Tag Archives: bikepacking

TNGA 2021 – plus year-to-year comparison

This was my fourth year completing the TNGA. The first two years were part of the grand depart, and the second two years were as ITTs either earlier in the summer (2020) or a few days after the grand depart (2021). I’ve made a few tables below to compare the TNGAs and will build upon this data for future TNGAs. I included this data first because it is very interesting to me, but if you want to read my write-up all about the race, click this link to jump past all the data to the race write-up!

2018Trek Fuel Dual Suspension2d,8hr,36min6hr,52min7.3mphYes2nd
2019Trek Fuel Dual Suspension2d,5hr,5min7hr,33min7.9mphNo2nd
2020Salsa Cutthroat (Front Suspension)2d,5hr,53min8hr,29min8.3mphYes3rd
2021Salsa Cutthroat (Front Suspension)2d,18hr,44min19hr,8min7.8mphYes5th
TNGA year-by-year overall stats
Wildcat to Addis Gap, 8.45mi, 1402ft, dirt climb along wildcat creek
Hickory Nut downhill AT to campground, 7.24mi, -2116ft, rocky 4WD descent, followed by singletrack tree and rock strewn fast descent
Hogpen Gap from 75, 6.96mi, 1820ft, road climb
Wolf Pen east: all the way up, 4.19mi, 1454ft, road climb for the first 2/3rd and gravel for the last 1/3rd
Stanley Gap N-S segment, 4.57mi, 1152ft, includes the climb and descent, lots of hike-a-bike. NOTE the huge difference in time between the first year (I couldn’t even find the trailhead entrance for about 20 minutes) and subsequent years. Also, note the difference between daytime and nighttime. It’s soooo much easier to ride more of the climb during the day so that you can pick out a good line whereas at night you can’t see far enough ahead to determine a line that can take you up/over/around the roots.
Hwy 2 Climb With Bonus, 3.23mi, 1152ft, steep gravel climb.
Bear / P1 / P2 (better starting point), 11.92mi, -1115ft, lots of steep short climbs on long downhill. Note the huge difference for the one time I did this one at night. This year was during the day, but tons of mud, and also I spent 15 minutes filtering water and cleaning mud off shoes and bike in the last creek after riding barefoot sandals not clipped in for the entire P2 climb and it was still 7 minutes faster than riding it at night without stopping.
P3(MG)>P4>P5>P6 Dennis, 18.21mi, about 1000ft climbing before -1865ft descent to pavement, my favorite part of the Pinhotti other than the super fun Cave Spring flume section.
Backwards Snake, 28.2mi, tons of short steep climbs while losing -1021ft over entire segment, rocky technical sections scattered throughout but especially at the beginning.
Pinhoti Mack White to High Point, 8.36mi, -741ft, despite the segment name, this includes all of Taylor Ridge from the singletrack entrance under the towers all the way down to the exit onto GA100 pavement
Essom Hill to TNGA Finish, 8.47mi, 254ft, gradual climb over dirt roads, chip seal roads, and pavement all the way to the finish on the Silver Comet at the Alabama state line.

TNGA 2021 Race Writeup

At the finish with Julian Daza who had finished about 30 minutes ahead of me.

It starts a couple weeks earlier the first week in August when we picked up my daughter from a summer theater camp she had been at up in Virginia. The camp was awesome, and they put on an amazing production of Henry V. But since we were picking her up and taking a friend to see the show, we didn’t really have enough room in the car … so I volunteered to ride back home from Staunton to Hoover. I picked out an 1100 mile route that would have me end with the TNGA race plus the 110 mile ride home from the end.

Well it was hot … and wet … and by the time I finished the first 650 miles to make it to Clayton, I was not in good shape. Plus, I missed my window for doing laundry so I had to wait until they opened the next morning since everything I had was wet and dirty. So while I was waiting for the laundromat to open and then for my laundry to finish, it was already getting hot and I just couldn’t reconcile starting TNGA in so much heat in the middle of the day. I wasn’t familiar at all with the timing of that kind of start in the middle of the day or where it would put me at various times when the few supply spots may or may not be open.

So by the time my clothes were done, I decided I was done too and going to bail on TNGA and just knock out the 280 miles to get back to my house in one straight shot with no sleep. I did end up doing that and was very proud of that ride coming right after 650 grueling miles in the heat and humidity. Although I was also crushed at the thought of a failed TNGA even before starting!

So when the opportunity came up a couple weeks later to try again, I jumped at the chance. I knew that with everything going on in the lead-up to school that I didn’t have time to ride all the way from my house to the start, do the race, and then ride home. So instead, I drove to the finish of the race and then rode the 187 miles from there to Clayton… but even the logistics of that were tricky.

I left my house in Birmingham at 10pm to make it to the Essom Hill trailhead to be on my way by midnight my time (1am eastern), which I calculated would get me to the start in Clayton early enough to do laundry and still get to bed plenty early enough to be up early enough that same night to ride from Clayton to the start to set off on TNGA by about 1am.

Well, a heavily loaded bike and 2.3″ trail knobby tires (which were absolutely perfect for the course) doesn’t roll very well on pavement and no matter how much I tried I couldn’t get my average speed to budge much above 12mph.

Especially since I had to stop at Habersham Bicycles in Gainesville to deal with a very creaky bottom bracket from the amazing amount of dirt and mud and water that had accumulated on the Silver Comet because apparently it had just finished raining for nearly the whole trail before I started. It was very, very wet. I was soaked by the time I made it to Habersham and my bike was a filthy mess.

As it turns out, the lock ring on my bottom bracket left crank arm had come loose (again) and had let stuff in and was the source of the creaking.


June 14-24: 2100 miles riding from Hoover, AL to Durango, CO
July 31: 229 mile adventure riding to Hot Hundred and back
Aug 9-13: 925 miles riding from Staunton, VA to Hoover, AL

That last trip Aug 9-13 was supposed to include the TNGA on the last leg, but by the time I made it to Clayton, GA to spend the night and do laundry, I was too heat exhausted to remotely have a chance at finishing TNGA successfully so I opted to ride the 279 miles straight home instead.

I knew I wanted to reschedule and try again at TNGA but I didn’t have time to ride from home to the start, do the race, and ride back home. Instead, I opted to drive the 110 miles to the finish and leave my car there … thus saving me 220 total miles of riding (basically an entire 24 hours).

Still, I had to ride the 187 miles from the finish as direct as possible over to Clayton before napping at the Days Inn for a few hours before riding from there the additional 16 miles to the start. Then I did the whole race but didn’t have to ride all the way home because my car was waiting for me there at the finish.

Sooo, grand total for the summer ended up being four big rides totaling 3826.3 miles in 11+4+1+3 = 18 days spread out over June, July, and August with this TNGA adventure being the last 572 miles.

Needless to say, I was not going to be particularly fast in this year’s TNGA with a lot of miles in my legs and a lot of time spent out there day after day in a very hot summer. In fact, I was not feeling very confident at all after yet another hot day of riding to get to Clayton. So I had thoughts again about turning around just riding straight home the next day instead of doing TNGA.

But I felt like I would be crushed by the inability to even start TNGA twice. So I knew that wasn’t an option. And I figured that my best chance of finishing the race was to take it pretty easy, which included a very long stay (10 hours) in Dalton. Also, I stopped to filter water numerous times wanting to have cold water (those mountain creeks are cold 365 days a year) instead of carrying a ton of water weight with me between the isolated refueling spots.

So this ended up being my slowest TNGA by over 12 hours, but it certainly was the most enjoyable from start to finish. I saw so much wildlife, whereas in the past I’ve always been puzzled by the relative lack of wildlife on the course. I’m guessing I just haven’t noticed the wildlife before locked into tunnel vision on the course, or maybe when you are moving fast on that course you make enough noise to scare everything away before you even get close.

I was moving slow on my ride over to Clayton so I was already way behind schedule which ended up pushing my start back by almost an hour so that I started at 1:50AM on Tuesday morning. I ended up finishing shortly after sunset at 8:34PM on Thursday evening for a total elapsed time of 2 days, 18 hours, 44 minutes which I believe puts me at the fourth fastest time out of the group starts and fifth fastest of the year accounting for James Dunaway’s record breaking 40 hours flat ITT this year – almost exactly 24 hours faster than me and 18 hours faster than the second fastest time of the year, Jason Foster, who took the grand depart win.

Back to the start though, it was foggy and wet on my ride to the start. It actually dried out a bit on the climb up to the Darnell Creek singletrack, and the few muddy sections along the way seemed about the same as previous years – or maybe my expectations were for so much mud that I was surprised enough by what was actually there to take it back down to normal.

But Darnell Creek was flowing quite loudly … way louder than previous years … and as expected on the tributary creek descent, everything was soaked. I endo-ed hard on the first rock stair stepper down but thankfully the rocks are in the middle and it was relatively soft pinestraw on the sides so no injuries. After that, i walked a good chunk of the rest of the creek singletrack.

The whole time the actual creek to the right was so loud. It definitely led to this build-up of “oh my goodness, how deep is the actual crossing going to be”. It was definitely the deepest I’ve ever crossed it with water coming up over my knees, but the course crosses at a gentler spot so there was no danger from the current. All of this was in the dark.

I was delighted to have made it past the first obstacle of the adventure race, so I took off again and made it all the way across the road and gravel roads to the next big obstacle – the Patterson Gap climb – followed by the Tallulah River crossing and the subsequent climb all the way up to the Appalachian Trail. I opted to ride barefoot (in sandals) from the top of the Darnell singletrack all the way up the Tallulah River road because it’s just creek crossing after crossing and my quite successful battle against trench foot was to basically never have socks on when crossing a creek or river and then put my wool socks back on after my feet and sandals had had a good long time to dry while riding.

I had my first sense of how slow I was going relative to previous years by how late in the morning it was by the time I made it to the climb up Hwy 76 past the Around the Bend hostel. It was HOT back out there on the pavement and I remembered to my midnight start last year that it was still early morning when I did this climb last year.

Back into the woods, though, I hit the quite muddy (much muddier than previous years) descent back down to Moccasin Creek. I had thought about stopping at the campground to refill on water, but I knew I still had lots of places to filter even climbing back up Wildcat so that it just didn’t make sense to carry all that extra weight while I still had a full bottle of gatorade left from the start.

