So, that was the Tour Divide 2013.
I Never thought it would turn out quite like that.
For me I came to the Tour Divide as a race first and foremost so it was great to encounter such a formidable racer as Craig Stappler. It was also an absolute pleasure to ride and spend time with Craig in and out of the race, he is a Gentleman and a hell of an athlete. Our time racing wheel to wheel was exhilarating covering so much ground so quickly with a slight reckless bent. Knowing that we could not sustain it forever, it was a case of who went out the back first, as neither of us had any extra capacity to attack was really cool, just the kind of racing that inspires me. I want to say big respect and thanks to Craig for an excellent race, that pushed us both beyond our expectations.
Before we started in Banff I considered that I might be able to contest the race, but the record was never really on my radar, I remember hearing of JP’s record last September and thinking wow, that’s above what I’d consider possible for someone like me to get near. It just goes to show that we shouldn’t create these barriers by assumption, neither me nor anyone else going for a time around the 14 days or under mark in the future. Seeing the times fall should say to us that if that guy can do it, that means its a legitimate target, rather than ‘that guy is different’ – that’s what I have learnt on this trip. Ideal dry conditions in the North had a lot to do with the speed that we and others moved through Canada and Montana and we experienced a mixture of winds, some favourable, some not so much. The dry conditions were our un-doing in New Mexico and it just goes to show how uncertain the windows of opportunity are for a record attack on the main route from the Grand Depart.
I also came to the race not knowing if I had the mental capacity and motivation to really bury myself when the going got tough. The last year has been particularly difficult finishing such a big ride in 2012 and not being in any way prepared for the aftermath and that it would last for so long. I was really starting to wonder if I’d burned myself out and wouldn’t be able to do anything like this again.
It seems odd now to read back my post on the Privateer Blog and compare the results. Was that really me? was I hedging my bets? Well, I think there was definitely an aspect of managing expectations, from others to a degree, but more so my own. Really though, just getting that out there gave me the space to operate with no pre-text and just go about my one aim with no pressures or distractions; putting the ride I knew I had in me down on the trail.
On day three I was virtually scratched from the race, at the top of the first divide crossing out of Lincoln unable to do anymore than slowly push up the hill whilst wheezing and even then I stood at the top looking down and thinking this is stupid, bike race or not, I shouldn’t be up here in this condition alone. I was convinced that my breathing difficulties were a result of going too hard at the start, like when you race hard in the winter and breathe so hard that you taste blood and can’t take deep breaths for risk of setting off a 5 minute coughing fit, I thought I’d somehow damaged my lungs. I stood there wondering if I shouldn’t just roll back into Lincoln and call it a day. I’d clearly dropped off the pace and the 20-odd mile gap to Craig was fast becoming a chasm, by the evening he would be easily in Helena or beyond and it had taken me the best part of 3hrs to push up this hill. I remembered the mantra; never scratch at night, always wait til morning and I set up camp at the top but was pretty certain I would be a scratch in the morning. I even recorded a short video diary apologizing to any folk I might let down, as a pre-caution I took the pass code off my phone, should anyone need to view the contents, and took my SPOT tracker off the bike and kept it close. It sounds melodramatic now but I was alone and exhausted on a mountain pass in grizzly country with an unknown breathing condition and about to pass out, I was anxious to say the least.
In the morning I headed for Helena, but still expecting to Scratch. I hadn’t set an alarm and so I’d slept a good while. The urgency was gone from the ride. My breathing had calmed down and, apart from coughing up the odd bits of lung, was almost back to normal. On the way to Helena, I began to think. I remembered the time in New Zealand, out on the Coromandel when I woke in the night unable to breathe in just the same way. The harder I tried, the worse it got, the more I panicked and the more my heart race increased. We put that down at the time as maybe an allergic reaction to the pine tree sap or pollen but it never came up again, so I never thought about it again. I still had the Loretadine that I’d bought in Lincoln that I hadn’t taken. I had taken a combination of decongestants that had no effect but at the time I was cautious about mixing too many meds in my state. By the time I was in Helena I dug them out and took them with breakfast. The result was phenomenal, the diagnosis unquestionable and the anxiety blown away completely. My race was turned around in a matter of half an hour. I was virtually reborn – in body and in mind and the power I had on tap seemed limitless. The climb up to Lava mountain was a joy and when a storm rolled in across the ridge I was only too happy to race it through the singletrack before it could dump its contents into the soft sandy technical trail. I was firmly back in the race, the chase was on now to find Craig and I felt like I had horsepower to spare.
Right there and then I had achieved everything I needed to in this race. I was well behind, I’d pushed stupidly hard at the start and I hadn’t fallen apart when all hope was lost. All the fears I expressed before the race started were void.
In this race I had found the reckless, hungry, single-minded bike racer I always wanted to be and I was bloody loving it.