Way of the Mountain Turtle
Single-speeding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race
By Kent Peterson
copyright 2005 by Kent Peterson. All Rights Reserved.
My friend Matt Chester sent me on my way with a bean burrito and advice
at least as old as Sophocles, “Make haste slowly.”
It’s one of those proverbs that endures and doesn’t sound
like a cliché when it comes from a man who builds bikes with his
own hands and great care. If I lived in an age where men had Latin
mottoes perhaps it would be mine, “festina lente.”
Waiting on a rainy day in Port Roosville, Montana for the Great Divide
Mountain Bike Race to start, I feel that I’m here under
false pretenses. Many years and miles ago a fellow named Greg
Lemond showed up at a local race and whipped the guys who whipped the
guys who regularly whipped me. I knew that day that I could train
forever and never ride like that. I just don’t have that
drive or instinct or taste for competition. What I do have is a
persistent love of riding, and a nature that enjoys pushing against a
limit. Eventually I discovered a sport called randonneuring.
Randonneurs don’t really compete against each other. Instead they
find hard, beautiful places to ride and then see if they can ride their
chosen course within some kind of pre-defined time limit. My fellow
riders are here for the race, I’m here to find out how long
it’s going to take me to ride this amazing route.
In the 1990s the Adventure Cycling Association mapped a 2,500 mile
route winding from Canada to Mexico along the spine of the Continental
Divide. They pictured the route as something to be toured over many
months or possibly ridden in stages over several years. In 1999, John
Stamstad rode the length of the Divide in a record setting 18 days 5
hours. In 2004, Mike Curiak organized the first Great Divide Mountain
Bike Race. Seven riders started the race, four finished and Mike set
the new course record of 16 days 57 minutes. Pete Basinger finished the
race 24 minutes later.
Now, in 2005, again there are seven riders at the start. After his
strong showing last year, Pete is naturally the odds on favorite.
Pete is a man of few words, prone to terse, true statements like
“Bring a camera, it’s pretty” or “Every day is
different on the Divide.” Talking with him, you get the
feeling that he’s already out ahead, thinking miles down the
trail. He’s not racing against the rest of us; he’s
gunning for the record, trying to find at least 24 minutes somewhere in
the next 2,500 miles.
Matthew Lee, Trish Stevenson and Brad Kee are all friends who have come
here from North Carolina. Last year Matthew and Trish raced the GDR,
but when injury forced Trish to drop out, Matthew kicked back to a fast
touring mode, finishing the course in a bit over 30 days. This
year he rode the Canadian section of the trail from Banff to Port
Roosville. When the rest of us heft his bike we can tell that
Matthew is going for speed. His rig is very fast, light and well
Trish tells me that her goal this year is to finish the race without
doing any “permanent” damage to her body. As the
implications of that comment sink in Brad notes that Trish is
“hardcore.” Talking with Brad, I can tell despite our
differences in size (I’m about the size of a hobbit while Brad is
a large wookie of a man) that he and I have a lot in common.
We’re both beginning to wonder what we’ve signed up for and
we’re anxious to get on the trail.
Alan Tilling and Scott Morris both look lean and fast. Alan has
flown here from the UK and sports a racing resume that includes both
the TransAlp and the Iditarod Invitational races. Alan has
modified his Iditarod bike for this race, equipping it with somewhat
slicker tires and packing the bulk of his gear into a waterproof stuff
bag and single waterproof pannier. Alan speaks with the British
gift for understatement, talking about the “bit of a
challenge” that lies ahead.
Scott Morris is a trail veteran and the technician of the group.
Scott founded a GPS mapping company called TopoFusion and last year
rode the length of the Great Divide from south to north with his
girlfriend Paula in 38 ½ days, with a loaded BOB trailer and
time out for some sight-seeing en route. Coming off of a
successful mapping run of the Arizona Trail in April and May of this
year, Scott is here with a light, fast rig and his sights set on a fast
We are all riding fairly light but everyone has made their own choices.
Every racer but me has chosen a 29” wheeled, multispeed bike so
naturally my rigid steel Redline Monocog is the bike that attracts the
most attention. I’ve gotten used to confused looks from
folks when they see my choice of bikes and many people seem compelled
to issue forth well-meaning critiques starting with phrases like
“wouldn’t it be easier…?” I’ve
learned to keep my responses as simple as my bike and often reply that
the Redline is a fun bike and it’s really all I need. If
I’m feeling chatty I point out that it would be easier not to
ride the Divide at all or to ride the course on a motorcycle, but that
really doesn’t seem to be the point. Every person racing the
Divide is here for a challenge, I’m just defining the challenge a
bit differently. I want to see how fast I can ride a rigid singlespeed
mountain bike from Canada to Mexico.
Mission Control for the race is Pete’s friend Joe Peach.
Joe has a voice-mail and a computer and each day (or as frequently as
possible) each racer is supposed to call in with brief updates on where
we are and how we are doing. Joe will transcribe our updates and
post the info to a website,
allowing family, friends and the world at large to track our progress.
None the Divide racers are particularly wealthy and each of us has
managed to be here thanks to understanding spouses, employers, sponsors
and friends. I’m taking an unpaid month off from the bike shop
where I work and I’ve saved up money for this trip by selling
t-shirts and scrounging money in various creative ways. While I have a
few big name sponsors like the folks at Clif Bar who have set me up
with a deal on more Mojo bars than I can possibly carry, by far the
bulk of my funding comes from individuals whose generosity is the real
fuel for this adventure. My maps come from Bob, I owe my tent to Henry,
and a little girl named Chloe raided her piggy bank to buy my
water-purification tablets. My bike club held a fund-raising ride and
dozens of other folks pulled together hundreds of dollars to make sure
I have all the supplies I need and that my wife and kids will still
have food on the table and roof over their heads while I’m off
racing in a very pretty part of the world. I have a web page where I
try to thank everyone but that “Thanks” seems tiny in
comparison to all this incredible support.
Clouds rolled in at dawn and the rain started around 10:00 AM. We hang
out at the First & Last Chance Bar, packing and repacking our gear,
taking pictures and waiting for the appointed launch time. There are
the usual last minute delays and at three minutes past noon
Trish’s mom takes the start line picture and we all roll
The first miles are fairly flat pavement and with my low gear and
steady nature, I’m off the back. By the time I reach Eureka, just
ten miles down the road, the others are far out of sight. After Eureka
I leave pavement and roll into wild country. This National Forest land
west of Glacier National Park is home to wolves and grizzly bears and
other scary things. Several of my friends and supporters had suggested
that I carry things like pepper spray or even a large gun but I could
never quite picture myself calmly blasting pepper or bullets at an
attacking creature. Instead I have opted for a bear bell, a Buddhist
solution to this beastly problem. I supplement the jangling bell with
repeated off-key choruses from the Grateful Dead song “Dire
Wolf” and I roll down the trail singing “Don’t
murder me, I beg of you don’t murder me. Puleeeze don’t
I don’t see any bears or wolves but I do spot a young (presumably
tone-deaf) moose as I climb up the Whitefish Divide. It’s mostly
cold and wet all day and on the mountains above Red Meadow Lake there
is still plenty of snow.
Wet mountain descents are cold, nasty things and I’m very glad to
eventually return to pavement for the final run into the town of
Whitefish. It’s 10:20 PM when I roll into a small gas
station/mini-mart/laundromat at the edge of town. Much to my surprise,
Pete, Brad and Trish are still here, but Pete is quick to launch back
out into the dark and rain. I make a quick phone call to race central
and a slightly longer call to update Christine. She’s very
pleased that my trip thus far has been bear-free.
