Tour Divide: The Penultimate Push

Day 19. The Beginning of the End. (Header by Pie-O-Neer Pie Shop) Sometime during the night, I think around 4am, Gabes packed up camp and headed out. I didn’t want him to get that much of a lead on me but I also really wanted sleep. Again I woke up with the sun rise around 6 am. I woke up in dry grass under a sycamore tree with cottonwood balls floating through the air. I felt like I was back home in the Valley. I packed my things and checked the cafe at the inn. They didn’t open for another hour and I wanted to get moving. I was hungry after not having much of a dinner. Rode down the road to Bode’s General Store (a well equipped gas station) and bought some Gu blocks, coffee, and some breakfast burritos. It was a slow morning. I should have had more to eat the night before. Missing a meal makes all the difference. You become slower, and it takes longer to recover once you do eat. Starting out in the morning was still the hardest part of the day. After finally leaving Bode’s after 8am, it was already hot out. I made my way up the hill already sweating my butt off. I traversed over national parks, Indian reservations, other private land, and all sorts of varying road conditions. I had to hike up a few sections with big chunky rocks of bright limestone. I could feel the heat radiating from the road and I had to stop a few times under some short trees. The next 80 miles were some of the toughest. While climbing up sheets of limestone onto beds of sand, and then back to limestone, I almost crashed so many times… climbing at 3mph out of the saddle. The loose soft limestone sand was tough. I tried following the shallower routes through the sand but it wasn’t easy. Aside from the limestone it was very akin to the mid elevation Sierra Nevada mountain range. I saw many NoBo riders on my way up the hill. They all told me that once I got to the top I would have some gnarly descents coming up. As it got higher in elevation the mountains started to look like Colorado and the roads were surrounded by red and white cows. I took a break at the top and ate a sandwich, some chips, and tried not to fall asleep. I had heard that Gabes was still ahead of me. And I didn’t want him to gain too much time on me. I was told that he was off on the side of the road taking a nap buy some NoBo riders. My goal was to catch him. The descent was just as bad as I had been told. I was descending huge chunky, rocky, roads that I am not sure that my Jeep could have climbed. I had to give my bike a lot of body language and be careful not to hit my rear derailleur on the rocks. Descending was almost as slow as climbing. My hands were sore and numb and my knees were sore as well. I just wanted to get off the mountain. I passed a few campsites and knew that I had to be getting close to the main road. I had only gone about 70 miles and it had taken me all day. It was about 6 o’clock by the time I got to pavement. I think that space descent was the one featured in the divide movie. It was glorious. It was the fastest I had been on a bike in days. I let off the brakes and listened to my tires whir across the pavement. I leaned my bike over in corners and listened to the sound of the rubber on the pavement. I was so happy to finally be making progress. As it has been said before, moving forward is key. It doesn’t matter if you’re moving slow as long as you are moving forward. That being said it is so nice to ride fast every once in awhile. There were a few little rollers at the bottom before I finally rolled into Cuba. One of the northbound riders had told me about a Mexican food place in Cuba. I decided that I had to check it out. I knew Gabe had to be somewhere in Cuba because I didn’t think there was any way that he would push out across the desert. I walked into the Mexican food place sat down and immediately ordered a whole pitcher of water. By the time they came back with the pitcher I had figured out my three plates of food that I wanted. I sat back and waited and tried to find a comfortable spot in the chair in which to sit. That is when it happened. The angriest I had been since my last bike was stolen. This woman, this hostess cupcake of a woman, working on her fourth chin, sat at a table across the restaurant with her two little pork chop kids. Okay, I lied. Her kids actually resembled beach balls. I saw her nudge her kids and then pointed me. I then heard her say “See that guy over there? I never want to see you as skinny as him. Eat up.” I almost became the physical embodiment of the range quit meme. I admit I might have looked a little gaunt, but she shouldn’t be teaching her kids that sort of behavior. I was furious. I was enraged. I was whatever adjective best describes a combination of those two. I was not mad because she thought I was too skinny. I was mad because she was teaching her kids to be unhealthy. It took a lot of willpower to not get violent in front of her kids. Instead I mean mugged her for the entire rest of the time that she was there. When my three plates of food arrived I ate them ferociously and never looked away. If I had a working cell phone I would have called C.P.S. on her. What she was doing to those kids was inhumane. I calmed down a little bit after she left and rolled her kids out the door. I looked at my map and saw that I has 120 miles of desert to cross before the next town. I did not want to cross during the day because I knew it would be miserably hot. The sun was setting as a walked across the street to the gas station. I loaded up on more food which is hard to do right after you finish eating. I downed two of the Starbucks frappuccinos and then saddled up to cross the desert. I had been having issues with the connection on my Garmin to my charger box on my way to Cuba. As I headed out, I noticed my battery was dead and my light would only stay on as long as I was going fast enough. The moon was bright and I was able to ride safely without my headlight on. Those first 60 miles heading out across the desert we’re glorious. I rode over paved, slightly rolling hills with a tail wind. The temperature was just below lukewarm. I was full and well caffeinated. The map showed a gas station 20 miles in where I could fill up water. By the time I got to it I had not had much water which was fortunate because it was closed. I push on through the desert and came to a long straight part of the road. I still had a good tailwind but I was heading straight for a massive lightning storm. I knew the road turned, but I didn’t know where the road turned south. I was really hoping that it turned before it got to the storm. As I was getting closer I could hear a constant low rumble of thunder that never went away. Over one specific roller I heard and then saw a pack of Indian Reservation dogs. These large black figures came running across the desert and towards the road that I was riding on. There was no fence between the road and the reservation and those dogs were fast. I have no idea what kind of dogs they were but they were black and large and got my adrenaline pumping. I didn’t know it was possible for me to hit 30 miles an hour up a hill at mile 120 for the day. The same thing happened again a few hills later. I was able to escape them as well but I was fairly exhausted after my second effort. I should have stopped by the hardware store in Cuba so that I could have bought some more hammers. You can only drop so many.

