The easy answer to the “Why?” question is “Why not?”, but that is kind of lame, no? I know you want more insight. I have found expressing the reasons why, out loud or on paper, not only provides a real, respectful answer, but it also helps me understand my own motivations. So if you are doing the Tour Divide, ask yourself “Why?”
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is an amazing ~2800-mile touring route down the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Banff in Alberta, Canada to the New Mexico/Mexico border. The route offers an amazing amount of beauty and a lot of history. Some of the towns and places you pass through might make you question where you actually are or surprise you that such places still exist. The route mostly follows gravel roads with a bit of climbing…like over 200,000’!
Of course, as humans, we like to turn everything into a competition of sorts, so the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route as a race is called the Tour Divide. I have raced and completed the route four times now; one U.S. border start (before there was a Canadian section), once on a tandem, and two ITTs (individual time trials). At this point I do hold the record. Actually I bettered my own record each time, but I don’t really even know what that time is. My lady Tracey and I also hold the tandem record.
Back in 2007, the Tour Divide was my first real summer bikepacking race. I prepared for it specifically for about a year, but I also had LOTS of other previous experience with light and fast travel, in other disciplines, which I found paid huge dividends. I came back from that ride having discovered something I truly loved, for the route itself and for what I was doing. Combining the bike with multi-day light-and-fast travel was incredibly eye opening to me. I was pretty good at it as well, considering I broke the prior record that year by about a day. That was nice, but it didn't really matter to me. What mattered was I had found something that I was truly passionate about from the start. I truly loved it, and I can recall being so happy the whole time. I often refer to that first TD as my cheeseburger-and-ice-cream tour.
Eight years later, with three more TDs and many other bikepacking races under my belt, I am preparing to take another run on the Tour Divide, starting this coming Friday, June 12. When I line up for this event, I am always going for the record, although this is not the case with all the events I do. With each event I have different goals. With the TD I am basically looking at challenging myself in a greater way. How can I improve on my previous performance is the basic question. I don’t even look or think about the competition, although I know and hope there will be good competition, as that can be an excellent motivator.
Riding the Tour Divide is a real life chess game for me, and a fun one at that. The moves you make along the way will definitely affect your outcome. Geeking out on all the gear, trying to build a fast bike, training, and working on efficient systems are all very important tangibles of preparation. But being able to think clearly, make smart decisions and have a very disciplined mind throughout the Tour are even more important. You gain these attributes mostly through real racing experience. In theory, thorough preparation and experience should yield a more successful tour, but in my case of trying to shave minutes, I feel I am taking on another, subtler challenge; a challenge that drives me in other ways.
I am at a point where I need to try some new things this year, which is always fun and throws in new variables, in my attempt to cut down on time. I am not afraid of failure so that makes it easier to try new things. Just because something worked last time doesn't mean I will do the same thing again. There is only one way to push the sport and myself; that is to try new things and take new risks. I generally do that on each TD and will do so again this time around.
To give you an idea of how my brain works, I have always carried an inflatable sleeping pad for my sleeping comfort. Over the last year I have been using a closed-cell foam pad, and each time I come back from sleeping out, I cut it down smaller and smaller. The main reason I wanted to ditch the air pad was the time it takes to blow it up and break it down. I know that is like a minute…twice a day…times 15 days = 30 minutes. By doing this I also ditched some weight and got rid of something that has the potential to fail. I think this change will bring more positives than negatives.
I also really enjoy the laser focus I get while on the trail, since I am so record-driven. My mind concentrates on the task at hand while on the trail, unlike in everyday life when the mind wanders from one subject to the next and sometimes into stuff I don’t want to deal with.
Anyway, trail life is easy for me, and an escape from regular life. Don’t get me wrong—I love my life, my wife, my dogs, my home, my community and know that I am extremely lucky, but riding bikes is just that much simpler and easier. Riding the Tour Divide simplifies everything as I focus on getting down the trail as fast as possible. In the end it’s really all just for fun and an excuse to go ride my bike for a couple weeks.
Those are a few of my answers to the question, “Why Tour Divide?” I hope to meet and visit with some of you in Banff later this week.