Lindsay Gauld’s Latest Adventure
Lindsay Gauld, Olympia Cycle & Ski’s founder, is still going strong as he closes out his first decade of retirement.
Many of our customers enjoy reading about his biking exploits so we’ve posted a recap of his latest adventure below. Enjoy!
Tour Divide 2016 – 2017
I recently completed my 2 year adventure to ride the Tour Divide (TD) route from Banff to the Mexican border. The route is primarily a gravel road journey covering 2750 miles with 36 crossings of the Continental Divide totaling 170,000 feet of climbing. This is a race that starts on the second Friday in June in Banff, and finishes at the border crossing at Antelope Wells NM. The record is a staggering 13 days and 20 hours, which is almost 200 miles per day.
I set out from Banff last year, 2016, with 182 other starters. This is an incredible number of people committing to a journey that can take mere mortals over two months. I started last year with the knowledge that I only had 27 days to complete the event. I needed to be home for a very important medical meeting with my wife. This proved to be too fast for my old body. I was on pace for 30 to 31 days but I had to cut my trip short in Breckenridge Colorado. I had hoped to finish it in one shot, but my plan had to be revised.
So to complete the TD course in 2017, I found myself planning to ride from El Paso, Texas to Breckenridge, Colorado starting on June 16th. Rather than finding some form of car transport to Antelope Wells, I literally assembled my bike and started my journey from the El Paso airport. This added 30 miles to the total distance but it was much easier in terms of logistics.
New Mexico is hot. The first day I left El Paso at 2:30 a.m. in order to get to the local diner for breakfast. Lots of other people were trying to beat this way too. And the very early start allowed me to cover as much distance as possible before the heat of the day – or so I thought.
Google maps created a direct bike route from El Paso to Deming, NM. Great. But at one point it put me on a 53 km stretch of gravel/sand that had just been graded. I had expected to cover this stretch in perhaps 3 hours, but it ended up taking 6½. Long sections were like riding at Grand Beach! Did I mention that it went up to 108F (42C) that day? I ended up with sunstroke, threw up during the last 10 – 15 miles and suffered cramps from the resulting dehydration. Fortunately two young men from Texas saw me, order me into their Ryder rental van, and drove me the last 2½ miles into the small town of Deming, NM. A very tough start to the trip!
The heat continued for at least the first seven days. You know you’re in the desert when 95F (35C) feels normal. There were long stretches with absolutely no trees for any shelter. I was being cooked alive and running on the edge of bouts of heat exhaustion each day. I also found out the hard way that the cramping from the first day’s heat exhaustion had left my legs hurting even on easy sections.
But after challenges comes enjoyment. There were many personal highlights along the way in spite of the unrelenting conditions.
At Pie Town, NM, there is a unique B&B called the Toaster House that is available for bikers and hikers. It is a four bedroom house in which there is a large selection of food, a fridge and stove, a shower and a washer. There is no host on site and you take what you need and make a voluntary donation. At that point in the journey it was a true paradise!
One lasting memory will be the kindness of the many people who helped me along the way. I am not shy about asking for help, be it for water, directions or a few minutes of shelter from the sun. People consistently responded in a helpful way. For example in a little fenced-in community called Elk Springs, NM I stopped to ask if I could fill my water bottles. In minutes I ended up being served lunch, after which they prepared a takeout package of food that I was still eating four days later. Who knew that well cooked bacon lasted that long in your pack?
In addition to the bacon, I carried seven liters of fluids. This was barely enough. From Grants, NM to Cuba, NM, it’s 118 miles with only one place to replenish water – not at the mid-point, but a mere 27 miles from the end.
At Cuba I was at 521 miles or halfway through the trip. Here I had the interesting experience of meeting up with Josh Kato, the 2015 winner of the TD. We were both enjoying the local McDonalds for some early morning calories. Josh is an extremely friendly fellow, and I was very impressed. At that point Josh was running in second place, but he still took lots of time to chat with me.
The next day, I ended up in El Rito, NM and “hobo” camped in the bush just north of town. After leaving early, I reached Vallecitos, NM where I learned that a forest fire had closed the road. I was forced to go back 35 miles all the way to Abiquiu, NM. So after 22 hours of bikepacking I found myself at the same restaurant, in the same booth, talking on the phone again to Lynne like I had done nearly a day before. An extra 70 mile out-and-back detour was definitely frustrating.
