Three Days on the Tour Divide with the Salsa Cutthroat

Stories. We all have to have stories to coincide with photos right? Nowadays, someone has to get lost, or their life threatened, or lose a battle to nature’s mood swings. Catastrophe, calamity and someone’s a casualty of what everyone seems to be dubbing “adventure.”

Truth is, a bike ride is hardly ever an “adventure.” Much less a bike launch. I don’t like that word: “adventure.” It tends to envelop so much of our day-to-day lives, especially those of us who spend a great deal of time outdoors. Was it an adventure? No, it was a hike. Or we went swimming. Or we got lost for an hour. “Adventure.” It’s been watered down, branded, packaged and delivered to us in a freeze-dried, waterproof pouch. We share our curated lives exposed through meticulously VSCO’d / Photoshopped vignettes on Instagram.

While this may seem cynical, I can assure you it’s far from that. It’s more of an explanation, or a primer if you will and here comes to the top coat: while the word adventure’s definition is subjective, the spirit of conquest is the thing that ties all facets of that word together. For some people, conquest lies in what others might deem an obtainable task. For others, it’s something so far-fetched that it’s more of an impossibility than a probability… Whatever it is, “adventure” means different things to different people, but we should all be more creative in how we define it. According to my opinion anyway.

Double track

Enter the Tour Divide Race, an annual event that takes racers (and riders) from Banff, Canada to the US / Mexico boarder along the great dividing range. It’s no small task and embodies the spirit of personal conquest.

This year, 150 or so people registered for this true-to-form adventure. Events like the TDR have been growing in popularity. Whereas before most people 10 years ago were riding standard mountain bikes with maybe a few custom bags or a rack system, now there are dedicated “bikepacking” bikes with all the necessary accoutrement for this 2,700 some odd mile journey.

Locked and loaded

One such vehicle is the Salsa Cutthroat. A bike specificially for the TDR. It was designed for and with Salsa’s own rider, Jay Petervary (the current record holder) to race on. The Cutthroat is a unique bicycle and it required a unique “press launch.” This launch however couldn’t be opened to just any media source. The guys at Salsa strategically picked athletes (partially joking here) who would be able to deal with the TDR’s difficult terrain, all while hauling their own shit for a few days. That or, people who were just down to have some fun and take a sample swig from the bottle that is the TDR. 130 proof.

Myself, Chris Miller from Mountain Flyer and Aaron Gulley from Outside Magazine were chosen. Accompanying us were Sean and Joe from Salsa. We each were responsible for our own gear, food and whatever else we’d need for the trek. Granted we weren’t doing the full route, only three days, but we were still in for a challenge. There were no support vehicles, no nonsense. If you didn’t pack right, you were going to be wet and cold.

Washed out...

I might add, these were three days of some of the more challenging bits of the TDR. The trip from Canada to Montana ain’t a walk in the park. Weather fluctuations, bears, cougars, exposure, water, food, everything needed to be addressed and assessed before departure. Bear spray, sunblock, bug spray, rain paints… the list went on and on.

We began just south of Crowsnest Pass in Alberta and finished around Demers Ridge in Montana. Three days at touring pace with a touring kit. While we were still pretty lightweight in terms of gear, I hauled a 25lb camera bag, coffee, a stove and other things people racing the TDR would consider luxury items, or in other words: things that will slow ya down.

We were all sated and yet, all I wanted was more.

But as stated, this wasn’t our time for true adventure, it was merely a taste. A sample, or as we came to joke, the “Tour Divide Simulation.”

At the end, all I wanted was more and currently, I’m planning on taking on the full route next year. Something bit me on this ride. No, not a deer tick. It was that ever-present need to push myself and what I believe is the true spirit of growth. Some would say “adventure” and I would just say personal conquest.

Many thanks to Salsa for setting the hook with the Cutthroat. There’s more to come with that tomorrow including what I took, how I carried it and what I thought about the bike.

  • Matthew J

    Great photo journal as always.

    Curious about the bear spray. When I did a camp trip in Quebec I was told Canada does not allow bear spray. Has that changed? There is an exception for the TDR? Or did y’all pass one by the watchers?

    • They don’t allow “mace” or “pepper spray”. They DO allow certain brands of bear spray. We had to show them what we had.

    • emathy

      Bear spray is heavy and tough to use well enough to be effective, IMHO. I’m a much bigger fan of avoidance (bear bells on your rig) and small bear bangers (see:… ) as long as you use them smartly and don’t start a forest fire.

      • charlesojones

        Research has shown bear spray, when used properly, is highly effective.

