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It's Never Easy

** This is so 2010 but the story continues etc… **

Aspen Alley in Medicine Bow ForestThere was no possibility of sleep in Rawlins as the campsite was right by the interstate and alongside the rail-tracks. If the screaming traffic didn't wake me then the tootin' trains did. I had no choice but to get out of the noise and back to the calm of nature. I was getting closer to Colorado, a fact that should have alarmed me as this is where the Rockies are at their highest. Being tired however, I wasn't processing much and just assumed that because nobody ever talks about the Sierra Madre range that it wouldn't be too tough. Needless to say it was brutal. Just when you think that things can't get any harder the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route assumes the profile of a heart rhythm on an ECG monitor. The heavy roads and the constant steep grades of between 1 and 5kms long took up all of my depleted reserves. It was also quite barren, something I didn't need considering I had just won a staring contest with one of the most deserted pieces of landscape in the country (the Great Divide Basin).

The rock was turning the kind of red that spawned the name Colorado. One of the nicest things about travelling by bike is that you get to notice these subtle shifts in terrain as you move through different climates and geography. One never gets a sense of this by plane where the travel emphasis is on the destination as opposed to the journey. However, it wasn't all red yet as atop Middlewood Hill I could make out the gold autumnal Aspens in the forests ahead. It was nice to be back among the company of trees again. There was a reasonable amount of hunters around getting ready for the start of the rifle season. The increase in traffic would have alerted the deer and elk who would know to head to higher ground for safety.

I was still on my bike by nightfall searching for an unmarked camp-site that I now couldn't make out in the dark. I blindly back-tracked over steep climbs on the rocky forest road to a point where I had seen a hunting camp. I approached the camp to see if they would mind me pitching my tent nearby. Of course, there was no issue and they took a keen interest in my trip. They had spent the day setting up their camp and they had found a super spot that was secluded in the trees and very private. I was very impressed by Tom and his son's tent. Typically people 'camp' in an RV, however, Tom had gone for the more traditional canvas tent set-up with its own in-built wood-burner. It was both roomy and cosy at the same time. While they had driven from Oregon in their pick-up truck, their camp was designed so that it could collapse and be packed onto the back of a horse. In an age where most people are trying to drive as much of their house as possible into the wild, Tom's approach was refreshing.

I bid adieu to my new friends the next morning full of good intentions of crossing the state line and arriving in Steamboat Springs 140k away. This was perhaps a little ambitious but I had two big descents and only one long ascent to worry about. Unfortunately my optimism evaporated in the heat. It was a blisteringly hot day and while I had plenty of water with me I was riding on empty legs. A Wyoming sign bid me farewell however, there was no official welcome to Colorado. I was very much entering the state via the back door it seemed. I passed through the nothing town of Slater; its only marking was a trailer for a post-office. I swung a left off the asphalt highway and onto yet more, what I like to call 'grovel'. I hadn't had a straightforward day on the bike since my half-day ride into Pinedale. That felt an age away, indeed every pedal revolution since had been hard work. When it is this hot, no matter how much water you drink it is never enough. This happens when your body is really craving sugars. I started dreaming of a refreshing can of fizzy pop but in the middle of nowhere that was a pipe-dream. Thankfully my dreams came true as I turned a bend passing a lodge that was shut between seasons ... or was it a mirage? From the balcony of the house above the lodge Kirsten shouted at me asking if I needed anything. I asked if she had anything to drink and soon she appeared on the terrace of the lodge with some cans of Dr Pepper. Phew! I sat in the shade and as I chatted to her I slowly became aware of the amount of words I was slurring. I realised that I was suffering from both dehydration and exhaustion and that I should probably sit for a while. Such was my condition that it was difficult for me to have a proper conversation with her but she has seen this all before. Kirsten is a Tour Divide junkie who follows the race-tracker online and looks out for both racers and people like me coming through. Her lodge is situated at a point in the ride where nobody can go any further. For the guys who race the Tour Divide regularly she has become an important way-point on the route. Not only does it make sense to tackle the looming beast of a mountain on fresh legs having stayed the night, but she also provides home-cooked meals and chilled beers. She is a saviour to the racers as these guys are not carting much food and often have to rely on corn-dogs from gas-stations to get by. To be able to eat nutritious fresh produce from the garden is a real treat in such circumstances. She kindly let me spend a luxurious night in the lodge for free and then we made plans to meet up in Steamboat Springs the next night as a DJ she is a big fan of was in town. Kirsten had been home almost two weeks from the Burning Man festival in Nevada but she was still getting over it. Indeed, her spirit seemed more in tune with the desert than mountains so it was no surprise to learn that she was planning to spend the winter in a retro-fitted school bus near Silver City in New Mexico.

I had just one more steep 3k pusher of a climb to get over. What's another pointless stair-sprint in what is a marathon at this stage? While there were other ways over the mountain the Great Divide route sent me over the hardest. It was more the bruising descent that annoyed me. It's hard steering a loaded bike through boulders when you are hard on the brakes. The weight of the packs and the bike tend to want to drop straight to the valley so it takes a fair amount of concentration to guide the bike down safely. This section is undoubtedly dangerous if you are not careful and is where one of the Tour Dividers unfortunately died this year. He came around a bend on the wrong side of the road and while an oncoming truck had spotted him and pulled over the rider still hit the truck. This sorry incident was likely a combination of not being able to adjust his line in time and simply being cross-eyed from the effort of the race. While it was sad to think of him passing, boy was it so good to finally arrive in Steamboat Springs.

Happy 2011


atop Middlewood Hill in the Sierra Madremy welcome sign to Colorado!some much needed luxury in Brush Mountain Lodge - thanks Kirsten!urrghh! another grunt of a climb on 'grovel' over Brush Mountainthe descent on the other side. It's the blinding contrast of strong reflective light and dark shadows on the road that makes the descent so difficult, not just the bruising terrain on a rigid bike. 

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