Friday, July 31, 2015

Tour Divide 2015 - Day 6

I treated myself to a sleep in this morning, waking at a very slovenly 7:30am. In anticipation of a wet, cold ride I had posted a small package to the Last Chance Gulch (I shit you not, that is what it was called) post office which was located next door to my motel. It contained a new chain and some Nuun electrolyte tablets. It also contained one of two letters that my kids had written to cheer me up. The other letter was in another package headed for Pinedale. I was just waiting for the post office to open at 8:30am.

As I waited I felt my left heel. The slight swelling seemed to be gone and it didn't have a "squidgy" feel when I moved it. Good so far today.
There was a coffee shop on the corner opposite the post office and it shouted artisan coffee. I decided to give them a try, rather than the Starbucks on the other corner. I sauntered in, resplendant in my black lycra and asked for a flat white coffee. I got some blinks from the girl behind the counter so I tried again, "a medium flat white coffee" in my clearest voice. She sprang into action so I figured 'message received" and waited for my coffee. "That will be $1.88" she proclaimed. Hmmm, thats cheap, even for the land of cheap food. I paid up and walked out with my coffee. I don't think I am a coffee snob but taking a swig I soon realised why it was cheap. It was just black filter coffee and pretty ordinary at that. See that Stop sign in the photo? Well, the coffee went straight into the garden bed beneath it! 

8:30 finally arrived and I was first into the post office to get my parcel.

"Hi, I have a package addressed to me care of general delivery" I said. "No, we don't have it" he says without even looking. "General delivery goes to Helena post office". "But I addressed it to this post office" I say. "No, it won't be here" he repeats. "Could you just have a look please, because I addressed it here" I ask again. He went out the back and had a cursory glance then said "no, you will have to go to Helena post office" and began explaining how it was 4 miles away across town.

FFS! How does a package sent to a specific address get sent and held at another address? That is fundamentally what the post is meant to do, namely deliver your post to the address on the front?!! I was pretty pissed off because I had waited until 8:30 to get this parcel and now I had nothing, It was miles away across town. There was no way I was going to get it and waste more time. I was even more pissed off that it had the letter from my kids in it, which if I am honest is what I really wanted.

I composed myself and regained the route out of town. On the upside, with the rest and my new, improved pedalling technique my heel was feeling good. I could actually put good power through it with no squeaking at all, if I kept the technique right. If I lapsed into bad habits it squeaked though so it was easy to ensure I got it right.

I began wondering how far all of the other riders had got last night. I figured they would all be gone for good but consoled myself with the fact that at least I was able to get on my bike today and didn't have to take some rest days in Helena like I had feared. I hated Helena with it's rude, incompetent people and busy streets. I wanted to get out into the bush again.

A few miles out of Helena I passed this row of boxes. Ha! Good luck getting anything that is addressed to you in the right box! Muppets!

The road climbed and climbed toward Park Lake campground. The scenery was soon stunningly beautiful again and I was suitably calmed. Park Lake looked like a nice place to camp and I wondered how cold it was up here last night for Beth and the others that pressed on. I was soon cresting divide crossing number 5.

The Lava Mountain section of trail was coming up. It had a special notoriety as a difficult section of trail to get through, being a mess of tree roots. I was quietly pleased that the weather was being kind and the ground was dry as the trail can be treacherous in the wet.

But first, to get to the rooty section I had to pass the rocky section, then the rutted section. Sounds like a Monty Python script, doesn't it?

Then I had to pass the rutty section....

I eventually got to the rooty section but I was having too much fun to stop. Yes, the trail was at just over 7000' above sea level and taxing the legs but all the more reason to concentrate and push hard.

 I passed a couple of guys at the top that were just standing there, looking smashed. I said g'day and blasted past, finally getting out into the open again. You can see in the photo where people were railing the corner up in the grass, having had enough of the rocks.

The trail from here was pretty rough and hilly. There was a long downhill section into the tiny town of Basin. I had a quick look for food but when I didn't see anything obvious, I pressed on as I had plenty of food and I soon scooped a bottle out of the Boulder River which paralleled the trail here.

