The cost of an adventure

After closing the doors on 2015 and wrapping up my dialog on what was Trans Am Bike Race 2015 (TABR15), it is a good summation to say that I believe my race-killer was lack of funds.  With that thought, several folks have made the logical leap and asked the question, “just how much money does it take to do the race?” This post will be my attempt to answer that.

A few caveats to mention:

  • This post is really for anyone who plans to race or is thinking about racing in their first endurance event, specifically TABR. I am sure a lot of this info would transfer over to other races, but in full disclosure, my experience is strictly TABR.
  • Much like one’s strategy, set-up or training, the cost of the race will be different for each person. There are just too many variables. What works for one, won’t for another. Everyone has different gear choices, comfort levels, metabolisms and abilities. These things will define your individual cost to do the race. The best I can do is to give you information based on my experience and research, then try to help you walk through what your expenses might look like

So how much does it cost? The shortest answer is “more than you think!”, but in all reality, I think this topic deserves more attention to detail than that. What follows is my take on TABR expenses. Buckle up and let’s get to this!

Here are a few main types of expenses that we can look at:

  • Travel– Everyone will have to get to and/or from the race. That will cost you!
  • Gear– You have your main kit and then stuff you’ll use during the race.
  • Nutrition– Ya gotta eat, but what will you eat? How much?
  • Sleep– It costs nothing to rest, but where you choose to do so can change that.

Those four categories encompass most of what you will need to spend money on while in the race, as long as things go according to plan. Of course, there can always be a wrench thrown in the works.

DIVERSIONS FROM THE PLAN

In 2014, Billy Rice broke his bike frame at the bottom bracket. Completely toast. He had to replace his frame in order to be able to carry on (there is much more to that, but you can watch Inspired to Ride to hear that story). That is above and beyond what the normal racer would need to spend for sure.

You could also have medical expenses. Before the 2015 race even started, German racer Matthias Mueller was struck by a car while out on a training ride just one day before the race. The ensuing treatment impacted his finances in a huge way and ended his bid to start the race.

Now these aren’t the only two instances where someone had the preverbal wheels fall off of their racing attempt, but I think you understand that some have had to spend more than they anticipated. I’m not going to go into emergency expenses because there is no way to know what could possibly happen.

GETTING YOUR KIT TOGETHER

KIT- it’s everything you need (or at least think you need) to take with you. Bike, clothing, sleep set-up… the list can be long or short, but you have to have stuff!

One of the biggest expenses that someone might make is their bike. You have to have one. It IS after all a bike race! That being said, most everyone who signs up for this event surely already owns a bike. They may want to buy a new one that would be more specific to road endurance racing, but that expense would need to be classified as optional. Everyone has their own preference.

Stuff you carry on your bike- sleeping kit, lights, charging systems, bikepacking bags. All sorts of bits and bobs fall in this one. With a background in backpacking, in the beginning I thought I had things sorted pretty well. This sport is after all just backpacking on a bike. As I began preparing for the race, I ended up spending quite a bit more than I thought I would, but I was a rookie. Someone who has done this sort of racing before will probably have all the kit they need. I tried to keep expenses to a minimum, but ended up sinking about $1500USD into kit. You can get a look at my TABR15 set-up in a post I made here.

Side note: Your kit is a rabbit hole of time (spent researching), stress (making decisions) and most importantly expense. There is ALWAYS something lighter or better and with it usually comes a big price tag. Sometimes it is nice to have top end kit that is super light. Don’t get crazy with it. I’ll quote what Mike Hall said about weight in a piece he wrote for Bikepackers Magazine and leave it at that:

Don’t get too hung up on weight.

Your bike only needs to be light enough that you can’t make it any lighter without compromising something else (or spending an awful lot of money). Don’t scrimp on tire sidewalls and pack volume. Packing less into a slightly bigger bag so that it can go in any old way saves a lot of time when deploying and packing up your sleeping kit, way more than a few grams will on a climb. Try not to compare your bike against other competitors for weight, try not to even weigh everything and definitely don’t do the energy calcs, it will only make it more difficult to stop thinking about and it doesn’t really mean anything. Other riders have other builds and other metabolisms and eating habits. There is such a thing as light enough and it may not be lighter than everybody else. It won’t make you significantly slower, you might just have to eat a few grams more food and besides there are plenty of other things to worry about.

Some other, shall we say miscellaneous expenses that might get overlooked are things like costs incurred during training. Preparing for a race like this means you have to get out on your bike and use your stuff. The best training you can do is getting out overnight or even several nights so you can experience what its like to rely on your kit. Doing longer rides like this, you’ll go through tires and chains. You will have to eat on those rides. You might use batteries for devices. Maybe you’ll end up having to replace pieces of gear. I can’t quantify these things for you because everyone trains different. Just something for you to think about.

So, backing up to those four I mentioned earlier- travel, gear, nutrition and sleep- let’s dig a little deeper, because I think this is where I can help you the most.

TRAVEL

Now, I understand that we all live in different places around the world, so there isn’t a way for me to give you an idea of what your specific cost of traveling to or from the race will be. I can however give you my experience. I have traveled to do the Trans Am twice- once in 2011 to tour it and again in 2015 for the race. Both times I researched different types of travel (plane, train, bus) and I also researched whether to ship or bring my bike along with me. My research revealed that flying was both fastest and cheapest. Both times I flew into Portland, OR from St Louis. I live in Missouri, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the country. As for getting the bike where I need it, I chose to check it as luggage in a bike box on the plane. There are some ways to ship your bike (check bikeflights.com), but they aren’t that much cheaper and take much longer.

In my opinion, if you live in the continental US, there is no cheaper or easier airline to fly than Southwest. Fares are the lowest I could find, carry on luggage is free (I used my saddle bag as my carry on) and there aren’t fees for your first checked bag, unless it is oversize. I boxed my bike up and checked it as luggage. In 2011 it cost me $50 for the oversize charge. They raised the price in the mean time and in 2015 it cost me $75. I have heard horror stories of people having to pay exorbitant amounts with other airlines. Side note- make sure to know what your stuff weighs. The oversize baggage price of $75 only goes up to 50 pounds. Beyond that, the price goes up. That is why I take the seat bag on as a carry on. I take some items of kit out of the box and put them in the bag to make sure I am under the weight limit with all the packaging.

I can already hear my international friends screaming, “It doesn’t work that way for us!” Well, I know. I have yet to travel international so I won’t be much help to you here. All I’ll say is shop around different airlines, check the airlines oversize baggage regulations and keep your stuff as light as possible to minimize expense.

I was super blessed to have a friend who travels a lot on business purchase my flights for me with points he earned from being a frequent flyer. The only expense I had was the oversize baggage fee for my bike box- $75USD. Had I needed to buy my own tickets, my flight from STL-PDX would’ve been somewhere around $175 and a flight from ORF-STL runs about $150 (both of those figures are flying with Southwest).

GEAR- DURING THE RACE

I know I mentioned some about gear before, but that was in reference to getting your kit together. Hopefully, when you reach the start, you will have everything you need. More than likely you will have too much, but that is for another post. 🙂

The gear I am talking about now is your maintenance stuff: tires, tubes, chain, cassette, lube, brake pads, cleats for your shoes- any sort of consumable for the bike. Also think about personal consumables. Do you use chamois cream? Wet wipes are a good thing to carry to clean up the nether regions with when you are roughing it overnight. Maybe batteries for electronics? What about sunscreen? You are likely to be on the road anywhere from 20-40 days. All these things are items that you will more than likely use multiple times throughout the race. As you train, keep track of what you use, how often you have to replace them and what it costs. With 4400 miles and 20+ days, how much will you need?

One thing to keep in mind is that there is no need to carry all these items with you from the start. It is within the rules to ship things to post offices c/o General Delivery. Of course that means that you will need to be at that spot during the hours the post office is open to retrieve your items. I sent myself one package General Delivery to Missoula, MT during my 2011 tour with no problems, other than I got to town Saturday evening before Labor Day. This meant I had to wait there until Tuesday to get my package. Not too big of a deal when you are touring, but catastrophic if you are racing.

During TABR15, I spent an average of $10.20USD/day on gear, postage and supplies. That figure includes one tire, some batteries and postage for items shipped home from Silverthorne, CO. I know I spent a little on some wet wipes and Neosporin, but I wasn’t able to track down where that went. My accounting wasn’t an exact science folks!

NUTRITION

What you eat will likely be your biggest expense during the race itself. Where you choose to get that food will play a huge roll in just how expensive it gets.

The places you can reliably find food along the Trans Am route are gas stations/convenience stores, diners, restaurants, markets (think Dollar General) and grocery stores. The order I put those in is indicative of how often you will see each type of store immediately along the route. You can get off route and find places, but in the interest of time saved, your best bet IMO is to figure out how to get what you need from convenience stores. That being said, you pay for convenience. Only slightly more nutritious meals can be found at restaurants and diners, but with that choice you have to stop for longer. By the time you tip (and you most certainly better!), these meals aren’t cheap either.

What I found in my 13 days of racing TABR15 was an average of $53.09USD spent per day on food. That is a little more than what I expected and more than some of the racers I polled from TABR14. It is important to point out that I am not a little man and not once did I deny myself food during the race. I ate all I wanted and still lost 10lbs in 13 days.

SLEEP

Depending on your willingness to rough it, where you choose to sleep can have a great effect on what it costs you. TABR15 finisher Adam Kazilsky camped out along the road or in parks almost every night. I asked him about his sleeping expenses and he said he spent $84- one $80 hotel stay for his birthday and a $4 day pass at a park. In my opinion, that is the low end of the scale. I know there were others that spent almost, if not every, night in a hotel. Depending on how many days you take for the race, that expense could add up quickly.

My lodging expenses for TABR15 were $437.63USD which was $72.94/stay (6 nights in real beds), or $33.66/day averaged out over my 13 days. An interesting point is that my lodging expenses were $0 for the first five days. My 6 hotel nights were in my last 8 days.

TOTAL 

So, totaling it all up? My expenses were mine. Everybody’s are different. In total, during the race, I spent $1260.42 over 13 days, or $96.96/day.

Had I continued on in the race, I would have had to have spent more on tires and tubes. Food expenses likely would have remained about the same. Lodging is sooooo easy to spend money on. I would have likely spent more on hotels had I carried on.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In the end, I would say that an in-race average dollar/day figure of $100 is a good budget to shoot for in preparation. If you can do better than that during the race then you are golden. Many of the 2014 racers I spoke with planned on less. That was not the case for me. Don’t forget that these figures are during the race! Race registration, travel, SPOT tracker rental, trackleaders.com fee, pre-race/post-race meals and hotels all add up too. Overall expenses could be anywhere form $3000 to $5000, depending on your particular circumstances and choices. To some that is a lot and others it isn’t. For me, it’s not about the money. I have to have it to race, but the race is an adventure. An experience that you will never forget. That is priceless.

TABR15- Day 14- Guffey, CO to Cañon City, CO

Post offices. Not made for sleeping really, but what a Godsend when you need it. I woke to the sound of the alarm on my phone. It was 6:30AM and although the sun had come up, it was still cold. Too cold for me. Scott was packing up and getting ready to hit the road. I told him I would wait. Temps were still really low, as low as they had been just hours before, and I didn’t want to go through that experience again. He finished packing and left. I went back to sleep.

