I DIDN’T REALLY CONCENTRATE ON TRAINING OR RIDING A LOT BEFORE THE START but I did plan a lot in terms of my bike set-up; the only thing I changed mid-race race was a tire because I got a flat, my saddle and some brake pads. I showed up a little fat and a little slow because for the two months leading up to the race I didn’t really ride a bike at all, I rode maybe once a week at the most, and not hard. I just drank a lot. One hundred and fifty started, I finished twenty-fifth. I wrote down my target time because they ask you to do that when you sign-up, I put down twenty-four days but without really trying to I kinda beat that time. I wasn’t really paying attention it just kinda worked out. The guy that won is currently holding the record for riding a mountain bike around the world, I think he rode around the world in 90 days or something. That first week of the Divide, I think he averaged 240 miles a day.
The day before the start everybody on the airport shuttle bus was talking about the race, about how long they’d been training and preparing for it. Most of the dudes had been planning for a year or two, some even longer. I just sat there feeling super last minute and listened.
My situation was so different, nine months ago I sent an email out to all my friends saying hey I’m going to do this thing, anyone want to come? One friend took the bait and that was that.2
I MET THIS KID ON LIKE THE FOURTH DAY OF RACE, HE WAS ONLY TWENTY YEARS OLD AND EVEN MORE LAST MINUTE THAN ME, IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE.3 We wound-up riding the whole thing together so we had a lot of time to talk. Apparently he lives in a converted Airstream Trailer outside Phoenix, Arizona on a piece of land his parent’s own. About a year ago he did a National Park Tour by bike but before that he just rode around town and whatever. Tour Divide was the first organized ride/race he’d ever done, and he decided to do it less than three months before the start.
A month before the race he started working at a Starbucks. He said he had to really convince the lady interviewing him that he was genuinely interested in the job because his resume listed six different jobs in six different states in the last two years. She asked him, “What makes you think you’re going to stick around this time?” I don’t know what he said or how he got hired but he did. I’m pretty sure he got fired on the trail, they started calling his house and asking his parents when he was coming home one week into a four week race. He was on a used Salsa Fargo that he bought at shop and just kinda fixed-up right before the start. He carried a backpack the whole time, it wasn’t small either. I think he always at least had a loaf of bread, a tub of hummus and a block of cheese in there. At one point we were stopped in some small town and one of the guys with us convinced him to carry a six-pack of Miller Hi-Life (Tall Boys), he rode with those fucking cans and everything else in his backpack for sixty miles, it wasn’t a flat sixty miles either. We were trying to find these hot springs—Elk Something Hot Springs (Elkhorn Hot Springs) just outside Polaris, Montana. We got to the hot springs and they sucked, so we didn’t really go in or stay, instead we rode to a hunting lodge where we planned to stay that night and sat on the front porch and drank beers. Apparently it’s off season for the lodge so every year they open their doors to riders for a super special rate. They made us dinner. We took showers. The next morning they fed us breakfast and made us sandwiches for lunch. We slept three to a room and it only cost $20.00 per person.
THE RACE DIDN’T GET THAT WEIRD, IT WAS JUST HARD. Physically it’s hard only up to a certain point, basically there were really hard days and just regular hard days. My ass was pretty torn-up within the first couple of days, that worried me quite a bit, by the third day I was starting to sit like side saddle and I was standing up as much as possible. When I did sit down I had to do it hard and fast like I was ripping a band-aid off, otherwise it hurt worse. I changed my saddle part of the way through and that saved my life. My feet, like the balls of my feet, started to go near the end. It felt like I was walking around with sand and rocks in my shoes all day long, but there was never anything actually in my shoes, I know because I kept checking over and over again. I would stop and go through this routine of taking my shoes off and turning them upside down and shaking them out like crazy but there was never anything there. Nothing. Just phantom rocks and gravel.