It was really hot though and I ended up stopping to filter water on the climb up Corbin Creek as I was completely out by that point. The descent down to Hickory Nut was awful this year … it’s always rough with large rocks and drops everywhere on a steep descent … but this year seemed worse than normal. Hickory Nut itself was fine with fewer trees to cross. It was fun to remember back to my first year and see the remnants of all the tree crossings we had to do. Tree puzzles, really, because you had to figure out how to get across, under, or through them or sometimes all three.

I made it to Helen in the late afternoon, and it was quite hot. I refueled there not knowing if I would make it to Cooper’s Creek before they closed because I was so far behind schedule. So after getting enough food to last until Dalton (I hoped) I took off and called Cooper’s Creek to verify what time they closed (5pm) and told them I wouldn’t be getting there until 7pm (it ended up being closer to 8pm) and asked if they could leave something out for me and I would stash some money somewhere.

The guy I talked to (one of the Coopers?) was awesome and said he’d leave stuff in an ice chest and it was on him – not to worry about leaving any cash. They are awesome! When I finally did get there and was looking around in the ice chest for what I needed (there was so much stuff in there), a very kind lady came out and asked if I needed anything else and she let me grab a bag of chips out of the store and she opened up the bathroom for me.

This was hugely important because I would find out when I went to open my frame bag to get out my dry clothes, one of my pickle juice pouches had opened and dumped its entire contents onto my down vest. She had shown me where the hose was, so I hosed off my bike and then hung my vest up and hosed it off too trying to get as much pickle juice off as possible and hoping it would dry fast. It not only didn’t dry particularly fast, the pickle juice was basically all soaked up on the inside of the vest.


This would factor in to how cold I was just a couple hours later after being so hot for so long. Basically as the night dragged on and I started riding slower with my heartrate dropping down into the 70s, 80s, and 90s for extended period (averaged 93bpm for 8.5 hours), I was getting cold. Everything I had was still soaking wet from the day with so much humidity and even fog that nothing was drying while riding, I was so cold … and I couldn’t put that awesome vest on I had brought specifically in case I got cold because it was still soaking wet with pickle juice. This was my situation by the time I made it up and over Stanley Gap pouring sweat with all the effort and then the start of the 8.5 hour stretch from the descent down past Cherry Log all the way to where I couldn’t take it any more and had to figure out something because of how sleepy and cold I was … my solution: lay down on a concrete slab with my dry non-riding shorts on and no shirt but covered with the vest lightly resting on top of me just barely touching me but b/c of the way that down vest is designed – blocking as much heat as possible from leaving. I’m guessing that concrete was still a little bit warm from the daytime heating maybe it was in the sun for the last hour or two of the day. I don’t know … or maybe because I was so cold from everything being wet that being on something dry just felt warm.

As I wrote on one of my captions, it felt like I was asleep for at least an hour, but as it turns out I was only stopped at that church for 32 minutes. So I definitely fell asleep hard at some point to have lost my sense of time by that much. I did wake up with a start, though, so that really helped me wake up. I had faith in the vest by this point, so I put my wet jersey back on … can you say cold??? … and put my vest on top. I do want to note that if I hadn’t spilt that pickle juice, there would have been no problem at all. I would have been toasty warm in that dry vest. I would have been riding with it on and no jersey and been quite warm.

Instead, I was freezing but I also knew that the Cohutta climb was coming and even climbing as ridiculously slow as I was (averaged 3.8mph up the main Cohutta gravel climb) I started to warm up quite a bit with that vest on. So I took it off and stuffed it into my outer backpack pocket … which I discovered had been ripped open from when I caught it roughly on a tree trying to ride under the tree without stopping… and I knew at the speeds I was going that I would be climbing for a while and that sunrise was likely to happen before I really got into cold descending again. And that’s exactly what happened, it was well after sunrise by the time I started the main descent down from the Cohuttas on Bear Creek and it was quite toasty mid morning by the time I made it Pinhoti 0 and all the climbing there.

Through this whole section I was debating about stopping at Mulberry to hose off my bike because of what happened on the last muddy horse trail creek crossing before the main climb up Pinhoti 0. There was no way to cross it and the mud and water looked so deep and I was so tired that I made a really stupid decision. I tried to walk across it while pushing my bike. I mean, really, can you do anything more dumb than that? Sure, at least try to ride it, or walk it, but NOT BOTH! The mud was so thick that both my bike and my shoes got stuck in the mud. I had to pull so hard to get the bike up out of the mud because I decided immediately when I stepped down in and got both sandals stuck way down that I absolutely did not want to roll my bike through it. So I tried to pull the bike up to get it from making a complete tire revolution and the suction on that mud was strong (plus the weight of the bike). I got through it but there was mud everywhere. So much mud on my shoes and ironically there wasn’t much of a puddle there at all to wash my feet off and get the mud off … the deeper “puddle” part was behind a ton of mud so there was no way to get to it without having to backtrack through the mud once I used the water from the puddle to clean things off as much as possible I would just get everything dunked up with mud again trying to get back away from the watery part.

At the time I didn’t realize that this was it … the last water before the lonnnggg climb up Pinhoti 1 – so I rode for something like 8ish miles with my barefoot covered in mud NOT CLIPPED IN because the bottom was so full of mud I didn’t want to get all that dirt and crap in the cleat and have difficulty clipping in/out. Uggh. This was easily the worst part of the race for me. Eventually though I did make it to the official bear creek descent (I think … it’s hard for me to keep them straight) and finally made it to that first creek crossing where I was able to get everything cleaned up. Interestingly almost all the mud was gone from the bottom of my sandals and of course it was long gone from the tires (having flung off). So I just spent a few minutes cleaning up what mud was left carefully dipping my pedals down into the water, filtered a bit of water, too, and started off to tackle the Pinhoti 2 section.

It took forever and I ended up running out of water again, so I was still debating about heading up and over to Mulberry to resupply, but the dilemma with that was knowing that I was pretty much committed to full night’s sleep in Dalton … or alternatively I would need to sleep at Mulberry and take care of laundry and everything there and then just do quick resupply in Dalton. But it wasn’t raining yet and I knew there were afternoon storms on the way. So that made my decision. I was out of water, though, so I crawled down into that one creek you cross right before getting to the Pinhoti 3 climb up Fort Mountain and was able to filter there, which meant I had plenty of water left by the time I made it to Dalton.

Especially since I got walloped by a thunderstorm with lots of rain and lightning coming across those last high points of Pinhoti 5 before the freefall down to the valley. It was sketchy for sure. The lightning was right there. Like basically instantaneous thunder with each lightning flash. It always felt like it was a little behind me though (maybe a mile or so) which made me feel bad for Julie Goforth, who was the first grand depart rider that I caught back up to having started a few days after everyone from the grand depart. She would have been back in the real thick of the storm. In any case, it rained hard from near the very end of Pinhoti 5 all the way across to the outskirts of Dalton where the sun came out again.

Then I had to figure out the logistics of hotel and laundry since I and everything I had was just completely soaked by this point. I passed by that Sonic on the wrong side of town (not realizing there is a Sonic almost literally right in front of the hotel I stayed at) and bought stuff I was craving and ended up carrying it with me for 4.5 miles (no room for it anywhere in my bags). I also needed to buy a t-shirt b/c I needed to wash both my jersey AND my vest, so I would either be doing laundry while wrapped in a towel or I needed the cheapest t-shirt I could find. I found a place with a sign in the window that said T-Shirt $1 and I though oh man this is perfect, but unfortunately they were out of those and only had $4 t-shirts. It was actually a really nice fluorescent green t-shirt with no markings or decorations at all, but it was a bit too heavy for me to carry with me, so I basically used it while I did my laundry and then used it to clean off my bike in the hotel room (carefully) and then threw it away. I hate the disposable mentality, but I just didn’t think I had the room or desire to carry an extra 1/4 pound with me taking up so much space when I knew I would need to load up with a lot of food since I was really hoping to make it all the way to Coosa without any food resupply which is exactly what I did!

By the time I finished laundry and everything it was getting close to 8:45pm, so I set my alarm for six hours 2:45pm, hoping to be out the door by 3am but realizing it was going to take way longer to get everything together than 15 minutes. I woke up before the alarm even went off at about 2:30 but I was really, really out of it (no idea why I woke up). I turned off my alarm and almost went back to sleep thinking “screw it, I will just deal with the heat on the snake”. But I’m so glad I decided to just go ahead and get up. I made coffee in the room and then started putting everything back together (I basically taken everything out of all my bags to let things dry and recharge). By the time I cleaned my bike and got everything together and got dressed and ready to head out the door it was almost 3:45am.

I made a quick stop at the Race Trac to do my big food resupply and met this cool guy who was hanging out at the gas station from Columbia who was talking to me about all the riders from down there racing the Tour de France and how he used to ride bikes down there. It was great chatting with him, but by this point I really was kinda in a hurry. So without making it seem like I was in a hurry I listened and talked while I was doing all the food packing / bottle filling AND taking the huge cup of ice I had bought and filling up my camelbak pretty much completely with ice (I only had a 2L camelbak and I think it was a 48oz cup and I had filled my bottles inside with ice and dumped one of those in there). It was awesome to have cold ice water 3 hours later burning up on the snake with all the effort at 7am.

I said good-bye and took off the freshest I have ever been to climb up to the snake. I actually made it all the way up to the towers without dabbing and missed the turn onto the Snake for fourth year in a row but at least I knew pretty much right away that I had missed the turn this year. I think it’s because the first time I rode that climb was on my road bike and I rode it all the way up the gravel under the towers and so I get into this mode of thinking to make it to the towers.

I turned around and rode the short 50 feet or so back to the weird entrance that is right next to that one fenced off tower/building area. I was cautious about the snake because in previous years I’ve spent a bit more time riding rocky technical things getting ready for TNGA, but this year I only had one ride with my son on West Ridge at Oak Mountain (the most Snake-like trail we have in Alabama) and that ride did not go well for me although he blew through it so fast. I can see him riding TNGA some day. That would be amazing.

In any case, I kept waiting to not be able to clear something and trying to prepare myself mentally for the disappointing frustration of “this is going to take forever” but I ended up clearing the first technical section and that gave me confidence to try riding some things that I was thinking I would be walking in the dark. I didn’t end up clearing everything and specifically there were some sections I know I’ve cleared in the past that I got stuck on and had to walk, but I wasn’t getting frustrated like that first year where I basically walked everything technical in the first few miles of the snake.

