Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Plan E: Nabesna Road Bike and Hike

Being flexible can lead to unexpected little adventures and surprise encounters. 

After my aborted bikepacking trip, Eric and I thought about what we wanted to do with the rest of my time off.  We knew we didn’t want to just stay home.  

We had already made a reservation at a (free) public use cabin in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.  Viking Lodge Cabin, halfway down the Nabesna Road, is only a 10-minute walk from the road. 

The forecast looked grim—60-90% chance of rain for the next 5 days—but having a cabin to dry out in made it easier. We decided to go for it. We packed up everything so we could bike, hike or even backpack if the weather cooperated.  

We left Fairbanks Saturday morning in light rain, wondering if we would see anyone we knew out the Nabesna Road. Several people we know had already been there this summer. The weather improved as we went further east and south.  

Shortly after starting the Nabesna Road, we saw two bikers.  Lo and behold, they were our friends Sara and Brandon out camping for the weekend.  We chatted with them briefly, laughing about seeing others we knew out in the middle of nowhere.


The weather was downright nice by the time we got to our cabin 6 hours after leaving Fairbanks. We schlepped our stuff to the cabin, which was extremely nice, then headed out for a bike ride before dinner.  We planned to bike to the first stream crossing—there are several you have to cross on the road—and check it out.  With all the rain, we weren’t sure we could cross the streams on bike or by car. 

Secretly, I wanted to bike all the way to the end of the road and back, a distance of 40 miles but I wasn’t sure that Eric would want to go that far.  He normally doesn’t like to bike long distances and it was already 5pm when we started.  

After a few miles, we took a quick side trip into the Kendesnii Campground and ran into another family from Fairbanks that we knew!  Small world!

About 30 minutes into our ride, we came to the first stream crossing, and it didn’t look bad.

“It doesn’t look too deep. Want to keep going?” I asked. 

Still fresh and intrigued by the challenge of stream crossings, Eric agreed.  

Eric, a better technical rider, made it across no problem.  I’m kind of a wimp at stream crossings, but I followed and stayed on my bike. Whew!  

It was the first of six or seven creek crossings, all of which were bike-able, although our feet did get wet spinning through the deeper parts.  I had problems with only one crossing, which was wider with a slightly deeper current.  I should have made it, but I panicked, stopped, and put my feet down.  Oh well. At least I didn’t fall in.  I wrung out my socks on the other side and we kept going.

It was such a lovely evening and we kept pedaling and enjoying the views. Eric never suggested we turn back. Before we knew it, we were at the end of the road.  

We biked just a little past the end of the road sign.

On the way back, I hardly even slowed for the creek crossings, except for my nemesis crossing, where I again panicked and stepped off. Darn! 

On our way out we had seen two bikepackers camped on a gravel bar, so we decided to stop on our return and say hi.  It ends up, we knew them, too!  Janice and her friend, Darcy, from Anchorage.  It really is a small world.  We stopped to chat but just briefly. The bugs were annoying and it was getting late. 

Janice (left) and Darcy on a gravel bar near a rest stop along the Nabesna Road. 

After finishing our ride, we hiked to the cabin and finally had dinner about 10:30pm. We discussed the next day and decided to hike up Skookum Volcano Trail if the weather was halfway decent.



The next morning was cloudy but not rainy so out the door we went.  We were about 2 miles up the trail, when the rain started and the temperature dropped even lower (it was 45F when we started the hike). We had adequate gear, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.  

Part of the trail crosses a creek several times. We boulder hopped, trying to keep our feet dry.  Really?  We were drenched and even wearing waterproof socks, but old habits are hard to break.  

Views at the pass were minimal, so it was easy to turn around instead of continuing on some epic trek like we might normally do. The place has incredible scenery! We need to return on a nice day. 

It rained on us, but just a little higher up it was snow! 


