Tour Divide Final Day

Somewhere in the Gila Wilderness – Antelope Wells; 274km distance, 1,830m climbing, 14hrs 20mins moving time.

Last morning crawling out of my bivi. Last morning eating a Poptart. Last morning putting on cold stinking shorts. Not entirely sure I’ll miss this. Rick clatters past on the trail below me, as normal he’s up that bit earlier and moving while I’m still waiting for my bowels to wake up. As normal the first climb of the day takes me a while to get into. The positive side of it is that this is really the only climbing on bike I’ll need to do for the day. Once I get over it I’m cruising along the top with enough speed to catch up to Rick for a chat. We roll along watching the elk running beside us confused at people being in their home so early in the day.

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A quick stop for breakfast is in order as we pull up to the Sapillo Campground. We’d both hoped to make it here last night, but the final climb of the day never happened. We sit and chat with another camper out walking his dog – it’s bowels appear to be just fine – and we get ready for the last alternate of the trip. The now famous Continental Divide Trail alternate – in short, it’s bloody hard. I knew it was going to have a lot of pushing up to the burn zone, but I didn’t reckon for it being narrow and off-camber. Any slip was going to result in a tumble into some cacti and there was more than enough to go around.

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it wasn’t the easiest of pushes up but it was rewarded by some excellent riding through a massive burn zone on tight and technical singletrack. As much as I didn’t want to I loved this section, it was punishing yes, but the riding was stunning – a section I’d love to come back to on a light bike with fresh legs. After an hour or so I dropped out the far side of the mesa and onto lush fast forest trails, something I’d never have expected from this part of New Mexico. Fast and cool riding through hoodoos and cacti. Stunning. All the time following the CDT trail signs that the thru-hikers follow for months on end.

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The day had clouded over by the time I reached the road to Silver City. It was getting towards midday and I was starting to get hungry, so I planned to try and eat some real food for the first time in 2 days. Rolling down into the town on the blacktop I saw a woman walking towards me eating an ice-cream. “Man I could go for an ice-cream right now…hang on that’s Pauline!” I skid to a stop and chat before deciding I want a McFlurry for breakfast – I ride off to the McDs and soon after Pauline arrives – Rick’s along not soon after and he gets to meet my wife for the first time. I mostly concentrate on cramming two portions of fries, “chicken” nuggets and an McFlurry in my face. Not to mention a gallon or so of Coke. It barely hits the spot and I go back for more. I get my shopping done in Silver City as Rick rolls on – I stop and eat more real food at a local health food store – I fill up on almonds, juice, coconut water and some other actually healthy food. I’m like a fat kid in a sweet shop and I love it. I say my goodbyes and roll out into the headwind along the freeway – last climb of the race, once I top out it is actually all down hill from here.

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I crest the climb and turn onto the dirt for the last 60km stretch to Separ and the final food stop of the race. I can see huge clouds building and I know I’m going to get wet again, but, it’s warm at least. Just as I left Silver City the lady at the tourist office confirmed the monsoon season had been declared, we were just going to get caught. Hopefully, I’d get through it without any final run ins with the adobe mud. I ride hard, make a nav mistake, back up and catch Rick sooner than expected. He tells me to ride on, I just laugh and say no, at this point we may as well keep each other company. It’ll be good to chat to someone, especially for the last section.  We get rained on. We get to Separ and sit out the last of it on the porch in rocking chairs drinking coffee and talking shit like old friends. It’s good.

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Eventually we make a move – me to the toilet, Rick to his bike. I always take that bit longer to get going, even more than Rick. I wanted to ride the final section of dirt on the Divide on my own. It felt right to me. A crappy frontage road beside the Interstate, but dirt none the less. I stop at one stage and look at the mountains on the horizon. It’s Mexico. I laugh and shake my head. I can’t believe I made it here.

