Tag Archives: rain

Tour Divide 2022 – Days 16 and 17 – June 26th/27th, 2022 – Grants, NM to Silver City, NM via the toughest ride of my life

Keep in mind by the start of this ride I was averaging about 3 to 4 hours of sleep per night for 15 days in a row. Also, keep in mind that by the start of this ride, I had already ridden over 2,400 miles over those same 15 days. Lastly, keep in mind that New Mexico was a concern for me even before the start of the race for fear of both peanut butter mud and running out of water. That leads us to the video below.

I could write the entire summary of the ride in the caption for this video. I was overjoyed when I could hear the sound of frogs from an entire football field away while trudging through tall grass next to the road carefully avoiding bare mud which would swallow your shoes and tires. The dirt road itself was a muddy quagmire that was not only not rideable, it wasn’t even walkable. Even finding the path through the grass off to the side of the road, there was the problem of what to do with all the mud everywhere and on everything. The most efficient way to deal with that kind of mud is water – a lot of water – hence my joy at the sound of frogs. The road did indeed get better after I made the left turn. It was more gravel and less mud, but it wasn’t any less rain. It continued to rain all night as the temps dipped down into the 40s. I was so cold by morning that I huddled under yet another pine/cedar tree to assess my options while at least partially out of the rain. I saw from the elevation profile on my map that was about to climb, so I ended up not doing anything other than having a snack and then taking off fast to try to warm myself up through exertion. I ran into another problem at the top of the climb — my front brake pad was gone, the last bit of bad had been shredded off while pushing my bike through mud. So I had to do the next 17 miles of descending (with a couple climbs, too) slowly with only my rear brake. I had a spare set of brake pads, but my hands and fingers were not functional having been wet and cold for so long that I simply had to get them warmed up before I could change the brake pads. So that’s what I did, thanks to Mogollon store owner and trail angel, Cresta Terrell, who had been following my trackleaders dot and drove out with chili and hot tea since her store was closed. How awesome! It was perfect trail magic, exactly what I needed to continue.

Let’s back up a bit … how did I get to a point where I was so happy to be standing in muddy water surrounded by frogs in the Gila National Forest? So this was actually days 16 and 17 of the Tour Divide, but it was one continuous ride with one short nap waiting out the rain on the porch of a Mormon Church (ranch), and three very short “naps” underneath “thicker” pine trees. I put “naps” in quotes because I only actually fell asleep for maybe 15-20 minutes the first time I stopped under a tree. I know I was asleep for this one because I remember being woken up by the sound of thunder. I did not fall asleep at all for the second or third “nap” and instead just simply needed a break from riding in the rain. Also, I put “thicker” in quotes because these were not “thick” pine trees at all – but some did have branches closer in to the trunk and looked less wet than the ground around it. But it was never dry.

I started the day about 20 hours before reaching the frogs in the Gila National Forest having left early in the morning from Grants, New Mexico. I had a good long stay at the hotel thanks in part to storms that were still going when I first woke up at 3AM, so I was able to sleep for another 1.5 hours to wake up by 4:30AM and out the door by 5:30AM. Knowing how long the stay I had been, I set my mind on riding all the way to Glenwood, which would be about 185 miles with the last 120 miles having no resupply at all. I got wet from the last bit of the storms and wet roads as I rolled out from the hotel, but I also noticed the temperature was quite a bit warmer than it had been. So I had to take off my rain gear since it wasn’t raining much and I didn’t want to sweat to death. Especially since there would be no stops at all for the first 65 miles to Pie Town … or the next 120 miles after Pie Town.

Nervous … El Malpais National Monument … mud … rain … water … distance.

I was nervous about those first 65 miles as documented in the video above. I knew that there was a 40 mile section leading into Pie Town that would be all dirt. Given how much rain had fallen I was worried about peanut butter mud. It ended up being good riding through great paved roads in the El Malpais national monument. This was a cool area with arches and rock formations and a great paved road that was wet. I was also scanning the sides of the road looking at all the mud. Also there was one fairly deep flooded river crossing the road. There were a couple other smaller ones. This did not bode well for the 40 mile dirt road to Pie Town.