Back at the cabin, there was no time for relaxation.  The previous cabin party had started on a 750-piece jigsaw puzzle but had finished only the border and a little more.  Being endurance athletes, we took on the challenge and managed to put the whole thing together by breakfast the next morning, taking breaks only to eat and sleep. (Well, Eric took breaks to read, but he lacks Corrine’s puzzle stamina.)

Finished after a 15 hour blitz (with time out to sleep)!

Rain and drizzle persisted after breakfast on day 3 so we decided to head home.  In Tok we reassessed the weather forecast – rainy for two more days but then turning warmer and sunnier. We decided to hightail it home, dry out our gear and then head back down the Richardson to the Alaska Range Wednesday for Plan F of our vacation.  Stay tuned to see how that turns out.

PAPERWORK P.S. The afternoon of our Skookum Volcano hike we had unexpected visitors. Three guys showed up with reservations for the same cabin. We compared paperwork and apparently the park service had messed up (their start, end, and duration dates didn’t add up.) We apologized, but we kind of wanted the cabin to ourselves and it wouldn’t have been wise to share during COVID anyway. It’s always good to bring your paperwork! 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Sometimes Plans Just Don’t Work Out

I am currently on a 2-week vacation from work. I was supposed to be racing the Trans South Dakota but with COVID-19 and Alaska travel restrictions I really couldn’t go.   So, I made a Plan B.  I would do my own virtual race, here in Alaska. I decided to do a big loop from home to Denali, in and out of Denali, across the Denali Highway, up to Delta Junction and back home.  Around 550 miles total.   The second week, Eric and I would head down to bike, hike and explore in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  This sounded like an excellent plan B and Eric and I were both happy with it. 

As the date got closer for vacation, though, the forecast looked bad. Rain, rain rain.   I kept checking the weather websites every couple of hours, but the forecast didn’t change.  I really didn’t want to bike for 4-5 days in the rain.  I know I could, but why?  I’m not really racing.  I just want to get outside and enjoy biking and camping.  That’s not fun with rain every day.  Time for Plan C.

Earlier in the week

Eric and I looked to see where in the state there might be better weather.  Dalton Highway?  Nope, rain mixed with snow.  Kenai?  Nope, more rain.  The only place in the entire state with a good weather forecast was Nome.  Really?  Nome?  Eric and I talked about it. Neither of us had spent time there and biking was supposed to be good on the 3 roads leading out of town. I could change my race and do it there.  This would be a great Plan C.

We started to get really excited to explore a new place. But then we checked travel restrictions and we found that Nome, since it is more remote, has more stringent criteria for visiting.  We would have to get a COVID test there and then quarantine for 7 days.  We checked with the city council who thought there might be a way around the quarantine if we just took off into the wilderness.  No shopping in the stores. Only deliveries to a hotel room. This was getting complicated and I didn’t feel good about it.  
Sigh. . .  Instead, we spent the weekend at home getting chores done and thought about a Plan D.  I also kept checking the weather which wasn’t changing.  What’s with all this rain in July? It feels like August. 

On Monday, I finally made up my mind. I was going to bike, rain be damned.  I felt like I was wasting my vacation.  I could do an abbreviated bikepack to Denali, across the Denali Hwy and back up to Delta Junction.  Eric would meet me there and we would head over to Nabesna.  We had a public use cabin off the Nabesna Road rented for 3 days so it wouldn’t matter if it kept raining (still the forecast).  Plan D was a go.

I took off early Wednesday morning and within 5 minutes had to put on my rain gear.  Oh well, I had already made peace with it raining all day, so I was okay with that.  The ride to Denali was mostly uneventful.  Pretty much on and off drizzle mixed with showers but also with periods of cloudy skies only. Really not too bad.  And for the first time ever, there was almost NO headwind south of Nenana.  

In spite of feeling good, I really wasn’t enjoying the ride.  I tried to tell myself it was because it was on pavement, there was traffic and I’ve done the ride before.  I told myself that tomorrow on the Denali Highway, away from traffic, it would be more fun. I was riding a lot slower than expected, but then I was on my fully loaded mountain bike.  I finally got to Healy (mile 115 for the day) when I got a flat.  

