Living it up at Trixi’s Antler Saloon in Ovando, MT, Day 4. Photo courtesy of Trixi’s.
She coughs deeply, relaxed, like a smoker who has been living with the condition for years. She is calling from the Montana High Country Lodge in Polaris, MT. A white fox stole food from her framebag in the night, while she was burrowed in her sleeping bag. She tells me that if you make a little cave out of the bag, it is possible to stay away from the bugs. I know this, and I know exactly her nighttime strategies to avoid disturbances. I’ve tried to wake her as rainclouds arrive overhead, but she’d burrow deeper into her bag. I’ve woken her in airports, sleeping on the floor, inches away from the hustle of hundreds of passing pedestrians. The theft is a slight inconvenience, but since no damage was done to any of her equipment– and a loaf of bread was safely stowed in her seatbag– the comical occurrence is celebrated in a round of coughing, laughter, and more coughing. She has stopped for breakfast, a break from her usual modus operandi to keep moving. She told me before the start of the Tour Divide that the only thing constant in this event will be time– not weather, topography, fatigue, or daylight– but time. Aside from the unimaginable sprint to the finish which Jay and Neil seem capable to do, most riders engage a more steady approach. She wants to be the most steady– to ride long and far, and she doesn’t want to stop.
Except, every evening she fights a worsening condition. The inhaler curbs the attack, but does not open the airway. “It is like breathing through a straw, The inhaler helps, but I don’t want to abuse it.” Mornings are better, when she coughs up a lot of junk. Breathing is relatively clear. The coughing is present, but she can ride. The phlegm is not the cause of the problem, just a symptom. “I ride until I can’t ride any more.”
Every night since the attack on Day 2 she has slowed her pace up one final climb, which I can judge in relation to the other riders near her on Trackleaders.com, and she camps early. She has slept several long nights, except the night leaving the hospital in Helena when she rode until 2:30AM, hiking the Lava Mountain section in the dark to regain her position as the lead female. She slept in Basin for less than three hours and continued in the morning.
“I have legs for days, but these are not my lungs.”
For the first time since the attack, Lael suggested that racing might not be worth it right now. She never expected to be in a race with Jill Homer and a singlespeeder and Eszter’s ghost (which of course she cannot see, as we can). She wanted to do “really good”, which is her way of saying that she wants to chase the lead. The original idea from South Africa or Israel, or wherever this idea originated, was to make a fast tour of the Great Divide Route from Alaska to stretch her legs, to see the land, and to enjoy some of the best of summer. To us, the Great Divide route is a classic novel which she had not yet read. The chance to do that in the context of the race seemed exciting, and was much of the reason why we chose not to go to Turkey and Georgia this spring and summer. To continue racing in her condition might be like reading Dostoyevsky drunk.
“I’ll call from Lima.”