Eureka, MT (17 June 2019)Larry must have known I was on the edge of quitting. He walked over to me to share some positive words as I sat staring blankly into my coffee. He and another TD rider sat down at a nearby table but I honestly didn't remember him or Mikki from our meeting on the way up to Koko Claims until he spoke. I don't recall his words but I felt encouraged after this exchange. Still at that moment I wasn't sure if I was riding out of the town of Eureka, MT or going back to my hotel.
During the ride I often said to myself, "just one thing at a time." Sometimes I even said this out loud. A walk across the street to a convenience store to resupply was the next thing to do if I was to continue on the Tour Divide. I picked up an unusual food item for me, a can of Beanee-Weenee, and then still feeling defeated, I returned to the hotel. This really could have been the end of my ride. Last night after taking off my shorts to feel my sore bottom, a wad of skin fell into my hand. In place of the calluses created over months of training for the Tour Divide, there were open blisters which were very painful to the touch. Pat was traveling home from Banff and Glacier where she took some time for herself. Asking her to come get me was a tempting possibility. I was so hoping we could talk and honestly conflicted with regard to what I wanted from talking with her. Did I want encouragement to continue or just an ETA on when she might be able to rescue my sorry ass? For various reasons talking to Pat just wasn't possible. Back at the hotel I checked my bottom again and applied a final layer of neosporin. At 8:40 AM I sent my last text message to Pat but she was camping in Glacier without cell service. That message read, "Okay, I'm doing this thing. Enjoy your drive home. Love you." After pressing send, I told myself, "just one thing at a time," straddled the bike and off I went.
I knew enough to suffer the pain for at least 30 minutes before deciding on just how bad it was. The brain has a way of turning down or turning off constant pain. Fortunately, the road was paved and smooth which allowed me to settle in on the saddle. Sure enough the pain diminished as I rode for a little while. After a time all the tissues around the large open sore felt like they were burning. Standing on the pedals for a bit relieved the pressure. Unfortunately, upon sitting back down, the whole process of pain, pain subsiding, and burning repeated. I did my best to focus on the beautiful morning, the cool air and the smooth pavement as it gently rose before me. The climb made standing on the pedals rewarding and more comfortable than pedaling on the flat. Thirty minutes passed without a thought of turning back to Eureka. "Okay I'm doing this thing," echoed in my head.
The road soon turned to gravel and pitched up more steeply. Sitting on the saddle became more difficult as the bumpiness defeated the brain's ability to turn off constant pain. I stood on the pedals for much of the climb to relieve the pain but also found this satisfying. It was a good climb, not too steep. Plus I soon saw Mikki up the road recording a video blog partway up the climb. This lifted my spirits which were further buoyed by finding Larry at the top of the climb waiting for his buddy. Despite the pain, things were looking up. It felt a bit like other bike rides I've ridden in Colorado where the climbs are challenging but not overly steep. I was feeling pretty happy but then I noticed the mount for my light shook loose. By the time I got the light assembly sorted, Mikki and Larry were headed down the hill. I never needed to tighten it again and it seemed to me the Canadian section of the Tour Divide had the bumpiest roads.
I didn't know how Mikki and Larry felt about it but I was really happy to have them as riding companions. After filtering water I came upon Larry as he exited a campground back onto the main road. He had just visited a campground toilet block he told us about earlier. Mikki was up the road, apparently he rolled past completely unaware of Larry's campground stop. Larry picked up the pace as we talked and finally mentioned that he doubted he'd catch Mikki unless Mikki realized he was ahead of us. Larry is a very strong rider and an accomplished endurance athlete but he was riding on much fatter tires than I was. I picked up the pace a bit and noticed Larry was dropping back so I decided to go after Mikki without spending too much energy. Years of group riding on the road taught me how to chase. It takes patience and you must know how to measure your effort so you don't make it back to pack so weakened that you get dropped at the very next acceleration. Of course you get lots of practice when you are dropped frequently. The chase also felt really good because there's more pressure on the pedals which took some of the pressure off my bum. When I caught Mikki he was confused when I told him Larry is behind. He was clearly committed to chasing Larry down on the false assumption that Larry was ahead. When I explain the campground stop he relented and slowed down. At that moment the brisk pace I used to catch Mikki felt so good I decided to just keep it going. In the days and weeks to come, the three of us often rode like this. I'd roll ahead, stop to eat and the two of them would roll past. This gave us multiple opportunities to share our experiences during the ride while also enjoying riding at our own pace.
