Tour Divide: What Worked. What Didn't.

The gear you carry on Tour Divide can make or break the ride. Over the days, weeks, months, and years of bikepacking ahead of the start, you pare your packing list down, carrying the minimum necessary to keep you moving forward. Each item needs to function properly, take up minimal space, and be constructed durably enough to handle the distance and difficulty of Tour Divide. Ideally, that item is also fairly lightweight, though gram counting can be a maddening, sometimes futile game. Here's a look at some key gear that I carried. Some of it was amazing. Others were a let down. On the whole, I'm very happy with what I carried. 

Big Agnes AXL Air Insulated sleeping pad: WORKED

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I went with the rectangular pad as I often sleep on my stomach and I wanted more between me and the ground. The AXL Air inflates and deflates quickly, packs small, and kept me plenty warm even on chilly, wet nights. I found it super comfortable no matter the position I found myself snoozing. That's it's pretty darn light is also a nice benefit. I would take this same pad on nearly any bikepacking adventure. 


Bontrager Circuit helmet: WORKED

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At $150, the Circuit is an affordable, feature-laden lid. It fits me well, offering comfortable protection, and is large enough for me to wear a cycling cap or warm hat underneath. The standout feature for me though is the magnetic light/camera mount. It uses a GoPro mount interface and works nicely with Bontrager's own lights. I purchased a K-Edge Niterider mount and bolted and zip-tied it to my Black Diamond Spot headlamp. I was able to easily take the light on and off the helmet while I rode, meaning that I gave my neck a break during the day without making the transition to night riding a long one. 


Julbo Aerospeed sunglasses: WORKED

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From the frameless design to the photochromic lens, I have nothing but love for Julbo's Aerospeed glasses. I wore them during the darkest of nights and the brightest of days and the lens automatically adjusted to the varying light. On my narrow head they didn't fit very tightly but that also meant that over the course of 2,700 miles that they didn't dig into my temples. I added a neoprene Croakie so that I could hang them around my neck when I went into stores and not risk losing them. 


Ortlieb Seat Pack L: WORKED, for a while

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Ortlieb's line of bikepacking bags are not the lightest in the world, but they are built to last and offer waterproof construction. I've used my large Seat Pack for several seasons and during Tour Divide it began to show its age. Somewhere in Colorado, as the heat began to build, it began to sag. The side stiffeners began to bow inward making packing a bit tricky. It also meant that the part of the bag behind the stiffeners could sag and sometimes hit my rear wheel over bumpy terrain. In Salida I bought a new seat bag. In fairness, Ortlieb is taking care of a replacement and I still hold the firm in high regard. 


RedShift Sports ShockStop stem: WORKED

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While I’ve experienced finger numbness and sore hands in the past, this time round I suffered neither. I have to give credit, partially if not entirely, to Redshift’s ShockStop stem. I’ve ridden it a lot now and typically set it up pretty firm but it delivers an affordable, lightweight measure of comfort on mixed surfaces. The company also has a suspension seatpost in the works that I’m eager to try it.  


Shimano XTR Di2 drivetrain: WORKED

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I had thousands of miles aboard Di2 drivetrain before I headed to Banff and I’ve never had issues with the electronics. I know that some are hesitant to make the leap to electronic shifting. Sure, it is expensive. But I've had far fewer issues with it than I have with cable actuated shifting. In the case of Di2, there are no cables that need replacing. It shifts consistently in all conditions and does so while also saving my wrists and fingers from the possibility of overuse injuries from the thousands of shifts one performs during Tour Divide. 

I ran a 2x11 setup using an older 10-speed era XTR Race crank with 42/30 chainrings. On the back I used an XTR 11-40 cassette. I set the system up using Shimano's SynchroShift. I only told the system whether I wanted a harder or an easier gear and it would then shift the front and rear derailleurs according to a pattern that I customized using E-Tube software. So I could shift in both directions, across the drivetrain's entire range, using either hand. This is especially convenient while eating, drinking, or putting on clothes. I also added a set of shifter to my aerobars so that I could stay in them and shift without moving. The shifting is so good that I'm ruined. It's hard to go back to mechanical shifting of even the highest quality.


