I was flying out to Calgary. I didn’t know what to do; I
couldn’t change my flight, since I was only arriving in Banff late on Wednesday, just 36
hours before the start on Friday. On Monday morning I got up very early and made the
16-hour return journey to see John’s parents and Alison. I felt useless, but it helped and
they appreciated it. John knew I had been getting ready for the Divide, and I talked about
it with Alison and John’s parents, and then made the decision to still ride and miss the
funeral.

Things were not going anywhere near to plan for this attempt. I was supposed to be
prepared and practised, my thoughts focused, and most of all very fit. In reality my
fitness compared poorly to how fit I’d been in ’07 when I lived the life of a single man and
worked 9-5 without responsibility. I was already deeply tired, and the performance I
wanted was likely beyond my reach physically. Mentally I was questioning what I was
doing lining up at all. But I couldn’t miss out on another TD, I couldn’t continue trying to
train like this for another year, I couldn’t just quit now and make all those months of
pushing on be for nothing. Maybe the holiday would help me through this difficult time,
so I continued packing.

My racing buddies
The other British racers heading out with me are Alan Goldsmith, John Fettis and Paul
Howard. I’ve known Alan for some ten years, first meeting when I replied to his ad on a
forum for the Polaris Challenge looking for a partner. The Polaris is a two-day
navigational event with a seven-hour time limit on day one, an overnight camp, and five-
hour limit on day two. Back then is was a compulsory pair’s event and Alan needed a



                                       Page 5 of 72
competent partner. My usual partner had already teamed up with another friend, so I
sent him a message and we arranged to meet up. We rode a short three-hour
navigational event together and then agreed to enter the Polaris, however foot and
mouth struck the UK and the trails were closed and the event cancelled. A few months
later I went travelling for a year and didn’t meet Alan again for a few years until I bumped
into him at a mountain biking trail centre in South Wales. We arranged to meet up again,
and from there despite living hundreds of miles apart, have continued to get together for
regular weekend cycling breaks and holidays. I enjoy riding with Alan, as he’s the guy
that provides the inspiration and challenge that motivates and pushes me to train harder.

Alan is ten years my senior at 45 and puts in a huge weekly mileage and has the ability
to ride day after day without seeming to fatigue. His fitness changes little from month to
month and year to year, always able to put in big rides and push out fast climbs. Alan
also has a Divide ride under his belt, coming in 3rd in inaugural Tour Divide in 2008. Mid-
way through that race in Colorado he was first on the scene of a car accident involving a
family. Their car had left the road on a mountain pass and rolled over several times
down a steep slope. Alan alerted the emergency services with his SPOT and attended to
the casualties until help arrived. After this incident, Alan settled into a touring mode,
enjoying the company of his fellow racers. It was still a great adventure for him, and he
was back for more only a year later. Prior to the Divide this year he was also able to take
a month off work giving him the perfect training and preparation time.

John Fettis I met for the first time only eight months before the race, after an email
introduction through a mutual friend Rob. He emailed Alan and I to introduce John and
for John to state his interest in the Tour Divide. John comes from a road racing
background and has been riding and racing bikes for over 20 years. A whole lot more
experience than I at training and racing bikes, however bikepacking is new to John. The
following months he spends picking Alan and my brains on Divide racing to get his kit
together. At the time I found this frustrating, that I should be giving so much help, when
I’m self taught and have spent year’s earning my knowledge the hard way. However as
June nears I meet John a few times, and he places high in a prestigious 112-mile UK
road race and completes a 600km audax. I’m sorry to say it wasn’t until John showed his
capabilities here that I was pleased to have him on board for this adventure.

Paul Howard was introduced to me by an email from Matt Lee. Alan, Paul and I made a
few email exchanges and arranged to meet up one weekend in May to ride the South
Downs Way x 2, which has been an annual event for Alan and I over the last few years.
The South Downs Way is a 100-mile trail of constantly undulating rollers near the south
coast of England. Over the weekend we ride it one way on Saturday and camp over at
one end and then return on the Sunday. It’s a good Divide training ride.

The south coast is 400 miles from where I live in the north of England, so after an eight-
hour drive on Friday after work, I arrive around midnight in a farmyard field somebody
has the cheek to call a campsite. There I meet Paul and Alan having a more leisurely
evening without such a drive. I pitch up and get my head down and there is little
conversation – I’m not in a good mood after bad traffic and getting lost trying to find the
campsite. When we get up at 6am I introduce myself to Paul properly as we gear up for
the day’s ride. It turns out Paul is so new to mountain biking he only bought his first
mountain bike six months ago. However his credentials of shadow riding the Tour de
France a few years back demonstrate he’s a capable cyclist. Paul is an author by trade



                                       Page 6 of 72
and wrote a book about those exploits, and also plans to write about his experience on
Tour Divide.

We set off for the day and Paul slips off the back early and can’t match the pace on
climbs. He’s also begins popping painkillers for a sore knee at an alarming rate. His new
mountain bike and new shoes may be causing it, as it’s a problem he’s not suffered
before. After fifty miles the discomfort becomes too much and Paul doesn’t want to risk
damaging his knee so close to the Tour Divide, so when the route passes within 10
miles of his house he bails out. From this unsuccessful training run I underestimate Paul
and doubt his abilities to make a Divide finish. Someday I’ll have to get together again
with Paul for a proper ride of the South Downs Way.

The other rider I will know in the 2009 line up will be Josh Ficke. Josh also rode in the
2007 GDR and included the Canadian prologue ride from Banff with Bruce Dinsmore
and myself. I immediately liked Josh when I met him, with his southern Californian
accent and laid back approach to Divide racing, the English language, and life. He’d
already put in a 90 mile ride from Calgary to Banff and was bivying in the bushes near
the campsite in town before the off. We shared a lot of miles in the GDR, until a puncture
and failed pump miles outside Salida in Colorado left him with a long walk into town. I
never knew what happened, just that he never caught up to me in Salida and I continued
on without him. Josh did go on to finish the race, coming in a couple of days after me.
This year I bought Josh’s plane ticket so he could him to the start of TD and I was
looking forward to sharing the miles with him again.

Leaving for Banff
The plan is to fly out with Alan on Wednesday morning from Newcastle airport, which is
only a fifteen-minute train ride from my home. On Tuesday I get home late after a long
day at work and a long Monday visiting John’s folks. I did my best over the weekend to
get my bike and kit ready, but despite little sleep there are still lots of little details to take
care of. At 10pm, and less than 12 hours until I have to leave the house for the airport,
my bike is in pieces and my flat is strewn with kit. Alan is staying at my place and
already in bed. He’s just had an evening of watching me flap with my gear and bike while
he drank cups of tea and relaxed. Even after years of riding with Alan he’s still quite
surprised at just how far from ready I am. Life has just been so busy in recent weeks that
despite only four or five hours of sleep a night, I’m still cutting it fine.

By 1am I finally finish building and boxing my bike. I square things away and am in bed
by 2am. I get about five hours sleep before I have to get up and finish off packing my kit.
Alan, who went to bed at 10pm, casually makes some breakfast in the background. I’ve
a couple of hours before 9am, when whatever the state of readiness I have to leave the
house. I’m so ready for that moment, when I can stop being frantic and start relaxing. I
plan to take some tunes on an MP3 player, but it’s the last thing to do on my task list
since it’s not essential. I use every spare second I have delaying leaving the house and
shouting at my computer as it slowly churns away copying files. I don’t have time to go
through what copied until it was full. It turned out I only got artists up to ‘g’ in the
alphabet, and it seems nothing I really wanted to take.

At the airport, once I have my luggage checked in, I finally have some time to myself to
start thinking about the exciting journey that lies ahead. I watch the movies on the flight
and try to nap but I never can sleep sitting up on planes. Alan and I arrive in Calgary at



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8pm and I meet my friend Guy at the airport. Guy is an old school friend who moved out
to Calgary some years ago. We’ve just missed the shuttle to Banff so I have a couple of
hours to catch up with Guy – he’d have come to Banff tomorrow for a longer catch-up,
but his wife is expecting their sixth child any time and he doesn’t want to leave town.

When the shuttle arrives I wish Guy the best and Alan and I load up the bikes. On the
journey to Banff I can barely keep my eyes open and I’m desperate to be horizontal.
Sleep has become an obsession for me by this point. I don’t feel quite right and the fact I
want it so bad makes it all more difficult to get. Around midnight Alan and I are checked
in at the YWCA in Banff and at the end of a day seven hours longer than usual, I find a
bed. Tomorrow I can relax and compared to recent times have a leisurely day with the
last few final preparations.

I wake up and without so much pressure feel like I have had a good nights’ sleep, even
though jet-lag has me awake after only five hours. Worried I won’t be able to sleep well
on my final pre-race night I plan to buy some sleeping tablets. As my task list is nearly
complete, today’s primary goal is one of leisure and eating. It’s an exciting day meeting
fellow racers and wandering around town from restaurant to restaurant in a bit of sun. I
find John Fettis and Paul Howard who have been hanging out in Banff a couple of days
already. The mountain setting of Banff is beautiful and the atmosphere of a Divide race,
with 29ers cruising the streets and racers filling the cafés and bike shops, is exhilarating.
In the afternoon I find time for a ten-mile test ride along the Spray River Trail with Alan,
John and a few other racers.

In the local bike shop while asking about disc mount spacers, the only item I forgot, I
bump into Josh. He’s hoping to get a Mavic part for his hub that fell off in transport. This
is not a good start for him, however he manages to find one at a bike shop some miles
away and takes a trip over. In the evening the local bike shop has organised a barbecue
for the racers, and I go down to meet everyone and have a little food and a drink. In the
town park next to the river around a sheltered barbecue, Matt Lee, the TD organiser, is
issuing each racer with a SPOT GPS unit so we can be tracked via the Internet on the
TD Leaderboard. We also pick up a phone number for MTBcast, where racers can call-in
to leave a message on an answerphone, which is compiled into a daily podcast by Joe
Polk for race followers. Matt also hands out new route instruction for the Route change
in Canada this year. I see Josh, who got his wheel sorted, but is now walking about with
a busted shifter in his hand and looking for the bike shop mechanic. He’s having a very
stressful day and this isn’t going like 2007 for either of us.

After the BBQ I go back to the hostel and pop a couple of sleeping pills, put in my
earplugs, wear the eye mask I got off the plane, and hope for some quality rest. I wake
up seven hours later and although I have a sleeping pill hangover, I’m feeling 100%
better than I did. Final prep is pretty relaxed, getting breakfast with some of the guys in
town, and a final trip to the post office to send home my clothes. There’s quite a bit of
time for all the riders to hangout outside the YWCA before roll out at 9:30 am.

After much checking out of other racer’s rigs and gear, and lots of final adjustments, a
large group of riders and supporters roll out of the YWCA and head down the street the
two miles to the trailhead. It’s exciting, yet I feel pretty calm about it all. I’m happy it’s
finally started, surely the race will be the easy bit compared to the challenges I faced in
getting here. John Fettis admits later that he was nearly in tears at this moment. It is a
biggie for sure.


                                        Page 8 of 72
                         Alan and John outside the YWCA in Banff

DAY 1 – Banff to Elkford (109.6 miles)
Forty-two racers and a dozen spectators are scattered around the car park at the head
of the Spray River Trail that is the start of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - the
Adventure Cycling Association’s mapped route that the Tour Divide will follow down
through America to the Mexican border. In about fifteen minutes from now some highly
tuned athletes are about to embark on a journey that will probably take them as far in
body and mind as it does their geographic position. I snap a few photos and feel a need
to be doing something. Just standing around with nothing to do is an alien feeling after
so many months of never stopping. No matter, in a few minutes I’ll have three weeks
where I won’t be able stand about with nothing to do again.

I wish Paul, John, Alan and Josh the best out there, as you never know if you’ll see
someone again after the start. Despite the training and meticulous preparations
absolutely anything can happen. I stand with John and Alan chatting and watching the
minutes countdown. I’ve seen my clock hit 10:00 a.m. and I’m watching Tour Divide
record holder Matt Lee when he shouts something out and tears off down the trail. Most
racers, including myself, don’t catch what it is he said and are left momentarily stunned
that there is no ceremony. Are we really off? I catch on quick and get going.

Matt has set off at the front at a fast pace and several other riders are sticking with it. I’m
interested to tag along to see what happens at the front of the pack. In less than five
minutes a lead group has formed and made a break. Everyone appears to be at a
comfortable pace, but I’m well aware this is above my comfort zone for this race and I’m
just hanging in there. The bike also feels heavy compared to some of the super
lightweight and nimble set-ups I see around me. I start having the first ‘next time’



                                         Page 9 of 72
thoughts about kit changes and going lighter, colder, and tougher for my next Divide
race.




        Hanging off the back of the lead group – Chris, Matt, Joe and Kurt up front

Despite always offering advice to others not to let the adrenaline run away with them at
the start and go out too hard, I cannot heed my own advice and am drawn in. I want to
stay with John and Alan and hang with this group a bit, and can’t bring myself to back
off. Six miles into the route is a bridge crossing the Spray River, and as I hit the little
wooden step up onto it, my two fork-mounted waterbottles eject from the bottle cages
and skid along the bridge. They make it across the bridge before me and fortunately
don’t bounce into the river. That would be a bad start. I stop to pick them up and strap
them in with some spare Velcro I carry. The guys are now out of sight and this has
saved me; regaining the group is out of the question. I settle back to my own pace and
continue on without any riders in sight either in front or behind me.

It’s a couple of hours before other racers start to catch up with me, and I get to share a
few miles and chat a little with people as our paces overlap. Many names are familiar to
me from the start list, and some racers I know a little about from the forums. This stage
of the race is so dynamic, with so many racers pace’s overlapping. It’s hard to know
who’re you’re going to be riding with, chasing, or being chased by, over the next few
weeks. As I near Boulton Creek Trading Post 60 miles into the day, I’m riding with
Leighton White. I’d already been introduced to Leighton in Banff by Alan, as Leighton is
also a 2008 Tour Divide veteran and finished up the last 600 miles from Abiquiu to the
border with Alan. Leighton is a 45 year old fire-fighter with Steamboat Springs Fire
Rescue Service. He’s a good guy and I’m hoping we’ll be on about the same pace when
things settle down.

I find Alan and John still resting at the Trading Post and am pleased to see them. They
had decided not to hang onto the lead group any longer. Justin Klein, who was sharing a



                                      Page 10 of 72
room with John Fettis at the YMCA in Banff, arrives shortly after me. Justin spent most
of his pre-race days in his room icing a swollen testicle from a cycling accident the week
earlier. He’s doing a very good job of putting the discomfort to the back of his mind and
pushing on uncomplaining. It must be hurting; it’s the size of a softball and very obvious
in his Lycra shorts. He’s taking a lot of painkillers.

Quite a few other riders are buzzing around and it’s a pretty exciting place to be. After a
quick snack we all disperse back onto the route. I expected Josh to arrive before I left
the trading post, but there was no sign of him. I have faith he’ll turn up later. He’s a
knack of hunting me down. There’s no sign of Paul Howard, and I hadn’t seen him out
on the route, so I don’t expect I will see him again.

Riding along the Pylon Line out of Boulton Creek with Alan and John we meet Blaine
Nester, and ride with him for some time. Blaine is just shy of his forty-seventh birthday,
and lives in Invermere, British Columbia, only a few hours from Banff, so is pretty much
still on home turf. He works for the Canadian National Parks Service there as a
Highways Maintenance Supervisor. He’s running a rack and carrying quite a bit of kit on
his Cannondale 26er, although it doesn’t seem to be slowing him up any. Blaine is
holding a very consistent and strong pace that doesn’t seem to faze him. I get a sense of
purposefulness from Blaine and his focused pace, that he understands what lies ahead
and how to ride it. I find out he’s been riding bikes of all kinds for the last twenty-five
years, has toured Kyrgyzstan and raced the TransRockies. This is only his second race,
but when he says he’s aiming for 22 days I immediately think he should aim higher. It’s
the first and only time I’ve heard a racer make a race prediction that sounds, and later
proves to be, well within their limits.

John, Alan, Blaine and I ride along the pylon track until John picks up the pace and
disappears off ahead. Blaine then slips away. A few hours later and nearing dusk I roll
into the small town of Elkford with Alan. We find a restaurant and I meet Jay and Tracy
Petervary finishing up dinner and filling zip-lock bags with take away fries and pizza.
Rudiger from Germany is also at a table shovelling down a huge pizza. Justin soon
arrives, and a local guy comes in to tell us John and Blaine are at another restaurant just
up the road. A pack is gathering in Elkford, who will stay and who will go?

Alan’s plan is to stay in Elkford; he’s had this plan since we talked about the race back
home. However there is pavement and light still left – easy miles. I’m torn with what to
do. Head for Sparwood 37 miles further, or stick with the guys. I talk with Jay P as he’s
gearing up to head out with Tracy on the tandem to at least Sparwood. It seems he’s a
little off the back of the lead group already, as they all flew through Elkford while he
stopped for a meal. It’s a clear split of how the race is going to develop - stay in Elkford
tonight and you’re permanently off the back of the lead group. After considering the
options I decide to get an early night and agree to get a motel room with Alan. Rudiger
and Justin take a place on our floor. John and Blaine get another room together. I know
John snores so whatever happens, or whatever it costs, I won’t be sharing with him on
this trip. I have to be selfish about this on the race, as I need good rest.

At the motel I’m showered and settling in when there is a knock on the door. I open it to
be greeted by Josh and am happy to see him and know I’ll be riding with him tomorrow.
Alan and I have no room left at the inn, so Josh goes next door to Leighton White’s
room, who’s sharing with Cannon Shockley. Josh asks for a place to crash on their floor.
I show Josh to the garage at the back of the motel where he can put his bike, and see a


                                       Page 11 of 72
few more 29ers have been parked up in there since I arrived. Josh tells me how he lost
his route cues at the bridge where I lost my waterbottles, and was dropped. He had to
ride back a couple of miles against the flow of traffic looking for them. What a couple of
amateurs! I sleep fitfully; my body is having a bit of trauma even after a moderate 110
today.

Day 2 – Elkford to Rooseville (155 miles)
The route instructions from Sparwood to the border aren’t of ACA standard. TD is
pioneering a new route section that avoids many miles of flat paved road on the old ACA
route, and adds a further 50 miles. For this section we have a photocopied piece of
paper with hand written route cues on one side and a map on the back. It’s a bit lacking
in information such as terrain or even a rough ascent graph. It can’t be too tough, right?

A cold morning sees a large group of racers congregating at the gas station in Elkford for
breakfast, loading up on high calorie drinks and junk food before heading out of town.
Josh and I pick up a couple of cans of super caffeine drink for a morning kick and I force
it down in one. I’ve felt better, but day two doesn’t count in the ‘how’re you feeling?’
stakes. Its set to get a whole lot worse before it starts to get better.




      Alan, Josh (chugging his energy drink), Steve, and Ray Porter leaving Elkford

I know making it out of Canada by tonight will be a crux move in the race, separating a
good bunch of riders, so come what may, it has to be done. The route today starts with a
steep climb on paved road out of Elkford, and then it’s mostly downhill and paved to
Sparwood nearly 40 miles away. After Sparwood there’s 110 miles left to the border
through the new Flathead valley section. Although there will be plenty of groundwater in
the Flathead, there are no food resupply options. On the steep climb out of town Rudiger
effortlessly climbs past me on a set-up that must weigh an additional 50% to mine. He is
some climber, but unfortunately Rudiger is not properly equipped for this event on a
$500 bike and running a standard pannier touring set-up – I don’t think there is any way


                                      Page 12 of 72
it can hold together, but no doubt he’d be a fearsome competitor with the right tools and
experience.

On the way into Sparwood I pass Ray Porter laying down a massive cadence on his
singlespeed. We exchange a few words. Ray’s from Texas and seems like a cool guy. A
dispersed pack reaches Sparwood for breakfast and spreads out to various restaurants
and stores. I bump into Steve McGuire from the GDR ‘07 and have an excited quick chat
and laughs. Steve looks way younger than his 50 years and is a funny guy. I get some
food with Josh, Justin and Ray, then go to make a call-in and meet Alan and John by the
phone. Post call-ins we all set off together and on the straight road out of town I watch
John and Alan disappear into the distance and there is nothing I can do to say with
them.

I ride loosely with Josh, Justin, and Ray, until the turn off toward the Flathead valley
where we break for lunch in the shade. From here it’s 100 miles of dirt to the Port of
Rooseville and the US border. I was struggling a little with my digestion yesterday, and
now it’s going into turmoil. My stomach really doesn’t want to have food in it, and I must
force myself to eat. This is a familiar problem for me as I push my body without adequate
training. I just have to ride through it but end up in quite a high calorie deficit. Getting
ready for the Divide is all about recovery. It’s not simply being able to put in consecutive
100 mile MTB rides, it’s about putting in back to back big rides at the weekend and
feeling fine on Monday morning. When you’re okay to ride to work on Monday with
spring in your legs, sleep well, and your digestion is fine, then you’re ready. Regrettably I
wasn’t able to get to that position this year.




         Ray, Justin, and Josh taking a break in the shade at the Flathead turnoff

The next twelve or so hours are a mental struggle as I’m weakened physically by a
stomach that doesn’t want food in it. I set a routine to help me though. I’m a little faster
than Justin, Josh and Ray, so settle in for a ninety-minute ride before sitting in the dirt



                                       Page 13 of 72
and forcing down a couple of granola bars and handful of gummi bears. After a few
minutes Josh arrives first and joins me, then a couple more minutes and Justin takes a
seat with us. Lastly Ray rocks up a few minutes after Justin on his singlespeed, but
instead of sitting down, for some reason Ray likes to stand. He needs to get with the
dirtbags and sit on the ground to rest his legs at every opportunity. After a short breather
we head on for another ninety minutes. Through the day we don’t see any other racers,
or as I remember any other people. The Elkford pack is splitting between the faster and
slower riders and we seem to be in the middle. I anticipate the faster guys will make
Eureka tonight, the lead group beyond, and the rest will be camped up in the Flathead
and off the back. To be in the game we have to make it out of the Flathead tonight and
at least to the border.

