The Road to Missoula; Baja Divide presentation at Free Cycles, July 14

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We’re in Missoula for Adventure Cycling Association’s Montana Bicycle Celebration which coincides with their 40th Anniversary.  Lael and I will be presenting about the Baja Divide route at Free Cycles on Thursday, July 14 at 7PM.  Here, Lael crosses the Manhattan Bridge.

From the end of the Trans Am Bike Race in Yorktown, Virginia to New York City, seaside Connecticut, a tour through Nutmeg Country and the Berkshires of Massachusetts to a corner of Vermont and the Adirondack Mountains of New York to the St. Lawrence River, a plane from Ottawa to Bozeman and a quick six day tour to Missoula via the Trans America Trail.  That’s less than a month, 5 trains, two short distance car rides, one plane, and about 600 miles of casual (mostly) paved old-fashioned bike touring.

In the days following Lael’s finish on the Trans Am Bike Race we awaited several other finishers including Steffen, Evan, and Kai. 

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Race organizer Nathan Jones was in town for the day, before beginning a return car trip to Portland, OR.  Driving the route in reverse, he encountered most of the racers still out on the course.  Here, Steffen, Nathan, and Lael at the finish.

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Lael enjoys her first sit-down meal in 18 days, and is most excited to be able to order breakfast at 5PM.

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Kai Edel, of Germany, arrives a day and a half later.  I peeled Lael out of bed at 6AM to ride back to the Yorktown Victory Monument to meet Kai.

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We brought coffee, strawberries, muffins, Gatorade, and beer.  As you’d expect of any German bike-messenger cross-county bike racer, Kai is more than happy to crack a brew at 7AM.  Let the record show that Kai is the first finisher to enjoy a beer at the finish line.  Nathan, any chance there can be points or colored jerseys next year for riding a 17 year old carbon fiber bike, or finishing a beer at the finish line at 7AM?  

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Saying goodbye to the Yorktown monument for the last time, Lael, Kai, and I board an Amtrak train north to New York City. 

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We arrive at Penn Station at 2 AM, reassemble our bikes, and part ways.  Kai is a regular in NYC and plans to ride for a few weeks as a messenger, to pay all his debts from eating gas station food across America

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Lael and I navigate pubic transportation to reach Brooklyn that night where her brother is living.

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We enjoy a short visit and a long walk around town.  Asian pastries for breakfast, tacos for lunch, a haircut for Lael at a Mexican salon.  Brooklyn is rad.

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We roll over to Manhattan to connect with an MTA train to Connecticut where my brother is living.

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After a brief visit in Stamford, we board another train to meet a mysterious man further up the coast of Connecticut.  The train slows as it enters a region known as Nutmeg Country.  

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There, a shirtless bearded man greets us and leads us into a small cave full of collectible and very well-used Shimano equipment, Made in the USA curios, and an assortment of odd Asian imports.

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We recognize the print on his denim jersey, a sketch celebrating his bike gang, the Hot Bod Rando Boyz.  The sketch was done by our mutual friend Yuval from Jerusalem.  

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The bearded man lures us to an old commercial pier with a lone lobster roll eatery.  There, a group of bicyclists await.

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The group rides through an expansive television set made to look like a quaint New England town, c. 1998.

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The group converges at the crossroads between several manicured dirt roads, all rideable on Lael’s 28mm tires.

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The least machismo arrangement of shirtless men ever assembled gather to talk about the way they dress their bicycles, while the women drink beer and talk about nothing important.

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Roads grow rougher, until finally the group dives into the pizza portal.  Our fearless leader promises the most exquisite margherita on the other side, which is convincing enough to send Lael down a rooty singletrack trail on carbon fiber aero wheels.

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The promise of margherita pizza comes true. We empty our framebags of all the pesos and shekels we can find and ride away into the night. 

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In the morning, our sage host grinds a roasted bean from a distant continent and brews a potent black elixir.

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At our request, as I long to visit my family in the distant land of New York, far up north near Canada, we are led to one of the few portals out of Nutmeg Country.  To pass, we bath in the algal stream below this bridge and ride as a causal pace through a tunnel of trees.

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Out the other side, we find ourselves in a place called Massachusetts, where railroad tracks are converted to bike trails.  The East Coast is pretty great.

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Crossing through a small corner of Vermont, we meet The Professor on his home turf.  We’ve crashed his honeymoon in Prague, forced him to almost miss an important dinner in Santa Fe, and shivered through a wet night on the frozen Yenta river together this March.  Meet Joe Cruz, who turns everything into an adventure.

