I had set my alarm five minutes earlier than the others as I’d slept on the floor and needed the extra minutes to deflate my sleeping mat and pack my bag away. This is how tight mornings had become when lodging with Davy and Geof. No quarter was given. We were out of the door at 5:20am and straight into Subway for the most terrible breakfast of sandwich. I have never ever managed to order anything in Subway that does not taste the same. I’ve really tried, chilli sauces, extra onions, herby bread etc… it just tastes of Subway full stop.
Nic was waiting for us which in hindsight seemed odd as you will discover in a few paragraphs time. We munched in silence and then headed out in the dawn light and onto another hardpack dirt trail leading us out of town. We passed several bivys, riders who had made it to Wamsutter but not managed to get a room. I felt no guilt at all as I’d kipped on the floor. These guys were clearly having a lie in.
I rode with Geof for a while with Davy and Nic in front of us. We caught Scott and formed an amiable little group riding at a social pace (NOT drafting I hasten to add). Scott had some issues with injuries slowing him up a little. The track was dead straight for miles. Geof and I were discussing our wives cycling achievements when we noticed some activity ahead. Nic, Davy and Scott had been riding side by side .. but Nic had attacked! This was such a strange thing to witness as it was a proper racing move. He stood on his pedals, put the power down and gapped the others in a few seconds. His effort did not subside and we watched him disappear into the distance.
What had Davy and Scott said? They had no idea. Why had Nic not attacked before Subway, he’d been waiting for us? Anyway, he was off up the road and we continued at a more sedate pace. Well for a while until Davy did one of his mini-spurts and I let him and Geof race up a hill.
A regrouping happened at a snack break behind an old horse trailer. It was getting hot and we welcomed the shade. Craig joined us for a few minutes, overtook and then slipped back as a nasty set of mini-hills intervened. The next stop was forced by a Davy conversation break.
One thing we have to give the Irish is that they love a good bit of chat. It’s like fuel for them, if they go too long without they start to shrink up and turn into lepracorns. Davy was on top of his chat game and never let an opportunity for a bit of banter slide. It was hugely entertaining to watch as he was always well received. Today’s target was a shepherd living in a tiny caravan in the middle of nowhere. As soon as Davy spotted the dwelling he was off his bike, hand outstretched, greeting at the ready. Fair play to him I doubt there is anyone within a mile radius of the route who hasn’t been greeted with the phrase “Hi. My name’s Davy Paterson, how are you doing?”. And we became direct beneficiaries of Davy’s charm a few days later as I will reveal.
The shepherd fellow was from Peru, spoke only Spanish and was paid an appallingly low wage for spending 24 hours a day guarding and tending to the sheep. But he greeted Davy with open arms and relished the opportunity to share a few words. It was touching to watch and I resolved to become a bit more Davy myself. Bollocks to the British reserve.
Anyway, leaving our new shepherd friend behind we descended towards Savery on a horrible section of damp rutted track made from a mixture of sand and mud. This needed constant attention to a) pick the right rut and b) avoid skidding off the trail at speed. It ended in a beautiful heartbreaker of a climb, no more than 20 metres high but steep and unwelcome at the end of a long descent. It’s not named on the map, I propose “Missing Fingers Hill” because it is completely pointless (sorry).
Our next encounter was with the Little Snake River museum at Savery Staffed by a full compliment of Tour Divide fangirls. These ladies were amazing as they’d filled the museum with nutritional goodies and were outside ready to welcome racers inside. It was touching to see the effort they had gone to. There was a fridge full of everything and I mean EVERYTHING. Boiled eggs, cold drinks, meats, yoghurt, fruit ..proper fruit! and even fresh milk. Each had a price that was ridiculously low so I had all of it. Then I inspected the snacks table which was equally well stocked. I sat at a table and gorged whilst other riders turned up to escape the midday heat.
Nick Scarajew the Aussie singlespeeder was one of them. I’d passed him pulling his bike into a bush earlier. I mentioned that I’d spied him going for a sneaky dump which he denied. Apparently he’d strung himself out over the past few days getting little sleep. The bush was just another power nap as last nights kip in a laundrette had been interrupted by a lorry driver going at a noisy prostitute. Again, I DON’T remember seeing this in “Ride the Divide”. We chatted with Nic and Craig for a while before heading out into the heat again and the long climb up towards Brush Mountain Lodge.
The climb was steep and hot. I was soon riding on my own as Davy and Geof dropped back. I found a decent rhythm and was lost in my own thoughts when something caught my eye dashing across my front wheel. It was a huge great snake, first I’d seen of the trip. I was about to give it a further look when it rattled. Fuck that I was out of there at light speed straight into the next obstacle. A herd of cows. These were being driven along the trail by a sun wizened herder on horseback. He accepted my waved greeting and motioned me to ride straight through the herd. This was done with a measure of caution as there were tiny calves with huge mothers. This was a fairly disconcerting few minutes but I popped out the other end intact with just a smattering of cow shit decorating my tyres.