I had never been frightened of a storm before. This was not your typical California thunderstorm. The lightning was nonstop and it was on proportions bigger than anything I had seen before. It was coming my way. Fortunately, the road turned south, away from the lightning storm. Unfortunately I now had to ride uphill into the wind, and my coffee has worn off. I ate some more food at the turn in the road and then set off again. I could see the lightning storm coming my way and I knew I had to outrun it. I continued to ride by moonlight and after a few miles of riding southbound a small coyote started running with me. It was cute. It was slightly larger than a chihuahua and could run surprisingly fast. I decided to name him Wylie. You know. If you don’t, your childhood was terrible. Anyways he ran with me for a while and I didn’t think anything of it. However his friends came to play and it was no longer cute. There was a group of them or a pack if you will, and they started calling. I started getting more aggressive and rather than running behind me they started trying to get next to me. They ranged from chihuahua size, up to knee high and they were fast. I couldn’t drop them I tried I tried weaving a cross the road making sure they wouldn’t get too close to my ankles, but they were relentless. I resorted to using my water bottle to scare them away. I would squirt water towards them and they would let off a little bit but then catch back up. I went through over half my bottle just trying to fend them off. After over a mile of them chasing me they finally let off and I continued to burn matches that I didn’t have. At that point I was riding past a mine that was blowing dust across the road. There was a lit tunnel and then the guard gate to the mine on the other side. I asked the guard how much further to Grants. He told me I had 28 miles to go. I watched the clouds relentlessly moving towards me with nonstop lightning. I was tired, bonking, and couldn’t stop moving. I set out down the road into more headwind and rolling hills. I was working hard to keep riding in the moonlight and make sure the clouds didn’t catch me. I came over a rise to see another pack of coyotes in the road. I stopped, grabbed some food, water, pocket knife, and as much energy as I could muster. I charged the pack and they scattered and then chased me for a while. I emptied my water bottle trying to scatter the pack and they eventually gave up the chase. I still had plenty of water in my water bladders so I was fine. I was however, running low on food. I eventually saw the lights of Milan and Grants, New Mexico coming up in the distance. I was bonking harder and harder, reaching new levels of exhaustion. It was like a nightmare where your goal or destination keeps running away from you as you try to get closer. I was waking up in different parts of the lane, still riding my bike. My arms were weak and sore and my head was heavy. It took everything to keep moving forward. After what felt like hours I approached a Loves truck stop in Milan at about 4:30am. I bought a chocolate milk, some ice cream, and a couple energy bars and napped for 40ish minutes until the diner opened. My bike sat next to me as I lay on a bench with some terrible pan flute music playing over the truck stop speakers. The sky got lighter and I never saw those nasty storm clouds move in. According to the news on the TV in the diner when it opened, the clouds stopped just at the ridge to the North of town. I had outrun yet another storm. I ordered my usual mass of food but I struggled to eat. I was too tired. I kept almost passing out in my plate of food. I got a box to go and fixed it in a bag to my bike. I had had a cup of coffee at the diner and I was trying to decide if i would be trying to sleep or keep moving to Pie Town. I studied my maps. I wanted to get to the glorious Pie Town that I had been looking forward to for the entire trip while the stores were still open. It was 80ish miles away. I didn’t have time to sleep. I went to the truck stop again and got some more caffeine, refilled my bladders for riding across the desert, and restocked my snack supply. I stopped in at the bathroom when a sad country song came on over the station radio. It was “I’m Already There” by Lonestar and it was sad. The guy called home to his wife and kids, and I cried… in a Loves truck stop bathroom stall. Damn you Lonestar. You made a 24 year old man weep in public… sort of. I was completely exhausted, I hurt all over, the song was so sad, it made me think of my dog Dude. It made me think about things I hadn’t thought of for the entire trip and about how for some people, life isn’t just about riding bikes 16+ hours a day. I regained my composure and purchased my supplies for the next 80 miles. When I went outside, the sun was out again, and it was already warm. A mile down the road I got some more sunscreen at a dollar store, and continued along the route. The route was along Historic Route 66 for a couple miles. The