2011 Tour Divide Letter of Intent

“A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, for godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches – that is the right and privilege of any free American.”

— Edward Abbey

These few paragraphs comprise my personal Letter Of Intent in racing the Tour Divide:

I would like to be counted as one that will be lined up at the start of the Tour Divide in Banff, Alberta, Canada on June 10th, 2011. I will take little – but enough equipment, including a simple bicycle, with the goal of finishing in Antelope Wells, New Mexico a few weeks thereafter. I will travel swiftly, confidently, conscientiously and with self-examination.

My heart is strong. I have wandered around a few corners of this small world, collecting longer rides, more technical terrain, higher peaks and passes, in more desolate circumstances, with worse trail conditions in questionable – very questionable weather. All are more than I’m expecting from the Tour Divide.

But, these accolades are worth little toward racing the 2700+ miles, 200,000+ feet of elevation gain of the Tour Divide. My daydreams of racing this route is similar to any day sailor familiar with the tricky inlets and channels of Long Island Sound off of New England, but who dreams on a slow tack, or during a most particularly impressive sunset, of racing solo across the Atlantic in a 6.5 meter sailboat. I live a few dozen miles from the Great Divide itself, but a few dozen miles is a world away from my own safe mooring of concrete buildings and the Cartesian street grid of Denver.

I accept the dangers and unknowns. I would not take this challenge as a fool’s romp. But, I also wouldn’t accept Adventure if there was none to be had! The world is a dangerous place. Racing the route, instead of merely and merrily “touring” the route will only serve as another self-test to overcome towards… who knows? This will be a quest of the spirit, another small step toward my own enlightenment, a performance of art in the noblest of sense: to draw one, long, single, simple line through incredible terrain, with a simple bicycle.

Whatever I find at the end, in the desert, will most likely be something I have always embodied, but what must be so oblivious to myself, of such familiarity. My guess is that I will feel much smaller than I do, now: I will be racing solo, but it won’t be possible, unless I earn the help, trust and selflessness of many people, most whom I probably will never meet and whom I won’t be able to thank. Before I start the Tour Divide, my hope is to cast away some of the weight that makes my own self so heavy – so that gravity itself has little pull on my Machine and I, as I fly up barren mountain passes and dash down lush valleys.

Justin Simoni
The Artist
Denver, CO, USA
http://tourdivide.justinsimoni.com


Continual Failure on Longs Peak

Upon waking up at 5:30 am, I turned back over to, perhaps, wake up at a more agreeable time. Waking up was becoming an increasingly larger problem in my life. My mornings slipped to afternoon and then, later afternoon, until I was by last Tuesday, getting up nearly at 5:00 pm. A vampire.

I am not immune to mood swings. There always seems to be a pull downward from any fanciful feelings – real, or imaginary, that I posses. I’m not one to really be satisfied by anything I do for very long and sometimes, well, you just don’t know what else to do, after finishing up a project.

Found myself checking trip reports, route descriptions and the weather for one big rock: Longs Peak. Tried once to reach the summit of Longs this year already. Back in August, my friend and I left Denver in the early evening, with the clear intention of camping out at the trailhead, getting up around 4:00 am and making the summit, before the inevitable thunderstorms roll in.

It was something my friend really wanted to accomplish, his Father tried and failed, but came back with the usual Longs ghost stories of people perishing on the hill. To prepare, he stopped smoking and drinking for weeks. A difficult step, but when one does smoke and drink in regularity, the first step in getting in better shape would be to stop those things.

My preparation was a few bagged 14ers already that year – but none too technical. I rarely drank, almost never smoked (unless drinking – and bored) and brushing off a 100 mile bike ride here and there was no real big thing. I sort of felt that it was my job to get a somewhat out of shape friend up a sort of difficult trail. That was really OK with me, this is a real friend and we do incredible things for each other. I’ll play guide and support and my ego, I’ve noticed has simmered down in the last few years. Grays appear on my beard, now.

We talked animatedly during the drive up. How we’d have to wake up very early, the meteor shower that was happening right then and how we’d be seeing it, while hiking in the middle of the night – magical. Perfectly timed. Until we got to the campsite:

Booked solid.

So, we drove around. Other campsites in the area were also, all booked up. We talked about the situation at a picnic area, not far from a campsite. I suggested, animatedly (my usually composure) that we just camp (pointing) over that small hill, behind the restroom, next to the picnic table: no one would know – or really, care and we’d be up really, really early anyways. The chances of getting caught would be minimal and shit! we’d save some money! Or, we could just hang out in this car all night and sleep. I can, literally, sleep anywhere. We could even sleep in the bed of the truck, we could just move over the –

My friend objected.

“No. No, it’s really shady to me. Maybe to you it’s fine- you’re more adventurous, but I wouldn’t be comfortable. I wouldn’t get any sleep. I’d be a wreck tomorrow and I’d be in even worse shape up on the trail, when it starts getting technical. Fuck this – let’s go home.”

And so, we did. That was my first attempt up Longs Peak, ending before it began. I wasn’t too destroyed of the sudden change of plans. I could understand his view and the last thing I wanted was to go home without my friend and having a helicopter pick up his corpse.

Today, though was supposed to be my second attempt. If only I could get up. I currently sleep in a hammock. I have no bed – I gave it away and I just don’t want to own one right now. Since putting one up, I have had no sex life, but sleep is incredible. It’s going to hard to give up. Hard to describe the appeal, but one does feel the tension of the hammock around you, the slight swing. Being enveloped.  

7:30 am came around and I got up. Better than 4:45pm the previous night, but with only a few hours of sleep and a strange day before of only being away for less than 10 hours. I was not on form.

Packed my gear, much less than the start of my last trip for two weeks – this one would only be three days. Mostly, it would be less books to read. Today, I had to bring more clothes though, snow had fallen on the mountains. How much was really to be seen.

Wednesday seems like an odd time to start such a trip. I had wanted to do this trip on Friday, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. So that got pushed to Saturday. Sunday. Monday…

I only left when the entire seven day forecast showed sunny days and clear nights. I sound almost as neurotic as perhaps my friend who doesn’t want to camp in his car, but Longs Peak is a killer. No other trailhead in Colorado that I have been to puts up a Death Count, next to the terrain profile. Longs is the gateway from fanciful hike to climbing a mountain.

My wait was one in purgatory. I had nothing I felt like working on. I just wanted to go on a bike ride, go on a hike, come back with a clear head and maybe figure out what to do, afterwards. Having to go on a little adventure is truly a irresponsible excuse to just not get your shit together, but I was opting into it. Look, some people drink, I loaf.

I talked a bit about my intentions to people, mostly with the same response: it’s way too late, man! And I agreed, I agreed. The season to try and hike the mountain passed a month ago and what I wanted to do couldn’t be done. I got myself ready for disappointment and another summit attempt foiled. But I also got ready for a successful hike to the top. Just maybe. And once my imagination grabs ahold of something, it just takes off.

“Maybe bringing crampons would be a good idea!”, I thought. “Just in case, you know – there’s a little bit of ice in my way – and that’s it. I could get across, no worries, continue on my way, until- “

Until the last obstacle in the standard, Keyhole Route up Longs Peak. Homestretch. A three hundred foot friction climb. Almost vertical. Not something I’m afraid of and in fact, something I have much experience with when I was a sport climber a, uh, half a lifetime ago. The impossibility comes with the ice that should now be on every hand and foothold.