The next few hours were just more climbing, descending and to be honest I don't really remember it. Nothing stands out apart from the last few miles into Butte as the road climbed again when I think it should have descended. We seemed to be taking a "quiet" back road when I am sure there was a more direct descent.

Coming into the outskirts of Butte I saw Brett, Josh and Brian sitting on the kerb. Stopping to say hi they looked a bit beat up (but I probably did too) and were perusing the map trying to figure out where The Outdoorsman was. I had googled it before I left home but these US cities are soo spread out. The memory of it's location and the reality on the ground were very different. I was in a hurry to catch The Outdoorsman before they closed and sped off a few times, stopping to look at the map and the boys caught up again. This happened a few times so the guys probably though I was being a bit intense but I just wanted some work done on my bike and it was a loong way to the next bike shop. ;) The Outdoorsman was 1 mile off route and I made it in there at about 5pm. I heard Rob, the owner, telling someone on the phone that they close at 6pm, no exceptions. Apparently they have been burnt helping TD racers at all hours so stick to regular hours now.

I had them replace my chain and top up my Stans in the front wheel. They didn't have a Maxxis Ikon to replace the back tyre so I continued with the tube in my original tyre. This happened while I ate in the Quiznos Sub place across the street. They had wifi so I was pleased to let my wife know that my ankle was ok and I was powering on. 

Picking up my bike, Brian, Brett and Josh were in the store as well. Brian said he was staying the night as he was having respiratory problems like quite a few other racers. Brett and Josh were going to hang for a bit longer so I wished them all the best, then headed out for the next divide crossing or campground. It was kind of cool the way one kept passing and being passed by riders around you. A bit of a comradre was developing with these regular place changers. Whomever was a day in front or a day behind though was anyone's guess and would be quite probably experiencing an entirely different race to us. The beauty of the Tour Divide....

Rolling out of Butte I was feeling good and resolved to just ride until it got dark, then stealth camp.

Just along here I bumped into Jill again, so I stopped for a quick chat. She was also planning on riding until dark, then camping. I wished her well and pedalled off again. A short time later I was back on the dirt and as I passed someone's house they ran out to the roadside to get a photo of me and cheer me on. Cool, another Blue Dot junkie!

Climbing up to the divide crossing I came across two guys touring the route who were trying to set their camera up for a selfie. I offered to take a few photos for them if they took one of me. They happily obliged.

I was still feeling good as I crested the continental divide again. This time I was heading west but crossing onto the eastern side of the divide-go figure. There was a very nice campground here with views to eternity and I was tempted to set up camp but after the late start I had today I needed to keep pedalling for a while yet.

So, I did. The downhill off the divide crossing was a hoot but soon enough I was back in rolling hills. I heard a few rifle shots ring out no too far away so was on high alert. Soon, a beat up old sedan came around a bend with two young kids in it. I said g'day as they passed as it pays to be friendly with guys that are toting guns.

It was getting late now and the sun dipped toward the horizon. Every time I stopped to scout a likely camping spot I was swarmed with mosquitos so I kept pedalling on.

Stopping to look at my ACA map I could see that the trail crossed the I-15 after it dropped off the hills and there were no sheltered campgrounds until the Beaver Dam campground on the climb up to Fleecer Ridge. Climb? Again. At this time of the day.....welcome to the divide race....

The descent off the divide into the setting sun was SPECTACULAR! The road was FAST and it was hard to concentrate on the road with this view.

Twilight lasts forever at this latitude so it was only just after dark as I grovelled into the Beaver Dam campground some 15 kilometres and 1000ft climb later. I quickly set up camp, did some stretches and exercises for my achilles then ate my sub dinner. There were bear signs everywhere so I was keeping my spray very close at all times. Like in one hand, close. I felt very alone up here under Fleecer Ridge. 

With the late start I had only covered 185km (115mi) but had climbed 3400m (11 200ft) for the day! Plus I had a service stop at The Outdoorsman. The Outdoorsman, because it was in the stupid movie was a minor motivational "carrot" I guess, but ticked off none-the-less.

I jumped into my sleeping bag and noted that 7000ft didn't feel so bad any more. Another rider rode into the campground then stopped about 50 metres away. I was too tired to see who it was....... I hoped it wouldn't be too cold as I dozed off to sleep...........


