Sunday, July 17, 2011

Passing for Normal

Almost two weeks have passed since I traded in the rolling gulag of the Tour Divide for the down pillow of Civilization. Re-integrating into civilized society, into the world of the Normals, means a few adjustments to my daily existence. Eat-Sleep-Ride has been replaced by Eat-Sleep-Family-Yardwork-Sleep-Friends-Yoga-Shower-Sleep-Taxes-Stampede-Sleep. The basic elements are still there (though slightly different). Family, friends and bathing are welcome additions. The rest is just the noise of the city. A few perspectives on my new existence:

Eat. My last breakfast on the Tour Divide was three egg McMuffin meals with chocolate milk. That packs enough calories to fuel me for an entire day with my new lifestyle, but my body hasn't figured that out yet. It's not that I'm fidgeting like a junkie outside the 7-11, plotting my next binge on peanut m&m's and gummy bears. It's more like my body is aware of the availability and convenience of fresh foods and is intent on making up for lost time. Or maybe my intestines have just been stretched from the high volume of fuel that I've been running through them months now. Either I'm going to have to get back on the bike in a serious way or I'm going to have to reel in this gastronomic madness and start eating like a normal person.

Sleep. In 2011, I have spent more nights sleeping outside than sleeping inside. I used to think that a comfortable bed was a gift that optimized my rest time, but I am beginning to think that a comfortable bed something of a trojan horse. Indeed, in Africa and along the Divide, sleeping without the luxury of a cushion, temperature control or sound insulation, I often fantasized about sleeping indoors. My nights outdoors were typically short and involved a moderately uncomfortable but unavoidable awakening with the imminent arrival of the sun.

I've now indulged in my longest stretch of bed sleep (11 nights!). It's been an all-I-can-sleep buffet of bed rest. These nights indoors have invariably been long, continuing well into the daylight, and involve a moderately uncomfortable awakening with the sudden arrival of my gigantic appetite. These indoor sleeps have been supplemented with afternoon naps as I am often feeling exhausted again by mid day. But how can this be? Is it possible that my comfortable mattress is robbing me of a good rest? Are there diminishing returns to sleep?

Frustrated that I can spend as much time in bed now as I was spending on the bike during my trip down the Divide, I am feeling a need to cut myself off from this sleep-fest. First I have begun weaning myself from the teat of the afternoon nap and I will soon employ an alarm clock. Failing that, I will abandon the trappings of my mattress and venture into my backyard with my bivy sac for some proper sleep. (of course, that would threatens cover as being normal).

Ride. I tried riding my bike last week. Free of the baggage that I hauled along the Tour Divide and upgrading from steel to titanium, my road bike felt more as a toy than a serious means of transportation. It was a feeling that I fantasized about many times as I pedaled my tank of a bike to the Mexican border. Still, my 125km freedom ride was not the ground-speed-record-setting tappa a cronometro that I had imagined it would be. It resembled more closely the pleasure cruise of a retirement home resident. Perhaps a week is not sufficient recovery time, or perhaps I have cemented my place as a long-haul diesel engine.

Family. It is so nice to be back in the company of my family; my appreciation for them is as strong as it has ever been. I can hang out with them without consideration of time constraints or mental distraction and it is totally awesome. I think that this is how family time is supposed to be! Amazingly, my young nephews still remember me. All of us went down to the Stampede grounds together this week. I bet it's been more than 20 years since I was there with my parents last. Weadickville, mini-donuts, livestock. Oh, the memories! And every hug from my parents and my sister and her husband and my nephews fills me with joy and love. I am so lucky to have a family like this. I missed those hugs. 

Friends. With most of my days lost to sleeping and eating, I am still making my way through reconnecting with friends, most of whom I haven't seen since last year. I sometimes have this fear that I have been away so long that my friends wont remember me. But they do. It's like no time has passed, except that now there are so many adventures to speak of, on all sides. And every time that I laugh in the company of my friends I think of how fortunate I am to have such friends and to be with them now.

Friday, July 8, 2011

3 Days After Tour Divide

It is incredible how quickly your mind transforms hard memories into something beautiful.

I *know* that there was a lot of misery along my journey down the Divide. I have gone back and read my entries for each day of the ride and I've tried to relive the experience and remind myself of what I have done, of all of the things that I have felt in the last month.

Reading every grammatical error, every incomplete thought, I am reminded of how I would wake up with my blackberry on my chest and the screen would be full of random letters because I passed out while typing. The fatigue was constant. Now, after three days of mostly sleeping, I have the heebeejeebees to get moving again.

