Exodos: The Road Out

One can learn a lot on a 1000+ mile bike ride through the vastness of Wyoming and Colorado.  It has been 4 days since I returned from my adventure, and I have spent a good bit of that time reflecting on this experience.  You may want to settle in if you are going to read this entire story, I have a lot to unpack here. 

First, there is a little bit of back story that is important for me to explain so that the context of the trip makes sense, and you can better understand my thoughts and perhaps get a better perspective.  Ultimately, I don’t think I can fully express the magnitude of it, but I am going to try.

Around this time last year, I missed out on the first Tour D’wild which Mark and Brian had invited me to join in on, and after about 2 days of following through Mark’s Instagram stories, the FOMO was hitting hard.  It wasn’t really in the cards for me to go last year, I had too much going on with the new 4D website and to be honest I wasn’t sure I was up for the trip or the uncertainty of it all.  I will come back to this uncertainty later, but it is important to note both Brian and Mark have a much more adventurous side than me, but I feel that I am usually up for most challenges and adventure is something I have always been drawn to.  Brian has been a traveler and over the years that I have known him, he’s been known to take long trips to various parts of the world, and not only is he a talented athlete, but he is also probably one of the most controlled steady people I know with respect to his emotions and mood.  Also, no one can suffer as much as Brian.  Mark is 12 years younger than me, a talented athlete himself.  I first met him back several years ago when he hired me to coach him for a triathlon before I quickly decided to talk him into being a pure cyclist.  He went on to win a good many bike races in a short time.  Mark’s best quality though is his desire or ability to take a risk and not look back.  Five years ago, he just decided to move to Utah and his world opened to an endless adventure.  Over the last few years, the 3 of us have had some epic adventures but my role in these has been much more of a participant than a planner. 

In 2019 Brian and I flew out to Salt Lake City for a long weekend of rock climbing and mountaineering.  I had never climbed outside on real rocks or really been exposed to climbing mountains.  It was a great but short adventure and somewhat of a reset with respect to doing something cool, different, and being in nature.  The next year Jessica and I went to visit SLC and do some hiking with Mark and Elizabeth.  After a few days, Jessica flew home, and Brian flew out to meet us for some further adventure in the Tetons.  The Tetons and northwest Wyoming have a very special place in my soul.  As a child, my great uncle, who was basically my bonus grandfather used to bring me “out west” to visit the national parks and ride horses and whitewater raft in the summer right before school would start.  We did this almost every summer until I started playing football in high school and was required to be at summer practice etc.

It had been over 30 years since I had last been in Wyoming much less the Tetons.  I had a spiritual experience climbing to the top of Teewinot Mountain and the Middle Teton, camping with moose sleeping just yards away from us, and again just enjoying the beauty of nature and checking out from the normal grind for a week.  Between SLC and the Tetons, I climbed 7 different peaks within 9 days all just hiking and scrambling this time minus the short free solo I did after Mark had to down climb and find another route that Brian was more comfortable with, and I chose up rather than the down climb.  Just being there in those mountains and tapping into childhood memories was amazing, Jackson Hole is very special to me.

If you are still reading this, you are invested enough to know that all that back story will come together in the current moment.  For a year I had told Mark and Brian I was going to the next Tour D’Wild, I’m not sure I was invited since I missed the first one, but they let me join them even though they turned a lot of other people down.  The original plan was to start in Wamsutter Wy and ride to Moab but as Mark was working through the logistics there was a long stretch into Moab that was logistically not going to work without camping.  Then the plan changed, and the trip was to start in Jackson!  This to me was the universe letting me know I had to go despite any challenge or obstacle.  I was going to get to put two things I have wanted to do for a really long time together.  Cycle through the mountains around Jackson Hole. 

Before I get into the logistics of the trip and the day-to-day details, it is important to also note my headspace in general.  For starters, everyone should be aware that the daily grind can catch up to you.  Summer in south Louisiana is always a challenge and the dog days of summer can bite you.  By the end of July, I was really starting to feel the heat.  I will admit to being a little burned out and depressed with respect to a few areas.  The last 2 years have been challenging for everyone and I wanted to check out and take a break, but I have trouble telling people no sometimes.  I often put other people’s needs ahead of my own.  There was some financial hesitation with the cost of not working for 2 weeks, the cost of the trip, and of course, being away from home and Jessica and the dogs for so long.  When I told my personal training clients, I was going to be gone for so long I got a lot of strange looks and a few what am I supposed to do’s.  I have not taken a trip this long since the last time I went to Jackson Hole when I was 13.

It didn’t matter, I had to go on this trip.

The logistics of the trip are simple yet complex.  There is the actual physiological demand of it, the selection of proper kit, and the getting to the start and picked up at the finish but the basics just come down to pedaling a bike for 12 days and 1000 miles over many mountain passes and what I would come to learn a lot of high deserts.

Physiology is obviously something I know a good bit about. It’s my job to get people in shape so I knew what I needed to do to be ready for the trip. Time to start riding more.  Another major hurdle is the altitude, I have lived my entire life here in south Louisiana but haven’t had too much of an issue when going to altitude, but it is a real limiter. As most of you that have known me for a while know I worked with coach Moffitt at LSU for 6 years in the early 2000s.  Coach is who got me interested in cycling, I will never forget the first time he took me on a 25-mile bike ride down river road from LSU.

It seemed so far back then.  I was 24 or 25 years old when I bought my first road bike and prior to that first ride with Coach, endurance to me would have been a mile or 2 of jogging.  In the last year I was working at LSU coach Moffitt purchased an altitude simulator.

After riding and training with it some I also purchased the same Hypoxico machine in 2008 or 2009 once 4D got off the ground and running.  I have used it over the years to help a few people train for climbing Mount Rainier and Kilimanjaro.  One of my old clients used it for his trip to Everest base camp, so I was confident it would help me prepare for this trip.  I slept in the altitude tent set up in the guest room for almost all of August.

I did take a few nights off when I was feeling I needed more recovery from some of the longer training rides I did in St. Francisville.  I also did half a dozen or so rides on the Wattbike in the 30-60 min range with the altitude set at 10-12,000 ft during the last 2 weeks before heading out.  My preparation was as good as I could manage with my work schedule and our environment here.  My confidence was high. 

Brian and I had done quite a few grueling rides on the toughest terrain in St. Francisville and Wilkinson County and each of us had both good and bad days mostly due to the heat and humidity, but bad days just sometimes happen.

We all were expecting a bad day over the course of the trip, it would be unreasonable to feel good the entire time. Brian was concerned about the altitude and neither one of us had the proper bike for the trip yet. 

Bike and equipment choice was a big factor in how this trip would work.