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tour Divide 2015 - Day 5

I woke at about 6am today. 6am? What happened to my 4:30 alarm? And the 5:30 one? I had slept through at least two alarms this morning but I did feel good for it. Fifteen hours sleep in the last four days probably wasn't really enough so eight hours last night made me feel like a million dollars.

I did my best to pack up quickly, something that I still sucked at. With my fiddly packing it took at least thirty minutes from wake up to ride off which wasn't really ideal but to be honest I never got it down much less than that the whole race.

Pedalling into the rising sun I contemplated todays ride. I had four passes to ride to get to Helena, MT and five if I wanted to push on toward Butte. This was going to hurt! 

First up was Huckleberry Pass. I had contemplated tackling this one last night but didn't for two reasons. One was my achilles, I wanted to look after it and reason two was that I didn't want to camp in bear country.

There was a small stream at the bottom of the pass and I topped my water up here. Then it was back to climbing. I love a good climb in the morning......

The climb was quite solid for a while, then it levelled off, then the slope went up again. All the while the surface was nice and smooth. The views out across the plains were stunning and I could trace out where I had just ridden from.

I was kicking myself for not pressing on to Lincoln last night. The climb was on good quality road with rest sections built into it, probably the easiest climb on the whole divide route so far. On a couple of switchback corners I notice a small fire still smoldering near the outside edge of the road. I wondered what fool would leave a fire smoldering in a pine forest and hoped it wasn't a divide rider?

I was soon over the top of the pass and smoking down the other side.

The descent was on freshly graded road and I even passed the crew still at it.

I was feeling strong after the solid sleep and felt like I got over Huckleberry Pass quite quickly. I now had to deal with some rolling hills but it was pretty country so the time passed quite quickly. I thought I recognised one meadow as the meadow where in the movie they film Mary and the vegan powering along just on sunset. I couldn't get the camera out quick enough but I think it was the spot. Of course, I could be completely wrong...

Rolling into Lincoln and I stopped at the post office first. I was going to send a heap of gear that I wouldn't be using home. Here I bumped into Brett Stepanik again and we had a mini reunion. He was sending about a kilogram (2 pound) of stuff home as well. Being a nice warm, dry year we simply did not need the snow gear. I had hauled that 2 pound of useless gear over 8 or 9 passes since Friday. This being the first chance to get to an open post office!

Lincoln looked exactly like it did in the movie. I found a cafe where they kept bringing the food out to me. Another rider, lets call him M, was there as well. He said he was sleeping 2 hours a night but he was days ahead of where he was last time. Two hours sleep a night? He was a hand grenade waiting to go off! He told me that he camped on Huckleberry last night and lit a fire to scare bears but then woke up, went up the road a bit and lit another one..............hand grenade.......

I loitered a bit long in Lincoln as I stocked up at the supermarket. I eventually rolled out of town an hour or so later and it was again, pretty scenery.

I caught up with Brett again and we rode along chatting for some time. He had done the TD last year and shared some stories from that frozen ride. I mentioned my achilles problem and he said he had a few issues in the past and gave me some potential solutions that I already knew about but probably needed to hear again as we began climbing Stemple Pass, the second pass for the day. 

The road up Stemple was steeper than most and reasonably rough so I hopped off and did some pushing to give my legs a rest. Brett and I too'd and fro'd a bit with me cresting the top first. Not to be outdone, Brett pulled a nice wheelie as he crested the climb which I just managed to capture.

The descent off Stemple was fast and flowing with a thunderstorm threatening rain. About 2/3rds of the way down I felt the back end of the bike go all loose on me and slowed to a stop. Flat! Bugger! Looking at Strava later, I was on a 12.3 degree down grade and I was doing 40km/h when I holed. I am so glad it was the rear!

The Stans wasn't doing it's job so I ripped the tyre off the rim and put a tube in. Looking for the hole I saw a big bit of wood in the tyre where it had pierced the centre tread. The reason the Stans didn't work is because there was almost none left. This despite me putting in about 4oz before I left home.

To cap things off, it began to rain and Brett blasted past me.

