Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"What do you win?"

"If you've never stared off into the distance,
then your life is a shame
And though I'll never forget your face
sometimes I can't remember my name."

-- Counting Crows, "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby"

Various times, in brief conversations at stops along the trail, a mini-mart clerk or a waitress in a cafe would ask about the Tour Divide, the 2745 mile mountain bike race from Banff to the Mexican border. I'd be there, buying a dozen Snickers bars or wolfing down a huge second breakfast and the question would come up, naturally, "What do you win?" And because time is short and the race is long, I'd give the easy answer, the short one, the lie. "Nothing," I'd say, "we do this for the fun." And I'd head back out on the trail.

The longer, truer answer is the one that reveals itself, bit by bit, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, mountain vista by mountain vista. It is the truth found in the distance and at the center of this bit of flesh I call myself. On a tiny trail in a vast world, with my possessions pared down to the minimum needed to maintain forward motion, with thoughts in my head of every kindness shown me, each step that lead me here, I answer to the wind, "Everything. I've won all this. I'm the luckiest man alive."

Matthew Lee reached the Mexican border at Antelope Wells, New Mexico 17 days 15 hours and 13 minutes after leaving Banff, Alberta. Matthew is a true racer, the man who built this race out of his own love for this course. And he can love these miles faster than any human I know.

Blaine Nester and Erik Lobeck reached the border together, 18 days 11 hours and 38 minutes after leaving Banff. Fast friends, sharing second place, they've won the course, a well-earned right to rest and so much more.

As I write this, others are still on the course and still others, like myself, have ended their quest for the border. I've won too much to think of myself as a loser and I hope that the others, the stopped and the rolling, will also see how much they've won in this wonderful tour.

My own race didn't end when I hit a barbed wire gate at speed, although with one bit of bad luck, one slightly different landing, I might not be writing this right now. Dave Blumenthal had the sudden, brutal, tragic, fatal bad luck. It is his life and joy we remember and his final gift to all of us, the haunting reminder that every moment is precious and we should love to our best in every moment.

My own race didn't end when I hit that gate and it really didn't end when my bike's freehub mechanism gave up and I was reduced to walking and coasting. My race ended in hundreds of moments, moments when a racer would roll on but a tourist would stop and wonder, stop and take a picture.

I am the Mountain Turtle and in the end, I guess this turtle doesn't race, he tours. And that's OK. For me, it's even better than OK. I knew my race was over when the horned lizard crossed my path and I stopped to chase him down, to get a picture.

I've got pictures and stories and a trip that never ends. I've just built up a slower bike, geared even lower, with no freehub to break. Fixed in every sense of the word. Not perfect, but perhaps a bit closer to fine.

As I pause from writing this, I look up and off into the distance. Tiger Mountain rises up and fills the view from my kitchen window. There are trails there I've yet to hike. Christine and I will explore them.

Later today my friend Mark and I are going riding. It's a beautiful world. And I've won it all.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Turtle's Eye View

This is Canada, on the second day of the Tour Divide. In the distance, the mountains take your breath away. Later, climbing, they take your breath away again.

Dave Blumenthal: A Life of Love

When going through my pictures from the 2010 Tour Divide, I found this photo of Dave Blumenthal. This is Dave the morning of the start of the race, with his bike, ready to go. A happy man, well-prepared, with his bike and ready to race down the trail to whatever the future had in store for him.

As I'm sure most everyone reading this knows by now, Dave died on June 24th from injuries sustained in a collision with a vehicle. A tragic end to a wonderful life. My deepest sympathies and prayers go out to all of those who love Dave, who must now carry on with out him.

Dave's lived his life fully and passionately. His thoughts, actions and words reveal a man who knew many things. Most importantly, he knew how to live. He also knew what things are most important. Here are the last words he posted to his blog: "Lexi and Linnaea, I love you both." No man has ever written himself a better epitaph.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gene Bisbee's Report from the Issaquah Roll Out

Now that I'm back in Issaquah and browsing the internet, I found this great report and video that my pal Gene Bisbee posted about the Issaquah Roll Out a few weeks ago:

Thanks Gene!


