Home via Uvalde, Texas and Santa Fe, Texas

I took the picture above early in the morning of July 3rd, 2022 while biking across Texas to get back to my home in Alabama. As you can see, some of the flowers are starting to wilt. It had rained the night before and was about to start raining again. I could not speak without sobbing so I said nothing. Then I biked on … and a few hundred miles and a couple days later made it to Santa Fe, Texas where I took the picture at the end of this post late in the morning on July 5th, 2022.

You should recognize both those city names. Both cities had mass school shootings — Robb Elementary School, Uvalde in 2022 and Santa Fe High School, Santa Fe in 2018.

While planning to race the Tour Divide this year, I was trying to figure out how I could get home from the finish in New Mexico. Why not just ride home … across Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi … in July? This was the tentative plan I had in place by the time the spring semester wrapped up at Samford University. Fast forward a couple weeks and on May 24th, 2022, an 18 year old kid decided to use an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle to kill 19 students and 2 teachers at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

So I pretty much decided right then and there that I would alter my route to swing through Uvalde on the way home after the race and dedicate my ride to the victims, the families of the victims, and the entire town of Uvalde.

Santa Fe, Texas? Well, on my second day riding home leaving New Mexico, I was listening to music and somehow an Eminem song “Darkness” started playing. This song came out in January 2020 and is based on the Las Vegas mass shooting. After the shooter kills himself, the song breaks into an epilogue of sorts that has a series of overlapping news stories recounting mass shootings across the country one right after each other and on top of each other. The first shooting recounted was the Santa Fe, Texas school shooting.

I, like the vast majority of Americans not directly impacted by the shooting, had forgotten about the Santa Fe High School shooting. What caught my ear was the news reporter saying “Santa Fe, Texas just outside Houston”. Well, Houston was already on my route home, so I knew right then and there even before making it to Uvalde that I would alter my route again to make sure I rode through Santa Fe, Texas as well.

Why?

What difference does it make?

I still don’t have answers to either of those questions, but I knew it was something that I had to do. So I did.

So now what? I’m not sure, but we can’t just stick our heads in the sand and wait until we forget about Uvalde, too. Because that is one thing that this ride has done for me. I will never forget Uvalde or Santa Fe. But the vast majority of people will forget about Uvalde because there will be more mass shootings that make us forget about the previous mass shootings. Even the people of Uvalde will heal and move on with their lives, but of course they aren’t going to forget. They are going to have a horrible ache in their hearts for the rest of their lives that hopefully heals to whatever degree it can.

And one thing that could help that healing is to see real progress in addressing the problem of gun violence in the USA, to know that their wife or child didn’t die for nothing, that their child was an important piece in the puzzle that ultimately gets solved with common sense gun control laws as well as other measures that might help save other kids lives. Because that’s we all want, right? Or just like we do with cars and driving, is an acceptable number of deaths OK to preserve your right to get to wherever you want to get faster and faster? Nah, let’s not set reasonable speed limits. Let’s just make cars quieter and safer so you can drive even faster and more and more people can die. Let’s not restrict access to certain guns, let’s just add more safety officers and make sure our kids’ classroom doors and windows are bullet proof. Why can’t we do both? Or maybe we should work harder on the former so that the latter isn’t as necessary.

The impact of seeing the memorials in person was too great. Some of the flowers were starting to wilt, which for me timestamped the horrific murders as having been a few weeks earlier. To see the signs in Uvalde that says “Santa Fe stands with Uvalde” and a matching sign in Santa Fe next to The Unfillable Chair was too powerful. I will remember, and I will vote for candidates in all positions of power who will stand against gun violence and make it a point in their campaigns to stand against gun violence. What will you do?

The Unfillable Chair, Santa Fe High School, Santa Fe, Texas. July 5th, 2022.

Tour Divide 2022 – Day 18 – June 28th, 2022 – Finishing the Tour Divide on our 19th wedding anniversary

On June 28th, 2003, in a beautiful small town with no traffic lights in rural Northwest Wisconsin, my beautiful wife said “I do”. The featured pic above is an hour or so later taken by a dear friend who snapped it after we finished the drive even farther into the woods to a cross country ski resort that had facilities for a nice reception, including a bear skin on one wall and head of elk above us at the head table. Thus began a lifetime of adventure with Kristine.

Since that time, June has been the month of everything for us: our one year anniversary spent in the hospital having our daughter, our son born two years later at the beginning of the month, me ending up in the hospital after passing out in a parking lot on our anniversary, at least one or two more hospital trips for kids or us (we always joke about whether or not our anniversary will be in the hospital), two Race Across America finishes. And now added to the list of significant events in June and even more specifically on our anniversary: finishing the Tour Divide 2022 Southbound Grand Depart in 11th place on our 19 year anniversary.

Surreal

Matthew Lee, pioneer of the Tour Divide route, texted with me about a re-route due to some flash flooding outside Silver City. In his last text, he noted that I should really enjoy the last day, specifically the Separ Desert, and how surreal it would be. He was right.

