Tour Divide Update: Ute Pass, CO

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Lael bares her teeth as she packs her seatbag at the Brush Mountain Lodge Monday morning, a friendly place for Divide riders to resupply in remote northwestern Colorado. Photos courtesy Brush Mountain Lodge.

From her four day push across southern Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming into Colorado, Lael has caught the second fastest group in the Tour Divide 2015.  The lead group of six riders, about 300 miles ahead, are all riding ahead of the current record pace set by Jay Petervary in 2012.  However, leaders JayP and Neil Beltchenko are still short of Mike Hall’s blistering 2013 pace, calculated by the times in which they pass through certain towns.  Mike’s ride to Mexico was spoiled by a technicality as wildfires forced a reroute from the sanctioned TD track.  He finished more than a day faster than Jay’s 2012 ride.  Jay and Neil aren’t far off Mike’s pace, and they’re trading punches from early morning to late at night.  Jay has held the upper hand, but Neil hasn’t flinched.

Lael’s is tackling the riders in her group one at a time.  She’s caught three of the six, with three more just ahead.  I expect she will begin to outrun them by the time she reaches Salida, if not sooner.  Thereafter, she’ll enjoy wide open roads to Mexico.  She has less than 1000 miles to go.

Yesterday, Lael stopped at Orange Peel Bikes in Steamboat Springs, CO to have her bottom bracket replaced.  The SRAM PF30 has been in service for just over a month and came stock on her Specialized Stumpjumper.  JayP also stopped at Orange Peel to replace his PF30 bottom bracket on his new Salsa Cutthroat.  Lael called from Steamboat and reported that she was feeling good.  She hasn’t said those words exactly since before the race, so I am relieved to know that she is finally enjoying her ride.  While in Steamboat she also purchased another headlamp, as she had lost hers the previous night.  She also reported that the Great Basin was as famously windy as expected, and that she was wasting a lot of time on that day.  She stopped to talk at the Brush Mountain Lodge, to a woman in Clark, CO touring the Great Divide on a Bike Friday, and in Steamboat for service.  No offense to those that she has met along the way, but she is working hard to cut the fat from the day and stay on the bike.  I’ve also noticed that her riding speed has dramatically increased since the illness has faded.  She is climbing faster than most of the riders around her.  

Once in Breckenridge, Lael will be riding familiar terrain for some time, at least to the New Mexico border.  We rode the Divide and assorted dirt roads down to Santa Fe in 2011 with Cass, Nancy, and Greg.  I continued to Silver City, before joining Lael in Alaska for the winter.

Follow the Tour Divide 2015 at Trackleaders.com.

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Tour Divide Update: Brush Mountain, CO

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“All smiles” at the Grand Depart in Banff.  Check out this awesome photo set from the start of the race on The Radavist, including a great shot of Lael’s Revelate Designs tattoo on her calf and her shiny new 36T X-Sync chainring.  Photo: John Watson at The Radavist.

No news is good news.  Since recovering from a week of serious illness, Lael has pommeled the pedals and crawled back into a strong standing.  From memory, she was the 10th place rider on the first night after a very difficult 183 mile day, at the first sign of respiratory issues.  The next morning she walked over Galton Pass in respiratory distress.  Four days later, she pedaled over 100 miles from Ovando to Helena to the hospital.  She was in and out of town in less than four hours, with a handful of meds, a full resupply for the ride to Butte, and the hope that the worst of her problems may be over.  That night, riding until 3AM, she  passed Alice Drobna and Bethany Dunne in the dark, hiking one of the more challenging sections of the route as they slept.  Lael was up early to maintain her position, but on the next night, she was forced to camp early once again as respiratory distress ended another day.  The following morning I received a phone call from Lael at the Montana High Country Lodge.  She said she’d try riding a few more days like this, but she would not ride all day and pass out every night in an asthmatic fit.  Even if she could, technically, she wouldn’t.  She was afraid of the condition and was riding well below her target.  She would, one way or another, continue along the route, but not necessarily in the context of the race.  