The reason why the Snake is called the Snake (as far as I can tell) is based on how the course zig-zags along the ridges. You go south for a long ways on the first technical section (5-7 miles) and then you make a 180 descend a bit and climb back up north for about half as long before making a 180 again heading south again for about the same distance before 180ing again and heading north for almost as long as that first section. I’m just now realizing why I was so confused about directions. I knew that I had made the 180 and was heading back north (this is where the snake gets quite a bit easier) but the whole entire time I kept thinking I was still heading south because the sun was on my right. This makes sense because I’ve only ever hit the snake either at night (first year) or at sunset every other year. So this was the first time I was riding the snake at sunrise … so the sun being off to my right meant that I kept thinking I was heading south because that’s where the sun would be if it was sunset. But at sunrise it makes sense that I would be heading north on the easier section with the sun to my right. I just couldn’t convince myself that I had made the turn to the easier section.

All of this led to my next major wipeout in the race (I had done the probably somewhat typical Darnell Creek endo flipping over the handlebars unscathed about 24 hours earlier). But as I was coming down into the lower part of the snake where it rolls a bunch dipping down into muddy bottoms and even a short creek crossing or two, I came down into one of the steeper sections with a gentle turn that was apparently coated in mud that was as slick as ice. My rear wheel slid out from under me and I was falling before I knew what was happening. I was almost excited though after a few seconds to take a picture of my slide out because with the speed I was going it seemed like it would be a long slide mark, but it wasn’t anything special like I’ve seen in actual snow (that’s what it felt like). I’m curious if anyone else wiped out there … or at least fish tailed. That mud was like ice. Muddy, but unharmed, I got up and was a little more cautious on the next dips.

It wasn’t too long after that I caught a fun group of three riders who had camped on the snake and only started riding again a little before I caught up to them (Davis Wade, Dennis Nicholson, and Matt Goforth). I chatted with them for a bit before taking off again. They asked about the German shepherd and I tried to explain where it was … hopefully he was MIA for them as he was for me, Clint, and Nani when we rode by together about 12 hours later.

Between passing this group and catching up to Clint and Nani was a lot of stuff. First, the wildlife. I should mention that early in the race climbing up before the Darnell Creek single track, I had had a standoff with a wild boar that I first mistook for a small bear. I was really panicked because I thought mama bear might be nearby before realizing that it was actually a huge wild boar. I startled it and it was running up the trail in same direction I was going and turned left and then changed its mind and turned right and then it just stopped and turned to face me. This is when I realized it was a boar and panicked a bit for different reason thinking it was going to charge. So I got off my bike and prepared to use it to shield me from it, when it took off again crashing down the mountain (it was steep downhill to the left and impossibly steep uphill to the right). I’m very glad that for whatever reason it decided it could handle the super steep slope to the left instead of deciding to take an offensive tactic charging me. It was so loud crashing through the woods.

Speaking of boars, after the race, I learned why the next really interesting wildlife I saw (a rattlesnake) wasn’t rattling. As it turns out rattlesnakes are evolving not to rattle so that they don’t give their position away to boars which apparently eat them … and since I have now seen two wild boars within the span of 8 months I wonder if their population is increasing. So I had a standoff with the boar a day earlier. And then I had a standoff with a rattlesnake. It was perfectly stretched across the trail and not moving. I definitely didn’t want to go around on the head side, and was a little hesitant about riding behind it on the tail side too (not sure how fast they can turn and strike) so I threw some sticks at it and it wouldn’t move. Eventually after a minute or so, I said oh well and just rode around behind it as fast as I could. All good, it barely raised its head.

Just before the rattlesnake I had almost plowed into an Eastern Box Turtle, which was coming out of shrubbage right next to the trail onto the line I was taking pretty fast around a corner. I skidded and was able to sharpen my turn to miss him before stopping and turning around to take a pic. You can see in the pic the tire marks of all the riders (and mine too) as that is clearly the line to take.

Just to wrap up the wildlife, I saw the cutest, furriest skunk I’ve ever seen not too far after the spot where I wiped out on the lower part of the snake. It was hopping along the trail and quickly went off to the right as I approached. Prior to that I saw lots of skinks/salamanders through the whole Mulberry area, tons of those giant millipedes, a hawk after that before the storms hit, and an owl before that while it was just starting to get light. Also I remember at night riding up almost into the back of a possum running along the trail and somewhere along the course seeing an armadillo hustling across the trail. Lots of frogs … so many frogs … on the silver comet on my commute to the start because of the rain … it’s inevitable that I ran over several but I tried to miss them I really did. Only a few frogs this year during the race whereas last year they all came out during the rain on Pinhoti 3 climb up Fort Mountain.

Meanwhile, back to the lower parts of the snake, I was running low on water when Graham Skardon (via his Ridewithgps file – thanks Graham!) told me to start looking for water at the horse farm. I made my way to the fence and saw that a woman was leading one of the horses out to pasture so I called out to ask if I could climb the fence to get some water. She said I could just open it (it looked locked, but it wasn’t) and to be careful of the top wire which was HOT (electric). I thanked her profusely and then went around to the side of the barn which had the wobbly spicket she warned me to be very careful with as it was about ready to fall over and might start gushing water uncontrollably if it did.

So while I was being very careful refilling water, one of the horses she hadn’t taken to the barn yet started peeking its head out of the window right there by the spicket. It was fun to have it just checking me out with neighing or showing any kind of alarm. Unfortunately, my phone (camera) was still mounted on my bike so I wasn’t able to get a pic. But I was able to fill all 64 oz of my camelbak, hoping that since was the first time I had stopped for water there that this would be the year I could make it across Taylor’s Ridge without having to drop down off to the store way down in the valley which adds so much time/climbing/mental effort to the ride.

It was so hot middle of the afternoon by this point that I was going through all that water very quickly and thought for sure I would have to stop anyway when thankfully I crossed a creek on Narrows Picnic and there was a tree that was fallen down on the other side. See, the problem I usually run into is that I’m not out of water yet by the time I hit those creeks through there and I get focused on crossing the creek and remounting and riding up the other side that I forget that I can just totally filter any of that water. The same exact thing would have happened this year, except because there was a tree fallen across the trail just up from the last creek, I decided to walk up to it instead of ride up to it. And this gave me enough time to realize that I should just filter water right there!

I left my bike leaning up against the tree, walked all the way back down to the creek, filtered as much water as I could get into the camelbak. The problem with creeks that aren’t very full is that the bag squishes up so that you can only fit it halfway or less before water starts coming back out. The water was super shallow but moving fast and I eventually found just the right spot where I could push down on the back of the bag while lifting the front high enough for water to just barely make it over the lip into the camelbak. It took a minute or two but I was able to let it fill almost completely without any water coming back out.

This turned out to be quite important that I get it so full because I did indeed run out of water again a few miles before Coosa so if I had only filled it half full, I would have run out of water much sooner or been rationing water quite a bit in that afternoon heat.

Taylors’ Ridge was uneventful other than based on the timing, it was the hottest it’s ever been for me to have to cross it. Even that first year I did the race (2018) which was the other hot year in recent history I hit the Taylor’s Ridge climb a few hours earlier in late morning so it wasn’t quite as hot as hitting it this year in the afternoon. But I made it and was ecstatic to make it down off the last really technical bit of the race.

I was not looking forward to the tough unfinished rails-to-trail this year since I knew some of it would be exposed in the sun and with so much rain there were several sections that have deteriorated quite a bit with vegetation quite high too. It was during this section, though, that I caught up to Clint and Nani, and it was awesome to ride with them and exchange experiences with how the race had gone. They were a day behind because of scare with a yellow jacket sting on Stanley Gap. There were lots of yellow jackets this year. I only got stung by one on the leg and thankfully didn’t have a reaction to it … but Nani had a bad reaction to one and had to end up taking emergency Benadryl (I always carry some with me too for this exact reason) but that makes you sleepy for sure and they decided to just call it a night and camp earlier than they had intended while making sure the Benadryl kicked in.

They said they didn’t want to hold me up, but I was really happy to ride with them and figured we would have better luck with all the dogs if we just stayed together as a group. And that’s what happened, no dogs at all chased us, so once we were sure we were past the German shepherd, I was ready to get moving again so took off at about the spot where I ran out of water. I couldn’t remember how far it was to the gas station and that extra 16 miles of riding from Clayton to the start kinda throws off all the distances (who can do math this far into the race??) so I almost stopped to filter but decided to push on as long as I could and thankfully it’s a lot of downhill once you finally hit the pavement to get to the gas station.

I was just getting ready to pull out after loading EVERYTHING up with ice. It was so hot. I stuffed my ice filled camelbak straight down my jersey instead of in my backpack and took off with two full bottles of icy gatorade too. I wanted to make sure I could skip the slightly out-of-the-way Cave Spring store and make it all the way to the finish without stopping.

So that’s what I did. I’m already making plans to bring my son Josiah up to Cave Spring for fall break. That last section of the Pinhoti is so much fun and I just feel like there is a lot to explore in that area. We are definitely going to go find the cave … and who knows what else? Plus riding the sweet flowy pine straw covered (instead of rock-strewn) section of the Pinhoti is going to be a blast.

A couple last things to note. Essom Hill and Mckert dirt roads were both completely rideable which is interesting to me. I thought for sure there would be some huge muddy sections, but I think some of the most recent storms must have missed that road completely. Also, a local and his buddy stopped me in their truck to ask if I was with the race. They were really nice and wanted to chat for a bit to ask about the race. It’s cool that people all over that area are familiar with the TNGA … or as many of them probably know it as “that bike race”.

About a mile later, I ran into the herd of black labs, which were the only dogs that chased me the entire race. I think they may have been out because Jennifer Talley and Julian Daza had just ridden through there not too long before me. So they were all out in the front yard some of them even already on the road, so it was tricky getting through, but I maintained good eye contact and yelled no at the lead dog that came in first and when he backed off the others kinda followed suit and just ran alongside me as I picked up speed down the hill.

I didn’t know at the time that there were any riders in front of me, and I expected the finish line to be a lonely deserted finish line, but instead Jennifer and Julian were both their with the people who had come to pick them up too. It was awesome to chat with them for quite a while. I had been debating about how long I would wait there to make sure my Garmin Inreach pinged at the finish, so it was great to fill that time exchanging stories about the race. Eventually I said goodbye and headed back up to the Essom Trailhead where my car was waiting patiently for me (I had left it there about 90 hours earlier at 1am Monday morning).

