Tour Divide 2019: DNF – Zero for Two

In my rookie Tour Divide attempt in 2016, I came down with tendonitis in my left leg several days out of Helena.  I remember exactly when the injury trigger happened.  I was doing a bit of hike-a-bike several miles past Echo Lake in Montana when I felt an odd sensation in my ankle.  It didn’t hurt, it was just enough to make me pause and think “that felt weird.”  That turned into a dull ache, which became painful when riding, which became painful walking or riding. By the time I got to Helena it was pretty difficult to make progress.  I stopped at urgent care, then an orthopedic urgent care.  I wound up flying out of Helena in an immobilizing boot. In 2016 I DNF’d due to injury, so I felt compelled to give it another go.


Fast forward to 2019, the year of redemption!  I believe the issue in 2016 was that I didn’t truly understand the length and grade of the climbs and how much that would translate to hike-a-bike for me.  So to prep for the 2019 event, I incorporated a lot of hiking into my training.  And that worked.  No tendonitis.  Sore left knee? Yes. Tendonitis? Nope.


Day ONE on the Tour Divide was great!  My goal was to get to the bottom of Koko Claims, with a stretch goal to get to the top.  I made it to the top, 106 miles down for the day.  On the walk up several people were low on water so we stopped at a slow running stream to refill.  I used the same Katadyn water filter I used in 2016 which had worked great for me then.  I got to the top, but the cabin was full and pretty warm with the fire going, so I setup my tent near the cabin for the night.


Former Libertarian Presidential Candidate and New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson pushing his loaded Trek Farley up KoKo Claims

Day TWO didn’t go so well… There’s an outhouse behind the cabin.  I had to use that three times before leaving in the morning.  Shortly after starting down the hill, I had to stop again.  Then again.  And again.  It wasn’t good.  I think I stopped about a dozen times before taking an immodium, then two more times before the immodium really kicked in.  Come on! It was only day 2!  On one of the descents my cassette started making noise any time I coasted.  Crap.  Then my DI2 synchronized shifting stopped working and I couldn’t get into my big chain ring.  Day 2 was not turning out to be my day!  I finally stopped to check the DI2 system and it appears one of my feed bags must have double tapped the settings button and put it into manual mode.  At least that was an easy and quick fix.


On the final descent into Fernie, the weld on my Fred bar failed.  The Fred bar raises my aerobars for comfort and to provide more space for my handlebar bags.  I love my Fred Bar.  I had switched to a Salsa Anything Cradle to mount my handlebar bag to so that it wouldn’t interfere with my brakes or cables (an issue I had in 2016), but I had trouble keeping my Sweet Roll handlebar bag secured to the cradle.  It kept dropping down and rubbing the front tire.  To stop that from occurring, I used some cord to lift the bags using the ends of my aerobars as the anchor.  Adding that weight to the end of the aerobars is likely what caused my Fred bar to fail.  Totally my fault.


I stopped at the GearHub Sports bike shop as soon as I got into Fernie.  They immediately got my bike on a stand and started checking things over.  They pulled the rear wheel off, discovered the bearings in the free hub assembly were destroyed and replaced them.  The Fred Bar is a pretty unique component and they don’t carry them or anything like a Fred bar that would raise my aerobars up, so they took two hose clamps in an X pattern and tightened the bar where the weld failed, then wrapped it all in gorilla tape.  It felt pretty secure in the shop. Only 56 miles completed Day 2.


Day THREE – I decided to stay in Fernie for the night to try to recover some from the bad water I got on Koko Claims and hit a pizza place for dinner.  I ate well and felt pretty good when I woke up the next morning, so I headed back out on course.  I felt good on the first climb out of town and was making pretty good time, but wasn’t really eating or drinking enough.  I wasn’t pushing it very hard, but when I got to the next climb, I could tell I was losing power and was having a harder time eating and drinking anything.  At some point I started to dry heave if I tried to eat.  It took a long time to get to the WigWam Campground for the night.  Since I was feeling good in the morning, I made better progress than I thought I did, getting almost 77 miles down, still well short of the 100+ miles per day that I wanted.


