Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tour Divide Day 20.

140km. Country Road 14 to Chama.
Total time: 15.5 hours.

It is 11:06am. I've been on the road for five hours and I've gone less than 30km.


- You can *walk* faster than that, Tori.

I started out this morning thinking that, if I had two good days and I used all of the daylight today and all of the daylight tomorrow, I might catch my three amigos in Cuba.

This morning, I had a 4000ft climb for breakfast. Correction, it had me for breakfast. There is no way I will catch those guys now. I'm back on the bad end of the emotional yo-yo that has defined this journey for me.

I've been trying to find ways to make these last days enjoyable, or at least bearable. As anyone who has ridden with me much knows, I don't like taking breaks. But I'm taking plenty of them now. Sanity breaks; a moment in the shade to take in the surroundings and try, *try*, to enjoy this.

When we were crossing Africa, my friend mike had his bike get lost, he broke four ribs, and then he contracted malaria. He was still smiling. Why can't *I* do that? What am I doing wrong? Why am I finding this so hard?

I've been writing down my thoughts as a gift to myself; a souvenir to remember the experience and to have a lasting appreciation of it on a deep level. Maybe this is a bad idea. Maybe it is causing me to dwell on the hard parts. I want so much to write about how beautiful the landscapes that orange mountain over there (in picture). Why cant I focus on stuff like that. My doubts and insecurities are having a party in this ocean of self pity.

I am my own wet blanket.

I feel as though I am fighting two battles. One with the America's Great Divide and another with my own.

I visualize my ipod, wrapped in the translucent blue plastic bag and tucked in my center back pocket. I want it. I want it. I waaaaaaant it.

- No, Tori. Don't shut this out. Face your thoughts. *Own* them.

One of the tricks that I use when things get hard is to remind myself that things are temporary. Just keep going and things will change.

(Mental jukebox chimes in)
...Pick your head up...
...Things will change...
...Things will go your way...
...If you ho-ooo-ld on for one more day...

Wilson Philips? Really? I didn't know that you were in there. Weird.

I keep plugging along, slowly. I'm thinking about how I will end up in Antelope Wells. Some day. All alone. Still with no plan on how I am going to get out of there. Maybe the border guard will take a picture for me.

As I near the top of the second pass of the day, I hear my name. I look back.


Wow. Amazing. Hope on two wheels. I'm not sure how that happened. He tells me about how he had thoughts of packing it in last night. I feel sad that someone I like is feeling that way. I also feel comforted that I'm not the only one feeling that way.

We descend in to Platoro and get a burger and a root beer float. Luke and Dan roll in soon after. My posse is back together.

23 miles later, we arrive in Horca. Horca is a critical stock up point before we head into about 160km of tough, remote riding before El Rito. The sky is thick with forest fire smoke. It is not yet dusk, but the sun is so pale that it feels like it.

I have a lot of things to get for this next stretch. It is 6:30pm. The main store in Horca closes at 6:00pm.


There is a note on the door explaining that the forest route that I am to take is closed due to fires. Reroute on the highway. The next town will have services, but it is 45kms away. Over two passes.

I peel out and start the evening journey. At least the heat has subsided, but I'm running out of daylight.

I roll into Chama well after dark and find a $38 motel and a cheeseburger. And a beer (two, actually). And I lick my wounds. No *actual* licking involved.

I'm in New Mexico now! I hear people speaking spanish and it makes me feel close to the end. I can *almost* see the light.
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tour Divide Day 19.

142km. Rough Camp to County Road 14.
Total time: 14 hours, including 3 stopped.

Dear Headwind,

Please stop.

You've been in my face for three days now. I round a 180 degree switchback and you are still there. How do you do that?

You have penetrated my brain and I can't hear myself think. I can still hear you screaming in my ears when I sleep. My lips are cracked and bleeding with the perpetual dryness that you create.

I've had my head down so much as I've been trying to avoid you that I almost didn't notice how much the landscape has changed. This isn't skiing territory anymore. I'm into the hoodoos and badlands. Neat.

I only cleared two of the three passes that I'd aimed for today because I let you get to me. And I'm sleeping solo tonight because you put a gap between me and my friends. Yeah, you got me today.

Don't be fooled. You can slow me down, but you wont stop me.

(But, please stop, anyway).

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tour Divide Day 18.

129km. Salida to Rough Camp.
Total time: 12 hours.

Get up. Get up. Get up. Get up. Get up.

Am I still here?


This trip feels like it is taking forever. Did you know that there are people who are already done? Yeah, they finished yesterday. Wow. That is so amazing. I wish that I had that strength, that determination. It blows my mind what they have achieved.

Sometimes I wish that I were a robot. Enough of this emotional crap. Enough of psyching myself up constantly. Just go, Tori. It is less than 1000 miles remaining. Get over it and just go. Everything will be fine once you are in the saddle again.

Maybe a song will help. How about some Whitesnake...

...Here I go again on my ooo-own...

(I gather the strength to leave the hotel room)

...Going down the only road I've ever kn-ooow-n...

(Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzt. Cut the record.)

John from Helena and JohnnyP roll past on the road. Instant smile. My social experiment is on hold and we go for breakfast and errands. Luke and Dan join shortly after.
At breakfast, I discover that my food processor is on strike. Perhaps in protest to not getting paid last night. Hey, its not my fault that everything was closed. Depriving me of an appetite isn't going to help. I force feed myself some granola and I stuff a bun in my pocket for later.

Marshall Pass is my project for the morning and, unexpectedly, for the afternoon. It's a big one and a cooker, too. My progress up, and down, is slow. Despite my pleas for peace, my stomach continues it's protest, leaving me with little energy move along.

I catch up with the guys at Sargeants, a little gas station town at the bottom of the pass. I promise my food processor anything it wants if it will just make a demand. Ok, I promise it anything that I can find in a convenience store. No luck.

We have to load up on food as it will be a long haul to the next services and tonight we will be camping. Dan shows off his array of snacks and meals for the next 24 hours. It includes fig newtons, which causes a look of revulsion from Luke. 'I can't eat those things, my grandma told me that those little crunchy things inside are wasp eggs'.

Awesome. I'm going to use that one on my nephews!

Mother nature takes no mercy on us after Sargeants. Full on headwind. I get dropped immediately by the guys, but I just keep moving.

On the bike. Off the bike. On the bike.

Anything to carry on progress. The gusts are so intense at times that pushing my bike feels like I'm wrestling a steer (or, at least what I imagine that would feel like). I imagine that I'm in a bad movie where the protagonist is shot but refuses to die and then keeps getting up and coming back, staggering on ahead, one foot in front of the other.

(Enter black Sabbath)
...Has she lost her mind?...
...Can she see or is she blind?...
...Can she walk at all,...
...Or if she moves will she fall?...

I keep riding for some time after sunset and eventually catch my three amigos at a reservoir. Luke and Dan are camped under the 'warmth' of an outhouse shelter, which brings the first smile to my face that I've had in hours.

Long day. Smashed, again.

Thank you, everyone, for your continued support.
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Monday, June 27, 2011

Tour Divide Day 17.

190km. Silverthorne to Salida.
Total time: 16 hours.

For once, the ride felt not too far from civilization. At least for the first 40km. There is a bike path that connects Silverthorne with Frisco and then Frisco with Breckenridge.

In Frisco, there was a field full of bright pink tents. Today is the Avon walk to cure breast cancer. I like that people do these things to raise awareness. Maybe I should do that one of these days. Or maybe I already am. For now, I'm raising my self awareness.

