Thursday, November 14, 2013

About calories and carbohydrates

During my 4 years of preparation for the Tour Divide I’ve read tons of stuff and every time nutrition was a topic everybody was talking about calories, calories and once again calories. Of course, if you don’t wanna look like as thin as a rake after one week calories are important on the Divide, but much more important are carbohydrates. Without carbohydrates your legs are always done. That was what I suffered from on more than 60% of the days. And done legs have a direct impact to your mental power. Some math's: Per pound load on your bike you need 4 up to 5 Watt more power. A fully loaded bike what has a weight of about 42 lbs instead of 22 lbs needs about 100W more power in addition to the 100W that you need for your 22 lbs bike anyway. 200W on flat, paved terrain in optimal conditions is the basic performance everyone has to accomplish. Accomplishing 300W what equates an uphill gradient from about 6% with our full loaded bike requires 3oz (90g) carbohydrates or two energy gel packs per hour.
Decent sources for carbohydrates are potatoes, rice or pasta (noodles). Unfortunately the classical food on the Divide is fat but very poor at carbohydrates. In small towns there is often just one restaurant and the classical card reflects nothing else like burgers in all kinds of style. If you order a baked potato you get instant mashed potatoes formed like a potato (happened to me in Lima). If, after a 140 mile day, you can just choose between Cheeseburger with fries or fried chicken breast with fries and the next day you have to accomplish 120 miles plus and a lot of climbing with this spare food you exactly know what the day gonna be. Like the five times I got pasta I felt always better the next day. Climbing was a treat and not a torture. Still a mystery and an unanswered question to me: how are the guys in front of the race dealing with the lack of carbohydrates? Or is it just a matter of training? Maybe I made the mistake and didn’t train with gas station food at home.   
I didn't have to be a fortune teller to see the disaster coming and would struggle with the lack of carbohydrates during the race. To cover at least a minimum of my daily demand I used PowerBar gel packs. For the mix with water I had energy powder from Xenofit called competition and mineral energy, overall 3lbs (1,5Kg) and a huge weight and space penalty at the beginning of the event. Normally the amount is covering the need for 4 days, but I had stretched it to 13 days, until Rawlins. In Rawlins I expected a parcel that I had sent 3 weeks prior to the race to the local post office with the same amount of energy nutrition for the rest of the race. But due to my permanent empty legs and the lack of carbohydrates I had used all the stuff up within the first few days after Rawlins.
Extremely tough were those days without breakfast. And there were some of them, just boosted by having no decent dinner the evening before or getting no breakfast even after some hours in the saddle. Going to bed or starting the day with energy or corn bars, some nuts and the dishwater in your bladder is simply frustrating. A lot of discipline is necessary for a motel sleeper like me not to wait until breakfast or till the first café opened its doors, especially in the north where it’s quite cold in the morning. The nights I camped stressed my legs more than in a real bed. Every time I had a camp my legs felt like concrete the next morning what the best nutrition was not able to compensate during the day. Those days were predestined psychological days where I fought tooth and nail to accomplish the climbs.
First in northern Wyoming I discovered the astonishing effect of these small bottles called “5 hours energy” that were available at every gas station and I had been toting around for some days. From that point on I used this boosting stuff just in an "emergency" case. Ok, almost every day was a so called emergency case, but I really used the bottles when I was badly off or during a night ride to avoid falling off the bike. I also figured out that without a decent meal the effect was limited.   
Breakfast in case of an very early start what looked every day like the same for me, Kelloggs Frosties in a plastic cup, milk or Nesquick chocolate, sandwiches, yoghurt (if available), cold coffee from Starbucks in a glass bottle, fruits. And for the day: chocolate bars like Kit-Kat or Snickers for the first hour (otherwise it was melting away), Oreo cookies, PowerBar energy bars (if available), nuts in all different styles, trail mixes, bananas, small cherry pies, sandwiches and sometimes corn bars. To drink: Water and Gatorade (I liked the white one the most) in the mix. Except for the sandwiches, a miserable sweet mélange that I was really fed up with, literally.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Top 10 of the ...

…most crappy sections of the Tour Divide. Just for insiders and of course depending on the personal fitness, mood and weather of the day.
10th place:

State: Colorado

Where: After Poncha Springs climb toward Poncha Pass at U.S Hwy. 285

Why: Barbecuing on a paved road with an inconvenient gradient and a lot of traffic.

9th place:

State: Wyoming

Where: Section after North Bone Creek with skirting Yellowstone National Park until Grassy Lake Reservoir

Why: Steep and very bumpy uphill's. Difficult to ride.

8th place:

State: Idaho

Where: After Island Park the 30 mile old rail track.

Why: Up to 4 inches of deep and loose grit. Only ridable with speed and a lot of water. 

7th place:

State: British Columbia

Where: Elk Pass

Why: Simply steep with some walking sections.

6th place:

State: Wyoming

Where: Plateau after Union Pass

Why: Endless up’s and down’s with no real decent

5th place:

State: British Columbia

Where: Galton Pass

Why: Long climb with an absolutely sucking hiking section over wet roots and mud. Similar like climbing a vertical wall. Elevation profile looks like somebody used the cable car.  

