Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tour Divide Out of Banff into the Wild.

Some Background

The Tour Divide. 

If you want to just read my ride details scroll down......

What is it? 

The Tour Divide is a self supported* time trial from Banff Canada to the border with Mexico at Antelope Wells. It is 2745mi assuming you don't make wrong turns or go into town looking for pizza. There are so many climbs it boggles your mind. It is mainly dirt roads of varying quality with maybe 10-15 miles of single track trails and maybe 300 miles of pavement connectors.
You can go south as most people do now or go north. You can go anytime you want. Most people start on the second Friday of June. This gives everyone the same (similar?) weather and long days. I like this option personally. Most everyone now wears a SPOT tracker that allows spectators on the internet to track their favorite riders and place bets accordingly. You ride as long as you can, eat when you can, and sleep when you can-there are no set stopping points or rest days like a grand road bike tour.

*You have to carry all you will need, buy it along the way or mail supplies to a post office. Simple right?

Das Routen Ya!

What is it really?

I think the Tour Divide is really a test of yourself. Not only how well you can ride a bike day after day for absurdly long distances each day, but how well mentally prepared you are. How can you handle a sudden catastrophe**? How well can you stand riding by yourself with no one to interact with day after day for absurdly long distances each day. The following song was stuck in my head for quite a while for example. I was having a hard time remembering how many women were involved and if they added up to seven. Maybe my own wheels drove me crazy.....

How good are you at defecating in the woods? When it's below freezing? How good are you at eating just about anything and a lot of it? Can you sleep in the woods? How about when it is raining? Below freezing? Can you wash your bike shorts in random locations such as a stream or bathroom and put them on day after day? How about not taking your socks off for a couple of weeks because your ankles have swollen too much to take them off?

How good are you at getting a blood sample from a finger prick and testing it on your meter at all hours in all conditions? How good are you at estimating how much insulin you should give yourself before you go to sleep so that you will wake up in the morning. How good are you at eating enough to cover the insulin you took? How good are you at keeping your insulin and meter at the correct temperatures?***

There is so much more than the the 2745mi and 200,000' of climbing so commonly used to describe the race.

**rain storm, snow storm, mechanical problems big/small, mud that impedes movement, snow, icy rivers, wild animals, rednecks, getting to a "town" to find the only store closed or that there is no store, running out of food and or water, reservation dogs, casita dogs, not getting a cup of joe, getting to Pie Town and getting no pie, heat, cold, physical problems (saddle sores, sore knees, achilles tendons, neck, sunburn, etc..)

***OK maybe these don't apply to you. Maybe they do?

The Film Crew

Kyan and his friends filmed at the end and beginning of the race. I carried a GoPro camera but after it fell off my bike, the lens on the case was scratched and the batteries were drained it wasn't useful (sorry Kyan!) and was mailed home. They arranged to have me filmed as I rode down the the road by the Tetons and in Del Norte with as much interaction as I had with other photographers such as Eddie Clark, who I saw several times. This kind of filming was very frustrating for the team. But like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states the more you know what a rider is doing the less he is part of an individual challenge. We'll see how it comes out... He also interviewed everyone he met along the way.

Riding the Tour Divide with Diabetes

As I must have written before, my pancreas has stopped making insulin. When you eat food, it is eventually broken down into glucose, one of many simple sugars. Insulin is the key that lets the glucose into my body's cells from the blood. Once in the cell, the mitochondria can produce energy for me to do things like ride my bike.
If I don't take insulin or not enough for the amount of food I eat, sugar builds up in my blood and can't get into my cells. This makes me feel tired and generally not good if it is high for a long time. If I don't take insulin, the glucose actually is a poison to my body so my kidneys try to expel it with great amounts of water. Then I get thirsty and have to pee constantly. These are classic symptoms of diabetes. If this isn't treated well for extended periods, it causes poor circulation in places with small blood vessels. This causes neuropathy (painful sensations or a loss of feeling). The poor circulation causes you to lose toes, feet or legs. You can go blind from your small blood vessels in you eyes becoming damaged. You can lose the ability to make whoopie (at least for guys).
If I take insulin and don't eat enough to balance it or I exercise to soon after taking the insulin and my food hasn't had a chance to digest, it "forces" the sugar in my blood into the cells. This leaves little for things like the brain. I can then have a hard time thinking or I just will feel very weak. Most athletes have "bonked." This is what has happened. Their sugar levels in the blood have dropped leaving them deleted. In the extreme cases, you can lose consciousness and not wake up at all, which is never a good thing.
So how do I do an event like this? The first thing is to do many shorter events and test my self and see how I react. Then I can have a baseline of what might happen most of the time. Your body never reacts the same all the time so you have to expect variables. After trial and error when I am pushing myself at a moderate to difficult pace, I can use long acting Lantus insulin to cover food I eat (small amounts every hour). Other riders would eat about 200-250 calories an hour. I did this also. Sometimes this doesn't work. For example if the riding is easier I may be taking in more calories than I need so I have to take more insulin or eat less. Other times later in the race I ate more than I should just because I was getting hungrier and the insulin wasn't enough to cover it. Exercise greatly increases the ease in which the insulin can get the sugar into my cells so I also don't need to take as much insulin.
I didn't want to have too low of sugar in my blood, especially at night, so I would take less Lantus at night and supplement it with more in the morning. I would take Humulog, fast acting insulin, with meals or if my sugar was high.

