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Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Great Divide - Top 10

It's the final countdown
The final countdown
The final countdown
The final countdown
The Final Countdown, Joey Tempest (1986)

Each and every day of my ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route created lasting memories. The people, wildlife, landscape, roads, weather, history. The physical, mental and emotional challenges. The highs and lows. The thrills and the mundane. The quiet time every morning. Maybe especially the solitary hours immersed in simply pedaling my bike through unknown-to-me, remote backcountry. All those experiences intermingle with each other and with prior experiences to fundamentally shape who I am.

Over the months since returning to conventional life, I randomly drift back to moments on the Great Divide ride. A glance at a picture, map, or blog post always triggers a cascade of thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, they appear for no apparent reason at all. I could easily identify 20, or 50, or 100 amazingly memorable moments and try to write about them, but that's just too much. So, here's my Top 10 moments that most stand out today. Many of these I've described in prior posts, but not all.

10. Osprey Take-Out
While talking with a fly fisherman along the Snake River near Grand Teton National Park, I see a large bird circling high overhead and ask if it's an eagle. "Osprey," replies the old fisherman. Just then, the bird nose-dives at blinding speed straight down into the water and emerges with a large trout in its talons. Whoa! I lose sight of it and ask where it went. "He got a big one, maybe 14-15 inches," says the fisherman, "He'll skim along the water and be lucky to get that one to shore." Sure enough, a moment later I see the osprey on the river bank eating dinner. I never would have witnessed that from a moving bike.

9. Hanging Out At Brush Mountain Lodge
From the rush of Tour Divide racers in June to the steady, summer-long stream of Great Divide riders, Kirsten Hendricksen enthusiastically cares for everyone at this iconic stop in Northern Colorado. I ride in at 10:00 am and stay until the next day. What a fun experience with everyone there. See Memorable Start To My Solo Second Half.

8. Jessica's Joy
As I'm riding the last few miles into Hachita, New Mexico, maybe 50 empty miles from the Mexican border, I see a dusty four door clunker approaching me from the south. The sketchy car slows, so I slow almost to a stop well ahead of it, peer into it, mind the doors and windows, and instinctively ready my bear spray. The car abruptly stops. The front passenger door flies open. 

"CRRAAAAIIG!!!!!" screams a woman, as she runs toward me, arms flung to the sky. HEY! It's Jessica, another south bound Great Divide rider whom I met 13 days ago in Platoro, Colorado. She rode to Antelope Wells today and was in a shuttle on her way home. Jessica is just bursting with energy. So excited. So happy. So enthusiastic. For finishing her big ride. For me about to finish mine. For everyone else out there. For life. She is pure, unrestrained, unadulterated JOY! I believe she would have hopped back on her bike to ride back to Antelope Wells with me, if her driver hadn't nudged her back into the car. Jessica, you are a gem.

7. Peace At Lost Llama Ranch
Barb Nye created and nurtured this bike packer's haven in the middle of the Montana wilderness between Ovando and Helena. Years later, John Keller rode through on the Great Divide route and returned to join Barb's mission. They live a life of genuine kindness and generosity. It is an honor to spend some time with them on their back porch overlooking a beautiful valley at sunset. See Five Acres Of Kindness.

6. Boreas Pass with Mark
An old friend expresses a surprising level of interest in my Great Divide ride, diligently follows my progress into Colorado, and rearranges his corporate executive schedule to join me for dinner in Frisco and an unforgettable morning ride up Boreas Pass. You made my day, Mark. Let's ride again soon. See Old Friends.

5. A Night In The Ovando Jail
To spend a night in the cell of a county jail built in 1890 is just too cool to this retired correctional officer and fan of the Old West. Ovando locals Kathy, Leigh Ann, Colleen, and Howard make this stay even more special. See Small Town Stoke.

4. Monsoons And Mud In The Gila
In the midst of possibly the most remote 190 mile stretch anywhere along the Great Divide route, a New Mexican monsoon hammers me with wind, rain, and hail. Flash floods swallow my road and pour down on me from all sides. I battle for almost 4 hours to reach higher ground for the night. And that's just the second of three challenging days in the rugged mountains of Gila National Forest. I emerge fully realizing that I belong out here on long, remote backcountry rides. I'm also so grateful for the opportunity and ability to experience this. See Three Days Of The Gila.

3. Elation At The Montana-Idaho Border
The start of this ride is so hard I don't know if I'll ever cross Montana. As I tell Paul, I do not want to be That Guy who said he was riding his bike across the country but never left the first state. I struggle for 12 days before starting to figure out how to balance day-after-day-after-day effort and recovery. See A Hard Start. The sheer elation of reaching the Idaho border is exceeded only at the Mexican border.

2. Divine Providence Through The Hearts Of Strangers
Montana huckleberry hunters Paul and Marlene find us hot, tired, thirsty, hungry, and off-route in the midst of big grizzly country near the end of a long day. They invite us to their home for an evening of company, gourmet food, and shelter. I can explain the highly unlikely coalescence of events culminating in this experience only as divine providence. See Trail Angels Paul & Marlene.

1. Antelope Wells. Antelope Wells. Really. Antelope Wells.
Pure joy. Unrestrained celebration. Utter disbelief. Surreal surreal. My solitary finish at the closed U.S. Border Station of Antelope Wells, New Mexico. I still have a hard time believing I did it. Surprisingly, I have cell coverage right there, so I share phone calls and texts with family and friends. At least when I'm not shouting, singing, and dancing. See Living A Dream

Piling on with his eccentric energy, my brother Cyler drives 6+ hours one way from Phoenix to pick me up to start my journey home. Unbelievable. Still shaking my head. See There And Back Again.

Beyond A Top 10 List
Any venture as big and audacious as riding the Great Divide is never a truly self-supported, solitary endeavor. In addition to all the folks met along the way, I enjoyed the companionship of cycling buddy Paul Brasby during our 1,200 miles from Roosville to Rawlins, as well as our final year of preparations beforehand (see, e.g., 2020 Cloud Peak 500 Wrap). Paul is a strong, savvy, accomplished endurance cyclist and a great guy with whom to share such an adventure. He'll be back out there in 2022 to ride from Rawlins to Antelope Wells to finish his Great Divide.

Of course, none of this Great Divide ride would have happened if not for Colleen, my amazing wife of 37 years. She shuttled me 14 hours one way to the start, checked up on me twice in Colorado, and single-handedly managed all our household and family challenges for two months. But those are just the details. Colleen has encouraged and supported a lifetime of my academic, professional, personal, and athletic endeavors. She makes life better whatever she does and wherever she goes.

First, and last. My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Phillipians 4:13.

The Final Countdown, Europe (1986)

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