By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
It took hours to sort out the repairs and the payment. Simoni grabbed food and a Red Bull, rode back to the junction and collapsed under a bridge, lulled to sleep by the roar of trucks overhead. Another single-speeder had moved ahead of him now, but he was determined to make up the lost time.
Outside Pinedale, he met up with Dave Nice, now attempting the Tour Divide on his fixie for the sixth time. Nice had elected to start in New Mexico and head north. He'd already endured some fire detours across New Mexico, as well as Wyoming headwinds that had dropped his average speed to under four miles an hour. They paused long enough to hug and snap pictures, two pilgrims in search of their own private redemption.
"It was good to see him back on course," says Nice. "I knew he'd had some struggles with his freehub. But he was smiling. I think he was in a better frame of mind than I was at the time."
And why shouldn't he be smiling? Soon Simoni was out of Wyoming and nearing Steamboat Springs. "I was on my field; I was in my back yard," he says. "Those were the roads I'd been practicing on. I could do them blindfolded."
The leaderboard indicated one single-speeder still ahead of him. The way Simoni saw it, the race wasn't about beating anybody but yourself, but the situation presented a useful spur. "All of a sudden I had this extra motivation to get moving," he explains. "I was hoping we could go tête-à-tête for a while."
He went from a spot west of Kremmling to Breckenridge, Fairplay and almost to Salida, a 22-hour, 180-mile run. But he never saw the cyclist he was trying to catch; as it turned out, his elusive rival was resting sore legs back in Steamboat Springs. After three hours of sleep by the side of the road, Simoni was back on the bike.
Salida, Del Norte, Abiqui. He decided to take his first motel room of the trip in Cuba, New Mexico — and his first shower. "I couldn't get the dirt off," he recalls. "The water was hard, the soap wouldn't lather, and the sunscreen I was using was a spray-on. I had these tacky layers of sunscreen and sweat that had attracted all this fine grit and sand, and then more layers on top of that."
Pie Town, the Gila, the intervention of the forest spirits, and then a sober moment of reflection at the stretch of dirt road where he'd come to ruin the year before: "I got to where I fell, and I realized why I fell. The hump was a lot bigger than I remembered it."
In the last hours of the race he encountered another Tour Divide cyclist, who offered him a ride home — or at least as far as Salida. This sounded far, far better than Simoni's original plan, which was to bike back from the border to Silver City, pick up a replacement for his credit card that was supposed to be sent to general delivery there, figure out how to get to Las Cruces and grab a Greyhound from there to Denver. So he hustled to the tiny border crossing of Antelope Wells, fearful of missing his ride. He made the finish and the rendezvous, snapped some pictures, and was offered the bounty of a miraculous cooler filled with chicken and beer.
When news that Simoni had been the first single-speeder to finish reached Denver, the gang at Salvagetti was elated but not exactly surprised. "It's not really a technical race; it's staying on your bike and pedaling," Taylor notes. "Justin did a better job at that because he's a little crazier than anyone else."
Five days later, Dave Nice rolled into Banff at 11:30 p.m., becoming the first person to officially complete the Tour Divide on a fixie. (Deanna Adams rode a fixie in 2009, but the Tour Divide website lists her as having deviated from the official course.) His time: 33 days, 14 hours, four minutes. To his surprise, some characters from a local bike shop were waiting for him with cold beer and takeout food and fries smothered in gravy and cheese.
"It felt good to finally slay my dragon," he says.
There's no cash prize for winning your division of the Tour Divide. But sometimes there's beer. And other, less tangible swag.
"You get bragging rights," Simoni says. "It means everyone who works in my bike shop likes me a little bit more. I'll get a drunken makeout or two. But I'm hoping cycling companies will take notice, and maybe next time they'll be able to support my crazy idea."******
As a performer and artist, Simoni can now be seen in a number of surprising venues. That's him as the kooky hermit-scientist in a YouTube video promoting the benefits of Cubelets, a robot construction kit for kids made up of snap-together, self-propelled cubes; the company marketing them was launched by some friends who went to Carnegie Mellon University.
That's him, too, dancing in the vortex of percussion and smoke as the Itchy-O Marching Band performs at 3 Kings Tavern. A friend invited Simoni to help out with Itchy-O a few years ago, when the group was still small and mainly known for crashing art openings and other events. Simoni was put on tricycle duty, maneuvering the vehicle that carried speakers and a soundboard. He showed up dancing on a video of the performance — and soon discovered it's not about the trike.
Alan, thanks again for taking us along w/ a TRUE athlete.
No millions, major enforcements, and of course no jerseys
adorning every thug in the region.
I'm crippled and people are always trying to pat me on the back,
but there's no way to realistically compare feats. Most major sports
figures couldn't hang w/ this guy.
Nothing short of amazing and a story well written.
I wish Justin would run for president - maybe he could channel some of that creativity and determination toward fixing the economy.