Truth or Consequences: A Tour Divide Digest


Like my four-year-old son said the other day: “You can’t survive death.”
Somehow this made me think of this race. It’s all about surviving in the end. But it’s mostly about being alive, to the fullest.

“The Tour Divide is an annual mountain biking ride traversing the length of the Rocky Mountains, from Canada to the Mexican border. Following the 2,745-mile Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, it is an ultra-distance cycling ride that is an extreme test of endurance, self-reliance and mental toughness.” WIKIPEDIA

“Last year, I was in full-on Divide Prep mode. I started out the season stronger than ever, completing several big training rides. In March, disaster struck when I injured my hip. As a hemophiliac, the injury ballooned up and I couldn’t walk for weeks. Later, I re-injured the same hip and had to postpone the race until this year. For a long time, I wondered if my hip would recover enough to be able to ride for 2 weeks straight. Last fall, I could still hardly throw my leg over my huge saddle bag. This spring, I had a few big weekend training rides, with back to back days in the distance range I was aiming for in the Divide. Both trips left my muscles so sore, I didn’t see how I would keep it up for the full length of the race. When it came to race day, I had learned to keep my heart rate lower and to walk the steep terrain. My accident the year before taught me to walk any terrain that I wasn’t 100% comfortable with. By the end of the race, I hadn’t crashed once, and my muscles were fit enough to ride without the soreness of the training rides.”

“When I got towards the front of the race, I was a bit star-struck by the people I was riding with.”

“I only saw one bear, on the climb to Red Meadow Lake. I scared it off by flashing my lights and whistling. In New Mexico, while riding on the road, I was chased by a pack of dogs on the reservation. I had to sprint as hard as I could to stay away from them. Finally, they couldn’t keep going, a good thing because I was in no condition to be riding that fast.” Chris Seistrup, 2019th edition winner.

“I do like the fact that every small decision can have such a huge impact on the outcome of the race. Where and when you sleep. How much food/water you take at your stops. How long you stop. Etc. Everything influences your race.“ Kai Edel

“I saw two black bears, but nothing bad happened.
They just ran back into the bushes.
I got bitten by a mosquito in the eyeball. That sucked but didn’t hurt bad. And on the last paved stretch to antelope Wells, I’ve hit a rabbit. I was lucky I stayed on the bike. The rabbits at that section were running straight into the light. I had some near encounters. “ Kai Edel

“One thing about racing the Tour Divide (…) it totally restores your faith in humanity. I toured the route in 17′ and came away with such a positive view of humanity. You get bummed listening to the news and all the bad things that happen in life but you get out on this route and people are just incredible. People come to your aid just when you need it most. I was hiking my bike up over some pass in Montana feeling absolutely terrible, when a guy riding NOBO pulls up to me, doesn’t say anything, digs into his pocket and hands me a Werther’s Original hard candy. I was able to choke back the tears but once I left I let them pour. I’m sure that guy had no idea how bad I felt and he may never know how just a small gesture like that changed my entire day. It seems crazy but I’ll remember that forever.  It’s not about what people give you out there, it’s that they thought to do it. I believe that this compassion for one another is contagious and you really want to be a better human by the time you finish this race.” Lucas Ratliff

“It´s always special to pass through a continent, and going through the Rockies is really something special. I think the Divide represents cycling in its purest form. It´s self-supported, so you´re solely dependent on your own abilities. You pass through some of the most remote places in North America and you go through harsh weather conditions at times. You pass mountains twice the altitude of what you see in the Grand Tours. At the same time, you´re in the same environment as some extraordinary wildlife.  So while you´re riding through some of the most beautiful nature this planet has to offer, you also get an impression of American culture. It´s really a blend of many impressions and so many unforeseen experiences. At the end of each day, it´s sometimes really hard to comprehend all the experiences the day offered. And it´s like that every day. It´s amazing.“ Peter Sandholt

“During the race, I was in such an emotional state for so long that you get to thinking about what is really important in your life. I thought about my parents and about how far away I live from them. And I know they won’t be around forever. I don’t see them enough and I’ve thought that for years. I realized I needed to change that, so after the race, my wife and I decided to move closer to family. It’s a huge change and without the Tour Divide to put things in perspective, I’m not sure I would have ever made the move. The Tour Divide is so much more than just a bike race. It has the potential to change your life forever.” Lucas Ratliff

