Unless you are a purist bush sleeper you will frequently encounter motels when racing the Tour Divide. American motels fascinate me as we don’t really have comparable institutions this side of the pond. What I loved about motels were that without exception they all shared similar characteristics. Firstly, you’re welcomed by a lunatic. Or at least I was in every motel I had the pleasure of visiting. The front desk staff member was invariably mad or had some mad story that you were forced to endure before taking possession of the keys. They were always run down yet not filthy. It’s hard to explain but just about everywhere I stayed was clean in a dirty sort of way. You didn’t mind staying there but it’s not the sort of place you’d bring the wife for the wedding anniversary. Not one of them batted an eyelid at the state of the dirty cyclist stood in front of them nor the filthy bike that they were hoping to keep in the room. This would never happen in the UK. I’ve often had sleepless nights worrying about my poor bike loosely chained to a wooden fence post in the garden of a B&B. Not in America the bike is welcomed in with the same (if not higher) status as its owner.
Moving onto the room, each shared similar quirks. There was always something not quite right with the shower. I contorted myself under various poorly positioned showerheads, occasionally froze and frequently flooded the bathroom floor in an attempt to get clean. I loved the fact that each room always had a coffee maker with coffee provided. But hated the machines themselves with their obscure hidden switches or convoluted latch mechanisms for accessing the filter. Then there was the fridge, fantastic for storing breakfast but always switched off with the cable and power point completely inaccessible.
But let’s save the best for last. The lamps. Which American genius invented the ubiquitous rotating switch that takes four rotations to give light? These things are impossible to locate and operate in the dark. I wasted many minutes fondling bedside lamps and knocking them over in the middle of the night. Why can’t they use a simple flip switch? What’s the thinking behind these ridiculous contraptions? It must be to save energy as I’m not sure I managed to turn a single one on. And so my love affair with the American motel continued in Silverthorne as my alarm was triggered and I caused mass destruction attempting to turn on the light. I retrieved a warm sandwich from the fridge I’d failed to switch on and then shortly afterwards flooded the bathroom as I flailed with the shower.
I left Silverthorne in the rising sun full of anticipation. The others were hours ahead of me, the chase was on. Today’s riding looked interesting with the promise of singletrack after Breckenridge. I decided to get there at full pace, whack down a huge breakfast and spend a day on my own agenda.
This plan was looking good for all of twenty minutes. A flat cycle path led the way out of town and progress was quick. Until suddenly the route on my GPS dived off it and into the bushes on the right. This happened just before the path entered a tunnel and crossed under a busy main road. I scratched my head for ages looking at the terrain as the route clearly left the path but there was no obvious track, it seemed to follow the main road. So I lifted my bike over the barriers and rode for twenty yards or so until the route dived off the road again. This was mad? What on earth was going on as I was sure the notes stated that we follow the cycle track to Breckenridge? I rebooted my GPS but it still pointed the same way, so I dragged the bike off the main road into some bushes and found the faintest hint of a track. The GPS agreed and I followed this track through dense scrub until it finally reunited me with the smooth cycle path. I’d wasted nearly thirty minutes fannying around and it turns out this was an old section of the route that has not been corrected on the GPS trace. Everyone else realises this and sticks to the tarmaced path. I think they should all be DQ’d leaving me the winner of the 2019 Tour Divide.
Anyway as you can imagine I arrived in Breckenridge in a little bit of a mood. Which got worse when I found that every diner in sight was shut. I stopped a young lady carrying donuts and asked where I could get a decent breakfast at this hour. The answer was “only Starbucks”. Dreams of bacon, eggs, hash browns and bottomless coffee evaporated into the reality of an expensive crap toasted panini coupled with some coffee that tastes of engine oil. I suffered it in a sulk. Nobody in there noticed as they couldn’t see beyond their Macbooks.
The climb up towards the Boreas Pass lifted my spirits. It was a lovely morning and I enjoyed the steady gradient as tarmac faded into track enveloped in trees. My next objective was the Gold Dust Trail and I’d been warned not to miss this turn off which was easily done. I’m not sure how, as a ruddy great signpost at the side of the road seemed pretty clear to me when combined with the GPS trace veering harsh right. The track looked promising but this was a day when I was to be consistently confounded. Snowmelt infected the first kilometre, I basically rode down a stream. Then the water departed as the trail followed a gully system down the hill, but it was blocked in many places by trees and branches that had fallen under the heavy snow. Remember the word “thrutch”? Well the Gold Dust Trail was thrutch city all the way down. It was a relief to pop out and hit double track.
