Utah. It’s the pinnacle destination for the American roadtrip. With National Parks, Monuments, and Forests dotting the whole Southern half of the state it seems you can’t go a day without running into a hundred RVs. This was one of the main destinations of the trip, Zion National Park. We were originally debating doing the two day hike, but instead opted for the single day hike. After seeing some really bored looking overnight hikers, it feels like we made the right choice.
Getting off the border from Tour Divide was a challenge. I ended up spending four hours waiting for any way out of the no-man town of Antelope Wells. I caught a ride with the daily shuttle from Janos, MX to Phoenix, AZ, but just took it to Lordsburgh as I needed a shower. I splurged on a hotel, a change of clothes, but not on food as Lordsburgh’s population was not much more than Antelope Wells and had few food options. I drank a six-pack watched some South Park and waited for the next day when Gabriella would pick me up in her Toyota pick-up, Carmelita, and we headed out for a month on the road.
We recharged in Silver City and the Gila first, before we set out on our journey. That first day would be a disaster. We had to drop off a bag for our buddy Morgan in Hatchita. His ride, a Hatchita local, recommended we head towards Douglas, AZ and Agua Prieta, MX. We agreed to go that way instead of backtracking. We hit the small town of Animas, as we passed the gas station Gabriella looked at the half empty meter and recommended we fill up. With half a tank, I thought we’d make it and disagreed. We headed towards what we thought was Coronado National Forest. The pavement ended and roughened. Then the sky opened up. On a dirt road, gas running out, not even sure if we were heading the right direction, we, not in the nicest manner, agreed to turn around. The gas station in Animas was closed, meaning the next closest gas station was back in Lordsburgh, where we started. A whole bunch of driving to finish where we started.
Thankfully, that wouldn’t set the tone of the trip. It was smooth sailing from then out.
On the Trans Am, towns are relatively short distances, resupplies come quickly, and even if you find yourself nearing a pass in darkness, it’s fairly easy to get back to human elevations before sleeping. On the Tour Divide, this is less easy. I faced this dilemma as I sat refueling in Del Norte, CO; it was 4PM and I was staring at a 4,000 ft pass over the next 23 miles. Not only that, but storm clouds were brewing in the distance. The ACA maps recommended taking on this challenge early in the day to avoid these storms and to cover the distance. I knew it was too early to quit though, so I loaded up my bike and headed for the highest point of Tour Divide.
The gravel roads were basic, no giant rocks, no mud, just a straight dirt road. The sun was dipping toward darkness as I worked the steep sections, only relaxing when the grade decreased. Storm clouds billowed on the horizon. I tried to figure if I was riding into it or not. The signs kept passing for Summitville, the distance decreasing, but not fast enough. I pressed on toward the pass. The miles clicked by, my estimated timing math had me over by dark, but not by much. Except, for a change, I was ahead of my bike math. The miles slipped away and there I was, the ghost town Superfund site that is Summitville. I dropped down the other side as fast as I could, because descending in the dark sucks just as much as sleeping at elevation. Before I knew it, I was laid out beyond the pass, safely in the most southern valley of Colorado.
In the AM, I crossed into New Mexico. The forest roads were now less maintained, big ruts and giant stones littered the way up to Brazos Ridge, alongside with some pitches that only ATVs could climb, which meant I was hoofing it. Once again I watched the horizon turn a mean dark grey. I was fortunate enough to miss it the night before, but today I didn’t feel quite so lucky. I could feel the long day from Sargents to Platoro, not in my legs but behind my eyes. I just wanted to lay down again. I thought that if I didn’t do it then, the storm would not let me at all.
After a quick nap I was back riding, hail littered the trail, it seems that luck would continue to be on my side, even the rain was falling, it wasn’t hail. My Carver shed mud better than I think any other machine could and I made short work of the beginning of New Mexico.
Cuba, NM, 4PM; a storm is rolling, this time for real. Wind picked up and pushed the McDonald’s bags and gas station coffee cups down the only business road of this tiny truck stop town. I put calories in my face trying to soak in the only resupply of the day. I knew what I wanted to do; I wanted to get across the 120 miles of pavement to Grants, NM by the following morning. I found myself once again loading up, but this time I wouldn’t be racing the darkness, I’d be embracing it.