Looking at my feet, there is no sign of the sores that tortured me and made it hard to stand on my last days on the Divide. No muscle soreness. No joint pain. Body functions are back in check. My body is still on overdrive and I heal like I am superman. I love this feeling and I want to stay this way.

Now that the trip is done, I can't feel the misery anymore. I can only feel the magic. I can even entertain the idea of giving it another go (I can't believe that I just said that!); I know how I could do it better next time. More likely, though, I would take my wheels on a new path.

The simplicity of riding and eating and sleeping is wonderful. It is only in the depth of such simplicity that the true intensity of emotions can come out. When it gets down to a matter of basic survival, that's what it is to be alive.

Everyone keeps asking me, what is the plan now? I thought for sure that I would want to take an extended break after the Divide, but that's not the case. I just want to keep going. I want to continue to experience life with such intensity. And I *know* that I will be stronger next time.

My next adventure will take a very different course (and I will talk about that soon); not all of my dreams take place on two wheels. As much as I feel compelled to keep rolling, I'll be taking some time to pursue some other goals. That should afford me the time to figure out how I will use my two wheels to continue to explore the world, and myself when the opportunity arises again.

So, what's the plan? In the words of the Deaner, for now, 'the plan is to just keep on given'r'.
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tour Divide Day 25.

230km. Single Track to Antelope Wells.
Total time: 13.5 hours.

This should be it. The home stretch. Only 230km to go.

*Only* 230km?

It is hard to reconcile the feeling of being so close to the finish with the enormity of the task ahead. This is not like the home stretch of a marathon, where I can drag myself through the last 45 minutes of discomfort, counting down the kilometres. This is probably going to take me 14 hours. At least the profile is flat; the only passes that I will see today are 'Do Not Pass' and 'Pass With Care'.

Looking at my odometer isn't going to help me. At all. Yet, I keep looking down. I create a distraction by telling myself the story of this adventure. State by state. Person by person. Epic obstacle by epic obstacle.

Sometimes it feels like this whole journey has been uphill. Like I could turn my bike around at any time and I could just coast home. Of course, I can't go back. I am a long way from where I started.

If I were blazing trail, maybe this would be easier. Maybe I would forgive myself for finding it so hard. Or maybe I would find it easier to throw in the towel and conclude that it is impossible. But, I know that I'm not the first. Not even close. And that tortures me. There are many others who have come through here before; many others who are coming through here *now*. They are coming through faster and stronger. Do they struggle the same way? Or am I just out of my league? I feel as though I should be capable of this since, clearly, others can do it. At the same time, I feel as though maybe I am not worthy of taking this same path. Maybe I am not cut out for this.

The final miles of this journey are flat and baron. I'm watching dust devils appear and then disappear in the distance. This is a wasteland and I'm moving away from civilization with every pedal stroke. Into nothingness. Total nothingness. And the road just keeps going and going. It is impossibly long.

This journey can be done in the opposite direction as well. Antelope Wells to Banff. At various points along the way, I considered that it would be better to start in Antelope Wells because Banff would be a more hospitable place to finish. I realize now that, for me, there could be no other way. It is so fitting to ride for so long in to this nothingness.

Antelope Wells is...the end.

...So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye...
...So you think you can love me and leave me to die...
...Oh, baby. Can't do this to me baby...
...Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here...

Thank you JP and Elizabeth Evans for getting me right out of Antelope Wells.

And thank you to the family, friends and strangers who offered their support and love along the way.
Mom and Dad, Meriah, Stappy, Erik B, Emma, Bill B, Gary B, Luke, John, Daniel, JP, Tom, Ray, Martin, Dave H, JohnnyP, Jill H, Matthew Lee, Cindy K, Carrie B, Horst S, Jesus, Kim F, Kim Ch, Lindsay G, Len DM, Ruth D, Kari V, Christina O, Shan, Kristian, Chris F, Kevin S, Alice M, Kendra R, Paul S, Paul W, Patrick P, Five Stroke, MOB, Miriam S, Sarah M, Cindy P, Lericson, Roy H, Claire S, Drei, Siew, Bonnie P, El Animal, TimmyD, Phil Touring, The Gang at Bow Cycle, Dallas, Craig M, Kate A, Steve W, The Ger, Linda G, Kyle H, Sandra Y, Dylan S, Henry Y, Steve A, Ed G, Katy C, Gary C, Shawna D, Gabor, Brent T, Mical D, Brenda D, Dana B, Ione H, Ali and Salima, Jennifer J, Elizabeth E, Gail E, Fred E, Cathy, Amy, Kelly, Sue, Mary F, Laurence, Martin H, kcab20, Angie, A mike from calgary, Big Bad Wolf, Cindy P, Michele, Yvonne S, Cate, Geri G, Scott at the Porcelain Rocket, Jeff and Jillian at the Wildlife Refuge, Rob and the gang at the Outdoorsman, Kirsten at Brush Mountain, Christian at Holland Lake Lodge, Dave at ComoDepot, Doug at the Tree House, Bev with the fifth wheel, Nita at the Toaster House, and the Jehovah's Witnesses, to name a few.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tour Divide Day 24.

