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.   

Lael’s Stumpjumper

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While in Israel, Lael ordered a 2015 Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon World Cup through The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, AK. This is my third season working at the shop, and my first full summer in Anchorage. 

Lightweight, simple, comfortable.  The Small frame ensures the reach that Lael needs, and enables a comfortable perch in the aero bars.  She threw a leg over a Medium Stumpjumper in Tel Aviv and it felt too big for the task, although it might have worked as an everyday mountain bike, just not with the aero bars.  We needed a bike that could be built and ready to ride within a week of our return.  A complete bike made the most sense.

We relaced the SP PD-8X dynamo hub with new DT Revolution spokes and alloy nipples to the same Light Bicycle 35mm rims which have carried Lael all around the world this past year.  I installed my Supernova E3 Triple headlight and E3 Pro taillight on custom brackets to the aero bars and the non-drive side seatstay.  Hammering, bending, and drilling steel rack stays into useful light brackets is one of my favorite tasks.

We changed the stock 32T chainring to a 36T Race Face narrow-wide ring for the ride down, mounted to a North Shore Billet 104BCD spider, which technically enables the use of any 104BCD ring.  In Banff, Lael swapped the NSB spider for a direct mount 36T SRAM X-Sync chainring.  The chainline on the NSB spider wasn’t ideal.

The stock RockShox SID Brain fork was replaced with the Specialized Chisel carbon fork.

XTR Race pedals. 

Stock bars were replaced with Salsa Salt Flat bars which have a slightly wider 31.8mm section in the center to mount the aero bars.  Even so, they are clamped at the very edge of the section where the bars begin to taper down to 22.2mm.  It works.  The Salt Flat bars are cut down to about 700mm, with Ergon GS2 grips. 

Tires for the ride down to Banff are Specialized Electrak, set up tubeless until Lael blew one off the rim with a compressor on the Cassiar Highway and had to beg the owner of the Bell II lodge to borrow a 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent for the ride to Smithers, and the nearest bike shop.  For the race, 2.2″ Specialized Fast Trak Grid in the rear and 2.35″ Schwalbe Racing Ralph Snakeskin in the front, both tubeless.

Luggage includes custom Revelate Designs waterproof seatpack, extra voluminous and weather-sealed, as specified; a custom framebag with new UltraZip technology; a custom Lael Can top tube bag; and a stock Gas Tank, all black. 

A water bottle is mounted to a King Cage top cap mount and a second cage is neatly taped to the underside of the downtime, both Specialized Rib cages. 

The piece of 31.8mm plastic tubing used to package the Profile Design aero bars is drilled and zip tied between the aero bars as a mounting point for the Garmin eTrex GPS and cycle computer.

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Lael’s friend Julie made the drive from the states to visit in Banff in the days leading up to the race.  Julie, Lael and I all lived together about a hundred years ago when we were just kids in college.  Mostly, I collected bikes and funk records and Lael and Julie liked to dance and ride bikes.

The roll out from Banff, photos by Julie Weis.

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With Jill Homer and Katie Monaco.

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Pre-race meet.

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Colin Saman, a recovering roadie with a newfound interest in cycle trucks, fatbikes, and cross racing.  Colin ripped the Bosque trails in Albuquerque a few years ago on a borrowed Moonlander, when he rolled through town.  That was our first meeting.  Those images are featured in Bunyan Velo, Issue #1.

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Down the Goat Creek Trail, just a pink dot for the next two weeks.  Go Lael!

In her first day, Lael pedaled 183 mi before a 2.5 hour bivy.  She rose before sunrise and continued through the remote Canadian Flathead section.  She will cross the border around noon on Saturday, hoping to reach Whitefish by the end of the day.  After a cold wet day on the trail, the forecast looks dry and sunny for most of the week.

Follow the Tour Divide 2015 on Trackleaders.com.

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Adventure and photography from the HLC to the Tour Divide

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Lael arrived in Banff earlier this week, 19 days and 2140 miles from Anchorage, less than a month after arriving in Alaska from Israel, less than 2 months since the start of the HLC, less than a year since we left Alaska for Eastern Europe.   She will return to Alaska within a year, but twenty countries, twelve months, and 15,000 miles richer, for what it’s worth.  

Riding from the north of Israel back toward Tel Aviv last month, we prepared an evening event informally called Bikepacking Night in Israel.  I found a small printer in Tel Aviv named Panda Labs, so as to display a series of photographic clouds comprising “Three Months on the HLC”, hung from a broad section of agricultural netting.  The installation was assembled last minute, not exactly as planned, but as I should have expected it would happen when trying to plan a small art show and a presentation while traveling by bike in a foreign country.  Special thanks to Amir for offering such a spectacular garden setting in Kfar Sirkin, and for helping with all the logistics including the dusty pile of netting and box full of paperclips.  Photos were available for sale, and all HLC2015 riders were given a portrait from the event.  Klaus, you still need to send me your mailing address in Germany!