She called from Lima later that day and said she felt well enough to continue.  She finished the day at 183 miles at Red Rock Pass.  The next day she rode about 191 to the base of Union Pass.  Then about 172 route miles to Atlantic City– plus a few extra as she ventured off route on the old TD track, a discrepancy that was resolved in Pinedale with an updated track to include the upcoming Wamsutter reroute.  She technically finished that day six miles beyond Atlantic City at the edge of the Great Basin.  Crossing the Basin and the rest of Wyoming in one push, Lael pedaled another 173 miles again yesterday to the base of the Brush Mountain climb in Colorado.  She stopped at the Brush Mountain Lodge this morning and remains in the company of five other riders all within 20 miles, all riding well below the 20 day pace.  Besides the lead group of 6 men pushing record pace three hundred miles ahead, already through Salida, there is only one other rider in Colorado at the moment.  Michele Miani is an Italian southbound rider whose tracker indicates his position in Steamboat Springs, but he is not shown on the Leaderboard function of Trackleaders.com.  Officially, this puts Lael in 13th place overall.  Whereas she was once in about 26th place overall, and was trading positions with Alice and Bethany, she is now the lead female by about 140 miles.  Lael is less than 1200 miles from Mexico.

Hey Steamboat, Breckenridge, Salida, Del Norte, wave to Lael as she passes!

Tour Divide Update: Great Basin, WY

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Lael pedaling the forests of northern Montana.  Check out the complete mid-race report at Mountain Flyer Magazine.  Photo by Eddie Clark.

Lael passed Atlantic City in the night, likely stopping in at the Miner’s Grubstake bar to fill up on water.  Perched at 7694ft, the town is named after a mineral vein found on the east side of the Continental Divide, in the massive North American drainage to the Atlantic Ocean.  She continued until exactly midnight and camped six miles past town at the edge of the windswept Great Basin.  The Basin is a curious feature along the Continental Divide where water drains to neither ocean, but is captured within a broad area across central Wyoming.  Most notably for Divide riders, the area infrequently receives any precipitation.  Passing west and south of the massive Wind River Range, Lael is now pushing across wide open space.  The next forests she will encounter are near Colorado.

I texted Lael yesterday saying “Go to the outdoor shop in pinedale. ask for josh. updated gps track. you are cruising!”  I expected a call verifying the upload, but instead I watched her roll out of Pinedale.  For me, this was all between tuning two Bike Friday tandems, selling a Rockhopper, and checking in crusty bikes for repair.  You wouldn’t believe some of the bikes that come through our back door. For her, this was the middle of another 183 mile day, her third day riding this exact distance.  The day before was her longest day at over 190 miles.  She spent two and a half hours in Pinedale.  She didn’t even turn on her phone until after she came out of the grocery store.  I feared she might blow through town.

 

Tour Divide Update: Wyoming

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Updated10:54AM MT, Saturday 6/20:  I have been in contact with Scott Morris about the situation and have been assured that Lael can proceed along her track through Rawlins if needed, although there may be road construction on the route which could inhibit progress and force her to find a new route around the route, or into a pilot car.  However, in his opinion, that route would count for a record as it is the same route as Eszter Horanyi rode to set the current female record in 2012.  However, I’ve made contact with the Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale, WY where one of the owners, named Josh, has agreed to download the Tour Divide 2015 track and upload it to Lael’s Garmin eTrex 20.  Josh and the staff at the Great Outdoor Shop have been super supportive.  Thanks!  Hoping the new upload is successful. 

Lael has ridden two very strong days.  I spoke with her yesterday in Lima when she was still unsure about her health, but without imminent threat of respiratory distress she chose to proceed.  It seems to have been a worthwhile gamble.  She ended the day yesterday at 182.5 miles, opening a gap of 50 miles ahead of the next female competitor.  This was her first healthy day on the bike since the start of the Tour Divide.  Today, she rode more than 190 miles across Idaho and into Wyoming.  But this evening, she appears to have ridden off route and is camped along US 26.  I’ll clarify the situation to the best of my ability.  

The Tour Divide has followed the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route as published by the Adventure Cycling Association since the race began over a decade ago.  The TD is an unofficial event which claims only to suggest a start place and time, and accepts no liability for the competitors.  There is no entry fee (save for a tracking fee), nor prize money  Officially, there are no organizers, but there are two people who do a lot to support the event and keep it alive.  A great thanks to Matthew Lee and Scott Morris for being the wizards behind the TD.  There is a lot of work involved in not being an organizer of an event.