About half of the route was to follow the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race Route.  Our plan was to ride gravel bikes with 45mm tires.  This was a calculated decision based on wanting/needing to average 92 or so miles a day.  Brian was going to get a titanium bike and was between the Litespeed and a Moots like Mark rides.  I had a Specialized Crux on order for a while but it wasn’t looking like that was going to happen so I ordered a Trek Checkpoint and crossed my fingers that I would get it in time to at least ride it a couple of weeks.  Brian had ordered the Litespeed during the 4th of July sale, but something happened, and it never got shipped, at the witching hour he found a Moots at a shop that was along our route and got it delivered and built just a couple of days before we left.  My Trek arrived about a week before his bike, and I was able to get a couple of longer rides in on it.  I was also able to get 3 or so rides in with most of my bike packing bags loaded to get a little bit of a feel for how heavy a bike would handle at least on smooth pavement.

It was finally time to leave Baton Rouge.  Brian and I flew to Salt Lake City to meet Mark and Elizabeth get the bikes built up and be sure that we didn’t need anything before we lose access to bike shops for a few days. And then drive a few hours from SLC to Jackson WY on Sunday.  Everything was delivered safely, and we were ready to go. Elizabeth and her dad drove us to Jackson and dropped us off to start our adventure the next morning on Labor Day.

Day 1

Jackson to DuNoir 107 miles. 7,448ft gained. Ride time 7:29, elapsed time ~11:00!

Day 1 could not have started any better.  Woke up to beautiful weather, cool, no humidity, clear sky, and not too much wind.  This was my bonus day and the day I was looking most forward to.  The ride through Grand Teton National Park was mostly paved and there was going to be a great chance to see wildlife and otherwise reminisce.  When we rolled out of the town square, we only made it about half a mile before we stopped to check Brian’s bike.  This was a tale of how the day would unfold. 

Shortly after we got rolling again, we met a local cyclist and chatted a little bit about our trip and equipment and the immediate route until he turned into his neighborhood at Teton village.  Quickly into the park and our first but a short gravel section later we were stopped for the second time to check Brian’s bike again.  We stopped again not long after this to try and see a bear, but it never appeared from the woods with all the people gathered waiting for it.  We then had a nice long stretch of beautiful scenery and smooth pavement but still a couple more quick stops for bike adjustments. 

At mile 34 we stopped for lunch because we thought it was our last chance for real food before we got out of the park and on to the more remote part of our route for the day. Lunch was good but took much longer than anticipated at least 90 minutes.  After we got back on the road it didn’t take long before we were stopped again but this time, we resolved the issue with Brian’s seat post slipping, and off we went into the true gravel portion of day 1.  The first climb was just a hint of what was coming but it became obvious that my definition of gravel and mountain gravel were not the same.  This was some completely foreign rocky mountain gravel that is not anything like what we have here.  These are big sharp rocks, huge chunky things, and much less dirt.  I was still feeling good at this point, and I ended up out in front by myself after I started to find a bit of a rhythm on this new surface.

I then found myself cruising down a decent somewhat excited and extra cautious at the same time being mindful of my front wheel when I spooked 3 very large cow elk that began running alongside me.  This was awesome and terrifying at the same time since they wanted to cross in front of me and flee down into the valley to my right.  Eventually, they all crossed in front of me 1 at a time at 30 mph the first one almost got me, but I was able to brake in time, the second one I thought jumped to its death, but it made a perfect landing and kept running down a very steep section before the last one was able to cross with a much wider berth as the gradient had let off and I had slowed down.  Some GoPro footage of this would have been amazing but shame on me for not bringing it.  Once that adrenalin wore off and I was back grinding uphill I started to realize how hot it was.  This is not normal hot because it’s a “dry heat”.  It wasn’t oppressive sweaty hot, but it was dry drink a lot hot.  By the time I got to the top of the climb Mark and Brian had caught up with me, and I was starting to feel the day.  We were able to hit a store and get some cold drinks.

I thought this was going to bring me back a little more than it did.  At about mile 90 we hit another long climb, probably 7 or 8 miles in length about a mile in I couldn’t match the pace of Mark and Brian.  About ¾ of the way up they stopped to take a picture of the setting sun and wait for me.  I remember thinking I was about to get voted off the island if I couldn’t keep up on day 1.

They were not upset about stopping and encouraged me to keep on pushing.  We hit a short descent before another 4-mile climb and then a long descent into some rolling terrain before we reached our destination.  I was able to stay within sight of them on the climb but started the decent well out of the draft and they really pushed the pace downhill until Brian sliced his tire and nearly crashed.  At this point we were about 5 miles from the cabin, it was getting dark, and we were deep in grizzly bear country without any bear spray.

It took several different attempts and about 30 mins to patch the tire so that we could get to the cabin and most importantly the restaurant before it closed.  By the time we got there all three of us were completely done.  We were cold, thirsty, hungry, and just spent.

Thankfully they fed us a nice dinner.  I had some country-fried steak and 2 servings of mashed potatoes and gravy.  After dinner, we got back to the cabin at about 10:30 and had to wash our kits and sew the tire together.  Mark had read in some of his research for the trip about sewing tires and he had packed some fishing line and a sewing needle just in case. Ended up needing it the first day.

Sometime around midnight, it was lights out. Mark and I were sleeping in bunk beds, and I drew the short straw for the top.  This was the most difficult and noisy bed to get in and out of.  DuNoir is at 9000ft of elevation so none of us were sleeping well but every time I moved the bed made noise and I drank so much once we got there, I had to get up twice to pee and woke everyone up. Day 1 was everything from awesome to awful a few times over and over.

Day 2

DuNoir to Pinedale WY  75 miles, 3,684 ft gained. Ride time 4:46

Waking up on Day 2 was surprisingly nice. Once again, it was a beautiful morning, and the route was only 75 miles today. Spirits were high and despite the breakfast options being very minimal and the store clerk taking forever to check us out we were on the road to Pinedale just an hour or so later than planned.  Day 2 was going to cover more rolling terrain and there were not really any big climbs.

The wind was mild but also at our back for most of the day.  As we got closer to the back third of the day there was a long descent before we hit the flatter terrain heading into the more central part of Wyoming and the edge of the great basin.  This descent was basically a rock garden, and I was unable to stop for a picture, but it started making sense why it is the “Great Divide Mountain Bike Race”, and I was super proud of my now improving rocky riding skills.

The downside to the day was obviously our lack of lunch and crappy breakfast. None of us do very well without good food but Brian was not only hungry but also still feeling the high altitude.  I’m not sure if it was the double mashed potatoes or just that I was on a good day and smelling the barn but once we got off the rocks and washboard gravel and hit the pavement I was flying and Mark and I were trading super good long pull into town, we even picked up a Strava KOM. 

We hit the first store in town and bought all kinds of stuff to drink and eat, hit a bike shop looking for a tire to replace the stitched-up one even though Mark had gotten Elizabeth to ship one to us in Atlantic City where we would be staying on Day 3.  No luck at the shop but the guy working there was super impressed we made the segment so fast. 

We apparently did it faster than the guy who won the Great Divide race, keep in mind this was day 2 for us and he was over 1000 miles in when he hit that segment.

Our hotel that night was nice, and we were able to walk a few blocks and eat some good Mexican food and get to sleep early. 

