Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tour Divide - Day 21 - The Finish

I had gone to sleep at about 9pm but was now awake at 10pm. It was hot in the room which made it hard to sleep but I was also ravenously hungry. I got up to eat most of what I had bought earlier this afternoon and began to worry that I might have done myself some damage in the Gila with my lack of nutrition. My body had to get the calories from somewhere and that somewhere seemed to be my muscles.

After eating everything I tried to go back to sleep but only managed a fitful sleep. It wasn't because of any excitement at finishing the race tomorrow, more because the room was bloody hot. When my alarm went off at 1:30am I felt wrecked, so reset it for 2:30am and went back to sleep. But I still didn't sleep very well and got up at about 2am. If I couldn't sleep I may as well ride.

I packed up my gear and left the hot house hotel. Pedalling back a quarter mile to get on the route where I turned off to get to Gila Hike and Bike I then followed the main 90 which the route leaves town on.....until I came to a "bridge out" sign. What?! I then had to ride right past the front of the hotel I had left 5 minutes earlier and find my way through the back streets of Silver City and back onto the 90, cutting out the closed bridge.

As I left town I still had cell service and my phone pinged away. Who would be messaging me at this hour? Checking it and I could see that at least one person back home had noticed my blue dot moving again. Mr Ride Mechanic, creator and purveyor of awesome lubes and balms was giving me some cheers about making 20 days instead of the 23 I had targeted. But I still had  200km to go. Alice had said yesterday that Dave and I would "fly" on our geared bikes to the finish as it was downhill then flat for most of the way to Antellope Wells. I had noticed on Trackleaders that Dave and Alice hadn't stayed in Silver City last night but had gone on to a little RV park about 25km out of town towards Antellope Wells. The park isn't even marked on the ACA maps and again demonstrated how route knowledge gave a rider the upper hand. I suspected that they would have been up early to beat the heat as well and yesterday would be the last I saw of them.

The road had been a bit up and down so far this morning but being dark you can't see how high the climb is and the downhills seemed to go on forever. I eventually came to the left turn off the sealed road at the little locality of White Signal and started on the penultimate section of dirt for the divide. I had a nice breeze at my back and it was still trending downhill so I was ripping along at around 30km/h for quite a while and hitting 45km/h at times. The road dropped 500m over the next 55km to Separ, on the Interstate and as Alice had said, I made great time.

There was a full moon out and I tried a few times to get a photo but to little avail.

The sun was starting to approach the eastern horizon and apart from myself, the desert seemed deathly still.

Almost there!

I had been able to see the hazard lights blinking on a large radio antenna at Separ for quite a while now and finally I could see the few buildings around this truck stop in the morning light. But, I had some loose sand and sandy washboarding to give me some final grief before I was done with the dirt of the divide.

I just had to cross over a railway line, then under Interstate 10 and I was in Separ.

I had been riding for 4 hours now and had decided that if the diner was open I was treating myself to a cooked breakfast but alas, it was still too early and the shop was closed.

I turned east, along the service road that ran parallel to the Interstate. This was partly sealed and partly dirt, so this WAS the last dirt that I would ride on the Divide. Was I sad? HELL NO! I was so over energy sapping dirt, hills and headwinds that I would have almost hitched a ride if someone had offered!

But thankfully no one did because it would have spoiled my ride. The 12km along the service road was done with the wind at my back. There was a constant stream of cars but mainly trucks along the Interstate and as I pedalled along, one of the trucks hooted me a few times. Another blue dot watcher?

The final run to the border came into view. I stopped for a moment to take a photo of that sign.

65 miles.

 105 kilometres.

 Then I would be done. I had to ride to those hills in the faar distance...then ride about that far again past them.........

The wind was pretty much all crosswind now and I hoped that was as far around as it would go. Hoping for a tailwind would be too much to ask for and I didn't want to anger the Divide gods in my weakened state.

I began pedalling for the final stretch, not in a sprint but finally with the knowledge of what that last 65 miles would take out of me. It doesn't seem much after what I had covered but it was definitely not to be sneezed at.

