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 Bikepacking.net properly for the first time since the race started, putting up a quick update on Bikepacking.net. 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.