“My worst moment of the race was when suddenly, not far out of Grants,  New Mexico, I started getting very sharp pains on the inside of my knee going up my thigh. This could possibly be an aftereffect of my crashes, as I definitely hit my knees. I struggled all the way to Pie Town, where I rested for a while.  After another 90 kms into the Gila Wilderness, it became unbearable, I could not pedal, I had to walk, even walking was hard. I set up camp at 6 in the evening and did not move again for 14 hours. My knee was a bit better, at least I could pedal, but only with about 70%, I walked up most of the bigger hills. Nate had passed me in the night to move into second place and  Peter Sandholt caught me about 30 kms before Sapillo campground. This, of course, was disappointing to be losing time, but I had to refocus. Now it was just getting to the finish that was important to me .” Steve Halligan

“I am attracted to this type of cycling for the pure adventure, the freedom, nature and the competitive aspect which I love.  Bikepackers are for the most part a relaxed and friendly bunch which creates a nice camaraderie. I like that everyone has their goals and reasons  for doing this and everyone’s journey will be unique.” Steve Halligan

“I knew we would have to cross water at some point, I hadn’t thought about crossing it right as the sky went dark. When I jumped in the creek after Steamboat Springs, the current was flowing pretty good and it would have been miserable to get washed down stream. When I came out on the other side, I was concerned about hypothermia, so I was closely monitoring my condition. I was happy to be climbing and generating heat. The thought that there may be a bathroom to sleep in up ahead was also comforting.

(…)One of the lowest points for me was while I was riding Bannack Rd. I was afraid I had miscalculated my calories and I thought I was going to run out of food before making it to the next open store. Riding towards Lima, I knew everything would be closed. I hoped that I could call the motel, and get a room, and maybe they would have some sort of food I could take to the next town. All throughout the afternoon and evening, I tried calling the motel, but I had no service. My hopes of maintaining a position were escaping. When I finally got to Lima, there was a Coca Cola vending machine outside the closed gas station. I had enough cash to buy just enough Cokes to get me to Mack’s Inn.” Chris Seistrup

“My worst night was at Lava Mountain Lodge where Bear Stellwagen and I shared a cabin. Bear started snoring about 10 seconds after he fell asleep and this man can snore just as well as he can ride a mountain bike. I thought the shutters were gonna rattle off the cabin! Between a really fast heart beat, alternating freezing, and sweating, a grizzly in the trash outside, having dreams that I needed to wake up and ride, and Bear’s snoring I didn’t sleep a wink and it effected me for several days afterward.” Lucas Ratliff

“The worst moment for me during the entire race was at the Beaverhead work station. I woke up around 1am that morning north of Beaverhead and made it there as the sun was coming up. I was tired and exhausted by the time I got there. I asked a guy working there for some quarters so he went to his truck to get a couple and by the time he came back 2 minutes later, I had fallen asleep on my knees on the porch. He gave me the  4 quarters but when I put them into the machine I realized I needed 5. I started to tear up and asked him for another.  I put the quarter into the soda machine and it ate them all. I just about lost it. I thought my race was over. I could barely think or function. Somehow this guy realized I was in bad shape and opened the machine. It was like a Dr. Pepper commercial. I reached through the frosty air into the machine and pulled out the best damn Dr. Pepper I’ve ever had in my life. It literally saved my race. I had nothing left before that and it was just enough to get me to Silver City!” Lucas Ratliff

“The second night I came to a public campsite, where a hill bill told me, I couldn´t stay there. When I objected, he told me would make me see Jesus. I thought that the worst-case scenario would be, he comes out of the tent with a gun, and I didn´t really want to challenge that possibility, so I quickly took off.

Other than that, the scariest thing was by far the mud. When it rained some roads turned into a clay and mud hell, that would just make any bike riding impossible. Whenever I saw black clouds I was a little freaked out.” Peter Sandholt

“One thing that I learned about myself, and I think anybody for that matter is that we are so much more capable than we think we are. I know it’s cheesy but the 1st day of the TD was the longest day I’d ever done and then the 2nd day was even longer. If I was to bet somebody that I could ride 255 miles in a day I would’ve bet A LOT of money against me. I don’t consider myself to be an overly great athlete but 255 miles before the race to me would only be something a super freak athlete could do, but I was able to do it. I surprised the hell out of myself day after day. I think it’s an amazing thing to know that if someone is passionate about something regardless of how they think they may perform, they could achieve things they thought were never possible. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING!”
Lucas Ratliff

“I had made some peanut butter and jam sandwiches in Banff and packed them in tinfoil but everything came out and stuck in my food pouches. So on the first night after Fernie, I was worried to stop at the side of the road for sleeping and a bear would come. Haha. But I made it safe to Butts Cabin.

I didn’t have any problems with bears at all.