Castelli Tempesta 3/4 Rain Pant: WORKED, for a while

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Castelli's Tempesta 3/4 Rain Pants are pretty sweet. They offer a great cut for cycling, good ventilation, and pair perfectly with Castelli's Tempesta Leg Warmers for complete wet weather protection. They also have large amounts of reflective materials, increasing visibility day and night. Where they let me down a bit was when, after repeated days of wearing them frequently, the seat of them sprung a leak. It was on a particularly chilly morning, 36-degrees Fahrenheit and raining, that I noticed that my chamois was wet. It was not a comfortable feeling as icy water made its way inside the pants. The next day, after they had dryed out, I found the culprit. I had worn a pair of holes where my derriere made contact with the saddle through the inner layer of the pants. I applied a couple patches using Tenacious Tape and that has worked since. 


MSR Trailshot Pocket-Sized water filter: DIDN'T WORK

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I bought the Trailshot in Whitefish early in the race after seeing a friend using one. Unfortunately, mine (as well as another friend's) packed up and would only deliver water at a trickle despite several flushes. Perhaps there was some user error, but I've researched how to use the MSR since my return with similar results. [On a couple trips since the Divide I've become enamored with Katadyn's BeFree 1L soft bottle. With its integrated filter/nozzle it works exceptionally well, takes up less space, costs less, and can be used to carry an additional liter of water (WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN!)]


 

 

 

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
Follow the race with TrackLeaders.com

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Monday, July 16

Finished!

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Well, it’s been exactly two weeks since Nick and Charlie finished off their Tour Divide adventure so I figured the time has come to properly wrap this thing up. For Nick, the past 14 days have largely been made up of napping, eating, catching up on work, napping some more, and eating more. Recovery is actually going pretty quickly, quicker than either of us expected, and he’s out riding his bike again and getting ready for the next adventure… more on that later.

But first, we should probably revisit the final hours of Tour Divide, the dark and eerie 65 miles of pavement guiding riders to the finish line at the Antelope Wells border crossing. I met up with Charlie’s sister Margie in Deming on Monday night and we waited patiently for our little blue dot loved ones as they slowly moved toward the finish line.

It was tough trying to predict when they’d finish because the last major section of the course is paved so you’d expect them to make some good time. But this section is also at the end of a 2,700-mile ride, so nothing moves very quickly. We got a little nervous about missing them finish so Margie and I loaded up the truck with pizza, margaritas, and our cameras and headed toward Mexico!

The road to Antelope Wells is a long and lonely stretch. It’s a desolate road and kind of creepy. You know that border agents are watching your every move through the whole 65-mile stretch and to make things even more awkward, the road is flush with kamikaze jackrabbit landmines. It’s pitch black out there and as soon as car lights hit the pavement ahead, a whole murder (I know that’s the wrong word but it seems appropriate here) of rabbits comes diving out in front of you. This was probably the most traumatic experience of my entire Tour Divide experience… forget the bears and mountain lines, the jackrabbits are the real enemies!

Once we made our way through the minefield, Margie and I rolled up to the tremendously impressive border wall, errr, uh, I mean chain-link fence…  which was closed because it was nearly midnight. As we rolled in, the first thing we noticed were two bikes leaning against the sign and some camping gear strewn out near the fence. A moment of panic that we had missed Nick and Charlie’s finish would have certainly run through my veins had we not just passed them about 10 miles back on bunny highway. Instead, it was exciting to see two other Tour Divide riders, Mike and Chris Lapcevic, a father-son pair from Costa Rica who had just finished a few hours before.