Trish and Brad have been feasting and they are using all the
laundromat’s resources to dry out their clothes. Trish
can’t seem to believe that I’ve made it here. “I
never thought anybody could ride a singlespeed over that…”
she says as I wolf down a hot chocolate and a banana muffin. I throw a
ten pack of granola bars into my pack, wish my fellow racers well, and
head back out into the rain.
The next town is a place called Columbia Falls and in the damp darkness
I see a gazebo at the edge of a small memorial park. This simple roof
saves me the time of pitching my tent so I pull over, roll out my
sleeping bag and sleep until dawn.
In the light of day I see that Columbia Falls is a truly civilized town
and that it has a coffee shop with an internet connection. One of the
truths I’ve learned in years of riding is that I don’t lose
time by stopping for coffee. The caffeine, calories and the urgent
guilt at stopping always send me down the road at a speed that more
than repays whatever debt I incur. I eat a delicious scone, sip a fine
latte, dash off a quick note to a world that seems very far and way and
then roll out into a blessedly dry day.
After crossing river valley farmland, the gravel road begins to climb
again into wild country. I knew that we would go through some lonesome
land but somehow it hadn’t really hit me just how isolated these
small roads and trails would be. There are no humans here. None. No
cars, no houses, no telephone wires. Indeed the amazing thing is the
fact there are any roads here at all.
Around noon I crest what the map refers to simply as “a long
climb” up Crane Mountain. As I begin to descend, I feel a
disconcerting “thock, thock, thock” from my rear wheel each
time I tap the rear brake. I figure I’ve broken a spoke and stop
to inspect the damage. It’s inconvenient but I’m carrying a
Fiber-Fix spoke and field repairs are just part of what you sign up for
when you race the Divide.
Unfortunately, what I see is far more serious than a broken spoke; my
rear rim is cracked and bulging through the braking surface. Yesterday
I rode about 115 miles of mostly backcountry mountain roads in a cold,
persistent rain. Could all the grit and white-knuckled descents have
worn through a rim that quickly? It shouldn’t have. I equipped my
bike with new wheels just six weeks ago. But it’s definitely
cracked and right now there is not much to do but fix things as best I
can. I inspect the rim, try to flatten the bulge, boot it internally
with duct tape and drop tire pressure a bit. I disconnect my rear brake
so I won’t forget and have the brake rub any more of the rim
away. Maybe those folks with disk brakes are on to something…
I have to get off this mountain and get to a bike shop. I roll on
and quickly learn a lot about descending with only a single working
brake. I take breaks to let the rim and brake pads cool down. Matthew
soon rolls up behind me. He’d gone from first to last in the GDR
by combining a hard first day’s effort with an intensely decadent
sleep break. Last night while I catnapped for a few hours in the
gazebo, he’d been sleeping in style in a motel with a real bed.
Matthew confirms that we are the last riders now and advises me that
Helena is where I’ll need to go to find a new rim or wheel.
That’s about 200 miles down the trail. Matthew wishes me luck and
Many miles later, I find Scott Morris pulled over at the roadside near
Holland Lake Lodge. Scott has been having pains in his leg right and is
resting up and stretching out. He advises me that the lodge is
but I hadn’t been counting on it for supplies, so that news means
little to me. This is some pretty intense bear country and Scott is
feeling somewhat better now so we agree to ride together for a bit. We
climb up into the evening, chatting about our lives away from the
trail. At sunset Scott wants to keep going but I’m not keen on
navigating through bear country in the dark and we decide to settle in
for the night near the top of Richmond Peak.
In the morning, we split up. Scott’s low on supplies and
needs to get to someplace with food as quick as he can, and I
don’t want to hold him up with my cautious descending. I
start to offer him some of my stash but realize that under the race
rules, I can’t do that. We have to be on our own out
here. We can buy supplies along the way, but stores and cafes are
few and far between along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and
timing our intersections with them is a big part of race strategy.
I really enjoy the solo riding. The climbs are hard, the descents
challenging, and the distances are vast, but there is a great peace
that can only be found in the hard places of the world. Time
spent in this wild world renews in me an appreciation for all the
interesting noises and clever complexities we’ve built into the
world of men.
I stop for bacon and eggs at the Stray Bullet Café in the tiny
town of Ovando and listen to the locals talk of their sons’
baseball games and how someone found a 27 pound puffball mushroom in
the woods somewhere near here. Miles later I stop in Lincoln to
stock up on Spam, peanut M&Ms, and other supplies for the
trail. Backcountry roads climb and fall and wind south and east
toward Helena. A bit after 9:00 PM I pitch my tent by the site of
an old mine. A massive stone wall towers over me and the Empire
Creek gurgles away on the other side of the tiny road as I make supper
and settle in for the night.
I roll into Helena around 9:30 AM and arrive at Great Divide Cyclery
just as it’s opening up. I work at a bike shop, so I know
that my own crisis is just one problem in a litany of woes the shop
will see today and that they probably have a queue of regular customers
with higher priority concerns. I present my case to Gwen Sensing
and Steve Coen, the two folks working here this morning. What I
need is a new rim and some spokes to lace it up, or a new wheel, and
I’ll be happy to do the work myself.
There aren’t any prebuilt wheels that will work. Steve has
a rim in stock, but we’ll have to calculate the proper spoke
lengths and cut the spokes. This will take lots of time and at
this point I’m willing to throw money at the problem if it will
get me back on the road faster. “Look,” I say,
“I’ll buy a wheel off a bike on the floor.” One of
the smart things I’d done a few months back was re-space my
Monocog from the BMX rear spacing of 110 mm to the more common mountain
bike spacing of 135 mm. So in a pinch I should be able to just slap any
mountain bike wheel in there. I could just run a multi-speed wheel as a
singlespeed, ignoring all those extra cogs.
It turns out I don’t have to do that. In a stroke of extreme good
fortune, Great Divide Cyclery has one Specialized Hardrock Singlespeed
on the sales floor. The chainline is right but the tire has to be
swapped and a 17 tooth cog installed. In order to clear my rear
rack, we have to pull the rear disk brake. But the new wheel
sports a beefy Ditch Witch rim with a great braking surface and
everything comes together with what the Taoists call effortless
effort. I am on the proper path.
I buy a lot of extra stuff at the shop: comfy, old school leather
palmed, mesh back cycling gloves; a spare chain, lube, spare patches,
and energy bars. I give Steve my trashed wheel with the very nice
Paul singlespeed hub as a tip and leave an extra $20 on the
workbench. “You guys absolutely rock,” I tell Gwen
and Steve. “Lunch is on me.”
I leave Helena and ride back into the wild country. I’m really
loving the descents now that I have two working brakes. I get a bit of
extra excitement as an enormous elk leaps across the trail about eight
feet in front of me on a particularly steep descent and later I see
more deer and beaver and various other creatures. In places the trail
is very rough and steep and in other places the headwinds are fierce
but my general sense is just an overwhelming feeling of joy that
I’m able to ride.
The sun is setting as I pull into Butte but I’m not ready for the
day to end. I stop at the grocery store for supplies, place calls to
Race Central and Christine and then I head out into a beautiful moonlit
night. I ride a dozen miles south of town and camp in the trees just
off the roadside.
I pack up camp, ride into the Butte Watershed and climb the Divide once
again. Over the course of about 2500 miles the GDR crosses the
Continental Divide several dozen times. Add in dozens of watershed
crossings and various mountains and hills and you’ll see that
riding the length of the GDR is like climbing Mount Everest six times
in a row. This probably explains why I sleep so soundly each night.
