If you want to explore the remote regions of the Rocky Mountains and challenge yourself against everything Mother Nature has to throw at you, then the “Tour Divide” mountain bike race should be on your tick list. The route travels 2,750 miles across the Continental Divide from Banff, Alberta to the U.S. – Mexican border in New Mexico. Racers must stay on a designated network of trails that keep you mostly on back country terrain. Riders are required to either carry a GPS tracking device to validate their route, or produce a GPS file from their navigation system once complete. Once racers depart, the clock keeps ticking until reaching the finish line. Racers can eat at restaurants, and even sleep in hotels if they want, but must cover 100 percent of the course without assistance, or they are disqualified.
Some parts of the Tour Divide are super remote like the 180 mile section of the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico and the 140 mile stretch of the Great Basin in Wyoming. Food and water management, as well as navigation skills are crucial to be successful. Mechanical know how and survival skills are also required as the possibility of finding yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere with mother nature testing your clothing choices can leave riders in a precarious situation. Portions of the course are unrideable to all but the most skilled, and many hard miles are logged pushing your bike through deep mud, snow fields, boulder fields, and this year even avalanche debris fields.
Bike rigs must be dialed in to carry the equipment needed to make it to the next resupply point. Sleeping systems, food bags, water storage, wet and cold weather clothing, and bike repair kits all have to be carried. Frame bags, seat bags, and bar harnesses are the norm. All of these cut down on weight and unneeded wind resistance. It’s easy to keep piling on useful items, but when your bike weighs so much you can’t carry it across a river or push it up debris fields then it’s time to rethink what’s “needed”.
Racers begin from both terminuses on the second Friday of June every year rain or shine to begin the Grand Depart. It’s also possible to race solo in an Individual Time Trial (ITT) format all year long. Grizzly bears, moose, wolves, and cougars can be found on a large portion of the route, so bear spray and wildlife awareness are a must.
‘It’s common for less than 50% of the riders that begin the race to make it to the finish line. Injuries, mechanical issues, and mental fatigue all contribute to the overall challenge.’
If the Tour Divide sounds like the challenge you’ve been looking for, then check out the movie “Ride the Divide” (trailer below) and the yearly publication of short stories from riders called the “Cordillera”. The Cordillera is full of stories about not only successes, but also failure on the course. Anything can happen on the Divide from accidentally misting yourself with bear spray, to bad crashes in remote areas. Mother Nature ensures a good challenge is had by all with snow, hail, and endless rain up north followed by brutal heat in the desert south. One thing is for sure, it doesn’t matter if you make it to the finish line or not, but you will have a life changing event any way things shake out.
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