Tour Divide Diaries

Note: While Nick is away racing Tour Divide, I'll be keeping a regular blog rolling to help share the story of life out on the trail. Nick asked that I not only collect his highs and lows throughout TD but also my own experience as his dot-stalker wife. Things rarely move fast during TD, but time seems to slip away nonetheless. This is our shot at capturing the important moments together. - Kristen
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Tuesday, June 19
Day 12

Buckle up buttercup, the TD roller coaster is about to leave the station! 

We're 12 days into Tour Divide and the road is starting to get a little bumpy. Nick has been dealing with a sick stomach for the past 48 hours but is slowly making his way forward while recovering.  It's been a horrific first week and a half of racing with freezing rain and muddy roads and these conditions have not only slowed the pace but they've added extra stress on the body. That means everyone out there is ripe for catching stomach bugs or respiratory viruses. Dangerous territory here. 

Luckily, Nick's stomach bug seems to be fading away and he's getting back on top of his energy after a couple days of not eating. He still needs to keep things pretty controlled for the next day or two but I'm confident this is just a blip in the story. 

 A muddy bike from so much rain!

A muddy bike from so much rain!

After Nick and the crew left Squirrel Creek Campground, they climbed their way out of Idaho and into Wyoming just north of the Grand Tetons. Paul Legan, Nicks's super supportive (and hilarious) dad wanted to make a funny joke about the Tetons here.... but we'll just leave that up to you all for now (add a joke in the comment section below)!

This is about when Nick's stomach started to go and he hobbled his way through Grand Teton National Park and cruised into a lodge near Colter Bay for the night. Unfortunately, this illness meant splitting from the Fantastic Four-pack (which was down to a 3-pack by this point) and it would mean he'd be spending some time on his on in the coming days. But that's how it goes and Nick needed to take care of himself so they all said goodbye and hoped that maybe they'd see each other farther down the road. 

After a good night of sleep, Nick hit the road this morning in good spirits and with determination. He seemed positive and happy tonight when we chatted quickly and I think another good night sleep and a whole bunch of food tomorrow will spin things back on track. 

The hardest part about being a support person is not being able to help when your rider is going through the low points on this roller coaster ride. A phone call, some encouraging words, an ear to listen is all we can offer. And when our rider is really struggling, all you want to do is go be with them, but you can't. And that sucks. 

 Majestic Crested Butte 

Majestic Crested Butte 

Nick and I worked on this rider/supporter dynamic quite a bit this time around. For me, knowing what to say or how to say it can make a huge difference for Nick, who is going to feed off of any emotion or tone or words. Being super positive and upbeat is OK for some situations but it can also just frustrate or annoy a rider who just needs to vent about the shit conditions or how bad they feel. It's all about reading the situation and then doing your best to be there in the way they need you at that point. 

It's different for every rider, but for Nick, we've come to understand that during these low moments, we have to focus on problem solving. Yes, he needs to express the negatives or the pain he's in but then it's all about zeroing in on what the problem is and how he (we) can fix it. Your stomach hurts? OK, find foods that you can eat, pedal slowly so you can absorb these foods, then stop somewhere you can get some real rest. And that's what we've been doing, and it seems to be working. 

Tomorrow, Nick is tackling Union Pass, a big one that will drop him into Pinedale and then to Boulder. He's closing in on the Great Basin, a huge stretch of mostly flat, windy, and very remote riding across Wyoming. It's over 100 miles with no services, no resupply, and no mercy if you're not feeling great. So Nick is working hard on getting his stomach back in shape and his energy stores topped off before reaching this lonely stretch of road. It'll be a couple slower days ahead but it'll pay off down the road when he's healthy again. 

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As for me, I've been living a completely opposite life of my husband the past few days. I'm in Crested Butte, Colorado, one of the most beautiful places on earth, riding mountain bikes with little effort (thanks to the chairlifts) and enjoying some wonderful weather. It almost seems wrong to be here while he's off suffering but I know Nick is proud of the event I helped organize out here and he wouldn't want it any other way. Well, maybe he would like to be here rather than be suffering like a dog in the middle of Wyoming. But hopefully we'll make it back down to the Butte later this summer for some relaxing mountain riding together. If he still wants to ride a bike after this Tour Divide adventure... 

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Sunday, June 17
Day 10

And we're back! Sorry about missing a Tour Divide update yesterday but Nick and the crew took a rest day so I decided to as well. They may deserve the rest a little bit more, however. In any case, after two big days, super late nights, cold, rain, and lots and lots of mud, Nick and a couple other TD riders decided to make short day of it yesterday and then hole up in Lima, Montana to dry out and get some sleep. They seemed very excited for a little time off the bike and to be out of their wet cycling clothing. 

 Crossing the border on our 2016 trip together.  

Crossing the border on our 2016 trip together.  

On Friday, I mentioned they'd made it through Old Bannack Road without dealing with the peanut butter mud. I was wrong. Just as they hit the dirt it started to sprinkle and then rained harder and harder until the road beneath them was a sticky mess. But the group pushed on toward Lima and were able to get some slow miles in late into the night. So when they hit the small town of Lima yesterday morning, it wasn't a hard decision to spend some time taking care of their bodies, their drivetrains, and their minds by a day off the bike. 

After doing laundry, eating lots of meals, and napping throughout the day, they all went to bed early and then hit the road super early this morning with their eyes on a 140-mile day that would end at Squirrel Creek campsite in Idaho. Midway through the ride they said goodbye to a soggy Montana and ventured into the short section through Idaho around Island Park. 

After Island Park comes a long section of rail trail that is a nice and gentle grade but has bone-jarring washboard surface and some loose, sandy ruts. It can be really draining on the body from all of those bumps but also draining on the mind from having to stay alert the whole time. The good news is that this section is predominantly flat or slightly downhill so the uncomfortable miles go pretty quickly. 

 Rails to Trails are the best..... 

Rails to Trails are the best..... 

The group made it through most of Idaho today and will likely cross the boarder into Wyoming tomorrow. They made it to Squirrel Creek Campground, just as they had planned despite more rain and bad weather. Nick and I stopped here for our first night during our 2016 bike packing trip. We started in Flag Ranch, Wyoming in the afternoon and rode a shorter day to kick off our adventure. Just as we were coming down a quick, gravely descent, we came across this campground with bikes on the sign out front and a welcoming feel. It was a great way to kick off our adventure together and I'm happy Nick is back there with some happy memories to keep pushing him forward. 

 Not bad. Unfortunately, it looks quite a bit more wet and chilly this year. 

Not bad. Unfortunately, it looks quite a bit more wet and chilly this year. 

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Friday, June 15
Day 8

Oh, what a week it's been. Hooray for Friday. Nick and the TD riders officially broke the one-week barrier and things have certainly spread out between the front pack and the rest of the riders. Looks like Lewis Ciddor from Melbourne, Australia is still in the lead at the front of the race and he just finished up the long push through the Great Basin in Wyoming. Lewis also just crossed paths with the lead north-bound racer, Dom Irvine from Great Britain. That would be a pretty cool meeting, hopefully they stopped and chatted a bit before racing on toward their respective finish lines. 

 Photo: Blackfoot Angler Fly Shop in Ovando

Photo: Blackfoot Angler Fly Shop in Ovando

Nick and the crew made it to Wise River super late last night. They summited and descended Fleecer Ridge at night, which sounded terrifying. This ridge is so steep and barely a path that it's basically unridable during the day. At night, it's most certainly a hike-a-bike down the mountain. But they made it through relatively unscathed, other than the extreme fatigue of a huge day. They finished up with over 12,000 feet of climbing for the day and rolled into the small town of Wise River around 2:30am. 

A short nights sleep and they were back at it this morning. Luckily, a lot of today's ride was on pavement so that meant some faster miles. It also meant a stop at the Montana High Country Lodge in Polaris, Montana for lunch. Nick and I stayed at this lodge on our bikepacking trip in 2016 after battling a long day that included a freezing downpour, crazy winds, and riding on a highway (something I really hate). It wasn't the best day ever on a bike, that's for sure, but rolling into this lodge, completely soaked, cold, and tired, it ended up not too bad after all. 

We weren't originally planning to stay in this lodge on our trip together but the weather turned for the worse that day and we made a strategic call to avoid peanut-buttery thick mud along Bannack road and cut over to Polaris for a luxurious night indoors. We were lucky, or smart in Nick, the navigator's case, to make this call because we awoke to an inch of snow on the ground outside and sub-freezing temperatures. A freak mid-July snow storm! That would have really put a damper on our vacation. 

 Snow in July? No prob. Wearing every piece of clothing we brought to descend down from Polaris. 

Snow in July? No prob. Wearing every piece of clothing we brought to descend down from Polaris. 