Descending yet another tiny forest road, I see a very strange sight.
It’s a car, climbing the hill. Seeing any kind of car on these
roads is rare enough to count as an odd event but what really strikes
me as strange is the fact that this car has a “Driver’s
Education” banner on it’s roof. I can only guess that this
is a particularly difficult Driver’s Ed program that specializes
in adventure driving.
Around 10:00 AM, Alan catches up with me. He mentions that Scott
was back in Butte this morning and he thinks that Brad and Trish are
somewhere behind us as well. We both are pretty certain that Pete
and Matthew have already built up quite a lead over the rest of us.
Alan and I ride together for much of the day. We manage to pack
in some extra climbing on Fleecer Ridge thanks to an extremely vague
trail and even vaguer directions. The map tells us to “turn
right near high point, cutting through a grassy meadow and aimed at
solitary ‘fence’.” We debate the meaning of
“near” and question why the word “fence” is in
quotes. The directions also mention wandering through the sage,
but the entire freakin’ mountain is covered in sage.
Eventually we determine that we have climbed way too far and have to
backtrack. Alan then descends with style while I wander slowly
through the sage.
Later Alan informs me that his suspension fork has decided to lock up
on him. I offer little sympathy and welcome him to my
world. I haven’t felt the Monocog’s lack of
suspension to be much of a hindrance.
The skies are looking nasty when we roll up to the Grasshopper Inn at
7:40 PM. Over dinner, we talk about the ride, equipment, life,
and choices. Alan is intrigued that I prefer Power Grips to
clipless pedals. It’s a discussion I’ve had with
various folks over the years, so my well-rehearsed side of the
conversation goes something like this:
You have three places where you interface with the bike: your hands,
your butt, and your feet.
Now let’s say you’re going to do something crazy, like ride
your bike in the mountains for 2,500 miles, trying to ride at least 100
miles per day. Somebody comes to you and says, “Hey,
we’ve got this handlebar system. You clip your hands into
this one place and that’s the only place they can be. But
science is telling us that this is the best place for your hands.”
You’d probably say, “No thanks.”
And let’s say they have a saddle with his little clip. The
clip will lock your butt on the saddle and science says that it’s
the best possible place for your butt to be.
You’d probably say, “No thanks.”
Now let’s say they have these pedals . . .
I don’t convince Alan but I didn’t expect that I
would. Clipless aficionados like to talk about float, but
rotational freedom is only one dimension. One of the things I
like with Power Grips is that I can also move my foot in the fore and
aft plane as well as rotationally, but the bottom line is that they
just work well for me.
We’re up at dawn and rolling before 6:00 AM. Fairly early
on Scott catches up with us. He’s been having problems with
both his leg and his hands. In addition to his sciatic and ITB
band problems, his hands had gone numb to the point that he’d
bitten into one of his fingers while eating trail mix and hadn’t
noticed it until he’d seen the blood. But he’s made
various changes including swapping out his handlebars in Butte and it
seems like he’s back in business. He takes off ahead with
Alan in hot pursuit. I stick to my basic plan of simply keeping
the pedals turning. Alan and Scott had talked about stopping at Grant
for some breakfast but I have a decent stash of food and decide that I
can press onward.
A bit later the road gets rougher and the headwinds increase. A
trick of the wind in my ears makes me sometimes think I hear a voice
and just now I swear that I hear the wind say
“turtle.” I cock my head to listen again but now
it’s just the wind.
I turtle onward up Sheep Creek Divide, a nasty climb on a bad
road. There are a few patches of muck here and there and I can
see that this road would be impassible in the rain. The gathering
clouds and increasing wind provide incentive for even the most patient
turtle to develop a sense of urgency. The day grows long as I put
my head down and grind away at the pedals.
Alan catches up with me and we ride into Red Rock Wildlife
Refuge. It’s evening now and the wind is fierce. We
struggle to keep the bikes upright against the gusts. The low sun
forms a rainbow.
We climb into the rainbow and beyond it into the darkness. There
is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but there is plenty of
bike-stopping mud. The soft rain merges with the softer clay soil
of the road to make a thick paste. Riding becomes impossible
within moments. We cannot even push our bikes without the mud
clogging the wheels. At 10:20 PM we are stopped dead in our
It’s drier in the morning and the mosquitoes are out in
force. Alan packs up quickly and takes off ahead of me.
It’s still extremely muddy and I spend the first few hours
pushing the bike. Eventually the road becomes dry enough to
ride. I scrape pounds of mud from the Monocog.
At 9:15 AM I cross Red Rock Pass into Idaho. I stop for a
well-earned breakfast of an ice cream sandwich, Cheetos, and a Snickers
bar washed down with Gatorade. As it says on the T-shirts I sold
to raise funds for this trip, I am “Not a Nutritional Role
Idaho has some real nice riding including a wonderful section on a
snowmobile trail. Unfortunately this is followed by a flat, poorly
surfaced railtrail. The combination of a soft volcanic soil surface and
years of ORV use make this slow washboarded section of the GDR worth
avoiding. The GDR route designers seem aware of this fact and list out
an alternate bypass that they describe as being “17.5 miles
longer and slightly more scenic.” This is not one of the options
allowed in the current race rules but I think if I ever wind up riding
the GDR again, I’ll check out the alternate route.
After about 25 miles trail conditions improve and the area by the Warm
River Campground is very pretty. After filling my waterbottles at the
campground I roll across the rest of Idaho and into Wyoming. It’s
a nice climb up toward Boone Creek followed by a nice descent on the
gravel John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. I think to myself that
it seems that a fellow like J.D. Rockefeller could at least afford some
At 9:12 PM I stop for the night at a lovely little campsite. This is
the area sandwiched right between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National
Parks and while I’m sure that just a few miles away big RVs are
paying $40 per night for their camping spots, this scenic spot is
completely free. It does feature an outhouse built like a fortress, a
big solid picnic table and a solid steel bear-proof food storage box. I
briefly consider sleeping in the outhouse or the bear-box but decide
instead to stow my food and sleep in my tent.
The night is bear-free and in the morning I roll down to Flagg Ranch, a
tourist Mecca on the main highway that runs between Yellowstone and the
Tetons. Mr. Rockefeller has his pavement here and the pavement seems to
have attracted every RV in the western hemisphere. I know that many
people are saying that gas prices are too high these days but on this
day, in this place with large nomadic herds of mobile comfort careening
from one scenic spot to the next, I’m thinking that gas prices
could stand to go a bit higher.
I do my bit for the tourist trade, snapping my share of photos and
buying snacks at both Flagg Ranch and Colter Bay Village but I’m
really glad to roll out of Grand Teton Park and back onto the small
gravel roads. Around noon I stop at the tiny Buffalo Valley Café
where I inhale a bacon cheeseburger and some onion rings. The nice
couple running the café are quite intrigued by the race and tell
me that another racer had come through the night before, just before
closing. “British guy?” I query, thinking they probably
were talking about Alan. “No,” they tell me and go on to
describe a fellow who I deduce to be Matthew. The couple seem intent on
filling me up and give me a free serving of strawberries and also offer
me a slice of pie but I really have to get going. I fill up my water
bottles and head out for the Togwotee region and the infamous
“bear jail”, the wild stretch of land that is home to the
problem bears that have been relocated out of Yellowstone. My bear bell
and off-key singing again work their magic and my journey continues to
At 4:20 PM I crest Togwotee Pass and turn onto the Brooks Lake Road.