Following the talk a group of riders rolled into the nearby forest to camp, surrounding a campfire for several hours before sleep.  In the morning, the group rode back toward Tel Aviv, losing members as each found his way to home or work.  Ilan and Nir led us all the way back into the center of Tel Aviv.

Thanks to everyone that attended the event.  A special thanks to everyone that rode to the event, that camped in the forest and shared their bikepacking experience with others, that attempted or completed the HLC, and that brought beer to share.  Most of all, thanks to the trailbuilders and organizers of all the great trail resources in Israel, especially the IBT, the Adulam singletrack, and the Gilboa Mountain singletrack.  Thanks to all the camels that have beaten trails into the Negev and Judaean deserts over the years, and for the Sugar Trail.  Special thanks to Yaron Deri from Kibbutz Samar for his crew’s addition to the IBT in the past years, and for his fervent passion for long-distance mountain bike trails.  The Israel Bike Trail is a world-class resource and makes a trip to Israel especially worthwhile.  Thanks to Limor Shany for knowledge of “every stone in Israel”, and the associated GPS data which comprises the HLC track to connect Mt. Hermon and Eilat in the least direct way possible.  Thanks to Zohar Kantor for the extraordinary passion required to ignite the concept of the HLC, after returning from the Tour Divide in 2012.  Lastly, thanks to Ilan Tevet who is the premier social mechanic in relation to the execution of the HLC event and our time in Israel.  He first invited us here last October, he welcomed us on a ride around the Negev desert a week after we arrived, he has invited us into his home, to local rides, to make a public presentation about bikepacking, and to come back to Israel again some day.

Later that evening, after arriving in Tel Aviv with Ilan and Nir, we packed our bikes in boxes and caught a ride to the airport.  Within 48 hours, I was building a new bike for Lael in Anchorage.  In just over a week, she rolled out of town toward Banff.  Thanks to Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs for crafting some of the finest custom luggage for Lael, again.  The waterproof liner from my MacPack was recycled into a liner for Lael’s seatbag.  Eric, Christina, Tamra and I rolled out of town with Lael to Palmer, met by Stacy along the way.  From Palmer, we gave Lael a giant push toward Mexico.  She’s nearly halfway there, taking the week in Canmore to rest and prepare for the next phase of the ride.  Lael rode every single day from Anchorage to Banff.  In that time, I worked every single day at The Bicycle Shop, an apt and essential antidote to her ride.  We’re both working hard, hoping to be back on the bikes full-time this fall.  

Settled back into Anchorage life means evening rides at Kincaid with friends, an eclectic mix of bikes everywhere I turn, and the chance to be part of a place which I nearly call home.  The week after Lael left town, I helped a family of eight prepare bikes for a tour of the Great Divide route.  The group includes three Salsa Fargos, six framebags, two BOB trailers, and one rider that is only 11 years old.  We tuned the bikes, prepared them with luggage, and boxed all of them for the flight.  As of yesterday, they had made it to Fernie, B.C. and will be rolling across the border soon.  Whitefish, Helena, Butte!– look out for my crew from Alaska.  Tour Divide riders will rapidly catch them in the first few days of the race.

I was also able to attend Dan Bailey‘s presentation at The Trek Store about his new book Outdoor Action and Adventure Photography, published by Focal Press.  The book is a detailed 300 page crash-course in the technical photographic elements of outdoor action photography, professional considerations, and suggestions for more engaging creative imagery.  This is a text book that reads like spending hours with Dan around a campfire, which Jill Homer almost called a “page-turner”, almost.  Dan has been published in many places and has managed to make a living with the camera.  Purchase a copy of the book through Dan’s Amazon portal by linking from his site, above.  The book is especially recommended for all of the local Anchorage scenery, including snowy singletrack, photo shoots of Eric Parsons atop the Chugach Mountains, and creative perspectives of Amy doing just about everything, especially trail running.

Back to Israel. 

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Yinon, if you recall the rider with the broken rear derailleur hanger that arrived on the beach in Eilat, found a more reliable steed in this 25 year old commuter.  Every one of his kids have grown up on the back of this bike.

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Alternatively, everyone was excited to rub shoulders with local cycling celebrity Chanoch Redlich, who arrives in Calgary this week as the sole Israeli competitor in this year’s Tour Divide.  In our three months in Israel, everyone would ask if we know Chanoch.  Now we do.  He is riding a Trek Superfly hardtail.  

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BYO Zba Beer, the mountain biker’s preferred beverage in Israel.