Although I’m mostly riding on my own up front I know the guys are not far behind all the
time. In thick bear country I feel better about that. I continually blow a whistle to try and
avoid bear contact. Occasionally I share a few miles with Josh and we pass though the
most beautiful wilderness areas and I’m excited to be out here having an adventure with
a guy I’m at ease with. The route takes us through a few stream crossings of cold melt
water, until the track becomes the stream. I know this means wet and cold feet for the
foreseeable future!

Late in the afternoon I stop confused over the route cues for a left turn. The others rock
up and we discuss the options. I get down and look for Nanotracks in the dirt, the familiar
tread pattern of a WTB Nanoraptor that is a common choice with most racers. The tracks
are confusing, meaning other riders have ridden up and down here multiple times too.
While we’re standing around discussing the left turn I’m caught by surprise and have to
hurriedly find my toilet paper and dash off to the bushes. My guts are not in a good way.
Once I’m finished we decide the left we’re stood by isn’t the right left, and carry on to find
another left that more suits the description. To tell the truth, on my own I’d have wasted
some time investigating the wrong turn.

After some long miles and digging deep I eventually arrive at the tree with a green string
tied to it indicating the ‘singletrack connector’, a one-mile section of singletrack leading
the route out of the Flathead and onto another road. This road will then take us over a
pass and onto the main road just north of the border. I drop the bike and slump down
completely out of energy, and as I sit in the dirt eating gummi bears, Josh, Justin and
Ray arrive. Ray states he’s out of gas and we all agree it’s a tough day and laugh over
the ridiculousness of this race. Little did we know it was about to get a whole lot funnier.

The connector starts out mostly rideable, although the track is vague. Soon I have to
push and lift over fallen trees, until I reach the bottom of a steep and muddy slope. Up
there, are you sure? I have to carry this heavy bike on that loose topsoil bushwhacking
through the forest. Ha! I get pushing and think myself lucky it’s not getting dark, it’s not
raining, and I’m with some other guys making enough noise not to startle any bears. I
think we’re having fun.




                                        Page 14 of 72
                          Ray considering gears for ‘next time’

Out of the connector and over a few hundred yards of fallen tree debris where one false
step will snap an ankle, we have a good laugh and I take a few pictures of a stunned
Ray, who’s already talking about bringing gears ‘next time’. Off we go again, but the
man-hauling isn’t over just yet as there are a few small avalanches that block the road
with twisted trees and compacted snow. It’s tricky work dragging laden bikes over this
stuff.

Finally the route begins to climb at a steady gradient and I realise this is the final big
pass of the day to get over into the next valley. Josh, Justin and I begin a slow ascent,
and just make the summit as the last of the light fades. It’s cold up here with snowmelt
water running down the road and we want to get off the mountain tonight. We switch on
the lights and begin the descent toward Rooseville. The three of us keep tight and
cautiously rip it up. In turn we make a lot of whooping and hollering noises to scare off
any bears. I don’t want to put tyre tracks into the side of a grizzly, and him return the
favour with some claw marks. I’m having a lot of fun, this is great, there’s nothing I’d
rather be doing right now. I get carried away with the hollering noises and Josh joins me.

Halfway down the descent I have to make an emergency stop and dash into the bushes
again. Although I’m having a great time, glad to finally be out here doing this, I’m not
well. My body can’t yet cope with these demands, but I’m able to ignore my situation
almost completely. Around a bend I see the lights of Rooseville and descend toward
them. I’m riding up front when out of the dark I see a large black shadow in the middle of
the road silhouetted against the lights from the valley. For an instant my mind screams
‘BEAR’, but a second later and my brain has processed the shape of a cow, however my
heart is still pumping with adrenaline for another few minutes. For us Brits, travelling in
bear country is always a little daunting and a difficult thing to get used to.




                                      Page 15 of 72
At the bottom of the valley I’m glad to reach the paved road and know I’m only a few
miles from the border. With a very slight downhill gradient it’s an easy run in and the air
is pleasantly warmer than up on the pass. It’s a relief to reach Rooseville at around
11pm, and we’re hoping the First Chance Last Chance bar is still open, even if we’re
only able to get coke and potato chips. I stop at the border and hand my British passport
to the guard. He summons me in to be ‘processed’ and Josh and Justin come in with me
to wait too. While I’m electronically handing over all my fingerprints, digital pictures, and
probably retina scans, Josh suggests I should be ‘probed’ to the immigration officer. I
figure these guys have no sense of humour and I’m in for some interrogation now, but he
replies that it’s a two-for-one offer tonight, though they’re unfortunately all out of KY. I
grin nervously. Thanks Josh, both you guys are real funny. I’m wondering if he’s going
ask Justin what he’s smuggling through in his cycling shorts, with that softball sized lump
in his shorts being very indiscrete. This race is just crazy – how’d my life every take such
a path to be stood here now with these two characters.

We’re done for the day and won’t be going far from the border. I plan to pitch up as soon
as I’m away from the lights of the buildings. First though we roll on a hundred yards to
the First Chance Last Chance bar. They are still open and we’re able to get the barmaid
to heat up some pizzas and fries. I force down some sugary drinks and fries, but can’t
eat like I should be doing. The food in no way comes close to replacing the calories I’ve
used on that 150-mile epic. Today was by far the hardest day-ride I’ve ever done, and
running on empty with my digestion system playing up didn’t help. Despite the
challenges it was still a pretty amazing day, one I’ll surely rank up there with my best
rides ever. The Flathead is a truly beautiful area.

I talk with Josh and Justin about what Ray’s up to, wondering if he’s bivying out on the
mountain with the bears. We’d not seen him since the connector many miles back, and
at his speed would have had a long way to go in the dark. However, only half an hour
after us he stumbles into the bar and gets straight on with ordering and drinking a beer.
Nice one Ray, I didn’t think you’d make it. At well past midnight the four of us camp up
on some flat grass next to the bar and finally get our heads down.

Day 3 – Rooseville to Columbia Falls (111.5 miles)
In the morning I’m woken by Ray packing up early, and get out of my bag about 5:30 to
say ‘see you later’ just as he takes off. It takes Josh, Justin and I a while to get going
since this is our first camp and we haven’t the routine practised. Justin points out we
camped on a doggie rest stop area, but fortunately none of us are covered in dog mess.
At 6:34 I glance over to where Josh and I started the GDR two years before and ride out.
I never intended to take a border split, but my mind makes a mental note that remains in
my head still, so unofficially there it is. I still complied with Great Divide Race rules to
take a border-to-border split time.

As Josh and I push off we laugh and joke about the GDR start in ‘07. Seven miles into
the morning we stop for a piss at the same spot we did two years earlier, and reminisce
about being last by that point already, out of sight of any other riders. Back then we’d
cruised off the start and didn’t get caught up with the adrenaline and excitement. We
already had a lot of miles in our legs, so by about mile five we’d watched everyone else
tear off into the distance. Some of those riders were pushing a pace clearly well above
their limit, and we knew we’d have them in our sights later in the day. By the following
day we passed many that were showing signs of having blown already.



                                       Page 16 of 72
Eureka is a small town only ten miles from the border and as I ride down the main street
I see a couple of TD bikes outside Café Jax. We go inside to find Blaine eating with
Jamie Tompson, a Silver City resident. Blaine had been in touch with Jamie before the
race and Jamie stopped with him for a couple of days before the race. I hadn’t expected
to see Blaine again, figuring he’d be long gone by now. However he had a late start
today. He tells me John and Alan left early this morning from the same motel in Eureka. I
order a breakfast and struggle to eat it while Blaine and Jamie finish up and make a
move.

The next refuel stop today is Whitefish 100 miles away, over Whitefish Divide and Red
Meadow Pass. On the climb up Whitefish Jamie and Rudiger both come past me at a
brisk pace. I feel somewhat dejected by this, that I can’t keep the pace with these guys.
My fitness is poor compared to so many riders and I’m failing to keep pace with Alan &
John and the pack that made Eureka. I feel disheartened. As Rudiger disappears into
the twists and turns of the trail I start to get frustrated about this whole attempt. I spend
the next couple of hours stewing over things getting increasingly angrier. The whole plan
was that I would be in the form of my life for this event, with kit and mind well prepared.
But I just hadn’t been able to devote the time required to it. I question whether I should
have had the courage to pull the plug and gone to John’s funeral. I should have taken
some time off to relax and come back in 2010 in the right frame and mind and with a
properly conditioned body.

Without the fitness I know this is reduced to an exercise in doggedness, and I’ve never
considered myself with that kind of strength. The riders that continue and finish the
Divide with tales of horrendous knee plain and suffering I’ve always been amazed by
and admired. I’ve never believed I’d be capable of that. Dogged determination is also a
high-risk strategy, increasing your chances of illness and injury. Sure, it may get you to
Antelope Wells, but I prefer to be fit and ride conservatively, always leaving something in
the reserve tank. That approach also leaves more space for the mind to enjoy the
journey. As doubt starts to creep in about my mental state to be able to pull this one off,
the reality of actually quitting comes into vision - getting the bus out, changing flights,
waiting around for days in some random town, and arriving home early. What would I
say? That I just wasn’t into it, or it wasn’t going to plan. I consider I just can’t live with
that, justify it, or be able to explain it for the next several months to all I know. The only
other option is onward, so I continue in a sulk with the realisation I’m going to suffer.

Josh, Justin and I begin the climb toward Red Meadow Pass and meet Ashley McKenzie
and his buddy touring north on the Divide route. We’d been expecting them. Ashley is
another GDR ‘07 racer and I’m pleased to see him and it snaps me out of my funk. After
too short a chat with him, Justin and I roll on leaving Josh to sit down and take a break
with Ashley.

As Justin and I slowly turn out the miles on the climb I hear a bike approaching from
behind. A guy wearing sandals rides past and says hello. It starts to rain and get cold as
I near the pass, and isn’t really sandal weather. Approaching Red Meadow Lake at the
top of the pass avalanche snow and debris lies on the trail for several hundred yards. I
begin to push and the rain gets heavier. Standing by the side of the trail on a little snow
free piece of dirt I see the guy in sandals sheltering by a tree with his camera in hand. As
I pass he wishes me good luck in the race and it takes me by surprise that he knows
what we’re up to. I then figure he’s a race fan who’s come out on a short ride specifically


                                        Page 17 of 72
to see us, and maybe get a few photos. I think I feel as awkward as he does in this
intimate setting of one-on-one. I suppose he hoped to be more observer than participant.
I’m not sure what to say so offer a greeting and ask his name. Oliver wishes me well,
and I say thanks for coming out and push on past. I can’t imagine his cold ride out was
worth it – the realities of the unglamorous life of Divide racing. He’ll maybe go to see the
Tour de France next year.

Josh, Justin and I regroup at the top of the pass by Red Meadow Lake and eat some
food. Somewhere we must have passed Ray as there has been no sign of him out on
the trail so far. I assume our paces have now levelled off and on his singlespeed that will
be that last we see of Ray. As we snack, torrential rain starts coming down. I put my
waterproofs on and begin the descent off the pass. It doesn’t let up and the sandy soil is
rapidly wearing away my drivetrain and getting everywhere. When the sun eventually
comes out, I leave my waterproofs on to dry so I can beat off the sand before I stow
them again.

As we reach the outskirts of Whitefish on the food hunt, Rudiger shouts out to us from
outside a greasy café. We head over and join him and order some food. We’ll save time
eating here rather than heading into town since we’re still on route. Rudiger has a
broken saddle already and needs to stay the night in Whitefish to go to the bike shop in
the morning. His cheap steed isn’t going to make it, but good luck to him. The restaurant
service turns out to be slow and when the food arrives it is awful. I also get some take
away fries that are even worse. It’s a bad choice, but I’ve committed. At least inside its
warm and I can take my shoes off to try to dry them out. It’s around 7pm with a couple of
hour’s daylight left, so we’re aiming to make Columbia Falls tonight another 10 miles
down the road.

The three of us roll out of town and ride together toward Columbia falls on flat paved
road. As Justin and I are coasting through town, riding side by side with the sun setting
behind us, a woman snaps a photo of us and shouts ‘It’s a great photo’. I wonder if she
was a race spectator too or just took a random shot. It’s a photo I’d have liked to get a
copy of, but I don’t stop. I think that must be the first time that somebody I don’t know
has taken my photo.

At the supermarket we get reports on what times other guys came through and it seems
we’re a couple of hours behind the Eureka group. At the far end of town Justin and I find
a motel and get a room. Josh waits some time out of sight until we head to the room
then nips in after us. He’ll take the floor and we’ll pay for the beds. It’s pretty luxurious
and it’s doesn’t take long to trash the place with wet kit hung out to dry everywhere. I
make some kit refinements, and throw away the fries I got from the greasy café. It’s
Sunday and the last week has been full on, and I’ve only managed about 20 hours
sleep. I’ve already had mild hallucinations and was fighting with the sleep monster
around mid morning. I desperately need a good nights sleep tonight so pop a couple
more sleeping pills and get to bed early around 10pm.

Day 4 – Columbia Falls to Seeley Lake (133.2 miles)
The alarm goes off at 5:30 and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck today. Muscle soreness
has peaked and stage one of Divide adaptations is taking place. Despite that though, I
slept pretty well so I’m feeling positive. My backside is also still in good condition and my




                                       Page 18 of 72
saddle selection, and strategy of minimal backpack load, looks like it’s going to be a
winner. If my contact points are happy, that makes me happy.

Josh, Justin and I roll out of town together and head for Echo Lake Store 25-miles away
for breakfast. There I park the bike up outside and as I look over to Josh, he looks me in
the eye, then prods his thigh ever so gently, and says “Ouch!” I crack up laughing; his
legs must be as sore as mine. By the time I’m reading the menu I’m absolutely starving
and my digestion seems to have got over its problems. I tuck into piles of food and can
finally eat like a Divide racer, and it feels good. Over the last three days I’ve been going
into a big calorie deficit and riding on empty legs.

From Echo Store the next spot to aim for is Ovando, 140-miles away, where I know
John, Alan and the rest of the pack will make tonight. They will have made Big Fork last
night, only a couple of miles from Echo Store, but off route 2 miles. The alternative stop
if I can’t make Ovando is Seeley Lake, which although 2 miles off route is only 110 miles
from here. Ovando would be a huge push today but I can catch the boys if I can make it
and I feel pretty good physically now that I can eat, and with good sleep my mind is a lot
more determined today. However the snow-covered Richmond Peak is on the days
route and could be very slow going so time estimates are impossible.

The day passes and Josh, Justin and I ride through tall tree lined roads and it rains on
and off. The stop and start with waterproofs on and waterproofs off is a time consumer,
but you never know how long the rain will last, or how heavy it will be. If you don’t put
them on it’ll surely be an hour-long downpour, if you do it clears up in a few minutes. I hit
the dirt road turn-off to Richmond Peak and sit down with Josh for a while to snack. I
eventually set off in the rain and lose Josh somewhere. I ride on my own through thick
undergrowth constantly blowing my whistle and hoping the Nanotracks I’m following
scared off the bears earlier. They’re clearly defined in the wet track so very fresh. I push
a brisk pace on the climb to catch the rider up front. It takes a long time before I turn a
corner and see Blaine. We ride together up the road climb toward the singletrack pass
traversing around Richmond Peak. Snow patches start to appear and when the track
comes into sight I see it’s covered in snow.

Through the snow I’m able to push a better pace than Blaine. I’ve always been naturally
good at trudging with a bike. Across the curve of the side of the mountain in the distance
I can make out Josh and Justin pushing away too. I wait a bit for Blaine and we talk as
we push through the snow and the time passes quickly. Blaine tells me stories of his
bear encounters as a Canadian resident and outdoorsman. As a Brit who’s only seen a
few bears momentarily, I’m enthralled. On the one hand I really want to see bears, but
on the other hand would rather not.

In a cold drizzle Blaine and I descend the pass blowing whistles and begin to push a
good pace. The day seems to have gone by quickly and Richmond was slow so we’ll
now be lucky to make Seeley Lake before 10pm to get food. I need another real meal
today. Heading on for Ovando to catch the guys, but arriving late and hungry wouldn’t be
a good move. Since Seeley is off route I’d never checked its services on the map and
don’t know what it has to offer. As I roll into town I’m pleased to see it’s pretty built-up
and notice the lights of a bar and restaurant, which means I can get good food. I pass a
motel and am pleased I can get a good nights’ sleep too. It’s been a pretty big ride.




                                       Page 19 of 72
Blaine and I rush through the doors of the bar at 10:00 pm and ask about food. The Chef
has just stopped serving food, but will make us a sandwich. That’s excellent news and
appreciated. A few characters at the bar hear my English accent and chat to me while I
stand there feeling out of place in my Lycra outfit. A friendly old guy tells me about life in
Montana, and gives me a Montana stamped dime. Ten minutes later Justin and Josh
arrive and order up some more sandwiches and Coke. Blaine and I are up for a motel
and Justin and Josh take a place on the floor.

Day 5 – Seeley Lake to Helena (124.2 miles)
Blaine’s packing wakes me as he’s leaving about 5am, but I can’t drag myself out of bed
until about 5:30. When I get up I open the motel room door to see the high-altitude
Colorado boys, Leighton, Cannon Shockley and Erik Lobeck, getting their steeds ready
for the day outside their motel room. So those three never made Ovando either. Cannon
lives in Leadville, where he co-owns a Cookhouse and Nordic ski centre. Each year
Cannon races the prestigious Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race, and has places in
the top 40 against pro athletes, and in recent years, Lance Armstrong has raced. Erik is
an Architect and ex employee of prestige titanium bike company Moots, with many years
of riding bikes under his belt. Like Leighton he also lives in Steamboat, however before
the race they didn’t know each other. These Colorado towns are set at around 10,000 ft
in the Rockies, and living at such an altitude they have an advantage in this race over a
coastal dweller such as myself. No wonder they’re on the same pace. I salute Leighton
and we grin at each other across the car park, then without any words they mount up
and head off.

Josh, Justin and I set off together at about 6:30 and ride the 30 miles into Ovando for
breakfast. Blaine, Leighton, Cannon and Erik are in the Stray Bullet Café and we join
them at their table for a seven-rider Tour Divide breakfast. I’m still enjoying being able to
eat properly again and order two breakfasts. The store in Ovando is a bit sparse but I
stock up and head out for Lincoln some thirty-five miles away over Huckleberry Pass.
The guy in the store tells me the difference between my shopping and the fast guys who
were in yesterday. Apparently they rushed in and just started eating everything high
calorie, paying for the empty wrappers on the counter and hurriedly continuing on their
way.

Josh and I ride together over Huckleberry Pass and into Lincoln. It’s a steady gradient
and not high enough for any bad weather so no big deal. We catch Justin, who left
Ovando before us, on the climb and descend with him. Justin decides not to stop in
Lincoln for lunch and takes off to grab a quick snack at the gas station. Josh and I go for
a big meal and take a good break. We know it’s a really big haul into Helena over three
steep Continental Divide passes and some demanding terrain. We’ve no ambition for
making it further than Helena tonight, so want the rest and time to stock up on calories.

The weather is good as we leave Lincoln and for the first time on the route I notice views
and changing terrain. The route north of here mostly passes through trail lined with tall
trees and doesn’t offer any sightlines or views of where you’re headed. The rain holds off
and some of the scenery is breathtaking. The steep rough roads make for some good
riding, although a bit of pushing is occasionally required on laden bikes. I wait at the top
of the passes for Josh and some time to chat, relax and enjoy being out on the bikes.
Neither of us is in any real hurry.




                                        Page 20 of 72
  Josh in the distance on one of the many beautiful backcountry roads the Divide travels

A notorious right turn I’m aware of as ‘easy to miss’ comes up on the cue sheet, and at
exactly the right mileage on my well-calibrated trip computer there is a right turn. I pull in,
but it looks like a driveway as there is a mailbox there, and I don’t recognise it from two
years before. I back out and ride a mile up the main road and see nothing else, so head
back down and ride up the road for a minute before I recognise it and get confirmation
when the next cue corresponds. It is slightly deceptive with the mailbox, but there is
nothing else around, and the description of steep 4.4 mile uphill with stream crossings is
very accurate.

Later, another navigation cue at the intersection of four or five roads in an open grassy
area has me confused again. The road numbers are lying down or missing. Josh arrives
and we have a chat and take a gamble on a direction that leads downhill. A direction I’m
reluctant to take. At the bottom of the short hill there is a rail crossing neither of us
remembers and I’m now hesitant to go any further. Hearing noises over in a railyard we
go looking for someone who can confirm our route. We find a guy and ask for directions
but he’s not sure. Then he casually mentions he’s seen a few other bikes today, and a
tandem came through this morning at a blistering pace. Great, we’re on the right course,
and we head over the tracks on seemingly unfamiliar ground.

There’s quite a bit of decent before the route hits paved road 10 miles outside of Helena.
It’ll soon be dark so Josh and I crank ‘em out to try and reach town for 10pm to get some
food, the usual last service time for most restaurants. Josh is running aero bars and in a
tuck is faster than me and I have to put in a concerted effort to stay with him. Helena is a
huge town so even if we miss 10pm we should be able to find something to eat and get
a motel room. Eventually we have to put the lights on and reach the centre of Helena a
few minutes after 10pm. Fortunately we quickly find a restaurant still serving food, and
after a feed roll through town to find a motel. We’ve no idea where to head for the




                                        Page 21 of 72
motels, and it takes a little cruising around until we see a motel sign and go and wake
some poor lady up to give us a room.

Day 6 – Helena to Fleecer camp (106.5 miles)
In the morning I open the motel door to wheel the bike out and see Erik outside his motel
room wheeling his bike out. He’s here on his own and arrived about 6:30 yesterday so
got a good rest and plenty of food. There’s no sign of Justin or any other guys. Josh and
I leave Erik there as we head out to find some breakfast – it turns into a slow breakfast
hunt and is a while before we get back on the Route. First thing is a long climb up
Grizzly Gulch toward the technical Lava Trail over a pass with 5,000 feet of climbing
over the next 40-miles to Basin.