151km. Elk Springs to Single Track.
Total time: 15.5 hours.

I hear JP and the gang roll by around 230am. Seems like it would be nice to ride right now, but I am just not equipped for night riding on anything but pavement.

I go back to sleep and then wake up just before sunrise. I have one thing on my mind, getting to the finish. Antelope Wells.

Antelope Wells. Antelope Wells. Antelope Wells.

I can get there in two days, I know it. I'm rolling with first light. I think back to the last week of my trip across Africa and the song that started each of my last days there.

...It's the *final* countdown!...

My excitement about reaching the end helps me forget my hunger. For a while.

It is hard to spread the calories out and I'm doing the best that I can with my water situation, but I'm still worried. There is a light breeze this morning; just enough to optimize the cooling effect of my perspiration. But I'm losing precious water. I can feel a bead of sweat building ever slowly on my temple. Building. Building. Building. It begins moving almost imperceptably slowly downward. Past the corner of my eye. Over my cheekbone. Hair by hair, down my cheek. By the time that it reaches my jaw, the hot, dry air has taken it away.

Stop fixating, Tori. Just pedal.

I make it to the Beaverhead Ranger station. This is the second, and last, water source until the next services on route. They have a soda machine! It is cold and wet and sweet and it is so good. I buy as much as I can.

The heat continues to build, and now I am climbing. My lips are dry and I lick them. And then I can feel the dry air pass over them as I inhale, taking away the moisture. In two breaths, my lips are parched again. I try closing my mouth to conserve moisture, but it keeps opening in order to take in more air. I lick again. My lips dry. My water is disappearing quickly.

...Thunder bolt of lightning...
...Very very!...

Stop fixating and pedal!

I reach the turn off for a new section of the trail, the Continental Divide Trail Alternate (CDT) at around 4pm. This is a decision point. If I take the CDT, is only 40kms to Silver City. Can I make it with the resources that I have? I know there is some hike-a-bike and singletrack. It will be slow going. It is tempting to make the dash through it, but I am down to my last bottle of water, I have only one granola bar left and my stomach is empty. If something does wrong, I could be in trouble. I feel that it is too risky.

I can take a 18km round trip detour off course to Roberts Lake and hope, *hope* that the store is open so that I can get some food and water. It is Sunday and the fourth of July long weekend. Will it still be open?

I have to try.

I roll into Roberts Lake and, hallelujah, the store is open. I reload. A man named Doug at the Tree House offers me a steak.


If I ever make any suggestions about becoming a vegetarian, I want to take myself back to this moment. Steak tastes good and it is good for me. I can feel it in my blood. I chew on that juicy piece of flesh and its like I can feel it rush through my veins, penetrate my muscles and restore life to my body.

I eventually get back on track and start making my way through the CDT. I miss two turns and lose some precious daylight (despite having a cue sheet AND a GPS). I'm struggling to navigate the singletrack as the light disappears and I am now walking my bike in the dark. Every one of my toes is raw and ringing with the sting of infected friction sores that I have acquired from walking in my hot, manky shoes through the Gila.

I desperately want to make it to the main road, where I know that I can ride the rest of the way to Silver City in the dark. But I know that it will be more efficient to wait until I have daylight to finish this section. It is time to set up camp.

Today's solution becomes tomorrow's problem.
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tour Divide Day 23.

122km. Pie Town to Elk Springs.
Total time: 11.5 hours.

Waking up on a piece of cardboard in a room that I don't know, this is the first morning that I'm not immediately and keenly aware of where I am and what I am doing there. The confusion quickly disappears as Rob, another Divider, rustles about in the next room mustering something about Uncle Fester, a saddle sore that has plagued him on this journey. Smile. This guy is a character.