DSC00934 DSC00935The next few hours pass in a boring haze of tarmac – 70 miles of dull riding along a straight road broken by one town. We alternate being the front rider and rear with a few hundred meters between us. We have a tail wind and it’s easy riding on the body, but dull on the mind.  The entertainment comes from a car stuck in the mud – occupants fuming in their white chinos and loafers. I send a state patrol officer out to help them, he just laughs and calls them something rude in Spanish. Hours pass. We get buzzed by more border guards, they know what we’re doing, probably even who we are from our SPOT trackers. It gets dark and we stop in Hachita under a green tinted light for a eating and chatting. Watching the animals run around us. It’s too late for real humans to be out.

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As we ride out I put on music for the first time in the whole race. It’s not that I don’t want to talk with Rick, it’s that we’re both tired and I want something else in my head other than the drone of out tyres. We chat away while in my other ear The Clash give out about the UK in the 70s. Pretty much the same now Joe. Sorry. Bet you never saw Brexit coming.

We roll to the vision of a huge thunderstorm on the horizon, the wind sweeping around to the side of us.

We ride along suddenly crunchy roads as the tarantulas and frogs come out.

We spin and chat, chat and spin as the hours pass.

We laugh as our wives drive past on the way to the border, I smell pizza in the car.

And then we are done.

2,800 miles from Banff to the Mexican border. I stop and get the photo. I get a hug, I am handed a beer, I sit in the middle of the road for the next hour talking shit and eating pizza at a closed border checkpoint on an international border. Tomorrow I won’t ride my bike. Or the day after. Or the day after that. But this… I’ll remember this.

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~~

Thanks to Shona, Rich and Steve at Keep Pedalling in Manchester for all the help over the years with bikes and general ideas. To the folks at Salsa Cycles in the UK for supporting me. To Nils and crew at Lyon Equipment for the Ortlieb and Exped kit. Also, to any of you who’ve helped me over the years. The reccy went fine, I’ll be back to race properly in 2018.

  31 comments for “Tour Divide Final Day

  1. Aidan
    August 25, 2016 at 21:56

    Really enjoyed reading your very honest tale of your race. It gives a real flavour of what it is like to ride so hard for so long. Dreaming that I might ride it one day. Cheers!

    • greg
      August 26, 2016 at 10:15

      No problem Aidan, happy you enjoyed it. Forget dreaming about doing it, just get it done. No point waiting.

  2. Chris
    August 29, 2016 at 01:55

    Dispels any notions of a romantic route played to an acoustic soundtrack. Greg I commend you for such an honestly brutal write up. An account that deals with your thoughts, both the positives and the many negatives. Something no other TD account has delt with. Even the published ones. Congratulations on your time. Imo anything sub 24 days is something to be very proud of. And I recon less than 100 people have gone sub 21.
    The question is did you enjoy yourself enough to want to do it again.

    Thanks.

    (Just) chris

    • greg
      August 30, 2016 at 10:20

      Hi Chris,

      Glad you liked the write up – it was an easy way to brain dump the race, and was aimed at giving a real feel to what it is like. The reality of the Divide is quite different to what many portray in the versions they write and the images they promote. It’s hard. Every day, all the time, usually not due to the physicality. But, it’s also incredibly rewarding. Which is reason enough for most people to at least try it.

      I’ll be back in 2018 – it was always planned as a reccy followed by a faster run down.

      G

  3. Kevin
    August 31, 2016 at 09:53

    Well done Greg and I’ll follow your blue dot 2018, as I said by the gate at Egypt on the MTL a couple of Saturdays ago I looked forward to reading your report in the Mag, but this is more from the heart.

    • greg
      September 1, 2016 at 08:53

      Hi Kevin, good to meet you the other day. There will still be a magazine feature – but in Grit.cx (print issue 009) rather than in Singletrack. Will see you around the trails local no doubt. Figure I’ll spot you on that ORANGE Rocket!

  4. Wil
    August 31, 2016 at 13:27

    Hey Greg, having read it beginning to end whilst sat at my desk at work I feel utterly inspired by it – awesome writing and pictures. Just need to get planning now, will be a bit of a change from my 30 mile commute!