It’s over 9,600 feet here and in places snow still covers the
road. Fortunately the snow isn’t deep and in most places I can
find a rideable route near the edge of the road. But in one of the
deepest patches of snow I find a very nice lady in a very big 4WD truck
who is very, very stuck. June Perkins is very apologetic about being
stuck and seems quite concerned that she isn’t inconveniencing me
in any way. She had taken a wrong turn on leaving the Brooks Lake
Campground and wound up on this road. I tell her that as near as I can
tell this road is barely open and that she’s lucky that
it’s on the GDR. Probably the only people who will come by will
be bike racers or bike tourists. When she finds out I’m racing,
she’s even more apologetic. “Oh, I don’t want you to
go out of your way…” she begins. I assure her that while I
don’t think I can pull her truck out of the snow with my bike, I
can certainly ride to the campground, find her husband and let him know
where she is. Once I convince her that this really is no trouble she
thanks me profusely and gives me a good description of her husband,
their campsite and her brother-in-law. I assure her that I will find
the campsite and send back help. I ride the several miles to the
campground and find both her campsite and her husband. He thanks me for
the info, wishes me luck on the race and heads off to rescue his wife.
Next up is Union Pass and the map tells me that there will be a
“tremendous grunt to get to altitude.” This turns out to be
yet another instance where the map makers and I disagree. In general
the maps are very accurate but sometimes it seems that the descriptions
reflect more about the general fatigue of the original route surveyor
on the day the directions were written than the actual conditions of
the route itself. So some times a “steep climb” seems very
easy and other times a gentle climb can be a lung busting exercise. The
worst phrase seems to be “road conditions improve.” This
almost always means that the gravel road gets wider and has seen more
truck traffic and that translates to washboard and more loose gravel.
“Primitive Roads” on the other hand are usually small,
twisty, very fun and rideable.
I don’t grunt at all on the climb up Union Pass and I camp in a
high alpine meadow near some snow banks at about 9,000 feet. This
is still grizzly country so I bag up all my food and hang it from a
A thunderstorm booms through around 5:30 AM with a bit of rain, so I
sleep in for another hour and pack up under mostly clear skies.
Often my tent is damp in the morning, so I’ve taken to packing it
into a mesh bag that I strap the outside of the drybag that contains my
sleeping bag. By the time I stop for the night, the tent is
always dry. I have a similar mesh bag that holds my spare pair of
bike shorts, and I’ve developed a routine of wearing one pair and
washing the other pair.
The map doesn’t show much of anything between Union Pass and
Pinedale but at 12:30 PM I stop at a small café/bar called
“The Place” that is pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
I’m rather surprised to see a sign out front saying that John
Fogerty will be playing at the bar tonight. I park my bike, go into the
café, order a ham & cheese sandwich, french fries and a
chocolate milk and ask ,“Is John Fogerty really going to be
playing here tonight?” “Yep,” I’m told,
“but it’s probably not the John Fogerty you’re
thinking of. This is just some local guy.”
As I’m finishing up my lunch, Trish and Brad roll in. Naturally,
we talk about the race. We figure Pete is somewhere way out ahead and I
tell them that Matthew is probably a day or so ahead of us at this
point. Alan must be ahead of us as well but Scott’s various
problems have caused him to abandon back at Lima. It’s too bad,
but this is a very hard race. Trish also tells me that she and Brad saw
the tracks where June's husband pulled her truck out of the snow, so I
know that all worked out well. I have to get rolling so I grab a couple
bags of Peanut M&Ms
for the road, wish the others luck and head off toward Pinedale.
Pinedale is a cowboy town and at the big general store I load up with
provisions for a couple of days. The map warns me that I’m headed
into some sparse country. After Pinedale it’s a fairly quick run
to the tiny crossroads known as Boulder, WY where I fill up on water
and a big cold coffee drink. Then it’s out into the lonesome high
This is a big desolate section of emptiness, the high dry lands of the
Great Divide Basin. The sky is huge here and the land stretches
for miles. It is not a place where people live, but there is
sagebrush and antelope and ancient trails of pioneers who passed this
way. It’s clean and clear and quiet.
In earlier times a native brave would leave the comfort of the tribe
and go off on a vision quest. Becoming hard and lean and hungry,
the brave would be open to the teachings from the spirit world.
Of course, I live in a modern world, a world where I’m networked
to my tribe via fiber optic cables and 802.11g protocols, where
satellites can track and guide me, where my skins come not from buffalo
but from recycled dinosaurs, chemically refined and shaped into
pre-stressed nylon fibers. But a vast land still holds a vast
silence and I’ve chosen not to fill my ears with MP3s. As I
crawl over rocky miles and my breathing becomes a simple chant that
follows the rhythm of the pedals and the rise and fall of the land, I
begin to hear a voice.
Sometimes I hear the voice when I’m awake and riding, sometimes I
hear words when I’m asleep and often the voice comes to speak
with me when I am at the odd places in between. It is an old
voice, very soft and very wise and over the many hard miles the soft
words begin to tell a story.
At first I hear only fragments but my pace is slow and the voice is
patient. It tells me of the time before the men, when all the
tribes were animal tribes. The voice tells me of the turtle.
The turtle was small and lived in the northern land. But the
small turtle heard stories, stories from elsewhere, stories from a land
of sun and sand and summer. And the turtle decided to set forth.
The voice tells me this in pieces, at first only in the smallest
fragments, a trick of the wind in my ear that seems to say
“turtle.” Later more words come and finally,
sentences. “This is the way of the turtle.”
“You are following the track of the turtle.”
Settled into the quiet places, the story comes in dreams and the voice
tells me more of the turtle’s journey through the land of rain
and bears, the land of rocks and snow, the land of sage and
antelope. The story has a rhythm, a cadence that rises and falls
with the land. There is no need to hurry here.
I wake at dawn to leaden skies, a very welcome sight. These don’t
look like rain clouds but the high cover will keep things somewhat
At 9:30 AM I’m at the historic ghost town of South Pass City and
one half hour later I’m in Atlantic City WY. Despite having the
word “city” attached to them these “cities” are
mostly just echoes of what they once had been or perhaps just faint
relics of dreams that never quite came true.
I ride until nearly 9:00 PM on a road that only exists because of
cows and oil wells. I camped last night in the sage, rode 127 miles
through sage lands and tonight I camp in the sage. My computer
says I'm moving but the only witnesses to my progress are cattle, sage
grouse and pronghorns.
South of Rawlins is twenty-five miles of headwinds followed by a five
mile climb up Middlewood Hill. With the steep grade and loose gravel,
this “hill” grabs backwards at the bike with more ferocity
than all the mountains I’ve ridden thus far. In several spots the
rear tire can’t hold the hill and I walk alongside the bike.
South of the hill the road dives and climbs as it crosses a series of
creeks. I surprise a pair of antelope as I dive into one of these
gulches. I’m rolling at thirty-two mph but the antelope instantly
spring ahead of me, easily going from zero to forty or fifty miles per
hour in a heartbeat.
I camped last night in the welcome trees of Medicine Bow National
Forest. As I set out this morning I find Brad and Trish packing up the
camp they’d pitched in the darkness just a quarter mile past the
spot where I had stopped.
Crossing into Colorado I follow a narrow gravel road winding up into
the scrub country along Slater Creek and the Little Snake River. A
caravan of three big trucks rumbles up behind me and as I pull over to
let them pass, a bumper sticker reading “Wool: It’s
What’s For Winter” explains what the trucks are doing here.
A bit further on I pass the camp wagon of a shepherd and his dog and
around 11:00 AM Trish catches up with me in the high country meadows
where the trucks are unloading the sheep to graze.