4th place:

State: Wyoming

Where: Rawlins until Middlewood Hills

Why: Hot and dusty when sunny. Long stretched climbs in a barren landscape.
3rd place:

State: New Mexico

Where: Bursum Road

Why: Just an exception, because normally not part of the original route and due to the flooding impassable, actually. 

2nd place:

State: New Mexico

Where: State line until Brazos Ridge

Why: Rude, bumpy and partly extremely washed out road with sharp rocks. Most of the uphill's are not ridable.
And the winner is…

1st place

State: Montana

Where: Lava Mountain Trail between Helena and Butte

Why: Rude, bumpy, partly steep and washed out trail covered with a lot of roots. Unridable when wet. Even with an unloaded bike a challenge.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

The misfortune continued

Barin dropped me off at Tucson Airport around 7:00 pm. The airport was like a morgue, but fortunately the counters for the car rental were still open.
What you have got to know, renting a Mid Size SUV in the US from Germany with all the trimmings costs about $150 for three days.
Now I stepped directly to the Budget counter, because usually Budget doesn’t charge any one way fees (if I book the car from Germany).
The charmless person at the counter gave me an over all price of $605 that included a one way fee of $150. No, I didn’t want to buy the car, just rent. I negotiated down the price to $510, but even this was too much for me. I told the guy that I now would try my luck at one of the competitors. He was not very amused about that.  
Normally on my trips through the States I always go with Alamo on the road. The counter was at the opposite end of the hall and two guys were already making some jokes together with the lady behind the counter. The atmosphere was relaxed, already and as usual I had to tell the two guys my human history.
To shorten the story after a phone call with her boss I got the car for 415 bucks. Not a bargain at all but obviously, my flawless features, tired eyes, outfit like a beat-up bum and my fantastic body after 25 days on the trail with curves in all right places made me irresistible. :-)
I packed my bike into the car and drove until Phoenix with a stop over at Dennis.
I stayed the night in Phoenix and after a more than a standard motel breakfast I headed on to Vegas.
I just was wondering why in the USA it was possible to go with 60 mi per hour over a junction with (green) traffic lights as I saw the flashing lights of a police car in my rear view mirror.

Officer: What have you done wrong?

I: I don’t know

Officer: How fast you were going?

I: 60.

Officer: How fast you may go?

I: 60!

Officer: No, 45!

I: But there wasn’t a sign.

Officer: Yes, there was!

I really hadn’t seen any sign. After a short discussion he finally let me move on with the comment that he wouldn’t like to ruin my vacation and because I was a foreigner.
Puh, I even bounced back from the edge of death. But – there was no sign! Really!
In Vegas I first stopped at the next bike shop for a big card board where I could pack in my bike for the flight back home. I got the same one like on my flight from Germany to Calgary. At least I thought I was the same.
In the Premium Outlet Center I did a complete outfitting, because I had nothing else like my bike clothes. And after 25 days in my bike shoes I was happy to slip in something more convenient.
The only downside was that I had to interrupt my shopping tour for a longer stay at the restroom. Apparently one of the sandwiches I ate on the way from Phoenix to Vegas was spoiled. The result was diarrhea. 25 days Tour Divide with nothing and on the first day after the race immediately an intestinal infection. Nice! Fortunately I had some Imodium in my race pharmacy, but I had to get sure not moving away more than 500 ft. from the next restroom.
I was also wondering that the guards at the Venetian let passing me by in my smart bike outfit and my 4 weeks old beard.
I parked my car at the self parking area and as I entered the lobby I felt a little bit like a fish out of the water in my outfit. But again, this is America, no derogative looks from other guests or the staff. Getting to my room was more like beeing a mouse in a maze but finally I stood in my King Suite with this super comfy huge bed and the stunning view over the Strip!
The next project was my damaged smart phone. Because there was my wife's birthday during the race and she needed a new phone as well, I decided to buy her a new one also as a small redemption for the last 4 weeks.
In the Sony Shop the staff told me that the electronic from my broken phone was just fine and only the display was cracked and it’s possible to replace only the display. That’s a thing what I had to do in Germany. As I tried to pay the phone for my wife my MasterCard went on strike. “Not approved” was the answer from the system. The cashier tried it several times but without success. One hour ago I paid the hotel with the card. What was happened? Finally I was not able to pay the phone. First I thought the hotel had overbooked my card. I went back to the hotel and checked together with the staff the bill. But everything was fine. Later I tried to pay just a very small amount for a Coke and some food with the same result. “Not approved”. Getting money on an ATM with my Maestro card was also not possible. I tried it at two different ATM’s without any success. Now, I had got a problem. Just with $80 cash and $100 in traveller checks I had to survive two full days in Vegas. Without my smart phone - no internet and I wasn’t able to phone home for finding out what’s the matter with my card. I called my wife from the hotel and later on she called me back with the result that my card was locked due to conspicuous behaviour. Meant – I left a trace behind me with suspicious transactions in a specific area. Renting a car, motel, shopping mall, 5-star hotel and buying a smart phone locked the card automatically. After some further calls with my wife I found out that the card is locked for 48 hours. And the joke – it can’t be unlocked again even by a phone call to Frankfurt where I would confirm that every transaction was fine. In the www there a forums filled with this topic where people stranded during their holidays. Apparently it is a current method not just for MasterCard customers. Nice! In 48 hours I will sitting (hopefully) in the aircraft and don’t need the card anymore.
The next day was my last full day in sin city and I had to take care for my parcel I shipped from Coyote (NM) to Vegas. The post office was a 5 mile walk and located directly at the old part of Vegas where the South Las Vegas Bld. hit the northern part. I didn’t take the car, because I hadn’t got a clue about the parking situation at the office. I put on my bike clothes and assembled my bike again. It was a little bit strange riding on the Strip with my Tour Divide outfit. The drive train was as worn out that I wasn’t able to use the four easiest gears on the big and the middle chain ring.   
I could see it coming! The officer in the post office shook her head: “No, the general delivery stuff we don’t make for years anymore”. She disappeared in the back office to check the tracking ID and returned with a google maps print out. The post office that is handling the stuff now was just 2.2 miles away, just a short hop with a bike. I rode and rode and rode 2, 3, 4 miles and I found myself riding in the fringe areas of Vegas where you by choice locking your car while driving through. I was really scared. 25 days TD and now this! After 6 or 7 miles I finally got to the post office and my parcel was really arrived. I got a lesson how to ship a parcel as a general delivery. I, a foreigner, knew it, but I would like postponing the lesson to the lady at the post office in Coyote.The officer accurately described me the shortest way toward the Strip and some minutes later I was riding against a strong headwind. I was recently amazed by the fact how easy and fast I was riding my bike after so many days of torture.
Back in the self parking area of the Venetian I packed my bike into the box or better said I tried to. The card board was smaller than the one I had on the outward flight. I had almost to disassemble my whole bike to puzzle it together with my other stuff into the box. Fortunately today’s weather was cloudy and the temperatures only in the upper eighties.
A 3 mile walk (one way) to the bank I did in the afternoon to change my traveller checks and hopefully get some money with my Maestro card. My wife phoned me before to tell me where I can find the nearest one.
I was able changing the traveller checks and even got money from the machine (no ATM)!
I finally bought the smart phone for my wife and even there were some money left to allow myself a last Frappuccino Vanilla Bean from Starbucks! :-)

