Monday, August 10, 2009

Down but not out

It was descending the Old Bannack Road to Lima where the drivetrain and derailleur hanger on my Salsa Fargo met their demise. Chris and Kurt stayed while I cobbled my drivetrain back together in the mud only to have it self destruct the moment I put my foot to the pedal.

Photo by Chris Plesko:
Fargo Drivetrain Destruction

The second time around Chris and Kurt moved on while I worked on finding the ever elusive magic gear in my drivetrain that would get me the 35 miles to Lima. I know this trick all to well after a mistake I made during TransIowa V4 led to its use.

Photo by Captain Bob: TransIowa V4 Destruction
TransIowa V4 Broken Derailleur

In the 35 miles to Lima I stopped twice more to fix my drivetrain as it was slowly ground into a pile of metal shavings. A few short miles after finding a gear that would get me to Lima I caught up with Chris and Kurt taking a break to clean the mud off their bikes. We came across a cattle drive pushing up the road as we rolled down and decided to hike through the sage brush. The smell was absolutely incredible after the previous day's and night's rain.


We descended Big Sheep Creek Road into the canyons shortly after passing the cattledrive. Several more links failed on my chain after bouncing around on the cassette as I maneuvered down the pocked and washboarded road. Fortunately I had packed a small section of chain and several quick links for just such and occasion. I was back on the road in minutes happily enjoying the single speed life and the feeling of enclosure that the canyon provided. By this time Chris and Kurt were long gone. I knew I'd be catching up with them in Lima having a meal at Jan's Cafe.

As I exited the canyon my drivetrain failed for the 3rd and final time before I would reach Lima. The chain had been dancing on the cassette without perfect tension and chainline. Typically it would fall down a cog or two and then hop back up to the sweet spot. This time around, much to my disbelief the chain shifted up on the cassette to the cog above the magic gear. The chain could only be described as hyper-tensioned. I immediately grabbed the brakes to keep the damage to a minimum. I jumped to action, developing a quick strategy to fix this mess and roll easy the last 15 miles to Lima.

The easiest approach to fix my drivetrain debacle this time around was to remove the wheel and simply move the chain back to the magic gear. I grabbed the lever on my DT Swiss RWS 10mm Skewer and applied the force necessary to remove the rear wheel. The ratchet mechanism immediately stripped out rendering the lever useless and eliminating my chances of wheel removal. I stepped back a bit dismayed, but quickly moved to my frame bag to find my chain tool.

My course of action would now be to pop a chain pin to take the chain apart. I had two quick links left in my bag. There were already two in the chain at this point. I turned the lever of the chain tool slowly fearing that the hyper-tensioned chain would pop and cause more damage to the bike or myself. I felt that spot in the pin, just before it pops and quickly pushed through it hoping to push the chain tool pin into the chain quickly. The tension was to high and the chain tool pin missed, causing it to bend and rendering it near useless.

The chain was separated, but I would need to remove a second pin to assemble the quick link. With the bent pin of the chain tool this proved challenging. The pin would line up with the chain pin, only to become misaligned as I attempted to push it through. I fought with it for several minutes finally getting the pin through and keeping the rest of the chain intact. The quick link assembled with ease. I pedaled the chain through to the magic gear and begin to look for material to execute the second part of this trick I'd put to use in TIV4.

This trick to reassemble the drivetrain and limp to the nearest town is a temporary remedy. It is rare to find perfect tension on the chain. Compounded by the cassette with its short cog teeth and shift gates the chain will hop around. During TIV4 I remedied this issued by stuffing small sticks in between the cogs and wrapping them with tall grass above and below the chain to keep it in gear. The approach worked well and so with my past experience I set out to find some sticks and grass. The only problem, there was none. The canyon was rife with small tufts of grass and rocks, but I had long since left the sage brush. I asked that the chain stay in place and that my Fargo get me to Lima and soft pedaled again down the road.

The last nine miles to Lima are a paved road that follows Interstate 15. By the second time my chain failed I had recognized a pattern of how the failures occured. If I was able to stick to smooth sections of gravel, soft pedal through the washboard, and carefully apply pressure to the drivetrain I knew I could make it to the pavement without another failure. When I hit the smooth pavement it would be smooth sailing all the way in to Lima, spinning an easy gear.

