Tour Divide 2013, Ballin Halls

 

Why does anyone ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race? Why do I ride it? I have said many times, I am a cyclo tourer much more than I am a bike racer. Then why the hell are you racing this damn thing?

 
Hmmmm. Questions I have been mulling over for some time. Reasons for riding the gdmbr mostly fall into a few categories according to me.
 
1. The divide route is gorgeous, amazing, epic, scenic. It brings a rider out, OUT, into the west. Escape from society is not total, but much more than any other normal bike tour.
2. You’re a competitive son of a bitch who loves the idea of going hard and beating the shit out of your buddies. 3000 miles over 2 weeks, an epic race. Along with that are results. You were attracted to the race based on those insane folks who tore it up in years past. Your respect them for their accomplishments and results have stuck with you, and dammit, that could be you.
3. You’re a gearhead  Between the ages of 30 and 50. Hungry for an adventure. Slightly disappointed in yourself for the amount of time you spend on the internet. You love your bike and possibly have an online shopping problem. Pedal strokes < mouse clicks
 
I am willing to guess that those who are honest with themselves are a combination of those three reasons. I definitely choose to ride based on some combination of those reasons.
 
I know that the more of reason 1 and the less of number 2 and 3, the easier it is to ride the divide route. If you can appreciate the beauty in the entirety of the thing. The smile that can follow suffering. The comedy of the number of things working against you. And when the beauty of the ride smacks you in the face you can still appreciate the shit out of it. There’s beauty in pushing yourself to a limit that didn’t even exist even a year prior.
 
When I finished at the us-canidan border due to flooding, it really forced me to examine what the hell I was doing out there.  I rode until I needed to in order to feel I had completed my ride, and then I sat down outside the Roosville, Montana border crossing duty free, on a bench, and a drunk Canadian bought me a beer. Did I ride the tour divide this year for a beer? Nope. Did I do it be because I wanted to break the single speed record and see my name among those I saw come before mine? Yup. A little part of me did. Did I do it for my love of stuff? Fancy bikes and sick light tents with bike bags and gps, and fat wheels..yea, I did, a little part of me.
But those shallow reasons died in Roseville that day. I didn’t qualify for a record according to the archives of tour divide, despite recording (fact checkers welcome) a top 10 all time fastest border to border time, and stacking up 3rd with this years south bound idiots, not to mention a projected SS  record. (Tooting my own horn? Yep, but it’s my blog dammit)
 
Did i love tour divide every second of every day while I’m out there? Nope, but I think this year has taught me there’s beauty in all of it’s faces.
 
 
The tour started in Vail, Colorado for me this year.   I was offered a ride by my sweet girlfriend robin but we settled for camping outside of Leadville together in night 1. There’s nothing like starting a bike tour from your front door (or in my case, shop door). 
 
My time-frame was a little tight to make it down to antelope wells in time for the grand depart so I had to trade sleepy dirt roads for sleepy paved ones. Even though my time table was tight on account of finishing the fabrication if this year’s divide rig, I knew I needed to leave as much time as possible to fit another prologue tour in.
 
I road south along the east side of the collegiate  peaks and crossed the divide route outside of salida. I had the big 3 inch tires on for the first bit but elected to ride the same tires I had used for last year’s td to save the tread on the new rubber. (More on my gear for the trip I the next update.)
 
Continuing south I again skirted to the east of the San juans. I looked at a few maps and for my inevitable westward reach of the journey I could either tackle wolf creek pass or the mighty La Manga pass. Either way, it’d be a pavement cakewalk compared to what I knew the divide had in store.
 
I chose la manga because it was familiar and i thought it would be good to pick up more overlap along the divide route.
 
It just so happened to be very fortunate I did, in fact, choose La Manga, because on the extended approach to the pass along the Carneros river I encountered my second ever spot stalker. Bounce (his bikepacking.net handle) was standing along side the road the a sweet “Go Cjell Money” sign. Of coarse I stopped and chatted. He invited me in for a beer and I instantly knew I wasn’t riding away from his glorious cabin that night.
 
Bounce quickly offered me a ride to advance me towards my destination if antelope wells but I stoically refused.  I then went to figuring my average mileage to make it down there on time and I have a little extra time for recovery and fraternizing in silver city which I knew I would thoroughly miss. I quickly recanted my refusal I decided I would take bounce up in his generous offer.
 
The one problem was that I failed to ride la manga pass which I was excited to do. So the following morning I packed my bike up with my full kit and rode the remaining few miles to the base if the pass, started my timer and unleashed all my fury on an 32/18 single speed. Bob met me at the top, snapped a photo, and we hatched a plan to put a few SoBos in the hurt locker by putting a little incentive on the lowest time. The time was ultimately bested, to my surprise, by a catagory something racer who shorted himself on provisions and charged up that thing. My hats off to Peter haile for posting an incredible time of 33 minutes, over 4 minutes faster than myself. I know he suffered for it, but as he should for being an idiot SouthBounder.
 
Bounce ended up taking me all the way to grants where I hopped back on the bike and spun it out to pie town. Finally some breathing room in the timetable.
 
Arriving in the evening, I once again missed business hours one the pie shops, shucks.
 
At least I had the toaster house. As I neared the communal house in pie town known as the toaster house, where wary hikers and riders of the continental divide find respite, food, a laundry machine, and artifacts of all kinds, I begin to make out the bike of another touring cyclist. All right, someone to chat with. The bike is loaded with fore and aft panniers along with a two wheel trailer.
 
I am greeted inside the toaster house by what I would call an a-typical cyclo tourist. She stands three feet tall and is wearing a summer dress and no shoes. She appears to be around the age of three. The next person I encounter is a small female (100lbs all wet), dark hair, maybe around my own age. Hmmm.
 
I quickly learn that these two are a mother daughter riding on the continental divide route as a part of a tour starting in Texas and ending at ragbrai. What!? You’re are riding the divide route with a 3 year old in a trailer? Up until then it was a family if 4 that were the gnarliest I had encountered but they have now been ousted by mom and daughter.
 
I spend that night and the next morning talking with her about their trip and past trips which fascinate me to no end. How a 100lb girl can tow her daughter on the great divide mountain bike route is beyond me and remains so even after seeing it with my own eyes.
 
The pavement ride from pie town to silver was hot as hell. I had ridden it before on last year’s reroute. Scenic and hot hot hot as shit.
 
In silver city I quickly located the bike house. The folks there along with ringleader, super bike advocate and super awesome dude,  Jamie Thomson, were hospitable as shit. Unfortunately cloe no longer resided there and so I skipped getting a tattoo this year.
 
Spent a few days recouping in silver, spending much if that time at Gila hike and bike where I pestered the professional bike mechanics there. The place lacks the giant egos that are normally found at a bike shops which makes it quite a pleasant place to spend time, probably to a fault.
 
Martyn, one of hikeandbike’s up and coming pro bike mechanics, and myself took a shop cannondale road tandem out for a group ride. We took every sprint and barely broke a sweat, sayins all.
 
Ended up getting a ride from silver to the start with a local bike guy and his wife. Super nice man, jazzed on the race, happy for the ride.
 
At the lonely outpost dividing Mexico from the USA sat a few vehicles with some nervous fools standing around them. It was fun to be joined down south by a few more this year.
 
Dave Wilson of Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks had driven down to check out the scene and outfit me with a couple new bags for the trip. The gas tank and top tube-seat post bag were ever so slightly off in angle for my road inspired divide frame so he was replacing those bags. He is a perfectionist and it is reflected in his beautiful bags. My bags were made of a cuben hybrid fabric this year that I had purchased to make my own bags, but sent to Dave to have his hand make this year’s luggage instead (good call).
 
I believe there was me and 6 others gathered at the start. Dylan and Wade hailed from Whitehorse of the Yukon Territory. Whitehorse is WTFOT, a million miles from anywhere. I ended up pedaling out of AW with the two of them.  Wade was an auto technician and Dylan a mechanical engineer.  Dylan was fittingly riding a surly ogre outfitted with a rohloff hub. Wade was a fellow single speeder on his second attempt. Both seemed a bit nervous, Dylan a bit more-so, asking questions about water and resupply that I had trouble fielding. Their setups seemed indicative of good candidates for finishing the ride. It’s easy to identify those who aren’t likely to make it to banff, a bit harder to profile the rider that will indeed make it.
 
