By Eddie Clark
Kurt Refsnider and Jefe Branham take Tour Divide competition to new level.
(June 17-26, 2011) CONTINENTAL DIVIDE, N.A.—With one last heave-ho, Kurt Refsnider and Jefe Branham rode through the night from Silver City, New Mexico to the U.S. border crossing at Antelope Wells to complete their Tour Divide rides unceremoniously and respectively in first and second place. Meanwhile scores of riders are still battling on the Divide through Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico as temperatures rise and afternoon storms flourish.
Going all the way back to Montana, Branham was first to serve notice with his incredible all day rides followed by many nights with minimal sleep. Speculation brewed about how long he could sustain the pace. Instead of waiting for Branham to crack, Refsnider finally found his good legs and put in a herculean effort to ride 360 miles from Lima, MT to Atlantic City, WY in just one session. The effort proved to be fruitful as he got within eye-sight of Branham by riding through the entire night and until 6pm the following day.
As the leading 15 riders enjoyed relatively good weather free conditions through Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, riders further back were not so fortunate. Starting in Lima the skies turned dark and the winds blew hard as the rest of the southbound contingent was battered with rain, cold temps and even snow on the mud caked roads leading to Red Rock Pass, which served as an end to the misery that Montana so aptly delivered to the unlucky.
Due to significant amounts of snow in Grand Teton National Park, on Togwotee Pass and also Union Pass, riders were rerouted over Teton Pass and rode the highway to Pinedale, WY where they resumed the traditional GDMBR route. Even still, the pavement gave little respite as the same group was pelted with rain all the way to Atlantic City.
At the same time, the ‘Golden Spoke’ was tensioned at the famous Brush Mountain Lodge when the leading 4 southbound riders (Refsnider, Branham, Passant and ITT rider Dave Bruno) were met by northbound rider Paul Attalla. All were happy to enjoy a delicious home-cooked breakfast from lodge manager Kirsten, and were quick to trade course notes to prepare for upcoming sections. With full bellies the famous five parted ways and resumed their Tour Divide adventure. The southbound riders would encounter one last snow field hike-a-bike enroute to Steamboat, and from there it was smooth sailing across Colorado.
Refsnider and Branham both hammered the pace and rode many long days until Refsnider built a small lead which he held until the Beaverhead work center in the Gila National Forest. At this point, Refsnider slightly over slept as Branham rode by in the dark to gain a small lead that evaporated while crossing the Gila where both riders ran out of food and water. Fortunately they came across a small creek where they got some questionable water and treated it to stave off dehydration. Once at Pinos Altos, both riders gorged on banana splits and coca-cola to get them into Silver City where they could have a proper meal and restock their bikes for one last push to the finish.
Rather than getting a room for the night, both decided to ride the last 125 mile leg in the dark to not only be finished, but also to beat the heat of southern New Mexico. With no surprise, Refsnider used his gears to build an unmatched lead over single-speeder Branham as the two pedaled across the mostly flat and paved roads to Antelope Wells. Although, it wasn’t without incident as both riders had close calls on Separ Rd, which served as the last bit of dirt road the riders would navigate. Refsnider almost had a high speed crash in a deep sand wash that resulted in a walking dismount, and Branham had to perform some trail side repairs in the dark when his water bottle cage broke and sent his water bottle into the front wheel resulting in broken spokes and a flat tire.
In the soft morning light and cool desert air, Refsnider first reached the border crossing at roughly 6am on Sunday June 26, and was followed by Branham nearly two hours later. After some hi-fives, a quick photo shoot, and some time unwinding in the scant shade of Branham’s friends truck, both got their bikes loaded and left Antelope Wells for their return trips and some much deserved rest and relaxation.
Currently, Ethan Passant looks to have third place sewn up if he can make it through the Gila and get to Silver City today. The same goes for Caroline Soong, who is holding the lead as the first place woman, although she is a few more days behind Passant and should be crossing into New Mexico sometime today. Additionally, many rivalries and personal challenges are still being chased as the remaining 58 riders (6 more dropped out this week bringing the scratch tally to 26) are still riding the Divide.
Stay tuned for the wrap-up report next week!