Tour Divide

2011 (scratch near Silver City), 2012 finish in ~23 days

The Tour Divide Route
The Tour Divide Route

The Tour Divide was a seminal trip for me. Officially, it was my first (then second) mountain bike race. I thought nothing of buying my first mountain bike a few months before the race, and lining up in Banff, Alberta, Canada, pointing the bike South to the Mexican border.

The mountains of Canada.

My 2011 run was extremely peculiar, as the weather itself was abnormally snowy. Snowmelt led to flooding, wrecking havoc on the official course. The race director decided to make some very major changes to the route – essentially avoiding almost every pass from the start of the route, to Steamboat Springs, CO.

Flathead Pass featured snow and dangerous creek crossings

In my opinion, it was all these Continental Divide crossings and thus, these passes, that defined the Tour Divide course, and without doing them, something major regarding the spirit of the race would be lost.

To wit, I packed snowshoes with my kit, and made it a goal that if I couldn’t ride over the mountain passes, I’d snowshoe up and over them –

Canada – the inaugural “Bike Snowshoe Tour Divide Duathlon”

pushing/pulling/throwing my bike along the way. No one else at the start line shared my enthusiasm and by the start of the second day, I was alone on the official course.

Whitefish Divide, Montana – I’m sitting in avalanche debris – not something very rideable, wearing snowshoes

Snow conditions were such that there weren’t too many options to access the course I was on. The snow was too deep, and too soft in the now-summer conditions to drive anything across. If I got into trouble, I’d be truly alone.

Richmond Peak – I basically lost control and slid hundreds of feet down this steep, snowy route

Another interesting thing happened: since I was the only one on the official course, I was in way – by default: winning the race!

Union Pass, WY: Conditions were so snowy, I had to go back into town to buy a topo map at the NFS ranger station to find my way through

All I had to do was continue on my way.

But pushing a bike through snow is a lot slower than simply riding a bike on a paved detour towards Mexico. The built-up effort of such a task began to eat me alive.

Holding up a broken pedal in New Mexico. My bike and I were simply wasting away

I was around thirty days in when I realized I had maybe a day more to go to make it to the border. That’s when I had my accident: I took a whoop-dee-do a little too fast, and mis-calculated just how much of a kicker it had. I was sent flying. I landed hard on my left shoulder, tearing the connective tissues. The bike didn’t fare much better. Now instead of pushing, or riding, I was limping and dragging. A party in a Jeep picked me up, and I eventually found myself at the Silver City New Mexico ER room, getting X-Rays done, having forced to scratch.

2012: Another year, another attempt: I hadn’t much money, but I wanted desperately to finish the race – to race that last 150 miles to the end.

Tour Divide Start 2012 – time to start all over again.

I stripped off most everything that needed to be replaced from the bike (the drivetrain!) and towed the line back in Banff with a single-speed setup.

Crossing paths with Dave Nice. Dave was a huge influence in my riding single speed. Dave is riding fixed – this was his sixth attempt at trying to do so. He finally succeeded.

This time, I would complete the route.

Tour Divide, 2012, stripped to a single speed by lack of funds (and no lack of fun)

In the world’s toughest bike race, Justin Simoni rode from disaster to triumph

Its asceticism is, of course, part of the draw. The race attracts serious athletes who embrace hardship and solitude, who love the outdoors and trying new things, who are seeking to discover their own limits and surpass them. Doubtless it also has its share of masochistic overachievers who, like Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, know that the trick to enduring pain is not minding that it hurts. Either way, the adventure seems tailor-made for the likes of Justin Simoni.

Alan Prendergast
Going To Extremes – Westword, Thursday, August 2012, Alan Prendergast

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