I stopped for breakfast in Breckenridge. I like that town, and not just because the dude at the cafe made me fresh mini donuts for the road. Small. Pretty. Clean. Well situated.

Out of Breck, it was right up Boreas Pass, which is an awesome climb with a good grade, a nice surface and shade from the aspens on either side of the road. Possibly the best climb yet.

On the other side of Boreas is a small town Beer in Como. I needed to recharge my water for the remote slog ahead and I pulled into the grocery store. It was closed for renos and didn't look like it would be open until quite some time after I'm hoping to have reached Mexico. So, I went to the only other business in town, the Como Depot, a cute little hotel and restaurant built back in 1892.

The proprietor, Dave, was expecting me and called me by name. A keen supporter of the Tour Divide, he has been watching the little bouncing bubbles approach his town for the past week. He offered me a free beer and I couldn't say no (see picture). It was not even 1130 yet, so that was probably violating some kind of social norm. But that's nothing new for me on this trip and I'm guessing that wearing the same unwashed jersey for 2750kms is a more severe violation.

Dave showed me some pictures and was really friendly. If I weren't set on getting to Mexico in good time, it was the sort of pace that I would have enjoyed staying for a night. But I was set on making it to Salida today, so I was quickly on my way.

Looking at the elevation profile, the tough part appeared to be Boreas Pass. Not the case. The post-Como hail was a tough one. I've noticed that a lot of people hang flags in America. Not around these parts. That's probably because it's the kind of territory where flags would get ripped to shreds in a matter of hours. It was WINDY!

I spent the next few hours ducking the headwind and trying to keep a straight line amid the gusts coming from the side. The dirt road was severely washboarded, which further impaired my progress.

When I finally made it to the next town, Harstel, I thought about waiting out the wind and doing the rest in the dark (because the wind doesn't blow at night, right?). But patience and I have never been very good friends, so I charged along. Got to make it to Salida!

Slow going. I made it over the last pass just after sunset and had a long gravel descent in the dark. Sloooooow. I eventually made it to Salida just after 10pm. As it is Sunday, that meant that my dreams of a hot meal tonight were broken. But, hey, I made it!
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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tour Divide Day 16.

172km. Stagecoach Park to Silverthorne.
Total time: 14 hours.

Bivying is becoming more pleasant as the weather continues to warm up, though, without my poles, condensation continues to be a issue.

Every day brings something epic; snow, climbing, winds, distance, cold rain, rough descents. Today it was the flooding. After clearing Lynx Pass, I encountered a stream that had become a river (see pic). This is where I caught up with my bivy-mates from last night; John, Dan, Luke and Markley. They had found a 'shallow' path to safely cross; shallow meaning high enough to get my chamois wet! It was an adventure getting across while keeping my 50+ pound rig out of the raging current.

Today brought a lot of sunshine and great views. But for a little hiccup with my hydration, it was a spectacular ride; a good mix of hard and fun.

As each day passes, this journey south is becoming more enjoyable. I don't know if it is the improvement in the weather, the fact the I am no longer feeling socially isolated, being past the half way mark (and on the countdown!), or something else.

That 'something else' might be finding my pace. I've never taken part in a race like this. That is, one in which the clock never stops. It really plays with my head, even as I try to resist it. I think every day about how fast and long I should go. I must make a choice between going as far as I can and going as far as I should. For me, these are not the same thing. Balancing physical exertion and mental exertion is really hard, especially when there are factors outside of my control (weather, terrain, availability of services, etc). Maintaining motivation is so important and pushing too hard wears on the mind and my motivation. Finishing the day with energy left leaves me feeling guilty. I feel like holding back a bit can extend my reach on this trip, but that requires resisting the temptation to push my physical limits and it requires coaching myself not to feel guilty about 'having something left'.

I also struggle with my attachment to the group that I have found myself with over the past week. I may be riding alone for almost the entire day, but the company in the morning, at stops and at night has made such a difference for me and helped me to rebuild my mental strength. But this is supposed to be a solo trip, right? Or maybe having friends along the way is one of the perks of taking part in the Grand Depart? Other than giving me some emotional support, how is this social opportunity affecting my performance in the race? Am I clinging to the social opportunities at the expense of my potential? Or do I owe my performance to the social support?

Tonight I have taken a hotel in Silverthorne; I need to wash and rest well as tomorrow is another big day (I guess that they all are). I have taken a different hotel than my recently acquired friends. I am considering taking off on my own early tomorrow morning...earlier than I think that the other riders will leave. I want break free and get some answers to my questions. I'm scared that I will fall into the tough times that I had during the first week of the trip; before I picked up these friends. But I think that it is the right thing to do. Perhaps we will still end up at the same place at the end of the day. It will be interesting to see.
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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tour Divide Day 15.

114km. Brush Mountain Ranch to Stagecoach Reservoir.

Getting on the road this morning took a lot longer than planned. I think that it had something to do with the blueberry pancakes that Kirsten fried up. And eggs. And sausage. And toast.

I had predicted that clearing the pass in the morning would be easier because the ground and snow would be frozen. I was wrong. The mud was squishy and the snow was soft. 8km of pushing my bike through soft snow. A patience test.

I stopped in at the Orange Peel bike shop in Steamboat Springs. My gears have been skipping and I wanted to check on my brakes. There were six other Divide riders there in front of me, so it took a while to get through there (hours). Nice people and cool shop, but quite an expensive tune up. At least the bike seems to be running well now.

I also ran in to JohnnyP. Here is a guy with strange luck. The dude is clearly a strong rider and has no issues with night riding. He should be well ahead of me, but I keep seeing him. He passed me early in the race but then broke a crank and had to do an 11 mile hike-a-bike just to get to the highway. While he was getting that fixed, I moved ahead. And then he caught up and passed me around Jackson Hole (going the other way up Teton pass, strangely). Later, when he was leaving Rawlins, he realized that he'd left his GPS at the restaurant there and had to back track 20 miles and then stay the night until the restaurant opened in the morning. So, once again, I move ahead of him. He passed me again yesterday as I approached Brush Mountain Ranch, but his plan was to keep going over the pass and make it to Steamboat for last call. He didn't make it and camped on the pass. When I saw him in Steamboat, he was heading out for a beer and a pizza to take on the road. Maybe I'll see him tomorrow.

The bike stop ate about four hours of my already short day. Once again, my goals for distance for the day would have to be revised. Downward. I left Steamboat unsure of where I could camp, since the next campsite shown on the map would be another 70kms or so.

The Yampa River, which flows through the town, was severely flooded and just raging through Steamboat. Huge patches of the path were underwater, giving me the opportunity to take my freshly tuned bike for a swim. Poop.

About 30km out of Steamboat, there is a nice reservoir and park. I caught up with John, Dan, Luke and Markley, who were also there and set up camp for the night. Beautiful spot overlooking the lake. Some kids at a nearby cabin are setting off fireworks. Clear view of the stars. It is nice.
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Friday, June 24, 2011

Tour Divide Day 14.

142km. Rawlins to Bush Mountain Ranch.

...Slow ride...
...Take it eeeeeasssay...

I strutted up and down the aisles of the Country Market in Rawlins to this song as I replenished my stock of Peanut M&Ms, Gummy Bears and chocolate milk for today's ride. Though the song is rather fitting for this adventure, it makes me think more of Guitar Hero than of an epic mountain bike ride to the Mexican border.

Nevertheless, this song would play on repeat in my mental jukebox for the next eleven and a half hours as I made my way out of Wyoming and into Colorado to the Brush Mountain Ranch.