    Cheers
    Wil

    • greg
      September 1, 2016 at 08:51

      Will, that 30mile commute would work well as a training ride twice a day… I did back to back 45km commutes for 4 months – cheaper on train fare, and I got to see the seasons change around me every day. It was wonderful.

  5. Keith Kitchen (STW Team Longsac)
    August 31, 2016 at 13:57

    Just finished the full story. I’m knackered!!!. Great write up, honest and brutal. The mental capacity to keep going when its shit is awe inspiring. Good luck next year.

    • greg
      September 1, 2016 at 08:50

      Hi Keith, thanks! I tried to be honest, figure there is no point in sugar coating shit! Year off next year, back for 2018.

  6. Darren Thompson
    August 31, 2016 at 17:15

    A thoroughly enjoyable read Greg & congratulations on your achievement.
    I too dream of riding this event one day & maybe some others like it. I’ve always wanted to know how far I can push myself & what I can achieve. Not to race, just to do it.
    With children nearly grown, the time may well be coming. Maybe see you out there one day.
    Cheers,
    Darren.

    • greg
      September 1, 2016 at 08:50

      Thanks Darren, happy you enjoyed it. All I can advise is don’t think about it – plan to do it. Once you commit you’ll get there.

  7. Brian MacLeod
    September 1, 2016 at 11:09

    That was exhausting reading. 🙂
    Well done!

    • greg
      September 1, 2016 at 12:52

      Have a nice cup of tea – that’ll help.

      Hope you enjoyed it.

    • greg
      September 1, 2016 at 20:00

      Thanks Brian

  8. September 1, 2016 at 22:14

    Great write up! It’s always interesting to hear peoples experiences on TD, everyone’s story is so different. Nice work on the finish.

    • greg
      September 2, 2016 at 09:02

      Thanks Megan, experiences are what it’s all about really.

  9. Dave Owen
    September 3, 2016 at 07:02

    Greg, that was an excellent read. Very honest and truly inspiring. The TD is something I have looked at and increasingly feel a need to do. Have you or anyone you know who has done the TD got young kiddies? Something that would be very useful for budding tour dividers is a training regime/guide our ultra long distance cycking; do you know of one? Once again thanks for an excellent and inspiring read

    • greg
      September 5, 2016 at 08:59

      Hi Dave, glad you enjoyed it.

      Having young kids shouldn’t be an issue – Chris who came second has two (one quite young) – it’s about setting your priorities in terms of finish time, and then focusing on your training time. I did most of my training mid week on the way to work (2hrs each way to work).

      As for the training side…well just hold off on that. It’s something I’ve been meaning to pen.

      G

  10. Steve Mac.
    September 3, 2016 at 16:11

    Wow………. It’s the only word I can think of using…… What a series….. Read through it in 2 sittings……came across it after seeing you on IG riding with Nick K and Mark T.
    What an honest account…… You’re a brave man, matey……although it grinds my gears reading about close calls with cars, and the encounters with some of the locals.
    Well done matey. Truly enjoyed…… And if you do it again, well I live just west of Fernie (from uk to living in the Canadian Rockies) I’ll be sure to come and cheer

    • greg
      September 5, 2016 at 08:57

      Thanks Steve, glad you enjoyed it. It was…an experience, quite a good one mostly and a great way to see a chunk of the USA. Next time, less suffering I hope!

  11. Rick Miller
    September 4, 2016 at 14:57

    You remembered my ride better than I do!

    • greg
      September 5, 2016 at 08:56

      Oddly I tend to be able to remember things like this well – but not my own phone number.

  12. Jeffrey D
    September 5, 2016 at 14:07

    Great write up, Greg, one of the best I have seen on the Divide. I am planning on riding it when I finish my masters next year… not sure why I would want to after reading your accounts, but going to do it! Congrats and thanks for sharing, going to go for a ride now.