I know. I still use tubes.  I had been strongly considering switching to tubeless this summer but hadn’t done it yet.   I stopped to change tubes. (At least it wasn’t raining, and the bugs weren’t too bad!) I was proud of how quickly I was able to do everything, until I had to inflate the new tube.  Every time I tried to unscrew the pump from the valve, it unscrewed the valve core and I would lose all of the air.  Then I had to use the hand pump again to put in more air, only to not be able to get the pump off without having the valve core unscrew.  I did this multiple times, getting more frustrated. 

Finally, after an hour I was able to get enough air in to make it the last 10 miles to Denali.  I called Eric to whine and complain.  This was not making me want to continue on my bike ride.  But after getting to my campsite in Denali and eating dinner and finding somebody with a floor pump to pump up my tire, I had an attitude adjustment.  Tomorrow would be more fun. The weather was supposed to be better and I would be on gravel roads.

I set my alarm and was back on my bike by 6:30 AM.  But I still wasn’t enjoying the ride.  Why? Usually, I love to ride my bike.  A while later I stopped at McKinley Creekside bakery for a treat. When I came out, I had another flat.  What the heck?  I hadn’t had that many flats in the past 5 years! Was this a sign that I needed to change to tubeless tires?  Was it a sign that this ride wasn’t meant to be?  I did have a patch kit so I could fix the flat, but I decided I was done. It seemed like everything was pointing to me going home.  I texted Eric and he graciously agreed to drive 2 hours to pick me up without hesitating.  He’s the BEST! 

As I biked back to meet Eric, I kept thinking about why I wasn’t having fun.  Sure, the weather wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible.  My body was doing fine.  It was only a flat tire (well two actually).  I just didn’t want to be doing this ride. 

I felt like I was doing it because I should, not because I wanted to.  My heart wasn’t in it.  Was I wanting to ride something new and not the same old routes?  Did it have to do with not having our typical warm and sunny summer? Was COVID and how it affects us finally getting to me? Did it have to do with me stepping down as medical director on June 1 (which was my choice but is a big change for me)?  Probably a little of everything. I didn’t even second guess myself when I met Eric about 7 miles north of Healy.  I was ready to go back home (and not beat myself up about not following through). And come up with a new plan. Plan E. 

Even though I quit the ride, there were several positives. I did ride 125 miles yesterday and 40 miles today on a fully loaded bike. And I got to practice changing flats which is good.  And it definitely cemented my plans to switch to tubeless tires!  As soon as we get back from Plan E - the rest of our vacation.  I just hope we don’t have to come up with a Plan F!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Cutting My Teeth on Sawtooth Mountain

Center: Sawtooth Mountain. Just off-center to the left: Lynx Peak, a part of Sawtooth. 

After many years of backcountry travel, I still make bonehead mistakes. Is it that I STILL haven’t had enough experience? I’m still a relative novice? Or is it something else?

On a mid-June trip to Sawtooth Mountain I made all sorts of errors: navigation, map reading, gear handling. Nothing serious, but still. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve got an inner Homer Simpson.

I’ve long been curious about doing a trip into the Sawtooth Mountains and finally found an unmarked, unsigned ATV trail off the Elliott Highway that accesses a series of ridges into the mountains. The first half-mile of trail is swampy, but then it’s ridge hiking all the way. (See note at bottom of blog post about location of the trailhead.)

I took advantage of a recent good weather/no smoke weekend to attempt hiking up Sawtooth Mountain, namesake for the range. I planned to do it in two days with some other exploring thrown in. However, I’d only glanced at mileages and elevation gains. Corrine, a bit wiser, suggested that I take three days. I agreed, but first I had to tackle some things on my to-do list Friday morning. 

I arrived at the trailhead early Friday afternoon and tried waiting out a rain shower but was too antsy. I sent Corrine an inReach message, then quickly put on mosquito repellant and my rain jacket, shouldered my pack, and started. 