Common misconceptions. 

  1. Type 1 diabetes is caused by eating a lot of sugar; I didn't like sweets much as a kid.
  2. I can't eat sugar; I can eat it. I ate a lot of it on the race. I just have to increase my insulin for every calorie I take in or ride harder.
  3. I can cure my diabetes with diet, herbs, crystals, etc; There isn't a cure (yet).
  4. I need insulin to increase the sugar in my blood; Read above.

The Ride Day 1

The 102 or so riders left the YWCA in Banff and headed for the trail head at 8 am. Banff is really a cool town but full of tourists from all over the world many with loads of money and many with no money. Many of these people couldn't survive a day without a motel and tour bus. So as soon as we hit the trail, you go from a Disneyland to a wild wilderness in a mere minute or two. I was a the back of the pack and soon easily rode past most of the pack. Then my SPOT fell off and was hanging by my safety tether. Three Italian guys let me know by saying "Spot, spot, and pointing." I don't think they understood any English. So much of the pack, including Eszter, passed me again. I yelled encouragement, "Olay" "GO GO!!" We only had 2745 miles to go.... I caught back up and Eszter said something about me being "very funny." I loved the variability of this pack. One guy on a Surly fat tire winter bike, the Italian couple that had been polishing their bikes, and all the different set ups people had. There were some younger and some older riders.

The trail had some good climbs as we left Banff. I soon had left most of the pack and was riding by myself seeing an occasional rider. This country is just killer. The mountains are very rugged and jut up steeply from the valley floors. I came around a corner and I heard a huge splash as a moose jumped across a small pond right next to the road. Something to get the heart pumping as I climbed a steep hill soon after. The moose seemingly stalking me up the hill in the trees. Hitting Kananaskis country you ride a bike path in a campground with awesome views that would be a great place to take the family.
Elevation profile days 1 and 2.
Day 1
Along Spray Lake

Along Smith Dorrien Spray road

I passed the store here without stopping. I had lots of food. Then we turned and began climbing Elk pass. This quickly turned to hiking in snow. Shortly into the hike, I caught Josh Shifferly who was hiking with Serge from Fernie and Kurt Sandiforth. As we reached the top of the climb, it began to rain. We hiked down the other side and finally could ride on the wet road in the rain. A fine mud, most likely glacial flour, began to coat the bikes and everything.
Elk pass where you could ride for a minute-Brake pad killing mud!
The rain lasted for quite a while until we dropped in elevation toward Elkford at 109mi. At this point I was riding with Josh and we were thinking, if this rain continues we may have to stop and get warmed up. Luckily it did stop and we were able to get dried out a little. We stopped in Elkford and got some food at a small pizza joint. We continued onto Sparwood and then up the road to the coal mining town of Corbin. We got there around 10 pm and a train was very slowly moving across the road to fill with coal. There was a sign down the road with a detour around the train but we had ridden around 160 mi and we weren't sure if this would constitute an "off route" detour. At the train was Steamboat native Eric Lobeck. We decided to go camp in some trees on the side of the road. We had everything almost set up and we saw some lights coming up the road. It was Eszter. "Hey Eszter, we're camping down here!" we yelled and she joined us. We went to sleep with the sounds of a slow moving train banging along and visions of grizzlies.....