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 Lael and Chanoch, an excitable pair.  They’ll be the center of attention among the Israeli bikepacking community this June.  Keep track of the Tour Divide through the recently formed Tour Divide Israel Watch Facebook page.  Should be some fun with Google Translate to decipher the Israeli perspective.   

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Shay provided a custom brew for the HLC2015, a gift to Lael.

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Shay rode the entire HLC route last year in 15 days.  I’m told there were two exciting rides last year, Chanoch’s record-setting win and Shay’s ride.  As others stumbled two, three and five days into the event, Shay steadily rode to Eilat and shared his experiences every night, inspiring many local riders.

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Anywhere you ride in Israel, the 4Epic community is well represented.  Endurance events are not uncommon, but the HLC is still an extreme concept to many riders.  It was nice to meet new people, say goodbye to old friends, and share experiences.  It was nice to see the images, like the simple printed pictures we once shared as families.  In a country so connected by smartphones and WhatsApp and Facebook, I am happy to provide tangible media to share.

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Tangible media.

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Lael and Niv, two of the strongest riders at the HLC2015.

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Clean up, roll out, camp.

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Teaching the young ones to crack a bottle of beer with an SPD pedal, an essential bikepacking skill.

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Amidst growing suburban central Israel, there remain small wild spaces, old limestone roads, and ruins.

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And hummus, this local plate provided by the famous Gingi.  

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Rolling into town, the group dwindles.  

Dotan, the photographer, with his Surly Ogre.  He uses a Chariot trailer to transport his daughter, inspired by Cass Gilbert.

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Ophir, the tidiest bikepacker in Israel, who Lael and I nicknamed “Sylvester” on a series of rides before we learned his name.  When we told him he looked like Stallone he said, “but he doesn’t have my muscles”.  

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Singles into Tel Aviv.  For such a small country, these guys know how to make the most of it, like kids who know all the secret trails through fences, along the river, and under the highway

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Nir, the steady singlespeeder who crushed the last 32 hours from Mizpe Ramon to Eilat, poses for one last photo.  He almost resisted raising his hand to wave, his photobombing trademark.

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Tel Aviv is one of the most orderly and pleasant cities I’ve visited, much like the Netherlands, but with better weather.

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Ilan shepherds us through the city to collect spices and dates to bring home.  The small markets on Levinsky Street are a good place to start.

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The rapidly growing metro areas in central Israel feature world-class cycling facilities.

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30 hours later, over the Kenai Peninsula.

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Cook Inlet, Mount Susitna, and the Tordrillo Mountains; 11:30PM, May 4 taken above Anchorage, AK

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Christina is at the airport for the exciting reassembly of muddy bikes, and the chilly ride across town.  My chainring is damaged in transit, although I don’t realize until we pedal away at 1 AM.  A rock from the roadside takes care of things.

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By 10AM the next morning, we are unpacking a box with Lael’s name on it at The Bicycle Shop.

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Late that night, the nearly complete build is finished.  Before leaving town, it is important to adjust the fit and ensure all the systems can solidly support 5000 miles of riding between here and Mexico.

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Lael spends the week planning and preparing for her ride, alongside running, doing yoga, and spending time with family.  Sadly, she just missed seeing Joshua on his Specialized Hotwalk which we bought before we left town last summer.  Joshua is ripping up and down the sidewalk, and confidently lifts both of his feet to coast down the local DH tracks (driveways).  He’ll be pedaling a bike later this summer. 

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The local CBS affiliate, KTVA-11, took an interest in Lael’s summer plans.  If you missed it, check out the segment on the KTVA website.

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Days before leaving, Eric traces Lael frame.  Lael has requested a few simple features which will keep her equipment out of the weather yet easy to access.  It is cool to see prototype tech come to production Revelate Designs product.  The new Ranger and Tangle framebags will use a narrow section of elastic soft-shell fabric, also waterproof, which stretches to reduce strain on the zipper and to ensure smooth operation.  Lael’s framebag for the last 7 months of touring featured two of these elastic panels– on either side of a large YKK zipper.  The slider operates more smoothly than any other framebag we’ve used, and it slides as well as it did on Day 1.  Keep your eyes on Revelate Designs for some significant advances in waterproof features, coming soon.    

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In usual fashion, Eric crushes the race to the finish and lays the last few stitches before leaving town.

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Eric and Becky study the rig before final departure.  These two comprise half of the Revelate team in Anchorage.  Zach and Dusty are the other two, although Dusty is almost always climbing mountains, it seems.  Revelate only recently moved out of Eric’s garage and into a larger commercial space in Midtown Anchorage.