Swamp, rain, and bugs. What a great way to start a backpack! 

By the time I topped the ridge, about 2.5 miles later, the rain had stopped, and I was sweating. I peeled off my rain jacket and applied repellant to spots I’d missed. You’d think I’d learn to be more careful with that. A breeze soon picked up, keeping the bugs mostly at bay. (Most of the ridge hiking had nice breezes!)

Lots of lupine and other wildflowers in June!

Navigating was pretty simple. ATV trails run along the ridges, and the clear weather made for easy map-to-land comparisons. I made one wrong turn, mindlessly following the main ATV trail onto the wrong ridge, but corrected myself fairly quickly. Quick enough that I patted myself on the back.  

The ATV trails in the ridge were obvious at first but barely visible later.

I had to make one water resupply decision – stay on the ridge and hope for melt pools or shortcut from one ridge to another, dropping down into a brushy drainage. I decided on the shortcut.

I would love to tell you that I got all my water stuff ready BEFORE I left the breezy ridge and dropped to the buggy, brushy drainage, but no. I descended, dropped my pack at the edge of the brush, and gathered water while swatting away hordes of bugs. 

I had problems with my first water filter and switched to my backup, a SteriPen, which worked great (after I – swat, swat – re-read the instructions). And I spilled only a bit of water while stirring and swatting. Later, I realized I could have filtered the last liter on the breezy ridge instead of with the bugs. Doh!

Resupplied, I bushwhacked through the drainage and hiked back to the ridge. 

Bushwhacking through buggy creek bottoms. Fun! (Fortunately, this was very short.)

Bugs were bad down low, and up high when the breeze died. 

The trek to my camping spot, a ridge overlooking the valley at the base of Sawtooth Mountain, took a lot longer than I figured. It’s about 15 miles with more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain. My original plan had been to hike in, set up camp, and then climb Sawtooth. Then go exploring toward Wolverine Mountain on the last day! Everything looks so easy on a map. It’s just a few inches! Doh!

Tent site with a Sawtooth Mountain view. 

The next morning, I hiked down to the valley, gathered water a little more intelligently, and set off toward Sawtooth. There’s an old mine near the top of the mountain and from afar I had seen an old mining trail leading up the main mountain drainage. I figured I would just follow that. It would be steep but otherwise straightforward and easy.

I found a trail that led along the valley past the mountain drainage, but I couldn’t see the one leading up the mountain. Did it start in a different place? I shrugged and started bushwhacking. Fortunately, the northern-facing side of the drainage had a couple of long snowfields, which minimized bushwhacking. 

Pussy willows above one of the snowfield highways that saved me from more bushwhacking.

I finally attained the top of the ridge between two prominent peaks. 

“Now, which one is Sawtooth?” I wondered. 

Is this the peak of Sawtooth Mountain?

Or is this?

Neither! I hadn’t looked at the map carefully. The top of Sawtooth Mountain was still further along the ridge. Doh! 

Ah well, I had wanted to see the old mine, which was on the way. I headed off. 

Sawtooth Mountain ridge line. Old mine on right edge of photo.
See that rounded, boring dome just off-center? Remember that.

The mine site, strewn with old mining equipment, has a partially collapsed cabin and an old shaft now full of water. I took a few photos and kept moving. I was getting hungry and wanted to eat lunch atop the mountain. Soon, I was hiking over a large, slightly rounded, boring dome.  

Partially collapsed cabin at the mine site. 

Old mining detritus.

More mining detritus. The collapsed tripod was over the water-filled mining shaft.

Then I saw it: the peak of Sawtooth Mountain, a nice jagged piece of rock! According to the map, it had a survey marker named Tooth. And it looked like a sawtooth. A worthy peak to mark a mountain. But – uffdah! – I’d have to hike down off this boring dome and climb Tooth. I was hungry! Still, that rocky peak had plenty of grassy areas to climb up. I could do it. I took a deep breath and trudged on. Lunch could wait. 

