Friday, June 25, 2010

The End of a Turtle's Trail

Just past 10:00 this morning, about 25 miles South-East of Atlantic City Wyoming, the freehub on my Monocog began to slip. The freehub is the mechanism that allows a bike to coast. Tiny pawls inside the hub retract when the wheel is spinning faster than the cog, but when power is applied (via the pedals, crank and chain) the pawls engage and the force of the rider's legs drive the wheel.

Normally, freehubs just work. This particular freehub had worked fine for thousands and thousands of miles. But this hot, dusty, washboarded section of road is hard on freehubs. Last year, Jill Homer had freehub problems on this section of road. Fortunately for her, the problems worked themselves out. Commenters on her blog suggested dribbling lube into the freehub body. Not a bad idea. I stopped my bike and dribbled lube.

It helped, a bit, for a while. But the pawls kept refusing to engage. My legs spun wildly against zero friction. I bounced the wheel, trying to get the pawls to catch. Sometimes the would and I could pedal for a bit but then they'd slip again. with each slip, I could picture part of the tiny pawl being worn down. When coasting, the hub made an ominous sound.

Soon, the pawls refused to engage at all. I no longer had a bike under me, a had a 29-inch wheeled push scooter.

I had seen no humans since I'd left Atlantic City and the next town was Rawlins, over 100 miles away. This road crosses the Great Divide Basin, the driest and most desolate section of the Tour Divide Route except for parts of New Mexico. I had enough food for the trip and enough water to get me to each of the few streams in the Basin, assuming a biking pace. I now had a walking and pushing on the flats and climbs, while coasting on the descents pace. The thermometer on my bike computer, which may be overly dramatic, read 92 degrees.

I had something of a problem. I walked and pushed and coasted my bike for miles. About 40 miles. The map listed "Emergency bail outs" at miles 47 and 66. At mile 47 I still clung to the hope I could stay in the race or the pawls would spontaneously heal themselves. Further on, I knew I had to bail at mile 66 and walk-push-coast the 14 miles to Jeffrey City.

I was low on water and thrilled to find Arapaho Creek was flowing at mile 62. It was a bit past 3:00 PM. As America sings in that "Horse With No Name" song, "the heat was hot." But I had water and I knew I could make it to Jeffrey City. It would be hours, but I'd make it.

A cowboy named Travis with a big truck and a scruffy dog saved me about 15 miles of walking. I bought him two beers at the bar in Jeffrey City. They let me use the phone at the bar to call Christine. I told her I'm done. I told her I'm coming home.

I have given this Tour Divide my very best effort and I love this trail. Tomorrow, John, the fellow who runs the local motel where I'm staying tonight and typing this, will help me find a ride to Lander, the nearest town with a bike shop.

In theory, I could stay in the race, and while I love the race and the course, the real racers are far ahead of me. Godspeed racers. This turtle is going home. I have a woman I need to hold.

Thank you so much to all my supporters on Team Turtle, to Matthew for organizing the hardest race in the world, to Joe with his great MTBcast coverage, to the ACA for the awesome maps and route, to all the racers who gave it their best, to my pals at the Bicycle Center for giving me the time to do this, Travis and all the other kind strangers on the trail, to Mark for his friendship and work on the blog, and finally to Christine, my love and my life. Your turtle is coming home.

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