An hour later, my alarm went off. I reluctantly got up and packed my things. Once outside, I realized that it was going to be a rough ride down to Cañon City, even with the extra hour I had taken. Just get it over with. Down the road I went.

The mile back to the route was just shocking to me. Everything from the night before came back in a rush. I made the turn back onto the route and set my mind on the next turn about 23 miles ahead onto Hwy 50. The road was almost completely downhill so there was no chance to warm up by cycling. The sun would do the job. Eventually.

At one point, I checked my phone and noticed a bit of service. I had a text from Scott. He was hoping that I was well and said he had found a good place for breakfast, right after the turn onto 50. I stopped and replied, saying I was on my way. I was really hungry and looking forward to a good meal.

The farther I went, the warmer it got and by the time I reached the left turn onto 50, I was no longer freezing, just a bit chilly. I made my way up toward the restaurant Scott had mentioned and before I could turn in the lot, I had a flat. Bugger. Frustrated, cold and hungry, I said screw it and just went inside for breakfast. I would attend to it later.

Scott was gone, making hay and putting the miles down. I sat down, ordered coffee and breakfast, then called my wife. I told her about the past 24 hours. It had been a whirlwind, but I just couldn’t focus on the good at the time. I was pretty low mentally. As we chatted, I asked if she could give me a rundown of where we stood with finances. I had some savings and a credit card that I had been using, but I had hardly a clue how much I had spent.

Her answers were like hammer blows. The balances were low. I sat at the table with my head in my hands, staring into my coffee cup. “Ok, well, how much have I spent so far in total?” It should have been easy math, but my brain was fried. As she tallied, I waited, praying the overall picture was not as bleak as I thought. She gave me the figures and did a bit of math. I had been spending at a rate per day that was much higher than I had planned on. Add in the fact that I was behind what I expected as far as mileage was concerned and you had a perfect storm of failure. With what it was costing me per day, I had zero chance of being able to finish. I had 5 days worth left and I was at mile 2056 of 4406. I didn’t even have enough to be able to continue on and make it home (I live in Farmington, MO, which is along the route.)

I was crushed. I told Jeneen I would mull it over and call her back later. There was nothing where I was at and I would need to get to some sort of civilization if I was going to make an exit from the race. With 8 miles to Cañon City, I would call her from there after I thought on things. I finished my breakfast and headed outside to fix my flat.

Once back on the road, I just ambled along. Admittedly, I cried a bit. Emotions were flaring. I had come so far and was proud of that, but the very last thing I wanted to do was quit. As I rode, I gained peace. The answer was simple- I would pull from the race. The simple fact was I had 2 options. Option 1- I could carry on, deplete all of my families reserves and go into debt to finish. This option would also mean that I would be returning home at least a week past when I told my employer I would be back, leading to loss of income as well. Option 2- I could bow out in Cañon City and go home. I would stop the financial bleeding and regroup for the 2016 race. There was no real choice. Being a husband and a father, I had to go home.

I made my way down to Cañon City and checked into a hotel. I called Jeneen and explained my decision to her. We then started discussing how to get me home. After a bit of discussion, we decided that she would drive out and pick me up. Being a weekend, she was off of work and free so she sorted everything quickly and left right away. I sat in the hotel room throughout the day and ruminated on everything. I texted Nathan Jones to let him know I was out. Texted Scott with the same info. I also called into MTBCast and made my withdrawal report. All those things made it very real. I got Dominoes delivered to the room, ate and slept.

 

What an incomplete way to end this tale, but I think it is appropriate. The adventure was incomplete. I have had a lot of time to think on it all and I realize that my failure was in planning and preparing. TABR15 was a great adventure and so many things about it will live on in my mind forever. Of course, right now, I am knee deep in TABR16 prep and although writing this has been a bit of a drag as I dig up all the bad, it has also been rather cathartic to purge it all. For 2016 I have a plan. Not all will go according to it, I am sure, but one thing is for certain- I will give everything I have to finish and reach my goals. Oh, and one other thing is certain. You’ll get to read about it. 🙂

TABR16logo

Photo credit:  Joseph Boquiren

TABR15- Day 13- Kremmling, CO to Guffey, CO

Scott and I had shared a room at the Super 8 in Kremmling. After getting in pretty late, we slept a little late and had the continental breakfast by 8:15AM. After checking out, we went back across the street to the gas station for supplies, then hit the road.

I was pretty excited about the day. After 12 days of temperature ups and downs in the mountains, today would be the day that we left the Rockies and made our way to the plains. With 160 miles to Cañon City, we shouldn’t have an issue getting there.

Out of town and down the highway, we came across road construction. It wasn’t the first stretch of dirt/gravel along the route, but I remember it being pretty chunky. Soon we were through it and came across the turn to go around Green Mountain Reservoir. I love that stretch of quite road. It is a nice respite from the busy main highway.

Back on the main road and headed toward Silverthorne, I found my stride and was rolling. Very soon Scott was nowhere to be seen behind me. I recognized that I was pushing a bit and wanted to make sure I had plenty to climb Hoosier Pass, so I backed it down a notch or two. Before long, I found the city limits and a gas station to stop at. I figured Scott would be right along soon, which he was. We then headed out in search of the post office.

With the impending summit of Hoosier Pass just down the road past Breckenridge, we would be getting out of the mountains and thus getting away from the cold temps. The prior year, I had watched Facebook and seen how most of the riders sent all their cold weather gear home in Pueblo. All along, I had planned that if I got to Silverthorne early in the day, I would send my cold gear back there, loosing several pounds of weight nearly 200 miles before others intended to send their stuff home. I had the idea that this would be a pretty good advantage.

To the post office we went and I sent it all. Coat, gloves, sock hat, balaclava, leg warmers, shoe covers- everything went, plus a few miscellaneous things like maps that I was done with and so on. If I remember right, the package weighed nearly 3 pounds. I was ecstatic! This would make me fly! The only clothing I kept was my base layer shirt and my rain jacket. I did hold on to my sleeping quilt. Good thing.

On through Silverthorne and down the trails around Dillon Reservoir we went. Then the trails to Breckenridge. By the time we got to Breck, I was famished. I also needed to find a bike shop and get a new tire- my back one was shot. Scott had a pedal problem and needed the shop as well. We found a shop and took care of our business. It seemed to take quite awhile, but we got it done. Being mid June, Breck was bustling with tourists. We needed to eat, but I really wanted to just go. I wanted to make sure I put some space between me and upper elevations before it got too late (read: cold). We found a burger joint on the main drag, Downstairs at Eric’s, that a friend of mine had raved about before.

The restaurant was fine. I ate well, but found myself frustrated with the service. I am sure it was just me and my desire to get moving. Soon enough we were done and leaving, but the day was slipping away from me. It was now 4:00PM.

As we left town, we found a gas station for supplies. That is code for candy bars, soda, gatorade, beef jerky, peanut butter crackers. Namely anything you can shove in your pockets or bags. We got ready to leave and it hit me- I needed to hit the john. Scott took off and I went inside to heed the call. After doctoring up my bum, I left and started climbing, looking for Scott. I found him quick, just a mile or so up the road. He had stopped again to adjust his gear. We settled in riding together, headed over Hoosier.

The climb up from Breck is only about 10 miles. It is a steady, easy grade for the first 6-7 miles, then it turns up for the last 3 or so, gaining roughly 2000′ in total. Compounding that is the fact that Breck is at about 9600′ to begin with, so the climb to the top takes your breathe. At 11542′, Hoosier is up there.

I soon found myself in a groove and started to pull away from Scott. I had started the climb in a similar gearing to his so that I could try to keep pace with him. I was amped up though and just kept making ground. I wanted to make this last climb of the Rockies count so I kept on the throttle. My legs and lungs burned, but I was determined. Head phones in and jamming to some hoppin tunes, I used what Scott had taught me about finding a rhythm and sticking to it to cruise on up the climb. I never slowed down or put a foot down. When I made the last turn and saw the summit, I roared out loud like a beast!!!!! I felt so accomplished in that moment. It was certainly a highlight of the trip.

Shortly Scott came around the corner and I cheered him on and videoed him as he rode up the final pitch. We shared high fives and smiles, then got some great photos.

TABR setupTABR setupWe didn’t stay long at the top and began our descent. I was all conflicted. On one hand, we had just  summited the highest pass on the Trans Am. What a cool thing! On the other, I had no cold gear and we were 90 miles from Cañon City. If the winds were favorable and we stayed on it, we could cover that distance in about 5-6 hours. If things didn’t go as planned, it could be longer. Either way, it was after 5:00PM and we needed to stop for some food at some point. It would be a late night. Hopefully the temps would hold up after dark.

We screamed down to Alma and stopped at a shop in town. We grabbed some food, filled bottles and asked the keeper about the bar & grill in Hartsel, about 30 miles down the road. We thought that would be a good spot to grab some food, not a midpoint, but about as close as we could find on the map. She called them and verified that they would leave the grill on so we could eat when we got there. Nice!

We started busting it down the road, headed for Hartsel. We flew through Fairplay and at the turn just outside of town toward Hartsel, the wind picked up. Unfortunately, NOT a tailwind. Another demoralizing headwind blew and blew. The inclination of the road was trending downhill, but we were pedaling for all we had, just as if we were climbing. The source of the wind, a storm that was pushing over the ridge from the west, looked to make things difficult for us in more ways than just the wind. All we could do was hustle and hope to stay dry.

We rolled into Hartsel about 7:45PM, just as it started to sprinkle. There isn’t much there, but the first thing we saw was a gas station. We stopped in and grabbed supplies for what was obviously going to be a very long night ahead. Then we went down the road a bit to the bar & grill to grab some food.

The Hartsel bar seemed like the kind of place that could be a bit seedy. Locals sat around a couple tables, sipping their beers. Not much goes on in the little town, so we were fodder for people watching. The young man behind the bar was also the cook and knew what we wanted right away. He got us cokes and took our orders, then went to the back to get things cooking.

Food showed up and we ate. Soon another cyclist came in. He was a northbound Tour Divide guy. The divide crosses the Trans Am here and he was doing the same as us- loading up on food and waiting out the storm. We chatted a bit and got his story. I hate to say it, but I don’t remember much of what he said. I was too wound up thinking of the 60 miles ahead added to the impending rain and dropping temps outside.

Soon enough, Adam showed up too. He had stayed in the saddle and closed the gap on us, only to be in the same predicament. He ordered food and drink. We all sat together and chatted, discussing the radar and what to do. In the end, we decided that since we didn’t have cold gear, or at least some of us didn’t, we would hole up for a few hours and wait out the storm. The radar showed that if we left right then, we would get hammered just south of town a ways. The Divide racer went his way, Scott, myself and Adam headed to the post office to pull a Mike Hall.

Mike Hall is a very accomplished endurance racer who, among many other races, won the inaugural TABR in 2014. One of his tricks was to carry light gear and sleep inside when possible, however, not always in a hotel. Mike is known to have slept in vault toilets in bear country (because they are secure. You can lock yourself in) and quite a few times he has been found in US post offices. They are always open and seem to be fairly secure.