There it is! The peak that surely has the survey marker named "Tooth."

A half-hour or so later I ascended the peak! I looked for the marker but couldn’t find it. Then I saw behind me an even higher point on this peak. Doh! I hiked down and over and then – finally! – I climbed to the high point. I again looked for the marker but couldn’t find it. Tired and hungry, I gave up. I had lunch and enjoyed the sun, breeze, and views. (Later, I looked more carefully at the map. The slightly rounded, boring dome is the one that actually has the Tooth survey marker. Doh!

From atop the peak-that-should-have-been-Tooth, I scanned with my binocs. I looked for participants in AlaskAcross, a semi-organized wilderness race, routed across the Sawtooths that weekend, but I didn’t see anyone.

Lunch from atop the peak-that-should-have-been-Tooth. Lynx Peak is in the background. 

Sated and satisfied that I had reach my goal, I headed back. At the top of the drainage I looked at Lynx Peak, a rugged outcrop of Sawtooth Mountain. Earlier, I had considered hiking to it on the way back, but it would have required a bit more climbing. No way. I was tired! I decided to take that mining trail down.

That dark green, brushy strip marks the old mining trail that climbs Sawtooth. 

Doh! That trail is years old and collects water. It’s wet and way overgrown, almost no use for hiking. Instead, I hiked to one side. I should have known better. Still, with some good navigation choices, I was able to avoid most heavy-duty bushwhacking and again found the valley trail. So, maybe I do know what I’m doing! 

More wildflowers! Arctic poppies, I believe.

Hiking across the valley, I got chased by a rain shower, which caught me just as I got to the stream at the base of the ridge. It was only 4 p.m., but I finally started getting smart. Rather than gather water and use some for dinner at my camping site, I had dinner while waiting out the rain. Then I filled my water containers, fully prepared for the dry ridge hike the next day. Ha! Had I quieted my inner Homer?! I got back to my tent feeling rejuvenated. I decided to move camp a few miles along the ridge to make Sunday a shorter day. 

I hiked just over 2 miles and found a campsite. Of course, the breeze died, and the skeeters came out in hordes. I found a just-barely-wide-enough flat spot and pitched my tent as quickly as I could. I had a quick snack and went to bed. First, though, I had to kill the hundred or so mosquitoes that came inside with me. Finally, I could lay back and relax. But I had pitched the tent cock-eyed to the flat spot. Doh! Too bad. I wasn’t getting out again. 

My second night campsite was blessed with a rainbow! 

My second night campsite was also blessed with many of my enthusiastic fans! 

Around 3 a.m. I woke and thought I heard voices. I waited but heard nothing more. I figured it was probably some AlaskAcross participants and thought it would be fun to say hi. Then I looked at the mass of skeeters buzzing under my rain fly. 

No, I’m sure I just imagined those voices.

Of course, I few minutes later I had to pee. Grumble, grumble. I got up and faced the hordes. After taking care of business, I scampered along the ridge until I could see a couple of people farther along. Yep, must’ve been AlaskAcrossers. I turned and beelined back toward the tent for another round of skeeter-killing and sleeping off-kilter. 

A buggy, breeze-less morning made for a quick breakfast and tent pack-up. Fortunately, a breeze picked up as I hiked. I’d lose it occasionally, but for the most part I had a nice breeze all the way back. For my last water stop, I avoided a bushwhack and filtered the water atop the ridge in the breeze. Goodbye Homer! 

I love this abrupt part of the trail that drops off the ridge toward the Elliott.

While I was a bit disappointed in myself for making some bonehead mistakes, I was glad I had finished the main thing I had set out to do – climb Sawtooth Mountain. 

When I got home and talked to Corrine about the several inReach messages I had sent, she looked at me with a furrowed brow. She had gotten some but not others. I was rusty in using the inReach, so I had tried different ways to send messages. Clearly, some hadn’t worked. Oh well. 

