Tour Divide Days 8-9 : Alone For The First Time

by Andy Amick on September 12, 2014

in Bikepacking, Tour Divide 2014

After not sleeping much the previous 2 nights, morning in Wise River found me tired with a craving for coffee and breakfast.  Unfortunately, the cafe in Wise River didn’t open for another hour and I wasn’t willing to wait that long.  So I left Wise River after eating a candy bar and cinnamon roll I had purchased back in Butte.

Polaris was about 30 miles ahead with all of it being on paved roads.  Easy.  Shouldn’t be a problem.  Those are thoughts that should never ever get into the mind of a Tour Divide rider.  Easy sections do not exist.  Just when you think there will be one, the weather, your body, or fatigue will reach out and bring you back to the cold reality of how hard the ride can be.

riding towards Polaris, MT

Leaving Wise River, the road followed a river upstream at a modest incline.  I started out feeling decent and was actually riding ahead of Alice since she was spinning out on her singlespeed gear on the pavement.  When the road pitched up, she soon caught and dropped me.  A few minutes later, I was left walking up a paved road struggling to keep moving forward.  Walking up paved roads does not put you into a good mindset, especially when you are already feeling fatigued and worn down.

After what felt like forever, the top of the climb was in view.  A light rain started to fall as I began the downhill towards Polaris.  The downhill wasn’t all down, and those small inclines are no fun when you’re completely wiped out with no energy.  And yes, I had to walk parts of these inclines on a downhill.  The day was not going well.

The inclines stopped and the scenery opened up revealing a valley below.  Tucked into my aero bars with the cold misty rain falling, the swooping fast downhill raised my spirits.  Once down into the valley,  I could see houses and a sign for Ma Barnes’ Country Store.  The food and refreshment I craved was a mere half mile off route.

When I rolled up to the store, Alice and Sarah Caylor, who had passed me in Wise River earlier that morning, were enjoying their lunch of snacks, pizzas, and sodas.  Me, I felt like a shell of myself even after eating some of the many snacks I bout at the store.  Alice and Sarah took off and I sat there eating, thinking, and feeling like I didn’t want to go on.  I never thought about quitting, but I certainly didn’t want to ride right then.

After making a couple more trips inside the store to buy more drinks and snacks, I called into MTBCast and then to my wife.  I could barely get a few words out without crying.  I was really down in the dumps.  I talked to my kids and they told me that “you got this“.  With their words of encouragement, I packed up and got my emotional and tired self back on the bike.

For the first time in the entire ride, I was completely alone.  Alice and Sarah were up the road about an hour and I didn’t know who was behind or how far back they were.

The ride out of Polaris was on pavement which picked up my spirits a bit.  After turning back onto dirt, I decided it was time for a nap.  The only problem was that I was now in a wide open grassland with very few trees for shade.  It was noon and the blaring sun was not conducive to a nap.  Sleep would have to wait until evening.

Riding on the road towards the Bannack Bench offered some wonderful views of the grasslands and mountains in the distance.  It also offered a view of the thunderstorm headed directly for me.  Nothing will get you out of the mental dumps like a close strike of lightning.  I shifted into a higher gear and headed for some houses a few miles down the road, making it to Cross Ranch just as the storm hit.  Outrunning the storm and eating snacks on a covered porch lifted my spirits.  I was ready for more miles.

The remainder of the day was more of the same.  Wide open country, dirt roads, and rolling hills.  This was one of those sections where the actual terrain and scenery did not match my imagined view from reading the maps.  It’s kind of like how a person never looks in person like you thought they would in your mind.

The top of Sheep Creek Divide, the last large climb before Lima was super steep at the top.  Pushing a load bike is not fun, but certainly easier than trying to grunt up the climb in my easiest gear.  The top meant a downhill, and a fun downhill it was.

tour divide sheep creek

The sun was not yet setting, but I decided to camp outside of Lima rather than get a hotel in town.  For my own personal growth, I had to do some solo camping.  I didn’t want to go through the entire Tour Divide camping with others and staying in hotels.

Camp was setup, dinner was eaten, Advil PM was taken, and I was in my comfy down cocoon before sunset.  Since I had not slept for two nights and I was having trouble calming my mind for sleep, the Advil PM became my new nighttime routine for the rest of the race.  They probably weren’t needed every night, however, I wasn’t willing to risk having more days like I had been having for the previous two.