Final stats according to Ridewithgps which I used to record the entire ride including the 16 miles from Clayton: 387 miles, 39,763 ft of climbing, 68:32:56 elapsed time with I believe about 1 hour 45 minutes of that being the initial 16 miles before the start of my ITT. Specifically, I started at 1:50am on Tuesday from the bridge and finished at the Alabama state line at 8:34pm on Thursday for an elapsed time of 48 hours to 1:50am Thursday morning plus another 12 hours to 1:50pm plus 16 minutes shy of 7 hours to 8:34pm, which if you add everything up: 48 + 12 + 7 – 16minutes = 66 hours, 44 minutes (or 2 days, 18 hours, 44 minutes) which I believe is the fifth fastest time this year with James Dunaway absolutely blowing the record out of the water with 40 hours flat. Jason Foster took the grand depart win at 2 days 10 hours (58 hours) or about 8 hours faster than me, followed by Jon Brown and Corey Kronsner who took a close 2nd and 3rd about 5 hours back, and then Alex Butler in 4th for the grand depart but about 30 minutes behind me making him the 6th fastest time of the year with both James and I doing our ITTs faster making me the fifth fastest time of the year.

Ride4Gabe 5.0 – Hoover, AL to Durango, CO

Photos! I have a ton of them from the trip. You can quickly scroll through the thumbnails and see some of my captions on my pickuta website by clicking on the link below:


BACKGROUND – RIDE 4 GABE v1, v2, v3, and v4

I met Gabe Griffin and his family back in 2014 during the preparation for the inaugural Ride4Gabe when my soon-to-be friends Wes Bates and Michael Staley rode their bikes from Bend, Oregon to Mobile, Alabama raising funds and awareness of how Duchenne muscular dystrophy affects boys with this genetic disorder and the impact on their families.

Ever since then, I have wanted to be involved in advancing the mission of H4G and to stay connected to Gabe and his family. In 2014, I rode a long stretch with Michael and Wes as they traversed through Alabama. Then in 2016, along with my friend Demetrious White, I rode the entire length of Alabama down to the finish in Mobile as Michael, Wes, and another friend, Payne Griffin, rode from Maine to Mobile on Ride4Gabe 2.0.

Ride4Gabe 3.0 was my third place finish in the Race Across America in 2017 where Gabe and his family followed me across the country as I raced my bike from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland.

Ride4Gabe 4.0 was me, Demetrious White, and Michael Staley riding from Birmingham, Alabama to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado in 2019. This was an amazing experience and was amazing to have Gabe follow us to the top of Pike’s Peak.

Then coronavirus happened in 2020 and we postponed Ride4Gabe 5.0 until this summer (2021), but coronavirus dragged on into 2021 and we decided to do something different this year which timed perfectly with our family plans for the summer.

The Tour Divide and Fort Lewis Cycling

I have had my eyes set on the Tour Divide as the next long ultra race I’d like to tackle, but with the Canadian border still closed and no real pressure to complete that race ASAP, I decided it made more sense to use this summer as another chance to train for the race with a multi day solo bikepacking adventure.

Also, with my son attending a cycling camp at Fort Lewis College here in Durango, Colorado, I could ride out and meet the rest of the family before they left to return back home so I could catch a ride back with them. The camp is going well with Josiah texting us after his first ride that it was the best ride of his life. The rest of the week has gone really well, too.

The Data – day by day ride stats

START DATE/TIMEDISTANCEHH:MMSpeedHeartrateCadenceClimbingAvg/Min/Max
Mon,6/14,12:06am 274.5 miles 19:55 14.5mph 124bpm 72rpm 10896ft 77/64/100
Tues,6/15,1:57am 173.2 miles 14:20 13.7mph 106bpm 64rpm 4068ft 83/68/104
Tues,6/15,9:53pm 279.9 miles 24:30 12.8mph 103bpm 60rpm 6791ft 82/66/104
Thurs,6/17,5:19am 163.4 miles 14:43 12.4mph 96bpm 57rpm 5951ft 90/68/102
Fri,6/18,2:01am 132.7 miles 12:32 12.4mph 93bpm 57rpm 5600ft 82/64/108
Fri,6/18,9:25pm 231.8 miles 21:17 12.4mph 94bpm 57rpm 7182ft 83/64/117
Sun,6/20,3:46am 105.5 miles 10:40 10.8mph 94bpm 58rpm 4160ft 78/59/99
Sun,6/20,9:10pm 242.9 miles 22:16 11.8mph 95bpm 57rpm 9708ft 60/48/77
Tues,6/22,7:41am 81.5 miles 9:07 9.8mph 102bpm 62rpm 7595ft 81/66/93
Tues,6/22,11:40pm 199.2 miles 18:36 11.9mph 98bpm 62rpm10512ft 63/28/84
Thurs,6/24,3:02am 214.7 miles 22:47 11.2mph 100bpm 62rpm16991ft 58/37/90
Totals: 11 days2099.7miles 190:48 11.0mph 100.8bpm 60.8rpm 89454ft 75/28/117

More data – total stop time between rides (74:56), average daily stoppage (6:49)

Hoover, ALMon 6/14/21 12:06 AMMon 6/14/21 8:01 PMJackson, MS5:55
Jackson, MSTue 6/15/21 1:57 AMTue 6/15/21 4:17 PMArcadia, LA5:35
Arcadia, LATue 6/15/21 9:53 PMWed 6/16/21 10:23 PMMcGee, OK6:55
McGee, OKThu 6/17/21 5:19 AMThu 6/17/21 8:01 PMTuttle, OK5:59
Tuttle, OKFri 6/18/21 2:01 AMFri 6/18/21 2:33 PMCheyenne, OK6:51
Cheyenne, OKFri 6/18/21 9:25 PMSat 6/19/21 6:42 PMClayton, NM9:03
Clayton, NMSun 6/20/21 3:46 AMSun 6/20/21 2:26 PMTrinidad, CO6:43
Trinidad, COSun 6/20/21 9:10 PMMon 6/21/21 7:25 PMGolden, CO12:15
Golden, COTue 6/22/21 7:41 AMTue 6/22/21 4:48 PMGranby, CO6:51
Granby, COTue 6/22/21 11:40 PMWed 6/23/21 6:16 PMRifle, CO8:45
Rifle, COThu 6/24/21 3:02 AMFri 6/25/21 1:49 AMDurango, CON/A
Total Stoppage:74:56 (6:49 avg)
Average speed, heartrate, and cadence over the 11 day trip. Note the trend downward from Day 1.

Looking at the data, I was stopped for too long between rides when trying to set a good record pace. Sometimes that might be necessary, as one can only do so many 3 hour sleeps in a row before riding becomes quite ineffectual. The key is minimizing the stopped time not sleeping. It’s a balance, for sure, and since this was primarily a fundraising ride that I wanted to actually enjoy, I opted for longer stops rather than trying to rush myself to bed and back out the door – especially since I was seeing (and meeting) awesome people that I was staying with on the route. That being said, it’s important to note that a good run on the Tour Divide will involve much shorter stops if I want to have any hope of a 14 day finish.

Also, a huge factor in this ride was the weather. You’ve got to expect thunderstorms in the south, and I did get walloped early with one in Tuscaloosa. But then I had no rain for the rest of the week until a very cold steady rain fell on me for a few hours for 30+ miles before, during, after my ride through Pueblo, Colorado. Also, this time of year is called “monsoon season” in the southwest. And I dodged all the thunderstorms which popped up just about every day somewhere within sight while I was in Colorado — except for a couple of them on the last day. I rode through the first one, waited out the second one at a McDonald’s in Montrose, and then had to seek shelter under a picnic table on a third one after riding in it for what felt like an eternity, but was probably less than an hour.

The biggest weather surprise to me was the heat and the cold. The temperatures I saw on the ride ranged from a high of 117 degF late in the afternoon in West Texas to a low of 28 degF way up in a mountain valley at sunrise in Colorado on the next to last day. The heat was oppressive all the way up through that first day in Colorado. Then it became the cold nights/mornings that were tricky to deal with. Thankfully, my wife had told me to expect cold temps so I had brought a very warm down vest, arm warmers, leg warmers, thick wool socks, and the “Hot Hands” hand and feet warmers. This collage of pics kinda tells the temperature story from riding with no shirt in the mornings to maximize coolness until the sun got high enough in the sky to start sunburn all the way to “Hot Hands” feet warmers wedged in front of my toes to handle freezing temps on long mountain descents on the last day.

We ride at midnight – Day 1 – Hoover, AL to Jackson, MS
[Monday, June 14th, 12:06am, 274.5 miles, 10896ft, 77 degF, 64 (min), 100 (max)]

Pete Foret and Michael Staley biked over to my house so I could roll out of town with friends at midnight. I wanted to leave at midnight so that I could finish early enough to leave super early the next day to try to finish riding as early in the afternoon/evening as possible to avoid the hottest part of the day. Even so, it was quite warm at midnight as we biked over towards Lakeshore Drive and on down towards Bessemer where they turned left to head back to Hoover and I turned right to traverse almost 2100 miles through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas (again), New Mexico, and finally all the way through the mountains to Durango on the western side of Colorado.

By the time I started getting closer to Tuscaloosa, I noticed how drenched I was from sweat and decided that in the interest of a hot day ahead I should take off my jersey and just ride without a jersey to keep it from continuing to soak up sweat and dehydrate me even further. This was a great idea, but as I made my way towards Tuscaloosa, I noticed some flashes of lightning. I didn’t think anything of it because there wasn’t any real signs of rain and a quick check of the radar showed some storms north and east back towards western Birmingham. But as I got closer to Tuscaloosa, I could feel the air change, and eventually it did start to rain quite a bit all the way through sunrise well west of Tuscaloosa with lightning continuing throughout the storm. Hilariously, I just kept on riding without socks, without a shirt, through what felt like a pretty heavy cold rain … but I knew it would be getting hot later and the colder I felt now the longer I would push off dehydration later.

The rain eased up mid morning, and then the sun came out, and sure enough it got hot, quite hot. I was beginning to be worried about how dehydrated and hot I was getting when I stopped at a gas station and had cramps everywhere – including my hands.

