Buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz. The good old 5am alarm. I was used to it now. Time to begin the process.
Unscrew valve and go down with the inflatable mat. Exit sleeping bag, scrabble for cycling clothes and enter these. Invariably have bib shorts wrong way round so correct. Step on something sharp, swear, find cycling shoes, enter these, remove one shoe, remove stone, enter again. Roll and bag inflatable mat, roll and bag sleeping bag, roll bivy bag, realise its stuff sac is in sleeping bag, unroll sleeping bag. Pick up bike try and cram bags into bar bag. Swear. Hold rear wheel of bike between knees, repeat cramming manoeuvre with seatpost bag, swear even more. Strap seatpost bag shut, realise breakfast is inside, unstrap, retrieve squashed breakfast sandwich, restrap bag. Furiously cram sandwich into mouth pushing it down protesting gullet with bike pump.
Process completed I followed Geof and Davy down the track and back onto the dirt road to Pie Town. As we hit the junction my GPS had a seizure and started doing all sorts of weird things. Maps wizzed about the screen and the unit refused to take orders via buttons. This cannot be happening as it is only a week old and it’s too early in the day for shit to occur. I need to be on my bike riding and warming up.
I mentioned to the others that my GPS was having issues and received two looks of disdain. I think this was the moment when I realised I’d overstayed my welcome. They were fed up of me and found it hard to conceal the fact. They left me to it and rode off.
There was no malice in that act. They both knew I’d sort it and anyway it’s a self supported race, you’re supposed to be prepared and I was. I had a phone with maps and another poorly functioning unit. I sat down and stared at the GPS trying to figure out what was up with it and also what was up with me? The GPS problem was quite straightforward, low batteries and a change saw everything right. Mine was a little more difficult. I am hard wired to be annoying. I can’t help it, it’s been there for years. Equally I can’t really put a finger on its manifestation but I definitely am annoying as I’ve seen the eyes glaze over many a time. I think maybe some people just … are. Genetics would definitely give it a try to see how it helped evolution. Could it be that there’s a strand of DNA that ups your level of annoying and nature is giving it a go with some of us to see how we fare? Anyway, I’m at least self aware enough to know that I am. I try all sorts of things to not be, but it’s ingrained. Maybe not talking would help? But annoying people struggle with that.
So it was a fairly forlorn slightly annoying Dave that straddled the Cutthroat and pedalled into the sunrise. I caught and passed them both with few words and headed on to Pie Town. For those not aware of Tour Divide lore Pie Town is probably the biggest milestone next to the finish. Pie Town does what it says on the tin. It makes pies in cafes and that is it. Seriously, there’s nothing else there bar pie making cafes. And before all you British people get all excited, these are not the pies we know and love, there’s not one bit of steak in any of them. They are basically flans. The Americans not only pronounce “route” wrong (it’s rOOt for fucks sake), they have used a sacred word in vain to label a pudding. Apparently some of them even apply it to pizzas. But they do make bloody good puddings.
I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it but at the start of the race Salsa Cycles give you a top tube cap made for the Tour Divide. You show this in a Pie Town cafe and they give you a free bit of pie. I got to Pie Town quite early and headed to the Pie-O-Neer cafe as I’d been told they did proper American breakfasts. Shut, damn it.
Next stop was the Gathering Place which fortunately was open and even more fortunately was serving a full breakfast menu and most fortunately of all was happy to offer the free pie deal. Davy and Geof arrived at the same time as my breakfast which didn’t survive long. I ordered some pancakes and a few sandwiches to go. I whacked down the pancakes and realised that I still had to get in some pie. No problem until I was forced to chose, from about twenty options all of which were huge. I went for Apple, Cranberry and Walnut. It was the size of a dinner plate. I managed half and I think Geof may have polished off the rest.
Outside it was time to have a conversation about the end of the ride. I was going to start it with “Look I know I’m an annoying twat, sorry, I’ll go up the road“. But was a bit more diplomatic and mentioned something about wanting to push on at my own pace. The others confirmed my suspicions by agreeing with great enthusiasm that it was a good idea. We shook hands and I was off on my own. I was immediately energised.
