I had laid all my clothes out to dry before going to bed, and that worked well. But I looked out the window to see more rain. It looked cold. A quick weather check showed that I could expect a cold rain most of the day. So I packed my bike and pulled on all my wet, cold weather gear. One critical item I had completely forgotten about on the frigid first day was my neck warmer. It’s amazing how much warmer your whole body is when you have a neck warmer on.
My cheat sheet showed quite a bit of pavement, so I expected to make pretty good time. 109 miles to Holland Lake, but based on my daily mileage so far, I figured that would be out of my reach. As expected, the ride out of Whitefish was cold and wet. The mountains were mostly shrouded in clouds, but when they cleared, I could see the snow line had come down and was only a 1000 feet or so above me. I stopped for lunch (and to warm up)at a restaurant in Ferndale (about 40 miles from Whitefish).
I admit to sitting and drinking hot coffee for a half hour or so after finishing my meal. I was hoping the weather would clear, but I left in the rain. A few miles out of Ferndale the weather let up and the temperature started coming back up. I stopped to shed some cold weather clothes and decided to hike-a-bike for a bit up a rideable climb just to get a break from the saddle. It was still cloudy, but the clouds were lifting.
Shortly after starting to walk my bike I felt a weird pain in my left ankle. It wasn’t a pop or sharp pain, just fine one step and “hey, that kinda hurt” the next step. It wasn’t super painful and became a dull ache. Ok, that’s not good, but it wasn’t bad and didn’t really bother me when I was riding.
It was still over 65 miles to Holland lake with a big pass to get over, so my goal was to get over the pass and find a spot to camp. My preferred camping spots are at lower elevation in secluded areas. It took quite a while to get to the top of that pass with some more sections of hike-a-bike, then a super fast descent. I found a nice spot off of a closed side road to setup camp. I got lucky because it started to rain again just after finishing setting up my camp.
Day 8 I woke up with a pretty tender Achilles in my left ankle. It seemed to loosen up as I broke down camp, so I didn’t really worry about it too much.
There was a really nice section of single track going up the next pass with just amazing scenery at the top.
Swan Lake was 5 miles off-route, but there was a lodge with a restaurant, so I decided that would be worth the detour. When I got there I discovered the restaurant is only open at certain times, but even if I had gotten there when it was supposed to be open, they were getting ready for a big wedding, so the restaurant wasn’t going to be open anyway. So I rode over to the day use area, sat at a table and had a cold lunch from my stores.
With my Achilles bothering me, I wasn’t making very good time. I found myself doing more hike-a-bike on the climbs. There was another big climb before Seeley Lake and I realized with the amount of hike-a-bike, I likely wouldn’t make it all the way. But that section was incredibly scenic with some more really nice single track.
I found another nice secluded spot off a closed side road to setup camp. That night I was suddenly woken by a sharp pain in my ankle. That was weird, but it only happened once and I slept the rest of the night.
Day 9 I woke to more rain. Luckily I had a cell signal, so I pulled up my weather app and saw that it was a relatively small rain cell, so I stayed in my tent until it passed. Of course I had laid out my clothes before going to bed hoping that it would all dry and now everything was soaked again!
Seeley Lake was a bit off-route, but I decided to go into town to re-supply at a grocery store and get a good breakfast. Of course the grocery store was on the opposite side of town! Once I was back on the route I hit a freshly graded section of forest road. You would think fresh grading would be nice, but it’s actually very hard. There is a lot of loose gravel and sections of deep gravel/sand. You have to take corners very carefully. That was a long section! It also got pretty warm and I found myself stopping in shade. My Achilles was really tender, so I texted Mike Cox and Coach Jeff Lockwood to see if they had any advice on how to handle it. Mike suggested I ask Jeff (already done). Coach replied: “Checked with doc lock (Jacqui). When not riding ice it and range of motion to tolerance. Before riding try to get cramers icy hot. Rub it on the tendon and the use a round tube like a seat post or pvc pipe and rub from heel to knee. Do this 10 min. Twice a day. Ice it a couple of times in the evening. Only ice for 10 min at a time. Good luck”
Hmmmm… No ice handy, but there were a lot of streams with snow run-off. So I stopped at the next stream, took my shoe and sock off and soaked it in ice cold water. Man, that felt good and my ankle felt better! Although it was probably just a bit frozen!
Mentally, I was still in it. Loving the scenery and enjoying the ride, albeit with some pain in my ankle. I was walking a lot more. When I tried to climb, my ankle would flare up, so I was now walking sections that I normally would have ridden up. I got through that pass and looked back to see black clouds over the area I had just ridden through. Lucked out there!
After that pass, I hit a flatter area with a few rolling hills on the way to Ovando. I stopped at both stores in Ovando to see if they had any Icy Hot, but no luck. The restaurant in town was closed, but Trixie’s on the edge of town was open, so I headed over there for a burger and beer. A huge group of motorcyclists pulled in just after I got my meal, so it got pretty busy and took a while to get my check. The Trixie burger was awesome (2 beef patties with a slice of ham between them and cheese).
When I left, the wind had picked up and I could see that rain headed my way. But the scenery was beautiful high country plains.
My goal was to get to Lincoln for the night which was only about 40 miles from Ovando with about 3000 feet of climbing. With the hike-a-bike and stops to chill my ankle, that took way longer than I thought it would. I got to Lincoln just as the sun was setting. The first hotel I stopped at was sold out. Rather than ride through town, I called all the other hotels and they were all sold out. I don’t know what was going on there, but there must have been some kind of event. Lincoln was interesting. There was deer everywhere!
There was a camp ground at the opposite end of town, so I rode over there and set up camp. The guy next to me had a nice camp fire going and he invited me over to share the warmth. We chatted for a bit, but it was getting late, so I went to bed about 11:30. Then I slept in the next morning.
After breaking down camp, I found a grocery store and got some Icy Hot, then found a restaurant for breakfast. I also stopped at a gas station convenience store to get a new iPhone charging cable because my short cable wasn’t working any more. I was also having issues with my Garmin charging cable, but they didn’t have a mini-USB cable.
