Days 1-7 and a brief intro can be found here
  Day 8 – Start: Just shy of HWY 28 / End: Brush Mountain Lodge untitled-28 Historically one of the most challenging sections of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is the Great Basin, and today was the day I would ride through it. It may not be difficult for the technical riding or climbs, but rather from the boring stretch of road that typically boasts brutal headwinds and scotching heat. On top of that, one thing that kept this day more interesting was my first fall. After refilling on water at the fire house in Atlantic City, I was on my way into the Great Basin. There is some major road construction on part of the route into Rawlins so it was decided prior to the race that we would re-route to the town of Wamsutter instead of Rawlins. Wamsutter sits on I-80, it is a town that has boomed from hydraulic fracking. The day started off great, I was not sure how far back the others were, but I was feeling good. After the start of the re-reroute, the hard to follow trail would eventually kick me out on a well traveled road directly into the wind. I found myself gazing into the distance at objects such as power lines, gas pumps, and a bunch of other things that my mind was making up. Just as I was cruising down a small hill in my aeros, probably going 15 or so miles per hour, my front tire got stuck in a rut created by rain runoff. Still in my aeros I attempted to guide my front tire out of the rut. After what seemed like an eternity but in reality was a split second, I fell hard to the ground. My left knee hit first followed by my aero bars, then somehow my right elbow. I sat on the ground in extreme pain. I thought I had broken my leg. I put pressure on every part of my left limb making sure everything was in tact. After 15 seconds or so, I knew I was ok. I unclipped my right pedal and threw my bike aside. I laid there for no more then 30 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. My knee was gushing blood, same with my elbow, the handlebar of my bike rammed right into a muscle near my waist that inhibited me to lift my left leg. Fast forward to 2:00AM – After climbing for what seemed like forever I had finally hit the Brush Mountain Lodge. I was not sure if Kristen would actually be up, but after a few steps while entering the lodge, I was greeted by Kristen. She said “you hungry?” I said, “ummmm, yeah!” 20 minutes later she had lasagna, two burgers, chips and all sorts of snacks for me to eat. JayP woke up as I was eating. I was curious why he was leaving at 2:30 in the morning. He had only slept for an hour and a half. He made sure not to mention that his bottom bracket was completely busted, but I would later learn that was why he left in such a hurry. It really did not matter, I had planned on sleeping up there for at least a couple hours. I washed my clothes for the first and only time and showered for the first and only time. I cleaned out the cut on my knee and iced it before sleeping in the first bed I had been in for a week. This was the only bed I slept in during the duration of the race. I was in heaven, I could have stayed forever. I can’t thank Kristen enough! Day 9 – Start: Brush Mt. Lodge / End: North of Ute Pass image Two things stood out today and both of them got me thinking how dangerous riding this route can actually be. The first situation happened mid day, I was descending Lynx Pass between Stagecoach Reservoir and Radium. I was hugging the right side of the forest road as a blind corner approached. All of a sudden I hear a moto revving the throttle, as I turned the corner to the right, I noticed the moto was completely in my right of way, heading straight towards me. I had hugged the right corner as much as I could. At the last second he veered out of my way missing my handlebar by an inch, maybe. I avoided disaster, but not everyone is as fortunate. It’s tough to balance racing and being careful, and after that close call, I was a more cautious cyclist the rest of the way. The 2nd incident occurred as I was trying to find a place to sleep for the night. I was considering sleeping in the bathroom at the Williams Fork Reservoir after I referred to my map earlier in the day. When I arrived there it was just past 9pm and it was very busy, so I decided to push on. I also wanted to get out of the valley inversion and head for the warmer air. Continuing on, I noticed I was getting into a bunch of ranching land with homes spread apart every mile, or mile and a half. After coming up empty on a good flat place to sleep, I finally found a small prairie next to a fence. I hiked about 15 feet off the road, and looked for a descent flat spot. There was a bunch of sage and random brush that I had to negotiate but I eventually settled in. I was sitting in my sleeping bag and eating some food when a car came rushing up. I quickly covered my Klite and turned off my Diablo headlight. The car stopped but the passengers remained inside. They turned on some flashlights and pointed them on the hillside, just below where I was hunkering down. They then moved closer to me, pointing their lights in the shrubs I was in. The sage and brush was so tall, they certainly could not see me, but I was worried they could see my handlebar that was sticking up. They pulled a u-turn while continuing to look for movement, eventually they sped back down the road. My heart was racing, and it kept me up a little longer then I had anticipated that night. Day 10 – Start: North of Ute Pass / End: Start of Marshall Pass untitled-20 After the scare from the night before and a morning that started with some farm dogs barking and chasing after me, I was starting the Ute Pass climb, and my way into the jungle of tourists. I was heading to a very familiar place, Summit Country, and eventually Salida. I was feeling extremely sluggish today, and it all started with a sit down breakfast at the Wendy’s in Silverthorne. After that, my full belly, stiff legs, swollen feet, and the swarms of road bikers on the path up to Breckenridge would have me crawling. Once I arrived in Breckenridge I stopped at a number of stores to look for compression socks but couldn’t find any. My feet were so swollen that they were getting smashed in my bike shoes. I arrived at the Conoco gas station where Boreas Pass starts. I took off my shoes, iced my feet and called my dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day. He said, “you seem a little off,” I said I was fine, just tired. But I had to say that – of course I was a little off. I had been racing for 10 days straight. I was a little off, to say the least. After pushing a few negative thoughts aside, I finally left on my way up Boreas Pass. The heat and my swollen feet continued to make my day one to forget, it was not until the sun started to set where I felt good. I would pass JayP that night and sleep up on the beginning of Marshall Pass. Day 11 – Start: Start of Marshall Pass / End: Summitville untitled-22 After descending Marshall where I saw the only bear on route, resupplying in Sargents, and passing my closest point to my home off HWY 50, I instantly got a rude awakening. While this area was very familiar to me with my time on the Colorado Trail and just being so close to Crested Butte, I would be greeted with the hottest day on the divide and not prepared logistically. Up to this point I had been prepared for long sections without resupply points. Although I had done a lot of planning for these long arid sections, this was one I was ill-prepared for. It was only 111 miles, but running out of water, food, and becoming extremely dehydrated had me crawling into Del Norte. One of the pieces of advice I would tell any rookie is to prepare for the worst, carry extra food and water