June 9th was perfect – raining, soggy, muddy and swarming with the energy of those unbalanced enough to toe the line of the Tour Divide, a roughly 2750 mile race with nearly 200,000 feet of vertical climbing, off road for 90% of the route and self-supported race that starts off in Banff, B.A. Canada and ends in Antelope Wells at the border to Mexico. My kind of people. I rolled out of bed and stretched tall onto the balls of my feet. I was about to spend an indeterminable amount of time in a seated position so I took advantage of the moment and shot my arms straight above me, splaying my fingers out and giving my back a solid stretch.
“You awake?” I asked my husband. He could sleep through a demolition of the YWCA where we were staying, if left un-caffeinated.
We got married last year but saved our honeymoon celebration for Banff, Canada – a breathtaking backdrop with turquoise streams, snowcapped mountains and views in every direction. We love it there. The Tour Divide is also a wonderful parallel of marriage – love, ingenuity, respect, problem resolution, celebration, passion, happiness and unwavering commitment through thick and thin. We couldn’t be more excited.
I barefooted my way across the small room on the cold linoleum floor towards the bathroom door, which was mostly blocked by my Salsa Woodsmoke. My bike was armed and ready for battle.
At 7am we rode in the rain to McDonalds where I ordered 3 egg McMuffins, one for now and two for my feedbags. The place was packed with riders spilling out of every booth. My stomach turned with nervous excitement as I ate and watched the rain outside finally come to a stop. Time to head to the start line.
The Grand Depart was a lot of fun. I missed it last year as I had elected to race ITT and started a few days after the pack. (You can find my 2016 recap under my profile.) We posed for the iconic group photo after Larry gave his input, and then I had the honor of leading a moment of silence to honor record holder and fallen rider Mike Hall. Nearly every rider wore the wristbands I made that displayed Mike’s name, his top five finishes and a quote from him saying, “Nothing that’s worth anything is ever easy.” Even though bikepackers tend to be introverts, we have a special kind of unspoken solidarity, especially in turbulent times. I had requested and received Mike’s Mum’s approval to ride this year in his honor and I was humbled to do so.
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) is like no other route I’ve ever seen. Gloriously steep climbs, rocky descents, the gamete of weather and riding surfaces, along with wildlife sightings, all of which provide for an unsurpassed stage. Those are the things that keep me coming back. I think I would be disappointed if I did not come away with at least one distant bear and moose sighting. This time I was able to skip the rattlesnakes and mountain lion, unlike last year.
Two words and a hyphen: Fernie Re-route. After spending the first night camping on a bed of mud soaked grass next to a raging river, I put my Rohloff to the ultimate test – miles and miles of deep mud. I had an absolute blast rolling through it. I would have liked to stop and take a couple photos but putting a foot down would mean mud so deep it would crest the top of my Shimano mountain bike shoes and fill them to the brim, so onward I pressed, having a blast as I quickly perfected riding the thinnest of lines that left no room for error.
Eventually, I hit the treacherous rocky hike-a-bike section I had heard the re-route spit out. In talking with several other riders, you either loved it or hated it. I was in love. For a five hour stretch, I was heavily engaged in hoist-a-bike as the re-route took us up a mountain that consisted of rocks, impressive water crossings, snow, mud and more rocks. Even while pushing my bike for miles, I was still smiling despite my already exhausted body and labored breathing.
Like last year, I had to use very short crank arms due to severe pain in both knees. After several months of physical therapy and injections there was just no getting away from the osteoarthritis and meniscus tears. My current Hope crank arms are 141mm long so I was going essentially the same pace as ’16. In an effort to try to make up some time, I made the decision to ride longer, even putting in two twenty-two hour days. I cut my stops shorter by being more efficient and sleeping less. It was the best tactic I could implement, given the circumstances, and I am glad I did it.
The first seven hundred miles of the Tour Divide is my favorite portion – the scenery, the mountains, all of it exceptionally stunning. This year there were several snow avalanches that had occurred so we had to maneuver over the snow, trees and rock debris. It was quite spectacular to be so up close to that mood of nature. Even though this was my second time racing this beautiful beast, it dished out new experiences and new challenges. I couldn’t be happier. Until I had to scratch.
Sometimes our bodies take a different direction than we want to go and this was definitely one such occasion. I’ve never had pain in my hand and wrist before but somewhere between the five hours of hoist-a-bike on day two and the US border, the pain shooting out of my right hand and wrist was so severe that I caught myself fantasizing about surgically removing them. It was bad. I made it to Butte, Montana where I waited a few days in desperate hope for a miracle but eventually found myself sitting in a patient room in Anaconda talking with a hand specialist, desperate for help. Numbing them up wouldn’t take affect for a few more days and the numbing would only last for a day or two. Surgery was needed to relieve severe carpal tunnel, along with rest for a possible fracture.
Back in Butte I made the heart wrenching decision to scratch. My husband had already scratched due to edema in both of his feet and ankles. We were quite the pair, laying in bed covered in plastic sacks full of ice from the gas station. Married life was well under way!
We rented a car and loaded it with all of our gear, soaking in the scenery as we made our way back to Minnesota, sharing excitedly every detail of our experiences and cheering each other up with plans for racing again next year. Was it worth it, having invested so much time and energy into the race, only to end up having to scratch after ~780 or so miles? Absolutely.
I am currently recovering from CTR surgery and preparing for double knee surgery. My goal is to race next year on 170mm crank arms. I couldn’t be more excited!
Many thanks to Twin Six for their unwavering support!
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