I got to share the Great Divide route with a wide range of creatures these past few weeks. Cows were to be found darn near everywhere which makes sense since the roads we were on were not built for cyclists. By far most of these roads exist because of mining, logging or ranching. Here's a typical scene with the cows looking at me going "Really? You're really coming this way?" And then as I'd get close they'd scoot out of the way.

Near Lima Montana I saw this large bull. I'd feel a bit nervous rolling right up to a big fella like this guy, so I was glad he was behind a fence.

The west is also home to a lot of beautiful horses. These guys ran along side more for a ways, enjoying the morning at least as much as I was.

Sheep fell into two categories: curious and timid. These were some of the curious ones.

The llamas south of Boulder WY just watched me roll by on my way to the Basin.

There were lots of bugs enroute as well. The mosquitoes and flies weren't very photogenic and at times were annoying, but I had to tell my friend Mark about the pretty, crap-eating butterflies of Montana.

Deer sightings were a daily occurance. Unlike the couple of bears I'd seen in Canada (black bears, not grizzlies), the deer weren't camera shy. This one walked right through my campsite one evening.

As I was leaving Montana, this fat badger watched calmly as I rolled by.

A couple of small snakes also crossed my path.

On my last day of riding/walking/coasting I did get a great shot of this little horned lizard, one of the few creatures that thrives in the great Basin.

And though most of them were too quick for the camera. I did see dozens of antelope. Here is the best shot I got, a second before this fella ran over the rise and into the great wide open.

This is not a staged photo

I took this picture on Father's Day. My bike is laying, perfectly balanced, inverted on the road on the far side of the barbed wire barrier it just flew over. As Christine relayed in her excellent report, The Mountain Turtle is Airborne!, the bike and I hit this barrier at speed. I landed about 6 feet further down the road than the bike did. The flight was quick, the landing was a bumpy miracle.

I didn't quite "stick the landing" as they say in gymnastics but I did OK. I was in good enough shape to dust myself off, walk back to the other side of the fence and take this photo.

My right hand did wind up swelling like a boxing glove from where I punched the ground and with more than a week's hindsight I now am pretty sure that I dislocated or broke my little finger and cracked a rib. Since the finger isn't one I needed to work the brakes on my bike and the rib only hurt when I coughed, sneezed or moved in the wrong way, I count myself as very, very lucky.

Montana Standard Article

Pat Ryan's story and photo from the Montana Standard can be found here. Pat interviewed me "on the fly" (in my case more like "on the crawl!") as I was rolling towards Butte.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Turtle is Home

Kent arrived home tonight.

The Mountain Turtle benefited from the kindness of friends.
He got a ride from a Cowboy from the Basin to Jeffery City,
a resident of Jeffery City drove him to Riverton, a kind
airline employee in Riverton drove him to the airport and
his airfare was paid by an AMAZING blogfriend.

He is happy to be home and in good health, looking very
tanned (sunburned) and much thinner.

Commenting on his placing in the Tour he said, and i quote,
"What is it about 'TURTLE' that you don't understand?!"

On the light rail ride back from the airport, a blog reader
overheard us talking about the race and introduced himself
and offered supportive comments to Kent. He's famous!!!!

Race Update

Matthew Lee is still on a screaming fast pace, he's well past the fire detour and survived a bike theft at a McDonalds (by tracking his bike with the SPOT tracker!). He's about 250 miles from Mexico. There's a couple of riders 50 miles behind him, including Erik Lobeck, despite all the mecanicals, and then the Brit, Aiden Haring, on a single speed, 150 miles further back. There's a couple of riders 75 miles behind him right on the CO-WY border.

The main pack, such as it is, is 75 miles behind them and contains about 10 riders over about 150 miles of southern Colorado mountains. About 175 miles behind them is a cluster of half a dozen rider spread out over 75 miles or so and Patrick Tsai is pushing on through southern Wyoming, about 100 miles behind them.

Kent should be back home tonight.

a few photos

The card from Kent's camera arrived in the post yesterday while i was out on a long ride.

I'm going to quickly post a few photos, and i'm sure Kent will do a lot more when he gets home.

Friday, June 25, 2010


This is Kent's blog, and so it's not really a forum for my own thoughts and feelings. Still i feel the need to say how much the death of one of the racers, Dave Bluementhal, from Vermont, has effected me.