Trish and I ride together for bit, but she’s a very strong
climber and pulls away up the Watershed Divide near Meaden Peak.
Shortly after I crest the rocky summit and begin the very steep
descent, Brad catches up with me. Brad and I chat as we switchback down
the mountain, weaving our way among the various rocks and ruts. Much to
our surprise, we catch up with the speedy Trish. Too many bounces
finally snapped her seatpost rack but she’s busy transferring her
gear into every nook of her hydration pack.
We all stop for a very welcome lunch break at the general store in the
tiny town of Clark and then ride the twenty miles into Steamboat
Springs. Brad had talked of stopping for the night in Steamboat and
Trish has to solve her rack problem but after loading up on supplies I
press on through a few brief rainshowers, along some lovely singletrack
beside the Stagecoach Reservoir. It’s raining again as I pitch
camp up on the Morrison Divide but I settle snug and safe into the
Tarptent and fall asleep listening to the rain.
The map says “Ford Rock Creek. If this creek is too deep to
safely cross, backtrack to the highway and turn right.” Water
covers the bike up to the headset as I splash quickly across the slow
moving current. It’s good to finally wash the last of caked mud
off the bike.
Radium is a couple of tiny houses that don't even come close to
constituting a town. I cross the Colorado river and begin a dusty climb
past a very large and ugly mine near the Ute Pass summit.I crest the
pass roll down into the world of pavement and people rushing somewhere
to conduct some urgent business. The towns of Silverthorne and Frisco
seem big and loud and modernly civilized. I've grown used to the wild
country and find the paved bikepath leading to Breckenridge confusing.
Eventually I find a patch of trees and some welcome darkness and
fall asleep listening to the drone of cars on the nearby highway.
I’ve seen a lot of emptiness on this trip but the small spot
where my Tarptent should be is a void that dwarfs even the Great Divide
Basin. In the twilight I stare dumbly at a flapping loose strap as I
mentally replay the day. I’d packed the tent up this morning,
about sixteen hours and 116 miles ago. I’d double strapped the
various bags as is my custom but in a moment of inattention, two straps
were looped into one. And that key strap, somewhere on the trail
between Breckenridge and this dark place, a path of beautiful stony
climbs and high-speed, high-bounce descents, somewhere on that long
trail, a single buckle gave way. I think about chains with weak links
and how you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til
it’s gone. I think perhaps that I am too stupid to race the
It is easy and wrong to think that minimal gear and a simple quest
equates to some kind of renunciation of the material world. In a very
real sense, a Divide racer’s minimalism is in fact an extremely
purified form of materialism. I’m not free of material goods,
I’m intensely dependent on them. Each item I have chosen for this
journey has been extensively studied and obsessively considered.
I’ve literally weighed my options and made my choices. The other
racers have done the same.
My sleeping bag weighs 1.2 pounds, my Chloe tablets save me the weight
of a water filter and I now know that I’m carrying too many
socks. These are the truths of the trail. And I can add one more to the
list: do not trust nylon cam-buckles.
The fate that watches over fools gives me a clear night but one
that’s cold enough to confirm my theory that my tent had been
adding at least ten degrees of comfort to my sleeping bag.
I pack up slowly, tying knots in cords and eyeing each
connection with extreme suspicion. The day’s three passes are all
well above 10,000 feet and the only trading post I pass today lacks
anything as useful as a tarp or space blanket. I stretch the day from
dawn to 11:20 PM, navigating a long, confusing section of tiny dirt
roads by the light of a Cateye LED and the occasional lightning flashes
of an approaching storm.
The end of today’s trail is 144 miles from my cold campsite, a
solid roofed refuge belonging to my friends Gary and Patti Blakley.
Actually, I’ve never met the Blakleys but they are part of my
tribe, internet amigos who love bicycles and understand the simple
needs of a traveler on the trail. Their cozy home in Del Norte is the
one private neutral support location on the Divide Race Route this year.
Gary has left a note on the front door telling me that the back door is
open and pointing me to the guest bedroom. I almost make it to the
guest bedroom without incident but in the darkness I step on one of the
Blakleys’ dogs and manage to wake the household. Gary is friendly
and generous and while Patti has the good sense to sleep, Gary feeds me
lasagna and wonderful bread and chocolate chip cookies. While I tell
him tales of the trail he tells me what he knows of the road ahead.
Eventually I fill with food and fatigue and it’s time for sleep.
I clean up and do laundry and use Gary’s computer
to send a long note to the many folks who have helped me make it
here. While Patti makes a wonderful breakfast for all of us, Gary and I
review gear options. Gary has an old bivy sack that he insists he never
uses and has been planning on giving away. It’s bigger to pack
and more cramped and complicated than my loved and lost Tarptent but
it’s here and now it’s mine. I insist that there should be
some kind of payment and finally convince Gary that he should have two
more pairs of freshly laundered wool socks.
Gary, Patti and I ride out of town. Patti turns back when the pavement
ends but Gary and I climb up the steep gravel road toward Indiana Pass
and the Summitville EPA Superfund site. This beautiful land is
completely contaminated by the old mine tailings and no purifiers or
filters can make the ground water safe to drink.
After so many days alone, it's strange to ride with someone. Gary is
good company and we chat about many things on the long climb. He
borrows my camera and rolls on ahead to take action shots of me
climbing. With my slow nature and load of supplies, Gary seems more
like a racer than I do. I'm very grateful for all he and Patti have
done for me and the rest of the racers but I don't really feel like
I've returned to the trail until Gary turns back towards his home. Back
with my bike and the silence I slowly move southward.
New Mexico is wilder than I ever imagined. It’s the July 4th
weekend now so I see more people on these back roads than there would
be on most days but it’s still mostly empty. I meet a couple of
fellows thru-hiking the Divide from south to north. They'd started at
the Mexican border on May 21st and with luck they'll cross into
Colorado today. As I move down from
the scenic 10,000 foot heights of Brazos Ridge and Burned Mountain, I
leave the campers behind and cross into the high ranchero country.
The tiny villages of Canon Plaza and Vallecitos have been mislaid both
in time and space and passing through I feel that I’ve turned
wrong and crossed a border unaware. I’m in old Mexico, a very old
Mexico populated more with ghosts than men. An empty cantina watches me
ride south on a dirty road. Scrawny dogs, who must have learned to live
on dust and scorpions, bark and growl half-heartedly as I pass.
It’s 10:00 PM and very dark in El Rito. The ranger station is
closed, as is the town’s single general store. I desperately want
to call Christine, wanting to tell her that I’m OK, wanting to
hear her voice so I’ll know the fact that I am OK. The
town’s only payphone has a wind-blasted keypad that is mostly
broken but I hammer the O key until it finally connects to an operator
and I place a collect call home. Christine's voice across the wire is a
great comfort and she passes on some very good news. Brad and Trish
found my Tarptent and they dropped it off at Absolute Bikes in Salida
to be mailed back home.
I’d told Christine last night that I’d sleep in the El Rito
churchyard but the church dog had a different idea so I slept in a tiny
nook next to an abandoned garage. I leave El Rito at first light and
just past 7:00 AM I roll up to Bode’s General Store in Abiquiu.
The friendly fellow running the store knows all about the Divide Race.
Last year Jan Kopka pulled into Abiquiu with a totally trashed rear
tire and the shopkeeper helped Jan scour northern New Mexico in search
of a 29 inch tire.
I buy my usual huge stash of peanuts, granola bars, corn chips, Vienna
sausages, and cookies for the road and have what’s become my
favorite breakfast, an ice cream sandwich and a pint of chocolate milk.