An hour outside of Helena I start to notice Nanotracks in the dirt and Kenda Small Block
Eights, Leighton’s tyre. I pretty much know all the tyres of the guys up front and follow
them most of the day. The tracks are imprinted from early this morning when the dirt was
softer, and I suspect Alan and John must have camped outside Helena somewhere.
Over the Lava Trail I enjoy the challenge of trying to ride a touring set-up and try not to
put a foot down. However I’m defeated on several sections with tired legs. As I arrive in
Basin I see Leighton, Cannon and Erik, heading out of town after getting food. Erik must
have got out in front when Josh and I went on the breakfast hunt. We pass on opposite
sides of the road and I salute Leighton as we go by. At the sole restaurant in the small
town of Basin, I find Blaine and Justin just finishing up lunch. They also stayed in Helena
last night but got up early. Blaine advises the service is slow so I opt for a takeaway
order of two portions of fries so I’ll be ready to leave with them. The four of us get going
in pursuit of the high-altitude boys.

A trail built on an old railroad track with a slight uphill gradient leads the route to the next
stop of Butte 30-miles away. A headwind makes it hard work but I’m feeling strong and
ride off the front from the others. Right on the route in Butte is The Outdoorsman bike
shop, which is an obligatory Divide stop. Rob Leipheimer, brother of the famous Tour
rider Levi Leipheimer, owns the store and Rob and his staff are Divide race supporters
and watch the SPOT Leaderboard. Rob likes to talk about his brother proudly to
customers, and rightly so.

Loosely, Justin, Josh and I arrive at The Outdoorsman to find Erik still there. Blaine
arrives a little later after having had to fix a puncture. The shop staff offer news of two
English guys that left half an hour ago with another racer. Leighton and Cannon also
made a quick stop but have left. I’m hoping to get some new socks and ditch these
stinking coolmax ones that have been wet for 6 days now. I carry a warmer wool pair
and a coolmax pair, and wear both when it’s cold. However the coolmax ones are
offensive now and need replacing. Unfortunately The Outdoorsman doesn’t have
anything suitable. I still toss the coolmax pair in the trash.

Blaine and Justin want their steeds on the bike stand for a tune up. I run a maintenance
free set-up that’ll get me to AW without attention. I’m never sure what riders need doing
to their bikes at the cycle shops on the route. I plan to get new brake pads, SRAM chain,
XT cassette, and XT inner and middle rings in Steamboat, about halfway, and that’s it for
my maintenance. I put on a new XT drivetrain, brakepads, cables and cable outers for
the start and never have any problems. In my opinion there is nothing better than




                                         Page 22 of 72
Shimano XT for reliability, availability, and value. While the guys are getting their bikes
serviced I go looking for lunch and a store to stock up.

While I’m in the store it begins to rain heavily. I go back to The Outdoorsman and head
for the back room with Josh and Justin to rest and eat in the warm and dry. It’s easy to
let the weakness creep in, and convince yourself that it’s raining too hard outside to ride.
I take my shoes and socks off to dry out my feet and sit on the floor surrounded by pizza
boxes and bottles of Coke. On the wall around this dirtbag biker are signed jerseys and
photos of Tour De France riders.

Erik is first to head back out in the rain. Josh, Justin and I get going a little later leaving
Blaine still with his bike on the stand at the shop. The rain had eased up but now I’m
three hundred yards down the road it’s torrential again, and doesn’t let up for some time.
The stop in Butte turned out to be nearly three hours in all. That’s way too long,
especially since I didn’t need to be there and Alan and John were so close. I should
have pushed on in the rain.

The mission for the remainder of the day is to get over Fleecer Ridge and make it to
Wise River 60-miles away over Fleecer and a Divide pass. It’s going to be a tough task,
but it’d put us with the other guys who’ll make it there tonight. It rains on and off for the
rest of the day as Josh, Justin and I head on with drivetrains grinding away under wet
grit. It becomes difficult reading the cues through the rain and dirt.

As it gets dark I’m still with Josh and Justin and we decide to make camp just short of
Fleecer Ridge in the forest, 15-miles from Wise River. I feel tackling Fleecer in the dark
would not be a wise move. However we’re left with the other option that camping up in
thick bear country. I’ve been dodging fresh bear scat all day so we hang our bags and I
make some half-hearted bear precautions before getting my head down. I’m glad for my
tent set-up where I can pretend I’m safe in my back garden at home. I don’t envy Josh
bivying just off the trail in the woods.

Day 7 – Fleecer Camp to Lima (150.4 miles)
In the morning the three of us are packing up and shoving down a few energy bars for
breakfast when Blaine cruises past looking composed and wishes us good morning.
Damn, this 47-year-old guy is making us youngsters look bad. Blaine pitched up a
couple of miles back at a camp site we’d decided wasn’t worth stopping at, figuring
putting in a couple more miles before dark was the better option.

Descending the steep Fleecer Ridge I get a puncture going through a little stream
crossing at the bottom. This is going to be a pain to fix, as I know my pump that has
been strapped to the side of my bike is full of mud and grit and won’t work. I take it apart
and wash it in the stream to get it operational, but so much mud is in there it makes a lot
of nasty grinding noises. Everything is so wet and dirty and I have nothing to clean it
properly with. I change the tube and put a bit of air in. While I’m at it I change the
direction of the tyre, since in England I’d put it on in the opposite direction to that
advised. It’s a job I’ve been trying to find time to do all week. I’m sure it makes no
difference but has played on my mind every time I’ve looked at it.

I arrive in Wise River for breakfast and find Blaine at the restaurant finishing up his meal
and paying his bill. I order some food and go outside to clean my pump, repair my tube



                                        Page 23 of 72
and sort my kit out. I have stuff strewn everywhere and am in a hurried faff. Blaine
calmly steps over my kit and I watch him pedal out of town. I get reports that Alan, John,
Erik, Leighton and Cannon all stayed in Wise River last night. The long stop at the bike
shop was a mistake. I’m continually off the back a few hours and have to make a
concerted effort to make the same overnight stop as the others tonight. With Cannon,
Leighton and Erik gaining John and Alan last night, and Blaine right behind them, I have
to make Lima tonight, over 140 miles from Wise River. All the guys will be stopping there
for a motel and food, since there is nothing on offer in the 100 miles before there, or
after.

From Wise River to lunch at Elkhorn Hot Springs it’s a steady gradient 35-mile road
climb over the first pass of the day. Josh, Justin and I arrive at Elkhorn to find it looking
closed, but we’re relieved to open the door and be greeted by a guy who says lunch is
on. While ordering a couple of meals each he tells us two British riders only left an hour
before. While we’re waiting for our food the power goes out and we’re worried that they
won’t be able to cook. We’d planned for the meal and don’t have enough food to make
Lima without it. After a few minutes the guy comes into the restaurant and explains he’ll
be a while be we can still get our orders. I eat a huge lunch and while waiting for it spend
some time in the sun outsides cleaning my drivetrain and hanging out my shoes and kit
to dry. Its two hours before we set out for the big haul to Lima, having made another long
stop that became too comfortable and sucked us in. Fortunately there are only two pretty
tame passes on the route to Lima from here.

I’m whizzing down a fast road descent out of the Elkhorn and on paved road nearly
hitting 40 mph when I see a guy in a truck pull up and jump out to ask who I am. I shout
back “Steve”, and he replies “Wilko?” I shout a yes back and continue speeding on my
way not knowing it was Andy Buchanan who I’d met at the start of the GDR in ’07. It’s an
honour to have people come out and want to give you a bit of support, yet at the same
time takes some getting used to that somebody so many miles from home knows who
you are and where you are. I feel rude about not stopping for a chat.

At the dirt turnoff toward Medicine Lodge, Sheep Creek Divide, I have to stop to adjust
my cleats. I’ve been having some problems with the nerve under my left foot that have
been getting progressively worse. Today it’s been agony. This is a problem I get from an
old injury, but I’d hoped I’d fixed this one with new shoes for this trip, but it just took
longer to surface. I’ve been playing with my cleat position the last couple of days, but it
only seems to help for several hours. This time I plan to do some thing radical and move
the cleat laterally outboard as far as it will go.

As soon as I stop the mosquitoes begin to swarm around me, and despite the heat I
have to put on all my waterproofs to protect me from them. I sit cross-legged at the side
of the road in a cloud of them while working on my cleat and continually swat at them on
my ankles and hands. A guy comes driving down the road toward me on a tractor, with
his daughter and wife onboard. He stops to ask if I’m okay. I can hear the mosquitoes
buzzing all around me and can barely see him through the thick cloud they create. They
are literally driving me insane, but this guy and his family are just sitting there, casually
looking down at me clearly thinking I’m a bit odd. I tell him I’m okay, which I think he
doubts, but continues on his way. Are the mosquitoes not bothering him? Are they
immune? I have to get out of this swampland fast.




                                       Page 24 of 72
With my cleats in a new position I press on and after a couple of hours catch back up to
Josh and Justin. Justin is suffering today with his knees and for the first time is voicing
his complaint a little. His 1 x 9 gearing doesn’t allow him to let them ever recover with
some easy spinning on the climbs for a day or two. Once you are in this situation
recovery isn’t possible; you’re only looking at further deterioration. He also has a tight
achilles, and still has a swollen testicle. The fact he’s made a few noises today means
he must be hurting. Out in Divide Land there is no self-pity, or pulling faces so spectators
can see what a hero you are, you just have to get on with it, and Justin is doing a good
job of that. I feel he’s not going to make a finish, but people can often prove you wrong
out here. Certainly Josh and I are pushing too hard a pace for him, and backing off to his
own speed would help.

Along the muddy Sheep Creek Divide road there are tyre tracks solidified in the sun-
dried mud. They tell a story that yesterday three riders came through and it was
carnage. There are long stretches of footprints, crashes, and the constant winding tracks
of riders searching for the driest line. This is what you do on the Divide; spend 85% of
the route, some 2,330 miles that are on dirt, searching for the best line that will offer the
smoothest and least resistance ride. It constantly changes from one side of the road to
the next to the middle, as you avoid washboard, potholes, mud, sand, and rocks. I’m
grateful to be coming through today as the three racers in front expended a lot of extra
energy.

I get the MP3 out for the first time and settle into a rhythm wishing I had aero bars. I ride
with my elbows on the grips for a lot of the afternoon, leaning forward to get comfortable.
It doesn’t feel like a great position for me, certainly one I’m not used to. Against the
headwind though it is less effort and gives my hands and back a rest. For the next 60
miles the three of us ride loosely together, with comfortable silences through some
beautiful country. My shoes begin to almost dry out.

Before the light fades it’s an effort to get off the dirt and onto the final 10-mile flat paved
stretch into Lima. As we ride down the road Josh takes off to try and get in for 10pm to
see if the gas station or anything is open. I ride with Justin and when he fails to switch
his lights on I have to remind him that he’s breaking the rules. No sharing, including
lights. We arrive ten minutes after Josh at a little after 10pm to find the gas-station store
and restaurant shut. We ring the bell at the motel and get a room. I’ve got some oats,
Pringles and junk food to replace some calories, but a meal would have been better. As I
move around the motel room sorting gear and getting ready for bed my left knee begins
to seize up and I take an NSAID. This shouldn’t be happening to me – I never get knee
problems like this.

I’m pretty confident all the other guys, Blaine, Erik, Cannon, Leighton, Alan, John and
Kevin, will be in Lima somewhere. They will have all got here in time for food at the
restaurant, and will be leaving early. We will have to get breakfast here in the morning,
and wait for the restaurant to open at 7am. This means that despite catching the others,
we will be off the back again by over an hour, but another big day we can catch them.
The motel owner tells me another racer by the name of Joe Meiser is staying here
tonight as well. I haven’t met Joe but assume he’s fast and will also be gone by the time
I get up tomorrow. It’s a large group of racers to all be in one town at the same time so
far from the start.




                                        Page 25 of 72
Day 8 – Lima to Ashton Flagg Ranch Road (131.3 miles)
In the morning I wake up with a seized knee and have to hobble around unable to bend
it. Gradually it loosens up a little but I’m concerned how it’ll progress. I’m fairly confident
it’s just a Divide niggle that will pass, but it is a little strange and a new one for me. I
conclude it’s related to riding with my forearms on the bars in my aero position. I plan not
to do it again and hope that I’ve not done too much damage and it’ll clear up quickly.

Outside the restaurant Justin snaps his seat-pin bolt while making some adjustments.
He’s going to have to hang around in town to find another bolt and get it fixed. I expected
it was likely Justin would have had to back off the pace today anyway, but this is
uncomfortable leaving him like this. It’s not right to say goodbye since anything can
happen out here. If I offered my commiserations and wished him well in life and the race,
he’d only come riding past me two-hours later when my knee blows or frame snaps. I
feel for him, and have enjoyed his company riding together for a week. I wish him good
luck with finding a bolt and leave with a positive “see you later”. Josh and I, team GDR
‘07, are back on the road together again. I’m pleased it’s worked out this way. Not that
we’d really waited for Justin; I appreciate the longer breaks I’d taken for him to catch up,
but we’ll be able to move faster without him.

From Lima the route heads east for 100 miles to the next stop at Sawtell Resort; a
crossroads surrounded by vacation homes and camp sites with a store and a couple of
restaurants. There is a strong headwind and since there is no cover the going is more
difficult that is could be. The consistent flat terrain, the first we’ve really come across on
Route, and the headwind, mean no coasting. You have to pedal for every bit of forward
movement, and it’s a different pedal stroke and cadence to the hills of Montana. A long
day passes as we cover the open country without any cafés or towns to distract us.




                  Josh and I at Red Rock Pass on the Montana State line




                                        Page 26 of 72
After just over a week of riding Josh and I reach Red Rock Pass and the Montana/Idaho
state line and stop for a photo. “You get out of Montana, you’ll make AW”, is a phrase I
heard once, before I ever got into this event, and I believe for most it’s true. After a week
of riding the body has recovered from the initial muscle soreness and is conditioned to
riding for long days. Montana is a tough State to kick-off with on the Divide and has an
immense amount of climbing, coupled with some hike-a-bikes across high snow covered
passes this year. Added to Canada’s rough roads and the wet weather it’s been a tough
week. Miles from anywhere enjoying the sunshine and solitary we give it lots of
whooping and hollering at the top of our voices for motivation – Josh ‘WOOHOO’, Steve
‘YEAAAAAH’. We talk rubbish, laugh, and I find my groove; my pre-race troubles finally
feel a more distant memory. My knee is loosening up and on the mend, the body is no
longer sore, my kit is finally dialled in, the bike is sorted, and for the moment my feet
don’t hurt. Life is good.

We make good time and this puts us in a positive frame of mind when we reach the
Subway in Sawtell Resort for dinner. We want to eat fast and make a quick turn around
to make ground up to the other guys. Before I order I first ask when some other dirty
cyclists came through. We’re told they left about an hour ago. Considering our probably
2 hour later start we’re making ground on them. With full stomachs we head out and
psyche ourselves up for the Rail Trail; a hard 30 mile section of soft washboarded trail
that is slow going and hated by many Divide riders. As we head toward it I can see
storms brewing and feel the humidity building. We have to crush the rail trail ahead of
the storm. When wet it would be a nightmare and hours would be lost. We also have to
get off it before dark. We camped out here in ‘07 and were hammered by thick swarms
of mosquitoes - stop for only a moment on the rail trail and they quickly start to cover
your body. I have a love/hate relationship with this trail; it’s probably my favourite
section. It’s like it’s so heinous and cruel that I have to love it.

There is such a variety of terrain on this route, and the rail trail’s deep loose soil and
large quad-bike corrugations is a beauty of a challenge. We get psyched up like a couple
of boxers walking to the ring and hit it fast, only stopping turning the pedals for one thirty-
second break in the next four hours. At the end of the trail where the route meets paved
road there is a nice looking campsite by a river. We consider stopping here, but the
mosquitoes are still unbearable, so we snack a few minutes then get back on the bikes
to hunt down the peloton’s camp. In those few moments we stopped, despite putting on
my waterproofs, my unprotected ankles get about fifty bites that are going to irritate me
for days.

It gets dark but we push on looking for the other guys. There’s nowhere really to stay
unless they pushed on for Flagg Ranch, but that would be a big ride another 30 miles
away. I figure they have to be pitched up somewhere at the side of the road. Soon
though, the tiredness builds up and we start to look for a spot to pitch up for ourselves.
On a bend in the road I see a track leading off that is overgrown with long grass and
looks comfortable. I get the tent inner set up to keep the wildlife out, and as I lie looking
at the sky I see a shooting star.

I lie awake and can’t sleep – my body is overheating, Josh is snoring, things are
creeping around in the grass near my head, and a dog nearby is barking. I get irritable
which only makes trying to drift off even worse – my mind is wired. I wish I could feel the
same tiredness when I get off the bike at the end of the day as I feel when I’m riding my



                                        Page 27 of 72
bike during the day. I spend so many miles fighting with my eyelids and wanting to be
horizontal, and then when it comes to bedtime and I stop pedalling I start to come alive.

Day 9 – Flagg Ranch Road to Lava Mountain Lodge (102.6 miles)
After only a couple of miles in the morning I meet Cannon at the side of the trail. He says
he camped up with Blaine, Cannon, John and Alan last night. Erik has made a break,
Leighton is still in his bivy, and Blaine, Alan and John are a few miles up ahead. Nice
work, Ficke! We’ve caught them early, not at a food stop, which means we’ll all be on the
same goal for the day. I get my head down and crank out a fast pace to catch up with
Alan and John. I pass Blaine and eventually find them on a short climb and creep up
behind them to give them a surprise. I bet they never expected to see me again. We ride
together toward Flagg Ranch on the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park sharing
stories of the last week on the trail.

At Flagg Ranch we get a table for six for breakfast, expecting the others before long.
Soon enough they arrive one by one and we settle in for an eat-as-much-as-you-can
breakfast buffet. The waiter says people don’t usually get their money’s worth from the
buffet, but you guys have. And he probably hadn’t even noticed Josh stuffing his pockets
with food either. I wish I’d thought of that.

At the store I buy a pack of three razors and some shaving foam. In the gent’s bathroom
I get a shave, and when Cannon and Josh see me they borrow the other razors and we
have a group shave. As we’re foaming up a coach-load of visitors arrive and descend on
the restroom wanting to use the washbasins. I’m having a great time with all the guys. All
too soon it’s time to hit the road again and racers hurry around getting supplies and
cleaning drivetrains.

Outside the restaurant as I pack food and organise kit the mosquitoes start to drive me
crazy. I’m having a proper stress dancing the mosquito jig and flapping about. As soon
as anyone is ready they head off and we all disperse a few minutes apart. Josh and I
cruise out on the paved road, aiming for the Buffalo Valley Café 30 miles away for lunch.
A fairly easy stretch on paved road with a little pass to climb over leads us there.

At the café it’s a quick rider eat-up before we loosely disperse again. We’re able to sit on
the decking outside protected by a screen from the mosquitoes. Only eight miles further
up the road is another stop at Turpin Meadow Ranch and I arrive with Alan and Josh to
find John having a nap in a chair outside under the porch out of the light rain. There is no
food available here, and I’d have not stopped, but Alan stopped last year and they let
him use a PC to check the Leaderboard. He goes in to try his luck again and they offer
him the PC. It’s exciting to see what’s going on in the race and we track where people
are. Kevin Dean’s SPOT shows him off route; however he’s just had to bail yesterday
due to an injury. Alan tells me he and John had been riding a little with Kevin the last few
days.

A few miles after Turpin Meadow Ranch the route takes a left turn off the paved road
and onto a dirt road - the route cue states ‘impassable when wet’. It is of course raining
now, and has been raining a lot recently, so we push through some very thick mud for 4
miles. It’s so thick the wheels stop turning, and I have to lift the front end up and drag the
bike forward for twenty paces before taking a breather. I then clear off some mud to
lighten the load and repeat. This is slow going, but I enjoy the laugh I’m having with Alan



                                        Page 28 of 72
about it. For me I see little point in trying to ride at all, the odd twenty yards that are
rideable are not worth it for the risk of mech damage. I stop at a pond and try to wash
the bike down, but it’s a waste of time, the mud sticks like clay.

After around three hours of slog I top out at Togwotee Lodge and head to the little gas
station store. I use a hose there to get the bike running again, pick up some supplies and
make a call-in. Other racers are wondering around doing the same. It’s good to have
caught the peloton, and I use that term when I make a call-in to MTBcast. Eventually the
whole peloton have arrived when Leighton rocks up last with a snapped mech hanger.
He attempted to ride in the mud and it jammed his mech and sent it into the wheel.




                Pushing through the snow and mud on Brooks Lake Road

While I’m hanging around outside the gas station waiting for everyone to get sorted, I
see a cycle tourist across the main road some one-hundred yards away. He’s on his own
so I head over to say hello and ask what he’s up to. I want to know if he’s on the Divide
and what conditions are like if he’s come from the north. When I great him he says he
doesn’t speak English, but his friend down the road does. I try a few stilted
conversations to no avail as we wait for his friend. When his friend arrives I ask them
what they are up to, if they are on the Trans America Trail or the Divide. At this point
both routes intersect. We say a few words and then they say they are doing the Tour
Divide. It doesn’t compute – they are too clean for Divide racers. What are they doing off
route?

Then it clicks they are the Italians, Dario and Brunello. I point to his GPS and map on his
bars and explain that they have to ride the muddy section too, that you can’t go around
on the road. His calm response is that its ‘no problem’ they missed a bit. I press my point
about him having to go back and ride the muddy section. And explain I just spent about
three hours dragging my bike through it expending a lot of energy. Avoiding it to ride a
two-mile stretch of paved highway is unfair for all us competitors. He explains again that



                                      Page 29 of 72
it’s not a problem, like I don’t realise you’re allowed to cheat. As he does he points at his
GPS and map the more direct route he’s on. I look blankly and he continues, “Everyone
is doing it. Lots of people went around a snowy pass further north”. Apparently he also
saw someone in a car. This could possible have been Kevin Dean earlier getting a lift
out.

I get worked up and state that if he refuses to go back and ride the mud now I’m going to
call it in to MTBcast. We’d already heard reports of them missing a pass earlier, and this
has just confirmed it. I’m not happy. My belief that nobody cheated in Divide Racing, that
we were only interested in a level playing field and comparing ourselves to the route and
the pioneers was shattered. The realisation maybe I was just naïve hurt, that cheating,
especially in cycling, crosses all divisions. I’d thought we were better than that. While the
pro cycling world is being destroyed by drugs and rule wordings taken to the limit, we
ride on nothing but a Gentleman’s Agreement. Why were people interested in cheating?
Aren’t you only lying to yourself? Isn’t it the route you are racing first and the other
people second?