Many people have expressed their greif and their shock at this terribly tragic turn of events. I didn't know Dave. He was only a dot from a SPOT tracker to me. And you know what? ...these things happen, it's part of life. Dave died doing something he loved. If i'm honest, when i think about it, i think it's sad, but then i move on.

However when i think of his wife Lexi and his 4 year old daughter Linnea, i break down. Probably a dozen times in the last few days i've been brought to tears. Their loss is overwhelming. I didn't know him, my life goes on, but their year is shattered and their lives will never be the same. My heart goes out to both of them, but especially to Linnea who will only know her father through stories and photographs and memories of a young man. I wish i could somehow comfort them, somehow fill the hole in their lives that will never be filled. But i can't.

I'm so proud of Kent. I see his race as, without question, a complete success. I was rooting for him to get to Mexico, but i have to say, right now, for Kent, and for Dave, for Lexi and Linnea, and for Christine, i'm so desperately glad that he's going to be back with his wife in a matter of hours.

Hasten Slowly,

Mark Canizaro

Sleeping on the Divide

[For the last couple of days i've been working on a post about Kent's sleeping arrangements on the Tour Divide. When he told me that today would be the end of his ride, he encouraged me to continue the Divide related posting for the next couple of days at least. In addition, the Tour Divide is a HUGE undertaking, but Kent lives this way a lot. He rides long, hard miles into the backcountry and unrolls the bivy sack quite frequently. I'm sure he will do so again soon, and i look forward to riding along with him. Tonight the Mountain Turtle is resting, is cleaned up and is sleeping inside for the first time in 3 weeks.]

Kent has been enjoying sleeping outside. "Got away from the bright lights of the big city [the small town of Banff Alberta!! -ed] and into the mountains to sleep. I made the right choice. Tarp & bivy working great. Rain & temps in the 30s and I was cozy."

The Turtle has been sleeping at places called Uncle Sam Creek, Calf Creek, Snowshoe Lake and Empire Mine. Evocative names that summon the image of a majestic spot to sleep. Often see his SPOT stop on the side of a mountain along a big climb. I try to picture the area, probably very scenic, based on the times I have ridden with him and we've called it a day (usually I'm ready to stop way, way before Kent is!). I'm a little jealous -- I love rolling out a bivy in the forest... I don't do it often enough.

So far Kent says he's sleeping well. He's slept a little bit more as he's healing from his encounter with a fence at speed. He's doing the Mountain Turtle thing, pedaling from dawn to dusk. "I sleep when it's dark. I'm usually well settled in by 10:00 PM. I try to get rolling around 5:00 AM."

I asked him if he's been napping. In the last few years, as i age, i've come to really appreciate a short nap during a long ride. (Kent is 4 or 5 years older than me, and yet when we're riding together, he usually uses my naptime to explore a side trail!) "So far, no napping. This may change. For example, if it's super hot or a storm is blowing through, I may do a mid-day nap."

A couple of mornings, a couple of chillier mornings, he got a late start. His bivy system is so well assembled that it's "just a little too comfy"!!! He's so comfortable at night, and sleeps so well, that a few mornings he's had to encourage himself to get out of the warm bag and onto the bike by deflating his sleeping pad before he dozes off again!!

Many racers take advantage of the wonderful hospitality of the many cabins, lodges and motels along the route. You can hear the relief in their voices once they are settled down inside. The Mountain Turtle stays outside, stays in the zone. He doesn't have to get used to it again every morning. And he's up and on the bike. I think he spent one night inside in Banff, after his arrival a day too early, but otherwise, on both the 6 day prologue and now 13 days into the race, he hasn't spent a night indoors.

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.

Scenic Tour of Stupidity

You could say I was tired, but it's more truthful to say I was stupid.

After ejoying a nice tailwind and a pleasant day of riding, I arrived in South Pass City at 5:25 PM. After grabbing a cold lemonade from the vending machine, filling my bottles at the bathroom, and changing to the next map, I set out for Atlantic City and the Great Divide Basin.

At the old mine, I stopped to take pictures and read the sign. That's where I missed the key words that told me to turn right at the mine. I just kept going.