My day 10 goal was to get to Helena which was only 60 miles, but had 3 passes with 5500 feet of climbing. I rode right past the start of the first climb and had to backtrack a mile or so. That pass was insane. It started with a 12-18% grade that went for miles. My Achilles really started to act up and I started to get sharp pains if I tried to ride while climbing, so I pretty much walked all the climbs and stopped at every opportunity to chill my ankle.
There was quite a bit of old mining equipment and remains of buildings along that route. Makes you wonder how the old timers moved that much steel!
For the first time near to top of that first climb I noticed the Continental Divide trail show up on my Garmin.
The scenery was still amazing, it was just slow going. Near the top of the first pass I met a lady who was hiking the divide. We chatted for a bit until we got to the top of the pass, then she went left and I went right.
She had warned me there were some rolling hills before the descent on the other side, but it really wasn’t bad. But at one point there were trails in three directions and I couldn’t tell from my Garmin which Inwas supposed to take, so I pulled up the Gaia app on my iPhone, zoomed in and could clearly see the right trail! D’oh! Why didn’t I use Gaia every other time I had a question about direction? It was clearly more detailed!
On the second pass I finally got cell reception and decided to call Annette to talk about my ankle. I was considering stopping for the night before Helena. But after talking to Annette I decided to push on to Helena and get a hotel room for two nights, so I could take a rest day and stop by an urgent care to have my Achilles checked.
I then proceeded to ride right past the turn for the third pass. I was on a bit of a descent, so I didn’t notice I was off-route for about 3.5 miles (7 miles added with the return to the route). Sigh.
After getting back on-route I stopped to rest and eat. A truck came down and stopped to check if I was ok. He said Helena was still a good 20 miles from where I was which scared me, so after he left I pulled up a map on my phone and found it was still a good 12 miles to the first hotel with quite a long climb in front of me. So I started another hike-a-bike to the top. It took quite a while and the sun was setting when I got to the top. Luckily it was almost all descent down to the pavement and into Helena. When I got to the outskirts I saw a billboard that said the Quality Inn had laundry facilities, so that became my destination.
I got there well after dark and got a room for two nights. I fell asleep pretty quickly after taking a shower.
Day 11 was spent traveling around Helena. It was a couple miles to the urgent care, so I called a taxi. I tried Uber and Lyft, but there aren’t any in Helena. And apparently only one taxi. It took about 30 minutes after calling for the taxi to show. An old Prius with every service light lit (check engine, oil, low tire…). Yeah, that felt safe! LOL.
The wait wasn’t too long at urgent care. The doctor thought there might be a small tear and recommended I see an Orthepedic specialist. He put my ankle in a boot to immobilize it.
He said it may take a few days to get an appointment, but the Orthepedic clinic was around the corner, so I walked over and found they had a “fast care” clinic, so I checked in there for another wait.
The Orthepedic doc felt my ankle, had me walk and said it wasn’t a tear, but was tendonitis. She said she could prescribe a steroid or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. The steroid would impact my immune system and increase the chance of catching a cold. I told her I had a fever in Eureka, so non-steroidal it was! She set the prescription to be picked up at a Costco near my hotel. She also said it normally takes 3-4 weeks to heal and told me to ice it and stay off of it until Saturday at the earliest. Crap. It was Monday. She also told me to get some better insoles for my cycling shoes. I called Annette to give her the news and talk about what to do.
I still wanted to continue, but didn’t want to risk serious injury and really didn’t want to walk up all the passes, after all I was there to RIDE the Divide, not hike it. We decided to give it a couple days to see if there was any improvement.
I called the taxi again for a ride to Costco. I got there before the prescription was ready, so had lunch and waited. After getting the prescription filled, I walked over to a Sportsman’s warehouse for new insoles then stopped at a convenience store at a gas station for some beverages for my hotel room then stopped by the front desk to extend my stay.
The next two days were pretty uneventful and pretty boring. Unfortunately I wasn’t noticing any improvement in my ankle. Even if there was minor improvement, I would have re-aggravated it as soon as I started to use it again, so I pulled the plug on my ride.
Now I needed to figure out how to get me and my bike home. I was only a mile or so from the airport so I scheduled a flight home and reserved a car. The hotel manager was nice enough to give me a lift to the airport so I could pick up the car (VERY nice of him!). Then I drove over to a bike shop and got a box for my bike. I also stopped at a K-Mart for another box to pack my gear. It was actually much easier to get everything I needed than I expected.
And that was my ride. I’ll do another post with some of my thoughts about the ride, training and lessons learned.
Day 4 started great! I slept a bit long, but woke refreshed and with partly cloudy skies. A couple riders went by as I was breaking down my camp before getting back on to climbing. This sections was closed to motorized vehicles, so the trail kind of alternated between nice double track and overgrown single track. When the trail got tight, I’d ring my bike bell to let the bears know I was coming. Although at on point as I was ringing my bell … Ding, ding, ding … I had to wonder if I was just calling wolves and Cougars for breakfast!
There was another section of single track that included the infamous “wall”. Of course, once again I rode right past the turn that was again marked with stacked rocks. Some of this single track was too technical for me, so I walked some of it. It was relatively flat to the wall, but there was a lot of roots, rocks and dips.
Partly cloudy sky in the morning
nice double track!
Yep! Missed this turn! oops
Single track headed to the “wall”
With the reflection, I couldn’t get a good pic of my Garmin which showed the US border
The wall was insane. I didn’t get a great picture of it, but it’s almost vertical. Had to be at least a 70% grade. You push your bike above your head while scrambling up roots and steps in the mud. Push a few feet, lock the brakes and step up to your bike and repeat. It’s not too long, maybe a 100 feet or so, but took quite a bit of time to get up. There was a river running at the bottom. Very scenic, but holy cow, that was hard! There was a stream running across the trail shortly after the top, so I stopped and refilled my water bladder.
