Thursday, September 17, 2009

it didn't quite kill us, so i guess we're... stronger?

YES, we have finished the Great Divide journey!
YES, we have a big game of media catch-up to play!
NO, I am not recovered!

Early on in the adventure, it became clear to me that riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route on a unicycle would not be a test of technical riding ability; it is a test of will. It tests one's ability to endure: fatigue, extreme weather, dehydration, pain, etc.

How to summarize the unsummarizeable?
First I'll post (too?) many pictures from our journey south of Grants, NM. Then the really fun stuff starts, in the form of trip statistics and the like.

Due to the continuing monsoon rains that create impassable roads, we had to take the Adventure Cycling-recommended alternate through the El Malpais National Monument, which actually ended up being way cool. The monsoons came a bewildering few weeks late this year, which unfortunately coincided with our travels through the really mucky section of New Mexico.

["Collecting" is the new "gathering." Gathering is so B.C.]

[Near The Narrows in the monument, winding through a corridor lined with rock cliffs on one side and a wild lava bed on the other.]

[Jiminy cricket! (who is not amused)]


[But surprisingly standupable! This otherwise-nearly impossible feat is made possible by the insanely sticky mud.]

[Here's a shout out to the folks at KEEN! The shoes were great and got us through the best and worst of it.]

[Unrollable means just that. Time to drag it sideways.]


[Nita and I share a mutual friend! Pie Town, NM was a kind place, full of welcoming people and friendly faces. The pie lady at The Pie-O-Neer Cafe even lent us her car to do a grocery run several miles away! They were busy crankin' out the pies for the annual Pie Fest. I recommend the New Mexico Apple pie a la mode, with green chiles and pine nuts!]

Sidenote: I know I've mentioned the insects and animals frequently during the journey, but seriously, sometimes they are out of control. Dung beetles are simply outrageous, expending an astounding amount of energy forming balls of poop in the cow pies, then rolling them away to do what they do best (and I still haven't figured out what that is). The ant hills are tremendous, and if you camp anywhere within a expanse littered with them, they will crawl on everything - and I mean everything - and even into your sleeping bag. And oh, the mice - clever ones, they are, creating all sorts of ruckus while we try to sleep. The dogs mostly stay away when we draw our knives and pick up stones in a ready-to-throw posture.


[Nope, the mud hasn't stopped yet!]


[Thunder and lightning all around, with absolutely no place to hide. The storm is so close and thick that it is blocking the view of large mountains just beyond. We ended up finding an outcropping of rocks, and I wrapped up in trashbags leeward of a boulder.]

["Roads impassable when wet." ...I'll agree with that.]

[a sloppy "27"]


["29..." These poses and camera shots are getting lazy!]

[Muck through O-Bar-O Canyon.]

[Rapidly changing surface quality did a number on me, making my knee bleed even through the thick layer of mud.]

[New Mexico unicycle stand. Once again, this is not supposed to be possible.]


[Ugly Santa Rita Mines.]

[Observing the piles of destruction at the Santa Rita Mines outside Silver City.]


[Into the Chihuahua Desert, a stark contrast from the lush areas in the state that looked more like West Virginia. Good luck finding shade.]

[Just a cool sign, a cool sky, and 2 cool wheels.]

[Crossing a cattle guard just north of Separ.]

[First sign to our finish at Antelope Wells!]

[With Ron & Carol Elder, who showed us great kindness by saying hello in Silver City, picking us up on the route the next evening, filling our bellies with goodies and minds with good conversation, giving us a place to sleep, and returning us to the route. What a treat!]

[Starting our last full day of the trip!]

["Last full day" still means over 60 miles of pain, but with more motivation.]

[I think I see Mexico....]

[The road looks empty, but it is sprinkled with massive centipedes, tarantulas, and the occasional unicyclist.]

[Giant spiders devour Hachita!! Once again, no illusions. Tarantulas were everywhere.]

["32" - last crossing at 4,520 ft.!]

[Filling up at every chance meant finding windmill-powered pumps that filled stock tanks in the middle of nowhere... and I do mean the middle of nowhere.]

[Hatchet Gap: Windmill, pipe, fresh water, YES.]

[The last sunset.]

["1 Mile" in "Travel Time 5 Min." is twice our pace, and makes me doubt cars actually drive 12 mph for this last stretch to The Promise Land, or shall I say, "La Terra Promesa."]


[The moment we've all been waiting for. La Frontera.]

["United States Border Inspection Station Antelope Wells, N.M."]

[Tim, et al., at the border station is famous for his hospitality shown to bicyclists. He greeted us with ice cream and hot biscuits to supplement the multiple sodas we bought from the coveted Coke machine!]

[An hour after arriving at the least-used border crossing in the U.S., we hopped a shuttle (one of the ~3 vehicles that crosses each day) that takes Mexicans over the border to see family in Phoenix, AZ, then rented a car to drive through the night in shifts to Sacramento, CA where my parents picked us up and escorted us to Davis, my motherland.]