Off course. By the time I figured out I'd gone wrong, I'd taken too many wrong moves to trust my backtracking. I found a biggish dirt road and followed it for quite a few miles before a signpost, my map and compass gave me back my bearings in the world. By the way, this was beautiful country with lots of trees and streams. That was another thing that told me I was way off course.

I did manage to get back to South Pass City four hours later, where I had another cold lemonade and spent the night.

So the lesson is: reading is fundamental. Read ALL the words. And if you do mess up, figure out how to get back to where you went wrong and start again.

That's what I'm doing.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Slowly working my way thru the Basin where amazingly my Peek has a signal!

So sorry about Dave

I learned last night that Dave died from injuries sustained in the collision the other day. Though I only knew him thru the internet and this race, I know he was a loving, adventurous and generous man. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones.

The world is a poorer place because of Dave's tragic death. Death always comes too soon, except for those whose lives are overcome with boredom or suffering. But the world is a richer place because of Dave's life. He chose a life of adventure and wonder and we, too briefly, got to share in that adventurous life. Thank you, Dave, for your life and your wonder. You will be very missed.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
In the Great Divide Basin where amazingly my Peek has a signal, but my phone does not.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Into the Great Divide Basin

Kent called in last night from Pinedale, Wyoming, "a lovely, lovely town," a cowboy town that preserves its history and its lively downtown main street. He enjoyed a double cheeseburger, fries, and iced tea at the Sugar Shack (doesn't that sound like a great place for someone who's "not a nutritional role model"?) and then found a wonderful place to camp in a park, under trees by the Pine River.

He's off to a bit later start than usual this morning, having had to wait for stores to open so he could load up on supplies for his journey across the Great Divide Basin. I asked what he had, and he said "Omigod, everything!" He's got Snickers and Payday Bars, cashews, Slim Jims (which have temporarily replaced Spam as the meat of choice) and Chips Ahoy cookies. All his water containers are filled and all his batteries charged. The weather is great, the bike is in good shape, and he's in pretty good shape, too, though still feeling the effects of his crash in the form of a bit of stiffness in his right hand and a bruised rib that he feels whenever he coughs or sneezes. Normally not one to need any meds on a ride, he took an Aleve last night to alleviate the soreness and it did help. He also mentioned how great his Ergon equipment is in terms of his sore spots -- the grips are great, and the pack feels virtually weightless.

It's important to stock up on supplies and water before heading into the Basin, as it is one of the emptiest, driest long stretches of the Great Divide. An odd geographic feature of this stretch is that water drains neither west to the Pacific or east to the Atlantic, but instead drains inward, either evaporating or settling into temporary lakes. Here he'll ride among seemingly endless sweeps of sagebrush and saltbrush, with mostly wild horses and pronghorn antelope for company. Kent has a special mission on this stretch of riding, and that is to get pictures of the antelope.

This will be no easy feat, for they are very swift-moving creatures. They can maintain a speed of 30-40 mph for several miles, and can hit 60 over short distances. Their telescopic vision and amazing speed help them to avoid predators as they make their home in these wide open spaces. But as Kent noted, Scott Carrier's book "Running After Antelope" describes well the experience of chasing after them, and concludes that yes, it is possible for human beings to run down antelope. The key is to set one's sights on one particular antelope, and to be persistent. The Mountain Turtle's sights are set on a particular antelope known as Antelope Wells, of course, and he is determined to get there, but hopefully with some good pics of these amazing creatures taken along the way.

Kent and I are deeply saddened to learn of Dave Blumenthal's head-on collision with a pick-up truck near the Wyoming/Colorado border yesterday morning. Dave's vital signs are stable but his condition remains critical, according to postings on the Tour Divide discussion forum. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dave and his family.

Kent's Camera

In response to a couple of requests about Kent's camera:

Kent uses a Nikon Coolpix L20 (red), which he keeps in a holster on the belt of his camelback ready to grab and shoot, while riding or stopped.

Kent has admired the camera that i use while riding: a waterproof (submersible), shock proof, drop proof (i've dropped it on the pavement at speed), crush proof Olympus Stylus 770 SW. Many of the photos on this blog are taken while riding with that camera.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Race Status (wednesday mid-day)

The race has divided up into three main groups.