I rode a few more miles to Como with an increasingly fierce headwind starting to brew. I needed a drink to get the taste of Starbucks coffee out of my mouth and spotted a museum by the side of the road. I’m embarrassed to say that I have no idea what kind of a museum it was as it had sodas, cookies and very friendly staff happy to let me help myself for a donation. I left $20 and sat outside with 3 cans and an armful of biscuits, worth every dollar. Two Divide through hikers were sat on the porch smoking roll up cigarettes. We jawed for a few minutes laughing at our experiences and shaking our heads at all of the guns. Like me they’d met their fair share of animals, nutters and inclement weather. But they were travelling at a slightly more relaxed pace.
I pointed the bike towards Hachita and pedalled on into the wind. This was starting to be a chore as there was little to see so I whacked on some death metal and slowly counted the miles down. I got there sometime after midday parked up outside a dingy bar, entered and perused the menu. After an age I manged to attract the attention of a waitress who was cleared distracted by all of the other customers that weren’t there. The place was empty. She let me order a full range of breakfast items to satisfy my earlier craving and then advised that these were all off menu after 11am. We went through a long negotiation concerning what was actually available before I settled upon a chicken something that she recommended. I chose it in desperation as I needed to get on.
The kitchen clearly felt my urgency as the dish took nearly an hour to arrive. It was a dry chicken breast with a can of tomatoes poured over it. The worst chips I’ve ever had lay forlornly beside. I said a silent prayer of apology to the poor chicken and potatoes that had ended their lives only to be desecrated in this manner. I shovelled it down, waited another ten minutes for the bill and of course left a tip.
The luncheon delay caused me to rush my resupply. I grabbed a couple of bananas and some chocolate from the sparsely stocked shop next door and shot off down the dirt trail. I had another fifty miles to do before Salida and wanted to arrive before dark. When I say “shot off” I’m probably embellishing my speed a little. The wind was now a real force of obstruction urging me to turn tail and go the other way. The sun was also making itself known in a pact with the wind to liberate as much joy from Dave as possible.
Five miles from Hachita I had a terrible realisation. I’d forgotten to fill up on water. A quick inventory check came up with 500 ml in my backpack bladder and a single 600 ml bottle ¾ full. Approximately one litre for 45 miles of sunny windy hell. I was 100% going to die.
The dirt track wasn’t helping either. It refused to lie flat and forced me up a series of mini-climbs each revealing more mini-climbs beyond. I fell into a chasm of negativity. I hated this fucking wind, I could only sip at my water rather than satisfy my thirst with a full on gulp and I was fed up of these annoying bloody hills. It wasn’t long before I was properly tired and starting to regret ever entering this stupid race. All I wanted was the simple pleasure of necking a cold can of Coca-cola in one. All I had was washboard road and a weather system preventing me from riding it.
I was at my lowest and most miserable when a pickup truck pulling alongside, with window wound down. Inside was my saviour. A hairy, tattooed mechanic from a bike shop in Salida. He had clearly been following the race and enthused about my ride. We even fist bumped. That’s special for a fifty two year old IT worker from Devon. I mentioned that I was a) dying of thirst, b) suffering in the wind. He sorted out a) instantly with a flask full of ice water, yes ICE water which was tipped straight into my hydration bladder. He also helped a lot with b).
“Man, you have eight to go, seven downhill and then one steep pull and you’ve cracked it. Keep riding bro!”
Eight miles. I could do that now I had iced water and was a “bro”. And I did. They weren’t pretty and the final climb was a real grovel to get to the top but I’d beaten the wind and it was all downhill to Salida. Which is an understatement as it was bloody steeply downhill at a terrifying pace to Salida.
As I pulled into town I heard a female voice call my name. WTF? Who the hell knew me out here? It was Janet she had been dotwatching the race and grabbing photos of the riders as they came into town. Her picture ages me at around about 95 years old I reckon. It had certainly been a tough day. I asked her about Geof and Davy. She’d caught them a “while” back in the bike shop but was unsure whether the “while” was 20 minutes or four hours. I decamped to a gas station down the road and filled up with goodies along with two ice cream sandwiches and something covered in chocolate and fudge that almost dissolved my teeth. A text came in from Geof:-
“Hey fast Dave we are thinking of heading to Poncha Springs”
They were not too far up the road so I threw leg over bike and skedaddled on a bike path to catch them up. My enthusiasm was doctored by another bout of headwind and I met them at a motel about 6 miles up the road. Their bare chested forms lounged outside of a motel room and soon I had one of my own (a motel room not a bare chest). We feasted in Burritos in a fast food joint later that evening. They too had suffered hard on the plains in the wind. Davy had suffered even harder in the bike shop with a bill for $700. He’d basically replaced everything. I had decided to leave well alone with the Cutthroat. So far it was showing no signs of fatigue unlike me.
Another big climbing day tomorrow. I avoided all weather forecasts before collapsing into bed.