[Glowing grins.]

Now for the fun stuff!
total route mileage = 2,628.7*
riding days = 68
average daily mileage = 39.2
rest days = 9
time frame = july 2-september 16, 2009
# of days over 50 miles = 17
# of days over 60 miles = 5
# of days over 100 miles = 1
most # of saddle sores at one time = 11
ratio of most # of saddle sores to pairs of socks lost = 2.75:1
size of biggest saddle sore: 3/4-inch diameter
total # of continental divide crossings: 32
most # of continental divide crossings in one day: 4
% riding days I cried = 19%
# animal species I had never seen before = 9
# of Wal-Mart sightings = 4
ratio of bags of chips consumed to threatening hummingbird encounters = 3.33:1
# of flat tires = 6 (each) (Matt got 3 in one mile near the Mexico border!)
# of flat seat tubes = 1 (each)
approximate % of days that the "I'm On a Boat" song was in my head = 95%
*Note: the total route miles listed is less than the initially intended 2,705 due to re-routes around impassable roads. Miles actually ridden are ~6% more (on our 29-inch, single-speed unicycles) due to the natural squiggle during the turn of a unicycle wheel, making the total ridden mileage 2,786.4 miles.
So, with little (if any) optimism from anyone who had actually ridden the route, we beat the odds and further expanded the horizon of possibility. Back in the real world, I am savoring every bit of music I can get in my ears; such a remote trip created quite a deprivation of one of my basic needs, as evidenced by frequent singing during the journey. Songs stuck in my head represented genres including, but not limited to, rap, children's songs, Gracie & Matt originals, and orchestral soundtrack scores to movies such as Dances With Wolves and Mr. Holland's Opus.
Rebounding from an extremely taxing endeavor has facilitated the alignment of my needs and wants, a blessing I wish would come more often. I need a job, and, ironically, I need balance in life; thankfully, those are the two things I want most right now. So... who's hiring? :-)
Finally I am going to post two lists of things I will and will not miss about the journey.
Things I will not miss:
1. mosquitoes
2. flies
3. bees
4. perpetual dehydration
5. wearing filthy clothes
6. wet-wipe baths
7. crotch-crunching washboarded roads
8. popping saddle sores
9. smelly feet
10. shivering in the mornings
11. lack of fresh food consumption
12. being too tired to eat dinner
13. being uncomfortable
14. getting stared at
15. wearing a dirty "diaper" (chamois shorts)
16. running out of toilet paper
17. waking up still exhausted
18. being in pain 12 hours/day
19. loathing, but needing, the sun
20. struggling to maintain adequate hygiene
21. chasing daylight
22. wondering what is floating in my water
23. high-altitude boogers
24. strangers telling me I'm sunburnt when I'm not
25. running out of food
Things I will miss:
1. killing mosquitoes
2. killing flies
3. killing bees
4. watching the sky change over the course of a day
5. uncluttered horizons
6. freshwater springs
7. speaking obnoxious baby-talk to cows, to either confuse or startle them
8. early morning wildlife sightings
9. having everything I could need in my pack
10. sleeping outside
11. rarity of mirrors
12. sporadic reliance on technology
13. taking breaks wherever & whenever I want, even sitting in the middle of the road
14. eating junk food and getting into amazing shape
15. deep appreciation for the simplest of conveniences
16. receiving uninhibited friendliness from strangers
17. seeing new things all day every day
18. night skies so starry, seen only when at least a day's ride from anywhere and anything
19. eating fingerfood all the time
20. groves of aspen trees
21. creating an evident positive impact on others simply by pedaling
22. a special comaraderie with other cyclists
Lest I bore you with more, so ends the journey. Thank you so much to all those who helped and supported us in person or remotely - seriously, we are so very thankful! Thanks to Panama Jack, KEEN Footwear, roll: bike shops, and Kris Holm Unicycles: Evolution of Balance, who made it all possible. Good luck to our friends hiking the Continental Divide Trail, finishing up the home stretch!
Remember to donate if you feel so inspired, and as always...
...Rock 'n' roll!
Yours Truly,
Team Blazing-But-Slowly-Healing Saddle Sores

Sunday, September 13, 2009

new mucksico: most rain, least water

They say, "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all," so I won't. I will, however, give you three words to ponder: monsoon mud melee.

That said, this post is to inform readers that in two days we expect to reach the Mexico border, and that the next update will be written from California, with the comforts of a cushioned chair and full belly.

Thoughts and prayers are appreciated as I combat eleven or more saddle sores during these two consecutive 60-plus-mile days to the finish line, where misery ends and real life begins.

Rock 'n' roll!

Yours truly,
Team BLAZING Saddle Sores

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

the yin and the yang: unicycling is about balance

Fortunately, a pack-lightening campaign in Salida, Colorado left me with only 18.6 pounds to carry, including 3 days of food.
Unfortunately, I am left with no tent, no sleeping pad, and no extra riding shorts.
Fortunately, we successfully dodged the many bowhunters in the national forest.
Unfortunately, a bug bit me and left my leg itchy and swollen: a 6"x4" section of my quad was inflamed, itchy, and hard from liquid pressure.