But, back to Nick, they grabbed some lunch and sandwiches to go at the Montana High Country Lodge and then set out to get past Bannack before a potential rainstorm moved in. Nick wouldn't be able to bypass the awful, sticky mud this time around if they got caught in the rain. But I think they made it through in time and are still out riding on toward Lima. I don't think they'll make it all the way to Lima tonight but they're just about to crest a long 20-mile climb and will have a nice downhill roll into Lima in the morning. If I remember correctly, it should be fairly flat for the next 150-200 mils, which I'm sure the everyone will be relieved about.

I'm hoping to hear from Nick tomorrow and get the lowdown on the last couple of days so I don't have to keep deciphering blue dot movements and stops. 

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Thursday, June 14
Day 7

Danga Zone! (You have to say that like Sterling Archer from cartoon show Archer).  Tour Divide has entered its 7th day and that means bodies are starting to fall apart, minds are starting to go a little fuzzy, and emotions are running high. Riders have put in some long days and the lack of sleep is starting to catch up with them. But it seems like Nick and the posse are staying strong and consistent with their pace and are keeping each other motivated along the way. 

Today's adventure started in Helena and then headed directly up the twisty, rooty Lava Mountain. This climb probably causes some mixed feelings for Nick as he's had two very different experiences on it. The first was back in 2013 when he first tried TD. He was feeling like a new man after a good night sleep in Helena, a shower, and having done all of his laundry the night before. It was a cooler day in Montana and the rain was starting to drizzle but Nick started chugging up the climb, feeling revived from his night in Helena. He came across a small puddle in the middle of the narrow trail and decided to roll through it since it was pretty insignificant and wouldn't be a big deal. Then...

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Splat! A small puddle turned into a deep, watery hole, and Nick put his front wheel straight into it. Getting caught off guard, the puddle swallowed him, fully submerging his entire bike and body in its icy, murky waters. Everything was wet. And while that was bad enough, this icy mountain puddle in the middle of the trail didn't smell like just a normal puddle. It took a few minutes of shivering and shaking out clothes and then the stench started to creep up and up and up until it was very clear that, as Nick says, some bear must have had a really bad night the night before and used this puddle for something we don't really want to think about.

I don't think Nick found too many friends to ride with over the next few days... 

The other experience with Lava Mountain was on our bikepacking trip together in 2016. We were touring the route north and I think this is the better way to ride this section. It's twisty and rooty and starts to feel like a mountain biking on singletrack. Nick and I had a great time descending this mountain, jumping off little water bars, skidding through corners, and dodging overgrown trees. We rolled north into Helena with huge grins on our faces wishing that the descent would have gone on just a little longer. I doubt he was wishing for anything to be longer this time around.

After Lava Mountain your get some run, rolling climbs and some bigger descents into Butte. There's lots of great places to stock up on food and water in Butte and even get a meal at good restaurant if you want. I think Nick and the crew swept through Butte pretty fast, however, just stopping at grocery to refuel and then hit the road with eyes on Wise River for the night. That's about 50 miles past Butte and includes the notorious climb and descent of Fleecer Ridge, so it could turn into a late night of riding. 

I'll wait until tomorrow to talk about Fleecer. Nick and I actually skipped it on our tour because, well, we were on vacation and when you don't want to go up a hike-a-bike (going north) climb, you don't. They'll be doing this in the dark and I'm very interested to hear about the experience descending Fleecer at night. 

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Cori and I have been up to the usual. Work, work, work. Cori's "work" has recently added the new task of laying out in the backyard all day and sunning herself in 98-degree heat. Fur coat, what?!? Of course she has to work this new task into her regular work schedule of guarding the house from the evil squirrel empire that is most definitely going to take over the world unless she keeps them in check. Or maybe she just wants to give them a great big Cori hug... we'll probably never know because she's never going to catch one at this rate. 

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Wednesday, June 13
Day 6

Nick spent the night in a teepee. Life on the Divide doesn't get much better than that. A (kinda) roof over your head, protection from the wind, and enough room to actually sit up in the middle of the night if you so choose. Bliss. The Fantastic Four-Pack as I call them, made it to Ovando, Montana late last evening and hunkered down for a restful night of sleep. 

Ovando is one of the coolest little towns there is along the Tour Divide route. I'm not even sure you can call it a town because it's so small but there is a glorious restaurant, The Stray Bullet, and a small shop that carries a few small bike supplies and extra gear in case TD riders find themselves in need. The town itself is centered more around servicing the fishermen that come through on a regular basis but during the month of June, they open their arms and help support the many Tour Divide riders who filter through. 

 Scenes from Ovando and Lincoln on our bikepacking adventure in 2016

Scenes from Ovando and Lincoln on our bikepacking adventure in 2016

Just steps away from the home cooking and great coffee found at The Stray Bullet is a teepee, covered wagon, and jailhouse that TD riders can camp out in during their ride. It's a treat to not have to set up your tent that night and just sit back and relax with a little more protection from the elements and the bears (are we starting to see a theme here about my bigger fears...?) 

Nick and I ended our weeklong trip along the divide in 2016 in Ovando and it was a magical place to finish. Maybe I was just happy to get off my bike for the final time but sitting at the cafe, sipping an ice cold beer with the promise of clean clothes, stout floats, and great friends in Missoula, I couldn't have been happier. 

After a great big breakfast in Ovando, Nick and his crew headed off to the best mountain climb of the hole trip if I do say so myself. Huckleberry Pass is a wonderfully gentle grade that is full of shady switchbacks and actual huckleberry bushes growing along the side of the road. Don't know what huckleberries are? Neither did I until that climb. But they are similar to blueberries with a tart kick to them and you can eat them off the side of trails all over this area. 

 One of only two Great Divide Mountain Bike Route signs along the Tour Divide trail lives just outside of Helena. 

One of only two Great Divide Mountain Bike Route signs along the Tour Divide trail lives just outside of Helena. 

After Huckleberry Pass is Lincoln, Montana. This town is most notorious for Chris Froome running up Monte Ventoux in stage 12 of the 2016 Tour de France. How is this town connected to that crazy event you may ask? Well, Nick and I got to stream most of the Tour that year as we bikepacked through Montana. We were in our tent, getting ready to head out for the day when all shit hit the fan in France. It's a weird association, I know, but Lincoln, Montana will forever be known for Froome's epic run to save his Tour. 

Finally, Nick and the crew made it to Helena this evening. Actually, they're making it into town right now as I write. It sounds like Nick had a rough day today on the bike and I'm anxious to hear what he's feeling. Is it an injury, a stomach issue, or just tired from riding his bike across the country? Probably a little of everything. But hopefully they'll have an earlier night and get some good sleep and a couple of good meals in to help turn things around. Day 6 is always a bitch. It's the turning point of when your body is fighting so hard against this ongoing stress of continually riding your bike.

In the next day or two is when the magic starts to happen and your body gives in and accepts this is the new normal. But until that switch is flipped, it can be agony. Luckily, Nick has a crew of wonderful people around him who are supporting each other and helping each other through the hard parts. So thank you Laura Anderson, Jesse Crocker, and Charlie Hayes, not to mention the many other riders who have been crossing paths with the Fantastic Four-Pack. You are all crushing it out there! 

 Just outside of Helena, Nick and I stopped for snacks at the summit of a climb. This Zebra cake made me so happy because it reminded me of good friend Kate Powlison. I don't remember why I have this association but it makes me smile every time. 

Just outside of Helena, Nick and I stopped for snacks at the summit of a climb. This Zebra cake made me so happy because it reminded me of good friend Kate Powlison. I don't remember why I have this association but it makes me smile every time. 

Oh, and just in case you were concerned.... the St. Paul Raccoon made it to the top of the building! He scaled the building, maneuvering his way up 23 or 24 stories of vertical concrete, avoided the glowing red signs at the top (badass), then fell for a cat food-trap on the roof.... You win some, you lose some. Luckily for him, it was a live trap and he is now on his way to be relocated, which the raccoon says he's thankful for because Twitter stardom just doesn't suit his bandito lifestyle. The end. 

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Tuesday, June 12
Day 5

Tell me world, how the hell am I supposed to worry about both Nick and that damn raccoon stranded on a building in St. Paul, Minnesota? This lady here only has so much stress and worry to spread around and you are running me thin! 

If this makes no sense to you, good, you've succeeded in not getting sucked into the ridiculous drama that has unfolded over the past few days in the midwest. A silly little raccoon started climbing a building one day and decided to just keep going. Now, the world is freaking out because it's been stuck on a window ledge for 2 days without food or water. Yes, I am one of those people. Ridiculous, I know. But you thought dot-watching was bad.... try checking the Twitter #mprracoon hashtag!

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Well, hopefully that made Nick laugh if he happens to read this in the next few days. Right now, he just summited Richmond Peak and probably had to hike the last few miles in knee-deep snow. If that doesn't add a crack to your TD fortitude, then I don't know what will. The good news is that after descending this snow covered peak, Nick will have a few rolling miles into the town of Ovando, a Tour Divide oasis in the middle of Montana that is sure to boost his happiness (if it even faded in the first place). 

