My Tour Divide
Now this may seem pretty crazy and a little self-indulgent to most people but I have this massive craving to race the Tour Divide in 2014 (www.tourdivide.org).
For those that know nothing about the Tour Divide, it is the Grand Tour of mountain biking. A 4,418km self-supported off-road time trial from Banff Canada, along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route to the Mexican border of Antelope Wells USA. It is expected to take 22-25 days for the competent rider but only if you have the capability of sitting in a saddle for 12-18hrs per day.
I’m sure it is an insane thought for most. Believe me, it is a very difficult sell to those who march to a slightly different beat. Why would I want to put my mind and body through such an amazing journey?? The simple answer is that I want to live my life to the fullest, inspire my beautiful family to chase their dreams and push myself as far and as hard as I am capable within the financial & personal restrictions that bind me to day to day life.
Truth be known, I’m not even sure that I can pull it off, but I would really love to know if my mind and body is actually capable of such an achievement.
So what am I doing about working towards achieving this dream??? Well, 2013 is a no go zone because that’s the year I support my wife to achieve her goal of completing her first Ironman. The 2014 edition is the genuine reality. I’ll be 47. The enduro racing legs will be done, but the endurance base still hanging in there.
One amazing statistic that may be of interest is that there is only one recorded Australian finisher….Alex Field from the 2007 edition. Thats pretty crazy given the adventourous and endurance nature of Australians. I’m aware of at least 4 Australians prepping for the 2013 edition so if I was to go into the 2014 race knowing I could be one of the first 10 Australians to ever finish the hardest race on the face of the earth it could be a source of great motivation.
The research has become a little obsessive but its loads of fun reading about this amazing race and the adventures of past participants. I’ll be using this blog to store all my research thoughts/findings so if you happen to read this page and feel like I am way off the mark, please add a comment below because I would love to hear from you.
I’m a massive supporter of the Specialized brand so my early research has found what I believe to be my ideal mode of Specialized transport for Bikepacking and the Tour Divide. The rig is the next most important ingredient (other than health, endurance fitness & $$$$$).
An alloy Specialized Stumpjumper Evo 29r with SRAM 1X10 running gear. Light, reliable, uncomplicated and something I can become mechanically familiar with very quickly.
The other components are not those in the above image, but the ones scattered throughout this post and what I believe to be very appropriate for a race of this nature. i.e. reliable and durable. The Thomson Head Stem, Handlebars & Seat Post are strong recommendations, the SID Forks light and reliable, King ISO Hubs with Competition Spokes, Brass Nipples & DT Swiss TK540 Rims are tuff as nails and the SRAM 1X10 X9 Group Set uncomplicated. That just leaves the BB7 Brake Set & raised aero bar attachments. Yep…definately flat handlebars and aero’s. Woodchopper handlebars are way to foriegn for me to consider.
I’m seriously concerned about the contact points knowing that I have had trouble during past enduro’s and long training blocks. In particular the butt region. 12-18hrs in a saddle can take its toll and if not managed effectively could easily ruin the dream before it gets too far. Running a lightweight saddle in 12-24hr enduro’s can smash you up so I have gone for a Selle Italia SRL gel flow saddle as my preferred option for the TD. There are so many options and recommendations out there so only hours of testing will determine if I’m on the money, as a saddle is a real personal preference thing.
On the reading & DVD front….there have been many hours spent reading and watching the standard essentials of “Ride The Divide” and the “Cordillera” editions by Eric Bruntjen. I have also just purchased “Eat Sleep Ride” by Paul Howard so hope to knock that over in the next couple of months.
The best central source of information is definitely the extensive list of forums located on the www.bikepacking.net website. What an awesome resource. I have set my user profile up as BudgieBoy and started to hit them with the stock standard novice questions. The questions are embarrassing at times as I’m sure the readers have read the same questions time and time again from novice junkies like me. There are some ripping experienced bikepacking people out there who happily volunteer their experiences which is both amazing and informative. I fully recommend this site to anyone looking to explore Bikepacking a little more.
Now for the gear research. There are soooo many options. It can do your head in. I would love to back myself and run super light like a Matt Lee but the reality is, I’m just your average joe who lives in Australia, has no idea about the route, weather conditions or how to escape the clutches of a Grizzly. So….conservative and prepared it is for this little black duck. Conservative = weight unfortunately.
