Thursday, 25 July 2019

Tour Divide 19 - Stuck in the middle

I slept in that morning in Pinedale with a complete lack of urgency.  My whole race mindset was unravelling. What the heck I was going to do now?  I nibbled on a bagel at the hotel buffet breakfast but felt particularly out of place - the crippled dirtbag in a sea of clean functional people - so gave up and crossed the street to a drug store and bought two rolls of KT tape as well as a clunky pair of scissors. I spent 45 min fashioning knee support for both knees, repeating one knee a few times to get the tension right (or what I thought was right).  Nothing else to do but go back to the gas station where I gazed mindlessly at the huge variety of items available and marvelled at the efficiency of other riders dealing with breakfast and resupply at the adjoining Subway.  These guys had experienced a far less comfortable night than I, somewhere up on Union Pass.  Mentally I was stalled. I eventually managed to find the usual resupply items and forced more breakfast down. It was close to 9:30 by the time I eventually headed out of Pinedale into a disappointing headwind. What a shocker!

At least the combination of rest, Advil, raised saddle and taping seemed to be easing the left knee discomfort.  Maybe I’d be OK after all.  I missed the turn at Boulder, but realised fairly quickly and only botched a few minutes.  My perception that I was dealing with unfavourable winds was confirmed on a stretch that when touring, in 18, had us cruising at 50 km/hr without pedaling.  In contrast I had to pedal to do 30 km/hr.  However the headwind wasn’t my only problem that morning. A few hours in I had the rumbling in my guts indicating that I’d consumed something that disagreed with me.  I couldn’t think of what it could be, but was certain of the necessity to get rid of it, so pulled over.  A couple of hours later I had a repeat performance.  Usually one or two ‘sittings’ would be sufficient to get back to normal, but not this time.  I needed to go again.  Surely that was done with, but alas no.  I held on till South Pass then Atlantic City.  Three bikes were parked outside the Mercantile (belonging to Les, Beau Troesch (Colorado) and Ryan Simons (Oklahoma)) but it looked super busy so I went round the corner to the Miner’s Grubsteak, where I was immediately greeted by Laurel who took my order whilst I shuffled off to the bathroom.  I ate next to a walker whose name I forget (trail name Pack Rat).  We discussed the various speeds of walking and riding the route, finding water in the Basin, and of sickness on the trail.  Pack Rat had experienced the vomiting and diarrhoea associated with giardia, and I started to wonder whether my trips to the bathroom might be more than having consumed a bad peach, so to speak. Might they relate to the water I took on that first day in Canada?  The gestation period was about right. Bugger! I made another deposit before settling the bill, thanking Laurel, and heading out to find Les had just set off up the hill.


The climb out of Atlantic City is a steep one. I caught Les just as the plateau was gained, and we marvelled at a thunderhead sliding across the landscape in front of us. For a while it looked like we’d thread the needle between storm systems. But as darkness fell, and I had to stop yet again, light rain, then snow started falling.  It was going to be a chilly uncomfortable trudge through The Basin. Whilst The Basin is largely gentle undulations, there are also dramatic creases in the landscape involving a pinch climb to regain the plateau. These folds also tend to hold more moisture and it was on one of these that the wheels suddenly locked to a halt, jammed up with the infamous peanut butter mud. I cleaned the clay off wheels, drivetrain and cleats (by banging shoes together with extreme violence) as best as I could, then just managed to get going again before the whole thing repeated a few km down the track, and again a little while further.  Energy sapping stuff, not to mention swallowing precious time.  My previous dream runs through The Basin (cross-tailwinds in dry conditions) were experiencing a correction.

Given that rain had the potential to ruin the track further, I decided that if I could push on through the night while the track was still mostly rideable it would be worth the stretch.  The rain might stop, or persist the following day. This would mean tackling the Wamsutter alternate double track in the dark which at times barely registers as a track at all, but I’d done it before so was confident I’d be OK.  Light drizzle was falling as I passed a tent I assumed to belong to Les, on the rocky entrance to the double track.  The ground was getting increasingly sticky but the stony and vegetated nature of the trail at this point prevented the tires from picking up too much junk, although my cleats would repeatedly get clagged when dealing with nature breaks. Traversing this old layer of strata in the middle of The Basin is one of the highlights of the entire route, and I was sorry not to be experiencing the amazing views, but grateful to be making progress in deteriorating conditions.

