Monday, September 23, 2019

Tour Divide Part 3

Sheesh, we were nearly there, 125 miles to go. We rode into Silver City rich in many ways but not in food or water. The last couple of days had been borderline for sustenance. We were tired, thirsty and hungry.

The afternoon weather forecast was looking dodgy, and that was fine with me. All I wanted for the rest of the day was to eat food.
By 1pm we had a hotel room and directions for some food downtown.
The food was good in the restaurant. We tried to ignore the downpour outside. 

Tom was adamant that tomorrow we’d ride the remaining 125 miles in one day, and of course, I’m up for it if Tom is.

We have the laziest of starts to the day though and arrive in Hachita, 45 miles from the end of the route around 5pm. There is a store there owned by Geoff who informs us that Jefferey who runs a Divide taxi service is on his way to see us.

We drink coffee, coke and chat to Geoff who’s had a go at riding the Divide. We also chat with the border police who ask if we are going to ride to the border tonight.

I’m all for swerving a late night, but Tom says we’ll be fine. The border guards warn us of illegals.

Lightning to the right of us and lightning to the left as we head South. Snakes in the road too. 

My lights kept on cutting out. We manage with just Tom’s light.

Tired, but so happy. There was nothing that could stop us that evening.

Every now and then Tom would grab my attention and we’d fist pump like the cool kids or hold each other’s hands like the old people do.

We rolled up to the border gates around 10 pm. some 32 days after leaving Banff. A lovely warm evening and no one else around. I took some pictures. We then waited for our lift back to Hachita. We waited a good while, but our time there seemed not long enough considering the time it had taken to get there.

We’ve been on a special journey in the last 9 years since Tom’s first big ride of 35 miles at the age of 5. As we finish the Tour Divide our cycle odometer clocks 22,000 miles of rides that we’ve ridden together.

Tom has achieved so much with a seemingly endless quest to ride that bit further, but at the Mexican border for that moment we are content.

“My work here is done.”

We'll be riding the Strathpuffer 24 as a pair in January and We are going to race each other at the MegAvalanche in July!

Look out for a book that tells some of our tales which will be published by Little Peak Press next year.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Tour Divide part 2.

In part one of our Tour Divide write up I mentioned something that nearly put an end to our aspirations to finish the ride. Here’s part two. 

After Tom’s blip in motivation, he committed to finishing the Divide. This in some ways put some extra pressure on me. I’m 53 and was suffering with saddle sores, and knees that took it in turns to hurt lots. I’d always thought of myself as the weak link on these trips in the last couple of years. 

I’d developed a bit of a sniffle and cough, the sort of thing that if you were at home it  would stay for a couple of days and then clear up. Riding for 12 plus hours a day though gave the body little time or resources to repair what would normally be a minor complaint.

I tried to keep my ailment to myself though on a couple of occasions Tom asked if I was going to die as my coughing threatened to eject my lungs on to the road.

I was trying to take it easy, though I was aware that our planned goal of 30 days was reliant on big days.

As we rode towards the Great Basin I was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe after having a coughing fit. Surely it would be better the following day though?

If I wasn’t riding I was OK, but as soon as I started riding again I’d have to be careful not to breathe hard or I’d start coughing. A particularly annoying type of cough where there was never any product or resolution at the end of the cough, just an itchy throat that itched the coughing to continue.

I was trying to ignore my situation, but the reality was that I was not getting better but worse. I’ve taken my daughter to hospital a number of times when she was younger as she struggled for breath as an asthma sufferer. A responsible adult should take me to hospital. I was determined that we were going to finish this ride. A conflict of interest.

Would my body let me finish this ride? Was I being foolish and putting my health at risk in pursuance of this goal? Maybe. I kept all this to myself though. Tom was motivated again to ride to the finish, though he would have advised the sensible thing, and that was to stop riding and go and see a doctor as would my family and friends who were following our trip. I kept on riding though. Tom and I had a deal, and I was doing my best to keep to my end of it.

 I was struggling on the hills with my shortness of breath for sure, but on one particular afternoon the route was flat. Great? Yes, but there was a killer head wind which whipped up loads of dust. That combination of wind and dust and I was really struggling to breathe. I was also having dizzy spells. 

I didn’t want to wreck our dream of finishing the Divide, but I also knew that I was not getting better.

If I made it to the next town Salida without resorting to having to press the SOS button on our satelIite tracker I was going to have to find a doctor.

As we rolled down the hill to Salida we were greeted by Brian Steele and Jacqueline (Billy Rice’s Mum) I was struggling to talk properly to them my throat was so sore.