Day FOUR – I slept in the next morning, but wasn’t the last one to leave.  I refilled my water bladder with filtered water AND some purification tablets (which I should have used Day 1!).  But I still couldn’t really eat or drink which made riding difficult.  The dry heaves also came back.  I wound up walking much of the day because I simply had no energy.  Getting over the Wall wasn’t as hard as I expected (it was dry), but I did have to stop several times going up to rest.  This was probably my hardest day.  I was pretty dehydrated.  I stopped just past the border in Roosville, MT and ate a hamburger and fries with some drinks.  I started to feel a bit better, but still really dehydrated.  I decided to bypass the official course route and take the main road directly into Eureka.  Only 38 miles completed for the day.


Day 5 – Rest day.  In Eureka I got a hotel room for two nights and loaded up on Vitamin Water and Gatorade.  I also walked over to the store and got some pickles, triscuits and a few other snacks for the room.  I was able to eat that evening at the restaurant next to the hotel.  And breakfast the next morning.  My stomach seemed to be improving quickly.  I walked down to the laundry mat and washed my dirty clothes, went back to the hotel and ate some snacks for lunch.


Before going to do my laundry, I left a voice mail for Siren Cycles (they make the Fred Bar) and explained my situation.  While I was at the laundry, I got a text from Brian at Siren Cycles indicating he got my message, but they were out of stock.  He was going to check with his dealer network to see if he could find one for me. On my walk back to the hotel he texted again that they had found one (THANKS to Brian and to Pete Basinger who is the one who actually had the Fred Bar!!!) and asked where it should be shipped! YES! When I got back to my room and checked the map and asked if he could send it to Seeley Lake which is just off-route.  It wouldn’t get to Seeley lake until the 22d.  I’d likely have to wait more than a day, so I asked about Ovando which is a bit further up the road.  I would get to Ovando on the 21st! Perfect!  I asked if he wanted payment over PayPal or Credit Card.  He said don’t worry about it, just keep riding! Wow, that was just awesome!


In the evening I met up with Aaron Hall, Doug Cullins and Eleanor Christopher for dinner.  I had breakfast the next morning with Aaron then stopped at Subway for a sandwich to go for lunch and rolled out with Aaron a bit later.


Day 6 – Aaron and I rode together for a while and caught up to Doug who had left a bit earlier than us.  We caught him at the top of a climb and I tend to descend pretty fast, so I lost them after that descent.  Around 1pm I stopped to eat and they caught me again.  Aaron stopped to eat, but Doug kept rolling.  I was feeling pretty good after lunch and was riding strong.  At some point Aaron dropped back and I passed Doug.  On the climb up Red Meadow Pass I saw my first (and only) grizzly.  It was raining at the time and the grizzly was just strolling down the road towards me. My brakes squealed a bit from the rain when I stopped which made the grizzly stop and look at me, then he started walking towards me again.  I yelled “Hey Bear” and it turned and wandered off into the forest.  I had my bluetooth speaker turned on streaming music on full volume after that!


I made it to Whitefish around 6:30pm and went straight to the outdoor shop where I found a replacement filter for my Katadyn pump.  Then I got a hotel for the night, took a shower and walked over to a Pizza place for dinner.  Aaron pulled into town while I was on my way to the pizza place and joined me a bit later (just enough time for me to have an appetizer and a beer while I waited for him).  I downed a large pizza.  It was good to have my appetite back!  96 miles done for the day with the side trip to the outdoor shop.


Day 7 – I rolled out alone the next morning (Aaron and Doug needed to visit a bike shop for repairs).  It was a good ride to the Echo Lake café where I stopped for lunch.  This time I was determined to ride up the hill where I sustained the injury in 2016.  It rained.  Then it hailed.  Then it rained again.  But I stayed on my bike!  Made it just over 94 miles for the day and camped in the wilderness.  Another good day on the bike.  I also saw a black bear, but it immediately went into the forest.  And a black bear cub ran down the road in front of me for a bit before turning into the forest.


Day 8 – The next day was a bit tough.  I found that I do better when I have real food with me, but I wound up eating some keto bars and jerkey for dinner and breakfast.  Then I struggled a bit that day.  My goal was to get to Ovando so I could get my Fred Bar from the post office, but I pulled in well after the post office closed.  I went straight to Trixies for a pitcher of beer and a Trixie Burger (two hamburger patties with a slice of ham between them).  Sam Garre and Phil Rice came in while I was waiting for my meal.  I talked Phil into the Trixie burger, but he didn’t care for it.  In town I ran into Nat Rainbow and Doug Folk before setting up my tent near the teepee and sheep herder’s wagon in the middle of town.