Bruce, a master class racer had been on the divide 3 previous times (fact check?) and was back for more, on a sensible northbound run.  I got the pleasure of making Bruce’s acquaintance in silver. We talked bikes and route, the normal shit.
 
I was able to meet 2 others that I can recall. If you were a rider down in aw and I forgot about you, work on making yourself more memorable, going nobo is, however, a good start.
 
A young lady with a very clean bike was shedding a few tears with her boyfriend. Appearing somewhat novice, I admired her courage for tackling this thing all on her own.
 
The last nobo rider I can recall is Rudy from Tucson. I was told by Matt lee that Rudy was an original character and I should make an effort to get to know him. Intriguing.
 
I don’t think Rudy made it for the photo at the start line which was already staged a painful 8 minutes late. Seems funny to say that now but tell that to anyone who has spent months preparing for a race, of any length, and is stalled at the start.
 
To add further to Rudy’s mystery when he finally made it underway, he passed Dylan,Wade,and I busily chatting away. He didn’t even pause as he rode by commenting on our single speed drivetrains.
 

Last year I rode away from chip andreous just outside of hachita, 40 miles into the race, and this year I was determined not to be too anxious to ride away from the only divide racers I would see until Wyoming.

 
When Rudy passed us at speed I began to think of what that implied. Are we ‘racing’? Dammit Rudy, NoBo’s know better. Now I’m thinking, I better not let him gap me too bad. The Mantelope has to at least be the top finishing NoBo’er. So I hustled up a bit.
 
I was happy to know that I would be ok to blow off Hachita and shoot for Separ. I would guess that Rudy at least nailed that and the Canadian didn’t because I finally did catch Rudy and the gas station in Separ and left before the Cannucks arrived.
 
I was careful that didn’t shoot out ahead again. I wanted to meet this dude. I was in luck. He didn’t seem to be to hell bent on crushing it hard on the first day, so we were able to spin for a while.
 
Rudy is an artist out of Tucson. He was on a beautiful handbuilt steel bike from Arizona. I can’t remember the builder but I can recall the pretty color matched Waltworks fork. We chatted about handlebars and girls, life, etc. He entertained me with tales of another failed attempt on the TD that he made with Matt Chester on Matt Chester custom ti fixies. Fixed is the new 11 speed.
 
Rudy frustrated me when he made the conscious choice to drop off the back. He said something stoic as I pulled away on a long easy climb like, ‘I think I see our future arriving,’ like I would drop him and he couldn’t hang, which was BS. But he dropped off so quickly and abruptly that I figured that’s how he wanted it. Damn you Rudy.
 
I made it to Silver by the evening. A super quick stop at my favorite dirty chinese. All I required were a few egg rolls to go and I boosted.
 
Jack from the bike shop passed me on the climb to Pinos Altos in his Datsun 240z all decked out to see a play up in the theater in Pino Altos. Grease. He had made an attempt to look 50’s fab but his wife put him to shame. Can’t remember if it was the poodle skirt or what but I thought jack was doing pretty well for himself in that hot car with a babe in the passenger seat.
 
My goal was the CDT alternate by nightfall. As it became dark, I began to become significantly less efficient and started walking almost everything after leaving the pavement. When I reached the turn onto single track it couldn’t have been that late but I was tired and ready to call it. Not sure the number of miles for the day but nothing spectacular.
 
Woke up early. 3:45. Still enthused about being back on the Divide. Matt Lee had sent some special warning about the alternate. Something about ledges or some shit like that. There was maybe a slightly pitchy section but when I reached pavement on the other side with dawn beginning to show it’s face, I had to review in my head about which sections might have been the sketchy ones. A great way to start the day.
 
Pushed through some drowsiness as I made it to the next turn where the route left the pavement again. I had been rerouted around the Gila the year prior due to fire so it was all new to me.
 
The sign at the start of the gravel section reads: NO SERVICES, STEEP GRADE, MORE SCARY STUFF, NEXT 125 MILES. Shit. When was the last time you read one of those no-services-signs that read 125 miles. That’s a serious distance. I checked my water situation out. Fair, to inadequate. I thought Chip might have mentioned something about this section on a brief review so instead of continuing into the unknown I decided to stay with the pavement for a little bit longer in search of some water. I made it 100 feet before i decided that I’d be fine and to quit worrying.
 
By the time I made it to the first janky creek I was decently thirsty. Picked up some water and was happy to drink the rest of my good stuff that I had made it there with.
 
I ended up walking a significant amount on the gravel road climbs in the Gila. No too unbearably long, but hot and steep. I began to doubt my gearing selection bigtime.
 
The sky looked a bit ominous at the church on the north end of the Gila. I was glad to be back on sections of the divide that I knew well. I was happy not to be guessing at water any longer.
 
I had one of my later nights riding into the toaster house in Pie Town. You’d be dumb to stop within 30 miles of the place. Yet another visit with no Pie.    Poop.
 
Ate a few things out of the hiker box, bathed and passed out.
 
Early rise, in the saddle before 4. Forrest Baker had taught be lessons on the AZT about what was feasible for early starts. Before that I would have been reluctant to set the alarm before 430 but if you feel good, go for it. For some that doesn’t seem that extreme, ie mike hall and other freakshows, but for me 345-445 is the window i shoot for allowing for more sleep when I’ve pushed hard the night before.
 
The extreme washboard on the north end of the Pie Town Road had been graded smooth. I had caught it (not so smooth) on my way down to sliver city a was almost missing the poor state of the road…I knew SoBo’s were going to miss out on the terrible sandy washboards.  It was, however, still very loose which allowed the big 3 inch tires at 10psi to really shine. Hit the pavement, took care of morning time duties, pumped the tires up hard for over 175 miles of pavement.
 
I had asked Matt Lee about the reasoning behind the New Mexico alternates on the tour divide. As a rule, the divide race takes the tougher of any alternates proposed by Adventure Cycling, but in southern NM there are two sections back to back that opt for pavement. Matt’s insight; the alts in south NM were put there because of extreme peanut butter mud on the normal route. At some point times must have been set taking the alts and it has since stuck. Huh. Now you know.
 
I had already thought about this day a long time before it’s arrival. The year prior I was able to pull over 200 miles which was farther than I had ever ridden in a day to that point. 200 miles on a SS. What’s that like? Let’s rage and find out. Opted to make the subway just outside of Mal Pais my only Grants stop. Ate a foot, wrapped a foot, and pedaled through Grants at speed.
 
At this point in the trip I had become a bit cocky in navigation. I knew where I was going from the year prior. You always hear of salty old vets that do the thing by memory. I gotta a knack for that, right?
 
I passed the right hander that went over the tracks. The sign even said ‘Cuba’ right on it. In my head, I knew it was a 4 laner that left Grants and the right was only 2 lanes. I press on.
 
After a half hour of battling pretty stiff winds I turned on my GPS. No teal (that’s the color of the track i like) line. Panic. Panic. Zoom out, Zoom out, loading, loading, fuck garmin, fuck garmin….SHHHHHIIIIITTTTTTT. Super loud, top of my lungs. FFFUUUUCCCCCKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
Not the end of the world but not a good feeling at all. 6 miles, one-way, is what i estimated my error at. 12 bonus miles. I was lucky to be heading into the wind on the way out. I lamented my misstep the entire way back to Grants. How was I going to pull 200 like this, idiot!
 
I got back to the edge of town and took the left (then right) towards Cuba. Battery saving and the environment be damned, my GPS was staying on. IDIOT.
 
I stopped for water before the road becomes extremely desolate on the Navajo reservation. This makes me smile as I write it, but I pow-wowed with a real live Navajo in his trailer after he caught me using his spigot. It may, or may not, have involved a gas mask.
 
Variable winds were merciful as I winded around the great uranium mines. I knew from the ride down with Bounce, that Pueblo Pintado’s general store had closed it’s doors. Prepared for that, I made it to the next general store. They thought I must have been slow (in the head) when I told them I was shooting for Cuba by night. 50 more miles.
 
A few night miles got me into town. The Mexican restaurant was still open for business. A little upscale for my mal-odorous self, I opted to dine outside. I failed to resupply sufficiently which frustratingly brought me back into town after attempting to leave. Camped next to the national forest sign in the same exact spot I had the year prior, over 220 miles (12 bonus) from where I had began. big pavement day, proud that i had done it on a 1 speed and not given it a second thought.
 
