I stood with Montana in the cold rain, watching him double-triple-check his gear. He cinched down his bags one last time. I made him pose for a photo, and he grinned nervously while icy water dripped off his helmet brim.
I watched him ride off into the dark woods, then drove away into the gloomy Canadian morning. I’d see him three weeks later in dusty Antelope Wells, New Mexico at the end of the Tour Divide.
At the time, I felt a lot of feelings. I was a little lonely, a lot worried about him and a little excited to have a few weeks to cook things for myself that Montana doesn’t like eating. But I definitely did not ever want to race the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Mountain biking was terrifying. It usually bruised my legs and my ego. Montana could have this one to himself.
Three years later, I feel a little different. Since I stopped fancying myself an ultra marathon runner, I’ve actually learned to ride a bike pretty well. Getting a custom Waltworks and living in Colorado helped a lot.
Our trip to Baja was a very very hard bikepacking tour for me as a newbie. But at least it got me out of my desk job and into a bike seat. I felt better last winter. Our ride in New Zealand taught me how to do longer days and live comfortably with just two pairs of underwear.
In the middle our New Zealand trip, I started turning the idea over. What if I raced the Divide this year? A couple weeks after the idea lodged itself in my brain, I told Montana. He was cautiously stoked and fed me all his advice over the next few weeks. “Are you sure?” He said a few times. Yeah, I think so.
I’ve booked my plane ticket to Calgary, finished fooling with my bike setup and bought the pair of shorts I’ll be wearing for the whole month of June. I’m still about 95% sure I want to do the race. I know it’s going to hurt a lot - I just don’t really know how much yet. It seems impossible to guess how it’ll feel to ride for 2700 miles along the Continental Divide. But if I don’t do it, I’ll always wonder how it would’ve felt.
This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done alone. Hell, this is the biggest thing I’ve ever done. The couple marathons I’ve run don’t even come close. I’m definitely deep in quarter-life crisis territory here. Even if the Divide sucks really bad, at least I’ll have a lot of time to think.
So a couple weeks ago I did a test run - a trial ride down to Daivs, West Virginia.
I left Ohiopyle in the afternoon with a feed bag stuffed with trail mix. The weather was crappy and cold, which was perfect! The northern Rockies aren’t exactly in a heat wave right now. Google Maps gave me a wonky cycling route down to Davis. Fair enough. I needed to learn how my Garmin works. Montana took the derailleur off my bike (my choice, not his), and I managed to climb up the steep West Virginia hills without getting off to walk. Hopefully the singlespeed thing feels good in the race, or else I’m getting some dangly bits sent to Steamboat.
Davis was still shut down for the shoulder season. My dreams of a Hellbender burrito bowl crushed, I got to practice riding into a bar, ordering from a gluten-based menu and sitting alone for dinner. Training!
I rode a half-mile out of town and set up my bivy in a darkish patch of pine trees. The next morning I got up at 4:45 and pedaled up Route 219 with a hot cup of gas station coffee in my hand. For the race I think I’ll load up my frame bag with a bunch of Starbucks Via packets. The rest of the morning I spent pedaling back north, squinting into a drizzly headwind. Too bad the road wasn't rough washboard, because that would've been really good practice.
I spun down the Great Allegheny Passage into town, hunkered down on my aerobars. My neck kept cramping up. Need to readjust those.
Just 24 hours after I left Ohiopyle, I was back. I didn’t intend on making it a time trial, but I was happy to have ridden 140 miles with daylight to spare.
The race is three weeks out now. It feels like a long time and no time at all. Till then, I’m going to keep mountain biking as much as I can and going to yoga a lot so I don’t turn into a nervous wreck.