Next, BRUSH MOUNTAIN LODGE! Another icon of the tour divide, run by another amazing lady, Kirstin.
It’s worth mentioning something here. The majority of great stops on the Divide are run and made great by the women that run them. I’ve only just realised that the route is fuelled with girl power. All the way down the line I was sorted out by strong independent women and their fantastic trail side businesses. There were some top men as well, but the majority were women. So big up the ladies of the line who dotwatched us, fed us, supported us and listened to all of our moaning.
Kirstin deserves the biggest medal as she greets every rider with a hug. Remember that her lodge is high up a big climb and without exception the rider will be sweaty, smelly and probably carrying something that you don’t want to catch. But Kirstin never hesitates, she’s in there for the hug and then the force feeding commences.
She made us the most amazing fire baked pizza which sadly I had to share with others. Fresh coffee came next, sodas, cakes, beer, whatever you want. The lodge was well stocked with anything a rider could need, from arse cream to every conceivable battery. Kirstin collected bear spray from southbound riders and gave it to those heading north. And all she asks is a “donation”, she never asks for an amount, you give what you feel like. I felt like giving quite a lot!
And so we sat and chatted. Sofianne Stelli was holding court. He’d been leading the race but abandoned after being held up by huge snowdrifts in the woods above the lodge. These were our next objective. I told him that I’d seen worse on the Highland Trail in Scotland and he should probably attempt it next year. He joked about how he’d definitely kick my ass (for fucks sake I’m twice his age) forgetting that I was about to kick his as I was still in the race.
Geof returned the wallet he found to its rightful owner as Dylan was waiting for us at the lodge. He was clearly itching to go and departed shortly in a bit of a rush. I was mildly disappointed to see that he hadn’t left Geof a tip, I thought Americans tipped everything?
It was hard to leave. Great pizza, great banter and proper coffee, I nearly signed a permanent lease. But eventually we summoned the energy to stand up and say our goodbyes. Bikes were mounted and Kirstin’s cow bells serenaded us onwards up to the snowdrifts of doom. The going was mainly good and I climbed pretty rapidly for a few miles until two things happened. Firstly it got really steep and given that my belly was full of pizza gravity began to have its say. Next the snow drifts attacked.
Sofianne had been halted as he was unable to see the route through. The snow had melted enough to signpost it but it was still covered in three to four feet of drift. We pushed upwards through this for a long time and got very sweaty indeed as it was still pretty hot. Things did not improve when we hit the pass as the snow simply forced us to push downhill.
It’s worth mentioning that we were up over 10,000 feet high at this point. The route had steadily elevated us since Canada from a starting altitude of 4500 feet to a regular set of climbs that went over 10,000. Geof and I still had altitude coughs but I felt I’d adapted to the thinner air. Again it’s something a UK based rider rarely experiences. Then again I don’t remember any B&B owners giving me a hug.
We pushed for a long time. Can’t remember exactly how long, somewhere close to two hours. When we were finally able to ride things did not improve. The trail was littered with rocks. There was no room for nonchalance, we picked our way down dragging bikes under/over fallen trees and generally swearing quite a lot.
It was a relief to hit tarmac at Clark with ten miles of it leading the way to Steamboat. Light was fading and we made relatively short work of the road. Time to find a motel.
I can’t remember the name of the place we chose, but I can remember the owner. Geof and Davy booked a twin room with relatively little fuss and were soon ensconced in the shower (not at the same time, well I don’t think so?). I had a different experience. The guy was Swiss and had a wicked sense of humour, or so he thought. Unfortunately it translated as a series of shite Dad jokes on the way into English. I was on the receiving end of ten minutes of these mostly targeted at his wife. He dangled my room key tantalisingly close to my greedy hands yet never giving it up. I nearly told him to just “give me the fucking key” but a morbid fascination in just how poor his jokes could get kept me listening. Finally he relented I grabbed my key hard fearing it was attached to a fishing line in another poor attempt at humour. More minutes lost to the others.
We ate in a bar with Todd and Craig for company. They were both sleeping in the next day and visiting the bike shop. As usual we were to be out of the door at 5am and up into the Colorado mountains. Being the sole occupant of my room I had the luxury of getting naked and inspecting my various wounds. In summary I was a right mess. I’d kept a lot of saddle sore at bay but the nether regions were not pretty. All sorts of bits were red and raw. I was covered in various insect bites and had a weird distended belly from over binging on food. My hair and beard were basically hobo and I had deep sunken eyes with profound worry lines. It was tempting to call a prostitute simply to have her arrive and say “no”. There was nothing good about my physical form, yet still it was managing to ride a bike for a long time every day.
Looking in the mirror I ceased to see Dave. It was a Tour Divide racer that stared back. This is the life I was living now and what I had become. I lived with the constant pain of strained achilles tendons and protesting knees. I subsisted on a diet of junk food and sugary drinks. I stank and looked a mess as did my bike and the stuff hanging off it. I still had some 1200 miles to ride and didn’t fully understand what was driving me on. But something was and so I gave into it some more.