The route cuts across Native American land along flat straight paved roads. The rain slid off my back without mud, it meant nothing to me. The sun set. The rain stopped. I kept tracking my wheel toward the border. I watched lightning strikes in the distance on one of the few flat parts of the Tour. It seems no matter where you are in the West, a storm is always close by. Once again though I got lucky, the weather wouldn’t hit me and I raced along following my little spec of light. By the time dawn would hit I was already in Grants, waiting for McDonald’s coffee and Wal-Mart grocery to get me going on into the following day.
Riding over night was the right choice. I’d end up seeing four racers I had never seen before on my way to Pietown. These would be the racers to finish right around me. Without sleep for the second time I once again struggled on throughout the day, especially as the sun came into full force on Pietown road; I knew the Gila would have to be at least two days, so Pietown was the last bit of humanity before Silver City, which kept me for too long even though it had nothing for me.
The Gila; it’s always talked about as one of the toughest bits of Tour Divide. It’s also the last section with serious elevation change on Tour Divide. The roads are so steep that there were multiple caution signs like “No RVs or Trailers” or “Caution: Steep Windy Road” and my favorite “Vehicles with High Clearance Recommended” meaning that the changes could be so bad that it could bottom out your car. Yikes.
I hit the first climb, a consistent ass-kicker, I sat in my lowest gear and just worked up it, thinking of anything but how damn hot the sun was. I’d clear one. The descent was insanely fast only to bring me to what felt like the exact same climb as the first. Again, hot, steep, and long. Over it. Same descent. Same climb. Thankfully after this one it was a longer descent to a highway to cross over to a different section of the Gila.
The road would deteriorate as we no longer were on USFS land, but instead private ranch land. Boulders, ruts, cow shit, grates, everything, the road was shit. My tired mind made it hard to find the right position, my wrists and back were beginning to ache. Another storm approached. My luck made me overconfident, I ignored the storm and it hit me, fast. I hopped off the bike to try to get my sleep gear into dry bags and get rain clothes on me. All I could hope was that I was fast enough. I climbed back on and put my tired eyes back on the choppy ranch road hoping to get back into the forest, not only for better roads, but for fear of the lightning that was now striking not far from the open mountainside I was riding. I tried to outrun the rain, but the rain would outrun me. It stuck around just long enough to annoy me. I still figured my luck had been good, besides I was too tired to be too annoyed or even mad. I stuck it out back into the forest to lay out just in time for raindrops to started pattering on my tent. I went to bed thinking tomorrow, Silver City, then maybe the border?
I slept ten total hours, having not slept since Abiqui. I knew it could possibly be my last day on Tour Divide. The Gila would continue to challenge, taking me all day to get to Silver City; the final resupply before the finish. I dropped in at sunset, and left at 11PM. I figured the sooner I finished, the sooner I could get a long night’s sleep. I just hoped my music would carry me across the flat desert roads.
It wasn’t long outside of town that my MP3 player died. I went to check my battery backup that it was plugged into. The USB was busted. Fuck. I had another 120 miles I hoped to defeat in darkness and now no music. I had often times thought of just quitting in Silver City in protest of how dumb the Antelope Wells finish is (leaving a full fledged city to get stuck at an international border town of about four). It took me an hour, but I figured out how to make my music work, but now I was frustrated and annoyed.
It took me a while to relax, but knowing the end is near and how easy the road is, it put me back into the night riding mentality of just keep moving, doesn’t have to be fast, but has to be forward. I turned off the dirt to Separ. It was all pavement left to the border. I took the final turn, 65 straight flat miles south to Antelope Wells, only spot on there is Hatchita, which is hardly a spot. The miles ticked away and so did the clock. About halfway into that 65 miles the sun started to peak over the eastward mountains. The only thing to take from this ride was the magnificent colors the sky made over the desert, other than that, it was just time put into the saddle. At around 9 AM I hit the sign ANTELOPE WELLS INTERNATIONAL BORDER. I had successfully crossed from Banff, AL to Antelope Wells, MX. A lackluster finish on the desolate border, but a finish nonetheless.