Day 3

Pinedale to Atlantic City WY 87 miles, 4,662 ft gained, ride time 5:14

Before leaving Pinedale, we had a solid breakfast and stopped by a deli to get a sandwich to have for lunch and stock up on snacks for our trip as the next few days were going to be desolate without much chance to fuel up.  One of our main objectives was to get to Atlantic City and hopefully the tire Elizabeth had shipped would get there so we would have the insurance for Day 4 through the longest stretch of the great basin.  With a belly full of breakfast and food for the day packed in my jersey pockets I was back in the zone and pedaling like there was no chain on my bike.

We saw lots and lots of antelope, the heat seemed to gradually sneak up on us somewhere along the way we stopped to talk with a group of cyclists loaded down with full camping gear and lots of extra water.  It turned out to be 2 single riders and a pair traveling together that just happened to catch each other right before we caught up with them.  All 4 of them were on mountain bikes and were very surprised to see how light we were traveling and how fast we were moving.

After the brief chat, we were off and really cruising along.  We planned to stop at a creek and eat lunch and filter some water for the last couple hours of our ride.  By the time we got to the creek about mile 50 for the day we were all needing that water, the creek was an oasis, and the sandwiches were amazing.  This was the highlight of the trip to this point. I still think about sitting in the shade eating that sandwich and just being so happy.

With only 35 miles to go and having just experienced the relief of the creek and eaten more good food I was back on the front and ready to get finished for the day.  Back to the no chain on the bike feelings for me.  Somewhere near the end Mark seemed to find a little bit of a low spot and was apparently not happy with my enthusiasm or pace.  He kind of snapped a little bit and it got a little heated between him and me.  Thankfully Brian diffused the situation and we all settled down.  This was the only point on the trip where things got a little sideways, but it really was just a quick flash, and it was gone. 

Right as we were coming up on the gold mine, we saw another rider on the horizon we assumed it to be Matt who we had met on night 1 in DuNoir.  We caught him just before the last descent into Atlantic City population 57.  He was also on a mountain bike.  Upon our arrival at Gold Miner’s Delight Bed and Breakfast, our host emphasized the rules of the place and showed us to our cabins.  This b&b is over a hundred years old and really only exists today for cyclists and hikers following the continental divide trail or hunters.  The owner goes by Wild Bill and his gun and the General store seemed to be the main business in town.  Almost on cue, FedEx delivered the tire from Elizabeth as we were walking over to get some dinner at a nearby bar.  The only other business in town, The Mercantile, was said to be less friendly to cyclists.  This was interesting as when we first sat down where we were told to go it didn’t seem so welcoming.  It ended up being a nice night, Matt actually bought us dinner.

Day 4

Atlantic City to Wamsutter WY, 92 miles, 3944 ft gained, ride time 5:47

Prior to the start of the trip, we had everything planned out, we knew the places to eat along the route and of course where we were staying.

Each day’s distance was basically determined by how far we had to travel between where we were sleeping.  Most of the people who do the GDMR camp carry extra food and water.  Not fully understanding the route conditions and being blissfully unaware of the great basin of Wyoming, day 4 really didn’t scream any warnings in preparation.  This was largely due to the fact we had revised day 5 to be 135 miles and that scared me.  I told everyone before I left that if I made it past day 5 it was going to be ok. Mark and Brian however were really concerned about day 4. 

Day 4 started out amazing as I had a nice little family of mule deer greet me as I stepped out of my cabin and headed to breakfast at the main house.

Breakfast was solid.  Eggs, sausage, fruit, pancakes, juice, and of course coffee.  We also had some good conversations with two ladies who were also on the route traveling from the beginning of the route in Canada with a few more days before they were planning to stop.  Most of the conversation was about the route for today and the lack of water.  There was only one opportunity for water at the 20-mile mark and it would need to be filtered even though Wild Bill said he drinks it without filtering.  Thankfully it was a cool morning and there was some cloud cover. 

My normal setup was 3 500ml bottles on the bike and a 750ml bottle in my jersey but for day 4 I had brought along an additional 2-liter reserve bladder.  Between this and knowing we could refill bottles at mile 20, I felt comfortable heading out for a nice cool ride through the great basin.  The ride began with a very steep climb from the fourth pedal stroke so by the time we got to the top it was time to lose the arm warmers.  The first hour was very nice, we saw a couple of large groups of antelope racing across the wide-open space as we were gradually losing elevation down into the basin.  The temperature was slowly climbing and by the time we reached the well, I had already finished a bottle and half of my water.  Thankful to refill.   After we left the well it was becoming clear that the great basin is just a fancy way to say dessert without cactus.  The road quality was deteriorating as the sun was beginning to really beat down on us. 

After an hour or so what was beginning to feel like no progress since the view didn’t change, I somehow got “the Horse with no name” song by America or bits and pieces of it stuck in my head.  I realized I had a new bike with no name.  (It still doesn’t have a name.) On we went, it was hot, the roads were heavy and slow and bumpy, there was nothing to look at interesting and the wind that had been at our back was becoming more of a cross wind.  More time passed it just began to feel like we were still a million miles from anywhere and the wind was picking up and making the lack of progress seem that much slower. 

Day 4 was getting to be a mind game.  Trying to get one song out of my head I started thinking about Robert Earl Keen’s song, the road goes on forever and the party never ends.  This seemed like a good alternative except for the part about the road going on forever.  Soon we could see the Interstate on the horizon and knew that was where we were going. However, it seemed now that the road was starting to zig and zag for no reason and with every turn, I just got more over it.

The first day sure had its low spots but it was still beautiful and exciting.  Day 2 had the rock garden and some nice tree-lined roads, Day 3 had the creek stop and lunch, and we were now in the absolute middle of nowhere with nothing left to eat and about out of water.  Mark had a slow leak in his rear tire that we had to stop and reinflate a couple of times but at least the GPS said we were getting close to the end of the day.

In the last couple of miles, there were a couple of short hills, and when we finally crested the last one and could see the I-80 and a Love’s truck stop just a mile or so away.  We rolled into the parking lot and headed into the store just looking for as much food and drink as we could get.  We bought $65 worth of stuff, chicken sandwiches, body armor drinks, cokes, pickles, snack cakes, and some candy to eat the next day during the ride.  It was so much random stuff the girl working the checkout made the comment that she wanted to come on our trip with us.  This is apparently a major stop along the highway, but we would come to learn also one of the only places in town to buy hot food.

Wamsutter only has 1 restaurant and 1 motel.  Once we got some calories in and cooled off, we were able to cruise over to the motel and get checked in.  Shortly after we had dinner to close out the day.  The discussion that night was about the next day, and we made the decision to stay in Clark instead of trying and make the push all the way to Steamboat which was going to add the 20 miles and make it the 135-mile day.  Thankfully we were going to be able to stay with a former client of mine, Marcus. He just so happened to live in Clark and had an RV we could stay in.  He was excited to help and was going to ride out to meet us on the back part of our trip after we crossed into Colorado.  We all went to sleep happy to only have 115 miles to go on day 5.