The three of us found the modern facility all lit up, open and deserted. We brought our bikes in, leaned them against the walls and proceed to crash out in our sleeping gear on the floor. It wasn’t exactly comfortable and certainly brighter than I preferred under the ample fluorescents, but we weren’t wet or cold. We laid down about 9:30 and set our alarms for 2 hours.

I didn’t sleep well at all. My sleeping system was flawed from the get go on this trip and I was just not able to find a way to sleep much on the concrete floor with my 1/4″ foam pad. I got a little bit of rest and woke before my alarm went off. One of the other alarms went off and the three of us got up, packed up and headed out into the cold night. I put on all I had- my base layer and my ultralight rain jacket. Fingers crossed.

It didn’t take long to realize what we had in store. Now near midnight and still at a fairly high elevation (8864′), it was cold. My guess is upper 30’s. I had hoped that I would warm up as I rode, but the route was heading downhill. Every once in awhile there would be a little incline, but not enough to warm up with. I was freezing. I stopped at one point to put a spare pair of socks on my hands. I then took a rag I had, cut it in half and shoved a half down in each of the socks to act as some insulation. Back on the road, I quickly found that it wasn’t going to work. Scott had stopped with me and Adam had ridden on. Each of us just wanted to get down.

Fifteen miles out of Hartsel, Scott and I stopped along the side of the road and got out our sleeping stuff- he his bag and me my quilt. I needed to try to get warm. It didn’t work. My 45 degree quilt just wasn’t enough to make a difference in temps that were headed toward the freezing mark. I would not get any colder with it around me per se, but I couldn’t warm up. Frustrated, we took off again, hoping to tough it out. After about 6 miles, I was shivering and couldn’t feel my hands. We stopped again and I tried to warm up with the quilt, once more to no avail. My mind started having thoughts of what was going to happen. How cold was I? Was hypothermia a potential risk? I didn’t want to over-dramatize the situation, but I wanted to be real. This wasn’t good.

A check of the map showed that we were still 40 miles from Cañon City. Another look and I noticed the little burg of Guffey, just 7 miles away. Although a mile off route, we decided to head there, realizing that there was a high probability that we wouldn’t find anything available at 2:30 in the morning. I felt like I needed to take the chance and see if I could find shelter.

Back on the bikes again and downhill toward who knew what. It only took a second for the cold to go through me. Shivering and aching from it, I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to hold onto the bars and crash. As the minutes and miles ticked away, I was barely surviving. Finally we saw the sign- Guffey 1 mile. We turned up the road that direction. It was a long mile! Eventually, we saw a few lights ahead. Rolling into the little one-horse town at 2:30AM, it seemed like no one lived there. No signs of any shelter at all.

Then, there it was- US Post Office. Hallelujah! I was never so excited to see a bunch of metal boxes in my life. We quickly got inside and found that is was nice and warm. Like manna from heaven. Just like we had at Hartsel, we strung out our sleeping gear on the floor and tried to sleep. This time, sleep found me. Not great sleep, but sleep, none the less. 130 miles was all we made on the day. Highs and lows were had, both in reality and figuratively. It was nice to be past Hoosier, but the reality was I was now another 70 miles behind. What to do, what to do.

TABR15- Day 12- Rawlins, WY to Kremmling, CO

6:30AM- My alarm went off and I’m was up, getting dressed and packing my things. After a great night of sleep, I was feeling pretty good. I hit a gas station on the way out of Rawlins for some supplies and breakfast. The last two days I had caught Scott late in the day. My plan was to make up that ground earlier. Time to make hay.

As I rode out of town, I checked Trackleaders on my phone. Scott was bedded down in Saratoga after having gotten there a little after 2:00AM. Adam showed bedded down in Sinclair, just a few miles ahead. His tracker showed he went down about 11:15PM. I was on the move before both. Good.

I rolled through Sinclair and saw a city park where I expected to find Adam. No Adam. I didn’t look too hard. Just glancing around as I rode by. Maybe he was out of view somewhere. No matter. It looked like I was back in front of him. Get going!

I left Sinclair and started the section of I-80 on the route. It is only about 15 miles of interstate shoulder, but still not much fun. Lots of debris to dodge and 80 MPH traffic a few feet away. It’s a must though as it is the route. I made quick work of it and was happy to see it end.

Back on two lane roads and headed south toward Saratoga, I was warmed up well and feeling good, ready to put in a good day. Just a couple miles up the road, I started a climb and had my head down, chugging along. I looked up to see a cyclist not far in front of me stopped along the road. As I neared him, I realized it was Adam! He was fine, just readjusting some things, but looked surprised to see me. As I passed, he got moving. I went on and kept the hammer down, leaving him fairly quickly. I never asked, but I assume he just wasn’t feeling it that morning.

I made Saratoga and stopped at a gas station for some grub and to refill bottles. Gas station pizza and ice cream with a chocolate milk chaser was on the menu. It did all I needed it to do. I checked Trackleaders and saw Scott was about 20 miles ahead. I figured I could make that up pretty quick. Looking back at Adam’s, I realized that I had been mistaken earlier when I thought he was bedded down. It hadn’t updated on my phone. He had actually gotten up and left a few minutes before I got up. Strange how the trackers and the system work sometimes. Certainly not an exact science.

Down the road I went, into more rollers as I went through Southern Wyoming. Although it is a bit bleak and arid looking, it has its own beauty.

I grabbed food and drink in Riverside, just 20 miles down the road. I knew it would be the last stop before Walden, CO some 50+ miles ahead, and quite a bit of climbing along the way. Scott was still 20 miles ahead of me. I had made no ground on him.

The climbs south and east of Riverside didn’t feel quite as difficult as I remembered them to be in 2011. My legs were feeling strong and I had slept well. I cruised on ahead and was nearing the Colorado state line. All at once, it hit me. Very near the border, I bonked.

I’m usually good about having some sort of food with me and have never really hit bottom with a calorie deficit before. It happened quickly and unfortunately all I had left to eat was a stick of beef jerky. It was food, but it would take way too long for my body to process it. I needed some carbs bad. Nothing I could do, I ate the jerky and lumbered along. My legs that had felt awesome all day went to jelly. No power. Nothing. As I tried to eat my jerky, I met a car that was taking pictures of me. If I had been in a better state, I might have realized it was the serial dot watcher Olaf Sorenson. He was a very long way away from his home in the Pacific Northwest, but had taken vacation to come out and see the racers in their element. I wish I would’ve said a proper hello. All I did was give a wave and continue moseying along.

I kept moving, albeit very slow. I crossed into Colorado and made my way the remaining 25 miles to Walden. I was famished and beat. I pulled into a gas station and found Scott there. He was happy to see me, as usual. I don’t think that guy ever gets down. He had eaten at a restaurant up the street and had just bought supplies for the ride ahead there at the station. He asked if I wanted to ride along with him, but I explained that I bonked out and needed to eat. He rolled out saying he would soft pedal and see me later. I told him I would do my best to catch up after I ate. I grabbed a chocolate milk and chugged it, then headed up the street to find real food.

The restaurant that Scott had eaten at was where I went. It was one of the places I had been to in 2011 as well. A monster cheeseburger with fries and coke helped. I ate dessert too. Once I finished, I went back to the gas station and supplied up. I actually bought too much. I didn’t want to run out again! I was feeling much better after having eaten and was ready to go chase down my little single speed buddy.

I headed south out of Walden. The first 30 miles were through the valley and a pretty easy ride. I rolled along well, keeping the pace up. As I started out of the valley, climbing up toward 9621′ Willow Creek pass, I naturally slowed, only to find out that the mosquitos were atrocious! Now being 150 miles into the day and having spent myself so completely earlier, my legs weren’t strong enough to keep my speed fast enough to stay away from the beasts. It was a long 5 miles or so to the top.

Reaching the top of Willow Creek Pass, I didn’t stay long. I slowed for a second, hoping to get a pick of the Continental Divide crossing, but the mosquitos swarmed and I bailed down the pass. Not worth loosing any more blood for it!

As I descended, the day was waining. I fully expected to see Scott any time. He might climb just a tad faster than me, but the flat areas and descents were where I made up ground. Around each turn I watched with no sign. The miles ticked off and I was concerned that I missed him somehow. Maybe he got off the side of the road somewhere and was behind me?

I kept moving and knew I was nearing the turn onto Hwy 40. It was now dusk and I had my lights on. There had been several stretches of open road where I could see quite a ways in front of me and I hadn’t seen any lights, so I figured I had either missed Scott or he was way in front. I was disappointed either way. I descended that last hill down to 40 and as I turned right, there he was on the side of the road. Sitting down, he was making a wardrobe change, adding a layer for the night chill. I did the same and we headed south together toward Hot Sulphur Springs.

Just a mile or so down the road, I had a flat. I made fairly quick work of it, but the time lost would come back to bite me.

We rolled into Hot Sulphur Springs a bit late- around 10PM. It’s a small town anyway, but the few shops that were there were closed. The last hope was a gas station with lights on, but when we pulled up, the door was locked. We were just minutes too late. The attendant was inside, but just doing after-hours chores. I was so thankful that I over bought at the station in Walden!

With a little less than 20 miles to go to Kremmling, we set out in the dark. We chatted as we rode. I explained how cool of a ride it was through that part in daylight. You descend into a canyon that has a river in the bottom with a railroad along side it. Great views can be had, but all we saw was black. The company was great though.

Chilled and tired, we arrived in Kremmling about 11:30PM. We both were tired and ready to rest, but needed to eat. We found a 24 hour gas station there and went in for the typical delicacies. I had a Bomb burrito the size of my head, chocolate milk and a bunch of other junk. It hit the spot, despite the lack of nutritional value. We checked out the ACA map for places to stay in town and ended up just going next door to the Super 8. Once again, we shared a room, however this time there were two beds. By the time I showered and rinsed my kit, then hit the sack, it was after midnight.

The mileage for the day was right at 200. It had been a great day overall. I had bridged up to Scott and met my mileage goal. I just wanted to keep that momentum going and make it out of the mountains the next day. Just one more day to the plains. There, with my gears, I would probably leave Scott and his single speed behind. I didn’t know what to think about that. Bittersweet I guess. I would worry about it when I got there. In the present, I needed to sleep.

TABR15- Day 11- Lander, WY to Rawlins, WY

After the debacle that was the day before, I decided to gather my wits and focus on the task at hand. I made a Lander-exit strategy and maximized my sleep to fit it. After having used my spare cleat in West Yellowstone, I now needed to find a new one. The earliest a bike shop opened in town was 10AM, so I slept until 9:00, then walked across the lot to a diner attached to the hotel for breakfast.

I ordered something like “the cowboy breakfast” which included my usual fare- pancakes. When I asked how many came in an order, the waitress said two. I thought about it and decided to stick with that as there were eggs, sausage, hash browns and toast with it. When my order came, I was amazed! The plate was a platter and the “pancakes” were hanging off every edge! I told her that I was glad I didn’t order 3 like I wanted to. Her response was, “I wouldn’t have let you order three.” LOL!

I ate until I was nearly ill, drank more coffee than 3 men should, payed my bill and waddled out. Stuffed to the gills, I was certainly not hungry that morning!

I gathered my things, lubed my chain, aired my tires and made my way to the bike shop right as they opened. In luck, they had my cleats. I bought a pair and stuffed them in my pack. Down the street a block was a gas station. I went inside and got supplies for the day- eats and drinks for along the way.