The basic details are that Scott and Matthew are partners in the Trackleaders.com service, a for-profit venture which is growing into dog-sled races, a variety of human-powered endurance events, long-distance sailing races, and even the Baja 1000.  Scott operates Bikepacking.net, a long-time resource and inspiration for bikepackers.  Scott also owns the website Topofusion.com, which promotes his Topofusion GPS mapping software, available for sale to Windows users.  Topofusion.com hosts the official GPS data for the Tour Divide, as well as a series of other useful files and basemaps for a passage of the Great Divide Route.  Matthew is a veteran of the tour Divide, with multiple victories.  His stunning ride and relaxed charm were famously featured in the Ride the Divide documentary.  Matthew was essential to the creation of the Tour Divide, a variant of the older Great Divide Race.  That is a story best left for another time  

There is a Tour Divide website, officially, and I think Matthew operates the site.  At least, Lael had to send an e-mail to Matthew via the contact form on the TD site to sign up for the tracking service.  Nowhere else was this procedure described.  I only learned this after sending Lael’s SPOT details directly to Scott, who referred her to Matthew via the TD site.  The TD site is mostly inactive, last updated with LOIs, results, and resources in 2011-2012.  The home page lists the start date for the 2014 TD.  The Rules page indicates activity in 2014-2014. There is a TD Facebook page with some rider photos from years past, which has been inactive during the subsequent year and does not appear to be a significant resource.  There are various discussions on the forums at Bikepacking.net, but none claim to be official resources for the TD.

Back in 2004, GPS devices were far less common; today, they are ubiquitous.  The Adventure Cycling Association has modified and augmented the Great Divide Route in successive map editions to benefit their target audience, cycletourists.  The Tour Divide accepts most, if not all of these changes to the Main Route, as they are published.  The Tour Divide accepts two paved Alternates from the Main Route described on the ACA maps in New Mexico as the de facto race route, as the chance and risk of wheel-sucking mud is so high it would regularly interrupt the event.  In recent years, the Tour Divide elected to use a new ACA Alternate along the actual Continental Divide Trail outside of Silver CIty.  In 2012, the Tour Divide included a section of the Gold Rush Trail from Boreas Pass to Como, just outside of Breckenridge, CO.  The Gold Rush Trail has never been shown on the ACA maps, and is the first deviation of the TD from ACA material.  Such diversions to the broad dirt roads of the Divide are welcomed.  Turn-by turn cues were provided for this new section, written in the style of the ACA maps.  The change was also included in the GPS file available that year and the reroute was explicitly included on the “Rules” page of the TD website.

This year, changes were made to the Tour Divide route, published on 5/22 as a GPX file only, without mention of the changes on the TD “Rules” page, and without written cues.  One of the two changes– both are in Wyoming– is listed on the ACA maps but the other is said to be an original creation by Matthew Lee.  The second is not written as cues or printed as a map anywhere.   

Lael left Anchorage on 5/14.  We uploaded GPS tracks and maps to her Garmin eTrex 20 on that morning, the last task before leaving town.  We sourced the file from the Riding the Great Divide page on Scott’s Topofusion.com site.  Listed below a file labeled GDMBR_2011_v2.gpx we downloaded a file labeled TourDivide2014_v2.gpx.  This was the most recent file listed, and the subtext indicated that it was the “official” route.  Lael proceeded to Banff, riding 2140 miles in 19 days.  In Banff and Canmore, she rested, exchanged gear, and prepared the bike for the race.

It was not until this evening (6/19) when Lael continued down US 26 while descending Togwotee Pass that I discovered her route differs from the route shown on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.  I revisited the Riding the Great Divide page at Topofusion.com and discovered a new route had been published on 5/22.  The TD website does not indicate the new file nor the changes, and the “Rules” page indicates details relating to the 2013 and 2014 TD route only.

I believe that the route Lael is currently riding up to Union Pass has been the TD route for all years past.  Currently, the historical data on Trackleaders.com for Jay Petervary’s record-setting ride appears to be off-course, as it rides along the old route through the Great Basin to Rawlins, which continues to be the ACA Main Route.  The Wamsutter diversion is not listed on any ACA publications.    