Another customer at the store is curiously amazed when I tell him that
I’ll burn through this food in the next day or two. I don’t
mention that I’ve already lost over ten pounds on this trip.
At the base of the climb up Polvadera Mesa I catch up with a fellow
named Mark Nelson. Mark is also headed south, towing a heavily loaded
BOB trailer behind his Trek. I ask him how far he’s come and he
tells me his story. A few years ago, he’d set out to ride the
Divide. He made it from Rooseville to Platoro where he hemorrhaged from
previously undetected cancer and had to be air lifted out. Now
he’s back as a stubborn survivor, headed to Mexico to finish what
I call Christine from Grants, a busted American boom-town where
Interstate 40 parallels old Route 66. Motels are cheap here and
I’m hot and tired and as always it’s good to talk to the
love of my life.
“Do you know a guy named Scott?” Christine asks.
“Yeah, I know a couple of Scotts. Which one are we talking
“I don’t know, but this Scott called up and wants to pay
for your plane ticket home when all this is done.”
I get the number from Christine and it’s got an east coast area
code. This Scott is Chloe’s dad, another fellow that I only know
through the internet. My friend Tarik has generously volunteered to
drive the hundreds of miles to the border and lug me and my bike back
to his place in Albuquerque. From there I’d been figuring
I’d scrape together enough money for a bus ticket home. But Scott
and his family have been reading the race blog and they came up with a
much faster plan. I guess my notes back to the tribe have revealed how
much I miss my own wife and kids. Anyone who thinks that racing the
Divide is some macho feat of solo suffering doesn’t really
understand this race. I’m the one who has to turn the pedals, but
in no way am I racing this alone.
July 6th AM
What does it take to race the Divide? Among other things, it takes lots
of food. Here is this morning's fuel stop:
4 bags of peanut M&Ms
4 Payday bars
2 Reeses Snack Bars
2 Hersheys Snack Bars
2 2 packs of Cherry Poptarts
2 2 packs of Brown Sugar Poptarts
1 5 oz bag corn chips
1 32 oz Powerade.
I've got all this loaded plus some of my previous supplies (I still
have some Clif Mojo bars, some cans of vienna sausages, some other
granola bars, etc.) And now I've got about a gallon and a half of
liquid (mostly water) on the bike. It’s 6:15 AM and the
temperature is already up to 70 degrees.
On my way out of town, I see what may be my last shot at a caramel
latte and the internet so I stop at “Coffee on the Rocks”
for a little more fuel and to send another update and thanks to all the
kind folks far away.
July 6th PM
Buddhists advocate the wisdom of “be here now” and that
advice is easy to follow when here is somewhere ruggedly beautiful like
Zuni Canyon or the Chain of Craters Byway. But when the day grows long
and the trail is a hot, windswept washboard ranch road leading to a
place called “Pietown” then it is easy to forget the sage
advice and build Pietown into an oasis of earthly delights, a place of
air-conditioned comfort, cool drinks and a smorgasbord of pies.
But at last I am “here” in the real Pietown, a
“now” that is 6:20 PM on Wednesday July 6th, 2005. Pietown
consits of a crossroads with two cafés. The smaller café
closed three hours ago and the sign on the Pie-o-neer Café
informs me that it is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
I can do little but reflect on the Buddha’s teaching that desire
is the root of suffering and be here now with what I have. At least
there is a working outside faucet here and a payphone. I fill my
bottles with water and call Christine. She takes the news that Pietown
is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with the comment of “oh, how
funny!” When I observe that I’m somehow failing to see the
humor, she quickly makes sympathetic noises and explains that she meant
“odd” instead of “funny.” An inventory of my
supplies confirms that I have what I need to get down the road and that
Pietown being closed is really much more of a comedy than a tragedy. I
eat a Cherry Poptart and roll southward.
I’ve been smelling smoke for hours and now I can see it rising
thick and grey off the mountain to the south. A ranger pulls up beside
me in his truck and hands me an official looking paper. It’s a
map showing the roads that are closed because of the fire.
“Where are you headed, amigo?”
“Straight down this road to Beaverhead Ranger Station and then
south to the border.”
“You’re in luck then. This road is still open and the fire
isn’t moving that quickly. But all the side roads are closed
off.” With the official business out of the way, we chat a bit
about life on the Divide and wish each other safe passage.
Farther down the road I see where the fire has scorched the earth right
up to the edge of the road. As I pass beyond the fire zone, I see an
elk. I fumble for my camera but the beast is gone before I can get a
good shot. I roll down the road, thinking that I'd missed my chance. I
come around a turn in the road and see not one elk but an entire
herd of the animals.
This morning I meet up with some long-distance motorcyclists headed
north and around noon I fill up with water at the Mibres Ranger
Station. I chat for a bit with Melissa Althoff, a summer trail crew
worker. She's been working in the area around the Beaverhead Station
but today she's riding her bike into the town of Silver City for a few
I reach Silver City just as a big afternoon thunderstorm comes rolling
through. I feast at the Shell station on milk and ice cream and ham and
cheese sandwiches and watch the rain pour down. At 5:00 PM the rain
moves north and I move south.
In the late afternoon light this gravel road has little in common with
the map directions. The map tells me to bear right onto a lower quality
road to climb to the Continental Divide and I’m staring at a
three-way junction. To the left is something that looks like some long
gravel driveway, the center is a wide road that seems rather flat and
off to the right a tiny, sandy road looks perhaps like it goes a bit
more up than the middle road. It’s definitely “lower
quality” so I turn right.
The road is mostly sugar sand and I’ve got no traction or forward
momentum so I wind up walking. I pass a corral and a windmill, which
are the next cues listed on the map but the mileages aren’t
matching up so I’m still not sure I’m on the right road.
This road is very primitive, even by Great Divide standards and I pass
by a huge Cottonwood tree that I figure the map would mention if it was
on the route. While I’m trudging along contemplating all of this,
I meet up with a herd of javelinas. The guidebook had warned me about
the nasty wild pigs of this region but these critters seem more
startled than belligerent. I manage to get a few quick pictures before
the pigs run off. I stubbornly press onward.
The road gives up about the same time I do, ending in a corral behind a
ranch. A couple of nice folks are relaxing with their friends and some
cool beverages on the back porch of the house. They give a shout out to
me, “Can we help you?”
“I think I’m lost,” I reply.
“We think so too,” the woman comments and everybody heads
over my way. “Which way you headed?”
“South,” I say as I pull out my map.
“That’s too bad. If you were headed north
there’s a shortcut you could take, but if you’re headed
south you’ll have to backtrack.”
We all introduce ourselves. Lynn and Billy McCauley have a nice little
ranch at the end of this very bad road and they inform me that
I’m not the first biker to wind up in their corral. They look at
the map and the directions and comment that “That’s just
plain wrong. No wonder you bikers keep turning up here!”
Sure enough, I should’ve gone straight on the good road and we
chat for a bit about my journey. They ask the standard dry country
question, “You got enough liquid?” and I assure them that I
made sure to stock up in Silver City. This question is followed with
“You got enough money?” and when I assure them that
I’m doing OK, the droll follow up is “You need all of
it?” Lynn quickly chides her witty friend as I laugh and say that
I think I have just enough to make it to the border.
It is time for me to go. Armed with directions and wishes for a safe
journey, I slog back through the sand. Lynn and Billy told me that
it’d probably be dark by the time I got back to the big
cottonwood tree and suggested there would be a good place to camp. I
want to get a bit further south and make certain that I am really back
on track before I stop for the night. I also want to put a bit of
distance between me and the herd of javelinas. I keep a watchful eye
out for the beasts in case they’ve become more courageous, but I
don’t see any sign of them.