The two days in Vegas were characterised by don’t running out of money and get the things in order for my fly back to Germany. Relax and enjoy looks different. But the positive aspect – no further obstacles for the rest of my journey!

Hoover Dam


Friday, August 2, 2013

Day 25: Final destination - Antelope Wells

I was not fully convinced of getting to the border without any obstacles today. Was there something else? There was no reason for a late start, because I would like to be in Phoenix during the evening and in Las Vegas tomorrow. In addition, the last 65 miles were all paved. That’s gonna be like riding on a barbeque.
Yesterday, in the library I did a quick check of the leader board and saw that Thomas was also in Silver City. Due to my broken Smartphone we were not able to communicate unfortunately. Either he was already back from the border and waiting for his shuttle to El Paso or he would make the push also today. But this would be strange, because he was at least one day ahead of me. Definitely after my last self made breakfast I left the hotel at 3:45 am. If all goes according to plan I would getting to the border between 1:00 and 2:00 pm.
The new tires (Maxxis Crossmark) were a blast. What a difference! Not comparable to my compactor. It was more like floating or sliding over the pavement. And in addition the asphalt surface was new and as soft as a baby’s bottom.
In the dark I passed a brightly illuminated areal with huge mine dumps. It seemed to be a copper mine where trucks busy like ants were loading and dumping its load.
In continuous intervals I switched the display of my GPS on to see if I was still on the track. When I switched the display on about the 20th time the track was gone. I scrolled down and saw I missed a turn. It was right in time so I lost just 20 minutes and caused a short moment of shock to the people at home who were following me. I had this actually some days before and didn't want any repetition. The way back was all downhill and I hit the gravel road in the dawn. It was an amazing ride. Sun rise in the desert. I didn’t care about anyone who could catch me up, because with the rising sun I got some photo shots I had been looking for during the whole TD. And who cares if I will make it to place 54 or 59? During the whole TD the ranking was absolutely out of my mind. Just finishing – somehow! I never felt myself being in a competition with other riders. For me they all were good fellows in suffering. But what really cut deep was the day that I lost due to my unintended excursion toward Colorado on day 22. This day I’ll be dealing with for a longer period of time.
The landscape was very charming. Some mountains in the background and all around me cactuses were sprouting up the dry ground. I made a very good pace on this dusty road. At a junction a car came across me and I met two familiar faces. I saw them the first time in Steamboat and somewhere in between. A younger man and woman (I forgot the names). They were from the UK as far as I understood and were following some riders like James Hodges and Hamish McKee. We had a small conversation and he told me that James together with Ed were just a few miles behind me. It doesn’t matter how fast I would be riding, this cushion will vaporize anyway. Even after 25 days nothing had changed: I WAS SLOW (but happy)!
In the distance I could already see the trucks at Interstate 10 and a short time later I crossed the rail tracks just in front of the southernmost Interstate that crossed 8 states from Santa Monica in California until Jacksonville in Florida. At the “Continental Divide” Trading post I needed a bucket Coke to flush down the dust. I tunnelled the Interstate and turned immediately onto the gravelled frontage road. As I saw the first time the Exit sign with the label “Antelope Wells” I lost completely my poise. I cried my eyes out. The relief from the intensity of the last few weeks and the joy about accomplishing something incomprehensible made its way. 
As I was able to see something again I took the mandatory photo. The second time I cried as I got to the final Exit on I10 and saw the next sign. Better now, than later on at the border where everyone can see you, I thought by myself. I merely hoped not at every sign (and there were some) I would cry buckets. The last 65 miles from more than 2700 came in sight, mainly flat, but despite not a cup of cake at all, because the road was switching on its barbecue.
From time to time I looked behind me if I would see somebody else. And yes, I did. It was Ed and James rushing up from behind. They passed me by and disappeared behind the horizon within the next 15 minutes. No chance to follow them in this pace. That would kill me just within the first 5 miles.
