By Jefe Branham
The morning wind whispers through the aspen leaves, a peaceful sound that reminds me of home. The vista is also comfortingly familiar, patches of fir, pine and aspen trees, wide golden parks, elk darting to and fro. Close my eyes and breathe it all in, open my eyes to absorb the gorgeous glory of this place. This place, like so many along the route pull at my heart, wanting me to slow down, set up camp, explore, enjoy. Only the whole time I attempt to soak it all in I am rolling along at 10 miles an hour, hurrying off to the next resupply. My body filled with discomfort, my mind a mess of conflicting desires.This is the dichotomy of a TD racer. You see amazing sights, experience small slices of landscapes, places, people of varied color, shade and description, but you never really slow down enough to truly get to know any of it, to really enjoy it. Always packing up, rushing along, your sights on the next place, the next challenge, dreaming mouth watering dreams of the next meal.
With more miles behind than in front of my madly spinning wheels and a feeling of lazy nostalgia seeping through my once raw determination, it is becoming harder to stay on target and race for the border. Despite being closer to the end, it is more painful to push hard on the pedals with my swollen feet and my heavy lead filled legs. My tired eyes are even less willing to go far into the night or awake and crank out the early early morning.
New Mexico, in some ways, forces you to keep rolling. It is the second longest state on the GDMBR, right after the monster of Montana, with 707 some miles before it is all said and done. There are some pretty great distances to cover between food and more importantly water. The final state also hides some truly brutal terrain – the Brazos, the Jemez/Polverdera Mesa and my personal nemesis, the Gila. With my limited capacity for carrying food and water I am forced to rally along and make time in order to stay fed and hydrated. The increasing heat as I get further south begins to kick my ass and makes it even harder to go faster.
If you just keep pedaling, you will get there. That is exactly what I do, I just keep pedaling, despite the agony of my bruised right foot, my empty dead legs, my sore and swollen hands and my bruised and battered ego. I just keep pedaling and the state slowly slips behind me. Even the long tough sections eventually do end, both a blessing and a curse. For the toughies are also quite remote and lovely, but in my deranged racing mind they are only obstacles in the way of success, the finish.
With a good bit of luck and plenty of blood, sweat, and tears – I leave Pie Town and head out into the hot lonely Gila, the last backcountry section of the route. Here last time in 2011, I was reduced to a shell of myself when I ran out of food and water many miles and hours from Pinos Altos, where my life was saved by two cherry cokes and a banana split. This time I was determined to be better prepared and not fall apart in those endless desperate hills.
The Gila lives up to the monster image I have created in my mind. It breaks me down making me feel so damn small. It cooks me to a crisp, leaving me hot, sunburned, and dehydrated. I am lucky enough to have bumped into a group of mountain bike folks touring for fun. (I bounce this thought about in my head for a while, who the hell would volunteer to come out here, and for fun? Hmmm, I guess deep down I chose that as well! So lighten up Jefe!) It is great to have someone to ride and suffer with, they take my mind off the heat a bit and keep me from talking to myself. It really is a fantastic relief to share the trail for a while.
Still pretty early in the afternoon they stop for camp and I push on determined to get to Silver City and eat ice cream till I can not move. Another teaser moment leaves me wanting to hang out and camp with these great peeps instead of pushing on in the hope of making it to the finish sometime in the morning. I ride on cursing the wondrous hell of the wash-boarded road so bumpy that my GPS flies off for the first and only time in the 2700 miles.
My increased knowledge of water sources makes staying hydrated much easier and I make it without running out of water. I still manage to run out of food right before the Sapillo hike a bike. What is it about the Gila that ends up crushing me so solidly? How did I underestimate this beast once again? I crank out the bit of singletrack and the steep hilly pavement to get to Silver City right about sunset. I meet Glen whose been watching my spot dot and we ride straight to the grocery store where I throw a whole rotisserie chicken, a pint of B&J, half a bag of Fritos, two Cokes and a handful of cookies down the hatch. Now I am feeling OK enough to venture back out into the void of the Divide world and get this sucker done, once and for all.
I climb out of Silver City stuffed full of food, both my stomach and the bags on my bike. I am not gonna run out again, not in the next 120 miles and not even if my ride does not show up at the border. Food security, Check! Due to the weight and bloating I crawl out of town on the highway, slow and steady, just keep pedaling. I turn onto the Separ road and can feel the familiar ghost of exhaustion lean over my shoulder. Trying to ignore this persistent pest I crank along, trying so hard to rise up on these last 100 or so miles, wanting badly to be done, to maybe break 16 days..no really just to get this done. Only I have to stop and take a cat nap, 10 minutes down and then right back on the bike. I make it a few more hours and another cat nap, then another. My eyes are in full revolt, unwilling to stay open, despite the pleading from my mind and body to just get this done.
This 2700 mile roller coaster of emotions, physical breakdowns, mental victories and defeats has all boiled down to, “keep pedaling Jefe, just keep pedaling”. I try so hard to turn off my brain and just pedal, yet the mind stays there, wondering, wishing, dreaming, commenting and in the end making it hard for my body to just pedal, the only thing that will get me there. It is a battle, the whole ride, start to finish, no matter if it is stellar pavement, or a forgotten rock strewn jeep road – it takes all I have to keep going, to stay on target, to not let the broken dream of untouchable goals haunt me any longer. My ride home passes me on that last stretch of pavement, it is a glimmer of hope that this will end, it can not go on forever even though hours of riding still remain before me.
The route does come to a close, the border does rise up on the horizon and I ride up to a chainlink fence with Mexico on the other side, it is the end, the END. I get off the bike, take a few pictures, take off my awful shoes, sit in the shade and drink a beer. I am done and I am so happy to be done. Thoughts of records, of mileage, of glory and victory are lost to the wonder of simply being done and having someone who cares there to scrape me off the ground and take me home, of having done what I truly set out to do, and that is Ride the Divide with all my heart.Part 1 Part 2 Part 3