2011 (scratch near Silver City), 2012 finish in ~23 days
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.
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.
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 –
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.
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.
Another interesting thing happened: since I was the only one on the official course, I was in way – by default: winning the race!
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.
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.
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.
This time, I would complete the route.
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
Many of my other writings/resources can be found on my site in the, tour-divide tag