The first group in the middle of Colorado; three racers spread out over about 60 miles, led by race founder Matthew Lee. There is some great drama going on for the main race leader and despite the extreme conditions this year, this group is only a few hours off the course record.

The second group is about 120 miles (a day or more) behind the leaders. This is slightly more than a dozen racers in small groups, some alone, spread out over 300 miles straddling the WY - CO border.

The third group is 100 miles behind them -- 8 racers spread out over about 120 miles. Kent is at the back of this group. He's riding solid and feels good. He's a veteran and he knows the course, knows the physical and mental challenges involved.

There are three stragglers well behind this pack.

About 50% of the racers who started have left the race.

news on a different rider

Terrible news this morning as one of the riders at the front of the big group, Dave Blumenthal, had a head on collision with a car on a descent near the WY-CO border and the limited news we have is that he's hurt pretty bad. He has been transferred to a hospital in Denver. There will be news on the TD blog, and forums (links to the right) as it develops. We're all hoping for good news for Dave.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

notes on a call from Kent (Tue afternoon)

I spoke to Kent this afternoon. He was happy and healthy and talking about what a great sleep he had in his bivy sack up along side Calf Creek on the Ashton Flag Ranch Road.

He said there are a ton of tourists and RVs in the rainy Grand Tetons but there are no views due to the weather.

He's looking forward to the Great Basin and expecting more snow in the passes before he gets there.

He told me about some of the photos coming in the mail, and assured me there are a lot of them.

Wending His Way Through Wyoming

Kent is now in Wyoming, where his first night in the Tetons was "a little nippy" and he woke up with frost on the bivy. He slept comfortably, though, thanks to the sleeping bag liner and longjohns he bought back in Helena. He passed through the checkpoint at Flagg Ranch shortly before 8:00 this morning, where he stopped to have breakfast. He has a few aches and pains from his "airborne" adventure, but nothing that is keeping him from forging ahead. As he noted on a call in, what is slowing him down the most is a piece of equipment -- the camera. Each new vista, with its mountains and rivers and clouds, is so astoundingly beautiful that it's hard to resist taking pictures.

He left a message later from Moran Junction on the edge of the Grand Tetons. He said it had been raining some but was clearing up. He stopped at Colter Bay Village to send a post card to the folks at the Bicycle Center who are hard at work during this busy month of June while he is out on the trail, and was anticipating more snow ahead going over Union Pass.

The next city he passes through will be Pinedale, still many miles away, and then he'll ride through the Great Basin. Opportunities for communication will probably be few and far between, but the Mountain Turtle is still in good spirits and slowly but surely continues to make his way south.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Mountain Turtle Is Airborne!

No, it's not what you're thinking -- Kent has NOT pulled out of the race and caught a flight home. But he did have an exciting adventure today in which he and the bike both left the ground in spectacular fashion.

Kent was rolling along in the Red Rock area past Lima earlier this afternoon under blue skies, feeling optimistic that the worst of the mud was behind him. He was riding on very small roads in the area -- farming roads, logging roads, mining roads. They are not designed with cycling in mind. It's cattle country, with cows everywhere, and fences or bars called cattle guards, too wide for the cattle to get their feet across, to keep the cows where they're supposed to be. According to Kent, you want to have a good amount of speed going as you approach a cattle guard in order to roll across it.

So around 2:30 this afternoon, around mile 115, he's speeding up on his approach to a cattle guard, when he realizes that there are posts in it, and that they are strung with barbed wire. He takes this in just as his front wheel hits it, and he is flung off the bike into the air. The bike also goes into the air, and both bike and rider land on the other side of the barbed wire fence.

Amazingly, both bike and rider are unscathed. The front tire did not even flat from its contact with the barbed wire, and Kent survived his flight without a scratch. He says his right hand is "a little wonky" from where he punched it when he landed, but other than that all is well. He told me, and I quote, "I credit this to your connections with the Man Upstairs," and lamented that there is no video footage of his spectacular stunt riding.