In the dim light I turn on what should be the right road but I
don’t breathe a sigh of relief until I pass by another windmill
and another corral. I ride a bit further up the road but in the fading
light a tallish sage bush on crest of a rise marks where I’ll end
this day’s riding. Tomorrow will come soon enough.
I set-up the bivy for the final time, snack a bit from my supplies and
calculate my position. By my best reckoning, I’m on the final
crest of the Divide, almost exactly 100 miles from the Mexican border.
My sleep is deep and sound and it restores me. In the pre-dawn hours,
the voice returns, soft but very clear and now I see the speaker and I
see with eyes that span this world and beyond. The voice tells me
everything now but there is no need to hurry through the story, for the
story has no need of limits.
The turtle is very old now and very large, stretching from the northern
lands of the snow to the southern lands of the sun. A vast journey can
only be accomplished with small steps, repeated patiently until the
traveler has grown as large as his journey. And the traveler is never
I am told this by a turtle, a turtle that began small and grew great
and then the turtle tells me the surprising thing.
“Perhaps,” the turtle sighs, “perhaps, I don’t
exist. Perhaps I’m only what you needed to believe. But that does
not matter. You have what you need, that which is real and true. A
bicycle; solid and steel and strong for the journey. And food and water
and all the rest. But most of all you have kind spirits that are always
with you, friends across the globe who have helped you through every
turn of the pedals with thoughts and prayers and well wishes and funds.
You have kind strangers to set you right when you go wrong, to make
sure you have enough water, enough will, enough everything you need to
move on. And you have that which is most beautiful, the sight
you’ve seen every night before you fall asleep, the woman you
love more than this beautiful trail. It is time to return now, to bring
back the tale that your heart and eyes and ears and legs have learned.
It is time to return to your people with the story of a turtle and a
And the great turtle drops his old and mighty head. He is huge now,
spanning the earth and passing beyond the need of a body. Turtle bones
lay across the land, a vast carcass weathering across the ages. Seasons
fall on the ancient shell and wear the land almost beyond remembering.
Rains to the east swirl off to toward the sunrise while western waters
flow toward the sunset. The shell wears away, but a rugged and mighty
I wake before dawn. On the wind I hear the echo of an old voice, a
single word sighed out as both a final blessing and a command:
I know I must fuel for the journey and the sun is not up yet. A million
stars fill the sky and I feast on Spam, chocolate chip cookies and
peanut M&Ms washed down with ice tea. Perhaps someone, somewhere,
is enjoying their breakfast more than I am enjoying mine, but I doubt
I pack up camp, secure everything to the bike and at 5:40 AM, I roll
southward down a gravel road lit only by stars and a bicycle headlight.
I am going home.
I see the tracks in the gravel and I know that Brad and Trish were
here. Last night I’d seen no other bike tracks but this morning,
the tracks are clear. If I was really a racer, I guess I should be
upset and I know that some part of me would prefer seeing untracked
gravel. But I can really only laugh. They must have ridden by in the
night and I applaud their effort. Given how much pavement there is at
the end of this and my turtle-like nature, I can’t conceive of
catching them. It’s for the best. I think they would’ve
been bummed to be beaten by the singlespeed guy.
At 8:10 AM I roll into the kitchy Continental Divide Trading Post at
Separ, NM. A skeleton wearing a straw cowboy hat and sunglasses sits
behind the wheel of a battered old Volkswagon that proclaims
“But, It’s Dry Heat.” I park my bike, go into the
store for my second breakfast: an ice cream sandwich and ice-tea. I
also pick up a gallon of water to top off my bottles.
I’m about to head down the road again when something makes me
stop and head back into the Trading Post. The voice has become my own
and it tells me there is something more here. I poke through the
baubles and tourist trinkets and find what I am looking for: a tiny
charm, turquoise and silver like sky and sunlight and shaped like a
tiny turtle. I buy two. One will grace the neck of the woman I love and
one will be my own.
With these small reminders of a trail I will never leave behind and a
woman who is never apart from me, I roll out into the heart of the
desert and the heat of the day. It’s a good day to ride but they
are all good days.
My skin is brown leather, my legs turn out a rhythm as automatic as a
heartbeat and the Monocog moves steadily southward, drawn like a magnet
to a place called Mexico.
I pull up to the border at 3:12 PM.
Trish and Brad are here. Trish's boyfriend has just pulled up in his
truck. He'd passed by me while I was still a few minutes north of the
border. We all exchange tales of the trail. Brad tells me that he and
Trish had adopted a strategy of resting during the heat of the day and
riding through the night. We compare notes on our health. We are all
intact, very tanned and quite a bit thinner.
My friend Tarik isn't here yet and the border office closes at four, so
we all load everything into Trish's boyfriend's truck. Rolling north on
the only road we meet up with Tarik and his girlfriend Elena Perez. We
transfer my bike to Tarik's car, exchange hugs and more trail stories
and then return to tell the ones we love the stories of the many things
Even in a car, New Mexico is huge. Tarik, Elena and I stop for food and
I call my distant friend Scott. Scott had already been in contact with
Tarik and is busy booking my flight home. Scott sounds like he might be
even more excited than I am that I've finished. "Awesome ride, Kent.
Just awesome! Call me back when you get closer to Albuquerque and
I'll have all your flight info." A few hours later we stop for gas and
I call Scott back. He gives me all the e-ticket info for my flight back
Tarik and Elena drop me off at the airport right around
midnight. Tarik is one of those wise and well-prepared people who
travels with tools and he's brought a big box for my bike and lots of
packing tape. With the exception of my small backpack packed with
snacks, trip notes, my camera and a few clothes, all my gear goes into
the box with the bike. Tarik and Elena wish me a good flight and then
head home for some much needed rest. I doze until dawn on a couch in
At 6:15 AM, I'm flying home. Through the window I see a vast spine
stretching into the distance, a rugged land of quiet places and lessons
that can only be learned slowly. But now is the time to hurry home.
I land in Seattle, retrieve my precious bike from bagage claim and grab
an airport shuttle bus for home. I'm back at my doorstep a bit after
The old voice was right and Christine is the most beautiful thing I've
ever seen. We walk down the familar streets of our town and her hand is
warm in mine. I give her a small
charm, turquoise and silver like sky and sunlight and shaped like a
tiny turtle. I show her the matching charm I wear around my neck. She
has many questions but mostly we don't need to talk now. We go to the
coffee shop and linger in each other's company. There is no need to
"Tell me about the turtle," she says. And I tell her a very old story,
one that was told me by a very old voice. The story of a turtle and a
trail and a beautiful world where no journey is ever made alone. I take
my time telling the story. There is no need to hurry here.
The Final Numbers
The total distance is about 2500 miles. My computer logged 2519.6 miles.
Seven riders started on 6/17/05 at 12:03 PM from Port Roosville MT.
The results were as follows:
Matthew Lee -- 19 days 4 hours 17
Matthew also rode the Canadian section as a prologue and established
the overall record for the long course. In future years the race may
include the Canadian section.
Trisha Stevenson and Brad Kee -- 21
days 23 hours 47 minutes.
Trish and Brad rode much of the race together. They pulled a couple of
all-nighters and passed me on the final night. Trish now holds the
women's GDR record.
Kent Peterson -- 22 days 3 hours 9
This is now the singlespeed record for the GDR. To the best of my
knowledge, I'm the only person ever to complete the Divide on a
Scott Morris -- DNF on 6/23/05 in Lima
MT (625.8 miles).