Lael is following the latest Tour Divide track that was available on 5/14, and has not had access to a computer to update her files, not that either of us knew a new track had quietly been published.  She is aware of all the changes made to the route prior to 5/22/15, as detailed on the TD website, and is dutifully following the route to the best of her knowledge.  She is following a route which has been recognized for past victories and records.  She has camped for the night and will reconnect with the red line on Trackleaders in the morning, after a short-steep climb back toward Union Pass.  She will– without further instruction– continue along the ACA Main Route through the Great Basin and Rawlins.  She will, however, follow the Gold Rush Trail, the CDT near Silver City, and both paved sections between Cuba and Pie Town in NM.  

Now that it appears her health has returned, Lael has rejoined her intended pace.  I hope this confusion does not challenge her standing with the “officials” of the Tour Divide.  Again, your contributions to the bikepacking community are essential and are greatly valued.  Thank you. 

Tour Divide Update: Idaho

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Lael smiling on the morning of Day 6 at the Montana High Country Lodge in Polaris, MT.  Thanks to Russ Kipp for the image, via the Tour Divide 2015 forum discussion at Bikepacking.net 

Lael called from Lima, I missed the call, tried to call back, we got tangled in trying to call each other until she answered and said “I’ll call you back in a minute, I’m checking out at the store”.  Then I knew she would continue.  She called back and said, “I’m feeling pretty good, I think I’ll keep going”.  And that was it.  

I watched her tracker at work all day, but was worried when her pink balloon faded less than 20 miles outside Lima.  Had she gone to sleep before sunset?  The result of another asthmatic fit?  She reappeared more than 30 miles later, finally ending her day 182.5 miles after it began.  Riding into the night, she camped at the crest of Red Rock Pass, as I did several years ago, and awoke early to begin pedaling the 72 mile section across Idaho, including the famously sandy railroad corridor.  By noon, Mountain Time, she’ll be ascending the Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road into Wyoming.  She ate Idaho for breakfast.   

Later this afternoon Lael will ride onto a paved road which connects Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, a pleasant pedal along the shores of Jackson Lake.  We pedaled through this area together back in 2011. From Moran Junction, the route climbs to Togwotee Pass and Union Pass before descending into classically windswept Wyoming.

Tour Divide Update: Polaris, MT

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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.”     

Tour Divide Update: Helena, MT

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The faded pink LW balloon, at St. Peter’s hospital in Helena, MT.

Lael has clarified the pattern of her situation in the days since the big attack.  Mornings are fine, if still characterized by cold-like symptoms, afternoons and evening are increasingly challenging as her breath shortens, coughing fits grow like thunderclouds, and the wear of illness and hundred-plus mile days accumulates.

She rolled into Helena today about 5:30 PM, 100 miles from her morning camp.  Her breath was shallow, her breathing labored.  She went directly to St. Petere’s Urgent Care facility where she was admitted for diagnosis, including a chest x-ray which eliminated pneumonia as the culprit.  I didn’t hear the exact words, but a respiratory infection of this sort is generally called bronchitis.  She was prescribed an albuterol inhaler, an antibiotic, and something else to relieve the symptoms, which I don’t recall or she didn’t mention.

Lael took her script to the local Walgreens pharmacy, which was meant to be filled in 20 minutes.  She rolled back to downtown Helena to the outdoor store to replace a bivy she lost during the day, but the store was closed.  She will ride tonight without the bivy and will look for a replacement of some sort in Butte.  At Walgreens once again, she picked up her meds and supplies, and rolled out of town.  She spent no more than 3: 30 in Helena.  

Working nine, ten hour days at a busy bike shop in Alaska, I do my best to step out for a moment if and when she calls.  I didn’t hear from her at all yesterday.  Eighty degree days in Anchorage make it hard to steal away from my repair stand, but it is even harder to hear her labored breathing.  All she wants is to ride fast and far. 

Follow the Tour Divide 2015 at Trackleaders.com.

Tour Divide Update: Lincoln, MT

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Scene from the Great Divide route aboard my purple Surly Pugsley, c. 2012.

She says her legs are awesome, her body feels great, except the breathing.  Every day since the major breathing attack on Day 2 has been challenged by a similar feeling late in the day.  Mornings are good, she coughs up loads of phlegm and pedals happily for most of the first half of the day.  Breath become increasingly shallow through the afternoon, her passageways tighten, and she has to stop riding early in the evening.  Otherwise, she says she could ride for days. 