2 summers ago, Nick and I did a weeklong bikepacking trip along the Great Divide route starting at the Grand Tetons (Wyoming) and finishing in Ovando. This was an incredible week of riding bikes together. We took our time but still kept a pretty good pace averaging about 100 miles a day. We stopped and ate real meals, spent time setting up photos along the way, and focused on fun rather than the miles. It was a great way for Nick to experience the Tour Divide route in a different light and for me to get a taste of what it's like to be out there riding all day. 

 10 minutes into a 500-mile trip and we were ducking into a camp bathroom to hide from hail and lightning... 

10 minutes into a 500-mile trip and we were ducking into a camp bathroom to hide from hail and lightning... 

So... the next few days are going to probably be a trip down memory lane. Be warned. But I promise it'll all be fun and of course, I'll keep you all updated on #mprracoon. Go little buddy, go!

 
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Monday, June 11
Day 4

Confessions of a dot-stalker wife

Staring at a computer screen should not feel like this. It should not cause this kind of anxiety. The kind that starts as a simmer then grows and grows and grows until you just can’t stand it anymore. Giving in to this unwieldy emotion, you hit the refresh button gently, then give it another more aggressive click or two, urging the page along with hopes that it reloads a little bit faster than last time.

This is what it’s like to be a dot-stalker wife (or husband or friend or family member) with a loved one on Tour Divide. Our best friends are out riding bikes through some of the most beautiful, expansive, intimidating, harsh, remote, divine environments in the world,  and we’re left to anxiously await the sporatic movements of a little blue dot.

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TrackLeaders.com is the source of this anxiety. Well, maybe it’s the enabler. Tour Divide is the source, TrackLeaders.com just allows us to waste too much time and energy following a slow motion bike race across the country. It allows us to constantly wonder why that stupid blue dot hasn’t moved in 20 minutes (love you honey!) and allows us to overanalyze every movement, every stop, every step off course with the fear that something has gone wrong. It urges us to make assumptions of what’s going on out there with only a fraction of the information so we can come up with our own reality.

You stopped 30 minutes to eat your burrito on top of a ridge during a spectacular sunset? Wow, sounds lovely. I assumed you had been eaten by a bear and that’s why you hadn’t moved for so long. Thanks Track Leaders….

OK, OK, maybe that’s all an exaggeration and I don’t always think something is going seriously wrong when Nick’s blue dot takes a break. But it can be stressful when all you can do is stare at the computer screen trying to glean any information off the pace, the topo map, and the surrounding dots to make sure your loved one is OK. Riders can go days without cell reception and some TD rides probably don’t check in as often as Nick. So, for us at home, this is all we’ve got.

 I'm watching you while you sleep..... nothing creepy about that!

I'm watching you while you sleep..... nothing creepy about that!

Don’t get me wrong, I love TrackLeaders.com. Can you image how much worse it would be NOT knowing any of this? Not knowing if your TD rider is moving or sleeping or eating a burrito or being eaten by an imaginary bear? So much worse. I am so thankful to have this program and for the people behind Track Leaders who work tirelessly to keep thing running smoothly. Thank you Matthew Lee and Scott Morris!

All joking aside, it has been a pleasantly relaxing and fun go at Tour Divide for this dot-stalker. Nick is riding well and feeling strong, which is a relief not only as his wife but as his coach. And even more importantly, he’s having a great time out there. Every time we talk, he’s excited to tell me about the day and the other riders and how they managed through tough sections of trail. It’s incredible what a difference attitude and confidence can do for a ride like TD.

Interestingly, with Nick’s confidence and ease out on the trail, I’ve been far less obsessive about the NL little blue dot on the map. I haven’t been constantly checking Track Leaders for new information or tried to figure out what’s going on by the pace or number of stops each day. When you know your rider is in a good place mentally and physically, you don’t worry as much about the pace or the stops. You don’t worry that a knee or an Achilles has them sidelined questioning if a finish is possible. Instead, you go on with your daily life. You get back to work (I swear I’m working Doyne!). You take Cori for a double walk day because she needs a little extra love too with Nick being gone. You live. 

Just as importantly, you start getting excited to see where that little blue dot has moved instead of dreading it. You actually look forward to pushing the refresh button each time you check in. And you start to accept that you won’t know exactly what’s going on or what the little blue dot, or rather, what Nick is doing as you drift off to sleep.  Where do you think he’ll be in the morning when you wake up? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out.

 Time to get back to life at home. That means mountain bikes and summer trails. 

Time to get back to life at home. That means mountain bikes and summer trails. 

 

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Sunday, June 10
Day 3

Just a quick update today - Nick is crushing the miles and having a blast out there. Despite some pretty nasty conditions including hail, sleet, and snow on top of Galton Pass, he was happy and feeling strong as he rolled into Eureka, Montana. Nick has been riding with a couple other Tour Divide riders who happen to be from Boulder or nearby Colorado towns. It's always funny to me when we travel long distances or take on huge adventures and then end up riding with people who live down the street. But that's the randomness of it all.

On the other hand, Nick wound up riding with a couple of Kiwis during TD a couple years ago and has kept up with them over all these years. It just goes to show that near or far, neighbors or long-distance friends, this event brings people together if you allow it to. And I'm relieved and excited for Nick to find some excellent company out there when the vastness of the trip and surroundings can so easily make you feel small.

 From Galton Pass

From Galton Pass

For me, today was filled with travel home from Canada (goodbye sweet Banff) and an afternoon of getting chased around the backyard by my little 2-year-old nephew while he tried to spray me with the hose. Ah, family. I also got to pick up Cori Dogg after a 2-week grandparent spa retreat. I'm pretty sure she would have rather stayed with them a little longer but it's good to have her home and get back to some normal life for this week. 

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Saturday, June 9
Day 2


Soggy, slow conditions hit Nick and his fellow TD riders today but they’re chugging along nonetheless. Nick was in good spirits despite the weather when we chatted this morning as he rode into Fernie. He was eager to spend a little time in town drying out and restocking supplies before the big push to the border. A lodge in town was offering laundry service to TD riders and Nick was stoked to use the dryers to try and de-soak himself and all of his gear.

 Views from my hike but I bet they were pretty similar to Nick's views all day

Views from my hike but I bet they were pretty similar to Nick's views all day

Rain overnight and through the day made for drenched roads and malfunctioning drivetrains for much of the day. Chains were dropping left and right, breaks were getting junked up, and riders were forced to take frequent stops to work on their bikes. It has certainly slowed things down these first few days and will likely continue for a couple more. But Nick seems to have it under control and isn’t stressed about the lower mileage days. Things will come around and they’ll get some sunny skies soon.

He did seem grumpy about one thing, however, and that was the Koko Claims Pass he hiked up Friday evening. Sounds like that is just a punch in the face no matter what the conditions are and Nick wasn’t shy about expressing his distaste for it – I think there was a “I don’t think I’ll come back to TD if this section is still included.” Isn't it funny how our short term memory works to erase the pain and suffering through races like this? I bet by the end of the week, he'll have forgotten about it and would totally come back to TD even with that section included. Also, that could have been the fatigue speaking but it sounds like that section is pretty uninspiring. But it’s behind them now so he’s looking forward.

 Rainy, soggy weather all day

Rainy, soggy weather all day

Nick should cross the border into the U.S. on day 3 and will hopefully use Eureka to dry out again and get some big meals in. Sending sunny thoughts his way.

My last day in Banff was pretty spectacular once again. With rain and thunderstorms in the morning, I had a lazy start to the day and was waiting for Nick to check in from Fernie. Once I heard from him I headed out onto the local trails and set off up Mt. Rundle. The steep, rocky trail was tough going but the views of the Banff valley below were incredible.

Setting out on this hike alone, I was a little nervous about bears. It sounds like the grizzlies and black bears are everywhere around here and Nick made me get some bear spray before he left. So, I had some fun taking photos of the bear spray to send to him as a joke and hopefully make him laugh. No bear sightings however, and I'm feeling slightly relieved but also kind of like I got gypped. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to come back here again :) 

 Sending funny photos to Nick to make him smile :) 

Sending funny photos to Nick to make him smile :) 

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Friday, June 8
Day 1

Ready, Set, Go! Tour Divide 2018 kicked off this morning with one of the most beautiful send offs I’ve ever seen. Set in the shadows of Banff’s stunning Canadian Rockies and surrounded by fragrant pines, nearly 180 riders passed through the start line as they pedaled off in search of Mexico.   

 TD start line. It's our 4th anniversary today!

TD start line. It's our 4th anniversary today!

The full TD route covers about 2700 miles with over 200,000 feet of elevation gain. Some will finish in under 20 days (the record is 13 days and 22 hours by the late, great Mike Hall), some will finish in far more. But finish is the central goal for everyone. As Nick always reminds me for these long adventures we take on each year, finishing isn’t a guarantee, no matter who you are.

Today, Nick set off on his 2018 TD adventure with a giant smile and calm demeanor. This is certainly the most relaxed I’ve ever seen him before an event and I’m excited to see how it plays out on the road. His plan to start a bit slower than usual will hopefully help ease him into TD mode after a crazy and hectic last few months. This time around is all about that finish line, no matter how many days, and I think that is going to make all the difference.