I passed some ranchers on horses. They were in the midst of a cattle drive. I like to think that I helped them out some, as I was travelling in the same direction and my presence seemed to compel the cattle to move along. Those ranchers have serious patience. As far as I can tell, cows have an attention span like a goldfish. Not something to be done in a hurry, that's for sure.

Why do cows get so freaked out as you approach them? They watch you coming up a hill for 20 minutes, if you are moving at 4km/hr, as I am. And then you keep your line and are totally predictable and they get all startled once you are within 10 feet of them. And have you ever noticed how cows don't move their heads in a smooth fashion as their gaze follows you? It is more like a ratchet motion. Take note the next time that you pass a cow on a bicycle.
I was bored out of my mind for a bit this afternoon. I contemplated grabbing my ipod out of my bag, but resisted the temptation. It wasn't for lack of scenery or beauty that I was bored. It is just that, sometimes, the monotony of turning the pedals over mile after mile, hour after hour, day after day, alone, catches up with you. And my mind is empty now. That's a good thing. No frustration or sadness. I'm just riding. But I felt like an empty box.

I turned on to pavement after a lovely ride through a forest of aspens (geez, those are nicest trees). There was some severe road damage from a few weeks back (shown in pic). Oh, mother nature. Speaking of which, I had a soul crushing headwind that was so fierce that I had to pedal hard to move down what seemed to be the only downhill of the day.

I'm staying inside tonight at the Brush Mountain Ranch. The hospitality is amazing. A lady named Kirsten runs the show here and seems to know exactly what a rider needs. This is the sort of place that I'd never get to see if I were not doing this ride. It is so nice and comfortable and I can already tell that it will be hard to get myself to leave here tomorrow.

The ranch is set in the forest part way up a climb that is reportedly still under snow at the top. I decided to hole up here and wait for crunchy snow tomorrow morning, rather than slush and darkness tonight. Also at the lodge are some other riders; Helena-John, St. Louis-Luke, California-Dan, Vancouver-Jackie and a...Markley or something like that. There are also some non-riders. The wife of the man who died in last years race is also here to recognise the anniversary of his accident. Seems like a nice way to remember such a tragic event.

After dinner, I went outside to take in the view and there were humming birds everywhere. I counted six around my head at one point. Sucking honey from the little feeders. Chasing each other. Pausing in mid-air like nine inches from my face to stare at me. They have little iridescent pink necks that are so bright when they face you. I'd never experienced hummingbirds so close up before tonight. They are really cool!
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tour Divide Day 13.

215km. Atlantic City to Rawlins.
Total time: 11.5 hours, including <30 mins stopped.

In anticipation of the big ride, I waited for the town restaurant to open for breakfast and loaded up on french toast and probably the best bacon that I've ever eaten.

It was a grand leap across the great divide basin. Total desolation. No services. No water. I saw just 3 cars in the first 10 hours of the day.

I think that I crossed the half way point today!

The most exciting thing that I saw were small groups of antelope. Actually, it was rather exciting. They are cool animals. I like their big bug eyes and graceful running style.

This was the first day that I've been able to ride the full day with only my jersey on. It was nice to wake up and go and not be cold.

No picture today. Not much to say. Probably a good sign. But I'm tired now. Looks like another big day tomorrow. And another after that.
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tour Divide Day 12.

226km. Bondurant(ish) to Atlantic City.
Total time: 13 hours.

Sleeping underneath the buzz and the light of a flickering neon Miller Lite sign was strangely comforting. I woke up to the sound of cars going by. The thermometer beside the entrance door confirmed my suspicion that it was, in fact, below zero.

I tried to coach myself that I was lucky not to be wet, lucky to be with people. Strong-Tori would have laughed at the situation, but I don't have the Strong-Tori back. Yet. Getting up was not easy. Big day ahead. Tired body. Tired mind.

Even as this adventure has become more bearable, I still find myself thinking about stopping. These thoughts have evolved from thoughts of giving up to thoughts of quitting. I consider this a massive improvement. In my opinion, there is a chasm between the compulsion to give up and the desire to quit.

Giving up has an underlying element of hopelessness; being pushed away by the overwhelming belief that it is impossible to go on. Probably one of the saddest feelings one can be overcome with.

Quitting, on the other hand, is about being pulled by the desire to be in another situation. I am stubborn enough to handle a desire to quit. I think of it this way:
1. I am not a quitter
2. If I did quit, I know that it would eat away at me to the point at which I would be compelled to try again.
3. One lifetime is not enough for me to do this again.

Conquering the desire to quit requires some mind games. Knowing that I am not even half way through this journey is daunting; thinking about what is ahead is too much for my brain to handle. So, I break it down into smaller pieces. Day by day is too large sometimes. Mostly, I look ahead town to town, meal to meal. When that is too much, I just look ahead to what my eye can see. And, when that is too much, I look three inches in front of my tire and watch the ground blur and listen to myself pant.

Today was quite nice, in the end. Sunshine and a tailwind. And a lot of progress! It almost felt like cheating, it was so nice. it was good to help me recharge before we head into the next section of big challenges.

I'm still with John, Dan and Luke. Though we may not ride together during the day, it is nice to have familiar faces when I set out in the morning, when I have lunch, when I have dinner. I don't even know their last names. It doesn't matter, I guess. And sometimes at lunch or at the end of the day, someone is missing for a while but then they eventually show up. We have no way to contact each other, so it always crosses my mind that it might be our last contact.

Tonight I'm staying in Atlantic City, a little mining town in the middle of...not much. There's a saloon and some old houses. Met a guy named Franck. He is doing the trip northbound and it seems as though he is making good time.

We met a local lady named Bev at dinner and she invited us to stay in her trailer tonight. Done! It will be good to get a proper rest, as it is another 140 MILES to the next services. Hopefully I can clear that tomorrow.

The picture is of a mining building in South Pass City, just a few miles from where I'm staying tonight.
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Tour Divide Day 11.

170km. Ashton to Bondurant(ish).
Total time: 12.5 hours

There are two conditions of hunger when you are on the bike. The first, you don't feel hungry, but you should eat. The second, you feel hungry and you should have eaten a while ago.

It is so hard to eat enough to properly satisfy a body that is in motion for most of the day. I'm eating all of the time. ALL of the time. I eat real meals whenever I can, but it is not always an option; not when the distances between pockets of civilization are so large. So, a good portion of my calories come from the convenience store. A typical grocery list might go like this:

...Three bags of peanut m and m's...
...A sack of gummy bears...
...No, wait, are those gummy slugs? I'll take those instead...
...One litre of chocolate milk...
...A big bag of beef jerky...

The other day, a cashier lady remarked how nice it must be to be able to eat so much candy. I suppose. But, actually, it is a bit much at times. It just comes down to what you can get in the system easily.

Sometimes my jaw hurts from chewing. Sometimes the roof of my mouth is tender from the roughness of the foods that I've been eating. Sometime you just have to eat what you have and if that's a cold, soggy, subway sandwich for breakfast, that's life.

I've learned that those fancy granola bars that I bought at the organic store - those gourmet looking ones that cost like 4 bucks a pop - is a great emergency food. Great for this purpose because the likelihood that I'm going to eat that thing under any other circumstances is effectively nil.
I stopped in Driggs for lunch and a guy named Hope Strong bought me lunch at this awesome bakery called Pendls in exchange for an interview. Possibly the best sandwich that I've had on this trip. I think that he was hoping for some more upbeat answers to his questions, but the honest answers to most questions aren't especially cheerful.