One of the things that got me through the afternoon struggle with the heat was a surprise phone call from Gabe plus a text message, too! It was awesome to hear from Gabe and know that he knew I was pushing through the pain to help H4G! Also, the afternoon storms started to build which provided some relief from the heat with storm clouds blocking the sun for extended periods of time giving me relief from the almost 100 degF temps with it still 90+ degF in the shade! There was a big storm that formed and rolled out ahead of me near Jackson, but I came into the Shearer’s house behind it just riding through wet streets. Sometimes it pays to be slow! Shortly after I arrived, though, it downpoured really hard so I was glad to have made it there just in time. Sometimes it pays to be fast! The Shearer’s had pizza waiting for me, and it was awesome to hang out with them for a bit before turning in for a short sleep before another early start.

Heat Deviations – Day 2 – Jackson, MS to Arcadia, LA
[Tuesday, June 15th, 1:57am, 173.2miles, 4068ft, 83 degF, 68 (min), 104 (max)]

This day was supposed to include almost all of the northern Louisiana counties plus a dip down below Arcadia to the highest point in Louisiana (Driskill Mountain) and then on around it to another interesting spot about 10 miles away – the spot where Bonnie and Clyde had their fatal shootout with police. BUT, after a hilly start from Jackson to Vicksburg and a nice shuttle across the Mississippi River on I-20 provided by Joe Giambrone, pretty much the head of all things cycling in Vicksburg, I had a nice long fast stretch of Highway 80 that looked promising to get me to Shreveport … but then the sun came up and without a lot of shade I quickly deteriorated in the heat.

I started gas station hopping with quite frequent stops at gas stations to get ice and gatorade. By the time I hit Arcadia, it was pretty much unbearable. I had already eliminated my deviation north to hit some of the county lines above Hwy 80 and decided that in the interest of finishing the ride without heat exhaustion so early on, it would be better to avoid the rural stretch of roads and dirt roads taking me to Driskill Mountain. I opted to stay on Highway 80. But ironically, the bridge over I-20 was gone (they were in the process of building a new one that wasn’t even there yet). So the detour was to hop on I-20 for a couple miles and get off at the next exit. No bridges to cross, so the I-20 shoulder wasn’t bad except for a LOT of tire and road debris. Thankfully, no flats there on the side of I-20 or indeed the entire trip.

After getting back onto Hwy 80, I searched for “lodging” near Arcadia and saw that there was a Days Inn up near the interstate. So I hopped off Hwy 80 again and headed north torwards the Interstate where I saw a gas station I could get some food and drink before taking an afternoon siesta across the street at the Days Inn to escape the ridiculous heat. I was in pretty bad shape and had a hard time working the credit card machine so the clerk had to come around and help me put the card in the right way.

Since I had started so early, it was only about four in the afternoon when I got the room at the hotel. This meant I could start again the same day after a few hours, which is not only great for Eddington, but also great for maximizing the amount of night time riding.

A hard day’s night prior to another hard day – Day 3 – Arcadia, LA to McGee, OK
[Tuesday, June 15th, 9:53pm, 279.9miles, 6791ft, 82 degF, 66 (min), 104 (max)]

This ended up being the longest and hardest “day” of the trip. Hard to call it just a day since the elapsed time was 24 hours and 30 minutes from 9:53pm to 10:23pm the next night. It was also about 25 miles farther than I had anticipated with a good 10 mile chunk in the heat of the day having run out of water on an awfully hilly and just awful chunky gravel road and still not carrying around a smart water bottle to enable water filtering.

Here’s how it played out: still pretty hot (upper 70s) when I left, but it cooled off down into the 60s, which felt even cooler since I was riding without a shirt all night until well after sunrise (not wanting to risk sunburn once the sun was up high enough). I made it to Arkansas and Texas around sunrise (but on a more direct route that saw me bypassing the city of Texarkana to the south).

It was very hot by the time I made it up through Texas to the Red River on the Oklahoma border. This was the highlight of the day for me because as I approached the river (not even realizing it was the Oklahoma border), I could see a dirt road off to the side of the bridge leading straight down to the river. Without any hesitation at all and even speeding up a bit with excitement, I hit the dirt road to park my bike under the bridge in the shade and jump in the river as quickly as possible.

Still, I was careful to make sure I didn’t get everything muddy as I still had 1500 miles left to ride and didn’t want mud all over everything leading to problems later. The difference in temperature under the bridge in the shade vs the state highway I had been on previously was incredible. My garmin shows a drop of only 6 degF from 99 to 93 degF, but that felt like 20 degF difference. Plus, the water was still quite cold under the bridge so I didn’t actually swim around for more than a minute or two.

Afterwards I was thinking how awesome a place this would be to just lay down and sleep for several hours. Unfortunately, I was almost out of water and food and not the least bit tired/sleepy so I thought it would be wiser to get everything packed up and on my way again. I was only stopped for 20 minutes, but it made a huge difference in being able to finish that day without heat exhaustion.

A few miles down the road in Oklahoma I did make it to a rural gas station with an older gentleman clerk who was very nice and helped me out with extra ice and also had a litter of kittens living under the bench outside. They climbed all over me and up onto my bike even and I had to chase one down inside the store when I accidentally let it in when I went back inside to get more ice. It was another great break from the heat, albeit also only about 20 minutes long.

Afterwards, it was pretty uneventful gas station hopping with me making the unfortunate decision to skip a gas station and get one at the next city. Unfortunately, that city turned out to be basically just a crossroads without a gas station and I ended up running out of water on a very rough gravel road before hitting the next one. During this time, I decided to cut my ride short and get a hotel instead of camping at the state park which was 25 miles farther down the road.

Unfortunately, there were no rooms available at two of the motels and the third was completely closed due to covid. So I stopped at Sonic, had a nice dinner, and decided to plug away at the 25 miles to the state park where I had a “hut” reserved at the campground. The “hut” was basically a small cabin with AC and electric outlets and a mattress. It was challenging finding the office and the key, but I was Facetiming with Michael and Demetrious and Katelyn who were planning out their ride to Memphis on Friday. Great way to end a very long day.

Short day and new friends – Day 4 – McGee, OK to Tuttle, OK
[Thursday, June 17th, 5:19am, 163.4miles, 5951ft, 90 degF, 68 (min), 102 (max)]

Not surprisingly with a 5:19am start, this ended up being the hottest day of the entire trip with a 90 degF average temperature. Thankfully at one of my early stops at a Love’s truck stop, a clerk on break was talking to me and I was explaining about where I was going and how it was great except for the heat. She said, I’ve got just the thing for you. And she brought out two very thin disposable wash cloths that were absolutely perfect for filling with ice and stuffing down into the top of my jersey. The ice would very slowly melt over the next hour or sometimes two hours if there was enough shade. This really helped cool down my core body temp as that ice cold water dripped directly down my back. It may have also contributed to saddle sores later, but it was definitely worth it to get amazing relief from the oppressive heat.

This was at 10:30 in the morning with the temps already well into the 90s. It stayed hot and hilly the rest of the day. I was fascinated by the overall increase in elevation and excited to finally reach back to the highest elevations I had hit in Alabama before heading down towards the Mississippi River. Fun, constant rollers on shady smooth chip seal roads took me all the way to Tuttle after a long stretch of very busy rush hour traffic leaving Norman and Oklahoma City. Thankfully I had a massive shoulder and no problems with traffic at all.

I arrived at the address in Tuttle to find my friend Stephen Peters’ friend Isaiah greeting me and taking amazing care of everything I needed. Stephen must have prepped him ahead of time what a tired, incoherent cross country riding cyclist must need because Isaiah had it all! It was great to sit down to a meal not at a gas station or fast food restaurant and chat about everything after a nice shower before heading off to a comfy bed at 9pm. Isaiah was still up knowing that I was planning on leaving at about 1am and helped see me on my way by the time I finally got everything back together (I had unpacked everything to fix a few things that were loose and rattling) and pulled out of the driveway at 2am.

An even shorter, but harder, day – Day 5 – Tuttle, OK to Cheyenne, OK
[Friday, June 18th, 2:01am, 132.7 miles, 5600ft, 82 degF, 64 (min), 108 (max)]

I had another short day planned to try to get caught up in case I had fallen behind my schedule. This worked really well because even though the average temp was a bit cooler, the afternoon temps were scorching hot with somewhat long distances between stops.

By the time I hit Cheyenne, I knew I needed to either take an extended break in the gas station air conditioning or look for lodging. I had actually been looking forward to the Spitout campground on a lake about 20 miles farther up the road, but given how hot it was and given that there was a hotel just a few blocks from the gas station, I opted to skip the campground and take advantage of the AC and sleep for a few hours to maximize my nighttime riding across the Texas panhandle the next day.

I asked one of the checkout clerks if there was lodging nearby as I was trying to make that decision about how long to hang out in the gas station. She said there was two in town including one just a couple blocks away. A guy in the other line (the gas station was pretty busy) said he saw me on the way out and on the way back in on the long dirt road I had been on (he had been checking on oil wells I think) and he said he was surprised how much progress I had made between when he saw me both times. It was indeed a hilly, rough, and HOT road, but I was barely moving at all. He must have expected me to be moving even slower, lol. It’s all about perspective.

In any case, I loaded up with a few things to eat before going to bed after verifying that they would still be open later (until 11pm). I headed to the hotel run by an older and quite friendly gentleman and his wife who was knitting in a rocking chair right there in the lobby. We looked at maps together as I told him about my route and he pointed out a few things to watch out for. He was super friendly and the room with a regular metal key was awesome and most importantly heavily air conditioned. Of course by the time I showered, I put the AC at a low setting to keep it from running too much b/c the difference in temp between the inside and outside was so great I didn’t want to get frozen and cold in the room. In fact this was frequently the case where I would either put the AC on “fan only” or a high temp setting at the few hotels I stayed in because my body was adjusted somewhat to the heat and anything below 75 felt quite cold.

This was important for my night time departures leaving with temps falling into the mid 60s all the way until morning. This really helped me deal with the hot temps later in the day as that was very cool (but with the effort of riding certainly not too cool) for a great night of riding.