Eventually, I did make it to the turn. It was black, sandy gravel that was a bit deep to ride through but no mud. So I thought this is great – I can work with this. The road was a bit elevated and there was only a couple low spots with some bad peanut butter mud that you could ride around. One interesting encounter on this stretch was a small herd of llamas in the middle of the road. I wasn’t sure how aggressive they would be, but one of only two cars that passed me on that 40 mile stretch of road came up right as I neared them and made them move off the road. I got a good video (see below) of the llamas up close as I went by – they just stared at me curiously.

Llamas standing on and beside the road to Pie Town, New Mexico

No rain at all along the 40 mile stretch of road but I could see lots of dark clouds and storms including a massive storm that formed behind me as I approached Pie Town. By the time I hit the state highway at Pie Town it had started to rain pretty good. I was only a quarter mile from the restaurant and wondering if I should put my rain gear on for the climb up the hill. I decided against it and went hard up the hill to the restaurant.

The Pie Town Ohana Cafe restaurant was really great. I had some New Mexico poutine and also got a burrito to go and also had their delicious specialty pie slice. I chatted with the waiter and the cooks and the dirt bike rider who had just finished up his tour divide ride on a dirtbike and was going to head west to Las Vegas from there instead of going all the way down to the end. I was hoping the storm would pass by the time I was done so I was pretty slow there at Pie Town and enjoyed my New Mexico poutine and specialty pie and ordered a breakfast burrito to go.

Unfortunately, it hadn’t stopped raining yet by the time I left so I had put on all my rain gear. Thankfully the storm was indeed almost over and I quickly rode out of the rain onto the next dirt road after stopping by the famous toaster house which is a free hostel for cyclists and hikers. There was nobody there. A mile or two later, it had stopped raining so I had to stop and take off my rain gear because it was getting hot – even with it still threatening rain and mostly cloudy.

I think what made those first few miles so stressful after leaving Pie Town was knowing I had 120 miles to Glenwood — the next place I could re-supply. I also knew that there wasn’t much shelter, but I didn’t realize that there was practically zero shelter over that same distance – especially the last 90 miles. I also didn’t realize at the time that it was going to be raining all night long.

At the moment, the road changed a bit with less gravel which made it easier to ride in places, but also had quite a few soft peanut butter spots. Most were avoidable, but some were not, and I was already picking up a layer of mud on the tires. It was difficult to find a clean path and I was stressed that I would be riding like this for the next 120 miles. In fact, I was so stressed it almost felt a bit like a panic attack with my chest getting tighter and so many negative thoughts flooding my mind as I rode through the muggy air with mosquitoes and flies.

Eventually, the dirt road intersected with more gravelly roads which eliminated the peanut butter mud possibilities for the most part but it was hard riding because of deep gravel. About 30 miles into the stretch I finally hit the national forest boundary. It started out with a very large climb that had the first section of peanut butter mud towards the top of the climb (surprisingly, you’d think this would be lower on the mountain), but I was rolling along and then watched in horror a sudden accumulation of mud on my tires with rocks flinging everywhere. I thought maybe I could ride it out but that whole entire stretch was far too long – maybe half a mile. There was no riding, there was no walking (on the road). So I got off the bike and immediately stepped down into mud so deep it covered both shoes and made me think I would never be able to clip into the bicycle again.

I could tell that there was no way to walk along the road so I made my way up the side of the hill and found the continental divide trail right there just off the main road. I had to stop because there was so much mud that I picked up scrambling the hill that the tires and wheels wouldn’t even turn anymore. I had a hard time getting the chain back onto the chainring because of all the mud completely covering the chain. After quite a bit of futzing around and spraying on a ton of bug spray to fend off all the mosquitoes, I was able to get the wheels moving and the chain back on even though there was still so much mud all over the drivetrain.