Day 2.
I heard Eszter's bear bells jingling early in the morning as she tried to sneak ahead of us. She is smart and has a crazy ability to ride a bike all day. Tough. Gotta watch out for her! I yelled at the top of my lungs, "She's trying to sneak ahead of us! Wake up!!!" OK I thought it...... We all got up. I was moving a little slower and my blood sugar was a little low at 50 something. Nothing to worry about  but I needed some time to get full energy. I had some granola that Anne had made in my pack. It was getting wet but I ate a bunch and some bars (candy or energy I don't remember). Everyone else left and I got going after another 20 minutes.

Day 2 Map
The road went past an old town that people may still live in sometimes maybe and quickly began to climb and was soon covered with snow. This road looked to have extensive snowmobile traffic in the winter so it was packed well and therefore didn't melt fast. I quickly caught Eszter and Josh. We later caught Serge who had camped on the other side of the tracks. As we finally reached the top we hiked down the other side and then through icy streams and finally we got to rideable road. It was wet with huge puddles.
Eszter Horanyi heading up Flathead Pass

We had some clear roads with large, medium and small puddles to try to go around.
 

We hiked through snow over Cabin pass and finally to a turn-off for a single track connector to the Galton pass. At this point my front brake pads gave out. I slowly with my frozen hands got out a spare pare of pads. And very slowly got my allen wrench out. It took a while to get the new pads in with fingers that I could barely move or feel. All the small parts of the brakes were very hard to hold. I noticed that one pad that I had taken out was completely gone and the other was only halfway gone. The mud from  the day before had caused my hydraulic pistons to become jammed and move asymmetrically. I tried to adjust the gap in the pads to it wouldn't rub so much and my brake cable pops off of my SRAM XO brakes and oil comes out everywhere. I quickly put it back together but to no avail. No front brakes. Note to self: if you have to ride with brakes that are rubbing badly, don't mess with the adjustment. Oh yeah it's raining/snowing the whole time and my feet have been frozen all day. I still had back brakes so life was good. So I headed up the single track connector. It was so wet it was more like a muddy slog and then climb up a steep muddy embankment. Finally I hit the pass and began to hike in more snow for several miles.

Is this a ski trip? The top of Galton Pass with 7 in of pow pow. 
As I descended the pass, you could actually ride/ski in the fresh powder in spots. Finally I hit the clear road and it became very steep down to the highway and the border. It was snowing all of this time. All of a sudden my back brake completely compresses and I hear screeching and smell smoke like a semi coming down Monarch Pass. Oh CRAP! Once again my pistons are asymmetrical. One pad is almost completely gone, disappeared. The other still OK. My rotor significantly scraped up. I took it apart and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't get the pistons to spread back apart. It was a very steep road and no way to coast down. I tried all the methods you did when you were kid with feet on the the tires... Just to wet and steep. The good news was that it stopped snowing. The bad news was it began raining.
Hmmmm. So what else to do? Hike or run the 6-7 miles down? I began doing both. Not good in SIDI bike shoes. I  would stop every now and then and try to spread my pads. Nothing doing! After running/walking for some time, Josh and Eszter came by. Josh says, "I only have front brakes! The Flathead kicked my ass!" Eszter just looked straight ahead and rode by. I could tell she was in a bad place.

I finally made it to the highway. I was able to ride here as there weren't  many big hills without a run out. I got to the border and had to run in to the grass on the sides to stop. It was still raining. I pulled up under the shelter where they check you out. The patrol agent looked at me like he didn't want anything to do with me. I slowly pulled out my passport with frozen fingers and handed it to him. He took between the tips of his index finger and thumb like it was a dead rat and quickly gave it back and let me through. I would be back and it wouldn't be this easy. I rode the rest 12 miles or so to Eureka MT in the rain and the motel/gas/Subway. I ran into Josh who said he and Eszter were sharing a room and Serge and I could pair up. I found him and took a long shower and tried to dry out my clothes. It was a short day. Only a little over a hundred miles and it was still light out. Most everyone stayed at the motel other than the eventual first and second place finishers. Impressive to head out in that weather.
Serge seemed like a pro. He had gotten a hair dryer and showed me how to use a towel to wring out water from my clothes. I guess he rides in the rain a lot so he knows...
I started to freak out. Both brakes unworkable. Tomorrow was Sunday. According to the rules you couldn't go forward on the route to Whitefish and as far as I could tell there weren't any bike shops open on Sunday. So what else could I do? I had crazy dreams and saw Serge leaving at 3am. I woke to and the only option I had - to hitchhike to Fernie. Serge had said it was a huge mountain biking mecca and there were tons of people around from there taking pictures of riders and cheering him on and writing his name on the roads so maybe I could get a ride.... Tune in next time to find out!

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