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This gregarious duo was waiting for their ride to pick them up so we all gathered around, listened to their crazy stories from the trail, and celebrated with Coke and Pizza while we waited for Charlie and Nick. The Tour Divide community is special and it’s pretty cool how people just welcome each other in whether you’re a rider, a support person, or just someone interested in knowing why you have so much junk strapped to your bike.

After about an hour of hanging out at the border, getting bitten by red ants, and gathering all the snacks and celebratory drinks together, two little headlights flickered gently down the road. The lights grew stronger and stronger until they were blindingly right in front of us as we stood out in the middle of the road, cheering, and clapping, and celebrating Nick and Charlie’s accomplishment. The two rode over to the chain-link fence, touched it as a final act of finishing, and then took a deep, relief-filled breath before giving each other, then Margie and me, big hugs.

24:16:55

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Tour Divide has been an incredible journey for both Nick and for me. Getting to help with Nick’s coaching, being his sounding board on gear decisions (whether I liked it or not), and plotting potential scenarios has been an incredible experience. It’s brought us closer together and it’s given me a better taste for what it’s like to take on this route. There certainly is something special about Tour Divide and the people you meet and places you go (physically and mentally) through this journey. I’m so proud Nick finished this damn thing after so much hard work. And now, I’m excited to get some of our life back to normal…whatever that means.

Life has (thankfully) slowed down for both of us over the past two weeks. Nick’s been recovering and getting back to work. I’ve been home for more than four days in a row, so that’s been nice. But two weeks seems to be about our max for “normal” and we’re heading back out on the trail, this time together. Trans South Dakota, a newer bikepacking race organized by Joe and Tina Stiller, starts on Saturday in Beulah, Wyoming. We opted for the 360-mile “sprint” version of the race instead of the full 740-mile version and will be focusing more on fun than speed. Although the way Nick’s been kicking my butt on the bike this week, I’m sure speed will be part of it. If you'd like to follow along, head here for our Trackleader pages. 

Looking forward to another adventure, one that I’m sure will just lead to the next one… until then, thanks for reading! - Kristen

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Monday, July 2
Day 24

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN!!!!!

Nick and Charlie are on the final stretch to Mexican border tonight and will finish up Tour Divide 2018 in just a few hours. It's been a wild ride with plenty of ups and downs but the feelings they're going to have as they cruise into Antelope Wells together will all be worth it. 

 Before they knew they'd be riding together for so many hours and so many miles.... a "quick" photo together in Banff

Before they knew they'd be riding together for so many hours and so many miles.... a "quick" photo together in Banff

Nick called me from the road this afternoon as their "miles to go" dropped into double digit numbers. I think he had just chugged a Red Bull (or two?!?!) and was completely wired. The excitement of finishing off this challenge was seeping through the phone. It didn't hurt that they have a massive tailwind and some smooth, dirt and paved roads ahead. Nothing like finishing off a 2700 miles of rain, wind, rocks, pain, sweat, tears (yes tears), and everything else with the happiness that only a tailwind can bring. 

It's pretty incredible these two guys are going to finish together. As Nick and I sat in the Denver airport waiting to fly up to Canada for the start of Tour Divide, Charlie walked by in some old sweats with an old PowerBar duffle bag. We immediately recognized the Tour Divide uniform of old clothes and bags that you can toss up in Banff before heading out on the trail.

Nick knew Charlie because, well, Charlie is a Boulder mountain bike legend and the two immediately dove into TD strategy. They didn't plan to ride together and didn't really know each other well before this event. But now, I'm sure they will honestly call each other great friends for a long time to come. That's what makes TD or any long adventure like this so special. Sometimes you make friends with people from around the world and sometime you find the people who live just around the corner. No matter who or where they live, TD builds something special.

But, back to the timeline and story - After checking in with Nick on Saturday in Pie Town, the duo took an early night to stay at the Toaster House and then set out for a big day that would take them into the Gila Mountains. Any road racers out there will know all about the steep climbs and crazy heat of this area from the Tour of the Gila and Nick and Charlie got to experience their own form of the Gila Monster yesterday as they climbed late into the night.