I suspect this is a little more excitement than most folks prefer to have on a bike ride, but the Mountain Turtle sounded thrilled to have such a great story to share. The code of the west is that you always leave gates the way you find them, so he couldn't open the gate for those behind him, but surely wished there were some way to give a heads up to other riders. Hope no one else goes flying over barbed wire fences, or if they do, that they are blessed with Happy Landings like my Mountain Turtle.

Happy Fathers Day to all, and especially to the father of Peter and Eric.

Mud in Lima

Moments ago i spoke with Kent. He's in Lima. He's happy and healthy. He said, "I am chugging along at my own pace, going as fast as I can."

He's at mile 900 of the race (plus another 845 from his 'prologue' ride to Banff.).

Yesterday he rode with a couple of bike tourists from Portland. It was a really nice ride -- a fairly easy section including a paved climb.

He was eating as he spoke to me on his cell phone from the lobby of the post office. He was there to send off a memory card from his camera. I will post those photos as soon as they arrive. I'm excited about them. He promised good photos of his tires caked with mud.

The Mountain Turtle related the following story about changing expectations.
"So I'm rolling along through the mud, and I'm thinking 'wow, this is really slow riding!'. A little while later I'm pushing the bike through the mud and I'm thinking 'Wow, this is really slow walking!'. After a while it becomes 'Gee, I wish my wheels would just turn, it was easier when the wheels would roll.' And then a bit later, 'You know, my feet are getting really heavy...' "

When the sun comes out it all becomes ridable, the wheels roll.

Another story he related. He was rolling along pretty well, "and then I hit the Sheep Creek Divide, which is labeled on the map: 'impassible when wet'. It starts off well, but I see a big thunderstorm coming in and I wonder if it's going to hit. I ride on a bit. It hits. I ride in it a bit and I'm thinking 'this is pretty freakin' epic.' [and coming from Kent, that's saying something! -ed]

"This is ranch country and before long I see this old, old building behind a gate. It looks like it was once was cabin, but it is now maybe a cow shelter. The gate is not locked, neither is the door to the cabin, it's just wired shut to keep from slamming in the wind. And best of all there are no 'No Trespassing' signs.

"So I hole up there for half an hour -- it's a really epic Thunderstorm." When it's over I ride for an hour in the mud before I encounter another storm. I ride through that and eventually I see this big rock formation in the distance and I know immediately: 'That's my camp.'

"It is 8 pm when I pull up. I've gotten really good at pitching the tarp quickly, using the bike and one stake. I had a lovely sleep, and then this morning, more mud walking."

He said the mud is not only a challenge out there, but it's a real danger to the equipment. He expressed sympathy for the guys who have derailleurs, which the mud can just strip right off. He spoke highly of Jon Billman's system (correction, it's Mike Gibney's system!), which Kent believes is a Rohloff 14 speed internal geared hub, kind of the best of both worlds. Kent said he thought that was great for these conditions.

He talked about how the mud gets packed on everything and then starts to rub and wear. When the mud built up on his tire, the muddy tire then wore through the strap on the back of his triangle pack, he replaced it with zipties.

He said, "I really worry about the guys with carbon frames, I really think the mud may wear out carbon frames. I'm really glad I've got a steel frame -- but I am losing paint like you wouldn't believe!"

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Race Update

Here's a Tour Divide Race update for those of you not fanatically following the leaderboard, forums, podcasts and what all.

The terrain is gorgeous but very challenging and Montana, the first state, weeded out those who were not well prepared. Several more left with unfortunate injuries, including one broken collar bone suffered in a crash at speed riding down a pass. As of Saturday morning, 19 racers of the original 48 have abandoned, including one at the start line.

There has been snow on top of many of the passes, causing even the fastest racers to walk their bike for up to 5 miles at a time. And torrential downpours (FLOOD warnings were issued for most days this week) causing deep mud which also requires walking the bike.

Two racers sprinted out to a very large lead and stayed more than a day ahead of the pack for awhile. One of those is race founder and record holder Matthew Lee.

A number of riders, including some fairly well prepared ones, have suffered equipment failures due to the mud. Erik, the racer who was challenging Matthew Lee at the front, spent more than 24 hours sitting in the tiny town of Lima waiting for TWO new deraillures, a new chain and new chain rings to be delivered. Waiting. He is now back on the bike, moving extremely fast, but has a long way to go and he just reported that he's lost his front brakes.