A random guy passed us on the bike path outside of Driggs and gave us some free energy bars. Tasty ones, too. I am spending like 30 bucks a day at the convenience store. Bring on the free stuff!

Reached another milestone today, crossing from Idaho into Wyoming. Yeah!

We set up our bivies in the covered entrance of a one-pump gas station that is only open thursday though sunday. Today is monday. My sleeping bag is still moist with condensation from its last use. Cars keep coming to get gas and the headlights illuminate our little makeshift camp. I can't tell whether it will be a short night or a long one.
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 10 pic

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Day 9 pic

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Day 8 pic

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Tour Divide Day 10.

125km. Lakeview to Ashton.
Total time: 10.5 hours.

We took a slow start, enjoying some tea and waffles and the warm hospitality of Jeff and Jillian who were so kind to take us in last night. Then it was time to look at the bikes, which were squealing in misery last night. My rear brakes are totally worn, but otherwise the bike was good.

It was overcast, but dry, when we finally got rolling around 10am. The road was still really squishy with mud, and had wide streams flowing across it from the rain overnight. John, Dan, Jackie, and Greg were with us now, too. They had stopped about 9 miles before us last night(though we never saw them) and crashed in someone's garage for the night.

I don't know much about the game of bridge, but I know that bridge mix makes a great riding snack. Even when it has melted against the beef jerky that I keep in the same zip lock bag in my jersey pocket. Sweet *and* salty.

We passed in to Idaho today. Though I like Montana, it was a nice milestone to make it out of the state.

We took lunch at Mack's Inn; the first town that we came to in Idaho. As I was looking at my spot gps blinking at me, I was thinking about how funny it must be to be on the other end of that signal. I remember looking at the trackleader website when I was in Calgary before this crazy adventure started. When I scrolled over everyone's name, their little bubble things jumped so energetically off the map. It was so fitting that they bounced like that, with all of the enthusiasm that we had going into this event. It is so funny to think of them doing that now. Jumping with so much energy when we are all so tired. How could that little bubble possibly represent a rider now?

It must be funny to watch these things move along over time. Like a little video game. Starting and stopping mysteriously. Racing along sometimes. Crawling at others. Why did this one stop here? Why hasn't this one moved for two hours? Why are these ones moving together now? Why is this one only going 1.2mph? Why is this one off track?

You can't see the 10 miles of snow. You can't see the pouring rain. You can't see the wall of a pass. You can't see the total absence of services.

It was a long and hard, but great day. The afternoon brought some sunshine and a nice little double track descent that paralleled a river that had some roaring rapids. Stunning.

Luke, John, Dan and I took a detour off route to stay in Ashton for the night. We did it to have our first shower in a few days and to have a good sleep and let a few wounds heal up for the toughness ahead. It is the first night that I am not going to bed shivering. I am tired, but I feel good. I think that I can kick this respiratory thing in a few more days like this. I can now yawn without discomfort!
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Tour Divide Day 9.

197km. Reservoir to Lakeview.
Total time: 16 hours.

This was the first day in a while that I have woken up not in a pool of sweat. Maybe I'm getting better. Maybe it was the layer of frost on my bivy. In any case, the smell of sage bush in the morning was nice.

Luke and I took off together up the valley to Medicine Lodge Divide. At the foot of the mountains on either side was mostly ranch land. Field upon field of cows grazing. Nice looking cows, too. With those almost black coats. Luke amused me for a while with his cow calls. The calls were good enough to prompt responses from the cows. And the cows were pretty vocal. It was like a cow symphony.

I'm not sure exactly when I dropped Luke, but he was eventually out of eyesight and I just carried on up the hill on my own. Walking. Riding. Doing what I could to keep moving. At the side of the road were some cool little pink flowers that looked like wild roses but were growing as singles really close to the ground instead of on a bush. They were so pretty and looked rather out of place, though maybe this is one of the only places that they really belong. It is one of those things that you could easily miss if you were driving a car and that makes cycling such a rewarding means of transport.

With the high point on the pass, the scenery changed from a valley of ranches to a big, lush bowl of grassland that was carved out of the mountains. It seemed like the sort of place where photographers might come to get photos of violent storms. So, a wasted no time getting down while the weather was still good.

Once I was out of the bowl, the descent went through a canyon that made me feel like I was in a cowboys and indians movie, except that I always imagine it to be a bit warmer in those movies.

Luke caught up with me in Lima and we carried on toward Lakeview. The road was rolling, but flat relative to everything that we had done to get there. So, progress was fast. Finally! It was so nice to have a section that didn't involve climbing.

At about hour 11, I was thinking that today was what I had hoped for from this trip. Long, hard day with some good distance.

At about hour 12, the rain started. And it was cold. Very cold. And the road turned squishy. And, the wind picked up.

We pedalled on.

There was not much listed by way of amenities along the road, but there wasn't much we could do except keep pedalling and stay warm. It was so hard to stay warm. We were wet to the bone and it was so cold and windy. And now we were losing daylight. Fast. And our bikes were squealing like crazy from all of the mud that we were grinding through the drive trains. And our tires were squishing down into the mud and it felt like both tires were flat.

All that we could do was keep moving. It was getting to be panic time. There was no talking. We just pedalled.

It was 930pm now (10 minutes of light left) and the only hotel that we knew of was still about 20km away. That would be several hours at this pace. We needed to call to make sure that they would have a room ready for us. But there was no cell phone service! We passed a wildlife refuge headquarters and saw a house with a light on. Maybe we could borrow their phone?

A lady named Jillian answered and handed over her phone without hesitation. As she and her husband, Jeff, watched us shiver as I began to explain to the lady on the other end of the phone what we wanted, they invited us to just stay there for the evening.

Wow. Yes. Awesome. Disaster averted.

They made us hot chocolate and sat and chatted with us for a while. And they set up a futon and some blankets for us to sleep on in the living room. And they were so warm and friendly to us strangers. We were so lucky to be saved tonight. Oh, the kindness of strangers.
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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tour Divide Day 8.

140km (including food diversion). Basin to Reservoir.
Total time: 12 hours


I woke up to the sound of rain on the tin roof of the motel that I stayed at. I'm not ready for that, yet. Back to sleep for 20 minutes.

I decided to get a semi-early start on the ride, rather than take breakfast at the motel, which the others were planning to do. In addition to Dan, Luke and John, there were two riders, Jackie and Greg, who had arrived around 11pm last night. Descending Fleecer in the dark must have been an adventure!

I liked the idea of a hot meal and a chance to ride with people, but something inside me fears being left behind and I wanted to make sure that I could get some distance so that I would not be alone at the end of the day. I figured that I would clear the first climb, then take hot lunch in Polaris and then figure out an end goal for the day and maybe the others would catch me at that time.

The road to Polaris was paved and beautiful and not busy at all. Beautiful riding up a nice lush valley, a valley that is probably even nicer when it is sunny. Very few cars. The road followed along the Wise River (shown in pic), which was headed in the opposite direction as me. I wondered if it knows something that I don't.

The descent was a dream; long and fast and smooth, clean pavement. It was the kind where you can totally just let the brakes go and carve through the switchbacks and take in the fresh air and scenery. Motley Crue showed up for a surprise concert in my mental amphitheatre.

...(something-something-something) doctor FEELGOOD!
He's the one that makes you feel ALRIGHT!...

Now, *this* is what I'm talking about.