I started my hike-a-bike along the trail as it went right along side and slightly above the mud fest called a road. Eventually, the trail started to deviate off so I had to scramble back down to the road and then I realized that the road consistency had indeed changed and it was rideable. So I started riding again on the road, and that’s when I saw a northbounder coming the other way. She had stopped in the sun — unbelievably, there was actually a little bit of sun — and was eating. I said hello and she said hello and I mentioned about the peanut butter mud and she said in response there was more coming that she couldn’t even turn the wheels on her bicycle. I don’t know which section she was talking about or if it was because I was riding downhill after finally reaching the top that I had enough momentum to fling mud off before it really stuck. I warned her about the section I had just hike-a-biked and hopefully she was able to make it through without as much problems as I had.

I asked her if there was any shelter at the state highway I was about to cross, and she mentioned there were people from a Mormon church that gave her water. I asked about a hose, and apparently she had asked as well because she said they told her the hose was shut off. By the time I descended down off the mountain to the highway there was nobody at the church and everything was locked up. But the front building had a covered patio entrance that was very small, I decided to eat my burrito I had brought from Pie Town and wait out the approaching wall of rain (see pic below) and perhaps nap. As the rain really started to hit the patio, it became covered in ants escaping the rising water along side the patio. I could tell they were normal house ants so I didn’t worry too much about it even though they crawled all over me while I sat there and slept a bit.

View from the Mormon church ranch patio at the wall of rain approaching.

Before I went to the patio to escape the rain above, I talked with two guys standing outside their pick-up truck hauling a cattle trailer, which was stopped at the intersection with the state highway and asked them about shelter. They pointed to the patio but also mentioned that there was a covered school bus stop that was no longer in use about 5 miles away. They also laughed in a “I’m-so-glad-I’m-not-you” kind of way at my predicament with 30 miles (off course) to the nearest town.

Eventually, maybe 30 to 45 minutes later, the rain had indeed moved on so I packed up and started to ride down this awful gravel road. That’s the trade-off in these areas — the worse the road, the less likely it is to have peanut butter mud because of all the gravel and rocks. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to ride. Definitely better than peanut butter mud, though.

There were actually a few houses through this stretch, including one that had water set out for GDMBR riders. I had carried 5L of water with me so there was no way I was going to get any more water as I was already so heavily loaded. I ended up with at least 2L of water that I had not drunk by the time I finally made it through the forest, so I’m glad I didn’t get more water to weigh me down even more.

As it started to get dark after sunset, I could see new storms up ahead including some with lightning. I paid close attention to the direction my route was heading and thankfully noticed that I was going to clear the first storm to one side. Little did I know how much more rain and storms we’re on the way behind this one. Still, at the time I started being a bit more optimistic that it wasn’t going to be so bad and started to realize that I could indeed make it through the forest. This was correct as I did indeed make it through the forest, but it was easily the hardest thing I have ever done on a bicycle.

The route used various forest service roads of varying qualities as it continued to climb. I started to get sleepy a couple hours after dark. And it had already started to rain again. I kept looking for any kind of shelter that I could possibly stop and sleep in for an hour or two, but the only thing I found was thicker trees that were providing a little bit of cover from the rain. And after another hour of searching I was too tired to keep riding so I knew I needed to take a nap. I found a particularly good tree and decided to sleep there for a bit.

The lightning is what woke me up. Also, I was cold just sitting there after working hard on the climb. So maybe only 15-20 minutes after stopping I got going again. As I continued to climb it started raining a bit harder. I continued to change roads every now and then, and I would see signs pointing to lookouts down side roads and would try and figure out how far away that might be and whether it was worth the risk of riding there and not finding any shelter so I just continued on the route as it continued to rain.

At some point in the next few miles, I encountered a really bad section of peanut butter mud. I had been riding ruts with puddles to avoid the sticky mud but eventually it became impossible to avoid and my wheels quickly stopped moving so I had to carry the now enormously heavy bike (i.e., +10 pounds?!) off to the side of the road through even thicker mud and use whatever I could find to attempt to clean the mud off. I found that there was some thicker grass and even a path that wasn’t too bad. I had to first clean the bike and my shoes and then I started to ride without clipping in since there was still an inch or two of mud on the bottom of my shoes. I walked and rode for what seemed like forever but may have only been 1-2 miles. Eventually, I could hear frogs. This was a good sign because that meant deeper water where I could clean my bike and my shoes. This brings us to the video at the start of this post.

