Perhaps a good answer to this question has been a long time coming: Why race the Tour Divide? Virtually all of the hikers I know think I’m insane. A race? With a bike? Smell-the-flowers types just don’t see the appeal in an event intended to be that fast. Virtually all of the bikers I know think I’m insane. Camping for days on end? Carrying bivy gear? Road bikers just can’t fathom how that seems like a good idea. There are, however, a few folks who understand the draw of a long pilgrimmage.
When Lexi and I finished hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in September 2004, we knew that it was an experience that had changed our lives. The thru-hiking lifestyle and peacefulness of a simple goal had become not only attractive, but intensely meaningful. I’d call it a personal spiritual awakening if that phrase didn’t suggest something more traditionally religious. One of our most difficult challenges in becoming parents in 2006 was how to achieve the benefits of epic travel while having a kid. Sure, at some point we’d love to hike the AT as a family, and we’ve had good success on some of our medium length trips in the last several years, but the lure of the thru-something always lurked.
I first learned about the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and the Tour Divide race four years ago. At that time my mid-90′s vintage Rockhopper had developed a crack in the chainstay and I opted to retire towards Sculptcycle instead of tempting fate. I knew that my friend Rick Molz had extensive bike touring experience and asked him for some advice on what replacement bike to get. He loaned me a pile of Adventure Cycling magazines that had various articles on how to choose a touring bike. My interest wasn’t strictly in a pure touring bike, but the magazines were really engaging. The ACA’s routes and stories were all about long distance travel which greatly appealed to me. The story about the Great Divide route immediately captivated me.
I’m not sure what Lexi thought about my intense curiosity of this event. Maybe she thought I’d like to do it sometime. A year ago I came out and told her that my obsession with this event was not going away, that I really wanted to do it. I know that watching me plan and prepare for this trip has been intensely difficult for her, as she is very drawn to it herself. Perhaps not the race format, but the rest of what its all about she is 100% attracted to. Despite the rainy weather on the Banff Airporter shuttle from the Calgary airport, the dramatic change in scenery from the plains to the Rockies made me realize exactly how amazing this is going to be, and how lucky I am to be here. Its not just that I have the time and willingness to be here, but that my life partner is supporting my efforts. I hope that I can repay that debt in some way.
Before my departure I did a lot of training. 3400 miles on the bike since January 1, plus a Canadian Ski Marathon, and plenty of other things too. I also tried my best to be there for Linnaea, soon to be 4. She will miss me in ways an adult cannot truly appreciate, and I hope that our love will not be weakened by my absence. I hope that local friends will come to play, visit, and support Lexi and Linnaea while I’m gone, so that their time without me is happy and fulfilling. In the meantime, I’ll remember a series of fun late spring adventures with Linnaea:
Tomorrow at 9am, Fairy Go will hit the Spray Trail and seek adventure headed to Mexico. Lexi and Linnaea, I love you both.
When considering what shelter to bring on the Tour Divide, weight, flexibility, and volume were my primary concerns. Tarptents are great, but the one person version weighs only a little bit less than the two person version, so that wasn’t good. Many riders bring some kind of bivy sack, but I sleep warm and hate bugs, so I couldn’t see how that would work out well. For the same reason, just a tarp wouldn’t work. I had toyed with the idea of making a modified tarptent similar to what we used on the PCT, but sized just for me. However, sewing that piece was a ton of annoying work and I wasn’t motivated to take on that project.
So, I decided to bring a tarp and a bug bivy. The tarp is pretty simple: two pieces of catenary cut silnylon with tie out reinforcements and two little 1/2″ grosgrain loops for hanging the bug bivy. Normal people would simply have bought the buy bivy from Mountain Laurel Designs, but their product claims to fit people up to 6′-4″. As I’m 6′-6″, clearly that wasn’t going to be comfy, so I looked closely at the pictures of their product and did my best to knock it off, but 6″ longer. It worked just fine.
The photos here show the two elements set up together and with some garden stakes in the backyard. It sets up fine with the bike’s front wheel at the low end, and the bike at the high end. This setup will also be fabulous for hiking on the AT or LT, since buggy shelters are common, but setting up your tent in the shelter is a major no-no. The materials weren’t particularly expensive, and the sewing was pretty straightforward. Of course, having sewn a more complicated tent in the past helped. If money was no object, getting a custom sized Cuben fiber tarp from MLD, with the bivy loops in the ridge, would be expensive, but lighter by a couple of ounces.
With any luck my ride will be dry and bug-free!
1.1 oz/yd silnylon, gray
9′-2″ long, 6′-10″ wide at head, 4′-2″ wide at foot
catenary cut ridgeline
tie points reinforced with 1.5″ grosgrain tape
0.7 oz/yd Nanoseeum netting
1.1 oz/yd silnylon floor, black
56″ #3 YKK coil zipper at ridge
To carry the food, clothing, water, and bivy gear I’ll need on the Tour Divide, I’ve outfitted my bike with a set of lightweight bags. The seat bag was made by Jeff Boatman at Carousel Design Works, but the rest I’ve made from Dimension Polyant VX-04 fabric left over from the backpacks I made for our 2004 PCT hike. Yep, it will stand out a tad when I’m parked outside Podunk Mercantile.
