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Union Pass

waking up in the outhouseIt's not everyday you wake up beside a toilet. I had spent the night inside an outhouse having arrived too late to bother pitching a tent on the overgrown lawn of my absent hosts. As outhouses go it was a surprisingly cosy affair; the smell of timber and saw-dust made it seem like a freshly made-up hotel room in comparison to my usual night under the stars.

I had been out late the past three nights and I was pretty shot. These late nights were not fun-filled ones over pints, rather stressful ones riding and hiking under the cover of darkness over unfamiliar terrain. I didn't want a repeat performance so I dragged myself out of my bag half asleep as opposed to stubbornly rolling over for another hours sleep as would be my norm. With a belly full of oatmeal I was on my way by 9am and straight to work starting with the very steep ascent of Union Pass. As climbs go this was right up my alley, two steep 6k sections with a little breather in the middle. While it wasn't properly sealed it had a smooth surface making the load far more bearable. I much prefer climbs that are vertical as opposed to horizontal as the scenery is usually more dramatic providing a nice return for my effort. I was hopeful that I would make it 125k down the road to the town of Pinedale but I had no idea how hard the terrain would become at the top. The road turned to pot and I was robbed of the descent that I was expecting. Every cyclists makes a deal with a mountain; we agree to work and suffer in the assumption that the mountain will reward us with an effortless descent down the other side. The more we suffer on the way up the greater the free-ride on the way down. This is a fair deal as you work twice as hard but only for half the distance as when riding on the flats. However, this mountain reneged on the standard terms and the heaviness of the road and constant uphill drags made what was supposed to be a 15k pass into a 60k monster. When the descent finally came it was a short and steep bone-cruncher, which required the brakes on hard. It was hell on wheels. By the time I got to Whiskey Grove Campground I was beat. It had taken me six hours to ride 75k and none of it was easy. The decision to stop there for the night was automatic.

The early rise and shortened ride afforded me a late afternoon to myself off the bike. I was too tired to read so I was left to contemplate my ride under the warm rays of the sun. It was difficult to put things into perspective but I was aware that I had started the ride without any adrenaline, which had leaked from my system in the darkness of the past three nights. If you are low on physical energy your adrenaline kicks in, so without it I was dangerously left to scrape the bottom of my mental reserves. It had been a beast of a ride and I hadn't enjoyed a minute of it apart from the initial climb when I was fresh and blissfully ignorant of what lay ahead. This was a shame as the scenery had been quite impressive and its remoteness made it rich with wildlife in what was prime grizzly country; two pronghorns racing (the fastest land animals in the US), a bear scampering down my track, a pair of moose chewing on leaves that teased them from overhead branches and a bald eagle imperiously perched above the bend of a river.

The Great Divide is not a stage-race for me. However, when it becomes harder to replenish your reserves, when you fail to get excited about the next day's ride, when you have to repeatedly tell yourself to hang in there and when you fail to notice the scenery that blurs past your eyes, it all starts to feel like a race. The last thing I wanted to become was a prisoner of my own ride. However, while the scenery was changing constantly it was starting to feel like I was looking at the same four walls of my prison cell. As I rode through Canada, Montana and Idaho I had been very charmed by the route , so charmed that I contemplated taking it all the way to the Mexican border. Now I wasn't so sure. I felt trapped, on the one hand I had to beat the snow that would soon bury the Rockies but on the other I had to stop whipping myself.

I was unaware that Union Pass is cathartic for most Dividers. It seems that every rider loses a part of themselves and hence, their way on that mountain. It had been another bad day but I had to put it behind me as a string of them would inevitably force me to pull the rip-chord.

Yours exhaustedly


seasons starting to turnbald-headed eagle

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Reader Comments (1)

hey, just saying hello.. enjoying the reading!

December 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermike
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