After cleaning my self and the bike off in the frog puddle I had to make a 90° turn onto a different road which thankfully was gravel and that was the end of the peanut butter mud. But it was not the end of my problems, as it continued to rain harder and get colder and I got sleepier. I ended up stopping dazed under two more trees and after the second tree realized it was almost 4AM and the sun would be rising soon. This somewhat rejuvenated me although it was really cold and rainy by this point. I had a bit of a fight of hypothermia by this point so I decided under yet another tree to just hit it hard and started riding as hard as I could which helped some.

After sunrise, I continued to climb and could now see the lines better. It was still very difficult and my hands were somewhat frozen by this point. Eventually I made it to the very top and saw a campground with vault toilet. But I knew I had a dissent and that a 24 hour store would be available at the bottom. I was wrong about that. I have NO IDEA why I had denoted a store in Mogollon as a 24 hour store, because not only are they not 24 hour stores, they are only open on the weekend. Also I would discover as I started the descent that my front brake pads were completely gone. I almost crashed into a tree when I tried to break with my front brake only while drinking with my other hand. This meant that I had to take everything super slow with just the rear brake so that in case it gave out, too, I could somewhat safely bail off the bike at a slower speed.

I had spare brake pads, but my hands were frozen and it would have been impossible to change out the brake pads cold, shaking, and shivering in the rain. Eventually, I made it into Mogollon — the mountain town at the bottom of the long descent. I found the 24 hour store labeled on my map but it was closed up tight and only open on the weekends and most definitely not 24 hours. I don’t know how I got that so wrong when I was doing my research. Somewhat despondent after passing the closed store, I decided to turn around to try the door one more time and ended up crashing as I made the turn — one of two crashes the entire trip! The door was all blocked off so that I couldn’t even get to it without climbing over some chairs and a chain so I decided it wasn’t worth getting in trouble and that I could make it to Glenwood just 11 miles farther up the road.

What I didn’t know was that the store owner, herself, was at that moment driving towards me from the other side of the mountain, which I also had no clue was there – I thought it was going to be “all downhill” to Mogollon. So after climbing out of the deep canyon, I then started the descent down into Glenwood. That descent would have been awesome if I had a front brake but I had to do the paved descent using just the rear brake, so I had to use the same strategy of not getting too much speed in case the rear brake gave out, too. Thankfully, by this time it had finally stopped raining. This is when I saw a car approaching and slowing down and I decided to see what was going on and try to slow down with just my rear brake and ended up flying past the car with an open window because I simply could not stop. The lady hollered out and said she had stuff for me and was so thankful I had made it through the night.

I had no idea who this was, but was certainly thankful for the trail magic. I would find out that this was Cresta Terrell, owner of the Mogollon General Store and amazing trail angel. She was taking care of people as they came through Mogollon as they came off the treacherous Gila national forest adventure. This gave me a chance to warm up so I could change my front brake pads. It was awesome!

By this point in the day, it had gotten quite hot and sunny, which was welcome after being so wet and cold for so long. Even though the sun was out, there was quite a bit of peanut butter mud on this dirt road, but with high speed on the downhill to Glenwood, it didn’t stick to the tires as aggressively. I made it to the store in Glenwood and resupplied for my 68 mile ride to Silver city that ended up having a nice tailwind that helped alleviate some of the challenge of all the relentless climbing all the way up to the continental divide and then over one more canyon wall and then finally a 2 mile descent back down into Silver City.

