More race report....The toughest parts
: definitely the south, but it’s not like the rest is easy. The toughest day
: Day 7 in Platoro, CO. I was exhausted from 3 days of riding 3X1 over the highest passes of the course. The thought of stopping there did cross my mind but I never made any concrete plans to stop. Instead, I arranged for a new shifter to be there at the next town, and from there on, while I had tough days, I never again considered abandoning. Easiest day
: no such thing as an easy day on the TD, but maybe Day 18, Lima, MT to Wise River, MT, 136 miles and 6,300 ft of climbing. The human stories
(among many more):
- Arriving exhausted at close to 2 in the morning in Atlantic City, WY (pop. 39)
after having ridden since 6am (15-hr+ wheels rolling) and crossing the high desert of Wyoming on 1 gallon (4 liters) of water, a couple packs of trail mix food and a few gummy bears. I had been told that there was a tepee next to a bar and that the bar owners didn't mind anybody sleeping in the tepee. But that’s still sleeping on the ground at close to 8,000 ft of altitude. The last 10 miles or so were a slow, 800-ft climb, probably the hardest 800 ft I ever climbed. I finally arrived, exhausted. I find the tepee. There's a light inside the bar next to it. I go check it out, and there are 4 guys in the bar, 2 behind the counter and 2 in the front, all completely drunk, celebrating something (I think it was the fact that it was Thursday…). They welcomed me, fixed me sandwiches, gave me ice tea, offered me to crash in a cabin they were usually renting in the back but hadn’t because it was without running water, and let me shower in one of the guys’ father’s house. An unbelievably warm and friendly end to an unbelievably difficult day of riding!
The tepee, where I didn't sleep
- The lady that stopped to offer me a ride in the middle of a nasty, lightning-filled thunderstorm on a climb towards Helena, Montana:
Me: I’m sorry, mam, I'm on a race and I can’t accept or I would be disqualified.
Lady: oh, you're on a race! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to slow you down.
Me: that’s alright, mam, I still have 600 miles to go, you know…
- Don from the Velonews forum who welcomed me into Helena and presented me to his coworker at the library while I was covered with mud.
- Swan Lake, MT: Made it to this very small town around midnight. Passed an open bar on the way to finding a place to stay. Finally locate a Bed and Breakfast but of course it’s closed. There’s a sign in the porch though that tells people to just help themselves to a room, and pay the next morning. I did just that, put my bike inside and quickly head out to the open bar. One girl is still tending the bar, and a middle aged couple is about to leave when I arrive. I ask the girl if she still serves food. She says she doesn’t, but would be happy to prepare me a pizza. She did, and a nice one! The couple during that time starts chatting me up and before I know it it’s 2 in the morning when I get to my room and take my shower. Got up around 5:30 and the sign in the porch says that breakfast is at 8am. Wrote a note on a piece of paper, apologizing profusely for having to leave before breakfast, and leaving my credit card number there for them to charge me. Started the long climb of the morning, then about 2 hours later I hear a car behind me. The driver comes to my level, opens the window and the following dialogue ensues:
Driver: Are you Denis?
Me, a bit startled: yes
Driver: I’m the B&B owner
Me: [uh, oh!]
Driver: I brought you breakfast!
And thus I had a wonderful breakfast on the side of the road. Turns out the guy knew about the race, looked me up on TrackLeaders, his wife fixed me breakfast and he drove all the way to catch me and bring it to me. Quite a nice surprise that day!
Breakfast on the side of the roadPhysical/medical issues
: Never had any serious medical issues but got bad sun burn in the first few days that got both my arms and my neck bleeding for weeks (you can still see the scars). Never seriously got dehydrated, except maybe the first day as I had some cramps around mile 85. Sleep deprivation probably was my biggest issue, as I was sleeping an average of around 4 to 5 hours a night, and often less. Almost everyday I had to stop on the side of the road to take a power nap, as I was getting drowsy on the bike, often during downhills. On the positive side, there is no question that I got stronger as the days went by. While by the end I was mentally ready for the race to finish, physically I could easily have gone on for days, maybe weeks. Riding more than 10 hours wheels rolling at the beginning was tough. By the end, I didn’t even feel tired by the time 10 hours went by. Weight loss
: I'm not sure exactly because I didn't weigh before returning home, and I already had several substantial meals (including at The Bison in Banff, one of the best restaurants in the world). But when I got home, I was 192 pounds, down from around 207 when I started. That's a 15-pound loss.Dealing with butt pain
: I rarely experience butt pain even on long rides but I do on multi day rides and this wasn’t going to be an exception. I adopted 3 strategies:
- Lowering the saddle. It makes you less efficient, but it reduces the pressure on the butt (transferring it to your feet, I suppose)
- Double shammy: I had taken 2 sets of bike shorts because I was worried about the rain, but except for thunderstorms we had fairly little rain overall so after the first week or so, I decided to wear both. It does help.