Dario and Brunello refuse to ride the section right away, claiming they will stay at
Togwotee Lodge tonight and go back and ride it in the morning. That is against the rules
and nobody can verify they won’t go back on foot or without the bikes loaded, even if
they do switch their SPOTs on. I decide I have to go and call it in to MTBcast and tell the
world what I’ve witnessed. At this point Dario looks like he’s going to whack me and
doesn’t like my uncompromising attitude. To be fair I was getting worked up while he has
been quite calm, sine he didn’t see there was any problem. When I’ve left a message I
hand Dario the phone to leave his explanation of his actions. Sometimes when I’ve
spoken about the Tour Divide to people, they can’t understand the concept that it’s raced
without observers and has no prize, believing that if nobody is looking it’s just a free for
all. I always disagreed explaining nobody who raced this was interested in cheating or
prizes. I guess my explanations will be different from now on.

The peloton have started heading back out on the route and Leighton is trying to fix his
rig up singlespeed. Nobody says a word to Leighton or considers waiting. We just leave
him there in the rain tinkering with his drivetrain. It’s tough out here! I’m irate and tear off
to catch up with the guys to bitch about my meeting with Dario. As I leave I call out to
Josh I’ll see him later, to which he looks blankly at me. He’d been paying little attention
to the goings on while talking on his phone. I eventually catch the guys before the
Brooks Lake Road turnoff, which takes us over near 10,000 ft Togwotee Pass, the
highest point on the route so far. This is going to be another tough push through several
miles of snow and mud. Fortunately it’s not as sticky as the previous section, and there
are long snowy section covering the mud, which is easier going.

Its dusk by the time I descend off the worst section of the mud and snow covered Brooks
Lake Road. Blaine made a break from Togwotee Lodge without us and is off the front
somewhere, and Josh is off the back with Leighton. The rest of us stop at Brooks Lake
Lodge to see about getting rooms for the night, and I leave markers on the road
indicating to Josh we’ve pulled off. There is no room at the inn, but we are able to hose
the bikes down and a guy tells us the tandem came through yesterday. I scrub out the
marks on the road that indicated to Josh to pull off into the ranch. Then in fading light we
all tear it up down a fast paved road descent toward the next possible overnight
accommodation of Lava Mountain Lodge ten miles away.



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Lava Mountain Lodge is serving food and has rooms. Blaine is already there, and I sit
and eat with Alan and John and catch up about the last week. We check the
Leaderboard and call-ins on a laptop the Lodge offer us. They know about the race and
have been following people. Just as we’re all done eating and are heading for the
showers Leighton walks in out of the dark night. It’s begun raining harder and he’s
soaked. I give him a high-five and a bit of whooping, as I do whenever I meet Leighton.
He says to us all, “what’s all this? You leave you’re buddy in the rain on his own with a
snapped mech!” Well, yeah, sorry Leighton, but that seems to be the rules out here. It’s
a ruthless pace and anyone who falls back doesn’t even get a goodbye. He’s lucky we
didn’t just shoot him there to put him out of his misery. The reason there are no
goodbyes or discussions is because we’re all fully independent and anything can
happen out there. Assuming because a racer is down, he is out, would be foolish.

Unfortunately that same rule has been applied to Josh. Leighton informs me Josh had
pulled the plug at Togwotee Lodge. He’d not told anyone, as he didn’t want any hassle;
he’d made up his mind and was going through with it. I’d noticed him making calls but
hadn’t picked up on what was going on. The bloody Italians distracted me so much, but
that could have been a benefit. He wouldn’t have wanted me talking him into continuing.
I’m sure the Italians behaviour can’t have helped Josh’s state of mind - after pushing
through the mud for hours we’re greeted by racers turning off their SPOT trackers and
missing out the difficult bits. Dario will continue his ride to the border, turning his SPOT
on and off as he goes, but eventually he makes a wrong move down in New Mexico that
his SPOT gives away, and will be disqualified. Brunello will fall sick in Rawlins at the half
way mark and his race will end there.

I had no idea Josh was going to call it a day; unquestioningly I’d assumed we’d ride to
Mexico in each other’s company. Negative feelings aren’t something you would discuss
on the Divide. Firstly to mention them would acknowledge their existence, and secondly
this is no place for sympathy from a fellow racer. My key is to never acknowledge them
to myself by never speaking of them. Always be outwardly positive and maybe it’ll rub off
inwardly. This is evident on my call-ins, where I only ever say I’m doing just fine
whatever I’m feeling. I too had been suffering my own grief out there, trying to keep my
head above water by living from minute to minute. The simple life of eat, sleep, ride, and
laughing with Josh at the madness of this endeavour, had helped me through the worst
of it. I never said goodbye to Josh in 2007 either.

Day 10 – Lava Mountain Lodge to Boulder (121 miles)
I set off in the morning with Cannon, Leighton, Alan, John and Blaine and the day’s
riding starts with an easy road descent in the cold. After an hour the route turns to dirt
and the 12-mile climb up towards 10,000 ft and the top-out of Union Pass. Although fairly
steep for the Divide Route it’s a steady gradient climb on fairly good dirt and easy to find
a rhythm. A few miles up is the Sawmill Resort where I’m planning on a good feed and
wondering what the chances are the hot waitress who worked here in 2007 will still be
here. She was the highlight of my ‘07 ride. Bruce, Matt, Josh and I spoke of her for days
after to keep moral up.

I turn the corner and see the Sawmill looking closed. Alan and I go to try the doors and
look through the windows just to confirm our fears. No food, and worse, no waitress.
Feeling dejected we don’t want to press on and mill about on the decking outside as the
other riders roll up. We find a sign saying they open in the afternoon, so there is no point



                                       Page 31 of 72
hanging around. I shovel down a few handfuls of nuts and raisins that can’t make up for
the loss of a real meal.

I figure Erik would have stayed here last night, the distinctive tread pattern of his semi-
slick tyre tracks still evident on the wet road up. We all press on toward the summit in
our own worlds or occasionally riding together. After a slight descent there’s 20 miles of
rollers along the top of Union and it begins to drag. I begin to have a low energy day and
fight to stay awake. Memories of this section draining energy haunt me from before,
making my energy levels worse. On the plus side its beautiful scenery with lots of water
and the odd bit of snow pack scattered amongst the green. There are a few sections of
snow to hike through, but nothing more than a hundred yards so no big deal. The cool
mosquito-free air is refreshing. I notice some bear tracks on the road, and see a lot of
wildlife. I ride my own pace and occasionally share snack breaks with Alan and at other
times am leapfrogged by other riders, as I have to take a few minutes.

The descent is welcomed, although passing through herds of cattle that have turned the
ground rough, hands out a bit of a beating. Even as the route levels off and the cattle
disappear, it’s still hard pedalling through vehicle tracks in wet mud. I overtake Blaine on
the descent and push on to finally reach the paved road I’ve been dreaming about, only
to be greeted by a strong headwind that continues to make this section strenuous. I
meet a father and son out touring who say they ate with Erik at The Place Café 10 miles
up only an hour ago. Seems he’s not really making any ground on us, and is probably a
little out of synchronisation with the convenient food and bed stops we’re making.

Finally I reach The Place Café with Alan and get a table for five. Leighton is way off the
back running a singlespeed set-up over Union. Blaine is last to arrive and as he walks
through the door says, ‘I think that road took a bit of my soul away from me.’ I love these
moments of the race, when you can see where it takes people mentally. Some sections
of the Divide, for some reason, certainly define the words ‘soul destroying’ when you’re
putting in such big days. The sum of the scenery, terrain, weather can just take a lot
more energy than you think it would when making assessments from the maps.
However, overall the Divide certainly gives far more than it takes.

From The Place Café we ride fairly grouped sharing conversations on the flat road 10
miles to Pinedale. We have to find a store here to stock up for the 230 mile haul to
Rawlins across the Great Divide Basin - a stretch of sandy terrain without shade and
potentially very hot. There is only one restaurant over that distance in Atlantic City 90
miles from Pinedale. After Atlantic City the only place for water is Diagnus Well, a sole
water spigot in the middle of the 140-mile stretch to Rawlins.

It’s only 5pm and rather than hurrying to get back out I can see everyone is slowing
down and just going through the motions of shopping. We continue down the street
looking at all the restaurant options and decide to go for a Mexican. As we sit in the
restaurant a storm begins to blows in and darken the skies above us. It’s a bit of a crux
move across The Basin and Alan doesn’t like it, worrying about the heat out there. He
talks of making a two-day crossing, the same approach we’d both made previously, and
I sense his unease has spread a little fear within the group. This time two days for 230
miles is too slow and means missing a stop at Brush Mountain Lodge 300 miles away. If
I push on a little further tonight, I can make the 300 to Brush Mountain Lodge in two
days.



                                       Page 32 of 72
As we’re finishing up our dinner Leighton makes it into town too and he needs to hang
here until the morning to see if he can fix his mech hanger at the hardware store/bike
shop. With the weather closing in and some apprehension in the air about The Basin the
guys all decide to stay in Pinedale. I head out into the storm on my own. I don’t mind the
rain, but don’t like the wind trying to blow me into the traffic, but the shoulder is wide.
Usually I try not to ride on the shoulder where possible, as that’s where you’ll pick up
punctures, but safety pushes me onto it this time. I can see the lightening striking the
ground all around me, and I keep changing the boundary on how close it’s allowed to get
to me each time it comes within it. I make about 30 miles and camp up in the dark when
the rain stops and I’ve dried a little. I feel relaxed and enjoy being out on my own. As I
lay down to sleep instead of my mind feeling wired as is mostly the case, I’m beautifully
tired and fall asleep quickly.

Day 11 – Boulder to Rawlins (168.2 miles)
I get up at daylight having slept really well. To keep me warm until the sun rises above
the surrounding hills I have to put on every item of clothing I carry. Several miles into the
day the paved road turns into dirt and I spot Erik’s tyre tracks. They are pretty fresh and I
figure he’s still only an hour up front. I expect to meet him out here somewhere, maybe
the stop in Atlantic City.

Although the map only shows 1000 ft of elevation gain over the next Divide crossing and
the 70 miles to South Pass City, it is constant rollers. They are draining ones with lots of
false summits and no consistent pace to be set. A few hundred feet up followed by a few
hundred feet down. This is the most tiring terrain both mentally and physically.

I set my sights on the next stop of South Pass City and as the day warms up enjoy riding
my bike. Five miles before South Pass the route crosses a main highway and a highway
rest stop. I take my first short break of the day here in the shade. The route here is very
sandy and my feet are getting rubbed raw from so much grit kicking up and getting in my
shoes. Having wet feet for that last weeks and from last night has softened the skin,
which means the friction from slight movements of my foot in the shoe rubs it off easily. I
suspect this could deteriorate my feet badly so energetically beat my insoles shoes and
socks on the curbstone to rid them off all traces of sand. I attract a few odd looks from
the motorists also stopped there.

At South Pass there is a little shop selling soft drinks so stop quickly for a coke and an
ice cream, then roll on the few miles to Atlantic City for lunch. On the short but steep
decent into Atlantic City I hit 50 mph and decide that’s enough in this race. Surprisingly
this little hill on a predominantly flat section is the fastest part of the route. I arrive in
Atlantic City just before midday and the bar/restaurant has just opened. Since Erik is not
here waiting for food I figure he’s not wanted to waste time and pressed on. I wonder
what sort of a move that will be for him and if he has enough supplies. However if he can
make it to Rawlins tonight and get food it’s a winning move that’ll put him half a day up
from me instead of only a couple of hours. I eat quickly and wonder what Alan and the
guys are up to today, what their plan is for getting across the Basin to Rawlins.

I have a tailwind as I leave Atlantic City and am able to hit near 30mph down some slight
inclines – part of me feels good about covering ground so quickly, but part of me feels
like it’s cheating, that miles shouldn’t come so easily. Twenty-five miles out of Atlantic
City I stop at Diagnus Well, the last water source before the Basin real, and 110 miles



                                        Page 33 of 72
from Rawlins. Here I lay out my tent to dry in the wind and sun, fill my water containers,
and eat the takeaway I picked up from the restaurant. Again I beat my socks, insoles
and shoes against a post to try and remove all the sand. My feet are red and inflamed so
I wrap them in the strapping tape I carry for such occasions. While I’m doing this I have
the brainwave to simple tape over all the air vents in my shoes to stop the sand getting
in in the first place. It looks a bit daft with white tape all over them, but who’s going to
see me out here.

The ground is hard, the temperature comfortable, and the wind is behind me. My foot
problem is fixed and maybe my shoes could be described as nearly dry. I love this kind
of open and dry country and am feeling pretty happy about things. I decide to aim for
making camp tonight at the half way point in the race, which will make for a 170 mile ride
today. Just slightly more than the furthest I’ve ever ridden in a single day.




                            Heading into the Great Divide Basin

For the first time in the race I am without company. Free from the distraction of other
people around me I am left with only my mind for company. My thoughts start to wander
into the philosophy of Divide racing. What drives us, me, to do this? Do I seek purely
introverted experiences, or are they extroverted? Is it the experience on the route, or the
feeling of completing it, or of others saying, ‘well done’? In years gone by I never
questioned these things. I was simply drawn to challenges, the learning and training, the
not knowing if I was capable of finishing. It was exciting enough just to do it, and a finish
was sufficient an adventure and satisfied me. Racing the Divide, unlike sports such as
skydiving or even tearing up singletrack, for the most part doesn’t have an instantaneous
reward to feed off. Sure there are many incredible moments, but many hours can be
spent struggling mentally or physically. Why now does the number, the finish time,
matter more to me than the experience? What really drives us? I try to look beyond
answers from the deluded ego of Self, and find some answers.




                                       Page 34 of 72
After leaving Justin Klein in Lima, he abandoned the race a day later stating on his final
call-in, “I want to stop and smell the roses, not just pause to piss on them and keep
going.” But is the smell of roses better than the fun and excitement that comes of living
in the crazy world of travelling so quickly and so far by bike? I try and wrap my head
around why despite losing the will to ride when I heard about John before the start, I’m
back here doing this, and what my motivations are. I love this race, and much of the time
on the route, but right now I think I’m only here because of the shame I would feel from
quitting. I have to find and keep my focus on other reasons to ride. I know from past solo
endeavours that all these thoughts are best avoided. It’s surely a way for the weakness
to creep in, and that it does. I begin to ride a roller coaster of emotions as I think about
the race and the beautiful country I’m travelling through, then about John and his wife
and children.

I consider my options of trying to stay ahead of my friends for the next half of the race, or
join them. If they are sticking to a two-day Basin crossing and are going to miss Brush
Mountain Lodge then I must press on since I have a flight to catch. My time limit to make
the flight is 22 days. It’s now day eleven and I’m half way, so can’t afford to lose a day
waiting for the others if they stick with the two-day Basin crossing plan.

I crank out the miles as the hours tick past and for the most part enjoy the grand open
country of the Basin. In the middle of nowhere I see a red truck coming towards me and
as the driver slows down I also slow to meet him. Behind the wheel is Eddie Clarke, a
photographer and writer for the Mountain Flyer, a US MTB magazine. He’s come out
here chasing Tour Divide racers and wants to take some photos. He drives off ahead to
get some shots of me as I come past. I look down and notice the dirty white tape
raggedly hanging from my shoes and consider for a second taking it off for vanity –
nobody was supposed to be out here, especially not photographers. I leave it on. As I
pass Eddie every hour of so, he clicks away and I feel very self-conscious. I have no
idea what to do, and it’s difficult to completely ignore him and do whatever I would be
normally. I don’t even know what I do normally.


Nearing the end of a long day in the saddle I turn off the dirt and hit the paved road that
leads 40 miles to Rawlins. I take a food break and Eddie arrives in his truck. Its dusk and
I throw down my food while Eddie takes pictures. Again, I’m very self-aware, and have
no idea what to do. For some reason I decide to stand instead of sitting in the dirt as I
normally would. The dusk lighting is good and I wander if I’ll ever get to see these
photos. After shoving down a few handfuls of calories I get back on the bike with the
plan to head another 15 miles until its dark. By then I’ll have made my 170 miles and will
camp at the side of the road. Rawlins lies too far away for me today, and although a big
city, I wouldn’t want to be stuck there late at night looking for food and somewhere to
stay. Better to camp out here and get breakfast there in the morning.

Pretty much at the Route’s halfway point I get off the bike to pitch up for the night. As I
unload my kit I have a think about the SPOT giving away my location, and decide to turn
it off and ride another mile down the road. I find a two-track leading off right and ride
down there to camp unseen behind a fence. I’m pitched quickly and lie down looking at
the sky. Without the light pollution from cities, I’m treated to a beautiful starry night. In
the distance part of the sky is covered in storm clouds and lightening streaks across the
sky followed by faint thunder. I feel the wind picking up and hope the storm doesn’t drift
towards the dirt roads of tomorrow’s route. Since I’ve got this far without seeing Erik, I’m


                                        Page 35 of 72
pretty sure he pushed on and made food in Rawlins. This will at least double his 1-2
hour advantage over me, and means he could make Steamboat, his hometown,
tomorrow night.




           Eddie snaps me reaching the paved road that leads out of the Basin

Day 12 – Rawlins to Brush Mountain Lodge (112.6 miles)
I sleep okay, but when I wake I have an upset stomach and feel mildly queasy. A few
moments later I have to exit the tent in a hurry to empty my bowels. I slowly pack up and
get going while I try to force down the last of my calories. Ten miles into the morning I
meet Eddie at a road junction before the last pass on the main road to Rawlins. He’s not
sure which rider I am from last night. I say he’d have seen Erik in front of me, but he
says he saw another rider behind me, and one in front this morning. I think this must be
Erik, but the description Eddie gives it can’t be. And I was following Erik’s tyre tracks out
there, so he can’t have been behind me. We’re both left confused over who is who and
don’t try to get to the bottom of it. Somebody, I don’t know who, must have come past
me in the night or this morning while I was out of sight off the road.

I climb strongly over a Divide crossing into Rawlins, but as I ease up on the descent
begin to get stomach cramps and have the odd bout of extreme fatigue. I arrive in
Rawlins and go looking for a good breakfast and supermarket to resupply. By the time
I’m cruising down the main street hunting out food I need a toilet again quickly. I spot a
touring bike with a trailer outside a diner and rush in straight for the loo. I’m starting to
deteriorate and feel unwell. I think about the water I picked up from the well in the Basin,
and how careless I was with treating it, then eating my food with my gloves soaked in
spilled water. I’d had a total lapse in concentration and just went through the formality of
treating the water rather than consider what I was really doing.

I take a seat at the table with the bike tourist and order up a couple of helpings of
scrambled eggs and hash browns and talk about his trip. He’s stuck here waiting for a
part at the bike shop, and saw Jay and Tracy P yesterday. They stopped at the same


                                       Page 36 of 72
diner too. Just as I’m really beginning to feel it, the guy tells me I’m not looking in great
shape. I finish up breakfast and head to the store to load up, struggling now to keep up
my momentum. I start to think about having a day off, maybe I want to stop all together.

At the phone box outside the store I try to call Jill my girlfriend back home in England
again; she’ll just be getting up now. Both her home phone and mobile ring out without an
answer. I keep trying to call her every fifteen minutes or so for a couple of hours until the
phone starts going straight to answerphone. I leave a few messages. Mentally and
physically I’m in a desperate state and want to have a breakdown and my thoughts have
turned to quitting. What’s the point in all this suffering and chasing numbers? I want to
just get Jill a plane ticket to Denver tomorrow and have a relaxing holiday in Steamboat
with her. Surely this is a better way to spend my life.

Without anyone to talk this through with I’m left with only anger and no choice but to get
back on the bike. Right now I hate the bike and have wasted nearly three hours feeling
sorry for myself in Rawlins. I suck it up and ride back into town heading for the great little
smoothie shop I discovered two years ago. Inside I find Eddie Clarke at his laptop
uploading photos and reading the paper. I order a smoothie and take a seat with Eddie.
He shows me some superb photos he’s taken at recent bike races. I’m in no hurry,
needing the stomach settling smoothie and more rest. Eddie asks if I want to check the
Leaderboard on his PC. When the page loads up and he zooms into Rawlins I see all
the peloton are scattered around town. John Fettis is 10 miles outside town ahead of me
and Erik about 5 miles up the road too. It must have been John that came past me in the
night. Why’s Erik not 40 miles away by now? What happened to the guys on their two
day Basin crossing? I guess the plan changed when the temps were cool and wind in
their favour. They are near the store so getting ready to leave town soon.

I have a renewed vigour. The race is on again. Feeling weak I have to get out now and
cover as much ground as I can before I’m swallowed up by the peloton. I wish Eddie the
best of luck in trying to track down Matt Lee, and ride out of town. As soon as the last
buildings of Rawlins are out of sight behind me, I have to head for the bushes with my
toilet paper again. For some reason it’s taken until now for me to realise this isn’t a
passing wave of bad feeling, I’m actually sick and getting worse. I decide to take the
Imodium, Metronidazole and Amoxicillin I carry. I have a two-day supply of drugs for
such emergencies. Metronidazole is a sulphur-based drug to tackle giardia, which I
maybe picked up from the water at the well; however giardia takes weeks to hit you. I
also take antibiotic Amoxicillin for good luck, and a couple of Imodium to lessen the toilet
stops.

The rollers out of Rawlins are tough and my energy is so low I’m crawling along. Ten
miles from town I turn around and see Alan appear over the horizon followed by Cannon.
They gain ground on me quickly and ride on past. I have to dig really deep to try and
stay with them as we all ride kinda loosely onward. I don’t want to get left behind.

Alan tells me John made a break early in the morning from Boulder, just outside
Pinedale, and took off into the distance. Leighton is off the back, having waited in
Pinedale for the bike shop to open. So now we have John Fettis out in front, followed
closely by Erik. Cannon, Alan and I are not far behind them, and Blaine no doubt calmly
catching up after a leisurely breakfast. Things can turn around so fast in this race.




                                        Page 37 of 72
Thirty miles out of town I sit down to eat with Alan atop the final roller and another Divide
crossing. Some snow still remains on the north facing slopes up here and the air is nice
and cool. Now I’m with the guys I stop focusing on not feeling well and centre my
thoughts on not getting dropped. We continue on along another 25 miles of rolling hills
that gradually climb and I soon begin to slowly fall back. I set my mental goal on
reaching the end of the rollers and the paved road descent toward Slater and the
Colorado state line. I begin a routine of riding an hour and then resting and eating for five
minutes.