When I rolled out of Lander, I felt prepared and ready to take on the day. It was 10:30- late for sure, but there was no stress to speak of. Time to win the day!

About 10 miles out of Lander, the highway makes a turn to the east and exactly at that point, I turned into a nasty headwind. The kind of headwind that demoralizes you and makes you feel like you are going backwards with every pedal stroke. For 35 miles or so, the wind blew and I was hating it.

When I got to Sweetwater Station, which is little more than a rest area in the middle of nowhere, the wind flipped on it’s ear and started blowing from behind. Sweet joy! The next 20 miles went by in less than an hour.

Jeffery City came into view. A mining ghost town, there is just almost nothing there. The local bar is one of the few things open anymore, but they serve food, so most cyclists stop. I had a bad reaction to Taco Tuesday there in 2011. You can read about that here. 🙂

I went inside the bar and ordered my usual cheeseburger and fries. I washed them down with a couple Mt Dews and chatted with the barkeep. I wasn’t there long. I didn’t want to waste that fantastic tail wind and I was hoping to catch Scott before the day was done.

When I went outside, I saddled up and started to ride out. The parking lot was graveled and had a couple monster water puddles in it. For some dumb reason, I decided to ride through one and instantly knew it was a mistake. Unlike the hard pack that the rest of the lot was, in the puddle was thick mud. I managed to make it through it without having to put a foot down, but once I came out and rode across the remaining gravel to the road, the mud on my tires picked up rocks and jammed my rim brakes full. I made it to the road shoulder and started cleaning everything out so I could move.

As I cleaned, I noticed a rider coming up. It was Adam Kazilsky! He had been slowly making up the gap and had finally caught me. We chatted a minute and he headed into the bar & grill for some grub. Frustrated that I had wasted the time acting like a kid in the mud puddle and a bit flustered that I had been caught by someone, I hit the road with fervor…and a tail wind.

The wind pushed. I pushed. The sum was a great average speed. I flew right along and reached Muddy Gap pretty quick. I stopped at the gas station there, doctored my bum, filled bottles and resupplied. I checked Trackleaders and saw that Adam was on the move again, headed my way. Scott was nearly to Rawlins. I wouldn’t catch him unless he stopped for a bit. I didn’t dally too long and headed back out.

Before long, I dropped into the Great Divide Basin, named so because precipitation that falls there goes neither to the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. It stays there. Granted, there is very little rainfall there at all. If there was any one place that I did not remember fondly along my 2011 tour it was this place. The weather is tricky in the basin- sometimes it rains, sometimes it is super hot, usually the wind blows hard. To add insult to injury, the 2 lane road is a major thoroughfare for regional semi traffic and the speed limit is 65 MPH, making riding in the lane unfavorable. You would think that you could just ride the ample shoulder instead, but it is pock marked with big cracks and potholes everywhere. There is also a rumble strip right next to the white line, gobbling up almost all of the remaining good real estate.

When you add it all up, in 2011 I rode on a strip of pavement just to the right of the rumble strip that was about 3″ wide. Just 12″ to my left was speeding truck traffic that was unfriendly and the wind was blowing really hard from the left. Each time a truck would go by, the wind effectively stopped for a second, then returned as soon as the truck was gone, nearly blowing me over every time. It was a miserable ride.

Not looking forward to the next bit, I dropped into the basin and just put the hammer down. I figured there was no sense staying there any longer than I had to. Fortunately, the traffic was lighter than my previous experience and after a few miles, I came upon new pavement! Wyoming had finally given me something to cheer about! The remainder of my ride across the basin was easy and I was relieved. The only thing left to do was climb  out at the end.

The climb out of the basin is a proper one. To make it more of a challenge, it has several false summits. I knew this and didn’t let it bother me. Along the way I texted Scott. He was in Rawlins at McDonald’s. I told him I would be right there. I cruised right along and soon was heading down hill toward Rawlins. Feeling pretty good, I was flying. Then I flatted. Flats on downhills suck, if for no other reason than they make you stop, killing the buzz.

After the repair, I cruised into Rawlins and found the golden arches. When I pulled up, I saw the familiar sight of the single speed outside. I had caught him!

Inside it was handshakes and backslaps. Then lots of food and coke while we told our stories. He had a miserable experience in the rain overnight and had more than once wished he hadn’t went on from Lander. He had tried to bivy up along side the road, but it wasn’t a good spot. He said he had eventually slept in the rest area floor at Sweetwater Station, cold, wet and leary of people that came in through the night. I told him about my day and was glad that I had stayed in Lander. Scott had a bivy and could bed down mostly anywhere. With my hammock, I needed trees to hang in and they were in extremely short supply around those parts. When rain came, I had no shelter without trees. I would’ve been truly miserable had I went on.

Scott was looking at his map and had that look in his eye. He planned on pushing further to Saratoga, about 50 miles away. A quick look at the weather showed a good chance of storms again. I wasn’t having any of it. I planned to get a room in a hotel just down the street.

Straight away, Adam came in. We all exchanged our stories again, and then went on to plans. Adam had a bivy and a great streak of no hotels going that he didn’t plan to break. He would ride on as well. Around 9:00PM, Scott left, I went to my hotel and we left Adam at the McDonald’s eating his supper.

At the hotel, I washed my kit, got a shower and called Jeneen. With 135 miles on the day, I was well below the mileage I wanted, but because of my choice of sleep system, I was limited. Of course I could have just rode on through the night and the rain, but I thought that sleep was best. I would make hay another day. Thankful again to be warm, clean, fed and dry, I crawled in bed and slept.

TABR15- Day 10- Hatchet Resort to Lander, WY

After getting in bed at the Hatchet Resort at 11:30PM the night before, my 4:30AM alarm was not welcome. I had a monster pass to climb, so I got moving anyway. I bundled up, carried my bike back down the rickety stairs, dropped the key in the after hours box and started cycling down the road. Scott was right there as well. We hit the road by 4:50.

Right away we were climbing, headed toward Togwotee Pass. Scott seemed to be feeling pretty good and enjoying himself. I felt like crap. I was cold, hungry and tired. That’s a bad combo for endurance racing, folks.

I just couldn’t seem to get in a rhythm on the climb. My head wasn’t in it, my legs were rubber and it just wasn’t working. Scott rode on ahead toward Togwotee Mountain Lodge where I planned to get some breakfast.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was actually only an hour and a half, I reached the lodge. In that 1.5 hours, I had only covered 9 miles. It certainly had been some climbing, but I had nothing to give. I needed a break, some warmth and some food.

Scott and I walked into the lodge to find the restaurant wasn’t open. It was 6:30 and they wouldn’t open until 7:00. Scott didn’t want to wait and grabbed a cup of complimentary coffee, a couple candy bars and a drink from the cooler, paid at the register and was ready to leave. I was like an old donkey- not moving.

Cold, tired and hungry, there was no way I was going back out to finish climbing the pass. Scott was rearing to go and it just annoyed me. I wanted to race my own race! After he prodded me a bit, trying to encourage me to go, I snarled at him a little. He finally relented and decided to go on. He said that he wanted to get the pass over with and planned to stop at Lava Lodge for a bite, about 20 miles or so down the other side. We said our goodbyes and he left. He mentioned Lava Lodge again as he left, expecting that I would catch him.

I sat there waiting for the dining hall to open. I was shivering and couldn’t get warm. I was inside and the lodge was room temperature, but I couldn’t get warm. My mind was racing, thinking bad thoughts and just wanting to break down, but I didn’t want to look like a fool. Finally they opened the dining room and I found a seat at a table along the wall with an outlet right behind it. I plugged up my phone, ordered coffee and a big breakfast. When I got my food and started eating, I began to warm up a bit.

As I ate, the room began to fill up with folks who were staying at the lodge. They were mostly retirees and their spouses who looked to be fairing well in their lives. Although they probably didn’t even notice me, I felt like every eye was watching me, wondered why they let riffraff like me in such a nice place. I kept my head down and finished my food. I was warmer and no longer hungry, but still very tired and my mental state was failing. It didn’t help that while I ate, I had used the lodge’s wifi to check weather. There was a big storm rolling in and it didn’t look good.

I finished eating, gathered my things and reluctantly walked outside to my bike. I DID NOT want to get back on at all. I was ready to just throw in the towel right there. Looking out to the west, I saw a very angry looking dark sky. It scared me and I didn’t know what to do. Scott would be expecting me. I needed to move, not just because of him expecting me, but because of me. I needed to race. I just didn’t feel like I could do it. I felt my eyes welling up and then I saw a woman walking down the porch toward me. I gathered myself, took a deep breath and smiled in my best attempt to be cordial. She smiled back and I opened the door for her.

As she walked in, the young woman that had been working the front desk came out. I made mention of the ugly sky, the coming storm and my fear of being caught in bad weather climbing the pass. I asked if there was anywhere I could hole up until the storm blew over. She mentioned the Fireside Room and said that I could roll my bike around to the back, go in the back door and wait it out. I could have kissed her right there. Thankful for the hospitality, I did what she had said and went around back.

I put my bike under a shelter where they keep firewood and went inside to find a cozy little recessed den area with big leather couches next to a monster fireplace. The fire was warm and there was no one around. I plugged my phone up, stripped out of my outer layers and got comfortable on the leather couch. At that point, I broke and the tears started flowing. “What in the world am I doing? How am I going to do this?” I was miserable and just wanted to go home. As I got warm by the fire, I got comfortable and fell asleep.

Looking back now, I see that my state at that point of the race was an accumulation of exertion, lack of rest and disappointment for not being where I had wanted to be. The long days in the saddle and lack of sleep were going to be there. Can’t help that. The stress I was putting on myself was the tipping factor. I was constantly thinking about the miles. When I set out on the race, my goal was to make the trip in 21 days. That would mean a bit over 200 miles per day. Covering 1440 miles in the previous nine days left me with an average of about 160 miles. I was more than 2 days (440 miles) behind already and had no way to catch back up. I knew I only had so much money and so much time to be able to finish. I needed to start riding 200 mile days and I needed to do it everyday in order to have a chance at finishing. Already, it wasn’t looking good.

I awoke at a start, wondering how long I had been asleep and how many of the well-to-do people from the lodge had walked by and saw this apparent homeless person lying on the couch asleep by the fire. A check of my phone showed it was nearing 10AM and I had been there too long. I checked the radar and saw that the storm hadn’t amounted to as much as I thought it would and I felt I had stayed for little reason. On the bright side, I had gotten some much needed rest and was feeling a bit better. A little more resolved anyway. I went to the restroom, cleaned and doctored my bum, then gathered my things and prepared to leave. I went back up to the front and thanked the young desk clerk. She probably had no idea just how much that private break and nap by the fire meant.

Back on the road and it was right back to climbing. Along the way, I got a bit of cell service and received a text from a friend back home. In what he intended to be a joking kind of way, he said something to the effect of “What are you doing sleepy head?!?! Scott is getting away from you!!!” He was watching the blue dots on Trackleaders and had the cheap seats. From his vantage point, I was sitting still while Scott rode on. He had no clue about anything else other than I wasn’t moving. I was instantly furious. “How dare he say something like that to me! He doesn’t have a clue what its like to be out here busting my hind end, exhausted and cold!” I didn’t reply, thankfully. I used my anger as fuel and kept climbing.