As I left Butte I ran into Morgan, Gabes, and Brad, “When did you guys get in?”
“1 AM, but you missed out on some good food in Basin.”
“Oh, well,” I felt that I didn’t miss another night of poor sleep, “what’s your plan today?”
“We’re thinking of trying to pass people and push big mileage to Lima”
“Oh, cool, well, I might ride ahead of you guys today, maybe I’ll see you there.” I looked at my map and realized that Lima was the only town over the next 200 miles, They would clearly not be the only people shooting to close the gap to Lima. I left them on that climb and rode solo, and I rode well. I caught some racers in Wise River, then passed them on the road. In the Montana Basin I’d pass some more. I left people on the road behind me as I quit for the night outside Lima, I was twenty miles short, but that was good enough for me.
A good day had me gap Lima to Flagg Ranch, putting MT behind and heading into WY. Lava Mountain would be the next big test, the trail had a good deal of hike-a-bike and pushed over 9,000 ft for the first time. I pictured the rider in Triplets of Bellvue, head down, breathing steadily, dead eyed, focused only on moving forward, that’s how I felt. It was the descent I’d lose my cool. It never ended. I only wanted to make Pinedale, but by the time I made it off Lava Mountain it was 11PM. Exhausted, I found a campspot short of town. I went to set up my bivvy and my pole was missing. I did my best to string up my bivvy, but it didn’t work. I woke up soaked and freezing the next morning. At 4AM I jumped out of my bivvy and ran to the toilet where it was warm and I could change. In my kit ready to go, I sat down in the vault toilet and my eyes closed for another hour.
In Pinedale I saw my first real grocery store since Helena, I went nuts; fresh fruit, hummus, bread, I laid it all out in front of my bike as I let my sleeping quilt dry out. These are the times I feel like I look like a crazy homeless person, smelling of a damp night’s sleep and savagely eating supermarket food. I watched racers pass and didn’t care. I was taking care of myself. I warrantied poles for my tent bivy, three hours was enough and I pushed on toward the Basin.
A tailwind carried me to Atlantic City, just as the sun was going down. I stepped into the bar in Atlantic City, a real dive place, cigarette smoke hung in the air, the tender slowly sipped on straight bottom shelf vodka. At one of the tables was another lycra’d fool staring at three sandwhiches and a plate of fries. He introduced himself as Kevin, a singlespeed northbounder, who feared he was quitting due to a busted quad. Over my fries and Coke, I thought about the next section of Basin, a 120 mile section without shade. I mulled my options over with the other southbounders that had joined us. I decided that riding at night was the best option. I thought all the roads would be simple fire roads.
I thought wrong. The beginning was simple enough fire roads, but when our course left the ACA course it was two-track that hadn’t been driven in years. I’d find myself rolling over sagebrush, trying to follow the pink line of my GPS, before I realized that the actual trail was ten feet to my left. I was so focused downward on the glow of my GPS, I caught my front tire in a truck tire track and hit the ground, scraping my knee. I realized how poor of an idea this was, but what was I left to do? At about 4 AM I was finally back on fire road. I finally got what I wanted, but my body was too tired to ride it. I resorted to power napping my way to Wamsutter. At around 9AM I made the Love’s truck stop, where I’d spend a long time trying to recoup. I knew that night riding is only beneficial if I kept moving the next day, with a full belly and an empty mind I mounted up back on the course.
I couldn’t keep going though, I promised myself that the next tree I’d lay beneath and rest. That tree wouldn’t come til Savery. The reroute was hot, steep, and tough, then in Savery I was expecting a convenience store to restock for the climb to Steamboat Springs. That C-Store, was nothing but a gift shop with a few sodas and chips. I had no idea how I’d make the climb with the little food I had. I knew Brush Mountain Lodge, whose owner loves Tour Divide, was coming up. I started up the fire road, and wondered how far up this lodge was. I didn’t have the lodge on my map and started to wonder if the place even existed or if it was a cruel joke played on TD rookies. My mind was prepping up for pushing on into the night, when I took a turn and saw it. Kristen ran out and welcomed me to the lodge with a hug. She spoiled me with a vegan chick’n sandwhich followed with vegan pancakes, a beers, lemonade, and a room, it was the rest I needed after being up for nearly thirty hours straight.