While it was still cool I was enjoying the ride and taking photos but I knew when the heat kicked in I would have to just zone out and not think about anything at all. As I had done in The Basin, on Bannack Road, on the Sheep Creek Divide, on the road to Del Norte.  Not thinking about the aches and pains, not think about the hills or headwinds, not thinking about the distance to go, to just zone out and pedal, getting the job done without thought or emotion would be the only way I could manage to go on........

Twenty miles along I came to the very last town on route, Hachita. Town is a very kind term for what looked like a derelict and deserted outpost of yesteryear. Everything had that closed down look and had been that way for some time.

I had to make a left, then a few hundred metres further on, a right. The last navigation task on The Divide.

Leaving Hachita a brown Volvo rolled up next to me. It's driver said "hi" and asked who I was. I told him and he told me his name, which I can't remember, and that he was a blue dot watcher and I "was doing awesome". I wasn't feeling very awesome this morning but it made me feel a little better all the same. He wished me well and then turned around and I was on my own. I put my ear buds in and listened to some music for a while. I was sick of my play list so played some of the kids "poppy" albums.

A short time later I heard a loud tearing roar. I ripped an ear bud out to hear the unmistakable roar of a fighter jet and then saw two F16s roar past me, at low level heading east. Awesome. Top cover! They would fly back and forth twice more before I reached the border. I was also noticing the big green and white border patrol cars now. Some were roaring past while other sat menacingly by the side of the road. I didn't take any photos as I know how touchy these security types can be about that sort of thing.

Another car approached from the direction of the border. This one had 2 bikes on the roof and when it stopped next to me Alice hung out of the rear window, a huuge smile on her face and said "hi". Dave was also wedged into the back seat of the small car and I was pleased to see them both. They had finished a few hours ago at just under the 20 day mark. We chatted for a bit and they said they had seen the Kiwis at the border, so Greg and Evan were done as well. They offered me some water but I had heaps so I politely declined. Wishing each other the best, we parted ways.

It was getting hot now, the road had been gently but steadily climbing and each time it turned to a westerly heading I had to endure headwind. This was getting OLD!

I thought Mile 13 some sort of omen.

My family had flown in from Australia a couple of days ago and were my extraction plan as there is absolutely nothing at Antelope Wells except for a border crossing. I wasn't sure where they were as I had virtually no cell service these last few days but they had not passed me and I was beginning to wonder if they would make it before I finished. 13 miles was probably less than an hour to go. Less than an hour? YEAH!

Then a black car roared past me and cut across right in front of me. WTF? To be taken out this close to the finish? Bloody idiots! I kept my line and rode past the car stopped on the side of the road when I noticed that it was the wife and kids....who had almost taken me out! (my wife later told me that she had burst into tears when she saw me and then couldn't see me!)

I just kept pedalling and they drove up next to me. I said I wasn't stopping and to just drive next to me like everyone else had that morning. It was good to see them and I was a little bit emotional and couldn't talk. This thing was almost done and they were here to see it. I choked back a few tears at the realisation I was going to do it, I was going to finish this impossible race....

 I could only wonder what they thought of the sight of me. (I was to learn that there had been a large group of blue dot watching friends back home and while they followed me along each day there was no way to know the hardships and privations I had suffered apart from the very infrequent updates I posted. I only spoke to my wife 2, maybe 3 times in the three weeks I was racing)

I told them to go on to the border and wait for me there.

It wasn't long to go now and at about 8km(5mi) out the road turned southeast and I had that tailwind again. I was hooking along at 30km/h now. What a way to finish!

One mile out and I was flying. Then this song came on, via shuffle, for the run to the line.

The small collection of buildings that is the Antelope Wells border crossing was in sight.

 Will came running out to meet me and gave me a high five. Lucy did the same.

Then, I was done.

After some hugs all round I downed a couple of ice cold chocolate milks then we took some photos.
Lucy held my bike for a minute and complained about how heavy it was while I made sure I had a finishing photo. I was not coming back to get another!

Seeing them in their clean clothes made me realise how rough I looked.