Riding across Texas in one day (TX panhandle) – Cheyenne, OK to Clayton, NM
[Friday, June 18th, 9:25pm, 231.8 miles, 7184ft, 83 degF, 64 (min), 117 (max)]

I packed up and headed out of the hotel by 9:30pm with still a little bit of light left from the day and similarly still quite warm. I knew I was starting with a long 75 mile stretch before I would come to the first 24 hour gas station in Pampa, so after a quick stop at the convenience store in Cheyenne for food/water, I headed out on the state highway before leaving it onto some very soft dirt roads that were quite tricky to ride. It felt nearly identical to the soft sugar sand you get down in Florida, except this was a very dry dirt. I imagine it would have been awful in the rain turning into peanut butter mud. Thankfully, there was no threat of rain at all so I didn’t have to find out!

Somewhere through there on the soft dirt roads, I crossed over into Texas without realizing it. I knew I was in Texas, though, by the time I made it off the dirt onto an FM road (farm-to-market) which sits somewhere between a county road and state highway in Texas as far as road classifications go. Also, all the FM roads (which only exist in Texas as far as I know) have the state outline of Texas around the road number, so I knew I had made it into Texas. I made a series of turns on and off the FM roads alternating between gravel and chip/seal until I finally made it into the first small town of the day – New Mobeetie. I had been riding continuously for four hours over a lot of dirt and when I saw the post office right there, I figured at 2am, that’d be a good place to go inside sit down on the floor and munch/rest on something away from mosquitoes if there were any around outside. The floor was literally crawling with tiny bugs, probably attracted by the light, but I didn’t mind at all since they weren’t ants. I wasn’t too sleepy, otherwise I would have napped for a bit. Instead, after about 15 minutes finishing off a bag of chips, I got on my way again with about 3 hours left to make it to Pampa.

By the time I made it to Pampa around 4:45am ,the town was already starting to wake up and get moving. By the time I had left the gas station about 15 minutes later, I was on busy roads … especially the US highway leaving town. As it turns out, this highway leads to the next town over, Borger, which was about the same size as Pampa, but apparently there were a lot more people that work in that town but live in Pampa. Traffic was quite heavy for 5:15am in the morning and only got heavier and heavier as I approached Borger! I say “heavy” but in fact it was still fairly light compared to Birmingham – but on a 70 mph speed limit two lane road in the dark, each car feels like an army of cars. Thankfully, I had a huge shoulder to ride in that was mostly paved.

Borger was an interesting town with some sort of power station (perhaps hydroelectric?) sitting high up on a ridge as I came into town from the east. The town itself was also high up on the same ridge, which came after several other hills. Most of the riding up to that point had been short steep hills or flat. This was the first longer ridges I had to cross. They were still just 200-300 feet tall, so nothing major, but it was a fun change.

The ridges I was climbing were carved by the Canadian River and its tributaries. This was pretty high up towards the source of the river, so it was mostly dry when I finally crossed it. This is one of the main rivers in Oklahoma that I had already crossed a couple hundred miles earlier on my way to Tuttle.

I was excited for the hills, but they wouldn’t last long. Shortly after climbing back out of the Canadian River valley, I started what ended up being an oh-so-gradual 125 mile, 2500′ climb all the way up to 5000′ of elevation by the time I made it across Texas to Clayton, NM.

I had a terrible cross/headwind for over half of the climb (70ish miles), but I turned nearly 90 degrees and started heading much more northerly by the end turning that nasty cross/headwind into more of a cross/tailwind. Combined with another incredibly hot day, it made for a very long day. I hadn’t had any signs of rain at all since the first day way back in Alabama and Mississippi, so one positive sign was that I could see storm clouds in the distance and actually made it just underneath them by the end although the rain wasn’t reaching the ground.

I had made it to the “monsoon” region of the country (the southwest) in the middle of “monsoon” season where thunderstorms form frequently in the afternoons and sometimes don’t even dissipate fully until late the next morning. I would end up dodging thunderstorms (and sometimes getting walloped by them) all the way to the end in Durango.

Climbing to Colorado – Clayton, NM to Trinidad, CO
[Sunday, June 20th, 3:46am, 105.5 miles, 4160ft, 78 degF, 59 (min), 99 (max)]

I had a really hard time figuring out what to do when leaving Clayton. I knew that the only place to get water on my route was the tiny town of Pritchett with a saloon that opened at 9am almost 100 miles from my start in Clayton. I probably would have been fine making it there (especially since I had a water filter), but I also knew that a lot of the creeks were dry and I was going to be traversing some sketchy sections of far western Oklahoma and Eastern Colorado with the highlight being a trek up to the highest point in Oklahoma, followed by some “roads” that did seem to be there on satellite, but wasn’t entirely clear whether they were private ranch paths or legit roads.

The other challenge was my friend Erik Newsholme was racing the Race Across America and was going to be crossing my route at some point after I left Clayton. I could intersect him on my original route farther east if I felt like he would be ahead of me by the time I intersected the route as it would mean he would have to go farther. Or if I took my alternative route staying in more populated areas, I would have to ride fast enough to intersect him at Trinidad, much farther west closer to where he was coming from out of La Veta.

In the end, I decided to skip the Oklahoma high point and take the much more populated route up and over the pass between Raton, NM and Trinidad, CO. In Ride4Gabe v4.0, we were also going to try to hit that Oklahoma high point, but we struggled so much with the heat that year that we were far behind on our tighter schedule and had to forego it to make sure that we were only a day late to our destination. This year, I was on a more flexible time schedule, but I still couldn’t figure out a way to do it without adding at least one extra day to my trip. I consoled myself with missing the Oklahoma state high point yet again by vowing to bring my whole family out there to camp at the campground at the base of it and then we could all hike/bike to the top together!

This also turned out to be a double whammy because Erik was flying and he beat me to Trinidad and was well on his way east more than an hour ahead of when I dropped down into the city.

[Note: Erik went on to not only finish the Race Across America well within the time cut, but also as the first male across the finish line, WIN the race! Kudos to Erik for an amazing race when more than half the field dropped out.]

Meanwhile, I was still making my way to Raton in the beautiful cool morning sunrise, bleeding into lunch early afternoon intense heat (yet again) well into the 90s even though I was at 6,000 feet of elevation. I stopped at a Dollar General in Raton and ran into a fellow bikepacker who was making his way up to Colorado Springs for a Renaissance Shakespeare festival. We chatted for a few minutes while we packed up our things from the store. I asked him what route he was going to take, and he mentioned straight up and over I-25. I agreed that was my plan, too, to get to Trinidad.

There is only one other route to get to Trinidad – the old highway before the interstate was built. It’s a cool route, but the only problem is that a Colorado rancher bought all the property once you cross the border. I didn’t know this in 2012 when I was following that route. I also didn’t know that it was legal to ride that portion of the interstate in New Mexico and Colorado, so I continued onto the ranch property and had quite the adventure rounding a corner on a fast descent straight into a huge herd of elk that were lounging in the middle of the dirt road! On that same adventure years ago, I discovered that the route I was following eventually merged with I-25 and there was a “bicycles allowed” sign at the electric cattle guard entrance onto the interstate.

So this year, I decided to just take I-25. I knew there was a nice shoulder, but as I approached the interstate while climbing through the heart of main street Trinidad, I saw a flashing construction sign telling me to detour east which would take me back down to an earlier entrance to the interstate, which would have meant riding even farther on it. I initially thought I would ignore the detour, but since I was still climbing pretty steeply, I didn’t want to have another US Highway 80 experience (the bridge was simply gone with no way to get across I-20) and have to backtrack down the mountain. So I turned around and followed the detour back down to the earlier I-25 entrance.

I made it onto the freeway and realized almost immediately that my half of the freeway was currently closed! I started to get worried because that would mean I would be riding a shared one-lane each way section of I-25 with what became apparent was a ridiculous amount of summer vacation traffic heading to Colorado.

Fortunately, I saw that there weren’t any real obstacle on my side of I-25, so I just kept right on going figuring I could work my way around whatever might have closed my side of the interstate. Keep in mind this was an interstate mountain pass with widely split sections of the interstate between northbound and southbound. So I wasn’t entirely sure if there was a bridge completely missing or a massive landslide if I would in fact be able to get around it.

As it turns out, there was just some surface potholes that were quite large that I guess were being in the process of being fixed. I honestly couldn’t see any work at all on the surface so there must have been some bridge work or reinforcement work that I couldn’t see. As far as I could tell, the interstate was simply closed because of the potholes. I’m sure there has to be more to the story than that, and perhaps it had something to do with the large construction project at the very top of the climb near the border. But what was confusing about that is that the northbound side of I-25 returned to my “closed” side of I-25 right before that construction project. It’s possible that they were saving the pothole resurfacing until the end and were going to work on that in the next day or two and reopen the whole thing.

I don’t know. All I can say is I was very thankful to have an eight mile climb on a closed interstate all to myself!

The descent down into Trinidad was uneventful except getting pulled over by a Trinidad city police officer literally right in front of the hotel I was spending the night at. I had already exited the interstate, so I’m thinking he was sitting on the side of the interstate and saw me get off b/c he didn’t come from behind me. He came from ahead of me. In any case, I didn’t protest at all that bikes were indeed allowed on the interstate because I also knew that once you get close to cities with bypasses, bikes usually are told to exit and use the bypass roads. I figured this was the case for Trinidad as well even though I hadn’t seen any signs directing bicycles off the interstate at any point, so I just apologized profusely and he gave me a stern warning that if he saw me riding on the interstate again, I would be getting a big fat ticket.

Bicycles are indeed allowed on I-25!

I knew that I was not planning to be on the interstate again until late that night on the far side of Trinidad where I took a picture of the sign to the right showing that bicycles are indeed allowed on the interstate so I could show any state troopers that picture in case there weren’t aware of the bicycle-specific regulations. I also knew that I was only going to be hopping on the interstate between Trinidad and Denver in a few sections where there just isn’t a reasonable bypass at all because I wanted to explore the gravel roads that sometimes parallel the interstate and sometimes deviate way off to either side. Still, those roads sometimes just end at a river with no bridge remaining, hence the need to hop on the interstate at several spots.

Freezing on the way to Golden – Trinidad, CO to Golden, CO
[Sunday, June 20th, 9:10pm, 242.9 miles, 9708ft, 60 degF, 48 (min), 77 (max)]

After so many hot, dry days in a row, a sudden switch to cold 48 degF rain made this day feel like the coldest of the entire trip. In fact, it was only the second coldest because of an extended amount of time in the 70s for the last third of the ride on all the bike paths through Denver to Golden where I was quite hot working through some of the steep pea gravel climbing forever to Golden.