Interstate 15 came into sight and I focused my eyes on the point where the gravel ended and I turned onto pavement. As I neared the pavement a second focal point came into view. A small truck with a full suspension rig lingered at the intersection. I figured it to be a blue dot junkie who had come to chase us down and wish us well. The thought of hitching a ride to Lima passed through my mind as I approached. I made a deal with myself and focused on my goal of finishing, eliminating my option of taking a ride forward on the course.

When I reached the intersection a bearded man in his 40's came into view. He waved and said Hello as I approached slowing my Salsa Fargo to a halt. He introduced himself as Andy Buchanan and immediately the name sounded familiar. Later on that evening I would find out that Andy raced the Tour Divide in 08', ultimately dropping as a result of sickness. I knew his name from my own time following blue dots on the Spot Leaderboard. Andy gave me a quick report of where Chris and Kurt were and encouraged me to get into town and get some food. Knowing the rules and spirit of the Divide, Andy never asked if I wanted a ride. It may sound counter intuitive to some to be thankful for a ride not offered, but this was a kind gesture. Andy's way of encouraging me to move forward and not give up, without saying a word his act spoke volumes.

I rounded the corner, crossing under Intersate Highway close to an hour after my encounter with Andy. As the gas station and Jan's Cafe came into view I scanned their walls looking for Chris and Kurt's bikes. They had descended upon Jan's to eat cheeseburgers, fries, and pie; all washed down with hot coffee and cold Coca Cola. I decided my bike could wait until after I had gorged myself. I had already settled with myself that I would not be leaving Lima that day. Even if the drivetrain held together it would be Pinedale before there was a bike shop to fix anything. With the track record of failure and the fact that I had no extra parts or a chain tool, I had made the decision to stay in Lima.

I staggered into Jan's meeting Chris in the front hall talking on the phone with his wife, Marni. I walked into the dining room and spotted Kurt on a stool at the counter. After sitting down and ordering my feast I began to consider my options. It would have been easy mentally and emotionally to bag the whole ride in Lima. I had ridden close to 900 miles, seen some beautiful country, and missed my wife at home. Chris dropped in Lima during his 2008 Divide ITT. Channeling his energy to move on from Lima I immediately dismissed the idea and moved to plan B.

Plan B consisted of getting parts from either a near by town, or having them shipped into Lima from Minneapolis. After discussing Plan B with Chris and Kurt over lunch and feeling quite refreshed after a large piece of coconut cream pie I was confident with my planned course of action.

During Chris, Kurt, and my discussion I asked them "Do you know what the worse part of this whole drivetrain failure is?" To their planned "what?", I said "Breaking up the trio." The three of us had ridden together from Sparwood, BC. We had our rythm, a cadence that worked well and was enjoyable. We would wake up laughing at each other in the mornings and crack jokes between long stretches of silence throughout the day. As we left Jan's Cafe I wished them well and they wished me the same. I told them "I'll see you in a few days." to which they replied "I bet you will." With that the trio became the duo and I became a solo.

I acquired knowledge at Jan's that the motel across the street had internet access, a laundromat, and affordable rooms. The Mountain View Motel caters to Continental Divide Trail Hikers, Cyclists, and travelers. They were well prepared for my arrival and that of others. I discussed my dilemma with the owner and he explained my options. I could call a guy in the next town over who did some work on bikes, or I could have parts shipped in via UPS. He called the guy in the next town while I looked into UPS shipping. There was no pick-up from the guy and early UPS information looked like I could have parts next day. My options had been weighed and the decision was made.

Quickly I made several calls before placing my order for parts to fix my drivetrain. I called DT Swiss to determine how to disassemble my broken skewer and what parts I would need. I dialed up Wheels Manufacturing to determine if the Emergency Derailleur hanger would function with my DT Skewer. I never divulged to them what I was doing, or where I was, it was inconsequential to the discussion. As I spoke to the customer service rep. from DT he said a lever would be shipped to QBP for me. I envisioned it sitting on the shelf for weeks at work, arriving before I did and found just a bit of humor in the situation.

With information in hand I logged onto my QBP account and began an order. Checking off my mental list I ordered a derailleur, chain, new skewer, emergency derailleur hanger, cables, a new multi-tool, and brake pads. I figured I might as well fix what I could while I could. With the ordered entered and on to picking I was thankful to have this resource at my fingertips and on demand when I needed it. Any Divide racer could place an order with an on-line shop, but I could place my order with the largest distributor in the country and my employer QBP.