It rained on me off and on, but nothing too bad and eventually I reached the pass. There was a bit of snow here and there that had fell from the storm and I felt like I shouldn’t linger. The sky still looked rough and like it could dump at any moment. I took a quick photo and headed down the other side of the pass, taking it easy in the slushy spots.

Soon enough I was at Lava Lodge and stopped in for a coffee to warm up a bit. I asked about Scott and the clerk didn’t have much to say. A quiet chap, he just said that Scott had been there awhile back. I drank my coffee, connected to their wifi and sent Scott a text with a very short version of my Togwotee stay and an apology for acting the way I had. I went outside, mounted up and rode on, beginning to feel better about myself and the ride.

I rolled into Dubois about 1:30PM and was looking to eat. I found the same diner that I had eaten at in 2011 and parked my bike outside. Inside it was a big burger plate and fries with lots of coke. I gobbled it down like nothing. While I ate, it started raining outside and I texted my wife, complaining about all that had happened and my friend who was ribbing me. She did what she always does and calmed me down. He didn’t mean any harm by it and I was going to be fine. She is such a peach.

Before I made it back outside, the rain had stopped. It had been cold rain and the air was dank. I saddled up and rode on through town. Before I left town, I made a stop by a little motel. Not to stay, but rather to right a wrong, albeit unintentional.

In 2012, my wife and I had taken the kids on a vacation out west, seeing the sites. We had stayed at the little motel and rather enjoyed it. The owner is a man near our age who had taken the business over from his parents. He was a super nice guy. We needed to do some laundry and needed coins for the machines. He gave me a roll of quarters and we stood and chatted for near a half hour. I went on, did my laundry, went to bed and left the next day. Along the way the next day, I found the $10 bill that I was supposed to have given him in my coat pocket. We were miles and miles away, so I wasn’t going to turn around, but planned to mail it to him when we got home. Once home, I forgot about it. As I had approached Dubois, I thought, “I’m gonna make this right.” Unfortunately he wasn’t there, but I was able to leave the money in an envelope with the desk clerk. The story brightened her day when I told her and with that, I felt much better. Funny how little things turn your mood.

Back on the road, I rolled on. My legs were back around, my mood was better, I was full and had an open road before me. Good times! I hammered on, enjoying the views and reveling in the better mood. Before I knew it, I reached Crowheart and stopped at the little station there for supplies. I sat outside and ate for a bit, then hit the road again, eyes on Lander.

On ahead, through Fort Washakie and heading toward Lander, I got a text from Scott. He was in Lander and at the Gannett Grill, getting ready to eat. “They have food, wifi and plugins! The trifecta!!” I said I was on my way and put the hammer down further.

I rolled up to the Gannett Grill right about 8:45PM and went inside. I found Scott with a great big smile on his face. He was very happy to see me and that made me happy. What a great dude. We ate and talked about the day. I told him all about my low point and the rest of my tale of getting my head screwed back on straight as the day went on. I felt good. I was back.

Scott had a fire in his eyes that I recognized from the day before. He wanted to go on and ride into the night. No way man! I told him I was staying in Lander. I had my eye on a cheapo motel up the road and there was no convincing me. He said, “are you sure?” I confirmed. He smiled and relented. Ride your own race. 🙂

After dinner, we went outside and began preparing to leave- he to the south and myself back north a few blocks to the motel. There was a touring rig there, with a vibrant young lady named Megan. She was traveling the Trans Am, touring the opposite direction and was going to be staying with a Warmshowers host in town. She wanted to know all about our bikepacking rigs. We all shared Facebook information so we could follow each other later and went our separate ways. That’s the way it is when you travel by bike. You met cool folks, chat a minute, connect and move on. It’s really awesome.

I rode back north a few blocks to the Maverick Motel. As I rode, it began to rain steady. I found the motel and checked in. It was a cheap room, but all I needed. A quick shower and I laid down. It was 10:30 and it had been a rough day. I had only ridden 130 miles, but I had learned some things about myself. I had a fleeting thought that I wished I had carried on like Scott, but I felt like sleep was the best thing I could do. As I listened to the rain falling outside, I thought of Scott and hoped he was ok. Happy to be in a warm bed, sleep found me once again.

 

TABR15- Day 9- West Yellowstone to Hatchet Resort

I woke up groggy to the sound of my alarm. It was late (about 10AM), but after the near 200 miles the day before that ended after 3AM, I was still tired. Scott and I kitted-up, packed our things and headed over for the continental breakfast. It wasn’t much, but better than nothing. We rolled out by 10:30 and started making our way through the crowded streets of bustling West Yellowstone.

I had a broken cleat that I had attempted to remove in our room, but in the end I stripped one of the allen head bolts out and couldn’t get the stupid thing off. I had put the other two bolts back in and was looking for a bike shop. Funny coincidence- this EXACT same thing happened to me on my 2011 tour…in West Yellowstone. Back in 2011, I went to Free Heel & Wheel, a cool little bike shop/cross country ski shop on the main drag out of town toward the park. They let me borrow tools to fix it myself, which was greatly appreciated. With that experience in mind, I made my way to Free Heel & Wheel to do the same again. Scott went across the street to a Mobil station to grab some supplies for the day.

I went in the bike shop and they were busy. Good! I explained my plight and the owner said I could borrow their work area and tools. As they handled their customers, I was left alone to handle my own issues. After removing the two good bolts, I grabbed the same pair of huge channel lock pliers that I had used 4 years before and tried to twist the broken cleat off with its stripped bolt. This worked in 2011, but not this time. What now? They had a cordless drill under the bench, so I went to town and began drilling out the stripped bolt. The owner came back between customers and sees me, one shoe off, that shoe upside down on the bench and me leaning on his drill like I’m going to run a hole through my shoe. He just shook his head and went on. 🙂

Quickly enough, the bolt head was gone and the cleat was free. I grabbed the pliers, twisted the headless bolt that was now free out of my shoe and proceeded to put my good cleat on. I made quick work of the whole thing and was done before Scott could make it back over from the gas station. I offered the shop some money for the use of their space, but they refused. Very nice folks!

I jetted across the way and into the gas station, quickly grabbed some supplies for the day and we rolled out. The traffic was all wadded up. Long lines of cars and SUV’s standing still, waiting in line to go through the gates to Yellowstone. Scott and I went around the traffic and made our way to the front. We paid our fee to enter the park and took off. It was right around 11AM. It had been a productive hour or so!

Riding through Yellowstone was beautiful, but terrible. The scenery is out of this world. Just amazing. However the traffic sucked! I mentioned to Scott several times that I didn’t understand why so many people come from all over the world ON VACATION to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and see the wonders that Yellowstone offers, only to rush around in a big hurry once they get there with no consideration for anyone or anything. The narrow roads coupled with lots of traffic made cycling a chore and a bit scary at times. Cycling there in June was exponentially worse than September as I had done in 2011.

We rolled through the geothermic area of the park and neared the main attraction- Old Faithful. Neither of us were interested in sitting around and waiting for the old girl to go, but it was now near 1:30 and we wanted to eat. After putzing around at several of the buildings, we finally found a simple restaurant. It was packed so we asked to grab a couple burgers to go. No can do- they don’t do carry out. You are required to wait your turn for an empty seat, then wait for your meal like a normal human. Well, that just wasn’t going to work. We rode off and headed across the lot to a gas station where we grabbed some grub. We said screw it and sat down outside on the pavement to eat. The breeze had been cool all day and sitting on the blacktop with the sun shining was nice.

After eating, it was back at it and down the road. There is a lot of climbing in Yellowstone and we crossed the Continental Divide a total of three times before we left the park. All that climbing was a challenge so before we crossed the divide for the third time, we stopped in Grant Village to refill our water bottles. At this point it was 4:30. Yellowstone is just so big.

Back on the road, we climbed the last pass in the park, up and over the divide again. There was a big payoff though as it was almost all downhill out of the park. We left Yellowstone behind and in my opinion, it was good riddance. I look forward to one day going to that park when there isn’t much traffic.

Cruising on south, we came across Flagg Ranch. For Tour Divide racers, Flagg is an oasis. For me, it is just a really expensive place to stop between two beautiful national parks. I had stayed there in 2011. I had been stuck with nowhere to stay and a night that was going to be too cold for the gear I had with me. I ended up paying north of $150 for a room with no TV and no wifi. Just a shower and a bed. This time I wasn’t staying, but after some discussion, Scott and I decided to eat at their restaurant. He had remembered it fondly from racing the Divide and I was looking for a good meal. You see, it was my birthday. 43 years young and racing the Trans Am- yeah, that deserved a good meal.

We went in and ordered. I had a pretty good buffalo burger, fires and a beer. For desert it was a big piece of chocolate cake. Fantastic! As we ate, we chatted and charged phones. They had wifi in the restaurant, but it was spotty at best. We did the best we could to catch up on Facebook posts and whatnot. Then it was back to the road.

Quickly we were into Grand Tetons National Park and right away, Gavaskar rode up to us. The three of us rode along Jackson Lake taking in the view. With the sun setting behind the Tetons, it was gorgeous. We rode along taking it all in. The sun goes down late that far north in the summer and right as the last light of day was going behind the mountains, we reached the gas station at the turn off to Colter Bay. It was 9:45 and the attendant was closing up for the night. The discussions began.

Gavaskar was beat and was looking for a place to stay. He was once again hoping that we would all go in together and get a room in Colter Bay. I wanted to go on a bit and had my eye on Hatchet Resort, an old motel about 20 miles up the road. Scott was looking to keep moving and go over Togwotee Pass and on toward Dubois, about 70 miles away. The issue I had with going on toward Dubois was the temps. We would be climbing Togwotee (9658′) at night and it was already chilly. Up on the pass it would be down right frigid. All this was discussed while we grabbed supplies and ate. Meanwhile, the attendant was getting antsy because she wanted to close up and go home. She called the Hatchet for me and confirmed that there was a hostel style room (private bedroom with bath down the hall) for $60. Once I knew that was confirmed, I was ready to roll. I just didn’t want to be stuck out in the cold. I went ahead and reserved the room and was told that the office would be closed, but my key would be in an envelope on the door. Pretty cool.

Gavaskar was headed into Colter Bay so we said our goodbyes. Scott and I took off into the dark and cool night. Having reached the gas station at sundown and thinking about all kinds of other stuff, I hadn’t thought to put my cold gear on and quickly I was freezing. I stopped to suit up a bit and Scott rode on. As I stood along the side of the road getting dressed, two bikes came flying bye in succession and I heard a “what’s up” from both of them. I had no clue who it was! I hurried up and got back on the bike, found another gear or two and took off in chase. I caught up to them right as they caught Scott.

It was Justin Chadwick and Bradford Smith! The last time I had seen them was at Lochsa Lodge, right before the climb up Lolo pass in Idaho. They had started the race with lower mileage days and were really finding their stride. They had every intention of going over Togwotee and Scott liked the idea. I was kinda feeling like the odd man out, but was pretty much dead set on staying at the Hatchet. What would we do?

The four of us rode along together in the cold, talking and cutting up a bit. Brad and Justin were pushing the pace and I was feeling it. They were just stronger than me and it was getting in my head. It seemed like a long 20 miles, but we finally saw the Hatchet come into view.