Once fixed I remounted and continued the descent. I noticed that the road was quite wet down here whereas I only got a few drops on me. Brett was stopped at the bottom, removing his rain gear. He asked how I fared with the rain and I had to say "what rain"? Again, it was that timing thing. I was almost thankful for the flat.

We followed some country road for a while before beginning a climb toward "divide crossing #3". Not very inspired naming and the road lived up to it's name. It was even worse than the Stemple road with frequent washouts. There were some old mining stoneworks along here but I don't know anything about them apart from the fact they DID NOT contain a coffee shop or a Subway, so were of little interest to a Divide racer.

Cresting the pass there was a triangle formed at the top by three roads. I noticed a few tyre tracks going straight ahead but the divide gps track said go left, then come back to the right onto the road heading down. Another 150m of pedalling but I wasn't going to risk relegation over a stupid mistake. I even took the photo to prove that I went to the far corner and didn't straight-line it like a few others had. Paranoid or what?

The route traversed open farmlands here and seemed to be making for Helena.......

before it swung off the nice wide, well graded road onto a minor dirt track and began to climb..for something new! We were headed up Priest Pass and it was actually quite pretty in an open, no bears lurking kind of way.

It was also Divide crossing number 4, so a little celebration ensued...

From Priest Pass it was almost all downhill to Helena. Once I got onto the 12 there was a stiff headwind that required me to pedal downhill. Here I passed a roady coming up the hill, the other way. We exchanged waves and I thought no more of it.

 Ten minutes later the roady was right next to me coming into Helena. We chatted and he knew a little about the Tour. He turned out to be a surgeon about my age who had moved out from "back east". He was fascinated that I was Australian and here on his home turf doing this ride. We chatted for quite a while before he had to peel off to make the regular Monday afternoon group ride he was doing, wishing each other well. This was another of those little TD experiences that made my day and wouldn't happen if I was travelling by vehicle.

Helena was a big town and I struck a problem here. In small towns it was obvious where the food and lodging were. In Helena I had to poke around for about 30 minutes before I found where things were. On one of my double-backs I passed Beth Dunn as she headed out of town. She swung around to say hi and we chatted for a bit. She had the same problem, finding resupply, but was now stocked and getting back on track. I told her about my heel and that I was going to get a room to get it sorted out. Achilles issues on the TD are a bit like genital warts, you don't talk about it openly. So she wished me well and began her climb out of town toward Park Lake campground probably thinking that I was done for. I know I was starting to think that my race may be cooked.

I ate a huge steak dinner then found a room in some gunslinger $49 motel. A quick shop for ibuprofen and multi vitamins as well as some food for tomorrow and I retired for the night to work on my heel, icing it and stretching as best I could. Having wifi I messaged my wife (for the first time since last week) about my predicament and said I would rest it for a few days if I had to. I dropped my seat 5mm and moved my cleats back on my shoes by about the same distance as well. Something had to work, right?

I also checked Trackleaders and properly for the first time since the race started, putting up a quick update on You really are cut off from the world when you are racing this thing to the best of your ability (which I had been) as there was simply no time to talk to anybody at home, especially with the time difference.

Today was by far my worst day miles wise because I stopped early in Helena. Only 135km (84mi) but I still did 2000m climbing. I should have kept pedalling for another 4 hours at least but I really needed to fix this heel before it gave out altogether.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Tour Divide 2015 - Day 4

I awoke early next morning to some rustling. I had slept well, but was drenched with sweat. I mean soaked! I had read in blogs about the "night sweats" while on the tour but surely, this was ridiculous? The rustling turned out to be Andres just finishing his packing up. I let him go then proceeded to pack my kit up. My heel was feeling squidgy so I resolved to take it easy and just continue to pedal forward at a reduced pace.

I rode back to the route and it turned out that we had camped 5km off route. As I regained the route I saw several great camping spots on creeks within the next 10 to 15km. Last night was an inefficient mistake distance and time wise that I vowed would not happen again. 

I rode along on my own, whistling loudly as this looked like prime bear country. It also looked much like the last 600km so I didn't take many photos. I was lost in my own head trying to sort out what I could do about this achilles. It didn't hurt, it just felt odd and slightly uncomfortable. That would probably change unless I did something about it though.