Day 5

Wamsutter WY to Clark CO, 119 miles, 6007 ft gained, ride time 7:45

As we rolled out of the motel that morning and headed off towards Colorado there was this weight to the day that just seemed a little heavier than the first few days.  Most of the great basin was behind us but we still had a good bit before we crossed the state line and began to get some tree cover.  The first 10 or so miles are the same as the last 10 from the day before, then we hit a short highway section before turning off onto a jeep road through the desert.  This somewhat unexpected change upped the cool factor and elevated our moods.

As we began to roll along, I found myself up the road from Mark and Brian and decided to stop and video them since the road and the vibe was fun.  Seconds after I had stopped filming and started after them, I heard them yell something about a rattlesnake and could hear the unmistakable sound of its rattle as I rolled past it without seeing it.  The jeep road was getting more and more overgrown with brush and the center berm was getting higher as the two tracks were becoming sandier.

Just as I was catching up to them Mark had to unclip in a loose section of sand, to avoid crashing into him, I just cut left not realizing he had stopped to video another rather large rattlesnake that I was now about to fall on top of.  Having a spike of adrenaline and the previous 4 days of improving my bike handling ability I just pedaled as hard as I could to stay upright and ride out of the fall luckily was not bitten by the snake and just kept on going up the hill.  As I was about to crest the hill and carry on, they were calling me back to discuss what we were going to do. 

Reluctantly I rode back towards the snake, and we decided that we should backtrack to the highway since the risk of snake bite was more than everyone was comfortable with not knowing how much longer the road would be like this.  Knowing this added time and distance to the day was somewhat of a setback but it also meant that we would get to eat a real lunch which at the time was much more of a positive.  We also were able to travel a lot faster on the pavement minus the delay for construction and extra mileage.  Lunch at Brenda’s was excellent, we even had a slice of pie just for an extra boost then headed on.  As we crossed into Colorado it was almost immediately that we noticed it had gotten greener.  We saw an eagle standing in the road that I was unsure of what it was until it took flight.

It was the largest bird I have ever seen by a nice margin.  We had to cut through a herd of cattle being moved by some ranchers who didn’t seem bothered by us.  Colorado was starting to feel almost welcoming and then in the distance, we saw a lone rider.  It was Marcus riding out to meet us.  After the pleasantries, he told us it was three hours back to his house.  He also said it was really rocky over the top of the pass.

There was a note in our pre-trip plan that said it would be rocky after the lodge where we were supposed to get pizza. Sadly, the lodge had been closed to cyclists and was now fully into hunting season and no more pizza.  Elk season was opening tomorrow.  We had traveled a few miles from there before we met up with Marcus and the rocks had not been too bad, and he was riding a gravel bike, so I was not too concerned.  After a few more miles of nice rolling terrain, we began the climb.

Like most real climbs that I have experienced you are going uphill for a while before the climb starts.  At this point, we had been going uphill for 17 or 18 miles but now these last 9 or so it was the real climb.  The steeper it got the rockier it got, and the looser and more technical sections were coming very late in the day and at high elevations, the sun was getting lower and lower in the sky.  Somewhere just after mile 100 or so, we hit a super steep and technical section and I crashed on the uphill.  This was a slow-motion crash and I fell on a bunch of sharp rocks. I had to walk the rest of the way up that section before I could remount and ride a bit more.  Marcus was also starting to cramp because he had to ride so much further than he expected to because of our reroute and lunch stop.  Mark and Brian had stopped to wait for us at the top of the pass and were cracking jokes with some elk hunters who were camping up there when we got to them.  Marcus told us then it was just a few more miles to his house as we started the descent.

I had thought the rock garden was bad on day 2, this made that look like kindergarten class.  I was so tired, I was hungry, I was cold, and it was getting dark, at one point I thought surely this must end soon but it just kept going, Marcus passed me after a few miles and that did help me some.  I trusted his line to follow but I was ready to get off the bike by the time we got to the bottom 7 miles later. “Just a few more miles,” Marcus said as we waited a couple of mins for Mark and Brian to catch up and made the turn for his house.  Sunset on Lake Steamboat was worth that stress and it was just a few more miles, then we decided to stop and eat as it was going to be too late to come back if we went all the way to his house first.  When we finally did stop, we ordered a pizza since we had missed out earlier.  By the time we got it though I was only able to eat a couple of slices.  After dinner, we still had a few more miles all uphill to his house.  It was super nice that Marcus and his family hosted us that night as I seriously doubt that we would have made it the extra 20 miles into Steamboat in the dark.

Day 6

Clark to Kremmling CO, 102 miles, 7,418 ft gained, ride time 7:17

Waking up on day 6 everything hurt.  My legs were tired and sore from the week, but my body was hurting from the crash, and I had an open wound on my hand from a blister formed on that last long descent.  Not since that low spot I was in near the end of day 1 was I feeling this defeated.  As I was getting dressed to go find some coffee Mark came to let me know Charlotte, Marcus’s wife had cooked breakfast for us, and it was ready.  Breakfast was wonderful and it was more time to catch up with Marcus and talk about how cool his house is and how much he and the family have enjoyed living in Colorado.

We did have a long ride ahead of us and so we finished up and headed out.  Probably due to the epic day 5 but also to the relatively tiny dinner, we all ate it was not long after we left that we also started talking about stopping in Steamboat for another coffee and some more food.  This was not really an issue because I had to make a stop at FedEx, Mark and Brian wanted to get a picture in front of the Moots factory and I wanted to try and say hello to Mr. Campbell a client of mine who happened to be at his house on the mountain. 

Our first stop was FedEx to get my handlebar bag that they were unable to deliver to Marcus’s house.  I find this incredibly funny since FedEx in Wyoming was able to deliver a tire to us at Wild Bill’s in the middle of nowhere, but FedEx Steamboat was going to have to make 1 turn after driving 17 miles up the road they are located on to get to Marcus’s house. 

Luckily, I was able to retrieve my bag and get in touch with Mr. Campbell.  My parents had overnighted the bag for me, so I wanted to be sure to get it and I wanted to get in touch with Mr. Campbell as he was my fallback plan if I had to abandon the trip. 

At this point, I was still not feeling up to another 100-mile day even though we were already 20 miles in.  After the Moots photo op, we went to meet Mr. Campbell at a brunch spot just off the main street in Steamboat.  I was hoping after more food and coffee I would feel better and thankfully that was the case although I still figured if I didn’t get too far out of town Mr. Campbell would still come to rescue me. 

On Day 1 of the trip, Mark made the comment that French toast gives him extra watts; at brunch, we ordered some avocado toast as an appetizer.  This was the first time I had had any avocados in a week.  I’m not saying it was the avocado that kickstarted my day or if it just was so long that I worked out of the valley but as we got further and further into the ride I started to feel better and better. 

The back half of the ride was beautiful despite a couple of encounters with some locals and hunters who would have preferred us not to be in their way.  There were a few fast and fun segments and Mark was able to get this sweet photo of me.