I start my journey again from the doorstep of my house, with bike, trailer and all my gear packed in a day pack, with a few other things, all wrapped up in an enormous bright yellow bag, wrapped tight with two yellow bungee chords, fraying.

I feel a little angry at myself for ditching the night’s French class – I hadn’t fully prepared, anyways. The assignment was simple enough: 10 sentences on Anything. I chose one of the most important and confusing periods of 20th century French history, the May, ’68 student revolts, uprising and almost political takeover of France, itself. Ten simple sentences in an attempt to explain that with my abilities would be much like this trip I’m taking instead: wrapped up in good intentions, almost guaranteed to fail. Questioning the effort to attempt it, knowing full well of many, many different, easier and more successful options, ignoring them all.

Three miles, three miles into the bike ride of eighty-some-odd and I get a weird feeling. I stop and unhook the bungee chords, I peer in. My weird feeling had some traction. I had forgotten something: just, all of my clothes. I turn back. Back to the house. Find my black waterproof stuff sack of clothes, start again. Questioning why I use so many black waterproof stuff sacks for everything and how that doesn’t help when taking count on what I have and what I have left. The stove is in a orange one, my toothpaste/contacts/eyeglasses/pain relieving Stuff is in a white one. Everything else is in one of many black, waterproof stuff sacks.

I ride out of Denver as I’ve done many times, up West into Highway 72 towards Nederland. It’s fairly uneventful. I go slow, knowing I have a lot of road to get past me and there’s really nothing to do, except make camp, eat and sleep, once I get to the campsite. This will be the same campsite as before when my friend and I found it completely booked, but I have a hunch it won’t be this
time and if it is, I don’t mind ditching anywhere, for a few hours.

The ride up is beautiful and quiet on a Wednesday afternoon. The grade is not too bad, except in small places and I just lose myself in music and keep the crank moving the chain over the cassette. I get to Wondervu Hill, a named mountain pass of 8,660 feet. Already hucking up 3,000 feet for the day. Not a bad haul, for not trying all that much.

From Wondervu, one can see the main 13,000+ peaks of the Front Range. I take a good look, from left to right. They all have snow – could had been any winter day just a few miles west. Except my mountain, Longs. It seemed to have escaped whatever storm passed by. I had heard reports of over a foot of snow falling in one day, just a few days before. Crippling to my summit bid. As I checked the reports for Longs before I left. Sometimes, every half hour, I would watch the reports for the weekend got from 10% chance of 2″ of snow, to 70% of 6″ of snow.

After Wondervu, it’s a small descent and then a climb back up to Nederland, at 8,234 feet. The last time I came this way, I broke a spoke going down the hill on my front wheel. Front brake got all wonky at the same exact time.

Can’t remember – might have been wanting to do a Very Large Ride, maybe even a 300k that day and those plans had to be changed, since the bike needed to be repaired instead. That time, I had gotten to Nederland and found that the bike shop was actually in the coffee shop I usually stop at. The mechanic was on hand, as luck would have it, just coming back from riding himself.

He was able to repair the spoke just fine, but he also kept fidgeting with the front brake. Wasn’t working. He kept at fidgeting with it for over an hour, at one point taking a ball-peen hammer to it, to “loosen some parts up”. I’m not a squeamish person when it comes to things I own, but something didn’t look right on that idea.  One unidentified part flew off the brake at one point. It was searched for, with much obscenities, until found and forced back in place. The mechanic finally gave up, gave me his card and asked if I could call him if I ever figured out what was up with that brake.

Arriving at Nederland this day, I went over to the same coffee shop. They seem to have the cutest baristas anyways and copies of Adventure Cyclist, whom I could more than likely land on the cover, some day, with the same weighed-down bike and the same dopey look on my sun and wind-burned face. I also wanted to see if the mechanic was in town to at least confirm that I still have no clue as to what the problem is, with that brake.

Grabbing some coffee and talking with the barista, the conversation went to injuries, after I pointed out that the photo of someone doing some impossible yoga pose in an ad tacked up to the bulletin board must have been her and she asking if I stretch all that much. She had fallen on the threshold of her door, on her knee and split it, enough to bruise – or even crack her knee cap. I thought that was wild. She wasn’t sure what to do, but I was sure to keep the conversation delightful and engaging, until the next customer.

I drank coffee and started on an Edward Abbey book, Desert Solitaire. I was already in love with it. The introduction ends like this:

Suddenly it comes, the flaming globe, blazing on the pinnacles and minarets and balanced rocks, on the canyon walls and through the windows in the sandstone fins. We greet each other, sun and I, across the black void of ninety-three million miles. The snow glitters between us, acres of diamonds almost painful to look at. With an hour all the snow exposed to the sunlight will be gone and the rock will be damp and steaming. Within minutes, evan as I watch, melting snow begins to drip from the branches of a juniper nearby; drops of water streak slowly down the side of the trailerhouse.

I am not alone after all. Three ravens are wheeling near the balanced rock, squawking at each other and at the dawn. I’m sure they’re as delighted by the return of the sun as I am and I wish I knew the language. I’d sooner exchange ideas with the birds on earth than learn to carry on intergalactic communications with the world of Betelgeuse. First things first. The ravens cry out in the husky voices, blue-black wings flapping against the golden sky. Over my shoulder comes the sizzle and smell of frying bacon .

That’s the way it was this morning.

The man could write.

After a half hour, I leave again. Another slow ride for forty or so miles more, on my slow bike, up another thousand feet, to the campsite I hope is available. It’s of some possible curiosity why I opt to go this slow way, almost all the time. By car, you can reach this trial head in less than an hour. Camp, with as many amenities as you can fit in your car and be infinitely more comfortable doing it – fresh for the hike early the next morning.

It’s the question I have on my mind, as I find myself up the first hill, directly after the small township of Nederland is conquered. It may be the romantic notion of an arduous trip, just to start the actual challenge. The challenge then, starts first at my doorstep and becomes more of an adventure and less of a hike. Riding eighty-something miles, only to have to hike 14 more miles and then to ride eighty-something miles back home is a doozy. Any way you put it. The total elevation gain then becomes larger than any other mountain hike in Colorado from any trailhead. From 5,000 feet, to 9,000+ feet.

There’s commitment involved. Whatever I bring, is what I brought. Whatever I didn’t bring, I don’t have, can’t use, can’t just go to the nearest town to pick up (wouldn’t have the time, or energy!) And I can’t bring everything, because there’s just a limit on weight I can carry under human power and the space everything takes up. It becomes a strategy just to complete everything and its good practice for a Very Long Trip somewhere Very Far Away. You could also scale up the exercise – what, if I didn’t have the time/money/resources/space of a full time job and a large house and even a support group made up of my family, what would I utilize in my every day existence?

There’s also just the time alone with oneself for reflection. Of the constant of pedaling and doing so, slowly. Seeing the world go by before you, knowing that it’s all happening under very small forces from human legs. Knowing the muscles are learning from being exhausted. In my mind, they take on the appearance of those Juniper trees Edward Abbey talks so lovingly about: just hard, dense and scraggly. There’s no bulk to them, only the fibers that can take such punishment remains.