I didn't feel like I was making good time with quite a bit of niggly climbing along here. It went up for a while then down then back up again. The elephant on the ride today was Richmond Peak, a climb and traverse that saw it's name whispered in hushed tones by veterans. There is always snow, scary, slippery snow on Richmond Peak.......

But first I had to get there. I had about 80km (50mi) to ride to get to Holland Lake Lodge and breakfast. Some of this 80k was through what looked to me like grizzly country. Again, the scat on the trail backed this up. In the following photo the trail left the forest road and followed a faint single track through the grass for a while.

"Try not to look like a wounded gazelle limping along, pedal strongly" I told myself. But I am sure I looked like prey.

Next thing I hear some rustling behind me and WHOOSH, a guy rides past me like I am standing still! F@rk me! I near soiled myself and it confirms that I was crawling along. But in true TD fashion, I pass him again 15 minutes later as he is changing out of his warm kit and having a bite to eat. I laugh when I read Blue Dot watchers speculating when someone's dot gets half a mile in front of the following rider that it is a break. Rubbish. Unless you get a 30 mile break on someone they are going to catch you the next time you eat/take a crap/have a minor melt down due to no more peanut M & Ms or have to do some other self-support type thing.

Bear Aware? Fark, I wasn't in a coma! Of course I was aware!!!

As I approached the 83 highway I passed one of the few riders I had seen all morning. I said "hi" as I rode by. Stopping at the 83 I knew that breakfast and Holland Lake Lodge were just a few miles along route to the right and one mile off route. The other guy rode up to me and stopped as well. He introduced himself as Lukas from Switzerland. He asked what I was doing and I replied "contemplating breakfast". He said he was going left, off route to the Hungry Bear Cafe as it was a 0.7 mile flat ride and not the climb like it was to Holland Lake Lodge. I was sold, turned left and pedalled off down the road behind him.

Any other time it probably wasn't the prettiest of places but this morning, it was the Taj Mahal filled with edible goodness! I briskly sat myself down and fired an order at the young lady waiting our table. Pretty soon a ridiculously huge plate of pancakes arrived in front of me and I did my best to make it disappear, along with several coffees and a can of Coke. Lukas had the same so there wasn't much conversation at the table.

I filled my Camelbak with icewater from the jug then paid the waitress. $11 was the tab and that sounded right. Outside as I readied to leave Lukas burst out and said "here, take this". It was $6 or $7. Wha? "She charged you for both of us" was his reply. All that food (I had actully been beaten and left a lot of pancake behind-oh the shame) for just $6? Crazy cheap and Happy Days!

Some decent food in ma belly cheered me up again- a recurring theme on the divide. I charged off toward Richmond Peak, pedalling delicately of course to look after my ankle but there was definitely a spring in my step pedal.

Passing Holland Lake I got a little lost in the campground as the gps track seemed to go through the campground and then out a bit of single track near the bridge, not straight along the road I was on. I was super paranoid about missing even a small section of the official route and being relegated later on so I did a couple of loops of the campground to make sure I had the route covered. Idiot.....

Shortly after crossing the bridge the climbing began. Taking it easy wasn't.....easy, as I wanted to get up this 2500ft climb and down the other side. As I climbed I felt more and more alone.

Finally the trail became little more than a single track climb. The forest felt mighty "close" at this point without even a bird tweeting to break the silence. It was hard to get used to the silence in the bush over here. At home there would be a cacophony of noise as various birds strove to out sing one another.

I pushed up a narrow section of steep trail then burst out onto another fire road. Phew! It felt like I had been holding my breath for an hour or more.

I began climbing steeply again, this time with expansive views across to the Grizzly Basin on the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Photographs do not do this basin any justice at all. It was MASSIVE and "right there" as I climbed away. It felt so close that I was scanning it's steep slope for movement, any sign of a bear. This is how I wanted to see one, at great distance across a basin. ;)

More single track surrounded me. I held my breath again....

Until I burst out onto an intersection of roads and a view to the west of the Mission Wilderness. Wow!

