DNF! Tour Divide Rookie Attempt Days 7-11 (DNF)

I had laid all my clothes out to dry before going to bed, and that worked well. But I looked out the window to see more rain. It looked cold. A quick weather check showed that I could expect a cold rain most of the day. So I packed my bike and pulled on all my wet, cold weather gear. One critical item I had completely forgotten about on the frigid first day was my neck warmer. It’s amazing how much warmer your whole body is when you have a neck warmer on.

My cheat sheet showed quite a bit of pavement, so I expected to make pretty good time.  109 miles to Holland Lake, but based on my daily mileage so far, I figured that would be out of my reach.  As expected, the ride out of Whitefish was cold and wet.  The mountains were mostly shrouded in clouds, but when they cleared, I could see the snow line had come down and was only a 1000 feet or so above me.  I stopped for lunch (and to warm up)at a restaurant in Ferndale (about 40 miles from Whitefish).

I admit to sitting and drinking hot coffee for a half hour or so after finishing my meal. I was hoping the weather would clear, but I left in the rain.  A few miles out of Ferndale the weather let up and the temperature started coming back up. I stopped to shed some cold weather clothes and decided to hike-a-bike for a bit up a rideable climb just to get a break from the saddle.  It was still cloudy, but the clouds were lifting.

Shortly after starting to walk my bike I felt a weird pain in my left ankle. It wasn’t a pop or sharp pain, just fine one step and “hey, that kinda hurt” the next step. It wasn’t super painful and became a dull ache. Ok, that’s not good, but it wasn’t bad and didn’t really bother me when I was riding.

It was still over 65 miles to Holland lake with a big pass to get over, so my goal was to get over the pass and find a spot to camp.  My preferred camping spots are at lower elevation in secluded areas. It took quite a while to get to the top of that pass with some more sections of hike-a-bike, then a super fast descent.  I found a nice spot off of a closed side road to setup camp.  I got lucky because it started to rain again just after finishing setting up my camp.

Day 8 I woke up with a pretty tender Achilles in my left ankle.  It seemed to loosen up as I broke down camp, so I didn’t really worry about it too much.

There was a really nice section of single track going up the next pass with just amazing scenery at the top.

Swan Lake was 5 miles off-route, but there was a lodge with a restaurant, so I decided that would be worth the detour. When I got there I discovered the restaurant is only open at certain times, but even if I had gotten there when it was supposed to be open, they were getting ready for a big wedding, so the restaurant wasn’t going to be open anyway. So I rode over to the day use area, sat at a table and had a cold lunch from my stores.

With my Achilles bothering me, I wasn’t making very good time.  I found myself doing more hike-a-bike on the climbs.  There was another big climb before Seeley Lake and I realized with the amount of hike-a-bike, I likely wouldn’t make it all the way.  But that section was incredibly scenic with some more really nice single track.

I found another nice secluded spot off a closed side road to setup camp.  That night I was suddenly woken by a sharp pain in my ankle. That was weird, but it only happened once and I slept the rest of the night.

Day 9 I woke to more rain. Luckily I had a cell signal, so I pulled up my weather app and saw that it was a relatively small rain cell, so I stayed in my tent until it passed. Of course I had laid out my clothes before going to bed hoping that it would all dry and now everything was soaked again!

Seeley Lake was a bit off-route, but I decided to go into town to re-supply at a grocery store and get a good breakfast.  Of course the grocery store was on the opposite side of town!  Once I was back on the route I hit a freshly graded section of forest road. You would think fresh grading would be nice, but it’s actually very hard.  There is a lot of loose gravel and sections of deep gravel/sand. You have to take corners very carefully.  That was a long section!  It also got pretty warm and I found myself stopping in shade. My Achilles was really tender, so I texted Mike Cox and Coach Jeff Lockwood to see if they had any advice on how to handle it.  Mike suggested I ask Jeff (already done). Coach replied: “Checked with doc lock (Jacqui). When not riding ice it and range of motion to tolerance. Before riding try to get cramers icy hot. Rub it on the tendon and the use a round tube like a seat post or pvc pipe and rub from heel to knee. Do this 10 min. Twice a day. Ice it a couple of times in the evening. Only ice for 10 min at a time. Good luck”

Hmmmm… No ice handy, but there were a lot of streams with snow run-off.  So I stopped at the next stream, took my shoe and sock off and soaked it in ice cold water. Man, that felt good and my ankle felt better! Although it was probably just a bit frozen!

Mentally, I was still in it. Loving the scenery and enjoying the ride, albeit with some pain in my ankle.  I was walking a lot more. When I tried to climb, my ankle would flare up, so I was now walking sections that I normally would have ridden up.  I got through that pass and looked back to see black clouds over the area I had just ridden through. Lucked out there!

After that pass, I hit a flatter area with a few rolling hills on the way to Ovando.  I stopped at both stores in Ovando to see if they had any Icy Hot, but no luck.  The restaurant in town was closed, but Trixie’s on the edge of town was open, so I headed over there for a burger and beer.  A huge group of motorcyclists pulled in just after I got my meal, so it got pretty busy and took a while to get my check. The Trixie burger was awesome (2 beef patties with a slice of ham between them and cheese).

When I left, the wind had picked up and I could see that rain headed my way. But the scenery was beautiful high country plains.