The transition in the weather was pretty quick, although not instantaneous. Even before going to bed in the afternoon, I could see huge thunderstorm clouds building and worried that I’d end up having to leave in the middle of a thunderstorm or get hit by one shortly after leaving. I woke up and saw that there was a few storms north of Trinidad in my route, but they were all drifting off to the east.

Sure enough, as soon as I left the hotel and made it north of the city, I could see lightning flashing quite a bit off to the east. It made for an entertaining and awe inspiring ride seeing all the lightning. But then I felt a rain drop. And then another, and another. Pretty soon, I was scrambling to get my ziplock bags out to cover my electronics (phone, Garmin, dynamo light with charging port). It must have been the remains of a thunderstorm drifting in from the west that I hadn’t even been paying attention to since I was focused on the lightning to the east.

It didn’t last long, but it was heavy enough that I was pretty wet by the time it stopped. Still, temps had only dropped down into the low 60s by this point after starting out at 9:30pm in the low 70s. So I wasn’t terribly cold. It stayed dry and fun as I rode a lot of these old frontage roads that were hit or miss pavement and sometimes deep sand in the flood zones. Plus it rolled a bit with short steep hills so I was staying plenty warm until I started to approach Pueblo where it started to rain pretty good again.

It was getting closer to sunrise so the temps had continued to plummet all the way down to the upper 40s hovering around 50 degF for several hours past sunrise well past Pueblo almost to Fountain.

Meanwhile, back in Pueblo, I had had a pretty interesting gas station encounter. I rolled up to the gas station thankful to get out of what I told the clerk was “pissing rain” – that is the absolute best way to describe the heavy small raindrops (not mist) that coat you completely and instantly. The clerk told me I should bring my bike inside so that it didn’t get stolen. I jokingly told him that I definitely wasn’t worried as the first person who tried to hop on that bike and ride away with it would immediately fall over from all the weird weight distribution on it.

This fun exchange made me forget about what I had just seen moments before. I was drinking my large HOT coffee trying to warm up when another patron came inside and reported that there was a white car crashed at the intersection. This is what I forgot (keep in mind I was nearly 1500 miles into a bike ride without a lot of sleep having ridden through yet another night). I had seen the car as I approached the intersection and thought it was parked in a weird place, but out of the way enough that it could be a police officer with their lights off in position to go after anyone running the light. But when I got closer to the car, you could see some damage on it and that it was empty.

The clerk behind the register quickly left the store and went out to check on the car to make sure there wasn’t somebody hurt that we had missed (I felt immediately bad for not even thinking about checking down in the car to see if someone was slumped down below the window line). He came back in a minute or two and reported that there wasn’t anyone in the car. Meanwhile, he was walking towards me with his back to the car and an old pull-style tow truck pulled into the intersection, hoisted the car, and had it out of the intersection across the street into a parking lot. I kid-you-not, this took less than a minute … possibly less than 30 seconds … for him to hook up the car and tow it out of the intersection. Either that, or I was in some sort of slow motion timewarp where things that took longer seemed like they took no time at all.

Pike’s Peak foothills

Since I was still on the Trinidad side of Pueblo, and since it was almost 5am by this point and raining pretty good, I decided I needed to get going to get through Pueblo before Monday morning work traffic started to pick up, especially with the nasty rain that just wouldn’t let up. It would keep raining almost all the way to Fountain, CO just south of Colorado Springs. Here it stopped finally and even though the clouds didn’t clear, they were lifted high enough that I could see where Pike’s Peak should be covered in a thick layer of clouds. It was a pretty cool view, especially since I could see way across the valley to where I-25 was where we had ridden a couple years ago on Ride4Gabe v4.0, but because of the cold and the rain I didn’t end up taking any pics until much farther north almost to Colorado Springs (see pic above).

The temps didn’t warm up much at all through Colorado Springs as it stayed overcast all the way up the 3,000 foot, 67 mile climb from Pueblo to nearly 7500 feet way up in Black Forest above Castle Rock northeast of Colorado Springs. I stopped at a volunteer fire department at the very top before heading downhill to put on ALL my warm clothes b/c I was quite cold at this point with the temp still in low 50s at noon with a long 30 mile descent down to Denver ahead of me. What I didn’t know is that the descent was rolling downhill on a rough, loose dirt road that required a lot of effort. So within a mile of leaving the fire department, I had to strip most of the warmer clothing back off to keep from overheating (i.e., sweating).

Having no experience at all with the Tour Divide, I imagined this dirt road might be representative of the type of road I will be spending a LOT of time on during the race next summer. See pic below.

Long rolling descent from Black Forest down towards Denver. This road seems like it will be most like the dirt roads on the Tour Divide (lots of washboard in places with some mud and some hard packed areas).

Once I hit the bottom, I was on a busy state highway for a few miles before hitting a gas station that was also quite busy. Thankfully, only a few miles later, I was able to hop on a bike path for the last FIVE hours of my ride through the entire Denver metropolitan area. At the very end, my friends Mark Fisher and Boris Simmonds joined me at the end of their mountain bike ride to guide me up the last hills into Golden to Boris’s house where I was spending the night.

Part of the reason it took five hours to traverse the 53 miles of bike paths is because I was really struggling with saddle sores. The sores had been getting worse all week but not at a rate that I was too worried about, but the unexpected hours of rain in the morning I think greatly accelerated the problem. Thankfully, I caught a glimpse of a Walgreens pharmacy from the bike path and shot over there like a bullet to see if they had anything at all that would help … especially since I was getting low on chamois butt’r anyway. They had medicated Vitamin A&D ointment, which is perfect to not only perform the same role as chamois butt’r, but also help heal the skin overnight. For the Tour Divide, I’m definitely going to start from the beginning with a mix of antibacterial hand sanitizer mixed into the chamois butt’r to try and keep the saddle sores from forming at all. I think you are far better off if you can keep them from forming in the first place than if you are trying to recover from them / deal with them later. I was super miserable on what should have been fun bike trails b/c I couldn’t pedal the bike without a lot of pain.

It was really great to see Boris and his family and to get a great night’s sleep and great food, too. While I was sleeping, Boris did a complete overhaul on my bike and came up with an electric tape solution to hold my mangled bar hood covers in place (they kept coming off when I shifted gears so I was just riding with them out of place all the time). Super thankful as I still had over 600 miles left to go to wind my way around Colorado over to Durango on the western side of the state.

A much needed short and beautiful day – Golden, CO to Granby, CO
[Tuesday, June 22nd, 7:41am 81.5 miles, 7595 ft, 81 degF, 66 (min), 93 (max)]

The next morning was supposed to be my attempt to climb Mount Evans, but no matter how we brainstormed plans and routes, it just wasn’t going to be possible for me to do the climb on my heavily loaded bike with tired legs in a reasonable amount of time to keep from falling way behind on my schedule to cover the remaining 600 miles to Durango before Josiah’s cycling camp was over.

While a little bit disappointed, I was also very relieved to not have to do the climb and even more excited to find out that Mark arranged his schedule to ride with me out of town up probably one of the most frequently climbed climbs in Golden – the Lookout Mountain climb. It was awesome to do this iconic climb with Mark and talk about life in Golden and biking and have him point out all the cool places you could see down in Golden below us as we climbed are way up to the top.

At the top, I turned right to head towards Berthoud Pass and Mark turned left to head back down the mountain to Golden. There is a mix of US highway 40 and bike paths that take you alongside rivers and along I-70 through a couple small towns (Idaho Springs and Empire). Almost all of the vehicle traffic is on I-70 so it was really great riding. Plus it was right alongside the river and I got to watch a lot of groups whitewater rafting down the river as I rode up alongside it.

I knew that Berthoud was going to be scenic, but it was still mind-boggling amazing. I’ve ridden through and driven through a lot of Colorado (including Leadville and also climbing Pikes Peak to the top) and I’d say this was my first real up-close taste of so many mountains and mountain ranges. Even in Leadville you have some amazing views but those mountains are many miles away and still feel somewhat distant. Here you could see giant walls of mountains less than a mile away across a deep river valley, and you could stare straight up to the top of the snow covered peaks while climbing up a different snow covered peak.

The large cornice that lined the ridge of Stanley Mountain was fascinating to me. Even from a thousand feet below and a few miles away, you could see the shadow from the overhanging snow and ice. Berthoud Pass tops out at 11,310′ whereas Stlanley Mountain is a good solid 12,500′ and the Colorado Mines mountain (the other mountain of Berthoud) is over 13,000′. Meanwhile across the deep river valley, Engelmann Peak, sits just below 13,500′. You could see the entire face of this mountain from valley to peak from across the river on the climb up Berthoud … for a lonnng time as it took me 2.5 hours from bottom to top to climb the 3,000 feet from I-70 up to the top of the pass on my heavily loaded gravel bike.

On the false flat shortly before reaching the top, I saw a loaded bikepacker moving pretty good coming the other way and thought maybe it was somebody doing the Tour Divide. I gave them a wave and looked over at them, but they were pretty focused on riding. I was wondering if this was a racer, but as I would find out later when I stopped for the afternoon in Granby, the Tour Divide route doesn’t climb up to the top of Berthoud, but instead stays about 25 miles farther west down in the large river valley that leads into Silverthorne before climbing up through Breckenridge.

From the top of Berthoud you descend for a long way at a pretty good clip to Winter Park where the descent turns into more of a false flat downhill that takes forever. Along this very busy highway, I found an off-road narrow singletrack trail that paralleled it when I saw somebody riding it the other way. I hopped over onto it and followed it until it diverged far enough away from the main road that I decided in the interest of time I would hop back over onto the highway to cover the last 10 miles into Granby.

I made it to Granby and passed by the place I was staying for free thanks to a friend of the Griffins and went straight to the McDonalds to get dinner and take it back to the room. I had been craving a burger and fries forever and asked the clerk to put a bunch of ketchup in the takeout bag. I had to stop him as he grabbed about 50 packets and told him not quite that many, but I still probably had 25 packets of ketchup to enjoy my fries and burger with. It was awesome!

As I checked in, I was told that the entire place does not have air conditioning, which I thought was an odd thing, but it had already started to cool off a big and being very high in the mountains, there really wasn’t a need for air conditioning. I’m guessing because it had been quite hot earlier in the afternoon that a lot of people must have been wondering about air conditioning. The room had a fan, though, and it was perfect.

I checked in before 5pm and wanted to sleep for a few hours and then be on my way again sometime before midnight. And that’s what I did.