From Cuba to Abiquiu is one of the Divide’s toughest sections. From where I camped on the border of the national forest the route climbs, and climbs, and climbs….then it gets hard.

 
Mornings are by far my least efficient time of day. It seems like without fail, extreme tiredness and desire to sleep comes within a half our to an hour of breaking camp. Combine that with low temps that make it difficult to nail down wardrobe and morning tasks like eating, pooping, brushing teeth, etc. Twice on this morning I employed my strategy for combating sleepiness; napping. I will lay down next to my bike, next to or on the road and close my eyes. My alarm will be set for around 5 to 7 minutes and in that time I can’t remember failing to fully fall asleep. Most of the time that’s all I need to raise my spirits and kick the sleep demons. It’s part of my 0 masochism strategy. I find that never punishing myself and always catering to my desires keeps morale high and makes the riding easier. Most mornings, all I want to do is sleep, so I do, a little.
 
I finally summit the pavement portion of the climb and stop to replace the cleats on my shoes. I have taken them out because I remember from last year how brutal the climb was and I wanted to avoid wearing out my cleats walking on the pavement.  I was running a 33/25 for my easier gear the year prior and i knew there was no way I was cleaning this climb on my 32/18, so i submitted to walking/napping. The plan went well until I almost lost a screw that holds the cleat to the shoe while replacing them at the top. Minor delay but I felt anxiousness rising because it was compounded with multiple naps and stops making for a pathetic predawn session.
 
Elk litter the forest on the ridge and the views are spectacular. Life isn’t so bad and i am able to calm myself.  I can recall the route towards the top and take comfort in knowing that no matter how bad the terrain gets I will be diving into a burrito or ruben or both at bode’s store in a few short hours. As the route forks and continues to deteriorate I notice the tracks of a few cyclists in front of me. I love following tracks because it means human interaction which is something I end up craving.
 
There are a few sections high on the ridge in the Jamus that are fantastically difficult. I clean some and laugh while I dismount to hike up others. I see something very odd as i get off to walk over yet another tough sections. It’s the unmistakable footprints of a small child. I contemplate it for a second before it hits me. It’s Megan and Neva, the mother and daughter I met earlier in pie town. It makes perfect sense when i put it together with the three tire tracks from her bike and two trailer tires.
 
The longer I follow the tracks the more I contemplate how amazingly difficult it must be to navigate and ride over one of the toughest, if not the absolute most difficult sections of the divide, with a trailer, fully loaded, and…and…a fucking 3 year old!!! That is all i am able to think about as I ride over the extremely rough terrain myself. There is no self pity now. This 95lb girl and her daughter just made it through, I had better be able to right? An her tracks don’t stop. They constantly confront me with this reality.
 
I ride hard to catch the phantom mother daughter, eating up there tracks. On the steepest most technical bits I see neva’s footprints which makes me smile. I begin to think of what i can say to offer encouragement as I’m sure the mammoth effort has taken it’s toll on the two of them.
 
The decent into Abiquiu is a tough one down a 4×4 road. The difficulty of the terrain on a rigid bike is tough on the body, but I am still looking at the 3 tracks which doesn’t allow me to feel sorry for myself in the least.
 
I finally make it to Abiquiu and Bode’s store where I spot a loaded bike and trailer. They made it! I chat with megan and little Neva. Both are in high spirits which is inspiring. I hammer calories as we chat next to the milkshake shack. I tell Megan honestly that few people will be able to understand what she had just accomplished/gone through and I felt honored to have an idea myself. She tells me the ride over the jamus took 5 days. I only had to carry supplies for the half day it took me. I couldn’t imagine.
 
 
It was in Abiquiu that I finally started addressing an issue that I had discovered a few days prior, a hairline crack on the shorline of my bottom bracket lug on my beloved frame. I knew I had to deal with it at some point but also knew that meant taking a lot of time. I was holding a good pace and knew a delay to deal with my problem would undo a bunch of hard work up until that point. I also felt a little sheepish about what had happened because I knew there were a number of people that were aware that I was attempting to complete the race one of my first frames. ‘Cjell Money, what an idiot, I knew this would happen.’ …and now they were right.
 
I had been keeping a close eye on the tiny crack and it was growing ever so slowly. I couldn’t quite tell if it was superficial or all the way through the tubing.  Whatever it was, it weighed very heavy on my mind and on every decent, and every big bump. If it let go, that was it.
 
At one point I made a call to a frame builder out of Salida which was a few short days away. Don McClung builds beautiful old school rigid steel 29ers and seemed to be more than happy to help me out. It didn’t fix my problem by a long shot but was encouraging none the less.
 
I was carrying a small amount of brass and flux for a field repair which I could accomplish with a farmers cutting torch at the least. At bode’s store I asked a few folks if they knew anyone around that would have a torch. No real leads. Someone had a buddy who would be around after work….hours away. The bike had made it through some of the divide’s toughest sections so I elected to just roll the dice and leave Abiquiu.
 
I made a few stops before el rito looking for a torch. I was confronted with some unfriendliness and dogs. I was also dealing with losing significant amounts of time while searching and yielding nothing. I visited a bar that seemed to be connected to a ladies house.  She made the mistake of telling me that she did indeed have a torch, but her husband was resting. It’s not right to be angry at a person when asking for a favor so i carried my frustration with me out on the bike and dealt with it on the ride to el rito.
 
In el rito i again wasted significant amounts of time looking for a torch with no luck. Country folks with torches are everywhere until you need one. I pulled the plug on el rito and hustled over to Canyon Plaza.
 
Canyon Plaza, New Mexico is one of my favorite places on the divide route.
 
In canyon plaza I made another effort to find a torch. Cynthia at the summer store, such a sweatheart, made a few phone calls to her neighbors on my behalf, looking for a torch. She thought there was a good chance that the neighbors had one, but they were out riding 4 wheelers. FML. I waited with dilutions of them returning within a few minutes and after chatting for 10 minutes, I bolted. 
 
The weight of that crack on my mind waxed and waned. I knew salida was only 2 days away and tried very hard to make peace with my decision to ride on with some decent success.
 
I put a few night miles in, making it to the campground off of the paved road (name escapes me). There I caught up with a few cycle-tourists. 
 
A couple a friendly guys happy to share their site. I lasted all of 10 minutes of conversation before passing out.
 
I woke early and pushed hard to get up I to the brazos. A few roads up there get slightly technical but very manageable. The double track on top of the ridge is fast and beautiful. It has to be some of my favorite on the entire ride. I remembered a vantage point of sorts at the top and scheduled a little break there to take in the breathtaking views. From there there is a loose loose technical decent. Of coarse I cleaned it in the aero bars, per usual.
 
When I hit the Colorado border my lady sent a text message, “welcome to colorful Colorado”. Someone was watching, can’t tell you how much that lifted my spirits, thanks robin.
 
Came up and over la manga pass. Saw Bounce. He had outfitted the la manga pass signpost with a drop box for those southbounders with the cajonas to take on the La Manga pass challenge, loved it.
 
Hustled through horca knowing platoro was a better stop. Quick in and out and set out to get up and over Indiana pass. Not sure what got into me, but soon after setting out, I was determined to clean it.
 
It’s a long drawn out climb starting with a stout switchbacky pass called shocker pass, fitting. Once I set my mind to not taking my feet off the pedals until del Norte , I didn’t consider once stopping short. The final push o the summit got a little silly at quite an incline but at that point I’d be fucked if I didn’t get up and over. My 32/18 felt tall but I had learned the necessary body English to continue up and up.
 
The decent down to del Norte was endless. The feeling of getting over Indiana on the single speed was amazing, totally worth it. 
 
On the spin into del Norte at dusk I was confronted with my last opportunity to find a torch. There were the unmistakable red and green tanks of oxygen and accetaline. Booya. I wondered around the vacated property long enough to get frustrated and left. Surely my bike would make it one more easy day to salida, right?
 
The year prior I had camped out just short of del Norte, electing to pedal in and hit it before breakfast. This year I managed to get in and out almost before nightfall, add a couple more nighttime miles and I was a good distance in front of last years pace, good enough for me.
 