Even early in the day, it was surreal. It started out wet and raining as I left Silver City on a large highway. I ended up stopping at the first gas station outside of town just to get something hot to eat since I had already resupplied for the day the night before. Shortly before the turn off the pavement onto the long dirt road through the desert, it stopped raining. The dirt road, however, was still wet … but thankfully not peanut butter mud. Instead, it was a wet sandy like texture that was hard to ride through, but since everything was generally downhill that still was a decent speed compared to all the riding from the previous days.

The sun came out a bit and the views looking down into the desert were surreal. It was surreal because 1) I had just ridden from so much cold and snow just a week earlier and 2) It isn’t like anything you see in Alabama. See pic above.

This continued for many miles such that I was starting to reflect on the whole race and made two videos (below). These are extremely long so I have uploaded them to youtube.

Reflection video 1: all the different types of navigation
Reflection video 2: all the different animals plus making my way through some surprise PB mud

Almost Flats

As documented in the second video above, I had a surprise encounter with peanut butter mud on this final day. The first encounter was documented above, but I would have another encounter at a flooded riverbed leading me to walk downstream far enough so that I could get water off my shoes and bikes and then carefully step from bush-to-bush avoiding the dirt back onto the course.

Walked downstream until the water got deep enough for me to clean everything off.

This return trip back to the course led to the first of what would eventually be FOUR thorns that I pulled out of my front tire. Each one gushed a little bit of sealant but then after plugging it with my finger and spinning the wheel and riding a short bit, each time it would seal up. Thankful that the tire was sealed, I continued on and encountered the last two “animals” of the trip.

The first was a nice big tarantula crossing the road. I stopped and took a pic and then decided to Facetime Kristine to show it to her, and Josiah was there too so she put him on the call to see the tarantula up close. I saw many other tarantulas after the first one but only stopped for the first two for pics. Afterwards, I just tried not to run them over. The second animal was a javelina (similar to a wild boar, but classified differently as native animal) that I first mistook for a dog until I got close enough. I unfortunately did not get a picture as it took off snorting away from the road through all the bushes as soon as I got close.

And not too long after the Javelina, I could see I-10 way ahead in the distance and was ready to cross the last interstate of the route … having crossed them all that make it all the way across the country … I-90, I-80, I-70, I-40, and now finally I-10. I also knew that there was a gas station at the interstate, but I didn’t realize it was actually a large “trading post” almost like a department store with all kinds of clothes and toys plus the normal convenience store fare.

I called Jeff Sharp on the way in to arrange for him to pick me up at the finish and stay at his hostel “The Bike Ranch” after I finished. He wanted to meet when I resupplied at the Hatchita store before the final push down to the border. And that’s what we did! It was great meeting Jeff and saying hi to a few other people who were all at the store, a significant fraction of the town population of 49.

Would not want to have to cross all this on foot.

Away I went knowing that Jeff would catch up to me at some point closer to the finish. On the way down there I reflected a lot about the people trying to cross through the border here (see pic above). It is inhospitable even to try to ride across on a bike, let alone the much slower pace of walking. Here’s two last videos … one of me reflecting on the area 30 miles from the finish and then the live video I got rolling up to the finish.

Propping my bike up at the finish. No way I was going to pick that bike up. Bikes are meant to be ridden, not carried unless absolutely necessary. Hoping to time this better for next time so that I can ride across the border here and then possibly ride through Mexico to El Paso or maybe farther south towards Del Rio.

And with this post, my detailed write-up of my 2022 Tour Divide adventure is done, but there’s more! After finishing the race, I started to ride 1800 miles home to Alabama. I only made it 1300 miles and ended up taking a train home the final 500 miles, but I did successfully cross the entire state of Texas from west to east in one week and then made it another two days (300 miles) across the Mississippi River in Louisiana to Baton Rouge where I decided to call on a friend to give me a ride to New Orleans where I could pick up the train the next day and make it back home before my kids left for summer camps.

Along the way, I visited the site of the Uvalde mass school shooting from just a few weeks before the Tour Divide started as well as the site of the Santa Fe mass school shooting from 2018. I will leave with a side-by-side of the memorials.

Maps and Data

Strava data: https://www.strava.com/activities/7384913379
Topocreator map: click map to zoom and see detail.
Elevation profile … that one climb there was all on pavement. The most of that lonnnng downhill was sandy dirt and then a few sections of peanut butter mud as documented in the videos.

Pickuta photo album

See even more pics from the entire race along with the exact time/location where each was taken on the tracking website I created called pickuta.com. If you are on a phone or small screen web browser, click the “hamburger” triple bar icon in the upper left to slide out the photos and turn on/off the tracking markers: https://pickuta.com/album/258

pickuta album with hundreds of pics from the race with exact time/date location. https://pickuta.com/album/258