After a night of much reflection I got up and packed my bike. Erik saw me off and I started the climb out of Helena. I could tell right away that I was done. My body was hurting every where and my head wasn’t in it anymore. The climb out of Helena was a nice gradual climb. A good warm up for what I thought was to come. A local rider came down the hill and asked if he could ride with me. He was aware of the race and we chatted for a bit as we pedaled. He told me that the climb didn’t get much steeper than what we were doing and that lifted my spirits. He turned around and it wasn’t long before I made the summit.
My goal for the day was Butte, where I knew the guys at The Outdoorsman would be available to check out my bike. It looked like I could get there by mid-day or so, giving me time to get the bike serviced before closing. There were three climbs between Helena and Butte. I’d just gone over the first, so I was off to a good start.
I got down to Clancy and then rode the rollers to Jefferson City. It was in this stretch that I started second-guessing myself. This section wasn’t hard. In fact it was kinda nice. Riding through some neighborhoods. I can’t explain why it was this section that worked me over. Maybe it was the rollers. Maybe it was the reminders of home. Whatever it was, it was wearing me out.
By the time I got to Jefferson City I was done. I didn’t want to climb anymore. I didn’t want to sit on my bike anymore. The route turned up and back into the mountains here. I looked at the elevation profile and said “HELL NO!”. I had another choice. One of the alternates on the ACA Map was to ride the 15 freeway to Butte. I knew that if I did this my Tour Divide would be over. I didn’t care. I pedaled onto the freeway.
Right away the freeway pointed up. What the hell!! I began an eight mile climb with just under 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Nothing is worse than spinning slowly up a hill, where you can see the next mile or so ahead of you, and cars flying past you. I started thinking of how fast those people where going to be over the hill, and how long it was going to take me. I couldn’t take it anymore. I pulled off the highway to catch my breath. Then I got desperate. I called the people at The Outdoorsman looking for help. I was hoping there was someone that could pick me up. Anyone! Their suggestion was to head back to Jefferson City and see if I could hitch a ride from there. I couldn’t bring myself to back-track though, so I pushed on.
It felt like hours passed before I reached the summit. Once there I stopped to eat something and put on my jacket. There was a descent of a few miles to get me to Boulder. The Boulder off-ramp had a gas station, so I pulled in and went in to grab some food. I asked the clerk if anyone was headed to Butte, as I was looking for a ride. No luck there, and I talked to some more people outside. Still no luck, so I just sat down to eat my sandwich. I was still 40 miles out of Butte. 40 miles, but it felt like 200. I didn’t think I could make it any farther. I rode up to the on-ramp of the freeway and waited for some cars. Stuck my thumb out in a sad effort to get a ride, but no one bit. At least the on-ramp was down hill.
I had left my phone number with the clerk just in case someone was headed to Butte. I was only a mile or so down the freeway when the phone rang. I fumbled to get the phone out and answer it. It was Serbrina! She asked how I was doing and I broke down. I told her I was done. I just needed to get to Butte. I was embarrassed, ashamed, just felt like shit. I didn’t want to let her down, but I was doing just that. She is so supportive of these adventures, and believes in me more than I believe in myself.
I continued to pedal south on the 15, eventually rejoining the Tour Divide course near Basin. There was only one climb left before the descent to Butte. More rain came and I took shelter under an overpass. I was tired of pulling on my jacket and then stowing it just a few minutes later. It felt good to just stop and sit by the river. I knew I would be pulling the plug in Butte, so the stress of the Tour Divide lifted. For the first time in a couple days I was just enjoying the ride. My outlook changed completely.
I really enjoyed the final climb. It was on an old railway bed, so the grade was nice and gradual. It even included a stretch through and old tunnel. Before I knew it I was done with the dirt and back on pavement. Ten long miles of a straight as an arrow road and then a downhill to Butte. I saw my first Continental Divide sign on my last day. Fitting I guess.
The fast descent to Butte turned right into a headwind which made the final mile or so harder than it needed to be. I rolled up to The Outdoorsman and saw Vance and another rider heading out. There were a couple more riders inside and they all encouraged me to carry on, but it was decided. My Tour Divide was done.
I’ve been home for exactly a month now. Looking back on it, at the time I blamed the physical problems. Foot pain, knee pain, saddle pain, you name it. I realize now that it wasn’t physical at all, but mental. The physical pain goes away, or at least moves to another area. It’s the lack of confidence that got me. Constantly second-guessing myself, doubting, you name it. I know now, that the biggest hills are the ones I create in my head. They appear to be impossible to get over, so I give up on them. The reality is that I can get over the hills. I know, because I did! But there is something in my head that works against that. I don’t know why I’m wired this way, but I am. It makes challenges like the Tour Divide much harder than they already are. And believe me, it’s tough enough! Throw some head-games into the mix and it’s nearly impossible. It’s only you and your thoughts out there. If you don’t believe you can do it, then you won’t do it. I didn’t believe I could do it and I didn’t. Pure and simple.
Well, I didn’t complete the Tour Divide, but as they say, it’s the journey not the destination. I learned that even though I have these mental setbacks, I can do some amazing things. In fact, achieving them is tougher for me than it is for some one that just knows they are going to succeed. Maybe that makes the reward much sweeter? To put it in perspective I know I can ride from my house to San Francisco and back by myself! Or to Yosemite by myself. Will it be easy? Probably not, but I know that I’m capable of doing it. That’s pretty awesome.
I’m not sure if I’ll go back to the Tour Divide. Serbrina has already told me that she supports me 100% if I want to, but I’m not sure that I want to. Maybe I’m not cut out for racing it. Maybe it would be more enjoyable without the pressure of constant movement. Allow for some time to re-charge the batteries here and there. Enjoy the sights maybe? I don’t know. Only time will tell. Lots of time to mull it over though. Well, 11 months!