The following morning instead of jumping on our bikes and heading for the hills, first we had a sleep in. Tom liked that. Then we headed for the Medical Centre. The doctor after various tests decided that I had a lung thingy called pneumonitis. He explained the most effective treatment was at least a week of rest. I explained that this was a less than ideal treatment as we were riding to the Mexican border. He told me he was used to awkward patients and that he may be able to prescribe some medicine that may assist in my recovery.

20 minutes on a machine inhaling salbutamol followed by a course of tablets and an inhaler to go.

I was happy that the  diagnosis wasn’t anything more serious, though I was told that if I wasn’t better within 5 days that I must find another doctor.

We left Salida some time after midday in the direction of Marshall Pass one of the big climbs of the Divide.

The wind was in our faces again so we were pleased to see somewhere to stop for a drink, though only a few miles out of town. At the Elevation Brewery at Poncho Springs we stopped, relaxed and enjoyed the company of the staff and customers, and yes we had a few drinks.

I was beyond relieved that we were going to be able to continue our ride, but urgency beyond making sure we made it to Antelope Wells in time to get a flight home was waning.

That evening we made it over Marshall Pass and onto Sargents, a half day riding but definetely a day of progress.


… be continued.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Tour Divide Part 1.

Here’s part one of what occurred on this summer’s big ride, the Tour Divide.

A bike ride we’ve been talking about doing for a number of years. 2745 miles in distance, it starts in Banff, Canada and zigzags it’s way South along the Continental Divide to Antelope Wells on the Mexican border.

Tom (14) and I got on our Sonder Broken Roads and over 32 days (with none off for good behaviour) rode it all.

I guess you are thinking, “Wow that’s amazing” which of course as an achievement, is just that.

So, “How was the ride, the pictures looked amazing?”

Tom and I have ridden a long way together over the last few years. Before we left for Canada, Tom had under his belt around 19,000 miles. Lots of 100 mile days, 24 hour races, a 200 mile ride, several multi day bikepacking trips. We felt ready and suitably experienced for the Tour Divide. In some ways, all those miles we’d previously ridden were training for this, the big one.

We had an aim high goal of completing the route inside 25 days, with a fall back position of 30 days. Whilst I thought 25 days was going to be tough, I thought we’d easily make it inside 30 days presuming nothing much went wrong.

We were ambitious and confident before we started. Getting to the end was going to happen. I say that because Tom and I have always had a pact that if we start a ride, we will finish it. There are rides that we’ve talked about and not started, but the only reasons we’ve not finished rides which we’ve started are due to becoming physically ill. We might be determined, but sometimes our bodies have other plans.

We rocked up to the start in Banff with some nerves though. Would we be struck by lightning, eaten by bears, crash out or get unlucky in some other way? Too many possibilities, most of which would be dictated by luck or chance. Best get on our bikes then and not worry about that which we’ve no way of controlling.

Once on our bikes, we fell into a familiar rhythm of riding our bikes, sourcing and eating food, and of course, sleeping. Business as usual.

It is no exaggeration to say that the landscape that unfolded was amazing. Big mountains, big forests, and so much wildlife. On the first day we saw a black bear, the first of three we saw. There were loads of other birds and animals, and I mean loads. We felt so lucky to see such things.

The way it usually goes on big trips is this. Day one, a sense of awe, elation and a lack of fatigue. Day 2 tiredness and maybe a niggle or two make themselves apparent. Day 3 is often a crux. Not enough food eaten on the preceding days, the makings of an injury maybe, or the most common one, gone out too hard too soon.

We knew these things, we’d done this before. We made it through the first few days OK.

The towns and villages we went through had the friendliest and most helpful people, the food was better than we’d hoped for.

I recall posting a picture on Instagram around the 700 mile mark. Tom looked happy and strong if a little dirty.

Happy days. Truly living the dream.

Ride, eat, sleep, repeat. We’d got this.

“I’m done with this. My feet hurt, my hands hurt and I am tired” Tom had stopped at the side of the trail and was sat down unlacing his shoes.

“No problem Tom, let's have a look at your shoes, maybe it’s your cleat position. Are your laces too tight?

Let’s get you some gloves at the next town.

If you are tired, let's have an early night and maybe a lie in tomorrow.”

Rapid fire answers which I’d hoped would staunch Tom’s sudden flood of negativity. Answers that would normally tick the boxes to get Tom back on his bike and riding again.

Instead, I received a look that truly said Tom was done. 

There have been a number of people who have said “Enjoy your time cycling with your son as one day it will be over. Tom will grow up and become a man who makes his own decisions. Decisions that have to be respected.”

Tom's a strong rider, there were never complaints, he was always the one who was happy to ride that bit further, but now he was the one who wanted to stop riding.

I was shocked and confused.

I guess if we were in a town, then that could have been the end of it. Home time.

Many years ago, on a ride, we were in the middle of nowhere and Tom wanted to bail, the only problem was there was no easy way out other than to continue our journey.

