Recently, I made mention of the relationships that were forming with several of the other cyclists who had surrounded me during the TOUR DIVIDE. There were so many, all whom had exhibited not only a great deal of passion for cycling, but the outdoors as well. Representing travels far and wide, they'd come from all over the world. All gathering with one important goal set in mind, and that was to complete the task fully at hand. A select few though, would ultimately go on and become so much more. Like characters in a screenplay, their individual stories and presence, becoming much a part of the race as the route itself. Daily fixtures along the steady course of accumulating mileage, full of inspiration, determination, and wonder they all be...
66 year old Rick Ashton, from Tallahassee, Florida, would be the first person who I would meet from the TOUR DIVIDE race. Ironically, he would also be the last of which I would say goodbye too as well. I first noticed Rick, while I was seated inside the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport terminal. I had just flown in from Philadelphia, and was patiently waiting for my next flight to Calgary. I was watching all the action unfold within the busy terminal, when all of a sudden I noticed this guy come walking by. His appearance above all others that day, caught my attention right away. Tall and thin, he carried a backpack slung over his right shoulder, and another smaller bag in his left hand. He was dressed casually in a pair of long blue jeans, and a yellow and blue cycling jersey. He wore a pair of mountain biking shoes, and had on a cyclists cap. Its brim turned upwards. At first glance, I laughed at what I was saw. I couldn't believe it I recall thinking, "who the fuck wears mountain bike shoes on an aero plane I puzzlingly questioned myself?" [That is crazy I thought, as I pondered on even further as to how he actually got through airport screening with them on - you know, with all those over-zealous TSA workers and their stringent policies in effect. I surmised that the recently relaxed and loosening adjustment of its own rules, had allowed such leeway I was thinking. Heck, if small little pocket knives are now allowed, then why the hell not mountain biking shoes right?] It just seemed so funny as he grabbed a seat nearby. Then all of a sudden it hit me like a bolt of lightening. "He's doing the TOUR DIVIDE I betcha," I came to conclusion. In an instance, I realized how truly awesome it actually was. In that precise moment, Rick had solidified and represented within my own mind just what the true persona of a TOUR DIVIDE rider was. The exact thing that makes TOUR DIVIDERS so special in the first place. [One of a kind they-we-I are!] It was brilliant I now thought to myself continuing to look on at him. There he was, now just sitting there. Without a care in the world it seemed. Traveling light and flying by the seat of his pants he was, literally just days before the soon to be adventure of a lifetime.
I would soon go on to find out, that Rick was back for a second attempt at the TOUR DIVIDE. Having made an unsuccessful bid a few years prior, had left feelings of unfinished business well within him. Rick, who just so happened to end up seated directly in front of me, talked much about his previous TD experience after boarding. His descriptive insight given, providing even more excitement and anticipation about the race which was almost at hand. Go figure right? In short time, Rick was providing plenty in regards to what I was thinking, both inside the terminal and now on the plane. It is crazy sometimes how thing's play out when our worlds become smaller, isn't it?
I saw, and spent much time with Rick over the course of the next 34 days. Whether cycling along, running into, sharing a room, camping, or just simply eating with one another, Rick was always there. Even when not together, he was close by. Always within a days time or so he was. Whenever I ran into him, particularly out in the middle of nowhere, it was always great to see him. Watching him excel on, most importantly past his previous point of scratching, was uplifting. You could see and sense it within his overall confidence, that Rick was going all the way this time, and that was pretty cool to witness.
Despite seeing each other much throughout, it was really something oddly enough how thing's ended up finishing. We - being all those profiled here who finished, each ended up reaching the border of Mexico separately. Rick arrived shortly before I did - which bolstered even more his earlier claims made referencing me, being something of a late starter or similar to that? Since we were sharing a shuttle ride out of Antelope Wells together, Rick patiently waited for my arrival shortly thereafter. He was the first person to greet me upon my own finish. Still raw with emotion himself, Rick and I celebrated happily in much expected fashion. Both knowing exactly the importance of what each other had accomplished, made thing's all that more poignant in that precise moment I recall. How wonderful it was to truly celebrate with someone who actually knew. Somebody who had a real understanding of what it had fully taken, in arriving right up to that very stopping point!
As we parted ways the following morning - me jumping on an early flight back home, and Rick settling in for a long reflective drive up to Salt Lake City, I couldn't help but feel very proud. Proud not only for him, but of him as well. He had gotten the job done completely! It was really neat to see Rick so happy I thought, seeing the smile on his face that only such success can bring. The personal success that being of ones overall individual achievement, truly starting to settle in. As we grasped hands in a firm handshake, my other hand placed upon his right shoulder, I couldn't help but think back to that initial day back inside the airport terminal. From start to finish, so much had transpired between Rick and I. So much so that I knew that Rick and I had now become good friends. Parting ways after so much was really not all that bittersweet. Not as all in much as a goodbye that day, but rather more like a see ya instead.