I rolled into Polaris, only to find that there was nothing. So, I back tracked about 6km to the Grasshopper Inn, which was the only sign of life that I'd come across so far. I needed a meal and some supplies and I knew that it could be a while before the next services. I parked my bike out front so that the others would see it as they rode by and sat down for my meal.

A group rode by and didn't stop. I couldn't tell if it was all of them, but I was surprised that they had what they needed for the day. Oh well. As I ate lunch, I sat there looking at the map, looking at the time, thinking about how long it took me to cover very short distances so far. How far could I get today? How far *should* I get today? I called all three of the lodges listed on the ACA map between Polaris and Lima, but no answer. My waitress said that she thought they were all closed for the season. There was a full on civil war in my head.
'If you hurry, you could press on to Lima today'
'You won't make it and you'll end up camping alone in the cold on the mountain'
'This is a holiday'
'This is a race'
'There are mountain lions near lima, you shouldn't ride alone'
'You should take a gamble that one of the lodges along the way will be open'
'You should be camping'

Luke rolled up, eventually. Turns out that he'd been dropped on the climb because his achilles are swollen and giving him grief. He was talking about staying around Polaris for the night to heal up and then carry on tomorrow. Instead, he carried on with me. I had no plan. It just seemed to early to stop.

Luke reminds me of Gabe from the Tour d'Afrique. Warm, chatty, funny. Works at a bike shop. Rides a green Fargo in the biggest size that they come!

Luke and I eventually came across the bikes of the four others (John, Dan, Jackie and Greg) at Cross Ranch (one of the lodges marked on the map but which does not actually operate as a lodge). We walked around but couldn't find them. Instead we found a rancher who told us that they had borrowed his car and driven up ahead on the route for a bite to eat at the reservoir. Wow, talk about hospitality. Four sweaty strangers show up on your property in search of food, and you lend them your car to take to a restaurant? Unreal.

Luke and I carried on with no plan. When we got close to the reservoir, we decided to take a detour and get dinner at the restaurant there. Beats surviving the next 24 hours on gummy bears and beef jerky. We took a hot meal and then found a spot to camp at the reservoir.

Nice camp site. Surrounded by sage. A rather short day, but sleeping low at the reservoir seemed a better alternative to finding something at higher elevation.
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Friday, June 17, 2011

Tour Divide Day 7.

142km (incl. detour). Basin to Wise River.
14 hours, including 3 stopped.

After heading to bed last night, four other riders rolled into the bed and breakfast where I was staying. Richard (South Carolina), and a group of three, John, Luke (St. Louis), and Dan (California) who I'd seen in Lincoln the night before. It was strangely comforting to know that, even with the ground that I've lost, there were still others out in the area. I hope that I can see these guys again.

My front shifter seized up yesterday, which would normally be a problem worth mentioning except that I seem to have more pressing issues on this trip. And, besides, it wasn't entirely a horrible event considering that I have been mostly using the granny ring on this trip. Nonetheless, it was good to get into Butte today to have it fixed at the Outdoorsman, a GDMBR-friendly bicycle shop.

Rob, the owner of the shop, was very sweet and gave me a pep talk. He also gave me a water bottle with some goodies in it and free service on my bike. The hospitality was overwhelming.

I also had some errands to run while 'in the big city', including a visit to the pharmacy. A girl at the checkout asked me where I was cycling to and I said that I was headed to the Mexican border. She responded with a comment like 'oh, I could never do that'. And I thought, 'yes you can, it's all in your head'. But then I realized that I can hardly make such a remark credibly anymore, given all of the doubts that I have been dealing with myself over the last week.

Still, I really believe that it is all in your head. In my head. So, how do I get my mental strength back? I feel like things are getting better today. But it is hard to know for sure from the darkness how far it will be until I am out of this hole. Will it even happen on this trip?

I covered a lot of vertical today. On the first climb out of Butte, it snowed. Just the kind that you can watch slowly drop to the ground and then disappear. But it was still snow. Later, I crested Fleecer Ridge, climbing up to 2375m. Just on the last stretch of the ascent, dan, John and Luke caught me. It was nice to see some people and to share the absurdity of the stretch of hiking that was about to come, as the trail started downward at a grade and quality that rendered it unridable for all but the most brave.

I arrived in Wise River a good 15 minutes before the rest and stood in the bar (the only one in town) and waited tp order dinner. A man with a white beard and no socks walked over to my and asked if I would mind putting some drops in his eyes. Come again? Yes, drops in his eyes. I felt more uncomfortable saying no than doing it.

Walking into the bar was like walking into a movie about small town america. Antlers on the wall. Bear skin on the ceiling. Overweight men with moustaches sitting at the bar.

The juke box started and played so loud enough to drown out any possibility of conversation. We looked at each other around the table and smiled. The song was something about the call of the wild and it inspired a few of the burly guys at the bar to howl like wolves. Ok, finally a laugh-out-loud moment on this trip!

We finished the night with a Double Haul; a super can of high potency Montana beer with some fly-fishing lingo on the side that I couldn't understand.
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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tour Divide Day 6.

162km. Lincoln to Basin.
14.5 hours, including 2 hours stopped.

I saw some cool abandoned mining sites and towns along the route today. Man, those guys who survived out here were tough. It is summer and I'm struggling! I had my sweater and rain jacket on all day (granted, it was partly because I sweated so much that my wet sweater was cold without the rain jacket). I am finding it constantly cold here.

I also saw some lovely views (the pic is from the second big descent). That was thanks to the monster load of climbing that I did today. I have no idea how many vertical metres that I covered (because I don't know how to use my gps), but it was a lot!

Side note: it turns out that duct tape is good for a lot of things. As a substitute for a blister bandaid is not one of them.

As I was having lunch in Helena, I felt inertia building. It is the biggest commercial center that I've been through since starting this journey. I felt the town's gravitational pull and it got me thinking about social isolation.

Social isolation is a topic that has come up a few times as I have talked to people about this race; before starting and then also now. I think of it as something that I do well; I am sociable, but I also isolate myself a lot. Part of the reason that I felt compelled and prepared to do this race now was because of the awkwardness that I felt being in the city after coming back from Africa.

But, until today, I don't know that I *really* thought about what social isolation meant and what it means to me in the context of an event like this.

At the surface, I see social isolation as needed private time to process thoughts and listen to oneself. The price that I pay for this is not having someone there to distract me through the tough parts of a ride like this or someone there to help me regain perspective when I inevitably get myself in a rut. I was prepared for that trade off.

And then I was thinking about how some of the riders buy supplies at the grocery store or the convenience store and then eat on the go. Sometimes I eat on the go. But, when I can, I sit in a restaurant where I can get served by a person. And I can see their face and their body language and I can smile and they smile back. And it affects my mood. And I realised how much energy that I draw from people.

And then, at lunch, I was seeing the little thumbnails of pictures that my friend Mike just uploaded to facebook. They were pictures of a big group dinner that we had in Windhoek. And, in many of the pictures, I was laughing. Laughing hard. And, it got me thinking that I wanted to feel that way right *now*.


But I can't.

There are certain things that I can only experience in the company of people. Warm hugs. Gut busting laughs. Intelligent discussion. This is social isolation. It is the absence of certain emotions that make life more complete. It has been only 6 days and I miss these things so much.

I am so glad that I have my blackberry. The support from people by blog, facebook, email has been so meaningful. Mom and Dad, Meriah, Ali and Salima, Carrie, Ruth, Kate, Dallas, Erik, Five Stroke, Timmy, Fred, Bow Cycle, Steve, Cathy, Elizabeth, JP and the Gang, Horst. I may not be responding directly right now, but I'm listening and it is touching me and you can't imagine how much it means to me. Thank you.