To round out the set, I’ll be carrying an Osprey Talon 22 pack, with a 3L Camelbak, and all the valuable stuff, like money, camera, passport, and chargers for the camera and lights. There will be plenty of spare room in the pack so that I can carry additional water on the dry stretches, and additional food on the isolated sections.
That’s it. No panniers or racks. I’ve got just enough volume to carry what I think I need. Stay tuned to see how much gets send home along the way. With any luck I won’t be giving too many items a chauffeured bicycle trip.
Are you a bit rusty on your map and compass navigation skills? Since 2003 I have taught map and compass workshops for the Green Mountain Club. Recently, Steve Larose and I teamed up to create a series of instructional videos to give you the basics.
Why to bring a map and compass
What to look for on a map
How to read contour lines
What is magnetic declination
The parts of the map compass
How to orient a map
How to follow a bearing
To learn more, go to the Green Mountain Club to sign up for one of my full day workshops. In the store you can also buy one of the Brunton compasses that I prefer to use.
June 11th I will begin a very long bike race, the Tour Divide.
What is the Tour Divide?
Its a 2780 mile mountain bike race from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, on the Mexican border, following the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route created by the Adventure Cycling Association. The start is June 11th, 9AM. The event is coordinated via the internet. There is no entry fee, no liability waiver, no prizes, and no support. Its just a common time that endurance fanatics can challenge each other and themselves on the longest mountain bike route in the world. Its a route that anyone can ride at any time, and plenty of folks tour the route each year at a more mellow pace.
What is the route like?
The route isn’t marked on the ground like a hiking trail, but there are excellent paper maps and a recently updated .gpx file for GPS navigation. About 80% of the route is Forest Service dirt roads, which vary between excellent and lousy. There are small amounts of singletrack or rough trail that you wouldn’t call a road, and the rest is paved. It generally follows the Continental Divide, though because it uses roads, is lower elevation than a hiking trail. The route crosses the Continental Divide 29 times and has a total elevation gain of over 200,000 feet.
How long will it take?
The course record is currently 17:21:10, held by multiple winner Matthew Lee, sponsored by Cannondale. That means he rode an average of 156 miles a day. Of last year’s 42 starters, 16 finished, so the first challenge is just to finish. Most racers who manage to complete the route finish in under 30 days. I am aiming at 23 days, or 120 miles a day. Perhaps more importantly, I’m aiming to finish, preferably with some kind of maniacal grin. …or at least not seriously injure myself.
Is there support?
No, period. This is a purely self-supported event. No sag wagons, no caches, no friends handing you cold drinks. If you want it along, carry it. Riders are welcome to buy food, motel rooms, bike parts, and gas station burritos whenever they are available. If you get injured, break your bike, or run out of gas, you’re on your own. No care packages.
Where will you sleep?
Much like with thru-hiking, I’ll have lightweight sleeping gear, and intend to bivy most of the time. When weather, circumstance, or the need to literally recharge my batteries dictates, I’ll stay in a motel. However, in my hiking experience, towns are the biggest time-suck to be had, so I’ll do my best to move through them quickly.
What kind of bike will you ride?
A Niner Air9 XL. Its a 29 inch wheel hardtail mountain bike. The 2.1″ wide Nano Raptor tires have a narrow bead of slick, so they roll pretty well on pavement or hardpack, yet have good flotation in soft sand or mud. Low profile knobs on the side help with cornering.
Will you have panniers?
No. My gear without food and water will weigh about 15 pounds, light enough and small enough volume to fit into a homemade handlebar bag, homemade frame bag, a large seat bag made by Carousel Design Works, and an Osprey Talon 22 pack. Details here.
Can we follow along?
YES! I’ll be carrying a SPOT personal tracker, a GPS based device similar to a personal locator beacon. It sends out location signals on a regular basis which will be displayed and tracked on the Tour Divide Leaderboard. Carrying a unit is not required, but most racers will have one, so that on the Leaderboard Google map, you’ll be able to see 24 hours a day where I am in the pack of racer dots. Data for just me will be here. You’ll be able to see where I am, how fast I’m going, and how long I am stopped. Be prepared to find the Leaderboard quite addictive, you may just turn into a “blue dot junkie”.
When I can, I’ll also be leaving voice mail messages with news about my whereabouts and what I’m eating. Those messages, perhaps with text transcription, will be listed in chronological order on the TD Blog. They will probably also be available as a podcast on MTBCast. Once we get rolling, just my call ins will be here.