For me the most difficult part the race was Mental, e.g. knowing that every day you had to get up and ride 150 miles again and again and again and again, over and over, again and again—the monotony sucked. That and all of the unknowns. Most days you didn’t know if you find dinner for sure, or if you did what it would be like. Half the time you’d made it to the town you planned to but it was later than you thought so everything was closed, or maybe the town was so small it didn’t have a place to eat in the first place. Some towns were so small you couldn’t even find a place to buy water or a working spigot. And sleeping on the side of the road in some bushes, in your spandex, because basically you HAD to stop, and there was no bed and no shower, just bushes. The worst point, like the lowest point, was the middle of the race with fourteen days down and fourteen days to go—convincing myself to get up and ride that morning was difficult.
The high point of the race was when everything went wrong. It was the scariest part too but I kinda like that shit. We had to ride over this pass in a Grizzly Bear Rehabilitation Area at night, on a sidehill, on single track—one of the only sections of single track in the whole race. There were signs all over the place telling us that we probably didn’t want to be there—like, “Warning There Are Grizzly Bears Everywhere.” All I had for bear protection was a whistle. So like if I saw a bear I was supposed to grab this whistle and make a noise, like a high school coach. Anyway it was dark and on our way up the pass lighting struck not that far from where we were and started a fire. By the time we were half way up the mountain there was smoke everywhere and we had to ride right through it all, in the dark, in grizzly country, with a whistle. We misjudged everything and so by the time we got off the mountain it was well after midnight and we’re starving because we’d been riding all day. We were super excited to get to this town called Steely Lake but by then everything was closed, the only thing open was a bar that didn’t serve food. So for dinner I had three beers, a shot of whisky, two small bags of kettle chips and a slice of cheese cake, which cheese cake was something the bartender had in the fridge in the back, like it was her personal cheese cake that she gave me to eat, because they didn’t serve food and I guess she felt sorry for me.
I didn’t see a single bear the whole time but I saw pretty much everything else you can think of; elk, moose, buffalo, turtles, snakes, deer, rabbits, foxes, raccoons, etc. And a tarantula.
THE AMOUNT OF FOOD YOU HAVE TO EAT IS INSANE, I probably lost 15 pounds but I was eating three to four times more than I normally eat. Whenever we could we’d eat a full breakfast, like in a diner. A typical breakfast was a veggie omelet with toast and hash browns, then a full order of French toast (6-8 slices), and that was easy, that was all gone within ten minutes, then maybe after that I’d eat another full breakfast.
Before the race I was a vegan, but the second night in, just over the border from Canada, we came to this bar kinda late. All the bar served was meat. They barely knew what a vegetarian was let alone a vegan. So for the first time in five years I ate two cheeseburgers and some fries.
We’d stock up in gas stations on super cheap shit, like cherry pies, Oreos, Nutella, Fig Newtons, candy bars, cupcakes, etc., and still spend like thirty to forty dollars at a time. I had a full size Nutella in my bag the whole the trip and so whatever (apple, Oreo, tofu pup, whatever) I was eating, I would dip it in the Nutella jar and take a big ass scoop of chocolate with it.
IT GETS SO SPREAD OUT THAT WE DIDN’T REALLY SEE ANYONE ELSE ON THE TRAIL. But sometimes we would come across some dude that had been riding for who knows how long, unable to talk or answer questions, sleep deprived and jacked on caffeine pills, basically not right in the head, like out of his mind. And it was weird because those guys where always the dudes up and like on the trail by three or four in the morning. We’d wake up two hours later, eat breakfast, and by that afternoon we’d be passing them. Then we’d stop for dinner or to camp for the night and they’d roll past, shattered and incoherent. It comes down to different tactics right, but most of the guys running that program eventually stopped for an entire day, and then we’d never see them again because they’d drop too far behind us.
I was always tired to a certain degree because any day that you ride a mountain bike one hundred and forty miles you’re going to be tired. And if you wake up and do it again, and again, for twenty-three days in a row, you’re going to be tired all the time. So basically I was tired all the time. I feel great now though.