The route out from Pie Town was varying and absorbing. Frequent turns and climbs delivered lots to look at and lots to do on the bike. It was another sunny day and I was drinking a tons but hoped to pick up water from a church that others had used in previous years. Tracks lead me into the San Antone Canyon, past the occasional homestead and with lots of shelter from a brisk wind that was making itself known. But I was happy. It was liberating to be truly on my own again and even moreso out here where there was not much of anything or anyone. I didn’t see another soul until I dropped down the hill from the Patterson Canyon and was smashed in the face by the Plains of San Augstin.
Oh my God!
I’ve never been so profoundly affected by scenery in my life and I have seen a lot of it. Spread out in front of me was hugeness. The hugest hugeness you have ever seen. A massive wide open plain that hurt my eyes with its massiveness. I genuinely pulled up and gawped. My crap photography just does not do it justice. When you come from a small country this place will do your head in with it’s wideness. It certainly did mine. I felt an overwhelming sense of scale by being here. A tiny dot on a massive landscape. And then there was the “Oh shit” moment of realising I had to ride over that lot. It was going to take hours!
I recovered my senses enough to realise I needed water. I’d been told to look for a church but all I could see was a large ranch and a Mexican rancher fixing a fence. Turns out he didn’t speak English and my Spanish is actually French. After miming drinking with a bit of praying he got the idea and pointed to a building next to the ranch that looked nothing like a church. I’d heard that they often left water in the porch for Divide riders. But nothing was visible. After two circuits of the place I managed to find a black rubber hose hiding in a flower bed.
I filled my bladder from it nearly scalding my hands. It had been in the sun all day and the water was close to boiling point. Running it through would have been bad form in an area so dry so I’d have to put up with it. I set off across the plain into the wind with only hot water for comfort.
The ride was tough as the route climbed slowly into the wind. I began to resent the plain and its lack of shelter. Expansive views are all very well but it helps if there’s a little bit of shelter scattered within. Progress was slow and grindy. I stopped for a squashed Subway sandwich break. That didn’t help. A couple of Snickers bars proved no distraction so I tried a bit of shouting “fuck off” which worked for a few seconds but had no lasting effect.
Everything changed on the O Bar O Road. I think that’s what it’s called, it’s what the map says. This road headed east and down and seemed to have it’s own special wind that blowed down it. As soon as I hit it my bike gained a virtual motor. I need to look at the profile again as I can’t quite explain how quickly it went from “Oh shit” to “OH SHEEEET I’m fast”. I hammered down this tree lined road a very happy boy. It just kept on giving as I left the trees and progress was dialled up to “rapid”. There were a few little climbs to be dealt with but nothing anywhere near as annoying as me.
I soon had the Beaverhead Work station in my sights. This is a very important landmark for any Tour Divide rider as it has a soda machine. There are other attractions such as a campground, toilet, decent views and resident forestry workers. But soda machine has to be top of the list. By the time you’ve arrived here all you’re thinking about is a cold can of something. You don’t care what just as long as it’s cold and wet.
The corollary to the legend of the soda machine is that it never works. So get here when the station is open and there’s a member of staff to help you out. Sure enough it refused all of my money and I had to summon a strapping fireman to open the machine for me. I took 3 cans of Pepsi and he took a few dollars off me. At this point I would have bet that these were the most welcome drinks I’d had on the ride. But spoiler alert, there is a better one to come.
I sat cuddling my colas and contemplating my next steps. It was close to 7pm, not much light left. Nearly 70 miles to Silver City then 120 to the finish. I was pretty much bollocksed but the end was within grasp. The route had entered the Gila Forest, a wild and enticing landscape, but peppered with steep stabby climbs. I knew that the ride to Silver City was going to be tough. But I needed to work off three cans of Pepsi so I decided to keep going into the night for as long as I could.
The climb out of Beaverhead was a right bastard. As were the next set of climbs that kept coming and coming with disturbing regularity. I pushed a lot of steep corners and kept a worrying eye on a forest fire that was brewing to my left. Darkness strangely made things easier as I lived within the bubble of my lights. Unable to see crests and simply grinding on until it got easier. No expectation other than forward motion. However, descents needed care. The road surface was large graded gravel. Corners were worryingly slippy and the steepness didn’t help.
The Gila slowed me a lot. It took three hours to do 21 miles and by Lower Black Canyon I’d started making mistakes. The heroics had to stop and sleep needed to take its turn. A campground appeared, a binary decision easily made.
I spotted three other cyclists camping as I wheeled in and wondered whether these were Divide racers? If so who were they? Zoe, Scott or Dylan? Morning would tell as the current priority was sleep.