Banff, Alberta; probably one of the nicest towns on the whole of Tour Divide, and of course, it’s mile zero. I look around in front of the Y at the same eager faces, the middle-aged men looking for some mid-life crises soul searching Ride the Divide sold them; twenty and thirty somethings’ eyes’ hungry intent, aiming for a fast finish and something to prove; the other young folks lust for adventure; and there’s the small contingent of women who give me hope that the Tour Divide won’t be completely full of shitty competitive meatheads in five years. I stand there, look around and wonder, where the fuck do I fit in?
Billy Rice reads off the rules, as if there is some sort of semblance of organization besides a course, a clock, and a general meeting time; yeah, right. The neutral roll out of 150 rolls out. We hit the official start of the course, don’t blow yourself up, don’t blow yourself up, is all I repeat in my head. I think of my Trans Am finish, the people in the back of my head “you know, you could be pretty competitive at this if you had the right bike and trained for it”. I think of the coach I hired, then promptly quit. I think of the bike I spent money on, I think of all the time and energy I put into leaving Banff for this race and I’m still not sure if I really want to try to race it. My day one goal was a competitive finish at Buttes Cabin.
I find a comfortably fast pace, without spending too much. My aerobars start to slip. I stop to fix them. My rear tire feels low. I stop to fix it. I continue doing this over and over again. The rain starts. The rain turns to snow. My rear wheel starts leaking sealant from the nipple bed. It’s toast. I throw in a tube. It’s flat. I kiss Buttes Cabin goodbye. I put the right tube in and ride on, hoping the wet subsides and I can push on. I make it into Elk Springs Provincial Park. The powerline train is rough and batters my body, which is already tired from mechanicals. My legs could keep going, but the gear failures and cold work into my brain. I stop at a cabin, another racer is inside shivering and battered. He crashed his cross bike and now felt like his body was shutting down. We started a fire and debated spending the night there. I waited for an hour, maybe two. I watched all the racers go by and decided I couldn’t just give up here. I braved the cold, now no longer wet and pressed on.
Not much longer my stomach explode. Another problem I’d had before. I felt it at Boggs 8 Hour I felt it at Stagecoach. I attributed it to going to hard, to pure exhaustion, but this time I knew I wasn’t pushing too hard. A racer I had met at the airport came up to me and pressed me for help as I lay on the side of the trail trying to pull it back together.
“What’re you eating?”
“I have a bunch of goos, some gels”
“That’s your problem. You need real food, something salty. Some Corn Nuts, Fritos, Cashews, something other than all that sugar.”
I took in his advice and urged him to go on. I pulled myself back together and made it to Elkford. I filled up on Ketchup potato chips and Pepsi. Everyone was talking of hotels in Elkford after the wet, muddy, cold day. I knew my day couldn’t be over yet. As the sun was going down and the rain subsiding I pushed on to Sparwood and felt my stomach come back. I crushed the trail, dropped into town around midnight and free camped near the Subway and felt much better.
In the morning I threw food in me along with terrible Subway coffee, saw my friends Morgan and Gabes, chatted their plans, cleaned my bike and got back on the road. I passed many other cyclists with my speed. I took a break at Buttes Cabin, where I meant to be at least 8 hours earlier. Morgan and Gabes caught back up with me after I had passed them. I decided to just stick with them on toward Eureka. I’d lose them on the top of the final Canadian pass and cross the border solo. I raced on toward Whitefish, where I got my tubeless wheel situated and replaced a worn brake pad. Morgan and Gabes met up shortly after, they were on a different pace, drinking beers and hanging out. They planned to make Ferndale. At that point, as I felt that I wasn’t going that fast I decided to stick with my friends and try to enjoy this as much as possible.
Enjoying was tough though, as my feet now felt like they were on fire. I checked the size of my new Giro Terraduros’ “42” it read, not the 42.5 that I needed. No wonder. I should have bought new shoes in Whitefish, but I fucked up. I knew there was a shop in Helena, another 130 miles up the road. I didn’t think I could make it. I made the decision in the morning to just suck it up and buy new shoes in Kalispar, 22 miles off route.
My race was feeling very over now. Losing half a day riding to Kalispar, I’d have to struggle to even catch up with my friends who were drinking beers and eating out in every town. I raced fast on the pavement, trying to make the most of my time. I got a coffee, new shoes and I was back on the road. It really wasn’t all that bad of a detour as I made it back to Ferndale right after lunch. It was 100 miles to Seeley Lake, I’d race this very desolate section of Montana in 25 mile segments, firing on all cylinders. Apparently I made Seeley Lake the same time as Morgan and Gabes, but they pushed on to Ovanda in the night while I chose a good night’s sleep in Seeley Lake. I’d make up that time the next day meeting them in Lincoln, MT, at a bar of course.
At this point, I didn’t feel like racing. I didn’t feel like it fit where my head was at, I just wanted to enjoy this ride as much as I could. I vowed to stick with Morgan, Gabes, and Brad, a singlespeeder from Minneapolis they picked up along the way. I was always faster up the hill, where I’d wait for Morgan and Gabes, then we’d meet up for a second, then I’d lose them on the climb. After the 3 hour break in Lincoln, we got into Helena stupid late. The hotels were all booked for some reason. We had to head toward the interstate off the route to get a bed. It was well passed midnight before we laid down.
The next morning would be slow as we expected to get some service on bikes in Helena. We enjoyed some beers as people were anxiously tapping their toes to get on with the race. I felt my toe anxiously tapping, but I had to let it go. I needed to enjoy this, whether that meant racing or not. After 1PM we finally pushed off toward Butte, MT. Once again, I was the first one up, and would race back down. The agreement was to meet in Basin, MT for food. I dropped down toward the highway, kept pushing on along the dirt road on the route. I then realized that Basin was on the opposite side of the highway and maybe four miles of backtracking to make town. The rest of the crew was still riding toward Basin. I did the mileage math and realized that I’d be making it into town around 10PM, if I stopped for food it’d be midnight. I thought of that exhausted feeling of getting in late in Helena and decided I didn’t want that. I ditched the crew and rode on solo to Butte. I free camped in the school yard and thought about what the next day would bring. Would I be drinking beers again with Morgan and Gabes? Would I start racing? My body had felt exhausted from getting into town too late the night before. Heading south from Butte there was not a whole lot ahead, Lima, MT was a mere truckstop town, then it was big mileage to Pinedale, WY, was there even enough to offer up for this kind of relaxed beer drinking riding? I still felt like I didn’t know what I wanted, or why I was even here. The option to turn the race to a tour still laid in front of me, and I still didn’t know what to do. Decisions can only be made on then bike.