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Entering into my home state of New York always feels familiar, even though I’d never visited this part of the state.  Something about New York, as soon as we cross from Massachusettes, briefly through Vermont… something feels different.

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Running short on time, my parents agree to pick us up so that we can spend the holiday weekend with them up on the St. Lawrence River.  We spend time on the water and pack our bikes to fly from Ottawa to Montana the following day.

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We arrive in Bozeman, an hour after our friend Christina arrives from Anchorage.  Christina has joined us for segments of our travels in Israel, Baja California, and now Montana.  She is an ever-ready adventure partner in Alaska as well.

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Leaving Bozeman, we camp at Norris Hot Spring on the first night before connecting with the Trans America Bicycle Trail in Ennis, en route to Missoula, MT.  Our aim is to to reach Missoula for Adventure Cycling Association’s Montana Bicycle Celebration from July 14-17.  Lael has been invited to speak at the event on Saturday night and we will be hosting a presentation about the Baja Divide route project at Free Cycles in Missoula on Thursday, July 14 at 7PM.  

Free Cycles is the most high-functioning bike co-op or community bike shop I have seen anywhere.  Bob Giordano founded Free Cycles 20 years ago and the organization has had a profound impact on the community of Missoula.  They have just funded the down payment to purchase the expansive compound which they have been renting for many years.  Learn more about FreeCycles and donate to support the future of their mission.  Several years ago, after less than a few hours in the shop, Bob offered me a key to the building and allowed to sleep at Free Cycles for several nights.  We shared several engaging conversations about bicycles as vehicles of change, about urban planning, and travel.  Bob has also founded Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transport (MIST) which is a “citizen based nonprofit organization” which aims to support “active walking and cycling cultures”.

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The Trans America Trail is a well-travelled route from Virginia to Oregon.  Small towns have embraced the cyclists who pass, and cyclists develop a camaraderie along the route, often sharing campsites and stories.  

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In Twin Bridges, we arrive at the Bill White Bike Camp at the public park along the Beaverhead River.  Five other Trans Am cyclists are staying in Twin Bridges for the night.

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The donation based bike camp offers shelter, power, hot showers, and toilets, as well as tent sites adjacent to the structure.

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White boards inside the shelter show signs of many inspired rides along the Trans Am.

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Traveling toward the Continental Divide, each pass leaves us a little higher in elevation.

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We rejoin several riders from England that we first met in Twin Bridges.  Just up the road, we meet two riders from Texas who are section-riding the Great Divide Route.  This is one of several places where the Trans Am and the Great Divide routes meet, and the two actually share several miles of pavement just south of Polaris, MT.

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At that junction, with the help of a few text messages in areas with little phone service, we manage to cross paths with our friends Thomas and Mary from Anchorage, AK.  I first met Thomas about three years ago when I sold him an older Salsa Fargo which we had on sale at The Bicycle Shop.  He used the money he saved on the bike to build a dynamo wheel along with a lighting and charging system.  Last summer, after Lael’s two Tour Divide rides, Mary purchased her well-travelled Specialized Stumpjumper, but not before I replaced the broken frame!

It is a point on the route about 50 miles south of here where Lael got stuck in severe mud and wore a hole through the carbon frame in a matter of hours. 

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Lael’s old Tour Divide bike is now Mary’s Great Divide touring bike.  Lael is enjoying her Specialized Ruby once again.  For a minute, she was about ready to throw it into the Atlantic Ocean.  Now that she’s rested, none of us can keep up with her.  I’ll say it out load, Lael is faster than me.  That has almost never been true before, but 6,000 miles of road riding seems to have helped.  Now that she is fast on a bike— and we know she can sit on that thing for a long time— imagine what she can do.

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Weathering a wind storm with Thomas and Mary that night, we encounter cold wet rain the following day and make a short ride to Jackson.  The following morning we awake to snow, but clearing skies allow us to proceed.  Not what I was expecting on July 11.  Maybe shorts and Birkenstock sandals were not the best idea.

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As the weather clears the following day, we meet this cycling family from Hamilton, ON on the south side of Chief Joseph Pass.  It is so cool to meet people like this riding bikes.  There are always a few cold shoulders on routes like this, but the majority of the people we meet are awesome.

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The snow level the day before was somewhere around 7000ft.  We bundle up for the 3000ft descent to the Bitterroot Valley.

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 A friend meets us to camp at Lake Como on our final night before Missoula. 

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The last day of riding is mostly along the new Bitterroot Bike Trail from Hamilton to Missoula.  State paving crews are putting the finishing touches on the trail prior to the ribbon cutting event this weekend.