I went for a quick ride (as if I hadn't done enough) to try and find the old border crossing point for a photo there but it didn't look too friendly near the Border Patrol buildings and I retreated back to the main gate. 
Coming back out I remembered to look at the time on my GPS. It said 11:23am. 
I had finished 3 or 4 minutes before that so my time was 20 days, 3 hours and 20 minutes. My Spot tracker checked in at 11:26am, so the Trackleaders website has that as my finish time.
20 days, 3 hours and 26 minutes. 
I'll take that!

The elation of finishing was starting to be overtaken by the fatigue I had been carrying for days or even perhaps weeks now. I needed to sit down but there was nowhere to sit. I had to fit my bike into a car full of luggage before I sat down, in case I couldn't get back up. I took the seat bag and handle bar harness off plus both wheels and just managed to squeeze it all in the rental car.

We drove off, back toward Silver City, where I planned on having my bike shipped home and getting myself started on the road to recovery.

What a journey!

Cheers and thanks for coming along with me.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Tour Divide - Day 20

I fell asleep while Dave and Alice were still setting up their bivys right near my helipad pad. I was sleeping well by this stage of the race and had to be extremely disciplined to get up when my alarm went off. It would have been oh so easy to go back to sleep for a few hours, then be 20 or 30 miles behind schedule.

I packed up quietly so as not to wake the others and rolled out of the Beaverhead workcentre in the half light. I didn't even get to see what it looked like!

The road was soon quite washboarded and began climbing up steep pinches. Much too steep for my cold, sore legs to deal with this early in the morning.

I came to Wall Lake which looked pretty spectacular in the early morning light.

I cruised straight past though as there was no reason to stop. I needed to make miles while it was cool and my legs had some strength.

The road turned right in the photo below and began to climb steadily. It went on up for quite a while before topping out into a short, sharp, loose descent. Welcome to the hell of the Gila! This now set the tone for the mornings ride.

I would grovel up a climb for what seemed an eternity, somewhere above 7000ft then the road would drop steeply back down to about 6000ft. Each descent ended with a tight, loose, gravelly corner that precluded carrying any speed up the next climb, so that I was in bottom gear grinding away right from the get go. This really did my head in. Lets be clear, had the corners been more open, the zoom part of the climb would have only netted me about 20ft of climbing but it was the psychological impact of having to virtually stop at the bottom of each descent that did me in.

After a few hours of this I stopped to look back at one of the ridges I had climbed, then descended. It wasn't very far away but I had expended much effort to get to this ridge.....

Looking ahead, there was more of the same....

I passed another of the CDT trailheads and wondered what it might be like to hike that trail. Another time perhaps?

While stopped on another mind numbing climb to peruse my map in an effort to stave off insanity and prove that I was actually moving, Dave and Alice came powering up the hill behind me.

I packed my map away quickly and pedalled after them. I had nothing on the climb though and they steadily drew away. On the next downhill I rapidly caught them though as the Muru (and I) seemed to descend faster than most anyone I had ridden with on the divide. Andres was the only one that I rode with who got away from me but he was on a dual suspension bike.

I stayed close now and chatted away. Both Alice and Dave said they were dangerously low on calories and had plans on stopping in Pinos Altos, just before Silver City for some food as Alice knew of a great cafe'. I still had heaps of snacks but was sick of the sight of nuts and Cliff bars, instead dreaming of real food. Mmmmmm.......burritto.....

We finally hit the sealed road and turned toward the Sapillo Campground and the infamous CDT alternate that was mandatory on the Tour Divide Race. Dave had stopped to eat and with Alice on a single speed, I rolled ahead by soft pedalling in my top gear. This was a race after all and I was by this stage ok with the surging that occurred on a daily basis between different riders. A pair would have to be very evenly matched indeed to race this thing together for the whole distance.

I had looked at the map and had it in my head that the alternate was the regular route (well, it was for TD racers) and the main route was the alternate. Got that? Well, that explains why when talking to Alice at one point I proclaimed that the CDT has less climbing than the alternate section it cuts off. 
Not so........
the CDT alternate is a viscous beast of a trail that tears legs off riders and reduced more than one to tears, the leaders included!

We pedalled into the Sapillo Campground hoping to find the trail head easily. At least Alice, as a veteran, had seen it before and had a rough idea but we still had to zoom right in on our GPSs to follow it as it wound it's way through the campground.

