Monday, August 10, 2015

Tour divide - Day 11

That damn high pitched beeping started again at 3:30am. 

I had a slightly restless sleep but probably managed to sneak at least 4 solid hours. I forced myself into my smelly kit, noticing the stinging of my legs. That sun was vicious yesterday and my legs were quite burnt. I guess I woke Tom as I stumbled around in the dark trying to pack my tent. He scratched around then joined my fumbling in the dark.

Packed, I wandered over to the well and topped my Platypus bottles up, popping an Aquatab into each. I had already shuttled water from the Platypus bladder into my Camelbak, topping it brim full. This was one of the potentially dangerous sections of the divide, water wise. It was hot, dry and while only 120km (75mi) lay between us and resuppply in Wamsutter, if the regular 35-40mph winds were against us we could end up in real trouble. I was packing just on 6 litres and this required the use of my Sea to Summit backpack that had been living tucked away in my frame bag all this time, waiting for the occasion when I would need to go into supertanker mode. 

There was a slight tailwind as we started riding which was a bonus. Tom stopped soon to powder his nose and I kept rolling onward. This year the race route differed from the official ACA route as there were extensive road works around Rawlins so Matt Lee rerouted us through an equally bleak area and through the town of Wamsutter. I soon came across my first pumpjacks quietly pumping away in the early morning light.

Not long after passing these the route took a hard right and began along a very disused looking road. It soon turned from the disused road into what was virtually no road! In fact I took a gentle right on the disused road only to see the gps track diverge to my left. "But I am following wheel tracks" I exclaimed to myself. Going back I could see a very faint trail through the short, sparse grass with some wheel tracks in it. I wasn't the only one to miss the turn onto Matthew's new route it would seem and was glad to now headed the right way. 

It began to climb quite steeply and there was no track. I was bush bashing and I wondered how those "purists" that shunned gps for the race were going to find this trail. Without the magenta line to follow, there was simply nothing there.

I was trying to be all indignant about the lack of progress and how unnecessary this was as I grovelled along the edge of this escarpment but being honest with myself, it was a pretty spectacular sight.

Having said that, I was bloody glad when I was dumped out onto a proper road again. I celebrated by eating my other "best sandwich ever" and I must say it was darn good even at 12 hours old.

It was great to be belting along with a quartering tailwind and I was doing an easy 25km/h now. I also marvelled at how green it was. Apparently they had about 5 inches of unseasonal rain a month before the race and The Basin was as lush as many locals had ever seen it.

The vast expanse gave a huge line of sight and when I saw a range of hills in the distance I tried to estimate how far away they were and guess if I would have to ride past them to get to Wamsutter. I soon found that they were 20km away and yes, I would ride past them. Many times further in fact before I got to my first stop for the day.

I pedalled and pedalled. Then I pedalled some more. I could see that I was moving but my mind questioned what progress I was really making.

Trying to take my mind off the mind-numbingness of The Basin I was snapping random photos, whistling and then eventually listening to some music. This was only about the third time I had to put the ear buds in to help me along.

Then I saw a sign! 26 miles! That wasn't too far. I was making progress after all.

The other sign that I was reaching civilisation was the constant stream of trucks that now belted along the road. It was as if someone had opened a gate and the trucks had sprinted free. Not many showed any courtesy by slowing down and reducing their dust cloud as I had been accustomed to further north on the route. No, these were oil riggers, too busy to worry about a lone cyclist and whether he can breath dust or not.

I began to ride on the upwind side of the road as I saw them approaching, even if this was the wrong side of the road, so as not to be choked.

Eventually Wamsutter came into view. It basically consisted of a huge Love's Truck stop. It had everything a divide rider needed though. A Subway and cold drink. It was getting extremely hot in the sun so I dumped my bike against the wall outside and raced for the air conditioned luxury of the Subway. Here I met a tourer from Slovakia who was extremely chatty. I was doing the usual eat, map read, calculate supplies needed all at once and trying to answer his questions. When the subject came to bears I asked him if he had bear spray yet. He answered in the negative and that he didn't think he would need it. I told him about all of the bear scat I had seen (but at this point didn't know about the bear encounter one of the female racers had with a bear on Richmond Peak) and made him a deal he couldn't refuse on my bear spray. I was pretty confident that I wouldn't need it now that I was south of Pinedale and it was really starting to annoy me as I had been carrying it in a jersey pocket this whole time.

Tom came in to the Subway just as I was about to leave and he looked pretty dejected. As soon as I stepped outside I could feel why. It was like an oven out here. I have to ride another 130km (81mi) through this to get to Brush Mountain Lodge? I was again carrying maximum water as I figured the next section would be as bad, if not worse than The Basin with limited or no resupply.

This proved to hold true as dozens of trucks whizzed by on the loose gravel road. With a belly full of food and drink I was grovelling along at 15km/h and was on the verge of falling asleep. It was like a waking nightmare as I was so tired and it was incredibly hot. I started looking at all of the fracking sheds as I rode past, looking for some shade, any shade at all. But the sun was so neatly overhead that there was no shade and I had left the last tree 170km ago, just outside of Atlantic City.

After an hour or so I passed a larger shed that was just off the road. It had a sliver of shade along one edge so I rode over to it. The shed was empty, with it's side door swinging in the breeze. I leant my bike against the side of it then sat down leaning against the shed myself. This is when I noticed two rabbits sitting next to me in the shade. One jumped up and ran off while the other, clearly in the same frame of mind as me, just eyeballed me back.

