Respect the elements
Caught again. I stand on top of a pass in slamming hail, frozen rain, wind, and we make, (yet another) mental note—another precisely timed, mid-afternoon Colorado mountain monsoon—insert: Don’t get caught on top of the pass during afternoon hours, to our amassing list of guidelines of Continental Divide Bikepacking. My partner and I try to recount the list as a way to keep our minds occupied while we pedal against the pea sized ice particles, climbing the mountain pass.
RULES of THE DIVIDE, an addendum (of sorts)
(in no particular order, except for No. 1 & 22)
1. If you come across water, fill your bottles—fill them every chance you get.
2. Eat before you feel hungry
3. Rinse the dust off your clothes as much as possible, or swim in them.
4. Be tasteful, kind, human—people will help you.
5. Accept help, be it large or small.
6. Be grateful.
7. SPAM is always terrible, even when it’s the only protein you’ve eaten for several days.
8. Keep your rain jacket handy and safe.
9. Don’t be on top of the pass between 2pm and 5pm in the Rockies’ monsoon season.
10. The sun is super strong at 8000 feet, even at 6pm
10.1. Sunscreen is sexy
11. DIY is not always the most effective, but you should still try.
12. Talk to strangers because people are generally great.
13. FILL THE WATER
14. Sometimes, you just have to wing it.
15. Carry a big enough cooking pot
16. Penny stoves are excellent, light, and burn lots of different fuels (including car Heet)
17. Clean your chain.
18. Tubeless tires are great
19. Choose your tread wisely
20. Run whatcha ya brung
21. Order that bacon cheeseburger when in town, damn the budget!
22. Say fuck no to rules man—HAVE FUN!
On top of 12,000 feet, wet and cold, I am alive and in incredible pain. My legs feel like porcupine quills have been inserted into all my hair follicles; my skin is burning. I briefly reflect on the day, which has contained the microcosmic scope of everything. All the emotions, the landscape, the pedaling, the bike challenges, the food, the fun, the tears. We had spent several days with our friend Linnea, and left her family’s cabin with a full tank of energy early that morning. The first three hours of our day, we enjoyed old growth aspen and tremendous views while climbing a narrow gravel fire road. It was not difficult, only long, time stretched through, beyond the mountains. Near the top, the climb turned into numerous steep, short, punchy climbs, which came with as many small descents. The exhaustion and cold rain assisted in the plummeting of my mood; it felt like we descended so much, yet, according to the GPS, we have not lost any elevation, and we were still climbing. It wasn’t so much the climb as the freezing rain, my knees and hips tingling with cold, my feet and hands already a stabbing numb. I climbed another steep hill, and pulled over under pine trees to find a little reprieve from the sideways rain. Another perfectly timed afternoon monsoon, I say, and then it starts to hail again, the wind gasping in high altitude wheezes.
I have been here before—not in the physical definition of here—feeling the familiar agitation: the cold, wet, outdoors, this, living. I hiked south along the Caratera Austral, in southern Chile, under the shadows of Futelefú. It was still summer, barely, and the wet season had come early, and the southern coastal region wept. I hoped to catch a ride south, yet hitchhiking posed a tremendous challenge. Vans packed to the brim with families and gear passed my extended thumb—no room for weary travelers. I threw my hood over my head, and hiked.
A low foggy mist covered the river and mountains, embracing my body. I walked along a road that meandered over and near a wide river, deep in the Aysén Region. Surrounded by picturesque mountains of incredible reputation, camped under a bridge. Enter Chilean Patagonia—my inner dramaturge called; the mountains crept around me, slowly, comforting my doubts.
When I finally arrived into town, I lost all sense of purpose, lost the feeling of the magic woods, and my former excitement mulled with anxiety in a mash of confusing emotions. I was cold, wet. My intention had been forgotten; the excitement of living was confused in my body as anxiety. And it rained, and the temperature dropped. Sometimes excitement and anxiety are two high-energy sides of the same coin; sometimes they are indistinguishable from the next.
Along the lower grasslands in the Rockies, there may have been gentle rain, shining sun, maybe some hail, but warmer. Yet here, several thousand feet above the aspen, the temperature had dropped, and was dropping. I reached into my front bag to find rain pants, at my partner’s suggestion. At this point I wasn’t sure it would help, I was already soaked, the pants will just make me feel cold and slimy, and I hate the feeling of rain paints. At this point, I just wanted to be argumentative. I often wondered why I even had the pants in the first place—taking up space, hating every second I wore them. Just remember they’ll help with wind, too. I slipped into them, and while I was changing, decided to put on my thick, dry wool socks, too. They became soggy the instant I covered my feet; my shoes held water like buckets. The skin around my toes shriveled with wet. The socks were warmer, though.
Remember, the pants will help on the decent, my partner said. We continued down the pass. The rain pants blocked the wind against my red, prickly legs—icy knife wind slicing us as we whipped down the fire road at 30 miles per hour or more. I suppose I should add rain pants to rule number 8.
The writer and artist
Alex Borgen is an interdisciplinary writer, performer, and book & paper artist. She holds an MFA in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts from Columbia College Chicago, and founded The Papermaker’s Garden in Chicago, a project largely supported by The Caxton Club and the Center for Book and Paper Arts. As the recipient of the Nakane Aiko Fellowship in 2012, she performed a durational bicycle tour around Lake Michigan and reinterpreted the journey with an artist book and manuscript. Her work has been exhibited and performed nationally and internationally in Argentina, Chile, and Italy, as well as featured in Inquire’s Picture Postcards, by HL Hix and Heather Lang, in Rider’s Lens on Bikepacking.com, and recently received the Emerging Writer Fund from Panorama Journal.