So much for the official route. I planned my own detour route and finally got back on course in Platoro, Colorado. Finally out of the suffocating heat! But the heat had taken its toll by sucking away some of my strength. In Colorado I was into some really large passes, including the infamous Indiana Pass. At 11,912 feet, Indiana Pass is the highest point on the TD route. But coming down was just as tough due to a sudden, alpine hailstorm that made road white with marble sized hail. An early supper in Del Norte was welcome relief, and it set me up well for another 25 miles of riding and another night of ditch camping.
The hardest climb for me was Carnera Pass, north of Del Norte, CO. I was following two graders that created a loose gravel track that made for a long slog. At some point, I realized that the fluid in my Camelbak had an odd taste. The inside was all slimy. The heat plus some sugar or floaters had contaminated the water. I emptied the bladder, but then I was confronted with a big time shortage of fluids.
I had been told by a highway worker that there was a gas/convenience store just a bit further along on a highway that was off the TD course. Naturally, I got there on the only day that the store was closed. I ended up filtering water from a stream that I shared with a herd of cattle. I added purification capsules just to make sure, but so far there have been no ill effects. I ended up in Sargents, CO that evening, found a little cabin that night, and hoped to be in Breckinridge CO, my finish point, in two days.
Marshall Pass is at 10,800 feet. It’s an old rail grade trail, with a beautiful treed climb and an equally breathtaking 3,600 foot descent into Salida, CO. An early supper at a nice Mexican restaurant set me up for the 2,800 foot climb up Watershed Pass. On the way up, I met up with Leah Gruhn and her husband Jere’ Mohr. The Duluth residents were heading down to Salida for the night. Leah and her husband have raced the Arrowhead often and have made the trip to Winnipeg for the Actif Epica. We had a nice, alpine visit. I ended up camping at the edge of the road at 10,100 feet, about 700 feet from the top of Watershed Pass. With only 87 miles to go to reach Breckinridge the next day, I was quite confident. Or so I thought!
Those who know me are aware of my lack of techno skills. Jason Carter had tried to show me how I could set up my GPS to go back and forth between the route track, the speed/distance info page, and elevation settings. I like to watch the elevation while I am going up a pass. It usually worked well, but when I went to the route track the gizmo had to reboot every time, which is a spot of bother.
After topping Watershed Pass I should have switched to the route track. But the route seemed so straightforward. It was only 31 miles to Hartsel, CO anyway.
After about 28 miles I noted that I was at an elevation of 8,400 feet. The alarm bells went off. Hartsel is at 9,000 feet. And on the TD course profile, the route never dropped below 9,000 going into Hartsel. I took the time to boo up the route map: I was about 25 miles off course. Again.
Did I mention that people are kind? I flagged down a truck and he advised me to go about a mile further in the wrong direction and then head east to intersect a paved highway heading north to Hartsel. Good. But when I reached the highway, I was confronted with a 36 mile, 1,600 feet slug uphill – and into a strong headwind to boot. I finally reached Hartsel – after doing a very long, and extra, 42 miles. This ended any plans of rolling triumphantly into Breckenridge!
There are no hotels, etc in Hartsel. So I headed out to find a place to camp. As darkness fell (much earlier than here on the Manitoba prairie) I passed a little sports park about 9 miles northeast of town. It was going to be cool so I planned to set up my tent for only the second time on the trip. As it turned out, there was a washroom building. So, what’s to be done? I got out my Thermarest, sleeping bag and made myself at home in the Hartsel Hilton.
On the final day I only had 40 miles to cover. That included Boreas Pass that at 11,482 feet is the 2nd highest point on the whole TD route. It’s an old rail grade which makes for a moderate pitch, so in the early afternoon I found myself at my destination (but without a ticker tape parade).
It had taken me a little over 13½ days for what turned out to be 1,182 miles on a somewhat convoluted route. I ended up camping seven times and getting accommodations on the other six days. Had I not faced the forest fire and stayed on course for the entire time, I would have done the distance in perhaps a little under 12 days. But I’m totally happy with my experience and I’m already thinking about my next trip.
In another article I’ll share my thoughts on my equipment choices and how they worked.
I hope you enjoyed my journey. In spite of some challenging conditions, I certainly did.