I spoke with Lael in Lincoln today and she included short coughs into the conversation, even though this is the good part of the day, only 35 mi and three hours into her ride.  Helena is about 70 miles away.  She plans to stop into an Urgent Care facility or ER in Helena.  She’s thinking it may be bronchitis.

The riding is nice, the weather is great.  Seeking a functional pair of lungs.

Follow the Tour Divide 2015 at Trackleaders.com.

Tour Divide Update: Columbia Falls, MT

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Flathead cherries, memories of one of my rides through this part of Montana.

Lael began pedaling at 5:20AM, rising in time to catch a wave of riders who had collected around her in the previous day.  She kept pace to Whitefish, blew through town, and stopped in Columbia Falls to resupply.  She stopped off route at the gas station in Ferndale and continued into the Swan Mountains for the night.  Yesterday, she struggled to cover a total distance of 104 miles, most of which she rode before 3PM, where respiratory issues forced her off the bike in search of solutions.  Today, she pedaled 149 miles and camped at 9PM.  

She called outside of Columbia Falls, pedaling out of town on flat farm roads.  She said she felt good all morning, but was experiencing shallower breathing as the day progressed.  She sounded a little short of breath– not nearly like yesterday– but did not seem concerned.  With clear weather and a relaxed pace, she hopes to recover on the bike.  She camped tonight above Swan Lake, about 160 miles from Lincoln, MT.

Tour Divide Update: Eureka, MT

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Some of the leading group bivvied in the Butts Cabin, a public cabin available on a first-come first-served basis, about 200 miles from Banff.  This is the Tobermory Cabin, just over the top of Elk Pass, about 40 miles before Elkford. 

I gleaned from the greater social media scene that there was some precipitation on the first day out of Banff, some even mentioned snow and peanut butter mud or “death mud”.  Nighttime temperatures were expected to be near freezing in the mountains.

Lael simply mentioned that there was rain and freezing rain when I spoke with her this afternoon.  And at night, she crossed through a series of cold streams for some time.  This morning, she was riding behind nine guys, ahead of about 140 other riders.  She was on her own unscripted race pace, which come with little calculation or expectation.

Here’s the important part, which I only learned when she crossed back into the country and was riding the pavement from Roosville to Eureka– she is sick.

On the evening of the first day, beyond Sparwood, the fresh feeling of breathing hard up hills had turned to respiratory constriction.  Her breathing was condensed to shallow breaths and wheezing.  She did not sleep well, woke early and continued.  Unable to breathe she walked up much of Galton Pass– the last of three passes in the remote Canadian Flathead section, and the steepest– and ripped down the other side to the border crossing at Rooseville.  I spoke with her while she was riding, with labored breath, on the way to Eureka.  Eureka would be the place to figure out what the heck is going on, if it can be mitigated or overcome.  I received another phone call several hours later and breathing was still a challenge, and she felt like she was getting sick, for real.  She admitted to feeling something coming on while in Canmore, in the days before the race.  She bought some DayQuil at the gas station in Eureka, and a soda.

Three hours later I heard– the last report before she left Eureka- that she found some Mucinex, coughed up a ton of green shit, was breathing more normally, her anxiety about the situation had subsided, she might in fact be able to ride, that she was eating real food, and that she might leave town tonight.  There were serious moments in which her race was over, save for a restart in Eureka after a few days of recovery, but not much of a race anymore.  She talked about riding down to Colorado when she felt better to enjoy the Colorado Trail in peak season.  But when her airways cleared and her mind relaxed, riding was once again an option, and her preference.  If she can overcome illness while riding, if she can recover while kind-of racing, is yet to be seen.

She pedaled out of Eureka about an hour ago, about five hours after she first arrived.  Additionally, as she sees it, she wasted a few hours this morning when she was forced to walk.  

After refusing to refresh the Trackleaders page for five hours, I finally clicked the button.  Lael is still the leading female competitor.  If and when she reaches Whitefish tomorrow, we’ll have a much clearer idea of the future of her race.  

Two things I heard today:  It is really scary when you can’t breathe, and, racing is really fun.

I’m thinking of her and all the other riders whose personal challenges are very real.