Last week, we first heard from Sydney-based rider Arran Pearson, about heading off to Banff to start the Tour Divide, and like the route, the story continues…
The rest of the first week is pretty much a blur – I spent the first few days just getting used to the riding and was managing to stick to around the 200km a day mark. The initial parts of the ride are stunningly beautiful as you climb into the Montana high country. Only problem is that it seemed that most of the roads go straight up – this translated into much singlespeed walking action! On the positive side it seemed that most of the other Singlespeeders must have been walking more than I was!
I caught up with fellow singlespeeder Scott McConnell I think on about the third day and we pretty much ended up sticking within about 30 miles of each other for pretty much the rest of the race. The good news was that by the end of the first week we’d pretty much made a clear break on the remaining singlespeed field, the bad news was that we were riding with our main competition and on singlespeeds running pretty similar gearing the only way to get a lead was to ride longer than the other guy. This made for quite a few long days!
By about day 5, I was pretty much in agony – my knees were shot, my forearms were killing me and my neck was really stiff but then,as if by magic, the fabled TDR legs kicked in. Its pretty amazing, you go to sleep feeling stiff and sore but then wake up feeling refreshed and (most) of the aching body parts seem to have settled down. Its not like a whole new burst of energy or anything but at least the pain has gone.
Of course pain is replaced by a constant feeling of exhaustion but even that gets manageable after a while.
The stats say that if you can get through Montana then you’re likely to go on to finish the race. It doesn’t sound logical given than you still have about 2/3 of the distance to cover (which seemed unimaginably far at the time) but I remember getting to the 1000 mile mark (roughly where Mike Dion pulls the pin in the film) and thinking to myself ‘You know? I can finish this thing!’ This is a scary thought as you also realise that if you fail to finish then it’s mental and not physical. Although everyone I spoke to post race admits to having a moment where they were wishing for some sort of serious-ish accident that would give them a reason to stop.
After the 1/2 way point I started to get a lot more serious about winning the singlespeed race which meant that as much as I was enjoying riding with Scott, I needed to make a serious effort to get away.
My first effort was in Wyoming – I managed to get a gap on the climb over Union Pass and then kept up a pretty good pace to make it through to Atlantic City (not the cool one from Boardwalk Empire) – about 280km or so. However, the next day I was to face ‘The Basin’ – a section of 100 miles or so with almost no water on corrugated gravel roads and to top it all off into a 40mph headwind for most of it.
I finally made it through to Rawlins at about 9:30 pm or so and then made a mistake. After eating the menu at a McDonalds I was feeling a bit high on fat and sugar and concerned that Scott would also push to Rawlins, (and I’d thus loose my lead) I decided to push on. I eventually bivvied in some bushes 20km or so out of town. Not smart given the effort of the day before. Note to self, two 18+ hour days in a row was not sustainable.
The next day I had nothin. Zip. Nada. I just seemed to be bonking all day and it didn’t matter what I ate. I was so tired that I fell asleep on an 80km/h descent. Not good (I was awakened from a dream about our esteemed editor explaining how to stay awake on a bike by the ripple strips – thats how out of it I was!). I eventually staggered into the awesomeness that is Brush Mountain Lodge in northern Colorado to be treated to a feast by the owner, Kirsten, who’d been watching me struggle up the valley on Trackleaders. Despite it being only about 4pm and having done less than 140km for the day I decided that I needed the rest and sat back and relaxed.
Of course the downside is that when you rest, you get caught and sure enough Scott arrived at about 7pm. Sigh. escape attempt fail! On the upside, I really enjoyed riding with him (bit of a singlespeed bromance there!) so it was all good.
With most guys needed to get bikes attended to in Steamboat Springs the next day I made the decision to just push on – the Sheep was riding well and although my rear tyre was looking a little second hand I figured it probably had enough in it to get me through to Salida. This was a pretty decisive move as from then on I pretty much was on my own – well at least until the reroute from hell (more on that later).
And then, the racing will begin. More from Arran next week.