Another cold start. Not helped by the tiny portion of Tiramisu. But I managed to leave with the others and only received minimal tutting so things were on the up. As were we with our first objective being a decent off road climb onto the Union Pass Road. I looked forward to this with some trepidation as whilst the views would be worth it, snow still had the potential to mess with our progress.
Things started well on a decent set of clear tracks and we gained height. Then it got a bit thrutchy. I’m not sure if I’ve used “thrutchy” in these words to date, can’t be arsed to skim back and find out. But for me it’s one of the greatest cycling adjectives you encounter. I’ll have a go at a proper dictionary type description:-
thrutchy (adj) – a section of trail that requires frequent dismount coupled with occasional swearing in order for traversal to be accomplished
It’s actually stolen from rock climbing which has “thrutch” as a verb as well. So let’s steal it and I’ll tell you that we had to thrutch our way up to the Union Pass Road as rocks, snow drifts, fallen trees and mud littered the way. But it was good natured thrutching and I was enjoying it. The sun was out but the temperature crisp, perfect for this kind of thrutching. You’ve probably had enough of that verb for now so I’ll move on to the top of the climb where the thrutching ends.
We laid our bikes down (mech side up, I’d been bollocked about that a day previously) and contemplated the views. This was a special little moment where all three of us were able to relish our location, accomplishment, motivations and privilege. We had an atypical male conversation about motivations for riding and even Geof managed to quell his Kiwiness and speak seriously. Davy told me that he’d ridden the year before and had to abandom due to injury. Geof was clearly a serial offender who kept getting called back by the race. And I was the idiot with issues that needed resolution out on the trail.
All of this was set to a soundtrack of snowy mountain tops and massive wide open spaces. I half expected to hear violins but instead caught the sound of a light breeze telling me to get the hell on with it as this is supposed to be a race.
The descent on Union Pass Road was a little tricky on loose sandy tracks. These gave way to better surfaces and finally tarmac that lead the way to Pinedale. Tarmac gained mixed reactions from our little team of three.
Geof was not a huge fan as his singlespeed gear would reach terminal speed on the flat/downhill sections. Davy liked to ride side-by-side and chat, hence tarmac that came with cars caused some disruption to his banter. I still have road club blood in my veins and I like a good old bit flat surface. Additionally my Cutthroat had the most aero position of the three of us giving me an advantage on the flat.
I left the others behind on a longer section and settled into the tarmac grind. After days of thrutchy (sorry) track I relished the speed and relative lack of effort so the miles soon began to pass. Of course this was going to have consequence and I missed a left turn as the route headed into Pinedale on a minor road. Davy and Geof didn’t and I sheepish U-turned to see them chatting to an SUV driver about the idiot who had gone the wrong way.
Pinedale was an oasis of everything for a Tour Divide racer. Bike shop, hardware store, supermarket, diner and probably a masseur if you looked hard enough. I made a bee-line for the bike shop and purchased a rucksack and 3 litre bladder. The hardware store happily took my credit card and handed me a new GPS unit. On returning to the bike shop I discovered a pressure washer and Jainie. She was toning down her race pace and waiting for her husband to arrive who was a little further down the pack.
We cleaned our bikes bantered with Janie and then sloped off to the Diner for a welcome hot meal. A brief session of WIFI informed us that the race ahead was looking interesting as large snowfalls in Colorado were set to cause trail havoc. I had a quick scan through social media and became a little bit emotional when I saw the support out there for me. I’d thought my progress had been slow but it appeared I was riding front of mid-pack. Many of my cycling compatriots were willing me on and discussions were raging as to the level of my bad language. I’d detached myself from all of this for days, focusing hard n the race and my arse instead. It was humbling to see it all out there but I shut it off again as each message was a reminder of home. Home was a place of no soreness, no tiredness and vegetables/fruit/decent coffee. Every reminder entered the “reasons to quit” bank and I was trying to keep these to a minimum. It’s worth stating that there was not a single day in the first ten days of the Divide when I didn’t consider it. Quitting thoughts tended to arrive in the early hours of each day. Mid-afternoon accomplishments would banish them, only to return as the sun dropped and darkness encroached .
I coped with the quit monster in a strange way by talking to myself.
quit monster – you have a really sore achilles, nobody would question if you packed in to prevent a bigger injury
Dave – true, but it doesn’t get worse, it stays constant and I think I can deal with it. Oh look .. a chipmunk!
quit monster – this headwind is terrible, it could be like this for the rest of the ride. Why bother, you are supposed to be on holiday, just pack now and go ride in Moab instead
Dave – I admit I’m fragged and angry at this wind, it can fucking do one. Also the shitty washboard road can do one as well. But there will come a time when it’s over. So in the meantime I’ll try and remember the second verse of the national anthem which for some unfathomable reason is going through my head
Every year half the field scratches from the race. This is a huge attrition rate for a route that is well established and well documented. In truth the riding is not that hard but on the Tour Divide the quit monster is strong, probably due to its sustained nature and also the romance that leads riders into the route. It’s not all huge vistas, massive breakfasts and life experiences….
Anyway back to the ride. We eventually got served in the diner paid another reluctant tip and hit another long road section. I rode at speed past Boulder and waited for the others as the tarmac ended on the Big Sandy Elkhorn Road. It had been flat and I’d ridden with a tailwind up until this point. But things changed to loose and undulating. Climbs were short but steep and these took a toll on Davy’s legs.
Progress slowed as the sun set and we wended our way along this road towards Atlantic City. We were discussing bivy plans when Geof suddenly braked to a halt and picked up an object from the shadows. It was a wallet full of dollars, cards and ID. A bit of detective work identified the owner as a fellow racer who was up the road. A little bit of signal sent a message to him that we had his dollars were he prepared to wait. He was and a rendezvous was set for Brush Mountain lodge.
We decided to bivy in the scrub and drop down to a small service station the morning after for a wash and a poo. The sunset was spectacular and coyote type things wailed us to sleep. As usual Davy and Geof were snoring before I’d even got into my bag. I was tempted to hide their bikes to give me a little more time in the morning. But that meant effort and I didn’t have much of that left.