Time for a Holiday: a 4,418 km Mountain Bike Race Beckons

This past year has been an extremely demanding one both on the work and personal fronts. I am in need of a major decompression and a serious mental  break. For some lying in a hammock on a tropical island would be an attraction, but not me. I’m too hyperactive for imagethat so in the past my solution was to go bicycle touring. As I considered my options one kept coming back as particularly attractive: racing the ‘Tour Divide’.  This is a self-supported mountain bike race from Banff Canada to Mexico along the Rocky Mountain Continental Divide.

The Tour Divide is what is called an ‘underground’ race, there is no entry fee, nor formal organization. Everyone who wants to race meets on the second Friday in June and then tries to get to Mexico as fast as they can. There are, however, rules the most important of which are:

  • You must follow the ‘Adventure Cycling Association’ ‘Great Divide Mountain Bike Route’ (GDMBR).  This is the world’s longest mountain bike route and ACA have maps which show the route.
  • If you go more than one mile off the route, and do not back-track to where you did so, you are disqualified.
  • You cannot have any outside help and must either carry everything with you on your bike or buy it en-route.

The fast people to the 4,418 km in 17+ days. Once you get to Mexico there is no welcome group, you just record when you get there. There is nobody to check if you haven’t followed the rules, only you know for sure. It is a very old fashioned “gentleman’s” race where the honour and honesty of those participating dictate whether or not you’ve followed the rules. There is an interesting discussion on this here. I like the entry by the fellow who met up with his wife but wouldn’t even let her hold his bike while he oiled the chain so as to ensure he had no outside help. Others were not as fastidious and were effectively disqualified.

It’s a very hard race and only about 1/3 finish, so I am under no illusions that I will make it, but that isn’t a reason not to give it try. I have the disadvantage of knowing what to expect: I cycled the route from the Canadian border to Mexico at a relatively leisurely pace nine years ago—what I’m hoping to do in 28 days too me 56.  There are three basic reasons why people bail:

  • Their bike breaks;
  • Their spirit breaks; or,
  • Their body breaks.

I had lots of bike problems the first time: things broke that should never have done so (who ever heard of steel water bottle cages breaking due to vibration?) and in northern New Mexico had to leave the route to get my rear wheel rebuilt after a particularly muddy stretch ground the bearings so the wheel would barely turn. This time I’m using a much better bike and will be travelling lighter so hopefully they will be minimized. I’ll do a post on my bike later.

A lot of people can’t seem to handle riding on their own through the wilderness for days on end. I have to admit that is of the attractions of the race for me! I did a month on my own last time, and two months on my own when I cycled from San Francisco to Maine, so I don’t expect that to be a problem.

The body is my biggest concern. I have not done any mountain bike riding for a few years while I’ve been focusing on triathlons. My body is ‘dialled’ into a time trial position on a bike and it feels so strange being in an upright mountain bike position. I’m being reminded of muscles I had forgotten I had … Of more concern is my shoulder. I blew it up after Ironman Australia over a year ago and it only began to come right last December after many treatments, including cortisone.  I’m not confident it is up to the challenges of so many kilometres of vibrations.  The vibrations also play havoc with your hands and your whole body—I remember it took a long time before I fully recovered last time.

The good thing is that if I can’t finish the race that will be OK since at least I will have tried. My wife Lis will be attending a high school reunion in Idaho around the time of the race so we’ve agreed that if it’s too much I’ll just hang a right and head over towards Seattle on the roads, or a left and head east.

I will carry a SPOT GPS unit which will provide real-time updates on my position—and have an ‘SOS’ button in case of dire straits. I’ll also carry bear spray for the grizzly bears.

So four weeks to go until my holiday starts …. can’t wait.

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