The complete exhaustion. This is not something I can all together explain, except there is a point where your body does not want to go on, that your mind starts getting loopy and yet, you must. 7:00 pm was coming and with it, most of my daylight. Having not made the campsite, I still needed to go forward, even though my legs were about to quit for the day. Eighty miles is not a lot to ride. Eighty miles over thousands of feet of elevation gain, pulling a trailer that weighs 60lbs is altogether a different story. One could extrapolate that since it takes me twice as long and I’m going half as fast, it’s almost as if I’m doing 160 odd miles, instead of 80-odd. I’m willing to at least play with this idea, now, safe, while just writing about it.

I find, finally at mile marker 9 my turnoff to the Longs Peak trailhead and campsite. I get off my bike and start walking. I almost never do such things, but I had enough of riding for one day. It was only a mile or so to the campsite, but I still had no idea if there was room. Slowly making my way, I spied possible places to rest my body. Many places seemed reasonable, at this hour, at this time of year. I wasn’t worried.

Surprisingly, I find the campsite completely deserted. I took #10 for myself, made camp, made dinner and ate inside my tent while attempting to finish another chapter. Set my alarms for 3:00 am,
passing out. It might have been 8:00pm. Having almost flipped my sleep schedule around seemed as if it would be traumatic to my health.

The trailhead itself is at ~ 9382 feet, 5,000 more feet to the top on foot. It’s all about relations. A few years back, I tackled, La Marmotte course in France, used in one of the hardest Grand Fondos that there are. The high point in the ride, Col du Galibier at 2,645 meters (8,678 feet) would be below me.

col_du_galibier-8_17_08-sm.jpg
2by almost a thousand feet.

The highest point on Earth would be another 20,000 feet, a little shy of 4 more miles. I’m at the bottom-middle of what we’d call, Heights. I can’t really feel the elevation, the summer has put me in good form after many small challenges. I can remember, maybe, a time when it wasn’t like this, though.

3:00 am came and I unbundled myself from my liner, sleeping bag and bivvy and got out of the tent. So many protective layers. Even in the beginning of October, it just takes a little bit of elevation to make the nights go below freezing. My sleeping bag has lost all of its down fluff. If it has feathers still in it, I’d be surprised. Needs a date with a dryer and a tennis ball.

Needed little to do this morning to get ready – just move some things out of the day pack and some things in: extra clothes, camping stove, bivvy (for emergencies), hiking poles, crampons, food. Secure the campsite for, perhaps someone to wander by and see a tent a bike and nothing else. Keep the mystery of just what I’m up to.

Trailhead was gotten to by 3:45 am. Signing the register with, “BICYCLE” in the, “License plate of car” was enough to make me a little delighted on being up so early. There was only one other person who had signed the book today before me.

The stars were out, stoping me in my tracks. Even so close to a major city, the sky this night was clear enough to see a faint band of the Milky Way. Twinkling through the trees of, “The Goblins Forest”. Everything on this hike has a name. I never understood why this forest was even named, until I was hiking through it, with a head torch and watching all the shadows bounce around. Good name.

Twenty minutes of easy hiking and I met my first hiker and the first person I had talked to, since the barista all the way in Nederland. A bro-dude dude, he was actually already going down the mountain, having the beginnings of a migraine. A good choice and he stated he’d try again, a different time. My friend and I have still beaten him, though, on quickest failure up this mountain. I feel prickly proud.

Hiking, I looked for sources of water. I hadn’t too much left as I can only bring what I can ride in with. A gallon of water weighs about 7 pounds. I noticed even at the start of the hike, there was snow. It accumulated alongside the banks of the stream, where it became precipitous, or made a sudden change of direction. The stream that the trail followed looked good enough, the snow itself probably wouldn’t even need filtering.

Hiking at a modest pace, I didn’t feel too tired from the bike ride the previous day. Those sorts of thoughts fill my head – how one type of exertion affects another. Surely, they overlap. My cycling has gotten, on the average, a lot better since I started hiking so much. Perhaps maybe from just being at elevation more. Perhaps from taking long, slow hikes, instead of short, intense rides.

Tree line was broached within a couple of hours of silent hiking in the dark, alone. No more people passed me. I would look down and think I could see some other head torches, but they turned out to be lights from houses, all the way in Estes Park. I would look up and see again, what I thought were head torches in front of me, they transformed into bright stars and would disappear behind the mountain’s ridge line, sometimes as a meteor would streak almost directly vertical, as if to accentuate my exceptional lose of both sense of distance and scale. I kept looking for others, as all the reports I’ve read said that one of the marvels of this early hike was seeing a faint line of other people’s torches, tracing the trail before you. This day, I was well and truly alone.

At the fork in the trail of Chasm Lake and the Boulder Field, you get to the first privy, sort of the last thing you’d expect, but a good idea, none the less. Other famous mountains have gotten the reputation of being piles of shit in the summer time, as the winter snow and ice melt, leaving what used to be pure white well, pure shit.

Made a wrong turn and started hiking towards Chasm lake. This supplied me with an incredible view of, “The Diamond” and the lake below and The Loft, farther ahead. Debated a while if this wrong turn was in fact a good idea. The trail could actually lead me to the top of Mount Meeker, instead – another reasonable goal for today, but I had no idea what that trail really was.

The sun was starting to come up – almost 7:00 am, as I turned around and faced East for an incredible view of the oversaturated bands of color that were about to explode in front of me. The horizon was a blood orange mix without definite boundaries, right above faint blue-green. The rest of the sky started its slow transformation from dark, dark, dark to light. The stars slowly faded away and I turned off my head torch. The sun eventually rose and overwhelmed everything, throwing the orange band completely away, almost all at once. The highest sunrise I have ever seen at around 11,000 feet coupled with an almost uncompromised view of the eastern half of the country which doesn’t begin to rise again, until the Appalachian Mountains. Not even while on a sailboat in open waters has a sunrise attempted to tear me up so well.

Strange to hike so far without seeing what I’ve tramped through. The route slowly meandered with lazy switchbacks, until the Boulder Field, where the trail abruptly ends and everything, except the tops of the largest boulders are visible. The Keyhole is easily seen not far ahead, a ridge between Longs Peak proper and Mt. Lady Washington, featuring two prominent overhangs of rocks.

Between The Keyhole and myself, I spotted a campsite occupied with campers, just getting up. I make smalltalk and find that their plan is just to go a few hundred feet higher to The Keyhole and turnaround. I tell them, because of the conditions (snow, everywhere) that’s probably my plan as well. I also tell them I’d kill for coffee. They offer some they have, lucky for me.

I make my way up to The Keyhole, where I meet a few other people, trying to figure out how they might have missed my roving attention for 5 hours and what time they could have possibly had started. They were having a very very hard time trying to get up the Boulder Field. One asks me where the trail is. I tell them, there is no trail, but follow the cairns and I point to one to the left of all of us. They continue to the right, I have no idea why. I tramp up to the left cairn. Everyone is slipping around, as the rising sun quickly melts the snow.

I ascend to The Keyhole without much trouble and attempt, fool-heartedly to make a phase change from ice to boiling water at 13,200 feet, using my very small propane/butane stove. I melt more water than I need for an 8oz coffee, just so I have some drinking water as well. It will be worth it. A little worried I’m going to blow through all my fuel, the fuel canister is optimized for cuteness and size, rather than fuel. Expensive little critter, too.