I finally exited the double track section onto the main road and enjoyed being able to make the tires hum, maintaining enough speed to escape boggy sectors.  I was starting to make good time again and get the sense that my persistence had paid off when all of a sudden the tires were picking up particulate and spraying it off the front wheel in front of me like a Catherine Wheel, the spray getting heavier and heavier as I pushed harder and harder till eventually momentum slowed to an inevitable stop. The shine of my head light indicated I was stuck in a sea of morass, of similar texture for and aft as far as I could make out.  I got off the bike and tried in vain to shift it, my shoes each now with a brick of cement attached under foot. I wasnt going anywhere as the drizzle intensified.  I was literally stuck in the mud. I could see that conditions off the track were softer and even worse.  No amount of cleaning was going to remedy the situation.  It was about 2:30 am, I pulled my bivvy from the handlebar roll and dropped it right there in the middle of the sludge. At least I could be confident that no other bike nor vehicle could possibly reach me.

(Day 9, 219 km and 2018 m vert)

I’d set my alarm for 4:30 and awoke to more drizzle, then drifted off again.  I awoke a few hours later to a cold overcast morning and assessed the situation. About 300 m ahead I could see the track subtly changed colour. With all of my strength I hauled my rig and, over three 100 m efforts, gained the different colour track, which mercifully was of harder texture.  I spent another 30 min retrieving my kit and packing it, carving off the mud, oiling the chain, de-gunking my shoes and cleats and getting everything ready for takeoff.  I whooped with delight as I finally got rolling again. YES!

I was off again, enjoying the morning despite it being overcast, cold, and having to stop for another couple of tedious nature breaks.  At one point I looked back and was surprised to see Les cruising towards me.  I asked him if he’d had any mud issues. Nope.  I couldn’t believe it.  How was this possible? Surface conditions were obviously very fickle and in constant flux, preventing passage at one moment in time only to permit it 30 minutes later.  The sun finally came out, and a few wardrobe changes later I was feeling good despite having to share the track with a periodic passage of trucks, forcing one onto the softer shoulders.  Most of the drivers were pretty courteous and exchanged waves.

I finally arrived at the Loves gas station at Wamsutter and disgorged the muddy contents of my front roll and rooster tail, decorating a wall of bug cleaner with my soggy bivvy and sleeping kit - basking in the sun.  Strangely enough I could account for everything apart from my gortex overpants.  I couldn’t believe I’d been so careless as to leave them somewhere in The Basin during one of my wardrobe changes.  Dammit again!  Those 3/4 pants were invaluable in keeping me warm on night-time pushes.  Bugger!  I’d have to pick up something similar in Steamboat to compensate.  Les, then Beau and Ryan also arrived, having had a seemingly kinder passage through the Basin than I had.  None had seen a set of overpants lying on the trail.

In any case I refuelled, went to the loo a few times, loaded up on food and headed out, only to have to make a another pit stop shortly after leaving.  This constant stopping was getting increasingly frustrating and wasn’t pleasant, to say the least. What a mess.  At least I wasn’t experiencing any nausea which is sometime also associated with giardia, or whatever intestinal parasite I was dealing with.  I really had no choice but to keep going and seek medical help in Steamboat, a day and half away.  First I had to get out of The Basin.

Les, Ryan, Beau and I all sort of coalesced on the final steeper pinches of The Basin near the Colorado foothills, the surface of which was becoming increasingly heavy. Before we knew it the track was once again unrideable.  It took us an hour or so to cover the final couple of Km before the track levelled out, before descending to the massive rollers that immediately precede Savery.  The descent itself was also a mess, as though the track had been drowned by the contents of the Dillon reservoir then pulverised by 1000 cattle marching up and down for good measure. Much of this we negotiated by weaving our way through the thick shrubs off the side of the trench.  I finally made it to Savery in the late afternoon, absolutely exhausted from the efforts and my state of dysentery.  It was a great surprise to see Kirra Dyer here, who’d unfortunately had to scratch but was now touring the route in a van, catching up with and encouraging riders. Such a positive thing to do amidst what must have been very disappointing TD experience.  Class act!

I needed a bit of cheering up as I wasn’t in very good shape. Whilst my left knee had improved markedly in response to taping and raising the saddle, my right achilles was now protesting loudly. If it wasn’t one thing it was another. I just couldn’t seem to keep everyone (my joints and guts) happy, and this was affecting my mental state.