The riding north of del Norte is some of the best on the route. Fast double track. Smooth. Ahh, mountain biking. That combined with one of the more spectacular sunrises almost got ol Cjell money emotional. Goood riding.
 
I made it to salida in the early afternoon, the year prior I camped there. Boom. The mission now was to see how quickly I could fix my faithful steed and press on.
 
Don McClung is a frame builder out of salida. Not just any frame builder, don, 73, is OG. He was around when fisher and those other idiots in Marin county along with the scene in crested butte started mountain biking. He told me he couldn’t buy exactly what he wanted so he decided to build it himself. The evolution of his craft has brought him to where he is today. Don builds gorgeous old school twin top tube, full rigid, non suspension correct, fillet brazed, steel 29ers…and they’re fucking beautiful. 
 
Don himself is a beautiful man. Very soft spoken and unassuming. All of the tools in his shop were well used and all showed evidence of years of thought and hard work.
 
His small shop sat out back of his home just outside of salida’s downtown. Sweet spot if you ask me. Don still rides, and his beautiful personal bike sat in front of his shop. Phil hubs, canti brakes, twin plate crown, dual truss fork…the bike was amazingly beautiful. Don even showed me a handmade knife he housed in a trick secret spot in the steerer tube…so fucking cool.
 
We wasted no time tearing down my bike to isolate the repair. I had thought I might do a little of the repair but I just got out of the way as don expertly crafted a patch and set to brazing it in place.
 
I took mental notes on his technique and tooling. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Time flew by and before I knew it I had made the obvious decision to camp in salida and drink a few beers with the master. What could I do? 
 
I thanked don, bought him a few beers and paid him way too little. What a classy dude.
 
I slept out by the tracks making sure to drink water after imbibing with don himself. I had camped here in salida the year prior and this year I got the added bonus of meeting don McClung which was well worth the extra hustle. The visit with don was around 8 hours. What did you do on your divide ride?
 
The next day I was determined to start gaining on my previous years pace. What I didn’t account for was the possibility that I may have had a killer day the year prior. This seemed to be the case. I had my strategy dialed for summit county, one stop in hartsel and the next stop in dillon and no others. Summit has tons of shit going on. Breck is a zoo in the summer. Como seemed like a good idea but it just comes too quickly after hartsel. 
 
I left silverthorn very happy with how I had executed my plan. 1 stop in all of summit, boom.
 
Riding down highway 9, I was confronted with a bout of extreme tiredness. I dealt with it how I knew best, cat nap.
 
I set an alarm for 7 minutes and laid down on the side f the road. Traffic noise must have been high because I didn’t hear my alarm. I decided it would be better if I didn’t calculate how long I slept. Maybe 20 minutes, maybe an hour, still don’t know.
 
I made it to radium after a tough night ride, equalling my effort from the previous year.
 
For the northbounder, the climb out of the Colorado river canyon/valley is in the running for the toughest climbs of the ride. For me, 2 years in a row I can say that it is the toughest climb if the route. Sustained incline just beyond what is rideable after a solid week of exertion and sleep deprivation, FOREVER! It just doesn’t stop.
 
If someone were to watch my dot during that time I think they would find humor. Ride some, walk some, poop, brush teeth, ride some, walk some, cat nap, eat, walk, poop, ride, you get the picture.
 
I finally make it out of the grasp of the Colorado river and its terrain. 
 
I remembered the stream crossing south of steamboat before I came to it. This year it seemed much more formidable than I recalled. I made a quick decision to attempt riding through. Before I made the far bank I realized my decision was the wrong one. The level of the water quickly rose above my hubs and bottom bracket which is a no no and should be avoided whenever possible in my humble opinion. I quickly dismounted and lifted my bike out of the stream, but the damage had been done. I hopped onto a beaver dam and was able to escape the cold waters not happy with how the scenario had played out.
 
I enjoyed the ride into steamboat a bunch. Trophy homes, water skiers, an old person’s group ride, sensory overload. All the while I was taking in the sights and sounds of society, my bottom bracket became more and more vocal. I gathered that it wasn’t happy about the morning’s stream crossing. Damn
 
My stop in steamboat was much more efficient this year when compared to the previous year’s despite the boys at orange peel replacing my semi worn, complaining bottom bracket. I could have rolled the dice but the had already pushed my luck in that department.
 
A highlight for me, and any divide rider for that matter, is the brush mountain lodge. The setting, the food, the good energy all come together and make one of the most amazing places a weary soul could ask for. 
 
Kirsten kills it with a capital K. She gets it. Laundry, beer, burgers in any quantity you can handle. Quick as you want it. Matt lee and his beautiful family had taken care of me the year prior proving that Kirsten not only does a good job with the ranch but with HR as well. 
 
I felt so much love there that I committed to returning under less hurried circumstances.
 
Almost forgot, golden spoke moment. Mike hall was at the lodge when I arrived. I waited out front as he ran around gathering and double checking for left behind items. He seemed rushed which I’m sure he was. Craig stapler was a slim 5 hours behind. He finally had his things gathered and we snapped a photo. The local drunks heckled us a bit but that’s what townies do when they encounter folks doing something outside of the scope of their world view.
 
I hugged Kirsten and thanked her for having the biggest heart I’ve ever encountered. What an angel. Promised I’d return and I did.
 
Spun down the hill to the highway through Slater (po, no more). A few hundred feet before the Wyoming border I looked and saw one of my heroes of bikepacking, the great Craig Stappler.
 
His carbon bike and cuben luggage looked like it was from the future. I gave him all the encouragement I could. Told him mike looked frantic. Craig looked focused. 
 
We started getting eaten alive by mosquitoes so I decided that instead of cutting our conversation short I would ride with Craig for a short bit, towards Mexico.
 
As we rode I asked all about their extreme pace leaving Canada. I remembered what had happened to Craig the year prior and could see that he wanted it bad. He explained how he had cracked the night before sleeping 8 hours, allowing mike to take a 5 hour lead. He said a 5 hour move to counter was tempting but not smart. Smart indeed, I thought. I wished him well after riding a few backwards minutes and cheered as he rode away.
 
As I proceeded north again I thought of our conversation. ‘5 hour move’, ‘cracked’? Not even in my realm of thinking. The type to torture those two were putting each other through is fucking insane.
 
I made it to the top of the pavement climb and decided to call it at aspen alley, a nice spot to camp. Now 20 miles up on last year.
 
I hustled early, knowing that all the effort I put in now would pay dividends later in getting through the basin and its prevailing westerly winds. The route traces a primarily east to west direction and combined with the prevailing wind it can spell disaster for the northbound racer who must travel from the east to the west, 220some miles from rawlins to Atlantic City and onto Boulder/Pindale. If I recall correctly, it’s 110 miles from rawlins to the diagnus well and then 20 on into Atlantic City. I knew from the previous year that with a strong headwind the section can start to seem hopeless and unending, which it is. The great basin brings it’s own unique challenges, and the same can be said for it’s beauty. Chaparral scrub with more antelope then you thought existed. I had a theory that at any one point you could lift up your head in the basin and see and antelope, that theory failed zero times.
 
Anywho, I was now on the 50 mile rolling section south of rawlins in extreme south wyoming and was hustling because i knew effort now would propel me through the basin and hopefully to atlatic city by bedtime and out of the clutches of the mighty great basin desert.
 
I ran into Jesse Carlson from australia. He was very chipper. I would almost accuse him of faking a level of comfort that I personally knew was near impossible to sustain, especially at a pace faster than even Jay Petervary, the current record holder. I am guilty of misrepresenting my current mental state in order to lead others to believe that this is easier than it is. We shot the shit for a while. He had a little speaker on his handlebars which made me smile. I liked the guy, he seemed to be well adjusted and enjoying his time, fake or not.
 
How did my plan go? decent. I made a quick stop in Rawlins, carrying the necessary water to make it to the ranch that I knew sat halfway, with a well, that had water. Without the ranch, or the information thereof, it’s 110 to the well. BIG miles.
 
Scattered t-storms threatened as i spun through the long deserted remnant of a paved highway that once carried cars to who knows where. There is nothing out there. It was on this section that I met the leaders the year previous. The freaks from this year of coarse crushed the pace of the year as well as other competitors so I hadn’t seen anyone for a long while.
 
I started passing a few the further I pressed into the desert. I noticed that I had not passed a single American, interesting I thought.
 
