I spent a few hours this week listening to a series of archived radio podcasts from last years Tour Divide. It was surprisingly entertaining. Joe Polk provides daily updates on the race via MTBcast.com which you can freely listen to on iTunes.
Three interesting observations that struck me listening to a portion of last year’s race.
1.) The Field:
The popularity of the Tour Divide has grown every year and 2014 promises to continue that trend. Already some 100 participants have indicated their intent to ride the route this June. However the TD isn’t your ordinary event. To begin with the majority of the field attempts to ride the route north to south, departing from the shadows of the Banff Springs hotel on the morning of June 13th. ( The second friday in the month of June ). But not all. Some riders for personal reasons will attempt to cover the exact same route leaving from Antelope Wells New Mexico and pedal north to Banff. Every year there are a few who set out attempting the unthinkable: riding the route in both directions or in yoyo fashion. Yes there are people out there even more unbalanced than Brad or I.
The list of participants is international: roughly a third of the riders hail from South Africa, Qatar, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Great Britain, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and yes of course Canada. I believe at last count there were at least a dozen ‘maple leafs‘ who had signed up.
Age wise it’s heavy in the middle. The largest age group participating is in their 40’s, (38 by my count) with a roughly equal number of those in their 30’s (21) or 50’s (22). The youngest rider to register is 20 years of age; the oldest is an inspirational 73 years young! Wow, that’s incredible.
Over half of the fifty states will have riders pedaling with the largest numbers coming from the western states of Colorado, Arizona, California, Washington, New Mexico and Montana. It’s a pretty safe bet that Brad and I are destined to meet some extremely interesting characters come June!
Lastly, 80 of the 100 or so participants are first timers. There are a handful of second time riders and a few who have attempted or finished the ride more than a few times already. With so many first time riders the fact that so many fall out along the way, makes sense. I’ve personally never undertaken anything remotely this challenging and listening to the daily rider call ins from 2013, I realize you’re never going to feel fully prepared for the magnitude of what gets thrown at you during this event.
2.) The Start:
Listening to the voice of experience from last year, I was humored picturing many first time riders going out blazing the first week of the race. I’m competitive. I get it. Anyone who has toed the start line in a 10K road race or similar event can relate. Your adrenaline kicks in and before you know it you’ve just run the fastest mile of your life….problem being there are five more to go! Envision that same natural tendency in an event of this magnitude and you can see how easily a lot of rookies get chewed up and spit out before they’ve left Montana.
Hopefully having a riding partner like Brad we can temper our early ‘enthusiasm’ with some turtle wisdom: slow and steady. The Tour Divide is a classic example of why you don’t want to get caught up comparing your progress with some of the other participants. There will be riders setting out on June 13th with the express goal of covering the route in roughly two weeks. Brad and I on the other hand will be focused on simply ‘finishing’. We’ve discussed setting an initial goal of 25 days to cover the distance, but like all the first time riders, it makes no sense to get fixated on your timeline because you can’t predict the dozens of things that can and likely will cause delays.
3.) The Journey:
Spending time listening to those tired voices calling in from the trail last year was a good way to remind myself just how unpredictable this journey is. Admittedly that’s a big part of the attraction. I love going into situations where the outcome is anything but predictable. Still those voices shared a sobering glimpse into the reality of attempting to pedal your way through some of the most rugged landscape on the continent. This is not for the faint of heart.
I could feel the fatigue and exhaustion in those voices. Weather and trail conditions were constantly changing pushing the mental and physical toll on riders. They spoke of getting caught in torrential rain, hail and snow storms. Lightening and thunderstorms were also issue for many. Trail conditions covered the gamut of your imagination: dry and dusty to sopping wet and muddy. In some cases the mud was so bad that riders had to ‘drag’ their bike while they slogged forward on foot because the mud was so heavy, thick and unwieldy.The wetter northern states posed an entirely different challenge than the stifling dry heat of the south: ravaging floods in the north and smokey forest fires in the south. Riders were regularly having to detour to avoid natural disasters. Mosquitoes. Some portions of the route are apparently notorious for atomic sized mosquitoes. And if the mosquitoes aren’t a problem it’s because you’re pedaling into 30 mile an hour headwind that can bring forward progress to a grinding halt. In the northern states some of the riders referred to ‘bearanoia’ as a daily distraction; the fear of rounding a corner and bumping into a ill tempered grizzly. Still different issues come into play once you’ve left grizzly country behind, like long dry basins and stretches where a poor provisioning decision can leave you high and dry. And I haven’t even broached the topics of mechanical bike failures, flats, etc. or the frequent citing of stained leg muscles, achilles and knees.
The takeaway? The Tour Divide isn’t something you enter into lightly. Of the roughly 100 plus riders currently training, planning and preparing: the majority won’t reach their destination: Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Mental, mechanical and physical failures will begin adding up as riders make their way south. Wind, rain, hail, snow and extreme temperature changes won’t make it any easier, but seem to have a way of piling on. Hearing those beat up voices calling in from the trail last year’s was inspiring. But it reminded me that what we’re preparing for isn’t following anyone’s game plan, except Mother Natures. In a sense that what makes it exciting, albeit a bit scary — the unknown.