After chatting with Kirra for 10 min or so I was most surprised to see Peter Kraft Jn cruise up to us, looking fresh as a daisy.  He’d jumped across from Atlantic City all in the one day, apparently able to ride most of what we’d just pushed through, such were the vagaries of the track.  I sat on the curb to re-tape my ankles and knee before commencing the slow grind up Kirsten’s driveway to Brush Mountain Lodge.  Of the five of us who basically left Savery together, I was the last to pull into Brush Mountain Lodge, an hour later than the others, around midnight, courtesy of another three nature breaks.  To say I wasn’t having a good time is an understatement.

Kirsten was a bit preoccupied when I arrived, but there was pizza on tap, and a few of us sat round the table discussing the day’s events.  Sleeping bodies were scattered all over the floor. The weather we’d caught in the Basin was associated with a cold front that had dumped a huge amount of snow and then rain in northern Colorado, to the extent that Sand Mountain, the pass just south of Brush Mountain Lodge was essentially cut off.  Only four of the front runners got through in heavy conditions, whilst following rain and associated mud repelled further passage, resulting in a bit of a log jam in the lodge, which now housed about 20 riders and two film crews. We were hopeful to make it over the pass the next day, but there was an air of uncertainty as to whether this would eventuate.  I relayed to Anita I was having massive gastric issues, to which she was actually relieved. My progress had been so slow she’d concluded my knee was only deteriorating.  She’d prepared to have the “Dave, I think you should scratch”, conversation.  I found a place on the floor and swiftly fell asleep without setting an alarm.

(Day 10, 208 km and 1653 m vert)

I was accustomed to wake at around 4 am, and this time was no exception, but there was no urgency either, so I drifted back to sleep.  I eventually got up a few hours later and enjoyed a typical Brush Mountain Lodge breakfast chatting with other riders.  Some of the early front runners were still present, including the Euros Kim and Kai, Josh Ibbett, Evan Deutsch, Lael Wilcox and Sofiane Sehili himself. Sofiane had been on track to perhaps beat Mike Hall’s record up until he was turned back by snow. He had decided to scratch, but did so with the confidence of knowing that besting the record was indeed possible, and vowed to come back next year and give it another shake.  A few of the riders were unsure as to what capacity they’d continue racing once they got over the pass, given the time they’d lost.

Nico and I having a rare bad hair morning (Photo Spencer Harding)

As you can imagine my clothes were in a dreadful state, especially my knicks, so I got them laundered. I was one of the last riders to leave, kicking off about 11am and carrying the biggest toilet roll I could muster.  Steamboat would be as far as I was going that day.  What I hadn’t appreciated though, was just how long it would take to trudge through several Km of snow down the other side of the Sand Mountain Divide, coupled with lots of nature breaks en route.  At about 5 pm I finally dragged my sorry arse into the Orange Peel bikeshop and asked about where to seek medical help.  They pointed me towards the other end of town where I  signed a bunch of forms, and eventually got seen by a GP.  The doc explained that i may have giardia, or it might be some other parasite, but taking anti-giardia medication would complicate diagnosis further down the track, should the medication not work. The doc was happy to write me a prescription and I agreed to provide a stool sample - like that was going to be a problem - the only hitch being that the medical centre’s courier had finished for the day. Fortunately I could transport the sample up the road to the Hospital and deliver it to the lab directly, ensuring that the time sensitive test wasn’t compromised.  So I did my business in the container provided, jumped on the bike and rode it up the hill to the local hospital lab.  All good.

I returned to the nearby Safeway where the prescription was processed, and had a nice chat to the friendly chap behind the counter who had guessed I was a TD rider given my attire.  I picked up a few other items and rode back to Orange Peel for overpants/legwarmers and dry lube, only to discover that it had just closed.  Major bummer!  Now I’d have to wait for it to open in the morning.  If only I’d left Brush Mountain Lodge an hour earlier.