The next day I called my mom to wish her a belated happy birthday. I had been climbing Sawtooth that day, so I couldn’t contact her. 

“Well, I got the messages from your hike,” she said. 



After my trip I learned the trailhead, just off Mile 108, and portions of the route I took are on land owned by Doyon, Limited, a Native corporation. The land is private property and use of it, including crossing it, requires written permission from Doyon: https://www.doyon.com/.  To be honest, I’m not sure how much Doyon cares about casual use like hiking and backpacking, but that’s the official line. I checked. 

There is another trail with a legal easement that starts just after Mile 99 of the Elliott Highway. You can get to Sawtooth Mountain using that trail. In fact, I was on a portion of it as I approached and left the mountain. However, a lot of that trail is down low, so I imagine it can be swampy. (I couldn't find anything about this trail on the Internet, but I'm pretty sure it's popular during hunting season.)

The trail that climbs Sawtooth to the old mine is also a legal easement. If you really want to get into the weeds researching this stuff, go to: https://sdms.ak.blm.gov/sdms. Expect to spend a lot of time there. That's one of the reasons I'm posting in mid-July about a mid-June trip!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Corrine's Tour Divide - Two Year Anniversary

Facebook reminded Corrine that two years ago today she finished the Tour Divide, a 2,700-mile bikepacking race from Banff, Canada, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, on the U.S.-Mexico border. In honor of that anniversary, here's a rerun of an article Corrine wrote that ran in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on August 12, 2018.

Asking the Right Question for 2,700 Miles
By Corrine Leistikow

“I quit,” I said to myself, sobbing. “This is too hard. I don’t care anymore. I’m done.”  

I dug out my cell phone to call my husband. I was less than 250 miles from the finish of a 2,700-mile mountain bike race. I had already made it through snow, rain, high mountain passes, and headwinds, but today I was quitting. 

I didn’t care that I was so close. Or that I would disappoint friends who were cheering me from afar. I was hot and tired. I had fought strong headwinds for about the millionth day in a row. I was sick of awful roads with soft washboards that made pedaling slow and difficult.

And now my neck was giving out. Again. My muscles were so fatigued I couldn’t hold my head up fully. I couldn’t keep riding like this. Crying, I turned on the phone to call Eric. I didn’t care if I finished or not, I just wanted to go home.  

“No service.” 

Damn! I had seen those two words on my phone for much of the Tour Divide Mountain Bike Race. But this time was different. This time I really wanted to quit.  

Only I couldn’t. What was I going to do? I couldn’t just give up and lie down in the middle of the road. I had food and water for only one more day. I had to ride at least 40 miles to reach a paved road that might have cars on it. I had to keep going. So I did.

The Tour Divide is a 2,700-mile, self-supported mountain bike race that goes from Banff, Canada, to the border of Mexico at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. I had known about the race for years and I wanted to challenge myself to see if I was physically capable of such an endeavor. For three years I planned.  I did some shorter races, had my bad knees replaced with implants, and got the time off work. 

In early June my husband Eric and I drove from Fairbanks to the start. Then he took off to do his own thing. The Tour Divide requires racers to be self-supported, so I couldn’t rely on Eric, but I knew he would be available if I really needed him. Some racers thought having that option might make it easier to quit. But I knew I was too stubborn to quit. Until I wasn’t.

I realized the race would be hard, but it was so much harder than I ever imagined—physically, mentally, and emotionally. More days than not, I wanted to quit. When doing endurance races I have a question I ask myself when I want to quit: Am I in danger or just uncomfortable? If I’m just uncomfortable, I tell myself to keep going. Things will get better. And they usually do. But on the Tour Divide every day was hard. I was uncomfortable every day. But I was never in danger. So I would tell myself to keep going. Also, I usually had no choice, as I often didn’t have cell service to call for a rescue!