    • greg
      September 5, 2016 at 15:03

      Inspiring someone to ride – can’t get a much better response than that! Glad you enjoyed it.

  13. Dean Anderson
    September 9, 2016 at 20:03

    Great write up! Thanks for thoroughly distracting me at work. 🙂 Too bad for your mechanical or you probably would have shaved a couple of days off your time. It was good to hear your change in perspective near the end to just enjoying yourself. I had a similar revelation and slowed down a bit at the end. Good luck in 2018!! I am considering the Trans Am in 2018…probably on a geared road bike this time.

    • greg
      September 12, 2016 at 09:13

      Hey Dean! Well, I’m sorry for your employer for me wasting your time 😉 Happy you enjoyed it though. The mechanical was what it was, no point lamenting it, but it turned the last few days into a real enjoyable experience for me.

  14. Redpath
    September 15, 2016 at 19:02

    Greg,
    Amazing write-up. I started reading and couldn’t quit. Then I read it again and couldn’t quit. Totally enjoyed it!
    To capture the essence of the TD is no mean feat but you did it.
    I was right out there with you. Maybe it speaks more to those of us who’ve been there I don’t know but it sure hit me. The TD is such a beast it’s hard to get your head around and harder yet to describe. But It’s all there, the joy, the agony, the shear immensity of it. Getting up every morning and pulling on soggy shorts, always hungry, always thirsty, always sore, always moving. Broken bikes, broken stuff, broken wills. Perseverance. It is a staggering event by any measure and for a lot of us, life changing as well. You’re just not the same person after completing it and you captured that too.
    Large parts of the west we went though were ‘settled’ (plundered) for gold and to a lesser extent silver back in the 1800’s. The high country still bears the scars of uncontrolled mining operations but that’s why the roads and ‘towns’ and all the cool stuff to look at are there. Lots of the destruction left me pretty bummed out too. Seeing the miles of windrowed rocks that were once the streambeds in Breckinridge left me totally depressed. They absolutely raped that place. And were proud of it. The American West was founded on ‘Get Rich Quick’ schemes epitomized best by Gold Fever. We got to see it up close and personal. It’s in a part of the country that few see and in spite of our best efforts remains a staggeringly beautiful place. I found the constantly changing astounding scenery to act as much as an energy boost as a double espresso. I hit my low point in Abiquiu as well. It’s only because they didn’t have any transport out of there that made me move on and finish. The road to Cuba is burned into my mind forever.
    You had a lot of nice pictures. I really enjoyed those also. How did you manage to stop so often and take them and still ride so fast? I found stopping for any reason to very difficult. Keep moving, keep moving….
    FYI-I wrote up my 26 day 2015 ride and read it to my wife-she fell asleep about the time I hit Sparwood….
    Thanks for a great read. You nailed it!
    After reading it I keep finding myself thinking maybe, just maybe…

    • greg
      September 26, 2016 at 13:37

      Hi Jon,

      Happy you enjoyed and felt the race again! It’s an experience at it’s most simple and something more complex at the other end of the scale too. I’ll go back again and go faster.

      As for the photos – these are only a smidge of them. I like taking photos and it was always part of the plan going there first time. Just shot and rode at the same time most of the time!

      G

  15. John Russell
    February 28, 2017 at 16:47

    Hey Greg! Finally got around to reading all this, a great read and put into words the tough shitty reality of it all, something I don’t think I really managed in my Cordillera piece.
    But despite the occasional shittiness, it’s still amazing and looking back now I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Apart from my stack on day 2, I’d change that…
    I won’t be there in 2018 with you but I’ll be back another time – hopefully for an injury-free run and something approaching a 20-ish day…
    Hope to catch up at a UK event before that!
    ATB,
    John

    • greg
      March 10, 2017 at 11:46

      Thanks John, I wasn’t that shitty, it like anything that long, has downer moments. There are also many uplifting moments, we tend to not remember them as much as they have less impact for most.

      If you’re about my way give a shout. Would be good to catch up.

      Greg

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