I got a room at the Nordic Hotel, and jumped in the bath - my second of the trip.  So good!  My mood soured though when I realised I’d mislaid the giardia medication. Was it possible I hadn’t actually bagged it at the Safeway?  I grabbed my phone and found the number for the pharmacy.  The fellow who served me confirmed that yes, I’d walked off without the drugs. But he’d already worked out where I was staying courtesy of the spot tracker, and would drop them by in 15 minutes as his shift had just finished.  Wow!  I’d had more than I bargained for already over the last few days, and it was lovely for a little magic to break in my direction.  I thanked him profusely when he dropped them round, popped a tablet down and wandered to the local bar for a steak, chips and a beer.  Boy did that meal go down well!  Maybe the Tour Divide wanted me to continue after all.

(Day 11, a pitiful 89 km with only 75 en route, and 1077 m vert)

I slept well and was ready at 6 for the hotel breakfast, popped another pill and was feeling much better. Even the left knee was feeling rejuvenated. In order to lessen strain on the right achilles I fashioned an insert out of cardboard and tape to raise my heel (thanks Wendy!).  I then counted down the minutes till Wheels Bike Shop on Yampa Avenue opened at 8:30.  I picked up dry lube and the last set of knee warmers they had and was rolling by 8:45.

After a flying first week, during the mid section of the race I’d accrued a series of mis-steps, bad luck and unnecessary delays; knee issues, late start in Pinedale, mud in the Basin, achilles issues, three days of Giardia, late start in Brush Mountain Lodge, losing half a day in Steamboat, and now another delayed start. Mentally I’d given up on the 18 day finish as a possibility.  All that good work whittled away.  I was now going to have to work hard just to get a 19 day finish, and this was an uncertain outcome given the fragility of my joints and unknown state of my guts going forward. I was now back to only hours ahead of my 2017 schedule (21 days), or so I figured (I was still actually a day ahead, but I’d seemingly lost so much time my muddled mind couldn’t see it).


Despite the late start this turned out to be one of my best days, thankfully with only a couple of nature breaks to interrupt the flow.  What a relief!  Seemed like the anti-giardia drugs were doing the trick.  I got over Lynx Pass, the three rough and tumble minor passes that follow it, the two big semi-sealed rollers out of Radium in the heat of the day, Ute Pass into Silverthorne at dusk, and the gradual climb up to Breckenridge where I crawled into after midnight. I thought of pushing on over Boreas Pass but didn’t want to tackle what was sure to be more snow and a soggy Gold Dust Trail in the dark, so i pulled up stumps and stealth bivvied by a park bench outside what turned out to be the local correctional centre, which amused followers back home.

(Day 12, 246 km and 3401 m vert)

I was back onto the Boreas Climb Pass only  a few hours later and tackled the Gold Dust Trail in the early light, sections of which were more like a swamp.  I picked up a stick in my drivetrain which I could only extract by removing the rear derailleur, but otherwise got through without incident.  I cruised past Como to hit headwinds all the way to Hartsel, with the few freeway kms leading into town being the most nerve wracking traffic-wise of the route thus far.  I enjoyed a terrific breakfast in Hartsel, joined midway by Les, Mr Efficiency, who was in and out before I finished.  Rob Goldie (another from England) turned up as I rolled out.  The sector from Hartsel to Salida, across the open grassed fields of South Park into a block headwind, was one of the most dispiriting transitions of the entire route. I deliberately didn’t push too hard but was still pretty shattered when I descended into Salida.  I bypassed the town and headed straight to Poncha Springs where I feasted on an ice cream sandwich, Coke, chips and coffee milk, legs outstretched on the pavement, before stocking up for the next leg over Marshall Pass.

In 17 the Marshall Pass road was a little rough, to the extent I picked up a sidewalk puncture.  None of that this time though, it was beautifully groomed from bottom to top, and on the descent as well. I was able to get into a nice rhythm, all my joints were miraculously happy, and I set a nice pace up and over.  I slopped my way through the cutting at the top and descended under the lights to Sargents, then along the sealed road where I got pulled over by a highway policeman, informing me that I had no rear light.  It was working fine on the Marshall Pass descent but I guess had simply run out of juice.  I thanked him, he wished me well, and I soon turned back onto dirt and the gradual climb towards Cochetopa Pass.  I didn’t quite make the reservoir or ride as late as I’d planned, but it was a good day, none the less, despite the South Park headwind.