Changing the topic, my elevation profiles for the reroutes are totally wrong. Part of me doesn't care because it doesn't change the fact that I have a big hill to climb. But the part of me that is out there pushing my bike for hours up an unexpected and steep pass while calculating and recalculating what time I might arrive in my target destination of Butte.

In time for dinner...

Just before sunset...

Just after sunset...

In the dark...


In the end, there was a town called Basin, about 30km before Butte. The Silver Saddle was just closing when I rolled in (around 9pm), but the chef fried me up some chicken fingers and fries. Definitely a GDMBR friendly town. The waitress noted that I looked cold and mentioned that there was a bed and breakfast a few doors down. So, I am holing up at a bed and breakfast here. Turns out that Paul was here two nights ago, which is cool.
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tour Divide Day 5.

150km (incl. A few deviations). Holland Lake Lodge to Lincoln.
Total time: 10 hours, including 75 minutes stopped.

I did my best to silence ambition today and I forced myself to sleep in. I ate hot buttermilk pancakes for breakfast. Mmmmm. If there is a better breakfast therapy, I haven't found it. Christian, the guy who owns this Lodge, is very bike friendly and took good care of me. He even made me laugh a bit.

I don't wear an ipod when I ride. Maybe I should. I like the sound of animals rustling in the woods, the streams, the leaves, my tires rolling through the mud. But music is therapeutic. Listening to music in the lodge was nice. Christian's playlist was an diverse mix; everything from Dolly Parton, Flaming Lips.

I sat by the comfort of the fire for several hours and pulled myself together while I waited for the rain to stop. Yesterday, it was light, but cold rain for the first seven hours, and then on and off after that. I wanted to start dry today. I also wanted to start late enough that I wouldn't be tempted to ride past my ability.

I didn't leave the lodge until after noon; well after the other four riders (JP, Tom, Martin and Ray) who were there had left. I saw them on each of the first four nights and will miss meeting up with them.

The weather was the best its been so far; no rain and almost warm. Having said that, I still started with my rain jacket on and I had my black icebreaker 260 hoodie and leg warmers on all day. But there was sun and it was dry and it made life so much better.

I passed three GDMBRers on the way in to Seeley Lake. One guy's tire was torn and repaired with duct tape. That's unfortunate. He was moving slowly and seemed to be repumping a lot. Then there was a guy napping on the side of the highway. It looked nice. But I had been riding for less than three hours and it didn't quite seem something. The third was a spanish dude in a La Ruta jersey. I remember how cold the costa ricans were at BC bike race. This guy must be really suffering!

I guess that one thing that is nice about my body having a 12-hour limit is that there's no need to hurry through lunches and stuff. Might as well stop when I need to and enjoy it. Had lunch in Seeley Lake and decided that I had it in me to keep on truckin.

I used a blister bandaid and it seemed to work rather well. Until I had to go to the bathroom and found that it had also stuck to my shorts. Ouch!

I finally had the first wow-this-is-my-life moments of the trip today. Watching the wind blow random patterns over the glassy Holland Lake. Feeling the cool breeze on my face as I rolled past Cottonwood Lakes. Watching the reflection of the moon rise in the pools of water that have collected in the farm fields outside of Lincoln. With the rose coloured glasses that I got in Namibia, it was totally awesome.

Respiratory issues persist but have stabilised, so I am satisfied with that. I finished today tired, but with a big smile on my face and a few drops of gas left in the tank and it was soooo nice.

Sleep, sunshine and pancakes. That made all of the difference.
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Tour Divide Day 4.

172km (including an intentional deviation). Columbia Falls to Holland Lake Lodge.
Total time 15 hours, including 2 hours stopped.

Although I did not come with a 'plan' regarding distance per day or days to finish, I did have a strategy. I would cover as much distance as I could each day while expending as little effort as possible. So far, this strategy has left me finishing earlier than I'd like to and totally smashed at the end of the day. Today was no exception.

I woke up feeling heavy in the chest and tired, but measurably better than yesterday. I took it as a sign that I was on the mend.

Sharing this isn't going to help my love life, but, then, neither is taking off for a month on a solo bike trip. Yesterday, I developed a blister on my butt. It is rather large, about 2cm wide and maybe 4cm long. Not good. I don't know how this is possible, given the amount of time that I have spent in the saddle this year. But it is there, and it made its presence painfully obvious.

The blister led me to adjust my riding style from a continuous spin to an out-of-the-saddle pedal-pedal-pedal-coooooaaaaast.

Near the top of the first climb, a bear walked out into the road less than 50m in front of me. Like, even with my wimpy cyclist arms, I could have hit it with a stone. But, I didn't. I was surprised not to feel scared at all. Maybe it was because I was too tired, maybe it was because the bear was just so chilled out. I stopped my bike and started singing a lullaby that I made up on the fly. He looked at me and then turned around and ran into the bushes.

Hey, I have no illusions about being a good singer.

I sang for as long as I could after that, especially on the downhills. Mostly beatles songs. The beatles have a lot of good songs. And a lot of weird ones. I seem to only know the weird ones. I may be surrounded by wetness, but I am not in a yellow submarine. And this is not an animated adventure. This is very real.

The hills got harder and harder. Harder than they should have been. My body is just not there. Hard breathing is leading to coughing fits and I'm now evacuating red from my lungs. With my shallow breathing and butt blister, climbing out of the saddle proved too much effort. So, I walked. A lot. I focused on staying warm and just keeping on moving.

I was totally exhausted and picturing the distance and profile to the next services. Not pretty. 5:45pm and 55km to go and a lot of elevation and I can only really walk up the hills in my current condition.

I wanted to stop, throw up my bivy and wake up tomorrow, but I felt that wet clothes and a cold campsite would bury me deeper. A warm meal and a dry bed were required, even if it meant showing up smashed in the dark.

As I approached a small stretch of highway that connected two dirt roads on the route, I could see some little icons on my gps. A restaurant *and* a hotel! Only a few kilometres off route! And on the road to the highway, there was a rainbow. Ah, hope!

The restaurant turned out to be right. The hotel did not.

Seeing the sign for the restaurant, The Hungry Bear, put the first smile of the day on my face. This had a lot to do with me being as hungry as the bears must be right now. It also had to do with Hungry Bear being a term that my Aunt Keli uses.

I ate spaghetti while watching the rain come down outside, observing the locals 'dine out' and listening to country music. 'I love the rainy nights, I love the rainy nights...'. You have got to be kidding me.

The lady at the restaurant told me about a lodge about 10km away. Holland Lake Lodge. As luck would have it, it was on route. This is one of the problems of preparing for this race in only two weeks. I should have had this marked on my cue sheet, but, in my haste, I missed it.

I only went as far as I did today in order to get to services. I probably would have stopped at the eight hour mark if there had been services. Tomorrow is forced rest. Maybe that means hanging out at this lodge all day. Maybe it means rolling on to Seeley Lake and holing up there. Staying at the lodge could be good for inspiration; it's gorgeous on the same level as Emerald Lake Lodge. Then again, Seeley is likely to have a pharmacy, which is probably a good idea for me. And a bit more progress will help me psychologically. I'll figure it all out tomorrow.
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tour Divide Day 3

130km. Eureka to Columbia Falls.
13.5 hours total time, including a lot of stopping.

