Tour Divide: Final Thoughts

In the following days I had this to add:

Congratulations to all the finishers of the Tour Divide. Anyone who finishes deserves a beer… or two. Well done to all of you!

New Mexico. I tried to like you, I really did. You had some beautiful views and great people. I had pie in Pie Town and stayed in the infamous Toaster House. The Continental Divide Trail was fun and challenging on a fully loaded CX bike. However, you tried to beat me up. Your roads were rough, your temps were high. You left my hands numb and my body sore. I left a janky cabin in Platoro, ColoRADo and rode into New Mexico as the course got rough with baby heads and loose rocks. I rode into the night and woke up in the desert at a little place called Abiquiu. After a small rest I rode a slow, demoralizing 80 miles to Cuba, ate 3 plates or Mexican food and rode into the night again towards Milan. I guess you could say I’m a world traveler. I waited for a diner to open in the morning, had breakfast, caffeinated,and pushed on through the desert to Pie Town. I got there just in time for free pie at Pie-O-neer bought by Salsa Cycles. The woman there told me about the Toaster House where I crashed for longer than expected that night. It would be 180 miles until I had a chance to get food again and I foolishly thought that 5 PB&Js and some gas station food would cut it. After 100 miles I arrived to refuel water at the Beaverhead Work Camp. A whole group of rider showed up shortly there after. So much for my break away. The firefighters there told us that they had too much food and needed help eating all of it so we were happy to oblige. Morgan, Gabe, and I set off towards Silver City that night and ended up taking an impromptu nap at the top of a hill. After 2 hours of semi unintentional but much needed sleep we pushed on through the Continental Divide Trail and then to Silver City for breakfast… at noon. From there it was a short, relatively easy 123 miles to the finish line. Everything went fast until about 20 miles from the finish when it got dark, stormy, and I started to bonk with an intense headwind. Progress was incredibly slow and I thought about taking a nap with 15 miles to go. Eventually I saw the 4 mile mark and I wanted to finish strong so I burned my last match and raced to the border. I just about passed out when I got there. It was an unreal experience. It seemed so inconceivable to imagine what I had just done. My dad and Greg were there to pick me up and get my picture at the border (which I will upload soon). I’m not sure if I pushed through New Mexico on 12 hours of sleep because I was getting competitive, just wanted to finish, didn’t like the desert heat, or just didn’t like New Mexico. All of the above?

We are now road tripping back to California. We watched the 4th of July fireworks from Thunder Mountain outside of Sierraview, visited Tombstone, and tomorrow we are heading to the Grand Canyon. I have to admit, I was not expecting this much rain in the middle of summer. This has been an amazing learning and growing experience thus far but I’m looking forward to things like casual visits to coffee shops, chill pace bike rides, and the occasional nap on my couch. more info to come later.

I want to say Thank You. Thank you for showing support, thank you for being interested in this dream of mine, thank you for the pictures, and thank you for reading. If I can convince one person that they should ride a bike because of this, I’d be happy. Thank you to those of you who took pictures when I could not, for the laughs, and sharing this experience with me. You can watch the entire race unfold on a map here: My little dot is the WS. Special thanks to Michael Kinney and Gabes Mak for their great picture contribution.

Cost. This was perhaps one of the most expensive “free” races I’ve done to date. When looking at my bank statements I spent about $1,500 on the route. Most of it was spent on food, around $1,200, but some included splitting rooms and bike maintenance. This was only what I spent on the route. I don’t have an exact figure, but my bike build including all my bags came out to somewhere around $2,300. The Divide left my drivetrain haggard, but I figure I’ll use it until I can’t before I replace it. I also need to do full cables and housing due to the dust and mud buildup. My bar tape has proven to be remarkably resilient. Of course, these expenses don’t include travel to Banff and from Antelope Wells. I think I did the Divide on a pretty reasonable budget for the pace that I did it in. If you’re looking to do the Tour Divide, I’d set aside at least $4,000 (2015) If you’re looking to set a record and do it in 14 days or less, you might spend less on food, but your bike probably won’t be cheap. You Don’t need super high end components to do the Divide. Sometimes it might be better to go with cheaper components for ease of maintenance. Make sure you can fix anything on your bike until you set off into the middle of nowhere.

Cost on my body. This was a grueling effort that left me sore for weeks. My butt was sore but honestly not that bad by the end of the Divide. My knees were uncomfortable in any position and my achilles were a little swollen and sore. It only hurt when I moved and when I didn’t. My upper body had atrophied over those three weeks and I could barely lift my bike above my head when I got to the finish. My face had sunken in, my ribs were more visible, and I had lost 9 lbs from my 170lb starting weight. I Imagine I looked a little gaunt compared to when I started. My palms were calloused and felt leathery. I had some numbness in my fingers on my left hand. My ability to pinch things and properly use silverware was almost nonexistent. It took 7 months for the sensation to come completely back to my fingers. It hurt to eat and felt like I had tons of tiny cuts in my mouth. I was starving every 2 hours no matter how much I ate for the next 2 weeks and I slept quite a lot when I got home.

