Tuesday, July 06, 2010

One year past

At half past 5 on Monday, July 6, 2009, I rode through the sun-baked desert toward a shimmering clump of trees called Antelope Wells, which would make today (Tuesday, although late, still technically July 6) the one-year anniversary of the day I finished the Tour Divide. In this year's race, since the only woman out there is still making her way toward the Mexican border, that means (I think) I held onto the TD women's record for one more year. Hooray! It actually still strikes me as humorous that I have my name attached to something like that - you know, the women's record holder of "the world's toughest mountain bike race" (don't mock me! This phrase just occurred to me and I think I'll use it as the lead in my book proposals.)

But still, regardless of my feelings about my own experience out there, as my dad pointed out, it's still something to be proud of. While this year's Tour Divide progressed, a lot of people asked me if I would ever ride the course again. The answer is "probably, in several years from now, if by some strange stroke of fate I'm in a good position to return when I'm 35 or 40 years old." The better question is whether I'd return to the race, or to an effort to reclaim the record. I of course recognize that my 2009 time is full of holes. I lost full days to mechanicals and injury in Wyoming and northern Colorado. I lost full days to mental anguish and mud in southern Colorado and New Mexico. And, of course, I opted for comfort over distance whenever the opportunity arose. But as I said to John Nobile when we stopped early one evening in Elkhorn Hot Springs, Montana: "This is three freakin weeks of my life. I'm going to enjoy myself." I still feel that way. Maybe more so now than last year. So while shaving days off my time would be easy in theory, it would be much more difficult in practice.

Speaking of this year's race, I was telling my mom about the strange parallels between Kent Peterson's race-ending mechanicals, and my own in the Great Divide Basin. Like Kent, my freehub began sticking as I crossed the bone-dry, remote sinkhole between Atlantic City and Rawlins. Kent and I first experienced our problems in almost the exact same spot, about 25 miles east of Atlantic City. This is just a few miles beyond a historical marker dedicated to Willie's Handcart Company, a group of Mormon pioneers who crossed the Basin in 1856. The company suffered major setbacks while crossing the plains, and dozens of pioneers died when winter caught up to them in Wyoming. Historynet.com had this to say about the Willie Handcart Company:

"The farther west the companies marched the more problems they had with axles and wheel hubs. In the humid Midwest, the climate better preserved the green wood, but as the air became drier, the unseasoned material dried too quickly and cracked."

As I told this story to my mom, she informed me that I actually have direct ancestors who traveled to Utah with the Willie Handcart Company. When my freehub began to fail, I was lucky enough to be able to coax it into Rawlins. Kent wasn't so lucky, and had to push his bike dozens of miles to Jeffery City. Now, I'm not superstitious ... and I by no means intend to imply that the spirits of my pioneer ancestors are out there exacting wheel revenge on unsuspecting cyclists ... but, if I do happen to write one of those "true life" ghost stories someday, you'll know why.

I just returned to Montana from my short weekend trip to Utah. My dad and I were able to get out for another hike on Monday morning - this time one that is arguably the best route in all of the middle Wasatch Range - the Pfeifferhorn via Red Pine Lakes. It's been at least a decade since I climbed up here. The view is as stunning as ever.

Pfeifferhorn is quite the majestic peak, guarded by crumbling knife ridges that are full of fun scrambling.

Looking out toward the Salt Lake Valley and the Twin Peaks, which my dad and I tried to climb on Saturday. If you squint, you can actually see the snow-filled couloir we decided not to ascend. Looks pretty much vertical from this perspective.

The big mountain in the distant center is Lone Peak, which is still listed on some of my early Web sites as my favorite place in all of the world.

My dad and I on top of Pfeifferhorn, at about noon Monday. The elevation is 11,326 feet - the highest I've been since the Divide. And, yes, I could feel the altitude.

Then, about nine hours later, I was here - 20 miles north of Dillon, Montana, making my way back to Missoula. I needed to pee something fierce but I raced past Dillon because I could see pink sunlight starting to emerge below the rain clouds, and I wanted to round the western mountains in time to see sunset. I was not disappointed. A six-hour, high altitude hike followed by an eight-hour drive certainly did make for a long day Monday, but it was all worth it.