A bike ride to remember, Steamboat man rides from sea to shining sea
December 2, 2017
The weather was going to be an issue, and that's why Mike Schlichtman was excited to get a one-week head start on his planned departure, leaving Aug. 22, in his attempt at the American Trail Race, an unsupported mountain bike race that stretches from one United States coast across the continent to the other coast.
That weather was a factor throughout. The heat pounded down on him for the first half of his ride. He pedaled through the Oklahoma panhandle staring down at a reading of 111 degrees on his handle-bar mounted thermometer.
In the Rocky Mountains, however, it was the other end of the weather that worried him, especially when reports showed an autumn cold front sweeping through the region in September.
He made it over Engineer Pass southeast of Ouray by a day, and over Imogen Pass, just east of Telluride, by a day, as well, with a white curtain closing in behind him.
"I made it into Telluride and woke up in the morning and looked back up at the pass," Schlichtman said. "It was solid white. I wouldn't have made it over that pass anytime soon if I hadn't made it that day."
Then, the weather caught him.
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The trail behind him was blocked that morning, but the path ahead looked passible, so as a light rain fell in Telluride, he set out.
He didn't make it far, at least not by the standards of his ride. Within 25 miles, he had pulled off the trail, huddled under a tree, his clothes soaked through. Hypothermia was beginning to set in.
He struggled for dry clothes, but was shaking so much his fingers were almost useless.
"My hands were like clubs," he said.
He thought through his options. He could try set up his tent and curl up in his sleeping bag. Could he work his hands well enough for that?
He'd passed by an enclosed public restroom, something at least capable of helping him dry out and rebuild a bit of warmth, five miles back. Could he make it there?
"That was a bad day," he said.
Salvation didn't come through either of those options, but from a passing bow hunter who offered a ride 35 miles to a small hotel.
After a day off — there weren't many on the 48-day ride, but that day warranted one — he returned to the tree and continued his ride where it had stopped.
"That was a bad day," Schlichtman said. "No one likes to get hypothermia."
There were good days and bad throughout, tough hills in the Smokey Mountains and steep passes in the Rockies, hot days in the desert and cold nights in the mountains, but none of it is anything he looks back on with regret, not even the wet day under the tree.
The American Trail Race stretches 5,100 miles, from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the Pacific Coast of Oregon. That weather that had been chasing Schlichtman for so long, caused a late-ride adjustment. The trails in the Northwest were closing fast, so he diverted to finish in San Franciso instead.
It's not his first such adventure. He's competed in Iroman Triathlons, then twice attempted the Tour Divide, the 2,700-mile mountain bike race from Banff, Alberta, Canada to the United States-Mexico border in New Mexico.
What's the best of it?
He pointed to sunrises and sunsets, to the new views over every rise, but as much as anything, it's what he learns every time he dives into such an adventure.
"One thing you learn on stuff like this, you can always do more than you think you can do," he said. "I really wanted to push the limits on that, and I guess in a way, there's a part of me that regrets asking for help (in the mountains) and maybe seeing the whole scenario through, to see if I could have done alright by myself."