Tour Divide 2011: Day 3 (Barnaby Lake to Swan River National Wildlife Refuge)

On July 4, 2011 by Nathan Jones

4:30AM rolled around and sure enough, daylight was starting to creep in. It was incredibly foggy though so the motivation for an “up and at em” start wasn’t quite there. I put us at about a 30 minute pack up, on the road by 5:00. 30 minutes to go from bivy to on the bike is respectable, it’s not quick, but it’s certainly not dilly dallying, it’s good to take a little time letting the mind come to terms with the whole trauma that it’s 5AM and you have to move. You kind of just keep holding a carrot in front of your head. I’ll stay in the sleeping bag while I pack up the bivy and the deflate the pad. Then whatever I’ve strung about in my late night exhaustion I sort for loading in the proper spot. And finally when there’s nothing left to do but put the shoes on I’ll get out of the bag. So that way I normally get and extra 10 or 15 minutes of “still in bed” time before I “get up”. Then there’s the tease to get up. So I don’t get out of the bag unless I know that I can get moving and get warm within five minutes. I refuse to ever get a chill during this sort of thing, it’s just not worth it to start shivering to me. The whole body tenses up and then you’re even more likely to pull something. There are those that ride every morning shivering for the first few hours just ready for a good storm to knock them near hypothermic, but that’s just not my bag. So I tell myself just take it easy to start the day, save the morning sprints for thunderstoms and emergencies. The first 30 minutes of every morning is the most gentle of recovery rides, grandma pace if you will. It’s that knowledge that yeah, you gotta get up and get moving, but really you just gotta “show up for work” and start stretching, there are going to be another 16 hours of this so no reason to rush. These are generally some of my favorite moments on the divide. While you do ache from the day before, it’s expected. There’s the knowledge that the sun will most likely be shining boldly in a few hours and that it’s okay to be just a little be chilly.

We made our way on to the trail. We knew today would be the day that tested everyone. We all were expecting a ginormous snow hike before Whitefish but since the first snow hike turned out to be a major bust, I was highly skeptical, perhaps naive. I set a 21 day time goal, and it wasn’t just a goal, it was a limit. If I wasn’t going to look like I could make it in 21 days, then I might as well quit. I only had 3 weeks vacation book ended by one day to get to the route and exit. A narrow window but sometimes you just have to aim high. I know plenty of the Euro’s have tickets booked well in advance of completing the race and that is half the incentive to finish right there in itself. So in one way it could be viewed as setting myself up for failure, and in another as an incentive. Divide racing is crazy, and most of the tactics employed in it are insane. Batshit strategies can and ofter do work, just because of the realm that the event takes place in. It’s pretty much as over the top as it gets for a bike race/ride. Things like drinking canola oil to survive, riding miles on just a few There are so many little weird coincidences and synchronicities that take place out there, it’s tough to describe it all without sounding like some sort of deranged bike bum. Enough, here’s a bright eyed morning vid.

We made our way up the climb to the snow. The climbing was easy, until we hit the snow at the top of a long flat pass. At first it was okay, you could still kinda push on the side of the road, no big deal. Then it got to where it was a few feet deep but it was really packed down from all the riders coming through. You could step in their tracks and not sink to far, likewise for the bike. We hit it early in the day by planning and a bit of luck. I suspect those who came later in the day have horror stories of the most horrid snow trek known to man. Fortunately I am here to tell only of a mildly crappy snow trek, about 10 miles, over a mountain, with a solid thunderstorm near the end. Let’s put it this way, I got kind of irritable up there. For the first few miles, I was fine with it. A couple miles in snow over a pass is par for the course, literally. So no getting worked up over that. Once we neared five or six miles, things started getting epic. Travel was at two miles an hour at MAX sustainable speed. It was appearing like there was no end in sight, realistically I knew it couldn’t have been much more than 10 miles, but it honestly felt like it was going to be a 30 mile snow slog to Whitefish. It was really unrelenting, I joked with Dylan about how it would just be the worst if it started storming in the middle of all this. He kind of shrugged and turned away. Yeah I know, way to speak the unspeakable, I’ve always been captain obvious when it comes to worst case scenarios. So enough talkin’ bout the snow, let’s see it! (Possibly seizure inducing shaky cam ensues)

I was starting to hit the first level of bonk about half way through the snow. I had been hydrating as much as possible on the way up to the snow but I went into it intentionally with zero water. There’s water everywhere, so it’s not like I was in danger. I just did not want to be carry a single ounce that I didn’t need through that crap. But after three hours I was starting to get dehydrated and it wasn’t exactly a blast. So what else would you do when exhausted and dehydrated after trudging over a snowed pass for hours, shoot a video of course!