I don't like to dwell on negative feelings, but I wouldn't be painting an honest picture of my experience today if I didn't.

I really suffered today.

I woke up soaked in sweat. Resting heart rate of just over 100bpm. Chills. I painfully liberated some of the demons from my chest, then put on all of my dry clothes. Thermal socks, shoes, winter booties, double chamois, leg warmers, jersey, thick wool hoodie, rain jacket, winter gloves, hat. Still cold.

I considered a late start. Or no start. It would be more than 100km and a high passes before the next services. I wasn't sure that I could make it, but I was so cold that I decided I was better to be moving. I also figured that Whitefish would be a more suitable place to rest up, if I couldn't shake this illness.

I rolled out at first light again. Starting early would give me a higher probability of finishing. It wasn't long before Kenny Rogers' The Gambler popped into my head. Despite its rather upbeat melody, the ominous message made the song unwelcome. I searched my mental playlist for something different, but this one kept coming back.

Spending this much time alone on the bike gives one an opportunity to think about a lot of things. Maybe too much time. I had a conversation with myself about failure. Expectations and failure. Expectations kill happiness. Will I fail at this? What is failure on this ride? Why am I so weak? I want to be stronger! Why is this so hard?

Tori! Why are you crying? This is so inefficient. You need those fluids. And, anyhow, it is hard to see the road when your eyes are all welled up. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. Snap out of it.

I needed to regroup; to get my mind, my body, my heart, and my ego realigned. Hey, Ego! What are you doing here? I thought that I left you to die at the side of the road in Ethiopia. Get out of here!

I looked for peace in the beauty around me. The sound of the run off falling down the mountain. The smell of pine needles and rain soaked soil. The vibrant greens of the forest.

I finally warmed up at around hour 5 and my spirits lifted. That is about when the hike-a-bike started. This hike-a-bike can only be described as EPIC. Unrideable snow. And it just went on. And on. And on. Jesus, you cannot imagine. At least I am pretty good at pushing my bike. One foot in front of the other. Just keep moving. It took hours.

Some of the snow was like ice and required full body weight behind the bike to push it over ruts. Other parts were slushy and wet and very cold on the feet. I didn't measure the time or distance. I didn't anticipate that the reroute could have this much snow on it.

The sky couldn't decide whether it was sunny and hot or cold and rainy. I was glad that it was not just cold and rainy. And the extreme changes gave me a chance to eat and drink regularly as I changed layers.

The elevation profile that I had pasted on my cue sheet showed two passes; the second one higher than the first. I started to get nervous about my food and water supply. And daylight. The second pass would probably take even longer than the first. Could I make it today? Would I need to camp in the snow?

I just kept plugging along. Fortunately, I had pasted the wrong elevation profile and I was delighted when the snow stopped suddenly and the road just went down and down and down into Whitefish.

I rolled into Columbia Falls and decided to have a good hot meal while I decided whether to continue on to Ferndale, which would be another 30 miles or so. It felt so nice to sit and eat my first real meal of the day. Four other riders rolled in and sat with me; JP, Tom and two others whose names I cannot remember (but one is friends with Craig Stappler). JP said that the hike-a-bike was 16km and took him about 6 hours, just to give you a sense of the epicness of the thing.

I decided to be nice to my body and stay in Columbia Falls for the night. Just getting here was an achievement.
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Tour Divide Day 2

202km (includes 15km of wrong turns/backtracking). Elkford to Eureka.
13 hours total, including 2 hours stopped.

Woke up with a heavy chest and scorched lungs, but felt much better than I felt last night. Thank you, body!

A lot of people have snow shoes. Not me. I'm banking on being slow enough that there will be a lot of people before me to pack down the snow. On day 1, the strategy worked. Today, there was no snow and not even a stretch of hike-a-bike. There was, however, periods of very cold rain to make things interesting.

I've had a lot of words of support from friends. A lot of those words include reference to me as crazy. I hope that I am not, because I'm really relying on my mental fitness to get me through this.

Wildlife sightings today: a lot of deer and one moose. Cows look a lot like bears if you are paranoid about bears. Which I am. And there were a lot of cows.

Rode alone all day, but leap frogged with Vance from Texas and Lance from New Zealand. They rode faster but stopped a lot.

I took a wrong turn on three separate occasions, leaving me with about 15 bonus kilometres. The cues and gps file on the regular route were excellent up until Sparwood. After that, things deteriorated. It was a bit frustrating, but I guess that it made it more of an adventure.

I saw Lance and Vance on one occasion, realising that they had made a wrong turn, but they had still ended up at the same location as me. They turned around and went back to the missed turn, even though they could have just carried on from there (though that would be cheating). I think that is something very cool about a race like this. It is just about honour. There are a lot of opportunities to cheat, but people will do the right thing if they are given the chance and if they are there for the right reasons.

I had a small crash while I was basically stopped. I guess that I'm still getting used to the weight of my bike. Only minor scrapes. More concerning is the fact that I'm developing some kind of respiratory problem. My chest is heavy and I can take only shallow breaths. On the bright side, it forces me to moderate my pace. Unfortunately, it hurts a lot and I'm worried that it will get worse.

I saw a Deadgoat out for a ride. It was someone that I'd never met (Pete), but any Deadgoat is basically extended family, so it was a pick-me-up to see him.

It was nice to cross the border into the USA, but strange to cross a border without Carrie with me. There was no suggestion box at this one, but there were toilets. Carrie would have been impressed.

Although I was happy with the total distance for the day, I was disappointed to leave 4 hours of daylight and reasonable conditions on the table. I didn't have much choice; my body was begging for mercy and I did not have the mental strength to silence the pleas. I can't remember the last time that I couldn't use my mind to overrule my body. Even on my sickest days in Africa, even on the hardest days at La Ruta, my mind came through for me. This time, though, my body is the boss. And I am totally wasted right now. At least I can sleep longer tonight and hopefully recover well.

I expected this to be hard. And, it is.
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Friday, June 10, 2011

Tour Divide Day 1

176km. Banff to Elkford.
12.5hrs total time, including ~45mins stopped.

Woke up to sunny and dry conditions! Maybe having no pants will be ok? I was so glad that it wasn't raining.

Was nice to arrive with Paul and hang out with him before the race. Took some anxiety away. Cycled into town for breakie. Potentially the last relaxed meal that I will have for the next 3 or 4 weeks.

Saw a big group at macdonalds. We decided that we would get our fill of that along the way and continued past to a nice little organic bakery called Wild Flour.

Seeing the other riders around town, I feel a bit out of place not having a beard. It is strange to meet people who are doing the same thing but who, after this brief moment this morning, I will probably never see again in my life. I can't really remember any of their names, anyway.

Craig, Gerry, Kate and Scott were there to say hi at the start. It was so nice to see them!

It seemed like the group started at a pace that you'd see at a short XC race. I decided not to give into the temptation to follow. Ok, I admit it, I couldn't have followed, as my engine doesn't go that fast. I may not be speedy, but I feel like I know my body reasonably well by now and I needed to just go at my pace.

Paul rode with me for a while, which was awesome. I figured that would be the last time that I would see him for a few months. It was a bit strange.

I saw the first trail snow at about 30km, but there was enough space to ride around it. Then, at about 50km, there were some short hiking sections (I suppose that it was rideable, but I'm really trying to pace myself).

There was a place at about 100km to stop for water and candy and I was so excited Starbucks Frappucino! they didn't have that in Africa!

