Day 15 started at another stupidly early time - dark o'clock again!
My alarm went off and I started getting ready, waking Patrick as I shuffled around going through the usual pack up routine. However, this morning was slightly different as we had a microwave in our small cabin and I had purchased a dubious looking egg and bacon roll to zap for breakfast. It was only 75 seconds to heaven, apparently. 80 seconds later I was almost gagging on this vile roll but knowing I needed the calories I somehow choked it down. How the hell do people eat these every day?!
It was cold outside and very dark. I pedalled fairly briskly to try to stay warm and pretty soon Patrick had dropped of the back, but I didn't notice until I turned off the sealed road at Doyleville. No matter, with the ebbs and flows of a day on the Divide I knew I would see him again. I concentrated on putting in steady power to the pedals while it was cool and I was feeling strong.
This time of the day was the best by far for me. I always felt strong and the day looked promising. How far could or would I ride today? Of course, as the sun rose my spirits dropped and the morning would begin to drag on. It wouldn't be long before I would need to stop to strip of my windproof layer as the high desert heat began to kick in.
But for now, I could power along as if the few short hours sleep had given me new legs.
I would burn those new legs out by about 11am and I was then stuck with Day 15 legs for the remainder of the day.
Patrick Dowd powering on.
Patrick caught up to me as I stripped off my wind vest and and blew past me, clearly on a mission. The funny thing was that I would pass him again about 10 minutes later. This continued all morning as we ebbed and flowed along and the road played to our strengths.
My plan today had me heading for Del Norte at the least and Platoro at best. The former was 185km and 2 passes away while Platoro was 261km and 3 passes away. That third pass was also the highest on the tour being Indiana Pass at 11 910ft! Clearly Platoro was a best-case scenario if everything went well today. So far, I was feeling on top of the world and was optimistic about making it happen.
Just after passing Dome Lake reservoir I started noticing lots of mtb tyre tracks on the gravel road. Some looked very fresh while others days old. I played the Tour Divide guessing game of Who laid those tracks? It wasn't Patrick as he was behind me again so I guessed it was Simon, Beth and perhaps the Kiwis.
The road began to climb steeply up some switchbacks toward Cochetopa Pass at 10 067ft. As I switchbacked I looked down and there was Patrick again, powering up the hill behind me. Well, in front of me but below me, so behind me!
Hadn't I just been there.....?
The grassy plains gave way to Aspen covered hillsides again. This made climbing bearable!
Cresting the top I felt good and began descending the loose, dusty road. It had been graded recently and was obviously yet to see any rain to help bed it down as when I looked behind all I saw were billowing clouds of dust.
The countryside gave way to rocky outcrops and the road surface turned to crushed granite so some care was needed on the fast corners as it was getting a little drifty. Down is always FUN!
We then had 9 kilometres of sealed road (the 114) where we could eat and chat about stuff. It was nice that there was hardly any traffic along here so I could take in the view as well. Along here, off to the west, I saw the first range of hills that resembled something very similar to back home and I must admit pointing it out to Pat and feeling a smidge home sick.
Turning right up a canyon road (41G) we were about to enter the Rio Grande National Park. The roadsides were very green and there was the odd ranch here and there. Real John Wayne country here, well, to my eyes anyway.
The road went uphill again and Pat powered away from me. I was going into my usual late morning slump where my legs lost all power and my motivation wained.
A few miles up the road I caught up to Pat again as he stripped off his warm layers and enjoyed morning tea.
I joined him for 5 minutes, doing the same. Mmmmm, squashed blueberry bagel.......
From here the road continued climbing. The day got hotter. The air got thinner and I started to push my bike up some of the steeper pinches. My legs had nothing again. I marvelled at the rugged beauty of the place but how did people survive up here 100 years ago?
I eventually grovelled over Carnero Pass at 10 166ft but it wasn't a pretty sight.
I hadn't really been aware that there were two passes this morning so it came as a rude shock to climb this one. Now though, the descent was sublime. I stayed off the brakes and barrelled down the mountain at stupidly high speed considering how tired I was and how heavy my bike was. It took all of my will power to stop and take the following photo. Looking at it now, almost 6 weeks later it reminds me of how much I was hurting.....
I saw the turn off for the Storm King campground and I badly wanted to take a look as I had seen it referenced in so many blogs.
Today it was lush, green and inviting but this was a race and I wanted to get to La Garita for a cold drink and something to eat, so I flew onward and downward.
La Garita is 0.8 of a mile off route, over a small hill. When I arrived at the hard right turn that is the Divide Route I saw several fresh sets of tyre tracks in the dirt. They had made the turn and not gone straight on to La Garita. Bugger! I briefly considered riding on so as not to lose ground as Del Norte was only another 32km (21mi) but the reality was I needed a break and some sustenance. That four fifths of a mile was hard. It was hot, it was high and in the far distance I could see Indianna Pass rearing up above the surrounding countryside. I had to go over that?
La Garita store hove into view. It oozed zero charm and looked just as bleak as the countryside around it. But, I hoped, it would redeem itself with mucho foodo.
La Garita in all of it's glory.
