Tour Divide Diaries

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

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

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

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

 A muddy bike from so much rain!

A muddy bike from so much rain!

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

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

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

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

 Majestic Crested Butte 

Majestic Crested Butte 

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, June 17
Day 10

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

 Crossing the border on our 2016 trip together.  

Crossing the border on our 2016 trip together.  

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

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

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

 Rails to Trails are the best..... 

Rails to Trails are the best..... 

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

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

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

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Friday, June 15
Day 8

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

 Photo: Blackfoot Angler Fly Shop in Ovando

Photo: Blackfoot Angler Fly Shop in Ovando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, June 14
Day 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, June 13
Day 6

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

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

 Scenes from Ovando and Lincoln on our bikepacking adventure in 2016

Scenes from Ovando and Lincoln on our bikepacking adventure in 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, June 12
Day 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Monday, June 11
Day 4

Confessions of a dot-stalker wife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Sunday, June 10
Day 3

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

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

 From Galton Pass

From Galton Pass

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

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Saturday, June 9
Day 2


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

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

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

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

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

 Rainy, soggy weather all day

Rainy, soggy weather all day

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

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

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

 Sending funny photos to Nick to make him smile :) 

Sending funny photos to Nick to make him smile :) 

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Friday, June 8
Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

 Setting off with a smile and a wave. 

Setting off with a smile and a wave. 

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

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

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

 Lake Louise

Lake Louise

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

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

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

 Pre Avalanche! 

Pre Avalanche! 

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

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

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

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