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Of course, our first stop is Adventure Cycling Association.  We’ll give you a full tour after the weekend.  If you aren’t already a member of ACA, join now.  They do good stuff.  Come visit us at Free Cycles on Thursday night if you are in town!

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Trans Am Bike Race 2016 Update: Ennis, MT

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Joan, the mother of a college friend, now an avid cyclist and one of Lael’s biggest supporters, out on the Bitterroot Trail south of Missoula, MT.  Joan’s daughter Erin joined us for several weeks of riding in Baja this winter and is currently staying with Lael’s family in Anchorage, AK.  The more you travel, the smaller the world gets.  Thanks to Joan Nugent for this photo!  More great photo updates from Nathan Jones on the Trans Am Bike Race blog.

“This is harder for me than the Divide”, she says.  I empathize, but nothing I say will convince her that I understand, and I know I can’t fake it.  Riders in the Trans Am Bike Race and other events have reached a place that few others will understand.  For Lael, on her second Divide ride last summer, the feeling was alienating.  Participating in a group event like a race makes it easier.  Even so, the people they meet along the way won’t understand the rigors of 200+ mile days, for multiple days.  Even though we’ve become accustomed to watching dots move at that pace across the country, we have to remember that these riders are earning every pedal stroke.  Every revolution is work.  

Lael called while pedaling south out of Ennis, MT this morning.  She enjoyed her ride yesterday, reporting aching knees after “crushing” the climb over Chief Joseph Pass.  Temperatures have normalized, and as riders pass into Wyoming and Colorado they can expect cold nights, reaching down to freezing temperatures in the highest part of the route in the mountains of Colorado.  The lead pack will exit Montana today and ride into Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park.  When I suggested the ride today would be scenic, Lael reminded, “I’m doing my best”.  These are the words she often uses, “I’m doing my best”.  I’ve come to learn that without a clear plan for each day, Lael’s plan for these kind of events is simply to do her best.  Makes sense.  Remember when watching dots move on the screen, these riders are all doing their best.

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Trans Am Bike Race 2016 Update: Lolo, MT

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Lael riding along the Salmon River in Idaho.  Photo courtesy of Trans Am Bike Race organizer Nathan Jones.  Keep up with his images and reports on the Trans Am Bike Race Blog.  More race chatter in the Trans Am Bike Race Facebook group.

Lael called while leaving Lolo, MT this morning.  She described the ride over Lolo Pass as “long and slow”, not surprising after several days of heat and 200+ mile days, although cloudy skies minimized exposure during most of Tuesday.  The actual road grade to the top of Lolo Pass is mild, until it steepens at the top, and ascends just 4000ft in 100 miles.  Lael reports being unable to ride fast, although she can still stand and climb in a way that satisfies her.  Standing while riding is Lael’s hallmark, and while both unconventional and inefficient, that’s the way she likes to ride.  She hopes to regain some spark and some speed in the coming days and weeks.  

Just before the top of the pass last night, Lael’s Di2 battery lost power.  The battery transmits signals from both shifters and powers both derailleurs, and is meant to be charged from a USB port.  The average user might go months without charging, the average ultra racer might go a week or more and several Trans Am racers and one Tour Divide racer report only a single re-charge for the duration of the event.  The battery was fully charged in Astoria, which makes this the shortest amount of time I’ve ever heard for a full Di2 battery cycle.  Aside from her standing technique, Lael also shifts a lot.  She’s neither the fastest nor the most graceful cyclist, but she can ride for a long time.  There is a small chance that her battery is otherwise faulty and not holding a full charge, but I wouldn’t immediately suspect that.  She is carrying a spare battery, fully charged.  To remove it from the inside of the seatpost we installed a piece of string to the battery, which is installed with two rubberized gaskets making a snug fit into the inside diameter of the post.  While stopped last night on the pass, Evan Deutsch rode up from behind.  Lael was thinking about replacing the battery with the spare, but he suggested continuing with the single gear ratio over the pass and checking the lodge on the other side.  They both stayed at the Lolo Hot Springs RV Park last night in a rented cabin, and Lael charged the battery.  It seems to be working just fine this morning.  While she had planned a little more sleep last night, the incident inadvertently gave her the opportunity to rest well.  She likely washed her face— a shower is unlikely— and feels better from the brief time inside.  This isn’t her desired MO, but I can see the silver lining.    