So we pushed and pushed and pushed, the thunderstorm hit and I got soaked. It was so epic that I didn’t care, it was full on divide absurdness staring me blankly in the face. “Hah hah!”, said nature, “Meh!”, said I. I shot another video.

After about 8 miles I was officially hating life, it’s not that it was impossible, it was just so slow!!! I’m riding across the freaking country and here I am pushing at 2 miles an hour going full tilt, dehydrated, and just losing time on the day and then finally…. DOWNHILL!!! There was a quarter mile section that was exposed to the sun that was rideable. I took off blasting downhill without my helmet on, we had long ditched the helmets onto the bars. I did stop once realizing this, I rarely take my helmet off while around the bike. It was an easy mistake. Unfortunately, we just got back to more snow, but it was down hill. I launched into an insane downhill snow sprint, the things legends are made of. Running through the ditches and snow with the bike at a brisk four miles an hour. I kept this up for a good 15 minutes until it started to flatten out. If there’s anything I’ve learned in life that I’ll probably never forget, it’s this: USE YOUR MOMENTUM. This is what got me back to the main route which was still at least another two miles of snow trudging. At that point though I at least knew we were reasonably close to the end and I was starting to dry out of from the storm. I thought Whitefish was another 17 miles further than it actually was, so I was hyper enthused once we finally hit town. Dylan being a former Montanan knew where the best pizza place in town was so we went straight there. I was shocked to find that had soy cheese. A vegan pizza and it’s only day three? Life is good! Not only that but bread-sticks to boot. I was in heaven, the waitress walked by with a tray full of beers. I was STRAIGHT LEERING at these beers unthinkingly as she walked by. She turned her head at me rather snottily, I’m pretty sure she thought I was looking at her chest. My eyes were still glued to the beers though before realizing what was going on and she turned her head away, most likely realizing that I really was staring at the beers. I mean it was obvious, men can be pigs and all but clearly she should have been able to tell where my burned out divide racer mind was, it was comical.

I sent texts back and for to my parents while Dylan chatted away on his phone. Reaching out to the outside world is a serious part of this race. I’m sure there are some people out there who could care less about calling home, but I’m all about my little pieces of comfort zone so I stay fairly well connected. After thoroughly caching the pizza restaurant we were uot on our way.

Whitefish is about 15 miles or so from Columbia Falls so we pressed on quickly to get there and resupply. I felt sluggish on these same roads the last year and was feeling like a million bucks after a vegan pizza. Even Dylan was impressed by the way we were clipping along. An hour after leaving the pizza place we were in Columbia Falls stocking up at the local grocery. It was good to see american sized beverages and reasonable prices again. 3 jumbo bottles of gatorade for a dollar each, what a country! I did my shopping and proceeded to do my favorite leg propping ritual outside the store. There’s nothing like just kicking your shoes off and propping your feet up outside a grocery store, makes you really feel like you should carry a jar around to pee in as well. Yes this is what life is like on the divide, you a half bike racer, half crazy bum just abusing any public place for all of their resources. “Oops, sorry about your bathroom/store.” is pretty much the motto of every divide racer. But it’s friggin’ backwoods redneck country, so we get away with it if we have enough charisma and buy lots of junk, which most of us do.

We hit the road knowing that we weren’t too far from a modest climb. We got to it nearing dusk and summitted just as the sun disappeared completely. We wisely stopped and put on every layer we had, it was going to be a chilly decent and through bear country. I led the way down as I knew it was a bomber of a downhill and that’s mostly my specialty. Me and Dylan were having fun yelling stupid crap to keep the bears away. Mostly a bunch of random guttural grunts and howls. My voice was roasted for days from this, not the best decision. It was fun though and I have good memories from it so it’s not all a wash. After what seemed like an endless chilly downhill we finally reached the bottom and began the search for a flat spot off the road. We agreed to cruise a mile searching for such a spot and would just bivy in the road if we couldn’t find anything. Fortunately Dylan spotted a pretty rad spot and we were set up nearly instantly and asleep. I think we knocked out 115 miles even with the 6 hours in the snow, and all without caffeine as well. We freaking earned the nights rest and did not even discuss a wake up time. I told my circadian rhythm to STFU and went to sleep. And it was good sleep, I tell you!

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