With the order placed I dialed co-workers with order number in hand to beg for them to intercept and expedite my parts. The first person I reached was Salsa Product Manager and good friend, Tim Krueger. Tim is calm, cool, and collected. He knew immediately what I needed when I explained the situation and said he would get it out ASAP and confirmed overnight shipping to Lima.

With the business done I made a call to my wife to let her know what was going on and see how she was doing. I felt out of body, somewhat frantic, and very impatient. I knew she could help calm me and get my mind off of being stranded in Lima. As we chatted I made mental notes on what I needed to fix and realized that I had lost my shift cable housing somewhere up on the trail. I asked her if she would call Tim and remind him before the package shipped. Later that night she and I talked again. Not only had Tim got all of my requests, but he had also driven the package to the airport for shipping. Knowing Tim, he would have driven it to me if he thought he could get it to Lima faster. I couldn't be more grateful to the support from QBP, Tim, and the rest of my colleagues that made this happen.

I was marooned in Lima, MT for roughly 26 hours. During my time I kept quite busy making plans to leave, cleaning and drying gear, fixing my slashed sleeping gear, doing laundry, eating, resuppplying, and sleeping. I watched from my Motel Room as Jay-P & Tracey Petervary came in and I greeted them at Jan's before they left. I watched as Cannon Shockley, Eric Lobeck, Kevin Dean, Blaine Nester, John Fettis, Alan Goldsmith, Steve Wilkinson, and Leighton White came in for the night and ate dinner with them. After a 10 hour slumber I ate breakfast at Jan's and tracked my package into MT. It's planned arrival would be 3:30 and so I prepped and watched as Eric Bruentjens came and left.

I passed the time waiting by disassembling my bike to the extent possible, making a new sleeping mat, packing gear, and shipping home unneeded gear. Then finally, at the planned time, my package arrived. I quickly unpacked and took inventory, then dove right into the project at hand. In under an hour I had reassembled my Salsa Fargo and was ready to roll. At 4:30 I stopped by the Sporting Goods store to fix my chain tool using their vice, and then the post office to ship home my broken Leatherman. I made a quick call to MTB Cast and was on my way towards Red Lake.

My time in Lima was rich in turbulence. I went up and down, considered dropping, but ultimately chose to leave. I reconfigured my goals and plans pouring over the maps and determining my strategy. I laughed at my broken Leatherman and slashed sleeping gear. The hiatus taught me a few things about perseverence, determination, and the will to endure.

Today I finished reassembling the Salsa Fargo frame that I started on. I considered recycling the frame, but ultimately figured I could fix the snapped hanger and salvage it, or perhaps even make it better. In starting to share my fixed ride the memories started pouring out and all of my experience in Lima came into plain view for the first time since my return.

So how did I fix it? See for yourself...

I was able to find a Wheels Manufacturing replaceable derailleur hanger to bolt directly to the face of my existing dropout. I drilled and tapped the three mounting holes, breaking several bits and a tap in the process. Finally, I modified the hanger ever so slightly to blend the hanger with the Fargo dropout. It shifts well in the stand, next up are some trail tests that proves its worth and durability.

Replaced Dropout

All Fixed:

Replaced Dropout Complete

I'm looking forward to riding my Salsa Fargo again. I've been off of it for over a month as it sat in decay in my basement. There's even a few new parts on the bike, but those will be divulged soon enough...


  1. Awesome write up! I know how hard it is to write something detailed, particularly a few weeks out of it. Thanks for taking the time to share the adventure! Look forward to reading more. Jeremy

  2. This is great stuff...most interesting, so useful!!! We are sincerely and genuinely saddened by the fsct that you guyz (You, Kid Remer, Dave Gray) cannot make the Heck of the North due to the Interbike thingy. Next year we will put it on a date that you guyz can make.

  3. Great post! Way to use your skills to keep the Fargo alive. I probably would have thrown in the towel.

  4. Great write up Joe. It shows that resourcefulness that makes you a special breed.

    Thanks for the time it took for you to produce this. I really enjoyed reading it.

  5. Hello Joe , Nice perspective on Divide Racing and inner thoughts . Last year Stephen Gleasner and I had a running dialogue he called dark thoughts . It had alot of to do with riding alone for long hours . I hope that you have redesigned the Fargo to have a replaceable derailure hanger so the failure that you suffered does not plague future riders . When I was hanging with you all in lima I was amazed at the overall friendliness . I know from previous experience that this route has a way of getting under your skin , cause I still have unfinished business . Anyway I read with great interest your thoughts on the whole Tour Divide Race .

    Cheers , Andy B.