As I boil water, a few other people come up that must have started just after me. We all look at the other side of the ridge, the West side. There’s nothing that looks like a trail. Even the painted bulls-eyes on the boulders, to signify the way through, are difficult to even imagine their placement. The ridge line is fairly narrow to begin with. The drop on the oth
er side is around 1,000 feet. Probably more. Everything is covered in snow. Looks fraught with hidden crevices. We all discuss. Come to the conclusion that it’s impassible for anyone, except the truly insane, that no one is really willing to give it a go, including myself and we all seem to be of sound mind, knowing full well that the mountain is not going anywhere and we’ll all have another chance again, some other time.

And three people have died on this mountain, just in the past year.

Statistics like that put things in perspective. A fall from the route in front of us isn’t only dangerous, it’s deadly. Very easy to feel different, having this year personally summited about a dozen 14,000+ foot peaks, some more than once. One has to respect a mountain as if it’s alive and realize the massive proportions of the mountain, in relation to yourself. I’m OK with all of this – hoping, perhaps in my mind that somehow I’d be able to summit, but not quite sure exactly how. To be honest, I was hoping to summit Longs, then Meeker, then, I dunno – make a  hang glider out of random rocks and sticks and write my name in the sky with smoke, but I’m a dreamer.

I finish my coffee as everyone else that has joined me up top starts the descent down to the trailhead towards relative comfort. A new group comes up, about three guys. They do the same lookie-see script as everyone else. They talk.

“So, what do you guys think, doable?”

The oldest man in the party, the one going, actually, the slowest responds.

“Oh, yes, of course, 100%, no problem!, Let’s go!”

And like that, they’re off. I am flabbergasted. A minute ago, I had made a sound, safe decision, based on my skill level, equipment, fitness and freshness and a myriad of other concrete and realistic points. There’s something though very dangerous in seeing a small group of people tramp away from you, through a route you just deemed, “impossible”. You realized you imagined that it was impossible, but, oh, it’s so very possible.

To these people. Still, not you. What they have in equipment trumps what you have: basically hiking gear and a pair of rented crampons, which you cannot remember how to strap onto your low-cut boots. It’s been over a year since you have worn crampons, and that was a world away on a enormous glacier, not on a snow-filled, narrow and precipitous ridge line. There’s no real experience to judge how to use them, here. The party ahead also all have ice axes. Damn it, you think. If only, $6? more? I could have rented an ice axe and summit this damn mountain. Don’t know how to use an ice axe either. Details, details.

But what they also have are themselves: they’re in a group and you are alone. They have cumulative knowledge, you’re just some punk city kid who’s imagination gets away from yourself. Often. I watch the party slowly make their way through the ridge line, until, they’re gone. I’ll never see them again.

I put on my helmet and start following them. The bulls eyes painted on the rocks, that mark out the route slowly do reveal themselves. “Ah!”, I thought, “Not so hard, just a little snow. Just… about a foot of snow. Just… go slowly, in a foot of snow, with a 1,000 foot drop to the right.” Just go, go, go, go. Humming sea shantys, as I do, when nervous along, or drunk, held up only by my bicycle, when walking home, broken-hearted,

In South Australia I was born
Heave away. Haul away!
South Australia round Cape Horn
And we’re bound for South Australia

It is not easy. My heart rate is already higher than normal. The coffee is not helping. I reach a point, not far into this malarky of an idea where there is a brief gap from one rock, to another to step over. To counteract this, there’s two, what look like stainless steal pins, with a diameter of about 1 1/2″ drilled into the rock. To step on! These do not create confidence in me, but I use one as a foothold and one as a handhold anyways. And, over the first, “problem”.

Problems in rock climbing are where the crux of the climb are. They’re called, “problems”, because you need to use a little forethought, before attempting them. If you answer the problem wrong, you fall. I do not want to fall. Going farther and ever so slowly higher, I follow the painted bulls eyes and the shuffle of snow of the people I’m following, like ghosts.

I get to some more problems, mostly slabs at around a 45 degree angle, covered in snow and nothing – absolutely nothing on the West side of them. Three in a row, which slowly change my direction counter-clockwise. I begin to feel I am about to trap myself, as climbing them up is arduous, but not impossible, but by the third one, I will have nothing to the right side of myself and then, nothing at the bottom of myself. The change in direction of the trail has left me very exposed. Not something I realized, until I was above.

I pause. I look. I assess. The way forward is finally, I succumb, above my ability. The risk vs. reward game I play in my head has finally become a landslide of, NO. I listen. I look back from where I came. Treacherous.

This is where I lose my shit.

I cannot help it. I become short of breath. Adrenaline flows into my blood. I realize finally how cold I am, how wet my boots and gloves are and how oh-so ill-prepared I am. How bad of an idea this was. How I may have really screwed myself in this one.

With no real good plan on how to get out of this situation, I just wait until this wave of fear recedes. I hatch a plan. There’s no real plan, except go back. Going back will be difficult, as going down will mean slipping down and slipping is not the action verb I want to use, as slipping means loss of control. I just don’t have any control on how to go down. Fear is still in me. I again pause.

Little steps. Time to take little steps. Each ridge by itself. Five feet at a time. Stay low. Go slow. Focus on this only. Do not look over the ridge line. Impossible, but don’t. Do not think of the guy who was in this very position and slipped. On snow and ice. A month ago. Do not.

Ever so awkwardly, I get myself down the last ledge I climbed up. I take a break. Remember to breath. Repeat. Second ledge, First ledge.

Off the first major hurtle. A simple walk back, around some boulders and back to the break into the trail with the steel bolts. Up and over. You got it. Back to The Keyhole, still without anyone else.

Totally lose my shit. Again. DEEP breathing, almost hyperventilating. Talking out loud to no one. “Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. –

THAT WAS INCREDIBLE! I need to try that out, again, as soon as possible!”

I pencil in a mental note to perhaps, ride back in two days, with an ice axe and try again. I am somewhat embarrassed at how excited in almost every way at doing something so idiotic, but I do not know how else to make myself feel alive anymore.

I walk down and meet up with some people who have congregated near a tent site, just below The Keyhole and the Boulder Field. We all walk down the trail, at slightly different speeds. In only a few hours, I’m back at the campsite. Spending so much time already on the trail, I don’t do much, but make my way down. The trail seems boring, especially compared to what’s after The Keyhole.

Talk briefly with a few people at the campsite with a lot of gear who are about to go back up. So much gear. More gear than I would ever want to own. I feel as if I’m at an impassé. There are things I want to do with this mountain, with Mountains, but I’m not committed to having the equipment take over my life.  A pair of hiking boots and a pack were perfect, I couldn’t possibly own a large truck to put bins of rope and climbing equipment in. What to do. Keep having these little adventures, catalyzed by my roots in being an urban idiot, hopelessly ill-prepared and too-eager to jump into harm’s way? How long, how many times can one do that, before they must grow up, old and out of that? Or before they perish from this tightrope of lack of foresig
ht I’ve strung between me and everything I try to do?

I make noodles at my campsite. A little jerky and that’s dinner. My caloric deficit will be incredible. I read. At around 8:00pm, I’m ready for bed and I fall, safely, silently and easily, to sleep.