Once we had found the trail head it was simply a matter of following the thin, faint single track. Simple.....NOT! 

Beginning of the CDT, where the ATVs access it.

The trail went up at well over 10% in places (or so it felt) and the BNT isn't the nimblest bike on narrow single track. Alice and Dave disappeared from view like they had a rocket behind them. Meanwhile I grovelled.

Looking back on the CDT

The CDT mostly looked like this though. It was narrow and demanded attention. I had to get in the drops and ride aggressively so that the Muru would handle half decently. 

That was the catch though. As I climbed back above 7200ft on this hot afternoon I was burning the rest of my matches. I had heaps of water but limited food and I was taking big pulls on my Camelbak tube to quell the pangs of hunger every few minutes. This was hard and truly seemed never ending at 10km long, plus another 9km of fire roads. I did stop a couple of times to curse, then take a photo of the beauty. Yes, I was a complex beast while in the grip of the CDT!

The trail flattened out then got fainter and fainter. Small cairns of rock marked the route it took and as the grass became longer and thicker further south, I found it tricky to see the trail. It was about here that, with much relief, I saw Alice and Dave stopped at the end of the trail. I think they were waiting for me which was very kind, if they were. Otherwise, it was just how the TD ebbed and flowed. 

We followed a steep fire road through Ponderosa pine forest. It was actually quite pretty but as I was tail-end-charlie I was riding the brakes hard so as not to run up the back of the guys. This is where I needed to just ride to my strength as I could make ground on the descents but my now pipe-cleaner-like legs were spent for the climbs. We were soon climbing and they both shot off around a bend. By the time I got to that bend there was no sign of them in the distance. I grovelled up and down for 15 minutes before cresting a final rise. At this crest there was a small foam esky with a curious note Nikko'd on the lid. I opened it and there, in the ice water was some Coke, Gatorade and bottled waters! You bloody rippa!! What a life saver!!

I cracked a Coke and enjoyed the icy cold fizz, like the liquid gold that it was. Whomever left this here, in the middle of nowhere for us racers, I thank you from the bottom of my hollow stomach!

Downing the Coke I enjoyed a steep descent onto the sealed road, which itself continued downhill for  another 7 kilometres. To have that icy drink in my belly and now an effortless 7km of coasting along green, tree lined road lifted my spirits immensely. 

At the inevitable climb that came at the end of the descent I just caught a glimpse of Dave going over the crest, maybe 200m in front of me. Cool. I was catching back up and I pedalled strongly, hoping to catch them before we got into Pinos Altos as I hadn't actually asked where this cafe' that Alice was keen on actually was!

Alas, I couldn't catch them even though I felt like I was climbing strongly again. I came into Pinos Altos and the road kept climbing through town. While a curse, it gave me plenty of time to look for two bikepacking rigs leaning against a derelict wall. But, I didn't see them anywhere.

No problem as Silver City was a mere 13km(8mi) further along. I could see it down in a valley below me and I again enjoyed rolling quickly downhill. The hot, dry air had dried the sweat of the climb into Pinos Altos already and now it was just like riding in a fan forced oven...at 7000ft!

The descent went on forever and I enjoyed seeing the elevation drop. I just prayed that I didn't have to clamber back up to 7000ft again.

Silver City was a big town and I pulled over to see if I had cell reception. I did and I used it to Google my way to Gila Hike and Bike. This bike shop is world renowned for it's great service to riders and hikers. Last night, while sitting, eating my pineapple chunks I had noticed that my right pedal was very notchy as it turned. Even though it was a brand-new Shimano XT Trail pedal fitted for the race, it was getting very close to seizing, after a mere 4300km riding in 19 days!

I found the shop and by now it was 4:30pm! That easy 135km had taken 11 hours. Oh, the Gila!
Anyway, with some difficulty due to my exhausted state I explained my problem and the guys grabbed my bike, fitted a shop spare M520 pedal so that I could go find some food and accomodation. They would rebuild my old pedal before their 5:30pm closing time. What exceptional service!