After camping out and getting another early start today, they finished off Tour Divide's final major technical riding with a stint on the Continental Divide Trail. This section of singletrack is rocky, exposed, and especially challenging when you're on a loaded bike. I rode part of the CDT (not the same section that's on TD) today and even with a regular mountain bike, it wasn't much fun to ride. So needless to say Charlie and Nick were extremely happy to finish off that section and roll downhill into Silver City.

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A solid lunch in town and a quick restock of supplies and the two TD riders were off again to finish things off. They've been making their way south for the past few hours and we're all getting excited and anxious to see them at Mexico. I'm driving down from Deming with Charlie's sister Margie to cheer these two guys on and give them giant hugs at the finish. It's going to be a great big party at the border tonight! Watch out. 

But now, it's just a waiting game as Nick and Charlie tick off each mile.  78...62...45...31....17...8...3..2...1..... DONE!

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Saturday, June 30
Day 23? I think? 

Pie Town! Nick and Charlie rolled into Pie Town earlier today after some hot, hot, hot days in New Mexico. They made it to town just in time to grab a slice (or two) or pie and a big meal at the local diner before it closed for the night. I know Nick was looking forward to this event since starting the race back in Canada.

Pie Town is an interesting little town off the beaten path in the middle of New Mexico. It's tiny. But it somehow manages to support not one but two separate pie places right off the main drag.  The shops or cafes are open on alternating days or something like that so they're not competing with each other, but both make some mean fruit and custard pies, so I hear. But let's be real here, if you name your town Pie Town, you better have some damn good pie. 

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Anyways, thanks to Salsa Cycles, every Tour Divide rider received a top cap for their TD bike's stem that is good for two free slices of pie in Pie Town. Not only is this brilliant marketing for Salsa (great job guys!) but it's also a little carrot for riders to chase while they make their way toward the finish line. I'm sure it helped drive Nick forward earlier today, knowing he'd have to get there in time before the store closed to get his free pie. 

Besides the whole free pie thing going on in Pie Town, this place is also great because it's home of the infamous Toaster House. OK, you've probably never heard of it unless you're married to or a close friend of a TD rider. But the Toaster House is an oasis in the middle of the desert. A small little house or cabin right on the TD course that is open for riders to stay the night, hang out, drink a beer, or pick up some extra food and gear supplies before finishing off the event. 

Besides being right on the Tour Divide route, the cabin is also on the Continental Divide Trail as well. The CDT is better known in the hiking community as people through-hike the rugged route rather than ride (although TD does overlap with part of the CDT down in this area - I hear it's pretty challenging on the bike with a very rocky terrain). So you get a big mix of riders and hikers passing through on a daily basis, offering a great place to share stories and meet new friends along the way. 

Last year, Nick attempted Tour Divide but instead of starting in Banff and moving south, he started in Antelope Wells, NM (the southernmost point of the route) and headed north. I drove him down to Pie Town and we stayed at the Toaster House before he headed out for a couple days of "warm-up" as he road down to the border to get things started. In retrospect, that was maybe a bad idea, who wants to ride extra miles just before starting a 2700-mile-long bikepacking trip? OK, maybe there are a few people that this works for but I don't know... seems excessive. 

Anyway, staying at the Toaster House was an experience. I know, I know, you've probably already asked this like 10 times by this point... but why is it called the Toaster House? No, you don't get great toast there, the house isn't the shape of a toaster. Randomly, the fence that borders the house has old, broken down toasters nailed to the posts. I have no idea of the story behind this decoration decision, but it's unique and it's certainly memorable. 