I quickly gather my things and head over to the pie shop for breakfast. Pie a la mode, first thing in the morning. Now *there's* something to look forward to. I'm still waiting for the Pussy Wagon to role up, but I settle for an older dude in a big blue tow truck. I'm still not entirely convinced that this place is real and not the setting of Kill Bill 3.

Pie town is like the Yukon of the south. It seems like the place where people go if they don't want to be part of the system. Not in the Montana way, where people go there when they don't want to be part of *any* system. More like...they just have a different idea about how life should be and have set up their own system. I can appreciate that; I haven't exactly been a devout follower of the system.

I'm preoccupied now with preparing for the day(s) ahead. If yesterday was any indication, it is going to be stinking hot out there. I should have left a couple of hours ago to get some distance in before the furnace turns on, but I need food for the next unserviced stretch of mayhem and the pie shop, which didn't open until 730am, is my load up point. Service here is friendly, but not exactly operating at a race pace.

JP and the gang show up, just as I am heading out. Right on.

It will be 176 miles until the next service point. Loading up on water and food for a stretch of this length is tough. I try to remind myself to convert to kilometres in order to avoid underestimating my needs. Miles are handy for keeping the numbers, but they are deceiving if you are used to operating in kilometres.

Do you know how much food and water you need for 270 kilometres in the New Mexico desert during a heat wave?

Me neither.

I take everything that I can fit on my bike, which isn't as much as I would like. I try to think of how to make more space, but the fact is that there is not much space and I need and use everything that I am carrying on a daily basis. I jam calories and water in every nook that I can find.

I'm slow today. My legs are tired from the last couple of big days (make that the last 22 big days) and I've noticed some blood in my urine, the probable cause of which is causing me some grief on the washboarded dirt road.

My situation is further complicated as my front derailleur seizes up, leaving me with the use of only my granny ring. I try to access my tools to do a fix, but the zipper on my tool pouch is stuffed, trapping my tools inside. I contemplate cutting it open with my leatherman, which is (fortunately) in a separate bag, but I decide to leave it for now as my legs are not putting out enough power to use my bigger gears, anyway. The fast guys are doing this on single speeds anyway...maybe this will make me faster!

I'm taking in water like a sponge. No rationing. I come across one of the two reliable water sources on this stretch and refill with some spring water. I have a mix of fascination and fear with natural water sources. I think of the places that boast the healing powers of spring water. Maybe it will be magic. Then I see some cows and I think of the gastrointestinal trauma that I experienced in Africa. I can treat it, but I am never quite confident with that. Magic or misery, I can't afford to go along without water. I take as much as I can.

By late afternoon, I'm already thinking about how this water will last until the next water source, which will probably come some time early tomorrow. I encounter some Jehovah's Witnesses and graciously accept some water and some gospel from them.

I stopped with much less distance than I'd hoped, but I went until the light ran out and simultaneously happened upon a great camp spot. My bike is fixed now (mostly).

My stomach is unsatisfied as I go to bed tonight and I'm running through the inventory of calories remaining in my arsenal. It is not a good situation. How did I think that I had enough? Shit. Even skimping on dinner tonight, I don't have enough to get me through a full day tomorrow in the best of scenarios. I will need to go off course tomorrow to restock. Just making it to the restock could be a challenge.
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Monday, July 4, 2011

Tour Divide Day 22.

222km. Pueblo Pintado to Pie Town.
Total time: 16 hours.

Last night, I stored my macdonalds crispy chicken sandwich with me in my bivy so that the dog wouldn't get it. This morning, I woke up with it all over my jersey. Add that to the smells that thing has collected over the past three weeks.

Camping out at a gas station means that you get to eat your gas station grand slam breakfast (pizza pocket, boxed donuts and milk) in the VIP section of the patio.

I made it to Grants in time for lunch. As I was inhaling a milkshake and burger, two self-proclaimed wanderers, Jim and Chuck, sat at a table next to me and chatted me up. I observed that we had a few things in common, the need a shower and washing machine being the most obvious. I carry our my bedroom apartment, kitchen and wardrobe around on my bike. They carry theirs in a shopping cart.

It was the first interaction that I've had with homeless people in which our social inequality wasn't an inescapable factor in setting the tone. Jim offered to let me use his deodorant, which was really rather sweet. I'll admit that I had so many flies around me that, if you took a long exposure picture, I was a dead ringer for Pigpen from the Charlie Brown comics. I politely declined. There is no earthly substance that can mask the stench of 2300 miles of sweat and tears and the grease of a macdonalds crispy chicken club.