Hachita, with no service, was the last town before the border. This jerkwater town looked like a ghost town. Scrapped houses were the only witnesses of a former better life.
Just 45 miles and since the Exit at the I10 I saw this damn mile marker again how they were mocking me. Every few miles I was looking for an excuse to stop. But due to the heat stopping wasn’t a good idea, at all. The miles were slowly counting down. I tried to keep a certain pace but after a short time I always felt off behind it. Though, there is no reward or prizing for the race one thought had always managed to drive and motivate me immensely for a few days – Spending two nights in The Venetian in Vegas. I was looking forward to this super comfy king bed and sleeping as long as I want without any rugged alarm clock in the night.
At mile seventeen a black truck came across me and was stopping. In this moment I was just about to eliminate some nuts. Somebody got out of the car. Maybe my eyes were still fogged from the crying session a short while ago, but I didn’t recognize right off the guy who came across me. I had to look twice. Finally the enlightenment - Thomas, smiling like a cat that got the cream. It was a nice welcome. I was totally surprised to see him here and not on the way to El Paso. Everybody was telling a very short version of the last few days before we went on separate ways again. He still told me that the officer from the Ride the Divide movie is on duty at the border! This casual meeting gave me the necessary motivation for the last 17 miles.
I saw this giant column of smoke toward the border station and was really concerned. With my “fortune” of the last days the station certainly blew up and I could forget the finisher photo.
The border station came in sight and I hit the one mile marker. Just one fu….. mile out of more than 2800. I guessed beside the finisher photo this last mile marker is one of the most popular photo scene here. Unbelievable, I really made it to the southern terminus of the Great Divide mountain bike route! A dream or maybe a nightmare had become true. I was really not quite sure at this moment how I should evaluate this race. But as we would say in Germany: The candy was sucked! The synonym in English, I guess: The goose was cooked!    
Ed came across me as I got to the station. He welcomed and warmly congratulated me. Immediately I recognized the officer from the movie. He congratulated me as well and handed over a finisher ice cream!
Ed was waiting for his family who did a 14 hour drive from Colorado to pick him up. James was already on the way to Phoenix. Ed was taking the MUST photos at the border sign from me.
The couple from UK was also waiting in front of the station for Hamish and J.D. However, in the meantime I stormed the vending machine inside the office for a ?? – right, a cold Coke! And a second and a third! While I was waiting for my shuttle Ed’s family arrived.
What a shame! What I really missed was a big finisher party with all riders. After the finish the riders were dispersing in all directions. But I also knew that this was not possible!
My shuttle arrived before Ed and his family left toward Colorado again. I said goodbye!
Barin, my driver handed me out a really good Mexican beer and we touched the cans. I said goodbye to the couple from UK and after we had puzzled my bike into the car we left the border. Driving back all these precious hard-earned miles in a car hurt a little bit (as well later on as I was flying over Wyoming and Montana in just a little bit more than one hour). Bringing me to Tucson airport where I could rent a car was no issue for Barin.
Just a few miles later Hamish and J.D came across. Finally J.D. had also made it with his broken frame. We exchanged just a few words and said goodbye. On the section from Hachita to the I10 we came across my old fellows Paul and Mason on their final push to the border. I was happy to see that they will make it to the border today as well. Some final words for goodbye and we were back on the road. 235 miles until Tucson. We talked a lot together, mainly about bikes, the TD and Matthew Lee who was shuttled by Barin a few times.
He dropped me off at the airport in Tucson and would only be paid for the gas. No way! I gave him almost the rest of my money and said goodbye. Thank you Barin for your support!!
That the rest of my money was very welcome later on in Vegas and my run of bad luck wasn’t over at all, ... but ... – This is another story!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 24: Pie Town - Bursum Road - SilverCity