Word had spread, that there was a father and son team taking part on the TOUR DIVIDE this year. That was pretty neat to think about, when considering the overall experience that the two of them would have together throughout. When I first met the Kraft's, it was somewhere along the trail in Montana. The beginning portion of the state precisely, somewhere just after Elkford. We traded off spots in the following days, as the three of us hop-scotched over one another daily. Separated for just a short periods of time, we would end up crossing paths numerous times, while on the way to an area known as Holland Lake. That specific day was memorable because of the weather conditions which would be faced later on. Under forming darkening skies, the Kraft's, Velimir Letoja, and myself set off to climb Richmond Peak in the early evening hours. Under a deluge of rain that then brought hail, we motored on as the surfaced quickly turned muddy. Somewhere between the slowing rain, abundant lightening strikes, and ascending trail we had all separated again once more. I ended up lodging at Seeley Lake in order to dry out, and the father and son team setup camp somewhere out in the wilderness. Velimir's whereabouts that night, unknown. Over the course of the next few days, the Kraft's and I would cycle alongside one another as we racked up the miles. Conversation always keen, as stories were swapped back and forth.
After spending an interesting night and morning in Basin, Montana, the three of us traveled onto the city of Butte together. Young Peter's leg's were having a bit of a slow start after breakfast, I remember. The weather and scenery were great, so the initial easy pace set was well received amongst all. Once arrived in Butte, my forward momentum would come to a stop. A prior equipment problem suffered, had found me spending way more time at this location than I had wanted. Trying to fix that issue that I was having with my GPS unit, becoming a dreaded and unwanted time-suck. Specifically because of that, this would be the last time that I would see the Kraft's for sometime. Weeks later while in New Mexico, I would learn that an accident had befallen the elder of the two. Word was, that the senior was now seeking medical attention for his injuries sustained. That sounded pretty serious, I thought. Not knowing his fate, I hopped for the best and pressed on myself. For days afterwards, both father and sons Spot safety trackers didn't budge one bit online. No information could be found anywhere on down the line. It wasn't until my last night on the TOUR, that I would learn that both Kraft's, were still very much alive in the game. Rick Ashton had informed, that they were staying in the same hotel as well, where we had assembled. It turns out that they were both continuing on with recuperating, before getting back out on the road. That was great news to hear I remember, knowing that their story was going to have a happy ending to it after all. Later that same evening, I would run into the senior Kraft while down in the lobby. What a wonderful reunion it was to see him. After all this time, both of us excited to make each others acquaintance yet once again. Visibly baring injuries resulting from his earlier crash, I learned firsthand about the incident which had taken place. He looked pretty banged up, but overwhelmingly was in great spirits. I went on to learn, that another separate issue had affected his son, while out on the trail. This time an internal sickness becoming the next medical obstacle to overcome.
News that the Kraft's, both father and son were continuing on, was inspiring. Their plans to finish resting up, and resume their travels on towards Mexico late the following day were ideal. It was really nice to eventually learn, that they had indeed made it the remaining 122 miles to Antelope Wells. Though they had expected to make it there much earlier, I am sure that they are now left with fond memories of their overall journey taken together. The total amount required, now being savored completely. A trip of a lifetime between father and son, that can never be taken away or forgotten. What a huge accomplishment and experience had by both I'm thinking.
Brian Jett, also known as - Jett, the "Kid," and Texas, was an enthusiastic young man full with an adventurous spirit. He carried with him an overwhelming desire to get the job done. Hailing from the lone-star state, I would go on to learn that Brian came to the TOUR DIVIDE having some professional mountain biking experience under his belt. Some local, and regional races if I recall him telling me correctly. My path traveled with Brian, began in the state of Idaho, and would last into the opening miles and days of Wyoming.
For a short period of time, Brian and I would depart in the early morning with whatever group we had assembled with for the night. Taking off to the next area of destination somewhere down the road. Once underway, we didn't always stay together in a bunch. Brian had a penchant for speed, and so did I. It didn't take long for him and I, to start mashing gears when the right opportunity presented itself. Off we'd go, the young gun I blazing off. We would press on expeditiously, until I had started to notice that something was wrong. Brian was falling off a bit. Instead of matching my cadence or taking point, he now was at times ending up behind. He was suffering with a injury that sadly was starting to increasingly effect his performance. The last day we would soon spend together, would turn out leaving an indelible impression on me that I soon won't forget -
Cycling into Atlantic City, Wyoming, Brian and I arrived at a saloon which would give us a few hours of shaded solace from the beating sun. Much needed rest, before heading off and into the dreaded Great Divide Basin. There, we would rest up and feed before resuming onto our next hurdle faced. What exactly was out there, had the implications that it wouldn't be pretty. 130+ miles of basically nothing. Nothing but gravel and road under your tires, and a far off landscape which would never seem to draw any closer. It was a tough section ahead. One which would go over and through some pretty adverse conditions. Lack of water, food, and shelter made this section something not to be taken lightly. With our bellies full and systems hydrated, we moved on closer towards shoving off. It was at this time, that I had recognized something had changed with Brian. He was now openly talking about and questioning his lower limb injury. He hadn't done that before. His new profound sense of doubt, was obviously clear to me that he was getting ready to pulling the trigger. The realization in that the unimaginable was now happening. I knew, Brian knew, we all knew at that very moment that he was scratching from the event. This was the end of the road for the "Kid."