I said the same words I said back then, “Tom get on your bike. We can't stay here.” That was a fact. He definitely wasn’t happy, but we both knew that we needed to ride somewhere other than a clearing in a forest.

I talk about various things as we start riding again. All I want to do is draw Tom from the darkness which I hoped had only temporarily ensnared him.

The conversation ebbed and flowed before settling on guitars. Tom tells me of his dream guitar, blue starburst maple, humbucker pickups and many other details. Tom’s eyes have regained their usual sparkle and he can see some good in the world again.

Later that day we discuss our Tour Divide ride again and decide that we’ll both do our best to finish the route and accept that it may not all be fun fun fun. 

“If you make it to the end you’ll have achieved something that few have. Plus you’ll never need to do again.”

To be continued…...

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Tour Divide 2019 Gear List

So, after years of thinking about riding the Tour Divide, our bags are packed and we are ready to ride.

The bikes we are riding are Sonder Bikes Broken Roads on Hope 29er Hoops. Tom's is a small, and mine is a medium.

Both bikes are equipped with Alpkit bikepacking luggage.

Matt Tomlinson from Alpkit came along yesterday and took these great shots of our bikes, and the kit grids below.

I think we've packed cloth wise for some grim weather, which hopefully means that it will be baking hot.

Tom's Broken Road
Rich's Broken Road

Tom is taking a Six Moon designs Lunar Solo with a Bear Bones Carbon Pole. Klymit mat, Alpkit Pipedream 200 sleeping bag. Findra merino baselayer and some undies to sleep in. 2 pairs of Rapha flyweight bib shorts. Rapha SS jersey. Rapha Arm warmers. Rapha Knee warmers. Rapha insulated gilet. Rapha Merino beanie. Alpkit Morphosis Jacket, Alpkit Filoment hoody down jacket. Alpkit Balance waterproof. Alpkit Pola Gloves. Supernova USB port and dynamo lights.  2 Zendure thru charging batteries. Garmin Dakota. USB cables. Hiplok. Spare pads, chainlink. Topeak Ratchet Rocket Lite tool. Park Tyre Boot, Love Mud Pump. Sealant, Tube Sawn off toothbrush, toothpaste, sanitising gel, sun cream, antihistamine, Immodium, Chapstick.  500ml bottle, 2 litre bladder and water filter. Assos Chamois Cream.
Tom's Kit Grd
Rich is taking a Zpacks Solplex with  Bear Bones Carbon Poles. Klymit mat, Alpkit Pipedream 200 sleeping bag. Findra merino baselayer and some undies to sleep in. 2 pairs of Rapha flyweight bib shorts. Rapha Brevet jersey. Rapha Arm warmers. Rapha Knee warmers. Rapha insulated gilet. Rapha Merino beanie. Rapha Brevet Insulated Jacket, Rapha Classic Mitts. Alpkit Filoment hoody down jacket. Alpkit Balance waterproof. Alpkit Pola Gloves. Supernova USB port and dynamo lights.  2 Zendure thru charging batteries. Garmin Oregon. USB cables. Delorme Inreach SE tracker. Sony RX100 Mk3 camera Hiplok. Spare pads, chainlink, Park Tyre Boot, Topeak Ratchet Rocket Lite tool. Topeak Pump. Sealant, Tube, Sawn off toothbrush, toothpaste, sanitising gel, chapstick, sun cream, antihistamine, Immodium, Assos Chamois Cream. 500ml bottle, 2 litre bladder and water filter. Comb for my beard!

Rich's Kit Grid.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Jenn Ride 100 2019

As usual, we've a list of rides that we are planning on doing this year and the Jenn Ride 100 was one of them. I had to miss out on our previous big ride a couple of weeks ago due to an injury.

Easily done, a slip off a path, and a badly sprained ankle. Bruising that covered most of my foot, and extended a good way up my shin. Very painful for the first few days to walk on.

Still, with some bruising two weeks later I didn't know how my ankle would fare over 100 Lakeland off-road miles. Though I did need to know, as we fly out to ride the 2745 mile Tour Divide in just under three weeks.

Friday evening we arrived at Staveley in time to catch up with lots of friends, and to hear some talks on other backpacking exploits.

A leisurely start on the Saturday morning, and we were away. A warm-up spin took us to the Windemere ferry.

Then followed miles of trails, some that we knew, and some that we didn't.

As you can see, we could not have asked for better weather.

We stopped at most of the resupply points as we only carried an emergency bag of haribo each. That gave us a nice excuse to stop and chat and catch up with friends.

At Seathwaite we decided that we'd continue towards Wastwater on the 100 mile route, rather than opt for the 70. Our aim being to get to Nether Wasdale for supper before riding a few miles further.