Day 9 – The next morning I had breakfast with Nat, Sam and Phil, ordered a sandwich to go, then waited for the Post Office to open at 10am.  I swapped out the Fred Bar and got on the road about 10:30.  Near the top of the first big climb I caught up to Nat, but we hit that descent and I quickly moved away.  I stopped in Lincoln for lunch before continuing on towards Helena.  My goal was to get over the first two big passes, then do the last pass in the morning and stop in Helena for breakfast.  Somewhere along there I caught up to Sam and Phil who planned to ride into Helena that night.  With the late start, I only got about 76 miles done and camped in the wilderness, but I had service so I was able to call Annette which was nice.


Day 10 – I made it into Helena in the morning and stopped at a café for a real breakfast.  Then ordered a massive breakfast burrito to go for lunch.  The climb out of Helena is very long and tedious.  It was a weekend, so there was quite a bit of car traffic.  I wound up walking quite a bit.  The grades were in the 6-8% range, so not super hard, but really long.  I just kept getting tired of grinding away at it and would walk for bits of it.  Near the top, we turn onto Lava Mountain Trail which is supposed to be closed to motorized vehicles, but isn’t.  ATVs have really torn up that trail.  It was pretty technical, so I walked most of it, both up and down.  Going up I stopped and ate my breakfast burrito and shortly after that I caught up to Sam and Phil.  My goal for the day was to stop in Basin where I heard you could stay in the community hall.  I mentioned that to Phil and that became their destination as well.  I made it to the top by myself and had a relatively quick ride down to Basin, just keeping in front of a rain cell.  I found the community hall, but the doors were all locked.  I rode through town once, but didn’t see any other lodging so I decided to head on down the trail and promptly got lost.  I called Annette and we looked at the map and figured out where I needed to go under the freeway to get back on the trail.  It rained on me a bit while we were looking for the route, then I got going again.  Put in just under 77 miles for the day and camped in the wilderness.  Sam and Phil stopped to eat and inquired about the community hall.  Turns out it was available, but someone needed to be called to open it up.  Dang.


Day 11 – a short day to Butte.  I had been riding pretty much on my own most of the ride and it was starting to wear on me.  So I decided to make it a short day and stay in Butte. Only 29 miles done for the day.  Pretty easy miles too.


Day 12 – When I woke up the next morning I had zero desire to get on my bike.  Not motivated at all.  Nothing physically was wrong, I just didn’t want to ride.  So I went down to the front desk and extended my stay for another night.  There was a movie theatre less than a mile away, so I walked over and watched a movie in the early afternoon. No miles.


Day 13 – Since my race ended at the Canadian border when I diverted from the course, I decided to embrace touring mode and ride some shorter days.  So my destination for the day was Wise River, only about 50 miles away from Butte.  I also deviated from the route again and took the direct route out of Butte instead of following the course.  The riding was scenic and not too hard.  Quite a bit of pavement leaving Butte.  I got to Wise River relatively early.  The mosquitos were fierce!  I stopped at the country store and got a couple frozen burritos for dinner a few snacks and a 6 pack of beer. There’s a place where you can camp in Wise River, but with the mosquitos, I decided to ride out of town and stop at one of the camp grounds in the forest.  There was a bit of a head wind, but not too bad.  I stopped at the first camp ground in the forest that I came to and setup camp for the night.  The beer had warmed up a bit on the ride.  I wound up doing around 61.5 miles for the day and got to the camp site pretty early.  It was nice to setup, enjoy my dinner and some warm beer and read a book on the kindle app on my phone.