I thought the scattered storms might vary the wind direction a bit which was wishful at best. I only got a sprinkle and the strong winds that accompanied the storm grew in force as the rain-clouds subsided. The coarse has long westward stretched accompanied by shorter northward jogs. It was after leaving a northern reach, turning left to the west that I started hitting some very very fast moving air. The gust had picked up a large amount of sand and seemed like it was gaining in velocity to super strong, viscous proportions.  My forward progress had not slowed, it stopped. I started yelling at the wind but couldn’t hear myself. It’s a deep hopelessness when there is no end, no crest, no downhill, no nothing beside desert and wind.
 
I was fully stopped and screaming at the wind who answered by blowing even harder. My face started getting sandblasted pretty seriously. I turned my bike perpendicular to the wind and crouched behind the frame bag. It felt as though if I were to let go my bike would literally fly out of my hands. Rather incredible feeling. No shelter, no hope just the deafening roar of extreme straight line winds.
 
The preposterous gusts mellowed enough to mount the bike and pedal again. Progress was slow but I knew that if I could somehow make it to Atlantic City I would be out of the worst and wouldn’t have to be concerned with another day of it like I had experienced the year prior.
 
I found water at my favorite ranch again. I have yet to encounter a human there, just some friendly puppies.
 
I had gone through all the edibles that I was rationing for the ride. There wasn’t a prayer to spark anything out there so i was happy to have the secret weapon on board. Without it the miles, no, check that, the thought of the miles, would crush you. It’s a stretch of divide that will make anyone who counts miles cry. Miles could not come more slowly than they do for the lonely northbounder in the basin.
 
My spirits lifted as I saw a toyota truck parked on the horizon. They lifted even further when I saw a man with a camera standing outside of it. Eddie Clarke. Divide photog extraordinaire.  It was exactly a year ago in the same desert that I ran into him chasing after the southbound leaders. We are like minded and it took a lot of will power not to shut it down right there and enjoy the beautiful setting with my old pal.
 
We chatted for a while. I hadn’t seen anyone in a while, Eddie came back into my life at a perfect time. We were both in awe of the sutset in that fucking bastard of a desert. We powwowed for as long as I could afford and then I pedaled away. I knew if I could make Atlatic City before I slept it would be a huge victory.  The year previous I was forced to camp in the middle of the basin and the winds had blown all my shit away by the time I woke up. I could not afford another basin battle like the one i was currently  finishing up.
 
As the sun disappeared the wind was all but gone and I found my legs. Pouring it on, I would not be denied Atlantic City.  I know I am spun out on my gear at around 17 MPH. That evening I was so filled with determination I had to be clipping along at at least 20.
 
As twilight faded to be replaced by darkness I noticed some LED lights up ahead. As I approached I found 2 divide riders making camp. I gave half a shout and was met by a familiar voice. It was my old buddy, Forest Baker. I had met Forest a few years prior while hiking in Nepal. It wasn’t until we had been hiking for a few days that I learned that he had raced the divide before. I picked his brain for a few days before we parted ways.
 
Here he was again. He had pedaled a good distance out of Atlantic City. Forest is a very disciplined rider and he knows that getting out of town before going to sleep is key for fast racing, this night was not exception.
 
He offered me a chicken strip and some stale fries that he wasn’t interested in. I accepted as we chatted. I felt like joining him for sleep but i knew that Atlantic City now only lie a few hours ahead, making it there tonight would be big.
 
I press on into the blackness.  Not much help from the moon. My eyes struggled to remain within the beam that my light was providing. With all of my strength, I tried and failed to keep my eyes in front of the bike. I fail and pressed on pretty much completely blind. I would assume those that are capable of riding when their body is absolutely refusing are those that are able to ride the divide faster than myself. I take comfort in knowing there aren’t too many.
 
I finally make it to Atlantic City. I had heard they were having a bit of a shindig there and I might get lucky and get a bite to eat before i passed out. Sure enough the party animals of A.C. were still going hard, and i mean hard. If my body weren’t completely shutting down at that point I would have enjoyed some serious fraternization. Maybe it was my my tired eyes but the ladies of the night out there in the Great Basin were giving me some sultry looks as well.
 
I gorged myself on the leftovers from the day’s feed. Calf Balls, battered and fried were the delicacy of the day.  Not great, not bad, certainly edible. Ate so many balls. numnumnumnum
 
The gentleman from the bar made me a couple heaping deli sandwiches for the following day. He was drunk as a skunk, but that didn’t inhibit his ability to pile delicious ingredient skyward on sandwich bread. Maybe the intoxication actually improved his sandwich making abilities.
 
Passed out in the teepee that sits out front. The folks from the bar are some of the most genuine, real people i’ve ever met. They are a very positive breed, you’d need to be, i guess, living out there in the basin.
 
A couple more dividers pulled into the teepee after i was bedded down… This was after wasting 45 minutes of me watching drunks drink. 45 minutes later, a couple mid-packers pull in! WTF. (that’s internet for WHAT THE FUCK?!!?)  I about came unglued to ride into the night as long as i did and much later these two clowns come riding in. Just confirms my suspicion that i really am terrible at trying to ride at night. When Cjell Money is tired, and it’s dark, Cjell Money needs to sleep, period. I don’t know how these other fools can do it. What are they doing during the daytime? I don’t think i ride that fast.
 
Decently early start. Took a shit in the ditch that I wasn’t proud of, but at 4 a.m. there aren’t too many options. Needless to say those other clowns rolled over on my alarm. Ride hard, wake early and sleep when you feel like it. That’s what Forest Baker would teach and that dude holds his own.
 
South Pass City with the sun starting to arrive and the rest stop at daybreak. Hobo shower there at the rest stop and water up for Big Sandy. Some big country up there. It seems like you could be in the same valley for hours and hours. Pretty stretch, some refuge from straight line winds which hadn’t reared it’s ugly head quite this early.
 
Passed a few more. Two euros passed early in the morning. I was taking one of my custom power naps at the time. I’m sure I appeared slow to them laying there but I already had a couple hours in the saddle and in the grand scheme of divide racing was kicking their asses, so i said hello and slipped off for a few more minutes of unconsciousness.
 
Blew through Boulder and mentally prepped for Pinedale on the pavement spin into town.  I think it’s important to get a gameplan together whenever you are going to get out of the saddle. It avoids wasting time or taking off without taking care of something you meant to. 
 
Before arriving to Pinedale I get a call from my ma. Normally no one calls me. I make a few outgoing calls and that’s it. My ma has bad news. She reports the situation in Banff. ‘It’s flooded, you can’t finish’ is the jist of the message. HUH.
 
I hang up and am stunned. Trying to process what I’ve just been told. Could she be right? is there really no way i can finish. I just crushed the basin in half the time it took me last year. If I have a good day today I will be up on last year by almost 16 hours. SS record would not stand. ‘Can’t finish’. REALLY! Shit.
 
I take in the news and slowly process what it means for me personally. Question why it is that I’m out here. It is what it is. Maybe you can stop beating yourself up and sleep a little more now. I would prefer a result but letting off the throttle is a consultation I guess.
 
The news sinks in further and i am bummed but life goes on. I’m still a white guy in america, riding my bike because I want to. Things could be worse. Just pedal, you butthole.
 
I simplified my Pinedale stop to the grocery store only. I kinda like that style stop. No frills. No comfy seating. No wasting time waiting. Usually a grocer will have a deli or some sort of adjunct hot food provider. Fried chicken in Pinedale. Good enough. Wam-bam, done.  I will sit down and relax for a few minutes outside the store while i take on calories because eating too fast is a recipe for indigestion and adds to general anxiety. Mental health cannot be overlooked on these races. So many mid packers love to tell me about how they “were really racing” early on but fell off because of this or that. The reality is they didn’t give their mental health a second thought. You gotta stay happy out there or you’re fucked. Sit down, take on calories leisurely, ride hard and sleep early (relatively).  Avoiding trying to convince yourself that you are capable of superman feats for 18 days on end helps. Doing that shit only ends up in self-created failure and increased fatigue. Beating yourself, don’t do it.
 