As I woke up in the early morning I was shit-scared of the following 48 hours. I was shaking like a leaf. Don't lose the nerves now - I thought by myself. There were so many doubts. 250 miles in one single push after 23 days, almost no information about the reroute (resupply possibilities, dogs, how much climbing), riding the whole night in a remote area and so on. I was like paralyzed and couldn’t get out of my bed. But quitting the race, because I am a pussy was no solution. For sure this would be the toughest day in my life.
Just reluctant the breakfast found its way into my stomach.
In the dark I took the second paved alternative route called El Malpais alternate toward Pie Town. The new rear tire (hereinafter called “The compactor”) together with the inner tube seemed to have a rolling resistant far beyond from good and evil. The noises sounded like the tire would plow the pavement.   
In the dawn I reached El Malpais National Monument with some really nice rock formation. The rising sun dipped the rocks in a beautiful orange shinning light. That I really loved during the last three weeks. You see things in a foreign country what you never would see only as a tourist. I took all the time I needed for taking some pictures and reading information panels. I did everything just for switching my mind to other thoughts.
Like out of nowhere on this God-forsaken road a road cyclist caught me up from behind and we exchanged a couple of words. Ok, today was Sunday – maybe an explanation. About half a mile ahead of me he turned around. Apparently half of his training ride was over. As he came across he was cheering me. Such small nice touches were one reason why I was still in the race.
I stopped at a small gravel covered parking lot with some trash cans to dump my trash. As I hit the pavement again my front tire slipped sideward’s. The tire was loosing air. When will these miseries end, actually? There was a lot of broken glass around the trash cans. Obviously I got some into my tire. My sealant needed some time to fix the hole. Unfortunately the new pump had no adapter for presta valves inside and the combination of pump, my own adapter and tubeless valve didn’t want harmonize together. I was not able to pump up the tire with the necessary pressure. I was just loosing air through the valve while I was pumping up the tire. After almost one hour in the hot sun I was finally able to fix the problem and the tire kept the air. Just a short time after this glitch I left the pavement and with it the alternative route. This was now a hardcore test for the front tire. The exciting question now - would the tire be able to keep the air or not? It was!
The road was extremely dusty and dry and the ground was alternating from gravel to sand. It was a very exhausting section that in addition reduced my pace. The landscape wasn’t boring at all. In the distance some mountain ranges I was approaching to and some cattle ranches next to the road. For a little bit more motivation I cramped my Smartphone under my front harness for some music. Not so bad at all, some music at a hot dusty road with a view. I opened the zipper of my jersey until the belly bottom and the music pushed me more like the noises from my new compactor. I already saw the paved road that was traversing Pie Town as I rode over a washboard section. In the corner of my eye I still saw how my Smartphone slipped through the strap of the harness. I tried to grab it and just got the cable from my ear plugs between my fingers. The falling phone notched out the cable, bumped at the front tire and touched the ground right ahead of the tire. Next what I noticed was two times a bub, bub. I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry now. I did the first one. Unbelievable! Of course the glass couldn’t resist my compactor and I was not able to unlock the phone anymore. If the shit of the last few days had happened two weeks ago I had definitely pulled the plug now. What was the slogan from Matthew Lee in the movie? “You will suffer through challenges”
This was the point where I didn’t believe in a concatenation of unfortunate circumstances anymore. This was a test, a mental endurance test. The problem what I now faced off was the fact that all the ACA maps, the cue sheets, my own excel list with all the distances and service points and the email from Matthew about the fire reroute were on the phone. I had to balance very carefully if I wanted be able to go on without this information. The cue sheets with its service points I had also as POI’s in my GPS. On the fire reroute all this information (except the email from Matthew) are useless anyway and for the last jump from Silver City to the boarder not absolutely necessary.
At the outside of the Pie Town Café I met J.D. Pauls again who was struggling with a cracked frame. He was now riding together with Hamish McKee. I was reassured that I am not the only one who was dogged by bad luck. Inside the café I met my old fellows Paul and Mason again. Mason gave me a copy of the email from Matthew about the reroute. In contrast to the email for the first reroute I had the description already stored firmly in my mind.
Normally in my opinion the Americans are not able to make good cake (sorry for that). The German cake is the best all over the world anyway. After two slices of pie (there were just two left of this special one :-( ) I was absolutely convinced that Pie Town Café is an exception and did its good reputation more than justice.
Now I had to inform my wife about my damaged Smartphone. But without a Smartphone??? I asked for a telephone call to Germany and the owner gave me her laptop so I was able to write an email. 5 minutes after I sent the email my wife phoned me in the café. That was very quick. We discussed the options and I told her that I will go on. Quitting the race so close to the finish was not an option for me anymore. Now she had only the option to rely on the Spot messenger. No emails and phone calls from my side anymore.
