Greg Gleason’s 2017 Tour Divide didn’t necessarily end the way he wanted it to. Racers have over 2,745 miles to experience challenges they could never have planned for, and in Greg’s case, it took 1,250. Neck pain kept him from being able to look ahead or quickly react to the terrain, so he wisely chose to keep himself out of trouble, and look at 2017 as “practice.” He’ll be back next year, and considering how well he did on this first attempt, and the amount of motivation that will inevitably build in him over the next 12 months, it would seem that things can only get better. After a little rest, he is finally looking ahead again.
Bug spray...don't leave home without it...
He shared his stats and memories from his ten days out on the route with us, and what his takeaways from this go-round are.
Times & Miles
In Banff, with none other than the official Tour Divide Race starter, Crazy Larry...
Day 1 & 2 337.79 miles. 32 hours, 15-minute ride time. 26,952 feet of climbing
Start in Banff to Whitefish Pass just before a snowy hike-a-bike.
- Rained most the day, but the sandy trails allowed us to continue without many issues.
- Physically, I felt good from the start to about 20 miles outside of Fernie. I started to feel my lungs tightening as I climbed. I was slowing up the climbs, but still managed to make each one.
- Once at Fernie, I stopped at a convenience store, ate several pieces of pizza, and dried my socks and shoes. I loaded up for the next round of riding.
- After calling my wife, I looked at Trackleaders to see that Josh was the only one not stopping. I decided I needed to ride more to try to get my chest to loosen up. I also wanted to see if I could push through the night to gain a small advantage just in case my chest issue ended up being serious. By the time I stopped, I was hacking up white mucus which meant I had bronchitis - just what I feared was happening.
- I stopped at a Pharmacy in Eureka and picked up some over the counter Primatene to help start clearing up my chest issue.
- I stopped for the first time, just shy of 338 miles, on Whitefish Pass before the first major snow hike-a-bike section. I slept for almost four hours.
Feeling good in Fernie...
Day 3 148.36 miles. 16 hours, 44 minutes ride time. 8,720 feet of climbing
Started on the north side of Whitefish Pass to Holland Lake Ranch.
- Rained most the day on and off. My chest felt like someone had strapped a belt around it and I could only take half breaths. When climbing, I had to stop every ¼ mile to catch my breath. I was struggling, and going very slow up each climb. My frustration level was high. I stopped at Holland Lake Ranch, called my wife Kit, and we decided it would be best if I stop racing and get a good night’s rest to help my chest heal. I had an awesome steak dinner, a warm fire to dry out, and six hours rest.
Day 4 162.96 miles. 23 hours, 36 minutes ride time. 12,930 feet of climbing
Holland Lake Ranch to Helena.
- Rained most the day again.
- Slept in a hotel to get dry and launder clothes.
Day 5 81.72 miles. 13 hours, 17 minutes ride time. 7,762 feet of climbing
Helena to Butte.
- Rained on and off all day.
- Slept in a hotel to get dry, do some bike maintenance, and get a good night’s rest.
- My chest was starting to wheeze, so I went to Walmart pharmacy, and called my doctor to get an inhaler prescription filled (I forgot to grab it before leaving). While sitting and waiting, I noticed my head and upper body started drooping forward. I just thought it was fatigue from the days riding. It was the beginning of my neck issues.
- While doing maintenance on my brake pads, I discovered I did not have the right tool. I forgot to test that before leaving. Shit! My pads were gone! What was I going to do? I put out a message on Facebook asking what hex I needed. It turns out I need a 2.5 mm. As I took off, I remembered that most Walmarts were open 24-hours, so I started riding the three miles off course to check. They were open and did have the tool I needed. Amazing! What a relief.
Day 6 140.49 miles. 17 hours, 39 minutes ride time. 9,902 feet of climbing
Butte to Bannack State Park Medicine Lodge Rd.
- Slept in sage brush along the road.
- After riding 100 miles with metal on metal brakes, I finally stopped at Bannack State Park campground to change out the pads, eat, and top off my water.
- Felt pretty good on the bike, so I went into the next day with some confidence that the resting was working and I was ready to start racing again. Still sitting in sixth place, my Day One time bank was paying off and allowing me to rest while others were still trying to catch up.
Day 7 171.72 miles. 18 hours, 03 minutes ride time. 5,712 feet of climbing
Medicine Lodge Rd to Warm River area.
- Slept in an open barn.
- 130 miles down, and feeling the best I had in days, I pulled into Island Park to refuel. It was only 4:30 in the afternoon, so I decided I still had time to get some good miles in before I needed to sleep. So, I went on to the nasty rails-to-trails section; a 40-mile loose sand quad trail.
- This section had a very aggressive whoopty-woo section right from the start. After about the fourth “woo,” my neck was finished. I could no longer hold it up. I was freaking out trying to ride the very narrow and slippery section. The left side of the trail had a 20+ foot drop-off, and to my right, there were stretches with a drop-off into a body of water. While riding, I had to control my head. I could not look up, or to the left or right. I thought to myself, “How you ride or control a mountain bike without being able to see 30 feet in front of you? I was struggling. I kept repeating to myself, “Finish the rail trail and you can rest. It will be fine.”
- Made it to just outside the Warm River area, and slept four hours in a barn away from the mosquitoes.
Another mountain pass down, many more to go...
Day 8 60.26 miles. 8 hours, 30 minutes ride time. 3.885 feet of climbing
Warm River area to Coulter Bay Grand Teton area.
- Slept in a historic cabin at Coulter Bay.