I wanted to leave early, but my body decided that 7 AM was early enough. It wasn’t long before I was picking my way down the technical descent toward Steamboat Springs. Steamboat would be a huge timesuck though, Orange Peel Bikes replaced my drivetrain. I checked in on my tentpoles, which wouldn’t be there til the next day, I had to figure something out. I called a store asking about custom poles and they reminded me that Steamboat Springs was home to Big Agnes. I headed their direction. The staff was really nice, and helpful, which they didn’t have to be. I put on my most patient face, but damn I was ready to get on the road; the clock was ticking in Steamboat. It took some fidgeting but they made me a pole, and got me back on the road.
The following day, after a good restock at the Frisco Whole Foods, I took off for Borealis pass. Near the top the rain started, I couldn’t expect to make all of Tour Divide with no rain. I took it in stride and pressed on. I tried to enjoy the bit of technical riding the TD has to offer on another non-ACA reroute. Once off the mountain I flew by Como, where there were no services. I set my sights for Hartsell, or anywhere dry in between. I found a fire station, hoping someone was there and would give me a dry place to sleep. It was empty. Onward. The rain would quit before I would, but not by much.
A stunning view of the sun over the mountains welcomed me the following morning. I got out of my bivy, got on the bike and fought the chill and the sleeps to Hartsell. I stepped into the only cafe, and only business in Hartsell. The walls were lined with leftover antiques from a time when this town had life. The other tables were occupied by older retired couples and the largest table occupied by a group of true ranchers, large dirty cowboy boots, crisp cowboy hats, and a truck per person. I grabbed coffee at the table next to my peers, some northbound riders who gave me tips on the trail ahead, but the best part of this meeting was the reaction to my dietary restrictions.
“Only potatoes for breakfast?”
“Well, yeah, I’m vegan.”
He looks down at me at the table, “that’s unfortunate.”
I tried to fix my feet in Salida, to no avail. I began Marshall Pass, a forty mile climb at the same gradient, for what felt like forever. I have ridden across the plains of the United States twice now, and yet this ride felt like one of the most boring rides of my life. My speed was a constant 9 MPH. I knew I should be enjoying the cool shade of the trees, but all I could think of was how forever away the pass was. I tried podcasts, it didn’t help, I tried riding faster, but couldn’t find a rhythm. I just wanted something to change. After an eternity I finally hit the top where I met Dave the Kiwi again. We agreed to make it to Sargents where we made it in time to get a beer and a $40 cabin.
Hartsell to Sargents was a long day, that ended early, I was in bed by 9PM. I felt like quitting only because I wasn’t having fun. It was the same doubts that filled my head the first week. Did I even want to be racing this? Was this where I wanted to be? I couldn’t do anything from Sargents, so I knew, all I could do was wake up the next morning and ride. I promised myself I’d try racing, if only to keep away the boredom. I set my alarm for 4 AM wondering if I’d even get up at all.
Banff, Alberta; probably one of the nicest towns on the whole of Tour Divide, and of course, it’s mile zero. I look around in front of the Y at the same eager faces, the middle-aged men looking for some mid-life crises soul searching Ride the Divide sold them; twenty and thirty somethings’ eyes’ hungry intent, aiming for a fast finish and something to prove; the other young folks lust for adventure; and there’s the small contingent of women who give me hope that the Tour Divide won’t be completely full of shitty competitive meatheads in five years. I stand there, look around and wonder, where the fuck do I fit in?
Billy Rice reads off the rules, as if there is some sort of semblance of organization besides a course, a clock, and a general meeting time; yeah, right. The neutral roll out of 150 rolls out. We hit the official start of the course, don’t blow yourself up, don’t blow yourself up, is all I repeat in my head. I think of my Trans Am finish, the people in the back of my head “you know, you could be pretty competitive at this if you had the right bike and trained for it”. I think of the coach I hired, then promptly quit. I think of the bike I spent money on, I think of all the time and energy I put into leaving Banff for this race and I’m still not sure if I really want to try to race it. My day one goal was a competitive finish at Buttes Cabin.