When I’ve reached my biggest goal and topped out, reaching the descent, I take a
longer break to get some calories in me and sit on a large rock by the side of the road.
As I eat Blaine comes past and gives me a wave. At the foot of the descent there is a
final 8-mile climb to Brush Mountain Lodge, and at this point things become incredibly
difficult. I’m so slow I have to stop twice for 10-minute breaks to eat and drink a little and
try and get on top of things. As the sun sets at about half past eight I make the lodge on
my last legs. Erik is the first rider I see and saying nothing he gives me the look of a tired
man. He needed a break too today and had stopped early after only 80 miles rather than
push on for a camp up on the pass. Erik was delayed leaving Rawlins as he needed a
new tyre from the bike shop. Across the Basin he was strapping his tyre with duct tape
and doing all he could to stop a tear irreparably widening. He says he saw John in Slater
lying in the grass at the side of the road in quite a bit of pain with his knees. John had
overdone it in the Basin and couldn’t go any further. So John has now gone from fifth
place this morning to tenth place this evening.

Kirsten runs Brush Mountain Lodge and follows the TD Leaderboard to see when we’re
all coming through. The Lodge is the only building for miles around, and on the trail so
racers can’t miss it. Kirsten offers incredible hospitality to the racers and already has
some orange slices cut up and laid out for us to snack on when we arrive. I’m allocated a
room with Alan and Blaine and go looking for it to get a shower and try and heal myself.
A little later Alan, Blaine, Erik, Cannon and I meet for dinner and laugh and joke about all
the events of the last two days. I’m overjoyed to have made it here tonight and still be
with the guys. I don’t think I could have faced getting dropped.

Kirsten puts our clothes in the washing machine and offers to have them dried for us by
the morning. I can’t wait to put on clean clothes tomorrow. For sure the worst bit of the
day is putting on your damp chamois first thing in the morning, especially when you’re
feeling clean from a motel stay. I only have one pair of shorts, and try to wash them
when I can in the showers at motels, but with all the mud and dust it’s impossible to get
them anything more than tolerably clean. I usually settle for a light tan shade of water
when ringing them out for the umpteenth time.

After dinner I try to call Jill again, but once more there is no answer. I head to my room
to try and get some sleep. I take more antibiotics and leave my room mates Alan and
Blaine enjoying a beer in the hot-tub. These boys aren’t even trying! I’m getting my ass
kicked by a couple of guys in their mid-forties.

Day 13 – Brush Mountain Lodge to Kremmling (126.1 miles)
Kirsten makes us breakfast for 5am and I enjoy eating with my fellow racers again. I find
these shared meals an experience to treasure. What better way could there be to the
start a day than sharing food and laughs with the bunch of guys you’re going out riding



                                        Page 38 of 72
with. I don’t believe it’s only me that treats them as a social meal instead of forcing down
calories while only thinking about time. I guess if anyone did they would take off and ride
on their own to be faster. Group meals are slow; any contact with other racers slows you
down to some degree.

During breakfast Alan checks the Leaderboard and reports that John is camped at the
bottom of the road in Slater only eight miles from Brush Mountain Lodge. The poor guy
doesn’t know about Brush Mountain Lodge, as it’s not on the map, just on the route
cues. I’m sure he’d have pushed on had we thought to tell him well ahead of time.
Kirsten comes out to wave goodbye as we all head off together to tackle Colorado. Alan
stopped at the lodge last year so he gets a hug to which I feel a little envy.

The start to today’s epic ride is a fairly big climb over Watershed Divide with some 15
miles of ascent and a short push toward the top. However it is well worth the climb as
the route then treats you to some 10 miles of semi-technical washed out sandy dirt road
to Clark Store and a mid-morning snack. And that’s followed by Steamboat just down a
20-mile stretch of paved road with a slight downhill gradient. The start of Colorado is a
real highlight of the route and at complete contrast with the last few hundred miles of
Wyoming.

Not long into the ride I have to quickly dash off into the bushes with my toilet paper
again. The guys disappear quickly and I ascend and descend the pass at a conservative
pace on my own. I’m in a better way than yesterday, but feel very slow and have to get
off and push for longer than I normally would on the climb. The descent is slightly
technical, requiring attention to pick a good line and not get caught in a rain gulley or at a
dead end. Some sections of soft sand are just waiting to wash out a front wheel. Half
way down I notice I’ve lost a water bottle but can’t see it up the trail so carry on. At
Clarke Store I find the guys sitting outside in the sun having already enjoyed their ten-
minute break. Erik lives in Steamboat and is an ex-Moots employee. Two of his Moots
mates, all decked out in everything Moots, are waiting there to ride with him into town. I
get two minutes to wolf down a stomach settling ice cream before they are ready to set
off again. After a mile I’m shed from the back of the group again.

I arrive in Steamboat and cruise though town on the cycletrack toward Orange Peel
Bikes. I don’t need directions but ask two good-looking girls cycling the other way. The
staff at Orange Peel are exceptionally good to Divide racers, operating quickly and
efficiently like a pit-stop crew giving us priority in the workshop. Not only that they are
happy to lend us tools to work on our own bikes and use the bike stand outside the
shop. This is radically different to the UK where no matter what your hurry you’d get no
more than the offer to book you in a week next Tuesday. The mud has been so bad my
bike needs pretty much a new drivetrain as well as a bottom bracket and as a few other
things. Erik’s pregnant wife is there to meet him and a few other friends and family.
Going through your home town mid-race must be something to look forward to and
enjoy, but also quite difficult. A reporter from the Steamboat Pilot is also there looking to
get an interview with Alan, a follow up to an article he wrote on him a year ago when he
came through town on his first Tour Divide.

While the bike gets worked on I go with Alan to get a healthy vegetarian meal at a small
organic food store just down the street from the bike shop. Joel, the reporter from the
Steamboat Pilot finds Alan there for his interview. While I eat Alan answers lots of
question and Joel takes notes and sets a tape recorder on the table. Alan, you’re


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famous, dude! I go to try and call Jill again, but she’s still not answering her phone. I
leave a few messages but am disheartened as I really wanted to talk to her. Any
thoughts about quitting have left me now, and I know I’ll be fine if I ride with the other
guys and share this adventure. I make the decision that I won’t be making any breaks
again, and I won’t get dropped. My mind is not up to a solo effort this year.

It’s a three hour pit stop in all and to a certain extent there has been a group
understanding that this stop was going to be a long one; we can’t all the get the bikes
serviced at once, and it would be unfair to take off before everyman has had his steed
serviced. I’m last in with the bike service and end up paying out for a new XT inner and
middle ring, chain, cassette, bottom bracket, gear cables, and brake blocks. I also stock
up on chamois cream, lube, and a replacement water bottle for the one that jumped out
on the descent into Clarke.

While I’m dashing around the bike stop filling water bottles and getting ready to leave,
Joe Meiser arrives and sets straight to work with Orange Peel owner Brock on a frame
replacement. Joe broke his mech hanger out on Sheep Creek Divide before Lima. The
mud clogged up his drivetrain and twisted the rear mech into the wheel shredding it. He
had to stop in Lima overnight to have a derailleur and temporary mech hanger shipped
to him. At that point the peloton overtook Joe and since then he’s been chasing on a
solo effort. Today he caught up with John Fettis and made the decent into Clarke with
him. Somewhere he lost him again though.

Just as I’m getting on the bike a few minutes later John finally arrives having picked up a
little fresh road rash when his front wheel washed out on the decent. I just have time for
a greeting and the first thing john says is, “I’ve learned my lesson now. Can I come
back?” meaning he wants to be back in the peloton again, and won’t be charging off the
front again glory hunting. I say I’ll see him later at the Mugrage Campground after
Radium, expecting to get there around dark tonight myself.

I ride out of Steamboat with Blaine and Alan and after some good rest, nutritious food,
and more drugs I’m going okay. Cannon it seems left a little before without me noticing,
and Erik isn’t back from a meal with his wife and friends. I’m a little weaker and a little
lighter than before but my insides appear to functioning properly. After an hour Alan
disappears and I ride alone. A little later I stop for food and Blaine passes too. A couple
of hours later I have to give in to the desperate need to close my eyes and be horizontal,
and I take a lie down in the warm sun and long grass at the side of the road. While I’m
taking five minutes Erik also passes. I’d love to jump up and get going, but need to find
five minutes of semi-consciousness to drift off and get shot of this tiredness. It’s the first
time I’ve ever given in to the sleep monster; the last twenty-four hours have been difficult
for my body and it needs rest to recover.

I dig in to make sure I don’t fall too far off the back and will make the same stop as the
others tonight. I arrive at a stream crossing to see Erik taking a break on the other side
eating a sandwich. Not wanting wet shoes for the next couple of days, since they have
only just dried out, I remove my shoes and socks to cross. As I get about half way
across holding my heavy bike above water I’m losing my balance and hurting my feet on
sharp rocks. I do all I can to keep from falling in and hold my bike up. And all the time I’m
in this predicament and could do with a hand, Erik sits there and laughs at me. A sharp
rock finds the arch of my foot and I lose my balance and have to wave the arm around
that’s holding my shoes, dipping them in the water as I do so. Erik starts to nearly choke


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on his sandwich with laughter now, but still can’t offer assistance. These moments are
better shared.

I put my wet shoes on and ride with Erik over 9,000 ft Lynx Pass and into Radium. We
meet Blaine on the decent and ride with him for a little until he wipes out on some soft
sand and picks up some minor scrapes. There are some big drops off the switchbacks
here if you were to skid off over the edge it may be while before you hit the ground.
Certainly it has to be ridden with care. In 2007 I had to make the descent in pitch dark
with poor lighting, made worse by the fine road dust being kicked up into the light beam.
My speed was cut to a crawl as I tried to safely negotiate my way down. For that reason
this year I’m carrying a 720 lumen rechargeable light with three settings. On anything
technical in the dark I can put it on the highest setting and ride at the same speed I
would during the day. Otherwise the lowest setting lasts 24 hours and is more light than I
need to travel quickly on most of the route. At a motel stop I can get it fully charged
again, although the amount of night riding I do, it would probably last the whole race.




                             View down to the Colorado River

As Erik and I continue descending the Pass Blaine drops off the back since he’s now
taking it really carefully. Just over the bridge that crosses the Colorado River at the
bottom of the pass I stop with Erik at the Mugrage campground, where I said I’d meet
John. It’s still light and the air is thick with mosquitoes. We have to press on. Sorry John,
maybe see you tomorrow. I get some food down and prepare for the 20-mile ride to
Kremmling with another 2,000 ft of climbing. Erik is a great climber and I have to put in a
real effort to not let him disappear too far into the distance. No chance of making up
distance on the descents with him either, he’s just fast on any terrain. As we top out on
the final pass we see a rainbow bridged over a mountain sunset and a red sky. It’s
incredibly beautiful, and something I may never see again in my life, but I’m too busy
hanging on to Erik’s wheel to take a picture. I couldn’t have done it justice anyway. We
crest the pass and begin to descend in the dark. Erik’s lighting is poor, but it doesn’t stop



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him getting in a tuck and gunning it up front at speeds of about 50 mph, this on a dirt
road he doesn’t know. I put on my 720 lumen setting and ride a little slower behind him.

We reach Kremmling, which is two miles off route, at 21:50 and rush through the doors
of the first restaurant we see. It’s a greasy Mexican where we can fill up on some
unhealthy high calorie food. They really don’t go in for the carbs much in Mexico, but
love their cheese. From there it’s off to find a shower and some clean sheets for the
night. We try a hotel to find it’s full, but we get an offer from the girls on reception. I think
they were drunk; we weren’t at our best, even if I did put on clean clothes this morning.
Down the street we find another hotel and get a room. It a bit seedy with very old décor,
cigarette burns on the sheets, and a musty smell. The landlady makes us leave the
bikes outside, which we’re not very happy with, but we’re out of options at gone 11pm.

I’m tired but unable to find sleep. I feel like I’m burning up and have the shits again. After
a couple of hours of restlessness at nearly 3am I run a cold bath and lie in it until I’m
shivering. I then lie on my bed still wet and shivering until I drift off. Common body; get
with the program!

Day 14 – Kremmling to Como (87.8 miles)
I get a bit of a lie in this morning until 6, but have only slept a couple of hours so feel
pretty rough. I’m hoping my body can get on top of things today, as I can’t face another
day as weak as I have been the last two days. Erik and I head across town where I know
there is a restaurant that’ll open at 7am for breakfast. While waiting for the restaurant to
open I make a call-in from the phone box opposite and see Alan and Cannon leave their
motel rooms next door. It looks a much nicer establishment to where Erik and I stayed
down the road. There’s no sign of Blaine anywhere, but he must have made town last
night, he was only just behind Erik and I. The restaurant opens at 7 when the chef
arrives but there is no waitress yet. She arrives twenty minutes later with a hangover.
Two of Cannon’s friends have joined him today to share some miles, and with such a big
group it takes a long time to get served. It’s after 8am by the time we’re turning pedals
on the route again two miles from Kremmling.

The route for the day begins with a gentle 35-mile climb with a few rollers toward 9,500 ft
Ute pass. Ten miles outside town we ride alongside a reservoir and Alan takes off and
disappears into the turns of the trail. The last few miles to the top of the pass are steeper
and paved, and I begin to struggle to hang on with the guys. I’m a little slower but mainly
soo tired I’m having mild hallucinations as I fight with my eyelids. At the bottom of a fast
decent is a T-junction with a main road leading 10 miles to Silverthorne. I watch Erik,
Cannon and his buddies disappear into the distance as I weave about on the road trying
to stay awake.

In Silverthorne I stop for some time getting food and rest. My stomach is settled now,
and I’m over the worst of whatever I had, but need to restore my glycogen levels and
regain my strength. I’ve lost the guys; they maybe shot though to Frisco or Breckenridge.
Three towns in only seventeen miles is a real treat on the Divide, but tactical as to how
much you stop. When I feel ready it’s back on the road to Breckenridge where I plan to
eat again, shooting straight through Frisco. In Breckenridge I bump into Erik on the main
street and we go to grab some food then hit a store for supplies. In pouring rain we leave
town and head toward Boreas Pass that leads to the small town of Como on the other
side.



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As Erik and I near the edge of town we hear some whooping and hollering from Alan,
Cannon and Blaine as they are leaving their restaurant. I whoop and holler back and
continue on starting up over the pass before them, expecting they will catch me before
the top. I break a while at the top to snack and Blaine catches up. He’d made Kremmling
but left his motel around 4am since his neighbours in the room next door were so much
noise he couldn’t sleep. He seems really upset about having his sleep disturbed and
rants about it a little. I think this slightly ironic for a snorer who when I was ill kept me
awake at Brush Mountain Lodge when we shared a room.

From the top of 11,500 ft Boreas Pass we descend into Como and one rider at a time we
arrive in the tiny town in torrential rain at around 5pm. I’m not sure about services in
Como, as there was nothing two years ago, but Alan had told me he stayed at a newly
opened place called The Depot last year. I head for a large building that looks lived in
and as I get closer see a couple of 29ers outside. I get out of the rain and find Alan and
Erik at a table ordering food, and he introduces me to David, the proprietor, and an
English chap. It’s just like being at home in England. Even the weather is the same.

I only want to make a quick stop and get going again; I’ve already made my two stops
today, but am happy to eat again so soon. As I sit around a table with Cannon, Blaine,
Alan and Erik there’s a lot of talk about the wet weather, which is getting worse. A big
storm with horrendous lightening and thunder can be seen and heard out over the open
ground of South Park, the route direction. The dirt roads will be hard going. I’m still keen
to get in whatever miles I can though, but the others aren’t keen. I’m not leaving unless
all of us go so try and persuade them to carry on. It won’t be so bad once we’re actually
out there I insist. I’m fighting a losing battle and finally a truce is discussed and white
paper napkins are waved across the table to signify a halt to racing for the day. Instead a
leisurely afternoon is to be spent at the Depot on holiday time. I could do with a holiday
for the evening.

I get a nice room with Alan and Cannon borrows some pillows and lays out his bedding
on the floor. Erik gets the short straw for sharing with the snorer Blaine; however he says
he can sleep through anything. Moya, David’s wife, offers to do our laundry, and even
though I only had my washing done a couple of days ago, I’ll go for it again. Washing
your kit after only two hundred miles seems excessive out here. Another hotel guest
lends us a laptop to catch up on email and do a bit of SPOT watching on the
Leaderboard. I enjoy the afternoon sheltering from the bad weather and we’re looked
after well. The only negative about the place is the single crappy shower that dribbles
from the showerhead at random temperatures between lukewarm and cold. A divide
racer needs a good healing shower to mentally aid recovery so this is really
disappointing. At dinner we reach a group consensus for a 5:15 breakfast and Moya is
happy to get up and make it for us. Racers are shown such goodwill on the route from
the people who own businesses along the way.

Throughout the evening we check in periodically with the Leaderboard and watch
Leighton, John Fettis and Joe Meiser reach Breckenridge in the early evening. I guess
they would have stayed at Mugrage campground where I planned to see John. The
SPOTs stop while they get food, then John and Joe’s blue dots start moving again
across town. Then they take a side street and come to a halt, and we figure they’ve
called it a day at a nice hotel. They deserve it. It’s still relatively early, but raining on the
pass and I’m sure the guys want some good rest instead of pushing on for another bivy.


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As far as they know, there is little chance of anything in Como. Leighton’s dot continues
to the southern end of town, and Alan gets excited that he may be making the push over
Boreas tonight. Alan would like to pass some more miles with his TD ‘08 finish buddy.
When Leighton is high on the pass and the weather is bad we go to bed. Maybe he’ll be
here when we get up for breakfast in the morning. He’s a hard man who rides slowly, yet
puts in the hours and is unafraid of bivying out anywhere in any weather. Despite a
snapped mech hanger and a day and a half running a singlespeed, and lost time in
Pinedale, he’s caught back up to us in 600 miles.

Day 15 – Como to Sargents (112.1 miles)
Moya has breakfast prepared when we come down in the morning and there’s ample
food to fill up for the day. With no sign of Leighton having arrived in the night the five of
us set off together at 6 am. There is no time to check the Leaderboard for his, or John or
Joe’s position, and we presume they are all behind us. We head on through the high
mountain prairie of South Park riding on soft and damp dirt. It would likely have been
incredibly slow going if we had come through here in the rain yesterday. There are no
tracks to say the other guys came past us in the night. Following a 30-mile warm-up we
arrive in the tiny collection of buildings that is Hartsel, but another stop would take too
long, so we ride straight through. Riding on my own or with Josh I would have made the
stop at the restaurant here, but I need to keep up a different pace with these guys.

The pace of the peloton is fast and I realise the difference in the way I was riding before,
with lots of stops, to the way these guys are riding. Breaks are short and few and far
between. There’s no waiting at all for other riders. The breaks they take at restaurants
are longer than I would choose to stop, however that could just be down to more people
getting served. I mostly try to be super quick at meal stops, but take more breaks during
the day. Unrelenting is the word that comes to my mind. However they ride hard but
choose to stop earlier in the day. I think this is a good strategy. There’s a limit to the time
you could achieve with long slow distance miles. A fixed get-up and ride time is a good
strategy too, whereas before I would consider what time I would get up each time I lay
my head down for the night.

From Hartsel the route crosses more open and flat terrain all at over 9’000 ft toward
Salida. There is one small Divide pass before a long descent into Salida. The soft mud is
slowing us down a little, and the short rollers take quite a bit of energy. Out here we
meet Eddie Clarke again out getting more photos. He’d chased down Chris, Kurt, the
Petervary and Matt Lee up front, and is now back to catch the peloton. He shoots us as
we ride past, jumping in his truck to drive up ahead and get more shots as we come past
again. I feel less self conscious about his doing this now.

Although I feel a lot better today and got some better rest in Como, by the top of the
pass I’m off the back and descend into Salida on my own chased by a storm. I make it
only as far as the main street before the heavens open on me. I roll through town looking
for Absolute Bikes, where the guys will be getting their steeds worked on and eating in
the restaurant next door. After asking for directions a couple of times I find the shop and
the 29ers parked outside. I find Alan and take a seat and order some food. As Alan
orders his second meal the waitress remembers him from a year before, and then
recites what he ordered all that time ago. Clearly she shouldn’t be waiting tables with a
memory like that. While I’m scurrying around the bike shop and store getting a few
supplies I get a phone call from my friend Duncan back in England. He was SPOT



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watching and saw us stopped so called the bike shop in the town to see if we were
there. He tells me to get a move on and kick some ass. I tell him Alan’s pushing out his
usual form and keeping up is a challenge. It’s good to talk to him and a great boost of
moral. Duncan and I started getting into mountain biking ten years ago and served our
biking apprenticeship together, learning the skills necessary to tackle something like the
Divide. It was also Duncan that forwarded me a web article on Mike Curiak and Pete
Basinger’s 2004 record Divide ride, and we joked about the insanity of such a race. We’d
only bee riding bikes a few years then and I never imagining I’d have a go myself.

As usual most of the guys need to get stuff in the bike shop and are just generally taking
a lot longer break than I would need. I decide to leave Salida ahead of them, as I know
I’ll be off the back on the climb over Marshall Pass. I cruise out of town at a very easy
pace and begin the climb – it’s almost a constant gradient and the road is laid over a
pipeline. After four hours just before I reach the near 11,000 ft summit I hear a rider
coming up behind me and look back to see Alan through the trees. I get the camera out
to get a shot of him coming past, then jump on to catch up and we reach the top
together. We descend the 17 miles to Sargents that takes an hour of concentration.
Sargents is a tiny place of only a few houses and an RV park with some cabins and
small store with restaurant. It’s 7 pm and I want to head on for another hour after eating.

Ordering food for five means the service takes a long time. We listen to some cowboys
singing karaoke in the room next door. I press the guys for a while to continue for a
dozen more miles tonight, but they’re arguing about where there is to go. Fifteen miles
down the road will do me, and then camp up anywhere. However with comfy cabins and
showers on offer in Sargents the guys decide to stay and I can’t talk anyone into coming
with me. Back in Steamboat I made my decision to not leave the team again. I settle into
eating until I can barely move then go and get a healing shower. To make up for the
sorry shower in Como last night I take extra time to zone out under the warm water. I
consider I still need more recovery time after being sick and another early stop and good
sleep will be worth it for extra speed tomorrow.