Also, I figured if the weather changes and you are all up in the mountains you can have a hard time. I realized when it rains some roads a nearly not rideable cause the mud is sticking on your wheels like crazy. Good thing I wasn’t up in the mountains when it rained on me. I mostly had good luck with the weather on my race.” Kai Edel

“In the beginning, I was trading places with some people I recognized from social media, or previous races. When I got towards the front of the race, I was a bit star-struck by the people I was riding with. Having watched the race for a few years, it was amazing to be riding with people like Lael. I briefly rode with Nate Ginzton, said hello to Steve Halligan, and only saw Josh Kato at the start. I never got to meet Josh Ibbett. I got to meet Billy Rice, Grace Ragland, Eddie Clark, and Kirsten Henricksen at Brush Mountain Lodge. I got to shake Sofiane’s hand.  I also ended up meeting a few world-class photographers.” Chris Seistrup

Josh Kato crossed eyes with a cougar that evening, the day before he was chased by a cow, none of that stopped him, but the inhumane effort and several crashes passed Brush Mountain Lodge, that was something else, something that left its mark on him when Sofian lost his way and faced his demons before scratching. On the parking of a gas station, while eating, he’s charging his phone, “I only use it to call my wife, hi, it’s me, am not dead, ok gotta go!”. Chris is about to pass him, he doesn’t look one bit stressed by that “Man, I don’t wanna be first, I don’t wanna be chased, I came to ride my bike and meet friends, Chris is about to pass, maybe he’ll stop, I’d love to meet the man! Am gutted for Sofian, I hope he’s ok, I really miss him already! Last night, I found a shelter to sleep in up-there, it was just too cold, I was too tired, I went into that sorta cave and then I saw a cougar, he looked at me, nothing happened, I just turned back!”

Josh didn’t get to meet Chris, while he was there at the station, Chris passed but didn’t stop, he didn’t see Josh, he was still unaware at that point that he was in the lead. Both left Steamboat under lashing rain. The next day Josh has a very hard time breathing and gets himself checked in the Hospital, from his room, he can see parts of the course “I don’t know if I’ll have another one you know.”

The Tour Divide is fierce, when some races try to make you hesitate, the Tour Divide crushes you into pieces and throws you on the ground before stomping on your guts and asking “do you want more?” It’s how you deal with it mentally that will make the difference, you can ride as fast as you want, you’re always gonna crash, be it ground or reality, you’ll probably meet them both and they’ll be rather harsh on you.

“My worst night of the Tour divide was my second crash, which happened on a slippery muddy descent before Savery, southern Wyoming.  It was about an hour after nightfall and I was on a mission to get to Brush Mountain Lodge that evening. I was descending fast on a dry road that was suddenly mud around a bend. It happened so quick, I smacked my face and helmet hard off the ground and also landed forcefully on my right hand. I sat up in the mud, took a deep breath and start to move my limbs to check my body. My nose was bleeding a lot, my head and hand hurt but I was ok. I rode on, not having the energy to get to Brush Mountain Lodge, I went off route and got a motel to clean up. I was feeling  pretty average the next morning, but a huge hug from Kirsten at Brush Mountain Lodge  and a big breakfast  certainly helped…” Steve Halligan

“I think I learned how strong the feeling of being free is. It´s absolutely addictive to do these races.” Peter Sandholt

“I learned what we are capable if we really go after what we want. I didn’t know if I could win this race, I only knew I had given it my all in the months leading up. I prepared for the worst of what the Divide could throw at me, and I was prepared when the time came. We can spend our whole lives wondering what it would be like to live our dreams, I learned what I had to do to make the dream come true. “ Chris Seistrup

“Here’s the thing about the Divide, it’s not the tough bits that are tough, it’s the bits in between that you just don’t expect. Union Pass proved to be an excellent example of this. The morning began shivering in my bivvy bag under the shelter of a campsite foyer before the climb of Togwotee Pass in sub-zero temperatures. Togwotee pass and Union Pass represented the first serious altitude of the race tipping above the 2500m mark. As a resident of the flattest part of England, this was set to be a significant challenge, at least in my mind. However, both ascents passed with relative ease with only a few signs of the harsh winter that the mountains had endured. But then that’s where the Divide fights back, it lets you over the hard parts with ease before relentlessly smashing you just when you let your mind relax. The climb of Union pass was relatively easy compared to the 7 miles of exposed ridgeline and never-ending descent. The trail on the ridge undulates and the wind was bitterly cold, winter was clinging on in the form of large soft snow banks and the track surface was soft and heavy going. In my mind, it was an easy downhill cruise into Pinedale, but the reality saw me sat on the edge of the trail wearing all my clothes shoveling in handfuls of jelly snakes as the cold sapped the last of my energy.” Josh Ibbett

“What the Divide gives, it takes twice…”