Day 14 – I enjoyed the climb over the pass the next morning.  It wasn’t too steep and I was able to mostly stay on the bike the whole climb.  The descent was really fast.  I caught up to Nat Rainbow and Doug Folk near the bottom, but they were stopping at a store and I kept rolling.  After the descent, we moved into some high plains filled with ranches and hit the Old Bannack road.  I caught up to Sam and Phil along there.  There was a soul sucking headwind most of the way.  I had planned to camp along here, but it was completely exposed.  I didn’t see any spots out of the wind, so I kept riding.  There is a canyon that you go through towards the end and just before that, the wind shifted to cross-tail, then in the canyon to a complete tail wind.  I was flying through there and didn’t want to waste momentum by stopping, so I got almost all the way through that canyon then saw the Big Sheep Campground with a toilet pit!  So I pulled in for the night.  113 miles for the day, way more than I had planned.


A guy saw me roll into the campground and walked over while I was setting up my camp.  He said “anyone ballsy enough to ride a bike here deserves a beer!” and handed me a cold beer.  Oh man, that went down good!  He invited me to his camp site and I went over after getting my tent setup.  His name is Dakota and he was camping with his parents Kim and Woody (who’ve been married for 40 years!).  I really enjoyed visiting with them.  At one point Woody got up and came back with a left over steak that he offered me! Yes!  Kim sliced it up and turned it into a sandwich.  So good to have real food!  Sam and Phil rolled in a little later and setup camp next to me.  Dakota walked over and offered them one of those big sandwiches you get at a grocery store.  He came back empty handed, so I assumed they accepted it.


I went back to my camp at around 9:30-ish and the sandwich was sitting on my bike untouched.  Sam said there was too much bread on it, but when I opened it, Phil had a piece.  Finished about half of it and put the rest in the bear locker.  Sam and Phil left before me in the morning.  I ate the rest of the sandwich for breakfast then broke down my camp. Kim, Woody and Dakota had already left as well.  They wanted to get an early start home.


Day 15 – I stopped when I got out of the canyon to call Annette and my dad, then rode into Lima for breakfast.  Sam and Phil were there as well as a couple guys who were touring the GDMBR.  After breakfast I stopped at the gas station for some snacks and to refill my water bladder then headed back into the high plains cow country.  More rolling hills with shifting winds all day.  I caught a tail wind towards in the afternoon which was nice.  It pretty much blew me into Lakeview.  I stopped at the ranger station and noticed there was a campground in the National Wildlife Preserve that had potable water, so I decided to stop there to fill up.  There was someone at the campground who told me where the water was.  Fresh water from an underground spring that was piped to the surface.  I was a bit leery, but the guy at the campground said it was excellent, so I drank my fill.  It was only around 4pm, but I decided to call it a day and setup camp.  Another TD rider stopped for the evening and setup camp.  And a bit later Nat Rainbow rolled in whooping and hollering about making it to the campground.  I chatted with Nat for a bit before turning in for the night.  I complained about the soul sucking headwind along old Bannack road, but she absolutely loved that part of the ride.  Huge open spaces.  She’s from the UK and doesn’t see anything like that back home.  Guess it’s all about perspective.


I had been thinking about the route ahead for a few days and wasn’t looking forward to riding alone through the Wyoming Great Basin, especially after the wind on Old Bannack Road.  The great basin is just high desert plains with sparse water sources.  People had been reporting strong headwinds.  It didn’t sound fun, so I decided it was time to end my ride.  The first few days really destroyed my race and the ride for me wasn’t as much fun being completely alone most of the time, so I decided to make my way through Idaho, then rent a car and drive home.  I traded messages with Annette that night via my Garmin InReach and let her know the plan.  69 miles done for the day.


Day 16 – We finally rolled back into some trees on the way into Idaho.  I stopped at the Subway in Sawtelle for lunch and a sandwich to go, then headed onto the rail trail.  The beginning was pretty sandy, but most of it was rideable.  There were some wide washerboard sections where the railroad ties had been buried and the sand in spots, but for the most part it wasn’t bad at all.  I was worried that we would have 30 miles of sand, but that didn’t turn out to be true and I actually made pretty good time, passing Sam and Phil along the way.  I had originally planned to stop at the Warm River Campground, but it was packed with people there for the weekend and it was still early afternoon, so I went a few miles up the road, stopped for lunch then turned away from the Tour Divide route to make my way to Rexburg for the night.  I was still feeling fine physically and put in 102 miles that day, but mentally I was done with the ride.