Blaine arranges a cabin with two bunk beds to sleep four, and he generously offers to
take the floor. I take a top bunk and try to spread out my sleeping bag and make myself
comfortable on a plastic covered mattress. In a room that’s too hot and in a sleeping bag
that’s too warm, I fidget and get frustrated as Blaine falls asleep instantly and begins to
snore. After some time I have to climb down and wake him up and ask him to sleep on
his side. I get up close to his face and whisper his name as I prod him on the shoulder.
He opens his eyes and gives me an angry stare. He’s not impressed but rolls onto his
side, and is quick to fall asleep again silently.

Day 16 – Sargents to Del Norte (110.4 miles)
The route today from Sargents has no supply stops for 110 miles to Del Norte, crossing
La Garita Wilderness over a couple of 10,000 ft passes. For the first time in a week I get
the camera out and take photos as the rain has subsided and the scenery takes my
breath away.

Under blue skies the peloton take a break together for a while in the shade and I snap
my favourite race photo; Blaine’s checking the map, and no doubt counting up the
ascent stats for the day as he likes to do. Cannon is laid out relaxing, Alan is eating as
usual, and Erik is just being. Mostly it’s when we’re on a break that I get the camera out,



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so when I browse my photos and show them to others back home, I get the feeling the
overall image looks like I’ve been on a relaxing holiday in the sunshine.




        Blaine passing break-time checking the ascent stats. Cannon sunbathing.

The ground gets covered quickly today, and for a change Alan isn’t leading the pace
from the front, I seem to be. I feel better for a couple of shorter days and am feeling
strong in the legs too. Alan though woke up this morning suffering from a sore knee and
is also tired. It’s a very rare occasion indeed when I see Alan having a slow day. In good
weather we speed along without distractions on the route until Del Norte. There is little to
do on the Divide but break up the distances mentally thinking about the next food stop. I
make plans for the longer haul over hundreds of miles, but only keep my mental sights
on the upcoming restaurant, store or motel. I like to see what’s coming on the route
profile map, and break down the route a little further into each hill climb, but I don’t
concentrate on the numbers and height gained and lost. It wouldn’t help me to know.

Nearing Del Norte the pack is still grouped fairly close together when we meet a guy
touring north on the Divide. He seems a little odd, edgy, and my first thought is that he
may be a little high, but someone mentions later that maybe he just felt nervous being
confronted by a bunch of TD racers. He talks a while about the route ahead, but I’m
silent; I haven’t warmed to him and just want to get going. He digs out a bag of mini-
snickers and goes around the group offering us each one. In my head I’m screaming that
I can’t take food from someone – I berated Alan for taking a sandwich in 2008. I refuse
first time, but he pressures me, and it feels rude not to take one. It’s a natural human
interaction and greeting to share food, and I don’t want to be an ass, so I thank him and
take one and chew it down. We discuss the route a little with him and then head on. I’m
left slightly angry that I’d broken my rule and the whole incident sits heavy on my mind. I
wanted to race ‘clean’, and it would help if race followers and people who know of the
race would not offer racers food or any kind of assistance. In hindsight I could have




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taken the candy and said I’d put it in my pocket for later, and then tossed it in the first
bin.

I enjoy the dirt tracks that snake around through dramatic scenery into Del Norte. I’m up
front, but in the sand am soon overtaken by Erik, who can hold his line through the soft
sand. Erik is a very good rider. I run out of water and begin to slow as I reach the paved
road on the outskirts of Del Norte. At 4 pm the peloton cruise down the main street
through Del Norte and follow Alan to the Organic Peddler at the far end of town. The
Organic Peddler is a hippy whole food café that is very welcoming and comfortable
inside. I’m dehydrated and make the guys laugh over my impatience to get an ice cream
when I walk in. I just have to get some calories and liquid in me as soon as possible.
We’ve arrived early leaving time for a good feed followed by some more miles this
evening.

I’ve not been sat in the restaurant long when a woman walks through from the adjacent
shop into the restaurant and asks if there is a dirty British cyclist called Steve here. I
wonder which blue dot junkie back home has managed to get the number here and call
me. When I put the phone to my ear I’m staggered to hear Jill on the other end of the
line – I never imagined she’s take the initiative to call me. I wonder around the shop and
do my best to talk about the race. Really I’m not very good at finding things to talk about
since when I’m living it I can only see the big picture of riding and eating. I force myself
to try and find details to talk about despite being sure that nobody would find them
interesting.

The food is exceptional and the comfortable atmosphere starts to suck the guys in.
Quickly the conversation starts to discuss motel options in Del Norte and staying the
night here. Alan goes so far as asking what time they can do breakfast for us tomorrow
morning. It’s only 5 pm now we’re nearly finished eating. The weather is perfect and a
stop has got to be out of the question. We stopped early the last two days, and I feel
good and there are four hours of daylight left. I work on them a bit, however my mind is
weak and it takes little persuasion for me to come over to the other side. We all order a
second meal and when we can hardly move head for the motel at the other end of town.

Back at the motel there is plenty of time for faffing with kit and cleaning drivetrains etc in
the sunshine outside. I go shopping for tomorrow and mooch around a bit enjoying the
time off again. At around 8:30 Leighton, John Fettis, and Joe Meiser arrive at the motel. I
was about to try and get some sleep, but get up and go and say a quick hello to John
and congratulate him for getting back with the pack. The peloton is up to eight men now:
Alan Goldsmith, Cannon Shockley, Erik Lobeck, Blain Nester, Steve Wilkinson, John
Fettis, Joe Meiser and Leighton White.

I go to bed and try to find sleep, but Alan is watching the fucking, fucking TV and
crunching food! He’s watching Bear Grylls jumping around and shouting enthusiastically
about living in the wilds – he does my head in, and Alan is also now doing my head in.
Does the boy not need some fucking sleep! We have to be up at five. Wasn’t he tired
this morning? Obviously not enough, I don’t think he really knows what tired is. He sits
there on the end of the bed snacking and relaxing with the TV. FFS I’m getting my arse
kicked here.

Day 17 – Del Norte to Brazos Ridge camp (101.7 miles)


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The Organic Peddler opens early at 5:30 to make us breakfast. I sit opposite John,
who’s looking a bit worse for wear than when I saw him in Pinedale 700 miles back. His
lower lip is sunburnt, cracked, and bleeding, and looks very sore. He beard is quite long
and his crazy-hair look matches his slightly distracted eyes. John is my new hero for his
200-mile break across the Basin, and I’m really excited about the whole thing and enjoy
getting the full breakdown on what happened.

I love how dynamic this race can be, and what it can do to people’s minds and bodies.
John explains how after 195 miles across the Basin he went to stand on the pedals and
suffered some shooting pains in his legs around the knees. He rode on for another 10
miles, and must have camped within a mile of me. In the morning he was up early and
came past me, reaching Rawlins and leaving in a hurry, but his legs were suffering. The
reserve tank was empty and he struggled into the campsite in Slater, not knowing only
eight miles up the road was Brush Mountain Lodge, where there was a hot tub and
beers waiting. We passed him at the campsite without him seeing us and he spent a
rough night in his bivy with the mosquitoes.




                   John Fettis eating breakfast in the Organic Peddler

From Del Norte the route begins to climb immediately for the next 25 miles and gains
4,000 ft. For taking three early days in a row my mid-morning tiredness doesn’t arrive.
We all climb Indiana Pass in a fairly tight group and I chat to Joe Meiser. I immediately
like Joe, and as I find out more about him I learn he’s also in engineering, and Product



                                      Page 48 of 72
Development Engineer for Salsa and Surley. He’s fast too, and won the Trans Iowa 320
mile race already this year in a record time.

At the top of Indiana, at a fraction under 12,000 ft, we take a break in the sunshine and
wait for Leighton. Nobody says we’re going to take a good break; it’s just a natural
happening when nobody starts pressing to get going. It’s been a good climb without any
rest stops on the way up and we deserve to enjoy the warm air and take it easy. Joe
quickly falls asleep and starts snoring as his body relaxes and seems to sink into the
ground. He’s put in some big days catching up to us after losing a day and is tired. Alan
takes my all time favourite Divide photo of us all resting up in the sun. I think we could
have happily spent many more hours up there, but the clock doesn’t stop ticking and we
begin the descent to the restaurant in Platoro.




   Indiana Pass – Joe snoring, Steve, Blaine, John (sitting) Cannon, Erik, and Leighton

As we descend toward Platoro I’m riding up front with Joe, when a coyote runs across
the road a couple of feet in front of me. I watch him burrow back into the bushes in fright
as I pass close by. Seeing wildlife up this close I find such a special moment. I’m
enjoying the slightly rough road descent off Indiana and am still up front when I notice
the entrance to the Platoro restaurant. I brake hard to make the turn and Joe nearly
slams into me, having to lay the bike down to come to stop in time. He shreds his shorts
a little and gains some road rash and I feel bad. At the restaurant a lady greets us at the
door and asks us to sign a Tour Divide racer register hanging on the wall. Each racer
that came through has written down the time they arrived and some comments. Two
days earlier Matt Lee called it a day here at 6 pm since it was ‘raining cats and dogs’.
We’re a day behind Kurt Refsnider, Chris Plesko, and Jay and Tray P. So it seems
someone in this chasing pack is headed for fifth place, some time behind the leading
riders, but a fair position out of 42 starters.




                                      Page 49 of 72
As such a big group of eight Tour Dividers, we’re a long time getting food at the
restaurant. Normally time is so short that while waiting for meal you’re chasing around
drying kit, cleaning bikes or fixing things, but today after so much time off recently I have
nothing to do but wait for food. The service here is slow anyway, but by the time my food
arrives I’m so hungry I’m getting agitated. Travelling together like this and hitting the
restaurants at the same time means we’re going to be a lot slower.

From Platoro there is store 20 miles down the road, then nothing until the snack-shack in
Vallecitos 100 miles further. For those 120 miles the route traverses tough rolling hills
and rough roads, topping out on 11,000 ft Brazos Ridge, which requires a hard push for
half a mile to crest. It’s a long haul and means we’ll be spending the night up there and
need to stock up well on food. The little store in Platoro is really limited, so we decide to
gamble on the store in Horca 20 miles down the road being better.

We ride out and with a slight downhill gradient and fairly good surface make some easy
miles to Horca. The arrival at Horca store is severely disappointing though. I’m in shock
to see practically empty shelves, and we all pace the aisles again and again just in case
we missed something. The food available is of very poor nutritional quality and nothing
really Divide suitable. It’s a bit of a scramble for what there is left. Three kids of about ten
years old run the shop while mom and dad watch TV in the back room under a cloud or
cigarette smoke. If we complain about anything, the answer is always, ‘we’re just kids’.

They basically rob me while laughing their heads off as I pay $1 per granola bar. Written
on the side of the 20 bars it says ‘should not be sold separately’. I buy a massive bag of
corn crisps called Fritos – they are 35% fat, the most heavily laden fat content of any
crisp I’ve seen. I buy the large pack and Joe grabs the extra large pack, which is
enormous and good for 3,500 calories. A mere DVD snack I’m sure for many Americans,
washed down with lots of Coca Cola.

There’s a nice ten-mile road climb out of Horca before the route turns to dirt and the
rolling roads begin again. As the light fades we are all still well grouped and begin the
push up Brazos Ridge. I stop to put on Gore-Tex mosquito protection and John Fettis
scrabbles past silently with his head hanging. I can see from his actions he’s low on
energy, and when I ask how he’s doing he mumbles a few words that say as much. We
are both ready to stop for the day. By the time I reach the summit with John there is no
sign of Joe, Alan and Erik who were up front. The rest of us ride on to try and find them.
Darkness is approaching quickly and it’s time to bring this day to and end. The top of
Brazos ridge may only be just over 100 miles from Del Norte, but it’s one of the toughest
sections of the route and has taken a full days’ riding.

We follow the tyre tracks of Joe, Alan and Erik, and I keep expecting to see them
pitching up at the side of the trail at one of the many great looking campsites I keep
passing. Finally in the dark when I can no longer follow the tracks in the dirt I call a halt
to activities. I shout out for Alan but there is no answer. They can’t have carried on much
further, and we may have even missed them if they went off down a side road. It
appears we’ve now ridden past all the good camp spots, so we walk up a side road until
we find a spot in the trees that looks fairly flat. Everyone begins searching out a
comfortable spot to pitch up for the night. I wait until I’ve seen where Blaine’s pitching,
then walk 50 yards away so I can’t hear his snoring. In the dark I watch headtorches and
listen to the crunch of junk food. John Fettis gets stuck into the can of Spam he picked
up at the store and we have the odd conversation across the dark.


                                         Page 50 of 72
Day 18 – Brazos Ridge camp to Abiquiu (92.7 miles)
In the morning after a junk food breakfast and a discussion about corn nuts, which
nobody will be buying again, Leighton, Cannon, Blaine, John and I clip in and roll out. I’m
slightly confused as to what happened to Alan, Joe and Erik. The Nanotracks on the
ground aren’t making much sense either. After a couple of hours we’re stopped at a
junction where the road numbers are scattered on the ground, and they appear behind
us. Seems they turned off the main track where we did, but continued further to a
campsite. The camp sites have fire pits, but so far out often little else and often aren’t
even a good surface. I can never see the point in stopping at them, other than providing
a reference point to head for, or a picnic bench to shelter under for the bivy bag carrier.

For 60 miles the route continues along up high over the rough and constantly undulating
roads before the first stop of the day just before Vallecitos. I have my hopes up that
Sylvia, who runs a snack-shack for Divide racers there, will be at home to open up for
us. I’ll be long overdue my daily caffeinated fizzy drink by then and could go into
withdrawal. Much of the trail today is wet and sticky making hard going as it rains on and
off. It’s strenuous work but the group are well matched at the moment and for the most
part we all ride in each other’s company. Fifty miles into New Mexico we stop at
Hopewell Lake campground for a little social rest and to collect water. An enjoyable
descent then drops us out of the trees at the snack-shack. Sylvia is there and we all
clamber inside the little wooden shed and help ourselves to a junk food extravaganza,
piling up the wrappers and cans on the floor at out feet to make payment later.




                            Snack-shack break for the peloton




                                      Page 51 of 72
Out of Vallecitos we have to make the dash through dog alley, a short section of street
lined with dilapidated houses each with a front yard full of wrecked cars and barking
dogs. I turn around and see Alan with his bear spray at the ready. On a bike at 10mph
he’s more likely to get us and himself than the dogs. Blinded we’ll all crash and then get
savaged by the dogs too. I can already see the Tour Divide blog update now. ‘Eight Go
Down in TD Peloton - Goldsmith Guilty’. We manage to get through unharmed but it’s
pretty exciting. One thing I hate as a cyclist is aggressive dogs and would prefer
camping in bear country. Although meeting angry dogs on the Great Divide Mountain
Bike Route is very infrequent, I think you are more likely to be attacked by a dog than a
bear.




                                        Concrete mud

The dirt tracks leading toward the little town of El Rito are unrideable mud, and some
slow pushing is required. It quickly sets like cement on the bike in the heat. The descent
into El Rito is slowed a little with a sticky surface, but amazingly beautiful, speedy and
fun. At El Rito we hit the well-stocked store and I start off with a huge tub of ice cream. I
carry a titanium spoon that is ideal for digging into frozen ice cream. A hundred yards up
the road is a forestry building where we borrow a hose to get the dried mud off the bikes.
As I walk down the road pushing my bike I get a shooting pain on the top of my right
foot. I’m in so much pain I can’t help but let out a little limp. It doesn’t hurt so much
pushing the pedals, but walking is agony. I put it to the back of my mind and purposefully
try to walk more on it – maybe it will loosen it up. This is a pain I’m not familiar with in my
riding experience. It seems far worse than a Divide niggle and the kind of little aches and
pains you would expect from this kind of riding.

A 20 mile paved road with a slight downhill gradient takes the route from El Rito to
Abiquiu. The route has now dropped off the high 10,000 ft plus plateau and the terrain
changes from Alpine to scrub and rock. It’s a dramatic change. As we head into the
small town of Abiquiu I’m keen to keep the momentum in the group up and get a fast



                                        Page 52 of 72
turn around to head out. It’s only 5pm and there’s plenty of time for more miles after a
meal at the restaurant. As soon as we sit down for food in the upmarket Abiquiu Inn, the
general mood is one to get a room there, some quality rest and get up early tomorrow.
John and Joe are tired after catching back up to us with big days. I put up a minor
protest, but concede easily even although Alan and Leighton are planning to head on
and get some climbing done tonight in the cool. We’re in New Mexico now and the heat
can be draining on the steep 25-mile climb out of Abiquiu up to altitude again. After only
riding with us a day after all that catching up Leighton is getting out in front already.

The restaurant has an excellent menu and we all eat together and I enjoy the company.
After eating I head to the store a mile up the road to get supplies while Leighton and
Alan continue on. I make a plan with Alan to meet them the next day in Cuba, an 80-mile
ride from Abiquiu. I get a room with Joe and we’re given a good rate. They lady who runs
the Inn has a cycle touring son and is very good to the Divide racers. I stayed here two
years ago and would love to come back again sometime when I’m not in a hurry and
spend a couple of days relaxing and walking in the surrounding hills. It’s the most
luxurious hotel on route, and as a bonus we’re given an upgraded room since that was
all that was left.

John and Blaine get the room next door to Joe and I, and the back door of our suite
opens out onto a courtyard with a central fountain. The temperature is just right to walk
around in shorts barefoot and have some relaxed time tinkering with bike and kit, drying
and airing gear. Joe takes a shower first and washes his cycling gear in the shower. I go
in next to find a ton of dirt in the tub and he’s wrecked the place. I do the exactly the
same to the lovely room. It’s impossible to get all the dirt out of my clothes and I settle
for that light tan colour of water as I wring them out. As I sort out my kit Blaine wanders
out of his room into the courtyard with a beer in his hand. I can see John needs this rest
and relaxation time for a recharge, but I’m sure Blaine is just fine. While we’ve had some
early nights john has been putting in big days to catch up. I go to get another meal at the
restaurant with Erik and we all arrange to make an early 4:30 am start tomorrow.

Day 19 – Abiquiu to Hospath (153.4 miles)
Joe snores loudly all night and I can’t really sleep although I’m really tired. The 4 am
alarm goes off and I’m already awake. Joe sleeps through and I have to go and prod him
and shout in his ear. Joe sure can fall into deep and restful sleep. This is something I
need to learn how to do. We make some breakfast and roll out in the dark to meet the
other guys. Cannon and Erik aren’t there so Blaine goes to find out what they are up to.
They slept through their alarm so we head off without them.

The climb goes well as John, Blaine, Joe and I ride loosely, meeting up occasionally as
we break for snacks. Blaine keeps mentioning the climbing stats, and unintentionally I
snap at him asking him not to focus on those numbers. My mind doesn’t need to know
what’s coming. I just want to take what comes in the present. He quickly rides off ahead.
I take a break at the side of the trail to eat and Cannon and Erik catch up and ride past. I
catch up to them and we ride on and at nice pace. Joe is fast and has upped the general
pace slightly which is now a fraction above my comfort zone. Cannon and Erik have
decided to calm the pace today, and I’m good with that and we ride along together.

As the dirt road winds along and mid morning approaches the sleep monster catches me
and I am fighting to stay awake. It’s easy to relate my daily performance to sleep. If I



                                       Page 53 of 72
only get a few of hour’s fitful sleep I just can’t perform properly the next day. Unless
you’ve been in this position, it’s difficult to describe just how comfortable things around
you starts to look. Being horizontal and shutting my eyes right now would be the best
feeling in the world. However not everything looks comfortable, many things start to
morph into weird creatures and move around. Objects in my peripheral vision, like sandy
coloured rocks on the trailside, start hopping about like rabbits. Old logs and dark
shadows turn into strange animals built from bits of real animals. Only when I focus on
them directly do they stay still and I can make out what they really are. I can’t give in to
the sleep and get shaken off by the group.

I fight on against my own body trying to keep Cannon and Erik within sight. As we ride
through the forest we start to see cars parked up along the side of the road. Soon there
are more and more of them, and it continues for mile after mile. We remember someone
mentioning the Rainbow Gathering is being held up here somewhere. The Rainbow
Gathering is an annual get-together of hippies in the woods for a week or two. After
miles and miles of cars we start meeting the odd person, and then groups of people
camped up at the side of the trail. The odd car has been parked off the side of the road
irretrievable down the hill. People shout the odd thing at us as we cruise through,
passing bigger and bigger camps and piles of trash. After some dozen or so miles the
people and cars begin to diminish again.

As we turn off the dirt road onto a paved main road leading to Cuba it begins to rain
heavily. I put on all my waterproofs and the three of us descend the 10 miles of road
leading to Cuba. Terminal velocity is about the same for each of us and we speed whiz
along on the wet road at a hair under 50 mph. Rear tyres whip up big tails of water from
the back of each bike. No matter what position I try I can’t top 50. Erik and Cannon have
super sore lower lips from the sun, and the rain hitting is striking them with enough force
to nearly make them cry. Cannon says it felt like the rain was passing straight through.
By the time we reach Cuba the rain has stopped and we find the rest of the guys
including Alan eating at a Mexican in town. Leighton isn’t hanging about and has gone to
McDonalds for a fast turnaround. On the terrace outside the restaurant where we’re
eating we all hang out our clothes and shoes to dry.

Lunch is fairly relaxed in the warmth and we all leave together to head for the store for
supplies. There’s a store on the main street and I lock my bike up outside and go in. I do
my shopping and as I come out Erik tells me he’s had to wait outside by my bike as
some guy was about to steal it. I’d cost him time and he was a little miffed at me – I
should have taken my bike inside the store. It was a thoughtless action from me with so
many random people in town for the Rainbow Gathering. To me it seems the freeloader
has captured these hippy gatherings rather than peaceful and honest people. Mostly it’s
unnecessary to lock a bike on the route, but there is the odd busy town and occasion
where it’s not safe to leave a bike, even with a tiny lock on it. I watch Erik’s bike while he
is inside.

