Tour Divide: First Considerations

It’s inevitable. I mean, if you are having a mid-life fitness crisis, you are going to think about some big, hairy audacious goal. Not just something on the bucket list, but the maybe the whole bucket list. I’ve got friends who have Kona as that goal. Others want to do the Race Across America (RAAM).  So for me, it started as a conversation with a buddy during a ride:

Do you now who that was?

No, who?

Matt Lee. He’s this endurance racer who’s raced from Canada to Mexico and won a bunch of times?

Really? Canada to Mexico?

Yea, along the western continental divide.

Really?

Yea, they made documentary about it. “Ride the Divide”. It’s on Netflix.

So of course, like many, I watched the documentary and contemplated it as  possibility. Several years later, I began giving the Tour Divide Race (TDR) some more thought. Just for grins, I looked at the 2014 start list, wanting to see if any guys in their 50’s were racing. Sure enough, there were a bunch, and even some guys in their 60’s. So age was not going to work as excuse to not do this. Then I followed very closely this year’s race, paying particular attention to the “masters” and how they fared. Not so well but weather took its toll on a lot of folks. I found myself glued to Trackleaders.com, watching the blue dot move slowly from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, Mexico (or vice versa for the small north bound contingent). I was also reading the bikepacking.net discussion board, keeping up on all the race discussion, from status of each rider to philosophical discussions about ultra-endurance racing and the “ethos” of self-support. I also listened to the call-ins from the racers via mtbcast.com to try and glean from the calls they kind of people were doing something as massive as this.

First some quick background. First know has the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race (GDMBR), it first went from the Canadian border to the Mexican border along a route developed by the Adventure Cycling Association. Intended to be more touring-friendly, the route covers gravel and paved roads the criss-cross the continental divide, with a lack of single-track, as noted by the many MTBr’s who consider the route. Eventually, a Canadian section was added and the name changed to Tour Divide. The tourdivide.org website has some good information but has not been update in several years, either due to lack of time by the organizers, or an intentional effort to not look too organized, attracting the attention of park services who may require permitting. Most of the current information can be found in various threads on bikepacking.net. With GPS technology, the race has become easier to monitor and spectate. Trackleaders.com, founded by Matt Lee and Scott Morris, provides Spot GPS units to racers, who can either leave on the grand depart date (2nd Friday in June), northbound or southbound, or any other time as an individial time trial (ITT). The GPS units continually emit a signal that is tracked along the route.

So what’s the appeal?

For me, I’ve always wanted to ride my bike across the country. For the TDR, it’s just riding width-wise as opposed to lengthwise. I love to backpack so that part of it’s appealing. And I like the independent, self-supported nature of it. As some of the bikepackers say: Do. It. Yourself. I’m less certain about the enormity of the task. 2750 miles, 200k of climbing, and anywhere from 20 to 30 days depending on weather, fitness, and mental toughness. And it is a race. Staying in race mode that long seams even more daunting.

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