We left the van in the dark said cheerio to Mike’s blind dog and continued upon the dirt tracks towards Del Norte. I was soon riding on my own absorbed in the “whoopy” trails that undulated through the scenic volcanic landscape. Mike’s homestead had been located within a volcanic caldera it was a shame that I’d not been able to appreciate it in the daylight. The “whoops” came from the undulations that the track followed. This was fun riding all the way to a wider trail that skirted the local airfield, or landing strip as it is probably best described.
Del Norte was another typical one strip town, pickings within the convenience store were slim. No fresh food, no batteries but, of course, Hostess fruit pies. After two weeks of store foraging I was made of the bloody things. I had to applaud both the Hostess logistics arm for its ability to supply even the remotest of outposts and the American appetite for eating them. I bet there is nowhere on mainland USA where you are more than five miles away from a Hostess snack of some sort.
Next stop the diner where I simply picked the breakfast that had the most things on it. This included biscuits and gravy. I still have no idea what it is even after attempting to eat half a plate. It looked like someone had vomited over a plate of scones. I can’t really describe the taste as there wasn’t one and since when has gravy been anything but brown? However, the rest of the bits were just what I needed, eggs, crispy bacon, link sausage and ranch potatoes with proper bottomless coffee. Oh! and fresh milk. I was living the American breakfast dream and slathered it all in maple syrup, a crime fit for jail back home.
Next objective. Indiana Pass.
The Tour Divide route climbs over 17 named passes on its way to Mexico. Indiana Pass is the highest of them all and comes with a warning. Whilst it tops out at nearly 12,000 feet at that point you are not done. The descent comes in stages you’re not finished climbing until you hit the river at the Skyline Lodge. It all started so innocuously as tarmac gently lifted us out of town. As soon as we hit dirt it became a lot more savage. The sun came out and the gradient soured. And I mean really soured to a level of difficulty just on the edge of ridable. I’d used up all of my gears within one hundred yards knowing full well there were miles and miles of climbing yet to do.
The gradient stayed harsh for a good couple of miles. I was really suffering but had pulled away from Davy and Geof. This was not through will as all I cared about was forward motion. I was in a bubble of hurt and just wanted it all to end as soon as possible. At one point a pickup truck passed with bikes attached to the back and shouts of encouragement coming from the front. I offered back a miserable wave and continued upwards in grim torment. Some sections were just too steep to ride on my gears but a short push was a welcome relief. During one of these I trudged past another pickup with a bearded old fellow inside.
“Howdy, enjoying the heat?”
“Not really mate, we don’t have hills like this in England”
“Sure don’t son, but plenty of fucking muslims instead”
Great a racist. Time to get riding again.
The pickup with bikes passed me again in the opposite direction which seemed odd. I’d imagined they were going to ride them down the hill. But I gave it little thought as all I wanted was a cold soda and a rest. I got neither and the gradient took a very long time to relent. As I got higher banks of snow began to appear in the trees and the air thinned out. This was the first time that I really felt the affects of altitude. In the final thousand feet of the climb I struggled with breathing and had to back off a little in order to keep forward motion. The surroundings gave little evidence of the height gained as the pass had climbed onto a high range of trees and scrub. It was my GPS that told me I was near the top rather than a profound summit. The track turned a corner and headed towards a four foot high snow bank and fifty yards before it I’d summitted the Indiana Pass.
I sat and gasped for a while. An ATV driver stopped to check I was OK shortly followed by Geof who deserves a medal for climbing the pass on a single gear.
“Phew that was tough, did you get a soda?” – he asked
“A soda, the ones left in the coolbox by the side of the trail”
I’d ridden past trail magic. In hindsight I bet it was the pickup with bikes and I bet they’d shouted something at me but in my fatigued state I’d just heard a cheer. All I wanted was a soda and there they were a few miles down the trail. But this was an unobtainable prize as there was no way I was repeating any of that climb.
We sat in relative silence waiting for Davy and contemplating our achievement. This was the highest point of the ride and easily the hardest climb. Surely it was all downhill from hear? But Geof reminded me of the rule of the Divide, there’s always one more climb. And so there was. Descending did not last long until I was into the lowest gear again and struggling up through trees. Then some more pushing through snow followed by another brief descent to a lake.
For some unfathomable reason I decide that this would be a great place to snap a picture of my bike. I cannot think why as I generally prefer shots with people in them as bikes can’t smile and convey little emotion. But today I decided to lean it up against a log and take a picture of it facing the water. Of course things did not go to plan. As I pressed the shutter release I watched the bike lean sideways and fall over, the front wheel twisting horribly in the process. I was filled with dread as I picked it up rightly justified as I’d bent the front disk rotor. What a pillock. I’d travelled with this bike over 1500 miles and all sorts of terrain without a single crash. And yet I’d managed to damage it by taking a photo. A single moment of negligence that could potentially lead to untold stress.
I set about the rotor with my Gerber pliers and manged to bend it back into place but I couldn’t cure a nagging rub that clearly required fine tuning. This would be fine on a single day ride as I could sort it back home. But out here I’d have to put up with it. This is not easy on a ride such as the Divide. When riding the bike for hours on end small annoyances magnify. A once tolerable squeak becomes a path to insanity after a whole day of making itself known. This rub would drive me mad if it persisted and I needed to get rid. Geof and Davy caught up and witnessed me thrashing around with the bike. Words of advice bounced off my helmet as I hammered away with my pliers eventually giving up in disgust and sulking up the trail. Five minutes later the rub was gone. Magically cured by a few bits of braking.
The Stutter Pass was despatched in a huff and we dropped down to Skyline Lodge for a welcome hot meal. The lodge was populated by dotwatchers who welcomed us in and commended our progress. We ate, tried on cowboy hats and bought supplies. They were pretty well stocked and even had lube. Three well oiled bikes departed on a rough trail following a river downhill to Horca Welcome progress was made as the Indiana Pass had slowed us right down. But unwelcome rain was starting to make itself felt. At Horca I nearly suggested getting a room but it was not yet dark and we had the La Manga Pass to ascend which we needed to get out of the way. We’d loosely decided to bivy that evening somewhere beside the trail. A decision I began to regret when the rainfall became a downpour at the top of the pass.
There was a campground up there, I signalled to Geof to seek shelter within then waited for Davy to let him know of our plan. I was thinking of a toilet or clump of trees but Geof found something much better, a Gazebo, a fire and a welcoming Hispanic family. Marty brought three generations of his family to this campground every year. They were here to celebrate the fourth of July with beers, fishing and of course a roaring fire. The fire was standing up well to the pouring rain us less so. They invited us under to shelter a while and introduced us to the generations ensconced within. We chatted a while and tabled our plans for the evening. Marty told us of a part built railway building a mile or so off trail that could provide a decent bivy spot. This sounded promising but we needed the torrential rain to subside a while before venturing out again. Eventually it did. We dried off around the huge fire, said our goodbyes and mooched off up the road into the dark.
It took a while to find our destination but it was ideal. A part constructed wooden building with a roof in places and enough floor to accommodate three tired gentlemen. I managed to bag a room for myself and was soon snoring away in my bivy bag. Sadly the snoring was rudely interrupted at 4am by the deflation of my sleep mat. The sodding thing had a puncture. It was tempting to lie there and leave the repair for another time. But I’d learnt another rule of the Divide. Get a problem, sort it don’t allow it to become a bigger one. I knew that Dave of the future would thank present Dave for fixing the hole. So I got up before the others, fixed it and then lay there in a bad mood. Tomorrow had better start well to get me out of this sulk. It didn’t.