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.

35 comments:

derrick said...

So sorry to hear, Kent. Thanks for the inspiration thus far! Get some rest!

melanie said...

I've really enjoyed following your progress Kent! Best wishes as you make your way home.

Pete said...

Enjoy the journey home!

Jon Muellner said...

You gave it all my friend, though I know it was a hard decision - let's head off to the woods for some relaxing S24O when you return.

Kimberly said...

You've inspired me, Kent. I hope someday to make it that far!

Bill Gibson said...

It's good to follow tao. Thanks for all the fish!

ha1ku said...

Well done, Sir! It has been inspiring following you on this ride.

Get home safely!

Colen said...

Thanks for the entertainment, I really enjoyed following you!

TheGuth said...

End of the ride is sad, but no less inspirational. Keep 'em rolling, Kent.

antmuzic said...

I've really enjoyed watching your story - you'll get them get year!

For now, back to real life.

Joe P said...

Good on ya', Kent. Can't wait to hear the stories in person.

See you soon.

Yeti said...

DUUUUUUUDE!!! Bummer man. We've been following your progress with high hopes. Keep on keeping on!

Surly Dave said...

Sorry to hear it, but well done all the same. Thanks for taking us all along for the ride.

D Housley said...

That's a bummer, but what an adventure Kent -- now I can't wait to see some more pictures.

Anonymous said...

Dang it! Sometimes that happens. At least this solves the problem of how you were going to get home from Antelope Wells. Thanks for taking us along on your adventure.

Cheers, Gene in Tacoma

Paul said...

Having something like that happen on a regular commute is a pain, but 100 miles from nowhere is something else. Thanks for the story - it may not be the journey you intended, but it was still a journey.

Jim said...

Very sad to hear the journey's come to an end, but like others, I've enjoyed your overwhelmingly positive take on things. It's very inspiring.

Jill said...

Congrats on a great ride, Kent. It's almost unbelievable that you had similar freehub problems in the exact same region as I did last year. I feel a deep understanding for just how frustrating and demoralizing that is when you are literally 100 miles from nowhere, with only the water on your back and the food on your bike to see you out. I was quite lucky that my own hub powered through. There were a few sketchy times after a stop where I hand-spun the crank wildly for at least five minutes before the pawls caught. (I never tried the oil trick, as I wasn't made aware of it until after I arrived in Rawlins. However, I did actually spend some time considering the zip tie trick, as I know of a Iditabike racer who actually tied the cassette to his spokes when his freehub froze ... although, now that I think about it, I'm not sure how that would work on a single speed.)

Anyway, I deeply admire what you did out there and look forward to seeing your pictures and more of your stories. Congrats again.

- Jill Homer

Jill said...

I also wanted to add that you were in the exact same place when your freehub started to slip - 25 miles out of Atlantic City. I estimated 30 in my blog, but I do remember thinking that was on the high side - it really was somewhere in the mid-20s. Not long after Handcart Willie's right? The place where a group of Mormon pioneers perished because they had handcart wheel breakdowns in the plains that slowed their progress across Wyoming and they were caught by winter. It's just a bit eerie, don't you think? Makes you wonder, really, doesn't it? ... about ghosts ...

Emma Jane said...

Kent I'm so sorry to hear your bike gave up on you!

I have absolutely loved listening to your call-ins and reading this blog, you have entertained me and inspird me and made me laugh for the past two weeks. I especially loved your "chasing antelopes" post the other day.

Safe home Mountain Turtle.

Anonymous said...

Kent
No matter what we do,we cannot control the landscape in the journey of life. We can only navigate the the landscape as it is presented to us. Later on, when you reflect on this, looking at it from a different horizon, it will be clearer. Lessons about self, life and death will elevate you awareness about the journey of the breath(first through last).
From: a caveman in africa

Cecil "Zeke" Yount said...

As Bob Hope would have said, "Thanks for the memories!" It was great watching from afar as you made the trip to Banff and on to the Divide. It was a pleasure to watch.

Get home safe!

Zeke

MichaelR said...

Ouch. Very tough decision. Very tough break at a very bad time.

May your journey home be as safe and strong as the inspiration you continue to provide all of us.

tripieper said...

A grand adventure til the end Kent. It will be nice to have you back in our neck of the woods though. Thanks for sharing it with us. Amy & Robin

Chad said...

enjoyed watching your ride....thanks for the inspiring words.

SS:Mtn Biker said...

Kent,reading this post broke my heart-though not as bad as writing it had to have been. VERY tough decision you faced.

I'm very proud of the accomplishment you made,my friend,and have been enjoying and inspired by the journey you completed. I wish you a safe and fast journey home to the woman you love/who loves you,and am anxious to see more of those gorgeous pics you shot =)

Don't let it get you down,Brother,mechanicals are beyond control,you done did a fine job,and you'll get em next year,hasten slowly =)

Steve in VA

Nathan said...

The right choice is rarely the easy choice. Well done and thank you for being unapologetically you.

Kevin said...

Sorry to hear the news. Using a freehub and not a freewheel cog?

I've had a freehub conk out on my after only ~3,500 miles before. It's tricky to remove that last bearing race (loosens clockwise) but it'll be interesting for you to see why it failed. Turns out I cracked the area behind where the pawls are seated. http://i.imgur.com/oD6e4.jpg

A fiber fix spoke carefully placed might have enabled you to convert it to a ghetto fixed gear.

Amy L said...

Kent, I followed along as you rode the GDR a few years ago, and again this year. I toured the GDMBR in 2007 and loved every moment. I have a story to share, as I think it touches some of the things you might be feeling.
In 2006 I was on a cross-country group bike trip with a group of 40. On the third day, a cyclist I did not yet know well was hit from behind and killed on impact. It was devastating. The 39 remaining riders were deeply in need of sharing our grief with others. I believe that if I had not had the rest of the group to mourn with, I would not have continued. With news of Dave's death, my heart sank with sadness for his friends and family, and I could not imagine being a racer, carrying thoughts of the tragedy all alone.
You are an inspiration to many people. Don't for a moment feel like you "gave up" or "bailed out". You made the right decision for you, given the situation, and that is most admirable. You are a role model and an inspiration.
Ride on!
AmyL, Palo Alto

SeattleM+M said...

Congrats on a great ride. Safe travels home!

Chris said...

Kent sorry to see you out of it, Marni and I have enjoyed watching and listening and following your race this year. A bum freehub took me out once before too, luckily only about 3 miles from a highway. The ghetto ziptie trick worked well enough but i'm not sure it would last anywhere near across the basin.

Enjoy seeing that woman of yours, I know I couldn't wait to come home to mien last year.

Neil Anderson said...

I wish I was half the rider you are, Kent, and your exhortation to find something you love, dream it, and do it, well that really stuck a chord here. It applies to cycling, but also to how one approaches one's family, I think. Here's to a man who loves a journey, and who loves the life he comes home to.

ghd3 said...

Well done, Kent, and welcome home! You rode a strong race, and have every reason to be proud. You made a good call, in my judgment, and I hope you're enjoying being home with Christine. Hope to run into you soon.

Anonymous said...

Great ride, Mountain Turtle. If spreading positive energy was one of your goals, you made it to the finish in superb style. Thanks for sharing your adventure!
--Toby Gadd

Anonymous said...

Kent, you are such a legend. Your enthusiasm is so inspirational, I hope you stay involved in this wonderful race in the future one way or another.

Good luck dude.