One thing this trip made me aware of is how quickly terrain and the environment changes in Colorado.  We wound our way through these mountains then dropped back onto the plains and into what seemed to be a much more desert environment in a snap.  As we rolled into Kremmling in the dark we met two German guys headed out on a mission to make up some time and get to Salida the next day.

Our hotel that night was cool and very old, we were also able to get some good food and a little socialization before we retired for the evening.

Day 7

Kremmling to Breckenridge Co, 68 miles, 5003 ft gained, ride time 4:35

The best I could tell Kremmling is an old cow town that hosts a lot of elk hunters this time of year, probably some fly fishermen in the summer and some white-water rafting, not much happens here but it is close to a lot of things.  We found a cool coffee and breakfast spot a block or so from the hotel and loaded up before starting our shortest day.  It said in our planner that this day was 100% paved but we knew better than that and still expected a fast day.  We needed a short day and were looking forward to it. 

Just a handful of miles out of town we hit some nice gravel roads with a little tailwind that made it fun.  We passed through a few camping areas and forest sections before the road turned to pavement and we started the first long climb of the day.

We had already passed some older bike packers that were loaded down but as we were cruising up the climb another guy saw us coming and it was clear that he accelerated trying to stay ahead of us as he rounded a bend in the road.  It wasn’t long before we caught him, and he was shocked at how light we were traveling.  He and his girlfriend had been on the Great Divide route for 3 weeks at this point.

He couldn’t match the pace I was riding, and I just kept on going but Mark and Brian continued to ride his pace and chat.  I soon caught and passed his girlfriend, when I got to the top of the climb I stopped for a picture and to wait for the guys.  They were caught up in conversation with the Aussies and talking about the German guys who had apparently camped very close to them just outside of Kremmling so we were sure that we would catch them before Breckenridge.

After one of the few nice, paved descents on the route, we had another creek-side lunch. Once we were back on the pavement, we did pick up the pace and before we knew it, we were getting close to the end of the day. 

Just about five miles outside of Breckenridge we caught the German guys and chatted with them as we cruised into town.  Again, they were surprised by our speed and light gear.  They were going to continue towards Salida but that was probably out of reach considering how quickly we caught them, and how we had allotted the entire next day to get to Salida.  We checked into our condo, got cleaned up, and headed to find some good food and ice cream.

We found a great place to eat and had a solid meal with a salad and pasta.  On the walk back to the condo we found a gelato shop that certainly elevated Brian’s mood.  He was really feeling the elevation in Breckenridge.  One other nice feature of the condo was the hot tub and just the ski town vibe.  I went to sleep feeling super full and happy.

Day 8

Breckenridge to Salida CO, 98 miles, 5,374 ft gained, ride time 6:39

Despite being woken up in the middle of the night by what we assume was a bear rummaging through the dumpster and Mark busting into the living room of the condo to see why I was making so much noise I woke up feeling good.

We rode over to the Blue Moose for breakfast. Along with the normal eggs and potatoes I did have some more avocado toast.  It was nice and cool so leg and arm warmers and a vest to start the ride. 

As we made our way out of town and to the start of the only big climb of the day, it started to be clear that Brian was having a bad day.  I was feeling good.  The climb starts paved but turns to gavel as you get further up and away from town and can no longer see the ski resort.  This was a near-perfect gravel road without a lot of the big rocks and surprisingly free of washboards.  I was beginning to reach a state of cycling nirvana as the morning sun broke through the aspen trees.  The higher I climbed the more my mood elevated it was an amazing morning and I was on a great day.  I was surprised I had cell service at the top of the climb but was able to answer a text for a motivational video that I was able to make while I waited for Mark and Brian.

Once we got started again, we were enjoying the nice gravel and the downhill section until Brian’s day went from bad to worse by getting stung in the face by a bee.  Soon we found ourselves back down the other side of the mountain and seemingly back in the middle of nowhere.  But we had a nice tailwind, pavement and we were flying towards Salida, spirits were high. 

Soon that pavement turned to gravel but not gravel like we enjoy but rather farm traffic, high speed, washboard gravel.  For the next 2 hours or so as we bounced continuously on the washboards and through the dust clouds of a handful of trucks as the temperature continued to rise.  Back in the desert and it’s hot again, the nirvana of that morning seemed forever ago.

There was still the knowledge of a lunch stop not far ahead and soon we could see the little town of Hartsel. Hartsel is just cow town at a crossroads.  I thought it was an oasis as hot, hungry, and thirsty as I was.  There were a couple of miles of highway we needed to take to get to the lunch spot and after the first 2 cars passed us politely, the next dozen or so gave us no buffer.  Mark was over it and came to the front to up the tempo I was setting to get off the road sooner.  When we pulled up to the lunch spot it looked like a nice little place with a shaded patio and there were a few tables of people that seemed to be enjoying their lunch.

We sat down and the lady I assume to be the owner or at least the manager came to take our order.  Other than just having a little bit of an annoyed by us aura all I noticed was that she was wearing some fancy but dusty cowboy boots with stars and stripes on the shaft.  I try not to speculate too much but she was either very patriotic or my guess some former rodeo champion that is now running a little café in a tiny town.  Whatever her reason she was not too interested in being very nice to us although I was very polite and ordered without much hesitation.  Mark may have set her off by asking if the chicken fingers were fresh or frozen and maybe Brian took too long to decide what to order, or it was that we didn’t order any beer. 

She quickly told us there was no ice cream.  We had walked past the ice cream on the way in.  The food was good, and I was feeling refreshed from a little shade and iced tea. Mark had gotten up to go inside to find the restroom when she came back to the table with the check.  She asked Brian and me where we were headed and when we said Salida, she asked if we were going on the gravel road.  When we responded yes, she says “I heard that they just grated that road, and it is smooth now, no more washboards!”  This was the best news that could have been delivered after what the last couple of hours had been like.  Brian and I were smiling when Mark returned cussing her and told us she told him to fill his bottle in the restroom sink.

As we left to finish out the day there were a couple of paved miles before we got to the final gravel leg of the day, Mark was still really upset with the lady, and I was still feeling good. Brian was still not feeling very well but the swelling from the bee sting was not too bad, and we were all looking forward to the freshly grated smooth road.  Unfortunately for us, the smooth freshly grated road was just a bold-faced lie.

The next 3 hours of suck were presented by the not-so-nice lady of Hartsel.  You never know what struggles someone is going through and why they may be having a bad day, so I am only going to wish for her to find some peace.

As it was, I got to do a lot of soul-searching and mental toughness training that afternoon.  At some point, Mark told me to send any of my clients that struggled with adversity to come to ride this road and we had a little laugh.

I was riding strong and was trying to keep the pace as high as possible just because of how much I wanted this day to end but we needed to get Brian home without making his day any worse, so we backed off and let him set the tempo on the last climb and the descent into Salida.  This was a fun little section even if we did have a little scare as Brian almost overlooked one corner that would have sent him off the cliff.  Once we made it into town, we headed over to the bike shop where Brian ordered his bike just before the start of our trip.