There was quite a long climb after getting back on the forest road, but near the top I noticed the US border starting to show up on my Garmin! I was getting close! Of course the road took had a switchback and moved away from the border for a while, then moved parallel to it. It was pretty brisk at the top, so I put a jacket on near the top and for a nice long descent. It really warmed up and got into the mid 80’s so I stopped when I got to the pavement at the bottom to shed my jacket and arm and leg warmers.
It was only a few miles from there to the border in Roosville. The wind had kicked up some, but with the pavement I still made pretty good time. The border patrol agent was following the race told me the leaders were already in Butte. Wow.
US Border crossing in Roosville
After crossing the border I proceeded to ride right past my turn. It was a couple miles before I noticed that my Garmin showed me off-route. The turn was just passed the border, so I headed back and noticed a picnic table in the parking lot of one of the duty-free stores. So I pulled over there and called Annette to let her know I was back in the good ole U.S. Of A.
That headwind got harder on the way to Eureka. I was pretty drained when I got to the Subway for a late lunch. There were a couple other riders there who had decided to spend the night in Eureka. The weather was expected to turn bad again with the possibility of snow and high wind. I sat in the Subway for a while re-hydrating and made the decision to stay for the night as well. The gas station/subway also had a motel, so I got a room, took a shower then stuffed my dirty clothes in a trash bag and walked about a mile to a laundry-mat. On my walk back to the hotel, I could see the storm coming. It was still windy, but there were black clouds above the mountains. It started sprinkling before I got back to the hotel, then started to just pour.
I hung out in my room watching TV until there was a break in the weather then walked down to the grocery store to stock up on food so I’d be ready to head out in the morning. I was a bit congested when I went to bed, but didn’t feel too bad. Unfortunately when I got up in the morning, I was shaking with the chills. I called Annette and decide to spend the day in bed to break a fever. So day 5 was spent in a hotel. The gas station convenience store had some NyQuil and that put me out for the day. I slept a lot and started to get the sweats in the afternoon. I was hoping that meant I was breaking the fever. That storm was as bad as expected and there was fresh snow on the mountains.
The view from my room in Eureka
Day 6 I felt a lot better. I went next door to the Subway to get a sub to eat for lunch, packed my bike and headed out. It was a bit brisk, but partly cloudy and calm. Annette texted me to wish me a Happy Anniversay. Wow time was flying! I texted her back, but really wanted to see her on our 25th Anniversary, so I decided to push to Whitefish to get another hotel room. Whitefish is 91 miles with 6100 feet of climbing from Eureka, so the farthest distance and most climbing I would do on one day during the ride.
There was a lot of climbing, but the grades of the climbs topped out at about 6%, so I was able to ride pretty much the whole day. I started catching some other riders and it was good to see people on the trail.
At one point I came upon a historic cabin that was owned by the forest service. Nobody was using it, so I pulled in and sat on the porch to eat my sandwich.
This was a great day on the bike. The weather was pleasant, the climbs weren’t too hard and I made great time. I pulled into Whitefish in the early evening. I was keeping my phone on airplane mode to conserve battery, but turned it on when I got into town to find a hotel. Right after turning off airplane mode, it rang. My dad was calling to check in on me. After talking to him, I pulled up the trackleaders web page to see if there was anyone else in town and where they were staying. All the hotels were a mile or so off route, so I rode over to one and checked in. After showering, I face timed with Annette on our Anniversary. Well worth the effort to get there!
I walked over to a pizza place for dinner and a beer before calling it a night. I was still feeling good and having a great time. Canada is nice, but it was great being back in the US!
To be continued…
Well, I’ve been home for a couple weeks and decided it’s time to update the blog. The Tour Divide is an amazingly scenic, hard, hard ride. I challenged myself like I have never done before, but only wound up riding for about 8 days, averaging 10 hours on the mountain bike and about 80 miles a day. For perspective, the winner, Matt Hall, averaged just under 200 miles a day and set a new record by finishing in under 14 days! To do that, he was on his bike way, way more than me and only got a couple hours of sleep a day. Wow.
Day one was a day to test your resolve. I had attended a pre-race meeting given by crazy Larry Melnick. Larry talked about how to handle bear and cougar encounters, but harped on how to handle hypothermia. It was a beautiful day in Banff and I have to admit thinking we wouldn’t have a problem with that this year. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
People lining up their bikes just beforbthe “Grand Depart”
All loaded up and ready to go!
Rain was expected for the day and it was a bit brisk at the start. The main group would be taking a small loop from the YWCA to the start, but I decided to leave after them and let the crowd thin out a bit before getting on the trail, so I took the time to put my arm and leg warmers on and headed over to the start about 20 minutes after everyone else.
This is the start of the Tour Divide. what a nicely maintained trail!
The rain hadn’t started yet and temps were still relatively comfortable
We went over a number of very cool wooden bridges like this one
And the rain begins and temps plummet
This was a very cool, long wooden bridge that crossed a very marshy area.
50 miles in and the temp drops into the 30’s. I wasn’t ready for that!
The start was great! I was making pretty good time and started catching some riders who started with the Grand Depart. Then the rain started, mostly as a drizzle with occasional showers. I stopped and put on my rain jacket at one point. The rain was causing some mechanical problems for other riders. Several people had flat tires and two people broke chains. My Niner had no issues.
As the day progressed, the temperature kept dropping. At one point I stopped to eat for about 20 minutes. Man, that was a mistake! My core temperature dropped and I started to get the shakes which was a sure sign that I needed to get moving! It took quite a while to warm back up!
I had neoprene full finger gloves, but they were soaked and the wind was coming through. My hands and feet were frozen when I pulled into the Bolton Trading Post at mile 60. They didn’t have a restaurant, but did have a convenince store, so I bought a couple cans to soup to cook in the microwave. While I was eating my soup I noticed another rider pull on some rubber dish washing gloves. Brilliant! The rubber would stop the wind chill! So I bought a pair myself and also got a couple shopping bags to put over my socks. Holy cow, those saved my ride!
With no wind chill my hands and feet warmed right up. There was a long descent after the trading post, so I was really happy to be relatively warm again. Unfortunately I sped right by a turn and added a mile or two to the route.