Brian spoke with those others around it seemed, before personally telling me. It just seemed like it was the toughest thing for him having to do. Summoning up the words to tell me he could no longer press on anymore. As I stood from my place at the bar, Brian sat. Looking straight into the mirror, Brian in his own words of stoic braveness, told me he could no longer go. With tears slowly welling up and falling from his left eye, he conceded. Words at that exact moment, were tough to come by I'll tell you. Both of us I feel, sensing that one story was ending, and another continuing on at that very moment. A still building relationship developing, now feeling the brunt impact and finality of it all coming to an end. All I could do at that time, was to place a hand gently upon his shoulder in consolation. I hated that moment, I remember looking back. Silently giving comfort, while having to absorb the stinging realization of what was now unfolding. The magnitude of what it must have been like for him, I tried to ration within. Enormous sadness being experienced, being almost overwhelming in disbelief at the current situation. With that, I turned and walked away choosing to not look back. I knew I had to continue on, and continue on without Brian being part of it. That day in Atlantic City, I left behind one incredibly amazing young man. I also left knowing, that I had pocketed one of the most memorable TOUR DIVIDE moments for me overall, guaranteed.
Hailing from Oakville, Ontario, Greg Andre-Barrett was simply known to us all as the "Lowlander." Greg brought to his fellow TOUR DIVIDERS, a great spirit of camaraderie in every sense of the way. Riding atop his Giant Anthem X 29er 1, Greg was ever so consistent in the saddle with his pace cycled. Though he would often say that he was not that talented of a climber, best be sure Greg could always be found leading the way up each time. Logistical wise, the "Lowlander" had a pretty good head on his shoulders too. I had the opportunity to not only lodge, but camp with Greg as well. His choice in choosing the most appropriate places to eat, never came without any question. Often displaying a unique style of insightfulness, he offered it up by delivering it in his own special way. This skill, was thoroughly enjoyed by all around when in company. One specific day, Greg happened to sum up the TOUR DIVIDE experience in a most appropriate analogy. While cycling along, he referenced the experience as being "brutal, but beautiful." That description seemed to strike the nail directly on the head, with what we were all thinking. Greg, openly expressed his desires in accomplishing the entire TOUR DIVIDE route, and he managed to do just that in a time of 28 days, 04 hours, and 05 minutes. A little added extra side-note in that - a devout cycling enthusiast, Greg believes in sharing his two-wheeled love with all those others not so as fortunate as he. A friend and supporter of the federally registered Canadian charity "Bikes Without Borders" effort, he works effortlessly on their behalf in seeing the organizations efforts through. [Bikes Without Borders serves both developed and developing parts of the world, where bikes and bike related solutions can have an overwhelmingly positive impact on said regions. To learn more about their overall mission of providing solutions through cycling, please click here for much more information.]
Velimir Letoja, or simply Vel is what most of us cyclists called him, was a workhorse on the mountain bike. Vel motored on day after day in a steady pace of consistent momentum. An early riser, he'd be up and out cycling early morning. Always moving he was. Most often, he would spend long days on the bike and could be found pushing late into the evening hours. Quite a few times I either stumbled upon him while out on the Continental Divide Trail, or quietly watched as he cycled on by. Disciplined and determined, he was unfazed regardless as to what weather conditions he faced. He cycled using platform pedals and a sturdy pair of hiking shoes the entire way. That's a pretty tough feat to do along the course of over 2800+ miles. I was always impressed with the cycling form he exhibited throughout the TOUR. Though he had some tough times out there, he always seemed to be on the gentlemanly side when it came to such things. A positive thinker and incredibly adventurous, I found my time spent around him to be very rewarding in nature. He offered me a glimpse into a real love and enjoyment of what this specific type of cycling is all about. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him ride. Velimir, would go onto finish his rookie TOUR DIVIDE run, in 29 days, 5 hours, and 13 minutes.
Ah yes, the one and only Beardo! Man, did I most certainly enjoy the time spent cycling alongside this guy, let me tell you. Beardo and I, hooked up together somewhere midway through the state Wyoming. We met up, shortly after I had departed Atlantic City, on a hot sunny day. I had cycled off and alone into the Great Divide Basin, when shortly thereafter he followed the same suit. He and I ended up sharing some long roads and trails together soon after. We'd cycling along, spending the time telling funny stories to one another and enjoying the scenery as much as we could. Beardo sure could make me laugh. He had such a casual style of humor, and always revealed it at the right precise moment which was truly golden. He was so funny, that at times he could make my side hurt royally. Always easy going, he thoroughly enjoyed every little bit of his TOUR DIVIDE experience. Even when he would nonchalantly say, "that sucks," I knew that he really meant that it was totally okay. Beardo himself I thought, had some pretty strong cycling skills. I got to witness some of those skills firsthand, when he and I made a rocky 6 mile night time descent down Hahns Peak, located in Colorado. As with all those others pictured above, the time I spent riding and hanging out with Beardo was priceless. His contribution and tenure, becoming an important chapter alongside every other one that was taking place on the TOUR DIVIDE.