- Rained on and off again.
- Started riding and my neck was tight, but I could hold it up again! Unfortunately, this only lasted about 10 miles. I called my wife. With tears in my eyes and a broken voice, I told her what was up and that I didn’t think I could ride without a functioning head. I told her I could manage my chest issue but this was unsafe and taking the fun out of the ride.
- I remembered that a friend had an issue with his neck (Schermer’s Neck), so I called him to talk about my options. We decided it would be best if I rested for a day or two, and shorten my rides to see if my neck would respond.
- That night, I had an awesome dinner, and a full bacon-filled breakfast in the morning.
The healing power of bacon...
Day 9 53.59 miles. 6 hours, 52 minutes ride time. 3,809 feet of climbing
Coulter Bay Grand Teton area to Lava Mountain Lodge.
- Slept in a room at Lava Mountain Lodge.
- With all the rooms full at Coulter Bay, I had no choice but to move to the next stop. By my notes, it was only 52 miles and all road.
- I left Coulter Bay with a plan to test my neck on the road.
- My cue card was not correct. There were two large seven-mile off-road passes filled with snow and a 6-inch-wide trail. My head went numb thinking about pushing through these passes, but I did it.
- My head started falling about 20 miles into my road riding, so my confidence wasn’t very high. The resting wasn’t working, but I was willing to give it another day.
Day 10 87.67 miles. 11 hours, 17 minutes ride time. 4,669 feet of climbing
Lava Mountain Lodge to Pinedale.
- This day was the real test. I had to go over Union Pass. Union Pass had five-plus miles of hike-a-bike over some serious snow. Luckily, I set out early so the snow was still frozen allowing me to walk on top without post holing.
- Again, my neck lasted about four hours. Frustrated but determined, I kept pushing and riding my bike.
- The descent was nasty. Water flowing down the middle of the jeep trail, many large slippery rocks, huge puddles, rutted, with slippery tree roots exposed everywhere. True mountain biking! The only issue was that I could not move my neck. I kept hitting lines wrong. I almost had three major wipeouts barely stopping the fully loaded bike in time. After the third high speed flub, I stopped, rested a minute, and thought, “What the hell are you doing? Why are you doing this to yourself?”
- I pulled out my GoPro and started recording. I was done. The thought of riding 1,500 more miles without the use of my neck was not possible, and I was putting myself in danger of a serious crash- something expensive and totally avoidable if I stopped.
- With 20-plus miles to go to pavement, I was reflecting on my decision - still questioning if it was the right one to make. So, I used my fist, pushed my head up to the sky, and repeated, “Dear Lord, please give me a sign that I’ve made the right decision!” Mostly downhill, the gravel was flowing nicely until I hit a two-mile stretch of washboard that knocked my head all over the place. It was my sign for sure. “Message received loud and clear, Thank You!”
- When I arrived in Pinedale, I stopped at a local Café to collect my thoughts and start making plans to get myself home. While eating an amazing breakfast, my phone chimed with a Facebook message from my mom. My mom lives in Phoenix and has a friend that lived in St. George, Utah that had a nephew that lived in Pinedale. What are the odds? She shot me his number, I called, and he invited me to stay with his family that evening. He was trying to shuffle his families work schedules to get me to Jackson Hole to fly home. My phone dinged again with another message on Facebook. This time it was JayP’s Fat Pursuit 2017 200-Mile Champ Aaron Gardner.
- “Hey Greg. If you still need a ride tomorrow, I can come get you and take you to the airport. I bailed on the Divide in Pinedale in 2015. Karma dictates that I give you a ride just like a friend did for me.”
- Wow! Aaron drove from Victor, ID and picked me up at 8 a.m. sharp in Pinedale at the Bennett’s residence where I was staying. He safely delivered me to the Jackson Hole Airport, and drove my bike to Fitzgerald’s in Victor to be packed and shipped back to me in South Dakota. He would not except anything but a hug from me! (Aaron, you are an amazing soul! Thank you!)
Moments like these are why you ride the Tour Divide Route...
I enjoyed riding the 1,250 miles on the Divide. My bike was perfect except for my gearing which will need some tweaking. (Greg ran a 2x11 – 38t/28t x 11/32 – it ended up being too aggressive.) Climbed most climbs, but I could have used another tooth or two for sure!
My bikepacking setup was perfect. I had everything I needed to stay warm and dry, and the load made for a nice light build. I experienced hand numbness, Achilles tendon soreness, and foot and hand swelling. My lung issue was manageable and improving every day. The only issue I had that I could not manage was my neck – Schermer’s Neck sucks! Many people pinged me with solutions, but in my opinion, none would have worked on the Divide.
Mountain bike racing requires you to have quick reflexes and full use of your neck to make good line decisions as you descend at high speeds down rocky, rooted, sandy, muddy, pot-holed, puddle-filled narrow trails. You have to hold your head high, and look 30 feet ahead or more to pick the safest line. Without that, you will die or crash hard! Plus, I lost my ability to look around and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Why else do the Divide? It’s for the beauty of each pass you cross along the Great Divide.
I sit here today feeling good with my decision. It was the right one. The best decision for me, my family, and all who care about me. My friend Randy Ericksen sent me this message via Facebook - “Do whatever is best for you. Don't make your decision based on Facebook posts. Worst case scenario, we all get more sleep because we don't have to dot watch. Besides, we know you ride best when you have a practice start.” He said it best. I do better when I have a practice run at these long events!
See you in 2018!
Come meet Greg at Salsa RideCamp 2017!