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A quick stop at The Bicycle Shop to say thanks.  Mike Shupe has owned the shop since 1964, and built the current structure on W Northern Lights Blvd in 1974.  He once hosted Ian Hibell in his home at the end of his groundbreaking trek from Argentina to Alaska, back in the early ’70s.  During the summer months, Mike works seven days a week in the service department acting as the essential bridge between technical service and customer service.  He commutes nine miles by bike most days, riding a carbon Salsa Beargrease through the winter months.  Mike grew up with Lael’s uncle, and her grandparents would gas up their sedan at the service station which Mike’s family owned.  In Alaska, this is old-time history.  The earliest white settlements in the Anchorage bowl date to 1914, Alaska statehood was not a reality until 1959.

Thanks to Ray, Chris, and Mike at The Bicycle Shop for helping with all the pieces and parts, ordered while we were still in Israel.   

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The roll out with Eric and Christina on the Chester Creek trail.

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Waiting for Tamra.

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Cruise through Chugiak, Peter’s Creek, and Eklutna; Stacy meets us on the Old Glenn Highway along the Knik River, leading us to her home in Palmer for the night.  

My Hope hub, a year later, is making some horrendous noises.

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Still talking…

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Almost there, but not before a quick stop at the new Palmer pump track, on a Trek Madone.

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Thanks for hosting us Stacy and Scott!  You can see the Knik Glacier from their home.

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Kevin Murphy, a friend from Anchorage and long-time veteran of Paramount Cycles has moved out to Palmer to join the Backcountry Bike and Ski family.  A few other friends have left town in the time that we were gone.  Lael’s gone to find Lucas and Monica, who now live in Silver City, NM at the south end of the Divide.  

Kevin is a riding a newly built Surly Instigator with RockShox Pike fork, Hope hubs, Velocity Dually rims, and only one speed.  He cycles through new bikes faster than the seasons change in Alaska, and is already talking about a new full-suspension Evil, a titanium Kona Rove, a new 27.5 Trek Farley fatbike, and a custom build on the new Trek Stache+ frame (yes, the one with the 405-420mm chain stays!).  Kevin is a super rad rider and one of the greatest cycling ambassadors in AK, from downhill runs at Alyeska, 200 mile Iditabike races, and local group rides.  There is no limit to how much Kevin is willing to talk about bikes, which is great for me.

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Lael realizes the next morning in Palmer that she has forgotten her passport.  My Hope hub has decided after twelve months of use that it is finished and will no longer freewheel; the wheel wobbles dramatically from side to side.  A drive side bearing collapsed, after weeks of creaking.  We hitch a ride back into Anchorage to retrieve the passport.  Christina grabs a demo Trek Domane from the Trek Store where she works.

After giving Lael a big push toward Mexico, Christina and I turn back toward Anchorage. 

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Yeah, road bikes are fun.  The Trek Domane promises a controlled, compliant ride via a flexible seat tube design operating on the IsoSpeed decoupler.  It rides nice, but compared to a well worn Brooks saddle, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.  I’d be curious to compare it to the heralded Specialized Roubaix or the new carbon Diverge, or the new carbon Salsa Warbird.  Lael and I have a series of road rides planned at some point.  I’ll let her tell you about that later.

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I’ve been working every day since Lael left town, although there is always a little time at the end of the day for a ring around Kincaid.  After a day indoors, it is never enough just to loop around the shaded wooded flow trails.  I really like to get up on the Bluff Trail to feel the open space of the peninsula.  Cait is rocking it on the sandy trail with her Surly Karate Monkey Ops, which packs an extra punch on custom built Velocity Dually rims and Nobby Nic tires. 

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Dan Bailey shares an evening at The Trek Store, with stories from almost twenty years as a professional photographer and outdoor enthusiast.  He once spent a lot of time climbing, shooting both rock and ice climbing.  More and more, his subjects are on two wheels.  He rides a new Salsa Fargo 2, purchased last summer.  

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Pick up a copy of his new book Outdoor Action and Adventure Photography.  Click through the Amazon links on his blog to purchase the book, that’s how he makes the most from the sale.

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In a perfect union of all of my interests and skills, a family of eight riders are planning to lay tracks from Banff to New Mexico this summer, over a period of ten weeks.  There are three Salsa Fargos with suspension forks, a Cannondale 29er, a Specialized Jett 29er, one Specialized Hard Rock, a Kona Lava Dome, and a folding Dahon hardtail.  All bikes are packed with Revelate Designs equipment, most bikes support a rear rack, and several bike are fitted with skewers to connect one of two BOB trailers which will be used.  The youngest rider is 11 years old.  Best of luck to the Todd family!  I heard from them the other day as they pedaled across the border from Canada back into the USA.

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Lots of cycletourists are passing through Anchorage this time of year, especially those foolhardy riders who plan to ride all the way from Alaska to Argentina.  I intersect this French couple on my way to Kincaid one night, less than a mile from the airport, where they had recently arrived from France.  I’ve met others this summer from Germany, Austria, France, Alabama, Montana, and Taiwan.

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It’s summer, so get out and ride!