I was hoping to go 110 miles to Elkford, but it had been one heck of a hard day, so I decided to find a secluded spot and set up camp when it started to get dark around 10pm. Luckily there was a break in the rain when I set up camp.
My new camp stove. This thing rocks!
Really can’t beat this kind of view!
I slept in a bit and took my time having breakfast and breaking down my camp. It took a bit longer than I expected to get into Elkford, so I was glad I stopped for the night where I did. I passed a moose and her calf which was cool. The rain also stayed away until after Elkford. In Elkford I stopped at a grocery store for a few supplies, then stopped at a gas station that had a restaurant in it. Unfortunately the restaurant was closed, so I got some stuff from the convenience store for lunch.
A moose with her calf in the distance. They moved into the woods when I got closer.
Lunch in Elkford
There is a long climb on pavement going out of Elkford. I walked quite a bit of that. Near the top, we turned into some double track that was really nice, but once again I missed a turn and added a few extra miles to the route. The turn was easy to miss. It was a sharp single track climb that was marked with some stacked rocks. Honestly, it was more like a goat trail because it was pretty overgrown. I walked quite a bit of that section and got lost once. There were some orange ribbons tied to a number of trees, so I assumed those were trail markers. Nope. I could see on my Garmin that the trail was going in the opposite direction a couple times and had to turn back.
That rain is coming my way
See those stacked rocks? That marks the turn onto a singlr track section
Can’t really tell from this photo, but the entrance to this single track was pretty steep!
It’s only 30 miles from Elkford to Sparwood, but with getting lost and missing turns, it took me longer than it should have. I stopped at an A&W for a late lunch/early dinner and discovered Poutine, my new favorite way to have fries (covered in gravy and cheese curds).
That’s a BIG dump truck!
The weather was looking bad and I knew there was a very significant climb in front of me. I had also worked through a pretty strong head wind getting into Sparwood. I had only gone about 60 miles, but I decided to call it a day in Sparwood. So I got a room at a hotel that I shared with a fellow Tour Divide rider (Christian from Toronto). The shower felt great! I also used the tub to find a leak in my sleeping pad that was very annoying on the first night. Christian got up pretty early and headed out right at sunrise, but I slept in a bit and left around 8am.
The decision to stay the night was a good one. The weather cleared up and that headwind became a tail wind. I made pretty good time. I planned to stay at the Wigwam camp ground, about 83 miles from Sparwood. There was a long section of pavement heading out of Sparwood that also helped with making good time.
The mattress pad had two holes in it!
After turning off the pavement, there was some nice forest road to the top of a pass, but the other side was pretty eroded and actually became a stream. I walked through the first section, that water was COLD! So I tried riding the next section, hit a rock with my front wheel that immediately stopped me and threw me over my handlebars! Luckily I landed on my feet, turned and grabbed my bike before it fully submerged. I would have liked to have caught that on video!
I caught a few other riders after the stream and we kind of leap frogged each other throughout the day. I knew there was a cabin somewhere along this section that was available to riders, so I planned to stop there for lunch and hopefully use an outhouse. I came up on a cabin that didn’t have any cars in front of it, so I thought that might be it and noticed a welcome outhouse in the woods. After using the facility, I was getting my bike ready when another rider pulled up and said the cabin was still a few miles ahead. Oops, hope whoever owned that cabin didn’t mind me using their outhouse!
There was a super long, fast, fun descent down to the Wigwam River. I missed a turn that had a sign that said it was closed to vehicles, but I noticed fairly quickly that I was moving farther and farther off-route. Turns out that section was closed to motorized vehicles, bicycles are ok. I never noticed a camp ground before starting the climb away from the river. I didn’t want to get too high up before making camp, so I pulled off on a fairly wide section and setup camp with about 88 miles down for the day.
I was still feeling pretty good at this point. Amazing scenery, fantastic trails, some bad weather, but over all I was really enjoying the ride!
To be continued…
I tried to sleep in this morning, but with sunrise at 5:30am, my room got bright and I was up before 7 (that’s before 6 AZ time). Today was prep day. Get my bags packed and go for a test ride.
I took my time organizing my gear, but I’m sure I’ll be making changes as the ride goes on. Frame bag was the easiest to pack because it has the least amount of stuff in it, mostly a water bladder. I adjusted my aero bars moving them a bit farther out. My shoulders were too compressed the way I originally had them. That moved my Feedbags to the inside which gives my knees a bit more space if I’m riding out of the saddle.
The Sweetroll on my handlebars was also fairly easy to load. I moved my tent outside of the Sweetroll so I could bring a change of riding clothes when the first set gets really rank. We’ll see how long I last before I have to use that set. When I got to my seat bag I found out that I left the compression straps for my sleeping bag at home! No way that sleeping bag fits when it isn’t highly compressed! Added that to the list of stuff I needed for the ride.
After getting the bike mostly setup, I headed into town to stop at an outdoor shop for a couple last minute items (compression sack, matches, denatured alcohol to use as fuel for my stove). The shop didn’t open until 10am, so I walked through town to find someplace that served omelettes for breakfast. That made for perfect timing to get back to the outdoor shop when it opened. They had everything I needed except for the denatured alcohol, so I walked over to a hardware store to look in their paint section. No luck. A quick search online revealed that denatured alcohol is hard, if not impossible to find in Canada. The hardware store had a small camping section where I found methyl hydrate which can be used as a substitute (although it is more toxic, so you have to be more careful with it).
After the hardware store I headed over to a Safeway grocery store (who knew Safeway is in Canada??) to get water for my water bladders, a couple advocados (cause I like them) and a couple oranges. Got to have a few fresh items to go with all the processed foods I’ll be eating!
Kind of a long walk back to the hotel carrying all that, but I was able to finish packing before noon changed into my cycling clothes and headed out for a test ride. Banff is incredibly scenic! One of the most scenic rides I’ve done. I took a bike path out of town for a few miles just to make sure everything was secure and my bike was functioning properly. Fantastic views of the mountains and I even passed a beaver dam. Very cool!