OK, I didn’t want to quit every day. The first day in the Canadian Rockies was beautiful with varied terrain from single-track to double-track to dirt roads. 

The pump-you-up start of the 2018 Tour Divide. Corrine is in a green jacket, standing middle row, middle of the photo.

The Tour Divide started gloriously! Koko Claims was yet to come. 

But by day two I was already getting my butt kicked. Going up Koko Claims was horrendous. This new section—added in 2017 when a bridge washed out on the original route—was six miles of hike-a-bike up steep rocky trails. I was already tired from the first day. I thought my arms would give out lifting my heavy bike over big rocks and snow avalanches that covered the trail. And my stomach shut down. I ended up dry heaving at least six times.  It took me five hours to go the six miles to the top. 

I tried to text Eric, who had planned to spend a day in Fernie, British Columbia, riding single track. I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue if my stomach didn’t cooperate. Pitiful, thinking about quitting on the second day, but fortunately: No service. Luckily, other racers had started a fire in a cabin at the top of Koko Claims and I was able to rest and recover. I made it another 50 miles to Fernie and got a hotel for the night. I woke the next morning to rain, but I felt better so I continued even though I couldn’t imagine continuing for 20-some more days. I decided to take it a day at a time.

Those days kept adding up. Most of the next week was cold and rainy and even snowy. (Yep, snow in June in Montana. At Red Meadow Lakes I camped in a snowstorm!) The roads were muddy. Everything on my bike, including me, was covered in a layer of mud. It wasn’t much fun, but I kept going. 

Then my neck started giving me problems. I was developing Shermer’s neck, a weakening of the neck muscles that sometimes occurs in multi-day endurance cyclists. A couple of Tour Dividers from the year before had suffered from it, forcing them to quit. I could still lift my head, but it was very difficult and my neck ached. I could barely look ahead on the downhills to see what was coming.

Corrine and fellow TDer, Michael James, on a forest service road as they near Helena. Corrine is 
lifting her head as high as she can. 

I made it to Helena, Montana, where Eric was visiting friends. I told him I didn’t think I could go on. Eric and my friend, Lynne, who had done the race in 2017, said I should take a rest day, get a massage, and see what happens. I did and after a day was able to continue. 

I rode in intermittent rain to Butte, Montana, and then had constant rain up and over the passes after Butte. The streams were raging due to the excessive rain. While crossing one I fell in, but it didn’t really matter, as I was soaking already. Was I in danger? Only if I stopped, since I would probably get hypothermic. If I kept moving I was just uncomfortable. So I kept moving. That day I rode for 12 hours with no real breaks. I finally made it to Wise River, Montana, as the rain stopped. I was able to get a cabin, dry out, and eat. It’s amazing how much better you can feel when you are warm, dry and well fed. I also met up with two other riders, Chris Ellison and Phillipa Liles from the United Kingdom, and we commiserated. They had almost quit in Butte, but after a rest day continued on, too. 

I rode on and off with Chris and Phillipa for the next couple of weeks. And the weather finally changed. Now instead of being too cold and too rainy it was too hot and too windy! Being from Alaska, I don’t do well with heat. It was over 90 degrees most days! And the winds were ALWAYS from the south, so headwinds. Every. Single. Day. I awoke earlier and earlier to ride in the calmer mornings, but the winds always picked up by late morning. I could make good mileage for half the day. But the afternoons were hell.  

Phillipa dealing with a deep rut  on the infamous Bannack Road.  It was rideable when Corrine was on it.   

Corrine enters Idaho. Canada and one state (Montana) down!

Corrine has an early, early breakfast with Chris and Phillipa at Wild Bill's B and B, 
an excellent establishment in Atlantic City, Wyoming. 

I didn’t know if I could fight hot headwinds for two more weeks. I sure didn’t want to.  When we were riding into Hartsel, Colorado, on a flat paved road we should have been riding about 20 mph, but with the ferocious headwind we were only clocking about 4 mph. Oh, and add constant traffic. No shoulder to ride on. New wildfires just north of town. I got to Hartsel and wanted to quit. Chris and Phillipa headed on to Salida. I stopped for a meal and to see if I could stay in Hartsel. No hotels. I tried to call Eric to get his opinion. No service! 