 Setting off with a smile and a wave. 

Setting off with a smile and a wave. 

We’re just 12 hours into the race and Nick is about to crest the Koko Pass hike-a-bike section. New to the course in the last few years, this section of trail is brutal. Loose, jagged rocks make much of the climb un-rideable, meaning six miles of pushing your heavy, loaded bike up the rough terrain. It’s slow going but it looks like Nick has some great friends and fellow riders around to minimize the slog. And that is what it’s all about.

As Nick gradually pedals his way into the night and wraps up his first day of TD, I’m still reeling from my time in Banff, Canada so far. This place is so unbelievably beautiful it doesn’t feel real. Around every corner is another brilliant blue, glacial lake, stunning snowcapped mountain peaks, and perfect dirt trails leading off in every direction. Pure outdoor perfection.

After giving Nick a kiss, a hug, and high five as he rode off this morning, I ventured out with some new friends and fellow TD rider family members to explore more of this gorgeous location. We headed to Lake Louise for the day to experience the magnificent turquoise lake nestled amongst the mountains and fed by glacial runoff. It’s the most vibrant body of water I’ve ever seen and the picturesque setting along with the frigid water temperature will take your breath away.

 Lake Louise

Lake Louise

We snapped our tourist photos of the lake quickly before seeking out quieter trails that offered an elevated perspective. Hiking is abundant in Banff and we set out for the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail which follows along Lake Louise for several kilometers before climbing up toward the three glaciers that feed this brilliant blue lake. The trek was gorgeous, of course it was, it’s Banff. Some recent avalanches made much of the upper trail a snowy slip ‘n slide but we managed our way through and continued climbing toward winter. But as the snow got deeper and the trail got less traveled, we were urged on by the promise of apple cake and coffee at a remote tea house nestled between mountains.

What a treat it is to hike for several hours up rocky, twisty, snowy trails and find yourself seated at a rustic tea house with snacks, views, and good company. Supplies for the tea house must be brought up by horse and about 10 workers rotate through during the summer, living in cabins nearby and cooking up tasty treats for hungry hikers all day. An oasis in the mountains.

From the tea house, the trail continues on for several kilometers more, taking you to a viewpoint where you can see all three glaciers that feed into Lake Louise. Victoria Glacier is the most well-known of the three and was spectacular. We stood in a trance for several minutes just admiring the massive scale of it all and feeling very small ourselves. Just as we turned to head back down, a gentle crack and slow rumble filled the air. We whipped around to find ourselves with front row seats to a minor avalanche rolling off the glacier cliff and tumbling into the snow below.

 Pre Avalanche! 

Pre Avalanche! 

I’ll admit it, I was unabashedly freaked by this event. We were far enough away that the tumbling snow was just a distant geological event that surely couldn’t reach us. But the sound of the snow cracking off the side of the glacier and the deep rumbling of the mountain as the snow shattered down the side of the cliff was unsettling. Beautiful. But terrifying.

What if that small slide triggers a bigger one? Look at all that snow and ice up there just waiting to crack off and rumble down toward us. Of course, these panicked thoughts were irrational. That slab of ice has been sitting up there for thousands of years and each year, small packs of snow regularly come crashing down as the spring heats up and the snowpack becomes unstable. But seeing it, feeling it happen right in front of you is enough to send all the sense and rational thought out the door.

We watched the snow come to a stop, remarked on the extraordinary feeling of seeing it so close and then turned to head back down the mountain. This time, a little quicker than before. THEN! 10 minutes later we felt and saw another minor slide happen off a completely different rock cliff. Once again we said our oooos and aaaahs while I quietly trembled inside, then hustled down the mountain to make our shuttle back to town.

Hoping Nick's day was a bit less stressful but still filled with gorgeous views.

Blood, Flint, and Hills

by Jason Gaikowski

It’s hot.

It’s hot and I’m surrounded by a chorus of camera shutters singing snap, click, pop to an irregular tune. Microphones joust about. Thrusting there and there and here, seeking to hit a pithy remark. Beneath the din of questioning voices, camera noises sound metallic and mechanical. The clicks sound real, but digital cameras don’t have mechanical shutters, and so the tune is unreal. Which is fitting. Because everything about this moment is unreal.

An early December email reads “A Special Invitation from Dirty Kanza.”  350 miles. 15,000’ of climbing. Fully self supported. Huge send-off with lots of fanfare. Invitation only. Honored to be counted among the iconic likes of Hauswald, Rusch and Godfrey, I reply yes. And now we’re here standing in the hot Kansas sun as Jim Cummins shares that this was his and Joel’s first dream. Inspired by Trans-Iowa, a 350 mile journey through the Flint Hills.

 Photo by Jason Gaikowski

Photo by Jason Gaikowski

Standing at this starting line is unreal. 34 riders outnumbered two-fold by enthusiastic photographers. Ten-fold by friends and family. Twenty-fold by locals and Saturday starters. Meiser, Mailen and Gersib. Legan's, Wintle's, and O’Mara's. People I’ve known for years mixed with people I’ve yet to know bound by a shared love of great distance and lonely roads.

The sendoff is huge; the fanfare is completely unreal. Finally we’re OFF! We string out to find room in the narrow corridor of well-wishers, down the alley, left then right on Mechanic street to find our police escort out of town. The pavement is smooth, the spirits are high, and the breeze feels nice. It’s pleasant couple of miles. We turn right, hit pay-dirt, and so it begins. A long day’s journey into darkness.

Petervary’s dial up the pace, Hughes and Salsa boys give chase. Yuri’s in the mix along with Nick and KP Legan. I reach for some grit, grab a wheel and hang on, nearly pulling my teeth out as the pace rises from uncomfortable to unconscionable. Up the hill, over the hill. Across the wind, into the wind.

It’s hot, upper 90’s and a good five degrees warmer than forecast. It’s windy, mid-20’s and a good ten mph harder than forecast. Five and ten matter on a day like this. It’s humid, and as take a drink, I seriously wonder if three and a half liters will last the 50 miles to Madison. Twelve miles in and this group is down to 15. Five miles later we’re down to ten. Three miles more; they are down to 8 and I’m rolling solo wondering how I’ve gone through two liters already.

Looking to my Garmin, I discover that the course file is somehow corrupt as I ponder the direction of this next turn. Garmin one goes into a pocket; Garmin two takes its place and I’m grateful to have a backup for my backup plan. Nick rolls up as I’m making the switch and we join together and start catching up on our lives. Soon we join Sarah Cooper, we ride near one another for a while, our vain attempts failing to match pace over the unrelenting undulating climb into the breathy hot wind. And hour to Madison, maybe longer, and suddenly I’m fresh out of fluid.

Our chatter falls silent, beaten by the sun and drowned in the wind. Off to the right, cows cry out to one another as a herd gallops along, side-eyeing us inquisitively. Beads of perspiration stings my right eye as I wipe a dusty crust from the corner of my mouth. Cresting a hill, it dawns on me that this may be the hardest 50 miles I’ve seen in some time; and the greenest grass, and the bluest sky, and the most unreal ribbon of limestone. It’s beautiful, and I’m grateful to be here.

 Photo by Jason Gaikowski

Photo by Jason Gaikowski

Cowbells ring in my ears 6000 pedal strokes later. Clapping and cheering and 200 citizens of a small small town celebrating our arrival at the local convenience store. Proud to be on the map, thrilled to play a part in this adventure. Excitement buzzes in the air, and I feel awful. Gremlins play in my fuzzy head and twisted stomach as three and a half liters go on the bike, with one and half down the gullet, with a couple or rice cakes for good measure.

I ask Nick to remind me that that it gets better. The encouragement is a welcome salve even while I recognize that this first encounter with Doubt is an inevitable step in this journey. With the promise of a sunset just an hour down the road, we set off to seek the Darkness. And it gets better, just like it always does. It always gets better.

Come dusk the wind turns a bit friendlier. It’s humid, and still hot, but the roads have flattened and I settle into a serene state of lungs and legs and simple being. It’s a good pace; confident, steady and strong. We join up with John M who abruptly flats for no obvious reason, tire punctured by a sneaky sharp stone. We wait patiently as sealant fails, a plug fails, and a tube finds its place. Fifteen minutes is a small price to pay for the company as darkness falls into its full effect. Cory appears as we’re about to roll out, then Matt. We’re a tribe of five now, joined by the blood red moon off in the distance.

 Photo by Jason Gaikowski

Photo by Jason Gaikowski

An hour of storytelling follows, then another. Headlights and tails, left turns and rights. Snacks and maps and cue-sheets and with nothing to see, it’s a bit like riding rollers; ticking by the miles with focused mindless-ness. This is peaceful, and perfect, when someone shouts “RUTS!” And sure enough.