It was a very cool shop, and we were able to resupply our bike nutrition.  After we got cleaned up and had rested a little bit we walked over to a nice Italian restaurant and loaded up on calories.  After dinner, we finally decided to swap out Brian’s tire with the extra one that Elizabeth had sent to us.

Day 9

Salida to Aspen CO, 91 miles, 7831 ft gained, ride time 7:31

Waking up and seeing 2 deer chowing down on the baseball diamond across the street from our motel was a treat.  We had a big day ahead and we were up early to get moving.

Two things to note about the route for the day were that there were 2 high mountain passes and there was a forecast for storms in the afternoon.

Being up high in the mountains during a storm is not something to be careless with and we spent a little bit of breakfast time deciding what we should do.  Risk the weather or just ride to Crested Butte and stay there for 2 nights.

We initially decided to not risk the weather and skip Aspen.  Since we had burned some of our time discussing this and calling both our hotel in Aspen and Crested Butte, we left Salida without coffee or breakfast to make up some time and both Brian and Mark wanted to get coffee and eat in Buena Vista which was about 20ish miles away.  I’m not sure if I just went too hard the day before or if I just really needed coffee and breakfast but almost as soon as we had gotten out of the city, I was feeling like I was pedaling through the mud even though we were on pavement. Mark pulled a strong 12 miles before I took over.

 This was the worst headwind day of the trip so far and I was working harder than I wanted to match his pace.  As we pulled into Buena Vista Brian came to the front to lead us to the coffee shop which I was glad to stop at.  We each got a coffee and some breakfast, but I think it was a little too late for me.  We also decided at the coffee shop that if the Hotel in Aspen was going to charge us anyway, we would try and beat the weather and stay in Aspen.  After some drama between Mark and the hotel manager when he called to let them know we were going to reclaim our reservation, we were quickly back on the road and headed up Cottonwood Pass.  This climb is nice despite its length and altitude.  It has been featured in the US Pro Challenge and was the first big pass of the day.

Coming from Louisiana I never really understand where the official start to a climb is but as soon as we were really on the lower slopes of the climb, just a few miles from town and the coffee shop it was clear that I was not having a good day and Mark and Brian began to pull away from me.  My mind was beginning to have a field day of negativity, but I just kept pedaling and trying to stay focused on making progress.  Once the gap was around a corner and the guys were out of sight, I had a real low moment where I coasted for a moment and told myself to eat more and ride steady.  As I rounded the corner, I saw that Mark had stopped to wait for me.  This was both welcomed and simultaneously stressful.

The plan was always to beat the storm and I was failing to make the pace and we were just really beginning the tougher parts of the route.  I was happy to have the encouragement, but he again started to stretch the elastic enough that I had to tell him to slow down.  He asked me if I was drinking and eating then told me to give him one of my bottles.  This may sound silly but at this point, we still had 8 miles to go on the climb and giving up a 20-ounce bottle of water may not be mathematically significant to our power-to-weight ratios but psychologically it made enough of a difference that I was able to hold his wheel and keep eating, first was an emergency beta fuel gel, then handfuls of Mike and Ike’s.  As we worked through the switchbacks we caught back up to Brian and Mark continued to pace us through the last couple miles of the climb before jumping ahead to snap some pictures of the two of us reaching the top.  After a couple more photos, we all ate some more, put our jackets on for the descent, looked at the approaching storm clouds, and bombed down the backside of the pass.  As we reached the reservoir at Taylor Park, we turned onto a road that I can only describe as a kitty litter texture of extra fine grit that would be just beyond sand but not rocks yet somehow still bumpy and loose simultaneously.

This was the most power-absorbing go nowhere demoralizing road yet.  Suddenly the road from Hartsel to Salida wasn’t even that bad.  I took my second emergency beta fuel gel; this one had 200mg of a caffeine boost.  Not long after this and having been the slow guy for most of the day I soon found myself beginning to feel great.  Clearly, enough sugar and caffeine make a difference on a ride like this but beyond the obvious physiological aspects of this, there is another level of psychological effect.  This would now be the second day of the trip where I went from being demoralized at the start of the day to feeling good later in the day.  Day 6 was still fresh in my mind and my momentum was shifting to a much more positive headspace.  As we started gaining elevation and beginning the lower stages of the last climb the kitty litter surface changed back to dirt and rocky familiarity until we got to the actual start of the climb. At this point, it became clear our decision to go this route to Aspen while trying to beat the storm was a fool’s errand.  Taylor Pass Road is a 4×4 route.  You would probably need to have some nice rock crawling experience to drive the most capable trucks or jeeps up there in any timely manner, so this became a serious hike in a bike section. I can’t exactly remember how long the climb is, but it was at least 5 miles.  Because I had auto-pause enabled on my watch it kept pausing during the walking sections and I only recorded 1.9 miles of the climb which were the intermittent sections of riding or about 24 of the 135 minutes it took to reach the top.

As we neared the top of the climb an hour and a half after passing 2 hikers coming down to get out of the danger zone of the storm a group of 6 guys riding enduro motorbikes came up behind us and we had to give them room to pass.  It was clear in their eyes as they passed with their full-face helmets that they were in total disbelief and confused as to why and how we were there in their way.  Moments later as they came back down one of them stopped to warn us of the weather as if we could just hit the gas like they could and get out of harm’s way.  As we finished the last half mile of hiking the rain began to fall and the wind started howling.  We knew we had to get down as fast as possible even though we were at 12,000 ft the tree line was not too far below us and thankfully the road appeared to be more ridable on this side.  Mark was first on the descent and I was quick to try and follow his line.

Honestly, I just wanted down out of the storm as fast as possible but quickly realized that this was not going to be an easy cruise into Aspen 16 miles down the mountain.  Not long after we started the descent I began to question if I had the mental power to concentrate enough to survive this unscathed.

Brian passed me as I slowed for a section of big rocks, I didn’t trust myself enough to follow Mark’s line through.

It worked better for me to follow Brian for the next couple of miles.  Once we were back in the trees, leaves were blowing everywhere.

There was one small tree down across the entire road and 4 water crossings.  The technical rocky section was just 4.6 miles that took 28 mins for me to descend. I had 2 minor crashes and about 3 more stops to navigate through stuff I wouldn’t ride but I caught back up to Brian and Mark just before the road turned to pavement.  Mark must have also had a minor crash as Brian later told us that he was waiting for both of us.  It was raining hard as we passed the hospital near the bottom of the descent coming into town and I asked if they wanted to stop and have our heads examined.

Everyone laughed and gave a big sigh of relief.  The construction traffic we road through on the way to the hotel was of no concern given what had just transpired.  Between the adrenalin and the caffeine, I was floating when we rolled into the hotel parking lot.  It didn’t even really occur to me how cold and wet I was until someone else mentioned it.

As Mark was getting us checked in, Brian and I went on a grocery run to get as much quick food and drink as we could carry back by bike.  Sixty or so dollars later we had body armor, chocolate milk, coke, chips, and cookies stuffed in every pocket and musette bag we had.  After we had all showered and eaten all the post-ride binge food we went and had a proper dinner at a nice steak house.  I had a bison ribeye that was off-the-chart delicious.  At one point during our meal, I mentioned how happy I was.  It wasn’t the meal making me happy so much as the lessons from the day and the ability to share the experience of it all.

