I’ve mentioned this before, but damn, what a hard race. It’s not that it’s technically difficult- if you can ride down a bike path you’ve pretty much got the necessary handling skills dialed in. It’s just so long. 2750 miles is a long way by any standard of travel, and it’s a really really long way when you’re doing it under your own power as fast as possible.
Although the route isn’t really mountain biking (it’s almost entirely dirt road), it’s rough. And 18+ hours a day of rocks and washboard add up fast, especially since you can’t give yourself time to recover. By the time I finished, I was wrecked. It took me two months to even regain enough hand strength back to use a set of nail clippers. I’d have the clippers in place, will my hand with everything I had to squeeze the bastards, and absolutely nothing would happen. It sucked.
Anyway, preparing, racing, and recovering from the Divide consumed most of my year. And I have a lot of stories to fill in. Here are some thoughts on the race and route. To be continued tomorrow.
“Do you see that? Do you see?” Klaus the German skids to a stop again and pulls his whistle out (as if imitating a sparrow is going to fend off a charging grizzly).
“Klaus, it’s a stump.”
While I was out there, there was some pretty comical ursaphobia. Short story, in my opinion- don’t worry about them.
Instead, be afraid of the hideous sores that will almost certainly cover your ass after a week.
I didn’t carry explosives, spray, or a gun. I didn’t have a whistle or a little tinkly bell. And it was fine. I’ve seen lots of bears while mountain biking, and they’ve always run away. A bike isn’t natural looking or sounding- and bears aren’t typically inclined to attack the weird looking organic-mechanical combination rolling towards them at 12mph. It’s easier for them to saunter off into the woods.
And the divide route isn’t really that remote- it’s on roads, where there’s other traffic. It’s not like hiking off-trail through the interior of Alaska.
The dogs in New Mexico on the other hand, seem to have a taste for gringo flesh. Squirting them with a water bottle worked pretty well (although wasting water in the desert didn’t). Kicking was semi-effective, and yelling also seemed to help. Maybe I should have learned some Spanish commands.
The weirdest night I had out there was in the desert after Cuba. I was stopped three times. First by a big mustachioed Mexican dude in a pickup, who kept telling me to put my bike in truck so he could give me a ride. One in the morning, black desert, thunderstorms 20 miles south. Lightning flashes, no sound.
“Amigo, put in it the back. I’ll help you, give you a ride. Come on amigo, put it in the back.”
“No, sorry man, thanks for the help but I can’t. I’m racing.”
“No come on amigo. You not racing. Where you going?”
“To the border. We started in Canada, there were 130 of us.”
He looked at me and squinted. “No, man. I ain’t seen no one. You all alone out here. You a liar man. You lying to me,” he growled.
“Ok, appreciate the help. Gotta roll though.”
“Yeah, you get back on that bike you liar. Lemme see you pedal it.”
I was happy to oblige. He followed me for twenty minutes down the road, while I sweated and rode with my joke of a pocket knife gripped to the handlebars. Then he pulled off onto a dirt road and disappeared into the sage.
A while later, another car skidded to a stop in front of me. Two Navajo guys. God, not again. After a few minutes, I convinced them to let me keep going.
30 minutes later, they were back. The guy in the passenger seat was ready to lose it, he was nervously smacking the door of the car with his palm.
“Man, we just couldn’t leave you out here. My girlfriend, she’s having a baby, we’re on our way to the hospital, but we had to come back. I was just so worried man. You can’t be out here now- because, the skin-walkers.”
“What? skin-walkers?” I imagined zombies with loose flesh stumbling through the sand.
“The skin-walkers, we don’t go out at night because of them. Please stay with the man at who owns the store in the next town. He’ll give you a room, he’s a Christian. Please, I can’t let you stay out here.”
“What’s a skin-walker?” I was curious, but not ready to be done riding for the night.
“You know, if you see the coyote, or the rattlesnake,” he trailed off.
“Hey guys, I appreciate the concern. But I’ve gotta keep rolling. And man, go to the hospital if your girlfriend is having a baby, don’t worry about me.”
“Ooow,” he slapped the side of the car again, “Ok, but please be careful, please camp soon… and beware the skin-walkers.”
The next morning I was dozing off, pedaling at a walking pace into a mean headwind, when I heard a rattle. I swerved just in time to avoid a big snake sunning itself on the shoulder.
Since I never got an answer, I had to google when I made it back to internet at a Navajo run rest stop while I ate a burger with a sopapilla for a bun. A skin-walker is a medicine man who has the ability to shape shift, and roams around at night on all fours, attacking houses and and smashing windows, causing car accidents, and killing relatives. People don’t go out at night because of them, and don’t speak of them at night. They can hear your thoughts.
The skin walker was the most real thing in the world for that guy. I wish that I could have explained to him that in my world, a skin walker wasn’t any more of a part of reality than a flying orange donkey. I also wish I would have grabbed his address so I could send him a post card and let him know that I’m still kicking. Because now he’ll have to live with not being able to save that lonely cyclist from the skin-walkers on the night his child was born.
During both of those interactions- it was so hot at night, I was so expecting to be alone, and I so needed to air out my junk, that I was riding naked except for a pair of wool boxers. Talk about feeling vulnerable.