I was relieved. I just wanted to get off the bike, get warm, get some sleep and tackle the monster that is Togwotee in the morning. Scott still wasn’t sure and didn’t make up his mind until we got to the driveway turn in for the Hatchet. He said he would stay with me. I still don’t know why he chose to do that, but at the time, I took comfort that I wouldn’t be alone the following day. We said our goodbyes and watched as Brad and Justin rode off into the night. I’ll admit I was a bit worried for them. Togwotee can be a real bugger of a pass and it sometimes has strange weather. In 2014, the TABR riders that were mid pack got snowed on there pretty good there. I took solace in that I would have a warm bed.

I went over to the office door, grabbed the envelope with the key and headed off in search of the room. Around behind one of the buildings which looked like a regular house was a very narrow, steep and rickety staircase that led up to a hall where I found the room. It was a trick carrying the loaded bike up those narrow steps in the dark. Once inside, we found the room and it’s one queen size bed. Scott offered to take the floor, but I didn’t think that was right. We vowed to never tell anyone (sorry Scott!) and pretty much marked out the centerline of the bed as a no go zone. I went down the hall and got a quick shower and got in bed. It had been a long day in the saddle with lots of climbing, but we didn’t cover near as much ground as we would have liked- just a little over 100 miles. I was feeling some mental strain from not doing what I had intended to do and being torn between riding with Scott or on my own. Added to that, my body was exhausted. I was asleep quicker than I could ever imagined.

TABR15- Day 8- Big Hole Pass to West Yellowstone

Dreaming that I was dreaming, I was lying at home in my bed, dreaming of sleeping under the stars on a pass in Montana. As I started to wake, I realized that I wasn’t in my bed, but actually near the top of Big Hole Pass in western Montana, lying on the ground… and I was freezing! My exhaustion had led to sleep when I was so cold that everything hurt. I had on every piece of clothing I could put on and was under my sleeping-bag-turned-sleeping-quilt, but it wasn’t enough. The sun was coming up, but it wouldn’t warm me fast enough. I needed to get moving.

It was almost 6AM and we had slept too long. Despite the fact that I needed the rest, movement was imperative. Both to warm up and because we were racing! Scott and I slammed our kits together and headed out, finishing the short distance to the top of the pass. As I went down the other side of the pass, I froze. I had left most of my warm gear on, but the short little bit of climbing to the top of the pass before the descent wasn’t enough to get the inner fires stoked. I pulled back on the reigns and slowed a bit, just to help keep the wind off me a little.

Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long for the next climb- Badger Pass. As the road turned up, so did my body temp. I stopped along the way and shed layers. This process was repeated day in and day out in the mountains- strip layers off to climb and add them back on for descents.

On down the road, we rolled into Dillon. At the edge of town was a restaurant where Scott and I stopped for breakfast. We ate, made our trips to the john for daily duties and assessment, then headed off again. I took off first and made my way through town. As I rode through the streets of Dillon, I remember getting all emotional. I don’t recall if I was listening to music or just thinking about my wife and kids, but I remember having to stop and wipe my eyes. Tears were flowing to the point I couldn’t see. There really wasn’t a reason for the outpouring, but I couldn’t help it. The stress I was putting on my body and the lack of sleep was starting to take it’s toll on my mental state. These issues would continue.

On ahead, I was getting frustrated with myself. Before each stop to resupply or eat, I would plan out in advance things that I needed to do. In addition to getting food or drink, I would make a mental note to clean and lube my drive train and air up my tires. These simple maintenances needed to be done regularly, but each time I stopped, I would forget to do them and just ride on down the road. The push to stay moving overrode my ability to remind myself. As I rode along in my declining mental state, I was getting more and more angry with myself for not remembering to take care of these simple tasks. A few miles down the road, I had enough and stopped, leaning my bike up against a guard rail along the highway.

Scott wasn’t far behind and stopped to check on me. I told him that I needed to do maintenance and he looked at me like I had lost it. I am sure he was thinking to himself “why doesn’t he do these things at a regular stop?” He rode on ahead and I took a few minutes to stop, breath, gather myself and address my concerns. Cleaning the gunk off my chain and adding lube made the machine much quieter. A check of the pressures in my tires found them to be 20+ psi short of normal. Once back on the bike and riding, I asked myself why I hadn’t made the effort to stop and address these things before. The dirty, un-lubed chain and low tire pressures just added drag and resistance, meaning I had been working harder than necessary. Better be smart meathead!

After my little pit stop, I was feeling better about myself, at least for the time being. There is a saying in endurance cycling- However you feel… it won’t last. The point is, no matter if things are good or bad, it won’t be that way for long. My experience is that the farther into an event you go, the quicker the shifts in mental state and the amplitude of those shifts increases as well. This particular time, the mental shift was a lift and that translated to power to the pedals with the addition of the right songs in my headphones. It helped that the general inclination of the road was gradually down. I headed out in search of my little buddy Scott.

Before reaching Twin Bridges, I caught up with the Single Speeder from Tennessee. We rolled into town and found a gas station to stop at for refueling. I remember chatting up a local, but I can’t recall what about. Soon it was back to the road. The next 40 miles or so to Virginia City was a slog. I couldn’t tell at the time, but that general inclination had turned on its ear and now meant we were gradually gaining elevation. I remember being tired and hot. Somewhere along the way, Gav caught up to us. He had rode on late the night before and made it to Dillon. When Scott and I had rolled through town, Gav was still sleeping, but with that rest, he was ready to get after it.

The three of us stopped for ice cream in the tourist trap that is Virginia City. A ghost of an old mining town, Virginia City now hawks its wares as a tourist attraction. That means there isn’t a lot there for a endurance racer, but they do have a great ice cream shop. A perfect spot for a rest and the frozen treat does wonders when you need to cool down.

Immediately outside Virginia City, the road turns up, up, up headed toward an unnamed pass. Why someone hasn’t given it a name is beyond me. I can think of some pretty colorful words to use if the State of Montana wanted my help. What a nasty hill! Scott was hitting his stride and had no issue powering up the climb. I was struggling and had to stop several times. In 2011, when I toured the route, I took pride in the fact that I never walked a step of the way, all the way across the country. I pedaled my bike no matter what. I took breaks, but I never pushed my bike. This time, racing meant a different type of game. When I needed a break, I stayed moving, pushing my bike up the hill. I didn’t like the idea of pushing, but movement was more important. The breaks had been few over the course of the race, but that hill outside of Virginia City saw its fair share of them… and then some.

Cresting the pass meant a long descent into Ennis. There were a few places where the grade was pretty steep, but the important part was that it was all downhill! Once in Ennis, the three of us grabbed food at a restaurant and supplies at a gas station. After a nice little break, we headed south out of town on Hwy 287. Next stop West Yellowstone!

Well, sort of. 🙂

The 75 miles of road from Ennis to West Yellowstone is a bit of a slog. The gradual ascent toward the caldera that Yellowstone sits on makes it that way. You gain roughly 1800′ along the way and there are few services, especially at night. We left Ennis about 7:30PM and watched off to the west as the sun set and a storm brewed. We were concerned that we would get drenched, but it never happened. What did happen was an amazing sunset through the thunder storm clouds. What a site!

Right about dark, we passed a roadside bar and thought we should fill up our bottles. The parking lot was full of pick-ups and I could only imagine that we would stick out like sore thumbs in our cycling kit. We leaned our bikes against the wall outside and headed in. It was almost like a scene from an old west movie, where the guy walks into a bar and the piano stops playing as everyone turns to see who walked in. Only this wasn’t a room full of good ole cowboys. This bar was full of 20-something year old guys who looked like they were looking for a reason to fight. We quickly asked the barkeep if he would fill our bottles and were told that we could fill them from a water spigot out back. There’s some hospitality for ya. Not! We exited, ran around back, filled our bottles and got down the road before trouble was made. Fortunately, we were able to get away without incident. Maybe it was all in my head, but that was the one time during the race that I felt like I was truly in a bad spot. No harm, no foul. Down the road we went!

Now after dark, we rode along and chatted. Soon enough, Gav’s surplus of rest, relative to our’s anyway, translated to him getting out in front and then ahead out of sight. He had mentioned that he planned to stop at a place that had cabins some miles up the road, but well before West Yellowstone. I think his thought was that we could share the expense and all of us get a room together. Typically I would have been game for such an idea, but as Scott and I rode on, we talked about it and decided to push and get a room in West Yellowstone. The thought was that maybe we could put a gap between us and Gav.

As we rode, it got late and it got cold. June in Yellowstone can see some pretty low temps, even snow. We were fortunate to not have precipitation, but the area was certainly living up to the billing of being colder. As we neared Quake Lake, we started to climb and we were right beside the river. I recall it being very dark out and the noise of the river seemed ominous. Yellowstone and the area is know for its bear population and my thoughts were certainly right there. Would bears be out around the river at night? Made sense to me. Much like climbing out of Hell’s Canyon, I just kept talking and singing. Anything to make noise actually.

The worst part was I was really getting tired. We were nearing 170 miles for the day and my sleep the prior two nights was less than stellar. As we rode on, riding along Hebgen Lake in the dark, I started falling asleep on the bike. Just nodding off here and there, but enough to scare the crap out of me. I didn’t want to crash. I needed to make it to West and I needed to get there as quick as I could.

The turn onto Hwy 191, which leads into West, was a big high for me. I was cold and tired, but it wasn’t far now! My memory from 2011 was that this stretch was all downhill and very short. Evidently my memory was fairly short because that wasn’t how this stretch of road went! Don’t get me wrong, it was not a big climb, but not the downhill of my memory. My lapses into sleep kept getting deeper and closer together. The glow of my headlamp was mesmerizing and I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. The 8 miles to town seemed more like 80. It just drug on and on.

Eventually, we saw the lights. YES! Like weary desert travelers finding an oasis, we rode into town at 2AM. Now we just had to find a room. No problem in a small town with 100 hotels, right?

WRONG!! Everywhere we went had their NO VACANCY sign lit. Tourist season had begun and everywhere was booked up. The ones that didn’t have a sign up, didn’t have a desk clerk either. Knocking on doors and going from hotel to hotel without luck, I was getting fed up. I just wanted a place to sleep. Eventually we came across a hotel that didn’t have their NO VACANCY sign on! We leaned our bikes outside and went in. We were in luck! She had one room left….. for $180!!!!! WHAT?!?!?!!? No way man! I was not going to pay $180 for a hotel room that I only planned to spend 5 hours in. We went back out into the street and kept looking. Surely there had to be another room.

We rode on down the street and around a few blocks looking for another hotel. Each one sported their sign showing no rooms. It was cold and late. It was now pushing 3AM. We needed to make a choice. Back to the one room it was.

When we walked back in, I figured the desk clerk would be smiling, knowing full well that she had us where she wanted us. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. She was a sweetheart. Not only did she offer us muffins, but she knocked $20 off the rate because we were so late at night. She then told us about the continental breakfast and gave us our keys. Another story of hospitality. Yeah, I know, we paid big money for a room, but she didn’t have to offer us a break.

We were fortunate that the room had two beds. It wouldn’t have mattered as we were both exhausted, but the personal space was nice. Scott got a shower, then I got mine. I put on my rain pants, washed-out my kit and hit the sack. By now, we were getting pretty efficient at bedding down, even in a hotel situation so it went quick. The day was done. We had made it 191 miles and in the process had knocked another of the 12 Adventure Cycling maps down. Wanting to make the most of my $80 half of the room, I was out like a light.