Start seeing a ton of riders as I leave Pinedale. Pass most, stop for a few. There were a couple single speeders.  They seemed to think they were battling for a SS win and possibly the record which now seemed to be the truth after the bad news that had been relayed that morning.  Irked me a little bit that they hadn’t registered that there was a NOBO kicking their asses by days, but fuck ’em, i say. They can think they’re the president of the United States for all i’m concerned.
 
Union Pass isn’t really a pass, but a long stretch of rollers in the high country.Pass a group of 5 or 6 riders all side-by-each. Seemed wild to see people ‘racing’ like that but to each their own. I ride until around dark and camp early with a SOBO. The news that I wasn’t going to be able to finish doesn’t slow my riding or screw with efficiency, that is programmed now. I receive joy from quick stops and fast (ish) riding. The sleeping is where I let off a bit. That night I am camped before twilight has vanished and sleep until after 5 a.m.  May not seem like much but that’s around 2-3 hours of riding chopped off.
 
The decent down to the highway is steep and long. I pass a couple SoBos struggling with it and laugh at the idea of stopping to chat.
 
Gas station on the highway before climbing towahgotee (sp?) pass. Grab and dash. Met a SoBo in the store. “where you from?” I ask. “Vail, Colorado.” no shit, huh. Kind of a newbie ski bum, but I loved his spirit. Was out of the gas station before I was, loved his efficiency too.
 
Summit the pass and descend a bit before hitting the short pavement bit on the other side. Towahgotee has to be one of the most beautiful places on the divide. Check some of Eddie Clark’s pics from there out. amazing.
 
Fun decent (the one billy rice missed) as the tetons show themselves for the first time. Passed the national forest campground where I had bedded down a year ago. Still early in the day. I was crushing last year after clearing the basin in one piece.
 
Stop at the diner for a hit of water. The proprietor remembers me from the year prior. He saved my life with a cookie and coffee on one of the coldest mornings of the ride.
 
Up next is the pavement grind through Teton National Park. To Enter Teton you must pass through a park entrance. I see plainly scribed on the sign, ‘Bicycles $12’. The year prior I snuck through and got away with it on account of the ungodly hour I was doing it in but I’ll be fucked if I weren’t going to try and do it again. $12 to ride on a busy ass pavement road. All SoBos enter the park via Flag Ranch road which doesn’t have a park entrance and thus no one to remind them to pay. I’m sure all of them pay on their way out anyways…
 
I spot a lane with an 18 wheeler stopped in it. I ride on the far side of it and don’t look back. I am a few fedal strokes into the park when the ranger starts yelling. I pretend not to hear but it’s the conviction in his voice that was loudest. I can tell that he won’t be letting this punk kid be getting away with it. In lieu of dealing with another ranger chasing me down (assuming the park has sprung for walkie talkies) I stop and head back to pay my toll.
 
Not that unreasonable I guess, just hate doing it. I told the ranger that I promise not to take a do-do in the park or use any facilities or enjoy myself in any way. The humor is lost on him. I guess he was taking my end around a bit personally.
 
Grind for a bit and meet the construction zone I had heard about. Another emphatic public servant explains to me that I ‘must’ get in the pilot car. I paid for this shit? really? $12 for traffic and bullshit.
 
I concede after a drawn out process of trying to reason with the unreasonable. This lady had specific instructions not to let me through and she was going to stick her guns. Ohh well.  While waiting for the oncoming lane of traffic to arrive I combed the backed up line of park-goers for one that appeared to be of like mind. Locked onto a VW van which proved unfruitful, teton is really getting the best of me.
 
I get into the pilot car with a little more fussing. I didn’t want to make the poor lady running the pilot car take any more of my shit for doing her job but I wasn’t happy.
 
The original TD wouldn’t have anything to do with a pilot car. Jay P has refused a number of pilot cars and blown through construction zones because he’s hard. He embodies what O G tour divide racing is.  One problem that I have is the construction zone has now been dealing with the onslaught of TD riders for a few days now. I’m just another idiot on a bike.  O G JayP would have been the first and probably find it much easier to storm the gates. I feel like i am dishonoring TD by getting in the pilot car but short of causing this poor lady more trouble than I already have, i throw in. shit.
 
Once I get to the flat-ish part of Flagg Ranch section I start moving again. tickling 20 mph. I figure if I get to the mouth of rail to trail I’d be doing well, and so I did. Right at dark. Perfect.
 
Slept under a picnic table.  Decent wake up. I convince myself that throwing in or slowing up would be dishonorable and so I am back on the 430 schedule at least.
 
Rail to trail, I was ready. Smiled as I took almost all the air out of my big ass tires. Without rail to trail (famously sandy 30 mile section) the big tire set-up is unbeatable in my opinion. The rail to trail section is just gravy when you’re running at 9 psi.
 
I have spent a good chuck of time living outside… in a tent, 5 months on the PCT, CT, bike tours, etc. Never seen a lion. On this day, that changed. It was about 150 yards ahead on the trail. Jumped down the the rail bed from the western bank, took a look down towards me and was gone to the east just as quick as it had arrived. At first I told myself it was a dog but it’s long tail had given it away. I can say with decently high confidence that I have now seen a mountain lion.
 
The other thing I had encountered on the rail to trail section was one Billy Rice. I had read about this nut attempting to yo-yo this year. I was looking forward to meeting him. I was not disappointed. Billy was an absolute delight. Super upbeat, great energy, genuine, all smiles. One of my favorite divide riders.  We chatted for maybe 10 minutes as a few other racers past by us. He said he was really dis-heartening those at the back that he was now catching and passing. too funny.
 
 Island Park. Crushed the subway and was gone.
 
Saw a man painting on an easel, stopped and chatted. Reminds one of how beautiful the route really is.
 
Up and over Red Meadow (red indian? can’t remember) Pass. Wind on the other side was strong and variable. mostly a headwind. Saw a number of other divide riders.  I recall one in particular.  He must have been 250 lbs, mostly fat. Riding a sick-light carbon-carbon cannondale with a lefty, a Matthew Lee special. He was struggling.  He explained that he was trying to “ride himself back into the ‘race'”.  I guess there was some chatter about dropping those who weren’t ‘racing’ (keeping a 25 day pace). Not tracking them i guess. I really felt bad for the guy, i wanted to shake him. STOP ‘RACING’. For him, it seemed the racing aspect was only adding a strong sense of failure. Forget the racing, forget the failure and he’d be left with one kick-ass bike tour…but what do I know.
 
Hit the diner in Lima, quick in and out.  Made it a good way up the canyon before losing ambition. Spotted a nice cabin that looked to be related to the huge-ass ranch I had passed a few miles earlier.  It was overcast, looking like rain and I figured that whatever fantastically wealthy people that owned the ranch before wouldn’t mind me sleeping on the stoop of their cabin, so i did.
 
Woke up early to offset the early quitting time the night before.  I hit the big meadow area above the canyon as day broke. The skies were still overcast.  I try and make an effort to not let the elements or pending inclement weather affect my mood so I pedaled on thinking of the High Country Lodge which I would hit later that day.
 
The road forks a couple times and swings between some old cabins. At about that point the gravel turns to dirt. If it’s dry, it’s ok, if not…well, you hope it’s dry. I remember hear accounts of this section be brutal on the account of the clay and mud but figured that would never happen to me. This tends to be my outlook on misfortune in general.
 
As soon as the gravel went to dirt the dirt began to stick to my tires. My bike had been designed around lugs and big-ass tires which are in direct conflict when designing a bike. The lugs would dictate a classic lined road bike where as the big tires are happiest with a lot of space. Compromises were made to accommodate the two and mud clearance was the loser. The bike didn’t have terrible clearance but no one that i know would call it ‘good’.
 
As the sticky mud started sticking to the tires and then again to itself, it was only a matter of a couple hundred feet before the bike ceased to move. The ability of the mud to stick to itself was incredible. I quickly ground to a halt. I began walking my bike down the dirt path. It wasn’t two steps before I realized that on top of not being able to ride, I was unable to physically push the bike for the same reasons. The sticky sticky mud continued to collect and wouldn’t allow the wheel to rotate.  I futilely attempted scraping the mud off my tires but it would return in a single wheel rotation.  It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
 
There I was, smack dab in the middle of a long remote section of the divide and I was unable to even push my bike. Brutal. The simple thought of my predicament was daunting.
 