I made my way back through town to find the starting point of the Tour Divide. It starts just past a pretty impressive looking hotel. I rode a mile or so down the route just to get a sneak peek. Man I hope the whole trail is this nice!
We have a riders meeting later this evening then the rides starts in waves tomorrow morning at 8am. I will not be leaving at 8am, that time is for the fast guys. I’ll probably leave closer to 9 or maybe even 10 to allow the trail to clear a bit. I’ll be taking it slow and easy, but expect to ride until around 10pm tomorrow or 12 to 13 hours on the bike. Good times!
Arrived in Canada! The trip was pretty uneventful. I was a bit anxious about my bike and gear getting here with me, but no problems! The TSA didn’t even inspect my boxes (something else I was concerned with just because I know how I packed everything. My bike weighed in at 19 pounds (excluding seat post, saddle and pedals) but packed in a card board bike box with all the tubes wrapped in plastic. The other box with all my gear and food weighed in at 40.5 pounds.
So, with water I’m probably looking at 60 pounds-ish. Bit heavy, but I know I have everything I need.
The customs line was short so I had plenty of time to get to the Banff Airporter shuttle. I met up with three other TD riders while we were waiting for out oversized bike boxes at baggage claim. Leaving the airport the area kind of reminded me of Kansas with big rolling hills, but as we moved to the other side of town, it was more like the front range around Denver with mountains in the distance. The drive to Banff was quite scenic.
They had a large space near check-in at the hotel to un-box your bike and put it back together, so I did that after checking in. I still need to pack and put on my bike bags, but I’ll do that in the morning.
Sunrise in Banff is 5:30am, sunset is at 10pm, but it doesn’t really start to get dark until after 11pm. So I went into town for a late dinner (venison sausage). The picture below is the view from my room at 9:30pm.
Tomorrow morning I’ll finish setting up my bike and packing my bags. Then I’ll ride through town and get the obligatory picture of my bike next to the “Welcome to Banff” sign. I need to hit Safeway and an outdoor shop to get the last minute things that I couldn’t travel with (like denatured alcohol for my stove). Great trip so far!
In 1998 the Adventure Cycling Assiciation published the world’s longest off off-pavement cycling route called the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The Tour Divide is an unsupported, unsanctioned race that mainly follows the GDMBR route and begins with a “Grand Depart” the second Friday every June. The route starts in Banff, Canada and primarily follows long dirt roads, jeep trails, some single track and the occasional bit of pavement through the provences of Alberta and British Columbia in Canada before crossing the US border and passing through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico to get to the finish at Antelope Wells on the Mexican border. It covers approximately 2,750 miles with over 200,000 feet of cumulative ascent (like climbing Mount Everest from sea level 7 times). Details on the Tour Divide can be found at http://tourdivide.org.
I first heard about the Tour Divide when a friend rode it several years ago. You are required to use a Spot personal satellite locator with real time tracking enabled to show where you are at on the course. So I was able to follow my friends progress on this epic course and knew I’d have to do it some day. Definitely a bucket list item!
I’ve done a lot of ultra distance road cycling, but had never done any long distance mountain biking, so this would be a new experience for me. Leonard Zito has the same event on his bucket list and we have been talking about when would be a good time to do it. We tentatively planned to do it in 2016. Preparing for this type of event requires a lot of time, effort and commitment. And you have to be able to get a full month off of work!
Both Leonard and I changed jobs in 2015 which unfortunately pushed Leonard’s timing for the ride out, but I still wanted to do it. So I started focusing on the training to make it happen. The job I had didn’t pan out, so I found myself in a position where I needed to make a decision to find another job and try to negotiate a month off right after starting, putting off the Divide or waiting to find a new job until after the Divide. I was almost at the point of pushing the ride out when my wonderful wife Annette told me I should do it. Luckily we’re in a financial position where I can take a few months off of work.
Training for the divide has had a huge positive impact on my health and well-being. Riding the Divide is going to be good for me in a very real physical sense. So the decision has been made. I’ll be looking for a new job sometime in mid to late July. In the meantime, I’ll be on my bike.
My original goal for completion was 25 days (averaging just over 100 miles a day). But I no longer have a time restriction on me like I would have if I was taking vacation time. So I plan to be more flexible about the time. People who know me will laugh, but my plan is to take the first week slow, keeping my heart rate below 145 and preferably in the 120-135 range. I don’t want to start this ride too hard. I really don’t want to be part of the 50% failures!
I’ll be riding a 2015 Niner Air 9 RDO, full rigid (no suspension at all) loaded with Revelate Designs bike packs. I have a Sweetroll handlebar bag that will contain my stove, cold weather gear, a change of clothes, my tent poles and tent ground cover. Strapped to that is a “Pocket” that will have some food and quick access items like sunscreen, bug spray, first aid kit, etc. My tent is strapped between the pocket and Sweetroll. I also have a pair of Feedbags. One will have quick energy food (bars, gels, gummies). The other will have two 11,000 mah portable power units with short charging cables for my Garmin, cell phone and for recharging the portable power units.
On the frame I have a frame bag that I bought from someone who rode an Air 9 RDO on last year’s Tour Divide (is it good luck to have something on your bike that has already gone the distance?). The frame bag will have 2.5 liters of water. It will also have a pump, cassette cleaning tool, chain oil and a few miscellaneous other items. On the top tube is a “gas tank” that will hold my wallet and cell phone, a micro fiber cloth to clean my glasses, and other miscellaneous stuff. Under the seat is a Jerry can that will have spare batteries, tire repair tools and plugs, a multi-tool and whatever else I can pack into it.
In the back I have a Terrapin dry bag holster with dry bag. It will contain my sleeping bag and pad, a change of everyday clothes, and anything else I don’t want to risk getting wet. The idea when it’s raining is to get my tent setup and unpack the drybag in the dry tent.
I’ll also be wearing a camelbak Mule with a 3 liter water bladder. The camelbak will also be my pantry and hold the majority of my food.