Corrine rides Ute Pass Road as she approaches Silverthorne, Colorado. 

This wildfire, seen from along Ute Pass Road, was one of several that rerouted or threatened
Corrine's Tour Divide. That's Phillipa riding ahead. 

I considered. Was I in danger? Maybe from the traffic, but the route out of Hartsel took me off the main road. If I stayed hydrated and rode more in the cooler hours I wouldn’t overheat. I had plenty of water. No, I was just uncomfortable. And sick and tired of the heat and headwinds. I headed toward Salida and camped on the open range as night fell.

The next morning I unknowingly passed Chris and Phillipa while they were sleeping. They hadn’t made it to Salida either. This was our typical pattern. I would get up earlier and get ahead, but they were faster and stronger and so would pass me sometime during the day. We would complain about the heat and the headwinds and keep riding. They would usually go a little farther than me, but I would pass them the next morning. 

Along the Tour Divide there's just not enough time for beauty sleep! 

And so I continued day after day. I kept asking myself, “Am I in danger or just uncomfortable?” No on the first. A resounding YES on the latter!  I was extremely miserable at times, but I kept going. And I got used to the conditions. Sort of. They weren’t fun, but the scenery was awesome and, hey, I was racing this awesome race. A bad day on the bike almost always beats a good day at work. Most of the time. 

Then early in New Mexico I made a wrong turn and biked five miles downhill in the wrong direction. Instead of turning around right away, I stayed the night in Abiquiu and then spent the next three days trying to catch up to Chris and Phillipa and get back on schedule. I started even earlier—around 3 a.m. instead of 4 a.m.—and rode longer.

But then my Shermer’s neck came back. And the New Mexico backroads had awful washboard. And it was still hot. And there were still headwinds. Every. Single. Day. In the middle of the Gila National Forest I decided to quit. That’s when, after a good cry, I dug out my cell phone to call Eric and…No service!

A short day-by-day account of Corrine's Tour Divide. 
About 3 minutes in is her New Mexico breakdown. 

So, I kept going eight more miles to the Beaverhead Work Station, manned by firefighters, where I was able to get water and put up my tent. I could have asked them to rescue me, but by then that seemed lame and embarrassing. Besides: Am I in danger or just uncomfortable? I had enough food and water for at least another day. Even if I had to stop every hour for 5-10 minutes to rest my neck, I could make it to Silver City, which was only 125 miles from the finish—mostly flat miles and half on pavement. I could do this even if my neck didn’t work. I was just uncomfortable – and slow.

As I camped my last night I was glad I hadn’t been able to contact my husband earlier. I knew I could make it to Silver City on my own. I figured I could rest there and then ride on to the finish.

Corrine approaches Silver City, New Mexico.

Corrine chows down in Silver City. 

But I wasn't ready to stop. After a large breakfast, I rode the remaining 145 miles to Antelope Wells. I finished the Tour Divide in 30 days, 15 hours, 26 minutes. As I closed in on the finish, I was really glad I hadn’t quit. I had accomplished so much. I believe I am the oldest woman—59 years old—to race the Tour Divide and the first Fairbanksan to finish it. 

Corrine approaches the finish, sans helmet, to relieve her tired neck muscles.

Corrine at the finish! 

But I found out I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was. I couldn’t believe how many times I wanted to bail. If I had been able to reach my husband would I have quit? I like to think that I am so stubborn that I would have gotten back on my bike after talking to him, but who knows? I’m glad I never had the chance to find out. But I also found out I am pretty darn tough. I was able to continue even when I really, really wanted to quit.

I’m really glad I had my question: “Are you in danger or just uncomfortable?” It helped me to keep going. Oh, and I’m really glad for one more thing: No service!