- Anbesol, or Oralgel: it doesn’t work just on your mouth sores….
Butt pain is hardest in the morning, when your butt is cold. Didn't really feel anything by the afternoons and evenings.
The route is absolutely beautiful
: the most beautiful places in my opinion are from northern New Mexico (north of Cuba, NM) to Central Colorado (around Breck), but the entire thing is just overall gorgeous (and very, very remote!). Even the detours in the north, while probably not as nice as the original parts, are still beautiful. If you can’t do the race one day, I highly recommend doing it touring. Yes, it’s hard, but very much worth it. My bike:
I had a Niner MCR (hardtail steel 29er) that worked perfectly for the ride. Mechanical issues:
- Rear shifter failed (it was a SRAM x9)
- Rear tire (a Nano) was shredded in the singletrack on the 2nd day. Switched to tubes and had 3 flats after that until I switched back to tubeless in Del Norte, several hundred miles later. No issue after that.
- Broke 2 nipples in rapid succession 50 miles south of Butte, MT
- Broke 2 rear racks
- GPS mount broke
- GPS (62CSX) sort of failed, then came back to life. Not sure what the problem was.
- Aerobars by the end were loose on the handlebar
My rear tireThe bike and all my gear
(including Camelbak with some food and water) weighed around 63 pounds when I weighed them at Rob Leipheimer's shop. That was probably way too much. Disappointments
: the 40-mile Idaho rail trail and the Y in Banff (what a rip-off!) Wildlife
: I saw a bear, 2 grizzlies (stood on the trail about 50 feet in front of me,) a wolf, several moose, rattlesnakes, hundreds of elks, deer and antelopes and 3 skunks. Riding along a pack of elks is quite a thrill!
BearOne of the best thing
on a race like this is the ability to eat absolutely anything you want, in any quantity (provided of course there's a restaurant, somewhere...) Fried ice cream for dessert? Sure, I'll have that. A Snickers bar right before bed? Yeah, why not!The 3 most feared words on the map
: “Long descent ahead” (the map cues go north to south…)Will I do it again next year?
Unlikely. Never say never but I always viewed that as a once in a lifetime adventure. Not because it was too hard but because of the huge commitment in time (between the travel and the race itself, unless you're Paul Attala you need almost a month), money (it's the most expensive free race I have ever entered) and training. I'm unlikely to be able to commit like this again some other year. But even if I did have the opportunity to once again commit that kind of time, money and training, I would likely do something else with it. The Tour d'Afrique (Cairo to Cape Town, 4 months, 12,000 kms) maybe... Was it a good idea to go northbound
: the big advantage that most of us northbounders expected was to have less snow in the north by the time we got there but that got irrelevant when southbounders were given significant detours around the snow portions 2 days before the start (which we later also got authorized to take as the snow was still there when we got there). I don’t regret it though, mostly for one reason: while we had thunderstorms on several days, we never had a really bad day of rain, let alone several days of it, which is what I was fearing the most. It’s just not very fun to ride day after day under the rain. My understanding is that the southbounders had to deal with rain pretty much the entire first week.
One thing I must mention is that my race was against northbounders almost exclusively. My focus was trying to catch the guy in front of me while not being caught by the guys behind, not trying to do better than people who were about 2,000 miles away from me going the other direction and whose overall position I actually knew nothing about. It even took me 2 days to find out what my overall finishing position was. What I am saying here is that my final time was largely dictated by the northbound race conditions I was in. had I gone southbound, I may have been able to catch up people that ultimately finished ahead of me and do better time wise, but then again people who finished behind me may also have been able to catch me. One big thrill
: the hundreds of people following my race. More than 1,300 messages were left from all over the world during those 3 weeks on my Facebook page, on my bike club’s (Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts) forum and on the Velonews forum. I thank all of you profusely for your support, along with my friend Tom for organizing the very nice celebratory ride and party when I returned.
It may be the hardest bike race in the world, but it was also the most thrilling!