Nearly stranded

Despite the daunting combination of heat, wind, desolation, remoteness, and lack of shade, food and water, I had been looking forward to the 140-mile trek across the Great Divide Basin. A big part of that has to do with my ancestry - my great-great-and-so-forth grandparents crossed the plains with the Mormon pioneers in the mid-19th century. They trekked across the Basin in the same area that the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route traverses today. And because of the aforementioned heat, wind, desolation, ect., little about the region has changed. I was excited to get out there and think about all the things they saw and felt, and draw inspiration from their struggle and perseverance.

I left Atlantic City at 5 a.m. beneath a beautiful sunrise and bid goodbye to the last tree for 135 miles. Shortly thereafter, I passed the Willie's Handcart Company historic site, a place where tragedy struck a group of pioneers attempting to cross the Sweetwater River in a winter storm in late October. A great couple that I met at the bar in Atlantic City, Marjane and Terry, told me that the company had been plagued with mechanical problems with their handcarts and had lost several oxen, and because of that had fallen behind schedule and got caught in a Wyoming winter. Many of them died or got frostbite. Pioneer tragedy was on my mind when, about 30 miles in, my freewheel started to slip.

After coasting down a long hill, I tried to pedal and nothing happened. I spun my legs wildly and the bike slowed down rapidly up the next hill. Panic began to set in. Even if I turned around, 30 miles was a long way to walk back to Atlantic City. And I was nearly 100 miles from the highway if I stayed on the route. Jeremy Noble, the closest racer to me, left Atlantic City the night before and was well in front of me. I was all alone. Just me and the pronghorn. Stranded.

Luckily, the hub finally engaged just before I stalled out. I pedaled wildly down a few more hills before I let it coast again. The freewheel froze up, again. More wild spinning would coax it back into gear, but I was beginning to realize that coasting or stopping wasn't a viable option. I might be able to coax it back to life, but what would happen when I couldn't? There were a couple of bailout options along the route, but even the best-case scenerios would put those places at a full day's walk. All of my romantic pioneer fantasies turned to pure stress.

I decided to continue forward on the route and hope I could limp it into Rawlins. It meant near-constant pedaling for 100 miles, which on Day 12 of this hard tour is a tall order. My legs are tired and they like breaks. A couple of times, I had no choice but to stop. I needed to tap into my water reserve, and I couldn't hold it any longer and wasn't quite willing to pee my pants. Each time I stopped, it took a few seconds to get the wheel to engage, but it did improve throughout the day. By the time I hit pavement on a remote county road, I could coast again for decent stretches.

I made it to Rawlins just before the bike shop closed, and talked to a woman there. She told me her mechanic wouldn't be in until 10 a.m. Thursday morning and she wasn't quite sure she had the parts to help me. Beyond the freewheel, I need another set of brake pads, new cables, new cassette and chain, etc. My bike's a bit of a junk show right now. But the freewheel has me worried. If the bike mechanic in Rawlins can't help me, do I risk 130 miles of possible stranding while limping it into Steamboat Springs? Do I have a bike shop in Utah overnight me a whole new wheel?

Because the freewheel just started slipping, and improved throughout the day, I may be able to go on with what I have. Steamboat is the mecca of Great Divide bike repairs, so getting there rather than having stuff done in Rawlins would be ideal. I'm bummed because the Rawlins stop means losing at least six hours that I would otherwise be riding, but worse things can happen. I could be walking a desolate road in the Great Divide Basin.


  1. Wow! Good luck. I am not a biker and thus have nothing to offer in the way of advice, but only good wishes and best of luck. I know you will make the right decisions on what to do. You've been doing great so far. Keep it up.

  2. Glad you made it to Rawlins Jill. I noticed your early start and checked on you a few times across the basin and am surprised to hear of your predicament.
    I hope they can get you fixed up there after a sleep in. You've got some climbing coming up.
    One more thing, you're kicking ass.

  3. Anonymous9:17 PM

    The pawls in your freehub must be sticky. If the mechanic in Rawlins can't help, buy two cans of WD-40. Spray one into every cranny of the freehub that you can to try and loosen things up. Carry the second can with you to use as necessary on the trail and get it really fixed in Steamboat. Just a suggestion...

    Oh, and you're kicking ass!

  4. Go to the Thai restaurant in Rawlins. It'll make your worries disappear!

  5. Hey Jill, great writing as usual. this adventure of yours is crazy, wild and exciting

    If you can't get the parts from the bike shop, as well as the WD 40 recommended in anonymous's post get yourself some fencing wire (or an old wire coat hanger) and a pair of pliers. If the worst comes to the worst you can thread the wire through the gear sprocket and your spokes. Hey presto - Fixed wheel. You won't have a free wheel, but it's better than walking.

    In any case take care. You're one tough lady, I hope you don't compromise your health and fitness in the decisions you make.

  6. Anonymous1:44 AM

    Mike In WI say's

    Good God woman - we don't need you lucked out and you know it...maybe after the GDR it's time to wrench all repairs and replaces yourself for awhile.