This FAQ will be updated as I have the time. Feel free to comment on this posting to pose a question.
Andrew and I met at Onion River Sports at 6am sharp, …okay, 6:10. Heather and Dave (yet another Dave) were there with road bikes for a short jaunt. The majority of the local road riding contingent were no doubt busy all weekend at the Killington Stage Race. Our moderate speed hill route went as follows:
Middlesex Notch (hike-a-bike required)
South Hill Road (that’s right David T, I’m invading your home turf!)
Herring Brook to Jones Brook
I had hiked up to Middlesex Notch a couple of times in the past and knew it to be a lonely Wildlife Management Area host to a VAST (snowmobile) trail and much abused by ATVs. Low down there is an area with a loads of blackberry bushes. The picking in the fall is endless. Higher in the notch there are some cool mossy outcrops. At the height of land is a modest sized beaver pond with a VAST arrow nailed to a stump in the middle of the pond. The beavers must have been at work more than usual, since the water was much higher than I had seen before, and our hike-a-bike began earlier than I expected. There isn’t any doubt about where to go: just head for the large mown lawn of an estate on the other side.
We quickly and quietly made our way across the lawn and down the driveway. From Perry Hill Road we explored double track to the top of Perry Hill and the back end and highpoint of the Perry Hill mountain bike trails. The 800′ drop on the main trail and yellow loop were slow and spastic for both of us. My singletrack skills are, ahem, limited. Brand new tight cleats and a road height saddle didn’t help much. Down low on the yellow loop I did find one short stretch through a red pine grove that flowed very nicely.
Once across the Winooski we climbed Cobb Hill, which begins as an ordinary dirt road and eventually turns into a Class 4+ granny gear climb. We paused at the Moretown Store for cold drinks: V8 juice for me. On our way up Moretown Mountain Road we took a side trip up South Hill Road, mostly so that partner/nemesis-in-crime David Tremblay couldn’t chide me for skipping hills. Past the top of Moretown Gap we turned onto the gooey and mosquitoey Herring Brook connector.
After the Jones Brook and Crosstown Road climbs, we bombed down Hill Street and rolled right to a packed Montpelier Farmers Market, where I talked bikes and croissants with Fleche teammate Randy George of Red Hen Baking.
5:30 moving time
6900′ elevation gain
My Tour Divide race machine will be a Niner Air9, various incarnations of I have run for several years. Today was time for the final build, including new cables, derailleurs, cassette, chain, brake pads and bleed, and bar tape. The process of shifting parts over from my previous green Niner to the new Raw (silver) one was pretty smooth. It was also an excellent exercise, since the vast majority of the time I’m out on the Tour Divide, there simply won’t be a bike shop handy to roll into should the bike need a tweak or fix.
Back when folks still used MSR Whisperlites, I always recommended that newbies get a repair kit, and before going on their first big hike, take the time to disassemble the whole thing and put it back together again. Then, when the weather is lousy and the stove decides to crap out on you, at least you know that you’ve taken the stove apart before. It seems like a pretty good theory to apply to a bike.
When I was done, the first test spin was rather satisfying. My oh my do new parts run more happily than old beat up ones! There were some annoying creaking sounds, which through pedaling trial-and-error was clearly coming from the cranks/bottom bracket area. Luckily that annoyance was easily removed by switching out my older style Time ATAC pedals for newer ones that I had taken off to replace bushings. One big item just got crossed off my never-shrinking Excel To Do list.
Dave’s Tour Divide Bike
Niner Air9 Raw XL
Chris King No ThreadSet Mango
Thomson Elite Seatpost
Thomson X4 Stem
Rock Shox Reba SL Fork
Night-Stripes Scotchlite stickers
MEC Turbo Turtle Red LED rear light
Stans ZTR Arch Disc Rim
DT Swiss Comp spokes black with red nipples
Chris King ISO Disc Front and Rear Hub Mango
Salsa Skewers Red
Stans Yellow Rim Tape and Sealant
WTB Nano Raptor Race 29r Tire
Shimano FC-M770 XT Crankset 180mm and BB
Shimano XT M770/771 9spd Chainrings – 44t and 32t
Action Tec Titanium Inner Ring- 20t with steel chainring bolts
Sram PG 990 Cassette 11-34
Sram X.9 Front Derailleur
Sram X.9 Rear Derailleur long cage
Sram PC-971 Chain
Time ATAC XS Carbon Pedals
Avid Juicy 5 hydraulic disc brakes, 185 front, 160 rear
Salsa Pro Moto Flat Bar 11 degree
Ergon GX-2 Magnesium Grips
Profile Designs Carbon Stryke aero bar
Sram X.7 Trigger Shifters
Gore Ride-On Fully Sealed LF Derailleur Cables
Brooks Swift Saddle Antique Brown
VDO C3 wired computer
Garmin Vista HCx GPS with stem mount
…unveiling the bags will come in a future post.