I found a hotel, the Murray Hotel, just down the block and also found the Silver City Food Co-Op which had awesome fresh, organic foods. I downed 2 chocolate milks immediately, then went back in to do a proper shop. They were great.
 Don't try the Silver Cafe' next door though. Poor service and just plain rude. 
I shopped up a storm in the Co-Op then took it back to my room, setting the cold goods up in 3 ice buckets. 

Jumping on the bike, I pedalled back to Gila Hike and Bike. True to their word, they had the pedal rebuilt. They apologised that it still had a very slight "notch" in it but I was over the moon. It only had to last 200km tomorrow and I was done. They then blew me away by refusing to take any money for the service, even though they had potentially saved my race! I was speechless at their generosity and promised to come back when I was done so that they could make something out of me by packing and shipping my bike back to LA.

Back at the hotel I jumped in the shower for the first time in 3 days. but before I could, I caught sight of myself in the mirror. 

My god!

I was a filthy bag of bones! My jersey, that had been a snug fit 2 weeks ago, now hung loosely and was both stained with the dried salt of my efforts over the last few days and bleached from black to brown from the last few weeks of  constant sun exposure. My body was emaciated from the lack of decent food and the huge effort it took to punt a 25kg bike over 7000ft high single track in 100F heat...........I looked like hell.

I took my time in the shower as the room wasn't air conditioned and I needed to cool off. Finally emerging cleaner, if not much tidier, I put on the only "civilian" clothes I had. These were merino longjohns and my trusty blue merino undershirt. Sans socks, I rocked across the road to the Little Toad Creek brewery for some proper food.

I got the usual strange looks but by now it didn't bother me. I sat down ordering a beer and a burger. The beer was ok but I probably didn't need that particular drink right now. The burger was good but strangely, I couldn't finish it even though it was "mere mortal" in size. Hmm, strange not to be ravenously hungry? I paid up and the woman did ask if I wanted a "to go box". No, I would be fine I replied.

Heading back to the hotel and who should be coming out the front door but Greg and Evan, the Kiwis! I though they would be done by now!

 We chatted for a while and they looked as tired as I did. They relayed how Evan had had a major melt down in the Gila, just a few kilometres before the magic ice chest last night. They had grovelled into Silver this morning and got a room, planning on finishing in the night as the heat had beaten them up something fierce yesterday. When I mentioned my pedal issue, Evan showed me his XT Trail pedal that had come completely off the spindle! He was clipping the pedal to his shoe and slipping it over the spindle, holding it with inward pressure these last few days! 

I must say, I was jealous of these guys heading out now, just on dark. For a fleeting moment I considered getting my gear and just riding on with them. Greg was talking about coming back and doing it again. It would be faster with the course knowledge that we now had, he said. I replied with "are you nuts?!" Yes, we would be faster but we had perfect weather this year. Any other year the weather can easily cost you a few days. No, I was going to be content to finish and for this to be my one and only attempt. I remembered that thin, hollowed out guy looking back at me in the mirror.

We shook hands several times. I wished them well. The experience of the last few weeks, especially of the last few days, had made for a special bond between anyone that made it this far.........

They rode off and I wandered off to bed. A "mere" 129km with 2500m climbing had taken me to the brink today. 12 hours I was on the bike, including the time I spent in Silver City resupplying and repairing.

It was now almost 9pm and I set my alarm for 1:30am. Tomorrow would be my last day on The Divide. I was going to ride in the cool night air as I wasn't sure I could take much more of the heat myself..............

Only 200 kilometres to go.........


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tour Divide - Day 19

I was up just on daybreak, packing up as quickly and quietly as I could. That stupid Rottweiler had barked every time I moved during the night. This was due to my Thermarest mat that sounded like a scrunched crisps bag each time I moved and being a considerate person I was trying not to incite it again. In hindsight maybe I should have stomped around on the concrete in my cleats and woken them all up.

But I didn't.
I rolled out of the camp ground silently and turned left, onto the road to Mexico. I would have quite a bit of sealed road riding this morning before hitting the dirt to Pie Town. First up though was passing through El Malpais National Monument with it's huge escarpments towering over the road on the eastern side and an ancient lava flow on the western side.

On the left.......