Turning hard left, I was into the final section of track across Richmond Peak. The route notes say "Occasional downed trees and rocks in trail during next 3.8 miles; use extreme caution in slide zone at point where road has failed". Where road has failed?! WTF? I was lucky this year because there was no snow. None at all. This is the section where Matthew Lee says in the Ride The Divide movie "it was route finding, it was mountaineering, there were full on cornices etc" but today, for me there was a rocky, dry trail. And THAT view. I was so glad that I did this during the day. I pity racers that get to Richmond Peak in the dark as they miss this view.

Fair dinkum, I loitered for 15 minutes here trying to out-shoot myself with various selfies, angles and camera locations. None of them do it justice at all. Today, alone, was worth all the suffering so far. Maybe not all that was to follow, but definitely all up to this point.

I came to the point where the road had failed. I got off and walked as it was a loong fall down if I got it wrong. Then the trail went down. It was a fire road that had overgrown into single track and it was awesome fun. For a while, then like other descents off a mountain it became torture as I clung onto my speeding bike, trying not to brake too much but also trying to keep some semblance of control. I must have done an ok job. Strava tells me I am 6th overall on the Richmond Peak DH ! I guess those top guys aren't on Strava? Wait, yes they are. I am right behind Mike Hall and ahead of Neil Beltchenko! Didn't he come 3rd in the TD this year?

Finally I bottomed out and had to pedal again. I came to the turn into Seely Lake, a 2 mile off route resupply, but I had plenty of food and figured I could pick up water from a stream so pushed on to the next stop, Ovando which was a mere 45km away.

45 up and down kilometres away in fact. Yes, we were doing the rollercoaster again and my legs had nothing. I put my ear buds in for the first time this trip and turned on some inspirational music that my son and I love. I must admit, a few tears streaked my grimy face as I listened to his favourite songs and for the first time in the race I lost focus a bit and my mind drifted off to wondering what my family was doing. Stupid fucking race.......

It was hot, I was pedalling hard with my normally weaker right leg and almost out of water again. I stopped at a babbling creek to fill my bottle and wash some dust off. How much further to Ovando? I really was looking forward to the Stray Bullet Cafe, another of my "carrots".

Finally, there it was in the distance. Ovando MT, population 71 (approx). Woo hoo!

I rolled into town and straight up to the cafe'. It was closed! It closes at 3:30pm! WTF? Don't they know they have all of these ravenous mountain bikers coming through who would happily pay $20 for a burger and Coke.....and they are effing closed?! A friendly local points out there is a bar up on the highway where you can get a feed so I point the Muru back UP the hill and hit Trixie's bar for a burger and a few Mountain dews.

Angler, from turned up again (that was her giving us directions earlier) to take a photo of Lukas and I as Lukas had just arrived. She proceeded to take the worst photo of me ever seen (sorry) but I present it here as I didn't take any more of Ovando once I found out the cafe' was closed. And, no, I wouldn't be staying the night after such a huge let-down. One thing I did notice here was Lukas's obvious style. He and I had the exact same rare Icebreaker jersey on. Maybe that is why I am red? With embarrassment?

I told Lukas I was going to camp out the road a bit to rest my heel. He said he would camp with me but was going to start pedalling as I was faster and would catch him. But I didn't. I was soft pedalling after dinner to let my meal settle but I was also scouting for a nice camp site, preferably by a river so I could cold soak my left achilles.

I soon found what I was looking for on the eastern fork of the Blackfoot River. There, that gap just to the left of the river. A secluded flat spot right by the river....

With a house nearby to hear me scream should a grizzly want to "cuddle"....

I quickly set up camp.

Then wandered over to the river for a wash and a soak. It was nice to just relax with no food to push into my face, map to anxiously pore over or internet to madly try uploading photos to....

That water was straight off a bloody glacier but just what I needed.

Offending achilles gets a drowning

Ahh, this must be what it is like to tour. Stopping 2 hours before dark and relaxing.....

I crawled into my sleeping bag well before sundown but sundown was about 10:30pm here so I guess it wasn't exactly uber early. 

It was my first sub-200km day. 198km isn't far off though and there had still been 2700m climbing. That was almost 900km (560mi) and 10 800m (35 500ft) climbing in four days.     

Yep, just 4 days. No wonder I slept through my alarm by two hours the next morning!

Cheers and there is more to come.........