I so nearly left on time with Davy and Geof after a serious bit of preparation the night before. However, a second poo required my immediate attention and I was forced to wave them up the road.
It was a beautiful clear morning. I left Steamboat (a little lighter) on a cycle path which led to a lovely windy road up into the hills. Things got even lovelier as I caught the others and we traversed a beautiful lake to hit tracks leading up to the Lynx Pass. I really enjoyed this climb and would have relished the summit were it not for a serious bout of Tour Divide cough.
Both Geof and I had become afflicted. It was a nasty dry cough that simply could not be satisfied. Not matter how much you coughed and wretched nothing would come out but the urge to keep coughing continued. I’m not sure what causes it, probably a combination of dry air at altitude and dust inhaled from the tracks. But at the Lynx Pass I had my worse bout to date. I could not stop and ended up doubled over retching away. Geof joined me a short while later and between us we serenaded the woods with a symphony of ill heath. Davy wondered what the hell was going on as he joined us. He’d been spared the cough himself but was now suffering by proxy.
Descending the pass we encountered our first (and only) river crossing of the race. This was flowing at a decent rate and well over knee deep requiring care and attention. Davy gave me a scary moment when his rear wheel dropped and caught in the flow but he recovered quickly and even returned for a repeat performance so Geof could get a better picture.
The trails towards Radium were taxing in the heat which had now made itself known. We were pretty fragged made worse by Geof who pointed out the horribly steep section of road on the other side of the valley that we were destined to ascend. The sun turned itself up a few notches as we dropped down the broken road into Radium and salvation in the form of a white water rafting business that had a fridge, a freezer and no problem with selling us anything contained within. We decamped to a wooden bench with our spoils and chatted with a family of rafters who were about to go out on a trip. They passed over a package of deer sausage for us to consume. Apparently they’d shot this one themselves. I tried it out of politeness, far too rich for such a hot day, but another lovely trailside gesture.
Racing the Tour Divide is not all pain and suffering. There are main genuine moments of elation that hit you each and every day. Many of these come via the reactions of those you meet and their astonishment when hearing of what you’re attempting and what you’ve achieved. For the majority your challenge is seemingly so out of reach from their everyday lives. “Ride over 100 miles every day carrying all your stuff with no support! No sir, that’s not for me!“. Others have ridden their bikes long and far yet still see Divide racers as the pinnacle of achievement, something they aspire to…one day. These little snippets of micro-awe provide energy and encouragement that can recolour even the darkest of days. The rafters were no exception. I took huge pleasure in their quizzing of us and their genuine admiration and support. Sadly we weren’t huge fans of their deer sausage, but we kept quiet about that and headed down into a valley where the Trough Road awaited us.
As a reminder Geof has raced the Divide twice before. I could see a fairly grim expression upon his face as we approached the road and I was about to find out why. The tarmac started off innocuously enough but then shot up in a fit of gradient. It was also bloody hot and we were tired enough having already climbed a shitload earlier in the day. Lowest gear was engaged and I ground and ground up the first endless climb thanking fuck that I wasn’t Geof upon a singlespeed.
A brief descent led to the next horror story, a little less gradienty but hard enough given my general state of knackardness. Geof came grinding passed me near the top powered by huge quads and earning him the new nickname “Buffalo Legs”. At the top I partook in some serious lying down while we waited for Davy. And the local mosquitos partook in some serious bloodsucking after the arrival of their unexpected feast.
As the saying goes, “what goes up must come down“. We’d planned a diversion to Kremmling as there were no other food options until Sliverthorne which was a long way away. The road down to Kremmling went down, a lot and steeply. I scared myself shitless on it. I’ve never been so fast fully loaded on any bike and got to a point where I didn’t dare touch the brakes for fear of them melting.
Kremmling was a couple of miles off route but worth it. The afternoon heat was pretty intense and I needed a gallon of cold drinks. We rode to the service station and carried out our usual ritual . A first pass of all shelves to identify options as it’s not a good idea to commit too early, followed by a second pass to hoover up the bounty whilst keeping an eye on the others just in case they’ve spotted something better. There’s nothing worse than seeing another rider pull a treat out of their bag that you want but have missed previously. We stopped for a while. I ate pizza, hot dogs, ice cream and drank some shitty coffee. I made a call in to the famous MTB Cast including a vague attempt at humour that I bet nobody bar a few English people will understand.
We took a quick look at Trackleaders and noticed that Zoe was also in town. This was a surprise as she’d left me at Ovando and I’d imagined she was a long way up the road. Turns out she was battling with her breathing and sickness, Tour Divide cough had struck off another victim.
A gang of Hells Angel type bikers pulled away from the garage as we were packing our bags outside. Davy spotted a large purse that probably belonged to one of the ladies riding pillion. I grabbed it and chased down the road on my bike as I could see a few of them stopped at traffic lights. I pedalled furiously up to the riders screaming at the top of my voice. Chest puffed out and fists clenched, I suspect they had me down as an aggressively cyclist complaining about a close pass or something but their beards deflated as I held up the mislaid purse. A huge biker chick thanked me profusely we were getting pretty good at returning wallets to their rightful owners.
After Kremmling we followed a dirt road nipping round the Williams Fork Reservoir and heading up to another reservoir prior to the Ute Pass. This was not the most scenic I’ve ever witnessed as it was completely full of sludge, residue from the huge mining operations in the area. The climb away from it was a right bastard. A long steep section of tarmac that topped out at another tree littered pass. We found a view in a gap in the trees and everyone took pictures apart from me. I have no idea why, maybe I did but I can’t find one on my phone or camera?
Another hideously fast descent took us down to the highway following the Blue River gently down to Silverthorne. We shopped in the fading light and pulled into the nearest motel . My trail notes for that evening state:-
“Polish lady boys left early“
I stared at that entry for ages when writing this as I had no recollection whatsoever of any cross dressing Europeans who had got up earlier than myself. Then it hit me, a missing comma.
“Polish lady, boys left early“
The motel was run by a Polish lady who was lovely but insisted on Geof telling her his PIN number so she could take payment from his card in a small room next to reception. No way was I having that so I paid cash. And seeing as I now have Geof’s PIN number I will shortly be paying off my credit card with his.
“left early” relates to Geof and Davy. The next day’s target was Salida and Davy had somehow arranged for a new wheel to be delivered to the bike shop. He needed to get there before 5pm in order to collect it. The shop refused (quite rightly) to open later for an individual racer as they felt that it gave advantage. 5pm was a tall order given Salida was 130 miles away and so Davy had decided to get up at 3am instead of our usual 5.
To be frank 5am was eating into me as I need my recovery. I knew damn well that 3am would be too early and not allow me enough rest so I told them the evening before that I’d let them go and hopefully see them somewhere down the trail. Geof took the news of a day without the annoying English twat with great glee and so we went to a bar to celebrate and get a hot meal.
Sadly they’d stopped serving food. So we pouted a lot and Davy did some fantastic Irish bantering (it was an Irish bar) and suddenly they hadn’t. We were given soup, cottage pie and the traditional Tour Divide grilling by the owner. I slept soundly that night looking forward to a day of not having the piss taken out of me, along with a (relative) lie in.