On the right, lava flow!

It was nice and cool again this morning and I munched some Sweet and Salty bars as well as a bag of nuts but my main aim for breakfast was Pie Town, some 80km (50mi) away. I had plenty of water as I was carrying a full load out of Grants last night and I wasn't aware of any before Pie Town.

The road was deserted and I pedalled along in silence marvelling at the two opposing landforms, both so completely different from one another.

Cresting a small rise I could see off into the distance and there was not much inspiration in the view. Miles and miles of nothing that I would have to cover in the next few hours. Miles and miles before pie!

I hit the Pie Town turn off in the still of early morning and it actually looked very pretty, in a isolated, outback kind of way. A lonely road sign, a cattle grid and a dirt road disappearing into the distance. 
Very Australian bush-like.

The road was quite washboarded and I guess putting a positive spin on it, constantly choosing a new line gave me something to occupy my mind.

But soon the road started climbing low hills and a slight headwind kicked in. This now occupied my mind as I crawled up the climbs. I just had no energy.

Cresting a climb I noticed two riders coming toward me. We stopped and chatted for 5 minutes. The
young couple were from the Czech Republic and had ridden from South America. The guy was very
interested in my frame and rear hub setup, noting that you can run a miriad of options on the BNT.
Mr Muru, if a BNT frame goes to the Czech Republic any time soon I will only take a small commission!

We wished each other the best of luck then parted ways. The hills became steeper and higher the closer I got to Pie Town and I was reduced to walking some most again.

Pie Town eventually materialised and I came to a crossroads. The route went straight and there were building on route and one to the left, up the hill. I wasn't sure where the pie shop was but hoped it was on route. One hundred metres along route and it was obvious that there were no shops this way so I backtracked and turned onto the sealed road, climbing the hill. A quarter mile on the right I came to the Pie Town Cafe'.

I was so shagged and pissed off at this mornings effort. As I rode into the cafe I saw a guy sitting outside taking pictures of me. I grumbled to myself about Blue Dot stalkers as I was in no mood to talk by now. I went to the other side of the entrance hallway, sat down and muttered
a"fuck this stupid fucking race" half under my breath, throwing my gloves down as I flopped down on the bench.

This is about when I noticed that the cafe' window was open and a couple were sitting at the table inside. Shit! Then, to confirm what a tool I was this morning, the guy taking photos came around the corner and said "Hi Dave". How did he know who I was? I must have had a confused look on my face as he said "its me, Josh Kato".

Josh! I didn't recognise him, standing there with no helmet on his head. And what was he doing standing there looking so fresh and clean?! Hadn't he just won the Tour Divide a few days ago? My mood instantly lifted as I congratulated him, then bombarded him with questions about his race. I was in awe of his achievement and confounded at how fresh he looked compared to my utter decrepitude.

After 5 minutes I excused myself as I had a date with some pie! I walked into the cafe' to be met with another "Hi Dave"! Bloody hell, everyone knew who I was. There is no hiding on the divide.

I was a bit flustered at my very minor celebrity status but managed to order bacon and eggs, eventually. I downed this so quickly that I think I caught them by surprise. Asking what sort of pie they had, the woman began to list the menu (what I can only imagine is an extensive list) but I stopped her a the first one, Apple, saying I would have that! I downed this in the time it took the young girl serving me to walk back behind the counter. Next! And next was a triple berry pie, all loaded up with ice cream again which I dispatched in quick time.

The pie was great and making it even better was the fact that the Salsa guys had given all of us a special stem top cap back in Banff. "Present this in Pie Town for two free slices of pie" they had told us. True to their word, upon showing my orange top cap I was asked to fill in my name and pie consumption habits on a form that would be sent to Salsa Bikes. Thank you Salsa and The Pie Town Cafe for this very generous gift. This half starved racer appreciated it very much!

Awesome Eddie Clark Media photo

Feeling human again I ordered a sandwich to go, apologised to the couple sitting near the open window for my exasperation earlier and wandered outside into the now warm day.

Josh was still there and suggested the store up the road for a food restock if I needed it. I did need it
but thought I would push my boundaries a bit and not carry too much weight. I wish I had someone there to give me an upper cut and remind me that it would be two full days before the next resupply.