The pack has split up into several "groups". I put that in quotes because in many (but not all) cases the people in these groups cannot see each other most of the time. This is NOT a pelaton.

Matthew Lee is way out in front. He's through Montana and the corner of Idaho and well into Wyoming now. About 70 miles behind him is a "group" of 5 riders (spread out over 40 miles) going hard trying to catch him. A couple of them rode through the night the other night.

There are two riders about 40 miles behind them, including Aiden Harding, the current fastest singlespeed rider. Forty miles behind them is a group of three, and then a gap of about 70 miles with only one racer in it. A pair of riders actually together, then 40 miles back starts a string of 10 riders over about 30 miles, including Cricket Butler, the only remaining woman.

Then 20 miles behind them is a group of four spread over 30 miles including Pete Faeth on a singlespeed. This morning Kent caught this group and (fingers crossed) appears to be moving forward through it today. Behind them are 4 isolated riders spread out over 250 miles.

Kent is experienced, prepared, and committed. I believe he will finish, and finish with a good time.

Words of Thanks

After posting yesterday I discovered that Kent had left another message on my cell phone after leaving Butte (between acquainting myself with the phone's idiosyncrasies and working weird hours, I don't always get to these things in timely fashion). He had mentioned having his bike cleaned up at the Outdoorsman, but especially asked me to convey his thanks to shop owner Rob Leipheimer for the wonderful welcome he received. They ran out to greet him as he was passing by, and fed him grapes (probably the first non-junk food he has eaten on this whole trip, thank you Rob!) and gave him a free water bottle as well as taking care of his bike. Many other riders who have stopped there have also received wonderful support from the folks at the Outdoorsman and their support for the racers of the Tour Divide is greatly appreciated by Kent (and I'm sure, by others as well).

Kent also said that the reporter waiting at the edge of town to interview him was just "super nice." One of the best things about the trip, he said, is the wonderful people you get to meet. He is able to read the blog and the comments from his Peek and is very grateful for everyone's words of encouragement and support as you cheer him on. We are also both deeply grateful for the financial support that continues to come in for Team Turtle even as Kent makes his way south.

Calling in from Wise River this morning, he had spent a "lovely night" sleeping under a sky full of stars, after climbing Fleecer Ridge and setting what he called "a record for the slowest descent ever" through the rocks and sagebrush. He also finds himself a tad reluctant to be getting up out of the warmth and comfort of his bivy and sleeping bag in the morning. It has been cold! He deflates his Thermarest to give himself a motivational boost.

Then, it's time to go and get his bag of food from where he hung it up in a tree some distance away from his camp -- a necessary part of being "Bear Aware" while riding through grizzly country. After all, it would be really bad news to run into a bear hyped up on those chocolate covered espresso beans!

The other precautions involve the bear bell that Mark mentioned, and singing "very loudly and very badly." I have heard the demo, and fond as I am of hearing my husband's voice, I have to admit that any wild creature hearing this "singing" probably would hasten quickly, not slowly, in the opposite direction.

Kent has continued to take "lots of pictures" and will be sending more of them to Mark soon. He is loving the blue sky and puffy white clouds and is "having the best time" as he presses on to Lima.

A Hard year on The Divide

The most important thing anyone has ever told me is what my camp director Tay Gillespie repeated constantly when i was a kid: "Happiness is a path, not a destination." As i've rolled through life since then i've discovered frequently that she was correct. I can't seem to always live by those words, but i've never heard better advice.

This is a very challenging year on the Divide, due mostly to lots and lots of mud, but also to cold, I spoke to Kent yesterday and he said that he's in as good or better riding shape than 5 years ago. But the trail is in worse shape.

The snow and mud not only slow riders down, often to the 24 inch gear (2 feet, aka walking), but the deepest mud can strip off derailleurs, break chains, snap spokes, trash brakes, and just generally clog the bike to the point of making it luggage, a load to be carried rather than the most elegant transportation.

It took Kent 4 days to cover what took 3 days in 2005. Most of the other veterans are experiencing a similarly longer ride, and most of the Rookies are staggered and amazed.

