June 11, 2019

Divide Prelude

The Tour Divide, the Granddaddy of self-supported bikepacking races, is a route that roughly follows the Continental Divide from Banff, AB to the border crossing at Antelope Wells, NM. Some 2,745 miles and 200k of elevation gain. I first heard of the ride back in 2009 or so and have followed it on Trackleaders each year, it was quite addicting, but I never really thought about giving it a go. Things changed following 2016 as that was the year I knocked out the AZTR750. Finishing a ride of that magnitude really opens your eyes to what you can do. I then set out to do the Colorado Trail Race and finished that one during a very soggy 2017. Now, there's this thing called the Bikepacking Triple Crown Challenge. It's when a rider completes all of the Big 3 during the same year, doing all three from the Grand Depart of each event. Crazy. I had no intentions of attempting that silliness, but I could complete a career Triple Crown by finishing the Tour Divide. It was now on my radar and I figured if I was going to do it, I wanted to do it before I turned 50.
The route. North to South with all the Trackleaders checkpoints labeled.
Elevation profile of the route. Available here

That idea was hatched a couple years ago, it took a year or two to convince K to let me give it a crack. She came around and last year I put in notice to work that I'd be using all my vacation time in one shot. I happen to work two jobs and both lined up well. The time off was secured. It was starting to feel palpable.

Over the next few months I had a few health setbacks and by last September I was physically at rock bottom. I could barely do an easy/intermediate 20 mile ride without feeling like I had rode 60 miles. I tweaked my diet a bit, mostly cutting way back on sugar & processed foods. I then made the early move to hire a coach. I've never used structured training before, but I knew it would pay dividends and I needed it at this time in my life. Who should I hire? I had a rather impressive list of personal friends who were highly successful mountain biking coaches, but in the end I wanted someone who not only excelled, but also had done the route and knew exactly what I was to expect. Enter Kurt Refsnider at UltraMTB. Kurt's not only a great coach, but a personal friend too, it was an easy fit. We went over a bunch of things early on, my expectations, my crazy work/life schedule and the need for me to start slow.

A lot of people think I ride a lot. Perhaps. But not so as far as quantity of rides. My work schedule usually has me up at 4a and not back home until 10p, 4 days a week. No riding there. Fridays tend to be my day to get out, no strings attached so-to-speak, then I'd go either Sat. or Sun depending on what K and I had planned. Once per month I wouldn't ride on Sat. or Sun. That makes for a difficult training schedule, but it's what I had and Kurt modified my rides accordingly. I think we both learned a lot!!

The months passed by and I was getting stronger. I was back to doing long days in the saddle again. I was liking my chances to complete the Divide. Then, I crashed out of the Pinyon & Pines ride after 20 miles or so, bruising my leg pretty bad. That really bummed me out since it was going to be my last big fully loaded shakedown ride and in possibly poor conditions which I was looking forward to. I dealt with it and moved on as the final couple of weeks sped by. Heck, my final setup wasn't complete until a couple of weeks prior to the start, not the ideal way leading into a cross-country ride, but it was what it was. One final check of the bike fit with Kaolin at Flat Tire Bikes and I was set.

My ride was almost completely derailed by a couple of huge financial hits at home. First, my car broke down in the middle of the road one afternoon. $1600 repair later it was fine. Barely two days after the car troubles our upstairs A/C unit at our house took a dump. Chalk up another $6000+. That hurt and we seriously considered pulling the plug on the whole Divide thing, it was just a bike ride. Then, unbeknownst to me, my good friends Shannon & Beto set up a GoFundMe account to help keep my ride alive. To my astonishment, family, friends & co-workers all pitched in to keep me out there. I was practically moved to tears by the generosity. Thank you!!!

K and I cashed in some timeshare points we have through Disney and got a place to stay in Canmore, AB. It's right on the extended Divide route that now runs north to Jasper and was only 17 miles or so from the Tour Divide start. My plan was to ride to the start on the morning of the 14th.

We arrived in Calgary on the 11th via WestJet, bike arrived in one piece and we settled into the condo. It was a really nice place and the bike was together in no time. I did a quick shakedown ride and almost instantly a sense of relief poured over my body. I'm here, the bike's here and we both work!!
Final approach into Calgary.

We made it!!