My alarm sounds at 6:00am and I rustle up without too much trouble. Getting my gear in order, I melt some snow and ice I collected the day before going down and then make another cup of coffee, eat the last of my food – just some trail mix and shove off. I note that I haven’t taken one picture. It seems to me, most of the time, that there’s no need for photos of something thousands of eyes have seen. These mountain hikes give the impression of an amusement park ride to me and a photo taken that wasn’t for a purpose, even just to illustrate something in this story, would leave a bad taste in my mouth. As if a mascot from whatever place I’m at was also in that photo, waving. Thinking these things now is worthless, since in 10 years, I’ll want that photo, as I will have forgotten everything.

By 7:00am, I’m on the road, back to where I started. The road is undulating, but the majority of the time, I’m losing elevation, which is a relief for my legs, which are coming close to their limit of what, exactly, they can do. I stop frequently and marvel at how much easier it is to pedal, given my legs just minutes of rest.

I make it Nederland in a few albums on my portable music player’s time. I’m listening to the Basquiat soundtrack. In the film, the character who’s really just a thinly veiled Julian Schnabel comforts Basquiat’s alientation, telling him that, “his audience isn’t even born yet”. I’m now 2 years older than the age that Basquiat killed himself in a heroin overdose and people my age can’t horribly imitate his work fast enough. I’m on GrandMaster Flash And Melle Mel’s track, “White Lines” at the most steep of descents, realizing I’m attempting absent-mindedly to follow the white line that separates the main road from the shoulder. I chuckle.

Decide not to spend much time in town, but high-tale it to Boulder. There’s a dangerous road that connects Nederland to Boulder, HW 119. Steep grade, following a canyon’s cut, little if any shoulder, twisting and I’m told by a large sign that there’s construction being done on it and a, “Alternative Route is Advised”. John Cale sings, “Hallelujah”.

Before reaching the 10 degree grade, one of the more steeper roads in all of the front range, there’s a small reservoir you pass. Sun bathers will attempt to soak up anything in the atmosphere, regardless of the weather, with optional clothing on. It’s distracting.

Within minutes, I’m attempting to breach twice the speed the trailer I’m towing is rated for. This excites me. Keeps my mind on the road. This road seems somewhat cursed; it’s more dangerous than one would think and it’s probably the last place I should be, but, well, I’m on it. I keep having these fantasies – if you could call them that, of violent interactions with motorists that start something with me on this road. Perhaps, they’ve veered too close to me, and then give me the finger. Those things happen.

The next part is pure fantasy: I somehow then find the car parked in the middle of the town. I take something heavy and, in my fantasy, I start pummeling the car until the owner comes out and I pummel them, until the police show and then… well, I become less than human. Another scenario plays after the altercation on the road, where the motorist finds me sitting, enjoying a cup of coffee and a book, wanting to start something and I defect, as I’m well and truly a civilized person. This does not sit well with their anger, so they go outside and take it out on my parked bicycle. Kicking it.

This is where I lose my shit and kick them. And then we fight, the cops come… it all sort of becomes the same primal fantasy.

None of this happens today.

I stop at Trident coffee shop and continue reading Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. I am now his #1 fan, almost unable to control my brimming love for his writing. As I read this book, I observe the people around me, with stuffy contempt;  mostly students with large, very large egos and no experience to keep it inflated. Well intentioned liars, all of them. I could probably include myself in this category, if I was to be honest, but my honesty is nullified by the fact that I smell horrible and the bathroom in this joint will soon bare witness to a mass migration of clothing from this morning, where it was at the freezing point to now, where it’s a balmy, 85 degrees.

I leave without starting a fight and after purchasing a copy of Gary Snyder’s “danger on peaks”. Seemed fitting. From Boulder, Denver isn’t too far away, with only one small, steep hill to worry about on McCallison. When I was just starting to explore the environs of Denver on my bicycle, this hill was the huge brick wall between myself in the closest city to Boulder. Getting up and over it was the accomplishment I remember. Of course this day, it seems very small and plain; it’s hundreds of feet in elevation, not thousands and the top that seemed to incline into the clouds really is just a little bump in the road.

I pass through Standley Lake, following the green spaces as much as I can. Standley Lake has some simple paths of dirt to go on and opt for those, over the road, for a little variety. I pass a girl with tattoos of musical notes on her sleeve which I found queer; I passed her the last time I road this same path. A strange coincidence, my jonesing mind showing me my desires or nothing at all. Will never know.

Downtown Denver is found is short time. I stop at the giant outdoor sports store and give back the crampons and end the afternoon at My Brothers Bar, sucking on a soda pop and eating a most unforgettable cream cheese and jalapeño double cheese burger, medium rare.


Mt. Elbert by Bicycle from Denver and Back!

Summer totally flew by for me, but I was able to take a few little trips out and about to check out the, “backyard”. I’m moving soon, so it seemed like a good idea to see what’s out there. Here’s a small 4-day trip to Leadville and back, with a little side-step hiking.

Kenosha Pass

First, here’s where we’re going:

Route

Starting in Denver, we’re going South East on 285 to Leadville, CO, where we’re gonna climb Mt. Elbert, the highest point in Colorado. I’ve been scheming to do this for a while and finally found time to do it.

Let’s go:

Denver is flat. Very, very flat, but just outside of the city limits, it gets steep. Fast. This wonderful road leads nothing to the imagination, unless you like pain:

HighGrade Road!

Never did this road fully loaded. Some slow parts!

But, oh! is it worth it, as if in a children’s story, the mean ol’ High Grade Road, turns into Pleasant Park Road and what’s on top? A Cyclist Rest Stop! And unicorn sanctuary. What?!

Cyclist Rest Stop! Pleasant Park Road, Outside Denver, CO

A nice place to have a bit of lunch and take a load off (and a nice nap), you’ll notice the coolers in the backrgound?

Cyclist Rest Stop! Pleasant Park Road, Outside Denver, CO

These are FILLED with water and Gatorade. To take!

They ask for donations to keep up everything, so I put a tenner in there and swiped a few things. Sweet!

This is basically near the top of the first round of mountains, and when you’re done with one, it’s time to go down a valley. On 285:

Highway 285, Outside Confer, CO

Just a rad sight to see.

Ended this day on the Colorado Trail at Kenosha Pass – 10,000 feet up:

Kenosha Pass

Which, I think is right on the Continental Divide. There’s a campsite there – it costs $15 and I thought, “Nawww” and just rode a bit on the Colorado Trail and camped a bit off. Beautiful sleeping. I’ll have to come back and do the entire trail some day.

A good place to stop, as the next few miles are down the mountain pass, into a huge Plateau for the next, dozens of miles, it seemed. One little pass, before getting on HW24 at Buena Vista:

Trout Creek Pass

And North, all the way up to Leadville. Rode all the way to the Mt. Elbert Trailhead on day #2:

Mr. Elbert Trailhead

and, spent the night. Good sleeping, once again. The next morning, I ditched the bike under some wood and climbed up. Wake up time was 5:30 am, to avoid impending thunderstorms.

The Peak!

Mt. Elbert

I found that hat, and that sign on the top. I’ve never seen some much… Stuff on a top of a peak, before. I left it there, as well.

Climbed down and cycled into Leadville, proper,

Welcome to Leadville!

which is I believe the highest city in the USA. I ate a cheeseburger. It was delicious. There are beautiful women walking the streets. Le Sigh.