Yes. Yes I would do it again. Probably on a cross bike, preferably one with disk brakes. I wouldn’t do it on any other cross bike than a Trek, Boone for comfort purposes. I’m torn right now because I know I can do it faster, but I want to take my time, go slower and get really cool pictures. There are also a number of other big events that I’m interested in. The Baja Divide setup by Lael Wilcox and Nicholas Carman, 2,000 miles down Baja California in the winter is definitely on the list. I’m curious about the Trans Am self supported race across America held around the same time as the Divide, and the Route 66 Race held in October. There is also the Trans America Trail, all dirt from East to West. They’re all on the list, but I need to finish school. The bike was pretty good. The TRP CX-9 Mini V brakes worked pretty well overall and my wheels stayed true for the whole Divide. My bike was starting to sound pretty terrible by the end but I didn’t care. I just had to get me to the end. It would have been nice to have some hydro disk brakes for the stopping power and not worrying about melting my tires on some of the descents. By the end, my brake cables were stiff and hard to pull because of the mud and dust that had built up.

No, David Magana, I did not carry my poop. Someone asked the question “How do I convince my significant other that this race is a good idea?” I’d probably start by making sure they don’t read this. I’m not sure how well I have advertised the Tour Divide. It might come across as a terrible thing to do, but I’d definitely do it again. I think it just comes down to what kind of person you are. If you read this and got excited, do it. If you read this and thought about how you’d never want to do something like the Tour Divide, it’s probably not for you. There were some moments where I might have felt “unsafe” and there were moments I probably should have felt unsafe but didn’t. Getting chased by a few packs of dogs and coyotes in the desert at night? Yea, I felt a little unsafe. Sleeping in my light sleeping bag and bivvy in sub freezing temperatures, that was probably a little unsafe. Carrying a BLT on my bike through Grizzly country in Montana, that too was probably unsafe. Crossing the Great Basin hoping that I wouldn’t run out of water, that was definitely a little unsafe as demonstrated by Brian Jett. I don’t think I can narrow down any one specific instance that I will never forget aside from probably finishing. That I will never forget. For Toby Smith, I lost my mustache wax somewhere I think on day 2. The only time I ever really cared about losing it was when I saw Touring Girl and my mustache was a mess. For clothes, I ended up using the same items over and over. Aside from the first day, I wore the same pair of medium thick wool socks the whole time. I had the same Champion Systems Pro bib, fleece long sleeve, and race cut jersey the whole time. I had a Pearl Izumi thermal pant, shirt, and waterproof (mostly) jacket, a North Face neon windbreaker for running, Endura waterproof shorts, and some Nike Free 4.0 lightweight running shoes for when I needed to walk a long distance. For Vickie, I was so tired most nights, that there wasn’t much thinking between me laying down in my bag and me falling asleep. Of course there was the “Oh man I smell terrible!” thought that crossed my mind every time I opened my bivvy but that was about it. For Nick Burnett, every morning I wanted to quit. Every morning I wanted to just lay there, not get up, and just sleep the day away. How exactly did I overcome it? Well, I’m not sure exactly. My stomach wanted food so i had to get up and feed myself and then I figured I’ll just pedal down the route and see how I felt in a bit. The mornings were always the worst, but by early afternoon I felt like I could just ride all day. When the sun went down, that’s when I got really tired again. Nothing like some bikepacking to get our circadian rhythm locked down. I wanted to quit at least once, every day. The depths to which I had to dig myself out of varied from day to day and hour to hour, but overall I think the trick is to be stubborn and just keep moving. I hope you enjoyed this, I sure did.


5 thoughts on “Tour Divide: Final Thoughts

  1. Will, I thouroughly enjoyed your entire journey on the Tour Divide through your words. As I read on, I felt as if I were there. When you were hungry and desperate to get into town and eat, I was rooting for you.
    Your accomplishment is amazing, but your ability to put it into words is awesome.
    I look forward to reading about more of your journeys,

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dude, what a great read and an amazing accomplishment!! I have a couple of friends who have done the TD a couple of times (David Stowe, Sarah Caylor). It’s on my bucket list (2018??). Your story is huge motivation. Mad respect…huge congratulations!! I look forward to following your future journeys!


  3. Will,

    I read your entire story. Each time I had to stop reading, I couldn’t wait to get back to it. You helped me visualize the route so my 2017 attempt will be much safer and fun. Thanks for taking the time to tell such a wonderful story. Hope you have a wonderful life riding bikes. Maybe we will someday ride together in an event. Take care.

    Richie Mattson
    Age 60
    Retired Firefighter from Duluth Minnesota
    CTR Finisher 2014

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Will,

    I loved your write up, to the extent that I ponied up and did the TD this year (2017). I had a crazy hard time, with handlebar palsy (just like you), amongst several other issues, but am pretty satisfied to have made it to the end. I thought it shabby of me not to have already acknowledged your influence, hence this little message. I see you are entered in the CTR just about to start, so will follow your progress keenly.
    Thanks again and best of luck,

    Dave Langley (age 47, Australia)

    Liked by 1 person

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