My goal was to get to Lincoln for the night which was only about 40 miles from Ovando with about 3000 feet of climbing.  With the hike-a-bike and stops to chill my ankle, that took way longer than I thought it would.  I got to Lincoln just as the sun was setting. The first hotel I stopped at was sold out. Rather than ride through town, I called all the other hotels and they were all sold out. I don’t know what was going on there, but there must have been some kind of event.  Lincoln was interesting. There was deer everywhere!

There was a camp ground at the opposite end of town, so I rode over there and set up camp.  The guy next to me had a nice camp fire going and he invited me over to share the warmth. We chatted for a bit, but it was getting late, so I went to bed about 11:30.  Then I slept in the next morning.

After breaking down camp, I found a grocery store and got some Icy Hot, then found a restaurant for breakfast.  I also stopped at a gas station convenience store to get a new iPhone charging cable because my short cable wasn’t working any more. I was also having issues with my Garmin charging cable, but they didn’t have a mini-USB cable.

My day 10 goal was to get to Helena which was only 60 miles, but had 3 passes with 5500 feet of climbing.  I rode right past the start of the first climb and had to backtrack a mile or so. That pass was insane. It started with a 12-18% grade that went for miles.  My Achilles really started to act up and I started to get sharp pains if I tried to ride while climbing, so I pretty much walked all the climbs and stopped at every opportunity to chill my ankle.

There was quite a bit of old mining equipment and remains of buildings along that route. Makes you wonder how the old timers moved that much steel!

For the first time near to top of that first climb I noticed the Continental Divide trail show up on my Garmin.

The scenery was still amazing, it was just slow going. Near the top of the first pass I met a lady who was hiking the divide. We chatted for a bit until we got to the top of the pass, then she went left and I went right.

She had warned me there were some rolling hills before the descent on the other side, but it really wasn’t bad. But at one point there were trails in three directions and I couldn’t tell from my Garmin which Inwas supposed to take, so I pulled up the Gaia app on my iPhone, zoomed in and could clearly see the right trail! D’oh! Why didn’t I use Gaia every other time I had a question about direction? It was clearly more detailed!

On the second pass I finally got cell reception and decided to call Annette to talk about my ankle.  I was considering stopping for the night before Helena.  But after talking to Annette I decided to push on to Helena and get a hotel room for two nights, so I could take a rest day and stop by an urgent care to have my Achilles checked.

I then proceeded to ride right past the turn for the third pass. I was on a bit of a descent, so I didn’t notice I was off-route for about 3.5 miles (7 miles added with the return to the route). Sigh.

After getting back on-route I stopped to rest and eat. A truck came down and stopped to check if I was ok.  He said Helena was still a good 20 miles from where I was which scared me, so after he left I pulled up a map on my phone and found it was still a good 12 miles to the first hotel with quite a long climb in front of me. So I started another hike-a-bike to the top. It took quite a while and the sun was setting when I got to the top. Luckily it was almost all descent down to the pavement and into Helena.  When I got to the outskirts I saw a billboard that said the Quality Inn had laundry facilities, so that became my destination.

I got there well after dark and got a room for two nights.  I fell asleep pretty quickly after taking a shower.

Day 11 was spent traveling around Helena. It was a couple miles to the urgent care, so I called a taxi. I tried Uber and Lyft, but there aren’t any in Helena. And apparently only one taxi.  It took about 30 minutes after calling for the taxi to show. An old Prius with every service light lit (check engine, oil, low tire…). Yeah, that felt safe! LOL.  

The wait wasn’t too long at urgent care. The doctor thought there might be a small tear and recommended I see an Orthepedic specialist. He put my ankle in a boot to immobilize it.

He said it may take a few days to get an appointment, but the Orthepedic clinic was around the corner, so I walked over and found they had a “fast care” clinic, so I checked in there for another wait.

The Orthepedic doc felt my ankle, had me walk and said it wasn’t a tear, but was tendonitis. She said she could prescribe a steroid or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. The steroid would impact my immune system and increase the chance of catching a cold. I told her I had a fever in Eureka, so non-steroidal it was! She set the prescription to be picked up at a Costco near my hotel. She also said it normally takes 3-4 weeks to heal and told me to ice it and stay off of it until Saturday at the earliest. Crap. It was Monday. She also told me to get some better insoles for my cycling shoes.  I called Annette to give her the news and talk about what to do. 

I still wanted to continue, but didn’t want to risk serious injury and really didn’t want to walk up all the passes, after all I was there to RIDE the Divide, not hike it.  We decided to give it a couple days to see if there was any improvement.

I called the taxi again for a ride to Costco. I got there before the prescription was ready, so had lunch and waited. After getting the prescription filled, I walked over to a Sportsman’s warehouse for new insoles then stopped at a convenience store at a gas station for some beverages for my hotel room then stopped by the front desk to extend my stay.

The next two days were pretty uneventful and pretty boring. Unfortunately I wasn’t noticing any improvement in my ankle. Even if there was minor improvement, I would have re-aggravated it as soon as I started to use it again, so I pulled the plug on my ride.

Now I needed to figure out how to get me and my bike home. I was only a mile or so from the airport so I scheduled a flight home and reserved a car. The hotel manager was nice enough to give me a lift to the airport so I could pick up the car (VERY nice of him!). Then I drove over to a bike shop and got a box for my bike. I also stopped at a K-Mart for another box to pack my gear. It was actually much easier to get everything I needed than I expected.

And that was my ride. I’ll do another post with some of my thoughts about the ride, training and lessons learned.

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