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.