I was looking for some real food and stumbled upon Blakes diner which is a New Mexico fast food burger chain, and it was amazing. I made my way to the Food Mart near my hotel, resupplied with all the food for the start of my final day of the race, and then went to the hotel to find out that I was on the fourth floor of the hotel without a working elevator. I reasoned that it would be quicker to pack up my bike after sleeping if I carried it up the four flights of stairs. So that is exactly what I did — what a crazy end to a crazy long 270 mile adventure through the Gila National Forest area of New Mexico. Only one more day to go to finish off my detailed recap of the Tour Divide, but I’m currently in Staunton, Virginia to see The Tempest with my daughter playing the role of Alonso. Afterwards, I will be biking the 650 miles back home to Alabama since there won’t be any room in the car for me! So that last day recap will come sometime later this week.

Also, I have so much more pictures from this day, and many of them are in the pickuta album linked at the end.

Strava map and data: https://www.strava.com/activities/7380886262
Annotated elevation profile.

Pickuta photo album

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

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

TD 2022 – Day 1 – Fernie, British Columbia, Canada to Eureka, Montana, USA

“Hi Brian, all I need is to see your passport,” said the US border patrol agent as I rolled up ahead of Theo. I dug in my backpack not registering that he already knew my name until I showed it to him and he wished me “good luck”. As I pulled away, I realized he must have been following trackleaders to know which riders were coming and match them to their passports. The entire crossing took less than a minute, but then I proceeded to ride 2 miles off course with Theo Kelsey, the Canadian from Toronto who had just caught up to me on the descent after the third pass, who also made it through the border crossing in under a minute. We both realized eventually that we were off course and supposed to turn immediately after the border patrol station instead of staying on the main road!

But before all that, there was lots and lots of rain intermixed with snow hike-a-bike sometimes in the rain and sometimes dry. I left Fernie before sunrise in a light steady rain enjoying as many miles of pavement as possible before the route turned into a nice rideable gravel before it turned again into a rougher sometimes muddier gravel and started to climb a bit more steeply for a while. During this section I passed Andrew at the spot he had camped as he was packing up to head out. Even though it was still raining off and on, I was starting to get hot so I stopped and chatted with him for a minute as I took off my outer layer rain vest before proceeding up the climb. So it’s interesting that stopping at the lodge still saw me gaining time (10 minutes or so) on him even though he had been able to ride farther into the night. The downside though is the money you are spending for such a short stay – I only slept for three hours and was stopped for 5 hours by the time you do all the things you gotta do to get checked in, showered, electronics plugged in, and then taking absolutely forever to wake up and reverse the process getting everything packed again. I am putting that in bold because one of the things I want to figure out for next time I do the race is making that decision about whether to take a tarp/tent with me and also even if I have one whether it makes sense to stop at a motel/lodge/toilet instead, sometimes.

At the top of that first climb was a little bit of snow, but mostly just a little bit of mud and gravel. The next climb would have quite a bit more snow with a bit more hike-a-bike even though it was the same elevation. It still was nothing like the last pass, though, which had the most snow hike-a-bike … including a lot of deep post-holing right by an SUV that was buried up to the hood in snow.

Before the snow SUV was the infamous wall at about mile 91. I’ve zoomed in on the maps above, but here’s a rough idea of how it went … first, it caught me by surprise because the route was nice wide gravel and then my GPS was telling me to turn right. I could barely even see the trail entrance, but dove down into the singletrack before having to walk almost immediately. There were sections that were rideable but most of it was just flooded. I gave up trying to keep my sandals/socks dry and just started riding through the flooded trail. The singletrack went close to a large river in a few places, and the wall itself is essentially a climb up a bluff next to the river. One particularly steep slope before the wall had a huge tree down in the middle that required quite a bit of creativity to get over. Then the “wall” itself was quite muddy but a tad bit easier than the trees. No way to scale it, though, without clogging sandal with mud. I made it and was passed by Andrew through here and Tim Tait who I would ride with a bunch the next day. Andrew passed me in the singletrack which he was able to ride better. Tim passed me after the crazy tree navigation with him arriving right as I was finishing the last balancing act to get over. I mentioned “I’m not sure it’s the best strategy but there is one way to do it pointing at how I had set my bike on top of the tree and balanced it before climbing up and around and retrieving the bike on the other side”. He must have figured it out pretty quick because it wasn’t too far up the climb away from the river that he caught back up to me and passed me. I would sleep less than Tim overnight and catch him early the next day as he was waiting for a grizzly bear. More on that tomorrow…