        • Jake Riehle

          A NZ rider had to mace a grizzly last year when it charged her just west of Holland Lake, Montana. It was pretty damn effective, so much so the wind kicked the peppery mist back in her face and she had to stand there temporarily blind as the bear went on it’s way off trail.

      • AT

        Bear bells have been proven to be nearly useless. Bear spray works great and is not difficult to use. I carry it all the time and highly recommend it.

  • Allen K

    Butt Patrol Station. :D

  • I love polebridge! Looks like a blast, except for the drizzlebits.

    • Duddddde. The jalapeño scones… Mind. Blown.

      • D.J. Bolles

        Oh man,right?! I had many jalapeno scones there years ago. Such a great place. Go there, try the scones, buy a mug.

  • charlesojones

    Yes, “adventure” has definitely been branded. True adventure to me means Columbus, Lewis and Clark or Armstrong, (Neil, not Lance) etc.

    That said, I take mini-adventures all the time. Backpacking, bikepacking, bike touring, or just cruising to the grocery store on my commuter bike. As you’ve said, adventure is subjective. It’s more of a state of mind that can’t be defined.

    • Great insight. Thanks Charles.

    • With three kids at home we’ve redefined what adventure means to us these days. Piling the kids on the traila-bike and the yepp mini and spinning through woods for an hour or heading out and hiking even a short trail, becomes an adventure when you see it through the eyes of a 5 year old. It’s these “mini-adventures” (as we also call them) that will hopefully foster a life time of bigger and more ambitious adventures. Great content John!

  • mywynne

    This gets my heart pumping – looks insanely rad. Just gutted that right now I’m basically off-bike from assorted knee trouble…

  • William Bender

    Great insight and writing as always. I couldn’t agree more on the topic of adventure. What would your definition of “adventure” be John?

    • I’m not sure. For me, riding the TDR would be the closest thing to an adventure because it’s pushing myself mentally and physically in a way that is unprecedented.

  • Aaron Teasdale

    Adventure is a state of mind. I don’t like to think of myself as conquering anything, and I certainly never conquer anything in nature. I’m grateful for what the mountains allow me to do.

    • Conquering happens within. Self-doubt, etc. I don’t mean it conquering as the barbarians did. It’s overcoming something internal…

      • Area45

        The hardest thing on the TD was for sure mental. Not that my legs didn’t hurt, but with the push from the head it was really, really hard. Once you get a taste of the GDMBR though it’s tough to get it outta your system.

        • Jake Riehle

          Could have not been better said, Errin. I’ve been torturing myself with this post the last couple of days. I am gonna try it out again in the next few years, let’s do it!

  • Alan Peterson

    Do it JW, ride the TDR, next year or the year after that. It won’t let you down. The confidence and grace that a long trip gives you is worth whatever money/time you may have lost. Also do it alone,you do not really know what you are (capable of) until your setting your shelter up in the rain,3 days into your trip, in the middle of somewhere, hoping its dry in the morning.
    And yes both “adventure” and “curated” are way over used in these times. Everything seems to be marketed to someone,or some niche market. Why? Just go ride your bike to the sounds of no hands (strava) clapping.
    Been reading your blog back when fixed gear freestyle was a thing, and its been cool to see the way you branched out. ($500 bike shoes excepted) I get it though.

  • michael p

    “…setting the hook with the Cutthroat”, nice one. Reminds me that I want to do a bike fishing trip this summer.

  • Ace Metric Cycles

    Going for it next year, yeah?! Nice man.

  • Cheetos. Yes.

  • That jealousy/regret time of year… This looks so damn fun.

  • Hubert d’Autremont

    Thanks for bringing to light the over use of the word adventure John.
    In my book, adventure is when stuff doesn’t go as planned, generally in a dangerous way.
    If you have a few adventures in your life, you will never forget them, but you don’t want to toll the devil.

  • diddlebop

    Fantastic photos and a great trip! Can’t wait to get out there in the next couple years.
    Please do follow the LNT guidelines featured in your other recent post. Even though those trees had clearly been cut down by chainsaws, creating a man-made bridge severely disrupted the flow of water that created the stream that you climbed over to prevent wet feet.

    Keep it rubber side up!

  • BurlyGates

    *2,750 mile journey.. ;)

  • Mike

    John, do you have any semi-detailed pictures or descriptions of what you packed? Obviously your gear list isn’t exactly comparable to what a TDR racer would carry, but I always find it (a) really interesting, and (b) pretty helpful to see what others carry out in the wilderness. Your incredibly detailed Oregon Outback packing list from a couple years back was incredibly helpful for me as I put my gear together last year for my first ever tour, on part of the Divide route through Colorado.

  • Wow! You guys had so much fun :-(