I'm sure Nick is happy to be back in a familiar place with great memories. And I bet he's happy to get to share this unique experience with Charlie who has been the best riding partner anyone could ask for. Sounds like both guys have had their ups and downs over the past few days. Everything is hurting on both of them but they're keeping things positive and just moving along at whatever pace and duration they decide for the day.

I talked to Nick a night or two ago after he'd just had a rough day. Sounds like some stomach issues are still plaguing him and that's leaving him totally empty when he should be eating and drinking as much as possible. Anyway, Charlie helped Nick get through the tough day and they decided to stop in Grants to get a giant pizza and drinks and just get some decent sleep. Talking with Nick that night, Charlie was in the background getting his stuff sorted for the next day and the two of them together were so slap happy and goofy, it was incredible. When you're so tired you can't even think straight, it can be really easy to get down on any little problem or annoyance. Instead, these two just joke their way through it, telling stories I sometimes wish I could unhear, and keep a great perspective on the whole thing. 

They're both certainly eager to get this event wrapped up and get off their bikes for a long while. But they're also being smart about the mileage and taking care of themselves. 800, 600, 400 miles is still a long way to go! It seems like the finish line has been just right there for the past few days, but it's still a good chunk off and they aren't trying to pull anything miraculous out of themselves. Instead, the steady march moves forward. 

This is one of the harder parts of being a support person or a friend watching a loved one race Tour Divide. You see how close they are to the finish line and then you get antsy for them to just make it happen. Just do two 200-mile days in a row and then you'll be there! Or try riding through the night to get some extra miles in. But these thoughts are not helpful because the riders need to assess how they're feeling, what the motivation level is, and then figure out their plan. It's easy to say it's just a couple hundred miles. But when you're completely cracked, 10 miles seems like a big deal. So I've been trying to gently encourage Nick to keep pushing and keep moving and then just sit back and let it all play out. 

Nick and Charlie have about 2-3 more days of riding left until they reach the Mexican border. Hopefully a night at the Toaster House was enough to boost their moods and fire them up for the next section of riding. It would be great to see them finish on Monday (2 days away) for a 25-day finish time but there are some serious miles and some slow trails ahead. I'm heading down to New Mexico tomorrow to wait for Nick and Charlie's arrival. Looking forward to cheering them on as they wrap this thing up once and for all. 

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Wednesday, June 27
Day 20

Getting high in Colorado. Hey, it’s legal, you know.

Just kidding, Nick and Charlie hit the highest point of Tour Divide today as they crested the unofficially named Indiana Peak this morning. Reaching 11,910 feet above sea level, this peak doesn’t actually have a name as far as I know. But when the Adventure Cycling Association was putting together maps for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail (basically the same route as Tour Divide), they named it Indiana pass. I’m not exactly sure what the story around the naming is, but Nick can fill us in when he finishes up.

Today was another good day for the Charlie and Nick crew. They got an early morning start and then tackled Indiana Pass through most of the morning. Sounds like they’re both feeling good, albeit a little tired…. Hmmm, wonder why? Only 2,000 miles into a 2,700 mile race. Nick is loving being back riding with Charlie and they’re getting antsy for that finish line.

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One more big pass to go for the dynamic duo, which they are cresting right about now as I write on Wednesday evening. From there, the terrain turns mostly rolling with some long, flat sections. It also includes a lot of pavement through New Mexico, so the pace should pick up a little.

There is also a significant re-route for all riders due to some serious wildfires down in New Mexico. The new route skips Polvadera Mesa, which I think most riders are not too sad about. Nick calls it "Pulverize-you Mesa" because it’s so punishingly hard. Sandy, rocky, rutted, it has it all and makes riding up basically impossible and riding down equally treacherous. So getting to skip that nonsense is boosting spirits a little as well.

I’m finally back home and back to the regular routine. Got out for a great ride up into the Boulder canyons this morning with some friends and then a full day of work. It’s good to be home and back to normal with everything. Cori is mostly happy about it too, although I think she’s missing Nick… look at that face.