Day 10

Aspen to Crested Butte CO, Transfer Day.  34 miles, 1644 ft gained, bike time 2:04 probably about 3 or 4 hours in the van.

On paper Day 10 was supposed to be one of our best most scenic days of the trip.  Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans.  The forecast for the afternoon was for more thunderstorms.  It was a little cold and misty when we woke up and after our adventure over Taylor pass and all the discussion the previous night at dinner, we decided not to take any further risk with the lightning in the high mountains. 

We were also concerned about mud and not sure of the potential hike of a bike.  All of this and some fatigue led us to decide on a transfer day.  After exhausting many options on how to get to Crested Butte, we chose the most cost-effective way, and rented a van at the Aspen airport to drive to the Gunnison airport and then ride into Crested Butte from there.  It was a very short ride to the airport in Aspen where we were able to load the bikes in the van and get on the road.  Although it was disappointing to be driving an easy day seemed to be what we all needed. 

We had had a nice breakfast but were still hungry when we got to Buena Vista, so we stopped back at the coffee shop and then went next door for lunch.  At this point, it was mostly sunny, but you could see all the storms in the mountains. We did drive through some light rain.  As we left town towards Gunnison there were more light showers, but the higher elevations were getting more intense weather.

When we arrived at the Gunnison airport, we quickly got dressed in our bike kits and bikes and prepared to ride 28 miles or so into Crested Butte.  About 3 mins after we started rolling out it started raining on us.  There were a few miles from the airport through town and getting on the road to Crested Butte where the rain and the traffic made it a little sketchy but there was a nice wide shoulder to ride on.  I would say that we were only in the rain for about 20 minutes or so before it stopped but there was still a decent amount of wind.

Mark was feeling good, it may have been his triple espresso or that he was just on a good day but as we started up a nice roller his pace began to push me harder than I was willing to go on an easy day and I dropped off and watched he and Brian cruise away.

I figured an easy 12 miles solo would serve me well and just rolled into town.  I needed the easy miles.  The length of the trip was clearly starting to weigh on me.  Physically I was tired but mentally I was beginning to wear down.

There was a lot of talk about dinner in Crested Butte for the entire trip.  Mark and Brian had both spent a decent amount of time here and the “best restaurant ever” was here and we had a reservation.  I was not that excited about it.  I was tired and not sure I was up for it or that it would live up to the hype.  To be fair, it was a really good meal, I am glad I had the experience, but my time in Crested Butte was not what I had hoped for.

Day 11

Crested Butte to Lake City CO.  115 miles, 7425 ft gained, ride time 7:57.

My night of rest in Crested Butte was poor at best.  We had eaten a huge meal; I had a couple of drinks, and we had some loud people outside of our hotel most of the night.

We woke up knowing we had another huge day ahead of us and it was 40 degrees and raining. Compound this with the level of homesickness, overall fatigue, and lackluster coffee and breakfast I was in a dark and dreary mindset.  I remember talking to Jessica that morning and just wanting to be home. 

The reality was I was in a beautiful place, one that I was really excited to see before this trip began and I was just not wanting to be here.  The mind is super powerful, and I was well aware of where I was mentally and where I needed to be to tackle the day.  As soon as I hung up the phone, I snapped the above photo and walked back inside to talk to the guys and have another coffee. 

We were all in agreement that we should at least let it warm up a bit more and hopefully dry up some before we took off but being very aware of how much daylight we had and the distance to go. 

After waiting about as long as we could the weather cooperated some sunshine broke through the clouds, and it did warm up into the upper 40s and we started.  We hadn’t gotten very far and stopped to take off the jackets as climbing out of town on some soggy gravel works up a sweat.  As we were there on the side of the road a momma deer and two fawns walked out of the forest and crossed the road directly in front of us.  That was enough cool factor to start adjusting the dial more positively in my headspace.  Up the climb and down, more up and down It was clear that Mark was on a good Day.  He was for sure in his happy place and had good legs.  I was doing my best to hang on, but I was still on the back foot.

Thankfully we reached a very photogenic spot that Mark wanted to get a photo of before we made the long descent off the mountain into the valley below.  A good descent always makes the work worth it, and this was no exception.

As we were flying down the mountain, I was sitting in 3rd wheel locked onto Brian as Mark just ripped it back into Gunnison as it started to pour down rain on us.

Thankfully there was not any high elevation left for a few hours and since we were rolling through town, the three of us agreed that it was a good time to stop and eat and warm up.  The pizza and coffee were much better than breakfast and the sun had come back out. 

Mark was still in full-on rampage mode as we headed out of Gunnison down the highway and into the canyon.  At this point, I thought Brian was feeling about the same as me, but he can suffer more than anyone and you could hardly tell.  Mark finally pulled off the front and Brian took a nice long pull, then I took a turn.  It was much more difficult on the front than I could handle so I pulled off after doing what I could.  My pace was not to Mark’s standard for the day as he ramped it back up and put me back into the hurt box.

 As we broke out of the canyon and hit a small hill I cracked and had to slow down and recover eat some candy and refocus my effort on still having a lot of miles left to go.  As we approached a turn and creek crossing, I caught back up to them as they were stopping to filter some water.  Since I didn’t need any water and they didn’t want to leave me too far behind they encouraged me to keep going that they would catch me.

It was at this moment two things happened.  First, it took the pressure off me to chase, and I could ride my on my own tempo and second, it gave me space to focus on both my inner self and the outside world on my terms, even if it was just until they caught me.  The creek crossing was at mile 42 and it was uphill for the next 42 miles even though it does take a few minutes to filter water I expected the guys to catch me well before the top of that climb.

As it turned out over the next couple of hours, I only saw 2 guys coming in the opposite direction on enduro-motorcycles.

I have told a few people that would be the only way to enjoy some of the roads on this route.  

As the time ticked by and I was alone with the day I reached a state of bliss that seemed to carry me along.  It was just me and nature doing battle, I had seemingly won the war I was having with myself.  Mile by mile I was just in the zone cruising along.  I don’t think I upped my pace, but I wasn’t ever looking at any data other than the map on my watch to make sure I stayed on course. 

At one point on the climb where it turned, I could see a good distance of road behind me, and I didn’t see the guys. I momentarily thought about stopping to wait for them but seeing as I was having somewhat of a spiritual experience, I kept going knowing that they would stay together and that they would still eventually catch me.  There was a 6-mile descent at the top of this climb and then another 15-mile climb before the last 10-mile descent into Lake City. 

I was happy to reach the top of the first climb and start the descent and get some recovery and a little adrenalin, it was getting late in the afternoon and the thought of darkness catching us was starting to become very real as the shadow of the mountain I still had to climb was getting long. As far as the gravel descents of this trip go, this one was not stressful, it was fun. 