["17": Marshall Pass (10,842')]
Unfortunately, time spent in towns put us behind schedule to finish by September 16.
Fortunately, a night in a teepee with fellow cycle tourists boosted morale.

["18": Cochetopa Pass (10,067')]

[Matt, riding toward the "dramatic" Coolbroth Canyon opening of columnar basalt.]

[Matt kicks the speed up too many notches on the way into Del Norte, Colorado.]

[Delightful singletrack that paralleled our sandy, washed-out road.]

[Crossing the Rio Grande coming into Del Norte at sunset.]
Fortunately, Del Norte has free camping for cyclists in the city park.
Unfortunately, there is a one-night limit, and we had planned to stay two nights in town.
Fortunately, Heather and Bill Green adopted us, sharing their straw-bale home, excellent food, and the fantastic company of their family - truly a haven in the desert!
Unfortunately, the biggest climb of the trip, Indiana Pass, loomed over our heads.
Fortunately, Mike Tierney of Aspen, CO, joined us for the ride and amped us with good vibes, treats, and Hammer nutrition.
[Matt and Mike cranking up the pass.]
Fortunately, Indiana Pass was the highest point on our entire route: 11,910 feet.
Unfortunately, Indiana Pass does not even cross the Continental Divide.
[Reaching the summit!... thanks, Mike, for snapping this one!]

[A trio of champions. All downhill to Mexico, right?

Matt would like to give a shout-out to fellow Hoosiers - there was no "Indiana Pass" sign at the top for a photo op.]

[Representing a fantastic state at the top of the pass, although maybe we should be holding an Indiana jersey for its namesake.]

[Doris "Paparazzi" and "Cowboy Jim" Garling]

Fortunately, Doris was kind enough to leak a few photos to the press.

Unfortunately, this 48-mile day, with three mountain passes and an EPA SuperFund site, included some of the rougher roads we've faced.

[photo courtesy of Doris Garling.]
Fortunately, the fire was warm and the lounge was comfortable at Skyline Lodge in Platoro, CO.
Unfortunately, we spent more time looking at the maps and counting miles when we should have been riding in the rain.
Fortunately, the overcast skies made for cool riding.
Unfortunately, even brief showers turned the road to unrideable muck.

Fortunately, we learned of the mucky potential of the roads before entering New Mexico.
Unfortunately, most of the route through northern New Mexico is comprised of this soil.
Fortunately, Adventure Cycling Association recommends taking paved alternates when the weather is wet.
Unfortunately, we had daily thunderstorms and were slated for several days of hurricane rains during our time in New Mexico.
Fortunately, the paved alternate went closer to the Continental Divide, and past some very cool sites, including crossing the path of America's longest and highest steam-powered train.
[The Cumbres-Toltec railroad]

Unfortunately, the skies poured rain and large bits of slushy hail.
Fortunately, the weather served as confirmation of our route decision.

[The weather continues in the background.]

Unfortunately, a portion of the route south of Cuba, NM, has been closed because the road became private property.
Fortunately, Adventure Cycling provides an official alternate from Cuba to Grants, NM.
Unfortunately, the alternate is all paved.
Fortunately, we crossed the Continental Divide 4 additional times on the alternate, and rode through incredible mesas and canyons in the region of Chaco Canyon and through the Navajo Nation.

[A diesel fill-up, in honor of my unicycle's name: "Diesel."]

Unfortunately, we had to negotiate more car traffic than we are accustomed to.
Fortunately, we had the opportunity to meet and talk with some very cool and excited Japanese folks, traveling the world after college.


[With Harold Redhouse, who stopped to see if we needed help. He is Navajo and taught us a few basic words in his language.]
Unfortunately, unreasonably angry dogs chased us and tried to attack on several occasions.
Fortunately, we found large sticks to carry for self defense. We collected them after Matt had to use a license plate to hit one in the face while riding. The junkyard license plate collection earlier that day paid off, though the dog's face bent the plate.
Unfortunately, we had a hankering to attempt a 100-mile riding day on our single-speed 29ers.
Fortunately, the moon was nearly full, and past experience had prepared us to interpret the road's shades of grey.

Unfortunately, we needed to take caffeine shots and pills to make it through the night.
Fortunately, they worked.
Unfortunately, they worked too well, and wreaked serious havoc on our digestive systems. Fortunately, there were more howls of coyotes than barks of domesticated dogs throughout the night.




[Just to prevent our souls from becoming as sleepy as our eyes....]

Unfortunately, the sun was brilliant in the sky at 7:30am when we finished our 102.1-mile, 22.5-hour stretch of riding.
Fortunately, there were adequate patches of flat dirt on the side of the road on which we crashed to nap for an hour before continuing 20 additional miles into Grants, NM.
Onward and southward...
Rock n roll!
Yours truly,
Team Blazing Saddle Sores