even when you think you will be fine. If I had done that, my legs would have felt much better after Del Norte, instead it was slow moving up to the highest point on the route, Indian Pass. Day 12 – Start: Summitville / End: Abiquiu untitled-23 I had one of my longest nights of sleep in Summitville, roughly 5 hours. I made my way past Platoro and into a town called Horca where I would meet up with JayP once again. We pedaled together across our last border crossing into New Mexico. The Brazos were the next challenge that stood in our way, but I can’t say they were all that difficult. Maybe a large contributing factor for why we were so fast this year was due to the condition of the route. I remember Jay mentioning that the Brazos and many other sections were in the best condition he has ever seen them in. We spoke too soon as shortly after we got stuck in some rain and then the famous New Mexican clay presented itself. Even then, a short hike a bike section would have us back on our bikes in no time. The real story for the day was Abiquiu, after conferring with Silvia who runs the Snack Shack outside of Vallecitos, she mentioned a pizza place that would be open next to the bar at the HWY 84 junction. While the bar was still open, we were too late to enjoy pizza and it proved to be a huge turning point in the race. We had to sleep in Abiquiu so that we could properly resupply in the morning for the ridiculously tough section between Abiquiu and Cuba. I considered going on, but then thought better of it. Jay and I crashed on the porch of a law office, just next to the Abiquiu Inn, at around 10:30m. We waited until 6:30am for the Bode’s General Store to open. Day 13 – Start: Abiquiu / End: Milan Tour Divide Stories We waited for what seemed like forever. I tried to spend my time wisely, cleaning out my trash, lubing my chain, cleaning my sunglasses, and hydrating. The store opened at 6:30am on the dot, no earlier. Just as we walked in Josh Kato had arrived, while I was not surprised that he did, it had to have been such a mental boost for him. Every time I caught Jay, it was a boost for me. It was the first time I had actually talked to Josh, and it would not be the last.  I felt strong all day, I think Jay did too, we finally reached Cuba in the early afternoon with a slight lead on Josh. As we left Cuba that afternoon, Josh was entering. As the sun set that evening, Jay and I both needed to sit down and eat some food,  we saw Josh again, he continued on. We eventually caught back up to him, which marked the 4th time we had seen each other that day. I was not sure if we were just moving slow the 2nd half of the day or if Josh was feeling that strong. Either way, Josh would lay down outside of Milan as we continued. untitled-26 Jay and I eventually made it to Milan, a town just outside of Grants, New Mexico. We stopped into the Loves gas station where we both lined up for a Subway sandwich. Just as we sat down to eat our sandwiches I noticed some guys fooling around near the gas pumps. What I thought was a playful fight between friends turned into a full on brawl. Mind you, it was two in the morning, but if I did not know better, it felt like 8pm with the amount of traffic the gas station was seeing. The fight lasted roughly 10 minutes before a dozen or so squad cars could calm the late night fight. It was a strange sight, considering we were peaceful cyclists taking a break from our ride. Day 14 – Start: Milan / End: Deep in the Gila untitled-29 Today started with a mental breakdown, I didn’t want to race anymore. I was seriously frustrated that after 2,400 miles the 3 of us were so close together. After telling myself that I would be finishing tomorrow, I calmed down… slightly. After turning onto Co Rd 41 the heat started to rise quickly, but Pie Town was only a few more miles down the road. After a quick stop that did not include pie, I was onto my last ACA map – section 6. I was carrying an awesome SealLine map case and folded each section up so I could see what I had ahead of me. It was nice when I could point out a turn in the road and look down on my bars to see that turn on the map, but it was getting very frustrating. At this point in the race, I had been staring down at a line on a map for more than 13 days. It was getting old. I did not bring an odometer for that reason, I didn’t want to know my mileage, nor did I want to know how fast I was going. It would have made me do useless math in my head. After I flipped my map at the Beverhead Workstation, I decided I would leave it be for the rest of the ride and rely on my GPS track. After heat, some rain, sloppy clay and a cool evening, I saw some lights in the distance. I had been alone all day staring down Jay’s tire marks and I finally had caught them. The sun just set, and he was still getting into his night riding mode. I felt good but for some reason decided to sit back with him and ride for a few hours. Jay stopped and said he was going to lay down, I was pretty beat up and decided to do the same. Like every night, I got my phone out, set my alarm and put it right next to my head so I could hear it in the morning. It was just before 12:00am, I had set my alarm for 2:00am. Day 15 – Start: Deep in the Gila / End: Antelope Wells (Beer, Pizza, the FINISH!!!) untitled-30 I woke up at 4:45am, my alarm failed to go off, Jay’s too. Jay said someone passed us, I was so pissed off at myself. How did my alarm not go off? I checked my phone…I never actually turned the alarm on that night. Right then and there I felt like I let myself down, I let my friends and family down. Everyone is bound to have a few miscues and hick-ups on a ride this long, I had some and I paid for them. My knee started to hurt on Bannack Road, the heat in Idaho, my fall in the Great Basin, my swollen feet in Summit County, my lack of planning and dehydration outside of Del Norte, and missing the pizza in Abiquiu – but oversleeping, that’s just inexcusable. Josh had slept for a few hours and we ended up passing him that morning. He quickly caught back up to us and we all cruised into and back out of Silver City together. As we cruised out, Josh said something like… “so how is this going to happen? One of us goes for it and the other two knife them?” Jay said nothing, I don’t remember saying anything significant. Just like that Josh took off like a bat from hell. I stayed with him as long as I could, but the highway had too many ups and downs for my 34 tooth 1x set up. Not only that, but I really think I blew up my body from the singletrack section before Silver City while I tried to clear all those climbs to create a gap on the other two – it didn’t work, obviously. Jay and I arrived at the Separ convenience store together, the last resupply point on the divide. A number of spot stalkers were there telling us different times regarding the gap Josh had on us. While you would like to listen to them, more times than not their timing is a little off. A storm was approaching and we got stuck in a nasty head wind, Jay was pushing it hard and I was struggling to hold on. I got to the paved portion of the road a little behind Jay. We got going at an unheard of speed, considering we had already raced 2,700 miles. I kept looking up to see if Josh was on the horizon, but I never saw him. I caught Jay after Hachita, I forget what I said to him, but right then I knew third place was my calling. The notorious highway section was so grueling I found myself punching my map in frustration, then laughing. I finally arrived within a mile of the border, a huge smile on my face, I had done something that had been on my mind all year. I was so overcome with joy, my body was tingling for my feet up to my fingers. I had finished the tour divide, and that was the goal.