Red moon rising and forest fires – Granby, CO to Rifle, CO
[Tuesday, June 22nd, 11:40pm 199.2 miles, 10512 ft, 63 degF, 28 (min), 84 (max)]

I knew that it was going to get cold that night, but I wasn’t expecting 28 degF! I was starting early enough in the evening just before midnight that the temps were still in the lower 50s, which I could easily handle. But I was dressed pretty minimally, so when I stopped at a gas station, I drank a lot of coffee to warm up and put on my arm/leg warmers to try to warm up a bit. Of course, immediately afterward, the temperature started to climb again as I climbed up out of the Colorado River valley.

This wouldn’t last long, though, as I continued to climb the temperature started to drop again as I got earlier into the next morning. By the time I crossed the main climb and dropped down into a high mountain valley, the temp plummeted to 28 degF and stayed in the low 30s for a while. At some point during this time, I had on all my clothes I had brought including the ultra lightweight down vest Kristine had gotten me that I had brought for emergency cold. I had doubted whether I would need it, that it would actually get down into the 20s, but as I was shivering with all my clothes on, I made a voice memo that simply said “Kristine was right”.

During this time, one thing that was a helpful distraction from the cold was the red moon that followed me all night. I thought it was odd looking and first wondered if it was a partial lunar eclipse (which turns the moon orange/red). But by the first sign of daylight while it was still pretty dark, I noticed a different orange light up ahead as I was climbing up one of the mountains. At first, I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but within a few minutes I realized it was the occasional burst of flames from a forest fire!

I could see the smoke rising from the fire as the daylight grew brighter still an hour or so before sunrise. Ironically, I believe it was smoke from a larger forest fire significantly farther south of where I was that was causing the moon to turn orange. But when I saw this much closer forest fire up ahead, it made me realize that is why the moon was orange/red all night.

When I finally made it to Yampa (the next town on my route with a gas station) shortly after sunrise (I was lucky that they had just opened) I asked the local clerk if she had seen the fire and when it had started. She said that it had started a couple days earlier. I followed up by asking if she was worried about it, and she responded that they were definitely worried about it as it was hard to get to so they weren’t sure how far would spread. Also, it had already burned through a rancher’s grazing land high on the mountain.

I left the store and was getting my bike loaded back up with water/gatorade and ready to roll out when an older man drove up in his pickup truck and asked where I was heading. I told him I was heading to Rifle and mentioned the county road I was taking, and he said, “oh, you’re taking the scenic route”.

He was right – it was definitely scenic. About 40 miles of gravel that was basically 15 miles of climbing, 7 miles of descending, another 10 miles of climbing, and then another 30 miles of descending with the first 8 miles of that gravel and then the next 20-25 miles a rolling gradual paved descent down to Meeker, CO – one of only TWO populated places in all of Rio Blanco County, Colorado. I discovered this while taking a break in the air conditioning (it had been in the 80s for a while after being 28 degF about 12 hours earlier) and munching on some chips at a table below a county map posted in the gas station.

The ride south from Meeker to Rifle was very busy on a major highway – Colorado State Highway 13. But as is the case in almost every state outside of Alabama and its immediate neighbors, there was a nice (but small) rumble strip-free shoulder to ride in that kept me relatively safe from the traffic.

The town of Rifle itself was almost a shock to the system after having been in a very rural part of Colorado. This town sits along I-70 and along the Colorado River. There were so many people there it was almost ridiculous. I waited through lines at the gas station and Culver’s (for dinner) and made it back to my hotel around sunset ready to get a good (but short) night’s sleep before starting early in the morning on the final day.

The million dollar highway did not disappoint – Rifle, CO to Durango, CO
[Thursday, June 24th, 3:02am, 214.6 mi, 16991ft, 58 degF, 37 (min), 90 (max)

This day had it all. It was the perfect way to end this 2100 mile adventure from Birmingham to Durango. It started out innocently enough, but surprisingly some humidity and a little bit of light rain as I was climbing up onto the Grand Mesa.

As the night sky disappeared into sunrise, the rain disappeared too, but the climbing up onto Grand Mesa continued. I ended up starting that ride on the final day with a 22 mile, 2500′ rolling climb on an ATV type “road” with ruts that made the ones on Skyway 2 look kinda small. The descent down into Collobran before climbing back up onto the Grand Mesa was long and quite eventful. First, there were cows everywhere. I kept startling them and having to slow down to keep from running into the back of them. Then there was a pack of bighorn sheep! Sadly, I didn’t get a pic because they were large and I was moving fast and I didn’t have time between nearly running into them and shooting around the side of them. By this point in my ride I was so tired, there was no way I was going to stop to take a pic. Also, I figured at first it was regular brown sheep, but as I was describing them later (and Kristine sent me a picture) it was definitely a large pack of wild bighorn sheep.

After Collbran was a shorter 10 mile climb (but much, much steeper) up onto Grand Mesa proper where all the campgrounds and ATVs were. Thankfully, the first half of this climb was paved, albeit very steep, but the second half got even steeper and turned to deep, rough gravel. It was quite slow, and I was getting bit by mosquitoes who had no problem keeping up with me at 2-3 mph. As I approached the top, I could see the start of a storm forming immediately over top of me. Eventually it got big enough that it started dropping large drops of rain and even thunder and lightning. I just knew I was going to get soaked, but since I was almost to the top, I knew that I would be zipping down the other side on a long descent and could possibly outrun it?

This worked out well and I ended up staying mostly dry after divebombing off Grand Mesa on the 25 mile, 5,000 foot steep drop way down into the valley. Behind me, I could see the storm continue to grow until it covered a huge part of the mesa. I imagine it was just dumping rain where I had been just 20 minutes ago! Whew, that was close! But I would find out in about two hours that I wasn’t going to be able to avoid/outrun all the storms.

Before that, though, I would bake in the long valley crossing across to Montrose. I could see lots of storms all around at this point and ended up getting dumped on by one as I rode into the outskirts of Montrose. I needed to refuel before the start of the Million Dollar Highway and could see an even bigger storm with lots of lightning notifications heading my way. Thankfully I made it to the McDonalds right as that second storm hit. From bright sunny muggy steam covered roads back to a downpour. I was going to wait it out inside the McDonalds out of the rain, but unfortunately due to Covid, they weren’t letting anyone stay inside once you got your food. So I had to huddle under a small overhang right outside the building and eat my food mostly (but not completely) out of the rain.

The storm didn’t last long, and I was ready to roll out immediately on its tail to try to cover as much ground as possible before the next storm rolled through. Before it hit, I could see the huge mountains I would be climbing between very soon. Traffic was extremely heavy through here, and as I would find out about three hours later, many of them must have been heading to this big outdoor concert in Ouray.

I only made it about an hour before it started to dump rain with lightning everywhere. People were honking at me coming from the other way and several cars coming the other way had stopped on the side of the road to wait out the downpour. But I kept plugging away. The temperature was dropping fast, though, while it continued to downpour hard enough to make people drive very slowly and even pull off the road. Thankfully, I didn’t notice any hail, but the rain drops did hit you pretty hard, and I was pretty out of it over 2000 miles into my trip by this point.

It was 82 degF when I left the McDonalds, and by the time I was shivering hard and knew that I absolutely had to stop a little over an hour later, the temp had plummeted all the way down to 55 degF in the pouring down hard rain. When I saw a bike path off the side of the highway and started following it and it let me to a covered picnic shelter, I knew that I had to stop and wait out the rest of the storm. I still had dry clothes and dry socks buried in my bags so I knew that I wanted to wait it out and change into all those dry clothes. But I needed to be sure that it was done raining because I also knew that temp high up in the mountains was going to be very low later that night and that I would be in big trouble if I was trying to ride through all that in soaking wet clothes.

So I took everything off and laid everything out on the picnic table and even setup the bivvy I had brought with me all this way so I could crawl into it while stuff was drying and I was waiting out the rain. It rained hard for at least another hour before I finally started to see a few breaks in the clouds and a few spots of clear blue sky. Thankfully, I had good cellphone coverage there so I was watching the radar, too, and it looked like the storm was indeed past me and that no more were heading my way. So I changed into all my dry clothes, and packed up everything and was on my way about an hour and a half after stopping.

Hilariously, I was less than a mile away from a somewhat large town with at least one gas station that I rode right on by. So if that picnic shelter hadn’t been there, I would have been able to wait it out at the gas station. In any case, though, it was nice to find a a shelter outside to wait out the storm in this remarkably remote-feeling area immediately adjacent to a town.

I still had a bit of riding to do even before making it to Ouray … enough that I was indeed out of water and mostly out of food by the time I made it there. I am very glad that I didn’t have enough left to make me think I could make it all the way to Silverton because I would definitely not have made it, and the gas station in Silverton was closed by the time I got there. Thankfully, I bought enough at the Ouray gas station that I was indeed able to make it all the way to Durango 75 miles and 7500 feet of climbing. I still had plenty of water because the temps were indeed very cold down into the 30s for a good chunk of those 75 miles.

The 75 miles between Ouray and Durango were spectacular … particularly the first 25 miles between Ouray and Silverton. I kept taking pictures while riding and stopping in a few places to peer over the edge. The road frequently narrowed to just one lane with no guardrail on the dropoff side. I was told that they don’t put guardrails to make sure that no snow gets hung up on the guardrail making it hard to see where the edge of the road is. I will let the pictures and captions speak for themselves for this section and just summarize it as spectacular … the most Colorado-ish part of Colorado I have ever been in.

I was mistaken when I reached the top of the first major pass (Red Mountain) that it would be “all downhill” to Durango. But I also knew that there were many, many miles left and that Durango itself was over 6,000 feet of elevation. So I was also trying to figure out how that would work. The way it worked is that it is most definitely NOT all downhill to Durango from either the top of the first pass or from Silverton itself. You end up doing two more major climbs after that first big climb up from Ouray.

Even though the sun had set even before I made it to the top of the first pass, the moon was bright enough for me to get a lot of good pics almost like it was daytime!

Thankfully, there was very little traffic late at night as I made my way across the million dollar highway to Durango. It was just before 2am that I finally dropped down into town and directly to our hotel where Kristine was waiting for me outside the hotel lobby to welcome me at the end of my Ride4Gabe 5.0 adventure.

Check out 377 photos from the trip on my pickuta album: https://pickuta.com/album/226/