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Tuesday, June 26
Day 19

Well, it's been a week since the last update and so much has happened. I was up in Crested Butte for a big media launch of the new Shimano XTR drivetrain. The event was a huge success but it meant long days and late nights and of course, no Tour Divide updates. Sorry about that. But enjoy the pretty photos of mountain bike trails and wildflowers below. 

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As for Nick, he has been crushing it over the past week. The last update posted here was about hitting some bumps along the way and struggling through the lows. Luckily, he came around from those low points and found his stride again after recovering from a stomach bug. It took a few days of easy riding and low mileage, but somewhere in the middle of Wyoming, Nick turned his 2018 Tour Divide around. 

Over the past seven days, Nick has made his way from the Wyoming/Idaho border to the Colorado/New Mexico border. He tackled the Great Basin over one day, covering over 100 miles of remote Wyoming landscape with no services, basically no drinking water, and sometimes horrendous headwinds. Luckily, Nick hit a favorable day and didn't have to battle massive headwinds the whole day. Instead, he cruised through the miles and made it to Brush Mountain Lodge in northern Colorado where good friend Jay Petervary was slinging pizzas and giving encouragement to all TD riders. A familiar face and some good old home cooking helped Nick get back on track. 

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From Brush Mountain Lodge, Nick pedaled his way into Steamboat where he freshened up his bike with a new chain, cassette, and other quick-wear items. This, probably more than most things, helped boost Nick's spirits as his bike started running more smoothly and efficiently. He galloped out of Steamboat with a mission to catch his friends Laura and Charlie who he spent most of the first week of TD riding with. After parting ways in Wyoming as Nick recovered from his stomach bug, Laura and Charlie hovered about 70-90 miles ahead of Nick until he started charging.

Leaving Steamboat, Nick knew that if he put in another big day of riding, he'd make it to Salida, where his friends would be waiting. It was a long one out there but he made it late Sunday night and said hello once again to his new great friend Charlie. Laura headed on without the two others as she wanted to stay on her schedule, but Nick was relieved and excited to once again join up with his great riding companion. 

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After a lazy morning and the best cup of coffee on all of Tour Divide (and basically the best cup of coffee in Colorado) at Cafe Dawn in Salida, Charlie and Nick headed out for the final push toward the Mexican border. They climbed Marshall Pass slowly. Both riders have been feeling sluggish over the past two days but they're moving along at a steady clip. They made it to Del Norte tonight and are planning on a good sleep and then will hit the road early tomorrow morning. 

Things are starting to heat up in Southern Colorado and into New Mexico. Some night riding or early morning rides are going to help them stay cool for longer. We're getting a massive heat wave here in Colorado with a couple days in the high 90s or 100s. Hopefully, New Mexico skips this heat wave, although I'm guessing it will be just as hot if not hotter down there. But Nick and Charlie are almost there and are motivated to get this Tour Divide done. Under 800 miles to go! 

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Tuesday, June 19
Day 12

Buckle up buttercup, the Tour Divide 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 Lodge, 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 own 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 feverish 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's 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 from me. 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 Lodge 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 cross the border into Wyoming tomorrow. They made it to Squirrel Creek Lodge, just as they had planned despite more rain and bad weather. Nick and I stopped here for our first night during our 2016 bikepacking trip. We started in Flagg 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 wetter and chillier this year. 

Not bad. Unfortunately, it looks quite a bit wetter and chillier 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 and he just finished up the long push through the Great Basin in Wyoming. Lewis also just crossed paths with the lead northbound 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 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 night's 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 seventh 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 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 you get some fun, 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 whole 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 Mont 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). 

Two 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 little NL blue dot on the map. I haven’t been constantly checking Track Leaders for new information or trying 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 Tour Divide 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, brakes 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 Tour Divide route covers about 2,700 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 finishing 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 Tour Divide adventure with a giant smile and a 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 unrideable, 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.