I stocked up my water resources to the top and at 2:00 pm I left Pie Town, the last outpost, before I hit a lot of nothing. Now 70 miles to the junction of road 28 (Bursum road) and I hoped to get there before it would getting dark. All the other guys who left Pie Town before me were planning to camp at the junction.
I was riding directly toward a thunderstorm but fortunately it passed away before I hit the rain. I just saw the deep tire tracks at the slightly muddy road. Sometimes it is better to start later. They had to struggle a little bit more like me, because the road was just about to dry out again. After I left the mountain ranges behind me the landscape got more and more boring. I reached a vast plain with ranch land. Who is running a ranch in this wasteland I was asking not just today by myself? And if I saw the cattle that wouldn’t even be enough for one burger. The road at the edge of this huge nothing got muddier so I had to avoid the muddiest parts by zick-zacking from one side to another. The mud slowed me down and in the meantime I hit the 120 mile marker. My legs were only pedalling because they had to. It was predictable that I wouldn’t reach the junction to Bursum road before dusk.
I switched my flashlight on. It was completely dark as I hit the junction. Left, the Gila and right – a leap in the dark, literally. A big advantage for me was that I had the entire Bursum road well marked at my OSM map on my GPS. If the map was correct I couldn’t get lost even in the darkness. Merely a little bit concerning was the fact that my wife told me some other riders needed more than 13 hours for this section. 13 hours for just 50 miles?? Both Google Maps and my GPS stated this section is paved, but obviously it wasn’t! After 140 miles my legs were done and I had not the faintest idea how much climbing was still ahead of me. And riding on a gravel road in the dark without any company was not so clever at all.
I took a seat on the ground right in front of a road sign, switched off my flashlight and leant my tired head at the pole for just a short break with some food. I saw the lightning in the far and parts of the starry sky. This was maybe the most wired situation at the whole TD, sitting tired in the back of beyond after 140 miles at 9:45 pm in complete darkness at a road sign without any idea how the next few hours will look like and having a snack.
This kind of gravel was new on the TD. Not rough but not really smooth. No worn out track to follow. Together with my compactor and the smooth ascending road I was done just after 10 minutes. Most of the following uphills with this very inconvenient gravel I was pushing my bike. Two hours later I became so tired that I began to search for a spot where I could place my sleeping pad together with my sleeping bag (we remember, my tent was on the way to Vegas). As far as I could see it in the beam of the light I was on a plateau with some huge pine trees and a lot of cattle dump. But with my Therm-a-Rest NeoAir pad I had to be carefully. One sharp item on the ground and the pad was done. I was looking for a suitable spot but I couldn’t find one. A sign pointed out 9 miles until Willow creek. Willow creek could be everything, really just a creek or some houses with an outhouse. I decided to wait until Willow creek with my nap. Also it would mark the halfway of the 50 miles. I don’t know how long I rode or pushed up and down this plateau, but at least the gravel became better.
Matthew Lee had spoken from some significant turns in his email. Now I was directly standing in front of one. I rode on these wide gravel road and the GPS sent me with a right turn over a cattle gate onto a narrow track. I was quite sure having seen not a single sign. What would those guys do who are only navigating with the ACA map and the cue sheets? Never in my life would I make this turn. I would stay on the wider gravel road.
The track became more and more bumpy and steeper. Just a few moments later I was struggling with the steep challenging downhill, maybe during daylight not as challenging as in the dark. My tiredness abruptly disappeared. I was wide awake. At the very last moment I saw the big hole in the road. Parts of the road had slipped away. For sure I was approaching the flooded area. I finally reached the end of the downhill. At the right side there was something like a streambed. The road looked like the room of a three years old kid after the battle of the Lego warriors. Big boulders, all kind of trees and heaps of wood were laying all over in a mess. The former waterline of the flood was several feet above me. Unbelievable! Now I knew what “with a delay” would mean. I don’t know how long I pushed and climbed over trees and big rocks attended by some really freaky sounds from animals and these were not just birds (we remember again – bear spray and whistle were on the way to Vegas). Normally I am not very scary, but I was happy when I hit a wider forest road again. That didn’t change the situation at all but that gave me a little bit more security than in this messy terrain.
Willow creek was really just a creek and nothing else. No outhouse or something else where I could make a nap. But with all these strange noises around me I was not tired anymore. My GPS told me the road will go up to the plateau again. It was a moderate climb, but I wasn’t able to climb anymore. I pushed my bike. Unfortunately my last “5 hours energy” I used this morning already. Back at the plateau I looked in several pairs of eyes. They were glowing in the beam of my flashlight. I remembered the night drive in a jeep last year in South Africa.