Out of the store it turns into a free for all as riders drift off one by one and ride out. I lose
track of everyone and just hurry up to join the strung out line. It’s nice and warm and 120
miles of flat and paved road lie between Cuba and the next town of Milan and Grants. As
long as a headwind doesn’t pick up it’s easy Divide miles. I settle into a pace and watch
the guys separate out as slight differences in pace begin to increase distances. There’s
no sign of Blaine who must have either got out in front of us, or we left him behind. The
six of us ride at a good pace trying to push out as many easy miles as possible before it


                                         Page 54 of 72
gets dark. After 25 miles I stop at the first reservation store for a quick sugar hit drink
before riding on.

Further down the road John, Erik, Joe, Cannon, and I are fairly grouped up when we see
some dogs come running across the scrub from some buildings a short distance off the
road. They’re running towards us like they’re possessed at an angle to intercept us.
Panicked we all swarm into a pack in the middle of the road trying to put somebody else
between the dogs and ourselves. The dogs look well practised and are going to time this
just right to head us off. All hell breaks loose as they reach the road and in the chaos
feet are unclipped and legs extended ready to defend, and the swarm of riders constricts
further. I fend off some gnashing teeth and escape unhurt, and one by one we all get
through unharmed. I can’t stop laughing as my legs gain and extra couple of miles an
hour.

As the evening cools and sun begins to set we each arrive at another reservation store
and regroup, apart from Leighton and Blaine. We sit in the dirt outside to rest and eat a
while enjoying each others company, chatting and making jokes. I consider that this is
one incredible mountain biking club we have going here. What better way to spend your
days than get up and go mountain biking all day with a bunch of similar matched guys.
Life is simple, difficult at times, but for the most part enjoyable. I compare our riding to
that of a road race peloton, and although the pace is different and we separate out to
avoid any slipstreaming, the same dynamics are true. As long you can keep up the pace
all is good, but there is no support or waiting for a slower rider. If you’ve tired or hurt,
make a slow stop, or have a mechanical, you’re off the back. You’ve got to be slick and
efficient and an experienced rider to stay with this pace. Since Joe arrived and we
picked up the pace a fraction, Alan has also found another gear. They are able to
maintain a great pace for hours on end and never seem to need to stop. It’s a realisation
to me of how to tackle the route quickly. Be fast all day with little breaks saving them up
for longer rest when you stop for the night.

The sun sets and in the dark we’re all cranking it out down the road in sight of each
others’ lights. I’ve reached my limit for the day and chat with Alan, trying to get him to
take charge and call a halt to this days’ riding. He blows his bear whistle, which he still
carries around his neck on a piece of string. Joe is out in front and pushing the pace and
Alan’s whistle blow is completely ignored. I mumble a few more complaints and then
reluctantly chase Joe for another twenty minutes. Finally he pulls over on a little side
road and has found us the perfect camp spot. There is no sign of Leighton or Blaine but I
assume they are both out in front a few miles. I find a nice soft sandy spot and set up my
tent inner to keep the animals and insects away. It’s too hot for my sleeping bag, but too
cold without it, and I have a restless sleep waking up either too cold or too hot. I packed
a warm bag for safety if the weather turns really bad on high passes or I become injured.
Also after years of suffering cold nights when I served my apprenticeship I considered
that spending cold nights unable to sleep properly would slow me down more the next
day than the additional weight of the bag. However little did I realise that works both
ways; this year it has been mostly warm, and without a zip on the bag I’m too hot and
can’t sleep properly. If I were really too cold to sleep I’d just have to get with riding,
although the safety element would be lost.

Day 20 – Hospath to Pie Town (137.1 miles)



                                       Page 55 of 72
I’m up and packed early. In the dark I listen to the guys stashing gear and sit down to eat
all I can before the day begins. We set out together and ride the flat road toward Milan
and Grants. At a road junction twenty miles out from the towns there is a bar. It doesn’t
open until 11am a few hours from now, but has a porch out front where we can rest to
eat in the shade. When we reach the outskirts of Milan, Alan, Cannon, Erik, Joe and I
head for the first restaurant we see. John Fettis was a little behind, and doesn’t see us
as he passes. We shout to him and he eventually turns to see us, but without a word
keeps on riding. Is John making a break, is this a tactical move, to eat quicker on his
own at a different restaurant? I suspect the roadie in John is chasing Leighton and
Blaine for fifth. He can make a border sprint the last 450 miles. The five of us remaining
eat together then head to a large store in Grants, putting a couple of extra miles in the
legs around town.




                          Group break – Alan, Joe, Erik, Cannon

I’m hoping to buy a small backpack for the extra food required on the long haul to the
next guaranteed resupply in Silver City 240 miles away. However I can’t find one. Pie
town is only 70 miles from Cuba, but I called the two restaurants there and they won’t be
open when I go through. I intend to collect enough water in Pie Town this evening to see
my though to Silver City. I don’t want to rely on any water sources after there. From Pie
town we can ride on through into the Gila to camp up for the night. I’m not able to stock
up on as much food as I would have liked without a bigger backpack, but hope I have
enough this time. Two years ago I ran out of food and water for the last fifty miles on this
section and had to dig incredibly deep to get through. A mistake a never want to make
again.

On the flat road out of town the slight differences in rider speeds mean we begin to
separate out. In the early afternoon I take a rest with Alan, Joe, Cannon and Erik at El
Mapais Ranger Station. The staff at the station report a rider passed though a couple of


                                       Page 56 of 72
hours earlier. We’re not sure who it is, Blaine, Leighton or John. It’s pretty warm and as
we sit outside the ranger station nobody seems in a great hurry to get going. Without the
impetus of anyone making a move I take a quick recovery nap in the shade. I can always
sleep so well in the warmth of the day, but never so well when I lie down at night. Alan
makes a move first prompting the rest of us to get going. On the road I watch Joe
disappear into the distance chasing Alan.

Later, further down the road to Pie Town, I stop to eat and Cannon and Erik go past. I
push on and eventually catch back up to Cannon and Erik, and tail them for some time.
Soon Erik starts to slow and we all stop when he doesn’t look well and sits down at the
side of the road. He vomits and is suffering stomach cramps. Before he gets worse Erik
needs to get to Pie Town which is another few hours away. That won’t be easy for him,
but he sucks it up and clips in. The 70 miles of road from Grants to Pie Town are a long
haul. There’s 40 miles of rolling straight dirt road that is a soul destroyer. Every crest
reached, only reveals another one even bigger in the distance, and it continues like this
for hour after hour.

I’m not expecting any pie or other food in Pie Town and reach there with Cannon and
Erik around 7pm. I’m ready to get some water and get moving through quickly making
last use of the daylight. We stop at the Toaster House expecting to find the other guys
here, but there is only a note on the board outside saying Blaine Nester passed this way
a few hours ago. The Toaster House is so named since around the gateposts shiny
stainless steel toasters are hung. This may seem a little odd, but compared to most
houses around here that decorate with the skulls of dead animals, I’m okay with it. Nita
Larronde is the trail angel who owns the house, and although she no longer lives there,
leaves the house open for travellers on the Divide. There is an honesty box for donations
and the house is stocked with staple foods and the comforts of a lived in home.

Erik is now desperately unwell and won’t be going anywhere. A woman opposite the
Toaster House is tending her front garden sees us arrive and we tell her one of our party
is unwell. She offers us some food to cook and Cannon starts whipping something
together for Erik. As I’m wondering what to do, Leighton comes past and tells us Joe and
Alan are at the pie shop in town. Leighton called in at the restaurant on the off chance he
may get something, and Cathy, the owner was there prepping food. She opened up and
made a little meal for him, and then Alan and Joe arrived and got in on the pie action. I
say goodbye to Leighton and head over to find Alan and Joe getting a feed and making
themselves at home. Cathy is very welcoming and knows about the race and offers us
all her support. I get a salad and take a slice of pie and a sprite back to Erik, who’s now
crashed out in bed being sick. He can still eat though. I’ve never met anyone who can
put away as much food at a sitting as Erik.

Alan and Joe also find their way back to the toaster house. It’s now around 8pm and the
light is fading. John then arrives, surprising us all. We thought he’d made a break and
was off chasing Blaine. The reality was he messed up his quick stop taking too long in
the restaurant and in the store. Obviously he hadn’t learned his lesson back in
Steamboat when he asked to come back. That’s two failed attempts to leave for John
now. The roadie can’t cope without us.

We all talk about how hard that section of road is and consider the options of staying or
going. On one hand I feel like I should have left with Leighton, but am also happy about
stopping at the Toaster House, since a Divide ride wouldn’t be complete without one and


                                      Page 57 of 72
I missed it two years ago. We make ourselves at home, get a shower, and I set up my
sleeping bag to sleep outside on the decking with Alan. It’s cool enough to use my bag
tonight.

Day 21 – Pie Town to Rocky Canyon Camp (133.5 miles)
In the morning Alan and I are awake early in the dark and start packing up. Alan says he
heard Eric Bruntjen turn up in the night and ride up the House, but turned back around
and went to the campsite. Eric B has been catching us the last few days. Since he
arrived in Pie Town so late he’ll probably set out later than us today, just allowing us a
small lead for another day. He’s putting the pressure on though. The other Erik, our Erik
Lobeck, is no better today and won’t be continuing. I’ve used my antibiotics already and
ask Alan to give him the ones I gave him before the race. I worry about the rules if Erik
were to carry on after using another racer’s drugs to get better. Would it be legal if he
finished? Would people care? Fortunately this quandary doesn’t come up as Erik is
allergic to some antibiotics and wants to see a doctor before he takes anything. I wish
Erik the best and I’m gutted for him and hope he can pull it together to get out tomorrow.
Although making a 200-mile unsupported ride though the Gila after severe food
poisoning is a big undertaking, maybe even dangerous.




                     Alan and I heading out in the Gila early morning

Alan, Cannon, Joe, John and I head off for the day, knowing Blaine and Leighton will be
pushing hard and catching them would require a dedication this holiday camp
atmosphere probably doesn’t have. From Pie Town there isn’t anything until Beaverhead
Work station 100 miles away where there is water and Coke machine. The next possible
store and restaurant is in Mimbres 150 miles away although opening hours are limited.
The route through the Gila Wilderness cruises along at 8,000 ft and is fairly flat without
any big passes. However this isn’t always good news when the route profile shows no
big passes, since it’s probably the more energy zapping rollers.




                                      Page 58 of 72
When the day really begins to heat up I pass Alan as he shelters in the shade of a tree
dinking from his water bladder. He doesn’t like the heat and is beginning to get
uncomfortable. Alan always wears lots of clothes, so I ask if he has anything on under
his jersey – “yes, I’ve a nice cooling merino top.” he says. I’m shocked he thinks it’s
cooling. I tell him to take it off if he’s hot, but he believes it makes him cooler and I
agitate him a bit as I try and convince him he should at least try it without the merino top.
He doesn’t take it off and continues to struggle a bit in the heat.

Joe is pushing a big pace today, and although we regroup at the odd stop. He soon
pushes off into the distance. One by one we reach Bearverhead and lethargy spreads as
we all take a break during the afternoon heat. A guy pulls up in his VW bug and jumps
out all excited and comes to great us. Kevin Coyle is out from Tucson stalking Divide
racers and in his hand carries a spreadsheet from the Tour Divide website with
estimated rider finish times. He is absolutely stoked to have found such a big group of
racers. He knows exactly what’s going on in the race, and on his spreadsheet I’m
excited to see my name at the top of the list, expected home in 5th position.
Unfortunately that’s as close as I’ll get to it with Blaine and Leighton out in front. They
won’t have laid down at Beaverhead for a couple of hours. Positions 1-4 are already
filled with Matt Lee, Kurt Refsnider, Chris Plesko, and Jay and Tracy Petervary on the
tandem. We’re still 200 miles out.

Kevin keeps repeating how he can’t believe how fast we are and that’s he’s had trouble
finding us we keep making so much ground. It’s nice to have a race fan, but all I want to
do is be in my own racer-world and lie in the dirt in silence. However I also don’t want to
come across as too cool to speak to him, or for him to feel unwelcome, so I chat with him
a little as Joe snores in the background. He offers me a banana and I accept it gratefully
again not wanting to appear rude with refusing food. Just accepting it gets him enthused.

As we all get comfortable on the soft grass drinking Coke from the machine, Alan takes
his shoes and socks off. The dirty hobbit feet he reveals disgust me. Now, were not
exactly a bunch of clean guys - dirtbags is how I like to describe us - but we do have
some standards about personal hygiene and haven’t gone feral just yet. Alan admits to
not having washed yet in New Mexico, turning down a shower at the toaster house. He
missed out there as I thought it the best shower on the whole route. After much ridicule
he dusts them off and beats his socks out a little, but I think he was secretly proud of the
level he’d sunk to. I make a call-in and during my explanation of how I only have 200
miles left I realise just how much I’m ready to finish this race now. Since my foot started
hurting in El Rito, the pain has spread up the front of my lower leg and is getting
increasingly worse each day. I can turn pedals with less pain than walking, and mostly I
don’t realise there’s something wrong down there, but it adds to my wanting to end this.

With Alan’s experience on the route, and him being a strong rider, his thoughts about
tactics have quite an influence on any group discussions. He is proposing a strategy to
the border to avoid the middle of the day heat of New Mexico, which he says he can’t
ride through. His idea is that he can make Silver City in the cool morning, and then if it’s
too hot to ride he can see out the highest temperatures in Silver City and continue riding
in the evening down to Hatchita just 50 miles from the border. After a few hours sleep
there the remainder of the route can be ridden in the dark to arrive at sunrise. This is the
same routine he finished up with last year, riding in with Leighton, Adrian Stingaciu and
Dominik Schere. I have to catch a flight and see no point in dragging out the race any
longer than I have to. My plan is simple; continue on expecting the best until the situation


                                       Page 59 of 72
is immediately in front of you. Assume you can ride and only when it really does become
too much for you think about other options.

As we all ride on I try and get Cannon and John on my side with a plan to go for the
border as fast as possible. We’ll plan for cold weather tomorrow and only if we really
can’t ride, then we’ll adapt or think about a different approach. Never plan to stop in
anticipation of the weather a day away. It could be rain tomorrow, or anything could
happen. In fact in this race it would be a surprise if it didn’t rain tomorrow. It’s rained
pretty much every day so far. I think they are coming around to my way of thinking so I
don’t push it too far. As we ride on we pass the superfan Kevin Coyle at the side of the
trail ringing a cowbell and giving us encouragement. He’s even made a sign saying ‘GO
TD RACERS’ and propped it up against his car.

With only 40 miles of rough dirt roads left in the race one of my fork mounted waterbottle
cage breaks during a rocky descent. I’d known it probably wasn’t up to the task, but
crossed my fingers, as I had no time to make a better solution. They are steel so I can
bend the broken one back into shape and get it fixed back on. This takes ten minutes so
I’m off the back and have to make an effort to catch back up as the route starts to enter
a far more hilly section. I catch the guys as we near a campground Alan has firmly set
his mind on staying at tonight.




                                  Superfan Kevin Coyle

Near the campsite Joe is leaned up against a tree eating his Fritos. He’s been waiting
here 10 minutes and is ready to press on. I ride past the campsite entrance up to Joe
and we talk about aiming for Mimbres, 30 miles away, tonight, or at least getting over the
next pass to lessen the climbing tomorrow. I want to get out of the Gila as I’ve barely
enough food for breakfast tomorrow, let alone the run into Mimbres. I go back to talk to
Alan who’s already making the turn into the campsite with John and Cannon. Alan’s says
he’s staying here. Cannon and John appears tired too and don’t look interested in



                                      Page 60 of 72
continuing tonight. I try to talk Alan into aiming to ride through the day tomorrow, but he
insists times and positions are not important to him and wants to go for the dawn finish. I
then go for trying to persuade him that if he took his wool top off he might be cooler, but
he snaps at me that he’s just fine.

I can’t face dragging this out and sleeping in a ditch at the side of the road another night
when I could be in a hotel and get a lie in. I say I’ll wait in Silver City for him and Joe and
I head on together. We make the climb over the next pass before the daylight fades. We
then put our lights on and push on through the woods at a good pace. Getting to
Mimbres is a big ask, and I’m not sure either of us are really up for it now it’s dark. It has
been a long day and I need some sleep. Joe then gets a flat tyre and we stand about
while he tries to get the sealant to fix it. It doesn’t want to seal and he keeps pumping it
up and riding a little. In the distance a storm is approaching and we can see lightening
and hear the thunder. The puncture and weather build negative thoughts on the
darkness and tiredness and we decide to stop at the next campsite having only made
ten miles from Alan. We did get in another pass though making the trip out easier
tomorrow.

We make a good fire as we eat our junk food. Joe and I still have some Frtios left, but
I’m struggling to eat them now. I’ll never buy them again. We hang our bags in the
portaloo at the campsite as a token effort to avoid bears. Hopefully we’ve made enough
noise and the fire will keep them away. Occasionally I get these moments when I step
out of myself and become an observer to what I’m doing, and this is one of those
moments. I’m taken by surprise at the bizarre situation life has taken me to. How did I
get here? What decisions took my life on this path to this point, since it was never my
intention to be here now, to be doing this. Here I am, in the Gila National Forest over in
New Mexico, USA. I’m a Divide Racer, making a fire at a campsite with Trans Iowa
winner Joe Meiser. We've cranked out an average of 125 miles a day for three weeks,
and tomorrow, with luck on our side, we’ll finish up the 2009 Tour Divide in less than 22
days. Moments like this in my life are few and far between.

We're camped in a valley surrounded by tall trees and any sky I can see is filled with
dark clouds and lightening. It’s spitting rain a little, and the weather may batter us later
tonight. I’m okay in my tent, but Joe is worried about the weather in his light bivy bag that
has a few holes from pitching up on a broken bottle one night. I set up my tent and
prepare for the worst weather, but also for the possibility that if the weather does get
really bad Joe will have to ride, and I’ll have to get up and ride with him. As I try and
sleep Joe starts snoring so loudly I have to get up and move 100 yards away and re
pitch. There is nothing that grates on my mind more than snoring when I’m tired. Why do
snorers always fall asleep first?

Day 22 – Rocky Canyon Camp to Antelope Wells (169.6 miles)
My alarm goes off at 4am and I go through the routine of pulling on my filthy shorts for
the last time and get up straight away. I go over and have to wake Joe up. While we
pack in the dark we shove down handfuls of Fritos, nuts, granola bars and whatever else
is left in the bottom of our food bags. We’re on the road in the dark and have one last
500-foot climb to wake us up before a steady downhill to Mimbres twenty-five miles
away. Today my leg has really begun to become difficult to walk or pedal on, or maybe
I’m just noticing it more since I’m close to the end. Under normal circumstances you
wouldn’t ride on it, but putting in a 170 miler today doesn’t bother me.



                                        Page 61 of 72
We arrive in Mimbres and as I’d expected, the store isn’t open for another forty-five
minutes until 7 am. I eat my last couple of granola bars and nuts as we stand around by
the side of road not really wanting to admit that we’re out of food options until Silver City,
another 25 miles away. Eventually with some asserted effort we get back on the bikes
and start climbing over a little 1000 ft hill on a wet dirt road. The dirt is slightly sticky and
Blaine and Leighton’s tracks are clear in it. My expert tyre tracking skills can tell when
they came though and I know Blaine made it to Silver City late last night, and Leighton
camped up somewhere out here in the heavy rain. For both of them it would have been
hard going but they are both determined. By now the earth is beginning to dry out and
although it gives a high resistance I feel as though I’m getting away with it.

The climb tops out and turns to paved road. I run out of gas and Joe begins to edge
away on the climbs. The road constantly undulates to Silver City, and every time I get to
the top of a climb I see Joe even further away on the next one. On the outskirts of town
Joe waits at some traffic lights and we ride toward the quieter centre of town past all the
restaurants and stores. This is an odd thing to do since I’m on empty, but a stop in the
centre of town is easier. As we’re minding our own business a truck drives past with the
driver waving and sounding his horn and I wave back. Occasionally on the route in built
up areas drivers pass who know what you are up to and offer their support with a toot of
the horn and a wave. I enjoy these little moments that remind you of the bigger picture
you are involved in, that they’re watching some crazy guys racing through America.
From my perspective I live in a world of anonymity only thinking about the ride to the
next place I can get food or a bed.

I spent a week in Silver after the ‘07 GDR when I couldn’t change my flight to get home
so know my way around. I show Joe the bike shop and a few doors down we get
breakfast sitting outside at restaurant, where I decide some steak and eggs are what I
need for the border run. We then head back to the bike shop and Joe gets his stead and
puncture checked out. The guys great Joe by name, but call me John. They’ve been
following the SPOTs, but I forgot to switch mine off last night, and thought it was still on
this morning, but after 24 hours running it switches off automatically. I correct them that
I’m Steve and the guy recognises me from two years earlier when I’d been hanging out
at the bike shop a little. I have a look on the Leaderboard for Alan, john and Cannon and
see Eric Bruntjen SPOT marker out a little way in front of them. The guys look like they
are stopped and getting breakfast in Mimbres, so are two hours behind us. Leighton and
Blaine are 60 miles south in Separ and riding together. No chance they can be caught
and I’m excited about them nearing their finish. They put in a fantastic break.

I can’t waste a couple of hours in Silver waiting for the guys while the weather is cool for
a run to the border across 125 miles of potentially very hot scrubland. I’m also not having
Eric come past me now. He’s racing for places and has been pushing hard these last
days to hunt us down. Joe and I go over to the store and rush about gathering supplies
for the border run. I stock up on enough food to camp out the night at the finish if I can’t
find a lift out. I didn’t want to waste time trying to organise a pick-up from the border
during the race, and it would have been optimistic to anticipate a finish anyway. If
needed I will turn around and ride back out since I’ve a flight I have to catch. As I’m
leaving the store a guy wishes me luck and says he’s been following the race. This
never fails to take me by surprise when somebody knows why I’m so filthy and in a
hurry. Sadly it’ll be last time I’m famous until I come back to the Divide again, which I’m
already thinking about in the back of my mind.