Before I get stuck into the gear research, I’ll point you to this little article by Ryan Hawson who is competing in the 2013 edition that I found on the http://www.Enduropulse.com.au website. It is a well written article that provides some great insight and basics around packs etc etc. Try and take the time to read it. EnduroPulse is Australia’s central source of info for Enduro racers. You can also follow them on twitter at @enduropulse if thats of interest. http://www.enduropulse.com.au/articles/features/523-bikepacking-equipment-101
Sleeping gear….well I know I should be going light and simple with the bivvy sack but unfortunately I just can’t get my head around it so I’ve made up my mind on the 1.6kg ultralight Hilleberg Akto. This means I’m definately going to need a backpack for the sleeping bag etc but that is a small sacrifice in my mind for a bit of a safety zone to retreat to at night rather than sleeping under the stars.
I have opted for the Mont Bell UL Super Spiral 800 Loft Down Hugger sleeping bag that weights just 0.65kgs. Lightweight and compact. Have also read a lot of great reviews on the award winning flexible spiral design that provides the necessary comfort after a big day in the saddle. I’ll worry about the bag liner at a later date. The sleeping mat will be a half measure, inflatable, as light as possible and nothing fancy.
The next piece of critical equipment is the riding jacket. From what I can tell from previous editions, the first week can be very cold and the evening riding also very cold. I absolutely hate being cold when riding so always go with an extra layer to be safe…..so the jacket is a super critical decision for me. At this stage I’m set on the Showers Plus Elite 2.0 waterproof and breathable jacket. I’m really happy to take some advise on this one so if you have any input please drop me a comment below.
Research To Be Continued…..
Jarrod Dellamarta – 2012 Australian Tour Divide participant.
We also touched base with Jarrod Dellamarta who participated in the 2012 edition of the Tour Divide. Unfortunately Jarrod was unable to finish the event due to severe achilles tendonitis. We ask Jarrod for some hands on advice to guide other Aussie TD hopefuls.
Your Top4 travel tips for Aussies planning to compete in the event.
1. It’s a long trip to Banff no matter which way you try to tackle it. I chose to fly to LA with Virgin Australia and then with Air Canada from LA to Calgary. My total transit time was approximately 28hrs (15hrs Melb-LA, 6hrs stop-over, 3hrs LA-Calgary, 2hrs waiting for the shuttle, 2hrs Calgary Airport to Banff). I decided to do it in one long leg and get it over with (like ripping off a band-aid). You could break it up but it’s a hassle with the bike box. Which ever way you decide to do it make sure you give yourself some time in Banff before the race starts, allowing time to get over jet lag. I gave myself 3 days which seemed sufficient. This also allows you to fine tune your bike or wait for the airline to deliver your bike if it gets lost (yes this did happen to one poor racer) and it has happened to me on another trip. Hanging out in Banff before the race is great as you get to meet all the racers. The YWCA is the place to stay as they set aside a conference room for all the racers to keep there bikes and hangout.
2. Pack you bike carefully in a bike box with plenty of padding. I have flown with my bike a dozen times at least and it has never been damaged, so with careful packing it should not be a problem. There are plenty of youtube videos on how to do this, or your local bikes shop will normally do it for you as well. Think about what tools you will need to re-assemble it at the other end as well as what you will need during the ride as there a big distances between bike shops so you need to be self-sufficient.
3. Check with your airline on their policy for checking in a bike. Every airline is different and some will charge. Most domestic flights in the US will charge a standard rate of about $100-$200 US. To give you an idea, Virgin Australia flew my bike for free in both directions (Melb-LA, LA-Melb), Air Canada charged me $100 US (LA-Calgary), United Airlines charged me $100 US (Missoula-Denver-LA). Also some airlines require you to notify them that you will be bringing a bike as was the case for Air Canada. All airlines are different so it is worth checking so you know what you will be charged. For example on a trip to India in 2011 I got charged $400 AUD by Cathay Pacific – I won’t be flying with them again! Thankfully the Banff Transporter which is the shuttle you use from Calgary Airport to Banff will take your bike for free and these guys are really nice.
4. The challenge with Tour Divide is what to do at the finish. I can’t provide advice based on experience, but I did plenty of research on this one to try and work out what to do. Antelope Wells is literally in the middle of nowhere, so for an Aussie who is unlikely to have friends or family to pick them up, you are kind of stuck. My plan was to try and hitch a lift to either El Paso (the shorter of the two; is 200 miles from Antelope Wells) or Tucson which are the two closest domestic airports, or worst case ride.
Your Top4 essential pieces of equipment that every rider must have for the event.