I learned on my ride across the Mogollon Rim to strap a gallon water jug to the front of my bike which would give me a total of over 9 liters of water for the long stretches between water points (I sweat a lot, so I tend to drink a lot).
The ride starts on June 10th and I head to Banff on Wednesday the 8th. You can follow my progress on the Track Leaders website. Rain is in the forecast this week. I’m looking forward to amazing scenery and an absolutely epic ride! Journey On and Live Your Adventure! 👊👍😊
Well I wasn’t too good about sharing training updates and all of a sudden the Tour Divide is a short few days from starting. I started my training with a lot of miles on the road to build base miles. I rode El Tour de Mesa and the Tour de Cure which really help me get back my form. I also rode a hard 200k, a 300k and part of a 400k. On the 400k I didn’t keep up with my electrolytes, wound up with some bad cramping and DNF’d. Bit of a yellow flag for the Tour Divide.
After the 400k I transitioned to primarily training on my full rigid Niner. The first trip was a quick over nighter with Leonard Zito from Tortilla Flat to Roosevelt Lake, up the back side of Four Peaks, camp at the top and return via the Beeline Highway the next morning.
It was a great learning experience. The rough road kept causing my bag straps to come loose so I had to figure out how to get them secured. We refilled water at Roosevelt Lake, but didn’t bring enough to get all the way home, lesson learned is to carry more water than you think you need. In the morning I had no energy and Leonard was kind enough to share his electrolyte drink. My legs came back quickly after drinking that. I had only been drinking water and that’s just not good enough, so I will be carrying an electrolyte mix with me on the Divide.
My next training trip was a solo ride across the Mogollon Rim. I parked at my brother’s house in Show Low, rode to FR300 and followed that all the way to SR87 outside of Strawberry. I took one wrong turn on the way out that added about 8 miles, but I’ll be following the Tour Divide route on my bike computer so I’m not anticipating a problem with Navigation. That trip went really well. The only real problem was that I ran out of water at SR87 where I had planned to turn around. The closest water was in Strawberry so I went down the hill. I could have ridden the 11 miles back up to the top of the rim, but decided to get a room, get cleaned up and have a nice dinner.
The climb out of Strawberry was a hard 6% pretty much constant for 11 miles. I was pleased that I didn’t have an issue riding up. There were a couple spots that tipped up to 8-10% and I’d get off and hike-a-bike up those. Same thing when I got back on FR300. If the road tipped up over 6%, I’d walk. Slow but steady progress. In my lowest gear I ride at 4.5 mph. I walk at 3-3.5 mph. The way back also had some really hard cross wind. I took my time and finished strong. 2 nights camping and one night in a hotel. Key lesson on this ride was to be flexible and change you plan based on what you need at the time.
I was feeling pretty confident after the Mogollon Rim, so I decided to make a more challenging route as an out and back starting in Sedona, going up Schnebly Hill, crossing I-17 and following various forest roads to Lower Lake Mary, camp at Marshall Lake, go through Winona, pass through the Cinder Hills and pass by Sunset Crater, go to the endo of Shultz pass, turn around, find another place to camp then turn around and go back the way I came. Good plan, right?
The ride up Schnebly Hill really wasn’t bad. I was following a route on my Garmin computer, so I never got too far off route. The first problem was that there was a big snowstorm the weekend before my ride. The temp had really come up, but there were several sections of deep mud that I couldn’t ride through, so I got some good hike-a-bike practice. I got to the store at Lake Mary just before the store closed. So I was able to refill fluids, get an early dinner and use the hose outside to wash the mud off my bike before heading to Marshall Lake.
Marshall Lake is where the real problem started. The area had a thick clay that clinger to my wheels and just kept building up until the tires literally wouldn’t turn. I spent a lot of time scraping mud off my tires and walking until I found a flat spot to setup camp.
The next morning I wound up carrying my bike for a bit over a mile to get through that section. There were a few more spots where I had to carry it, but I learned how to be comfortable carrying a fully loaded mountain bike! So great learning experience.
I made it through Winona and to the Cinder Hills OHV area pretty quickly, then my progress went way down. Cinders are a lot like sand…deep sand. I wasn’t able to ride very much through that section. Walking definitely takes more out of you than riding. When I got to the road leading to Sunset Crater I took a break to enjoy the afternoon for a bit. I knew I needed food and I was running low on water so I decided to change my plans and hit a Subway just outside of Flagstaff and spend the night at my friends Dave and Jackie Flake’s house.
I knew a storm was expected later in the week, but when I checked the forecast it showed a wind advisory expected with 40-50mph gusts and potential for hard rain in the afternoon. I knew I didn’t want to go through the Cinder Hills again, nor did I want to deal with that clinging mud so I decided to take the express route through Flagstaff and ride the pavement back down to Sedona. It was a quick 45 mile ride and I got back to my jeep right about noonish.
Unfortunately between regular daily training rides and my training bike packing trips my small chainring wore out and caused my chain to get sucked up between the crank and chainstay, crushing part of the carbon on the chain stay. Thanks to Mike Cox at Curbside Cyclery for getting that fixed for me! My bike was in the shop for about a week, but came back good as new!
I planned to do one more multi-day bike packing trip, but knew that might be tough with some family events. I had hoped to do that ride the week it wound up in the shop, so I decided to shorted that ride to be a quick over nighter leaving my house, riding through Tortilla Flat to Roosevelt and see how close I could get to Young. I thought I knew this route, so I didn’t load it on my Garmin.
I had planned to go through part of Bulldog Canyon and take a dirt bypass to get closer to Saguaro Lake and avoid some pavement. Unfortunately I took a wrong turn that took me up a super steep hill that deadended at a campsite. When I tried to ride back down, I wasn’t far enough back on the saddle or my front tire hit something and I wound up doing an endo. Sprained a couple fingers pretty bad on my left hand and road rashes on bothe knees and my right shoulder.
Nothing seriously injured, but I had trouble riding with my hand, so I turned around and headed home. Not much of a training ride, but better to heal and be at 100% for the big ride instead of risking further injury.
