Brush Mountain Lodge
Note: I wrote this in October 2012 as the foreword to the 2012 Cordillera
I’ve been a fan of divide racing since 2004. As I toured the route I would check MTBR.com for text updates in every town, gobbling up any piece of information or online commentary I could find. In 2005 I participated in the race and made call-ins to MTBCast.com as I slowly fell apart along the route. The next few years saw the transcription of racer call-ins and a leaderboard split chart maintained by hand. Then came the magic of SPOT trackers and the development of live maps and automatic leaderboards, an undertaking I have been fortunate to be a part of at trackleaders.com. It’s now easier than ever to follow the race and, hopefully, be inspired by it.
Matthew and son, fishing in one of the local ponds
As close to the experience that following “blue dots” and online commentary can bring you, there’s no substitute for actually being out there. Divide racing ethos pretty much prohibits visiting racers on course, but this year I had the opportunity to help run the legendary Brush Mountain Lodge. Located in far northwest Colorado, the lodge has become famous for its hospitality towards divide riders. The lodge and its owner, Kristin, have resurrected dozens of weary cyclists with home cooked meals and warm beds. Only this year it was race organizer Matthew Lee, his wife and myself doing the cooking, which was sometimes a comical affair (we’ll kindly forget about the time Matthew and I filled the lodge with smoke!).
lookout – boys in the kitchen
In my time at the lodge I got to put faces and personalities to the blue dots we had been so intently tracking. I got to see the powerful fatigue in the racer’s eyes, and also the beautiful simplicity. Life on the divide is hard, but it has none of the usual daily concerns and doubts. The riders were focused on fulfilling the basic needs — food and water for now, and for the next miles on the trail. We fielded questions like, “how long is the next climb?”, “how many miles to the next store?”, “how rough is the descent?”. By the time riders reach the lodge they are over ‘the hump’, so to speak. Nearly all of the riders we saw would end up making it to Antelope Wells. They had reached a rhythm — mentally, physically, spiritually. And they were more than half way to the finish.
They may have had rhythm, but almost everyone was tired — dead tired — by the time they reached the lodge. Many people pushed late into the night to get there, and fought through hellacious winds to get there. I’ll never forget how crushed divide champion Kurt Refsnider looked, sitting on the lawn in the dark. I had never seen him so beat down. He was piloting a tandem with his girlfriend, Caroline Soong. As tired as so many racers were, after a big meal (or three) and a night at the lodge, they pressed on and very few spoke of abandoning their ride.
unicorn power! – Eszter Horanyi’s bike
A few riders seemed anything but tired and they were many of this year’s incredible success stories. First timers Ollie Whalley and Craig Stappler were in great spirits and seemed to be out for a casual bike ride together. They would later both crush the existing men’s divide record. My good friend Eszter Horanyi seemed right at home on the divide, while admitting she had bad moments just about every day. She went on to set a new women’s standard, taking multiple days off the old one. And Max Morris gets the award for cheeriest disposition. He was the only divide racer to say “I can’t wait for next year!” and to already be looking forward to it.
Max Morris at the lodge
The lodge is in such a remote spot that on some days we saw more divide cyclists than cars pass by. After cooking breakfast and working on the tracking code, I’d take the afternoon to venture into the backcountry, exploring the massive ‘Bears Ears’ complex of trails. The trails and roads were empty, or full only of downed trees, and the adventure factor was through the roof.
It was as if I was the first person to ride out there. It gave me a sense of how many amazing and remote areas the divide route travels through. True, divide racers may only be temporary visitors, left to wonder what tall peaks and forgotten trails they are passing near, but it is that wonder that is so intriguing.
Eszter getting the leadout by Henry Branch
My favorite part was the stories. Elena Massarenti could barely contain her laughter and excitement as she told us she had just convinced a road construction crew to weld her saddle back together. Eszter explained her lowest moment (at the time) of multi-systems failure and wanting to drop out at Grass Hopper Inn, afterwards exclaiming, giddily, “I love downhill! I love coasting!”
From the miserable weather and snow in the early days, to the brutal winds of the basin and south of Rawlins, there was much in common in the tall tales the racers told, even between the leaders and the riders at the back of the pack. Everyone was experiencing the same divide, but there was so much variety in the riders and their approach and reaction to it all.
It was quite a privilege to get to hear from so many of them, at the lodge, while they were still in the thick of it. I hope you enjoy reading their stories here, in this compendium of 2012 divide lore. I want to thank Chris Bennett for keeping the Cordillera alive, and Eric Bruntjen for getting it off the ground.
I’ll update this post with info on getting a copy of the 2012 Cordillera when its available, hopefully soon