After lunch, it was time to head into Breckenridge, via Freemont pass. My knee was killing me, probably from the hike up, so riding was slow,

Freemont Pass

But, made it. Said, “hello” to my Bro and spent the night in Breckenridge, eating expensive ice cream on the main street, free coffee afterwards (thanks! Unsung Hero of Breck!) and OK Pizza later on. One of the best things about doing insane riding and hiking is the quest for food afterwards. End day #3.

Day #4 – Woke up and started the ride home, via Loveland pass, almost 12,000 feet up:

Loveland Pass

Pretty place. Most of this was now downhill. A crazy amount of downhill, making good time.


Home.

Hello Everyone!

A short note that I’m back home in Denver, CO but will flesh out some entries from entering Paris to, well now – but a quick note that the airline

LOST MY LUGGAGE. AGAIN.

Once again, the bike came, the bags didn’t, I’m left with the clothes on my back. Sigh.

This time, it happened 20 miles from my house and not 9,000, so it’s not really a big deal and I will, mark my word, get these bags back.


Paris

The funniest thing started happening to me yesterday.

Amidst my small sorrow that the ride I was taking was one of my last of this tour and the pain of my spent legs, pedaling up small hills at a meager 9 km/hr for hours,

people started to cheer for me.

Small hills would be accented by small beeps from cars and yells of, Allez! GO GO GO GO GO!!!

The closer to Paris, the more cheers. I must have had a look of most amazing tiredness at the final stretch.

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The day turned into night around Meux, France. I put on my lights and slowly inched to smaller roads, ever careful of cars coming towards me. Sometimes, I’d think a car was about to pass, but the light was actually from an oncoming *plane* landing at the nearby airport. Foggy this night and the sight of a giant plane in the sky with lights pushing through the fog, coming at me every 10 minutes is hard to escape.

Last night, I slept in an apple orchard as close to Paris as apple orchards basically *go*, before the farmland I had been traveling the last 600 kilometers – or even since Basel, Switzerland, my last one day break, turns into urban sprawl of countless generations and cultures. General exhaustion, coupled with the sounds of nearby sounds of scooter engines and talking made for a fairly sleepless night.

The relative quiet of everything around me only amplified these sounds, with me never knowing if people were right outside my tent or on the other side of the town. I never know what to do if I was to be found out. Would I have to move? Would they understand? I lost my glasses with the luggage and felt defenseless near blind. I put my contacts in and hid my knife in my pillow; kept half a watch as the other half of me snoozed. Shadows and silhouettes of trees. Did something just move?

This night, counting sheep was replaced with counting airplanes, as they landed into Charles de Gaulle airport, so low to the ground that the sound of their engines shook my tent canvas and the lights from the wings flickered by my eyes., even while closed I tried making a sandwich of Nutella and bread from the morning past, but the bread was weather and travel beaten. And stale. But, it was all I had.

Woke up as early as I could, legs as dead as fallen oak trees, but I pushed on.

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The traffic started light, but became heavier and hectic. Scooters buzzing around, taking every which way possible to get to their destination, cars, people, THINGS all around me. And me. Tired, weary and slow. A needed sudden burst of acceleration to remove myself from danger brought sharp pain in my legs and for a minute or so, I couldn’t really move them at all, just sort of faked pedaling.

But it was as if I realized I couldn’t control anything but myself and just pedaled straight into the center, playing the game of a sperm trying to find its egg, trying to reach the perimeter before, before

And then I hit it,

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And then I got lost.

So I just went. Straight.

Until I saw a sign that read, “Champs-Élysées” and I f0llowed that sign, onto a small road, congested with traffic and I knew it was the right way to go.

I took a small victory lap and the tour, basically, was done, 5,600+ kilometers and little more than a month and a half later.

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I yelled obscenities at the cars, buses, scooters and whatever else was flying around me making my way around the Arc de Triomphe. If I died here, I guess it would all be OK. But I didn’t die. I wept a little, but that was it.

I found my hotel easily enough and they let me keep the bike in the room (or, rather they didn’t say I *couldn’t*). I walked outside as hungry as one could be and had the most delicious kebab sandwich. I couldn’t eat it fast enough. I then bought a baguette at a bakery. It was so fresh and so warm that steam came out of it, as I bit into its flesh. It, as well, tasted amazing. The metro line was not two blocks away. Exhausted and everything else, I began my wanderings of Paris…

Thank you all for your help.


Il ne fonctionne pas.

RIP iPod. If an iPod cruds out within a year, free replacement, no? We’ll see. Sigh. I didn’t *really* think of putting music on it, but 25 minutes before catching the flight, I put a few theme albums on for fun. Maybe 10 in all.

And I’ve listened to them almost continuously, to the point of insanity. And now, funnily, I miss the music that I can’t play. The silver lining is that I know all the songs, *ALL* the songs by heart, so I’m rolling through these little French towns towards Paris singing songs out of tune. There’s your image for today.

Yesterday, the art station had Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars movie playing, which is amazing in of itself. He ends the entire Ziggy Stardust everything with a cover of White Light, White Heat. Hot.

My legs are extremely spent, but there’s nothing between myself in Paris to check out, so it’s just slow going until right before and then find someplace secret.

Last night, I figured the descent in and was pleasantly surprised that it should be easy enough, both getting in and getting out. I’m barely in Paris – I think across the street is a different town. It’s also fairly close to the airport and I think I can find a road that isn’t a HW with the maps I have. The only thing I need is a velo shop that has a bike box.

Today, I happened upon another tourer, with his bike upside-down and himself with a wrench. I asked if he was OK and he said the wheel was a little whobbly. So, I stopped and tried to help.

We got the wheel a little better and I did my best to explain how to true a wheel (not that I’m an expert), but it’s a good, “Yeah, this has happened to me, too” experience and I was happy that I could finally help someone, as a lot of people ask for help and I’m clueless on what to do.

He was from Belgium on his way to Bordeaux. 5th day. His bike was pretty old. Rusted rim, with little dimples on the braking area, which means it’s old and also made of steel (heavy, not as strong). Bonne Route! To him.

15 minutes later, I happened upon a little bird in the middle of the road. Aww, man.

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So, I had to stop and see what the matter was. It was a young bird – I think some sort of pheasant. I picked it up and moved it to the side of the road, and looked for a mother, but not trees, really in sight. I left some crumbs from my breakfast, not thinking it would really help matters, and sadly, rode off.

I guess sometimes you can try and help a little and something you can try and help a little, but it doesn’t really help the inevitable.

Some photos of the portal of the cathedral in Reims, taken at midnight:

IMG_0286

IMG_0281


Cinq mille plus

Yesterday, I bushwhacked into a space near a giant lake. The tree branches above me made a wonderful arched
canopy and the ivy vines around me made a soft bed. I passed out almost immediatly, but my spot was so secluded, there wasn’t a chance of anyone ever seeing me. I could have stayed for days…

They surely do not make them like this anymore:

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(Notre-Dame de Reims)

Which means, I’m in Reims. Sorry, I couldn’t let myself be lost for long.

Here’s the Marc Chagall Stain Glass, put in, in 1970-something:

IMG_0269

Chagall was Jewish. His wife was a master stain glass maker. Their son still lives in Reims (I think) and carries on the tradition.

