The alarm. The stupid, stinking, obnoxious alarm. I quickly turned it off but the damage had been done, I was wide awake. I feel like most mornings, I had something to look forward to in the day. A destination, a sight I wanted to see. This day, my destination was Del Norte, which...well, I've always just viewed as a pit stop during my collegiate racing trips from the front range to Durango where all the 15 passenger vans would regroup and we'd find out how many got pulled over for speeding along the straight highway. We generally had a batting average of 50%. 'Maybe the store at Sergeants will be open' was the final motivation to actually move and pack. Movement did not come quickly even though both ankles were feeling 98% healed, knees were no longer sore, and I'd had a good little dinner the night before of Slimjims and cheesesticks.
I piled on every piece of clothing that had been spared from the 'we're heading to the desert' cleanse and started down. 11 miles of coasting is a good way to rack up some easy miles for the day, but it's a terrible way to get the body heat generating. I was sub-warm but reminded myself that it was only a matter of time before I was roasting and to enjoy the chill. I arrived in Sergeants just as the store/restaurant owner was leaving for his morning walk. 'I'll be back in 30 minutes and let you in the store if you want' he told me. I sighed as he walked off and pulled out my jar of peanut butter and granola. I've had worse for breakfast. I knew from the NoBo's that the streams in the Cochetopa Hills were dry, so I filled up on water and started the lonely trek down Highway 50 imagining what it would be like to skip the turn at Doylesville and head straight to Gunnison.
I turned where the GPS instructed and made it about a 100 yards up the road before I coerced myself into my morning break to take off layers, apply sunscreen, and in this case, throw myself a little pity party. I think most people have a 'halfway' point mapped out on the Divide. Milage wise, it's somewhere between Rawlins and Steamboat, but for me, the real halfway point was highway 50. North of home and then south of home. North of home, I had things I was scared of, but south of home had things I was terrified of. I always felt like I could deal with the threat of wildlife, but the threats associated with crossing the Rez in New Mexico, the notorious packs of dogs in Vallecitos and El Rito, the heat, now these things scared me more than any 800 pound grizzly could. But I resigned myself to my fate, if I was going to get this thing done, I had to be brave.
I had written a passage down a few weeks before I left from Cheryl Strayed's 'Wild' and I thought back to it, sitting there on the side of the road.
'Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn't long before I actually wasn't afraid.'
I picked up my bike. Gave one last glance at the line of cars heading towards Gunnison on the highway, and went south. It wasn't long before a twinge of recognition hit. Road KK14 (that probably isn't the right name, but it was along those lines). That's familiar. I continued to pedal when it hit: This was a Colorado Trail Race detour in the opposite direction! Upper and Lower Dome Lakes. This was the section I'd ridden in the dark two years prior and been completely spooked, cowering every time a pair of headlamps passed. Last year I'd spent the section sick after a nearly all-night push through the haunted Sergeants Mesa. I wondered how long of a detour it would be to go visit Trail Angle Apple who was most likely camped at Lujan Pass feeding and entertaining CT thru-hikers and bikers. A true angel if I've ever met one. I passed the intersection where the detour hooked up with the road I was on and I said goodbye to familiarity.
The riding for the next several hours included a couple of passes, some pavement, and plenty of wind. The incessant wind. I had made peace with the wind earlier, but it was starting to test even my patience.
Eventually, I reached the intersection where I had the option of headed to the La Garita store, about half a mile off course. I was only about 10 or 15 miles from Del Norte, but I knew the remaining miles included some climbing, the cue sheet mentioned a rough doubletrack with sand and to watch out for 'washouts' and I had read something about an airport and a roundabout way into town on a blog. 'No more store stops just because you need a break' I told myself but allowed myself a 5 minute break at the information kiosk to eat and watch the storm clouds. The sugar went straight to my blood and the ominous clouds turned from threatening to beautiful as rays of the evening sun shined through. I thought back to my friend who had sent me an email before departure reminding me that when things got rough, to look for the Beautywild. I stood up and raised my arms: THIS was the beautywild. The wind, the grass, the storms to the east, the plateau to the west, the rainbow forming in the mist.
I got back on the bike pedaling energetically into the wind. 'Forget Del Norte as a destination, THIS is what you came out here for.' The evening sun illuminated giant buttes of rock as I passed through homesteads perched deep in the hills. I was giddy. For the first time since I'd told the pass above Salida that it couldn't break me, that I would win, my fighting spirit came back. My head had come back to the Divide from where ever it had spent the day, and I was grateful.
I rolled into Del Norte, filled my bags with goodies, ate an ice cream sandwich while waiting to check out, and headed to Boogies restaurant and filled my belly: 2/3 lb burger, chili cheese fries, and a large soda. Fat, dumb, and happy, I cruised down the road knowing I had 10 miles of flat before the climbing to the highpoint of the route commenced. I planned to sleep low and take in sunrise at 12,000 feet.
Life on the Divide wasn't so bad at all.