The area had some rolling hills which were covered in scrubby chaparral. I lifted my bike up off the road and into the scrub and began to navigate it hoisting my bike up and over sage bushes. The progress was SLOW at best.  My actually situation was hopeless and was compounded by the fact that there was no discernible end in sight.  I continued wrestling my bike over bushes and dragging it up side slopes. I couldn’t believe that I literally couldn’t walk my bike down the path.
 
I thought that If the sun were to come out, even for a bit, I would dry things up just a little and I would get back to walking on the road, Just as that thought occurred to me it started to drizzle. FuckMyLife.
 
I tried to keep things into perspective. In my head, I knew that at some point the gravel would replace the dirt and I would be able to ride, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember where that was. At my pace it could take days to get that far. shit.
 
After a few hours of dragging my bike through sage I came upon a herd of cows in the pasture. Most of the time I ride by, and don’t give it a second thought. Even if the cows are in the road and block progress, I am on my bike and feel safe there knowing that I can ride away if need be. Off the bike I feel a bit more vulnerable, especially when I am dragging 40 awkward lbs of uselessness and mud.
 
I found myself right in the mix of a dozen or so cows. They wouldn’t move and didn’t seem to be phased by yelling at them so I pushed through within petting distance. The nearest cow stopped eating and turned towards me. It then did something very un-cow, it reared up a bit and moved even closer towards me.  It was a distinctively aggressive move.
 
I quickly positioned my bike between me an the cow and tried to move along. The cow stood its ground and reared its head. At that time I made a terrifying anatomical discovery. This cow had a wiener. It wasn’t a cow at all. It was a bull! FUCK ME!
 
I scoot past the bull and continued to keep my bike between myself and it. Most of the time at this point, a cow loses interest and allows you to pass, this was not the case. The bull was now following me at an unnerving distance.
 
I would like to say that this was the biggest bull I had ever seen, which was not the case at all. It was a midsize adolescent with rather aggressive tendencies.  The fact that I was relegated to dragging my bike amongst the herd made them all seem much much larger.
 
The next cow was not giving an inch either. I continued to drag the bike and keep an eye on the not so friendly bull that was now following me.  I did a dick-check right away on the next cow and I couldn’t believe my shit luck. Another bull. This one more animated than the last.  It spun around and stared me down.
 
I said some soothing things that didn’t seem to help. These fuckers where crazy.  It reared up and faint charged me. I swung the bike towards it and positioned myself, again, between the bike and it.
 
I then took a second to scan the other surrounding cows.  Check that, bulls. FUCKING BULLS! Every last one of them. Sausage party, and I was the entertainment.
 
As I took notice of all the bulls at once, they all seem to do the same.  Every last bull had now noticed me and was walking over. Holy shit. At this point I had made my way through the thick of them and had only a few left to deal with, although the herd of them was now sauntering my way.
 
My first instinct was to get back to the road but i knew that that was a dead end. My bike won’t ride on the dirt, or even roll down it for that matter.  I continued talking to them as I weaved by the last angry bulls. They continued making faint charges and rearing up.  I once drew my bike up as to threaten swinging at an oncoming bull, marginally effective.
 
I snuck by the last bull and gingerly continued to drag my bike through the scrub. a few bulls lost interest and a couple continued to follow me. I felt a bit safer now that I wasn’t surrounded but didn’t breath easy until a few minutes later when the last bull seemed to lose interest.
 
The comedy of the situation seemed to diffuse a bit of the utter hopelessness feeling.
 
I had about another half hour pushing my bike up the crest of a large hill. I would estimate 3 to 4 hours of pushing and dragging. In the grand scheme of things, not terrible but at hour 2 it seemed as though it would never end.
 
At the top of the hill I cleaned my tires and mounted my bike. I figured if I could go fast enough I could fling the remaining mud off my tires and blast through until gravel returns.
 
My plan was mostly successful. I made a big mess of things but at least I wasn’t dragging a bike through a herd of bulls anymore.  Mud everywhere. I was looking forward to arriving at the High Country Lodge and cleaning me and me steed up.
 
Pedals gingerly feeling like I had let a bunch of time slip away through the sticky mud. I took the opportunity to keep a very gingerly pace.
 
I passed a cyclo tourist on pavement section outside of polaris. She was scottish. I slowed up and chatted for a while before splitting off. She had a fantastic outlook on touring and here energy was contagious. 
 
Pulling into the High Country Lodge. Per usual, Russ and Karen had been tracking me and were prepared. On this day, Russ was out guiding some folks on the river so he left a note and his beloved mother-in-law, Winney. She must be all of 85 lbs, and 85 years old, give or take. I remembered her from the year before.  What an angel. She looked at me and said: “what do you need?…lets get to work.” Hell yea Grandma. Somewhere in there was a divide racer.
 
Showered, washed bike, ate, chatted with Winney and was out. The sack lunch she sent me with was outrageous, just what I needed to get to butte.  The Kipp crew is amazing and that lodge is unbelievable. Any divide racer would be a fool to miss it.
 
Hopped back on the bike with a little pep in my step. Great stop. Up and over the pavement grinder to Wise River. Saw a man looking for rainbow gathering. Had no idea the divide was so close. 
 
On the long decent into Wise River, I saw 2 things I thought I had missed. 1. Mr. Russ Kipp himself.  Glad to catch up with him. Promised him a return visit once I picked up my Toyota Chinook RV and pointed back to Vail.
 
The second was a true back of the packer, Javier. All kitted out with big aero bars, pimp ass bike (cannondale or something similar), and a big solar panel to power all his goodies. Cracked me up.  In my pursuit of replenishing green supplies I was referred to Javier multiple times. Young guy, dreadlocks…no brainer. Here’s how our encounter went:
 
There were two back of packers riding very near to each other. The first one was a swiss kid. He was a fucking chatterbox with nothing to say. He kept telling me how he was a strong rider. He asked if I had heard of this rider or that pulling big miles, etc. I wanted to smother him with a pillow. He asked me to keep an eye out for his spot which he had dropped…got it. PEACE OUT! Out of the corner of my eye I saw Javier and didn’t want to have to chat to the both of them.  I rolled away quickly and up to Javier who was a quarter mile back. I stopped and we started chatting. Out of both of our mouths simultaneously  “do you have any weed?” Shit. He as a funny dude though, and super fun to talk to. I told him to hit up rainbow gathering. I would. After about a minute, who comes rolling from the NoBo direction, our swiss friend. He must have spotted us chatting and wanted in. At this point I had had all I could take of our chatty friend and bid them both ado.
 
No stop in wise river, felt good. Hustled over to fleecer. Got in the aero bars and cleaned that shit, unlike this guy..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfEm_HBpkbw
 
Sun went down and I camped just short of Butte. Turned in right at dusk, I was tired.
 
Putzed it butte at the grocery for a while. Hit the road. Love that section between butte and basin. Train tunnels on a rail grade. Fast.
 
The climb out of Basin is Burly. Capital B. Hustled up and over. I think it’s better for the NoBo. The decent is barely ridable at the top on a beat up rooted trail. No way folks are able to climb up it.
 
Helena, divide highlight…spot stalkers. A guy came out of his office building to say hello and offer some encouragement. A few others joined him. Kinda nice when someone else gives a shit.
 
Grocery resupply. Poor fueling decision at a Hardees led to some extreme fatigue leaving town. Laid down for a power nap. Helped enough.
 
While I was rising from my nap i was greeted by one of the more inspiring bike tourists I have ever encountered. A young kid, maybe younger than myself. Standard mtn bike with a bob trailer. I didn’t see it right away but he was only pedaling with one leg. Some defect only gave him strength to pedal with one leg. The other leg was strapped to a modified crank arm designed to keep the works spinning until the other leg came around for another power stroke. The divide with one leg…SHITFIRE! What an animal.
 
I crested the pass and started down into very familiar territory. There is a little rail yard on the back side of the pass there and remembered it vividly. I also heard train whistles as I was coming down hill. The road descends parallel to the tracks and the crossed them once it reaches the same level. 
 
As the road paralleled the tracks down below, I realized it was a classic scenario being played out. I was a few cars back from the engine but had a descent down to where the road crossed the tracks. I was racing the train.
 
My first thought was, don’t do anything stupid. Noted. My next thought was, might as well pedal and see how it comes out when the road crossed the tracks. Assessing the situation I didn’t really think beating the train was feasible. The train was in fact leading me by a fair bit, but I put my head down and spun up that 18 tooth cog.
 