I find a comfortably fast pace, without spending too much. My aerobars start to slip. I stop to fix them. My rear tire feels low. I stop to fix it. I continue doing this over and over again. The rain starts. The rain turns to snow. My rear wheel starts leaking sealant from the nipple bed. It’s toast. I throw in a tube. It’s flat. I kiss Buttes Cabin goodbye. I put the right tube in and ride on, hoping the wet subsides and I can push on. I make it into Elk Springs Provincial Park. The powerline train is rough and batters my body, which is already tired from mechanicals. My legs could keep going, but the gear failures and cold work into my brain. I stop at a cabin, another racer is inside shivering and battered. He crashed his cross bike and now felt like his body was shutting down. We started a fire and debated spending the night there. I waited for an hour, maybe two. I watched all the racers go by and decided I couldn’t just give up here. I braved the cold, now no longer wet and pressed on.
Not much longer my stomach explode. Another problem I’d had before. I felt it at Boggs 8 Hour I felt it at Stagecoach. I attributed it to going to hard, to pure exhaustion, but this time I knew I wasn’t pushing too hard. A racer I had met at the airport came up to me and pressed me for help as I lay on the side of the trail trying to pull it back together.
“What’re you eating?”
“I have a bunch of goos, some gels”
“That’s your problem. You need real food, something salty. Some Corn Nuts, Fritos, Cashews, something other than all that sugar.”
I took in his advice and urged him to go on. I pulled myself back together and made it to Elkford. I filled up on Ketchup potato chips and Pepsi. Everyone was talking of hotels in Elkford after the wet, muddy, cold day. I knew my day couldn’t be over yet. As the sun was going down and the rain subsiding I pushed on to Sparwood and felt my stomach come back. I crushed the trail, dropped into town around midnight and free camped near the Subway and felt much better.
In the morning I threw food in me along with terrible Subway coffee, saw my friends Morgan and Gabes, chatted their plans, cleaned my bike and got back on the road. I passed many other cyclists with my speed. I took a break at Buttes Cabin, where I meant to be at least 8 hours earlier. Morgan and Gabes caught back up with me after I had passed them. I decided to just stick with them on toward Eureka. I’d lose them on the top of the final Canadian pass and cross the border solo. I raced on toward Whitefish, where I got my tubeless wheel situated and replaced a worn brake pad. Morgan and Gabes met up shortly after, they were on a different pace, drinking beers and hanging out. They planned to make Ferndale. At that point, as I felt that I wasn’t going that fast I decided to stick with my friends and try to enjoy this as much as possible.
Enjoying was tough though, as my feet now felt like they were on fire. I checked the size of my new Giro Terraduros’ “42” it read, not the 42.5 that I needed. No wonder. I should have bought new shoes in Whitefish, but I fucked up. I knew there was a shop in Helena, another 130 miles up the road. I didn’t think I could make it. I made the decision in the morning to just suck it up and buy new shoes in Kalispar, 22 miles off route.
My race was feeling very over now. Losing half a day riding to Kalispar, I’d have to struggle to even catch up with my friends who were drinking beers and eating out in every town. I raced fast on the pavement, trying to make the most of my time. I got a coffee, new shoes and I was back on the road. It really wasn’t all that bad of a detour as I made it back to Ferndale right after lunch. It was 100 miles to Seeley Lake, I’d race this very desolate section of Montana in 25 mile segments, firing on all cylinders. Apparently I made Seeley Lake the same time as Morgan and Gabes, but they pushed on to Ovanda in the night while I chose a good night’s sleep in Seeley Lake. I’d make up that time the next day meeting them in Lincoln, MT, at a bar of course.
At this point, I didn’t feel like racing. I didn’t feel like it fit where my head was at, I just wanted to enjoy this ride as much as I could. I vowed to stick with Morgan, Gabes, and Brad, a singlespeeder from Minneapolis they picked up along the way. I was always faster up the hill, where I’d wait for Morgan and Gabes, then we’d meet up for a second, then I’d lose them on the climb. After the 3 hour break in Lincoln, we got into Helena stupid late. The hotels were all booked for some reason. We had to head toward the interstate off the route to get a bed. It was well passed midnight before we laid down.