The night sky is dark and starless, and everything is very quiet, and very still, almost like floating. My helmet’s a bit crooked, hydration pack a bit out of place, and I take deep full cleansing breaths. In and out, and in and out, and I can see clearly for the first time since my glasses first coated with sweat hours and hours ago. Nick asks if I’m conscious, Matt inquires about my collarbone, and Cory wonders if there’s a bone poking through my sun-sleeve while John checks my bike.

I take a full deep cleansing breath. I stand, straighten my helmet, adjust my hydration pack, and attempt to clean the glasses someone has just handed me. The sweat salts smear, and I’m not quite certain whether I’m annoyed by the smear or by someone asking me who’s president. There’s blood on the ground, my elbow hurts and the ragged tear in my sleeve is growing ever more red. I want my peaceful perfect feeling back, to reclaim that moment before the shout. I need my bike, need to pedal, need to flush this adrenaline and get a clearer sense on the impact of this impact.

Three hours to civilization, maybe less. It’s an uphill start as I take a drink, take my bike and clip in. Three hours to civilization, maybe less. We pedal. They ask if I’m OK, but I’m not quite sure yet, and I say very little. Legs are good, back is good, neck is good. The bloody elbow bloody well hurts, but seems to be fading. I feel clear eyed and clear headed, but I can’t quite decipher the cause of this difficult breathing. Perhaps elevation, perhaps fatigue, or perhaps a fall; and only time will tell.

After a time, someone asks about my elbow and I respond with the story of Schrodinger’s Cat, and quantum superposition. When we reach civilization, I’ll look and my arm will either be good or bad, but until then not knowing can be better when there’s no real option but to keep moving forward. The story makes sense, or at least they pretend it does, and we continue on until our time to take a portrait on the famous Salsa Chaise.

 Photo courtesy of Salsa Cycles

Photo courtesy of Salsa Cycles

Ninety minutes to civilization, maybe less. Pedal, turn, drink; pedal, drink, turn. Blinking tail lights are a distraction from the mindless peace I’m trying to reclaim. The moon has floated higher in the night, and still it’s muggy. Moving to the front, I stretch a bit; calves, quads, back and neck. A drop of blood falls from my elbow and I wonder why the flesh insists on weeping; advancing the gore beyond the point of knowing it’s hurt but not injured. Breathing though, that’s the chore. Full deep breaths turn shallow, and lopsided. Every cough, laugh, and bump in the night stabbing a dagger into my side. Someone asks how I’d feeling and I tell them I’m fine, that my arm’s not a problem. Sixty minutes to civilization, maybe less.

In the restroom at Casey’s, running water reveals a puncture wound half the size of a dime. Don offer alcohol wipes, ointment, and a bandage as I drink some chocolate milk and inhale a slice of pizza. After a spell, our tribe rolls out again. Lightning flashes, winds gust, and every bump stabs in anger. Unable to breathe, I stop to text my wife and tell her I’m ok before turning back.

An hour later, we meet at Casey’s. Emergency lights blinking, she arrives escorted by a Sheriff who’s quick to warn me that she’s angry; that the van is out of gas, the tail lights aren’t working, and the tags are expired. With a kind face and kindly demeanor, he wants to warn me of a coming storm. Thunder rumbles. I look over at a dozen broken riders strewn about the curb; three napping, several eating, and all wondering if they will summon the strength to carry forward. My wife hugs me from behind and whispers; she’s not angry and never was. She buys a coffee to share as I load the bikes and fuel the van. I look around and it’s dark. People I’ve known for years adventuring over 350 miles in the Flint Hills; self-supported and supporting each other, alone and in this together. Jim and Joel’s first dream brought to life. And the scene is unreal.

Looking Ahead

I could not be more enthused for 2018. To say I'm stoked is an understatement. I have a huge calendar of gravel events in mind as well as some ultra-distance time trials. I'm going to ride some of those events on a singlespeed, others with gears. Some will be A races, others are for fun and training. The quick list includes the Rock Cobbler, Land Run, Trans Iowa, Almanzo, Dirty Kanza XL, and Gravel Worlds. I'm planning on returning to the 12-Hour World Time Trial Champsionships as well. I also have another TT project in mind, but I'm keeping that under wraps for now. 

I've took some time away from structured training after JayP's Gravel Pursuit. But I'm back at it, riding daily with intervals back underway. In late October I went on a 5-day bikepacking trip with Jim Cummins (a co-founder of Dirty Kanza alongside Joel Dyke) and three of his Emporia, Kansas riding buddies around the Flint Hills. I had an amazing time getting to know Jim better and meeting Shawn and Scott O'Mara and Ryan Balkenhol, all solid dudes. We had an absolute blast but it also served as a nice test of my residual fitness from this year. I struggled on the last day after four days of hard riding by all of us. It was good to go deep so late in the year. 

I've been playing with new diet options and working to strengthen my mind, body, and stomach. I also have more confidence when it comes to my training. I don't need as many hours on the bike now. Periodic long rides punctuate lots of intervals and strength work instead of dominating my time on the bike. That works out well, especially because I'm in the middle of a busy time in my career. 

With each passing year I have greater experience from which to draw. I learn with each race, each day on the bike. I also learn massive amounts from you, the gravel and endurance tribes. I love being a student of this little niche of the world. Here's to even more experimentation and learning in 2018!

Prepping for JayP's Gravel Pursuit

I’m heading to Jay Petervary’s Gravel Pursuit in a couple weeks. I’m excited to race it for the first time, to see some new roads, revisit some old roads, and hang with some amazing people. Idaho is one of my favorite places, having visited it on many occasions. It has some of the last, great wild spaces that the United States has to offer. It’s not a large state by some standards, but it packs in huge experiences.

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To prep for the event, I’ve gotten in several big days on the bike, including the 110-mile Buffalo Bicycle Classic in Boulder. Sure it’s a paved event, but it climbs plenty and stays high for a big part of it. I made a point of not drafting though to up the training load. I’ve also done a couple weeks of intervals to sharpen up.

The bike for this event is a test bike that I’ll review for Adventure Cyclist, Litespeed’s fantastic T5 Gravel bike. It debuted at Sea Otter earlier this year and while it clears 700x40mm or 650bx47mm tires with ease, the geometry is more road oriented than many gravel bikes. I already have a couple really long days on the Litespeed, including riding a “Grand Loop” with several friends from Boulder to Estes Park, then on to Grand Lake, Winter Park, Idaho Springs, Blackhawk, and back to Boulder.

Right after I signed up I contacted Jay for advice on tires and based on his recommendation, I’m running a big ‘ole 45mm WTB Riddle up front and Kenda’s excellent Flintridge 40mm on the rear. The Enve wheels I'm running are light, tough and offer an aerodynamic advantage.

 WTB's Riddler 45m should be up to the task of JayP's Gravel Pursuit.

WTB's Riddler 45m should be up to the task of JayP's Gravel Pursuit.

 At the back is a Kenda FlintRidge Pro in the 700x40mm size. 

At the back is a Kenda FlintRidge Pro in the 700x40mm size. 

Petervary recommends three water bottles for riders taking on the 120-mile event. While the Litespeed has three mounts, I decided to use Wolftooth’s B-RAD system to cram three large bottles inside the main triangle. I can access them all much more easily than it is to reach under the down tube for the third.

 Wolftooth's B-RAD System crams three cages inside the main triangle.

Wolftooth's B-RAD System crams three cages inside the main triangle.

I’ll carry some of my nutrition in a Profile Design top tube bag. I like its slim shape and that it bolts to the top tube of the Litespeed. The straps help stabilize it even more. A bar and five gels fit inside without much fuss. The rest of my food will go in my jersey pockets.

I’m not running aerobars though I frequently do for gravel races. In the case of the Gravel Pursuit I opted to save a bit of weight. Normally I’d mount my lights and GPS to the aerobars, pushing them forward. Instead my Wahoo Elemnt is mounted to the stem to track progress and record the ride. A Morsa Designs accessory mount pushes the Niterider light forward so that when riding out of the saddle, I’m not leaning forward into the glare. A Cateye rear blinking light is strapped on the left seatstay.

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My spares, including two inner tubes, patches, tire lever, multitool, section of chain, a quicklink, and a few other items are held in an aging Pedro’s seat bag. A Lezyne pump sits alongside one of my bottle cages

The 3T bar is stock on the Litespeed and it’s agreeing with me. I installed my usual Selle SMP Drakon saddle and a pair of long spindle iSSi Flash II pedals to ensure posterior and knee comfort.

 Selle SMP's Drakon is a favorite. So too is the aging Pedro's seatbag. 

Selle SMP's Drakon is a favorite. So too is the aging Pedro's seatbag. 

I’ll make my clothing decision on the morning but I plan on carrying a Gore ShakeDry jacket as an absolute minimum. Arm warmers and knee warmers seem likely as well. If I had a crystal ball, it would probably predict a cycling cap, wool gloves, a baselayer, short sleeve jersey, and bib shorts in my future. I’ll wear my favorite Shimano XC90 cycling shoes, Adidas photochromic glasses and a Scott helmet

The other item that the local forest service recommends is bear spray. I’ll bring some up with me and attend the riders’ meeting to get a sense of activity in the area. That’ll determine whether I carry it.