The eyes belonged to some kind of deer. They kept some distance but didn’t run away. The right and the left side of the road were crowded with them. But that I was moving in bear area I got completely out of my mind. Only when I saw the information panel I was thinking about my bear spray and my whistle. The most important sentence and very encouraging to me: “Don’t walk at night and just in groups!” A-ha! From now on I was a little bit more concerned maybe a little bit scared. Of course this was one of the spookiest nights of my life where all this childhood nightmares came up again. After I passed the “Road closed” sign it was a steady up and down again on a twisting and turning road. Finally I reached a parking area with an outhouse. I was completely done. I parked my bike at the wall of the outhouse and took a seat in the entry, leant my head on the wall and five seconds later I fell asleep. I woke up 80 minutes later. It was already dawning and I had enough light to continue my ride without my flashlight. The road was leading a second time down to the creek. I compared the downhill more to a free fall. I didn’t need a whistle anymore. My brakes were making noises for three whistles. As I reached the end of the downhill the view was similar like tonight. The creek and on the right and left a mess. But apparently some workers had already started to clean up. The road was still bumpy and rugged from the water. I entered a very narrow gulch with some very old and historical houses. It was a ghost town. Unfortunately I didn’t take any picture.
The road turned from gravel to pavement and climbed steep out of the gulch. The downhill on a narrow mountain road to the highway was steep and pretty fast. For the 50 miles I needed in the end (without my nap) more than 9 hours. What a delay! A breakfast now would be a real find. I haven’t got a clue about any towns along the highway, but just after 4 miles I reached Glenwood. One further jerkwater town but with a Trading post and a Café! I was really happy about that. The  Golden Girls Café was a usual house where the rooms were filled with tables and chairs for the guests. The kitchen was open, so everybody could see how the female owner was preparing the breakfast. The Café was a lifesaver for me. I ordered pancakes and some other stuff.
A visit in the Trading post for a resupply and some Coke was mandatory and it didn’t bother me as I saw the thick dust layer on most of the packed groceries. What a weird store.
64 miles until Silver City and 28 hours for 190miles. The spooky Bursum road had clearly spoiled the overall result.
Every climb was brutal to me. But the breakfast gave me for a short time the ability to climb again. The next stop for an ice cream and a Coke I did in Buckhorn. I packed two cans of this liquid gold into my back pack. But apparently I am not able to ride with two full cans of Coke longer than one hour without empty it.
Dark clouds over the Gila were announcing the next thunderstorm. Today's air was extremely muggy. I compared the every day thunderstorms to playing battleship. During the whole TD I relatively had been spared from thunderstorms, but today the ship should be sinking. It started with a very pleasant light rain shower. The rain passed away and came back every few minutes, but he sun was still shining. I heard the thunder roaring and the alternating rain became heavier. Totally out of the blue suddenly all hell broke loose. Within seconds the sky was covered with dark clouds and the wind was lashing the rain horizontally against me and was pressing me to the middle of the lane. I wasn't able to ride anymore. I got off my bike and pushed against the stormy rain. From the surrounding landscape I just saw silhouettes. Two minutes later I was soaked and one further minute the inside of my shoes became a lake. And if that not were bad enough the lightning came in. The Spot messenger was flashing red. The device lost its connection. I turned it off. In five second distance lightning followed close by thunder was surrounding me. The rain was so heavy that the cars had to stop. I was totally pissed off. The final push to the border today - I could forget it now. This was not a usual thunderstorm. It seemed it was standing still and not moving. As the thunderstorm was raging above me I thought by myself that walking while the lightning is straight around me is not really clever and a potential deathtrap. Unfortunately I was in a section with no cover at all. 
It was raining as if God had broken off the shower head. The soil left and right beside the road became flooded. The only chance was to hunker down right here on the road. In this moment a van stopped right next to me and the window lifted down. "Do you wanna live?" I looked in the eyes of a younger guy. "Yes", I shouted against the roaring thunder. "Then come in". Wow! This is America, from a nightmare to a dream in just a few seconds. In Germany they had clapped their hands while the lightning was barbecuing me, because it is my own responsibility, finally. Totally soaked I took a seat in the fond of the van. Four guys and a dog were introducing themselves. We had a lot of time for some conversation until the thunderstorm passed by. Of course, I had to tell my TD story again. When I left the car I was still totally impressed by this nice touch.
To make a long story short. The whole way until Silver City it was raining. Though it was warm, I was shivering like leaves. I needed a hotel room as fast as possible. But before I visited Gila Hike & Bike and changed both tires just in case and arranged my pick up from the border tomorrow with Barin Beard, who was accidentally in the shop. I checked in at the Murray Hotel and dried out my whole stuff. Even the bills I had to dry out. The hotel had no internet access, but the public library had. 
I got a guest account and was able to check my emails, sent one home and checked the possibility of flying out to Phoenix after the race. But the costs for a flight to Phoenix raised so high that it was cheaper getting to Tucson tomorrow and rent a car. I merely had to convince my driver bringing me to Tucson instead back to Silver City.
After I did my shopping at a gas station I passed the neighbour hotel and saw Ed and James. It was a warm welcome. James looked like he was the victim of a knife battle. The whole body was covered with cuts. He explained me that he felt into a plant. I had never heard about it. Ed and I talked for a while before I left the hotel to dump my groceries in my room. I had an excellent dinner in a Mexican restaurant around the corner. On my way back I met Jamie Thomson at the reception of my hotel who did the TD in 2009. We had a long and interesting conversation about the race and its consequences, he from the distance and I right before the finish.  