A combination of problems with sciatica, tight IT and dangerously numb
hands forced Scott from the race.
Alan Tilling -- DNF on 6/26/05
somewhere beyond Pinedale WY (>953.4
Alan had ongoing knee problems but recurring numbness in “the
gentleman’s department” made him decide to quit the race
rather than risk permanent injury.
Pete Basinger -- DNF on 7/1/05 in Cuba
NM (1980.2 miles).
Pete went into what he described as “total body shutdown”
from the combination of the heat and exhaustion. He rode the 1980.2
miles of the GDR faster than anyone ever has and if he’d been
able to sustain the pace for the full distance, he would’ve set a
new course record.
Although I am a very rich fellow, my wealth is not of the material
sort. Like most people I work for a living and I was only able to take
the time off from work to do a long ride the the Great Divide Mountain
Bike Race thanks to the generosity of a variety of friends, customers
and various contributors.
My greatest supporter has always been my lovely wife Christine. Her
love, patience and humor are the single biggest power source any man
could ever hope for. Even when my travels take me down desolate
mountain paths I know that she is always with me.
My employer, Sammamish Valley Cycle, generously allowed me to take a
month off in the busiest time of the cycling year so I can race from
Canada to Mexico. The folks at the shop are wonderful people who
understand that bicycles are more than just machines, they are the
machines we ride in pursuit of our dreams. It's a privilege to work
with these fine people and to call them my friends.
The good people at Seattle Bike Supply help keep your local bike shop
stocked with the things that keep us all rolling. Among other things,
they make a bike called a Redline Monocog. The Monocog is a good,
honest, steel singlespeed mountain bike. As a bike shop employee, I
could have gotten a pro-deal on any number of fancier bikes but I'm not
a very fancy guy. Redline builds nice bikes for guys like me and I'm
very grateful that they gave me a nice deal on my Monocog. Even at full
retail it's a terrific bike for the money.
Much of what I know of long distance cycling I learned on rides with
the Seattle International Randonneurs and Randonneurs USA. These
randonneur clubs are staffed by dedicated volunteers who who put in
countless hours supporting the idea of self-sufficient long distance
Alex Wetmore maintains servers in the basement of his home that house
phred.org, a valuable source of bicycling knowledge. The iBOB list, the
Touring list, the SIR list and many others are housed on the phred
machines and the internet is a better place for it.
A fellow named Tim Rangitsch in Rapid City South Dakota runs a neat
shop called ACME Bicycles. I've never met Tim but he tells me my
stories have inspired him to do some randonneuring and he sent me a
nice care package and contribution.
I've used Eko Sport's Power Grips for many, many years. They are a very
simple and reliable way to keep your feet on the pedals.
Although I've noted many times that I am not a nutritional role model,
I do eat energy bars now and then. The folks at Clif Bar make tasty
bars out of real food and they also help people like me go out and have
adventures. They contribute a lot of money to many very good causes and
they are one of those companies that restores one's faith that nice
guys can be successful in business. If you want to read a good book,
pick up a copy of Raising the Bar by Gary Erickson and Lois Loretzen.
A very bright guy named Henry Shires makes a terrific, lightweight
shelter called a Tarptent. In researching shelters for my Divide Ride,
it quickly became clear to me that the Tarptent was the best choice for
a light, simple, bug-proof shelter. Henry knows about adventure because
he's one of those guys who is out there having adventures. And when
he's not out in the woods, he's making great stuff so the rest of us
can have a better time out there.
Unlike many bike magazines that seem to exist just to run ads telling
you to rush out and buy the latest SUV, Dirt Rag actually runs real
articles by real people who love bikes, who ride their bikes, who think
about stuff and write good stories. I've never talked to an editor who
was more jazzed about a story than Michael Browne was when we talked
about my Divide Ride. If you want to get a feeling for the soul of Dirt
Rag, check out Mike's story at
Finally, I'd like to thank all my grass-roots supporters. These folks
have either donated in some way or bought something from my online
store. I'm truly grateful to:
Meade Anderson, Anonymous, Allison Bailey, Shane and Chantel Balkovetz,
Timothy Beachy, Robert Belcher, Peter Bell, Lance Bermudez, David
Berry, Gary and Patti Blakley, John Blish, Donald Boothby, Gary
Boulanger, Andrew Brenner, Tom Brett, Emily Briant, Joseph Broach, Paul
Carolan, Norman Carr, Ken Carter, Malcolm Cattermole, Ray Coffey,
Marcus Coles, Frank Cordell, Jane Culliton, Paul Cunningham, Amy
Cutshall, Chloe Cutshall, Scott Cutshall, Georgia Daniels, Roy
Drinkwater, Mike Duncan, Bill Dussler, Orin Eman, Edward Eybel, Larry
Fieman, Russ Fitzgerald, Jim Foreman, Tom Forhan, Ray Foss, Frederick
Camden Fox, Catherine Fritze, Christian Fritze, William W. Gibson III,
Bill Gobie, Dan Goldenberg, Maurico Gonzalez, John Gorham, Jim
Gourgoutis, Stephanie Gragnini, Neale Green, Brian Griffith, Paul
Gross, Chris Haas, Brian Hafner, Mike Hagburg, Beth Hamon, Steve
Hampsten, Rob Hawks, Brad Hawkins, Chuck Hawkins, Gary Haynes, Tell
Hermanson, Trent Hill, Sein Hlaing, Ben Hockenhull, Synth Hoffman,
Harth Huffman, Bob Hufford, Kelly Iniquez, Paul Johnson, Adam Kanczula,
Bill Karow, Joe Keenan, George Kendrick, Reed Kennedy, Nathan Kiger,
Kurt Kleinschmidt, Goon Koch, Michael Kraft, Ken Krichman, Jeff Kwapil,
Elizabeth Lemieux, Len Lescosky, Moishe Lettvin, Tony Licuanan, Peter
Liekkio, Matthew Liggett, Jeff Loomis, Brian Loudon, Kevin MacAfee, Pat
Matson, Mike Matteson, Max Maxon, Matt Maxwell, Tom Mayer, Peter McKay,
John Meier, Wayne Methner, Geri Molitor, Byron Morton, Jon Muellner,
Fred Mulder, Toshihiko Murata, Lee Nau, Robert Nemeth, James Noble,
Rudolph Norvelle, Brian Parker, Elena Perez, Jeff Perry, Mr. & Mrs.
Palmer K. Peterson, Marc Pfister, Amy Pieper, Faye Pieper, Robin
Pieper, Wes Pieper, Elton Pope-Lance, Jeff Potter, John Prelock,
Richard Ralls, Joe Ramey, Michael Rasmussen, Dave Read, John Resta,
Michael Richeson, Jim Robbins, Philip Roberts, Jim Rupert, Ray Sachs,
Tarik Saleh, Craig Sandvik, Stephan Schiavo, Tom Selsley, Michael
Sherman, Josh Shoaf, David Shook, Peter Simon, Robert Sloan, Rebekkah
Smith, John Speare, James Sprague, Ken Stagg, James Stein, Adam
Stritzel, James Thill, Mark Thomas, Dana Thuecks, Brad Upton, Doug Van
Cleve, Mark Vande Kamp, Ray Varella, Brigette Vazquez, Everett Volk,
Tim Walls, Reagen B. Ward, Darcy Warn, Carla Waugh, Alex Wetmore, Susan
Williams, Duane Wright, Dustin Wood, David Yount and Greg Zaborac.