Last week we had some family trips planned so I wasn’t able to ride at all. Forced recovery time. I’ll be well rested and ready to ride this Friday in Banff! My bike is all packed and ready to go! 👍😊
A modern bicycle computer is a wonderful thing. You can look at distance and estimate how long it will take to get to the next cue based on your expected speed. Looking at the time gives you a reminder that you need to eat. Power and heart rate let you know if you are working too hard. Where was my computer for this ride? Sitting on my desk charging up for the ride! Ouch. But I paid close attention to the cue sheet and didn’t make any mistakes.
The ride started relatively quick. The route zig zags through Phoenix and Glendale before heading to Wickenburg, so I tried to keep the lead group in sight so I’d know where the turns were without having to refer to the cue sheet. I got very lucky. They would ride away and invariably get caught at a red light, which allowed me to either catch them again or get through the light just behind them. 25 miles down before turning towards Wickenburg.
As soon as we left that first checkpoint I let them ride away and dropped back to my own pace. I had a friendly tailwind pushing me along so that section was pleasant. Until I got to the outskirts of town where I had my first rear tire flat. Got that changed relatively quickly and went around the corner to the second checkpoint.
I took my time getting the rest of the way through town before the turn towards Vulture Mine. The friendly wind continued so I continued making good time. This is the first time on this road and I have to say Vulture Mine impressed me. Much larger than I expected with a number of rundown historic looking buildings. I’d love to get a tour of that someday!
Shortly after passing the mine I came up on an accident. Two riders touched wheels on a slight descent with a nice tailwind. They had to have been really moving when that happened. End result one rider with a broken clavicle and broken ribs. Bad day for sure! The ambulance hadn’t gotten there yet, but it did pass me on it’s way back before I got to the lunch stop in Tonopah.
Tonapah is 104 miles into the ride and I got there in 6 hours 20 minutes. Not too bad. Without stops, that was probably a 5 hour to 5.5 hour ride time century. My form is definitely coming back!
After finishing lunch I turned right into a cross headwind. The wind had shifted while I was eating. A few miles later I turned left into a soul sucking direct headwind. My speed really dropped. A couple miles down the road I turned left again and damned if that wind didn’t stay right in my face. Did I mention how nice it is to have a bike computer to remind yourself to eat? Obviously I wasn’t because at about 120 miles I bonked. Hard. No power at all in my legs. I stopped and started fueling up. Amazing what food does for you. It doesn’t happen right away, but within 15 min or so I suddenly felt better.
When I got to the next checkpoint I decided to really fuel up. Campbell’s Chicken Soup to get some sodium, a pickle for more sodium, a bottle of muscle milk with 40 grams of protein and water for my bottles. I got back on the course and the wind became friendly. Suddenly I was making great time again!
Just after getting back into the outskirts of town my real wheel felt squishy. So I stopped to change it, but noticed I had neglected to close the presta valve. So I took a risk and decided to just hit it with another CO2. Wrong choice. Within a mile or two it was feeling squishy again, so I stopped to change it. And put my arm and leg warmers back on because the temp was dropping quickly as the sun began to set. Unfortunately the first tube was defective. I wasted two CO2 cartridges on it. Then realized those were my last CO2’s. So I put my last tube in and hand pumped it. Man, I really like CO2!
When I was finished the sun had set. Luckily a group of three came by and invited my to jump on. I tried, but just didn’t have the legs, so I let them go and watched their tail lights in the distance to show me the turns. That worked out well and got me to the next checkpoint where I refilled bottles and had another 40 gram protein muscle milk. That group of three was still there when I left, but they passed me within a mile or two.
Luckily we were back in town, so I’d check the cue sheet as I passed under street lights. I decided to just do recovery riding to the finish … And I didn’t really have legs to do anything else at that point. I pulled into the finish at 8:37pm, so 13:37 total time to ride 187 miles. I’ll take it!
What did this ride teach me? My form is coming back, but I still need to work on long distance endurance. I’m good for 100 miles, but need to adjust what I’m doing to be comfortable on longer rides. A cycling computer may or may not have made a difference. I’ll find out on the 400k next month! I also need to learn how to take pictures on rides. I suck at that, so no pics this time.
Wow 5 years goes by fast! Can’t believe my last post was in August 2011. Lot of change in 5 years. New house, new job, sold the cabin, kid about to graduate from UofA and another about to start there. Time flies by so fast you occasionally have to sit down and look at your bucket list and set some goals. My big goal this year? Ride the Divide! 2,700+ miles self supported on the mountain bike riding from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico.
2015 Tour Divide Route Map and Profile
The past few years haven’t been great in terms of cycling. Stress and other commitments have kept me away from ultra events. But the Divide is definitely on. Nothing quite like a big hairy assed goal to get your motivation up to get out and ride!
My training plan is to mix road cycling, mountain biking and bike packing between now and June. Road cycling helps you develop good cadence and helps you get comfortable for really long stretches in the saddle. I’m planning to do a full brevet series and have already completed the first 200k of the year (so my fitness level isn’t completely horrible). The 300k is Feb 6th, 400k in March and 600k in April.
Arizona Brevet Series
Last year I bought a Niner Air 9 RDO full carbon (even the rims on my wheels), full rigid mountain bike. That bike is FAST. Love it (and thanks to Mike Cox at Curbside Cyclery for helping me with that). I’m planning to use Revelate Design bike packing bags. I’ll post a list of my gear later. I’ve been doing a lot of miles out at Usery park recently, but plan to expand to some gravel grinders as part of my training.
I’ve never been bike packing before, so this is going to be quite the experience. Leonard Zito is going to be my bike packing companion while training. He has a route defined to ride the Maricopa trail system (circles the Phoenix metro area through the mountain parks) that we will start with, then start spending some time up on the Mogollon Rim and around Flagstaff for weekend trips.
Stay tuned, I’ll start posting some updates as I prepare for this epic event. Take the time to live your bucket list folks, you only get one shot at your life, live it the way you want.