I very strange thing happened on my return to France. This week is the last full week of August, I guess. Children start school soon, the sun is setting every so earlier and there’s a briskness in the air. And, France is chilling out. I go places and it’s not overrun with tourists. The ones that are there are polite and quiet.

I can navigate a Sueprmarche and not want to have blood spill.

My French, although still baaaad is better than before. I can make up spontaneous sentences, instead of relying on Traveling French. I can almost have a conversation. My spirits are high.

And, I only have one or two full days of riding left and I’m in Paris, where I play tourist for a couple days, then an iron rocket-powered eagle whisks me away to the middle of North America, on the other side of the world. Sad times, really.

This little guy:

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Started the change for me. He begged for a crumb from my breakfast, instead of ignoring me, or growling at me. The cafe was playing a French dubbed version of Before Sunset, which I found strangely bizarre:

Before Sunset, dubbed in French, playing at the cafe

France is a very strange country – I’m sure of that. The fascists aren’t too worried about being plain about things:

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At least they don’t say one thing and do another, but it’s still incredulous that this party still exists.

So, I hang my hat up in Reims tonight. Finding my way out of the city at night doesn’t particularly sound interesting, as it was a bit of hell getting in (lots of highways almost entered into), so I go a room in a traveler’s hotel, that’s just about big enough for the twin bed and my outstretched arms to fit. The sink and toilet are in the shower (no, really), but they will all be utilized well.

Reims has a pedestrian center filled with British-Style pubs and I haven’t a clue what that’s all about. So, I’m going to plan my route into Paris and then maybe see if I can’t get an honest pint.

Cheers,


Basel

Last night, I was trying to make up time, so I was riding late. At around 22:30, it started raining. I was on a fairly busy road with a shoulder that kept disappearing. I decided to ditch it, as riding at night in th rain is my limit. I happened upon a forest and a underneath pine trees, I found absolute darkness. And peace. 6 hours later, I was back on the road, eating up tarmac on my way West.

Little things like that.

For the past few days, I’ve been traveling with little rest to Basel, Switzerland and hanging out there. So many things to mention, so little time. And I am again scatter-brained. Some photos:

A few attempts at a fix.

My handlebar bag is a little broken. First tried to glue it back (fail), then epoxy it back (fail), then bolt it back (Fail)

Bolted it back with a bigger nut and a *washer* and we’re in business.

The border of France and Switzerland is a little uneven, and you keep entering and leaving both countries en route to Basel

Finally got lost in a small Swiss town, perfectly preserved with an art exhibition with an artist with a similar last name to mine:

Artist exhibition for,

Didn’t go, though;

Looked for a map in town to figure out how to get to Basel – the road I was on sort of… stopped at the point my Google Map directions said, “Turn right on, UNKNOWN ROAD”, which should have been a clue I’d have trouble.

Long story (and I’ll get to writing that) short, I broke down and ask the tourist office how to find the road I was looking for and she gave me a (friendly but, ) strange look at went, “What? Look, you’re in Switzerland, we have BIKE HIGHWAYS”. Take #7, it starts around the corner, across the ancient ped. bridge. Hazzah!

The crossroads

That’s right. Switzerland has bike highways – just very well marked bike routes that go through the entire country.

It’s not just that, there’s routes for mountain bikes *and* road bikes, as well as hiking routes and,

Inline skating routes. And I’m serious.

Hike, bike, rollerblade, etc Switzerland!

(also, canoe switzerland!)

The problem with these paths, is that usually they never give you an easy go to where you want to go, but throw in things like, oh, MOUNTAIN PASSES, which can get annoying if you just want to get to a warm bed.

And, sigh, this one was no exception,

My apologies about that, I was very tired and the last thing I wanted/needed was YET ANOTHER mountain pass. I’m at around 20 for the trip. FEEL MY LEGS!

Sorry, I was a bit displeased about the pass.

I ran into 2 of them on this bike highway. The second one also turned into a dirt road for kilometers, which is another thing I wasn’t really thinking I’d like to try fully loaded and exhausted, but you get what you get:

Not lost, but my road turned to dirt.

Not lost, but my road turned to dirt.

Notice the, “7” sign? I’m not lost at all!

It was raining too, so the dirt was quickly turning to mud. Sigh.

But! Got to Basel a little before 17:30.

Now, the problem was, I made directions from where I thought I was coming from, not this crazy bike highway.

A little looking around and I realized I was in the area I needed. What luck!

Following my own directions

Following my own directions

Called up Evan and… he was there! So hazzah! I got to hang out with him for a few days.

A HUGE thanks has to befall Evan for giving me the random and much appreciated email to let me know if I’m in the area that I have a warm place to stay. Yeah! Thanks Evan, and I owe you a beer if you’re ever again state-side.

Basel is a terribly bike friendly city, here’s some interesting finds (I’m a dork, yah know)

A free-locked Colnago bicycle

free locked Colnago bicycle

You could probably get away with selling the frame alone for about $1000

Old School Swiss Army bike!

Swiss Army bike in Basel

Forget exactly the type of bike this is:

Hammock Bike in Basel

But the saddle works much like a hammock – supposed to be very comfortable.

Basel is also very expensive – behold:

The price of a burrito in Basel is almost 30 Swiss Francs

A burrito costs almost 30 swiss francs. The conversion with US dollars is almost 1:1.

I also checked out some Contemporary art spaces and the architecture museum. Some very interesting videos from Mr. Guido van der Werve –

the day I didn’t turn with the world

guido van der Werve - the day I didn't turn with the world

(On the north pole, turning with the sun)

Everything wi
ll be alright:

guido van der Werve - everything is going to be alright, 2007

(Walking along an ice sheet, while an icebreaker follows)

Ruled.

After hanging out in Basel, I went back into France to go to Colmar, mostly for this:

Isenheim Altarpiece, Matthias Grunwald.

Bad photo, sorry, but this is the Isenheim Altarpiece, by Matthias Grunwald. It’s quite amazing and worth seeing. There were some amazing woodcuts as well. I’m happy I went to this museum.

After visiting Colmar, I kept trucking this time… West!

To where?!

Paris!

I have to get to Paris by the twenty eighth and I’m scared to even look up how far it is. But it’s far. And counting today – right now, I have three days to do it. A good challenge and I won’t even tell you exactly where I am *now* to keep up the,

the,

Anticipation.

West of Colmar are more bloody mountains. I could go North and attempt to side-step the mountains. It’s a risk, since it adds a little more mileage, but it may be faster than a mountain pass. Is that what I do?

One more pass out of Western France (~1100 meters)

Well, of course not!

Plowing away I did up yet another 1100 meter mountain pass and a few little ones afterwards at night. Like ya do.

So, wish me luck getting to Paris on time and I don’t know how much posting I’ll do until then. But the wishing part, please take advantage on doing that 🙂

Cheers m’dears,


Switzerland

Last night, I savauged it in the absolute middle of the town of Bois d’Amont (I think) next to a bunch of camping cars that were obviously parked there. I see this a lot, where camping cars are just suspiciously parked in the center of the ville with windows covered in reflector stuff and it’s *so* obvious what’s they’re doing.

I rolled into town around 20:30, so I went to the local bar and had a half pint, and then a demi bottle of cidre (well, I mean, hey!) and something unbelievably good, made with onions and bacon and creme sauce – all slathered on what was sort of like a beef-brother flavored crepe. I have no idea what I ordered. That happens a lot. A perk of traveling.