The sunrise woke me up just after 5AM.  It was a beautiful but cold morning.  I was a happy Tour Divider because I had slept so well.  Plus, I knew Lima was 20 miles down the road and that meant hot food.  Woo hoo!!

montana big sky country

And what a wonderful breakfast it was.  I made sure it would be a giant breakfast that I would remember – pancakes, bacon, biscuits & gravy, peaches, and lots of hot coffee.  Breakfast is good, breakfast is really good.

first breakfast on the divide

As I was finishing up my breakfast, Ryan Lee and Kiwi Ken came into the restaurant.  We chatted for a bit and I headed over to the gas station to get my food for the day.  I would run into both of these guys later in the race.

With my full belly, a bike loaded with goodies, and a much better outlook, I rode off towards Idaho.  This section from Lima into Idaho is perhaps the flattest portion of the route other than the final 100 miles to the Mexican border.  I wasn’t complaining and was feeling great.

Outside Lima Montana

Just as I was finding my pedaling rhythm, I came upon an elderly lady with a flat tire.  I was racing and feeling good, but I had to stop.  You know, I’m sure everyone loves to see a smelly cyclist roll up when they have a flat tire.  She was having trouble getting the lug nuts off and had called someone from town to help her.  Since they were not there yet, I decided to use my enormous power (after 10 days of riding, the legs were strong but the upper body was just as puny as ever) to take off the lug nuts and change the tire.  As I was loosening the last nut, the man from town drove up and said he could finish the job.  I rode off with dirty hands but feeling good after being able to help someone out after other people had helped me during the ride.

The terrain was flat with mountains to the right and an open valley to the left.  The miles flew by as I kept a nice pace.  While stopping for a lunch of gas station snacks, I noticed the storm clouds building up behind me.  It was time to get moving to see if I could outrun the storm.  At this point in the race, I should have saved some energy and taken it easy on my achilles.  Instead, I laid into the pedals and cranked up the pace.  These clouds were not going to get me today.


There was a short climb to reach the Idaho border and I crested the climb just as the storm started to spit rain.  A few pictures were in order since this was the first state I had finished.  Then it was time to fly down the hill and see if I could avoid the storm for a few more minutes.  I managed to get in front of the storm as I got to the bottom of the hill and rode through a small section of trail (these little bits of trail throughout the ride were so much fun after being on open roads for days at a time) before reaching the Sawtelle Resort.  All I could think about while outrunning a storm for several hours was:

Two Subway sandwiches later, it was time to ride the infamous rail trail section.  Since it was a late Saturday afternoon, there was a fair amount of ATV traffic on the trail.  I’m sure they wondered why a cyclist would be on such a trail – a trail that is straight, extremely sandy, and has small undulations that make it hard to find a rhythm. 

infamous Idaho rail trail tour divide

25 miles of Rail Trail – the undulations are sort of visible.

After a mile or two, I settled in and accepted the rail trail for what it was.  I wouldn’t want to ride this section again, but it was ok once I found a gear that I could pedal smoothly without having to mash on the pedals.  The worst part of the rail trail was it’s affect on my already numb hands.  They got much worse over the 25 miles because there was no respite from bumps and having to constantly “steer” in the sand.

It was a pleasant evening that afforded me lots of pictures.  A few hours after starting the rail trail, I came up the tunnel that’s listed in the ACA guides.  The trail after the tunnel and down to the Warm River Campground was a blast – nice trail, sun starting to set, and wonderful views of the river below.

after the rail trail the views are spectacular

My mind was already set on staying at the campground.  I probably should have ridden more since I was feeling great and it wasn’t very late.  Unfortunately, I made the mistake of letting my mind settle on an endpoint most days.  It’s almost impossible to reach the destination and then tell yourself you’re going to keep riding.

The campground had lots of mosquitoes and families.  No, those two things aren’t related but that’s what I experienced.  Being surrounded by families sitting around their campfires eating hot meals made me miss my family a lot.

My own dinner was more gas station food (probably a cinnamon roll, candy bar, and some candied orange slices).  It wasn’t great, but it was calories.  Thanks to help from Advil PM and my ear plugs, I fell asleep before dark even as the kids played loudly in the campsites around me.

About Andy Amick
A little bit nutty in general, a lotta bit nutty about bikes. Each of his boys received a bike helmet for their first birthday and the three of them have been biking together ever since.

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