We’d planned to charge the Di2 battery from the dynamo, but Lael told me the B&M USB-Werk charger has not been working since sometime on the first day.  I’ve had one of these devices fail in the past, except in this case I suspect the issue is with the K-Lite system.  Her lights are performing flawlessly, and they have since we received them last fall before her Arizona Trail ITT, but I’ve had three separate devices connected to this system and they’ve all failed to provide power, and I now suspect some part of the system has damaged these devices.  The first USB-Werk I wired was in Arizona last fall, which was a well used unit that was previously working.  I assumed it had failed, Lael used batteries in her GPS on the AZT, and I thought nothing of it.  This spring, I ordered a new USB-Werk and installed it, and was never able to receive USB power from it.  I tested it directly to my own dynamo hub and couldn’t produce any power, so in this case I assumed a faulty unit.  I ordered a third unit immediately, and once I received it I wired it directly to my hub to verify that it worked, which it did.  I shipped the new unit to Lael in Portland and she had it installed at River City Bicycles.  She claimed it worked (in passing, in a brief conversation while still in Portland), although from her most recent report the USB-Werk has not worked since the first day, so I’m not sure if it worked at all.  

What this means is that she will have to recharge the Di2 system at some point along the way.  Charging time from a wall outlet is claimed to be 1.5 hours, so the duration of the charge is not a problem, but it will require her to tether herself to an outlet for some time.  Presumably, she will do this at night while sleeping, either by finding an outdoor wall outlet (in a park or pavilion), or in a motel.  She has already planned service at the Newton Bike Shop in Newton, Kansas, so she will certainly charge it there.  Perhaps the battery will last longer this time, perhaps by accident it did not receive a full charge in Astoria, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.  Wondering about electronics is not the reason she is out there and she is happily pedaling forward, taking it as it comes.

At the time of writing, I received another brief phone call from Lael— the kind where you didn’t say I love you and I miss you enough times in the previous call so you have to call back a few minute later.  She was riding into Hamilton, her energy restored, totally enthused about the ride ahead of her, planning to tackle another 200 miles today, and reporting that she felt like she got her energy back!  She was so excited, it lifted my spirits to know that she was having fun again.  If it isn’t fun, why do it?  

Steffen and Sarah are riding strong out front; Lee has dropped back, likely due to dehydration and exhaustion; Kai Edel put in a big day yesterday and has caught Lael and Evan.  Several hours ago, Sarah Hammond was the first to ride into Wisdom, MT and continued off route towards Wise River, failing to turn south at the western edge of town.  It is not yet clear if this is intentional, or a mistake.  She is almost 3 hours from Wisdom.  Should she return to the route, she would be required to rejoin the route in Wisdom, and the rules would allow her to seek or accept motorized transit to the point at which she left the track.  She has just stopped in Wise River, so hopefully she discovers her mistake.  Wise River is a minor resupply on the Great Divide route, although the two routes are meant to meet further south near Polaris, MT.  Stefan has continued along the prescribed track, turning south on Hwy 278 toward Bannock and Dillon.

Edit: Sarah Hammond is traveling toward Wisdom at 18mph, indicating that she is riding back to the track.     

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LW ITT Update: Lima, MT

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Memories from Israel; and Macedonia, Arizona, France, California, and almost everywhere else we’ve been. 

8/12/15, 8:11PM

“Hi, Lael is stuck in the mud but she is doing great.  We saw her on Medicine Lodge Road and she wanted us to pass this message to you.”

I received this message from two local fishermen, on a day trip from Dillon, MT.  They described muddy roads.  From the point where they met Lael, it took them “about an hour” to reach the pavement.  I’m not sure if that was simply a measure of distance from the road, or the challenging muddy conditions.  Lael has reported some clouds and occasional drops of rain since Banff, and a thunderstorm between Helena and Butte.  The fishermen reported thunderstorms in the vicinity yesterday afternoon, although they expect the conditions in the area between Polaris and Lima are clearing.  Reportedly, they drove into the storm on their drive home to Dillon.

I’ll update when Lael reaches Lima, MT.  There may be some walking. 

Lael just called from Lima.  She was just north of a massive storm yesterday, sunny and windy where she was, with very dark skies in front of her.  She continued riding onto muddy roads, which forced her to a stop.  She camped for nine hours by the roadside waiting for the road to become passable.  She reports that the weather is warm and dry today, although it still took several hours this morning for the road to dry enough to make the effort of overland travel worthwhile.  She sounds good, slightly disappointed by the setback, mostly indifferent about the whole thing.  She told me, “if this happens again, I might call it.  It’s not worth beating myself up for no result.”  I agreed.  With impending storms in the forecast, she suggested that she may make a big push to reach the Basin, so as not to get stuck on Togwotee and Union Passes, the two highest points on the Divide north of Colorado. 