By the time I was drunk – I mean, done, it was dark, so I just pitched and went to sleep, woke up early (COLD! It’s COLD!) and rolled into… Switzerland!

Which is fun. And funny. Did you know that they don’t use the Euro primarily? *I* didn’t, and it took a few minutes at the bakery to figure out, first – why everything seemed *so* expensive and why the baker didn’t know what the heck I was giving him. I thought he was just sort of dim – like a savant baker, but couldn’t add 2 and 2. Nope. Just me.

I catch myself saying silly, obvious things while around here. The other day, I was in a Supermarche, getting fixin’s for a sandwhich and I honestly said this to myself,

“Gosh! There seems to be Swiss Cheese everywhere all of a sudden – I wonder why?”

So provincial. I’m sorry.

I put in my right contact this morning and it hurt like hell – usually this is because something else went into my eye, along with the contact. Easy – just flush out the eye and the contact.

But, this continued to irritate me. I stopped for some food at another Supermarche this morning and they just so happened to an optician, so in my broken French and rugged (good) looks, I apologized about barging in, but there’s something in my eye – could you check?

And she did – so thoughtfully and helpful. Nothing there, though. Wanted to make sure I didn’t have an infection. Those things can… well, blind you.

But what’s funny, is that I can see about twice as well now with whatever is wrong with my eye, than usual. I can’t explain – and I couldn’t even come close to explaining to the optician. I can’t go *without* a contact, but, I can tell you how many doors are on the cars that pass by the street nearby. Sounds horrid still, but my vision usually maxes out around where my nose ends. It’s a big old long nose and it’s been that way since I was in third grade, where my nose was much more button-like, but that’s pretty sweet to now be able to at least see details of a fast moving vehicle. To me, it’s almost religious. Dunno. Just, strange.

It’ll go away, I’m sure, but it’s a mystery to me why this is all happening. I think what happened is the Aloe (pronounced Ah-Lo-Eh in French, if you ever ask for it) that was in my bag exploded and got on everything and I got it in my eye and whatever keeps the Aloe in the bottle being cool until you use it isn’t good to get in your eye. Most things that come from plants aren’t. Think maple syrup. Yeah.

So, Basel is 150 something km away. Probably too far for today, but tomorrow, I’ll crash in Basel and say hello to my contact there and explore the town in absolute perdu-ness as they (meaning, I) say. I don’t know German, so it should be fun. Hopefully, they’ll be some must see things to… see.

After that, Colmar I’m thinking to see Grünewald’s alterpiece and the museum about the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. And then, it’s a complete and utter challenge to get to Paris to make my hotel (using that word very loosely) reservation. If I get there *too* early (bwhahahaaha!) I’m sleeping in the sewers with the Turks (with all due respect to the noble Turks)

Allons-y!


The beard is getting a little too savauge, I ‘m thinking. I may have to trim it soon – it’s either that, or keep it, and when I get home, go through an, “Old Man” phase, where I wear tattered clothes from the thrift store and walk with a cane everywhere, attempting to focus on things with coke bottle glasses. Being in the best shape of my life at the moment, that may just be the funniest thing I can possibly think of doing at the moment.


La Marmotte

Oh, there it is.

Yesterday was a wash. I went about 60km absolutely dead.

The day before though, I did the Marmotte ride.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Marmotte

From Wikipedia:

La Marmotte is one of the toughest one-day cycling events in the world.

The route is 174 km long, but features more than 5180 metres of climbing. The event goes over the Col du Glandon, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier and finishes at the top of one the most famous Tour de France climbs; Alpe d’Huez.

Yes.

Here’s the altitude stuff I stole:

Quite the itinerary. The mountains here are nothing like the Rocky Mountains. These things are heroic in of themselves.

Started the ride at 8:30 am. My guidebook says it takes around 7-8 hours. OK – I left early to make sure I have some fudge time. The route is a big loop, so I was able to keep most of my stuff at the campsite, which was nice – this was a ride for the joy of riding.

The first pass Col de la Croix Fer, was difficult – very very steep – but made it – cafe on the top – so, had coffee.

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The second major pass, Col Du Telegraphe, I went very very very much too fast and for some reason, decided to go *down* the pass without my windbreaker on.

Bad idea.

It had started raining and combined with the altitude, I became so cold, so quick, I almost put myself into shock (I’m not kidding) and had to take 5, before going for the big one, Col du Galibier.

Galibier kicked my ass. It is gigantic and after the major amount of km’s before it was a tough one. What I was thinking before this ride was, “You know, I could be a long-distance athlete – in time”. What I was thinking during this ride was, “People *race* this?!”

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Going *down* the pass was akin to playing, “Survive This*. Narrow Roads. Nothing between you and the side of the mountain and steep – around 10% grade. Couple that with Camping cars going the opposite direction – needing more room than the entire road really allots and it’s so very insane in such a good way.

By this time, I was very much tired and getting to Alp d’Huez wasn’t hard per-say, since Galibier’s pass on the other side is about 20km – almost all the way to the start of the mountain.

There was a clock at the turnoff to Huez – it says it was 19:30 – 13 hours since I started.

7-8 hours my foot.

I had about an hour and a half of daylight. Do I do Huez and finish off the ride?

Of course I do.

It was Sunday, so I didn’t know where I was going to get food afterwards, but I persevered going as fast as possible up the 21 hairpin turns. Which, was very very slow, as I was very very tired.

By this point I was beyond empty with energy and my body did not like me that much. It allowed me, just because I wanted to so much. I finished the Tour de France route with my head on the handlebars, blindly going up the grade until I hit the finishing line.

Snapped a few pics

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(yes, I look a little miserable – I was!)

and then –

well, then it was dark. And cold. So, I put everything I had on and went *down* the hill in pitch black. It was cold. So, very cold. Teeth chattering… It’s August? I guess I got my wish of cooler temps than what was in Arles…

Went to the Kebab (It was open! YEAH!) place and bought two (last customer – the owner is a very hard working man with a wonderful voice) and went to the campsite, zipped up, ate Kebabs and anything else in my way and passed out.

Probably the hardest one-day ride I have ever done. I can’t even describe it in this post (I have a bit of a cold, so I’m not the best at writing at the moment)

The next day, I took it pretty slow, slept in, made a picnic lunch, had that, got some coffee, planned the route out of the mountain range, etc. Did that 60km on absolute empty and it seems every bag and pack on my bike broke. I’m trying to fix it, but you know the tour is getting long in the tooth when everything is being held together with a bungee chord.

Again, I’ll have to write the above over again when I’m not so numb and not still in the moment, but I’m not joking at saying that was an extreme effort to finish. Props to those who race it. I also have a boat load of pictures to add, but they’re on the other camera, etc. I may have to do a internet dump session while in Basel, as lame as that sounds. Sigh.

Anyways, on to Basel! I’m skirting the Swiss border which is so very awesome. There’s a gigantic lake to my left, Geneva is kilometers away and North of me, the direction I’m going looks desolate of towns. I have a small cold and am plugged up, my gear is failing – Hell Yeah! For adventure.

Missing my friends and working on art though. Paris in a week or so sounds appealing, the tourists don’t. The day or two of flights I may just drug myself through.

Love you all, thanks for reading (esp. Nikki, well of course)