I started gaining on the front of the train. Took a look at the crossing a quarter mile ahead. Looked back at the train. Things still didn’t look good. Again I put down my head and used the decent to grab a few more MPH’s and accelerated. 20 is spun. 22 is totally spun out. I would say I was at 23.
 
I looked back down to the train and I was now even with the engine. Well, hell, I might have this. I did have a decent amount of real estate until the crossing. I continued the spin and found myself a fair distance out front and it was then I told myself that it wouldn’t be totally crazy to edge this train out.
 
When the road took the sweeping left to go over the tracks, I had put a comfortable amount of distance on the train and went for it. Probably a bit anti climactic, but when I crossed those tracks and looked down at the face of the approaching engine, the engineer letting me have a good taste of the whistle, it was like staring down the barrel of a gun.  Heart pumped. I was no longer tired. Raced a train and won. Felt pretty good.
 
The sun had started making its way down. I have spent a good number of nights sleeping out in griz country but for some reason this night, I didn’t want to. Probably a poor choice, but I really wanted to make it to Lincoln. I had camped in Ovando the year before so getting to lincoln would only put me a few hours back on being up a full day on last year’s time.
 
There is a huge climb and huge decent between me and lincoln. I put my head down and let the fading daylight add to my hustle.  I remember the abandoned mines at the top of one of the more technical long descents into the low river valley that Lincoln sits in. The year prior there was a lot of standing water that I had to navigate to stay dry, ended up falling in last year, but that’s another story.
 
This year, in the dark, not so bad, made it down quickly and had an easy nighttime spin into Lincoln.
 
Only a bar was open in Lincoln but I wasn’t overly famished so I skipped it and decided I would take the time to rest and resupply in Ovando.
 
I found a piece of grass behind the gas station.  A few minutes after I laid my head down I started hearing rustling in nearby grass. Two of the most curious and gregarious deer were walking around my little camp spot. I threw some rocks at them but they weren’t fazed. I yelled and they sauntered off only to return a few minutes later. FML. Town deer. I would have been better off with the griz. They would leave me alone.
 
Started over huckleberry pass to Ovando early. The views from the pass onto the vast flat valley below are spectacular. Combined with a sunrise…#instagramgold
 
There are some very Very nice folks in Ovando. The lady that runs the small angler shop there now carries 29er tires and assorted bike triage parts. She told me that she had bailed a few riders out bigtime in this year race. Her name…hmmm…Karen? bless her heart. I remember the shop owner from the year before. He watched my dot and opened the store up special. Nice man.
 
Destroyed the cafe and set out for richmond pass.
 
Easily the most spectacular section of the route. If you disagree, you’re wrong.
 
Met another tourist. He had a custom Seven and a bob trailer. We talked for a second about gear (something I try and avoid as a rule) and were on our way. I hope I’m not like that guy. I acknowledge that much of divide exists on the internet but that’s not what makes it special.  Everyone geeks out on the setups and gear at home on the time-sucker machine, but I like to leave it there. Seven Cycles guy, I hope the divide teaches to many important lessons about why bike touring kicks ass and how little it has to do with machines.
 
Clear day up and over Richmond. What a lucky guy I am. I couldn’t believe that I was able to ride the entire way through. No snow to speak of. Boo-ya.
 
Once you descend off of Richmond you are presented with navigating the doldrums of Swan Valley. Has to be e longest single section of the route. Super scenic. There are a few old groth stands and many section of road are closed to cars. Without a GPS, it would be tough. There are a few places there the ‘road’ goes to grass and turns off onto a path in the ditch. With a GPS and having ridden it before, painless….without, probably frustrating.
 
I remember the big climb out to get to the highway to ferndale. It seemed like just around the next corner, for a few hours, would be the first switchback. Hours or riding and I finally got there. Futurizing is a good way to fuck yourself on the divide. Stay present and it become exponentially easier. Easier said than done.
 
Once you hit the highway to ferndale there are a bunch of easy flat pavement miles to Columbia Falls and then only 12 more to Whitefish. Very easy miles to pound out even at night. Got about halfway on the maze of gridded roads leading into Columbia Falls and fell apart like a cheap toy. Passed out behind a fire station. Probably close to a double century which is good enough for me.
 
Spun through Columbia Falls and made a quick stop in Whitefish. Love that town.
 
I knew I would be finishing that day so there was a little pep in my step.  Super scenic section between Whitefish and Kalispell.
 
Got to Kalispell early afternoon or so. Stopped at a gas station and picked up a few road beers for the 10 mile spin up to the border where my ride would unfortunately have to end.
 
It began to rain before I got out of town. Didn’t bother me much because I was about to finish. Mixed emotion. Would I like to make it to Banff? Hell yea I would. Am I glad to finish? You bet. Do I fee like the ride is complete. Yea, I do.
 
Drank my beers on the pedal up the to border.  Sat down at the picnic table outside the bar there at the border. Had a bottle of Champagne that I didn’t really feel like opening. Chatted with a drunk Canadian who bought me a beer and pedaled back into Kalispell. Depresssing? a little, but also nice to finish. I ended up getting to the border almost exactly a day ahead of last year. Victory I’d say.
 
Spun back into Kalispell. Ended up missing business hours but was invited to join some local jocals at Jax Cafe for some beers and pizza. The owner of the restaurant invited me over to camp in his yard and shower which I was very grateful. It was heartwarming touring cyclist good fortune.
 
The next day I again was treated to the good graces of kind souls. Had an amazingly slow 50 mile spin back to Whitefish. Chatted with another touring cyclist for over an hour…how nice it is not to be racing any longer.
 
In in Whitefish I tracked down the current owner of a 1977 Toyota Chinook Camper RV that I had purchased sight unseen via craigslist and a phone conversation.  The current owns was a standup guy and offered me a bed and dinner along with a sweet old camper at a great price.
 
The trip home in the Chinook was magical. Stopped in Misoulla at a good buddies. He was there for a minute and then left his place for me to unwind and detox for a few days. Amazing. Registered the chinook in my name under his address for my life…amazing.
 
Stopped for an overnight at the High Country Lodge. Was treated like royalty by the Kipps. Amazing people.
 
The next night I dropped in on JayP in victor, Idaho. Great host. Chatted divide till late.
 
Jackson for a couple nights with a buddy. Through the basin the easy way (in a car) to Brush Mountain Lodge where I got to spend a couple nights with kirsten, God’s gift to divide racers (or anyone who is lucky enough to know her for that matter). And then onto Vail. An amazing way to end my divide. What a magical time it was.
 
More to come on  gear in another post.

About cjellmoney

Fucking badass dude.
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11 Responses to Tour Divide 2013, Ballin Halls

  1. you are a fucking legend…I hope I can find time to do the TD next year goddamit! let me know if you are ever in northern nm or southern colo! keep pedaling…have a good winter in vail mang. Taos is always here and there is a solar powered wood stove heated airstream in the forest with your name on it next to our cabin.

  2. Brilliant read, Cjell. Seriously the best I’ve come across regarding the TD. I believe we have a common friend, Nathan Schoeper.

    • cjellmoney says:

      Thanks. nasty Nate is the man. He is blowing up. Money racing’s first sponsored rider

      • Nice! Yes, Nate is the man. He’s a good dude who’s tied in with a bunch of other good friends of mine from Green Bay; we used to all shred together in Summit County during the ’90s. It’s a small world my man! I look forward to reading more about your adventures and your bikes. Peace. ~ Darren D.

  3. dru1962 says:

    Another captivating read, with enough Cjell$ in it to keep it real. Looking forward to a little Maah Daah Hey 100 synopsis — or don’t you write about your sprint-racing exploits?

  4. Pingback: TD 2013: Wieso, weshalb, warum? Ein Bericht von Cjell Money › overnighter

  5. clay m says:

    good read Cjell. I think you are meaning Eureka, not kalispell in the last few paragraphs.

  6. Jon says:

    lol trust fund kid

  7. Pingback: Baja Divide Rider Profile: Cjell Monē – Baja Divide

  8. Mike Ingram says:

    Great read … good to hear your NOBO perspective … esp that piece about the climb out of Radium up that big assed hill. Liked your Baja writeup too !

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