The next morning would be slow as we expected to get some service on bikes in Helena. We enjoyed some beers as people were anxiously tapping their toes to get on with the race. I felt my toe anxiously tapping, but I had to let it go. I needed to enjoy this, whether that meant racing or not. After 1PM we finally pushed off toward Butte, MT. Once again, I was the first one up, and would race back down. The agreement was to meet in Basin, MT for food. I dropped down toward the highway, kept pushing on along the dirt road on the route. I then realized that Basin was on the opposite side of the highway and maybe four miles of backtracking to make town. The rest of the crew was still riding toward Basin. I did the mileage math and realized that I’d be making it into town around 10PM, if I stopped for food it’d be midnight. I thought of that exhausted feeling of getting in late in Helena and decided I didn’t want that. I ditched the crew and rode on solo to Butte. I free camped in the school yard and thought about what the next day would bring. Would I be drinking beers again with Morgan and Gabes? Would I start racing? My body had felt exhausted from getting into town too late the night before. Heading south from Butte there was not a whole lot ahead, Lima, MT was a mere truckstop town, then it was big mileage to Pinedale, WY, was there even enough to offer up for this kind of relaxed beer drinking riding? I still felt like I didn’t know what I wanted, or why I was even here. The option to turn the race to a tour still laid in front of me, and I still didn’t know what to do. Decisions can only be made on then bike.
Last year before Trans-Am I had a bunch of updates on the rig I’m running, the things I’m bringing, and how I’m feeling. This year you get a glorified Instagram post. Maybe I’ve been working too much, maybe my build took too long, maybe I got a girlfriend who interests me more than writing words on the Internet. Regardless, I’m in Banff with mixed feelings about leaving tomorrow. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t suck too too much. You’ll be hearing from me in three weeks.
1894 — San Francisco is in isolation; Pullman workers striking in Chicago keep trains off the rails and keep mail out of San Francisco. In comes AC Banta, owner of Victor Cycles in Fresno. As a businessman, Banta sees the demand for a courier service and realizes he has a way to bridge the gap from the Central Valley to the Bay; bicycles. Banta established a relay between these two cities using the fixed gear bikes of the time. The route ran for two months before President Grant placed an injunction on the Pullman workers strike, bringing mail back to San Francisco and ending this experimental courier service. (Thanks to Mission Bicycle for the research and article)
2015 — Jesse Elefante and Robert Kurtz, two Bay Area locals and former Fresno residents discover this route and decide it is time to relive the journey. Friday night, 8 of us left from the Mission in San Francisco to recreate the journey as closely as possible traveling through San Jose, over Pacheco Pass, dropping into the Central Valley, and across the flat plain to Fresno.
The beginning of the ride was a slow crawl along the traffic light laden Camino Real. We kept the group together to our first stop in Palo Alto. Spirits were high and the mood was light, we were only about 40 miles into a 210 mile journey, yet no one seemed to take any fear or anxiety to the route ahead. That would quickly change.
Near the end of San Jose city limits the sky started to let out a sprinkle, we pulled under a gas station awning to prep up for the wet. A wiry man filling up his little Volvo looked at our odd assortment and asked what we were doing. We explained the old courier route and our intentions of climbing Pacheco Pass. “You’re doing Pacheco Pass on a bicycle? Are you sure you want to do that? I’ve driven that road a hundred times, I’d never do it on a bike and I’m a road cyclist. The traffic is fast and the road pitches up as much as 7%!” Our brains were all fried and we looked at each with concern. The rain, that road, that sleepy feeling already seeping in, we were beginning to feel less confidence. Then we realized collectively, that 7% was not a bad climb at all. Some riders took his words to heart, but that 7% business had me suspecting he was some sort of tri-dweeb and not actually a cyclist. I figured that Pacheco Pass would be like 90 percent of the roads in America; built for cars and only cars.