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 23: Grants

124 miles until Grants all on paved roads called the Chaco alternate. Due to the every day thunderstorms the original route become impassable when wet. That’s the reason for the two alternative routes in New Mexico both on paved roads. Both are more or less flat with the typical every day hilly up and down game. Like the day before I left the motel at 4:00 pm.
Today it’s gonna be dog day! I heard the beasts at the junction to the Chaco alternate very close behind the city limit of Cuba. I turned my head and in the light beam of my flashlight I looked in several pairs of glowing eyes. Actually, not funny at all! How nice that my bear spray and the dog dazer were on the way to Vegas! As the pack started their hunt I was very glad about the smooth descending road. I switched some gears higher and speeded up my bike as fast as someone with 22 days Tour Divide in his legs was able to accomplish. But I was not able to keep the pace any longer than one minute. Fortunately the barking faded away, a sign to me that my escape was successful. I slowed just a little bit down and was completely exhausted. Such sprints with a full loaded bike in the dark are not supportive for the vital forces. More of those sprints today and I would need one additional day for recovering.
The area where I was riding through was Navajo area. If I saw any houses I always kept my eyes wide open for dogs. The sun was covered by clouds what made the ride more convenient. The second attack came just a few miles before Pueblo Pintado. The dude in front of the house didn’t give a damn about his dog that was slipping through the fence and right onto the road. The luck was on my side a second time. The road was descending, but the beast was pretty fast. He abandoned his chase not until he noticed that I was faster. I deeply regretted that my bear spray was on the way to Nevada. What a dog polluted area I was getting into?
Landscape wise hilly dry bush veld took turns with some nice rock formations. In the meantime the sun heated up the pavement and made riding to a sweaty affair. The road was peppered with these damn mile marker that counting either up or down the miles and show you without any mercy where your deficits are. I had always to remember the sentence from Georg Deck that he had to learn on the TD how long a mile could be. Very true! And counting down 124 miles ... .
I didn't know if I saw first the flock of sheep or heard the barking dogs, but they already headed on towards me. This time I was a little bit more relaxed, because there was at least a distance from 1500 feet or more between the dogs and me and the road descended for the third time. So I had not to speed up like one possessed, but I slowly increased my speed to about 30mi/h. No chance for the dogs. Some miles later I was wondering about this bumpy road. With every turn of the wheel I got a bump. As I inspected the road I couldn't see any reason for the bumps. The road was just fine. But as I cast an eye at my rear tire I saw the misery. A bulge like an egg was decorating my tire. What the hell was that? I immediately got off my bike and analyzed the problem. First I thought the notubes sealant was dissolving my tire, but it didn't. The profile was as worn out that the inside pressure pressed the thin tire to the outside. What a bummer! With this egg I was not able to ride anymore. I don't like to think what might happened if the tire burst at one of my dog getaways. A big mistake to rely on the paved sections here in New Mexico and not to change at least the rear tire in Salida. What to do now? Maybe if I would line in a tube would take away the pressure from the weak spot and I could go on. The other option was pushing the bike under the hot sun until Milan or Grants what would take two or three hours.
I deflated the tire, lined in a tube, took my pump and ... nothing! Am I at Candid Camera? The heat and the sleep deprivation let work the mind slow, so I got some seconds until I really realized that my pump (worked always before) was done. It was obviously, someone was kidding me. I tried to figure out where the problem with the pump was. Disassembled and assembled the pump several times without any success. Unbelievable! For sure, since New Mexico I was attracting the misery. I must be in a bad road movie, because in the near rock formation I heard the Coyotes yowling. To make a long story short, during I pushed my bike towards Grants I had also the option in my mind to quit the race, because neither Milan nor Grants had any bike service. To finish the race without missing my flight back I needed a tire. Today! Totally exhausted from the heat I hit the Main street of Milan. An older man on his bike asked me if I would need a pump. Yes I did! He pulled out a pump out of his pocket. With an adapter I was able to pump up my tire. But the egg still remained even with an inner tube. So a pump wouldn't have provided a solution to the problem. On my question for a bike shop I got an answer but I was not able to understand this guy at all. Not a single word! Carefully I tried to ride the 5 miles until Grants. The egg slowly disappeared. I rode up and down the main street to find any possibility for a tire replacement. Nothing! I phoned my wife to tell her about quitting the race. I really wasn't sad about it and I was just fine with it. No regrets. Nothing! After the call I gave myself a last chance and stopped at a shop for car tires and ask someone if he had any idea where I could find a tire for a mountain bike. He sent me to the Walmart. Of course, my lock was in the parcel to Vegas too. I parked my bike behind three older ladies who were collecting money for a charity organization. I asked them if they would keep an eye on my bike. They agreed! In the sport section of this really big market I scanned the racks for tires. I saw some bikes but no tires. First I discovered the pumps, but without a tire no pump. I was just about abandoning all my hopes as I saw some small boxes in one corner of a rack. Tires. Now the question: 29er or just 26er? And in fact they had 29er tires. Ok, the profile like a compactor and heavy like a downhill version, but a 2.35er 29er tire. I also took a pump where I understood the corresponding adapter for the presta valve was inside the pump. 
The old ladies did a great job. I took my bike and started to change my tire in front of the supermarket. Of course, I had to explain two times what I am doing here, where I come from and where I am going to. But in the meantime it was like I swallowed a record. First I reeled down my standard text and then had to answer a lot of questions. 15 minutes later I was ready to check in for a motel. Right across the street the motel chains had its location. As I left the Walmart I met Ed again. He was just about to heading on to Pie town. No way for me today! I needed all my power for the long push tomorrow. 260 miles in one push to Silver City claimed for some rest. In addition the thunderstorms were rolling in. Maybe this was the last time I saw him. 
I took a bath, did my laundry the last time and phoned my wife that I am back in the race. I did a short nap before I returned to the Walmart for a full resupply. Because we didn't know anything about the resupply possibilities on the second fire reroute I stocked up all my drinks and food to the top. In the evening Denny's gave me the chance for some pasta!

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