Conditions were MUCH better than I had anticipated, though Elk Pass had a good hike-a-bike through the snow on a steep and rather extended hill. Then mud that was too much effort to ride through, so I continued walking. I am going to suffer for the loss of upper body strength that I experienced in Africa. The hike-a-bike was much harder for me than it should have been. At least I had Gerry's voice in my head, telling me to just keep moving.

I had planned on the possibility that I might not make it to Elkford, so I was delighted to get through Elk Pass in time that it was possible to sleep in the town. Then I started daydreaming about making it to Sparwood maybe. I day dreamed long enough to screw up my nutrition. I slowed to a crawl as my tank emptied. Eventually I resigned myself to the fact that it would be much smarter to stop for the night in Elkford, eat a proper meal, and give myself an opportunity to recover so that I could survive another day. Afterall, I am here to have fun. And, hey, 176km is not a bad first day considering that it was off road and my rig is a good 25 pounds heavier than my TdA bike (and that is BEFORE the five bottles of water!). I think that I am over packed for great conditions, but slightly underpacked for bad conditions. It's a lot to haul around, but I would rather have my steel bike and gear than the full carbon (including rims) and sub-10lb gear setup that I saw another guy on at the start.

It felt like I was the last to come in to Elkford and then two guys rolled up behind me. It is silly, but it made me feel better not to be last. I was so happy to be there, too. There was probably enough daylight to make it to Sparwood, but I'm tired and, as Cindy Koo told me once, tomorrow starts today. I have to correct my nutrition deficit and get some rest so that tomorrow can be a good one (and the next 3 or 4 weeks, for that matter). Oh, and Paul had decided to stop here, too. It was good to have a quick chat and to properly say goodbye.

Tomorrow, my rig will be lighter. My camera broke within the first 10km. RIP G9. My fork mounted bottle launchers liberated a bottle of electrolytes. My bivy poles shook out somewhere, not that it matters much, it seems that I also forgot the pegs for it. I feel bad for leaving such things on the trail, but I'm not prepared to go back and get them. It is 176km and I have no idea where they fell out. I will make up for it by picking up 4 pieces of litter for each item left behind.

Man, I'm pooped. I didn't mean to make myself so tired on the first day. Time to sleep. I have an early morning tomorrow.
Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Let the Tour Begin!

The Tour Divide ( begins tomorrow. With less than two weeks of preparation, I'm a bit nervous that I've forgotten some important details. But hey, I've figured out that I kind of like things that make me nervous. Well, not all things. Like, tonight, I realized tonight before going to bed that I forgot my pants. Wtf? That makes me a bit bad nervous. I hope that's all that I forgot!

If you are bored at your desk and want to follow the race, you can follow at

Thanks to Craig Stappler for helping me make sense of everything. I'm sorry that you couldn't make the grand depart. I will watch your ITT with keen interest in July.

Thanks to Bow Cycle (marty and franzky!) for helping me get my bike together so quickly. Lil' Steve Buscemi (shown in photo) is going to be great company on the ride.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

TdA Hangover - Stage 5

Now comes the part when everyone is asking me about the TdA. The same questions come up a lot and I thought that I'd share in the event that you hadn't already asked me.

Doesn't your butt get sore?
The answer is yes. Very. You know what though? My butt got sore sitting at a desk all day, too. Too much of anything is bound to make you uncomfortable. So, you find ways to manage. I was lucky, and careful, to avoid saddle sores. My secret? No chamois cream and no hanging out unnecessarily in my chamois after the ride was finished. Did that make it pain free? No. But it helped. The rest of the pain I managed by pedaling harder so that my burning quads would take my attention away from my aching butt (or something like that).

Isn't it dangerous?
The answer is yes, again. But, danger is everywhere. On TdA, we had theft (armed robbery), animal attacks (a dog bite and a charging elephant), physical violence (gangs of stone throwing children in ethiopia), illness (malaria, typhoid, giardia), injury (broken ribs, all kinds of scrapes and bruises) and a vehicle accident (overlander written off). It's been less than a month since TdA finished and I can come up with the same list of dangers. In my circle of friends, there has been theft (mugging), physical violence (bar fight), animal attacks (dog bite), illness (skin cancer, cryptosporidiosis), injury (broken ankle) and a vehicle accident (car written off). Danger is everywhere.

Aren't you tired?
The answer is no. Admittedly, I was tired in month three of the journey when my body was plagued with illness. I was quite possibly burned out a bit from riding at that time as well. But, my body eventually bounced back. The net effect at the end of the trip is that I have more energy than ever. I feel like the trip rolled the clock back by ten years. Being active every day, being outside, eating well - it's good for you!

What 'things' did you miss the most?
This changed with time. At first it was toilets. Then it was showers. Then it was good meat. Then cold drinks. Then chocolate. Then ice cream. Some of these things came and went. At the end, to be honest, I didn't feel like I missed anything. This was partly because I learned to live without certain things. It was also because I got used to conditions being temporary.

What was the most useful thing that you brought?
Aside from my bicycle, I have to say that the answer would be my blackberry. Internet was sometimes hard to find and very often not of high quality and Blackberry coverage was relatively good (albeit expensive), with the exception of Ethiopia. I also have to say that my travel sized perfume and pink nail polish turned out to be surprisingly useful. Riding consecutive days without showering, camping in the mud, and suffering through persistent gastro-intestinal trauma sometimes made me feel more like an animal than a woman. When you are too sick to buy toilet paper, let alone focus on beauty. When you look like a hippie because you wont risk a hair cut at the 'hear cuting saloon' next to the rasta-bar/brothel. These are the times when you cling to those precious threads of femininity that remain; perfume and hot pink painted toe nails.  

What did you bring that you didn't need?
Well, I had a lot of medication and first aid supplies at the end of the trip, but I wouldn't say that was wasted space. What did end up unused was my ebook. Some people used these a lot. I didn't read anything at all. I soaked up the bliss of the moment, rather than taking myself to another place and time through reading. Sure, not reading for five months has its consequences; my vocabulary seems to have shrunk and I have little knowledge of 'major' global events of 2011. Then again, I feel that my choice to stay in the moment and place where I was gave me a better appreciation of the people and places around me.

Were you happy with your bike?
Yes. Totally. I love that bike. Surly Long Haul trucker with a salsa woodchipper handle bar. Road crank and a mountain cassette. Cross brake levers for added comfort. If I did the ride again, I wouldn't change a thing. Was it the fastest bike? no. Was it the most comfortable? no. There is no single perfect bike to race on the buttery smooth pavement in Sudan while also providing comfort on the heinous lava rock of Northern Kenya. The trucker was a great inbetweener. As far as I can recall, it was the only steel frame in the top 10 finishers. There were all sorts of bikes on the trip. Most of the fast guys rode cross bikes. Most of the slower people enjoyed their hard tails. And in both cases, people seemed to be quite happy with their choices. The perfect bike for the TdA depends on the rider.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

So Long Lonty

Admittedly, I spent most of my week in the UK sitting on a couch and catching up on email from the past five months. But, I did get up to a few things:

An INSEAD birthday dinner in London. YY's 30th.
My first TdA reunion. I made the journey to Hayfield to visit Alice at her home. She took me for a bike ride around the area.
Adult games in Bristol with Emma and Charlie. Not the kind of adult games that might first come to mind. I'm talking about Circle Rules Football, Robot Wars and Spy Games! Seriously, I think that I could be seven years old forever.
Bowling with Liz and Christian. The muscles in my forearms have atrophied to the extent that even the wimpy light balls were too much for me to handle. Humbling!