After Grants, the road wound through El Malpais National Monument. Gorgeous! It was a furnace, without a speck of shade. This was probably the more appropriate setting for the picture of the day, but I'm guessing that someone out there has taken some nicer shots of the park than I can capture from my camera phone.

I took my time after the park. Given my pleasant experience with night riding yesterday, I thought it better to have more of that, rather than battling out the epic heat. I didn't account for the offroad washboard and sandy mayhem. It was a mix of riding over a long stretch of rumble strips and then trying to ride on the beach. But I wanted to make it to Pie Town tonight. I had a feeling that I might catch JP and his gang here. I didn't make it until 1130, but maybe I can catch them tomorrow morning.

Rolling into Pie Town was like rolling on to the set of a Tarantino movie. The fact that the ride in was on a road that most normal people might deem impassable was one part of that. The next was was the style of the homes. I'm staying inside the toaster house. I don't know anything about it except that it has a bunch of toasters on the gate out front, there was a note on the door saying welcome, and there were some other cyclists there. Although the owner was not home, they have made the place available for bikers, hikers and others travelling the divide route. Pretty cool.
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Friday, July 1, 2011

Tour Divide Day 21.

205km. Chama to Pueblo Pintada.
Total time: 16.5 hours.

...Is this real life?...
...Is this just fantasy?...
...Caught in a landslide...
...No escape from reality...

When the credits role on my adventure, this is the song that I hope will be playing. So, I don't know all of the lyrics really, and I haven't shot anyone, but I imagine that it is a metaphor for my personal inner struggle...and my eventual victory over my weaknesses (I can hope). Also, the swings in musical style seem to match my experience pretty well. At the end of this, I want to be rocking out like Wayne and Garth.

The three amigos caught up to and passed me about half way through the day, but I saw them again when I arrived in Cuba. Our detour around the forest fires put us in to Cuba about a day before we would have arrived, based on how long it took other Dividers to get through. In some respects, it is a shame to miss that section. Then again, I needed a day like this and the light at the end of the tunnel just got brighter. I feel as though I can see around me now and enjoy it more (I hope this lasts!).

Today was forgiving in terrain and in weather. No major climbs. A mix of gravel and pavement. A moderately cloudy sky to keep the heat down. Black clouds on one side were filled with ash from the fires. Black clouds on the other were filled with lightning. And there was no headwind for the first 60kms and the last 20kms of the day.

Relationships are funny on this trip. I've maintained my ignorance of their last names and contact information for the three amigos because, somehow, I think it is nicer that way. I want to stay with them, but I have resisted the temptation to do so in an organized way. I want some element of chance. Some way to see how things are different when you know that you may never see someone again.

John decided to stay in Cuba for the night and get some rest. I wanted some more mileage for the day. So did Luke and Dan. I was a bit sad to see these guys part. I've enjoyed imagining them together at the mexican border with big black sombreros. That was a great movie.

Heading out of Cuba, I rode a ways back from Luke and Dan (I can't keep up). Then I got a flat (the first of the trip) and the gap widened. I suspected that I might see them in Pueblo Pintada, about 85kms out, as that was the major service point between. In any case, that was going to be my destination.

I passed an Indian reservation around sunset and saw some navahos on horses. Maybe not the kind that first come to mind. These were young guys dressed a bit like 50 cent. It was cool anyway.

I rode the last several hours in the dark. Several magnificent hours. Traffic dies down. The wind dies down. The temperature is perfect and you can hear crickets. There is very little light pollution and the sky is clear (we are now west of the smoke). I could see shooting stars. It was sooo nice.

I found a place that I thought was the Pueblo service point. No sign of Dan or Luke. No problem. But, there were dogs, so I opted to find a spot near a church that I'd seen about a kilometre back. That effort was fruitless as I roused three dogs. Those little things then chased me for some time.

So, I kept going. I felt good. It was probably some of the most comfortable riding that I've had on the trip. I felt like I could go all night. I eventually found the real Pueblo and I found Luke and Dan camped at the gas station/industrial center of town/only store in. 50 mile radius.

There is a dog who seems friendly and keeps pestering us. He must be able to smell the macdonalds grease on us. And the generator beside me keeps going on and off. But I'm tired enough to sleep through it.

I stink, I'm dirty, I'm tired, I'm sleeping on gravel at a gas station in the middle of New Mexico. And I love it.
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