This weekend was the “Dirty Mogollon Mormon Madness 205k Permanent”, a ~130 mile mountain bike adventure that started in Clint’s Well, AZ (near Happy Jack) and took fire roads and OHV roads down to the Mogollon Rim before heading back up to AZ87 and crossing over to head up to Mormon Lake. I’ve never done this route before, but did read Paul Layton’s ride report. Sounded like a hard ride. But hey, who can pass up riding in cool weather through the woods!?! Apparently quite a few people. There were only three of us at the start. Paul Layton, Mike Sturgill and myself.
Should say "Summer!"
I have to admit Summer has not been good to me from a training perspective. There’s a cycling team called “Old Guys who get Fat in Winter.” I don’t have too much trouble staying in some kind of shape through Winter, but summer in Phoenix can be tough. Too much travel or weekends with non-traning plans and not enough focus on maintaining my base mileage. And my “big” goals for this year actually aren’t cycling related (weird). I’m planning a Rim to Rim Grand Canyon trip with my Uncle Robert and I have a series of 30k trail runs planned so when I have made time to exercise, it’s typically been going out for a trail run. Which means I really wasn’t very well prepared for a ride that is much harder than I thought it would be.
But I kind of knew that going into it so I examined my topo maps to find the places where you could bail out and cut the ride short. I didn’t realize I’d be doing that MUCH sooner than expected! I was up at 4:20 am for the drive up to Clint’s Well. Getting up that early is always a kind of shock to the body and I wasn’t able to ummm… go. Until I got to Payson, then I really had to go, so I stopped at McDonald’s and was surprised by the wait for the men’s restroom. Apparently lots of guys have to go when they get to Payson! That put me a bit behind on my travel time, but I was still able to get to the start at about 5 minutes to 7am when the ride was planned to start.
Mike and Paul were pretty close to ready when I pulled up, so I quickly changed my shoes and got myself together and we rolled out a few minutes after 7am. Not bad. Paul led us up AZ87 to FR141. Man FR141 is a scenic road, but it’s mostly a pretty tedious climb. Mike Sturgill said there weren’t any really hard climbs on the route, but he had just come back from a Colorado high country 1200k (750 mile) event. His idea of hard climbs and my idea of hard climbs don’t exactly mesh at the moment, especially since we were going up a 5-6% grade at that time! He said there was about 9,000 feet of climbing over the course. Ok, that’s not so bad…
Near Clear Creek
The problem is that it’s the kind of climbing that has never suited me well. Short, steep climbs with moderate descents. Or long, slow 2% climbs that sap your motivation. Most of 141 was a gradual climb. There were a couple times where it leveled out or even dropped, but for the most part it was up. Not only was it generally up, but there were several shorter 8-12% climbs! Mike and Paul would drop me on the climbs then I’d pull myself back on the descents. But those climbs were some harder efforts. I noticed that my heart rate wasn’t dropping on the descents like it should be, not a good sign.
Mike stopped to wait and take photos a couple times along the way, then he would ride away from me. Right after turning onto FR300, there was a pretty long climb. All in all, I’m a pretty good ascender (that word is for Sue!), but I could tell I was getting tired already. I mentioned to Mike that I wasn’t in the best shape and I probably wouldn’t be doing the full 130 miles, so they should just continue without me. We dropped down to General Crook’s cabin, which was the first check point at about mile 18, and I told Paul the same thing.
Wow, only 18 miles into a 130 mile ride and I was already faltering! But I didn’t dawdle (again, for Sue), just answered the check point question and started the climb back out. I started to get a few twinges in my legs that generally indicate a cramp is coming on, so I backed off and watched Mike and Paul ride away. Mike was waiting again taking pictures at the turn for the long descent down FR95 to Clear Creek. When I passed, Mike rode away from me again, but I was able to catch them again once along the descent somewhere. At about mile 26, there are three short steep climbs that just sapped the rest of whatever strength I had in my legs. On the last of those three climbs my right quad started to seize up in a cramp, so I had to stop and recover a bit. I ate some food, took some electrolytes, drank, rested. And felt a bit better and made it to the top of that climb and started the LONG descent. It was steep and fast! I liked it! I tend to back pedal a quarter turn to put my feet horizontal at times. That’s just a super bad habit! You should always forward pedal. When you back pedal on a bouncy descent, your chain may bounce right off the big ring and get jamed up in the derailluer. Trust me, I know this from personal experience on this descent! I had to stop and work on unjaming that chain without damaging anything. It took a few minutes, but I finally got it and finished the descent. Of course, by then Mike and Paul were long gone.
I didn’t stop at the bottom, just started that next climb. A long 2 mile, 6-8% climb. And me with no leg strength left! Yes, I stopped. Multiple times. Any time I tried to get out of the saddle, my right quad would complain. I looked at the time and realized there was no way I’d meet the cut off time for the Blue Ridge Ranger Station checkpoint. So I texted Mike Sturgill to let him know I was calling it a ride.
Once I got to the top of that climb it didn’t take too long to get back down to 87 and the ranger station. But I pulled in at 11:40 am, 40 minutes past the checkpoint cut off time. Ouch. I called Annette to tell her I was done, then sat at a table and re-hydrated. My legs were pretty much toast at this point, so I decided to take 87 back over to Clints Well. Only 9 miles back! Except for that nasty little 2 mile 6-8% climb that started at mile 42. THAT one hurt. Yes, my right quad finally decided it had enough and let me know in a painful way. So I’d ride in my granny gear for a bit, then sit and rest my leg for a bit. Super slow climb to the top.
Luckily the last few miles were flat or down, so once I was over that it was a relatively easy ride to the finish. All in all a good day out on the Mountain Bike (when isn’t a ride a good ride??). I’ll need to get a LOT more time on my Mountain Bike before the Tour of the White Mountains 60 mile event in October. But this ride was a good indicator for me of how much form I’ve lost over the summer, so now I know what I need to do to be ready for my bigger events in the Fall. To be ready, I’ll need to actually make training a priority and block out some time. Training is no longer optional!
Who wants to go for a ride?? 🙂
Posted my ride data to Garmin Connect. Some key stats:
Stats from Garmin Connect