I’m really curious how I’ll feel during a race this long so late in the season. But this time last year I was prepping for the 12-Hour World Time Trial Championships and pouring on the miles. I have good fitness and feel good about riding solidly all day. But if it turns into a ride rather than a race, at least it’ll be among friends and in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

 

A Sneak Peak of "Gravel Cycling"

Gravel Grinder Gear Check List

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We’ve all forgotten something critical on race day. And it’s usually only after missing a race or a group ride that we decide to get organized. A race day packing list can save heartache and worry. Build one out as you ready yourself for your training rides, far in advance of your event. Think of all the separate pieces you collect before each ride. Write them down. (Ideally, keep them all in one location in your house, making it easier to get out the door with everything on a regular basis.)

Clothing: Consider clothing needs first, head to toe:

  • Helmet
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Neck gaiter (if it’s cold)
  • Base layer
  • Jersey
  • Arm warmers
  • Gloves
  • Vest
  • Jacket
  • Shorts
  • Knee or leg warmers
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Shoe covers
  • Extra socks (because nothing’s worse than standing around in cold, wet feet after your race.)

Maybe you like to wear a wristband for sweat. Write that down. Perhaps you like to pull on waterproof oversocks when it rains. Write that down. You get the point.

Some suggest making multiple lists based on different weather conditions. This can be useful, but weather can be unpredictable. It’s best to bring too much clothing to the start and leave it in the car instead of being caught off guard by a freak storm.

Food and Hydration

After clothing, think about food and hydration. Will the race have a drop bag system, allowing you to prepack items for later I nthe race and have them delivered to aid stations? If so, assemble your bag or bags while you’re still at home, calm and collected. You’ll do a better job and eliminate a potentially stressful task the night before the race. Better to relax with a book or catch up with friends.

Bike

Next, consider your bike. Always take along:

  • A rag
  • Chain lube
  • Floor pump
  • On-bike repair kit: new tube, full CO2 cartridge, multi-tool, tire lever, spare chain link, any other small parts

You can leave the repair stand at home, because in your efforts to eliminate pre-race stress, you paid for a tune-up (or did one yourself) before leaving for the race. (Right?)

Be methodical in your approach to readiness and your race performances will improve. Ridding yourself of last-minute woes allows you to focus on the effort ahead and take better care of pre-race nutrition and hydration.

End of Year

Another year is coming to an end. As cliché as it is, I find myself in both a reflective mood and excited for the year ahead. To say that 2016 was business as usual would be a lie. It had it's ups and downs but I've thoroughly enjoyed my return to writing life and my work with Adventure Cyclist as well as freelancing for great titles like Bicycle Times, Roadbikereview, MTBR, Bikeradar, and RIDE. As a cyclist, I challenged myself with new races, new disciplines. At times I succeeded, at times I came up short. Throughout the year, thanks to travels as well as time at home, I've had the opportunity to spend time with amazing people. 

As much as I joke about being a misanthrope, I do have introvert tendencies that have me holing up at times. Thankfully my wife drags me out and the extra time with friends has been a blessing. It is the people with whom we share time who make life meaningful. My first instinct when I sat down to write this 'year in review' post was to list the cycling events that I attended. Instead I want to talk about the people who make those events so special. 

Bobby Wintle (Land Run 100): I did a solo road trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma to check out the Land Run 100 after several friends (who I'll mention later) recounted their tales of mud and finish hugs. Bobby, his wife Crystal, and the crew at District Bicycles organize the Land Run. I first met Bobby in Emporia, Kansas at the Dirty Kanza. While we didn't spend much time together there, the next time I saw him, he remembered my name, gave me a hug and enveloped me in a whirlwind of enthusiasm for life, cycling and gravel. If you know Bobby, you know what I'll write next. This man is special. He exudes energy. It's infectious. Better than any cup of coffee, time with Bobby will brighten your day. From the firing of a cannon to start his race to jumping up and down and giving you a muddy hug to congratulate every finisher, the man is a perpetual energy machine. He raced the Tour Divide this year and it came as no surprise that he finished in his first attempt, blitzing the course with a smile. Bobby, I appreciate you. 

 The man, the myth, the mud. Seeing Bobby's smiling face at the finish of this year's 2016 Land Run made my day! (Photo by 241 Photography)

The man, the myth, the mud. Seeing Bobby's smiling face at the finish of this year's 2016 Land Run made my day! (Photo by 241 Photography)

Jason Gaikowski (cajoler): Jason is one of my two best friends. He was the officiant at my wedding and a favorite wingman/adventure buddy. When he emails me to sign up for an event, conflict withstanding, I sign up. This year that meant mountain bike races. While our relationship was born on gravel, we both love mountain biking. But my experience racing offroad is limited to XC races in college. This year Jason decided it was time for me to up my game, first at the Ouachita Challenge (62 miles) in Arkansas and then at the Maah Daah Hey 100 in North Dakota (here is Jason's preview of the MDH100). I managed to finish both events, but they certainly stretched me and helped me discover new mental fortitude and confidence in my cycling abilities. For that, Jason, thank you. 

 Pre-riding MDH with Kristen and Jason

Pre-riding MDH with Kristen and Jason

Brad Kaminski (White Rim): Brad is the photo editor at VeloNews, and all around fantastic guy. He's always up for a new adventure and late last year we began chatting about bikepacking the White Rim in Canyonlands NP, Utah. Soon, the trip morphed into a group trip in April with other VeloNews characters past and present joining the fun. Mike "M-Rizzy" Reisel and Chris Case were there to ride too and Brad's friend, Matt, drove support carrying camping gear, food and water. We had an amazing time, with beautiful weather and gorgeous scenery. Even when his personal car was stuck below a ledge (thankfully a helpful Jeep driver winched it up), Brad never lost his cool. He brings a nonchalance to his riding and manages to enjoy himself even when the going gets tough. Brad, thanks for committing to the ride. It wouldn't have happened without you. 

 Chris Case on the The White Rim. (Photo by Matt Garvin)

Chris Case on the The White Rim. (Photo by Matt Garvin)

Eric Greene (partner in "Ride to Ruins," a forthcoming story in Adventure Cyclist about a bikepacking trip in southeastern Utah): I have always wanted to explore Ancestral Publeoan cliff dwellings and rock art in the Four Corners area. In talking about this with Eric, a close friend whose life is one for the storybooks (someday I'll write it!), he recommended I get off my ass and go do it. He knew of an area dense in sites that he had wanted to explore, so the planning began. I would pedal a loop, bikepacking my way around, and he would ride his motorcycle, taking photos along the way. In late April, a couple weeks after the White Rim trip, I made my way back to Utah. Eric rode his KTM Adventure 990, enduring snow in Summit County on his way. I don't want to give away the story as I hope that you'll read it in Adventure Cyclist, but we had a great time dodging weather and hanging in the desert. Greene, thanks for risking hypothermia on your motorcycle for this one. The heat in my car was cozy on the way home. 

 Eric at Wolfman Panel in Butler Wash

Eric at Wolfman Panel in Butler Wash

Mike Reynolds (Dirty Kanza host and friend): The Dirty Kanza 200 currently holds the title as my favorite race. (Here's a link to this year's account) Much of that is to do with the people I see every year. Mike and his family have hosted Kristen and me for several years. Their hospitality and pride in Emporia is amazing. In 2013, Mike saved my race when, in the days before the event, I had a major allergic reaction. As a doctor, he wrote me a prescription and I was good to go! Mike has raced the DK four times and in 2017 he'll finish his fifth! On one of those occasions, in 2015 (the muddy year), he and his daughter Caesie crushed it on Mike's beautiful Calfee tandem. We've also been lucky to spend time with Mike and Joyce in Idaho at Rebecca's Private Idaho. They're wonderful people and visiting them is always a highlight of the year. Reynolds Family, thank you for opening your home to us. You make Emporia awesome!

 Me with Mike on my wheel near the start of the 2016 Dirty Kanza. Soon he rocketed past and set a new PR! (Photo by Linda Guerrette)

Me with Mike on my wheel near the start of the 2016 Dirty Kanza. Soon he rocketed past and set a new PR! (Photo by Linda Guerrette)

Paul Legan (father and 12-Hour World TT pit crew): I'm from Indiana and proud of it. But for the past fifteen years I haven't lived there. Colorado has been home with stints in Europe and Atlanta interspersed. This is all to say that I don't get back to the Midwest as often as I'd like. When I decided to race the 12-Hour World Time Trial Championships in Borrego Springs, California, it seemed like a golden opportunity to spend some time with my dad. He flew to Denver where I joined him on a flight to Los Angeles. We ate at In-N-Out burger, went to the beach, saw videographer friends in the Valley, spent hours at the amazing Petersen Automotive Museum and then made our way to the Anza-Borrego Desert for the event. There Dad went into support crew extraordinaire mode. I stayed off my feet and rested before the race. During the race, where I definitely had a few bad patches, Dad was extra encouraging. The pride on his face every time I remounted my bike still puts a smile on mine. After the event, which on the whole went really well (read about it here), I was fairly hobbled. Dad drove us the hours and hours back to Los Angeles and was just fine with me stuffing my face and lounging on a hotel bed. Dad, I don't see you enough, but when we do spend time together it's always memorable! Love you. 