This descent down Miterdale was a real belter though I may have fallen off once, Tom nailed it without stopping on his Sonder Broken Road (much steeper than it looks).

After supper, at The Screes, we headed up Wasdale in search of a bed for the night.

The valley was rampant with bitey things so we headed up high to pitch our tents near Burnmoor Tarn.

Up at 7:30, and away for 8:00 the following morning. An  uneventful descent down to Eskdale to find breakfast, except eagle eyed Tom spotting this adder.

Out of Eskdale there was an up and over which took us back to Seathwaite.

Next came the big climb of the route, the Walna Scar road. Lots of pushing with not much riding sums it up.

Then came, a hoot of a descent down to Coniston to grab a toasted sandwich for lunch.

We got a bit lost, but not really lost on the next section, taking a wrong turn, but on to trails we knew hence our mistake. No worries though, we knew our way to Ambleside.

The guys at Alpkit at Ambleside had put on a great feed station outside their shop. Thanks, Sam, Lucy and Viri.

Then it was just a matter of a few lumpy bits to take us back to Staveley where we had started the ride.

A big thanks to Rich Munro for once again putting on a great event.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A French and Belgian Half Term Bike Ride.

As we approached Tom's half term at the end of May our plans were shall we say fluid. Sonder Bikes had recently sorted us out with a couple of Broken Road bikes which we are going to take to ride the Tour Divide later in the year. So we decided to head over the Channel and do some riding in Belgium and France to see if our set ups needed tweeking..

We worked out that it was as easy and near the same cost as driving to get the train to Dover, and then the ferry across with the bikes (£200 for the two of us).

We left New Mills just after 9:00 and arrived 19:00 in Dunkerque. We rode then along the coast to Bray Dunes where the French Divide route starts.

Our vague plan was to follow the FD route South then either reverse our route or head further South and get a train back for the ferry home.

We rode for a couple of hours and just before dark we put up our tents in the corner of a field and had a good night's sleep.

This was the first time we'd ridden the bikes any distance and my first job of the following day at 6:30 was to lift my saddle a few mm. I raised the saddle. I must have overtightened the seat clamp's bolt as the head sheared off.

This was a major problem especially as I had a seat pack that was to be attached to the saddle.
We'd brought some cable ties and with a few wrapped around the seatpost it temporarily stopped the saddle sliding down. Though it didn't stop the seat swaying from side to side.

The nearest reasonable size town was Ypres, and we headed there hoping for a solution to my problem.

It was Sunday, and in Belgium, bike shops are not open, but just maybe we'd have some luck.

We rode around the town with no success. Tom spotted a place called the Biking Bar which seemed like a good place to ask for advice.

The customers and the lady who worked there were all very helpful, and whilst there was definitely no bike shop open in the vicinity, they told us of a nearby hardware shop that sold "everything".

Some 3km out of Ypres and we found the hardware shop. It was massive, and it took the two of us a while to search out some possible solution.

A bit of lateral thinking and we seemed to have a fix. Two clips to try and crimp the seat tube, and a 3rd smaller one to grip onto the seat post. It seemed to work, but we bought another set just in case.

We'd sort of resigned ourselves to having to wait for a bike shop to open on Monday, so this was a win, though we were mindful we'd lost several hours of riding time. It seemed right that we should just enjoy the riding for the rest of the day without any particular urgency.

Below we stopped to buy some apples from the fresh produce vending machine.

We rejoined the French Divide route for a while, and the sun came out.

We ended the day on the Arenberg and camped nearby. We'd managed 130 km over the course of the day, which was more than we hoped for given my earlier misfortune.

Next morning we decided we'd head East rather than continue South for no other reason than we could.

Some busyish roads then a canal for several km. Most of which was into a headwind.

Come mid-afternoon my patience with the wind had lapsed and we headed back onto quiet roads which took us to a campsite for that night.

The weather the next day was grim, and we didn't have much wet weather gear, so we spent the day dodging rain showers and hanging out in cafes.

The weather improved in the evening, and we took advantage to eat our supper out in the open.

Next day we continued towards the sea.

A quick look at the beach turned into an exploration of the coastline. The wide and windy sandy beach went on for miles.

So much fun.

That is until we headed back towards the shore to find our way barred by a deep river.

We didn't exactly retrace our steps which was in hindsight a mistake, as instead, we encountered a load of gloopy estuary sediment.

A super fun day, which was only slightly tempered by us both getting a bit of sunburn.

The next couple of days we did as much sightseeing as we did riding.

Staying close to the coast.

On our last full days riding we headed back towards Dunkerque.

It was an absolute scorcher.

We covered around 700 Km over the week. Originally the plan was to do nearer twice that, but we settled for having a holiday where we rode our bikes a bit.