Closing my eyes for a while, I nodded off a bit. Unable to sit any longer I threw my backpack full of water on the ground as a pillow, set my timer for 30 minutes and closed my eyes. I slept soundly in the dirt, under the shade of a frac shed, watched over by a guardian rabbit in this vast, barren Basin.

I awoke to feel slightly better. There was no sign of the rabbit though.

I had bought some caffeine pills in Banff  and while I hate taking anything like this I figured now was as good a time as any to try one. As I pedalled off the wind had swung into more of a tailwind and I started making good ground again. I crossed the 789 from Baggs and began climbing into the Sand Hills. Luckily, they were gravel but the road did go up. Gaining elevation did nothing to cool the day, it just made the air thinner.

The road really kicked up at the 200km mark for the day. I had to stop along here as I had come to the end of one of my 5 gps segments that I had the track divided into. While changing the file I rearranged some of my gear and a dry, squashed bagel fell out on the ground. I eyed it, deciding that I wasn't hungry and tossed it into the sage. As I did this Josh D came charging around the bend and passed me like....well, like I was standing still! He was on a mission and riding at cross country pace, 11 days into the race in this 100F sun. WTF? I fully expected to find him around the next corner suffering heat stroke.

Remounting, I resumed my grovell to the top of the climb, one false summit at a time. I caught and passed Josh as he was now grovelling along, about an hour later. He didn't return my "hi" so I guess he was in a very dark place judging by his previous frenetic pace. Maybe he misjudged the distance to the next resupply?

This damn climb went on up to over 8000ft again before it finally dipped down. Then it was a steep, rutted descent that seared the brakes as I made my way up and down a few more climbs into Savery, on the Colorado border.

I hit the "town", turned left along route and didn't even look right. There wasn't anything here services wise and I was squarely focussed on getting to Brush Mountain Lodge. Brush Mountain Lodge is a rider friendly oasis on the northern edge of Colorado. For southbound riders it is welcome relief after hundreds of miles of hard, dry country which taxes not only the body but more so the mind. What makes it really special though is the woman who runs it, Kirsten. She goes out of her way to make every visitor feel special beyond belief and her reputation is worldwide these days.

I had read how riders began climbing the valley that Brush Mountain is in and misjudge the distance still to ride. I fell into the same trap because I didn't account for the amount of  climbing required to reach the Lodge. 

Thinking I would have 15 minutes to ride I was getting very over it by the time I actually rounded the bend and saw the lodge. I was thankful the roadway into the lodge was downhill otherwise the ignominy of pushing my bike through the gates would have been all mine.

The sun had just set as I rolled through those gates some 16 hours and 15 minutes after rolling out from Diagnus Well on the edge of The Basin. There on the deck was Greg and Evan who greeted me with something I didn't quite catch but gathered was cheeky. Kirsten, the guardian angel of Brush Mountain who single handedly brings riders back from the brink, rushed out and gave me the biggest hug I have had in years. I had made it and now I was in heaven!

Kirsten immediately brought out a plate of burgers and chips with a jug of lemonade. I guess when riders have to grovel up that last 1000ft of climb she can judge our imminent arrival to a tee! I was really cooked from today's ride and a bit overwhelmed by the hospitality so that I wasn't sure what to do. I chatted to Greg, Evan and Patrick D as well as Kirsten as she buzzed around making sure everyone was fed and watered. The burgers were bloody awesome. If you want to reacquaint yourself with how good food can taste, take a ride on the divide.

The luxury of a shower AND  shave beckoned so I went to tidy myself up as the others peeled off for bed. They were planning 4am departures whereas I was going to allow myself to enjoy Brush Mountain Lodge a bit. An 8 or 9am start would be the order of the day tomorrow and that allowed time to have my kit washed as well.

Emerging from the shower refreshed I saw that Tom had made it to the lodge as well. I heard that a bunch of riders had stopped in Savery for the night and could not understand why one wouldn't drag themselves to Brush Mountain for the Royal treatment from Kirsten? In the last two days I had done 527km (327mi) with 3650m (12 000ft) climbing on 4 hours sleep just to get here. And, it was worth it!

Today had been a tough day in the heat of The Basin, lugging 6 litres of water. That 253km (157 mi) was really tough and I was quite sunburnt again, with parched lips to match. In fact my skin was looking very dark now and I had a wicked knick tan line happening.

I fell into bed at about 11pm and set the alarm for a luxurious 6:30am. I think I may have been asleep just before my head hit the soft, fluffy pillow tonight.



  1. The large expanses of nothingness is quiet amazing really, although I bet you weren't think that by the sounds. The lodge sounded like it was an oasis in the barren god forsaken place.

  2. Kirsten is THE best. It's reassuring how that kind of goodness transcends national borders, genders, politics - even to Australians!
    Was there anything at all to indicate a trail on the bushwhacking stretch of the Basin?

    1. Mike, there was a very faint trail leading off to the left then it faded into nothing for a while. I was just following the pink line on my gps until it dropped me out onto a major road.

  3. Wow, over 16 hours on the saddle. That long stretch that went on for miles sounds so not fun. Glad you made it and got a little pampering at the end of the day.

  4. That sounds like a real grind man! Better you than me!

    Loving the write-ups!


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