An awfully lot of them, including some still riding, were not NEARLY as well prepared for this race as Kent was. Over a dozen racers have dropped out, so far. (More than 1/4 of the starting contingent.) Many dropped out because of the physical challenge - it's a REALLY hard race; some have had equipment failures. But for most, it was mental. The goal paled against the challenge of the road.

Kent stressed that he's having a great time -- just talking to him made me wish i was there riding with him. He's riding, and walking, hard. He is motivated by the finish line, but he's enjoying his trip through the mountains. He's gaining strength from the fantastic scenery.

About the fast guys way out front, he said, and i will quote in full: "holy cow".

This is a race, have no doubt, and Kent is pushing himself hard. He's got goals and dreams of the finish. But the Mountain Turtle knows, and constantly remembers my camp director's mantra. It's about the road. Who knows what the destination will be.

Kent is enjoying the road. Every time i have ridden with Kent over the years, he has embodied this philosophy (although he's never stated it in those words). That's the key that makes it so much fun to ride with him. He enjoys the ride, the road, the path. And that's why he's such a good Divide racer.

Hasten Slowly Mountain Turtle!


Friday, June 18, 2010


The Tour Divide is a completely self supported race, and the racers are entirely responsible for themselves, their supplies and their own safety. Racers are expected to call in to race central every couple of days to report on their situation and location. When the race first started, and even back in 2005 when Kent set the Single Speed record, this was the ONLY way to know where a racer was on the course. Racers needed to find a payphone when they came into civilization to get food and other necessities.

Even with the new technology, calling in is still expected and is still a big part of the race even though the SPOT trackers now allow us to watch every movement. Many racers are carrying mobile telephones and call in using them. Kent has a cheap mobile phone, he calls his wife and occasionally calls me; but he has found that for some reason, the toll free number to call in to race central doesn't work on his phone. Perhaps the 888 numbers are blocked.

So Kent still has to search out a pay phone to call in to race central, and pay phones are getting quite rare. A couple of times he has called in from a bike shop!

(If anyone knows or can find a non-toll-free number, a standard area code, for the race central call in, let me know and i will pass it on to Kent.)

In addition his mobile phone, Kent is carrying a Peek -- a handheld text only email device which connects through the celluar network. Today he told me (on the phone, ironically), "The Peek is brilliant, and is proving more useful and much better [coverage] than the phone."

As mentioned before, you can hear Kent's call-ins, and all the other racers' call-ins at You'll notice that every day there is a half hour podcast with news, including of all the call-ins for the day.

Kent's call-ins are great.

Under Blue Skies in Butte, Montana

Kent made camp by Uncle Sam Creek last night and slept well, very glad to have the sleeping bag liner and Capilene Longjohns that he purchased in Helena. Conditions continued cold and snowy on his way into Butte this morning. The climb up the Lava Mountain trail was challenging but beautiful, with snow on the trees, and an elk with a young elk calf wandering by.

As Kent was coming down into Butte, a sports reporter flagged him down with a Mountain Turtle banner, and did a quick interview on the road. Then he was into town around 11:00 to stock up on supplies at Safeway, get the bike some cleaning and tuning up at the Outdoorsman, and enjoy a pork chop sandwich, French fries, and milk at John's.

As Kent was getting ready to head out, he noted that there was "lots of blue sky" and was optimistic that this would dry out some of the mud a bit. He is, as always, "having a wonderful time."

Bear bell

There are other hazards on the trail in addition to the mental focus, snow, mud, equipment failures and all. You may have read a brief story in the news this week about a fatal Grizzly encounter near Yellowstone National Park. That was clear on the other side of the Park, over 100 miles from where the racers are crossing the mountains south of the Park -- and the bear was harassed. All Divide racers, including Kent are alert for and prepared for bears.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Photos from the Prologue

Kent's SD card with photos from his ride to Banff arrived today. I'm going through hundreds of photos... here are some of the better ones. There are no labels so in many cases i have no idea what they are, but they clearly show us a glimpse in to Kent's descriptions of how gorgeous the prologue ride was.

As usual, click on a photo for a larger version.