The 907 number which texted me belongs to a guy named Jessie.  I mentioned that to Lael and she said he was from Eagle River, AK and works with our friend Jordan.

A plan is in place to get a SPOT tracker to Lael in Idaho.  Tour Divide legend Jay Petervary will deposit a tracker to a rural business along the route, south of the rail-trail.  Thanks Jay!

Continuing limited updates on the Tour Divide 2015 page on

LW ITT Update: I-15 Underpass, MT

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The Limited Edition Josh Kato Tour Divide cycling jersey is available at REI and for the low price of $39.93.  Select the color “Exuberance” to look like your favorite Tour Divide Champion.  Lael is sporting an “Alaska Grown” cotton logo tee which she received for her birthday from her grandmother.

Lael passed through Butte around 8:20 PM on Tuesday night, reporting that Lava Mountain was pretty in the daytime, and the section from Basin to Butte was not as much work as she remembered.  A SPOT device was shipped to the Day’s Inn in Butte, although we now know that the Priority Express shipment was scheduled for the next morning.  Lael is outrunning the USPS.  Yesterday was a tough day of riding including three passes between Lincoln and Helena, some chunky tracks and climbing over Lava Mountain to Basin and Butte, followed by a climb out of Butte to cross the Divide.  Leaving Montana the road will open up for some big mileage days.  

Lael laid down near the I-15 underpass at 11:31 pm last night, about 30 miles past Butte.  Neil and Jay slept for a few hours here at the end of their fourth day as well.  In the morning, the route begins a prolonged ascent up to Fleecer Ridge followed by a famously sharp descent toward Wise River.  A nice paved pass connects Wise River to Polaris before returning to dirt for the climb over the Medicine Lodge- Big Sheep Creek Divide to Lima, MT.  Today will be her last full day in Montana before crossing to Idaho and Wyoming.

When we last spoke Lael wanted me to know that what she is doing is not easy.  “I am trying really hard”, she says.  “I’m doing my best.”

Matthew Lee and I have considered a few options to get her another tracker.  There may be someone who can pick it up from Butte this morning and deposit it in Lima before this evening when Lael arrives.  It is possible to forward the tracker to Pinedale, WY via USPS and have her pick it up in a few days.  Or, JayP has recently organized a small competitive ride called the Fitz-Barn Ride from Hamilton, MT to Victor, ID.  The 467 mile route shares a section with the Great Divide Route east of Lima, MT and a  handful of rental SPOTs remain from that ride in Victor.  Perhaps someone can deposit one along the track for Lael tomorrow.

Until Lael receives a new tracker we will continue to receive updates via phone when service is available, which will be posted manually to the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.  

Follow the yellow LW ITT bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.  Full SPOT tracking will resume in the next few days.  Meanwhile, Lael keeps cookin’!

LW ITT Update: Lincoln, MT

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The wheezing, gasping pink dot sucker punches the yellow dot, casting her SPOT tracker to the roadside atop a mountain pass in northern Montana.  But the yellow dot is unfazed, and keeps pedaling at almost 200 miles a day, a direct blow to the morale of the pink dot.  This morning, the pink dot labors up every hill in the Swan Valley north of Seeley Lake and Ovando, while the yellow dot cruises over a series of three low passes en route to Helena, more than a day ahead. Graphic provided by GW Neal via Microsoft Paint.

Lael has maintained a pace of almost 200 miles a day for three days.  She pedaled 219 miles on the first day to camp on the back side of Cabin Pass.  The second day, about 190 miles further down the track, she camped beyond Bigfork on the climb above Swan Lake.  At the end of the third day she passed Lincoln just after the gas station closed at 10PM, sourcing candy bars and potato chips for an overnight bivy and the ride to Helena.  I suspect she slept on the climb out of Lincoln.  She should be in Helena by early afternoon, and Butte by late tonight or tomorrow morning.  Lael rode and hiked over Lava Mountain in the dark last time, after leaving the hospital in Helena.  I’m sure she will appreciate the ride in daylight.

When she called from Lincoln, after I worried all afternoon that she was eaten by a bear on Richmond Peak, she asked, “Did I do good?”.  

Yeah, you did really good.

Look for limited updates of the yellow LW ITT dot today on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.  We should be back to full tracking mode by Wednesday.

Update: Lael checked in from Helena around 11AM MT.

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 

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, 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. 

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Tour Divide Update: Lincoln, MT


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.

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