10 Comments

  1. Great job Neil, you KILLED it!!!

  2. Jake Bruce

    So rad, Neil. Thanks for writing this up and racing your heart out. This website has really helped me get the info i need to tackle the CT (touring, leaving in 2.5 weeks) and has also definitely given me the itch to try out racing next year 😉 Just need to pick one of them…. You should be pumped with your performance man, especially being your first time on the Divide. You stuck with a bikepacking legend and beat the record, that is something to be proud of! Super pumped to see what you do next man, i’m impressed. Take care.

  3. Great race Neil! Enjoyed reading your account of it. Wish the three of us could have had a little more time to just sit and enjoy some beers after the finish.
    All the best to you,
    Josh

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      Right you are Josh, Beers and burgers. I wish we could have done a bit more chatting on route, next time, ok? You were on my heels the entire 2nd half of the race, you and Seb scared me a bit. You ended up pulling off a awesome ride. Any plans for more races this summer? I’m looking at the Trans North California. Then down to Arizona for the 750 in the spring.
      Be well,
      Neil

      • I’m probably gonna do the Smoke & Fire 400 in Idaho this Sept. Got a few other non-racing trips planned. Beers, buddies and bikepacking is high on my agenda for the rest of the year.
        My wife and I keep contemplating the AZT. We’ll see.
        Cheers!
        Josh

  4. Michael Smith

    Amazing!!! what a great effort and experience for you Neil. Congrats on a record breaking effort. You are no rookie now ha ha ha, and your honesty is always refreshing in your writing. thank you for sharing the recounting of your Tour Divide experience. I look forward to your next exploits. gO Neil gO!

  5. southwest backcountry

    Superstar for sure Neil. great write up and Inspiring as usual. I also appreciate you interviewing Jefe for the CTR. Thanks for all your work on this site. Its the shit.

  6. This is awesome, Neil! What a crazy life experience. Very inspiring to be able to push yourself like that. You were a great driver and an even better biker! Thanks for sharing. Good luck on the next venture.

  7. Pingback: 2015 Bikepackers Top Stories - Bikepackers Magazine

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