Today was a watershed in my Tour Divide racing (sic). I was actually ready to go FIRST. At 5:20am I was bicycled up waiting for Davy and Geof to emerge from their room. This never happened again but I will take that one victory. It was tempting to tap my foot and look at my watch but I had other things to think about. The wind. It was still a little breezy and we had the Marshall Pass to contend with. This day began with no messing about, straight onto the road and up we go into the mountain.
The pavement climb teased out nibblets of fatigue from the day before. We were soon spread out and not very fast. But as the pavement melded into dirt track the gradient eased and the mountain sheltered us from the wind. Geof told me that this pass had been constructed for a railway consequently the grading was perfect for shagged out Tour Divide racers. He and I got into a rhythm, began to warm up and made a decent feast of the hill. It was a lovely climb one of my favourites of the ride and I actually regretted getting to the top as I was warm and we’d have to stop.
We waited a short while for Davy to catch up and then the two of them buggered about with more sign photos while I made a short video moaning about them buggering about with sign photos.
Short work was made of the descent down to Sargeants and even shorter work of the massive set of breakfasts we ordered in the diner. For once the food was splendiferous and service fantastic. Geof ordered everything twice. I mentally planned my exit route were he to burst. A north bound rider joined us for food. Not the first we’d met, but the happiest. He was enjoying his ride and didn’t burden us with tales of woe to come. Heartlessly we told him every single horror story we’d faced coming south.
We departed well fed, well watered and well stocked up from the shelves of the tiny shop. The wind had died somewhat but the sun had made a dramatic entrance and looked to be here for the rest of the day. We had a few more passes to summit and I suggested that it pay my family a visit back home instead. I found out later that it did with a minor heatwave occurring in my absence. I don’t think it quite understood that I required it to leave the current area.
Anyway, it was pretty hot as we rode a few miles of pavement but afternoon clouds were brewing and we were briefly rained upon during a rest stop at Moss lake. It had been quite a ride to get to this point in the searing heat. Davy had regaled us with the story of Alferd Packer who’d disappeared nearby with some friends in a harsh winter and then eaten them. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alferd_Packer] I’d come close myself when they’d both pulled out better pickings than me at a rest stop. Not today though as I’d found bananas and an apple in the food store. Amazing what can bring pure joy to a near broken man.
The rain dispersed as we headed up the Cochetopa Pass as hard to pronounce as it was to climb, a steep and awkward mess of a track but it had a nice seat at the top. More pavement and then another dirt road lead to the second pass and the realisation that I was drinking quite heavily. At this rate I’d be getting dangerously low before the day was out so I stopped briefly at a stream to filter some water.
This was a huge mistake. Word went out in the mosquito community that some soft tasty European flesh was in the vicinity and when mosquitos have news it travels fast. The bastards were all over me in seconds and every inch of my bare skin bore a tapestry of their blood drillings. I was surprised I was able to keep riding without a transfusion.
The Carnero pass was climbed with more evil gradients and even a set of tight switchbacks. The last ramp was an absolutely killer, existing right on the edge or rideability for the fully laden rider. At the top I collapsed onto a tree stump and told Geof that I wasn’t expecting that. He quoted one of the great rules of the Tour Divide back at me.
“Dave, on the Tour Divide there is ALWAYS another climb”
He wasn’t wrong. If I was forced to describe the route in one word I say “climbing”. There’s shedloads of it on the route, so much that you end up forgetting you are climbing as you’re doing it so often. Davy had gone down a few teeth in the bike shop in Salida and Geof was definitely putting his Buffalo legs to good use on the singlespeed. It’s pointless ever thinking that you won’t be climbing as when you’re not you turn a corner and bingo, you’re climbing again. What’s interesting is that after a while you acclimatise to it. Almost like thin air, your body seems to accept the effort and a little bit of the pain subsides. It still hurts and there are still many unwelcome gradients but it becomes more of a chore than a hinderance.
As light began to slowly fade we descended into a beautiful river valley with profound rock formations one of which caused a lengthy photo delay. A next stress point was where to stay for the night. We had three options; continue onwards to Del Norte (a long way away and a late night), investigate the town of La Garita or seek out the Mermaid Cottage, a bed and breakfast I had messaged earlier in the day. Our decision was made by a cyclist we met training on the hill. He told us that La Garita was shut, nothing doing there in terms of food or lodgings. The sporadic rain helped us decide upon the Mermaid Lodge which was a lot closer than Del Norte.
A long flat dirt track led the way to our potential lodgings. In the darkness I was not hopeful as there did not seem to be lights visible anywhere. Somewhere near 10pm we arrived at the right road and a homestead gate with “KEEP OUT” written all over it. Dogs howled all around us. I nervously pushed the gate and rode tentatively up the steep driveway to be greeted by a car driving in the opposite direction. We’d been spotted by Mike the owner. He’d been expecting us, but not here.
Turns out he owned a cycling hostel in Del Norte and my messages had been interpreted as relating to that. It was a long ride in the dark to get there but fortunately Mike had another option, a large Airstream Caravan located in their yard. Would that be OK? Too right mate, I’d have settled for a flat piece of ground so a caravan was relative luxury.
He showed us to our beds and we then enquired about food. Sorry nothing doing. But luckily we had an Irishman in our midst and the negotiations began. Davy enquired and pleaded a little further and ten minutes later we had fruit, granola, crisps, carrots and beer! That can of beer was probably the best of the trip.
Mike also brought a huge great bag or marijuana just in case we felt the need. My aching bones could probably have done with it but there was no way my lungs were going to cope. We slept with his old blind Labrador on guard outside of the van. Something must have turned up in the night as he went crazy in the early hours.