(Day 13, 257km and 2892m vert)

Photo credit Eddie Clarke

Another early start in chilly conditions soon had me on the lower slopes of the lovely Cochetopa Pass, which, along with Marshall Pass, were my favourites of the entire route. There is a beautiful little campsite, shrouded in mid size Aspens at the top, where I’d love to camp one day.  Damn this race!  The pass also marks an interesting transition between rolling green hills on one side, and drier cliff-lined rock-scape on the other. Very pretty.  Next pass on the list was Carnero.  I wasn’t on the lower slopes long when I turned a corner into a cacophony of noise, cow pats, odours, crawling vehicles and mosquitoes.  About 6 men on horseback marshalled the tail end of a cattle drive. There was no way I was getting through.  I sidled up to the truck pulling a horse float and had a conversation with the boss.  “I guess there’s no chance of me jumping through any time soon”.  She was very friendly and suggested I cruise along next to the forestry truck just ahead, and if the cattle deviated off the track when the gorge opened up in a few miles, then I’d be welcome to go through with the truck.  The horsemen at the back were constantly breaking line and jumping into thick scrub to correct wayward beasts.  I was amazed by the steep terrain a horse could punch up and down. I reminded myself that whilst I was theoretically on holidays, these guys and gals were all working for their living.   The forestry worker and I enjoyed a chat, which helped pass the time as I swatted mosquitoes.  He had spent time in Darwin, of all places. True enough, after about 30 minutes the steepness of the track eased into a wide corner, and the lead cattle meandered off the road with the rest following for a section of pasture.  The forestry vehicle and I slipped past and were on our way again.


The gorge that follows Carnero Pass, with its tall cliff lined walls, is one of the most picturesque of the TD route and was cruised with tailwind assist, although I knew I’d eventually have to do a U-turn and head back into the wind through open landscape to Del Norte.  I made the short detour to El Rito, hopeful of a Coke, but the store was no more. A solar well and spigot shortly afterwards also proved to be dry.  It was a long hot headwind grind into the majesty of the Rio Grande wilderness with its impressive bluffs and features.  Double track then led through sandy then rocky terrain where I was careful to avoid sidewall cuts before descending towards Del Norte, wending round the airport on some awful gravel, and hitting the corner gas station for resupply.  Alexandera arrived as I was headed out.  As I’ve said before, she is one tough lady and I knew if I relaxed she’d be leaving me behind again.  I was hoping to gain Platoro come the end of the day, but deep down knew this wouldn’t be a given, with Indiana Pass to contend with.  In 17 I did Indiana in the heat of the day.  This time it was late afternoon when I started, and although considerably cooler, it didn’t detract from the fact that this pass is steep and nasty for a very long time. The hardest rideable pass of the route, in my opinion. 

Evening fell and I still wasn’t at the top. I finally gained what seemed the summit, marked by cuttings through some impressive snow drifts.  There is quite an undulating plateau that follows, punctuated at many points by slabs of snow I’d have to trudge through. It became clear I wasn’t going to make Platoro before well after midnight when everything was sure to be closed, but I knew there was a Hilton in the Stunner Valley camp ground, just short of Platoro, so aimed for that, threw down my bag down inside it and set my alarm.  Lights out.

(Day 14, 215km and 3082 m vert)

Another morning broke as I climbed over the small pass leading to Platoro.  As I rolled into town I was met with a very strange sight, another rider waiting for me with arms outstretched, but I couldn’t figure out who on earth it was.  Then the penny dropped - it was Miro, whom I’d finished the last days of TD17 with, and with whom I’d struck up a rather instantaneous connection despite our very different backgrounds; Miro originating from Slovakia before settling in Alabama, and more recently Albuquerque in New Mexico, and myself from Australia.  What on earth was he doing here?  Turns out he’d learnt of my participation in this years race and wanted to catch up and ride with me for a few days as he toured some of the route, with his eye set on racing again in 2020 as a 64 year old.