 Dad, hard at work!

Dad, hard at work!

Jeff Archer (NAHBS): Another highlight of the year was judging the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) again (coverage can be found here). But the biggest loss of the year has to be the senseless death of fellow judge and fast friend Jeff Archer. He was killed while walking across the street by a drunk driver. Jeff was the owner of First Flight Bicycles and curator of the Museum of Mountain Bike Art and Technology (MOMBAT) in Statesville, North Carolina. I first met Jeff while I worked at VeloNews when Brad Kaminski, mentioned above, and I toured North Carolina visiting the A2 Wind Tunnel and several cycling highlights in the state. The welcome we received was exceptional. His passion for cycling and for keeping it accessible to all people was immense. So too was his knowledge.

I subsequently visited his shop, this time with good friend Kevin Harvey, when NAHBS went to Charlotte. It was a homecoming, with beer and moonshine consumed, tall tales told and laughter throughout. That was also the first year, 2015, that Jeff judged the handmade show alongside Patrick Brady, Maurice Tierney, Andrew Yee, and myself. During that weekend, another in 2015, and yet another this year that I go to know the loving, considerate, humble, self-effacing man called Jeff Archer.

 Jeff Archer, RIP (Photo Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame)

Jeff Archer, RIP (Photo Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame)

Writing this down, it's striking to me that I spent less than 11 days with Jeff, but his loss affected me greatly. In Sacramento earlier this year his wife accompanied Jeff to the show. Afterwards they took what was a dream trip for Jeff, visiting NorCal bike and part makers. During the show, Julie, his wife, invited me and my wife to come visit them in Statesville, to stay at their new home and to actually get a chance to ride bikes with Jeff. If only I'd known that I'd never get the chance. I regret not booking a ticket immediately. Life takes unexpected turns and all too often it is cut short. 

So as I think about 2017, I remind myself to carve out ever larger chunks of time for friends and family. The framework for my year is still driven by a calendar filled with events. But the people at those races, industry shows, and gatherings are the source of much of my happiness. It's worth saying out loud. 

 

Handiwork

The satisfaction that comes with using one's hands and mind to fashion something, especially something useful, is one that delivers sound sleep and a sly smile. Making things, in lieu of ordering or purchasing things, has been systematically discouraged in the modern world. It's not good for the bottom line, apparently. But I would argue that it's also depraving the soul, all in the name of instant gratification and the all-important GDP. I could continue this rant, but I digress. 

Many years ago I read an excellent book called "Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Matthew B. Crawford. It stuck with me, acting as a reminder of the important connection between intellect and hands, spirit and body. If we neglect one, we suffer as a whole. Unite them and we find strength. Personal responsibility and a sense of self reliance are born out of action, doing, rendering a thought. 

With all of this in the back of my mind, only truly brought to the fore upon writing this, I set about making two ways to carry gear while bikepacking. The first was a handlebar harness that I made using the template that Gabriel Amadeus of Limberlost created (check it out here). I modified the design for my specific needs, making it narrower to fit inside drop bars. I used a vinyl "For Rent" sign as the main piece, some webbing and PVC from the hardware store and a set of buckles that were harvested from a set of old straps. It was a success. If you're interested in a lightweight, affordable way to carry gear on your bars, I encourage you to purchase the template sold on the link above. It provides clear instructions and it's always nice to support those who encourage DIY projects. 

 The Limberlost DIY harness is light, cheap and pretty tarn tough. Here it's holding a dry bag with a bivy, sleeping pad and pillow. The stand-aways could be shorter, bringing the assembly higher and creating even more room for larger items. 

The Limberlost DIY harness is light, cheap and pretty tarn tough. Here it's holding a dry bag with a bivy, sleeping pad and pillow. The stand-aways could be shorter, bringing the assembly higher and creating even more room for larger items. 

Next up was a frame bag for my Mosaic. Thanks to working with Joe Tonsager at JPaks on a previous bag, I had a good idea on how to make a template and lay out strap placement. Initially I planned on making a bag that filled the entire triangle, but as I've pared down what I'm planning to bring on Tour Divide next year, I saw that it would be possible to run my bottles on the frame instead of the fork blades. Looking to maximize space, I made a template for a mini frame bag. I purchased materials based on recommendations available on several sites (Google: "make your own bikepacking frame bag." The first link at Bikepacking.com and the first YouTube video shown in the results are really helpful.) Below is the result of an afternoon's work. This includes figuring out how to thread and use the sewing machine my mother graciously gave me over a year ago. 

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I made the entire bag out of XPac to save a bit of weight. Many people will suggest using Cordura for areas that make contact with the frame. This is probably a good idea when making a complete frame bag that will carry heavier items. The trickiest part was sewing the zipper panel and working around the tight curves that I made for myself. I actually think a complete triangle bag would be simpler to sew. 

I made sure to include a couple features that I wanted. First was a port on the top of the bag, much like those on Revelate's Tangle bag, that would allow me to run wires into the bag. I run a dynamo hub and I'll put my cache battery and charging kit in the large portion at the front of the bag. Second was a set of Velcro straps to hold a pump. Rattling noises have a way of  driving me crazy, so I wanted a way to hold my Lezyne pump to keep it quiet and also use all the limited vertical space in the small bag. So I sewed in straps on the underside of the top panel. This keeps is tight against the top tube and out of the way and secure as I rummage through the bag while riding. 

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While the bag is a far cry from the professionally made bags I have from Revelate, JPaks, Bedrock and Ortlieb, making this bag was very inexpensive and it's perfectly usable. The stitching isn't pretty and the bag isn't entirely even side to side, but as a first go at sewing I'm pretty happy with it. I'll likely make another bag that fills the triangle so that I can carry a few more creature comforts on touring trips. I have some ideas for it as well that could be fun. I would also like to play with some cuben fiber or Dyneema to make some uber light bags, stuff sacks, etc.

It's all play, but it's also really satisfying. If you have the slightest inclination to make something, give it a go. You never know where it'll lead. It's the can-do attitude that raises us to our highest potential. The world can use more of it.  

The Pursuit of a Life Well Lived

(In a first, and certainly not a last, I'm extremely happy to introduce a guest writer on Rambleur. In his first post, dear friend Jason Gaikowski writes about his time racing in Mongolia. Despite his humility, Jason is an accomplished endurance cyclist, with a strong background in mountain biking and gravel. I hope you enjoy his words as much as I do. - Nick Legan)

It’s awkward sometimes...

...to meet someone new and trade the tales that record life’s story. A marathon or  half-Ironman elicits a wave of enthusiastic congratulation, sparking an exchange of story-in-kind that lays the foundation of common ground. Mongolia isn’t like that.

Mongolia is amazing. Mongolia is unbelievable. And sharing a story of racing a mountain bike 900 kilometers across the Mongolian steppe generates admiring congratulations and a fascinated questioning that plows the ground uncommon. People understand the Ironman; they relate to a marathon. Mongolia…? Mongolia might as well be Mars.

The Mongolia Bike Challenge

The Mongolia Bike Challenge has billed itself as the “World’s Hardest MTB Stage Race.” And yes, it’s hard. A quick stage-by-stage rundown follows:

Stage one kicked things off with the warm embrace of 2,900 meters of climbing over 113 km. That’s 9,500 ft and 70 miles over terrain that can fairly be described as “lumpy.” One rider, a former pro, felt it best to find a place for a bit of a nap before the final climb.

Stage two presented a forgiving 2,240 meters over 117 km, with all the climbing bunched into six very pitchy climbs. Many racers described this as the hardest single day race they’d ever done…

Stage three asked for 2,000 meters over 148 km with one climb early and a soul sucking crawl to a mountain top finish.

Stage four started by descending stage three’s finishing climb before demanding 2,540 meters and 175 km. This was a hard day, but they said the next day was easier.

Stage five covered 50 km of of mostly flat trail with a downhill bias and was wonderful until we climbed 1,500 meters over the next 40 km. The total of 1,730 meters and 170 km was NOT easier than stage four.

Stage six offered the gift of a 47 km time trial with less than 1,000 meters of elevation. A hard XC or Marathon race anywhere else feels like a rest day.

Stage seven finished things off with 1,486 meters over a relaxing 86 km and big climb to the finish.

Stage racing is hard. Mountain bike racing is hard. So yes, mountain bike stage racing for 900 kilometers is hard. Really hard. And totally doable.

I am not that special

Yuki, Ryan and Nicolas; national champions of Japan, Ireland and Italy. The Mongolian National team. John, who’s pro-motorcycle career predated a pro-cycling career. Those guys are special. Me?

I’m a 46 year old guy from the Midwest with a mortgage, a daughter and a bone stock Salsa. I have more airline miles than training miles and power that is generously described as “meh.”