Josh said he was going back to the Toaster House. I chatted to the English couple from near the open window. I eventually rolled out to check out the Toaster House. The house is iconic and I wandered in to find Josh sitting on the deck. He pointed me to the fridge and a huge box of energy bars that he had bought with him from a bike shop that he visited after the race.

I chatted to Josh for a while and he explained that he had finished the race so far ahead of time that his wife was not due to pick him up for a week so he had hired a car and driven back to Pie Town to hang out and cheer on other riders. I thought that was pretty cool. Josh is a first rate guy and I was very happy to sit, chatting with him but the race was calling me after just 10 minutes.

Slinging my heavy backpack on again and I must admit I was dreading the next section of trail. There was nothing between me and the Beaverhead Workstation as far as resupply goes and I had already heard that the soda machine at Beaverhead was busted. Soda was THE only luxury between here and Silver City, 296km away.........

What could I do? There were two racers approaching Pie Town and I had run out of excuses to linger. I rode out into the white hot vastness of New Mexico. 

The road was being repaired for quite a ways and as a result was loose and very dusty. my chain complained at the second rate lube I was forced to use and so out of a sense of sanity I stopped to lubricate it and rest my legs in the shade of a scrawny little tree.

I was cursing the soft road but as I would note about 2 weeks later, Billy and Lina Rice were much less fortunate as heavy rains turned it to peanut butter and they were forced to return to Pie Town. Soul crushing!

I pedalled on and on, passing the roadworks crew, passing some old ruins and seemingly, not getting anywhere.

I tried to set goals that I could strive to acheive. The deserted Mangas Work Centre was my next goal. When I reached the area it was marked with a sign and little else. I moved off the road and sat beneath a Ponderosa Pine, digging out the sandwich I had taken away from the Pie Town Cafe. I unwrapped it, salivating at the thought of eating it,,,,,and it was toasted.......even though I said "don't toast it please"............ Should I eat a cold meat sandwich that has been heated then cooled, then stored in a 100F frame bag? Screw it, I was starving and the sandwich lost the battle.

CDT Trailhead

I was feeling very tired now. As tired as I had felt the day I left Wamsutter in the southern Basin. At least I was in a forest and sitting on pine needles under a shady tree today. So I set my alarm for 30 minutes and closed my eyes. I was finding it very hard to go on.

My alarm pinged away in what seemd like no time at all. I hauled myself up and climbed on the bike, wondering if the two riders that were approaching Pie Town when I left had passed me while I snoozed behind my tree.

I grovelled over Divide Crossing #24 and got to enjoy some downhill for a while. I stayed off the brakes even though they may have been warranted at times. I simply did not want to convert my efforts into brake dust any more.

I finally came to the 12, where the route went right, along the sealed road then left, onto the dirt and into the Gila (pronounced Hila). Four little letters that I would come to loath the sound of. 

During my time riding with Andres back on Day 2 and 3 we had discussed the mythical church where Matt Lee is seen sitting on the porch of a church in the "Ride The Divide" movie, chatting about life. This church has the only water between Pie Town and the Beaverhead Workcentre. I didn't trust it to be true so had carried 6 litres from Pie Town but now I saw the church and after a short search around, found the tap that dispensed clear, clean water!

I filled up then hosed myself down to cool off. I sat on the porch (there was no rocking chair) and snacked away in the shade, feeling well pleased with myself. I then saw a horrible sight. Two riders were at the left turn, just across the ways! I waved, hoping to attract them over to the water but they just continued on along the route! I quickly loaded my bags up and let myself out of the church grounds to chase the pair who had now disappeared over the next hill which was a few miles away. It always amazed me how quickly riders got away from me even when they were grovelling along themselves.

I caught up to these two riders soon enough though and it turned out to be Dave McInerney and Alice Drobna. I hadn't met Dave before but he turned out to be another Aussie and better still, another country boy from New South Wales but living in Canada now! It was nice to see Alice as well. The last time I had seen her was at Flagg Ranch, waaay back on Day 9.