Day 17 – The next morning I rode the remaining 26 miles to Idaho Falls to pick up my rental car at the airport.  I unloaded my bike, then drove to Yellowstone National Park, someplace I’d never been to before.  I stopped at various geysers, did the 6 mile round trip hike to Fairy Falls, then stopped to watch Old Faithful erupt.  My left knee had been bothering me a bit the past few days, but wasn’t really painful until I did the hike to Fairy Falls.  Perhaps it tightened up on the drive?  Dunno, but a week after getting home, it’s still pretty painful.  I had originally planned on doing some unloaded mountain biking in Yellowstone and other spots along the way home, but with my knee feeling the way it did, I decided not to do that.  I car-camped just south of Grand Teton National Park that night.


Day 18 – I decided to visit some of the towns along the TD route, but when the route intersected the road I was on in Pinedale, I decided to just follow the route in the rental car.  I made it to Atlantic City, then lost the route, so drove over to the main road and follow it until it intersected the route again.  I had planned to follow the route to Steamboat Springs, but one of the passes was still completely covered with snow.  Impassable for the Mitsubishi Outlander.  I may have tried it in my Jeep, but no way the Outlander was getting through.  So I turned around and took the main dirt road again, stopping when I found a good spot for another night of car-camping.


Day 19 – I stayed on pavement, but did drive through several towns until just before Salida, where I branched off to head towards Silverton and home.  One more night of car camping in the forest outside of Silverton.  While I was having dinner, a porcupine came strolling down the road.  He stopped and gave me a look that pretty much said “you aren’t going to give me any trouble are you?”  Then it continued down the middle of the road.


Day 20 – Silverton to Flagstaff to home.  I’ve done this drive many, many times.  I did stop in Silverton at the Black Bear café for breakfast before leaving town.  Pretty uneventful drive.  Annette met me in Flagstaff to return the rental car and have lunch, then we headed home.


Epilogue… It’s been a bit over a week since I got home.  I don’t regret my decision to stop riding at all.  I was fine physically and could have kept going, I just didn’t want to.  They say the Tour Divide is 90% mental and the other 10% is mental.  For me that was the case.  It got in my head that I wasn’t going to really enjoy the rest of the ride being alone most of the time.  I was more ready to go home to my wife.  The day after the ride started, Jun 15th, Annette and I had our 28th Anniversary.  We had dated a few years before we got married.  In that time, the longest we had been apart were my 2 week annual Army Reserve training deployments before we were married.  This was the longest we have been apart since we started dating.  It was good to be home with my love and life partner!


I’m pretty sure my Tour Divide aspirations are over.  I can do a few weeks on the bike by myself, but then my motivation evaporates.  I think if I were to ride again, it would be the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route as a tourist, preferably with some friends, putting in lower mileage and enjoying the towns more.  I’d probably either fly into Idaho Falls and pick up the course from there for a week, maybe two, then plan to return another year where I left off or start from Antelope Wells and head north for a few weeks.  I don’t see myself starting in Banff again.  Banff is beautiful and I’d love to drive the Z4 up there with Annette so she can enjoy/experience the scenery, but I’ve done that section of the ride twice now and it’s enough for me.  Maybe when I’ve retired from work I’ll change my mind and give the whole thing another shot, but I doubt it…

I posted a few video updates on instagram if you are interested is listening to some day by day updates:

    Tour Divide Training Update


    Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” – T.S. Eliott




    15 days until I fly to Banff.  17 days until the start of the 2019 Tour Divide!  Time has gone by so FAST.  It feels like there is so much to do still and not nearly enough time to get it all done.  Since the last update I’ve worked on getting my bike dialed in and myself dialed in.  


    In March I started getting my gear inventoried and situated on my Niner.  I wasn’t happy with how my Revelate Designs Sweetroll handlebar bag interfered with my brakes and cables, so I installed a Salsa Anything Cradle to move it away a few inches.  Unfortunately I’m still working on figuring out how to ensure it stays seated in the cradle.  It keeps dropping down.  I think I’m close, but I have a feeling I’ll be doing some on the fly adjustments during the ride.  In 2016 I had my tent strapped to the Sweetroll.  I originally planned to do that again, but decided to strap it to my seat bag instead.  I’m also bringing a 1lb ultralight camping chair so I don’t have to sit on the ground.  My knees can’t take that strain anymore, the chair has been awesome on my test rides.