I've never been able to recall how I was initially convinced to race the Tour Divide in 2016. In all honesty, I was only vaguely aware of the race at that time, having never seen the film by Mike Dion which introduced so many others to the Divide and ultra distance bikepacking races in general. At some point (was it late 2015 or early 2016?) I was added to a group message with my buddies Bobby Wintle, Seth Wood, David Markman, Jay Barre, Corey Godfrey, and Troy Cowin. I participated in the discussions, but only passively, never thinking this would become a reality for me. Little by little, things got more serious and I suddenly found myself writing a letter of intent and realizing that this was actually happening. Not only would I be racing the Tour Divide, but I intended to challenge the singlespeed record set by Chris Plesko in 2009 of 19 days and some change.
Looking back, I realize how unprepared I was to cover the 2,700 miles ahead of me, but that was part of the beauty. I threw myself into the Divide headlong, without many considerations given towards the immensity of the challenge I was to undertake. My lack of experience in ultra distance racing combined with an extremely limited knowledge of the route should have kept me from finishing, but I persevered day by day, eventually gaining the knowledge I'd need to get me to Antelope Wells. In the end, I fell just ten hours short of my goal finishing time, something I'm quite proud of.
Having arrived at the end of this grand journey, I only felt myself wanting more. There is a beauty to crossing the United States on the Continental Divide, through the Rocky Mountains, through some of the most demanding conditions one could imagine. And there is something even more significant about completing this ride without the mechanical advantage provided by variable gearing, allowed with use of a derailleur. Spinning and mashing your way across the country, simultaneously in the "right" and "wrong" gear, with only the power of your legs and lungs to carry you and all your gear from mountain pass to mountain pass, is an experience without compare. Being alone in the vast spaces adds a perspective to everyday life that is so far removed from the monotony of our standard routine. It makes those other tasks seem trite and menial. It gives purpose. It gives significance. And most of all, it calls you back.
With all this said, it only feels natural to go back. In my initial Tour Divide run I was very cautious. The fear of the unknown kept my days shorter. It held me in the comforts of towns longer. It stopped me from venturing further into the night when I knew I had more left to give. The first hand knowledge of both the route and what I am capable of have led me to push myself even further this time around. In 2016 the singlespeed record was reset by Chris Plesko to 15 days and 8 hours. I intend on challenging that record with a goal time of 15 days or less. After countless hours riding in preparation and many nights sleeping under the stars, I feel more prepared than ever to put myself to this ultimate test of physical endurance and mental fortitude. More than anything else, I'm simply eager to be back in that expansive countryside, living out a monumental adventure, on the most simple, capable mechanism mankind has ever invented for travel, the bicycle.
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I love being outside. I prefer to ride on dirt. Or snow. If I was born a hundred years earlier I might have been a polar explorer. There's a great natural world out there to see, smell, taste, listen to, and experience. Life slows down out there and the distractions we've created will disappear if you let them. Give me a backpack and let me go.