The irrepressible Miro

Whilst it was a lovely surprise seeing him again, the rules concerning visitation during the Tour Divide are quite strict (it is a firm no no) as exemplified by the internet sh*tstorm that surrounded Lael Wilcox’s participation this year and plans to film her record attempt. I’m not sure Miro, with his classic european/bohemian perspective appreciated this.  I explained that he wasn’t allowed to help me in any way, and that even riding with me would be frowned upon.  Visitation issues were not something I’d even contemplated, coming from Australia.  I’d worked too hard in the lead up, not to mention suffered so much thus far to be DQ’d over something I’d played no part in planning. But I could also appreciate that Miro had ridden for two days on his loaded bike to meet me. We chatted descending to Horca where I resupplied at the little shop on the left, and he explained that he’d ride with me to the top of the upcoming sealed La Manga Pass.  But where I’d turn left onto the dirt and the approach to the Brazos Ridge sector, he’d continue on the sealed road, and maybe we’d meet again in Abiquiu on his touring loop home. Seemed like a reasonable compromise.  At the junction we wished each other well and I ventured into what turned out to be a particularly tough day.  Although the Brazos terrain with its sparse stunted trees, rocky trails and brown grass hues and undulations increasingly reminded me of country NSW back home, the heat and the headwinds gradually wore me down, forcing a few stops just to down sandwiches.  My water situation was also of concern, especially as the section via Hopewell Lake would be new to me, having skipped this section due to fires in 17. The reroute on that occasion included the fabulous Chilli Line Depot for resupply.  The climb up to the Hopewell Lake was a killer in the afternoon heat, although a thunderstorm was brewing. Having made the campground none of the water spigots were functioning. I figured I’d just have enough to tide me over without having to drop down to the lake itself so pushed on, only to later take water from a steam on the run into Canon Plaza, which I passed through in fading light, hitting Vallecitos and it’s wolfpack of miniature hounds in the dark. Woof, woof, yap yap yap!

I still figured I might make Abiquiu, up until commencement of the very soft and muddy ascent of the climb separating Vallecitos and El Rito, courtesy of the late afternoon storms that I’d somehow missed. Cursed mud!  It was late, I was super tired and didn’t want to go through more episodes of the whole wheel cleaning business in the dark, let alone having to bivvy on the track again. My nerves and muscles were fraying with the exhaustive effort to carry enough speed through sticky sectors so as not to have to stop, the climb going on and on.  I was on the verge of losing the fight. I cranked up the volume of the album I happened to be listening to, Let it Bleed, by the Stones, which kept me focussed - or was it distracted?  Somehow I attained the top of the climb, albeit at a snails pace, thoroughly empty, thanked the Stones and gave a “Whoop” of relief, knowing that I should at least make El Rito at around midnight where I had a bivvy spot in mind, the same one I used in 17.

(Day 15, 216 km and 3168 m vert)

Once again, up at 4, and rolling at 4:30 down the quiet sealed stretch to Abiquiu so as to be at the Bode’s store when it opened.  What I hadn’t realised was that, being a Saturday, the store didn’t open till 7, so I could have gained an extra hours sleep had I known.  Bode’s is one of the best resupply stores on the entire route, and I wasn’t the only one eagerly waiting for it to open.  Ryan, Beau and Miro had all arrived the previous night and were also ready and waiting.

Ryan and Beau efficiently grabbed what they needed and rolled out.  I’d had a torrid time the previous day so took my time, enjoying several freshly made breakfast burritos, well aware of the difficulty of the Pondevera Mesa segment linking Abiquiu and Cuba that awaited.  Miro was also intent on riding this section on his loop home although would turn off before Cuba on his route back to Albuquerque.

Another touring rider, Chris, also testing his kit in preparation for TD20, joined us over the top of the main climb of slabs and sand, just as the heavens opened, the temperature plummeted and the track deteriorated ever so closely to bogging wheels.  Fortunately the winding undulations moved us away from the weather system, and the track started to dry as we dealt with numerous rough downs and ups.  Classic New Mexican terrain.  Chris was riding all this with aplomb, and had an interesting light-weight solar electronics system keeping his cache battery charged - something to consider in the future.  We eventually hit the paved road.  Miro and I said our goodbyes. Miro went one way, Chris and I  went the other, descending the fast run into Cuba through a heavy rainstorm.  I’d been needing a shower for some time but that’s not what I had in mind.

Chris aimed for a hotel whilst I pulled into the gas station with adjoining Maccas, just as Beau was finishing up, suggesting he’d try to make Grants that night.  Smart move, knocking this long paved sector over in the cool of the evening when the prevailing winds, typically from the south in this part of the world, were subdued or silent.  I would aim to do likewise although wasn’t aiming to quite make Grants.  According to Trackleaders, Ryan was already well on his way on this sector.

I also finally managed to download some emails, including one from the doc back in Steamboat, who confirmed the test was positive for giardia, which I figured anyway as the pills seemed to be working their magic.  I’m still unsure how I contracted it in the first place - I’d been so careful taking water in Canada that first day, but the TD is hardly a clean endeavour, and there were many other situations where hygiene could be compromised.  In any case I was relieved that chapter of my race was done with.

