Editor’s note: Roadrunner Bicycles co-owner Elliot DuMont completed the Tour Divide Mountain Bike race last week. He finished in 18 days, 12 hours and 47 minutes. The time earned him a 13th place finish. I invited him to share his thoughts about the race here and Bicycle Tucson and fortunately he accepted. The following is the second part of several recounting the race and how he got there. Read part one here. Read part two here.
Despite the hotel luxury it was expensive. A hotel night meant a lot of food money gone. Plus you never really used a hotel to its fullest. If anything it was just a bed and a shower, which is something but I always felt like I never got my moneys worth. Throughout the entire ride I stayed in hotels twice and took three showers. I began to loathe paying for where I slept. You spend night after night simply laying out under the stars hidden by the side of the road for free. So to pay $100 for a bed and a shower, or $40 to camp in a national park, just seems excessive. I know the economic side of things that incurs those costs and crawling into a wet sleeping bag day in and out is not for everyone. Then there’s the “what if everyone just camped wherever” argument about the environmental impact. Still though, $40 to unroll my sleeping bag? I preferred to cowboy camp whenever possible. I reserved my bivy for really bad weather. My sleeping bag is bad ass and rated to 15 degrees, a big heavy item. I never said my bike was the lightest. I’ve spent a few nights on other adventures waking up to ice all over my bag whilst I was toasty warm. So I was confident in its ability to keep me in good shape should the weather hold out.
After day one the weather opened up. Eszter in her wise words also recommended focusing on smaller goals instead of focusing on progress towards the overall end. This was to keep motivation high. I remember times when I tried to calculate how much longer I had to go and when the time frame entered weeks with 2000 more miles, I felt my eyes start to roll in my head. Small goals are good because they provide attainable achievements that help to mitigate how you feel in the beginning. My knees started as a dull ache on day one and progressed to pretty painful as day two and three rolled around. On the morning of day three I felt like I was hit by a truck and I couldn’t stand while pedaling. My max speed was 10 mph on the flats and a whopping 6 on climbs. My rear end also hurt. I used gobs of chamoise butter to no avail. I had put on a special leather saddle meant to form to me as it wore down. This was meant to provide the ultimate custom fit saddle. I had had it for a few years but those puppies are hard even then and this saddle was not going down without a fight.
My days began all the same, starting off super slow. Then as the weather and my body warmed up I could manage some tempo and finally pushing it on the climbs. I still couldn’t stand and pedal. Even with my knee pains I found that I loved climbing. Days with multiple big climbs gave me a sigh of relief. I’ll admit I used my headphones a lot. Its pretty anti nature to detach from your surroundings and thump tunes. Its also dangerous but United screwed up and only charged me $25 to ship my bike so I blew some of the extra cash on an 8 hour progressive house album (it was only $9.95!). It was the perfect tempo for climbing. The steeper the climb the more I liked it. I was good at climbing back home on the road bike and despite my limited success I liked the challenge of technical climbs on the mountain bike. It was also nice that most of the people I would ride with were not so great at the big climbs. In the morning the same scene played out, they would fly off ahead out of sight as I slowly got moving. By days end every day I managed to catch them. This gave me a boost of confidence every time. I feared long flat or false flat sections.
Special aerodynamic bars, usually seen in road riding where aerodynamics are key, were attached to nearly everyone’s mountain bike, except mine. I had not given much thought to it and figured I’d be fine without it. However they were incredibly handy if not for the aerodynamic advantage just to allow one’s self to rest their back and arms a bit. This made flats a bit of a chore for me. Also when one thinks about it, you do less pedaling on a climbing day with big descents than you do on a flat day. So really, depending on how efficient you can be on the climb, you work harder on a flat day than you do on a day with a lot of climbing. That was what I told myself at least, I have not looked into the science yet. I could go on but it was the flat days that drove me nuts. Those days also incorporated long stretches of road where I swore you could see the curvature of the earth as the road disappeared over the horizon. Maybe not true, however you did get a sense of how out there you were. They usually were in areas that were wide open and the sky was huge making you feel very very small.
It goes without saying that the scenery was amazing. Some areas were very remote. I remember the climb on the way to Lima, Montana. Topping out you look out over a massive valley and wonder how many people had actually been there. It was very interesting venturing through national forests and ranch land then sitting down in a town and eating a burger. Its pretty nuts how much land we devote to raising cattle. It was interesting to see how the landscape changed as well. I loved the mountains of Canada and northern Montana as well as Colorado. There were streams so clear a dip of the bottle and a minute of uv light and super delicious water. Lower Montana and Wyoming on the other hand had obscured streams and rivers darkened by cattle if there was running water at all. This required the full treatment of filter and uv light, I’m not one for tablets or drops. Its a bulkier set up by a pound, I know, call me a hypocrite and old fashioned.
On the evening of day four, we had just cleared Richard’s Pass and made our way to Seeley Lake to refuel before heading to Ovando. My knees had been on protest all day. A quick snack in Seeley Lake and as we started the climb back to the route I noticed my knee pain was gone. I put on some music and pedaled harder, no pain. I worked up the courage to stand and no pain. I pedaled harder, no pain. I even sprinted, no pain. It was as if my body flipped a switch. I remember just wanting to fly to Ovando and began to hammer. I was ecstatic, I had been feeling like I had been held back by my knees. My legs wanted to go, my mind wanted to go, my lungs wanted to go, but my knees said no, until now. We had been on a 20 day (130 mile per day) pace, far beyond my 25 day goal much to my surprise, and with my leg muscles not feeling fatigued my knees finally on track I felt it was time to push.
Sometimes motivation came in the form of good things other times it was not so good things. A poor interaction with a bike shop in Butte, Montana and some poor route planning left me pretty upset and wanting to get as far away from Butte as possible. Hopping back on the bike I found it cathartic to just be steady on the climbs and be consistent on the rollers. Since my body was feeling better my strategy was not so much to clock a specific set of miles or time. I would look at where 100 miles was from wherever I started then I looked for the closest place to get food from there, then add some. It kind of felt like I was saying that children’s counting song, one, two, skip a few, ninety nine, one hundred. Sometimes this was easy to plan on with food and water. Other times, like coming out of the Great Basin, WY, I really screwed the pooch. Running out of water is probably the least fun adventure activity one can do in my opinion aside from major physical injury. Its just scary and in a place that remote the mind is easy to lose. I appreciated greatly the camaraderie of Ryan. Simply riding with someone helped to calm my nerves and mind and keep me motivated to get to Wamsutter.
I met Ryan outside of a lodge in the Tetons. I had lost my bear spray and the Tetons were the last major bastion of brown bears. After we got rolling I informed him of my situation and asked if I could just ride near him. I told him he could do his thing I would just work hard to keep him in my sights so in the event of a bear encounter he would be the front line. He was kind enough to slow his pace so we could ride together. We ended up doing so for the next three days. I kind of thought of riding with people on the Tour Divide as mini-relationships. Sometimes they were natural and good. Other times they were forced and weird. Some lasted for days others hours. Some came and went others kept repeating over and over. The most important part though is that your race is your race and you have to ride your race not the other person’s. Its ok to slow down if you’re ahead of pace or if you feel like it but you should never let the other person take control of your race. You also can’t be hurt or upset if your riding buddy gets up and leaves earlier than you or decides to stop for a while or pushes late into the night. They are riding their race. Ryan and I managed to last until Steamboat Springs where I missed the post office closing by minutes and had to wait until the next morning to get my spare parts. Ryan went on ahead.