    You are riding so Awesome. What a grand adventure this is.

    Mike In WI.

  7. Switch out the wheel.

  8. Awesome. Keep going and good luck. I agree with Snakebite. When you get a chance replace the wheel.

  9. Richard6:08 AM

    Wow, what a cliffhanger; glad you made it to Rawlins OK. Hope your bike gets fixed today, but a few more hours rest would probably be an advantage in the long run. Amazing effort!

  10. Damn girl, your 'advisors' are good, and the time you wake'll have all these answers! There's probably so much dust in the freehub body that the sticking theory is solid...but I agree with the later...the WD40 is a quick fix, and a 29" wheel in Steamboat will be easy to it.

    I love the story of hardship, then your experience in the Basin...who woulda thunk?


  11. Holy Cow Jill! You have one great adventure going here. Hang in there, best of luck, and get that freewheel replaced!

    While you're waiting...the Thai food idea was a good one. :)

  12. I had my freewheel go out once. Of course it was like 3 miles from home and about 100m from my car. So, you know, not exactly an epic tragedy.

    Good luck!

  13. Wowza - you are the (wo)man!! I think your bike just hands you such trials to keep us voyeurs entertained. Thank you bike (kim?). Amazing job Jill!

  14. what happens is the pawls which are spring engaged get stuck from grime an grit. if you soak the freewheel body in 10w40 or something simalar it might get the engagement to work enough to get you to steamboat. typically the freehub bodys are not serviceable, so a replacement is what you need. Doesn't sound like the shop has much, but one could be taken off another wheel. not a good place to have problems.

  15. That's it. Tell Pugsley to take the warm-ups off. It's time for him to get in the game.

  16. John M8:26 AM

    I wonder why the lady at the bike shop couldn’t have sold you a new wheel, cassette, and chain. Then you’d be on your way. Perhaps I don’t understand the full picture. Best of Luck. Use the down time to recharge.

  17. MarcL8:42 AM

    you are truly the most amazing woman ever! what an adventure! Your audiocasts are so cool. I lived in Steamboat for 10 years. The fine folks of that fair western town will take good care of you. Not so sure about Rawlins

  18. I'm in Steamboat and have a 29er rear wheel that's not currently being used. I'd be happy to loan it to you if you need it. Let me know if I can help with the wheel or anything else. Good luck!

  19. I have use a shoe lace tied between my largest rear gear and the spokes to get home. It makes the wheel a fixed gear but it works great. Good luck the rest of the way it has been very fun to follow the race.

  20. Hope everything works out with your bike! Your doing AWESOME and I love you!

  21. SPOT shows Jill's on the move again. Yeah! Can't wait to hear what happened. (Well, I'm hoping it was good!)

  22. Anonymous1:06 PM

    Glad to see that you escaped Rawlins!

    I don't know you, and I am not a cyclist, but I'm really enjoying following your ride. I walked the Continental Divide hiking trail last year, which took almost five months. It is fun to see you blowing through the same trail towns at such a blistering pace!

  23. dinglearm1:29 PM

    Just checked your location and you are on your way again.....Yahoo!

  24. Anonymous3:07 PM

    From across the other side of the world in Australia, all I can say is what a wonderful personality you demonstrate in the hardships that your endurance cycling throws at you. You perservere with courage, a cool head and still manage a wonderful writer's way with words.
    By grace you went into the Great Divide; by will you are conquering it. Fantastic effort Jill, I feel humble to be following along.

  25. Keep it up, you can push through!

  26. Anonymous8:34 PM

    Freehub replacement is fairly easy, all it involves are a few wrenches and the proper sized allen wrench. Remove the gear clucter, unscrew the nut off the end of the axle, remove the axle, then use the allen wrench to unscrew the freehub body off the hub, then screw the new one on. You can clean the hub bearings while your at it too.

  27. Oh those damn sticky pawls! I had a similar problem on the Van Isle 1200 a few years ago, but in my case the springs had broken. I got a wheel exchange, lost a few hour sitting at the side of the road out in the wilderness feeding hordes of ravenous mosquitos ... but I finished. You will too.

    Next time this happens, remember this little trick: Sometimes if you pick up the rear end of the bike and slam it back down on the ground you can often get those sticky pawls to reengage. Sounds goofy I know, and it is a real pain, but when nothing else is possible, this can get you rolling again.

    But I bet like me, you'll have your hubs and head set serviced annualy from now on. this truly is a case of an ounce of prevention.

    Yr Pal Dr C

  28. For future reference, carry a few zip ties. Worst case - zip tie the block to the spokes and ride fixed. Sucks downhill but keeps you moving up hill. Plus zip ties come in useful for everything. We did 10k on gravel with my panier rack zip tied to the frame on our tour. TSK carried most of my weight but I still had a good 20kg on the rack and it lasted the day.

  29. Alaska's governor just quit, but I bet Jill doesn't!

    HOMER 2010!

  30. This gap in updates reminds me of the Iditabike. I hope we're not soon to read about a race ending mishap. That'd suck.


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