I took my time, feeding well, loading up and headed out as the light dimmed, with storms behind me and ahead of me. Not so critical on a sealed road, but nice to get through dry regardless.  The stars eventually revealed themselves, punctuating the inky blackness above. 

The odd vehicle would pass, always at speed but well on the other side of the road, with plenty of forewarning - headlights flagging approach from miles away. All good until one particular vehicle sidled past at a much slower speed.  Much to my surprise it partially pulled off the road a kilometre ahead.  I wondered if there was a problem as I approached, then realised the occupants were making out as I quickly averted my gaze/headlamp, embarrassed to have been so intrusive.  Five minutes later the car passed again, and once more pulled over half a K up the road. I thought nothing of it as I rolled by until I heard a women yell “HELP ME”.  Not what I was expecting.  A few seconds later the horn started sounding erratically.  I pulled to a stop, maybe 50 m past the vehicle, under the intense glare of the headlights yet otherwise in a sea of blackness. I motioned to roll forward when the horn sounded again and I heard another yell come from the car.  I froze.  What was I to do?  There was clearly someone in trouble but I hardly felt I was in a position of power.  I sat astride my bike, confused and fearful of various scenarios.  I had no idea who was in the car, presumably at least two people, one being the woman in distress.  I felt a compulsion to at least try to help, but was acutely aware of my status as a tired man in lycra, on a bicycle, in the middle of nowhere, presumably without phone reception.  A stranger in a strange land. Were the occupants high or under the influence? Was there a gun in the car? All three? Would I get run down if I rode on or bore witness?  Would I get shot in the face if I approached? Damn all that television I’d watched, and where was the bear spray when I needed it? It was back in the hotel in Pinedale where I’d deliberately left it.  In almost two Tours Divide I’ve never felt so vulnerable. A paralysis gripped me for a few minutes under the intense headlights, my brain churning through scenarios. I finally turned my bars, clipped in, and gingerly rolled back towards the car, my dynamo finally kicking in to provide a blast of light to complement my headlight, if only briefly.  I approached the driver’s window where the woman was in tears. Leaning partially across her was an inebriated male of small build whose eyelids were so heavy he looked on the verge of passing out. A strong smell of alcohol wafted through the window.  He was extremely apologetic, as though pleading for forgiveness, perhaps confusing me with an officer of the law, which sounds ridiculous, but maybe it’s plausible given the swathes of reflective tape across my BBD frame bags, spokes, ankle bracelets, sleeves, back of my helmet, and red flashing tail-light that he might have been fixated on before I about-faced and approached the car. With my head torch glaring in their faces I used my sternest voice and instructed them to be kind to each other, go home and sleep it off. The male nodded profusely in agreement - seemingly unfazed by this instruction coming wrapped in an Australian accent. I didn’t know what else to say or do so gently clipped back into my cleats and slowly rode off into the darkness.  Five minutes later the car sidled past again, then 10 minutes later returned in the opposite direction, and that was the last I saw if it, or any vehicle for some time as I left the reservation and the nerve-wracking experience behind me and headed into land dominated by evidence of mines.  Emotionally drained I didn't get too much further that night and pulled off the road to throw down camp, but at least the bulk of the sealed sector was done with and I was blissfully alone again. 

(Day 16, 275 km and 2966 m vert)

I awoke in the pre-dawn, packed and got moving as the sun stretched its fingers across the landscape.  With the sun up the prevailing southerly wind kicked in almost immediately, leaving me regretful I hadn’t pushed a bit further the night prior before calling it.  In Milan I had some great breakfast burritos at Blake’s Lotaburger, then resupplied before pushing into hot headwinds with impressive rock walls on my left before the left hand turn back onto dirt for the long corrugated run into Pie Town on an otherwise, and thankfully, non-eventful day, headwinds aside.  Pie Town is significant for several reasons.  Firstly it marks 500 km to the finish.  Secondly, it is the last possibility for resupply for the following 300 km to Silver City.  But it’s a quirky little town, graced by a handful of little shops that serve food (and pie), but their hours are quite limited.  Naturally I got there in the late afternoon after the pie shops had closed. But at least the end was in sight.

(Day 17, 182 km and 1113 m vert)