10) At times, ascents are your friends and it’s descents that are your enemy
As you’re plugging away to get up a hill, it’s easy to start resenting the uphill and favouring the downhill. However, when descending, sometimes you think the ascent was better if you find yourself having hit the wrong bit of the slope and not being able to get out of it.
I’m more familiar with skiing than I am biking so I’m going to use that sport to explain the predicament. It’s similar to when you’re going up a button lift and one ski accidentally goes into a groove carved into the track by a procession of other skiers. You find yourself desperately trying to keep your ski in a straight line with the groove as catching an edge would surely lead to a fall and significant embarrassment. Whilst focussing on said ski, your unattended ski can easily fall into a similar groove the other side of the track. If you’re lucky, the grooves are parallel and of consistent depth. If you’re unlucky, they’re not and you find yourself in the squat position, skis juddering and legs widening to biologically dangerous levels before being pulled upright and your legs forced closed only to be unceremoniously ripped apart again a few metres on. During this time, you are trying to remain calm and let your skis flow with the snow whilst simultaneously being tense as hell and worried you’ll be the one wearing the Salopettes of Shame after you fall over and the lift has to be stopped.
It’s similar going downhill on a muddy or gravel road. The cars (of which there are few, usually pick-up trucks) inevitably leave tracks in the road. The edges of deep tracks formed during heavy rain are very hard when dry. Once going downhill, if you enter a tyre track that baby is yours for the rest of the descent! To hit a solid edge at a narrow angle would likely mean a fall so you’re left in a similar predicament as above in trying to relax and go with it whilst being incredibly nervous. Similar with gravel: the car tracks are devoid of gravel and thus attractive to travel in but, once in them, again, that’s home for a few seconds or minutes as exiting it may prompt a nasty skid.
At least there’s no fear factor going uphill, they warm you up when you’re cold and there’s usually a great view, so here’s to the hills!
(Having made the hills sound good…)
11) Stay calm as the hills and terrain can mess with your head if you let them
Firstly, there is no flat. You may get a few miles of fairly level ground but never a full day. Even in the Great Basin the ratio of up to down is 80:20 (apparently). So don’t look at the topographic map and think “ooooh, a flat day coming up” as it won’t be – it’ll be undulating. If you start getting angry at the hills when you turn a corner and see a road like a brown sea serpent’s back, it’s coils rolling up and down through an ocean of sage brush, you’ll get yourself down. Once you’ve accepted there’s bound to be a hill coming up at some point and don’t fight against it, you’ll be a lot happier.
Same principle goes for the terrain. Most of the time you get dirt or gravel road +/- small rocks and +/- washboarding. The fact the route is not on the main roads and for the most part is forest or county roads is what makes it great, so don’t get yourself worked up and angry at the terrain if you’re struggling to hit 5mph even on a flat bit.
At some point each day, you’re likely to hit some better quality road that’ll make up for lost time on poor surface. At one point I was doing 2.2mph thinking that at that rate I’d arrive at my destination at 10am the next day but at some point things changed and it was nearer 10pm that same day that I made it into camp – success!
12) You form quite close bonds with people quite quickly
Firstly, I haven’t met any other people also riding the route who I haven’t liked a lot and, secondly, you find yourself feeling like you’ve known them for ages to then recall that actually you just camped at the same spot about twice and rode together for about 10 minutes one day. I also find myself worrying about them and hoping that they’re ok when we inevitably go our separate ways (I.e. distance covered per day or number of days off separates you). If anyone says to me be careful I think “just don’t do anything stupid out here, control what you can control and hope for a bit of luck with the things you can’t and you’ll be fine”, then when it comes to the others I find myself thinking “be careful, it’s JOLLY DANGEROUS!”. Sean finished his ride at Steamboat to head to a course in Rifle and I was really sad to say goodbye to my Basin buddy and chief fire-starter, and worry in slightly parental fashion about him riding the Interstate to get there!
13) Age is no barrier (assuming you’re still relatively healthy!)
I’ve actually found myself a relative youngster on the Divide! Dean (maturing years…) has put me and my peer group to shame by doing the Grizzly Bear Highway (which none of us did, opting for the Fernie Alternate) and follows his motto of EFI (Every F*cking Inch) of the trail rather than skipping even a mile for whatever reason.
I met a couple of riders coming south to north who do a stretch of the Divide every year (and mapped the new route from Basin to Butte). I thought she was about 50 so was merrily telling her about Dean and how amazing at 70 and she told me she was 65. I told her she didn’t look it but she said I hadn’t seen her naked. Point taken.
14) The weather matters
In some locations the weather doesn’t need to spoil the fun but out here, no matter how much of a smile you try and put on your face, the weather can dampen one’s spirits. At best, a very bad weather day morphs over time into type 2 fun. At worst, it is and remains type 0 fun.
The problem with rain is that everything gets wet and unless the sun comes out you’re reliant on motels as drying opportunities, you can’t see that well when you’re riding, the downhills become slippy and dangerous and the uphills extra hard work when the ground is sodden. If you’re on a dirt road described in the book as ‘primitive’, you can forget all thoughts of movement once it’s turned to thick mud after rainfall except from perhaps bowel if there’s lightening around or the slow roll of a tear down your cheek once you realise you’ll be spending the night at your current location.
15) Every day looks different and is beautiful in its own unique way
It sounds cliched but it’s true and, without making a deliberate effort to prove it with my choice of photos, I think my photo journal posts show that.
This is very beneficial when someone stops to chat and asks you what made you do it. Rather than feeling you have to provide some deep-seated emotional reason to explain why, you just spread your arms at the scenery like a conductor directing applause at the orchestra and say “this” and your audience is left satisfied with your response.
So if you’re thinking it’s miles and miles of the same view of mountains and trees, it isn’t and you rarely get bored.
16) Something great happens every day
There have been 2 days I can recall where I went to bed thinking “nope, today was a bit toss” but every other day something good has happened to brighten even the darkest of days (of which there have been few anyway). Be that someone stopping their car and handing over a bottle of Gatorade or a joke like “now I can tell from your accent that you’re from Alabama”.
Which leads me onto…
17) Americans love an English accent!
It’s not often/ever that anyone says “I could listen to you all day” but that happens in the US! I had some insight into this from work trips to America and receiving heavy praise for my dulcet tones, and once being asked to recite words including ‘pineapple’ and ‘piña colada’ to the delight of the crowd. Anyway, it makes it easier when it’s not what you say but how you say it seems to please people!