I eat too many cheeseburgers, drink beer too often and don't floss as much as I should. 5’ 10”-ish, size medium everything, and statistically average in nearly every dimension. I am, quite literally, a reflection of everyman. I am not special.

And I conquered the Mongolia Bike Challenge.

The hard part

The hard part isn't the 900 kilometer, the 14,000 meters of climbing or the remote terrain. It's not the time, the travel or expense. The hard part isn't in the doing…

It's the deciding.

A year ago, a video popped up in my feed. It would have been so easy to ignore, but I watched it. And then the real challenge began. Can’ts, shouldn’ts and all the impish reasons why I couldn't go came rushing into my brain like a runaway avalanche. I’d missed the early-registration discount. Registration was limited and probably full. There was so much going on at work. It would be cost too much. I hadn’t been riding enough. The air travel would be miserable. What if I finished last? What if I didn’t finish? What would people think? One justification after another asking: Who was I to dare to go to Mongolia?

This is the my lesson from Mongolia: after daring to decide, not one thing was as hard as I’d imagined. And in sharing the story, I’ve discovered that an awkward uncommon ground lies between those that dare and those who don’t. Too often, we all allow can’t to quietly limit the lives we are capable of living. Let uncertainty be your guide, and make uncomfortable decisions in the pursuit of a life well lived.

 

About Jason: 

Zen-peddler seeking salt, Jason forged his riding roots in the pre-DK200 era with the Flint Hills Death Ride, The Big Loop, and a decade of "Thursday Night Adventures into Darkness." Founding member of the WUDCHUKS of Kansas City, Gaikowski's favorite units of time and distance are "a while" and "a ways." Palmares include a podium position at Dirty Kanza and successfully riding by a dead cow (twice) without noticing. 

Off to the Tour, then a tour

Monday, June 27th, 2016, 11:12am. Seated at the airport right now, about to board a flight that will connect to Paris. I'm headed to the first few days of the 2016 Tour de France. Always exciting to head to a place that I love, northern France. My first time to France was in the Brittany region and I'll be nearby in Normandy for the next week. It'll be good to flex my linguistic muscles again, eat some good cheese, drink some bad coffee and reconnect with the circus of professional bike racing. 

The energy of the Tour de France is a double-edged sword. It's hard to keep up with that much activity, especially when trying to capture some of it for consumption by online fans of the race. Much of race journalism is distillation. Comprehensively covering an event as massive as the Tour is virtually impossible, but we do our best. Check out Bikeradar.com for my work. 

Upon my return from the Tour, I'll head out on a tour of my own. Thankfully I'll be with my adventurous wife, bikepacking from Wyoming, through a bit of Idaho and then into Montana. After 550 miles of northbound travel along the Adventure Cycling Association's incredible Great Divide Mountain Bike Route we'll leave the route in Ovando and head to Missoula for the 40th Anniversary of the Adventure Cycling Association and BikeCentennial. 

It'll be fantastic to unplug after the chaos of the Tour and doing so with my partner in life/crime is an amazing added bonus. Can't wait for both the Tour and my tour. Ride on!

Nursing a gravel double century

The ebbs and flows of gravel racing could make a guy think he was bipolar. The highs I've experienced after 12 plus hours on the bike border on religious. The lows, well, we all know about the lows. They'll have you hiding in the shade of a tree along a dirt road rethinking your purpose in the world. You'll question your sanity. But finding that place can also bring an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for your life, your family, your typically able body. Gratitude for a community that creates opportunities to find your limits (that is the tagline of this year's DK200 after all) and does so with an enormous amount of support, enthusiasm and understanding. 

My 2016 Dirty Kanza 200 was a success in many ways. I saw loads of friends. That is always a highlight for me. Cycling media, pro cyclists, industry peeps, gravel regulars were all in Emporia. It was great to catch up with several of them and just as nice to see some of them in passing. 

 Lunch with Joe Meiser (of Salsa fame) and my beautiful bride at Radius in Emporia. A good pre-race meal and top notch company. 

Lunch with Joe Meiser (of Salsa fame) and my beautiful bride at Radius in Emporia. A good pre-race meal and top notch company. 

 Eventual winner Ted King was relaxed on Friday.

Eventual winner Ted King was relaxed on Friday.

 Two of the toughest ladies on bikes, Rebecca Rusch and Kristen Legan, were happy to catch up. 

Two of the toughest ladies on bikes, Rebecca Rusch and Kristen Legan, were happy to catch up. 

 Salsa athlete, Tim Ek, and I go back to my first Dirty Kanza in 2011. Always good to see his smiling face! Avenge me!

Salsa athlete, Tim Ek, and I go back to my first Dirty Kanza in 2011. Always good to see his smiling face! Avenge me!

 Bobby Wintle, of District Bicycles and Land Run, headed to Banff for the start of Tour Divide after his Dirty Kanza ride. His Cutthroat was dialed with an Andrew the Maker frame bag.

Bobby Wintle, of District Bicycles and Land Run, headed to Banff for the start of Tour Divide after his Dirty Kanza ride. His Cutthroat was dialed with an Andrew the Maker frame bag.

 Neil Shirley had a mechanical-free Dirty Kanza. If you ever get a chance to meet this Road Bike Action editor, you'll encounter one of the nicest guys in cycling. 

Neil Shirley had a mechanical-free Dirty Kanza. If you ever get a chance to meet this Road Bike Action editor, you'll encounter one of the nicest guys in cycling. 

The Race: To be blunt, the ride was a tough one for me. I had great legs and bad guts. I rode a safe start and was eating and drinking well right up to the point where, after cresting a steep rise, I emptied the contents of my stomach roadside. Lots of fluid lost. I went from zero to eleven on the nausea scale. While I didn't publicize it, I was riding Dirty Kanza unsupported. So I carried enough food and fluids to get to the halfway point in Eureka, where I would visit the Casey's convenience store for nutrition. That meant that I had plenty of food on board and slowly began taking a nibble whenever I could manage. I set a mental timer that every 10 minutes I would take a sip of fluids and a small bite of food. I couldn't always stomach doing that, so I would re-evaluate every 1o minutes. Doing this, I got myself to mile 102.7 in Eureka and went to the store. I hadn't eaten much so I only bought a couple liters of water, some Gatorade and an ice cream. Temps were up and I wanted to stay cool. With a primarily north/south route, at the halfway point racers had to turn north into the wind. 

While the wind can be a strong nemesis, I chose to view it as a blessing, keeping me cool and focused. After eating a bit more and downing some water (typically I drink Skratch all day) I began to come around. My attitude was positive and I began working with different groups out on the road. For 20 miles, things were good. Then they weren't. For many miles after that, I had to avoid looking at the mileage, my speed, the time of day. I turned on my upbeat Dirty Kanza playlist and tuned out for a couple hours. Trying to push when I felt a small lift in my energy and conserving when needed. 

I constantly reminded myself that the wind was my friend. I had all the food and water I needed. My bike was running well, no flats and a great gear range. The weather was perfect. I was moving. I coached myself, saying that riding was the only solution. Stopping only delayed the end. Slow miles are better than no miles (my Tour Divide mantra). But push when you can. 

I crawled into the third checkpoint, in Madison at mile 162, confident that I could make it to the finish. But it was going to be a knock down, drag out battle inside my head to get there. After crossing the timing mat, I rounded a corner in Madison and saw my wife. It was a wonderfully welcome sight. She had suffered from a bad stomach and pulled the plug in Eureka and then rallied to come to Madison to support me. A banana and a small Coke from her worked a small miracle. Not the made-for-TV type miracle, but after getting them down I was able to put what power I had left into the pedals. This was miraculous after feeling like I had floated the pedals for several hours. Again I turned off the screen on my GPS that showed the numbers. I focused on the route, determined to not make a wrong turn. I nodded my head to Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Macklemore, The Doobie Brothers, Ben Howard, Dave Matthews, Paul Simon, Pharrell Williams, U2 and others. Singing "Free Fallin'" out loud brought a smile to my face. 

I began to catch a few riders. "Good job" and "Hang in there" and "Stay strong" exchanged. And for a time, I was exhausted and moving and happy. And then another low. And in the low, I checked my computer. Only 15 miles to go. I could walk that if need be. I carried on. I couldn't eat any of the food I had on me. Couldn't really drink anything else either. Then I heard a train. And up ahead, sure enough, there were a pair of trains stopped on the tracks. A few other riders were already there. A few more arrived. I saw a friend. We chatted. Eventually the trains moved on. It wasn't a welcome rest. It was just a delay. But the time off the bike did help make the last ten miles easier. I rolled into town and crossed the finish line, thankful that I had pre-ridden the last miles of the route with Mike Reynolds, an Emporia eye surgeon who, along with his family, hosts me and Kristen each year. I hadn't beaten the sun. I hadn't beaten my 14-hour goal, but I had beaten one of the lowest calorie days in my ultra cycling experience. I had nursed my way across the line. Success.