Plenty of photo opportunities in the airport.

That's how I recognize Calgary. Airport code.
I found some trails only a few feet away from our condo.

A subtle reminder of who's territory I was really in. Also, a reminder to pickup bear spray in town.

Canmore is a beautiful town and it was good to be away from the pre-race commotion in Banff. I/we needed to relax.

This sign was really cool, it showed usage stats on the digital display up top.

And there was a public bike work station if needed.

Jaw dropping views at every turn.

They seem to really embrace the biking spirit here.

Our condo for a few days. Not too shabby.

Lots of rabbits roaming around.
Route:

Now, speaking of 'my bike', it really wasn't. I guess it's as close to a sponsorship as I'll ever get. My buddy, George Harris, started a custom Titanium frame company called Binary Bicycles a few years ago. I've ridden a couple different models and they are all a hoot. This particular one, the Havok, was specifically designed for the Tour Divide. Lots of tire clearance for mud, large framebag area, dropout sliders for easy singlespeed conversion, if needed. He even scored a new Lauf fork for me at the last minute to help ease the washboard sections. He put on a 1x12 Eagle drivetrain with a 30t oval ring, carbon Jones Loop bars, and laced my hubs (SON28 dynamo) onto some carbon rims. I added my seat, grips, tires and most of the bags. It was looking sharp!! It also appeared in the annual Bikepacking.com edition of Rigs of the 2019 Tour Divide It was such an honor and privilege to ride that bike. George and Jalene are the nicest, most generous people you'll ever meet and I couldn't wish them more success. Thank you for the wonderful opportunity to ride that machine down the Divide.
Screenshot from the 2019 Rigs of the Tour Divide article on Bikepacking.com

The non-drive side. Looks like a different bike, eh?
Cockpit view: Garmin Edge705 would be my main navigation, eTrex20x would also be going, as backup & slightly zoomed out overview. K-Lite Bikepacker Ultra headlight pumping out mega lumens, 3 feedbags: left (bottle, bearspray in mesh pocket along with chapstick, Advil, electrolyte drops & bike lock, middle: Pringles, right: Electronics - Cache battery & K-lite USB charger). Tent: Big Agnes Flycreek UL1 Bikepacker model, Phantom Pack Systems handlebar bag: inflatable pillow, goose down booties, ground cover, sleeping bag (Phantom32 down), sleeping pad (Venture 4th UL), balaclava, beanie, light gloves. Jones carbon Loop bars with center bag (helmet light, camp light, zipties, sunblock & stickers!), Redshift Components suspension stem, REV grips and a reminder to HTFU. (See Rule #5)


The next day I was going to do another shakedown ride and check out the starting area, get some pics there since I didn't want to be slowed up during raceday with that kind of stuff. I also wanted to track down some friends from AZ also doing the ride and another crazy fella, Dave Wicks. He was fresh off his AZTR750 yo-yo ride and looking to complete the Divide, then hit the CTR. Lofty goals.
Dave Wicks looking as happy as ever!!

Meanwhile, I can't believe where I'm at.

More AZ friends!! The Hanson's, Jennifer & Jason, ready to roll.

Some very peculiar art around Canmore. Rub the forehead for good luck?

More park action.

Heading north to Banff on the Bow Valley Trail.

Ran into some other Divide riders heading towards Banff.

Easily the most scenic bikepath I've ever been on.

Hey, we're on the wrong side of the bear fence!!

Dave challenging a motorcyclist to a race.

Crossing the Bow River.

National Park Admin. Bldg.

YWCA, where it all goes down on Friday. Calm now.

The luxurious Fairmont hotel.

The route on Friday would swing right through here for a grand sendoff.

Such an amazing structure.

Here it is, the official start of the Tour Divide at the Spray River trailhead. I had goosebumps.


On our way back, we swung down to the Bow River.

Bow Falls.

Stopped in to the YWCA, Dave was staying here.

There was a makeshift bikeshop setup for any last minute tweaks. Some reminders too.

Artwork at dinner.

We were all very impressed with the local signage, not so much what was on the front...

...but the back of the signs were decorative too. Cool.

Looked like an ice palace from a distance.

Or leaving Banff, headed back to Canmore.
Shocking, but it was just as scenic going the other direction!!

That's one heck of a dam build.