As I was cruising down, I saw that I was about to pass through a ranch of some sort and there were some horses and cows in some fenced pastures and a man standing next to a truck just off the road.  There was another man and woman in an ATV-buggy coming up the road to meet him with about 5 or 6 dogs following them.  Clearly, this was the rancher and someone who was waiting to talk with him as I passed the guy in the truck, he gave a half-hearted wave but had a real WTF expression on his face about the same time as the first dog approached me at the left side. 

Dogs never bother me, my dad is a retired veterinarian, and I spent most of my youth hanging out in his clinics working. It was about a second or two later when another dog bit me on my right leg just as the rancher yelled at him. I never stopped pedaling and didn’t think much of it. I was sure it bit me, even though it didn’t hurt, I thought it was just a nip. I just waved at the people and kept on down the last bit of descent before really getting into the shadows and starting the last 15 hard miles of the day. 

As I wound my way away from the ranch, I started seeing some remote campsites and a few more elk hunters.  At one site I saw a sign that read “NO Horses within campsite” and there was not only a horse standing next to the sign, but the horse was accompanied by a goat.  This was later confirmed by both Mark and Brian who also saw the goat following the horse.  Seeing the horse and goat was enough of an event to keep me chugging along on the lower slopes of this last big climb. 

As the climb continued and the shadows lengthened my state of bliss began to wane. I was probably about seven hours into the ride or more when I saw another random truck stopped on the side of the road.  At this point, the road was steep, and I was just grinding up and it was taking me a while to get to the truck. In the minutes that it took to get there, I just kept thinking of all kinds of scenarios as to why this truck was stopped there.  As I finally got close enough to see that a few people were sitting in the truck I looked to my right to see the nice bull moose they were watching.

I never even hesitated as I was now in full-blown “get-to-the-top” focus.  It was dark and cold in the shadows, but I could see some bright sunlight illuminating the road ahead and knew that had to be close to the top of the sun was still hitting it.  Just what I needed to press on.  As I reached the top and the last bit of sunlight for the day, I saw a stop sign and noticed that the descent into town was paved.  I stopped just long enough to put my rain jacket on as I was now cold. I should have taken a picture of the view, but it would honestly not do it any justice and I just wanted to get warm.

I took off for the final miles with the sun setting on one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Those last 10 miles went by quickly as my euphoria had returned, all the suffering was gone.  As I rolled into town, I quickly realized that not much was open as it was almost 8 pm but I found a vending machine and got a coke.

Shortly after I was joined by Mark and Brian, and we located our cabin and got checked in.  They couldn’t believe they never caught me or that I was bitten by a dog they never saw.  Once we were inside the cabin and I was able to pull my leg warmer off I had 4 perfect teeth punctures in my leg and had been bleeding a little bit under the leg warmer for the last hour or so.  A little bit more than a nip I guess but nothing too significant other than a couple of scars to talk about. 

We were able to find a nice place and get some hot food just in time before the town was completely shut down for the night.  The difference in the overall mindset of the day and the quality of the sleep I had that night along with the knowledge that we were almost finished had me close to 100% by morning.

Day 12

Lake City to Silverton CO.  36 miles, 4239ft gained, ride time 4:02

Not all miles are created equally.  You can’t tell how strong the wind was in the picture above but the reason my bike is leaning so much is that it blew over on the first attempt. 

In another strange twist of fate, there was still another quarter of a mile and 116 more ft to gain until the top of the climb from the sign.  It was at that point that a woman in an ATV buggy told me that there was something very wrong with me for being up there on a bicycle.

But let’s start from the beginning of day 12.  We woke up to a beautiful sunrise with some deer outside of the cabin. Walked over to a café and had an amazing breakfast and stopped at a store to grab some snacks for the day before we would ride to Ouray about 60 miles.  In our minds, we had a short easy day compared to day 11.

Everyone was in a good mood.  We had considered 2 routes for the day but seeing as both Mark and Brian are engineers, it was not much of a stretch to choose Engineer pass over Cinnamon pass even though the clerk at the store suggested we take Cinnamon.  It was about half a mile from the cabin before we began gaining elevation and so it would be for the next 19 miles. 

The lower slopes were nice roads, a little rocky in spots but good by standard of what we had ridden at this point.  Around mile 10 of the day that changed with the gradient.  At this point, a lot of the road was just a very rocky single-lane ATV route.  ATV and 4x4ing is a big summer-time activity in this area and there were still plenty of people driving around.  Another major factor for the day was the altitude.  Today was going to be the highest elevation that we reached during the entire trip so not only was it steep, windy, and rocky, but it was high.

This made for a brutal finish to the climb the last hour was very slow but what goes up gets to go down so I was getting excited about the descent until I realized just how bumpy and slow that would be. The steepest nine miles were so rough you had to stand the entire time just to absorb the shock, my hands were cramping from braking so much and it was so technical you were shot mentally by the time the slope let up and we were back on actual gravel roads from the Jeep trail.  Over the next 10 miles, everyone seemed to almost crack as the bumps and fatigue started to sink in, but my legs were still good, and I was setting a decent tempo as we hit some pavement outside of Silverton and we decided some lunch may get us back going. 

We sat down at a table in a nice old-time saloon-looking pizza place ordered a beer and talked about what had just transpired.  Mark got up to go to the restroom and when he returned, he told us that Elizabeth was going to pick us up here that he was finished riding.  To be honest I was completely ok with it as I was enjoying the pizza and beer and there was an ice cream shop a few doors down.  Brian had to do some quick calculations to make sure we had broken the 1000-mile mark etc. but was also good with getting ice cream and calling it.

It was another surprise twist to the trip that just seemed to work out.  It went from total suffering to almost instant bliss.  Hot to cold, dry to wet, up to down, not much to eat to a 6-star feast, these two-weeks covered almost every emotion and checked about all the boxes.

I began writing this mostly for myself as a reflection and because so many people were asking me about the trip.  I never wanted this to be a “look at what I did” kind of story as it is “a listen to how I felt” message.  I fully left this adventure with an OVERWHELMING sense of gratitude for my life that I felt like I needed to get away from.  I am blessed with some physical and mental abilities, but I surround myself daily with a strong network of people that strive to improve and teach each other things.  I believe we need to challenge ourselves each day to be the best version of ourselves.  That task never stops, being the best version of yourself may test you.  It may hurt, but there is no such thing as a life without adversity or pain and suffering.  To deny yourself a challenge is to deny yourself of your potential for greatness.

This trip was a physical and mental journey through the darkest places in my mind and a constant reminder of the ups and downs and the daily grind we all live through.  I was also clear that during it all, life is beautiful. Even on the days when I woke up thinking I was done there was more in the tank.

Life can go from euphoria to awful and back within hours.  Proper sleep and good food go a long way in how your day starts and ends.

Having a couple of good pals to push you when you’re not having a good day or to help along when you can is important and truly what life is about.  We are all only here for a limited amount of time and we should make the most of it by pushing ourselves and each other to grow and improve.  I am not sure how many of you read this if any, but I hope this perspective on my adventure encourages you to expand your boundaries and be better each day.


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