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.
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.
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.........