We made a little split toward Morgan Hill as a headwind barreled down on us, Morgan and I were the first two to arrive. We sat and waited for a while at the intersection before the 24 hour Safeway. My phone rang, it was Kurtz, “Hey, we’re at the beginning of town, Weaver blew a flat, we’re going to get a hotel room.” His speech was fast and definitive, as if he didn’t even want to have a discussion. I told Morgan the deal, he looked at me “I want to press on”, I agreed.
The crew reassembled at the Safeway. Kurtz began the search for a room as Morgan and myself kept searching for calories. We opened up the thought of carrying on to the group. Adam, Weaver, and Frankie all wanted to press on into the night. Ben, Alan, and Kurtz would stay behind. Five of us reloaded our bikes, said adios to the other three and pushed on into the darkness.
The rain picked up shortly after leaving Morgan Hill. I reached down to pull my jacket closed, fumbled a bit, fumbled a bit more, then came to the conclusion that the zipper was toast. Now I had nothing to keep the wind off the front of my body, the concern of a long, cold, wet night now loomed over me as we pointed ourselves on Pacheco Pass Road.
The road started with one lane in each direction and a thin shoulder. The wet rolling off our tires and the lack of glasses made pacelining impossible (we all would have been kicked off a rando ride; no fenders, no rules). Traffic was fast and more than I had expected, but I was expecting none, so it wasn’t all that bad. We reached the first 400′ pitch. I bobbed and weaved on the fixed gear trying to pull up and over. Over the top of the climb, two highways merged and we were granted a wide shoulder, and even better, a tailwind.
The wind was driving as we entered the main climb. We broke apart and climbed at our own pace, agreeing to meet at the top. Having had the luxury of no climbing to this point, I attacked the climb as hard as I could. I pushed my lungs and calves, trying to make out what the scenery was behind the darkness. The clock was pushing closer and closer to sunrise. As I ascended the sky brightened. By the time I reached the top I could see the rolling hills that surrounded this ugly mean highway.
We planned on a regroup at the top, but the rain had penetrated to our core and the wind was still biting hard. Weaver and I decided to carry on figuring the others would know to meet at the first gas station. We’d end up getting a sooner regroup than that, as I pinch flatted on the worst part of the ride, the descent. The descent had a narrow shoulder that was half rumble strips and the part that wasn’t rumble strip was covered in debris. As the day was beginning, so was traffic.
We beat the dicey decent unscathed regrouping at a gas station at the bottom. Adam was bummed that the restroom lacked an XCELERATOR hand drier to dry his clothes. Despite the chilly daybreak wind, the sun lifted the temps and our spirits. By the time we landed in Los Banos the Central Valley warmth began to seep in. Not racing or randonneuring, we spent another long break for breakfast.
Rolling out of Los Banos at about mile 130 we took a turn and hit gravel. We split up as some fatter tires gave an advantage bouncing over the washboard. The segment was only five miles and we now found ourselves off the highways on a quiet country road through the tiny spot of Dos Palos. I welcomed the change of pace on the gravel, but it came at a cost as I now had a slow leak. I decided to just pump it and change it at the next food refuel; which was planned for Mendota. We didn’t even make it there before Adam blew a flat outside Firebaugh. I changed mine while he changed his. The end was near, we might make the last direct train to Oakland (avoiding a bus and a midnight arrival), if only the flats would hold at bay.
Mendota; Weaver flats. My patch gives way (patching snake bites is always a pain). The 5:45 train seemed doubtful. At this point I started to lose it. My deep rims meant I couldn’t even borrow a tube. I patched the slow leak figuring at least if that fails I can make it work to Amtrak. We turned onto our final highway Whitsebridge Ave. or CA-140. We organized to a killer paceline of four (Adam went on ahead) and rocketed toward the finish. One more flat, one more break. At 4:45 we crossed the Fresno City line. With an hour to make the train we split up and assigned tasks; Morgan grabbed train tickets, Adam (who we met at the taco shop) and Weaver grabbed tacos, Frankie grabbed McDonalds, and I grabbed beer. We stuffed our faces at the station, handed off our bikes and after nearly 24 hours, nine flats, awful highways, and worse weather, we successfully followed the 1894 Messenger Route.