Even though I had been caught I was really happy for the company. I found, as always when riding with others that I lifted and it felt effortless to pedal along and chat away. I was even riding in the marbles in the middle of the road, so as not to draft either of them and still be able to chat easily.

We met some NoBo riders who were in awe of Alice and her single speed effort so far. I was as well to be honest. If she was hurting in any way she wasn't showing it. I was feeling pretty weak and over the next 20km or so Dave told his race story so far. It consisted of mechanical failures and physical failures. His knees had pretty much rebelled mid race and Vitamin I was his good friend now. This made me consider how I had overcome my Achilles problem early on and really, had nothing much to complain about other than a bruised bum and slightly sore hands.

After a while I noticed that we were sort of riding on top of each other, which was probably my fault for trying to stay close, without drafting, to chat.

I was sort of in a position to coast away when we crested a rise and I did so to make some room. I pedalled smoothly and easily for a while and when I looked back Dave and Alice were nowhere to be seen!

I quickly checked my GPS to make sure that I hadn't taken a wrong turn but all was ok. I was on route. I figured I had either annoyed them with my puppy-dog-like excitement after being alone for so long or they had just stopped to eat/adjust or stretch as you do on The Divide. Either way, they looked strong and I knew they would catch me sooner or later.

The sun was slowly sinking toward the horizon when I came to this sign.

30 miles?!
30 miles isn't like 30km. I was finally getting my head around these statute distances and reading them for what they really were. Earlier in the race it was easy to see a distance, convert it to metric but on some deeper level, not really understand the measure. Some deeply inbuilt mechanism kept taking it back to kilometres and I was constantly dismayed at how long it took to do 20 or 30 or 40 US distance units.

I still had plenty of water and with just 48 kilometres to go I stopped to empty the two Platypus bladders that I was carrying in my backpack. It felt great to get the backpack off again and I was glad I had chosen not to rely on a backpack for the entire ride.

But now, in the late afternoon I understood that this was another 48 kilometres. I took the left turn and enjoyed having the sun at my back as shadows lengthened and the road undulated up and down. After a while I came to a lodge that was dispersed on either side of the road. I looked for any obvious signs of life or more importantly, a reception area but it looked deserted. To add insult to disappointment a sign proudly proclaimed that I was still at elevation.

The trees began to thin out until I found myself crossing wide, rolling, treeless plains. At least they were fairly level! I passed a group of three NoBo tourers setting up camp in a small basin on the north side of the road. They had a fire going and I almost jammed the brakes on to join them. Almost. I knew if I did I would sit up until late, chatting all things Divide when I needed sleep. No, I kept powering onward, toward the Beaverhead Workstation.

Night fell and the almost full moon was shining down on me. I began climbing and winding my way along the side of a lake or swamp. It was hard to tell despite the moonlight. There must have been some water around as I saw all sorts of animals in the glow of my headlight. Skunks shuffled off the trail and in my biggest encounter, four huge elk/deer with massive antlers galloped onto the road just as my circle of light got to them. Being only about 30 metres away it gave me a huge fright and got the blood pumping, as if the last 220km hadn't done that already today!

The Beaverhead finally rolled into sight and I climbed the short distance up to the ranger station. The soda machine was indeed dead, but just next to it was a water pump. Glorious water!

I set up my tent on the edge of the helipad, fairly certain there would not be any arrivals between 9:30pm and my intended departure time of 5:30am. I had completed my set up and was just washing the dirt off my face and legs when Alice and Dave rolled in. They were in great spirits as they enjoyed riding in the cool night air. We were soon all sitting on the front step of the ranger station, in the dark, eating what food we had. My tin of pineapple pieces finally met it's end and it tasted bloody good but I think the Subway that Alice and Dave had carried the 280km from Grants this morning would have been much better for the legs. In hindsight, I really should have stayed in a hotel in Grants, rested well then got on the road at 1 or 2am as these guys had done. They had a better strategy than myself today but I couldn't stop myself from feeling the need to push on last night.

Still, I had covered almost 250km (155mi) for the day and I ONLY had about 135km (83mi) to Silver City tomorrow, where I would restock and rest before the final push to the border. 

I would be there before lunch. The Gila would be easy........