TABR15- Day 7- Lolo, MT to Big Hole Pass

Have you ever been woken up badly? I don’t mean someone shaking you awake or a loud noise. I mean something a bit more shocking that just rocks your world and strips away everything that keeps others from seeing the rawest version of yourself. That happened to me in a park in Lolo, MT.

When I left you last, Scott and I had gotten to Lolo late at night, stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant if we could bivy up behind the store. His suggestion was a RV park across the road. He said, “They have a park next to the RV area where people tent camp sometimes. You just have to be careful that they don’t have the sprinklers on. hehehehe

Hmmmmm

When we went to the RV park, we found a wide open field just over a chain link fence. With no place to hang my hammock, I laid my foam sleeping pad down on the lush, thick grass, and pulled my sleeping bag/quilt over the top of me. Scott was in his bivy snug as a bug and our bikes were locked together so they wouldn’t walk off while we slept. As it was heading toward 1AM and we were right at 1000 miles into the race in only 6 days, sleep was found quickly for both of us.

Now most of you are smart enough to read the bold text above and see the omen. In my sleep deprived state, I was not. Oh, I heard what the guy said, but it went in one ear and out the other. One other thing to add, we noticed there were three or four concrete blocks laying at the base of the tree. Strange. Even if I had been at full capacity, I don’t think I would have picked up on that one.

So fast forward through the next couple hours.

All at once at 2:48AM, I woke up from a dead sleep to the sound of PSSHHHHHH…tic, tic, tic, tic and felt the water hitting my face. With a guttural sound that was a cross between a zombie moan and a crazed ax murderer, I jumped up, grabbed my sleeping pad, sleeping quilt and my helmet (which had my phone in it and was laying by my head) and took off at a sprint to get away from the invading deluge. How I managed to get away from the unseen whip of water and not fall or run into another sprinkler’s path, I do not know. It was a blind run, but effective.

When I stopped 50′ away and turned to watch, I could see under the glow of lights at the RV park and the moon that there was a row of sprinklers making sure that the grass stayed lush and green. This row was parallel to the fence that divided the RV park from the field and about 50-75′ away from the fence. The culprit head that had awoken me was less than 10′ away from the tree that had Scott laying under it and he wasn’t moving. My first thought was that he was just hunkered down and didn’t want to come out of his bivy. Then I thought about it a second and realized that his sleeping accommodations are waterproof, so he was probably just dreaming of pie or something. Frustrated at having been woke up so abruptly and mentally numb from sleep deprivation, I laid down again right where I stood, thinking that there was a 50-50 shot that the sprinklers that watered the area I was in now had already done there nightly duty.

As I laid there, I noticed my heart rate was through the roof. What a way to wake up! It took what seemed like 5-10 minutes for me to calm back down enough to drift off. I just needed to sleep.

All at once about 15 minutes later, I woke up from a dead sleep to the sound of PSSHHHHHH…tic, tic, tic, tic and felt the water hitting my face AGAIN!!! With that same zombie/ax murderer sound, I jumped up, grabbed my sleeping pad, sleeping quilt and my helmet and took off at a sprint toward the fence. Once again 50′ or so away, I stopped and surveyed the landscape and thought, “What pretty grass!”

NO!!!! That is NOT what I thought!!! I was furious. And jealous. Scott was still snug in his bivy, dreaming of pie. I however, was up running around like a madman in the middle of the night dodging the evil sprinklers! I thought, “well, I will fix this”. If your getting wet, MOVE!!! I walked through the gate in the chain link fence and on into the RV park. A lot of the park was covered in gravel, but I kept going and found a spot between three RVs that had a nice little spot of grass. Wet, frustrated and tired, I laid down again on my wet pad, pulled my wet sleeping bag/quilt over me and tried to calm down. After another 5 minutes or so, I drifted off. Finally I would get some rest.

All at once about 15 minutes later, I woke up from a dead sleep to the sound of PSSHHHHHH…tic, tic, tic, tic and felt the water hitting my face YET AGAIN!!! This time, when I stood up and looked for my escape, I realized that there were three sprinklers in a triangular fashion around me and no where to run but through them. You might think that I would just give in and play in them like a kid. Nope. I was pissed. If I couldn’t sleep, nobody would! I dropped my pad, bag and helmet in the gravel drive where the sprinklers weren’t watering and walked back over to the gate toward where Scott was. I saw the tent camper (that was missing his rain fly) walking across the grass to the tree. He grabbed a concrete block and went to place it on top of a sprinkler head. Genius!!

When I got over to Scott, I shook him awake. I noticed that another round of sprinklers was going to re-soak the area where he laid. I wanted my bike so I could leave, but it was locked to his and I didn’t know the combination. I couldn’t see it anyway because my light was on my helmet which was now 200′ away over in the RV park. My thoughts were that he needed to get moving to keep from getting sprayed by the sprinklers, but what came out of my mouth was, “Get up! You got two minutes!”

LOL!!!! Looking back now, I realize how hilarious this was and just how gracious Scott was that morning. He jumped up, turned his light on and unlocked the bikes. We grabbed our stuff and headed over toward where the rest of my things were in the RV park driveway. As we walked by the tent camper, I saw him sitting up in his tent indignantly. Between us waking him up two hours before with bright lights in his face, then the sprinklers soaking him in his sleep and me running around like a maniac telling people, “YOU GOT TWO MINUTES TO MOVE!!!!!”, he wasn’t a happy camper. He never said a word, but my guess is, if he had, they would’ve all been four letters in length.

As we packed up our wet gear onto our wet bikes, I fumed. Scott laughed. That made it worse! I got everything jammed into places on the bike and mounted up. Back across the road to the same gas station I went. I wanted coffee and to choke that idiot at the station. When I got there, he just looked at me and smiled. Poor ignorant fool. I gave him a mental stay of execution and stumbled to the coffee pot. With coffee in hand, I grabbed a pastry, paid for them and sat down at the same booth that I had been at a couple hours before. The only thing that had been accomplished in the time that lapsed was everything I owned being soaked and I got to run around the park playing in sprinklers.

As I gnashed my teeth and pouted, Scott came in and sat down across from me. Evertime he would catch my eye, he would bust a gut! After a few minutes, I just couldn’t keep up my hostility. We laughed together and I explained the events that had happened. The more I told him, the funnier it got and we both got the giggles. Picturing that poor tent camper sitting up in his tent like a wet hen all fluffed up just kept the waves of giggles flowing. As we ate breakfast and wiped laugh-induced tears, I looked out the window and saw a racer go by. Before we went to the RV park, we had been talking about how Tommy Chen seemed to be making a late night move toward Lolo Pass, but he was quite a ways back toward Kooskia. Had he rode all night and caught up? We quickly gathered our things and headed down the road. It was now right at sunrise and the race was still on. Time to make hay.

Being geared, I could put down more speed on the flats than Scott and his single speed. I wanted to catch up to Tommy. I wasn’t going to let him beat me! I got down in the aerobars and started pumping along at a good clip, leaving Scott behind. As I rode, I looked up track leaders on my phone. Things weren’t loading well and I couldn’t tell what the gap was between us or how far back Scott was. I just rode.

Several miles down the road, frustrated because I just couldn’t seem to close the gap on Tommy, I slowed down. Why chase somebody like this? Sillyness. I chilled out and enjoyed the morning ride. As I rode along, I called into MTBCast and told the story of the sprinklers. It had been an epic morning already!

Upon reaching Florence, I caught up to the rider, but it wasn’t Tommy Chen. Rather, it was Chris Hockett! Scott and I had mistaken Chris’ dot on Trackleaders for Tommy. Chris had made the push over Lolo Pass in the night and stayed at a hotel in Lolo. A much better option, I explained to him!!! He was headed to look for breakfast at a diner in the next town. I explained that Scott and I had already eaten and we would see him farther down the road. He rode on and I stopped at the next gas station I saw to use the facilities and supply up. While I took care of things, Scott rolled up and we headed back out together.

Another 30 miles or so, we made it to Hamilton. Scott had been having an issue  for several days with a pedal and needed something to tighten it with. I had a pair of tiny pliers in my fix-it kit, but he refused to use them. This is self supported racing after all! He headed to a hardware store for a wrench and I went to Walgreen’s to find some replacement lithium batteries for my headlamp and SPOT tracker. After our own stops, we met back up and left town at the same time again. On down the road!

Near 11AM, we found the city of Darby and stopped at a grocery store. It was getting warm and we were hungry. We went inside to grab supplies and upon returning outside, found Chris had caught up. Right on his heels was Gav! He had pushed late into the night and stayed in Hamilton. We had gotten past him as he slept in that morning. The four of us chatted and laughed. Everyone thought the sprinkler story was a hit. HAHA!!!

Scott and I rolled out first and went to the local post office. Each of us sent a few things home- maps we were finished with and little items that we didn’t need. Nothing of real importance or weight, but no need to carry things without a reason.

Off again, the road turned slightly up. Just an easy grade that was leading us toward Chief Joseph pass. Along the way, we came across the iconic stop that is the market at Sula. Another oasis in the middle of nowhere, the market has supplies and a diner, which is always a great idea in my book. I got there first and went in to order. The cheeseburger was great and I enjoyed the air conditioning as well. As I sat there, Scott rolled in and ordered. Shortly, Gav came in as well and said that Chris had ridden by, headed up the pass. The three of us finished our meals and rode out together.

As we climbed, we chatted, but soon Gav fell behind. The climbs were a bit harder on the flat-lander. Being from Southern Florida, Gav had made the comment that the largest hill he saw in training was 150′ of elevation gain… and that was the bridge over the bay! Scott and I climbed on and found Chris at the rest area at the top. Chris rode on with us as we started the descent into the Big Hole Valley and headed toward Wisdom.

As we rode, we talked about home and our families. We weren’t riding hard and it was a great time to get to know each other and share. Times like these are great memories. Soon, Gav caught up. He wasn’t much of a climber, but man could he descend! He flew past and I felt like a dog behind a rabbit. I found a few more gears and started to chase. Down into the valley we went and I was gaining! Not quick enough though. As we reached the limit of Wisdom and the route turned to the right, Gav made the turn and I went on into town. It was getting late in the day and I figured the one store in town would close soon. I wanted to make sure I had supplies for the next stretch toward Dillon as I knew it was remote.

Scott rolled into Wisdom and said that Chris had fallen behind. We grabbed supplies at the grocery store and went down the block to a bar and grill for pizza. I over-ordered and found myself struggling to eat what I paid for. Before I had to worry about it much, Chris came in. He was frustrated, having had what seemed to be a fluke mechanical. I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was a bent chain or chain ring. His chain wouldn’t stay on for him to ride. I gave him my leftover pizza and we wished him well. Scott and I headed out in the setting sun to ride down the Big Hole Valley.

The Big Hole is known as the “land of 10,000 haystacks” for the great quantities of hay they produce. This lets them feed the cattle that graze there through the harsh winters. In order to make this hay, the ranchers use flood irrigation with the snowmelt from the mountains in the spring. It just so happens that we were there in June and the flooded fields were a prime breeding ground for unbelievable amounts of mosquitos. As we left Wisdom, we noticed that the air was cooling off, so we stopped along the road to put more clothes on. Before we could get stopped, the mosquitos swooped in and started to carry us off! It was amazing!