road was terrible. Half the buildings were closed and dilapidated and it smelled like urine for a while. Progress was slow. At that point I had been riding for over 24 hours and the caffeine felt useless. I pushed forward with my mind set on getting to Pie Town before the shops closed. The temperature was rising and the bugs in the desert sounded like high voltage electrical shorts. There were less mosquitos than up north but a surprising amount of biting horse flies. I stopped in at a ranger station to get some more water and to cool down a bit. I asked to use the computer and I checked the race progress map. I had passed a bunch of people with my push through the night, including people I thought were further ahead of me. I set off again after talking with the ranger for a bit. It was so nice to talk to someone after riding along for so many miles. I rode past a Natural Archway and through miles of desert with low brush-like trees, and mesas in the distance. I stopped under shade when I could. I was trying to keep up my water consumption. My body was doing weird things. I couldn’t tell if I needed food, sleep, or water. I was a little disoriented so I increased my water intake. I turned off pavement and it was a mere 30 miles to Pie Town. The white sand radiated heat back at me. I was only sure I was sweating because salt was building up on my jersey at an alarming rate. I saw some Northbounders who told me I was getting close and road would get worse before it got better. Indeed it did. My water was getting more than warm. It was hot in my mouth. I was struggling trying to keep drinking it because it was hot. I knew I needed to but it felt like it was almost burning my tongue. I’m sure I slowed my intake. As I got closer to town, a truck came up beside me and the driver told me I was less than a mile out and to come to her store to resupply before she drove off. I came over a hill and saw Pie Town on the next hill. In between was white, hot, sandy, washboard road. As I neared the top and came to pavement once again, I watched the owner of the Pie Town Cafe close and lock the door to the cafe, get in his car and leave. I was so hot, tired, not feeling well, and almost cried watching him drive away at 4:10 pm. I rode up the road and came to Pie-O-neer Pie Shop, and saw there was a car out front and people inside. The sign said closed and it was demoralizing. I was thinking about getting on my bike and looking further down the road for another place. The proprietor came to the door and waved me around to the side where I parked my bike. She opened the door and I hobbled in. I was feeling terrible and apparently it showed. She offered a pitcher of water, PB&J sandwiches, ice cream, and of course, pie.

There were some other customers in the pie shop. A mom and her three kids were on a road trip to see their dad in Dallas had stopped in for pie. They were curious about my story and I told them what i had been up to. I got the usual surprise responses and ate all the food that was presented to me. I tried to pay and I was told that everything was covered by Salsa Cycles after I showed them my stem cap. They told me about the Toaster House. I had heard rumors from other riders about it but I didn’t know where it was. They told me what was up and how to get there. I signed the Tour Divide sign in sheet right under legends like Lael Wilcox, Jay Petervary, and (at the time of writing this) TD record holder, Josh Kato. After about an hour at the Pie-O-neer Pie Shop, I had regained a healthy color and no longer felt terrible. I wasn’t starving but I could have eaten more but I didn’t want to be rude and ask for more food. We went outside as everyone was leaving and took pictures and then I said my farewells and attempted to find this store that the woman in the truck had told me about. Alas everything in the one street town was closed. I went to the Toaster House and made 8 PB&Js, cooked a frozen pizza, made some poptarts, and had some fruit bars that brought me back to elementary school. The Toaster House was originally used by a woman raising her sons who would go on hikes in the area and bring friends over. As her kids got older and moved out, she moved out and maintained the house for CDT thru hikers, GDMBT riders, and TD riders. The house had most amenities and tons of beds. There were maps available for all the different routes, sign in sheets, and a donation box for whatever you deemed fair. It was 6:30 by the time I had my bike set up for the next 180 mile food-less section. The plan was to get a few hours of sleep, get up, and get riding around 1:30am. I was going to wake up a couple times during the night and hopefully one of those times would let me get out the door at the time I wanted. I completed ACA map 5 in two efforts and it made me feel pretty good about my progress. Day 19 and 20ish completed with 271 miles and an unknown amount of climbing. (A lot, but there was a garmin error)

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