                                         Page 62 of 72
We gun it out of town on the paved road and start with plenty of little rollers and a little
Divide crossing before the dirt. Joe’s a fast rider and the next 40 miles of dirt are quick. I
usually ride with a fraction in reserve, but now I don’t need to worry about destroying
myself so keep up with him. We talk about Blaine and Leighton and their different styles,
how tough Leighton is and that he’ll bivy up anywhere in any weather. He’s not a fast
rider, but just rides, rides and rides, every hour of daylight and beyond. When Leighton
asked his Fire Chief for time off work for the Tour Divide he told Leighton to remember,
‘Pain is temporary, but quitting last forever’. Blaine is the ever slick one always seeming
to have plenty in reserve; this morning he’d have probably had a shave at the motel,
cleaned his clothes and left well rested and seemingly calm as ever.

In Separ, 75-miles from the border there is a souvenir store next to the highway where
we can grab a quick drink and an ice cream. Joe calls Anni to tell her when we’ll be done
and when to be at the border for his pick-up. I call Jill quickly as the border post will be
closed when we get there so there will be no phone. I’m ready to leave a message when
she answers the phone and is happy to hear from me. We have a hurried conversation
as I’m in race mode worrying about Eric catching up to us. She wishes me well and I get
going. The road is flat from here with only ten more miles of dirt left before pavement all
the way to Antelope Wells.

Joe and I continue riding side-by-side much of the time and talking. As we near Hatchita
I see a white car pull up a few hundred yards up the road and a guy gets out. I can’t
make out the person, but know it must be Blaine. He waits by the side of the car and as I
get closer I can make him out. I’m happy to see him to say goodbye and congratulate
him on a great race and getting out in front. I ask how it went the last few days, and he
says he made it to Silver late in the night and met Leighton on the road in the morning
and they rode in to the border together.

In Hatchita Joe and I are having a quick Coca Cola stop at a gas station and Joe spots
Leighton’s truck turn in. He recognises it from Steamboat, Leighton’s hometown.
Leighton gets out of the van all dressed up in his clean civilian clothes. I can’t wait to
wear clothes and shoes again. I offer my congratulations and we chat a while. He asks
after Alan and I tell him we parted ways in the Gila on slightly different courses. Right
now I don’t know it, but Alan left Silver City and is hot on our heels.

Somewhere out on the final stretch of road that feels a mere formality, Joe asks the
question if we’re going to race for the border. This hadn’t crossed my mind. I’d stand no
chance against Joe, and say I’m happy to ride together for a while then back off to
separate our finish times, or finish together. Joe replies he’s glad not to race and is
happy to finish together. I feel honoured to ride in with a cyclist like Joe. It’s some race
where sharing a finish becomes more important than race positions.

We make the estimate that we’re only two hours out from the border now holding a good
speed of 18 mph. However as a storm brews in the distance and drifts across our path,
the downdraft it produces reduces our speed. Half an hour later we again make the
prediction that we’re two hours from the border and pedal harder. However as we near
the storm and the border, the wind picks up even more and our speed is reduced again
down to 12 mph. Instead of two hours it’s going to be closer to three and a hard effort
too. I’d questioned whether these 70 miles of flat paved road to the border really counted
since it was so easy, but today the elements are making it count double.


                                        Page 63 of 72
Twenty-five miles out from the border we sit in the middle of the road and take a ten-
minute break to eat. After a few minutes I see some car headlights in the distance on the
open flat terrain. Joe suspects this might be Anni on her way to the border. She’s on a
road trip with her mother all the way down from Minneapolis to collect Joe. Just our luck
they see us taking a break instead of cranking out the miles like a couple of heroes. We
jump up and get on the bikes as Anni comes past and gives us an encouraging yell and
carries on at 60 mph to the border. I like that she didn’t stop. In the car Anni is half an
hour from the border, but with a tough head wind that’s picking up on the edge of the
storm, we’re still two hours away.

I hear a vehicle in the distance behind us and recognise the sound of a VW Beetle.
Kevin Coyle is coming. He pulls up alongside me all excited saying, “wow, you boys are
fast! I can’t believe it!” He’s now driving along on the wrong side of the road with no
hands on the wheel taking pictures of me and not paying enough attention to the road.
Although you would see a vehicle coming from miles off out here I think he should have
his hands on the wheel. We laugh that he’ll be at the border for half-an-hour with Anni
before we arrive, asking her a thousand questions I’m sure.

One hundred yards from the border Joe and I ride right past the small gathering crowd of
racers family members here to pick them up. Without a word to them we pass right
though and are given a little applause and some shouts of encouragement. The job has
to be finished before we can stop, so I put them to the back of my mind. We duck under
a road barrier to ride the last 100 yards to the official border. Our tyres hit the barrier
simultaneously and finally stop. I shake Joe’s hand and we exchange congratulations,
then document the moment with some photographs and spend a couple of minutes in
our own space.




         Me at the finish – the official US Mexican border plate behind the barrier




                                       Page 64 of 72
The finish isn’t quite anticlimactic, but it is no moment of huge celebration or emotion for
me – the precious moments sitting in the sun on the trail with the guys, or several of us
sharing a meal are the best times of the race for me. It’s there I get a feeling that I’ve
earned the break and can suspend the race for a few minutes to be at peace with the
world. Right now all I feel is relief that I don’t have to ride my bike tomorrow. My body
was beginning to deteriorate and didn’t have many days left in it. For me, I’d pushed too
hard for my fitness and tiredness coming into the race.

When Joe and I are ready, we ride back to the little group of waiting family members.
Kevin has set up a shelter with a tarp pulled against his car and everyone is grouped
around. Spots of rain are in the air but the storm has drifted away and the wind died
down. Both Cannon’s parents are there, along with Eric Bruntjen’s mum, and Anni and
her mother. Everyone is super accommodating and offers us chairs to sit on, but we
need decompression time, a moment to make the transition from our world to theirs. We
both refuse the chairs and sit in the dirt next to them in the slight drizzle outside the tarp.
Anni gives us a cold McDonalds and Eric’s mom offers us a fruit salad. We eat both
quickly. We celebrate being dirt-bag cyclists for the final time, and I feel honoured Joe
shared his finish with me. A few minutes pass, and when it feels right, we move under
the tarp and take a seat with the others. Our time on the Divide finally over.

Joe and I now become race spectators waiting for the chasing riders. An hour and a half
pass until Eric Bruntjen’s headlight is first to appear. We all watch it from about a mile
out get brighter as he nears the finish. When Eric gets to the first barrier I’m there waiting
excitedly with Joe to show him down to the official Mexican border post. Joe and I run
alongside him until his tyres hit the barrier. The first words I hear from Eric are, “I’m
never eating food from a packet again”. This is so true that the Divide leaves you craving
real food high in nutrition. He’s ridden an amazing race, out there on his own chasing
down the pack and putting in big days near the end. Despite finishing so close to each
other, this is the first time I’ve met Eric, so we exchange greetings and congratulations at
the same time.

Joe offers me a lift back to Demming where he and Anni are booked into a hotel. I’m
keen to get out of here and back to hotel room where I can switch off. Anni is also tired
and wanting to leave. Joe and I load up the bikes and I’m in the car when we see Alan,
John, and Cannon’s lights appear in the distance. We wait until they arrive and all go to
the border for a group photo. The original eight-man peloton has changed Erik Lobeck
for Eric Bruntjen, and I lost my friend Josh Ficke, but gained and new one, Joe Meiser.
Quickly I congratulate Alan and John and I’m in the car heading up the highway to
Demming for a hotel. Alan and John get a lift out with Eric to a different hotel in
Demming.

Kevin was a great guy to come out and provide a focus for people waiting at the finish,
and he even brought food and a BBQ. It’s a pretty flattering thing when someone is
excited to meet you, even if it was at the same time kinda creepy that he could be
classed as some kind of stalker. As I’m driven back to Demming, Joe and I sit in the
back of the car drifting in and out of consciousness. I think to myself that this has been
one very cool day, and I know some exceptional people.




                                        Page 65 of 72
Results

Rank    Name                                                          Time
 1.     Matthew Lee                                                  17:23:45
 2.     Kurt Refsnider                                               18:11:13
 3.     Tracey & Jay Petervary (Tandem Course Record)                18:13:50
 4.     Chris Plesko (New SS Course Record)                          19:00:21
 5.     Leighton White                                               21:05:15
        Blaine Nester                                                21:05:15
 7.     Steve Wilkinson                                              21:10:34
        Joe Meiser                                                   21:10:34
  9.    Eric Bruntjen                                                21:12:00
 10.    Alan Goldsmith                                               21:12:59
        John Fettis                                                  21:12:59
        Cannon Shockley                                              21:12:59
 13.    Jill Homer (New Female Course Record)                        24:07:24
 14.    Trevor Browne                                                27:05:42
        Paul Howard                                                  27:05:42
 16.    Michael Komp                                                 31:22:35

Reflections
When I began preparing to ride the Divide again, I wanted to get a border-to-border time
close to John Stamstad’s pioneering independent time trial of 18 day and 5 hours.
However, as the date neared for TD and I couldn’t get my preparations or fitness to
where I wanted, I established a lesser goal of bettering Ardie Olsen’s 2008 time of 21
days 13 hours for the full route. I purposefully booked my flight 36 hours after this time
limit, allowing just enough time to get out from Antelope Wells and to the airport.

Standing at the finish I was happy to have come in just a few hours ahead of Ardie’s
time, and seventh in the race, with a time of 21 days 10 hours and 34 minutes. My
border-to-border time was over a day off John Stamstad’s 18-day ride with a time of 19
days 14 hours. Overall it wasn’t a very pretty ride, but to share the journey with the other
guys made it all worthwhile. Watching such different people tackle the Divide in such
different ways was the highlight for me. An African proverb states, “If you want to go fast,
go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

At times it was tough out there for me. I went into the race far too tired, stressed and
emotional, and I never really managed to put any of that completely behind me, just
push it far enough below the surface to present a normal outlook and get on with the
task at hand. The sleep deprivation meant many mid-morning miles were slow while
spent suffering mild hallucinations and fighting with my eyelids. I never gave in to it
though, or the sickness and negative emotions that surfaced in Rawlins. In the end I did
manage to ride doggedly and get through surprising myself at what I’m really capable of.
Certainly now I feel like I have learned the skills of the trade and have the knowledge of


                                       Page 66 of 72
my body to train for and race the Divide confidently. The need to go back and correct
mistakes is still there. The desire to be back out on the Route, meeting good people,
travelling through so much beautiful country, and sharing adventures, is still there.

While the Tour Divide comes under the title of self-supported, it says nothing for the
people who run businesses along the route, who become the Divide racer’s support
crew for a couple of weeks of their year. Often the waiters and chefs, bike shop
mechanics, lodge and motel owners, and sometimes the general public, will go out of
their way to see a racer fixed up, fed, rested, and refreshed, helping out well beyond the
call of a financial transaction. That kindness does so much toward creating a positive
mindset to support you mentally too. I thank you all.

Appendix

Letter of Intent
Tour Divide racers are encouraged to declare their intent to ride, making light of the
formality of describing who you are and which autonomous region you hail from.

Dear TD Management,

It is with respect that I, Steve 'Wilko' Wilkinson, hailing from Newcastle in the UK, hereby
declare my intent to line-up in Banff on June 12th for the Tour Divide 2009. A veteran of
one Banff to Antelope Wells ride, the desire to be back out on the Route, submersed in
the life of a Divide Racer, has not left me.

I will leave all trace of self-pity and pride back home in England. I will bring with me a
Gentleman's Agreement and honor, which I shall carry every inch of the way to Mexico. I
will learn to suffer on a higher level, but show only British resolve. And with humility I will
accept the kindness of strangers to whom I cannot ever repay.

I shall endeavor to pass up on the comfort of clean motel room sheets, and healing
warm showers, and push on past, late into the night for a trailside camp. I shall seek to
find a neutral gear for my mind, and leave contemplation and philosophy for different
times. The dark side will not be let in, nor will I dream all day of wearing soft running
shoes, sitting in a comfortable chair, and holding only a TV remote.

To Mexico, to friendships made, and adventures shared.

Cheers,

Steve




                                        Page 67 of 72
KIT LIST 2009
ITEM                           MODEL                             COST             WEIGHT
CARRYING - BIKE
Water bottles x 3              Zefal 900ml                       £     10.00     316
Bottle cages x 3 (+clamps)     Blackburn Switchback              £     20.00     166
Trip computer 1                VDO MC1.0                         £     79.99      70
Trip computer 2                Cateye Strada wireless            £     44.00      45
Mapboard for route cues        Home-made                             £     -     115     0.71   kg

EATING

Bowl                           Orikaso folding bowl              £        8.00    47
Spoon                          MSR titanium                      £       10.00    15     0.06   kg


CARRYING
Drybag                         Pod XS Ultralite drysac           £   4.50         33
Drybag                         Pod M Ultralite drysac            £   6.30         37
Rucksac                        OMM 10L                           £ 35.00         332
Frame-bag (inc 47g fittings)   Custom                            £ 120.00        318
Seat-bag                       Custom                            £ 85.00         358
Bar-bag                        Custom                            £ 85.00         334
Gas tank                       Custom                            £ 30.00          56     1.47   kg

SLEEPING
Tent                           Big Agnes Seedhouse SL 1          £ 209.00        1343
Sleeping bag                   Marmot Hydrogen                   £ 175.00         674
Sleeping pad                   Thermarest Prolite 3 short        £ 50.00          415   2.432   kg

CLOTHES
Sleeping
Boxer shorts                   Cotton                             £       3.33    60
Long sleeve top                Patagonia capilene 1              £       29.99   154
Cold cycling
Leg warmers                    Specialized                       £       24.99   136
Arm warmers                    Specialized                       £       13.49    63
Thinny gloves                  Extremities                        £       5.00    27
Long sleeve wool top           Icebreaker long sleeve crew 200   £       39.99   208
Freezing cycling
Polartec 100 top               Mountain Hardware                 £       50.00   194
Warm gloves                    Seal Skinz waterproof             £       30.00   154
Hat                            Hunston Windtex Skull Cap          £       9.99    50
Overshoes                      Amberley Waterproof Overshoes     £       22.00   127
Rain
Waterproof jacket              Gore Cross II - Azur small        £ 118.74        205
Waterproof trousers            Lowe Alpine                       £ 70.00         220
Waterproof hood                Gore universal hood II            £ 27.99          63    1.661   kg

ESSENTIALS
SPOT                           -                                     £       -   181
Maps                           Great Divide                      £       47.66   292


                                         Page 68 of 72
Compass                        Silva                              £     6.95     2
Waterproof Document            Ortleib                            £     7.99    18
wallet
Lighter                        K-Two                               £  0.50      17
Bear Spray                     Counter assault dog deterrent      £ 12.00       48
Pack hanging chord             12 meters 3mm chord                £   3.60      58
Camera                         Samsung Digimax L85                £ 225.00     290
Camera battery (spare)         SLB-1237                           £ 10.99       30
CR2032 batteries x 2           Boots                               £  6.99       8
Alarm                          Casio cheap watch (strap            £  9.79      18
                               removed)
MP3 player                     Sunvision 4Gb                      £ 25.00       50
Headtorch                      Eos                                £ 35.00       85
Front bike light               Exposure Enduro Maxx 2             £ 250.00     343
Rear light                     Electron Backups LED mini lights   £ 13.98        9
Whistle                        Whistle                             £  0.99       6
Water purification             Iodine drops                       £   4.40      55
Pen                            Bic                                 £  0.25       6
Lock                           Kryptoite combination lock         £   5.99     110   1.626   kg

WATER
Water carrier                  MSR Dromedary 4 litre                           118   0.118   kg

WALLET
Leather credit card wallet     Fox                                 £       -    17
Credit Cards                   Egg/Virgin/Maestro                  £       -    10
ID                             Driving licence                     £       -     4
Passport                       British                             £       -    28
Money                          Dollars                             £       -    10   0.069   kg

TOOL KIT
Tool kit box                   Business card box                    £    -      40
Leatherman                     Leatherman                         £ 32.52      115
Multitool                      Specialized sport 8 function       £ 11.69      126
Chain tool                     Topeak                             £ 10.99       44
Spoke key                      Park                                £  5.99      16
Tyre lever                     Park tyre lever                     £  2.99       8
Trye patches (x2)              Park tyre boot                      £  2.69       7   0.356   kg

PUNCTURE KIT
Patches
Glue
Chalk                                                             £     2.99    30
Grit-paper
Tyre patch (toothpaste tube)                                                          0.03   kg

TOOLS
Tyre pump (inc. bracket)       Blackburn Mammoth                  £    13.49   178
Suspension pump                Topeak pocket shock                £    15.29    78
Rag                            Half a teatowel                     £    0.19    23
Lube                           Finish Line wet lube 2oz           £     2.69    60
Cleaning brush                 Park                               £     5.99    29



                                         Page 69 of 72
Tubes x 2                   Bontrager X-lite 29er            £        9.68   354
Cyclo-X tyre                WTB Cross Wolf                   £       34.99   354
Cyclo-X tube (+box)         Continental Tour 28 light        £        6.00   123   1.199   kg

SPARES KIT
Pump parts                  Blackburn
Cleat bolts                 Stainless steel Crank Brothers
Chain link                  SRAM
Chainring bolts             Shimano
Chain connecting link       SRAM                             £       50.00   73
Gear cable                  Brand X stainless steel
Brake pads                  Shimano XTR
M5 screws                   4 off stainless steel
Mech hanger spare           Wheels Manufacturing                                   0.073   kg

REPAIR KIT
Zip ties                                                                     12
Duct tape                                                                    20
Velcro straps                                                                 7
                                                             £       10.00
Sewing kit                                                                    5
Thermarest patches & glue                                                    11
Tenacious tape                                                                6    0.061   kg

DRUGS
Painkillers                 Ibuprofen/paracetamol                £       -
Antibiotics                 Amoxicillin                          £       -
Antibiotics                 Metronidazole                        £       -   37
Anti-diarrhoea              Boots own brand                      £       -
Anti-histamine              Boots own brand                      £       -         0.037   kg

FIRST AID KIT
Antiseptic wipes            Boots own brand
Zinc strapping tape         Boots own brand
Micropore tape              Boots own brand                  £        5.00   60
Plasters                    Boots own brand
Bandages                    Boots own brand                                         0.06   kg

TOILETRIES
Sun Screen                  SPF 50                           £        3.29    84
Chapstick                   Boots own brand                  £        1.99     8
Toothbrush                  Boots own brand                  £        2.00    30
Toothpaste                  Colgate                          £        1.19    50
Talc antibacterial          Boots shoe talc                  £        0.50    46
Chamois cream               Assos                            £        9.99   183
Earplugs                    Boots own brand                  £        0.99     4
Scissors                    Victorinox                        £          -     5
Click Insect Bite Relief    Click                            £        5.99     7
Antifungal cream            Terbinafine Hydrochloride        £        2.99    15   0.432   kg

CYCLING CLOTHES
Helmet                      Specialized S-Works              £       39.99   226
Fingerless gloves           Cannondale                       £       11.99    55



                                      Page 70 of 72
Cycling shoes          Specialized Expert                  £ 107.00     795
Sunglasses             Oakley Flak Jacket black iridium    £ 86.66       31
Clear lens glasses     Ryders                              £ 12.00       34
Cycling shorts         Assos F1 UNO half short             £ 97.99      191
Cycling shirt          Gore Contest jersey - small red     £ 34.99      134
Socks                  Defeet wool socks                    £  9.99      53    1.519   kg

                                                           £2,143.73           11.20   kg

BIKE 2009

ITEM                   MODEL                               COST          WEIGHT
CHASSIS
Frame                  Van Nicholas Zion 29er              £ 773.00     1600
Forks                  Rock Shock Reba 29er                £ 349.99     1750    3.35   kg

ACCESSORIES
Seat Cover             Elite                               £    15.00    60
Front mudguard         Crudcatcher                         £     8.00    53
Chain stay protector   Lizard Skins                        £     8.00    30
Bar tape and foam      Roadie bar tape & carpet underlay   £    10.00    50     0.19   kg

BRAKES
Callipers              Shimano XTR 975                     £ 115.18     233
Levers                 Shimano XTR 975                     £ 64.79      205
Hose                   Shimano XT                           £     -      50
Fluid                  Shimano mineral oil                  £     -      20     0.51   kg

FINISHING KIT
Seatpost               Thomson 27.2 x 410                  £    67.99   292
Saddle                 Specialized Alias 155               £    39.99   277
Bars                   Race Face Evolve XC flat            £    22.99   197
Stem                   Race Face Deus II XC 100 mm         £    59.99   163
Grips                  Ergon GR2-L                         £    49.00   232
Pedals                 Shimano XTR 970                     £    57.59   327
Headset                Cane Creek S-3 plus 5               £    41.99   137
Headset spacers        Hope                                 £    7.50    30
Seat post clamp        Van Nicholas                        £    43.00    22     1.68   kg

GROUPSET
Bottom bracket         Shimano XT
                                                           £ 148.00     875
Cranks                 Shimano XT
Shifters               Shimano XT                          £    79.99   251
Front mech             Shimano XT                          £    24.99   132
Rear mech              Shimano XT                          £    32.99   266
Chain                  SRAM                                £    15.00   265
Gear cables            Gore                                 £    2.99    25
Cable outer            Gore Sealed Low Friction            £    35.99    60     1.87   kg

REAR WHEEL
Hub                    DT 240s
                                                           £ 200.00     1050
Rim                    Bontrager Mustang OSB Disc 29er



                                Page 71 of 72
Spokes (32 pcs)    Alpine III
Rim tape           Continental
Tyre               WTB Nano Raptor 2.1               £   30.00   600
Skewer             Salsa                             £   20.19    54
Inner tube         Bontrager X-lite                  £    4.84   200
Rotors & fixings   Shimano XT                        £   14.99   140
Cassette           Shimano XT                        £   34.99   300    2.34   kg

FRONT WHEEL
Hub                DT 240s
Rim                Bontrager Mustang OSB Disc 29er
                                                     £ 200.00    850
Spokes (32 pcs)    Revolution
Rim tape           Continental
Tyre               WTB Nano Raptor 2.1               £   30.00   600
Skewer             Salsa                             £   20.19    49
Inner tube         Bontrager X-lite                  £    4.84   200
Rotors & fixings   Shimano XT                        £   14.99   140    1.84   kg

                                                     £2,648.98         11.79   kg




                           Page 72 of 72

				
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