I never came to a complete stop and chose to ride on. The mosquitos were resilient though and continued on in the slipstream of air behind me, biting me on the backside as I rode, even at 15 MPH. As I rode, I was tiring and wanted to slow, but every time I did, there was more mosquitos. Poor Scott was back there somewhere and I just knew that he was getting literally eaten alive. I couldn’t do anything for him though, so I  just rode on. When I go to Jackson, I made a beeline for the hot springs hotel and bar. I just wanted to get inside before I was drained of all my blood. On the porch, I realized that there weren’t any mosquitos in town. Weird.

Scott came in behind me and we got the low-down from the barkeep. He told us about the flood irrigation and mosquito breeding. He said that the irrigation was far enough away that the mosquitos didn’t get too bad in town, but right outside town, they were bad. Scott and I decided to push on and get past these little devils. We hoped that Chris got things figured out behind us! Imagine being stuck on the side of the road with mechanicals! They would find his bloodless corpse sometime later!

We rode on into the night and eventually got to the base of Big Hole Pass. I remembered this pass and the little road side park that was near the top. It was only near 10PM, but with the ongoing fatigue and lack of sleep from the night before, I was struggling. The plan had been to push on into the night and try to make the 60 or more miles to Dillon, but I talked Scott into stopping at the little park.

Looking back, stopping late at night for a nap on a pass in springtime in Montana might not have been the best idea. Temps were dropping and were expected to reach near freezing overnight. My sleeping quilt works fine to 45 in a hammock where the sides come up and the quilt doesn’t have to cover as much. Laying flat on the ground on a pad, the quilt wouldn’t reach on both sides. Putting on all of my clothes and laying as flat and still as possible was all I could do. As I lay there, I was freezing. Scott was cold too and broke out his his last line of defense, a mylar blanket, to add to his sleep system inside his sleeping bag. I remember going into another giggling fit as he spent what seemed like a half hour unfolding the crinkly, chip-bag material inside his bivy. I said something like, “are you about to get that?” Another great memory.

At one point, I considered asking him if we could snuggle up. I was just so cold. But my man card wouldn’t let me make the suggestion. Eventually, I drifted off, dreaming really strange things, which I think had to do with being so cold that my hands and feet hurt. The big Montana sky above and the rocks below mad me feel small, but I felt so big in my head, knowing I had ridden an average of 163 miles a day for 7 days straight. This was Trans Am Bike Race and I was doing it. Living it. I was racing and it’s all I wanted to do.

TABR15- Day 6- Grangeville, ID to Lolo, MT

My first shower and first real bed of the race had an amazing affect on my mind, body and spirit. When my alarm went off at 6AM, the short five hours of sleep weren’t enough, but I felt a bit more refreshed than I had the previous five mornings. I did have a bit of contention in my mind. Gavaskar and Scott had ridden on when I did not. I was concerned that I would “fall behind”. Of course, looking back, this was silly. Ride your own race, right? That is easier said than done. My brain was telling me a better get going!

A quick check of Trackleaders showed that Scott and Gav had bedded down just before Kooskia at about 2:30AM and were still down. Being just 25 miles ahead, I thought that if I  could hustle up, I just might be able to catch them before they headed out for the day. I got dressed, gathered my things and hit the road.

It was a gorgeous morning and the ride to Kooskia was a great one. The only caveat was the descent down Lamb’s Grade going down into the valley that holds the South Fork of the Clearwater River. It was SUPER steep and quite frankly, scared the crap out of me. There was lots of puckering and braking, but eventually I got to the bottom and got to enjoy the views along the river as I rolled into Kooskia.

When I got to town, Scott and Gav had gotten up and their trackers showed them at a dinner. I got there just as they were finishing up with breakfast. We quickly told each other’s stories and caught up on the news of the night. Short versions of the story were that they had camped along the road together. Scott said he was headed out of town to soft pedal up the long grade toward Lolo Pass. Gav was headed across the street to resupply and I ordered some pancakes. In normal fashion, I made quick work of the flapjacks and got to the grocery store across the street before Gav left town. The two of us took off in search of our little buddy Scott on the highway ahead.

Our search was fairly short. We caught up to Scott within the first 10 miles. The three of us rode next to each other chatting a bit and made quick work of the 20 miles or so to a small cafe and c-store that was to be our only chance for supplies along the gorgeous 90 mile stretch of road that takes you from Kooskia to Lochsa Lodge near the western base of Lolo Pass. Next door was a very small motel that Andi had stayed in the night before, but he was long gone now. Supplies were had by all and while I was in my “office” answering a call from nature, Gav hit the road. Scott and I then took off in search of our Ranger friend.

The stretch of remote highway that parallels the Lochsa River between Kooskia and Lochsa Lodge is one of my absolute favorites of the entire Trans Am route. As you climb the gentle grade, you get view after view of the river in all its glory, just a few yards to your right the entire way. The roiling mountain waters beg you to stop and take it all in, but that was not the order of the day. With a race to run, Scott and I trudged along past the pines and picturesque waters, eventually getting a bit too hot and running out of drinking water as the temps had risen and the day was getting long. The road that leads to Lochsa Lodge was a sight for sore eyes when we came upon it!

Lochsa Lodge is a bit of an oasis as there are few services in the piney woods of northern Idaho. When Scott and I got there, we dropped our bikes outside and headed into the lodge’s restaurant to fill up on food and drink. Gav was there and had just finished filling his tank. As Scott and I sat down to eat, Gav took off and headed out to climb Lolo Pass.

Almost immediately, Bradford Smith and Justin Chadwick sauntered in. This pair had been chasing Scott and I for days and had finally caught up! The four of us sat together and caught up on everyone’s stories. The two of them had started the race doing shorter days and slowly worked their way into longer ones. They were starting to hit their stride and it was obvious. Both of them seemed in great shape and great spirits. As we ate together, they said that their plan was to stop at Lolo Hot Springs, just at the eastern base of Lolo Pass.

When the food was gone, Brad and Justin headed out in search of the hot springs. Scott and I took a few more minutes to resupply at the little c-store at the lodge. Our plan was to climb the pass and make some hay on Brad and Justin, but that would mean pushing on in the night and we would need supplies to do so.

Loaded up on junk food and drinks, we went out under the dim light of the setting sun to climb Lolo pass. I decided as we went along that in honor of Scott, I wouldn’t shift my gears. Scott was riding single speed, which meant when the going got tough (read:steep) he simply had to crunch on through or stop and walk. He almost never did the later and in a show of support, I wouldn’t either. I set my chain to the closest gearing I could to his and proceed to take his instruction on how to climb with a single speed. As the climb intensified, my heart rate did as well, but following his guide, I found my happy place in the burn of my quads and continued to pump up the climb. In what seemed like no time, I looked up the road to see the visitor’s center at the top of Lolo Pass and the Montana State Line! I had done it! I climbed Lolo Pass in my 32-16 gear and no-dabbed it, which just means I never stopped or put my foot down on the ground. It was a small accomplishment within the race that I won’t forget!

After a potty stop at the visitor’s center and a wardrobe change to keep from freezing on the descent off the pass, we took the obligatory photos at the Montana State Line sign, then pointed our wheels north and downhill toward Lolo Hot Springs. Despite putting on extra clothes, the sweat that I made going up the pass kept me more than cool under the light of the early evening moon as we lost elevation. I just shivered and tried to ruffle my shoulders up to keep the cool mountain air from getting in my jacket around my neck. It was no use. It was just cold! Montana in June, particularly in the mountains, is simply cold at night. Suck it up buttercup!

After what seemed like forever, but was actually only 20 minutes or so, we were off the steepest part of the mountain and saw the lights of the lodge at Lolo Hot Springs. After a short stop to fill a bottle, it was off into the night to continue toward the spot in the road known as Lolo.

The stretch of road into Lolo was only about 30 miles, but with cool temps and a slightly downhill grade, there wasn’t much heat to be made from working the pedals. I found myself chilled and to make matters worse, it was getting late and the ongoing struggle to fight off the sleep monster was a losing battle. I just kept praying for a place to stop. When the lights of the truck stops at Lolo broke the horizon, I was a happy man. I needed to get off the bike!

We leaned our bikes against the outside wall of the gas station at the corner in Lolo at 11:30PM. The fluorescent glare was blinding after hours of riding in the dark and the country music that blared from the speakers overhead was an assault on my ears. We stepped inside and saw a seating area- a perfect spot to drink some coffee, look at the map and discuss options.

As we sat and warmed up over the steam of a truck stop cup of joe, the dialogue went something like this:

Scott- “So, what do you want to do?”

Me- “I don’t know man. I just want to sleep.”

Scott- “Well, we can find somewhere to sleep here, or move on and try to make Hamilton. That’s just another 30 miles. We could make that in about 2 hours.”

Me- “Dude, I just want to sleep. I can barely keep my eyes open.”

Scott- “We could bivy up behind the gas station here and get an hour or two, then push on. What do you think?”

Me- “I just want to sleep”

After I finally wore Scott down, we asked the station attendant if he cared if we bivy up around back. He said he didn’t care, but “it would be at your own risk as the deer like to run through there all night.” What?!? Last I checked, deer see pretty well at night and I am sure they wouldn’t stomp us in the dark. Obviously he didn’t really like the idea of us being back there. He then suggested the RV park across the road. He said, “They have a park next to the RV area where people camp sometimes. You just have to be careful that they don’t have the sprinklers on. hehehehe”

-Insert ominous raising of one eyebrow by me-

Choosing to ignore or at least not really listen to his second sentence, we hopped on our steeds and rolled out of the fluorescent glow, back into the dark and across the street to the RV park. Just as he mentioned, directly adjacent to the RV area and on the other side of a chainlink fence, we found a park area. It was wide open with 3 huge trees spread out more than 100′ from each other. There was no chance I would be able to hang my hammock, but there was plenty of very healthy and soft grass. We looked at each other and said, “looks good”. We found a man gate through the fence and headed out onto the lush grass.

Just off to the side, not far from the fence was a tent. In the bath of our headlamps, we saw that the tent had a bike beside it and that the tent lacked a rain fly. As we walked our bikes by, Scott shown his lamp down in the tent, thinking that it was a racer and we might know him. Nope! We did manage to make sure he wouldn’t be a friend though. He didn’t seem to happy to be awoken after midnight with a light in his face as he lay in his sleeping bag. Hehehe.

We went over another 50′ or so and locked our bikes up together with Scott’s cable and combination lock at the base of a big tree. Scott got his bivy out and was snug as a bug really fast like. I, not having very good ground-dwelling capabilities with my hammock setup, proceed to layout my thin foam pad, lay down on top of it and drape my sleeping-bag-turned-quilt over the top of me. After we had hem-hawed around at the station, then made our way over to the park, time had slipped away and it was now pushing 12:30AM. As I laid there under the big Montana sky, I wasn’t very comfortable and I wasn’t very warm, but I was happy to have another state down and be at least 30 miles ahead of Brad and Justin. Gav and Andi had gotten away from us, but the race is long and there was time. At that point, I just needed some sleep.