It was Friday and lunchtime but when I walked in I was blown away by how many people were in there. It must have been a special occasion or maybe everyone eats out on Friday at lunch because there were at least 30 people there. They looked like ranchers and I chuckled to myself as one middle aged guy told a table full of buddies how he was rated on a Boeing 737 and could fly one if he wanted. I was so tempted to throw a few questions at him but decided "under the radar" was the best way to fly given my appearance and desire to keep both arms and legs where they belonged!
Photo courtesy Mike McElveen
Anyway, I couldn't actually get a seat inside so I sat out the front in the heat, nursing a huge Gatorade and burger while I perused my maps. I found this map once I got home and uploaded my track to Strava. Check out all that centre pivot irrigation! And there I was thinking this country was worthless...
Del Norte was the next town and at 32km, wasn't very far away. Wrong! I was constantly underestimating how tough a section would be on this ride. While only 32km long, the trail wound it's way around what looked like an Indian Reservation and doubled back on itself just for the "fun" of it!
If you look closely at the photo below, you can see the track line winding around the screen on my GPS. And yes, I was at almost 8400ft and yes, I had done just over 100 miles and yes, it was bloody hot!
If I am totally honest though, the section of trail that was a sand covered, creek-like jeep track was a heap of fun to ride. You had to get into the pedals and carry lots of momentum and I could see where quite a few riders had come down in the deep sand but it sure did make those last few kilometres into Del Norte pass quickly. The view between the two
breasts er, hills down to Del Norte was pretty good too.
In the cleavage.....
As I dropped down I noticed the usual thunderstorm that crowned the high ground. Yep, as you can see, there was a corker of a storm sitting on Indianna Pass in the distance!
Here, somebody had plonked an airfield in the middle of the route so that we had to ride a few miles around the perimeter to get to town. This was the only time on the whole route that I saw "official" Great Divide MTB route signs.
Getting the run-around into Del Norte
Finally, I made it to the city limits of Del Norte and proceeded to find something cool to eat and drink. One ice cream sandwich and one orange juice(don't try this at home kids!) later I was feeling a bit better, while sitting in the air conditioned cool of the main gas station in Del Norte.
Looking at my map and trying to figure out what to do now, I was accosted by some Blue Dot junkies. Well, not accosted but I got the "hey dude, are you a divide racer?" to which I usually replied "yeah, they let anyone in this thing". They were headed out to a 100 mile mtb race somewhere out west and just had to come over to say hi. While usually a distraction, I always enjoyed chatting with the locals and it made it even easier if they already knew what I was doing instead of the usual twenty questions and surprised look once it dawned on them how long this crazy ride was.
I was happy to be distracted here as I really did not want to go back out into the heat and face that thunderstorm on Indianna Pass......or the climb for that matter! But, the damned gas station had wi-fi and I was looking at Trackleaders. I could see that Beth, Simon and the Kiwis were at various stages on the ascent and it was too early to stop here for the day.
I saw that Pat was at the The Organic Peddler, an organic store just down the street, so I jumped on my bike and zipped down there but he had just left. It did give me the opportunity to ask the staff about a "cyclist only" cabin that was at the base of the climb up Indianna Pass though. They said they knew the owner and very kindly rang him for me so that I might ask him if I could stay there tonight. He said that they weren't using it tonight and that I could stay. When I enquired how much it was to be he replied "just leave what you think it is worth". Cool. I had a target for tonight!
The cabin was about 20km out of town and importantly, 1000ft up the 4000ft of climb that was Indianna Pass. I was going to be stopping early tonight at this cabin so as to get an early start tomorrow so I soft pedalled up the climb with all of my water and food for tonight and tomorrow until the next restock at Platoro. I was also happy not to be climbing into the blackness of the thunderstorm ahead and hoped to have clear weather and cool conditions in the morning.
Arriving at the cabin I was blown away by how cool it was! The owners had obviously recycled, re-purposed and hand built this cabin AND now they were trusting me with it!
Welded walkway above the living area
The cantilevered deck - awesome!
The place was simply incredible and I had use use my best discipline to go to bed at 7pm as I was getting up at 3am to attack the Pass tomorrow. I ate my turkey sandwich, cup noodles and munched some peanut M & Ms for desert. M & Ms and Hershey's Cookies & Cream were my only chocolate fixes for the entire race and I am pleased to say I kept the intake of these to one small packet per day in an effort to remain focused on eating well. But DAMN, they tasted good!
Deciding what the accommodation was worth was a difficult one. It was worth more than I owned with it's homely comfort and babbling brook running right by the side of it but putting a monetary value on it I decided to leave no trace that I was there and pay the same as for the bed in Sargents the night before. That seemed a fair rate and I do hope the owners eventually find where I left the cash!
I was hurting a bit today as the accumulated fatigue was really setting in. The high altitude and heat, coupled with the short nights of rest were starting to take a toll both physically and mentally. I was aware of the mental toll and guarding against it, but I wasn't as aware of the physical one as I felt I was eating sufficiently and eating well but in hindsight, I think from today onward I started a slide in calorific intake that affected my power, stamina but was good for my weight! ;)
It took me an hour or so to fall asleep as it was still broad daylight at 7:30pm and my mind was racing ahead to what tomorrow might bring. The aches and pains of being on a bicycle for 15 days was starting to show and I did need some Vitamin I to quiet them tonight. Yes, I needed a good rest before tackling the biggest climb on the Tour Divide in the morning.......