Tour Divide: Part 4, The Route

I loved this route, and I hated racing it.

It isn’t a technical ride. There’s almost no singletrack. But it is does go through the mountains, and it’s best on a mountain bike. I guess whether that makes it count as mountain biking is debatable.

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A rare piece of singletrack. Gnarly in the conditions

The good stuff

Even though the weather in Canada was trying (understatement), it’s beautiful up there. The route was rough, and the Flathead was one of the highlights of the whole trip. I just wish the clouds would have parted a little more often.

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“Sure this is the trail?” “Yeah man, this is it. Straight down through this river.”

The snowy passes in Montana weren’t easy, and trudging through the snow while it pisses rain isn’t close to fun, but I was ready for that stuff. It was hard, and that’s part of the reason I was out there.

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Northern New Mexico. Fantastic. People kept telling me to dread the place, but it was my favorite part of the ride.

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The jeep roads were rocky, high altitude, and empty. Except for some sheep.

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I wanted to take a picture of the shepherd, but he looked pissed to see another person. Takes a special kind to do that job. So I left him alone with his sheep.

 

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Not the sand road to Separ, despite the confusingly placed next paragraph.

 

And the sand road out of Silver City to Separ, a day from the end of the race, was rad. I was so excited to finish and to see Colleen again. I left town after dark on the Fourth of July, fireworks booming behind as I pedaled off into the night. I hit the sand around midnight, and the wind swung around to my back. I was pushed along at 20 miles per hour, barely pedaling, jumping my bike off every roller. Blissful man.

Southern New Mexico was the only time I had a problem finding water. Way back in Wyoming, I stopped to talk with a couple guys who were touring Northbound.

“Now, this might not help you now. But when you get down into the desert between Cuba and Grants, there isn’t any water. Except for the white church- you’ll see it, and there’s a faucet in the back. You can fill up there,” they told me.

That information rattled around in my head for the next 1,800 miles. And when I made it to that section of desert I was pinned down by a mean headwind, moving at a walking pace, withering in the sun. Sure enough, I was almost out of water.

And then on the horizon, I saw blurry outline of a white building- the only structure I’d come across in 30 miles. Is that the church? God I hope so. A little closer. Looks it might have a steeple. Closer. Oh man, it does. Saved again.

I rode to the vacant church, and saw a set of tire tracks circling the building. Somebody else must have grabbed water here. I did a lap. Where’s the spigot? Another lap. No spigot. Looked around for a pump. Nothing but dust and peeling paint. Deflated, I headed back out to the road.

Ten miles later, another blurry white building. That must be the church they were talking about. The steeple came into focus, and looked newer than the last one. Thank god. This is it.

I rode into the parking lot, and again, there were a set of tracks circling the building in the dust. I rode around to the back of the building- no spigot.

“Fuck!” I slumped down in the shade of the empty building and stared off into the sand.

A while later, I got back up and headed out into the wind. Desperate, I rode off route to a garage where some oil rig guys were huddled around a truck. After I answered the usual questions about the trip, I asked if they knew of any place to find water. They didn’t- no wells out there.

“Well do you guys know of a white church? Somebody told me I might be able to fill water there.”

They looked around at each other, then one spoke up.

“Oh man, that’s Father Pedro’s place! He got it all man, snack bar, coffee, cold drinks, couches, air conditioning. Father Pedro’ll set you up man. He’s just a couple miles up the road, big white church, you can’t miss it,” said a guy smeared with sweat and black grease.

Awesome. I thanked the guys and headed out. Snacks, coffee, cold water. This is gonna turn out ok after all.

A couple miles down the road, I came to a massive pit mine. An explosion went off to my left, giant earthmoving trucks rumbled over a makeshift overpass, the wind ripped up a giant dust cloud. No church. No snacks. No Father Pedro. I put my head down and kept pedaling.

Not so great parts

The route through Colorado was a let down. Steamboat, Breckenridge, and Salida have some of the best singletrack in the world, and to blow through those places on gravel was like ordering a cobb salad and just eating the lettuce. Sure, we mountain biked through Colorado. But we picked our way around all the good parts.

There were some sweet sections:

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After the Wyoming border, headed to Steamboat

But mostly, it was worse than it should have been. The route left the mountains, and stuck to valley floors on endless ranch roads as wide as a four lane hi-way. Straight lines, washboard, big headwinds. Miserable. I love Colorado- that’s why I live here, so maybe I was just expecting better. But I certainly wasn’t expecting hundreds of miles of this, stuff that made me wonder if I’d ever left Wyoming:

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And Wyoming also wasn’t my favorite.

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Although it did have bright spots, just like everywhere else.

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Truth is, if I would have been touring I probably would have liked the whole route. I could have sat out days when the headwind was vicious, taken more time to check out all the cool little towns, and been able to accept invitations from the locals that kept trying to feed me dinner and give me a place to sleep. Instead of just riding, riding, riding.

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The Toaster House. Mostly full of ratty old thru-hiker shoes, not toasters.

When Alice and I made it to Pie Town, and stopped by the Toaster House (a CDT hiker and GDR rider house) for a shower, I signed the guestbook “racing is dumb.” Really profound, I know. But it was all I had to say. I missed a lot by blowing through everything as fast as I could.

If I would have toured, I would have missed other things. There was something about grinding myself down day after day. At the very least, it made me realize what I really wanted- to hang out more with Colleen and the cat. And go on a bike tour.

I won’t stop racing- I’m too competitive (not in an outwardly aggressive way, but my default mode is quietly burying myself). And I like bike racing. It’s fun. I guess I’m just saying that going slower has its place, and I spent a lot of time wishing I wasn’t pushing myself so hard.

When I made the border, I was totally ready to be done racing. But I wanted to keep riding.

The Divide was a good way to take a first crack at this kind of thing, but next time I’m looking for more singletrack and taking my time. Unless I’m racing.

2 thoughts on “Tour Divide: Part 4, The Route

  1. Enjoyed your write up. The TDR just scratches the surface of the whole multi-day race thing. But you hit the nail on the head about race vs tour, in their own way both pull at most who do one or the other.
    In the end the TDR is such a mellow route, its mostly like paddling still water. Racing singletrack, ie:CTR, AZT etc are like shooting a rapid in comparison, short, all focus, little relaxation or time for side thoughts at all.
    Well-enjoy the touring and best luck in any future multi-day races. So many places and ways to ride and camp, so little time………..

    1. Yeah, good comparison. It is just like a super long section of flat water. I expected it to be like that, and I told myself I wouldn’t complain about it- but I’d really rather be riding something more stimulating.

      And racing, man it was hard to just put my head down and pedal.

      Anyway, all good. It was cool to cover that much ground. Looking forward to the AZT and beyond though

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