I sometimes tell people I'm a vegetarian when really I just don't eat much in the way of meat. Although I eat fish regularly, bacon when I feel like it and turkey on Thanksgiving. Otherwise no beef, pork and virtually no chicken has passed my lips in decades (bacon notwithstanding). Consequently, it's often easier to just say I'm a vegetarian (apologies to all the committed vegetarians reading this). Prior to the start of the Tour Divide I decided it would be healthier and easier for me not to be concerned with excluding anything from my diet, except strawberries because I'm allergic to strawberries. Not long after leaving Mikki, I stopped to enjoy some fruit and that can of Van Camp's Beanee-Weenee which is cut up hot dogs in baked beans. It is loaded with calories, protein and salt but I began to wonder what this might do to a guy that hasn't eaten an actual hot dog since 1984.
Mikki, Larry and another cyclist rolled past before I finished lunch. I later learned the other cyclist was Bill. Once packed up and rolling it wasn't long before the long climb over Red Meadow Pass got started. Suddenly there was a building pressure in my intestines and I immediately became concerned that cut-up hot dogs in baked beans was not a brilliant lunch choice for this mostly-vegetarian. My concern grew as the climb steepened and I tried not to acknowledge the growing pressure. Almost like magic the feeling passed in a moment when gas was released. In retrospect, I think the gas was normal and the pressure was the result of worry. Sometimes when we focus on potential problems we bring them into being. After this I began telling myself something else. When my mind would start to worry about problems which might only possibly occur, I told myself, "there's no need to worry about that now." I did this often and it reminded me to enjoy the moment. Despite a year of preparation there were still a few major things I got wrong but overall I was well prepared. I just needed to remind myself to deal with problems when they arise and not let worry ruin the moment.
I got into the groove of the climb. Red Meadow pass is famous among participants of the Tour Divide for having snow but there was no snow on the road when we crossed. Instead thunder clouds rolled in and I picked up my pace. I recall that I didn't see Larry or Mikki before the top of the climb whereas I overtook Bill on a steep section where I was breathing too hard to talk. Just as the top appeared, some sleet and perhaps hail began to fall. Instead of stopping to put rain gear on, I decided to get lower because in the mountains it's not unusual for the precipitation to be confined to the higher elevations. Whoop, whoop that was a crazy fun descent! So fast and not horrifically bumpy. The gravel was in good shape and as I had hoped, it was dry. I escaped the hail, sleet and rain that I later discovered had Mikki and Larry pinned down waiting it out under a picnic shelter. Apparently I passed them when they were stopped somewhere before passing Bill on the climb, perhaps having lunch or a nature break.
There remained plenty of daylight when I reached Whitefish, Montana but I decided to check it out anyway and headed off route into town. I was immediately greeted by lots of traffic and confusion so I turned back toward the route, headed to Columbia Falls and checked into the Pioneer Motel to take care of my bottom. Day four was fun! My bum was no better but I managed to deal with it. Clearly it would have been a lot more fun without the pain. Several good things happened on day 4. I was finally able to have a good conversation with Pat which made me feel so much better. The climbing was good and the downhills were awesome! Finally, talking with Mikki and Larry during the ride was also a big plus. Later I noticed from TrackLeaders that they stopped in Whitefish just 10 miles behind as did Mark from the day before. I hoped to see them all again tomorrow.
Things to know
Ride With GPS Tour Divide Route (copy) Be aware that the Tour Divide Race route differs from the Adventure Cycling Great Divide Route in several places. I don't know what the differences are because I only researched the Tour Divide Routes.
Stopped once to filter water. The bike cared nearly 3 liters of water. Flowing water is available in Montana but not as plentiful as it seemed to be in Canada.
Day 4 Eureka to Columbia Falls, 88.5 miles, 5,090 ft climbing, 11:22 hours (8:07 moving)
Day 1 Banff to Round Prairie, 104 miles, 6,715 ft climbing, 12:15 hours (10:22 moving)
Day 2 Round Prairie to Flathead River just shy of Butts Cabin, 103 miles, 8,332 ft climbing, 15:10 hours (12:23 moving)
Day 3 Flathead River to Eureka, MT, 75 miles, 5,620 ft climbing, 10:50 (8:23 moving)