1. Navigation – The number one item would have to be a GPS. These are not mandatory devices, but make life so much easier on the ride. I took the Adventure Cycling Association maps and cue sheets as well, but just used them for planning and reference purposes. It is much easier to load up the .GPX file onto the GPS and make sure that you are always following the line. The maps are an amazing resource and the Adventure Cycling Association have done a fantastic job mapping our the route, but interpreting the cues when you are tired and hungry can be a challenge. I used a Garmin eTrex 20 which will set you back about $220 AUD, but there are other models as well. Make sure you get one that can take a memory card so you can load up the .GPX file which is large. It takes 2 x AA batteries, which is useful as you won’t be getting to a power point every day if you have a rechargeable unit. You get about 3 days of riding out of a set of lithium batteries as long as you remember to switch it off at night. You can also purchase a stem mount which I used and this worked well. Even though the GPS gives you standard cycle computer data as well I also had a cycle computer as backup in case the GPS failed. I could then navigate with the cycle computer and maps. A lesson learnt by one rider this year who did not seat his GPS into the stem mount properly losing it into the river as he crossed a bridge.
2. Wet weather gear – This is obvious, but if you feel the cold then you could really suffer in the earlier parts of the ride. Water proof socks and gloves would be a real advantage as you not only have the snow to contend with, but there are plenty of water crossings as well. We used to joke that if someone asked you how to train for the Tour Divide, our response would be “walk your bike through a stream for an hour then go ride an 8000 foot pass with snow on it “.
3. Spares and Tools – Make sure you carry the necessary tools and spares to fix any mechanical failure. This can be a real challenge as you want to travel as light as possible, but not get stuck. Next time I would definitely carry a spare set of brake pads as riders were wearing these out very quickly due to the wet and muddy conditions and long descents.
4. Staying in contact with home is challenge. I brought along a Calling Card from Oz which allowed me to make toll free calls from the US. The problem with this solution is that there are no longer any pay phones anywhere. You could use a mobile if you arrange International Roaming, but that can get expensive and only about 15% of the route has coverage. The best option is to bring your smart phone and use Skype-out on the free WIFI at cafes/restaurants. My experience was that most of the restaurants/diners would allow you to charge your phone while you were eating.
Your Top4 essential pieces of advice for Bike Set Up.
1. Simplicity – Keep your bike set-up as simple as possible. You will have to deal with all mechanical failures as more than likely there will not be a bike shop around for miles. Remember there is no support on this race, so if something fails you have to deal with it. This was the reason why I went for rigid forks, a 1 x 10 SRAM X0 drive-chain and mechanical disc brakes as opposed to hydraulic. Try not to choose anything too exotic as well, as you don’t want to wait for the bike shop to order something in as a replacement.
2. Aero bars – These are standard fair on the Tour Divide. I did not use them, but I can imagine that they prove invaluable on the long flat stretches and also for different hand positions. It also makes hanging your “bed roll” on the front of the bike easier. I know it is sacrilege to do this to a mountain bike, but you will get over it.
3. Bikepacking – I had not really looked into this style of bike packing until researching for the Tour Divide. The idea is not to use traditional panniers and racks which add weight and are not great on the more technical stuff. Instead companies such as Revelate Designs and Porcelain Rocket make frame, handlebar and seat bags which are proven solutions for carrying gear on these sorts of races. I used a Revelate Designs seat bag and Porcelain Rocket frame bag, both of which were awesome. Remember to order early (especially the frame bag which needs to be custom made to fit your bike) as these guys get really busy leading up to the US racing season (summer).
4. Not really bike set-up advice, but important. When I was training for the Tour Divide I focused on putting in the kilometres and spending plenty of time in the saddle – this is kind of obvious. What I would do next time is also train by pushing my bike uphill. I retired from the race after I developed tendonitis in my achilles and could not walk or ride. Pushing your bike uphill through the snow for hours a day is a very unnatural movement. My ankles were clearly not accustomed or strong enough to handle this abuse. So I suggest pushing your bike uphill or some similar exercise to strengthen your ankles as a part of your training regime.
Do you have any financial budgeting guidelines for Aussie participants?
Outside of flights and bike costs, I would budget for about $50 US a day to cover food and other miscellaneous purchases. You will consume a huge amount of food to maintain the amount of calories you are burning. I aimed to have one hot meal a day as I passed through a town and then top up my bags with snack to see me through till the next stop. I would generally order two or three meals in one sitting when stopping at a diner or restaurant. If you plan on staying in motels along the way then you would need to increase that to $100 US at least. The times I looked into motel costs, they were asking about $80-$120 US a night. Don’t count on a motel every night as you will either need to cut your day short or push longer than you would like.
Contact Jarrod on Twitter: @jdremote or via his Website: cyclinginthinair.com if you would like any further info.