Hot and cold … it was amazing to me to be so hot from the exertion and yet at the same time to have feet and sometimes hands that were so cold. Thankfully, after that last pass, the sun broke through the clouds with an awesome sunset view of the valley far, far, below which meant pavement and crossing back home to the USA. It was a fast, good dirt 4,000′ descent which meant I didn’t stop to take any pics at all until after the border crossing. It was during this descent that Theo caught up to me.

I had passed him earlier in the day (but not really met him) when he was changing a flat tire where a broken spoke had poked a hole through the rim tape. I felt really bad for him because it was raining hard and to have a problem with rim tape due to broken spoke causing a flat just seemed like a lot of problems so early in the race that would have been very, very disheartening for me. It was also at a completely overgrown bushwhacking part of the race that involved quite a bit of tree navigation through thick vegetation scrambling down and then back up the “road” a few times.

That was fairly early in the day, but it still caught me by surprise when he caught back up to me later. It was awesome though to meet and get a chance to talk to Theo and cross the border into the USA together. This was my first time using a land border to cross back into the USA and as mentioned at the top of this post, it couldn’t have gone any faster or better. In fact, my border crossing back into the USA from Mexico about 3000 miles later took a good solid 20 minutes even though I was the only person there at the mostly deserted crossing 60 miles away from El Paso.

Once Theo and I got back on course we talked about our plans for the day with both of us not wanting to tackle the next snowy passes at night including the Red Meadow pass which we both knew had reports of a very low snow level and tons of snow. Theo had a camping setup, though, so he was just going to ride on and find a good place to camp. I thought about doing that, but I would need to find a toilet or some sort of covering given how much rain we had had and the propensity for storms to move in at any time including at night.

Riding the Tour Divide without shelter

Sofiane, winner of this year’s race, also did the entire race without any kind of shelter (i.e., tarp or tent). And that has been the case for many of the past winners and top finishers. So my thought process ahead of time in NOT taking any kind of shelter is that I’d be able to find shelter or just sleep for a few minutes on the trail itself if necessary and then keep riding until I found shelter. I have slept out in the open many crazy places over the years, so that didn’t bother me. Of course, it was always dry or I was able to find some sort of cover. I didn’t realize or account for the snowy/rainy conditions of the Tour Divide, which were extra rainy and extra snowy this year, and long stretches of the course (particularly later in the race) that had no shelter whatsoever anywhere. In such conditions, sometimes the trail might be covered in snow for many miles or it could be raining or storming at the point where I got sleepy. This meant that I was taking a risk any time I was bypassing a known spot where I could stop with shelter to try to make it farther to the point where it made more sense to stop from a riding / sleep standpoint. For this reason, I often had to stop much earlier than I would have liked (including this day at just 120 miles of riding).

But back to this day, I said good-bye to Theo as he was riding faster than me and I had already decided from our conversation that I would be stopping in Eureka and sleeping there and then setting out around midnight to make up for yet another short day. There were a couple motels in town so I asked at the gas station if there was one he’d recommend, and it turns out that the gas station was the check-in desk for the motel right next door. So he started the check-in process and I was amazed at the all-in-one nature of the stop: resupply and lodging. This turned out to be the case for many lodges along the entire route – a small motel would be attached to the gas station itself, which doubled as the check-in desk.

Off to bed quickly so I could start as early as possible the next day, but more on that tomorrow…

Maps and Data

Strava map and data – https://www.strava.com/activities/7305062091
Day 1 – Fernie, Canada to Eureka, Montana. Click the image above to zoom.
Three big passes with the last two having quite a bit of snow hike-a-bike. The end of this day in Eureka, Montana at an elevation of 2600′ was the lowest point of entire Tour Divide race.

Pickuta photo album

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

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