What a spot for a picnic.

Everything seemed well marked in town and along the pathways.

Ok, now the Havok is just showing off.
I left the picnic area and continued south towards Canmore. I was zoning out a bit, passing other trail users along the way. I saw a rider approaching and it looked like they had some gear on their bike, as they passed we exchanged hellos and then I realized who it was. That was Lael Wilcox!! For those who don't know, Lael is a bit of a bikepacking legend. She currently holds the women's Tour Divide record, won the TransAm race outright a few years ago among a ton of other biking accolades. I had the good fortune to meet and hang out with her for a bit this winter when she attended one of our local Arizona Endurance Series, AES, events north of Tucson. (That's also the jersey I would be sporting during the Divide, gotta represent AZ!)

I turned around and saw she was climbing a short rise I just came down and I wondered if I could chase her down. I flipped it and began pursuit. I only caught up because we weren't in race mode, but she was happy to chat for a bit as she rode to Banff for a BBQ later that evening. It was good fun and we wished each other well during the race.

You never know who you'll run into leading up to the Tour Divide start, Lael Wilcox rocking the sandals.

Nice wooded area back near Canmore.
Route:

Thursday, June 13th.

The last day before the Tour Divide kicks off. The bike was riding great, I felt great and knew where to go. K had her plan for the morning festivities, so we had a full day to relax and sightsee. We decided to make a trip north to the Lake Louise Ski Resort and ride the gondola. But first a hearty breakfast.
Delicious breakfast options here.

Giving patrons a number for their food is boring, have a T-Rex instead!!

Hey!! Stay outta my latte.

The peaks from our condo.

The other half.
 We started to see signs that the parking areas were full in town and shuttles were required. At first we pulled into one of the shuttle lots and the line was long to get on the bus. We really didn't have much of a plan, so we decided we'd just continue driving and simply look around. To our surprise, the shuttles were needed for those wanting to go to Lake Louise proper, we wanted the gondola at the ski resort. Plenty of parking there and not too many people. Score!!
Welcome to Lake Louise.

Up we go.

The knife edges of the Canadian Rockies open up before us.

Putting my Peak Finder app to the test.

I'd love to come back for some skiing.

Classic gondola shot.

Glacial blue Lake Louise.

It's easy to feel relaxed in this environment.

Peaks, peaks, everywhere peaks.

Similar to the earlier shot, just higher up.

Panoramic shot from the top.

Beautifully manicured base area.

This had K's name all over it, but not the right size.

On our way back the Moraine Lake road was open. Let's go!

We dodged a few stray showers, but found a great parking spot and this ho-hum alpine glacial lake. 

Bit of history. Moraine Lake on the back of the Canadian $20 bill.

Great way to spend the day.

Prairie Dog!!

Neat way to see what mountain you're looking at.

We'd be riding down that Valley tomorrow.

Looking west.

Back in Banff for dinner.

We planned to meet up with a few riders for Crazy Larry's Q&A

Crazy Larry doing his thang, but there seemed to be technical difficulties getting the show on the road. We ate dinner and it still hadn't started, so we left.
 While outside we tracked down another fella from AZ, Chris Seistrup. Both Chris and I were rockin' the Binary Bicycles brand and were stoked to finally meet up with each other. We had planned to do some riding back in AZ but my schedule always seems in flux and it didn't happen. Chris had put in a ton of training and I knew he was going to have a good ride. Little did I know...
Most of the AZ contingent: Jason & Jennifer Hanson, myself and Chris Seistrup. Fun times!!

When in Banff...you take your picture here or something like that.

Quite the wildlife show in the parking lot.

K got the cloudy tour of the Fairmont. Still impressive.

A quick swing by the Bow River & Falls as the rain began.
That was it, back to Canmore for one last good night sleep before the Grand Depart in the morning. I'd be leaving early and the forecast was looking gloomy at best after a few stellar days in the Canadian Rockies. Almost GO time....




4 comments:

  1. I used to live in Calgary and Canmore so great to see some photos from there. I'm glad the setbacks before the TD didn't derail your ride. :)

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    Replies
    1. Cool!! It's such a beautiful area, pics really don't do it justice. I'm so glad I was able to get done what I did out there.

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  2. Awesome ride and report (so far), I'm excited for the rest!

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