Editor’s note: This post was written by Tucson Velo’s newest contributor, Mary Reynolds. Reynolds is a mountain and road cyclist who also writes about endurance sports for Examiner.com. You can follow her personal outdoor adventures on her blog.
Dejay Birtch is riding his single speed mountain bike from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico and the Mexican border. Although he’s carrying everything he needs on his bike, he’s not touring, he’s racing.
On June 10, Birtch joined with 70 southbound and 15 northbound mountain bikers in the Tour Divide race. Each racer carries a SPOT satellite tracker for safety; and fans can follow the “spots” in real time on Trackleaders.com/tourdivide.
The course follows the Continental Divide and its high elevations are packed with snow this year.
Asked how long he trained for the 2,745 mile race, Birtch said, “Well I guess it depends when you would think training started. I think it could possibly take a lifetime to get ready for the Tour Divide.”
I’ve done solo 24-hour races and 100-milers. In the past year, the longest ride was probably about 12 hours.”
The course is a combination of single track, dirt roads, fire roads, and paved roads. In fact, racers even cruised down Interstate 15 for a few miles in Montana. This year’s snow hasn’t melted yet in the Canadian and American Rockies, causing riders to often push their bikes.
Tour Divide organizers also re-routed the course around impassable sections.
As a pro mountain biker sponsored by Niner bikes, Birtch is no stranger to tough courses and epic rides. He says the biggest challenge of the Tour will be the “course itself and all that mother nature can throw at me.”
In a special event this past winter, Birtch invited Tucson outdoor adventure types on a full-moon, combo hike and mountain bike excursion from Romero Canyon on one side of the Catalina Mountains to Sycamore Canyon on the other side.
To prepare for late night riding in the Tour Divide, Birtch rode with friends in Tucson, going on trail rides after dark for one or two hours at time.
Asked what about nutrition and secret energy food, Birtch said, “I’ll be eating anything I can get my hands on.”
Most riders carry enough food for one or two days, and often depend on convenience stores in small towns for nourishment.
In fact, Sarai Snyder of PushPedalCrank.com caught up with Dejay and his riding companions over micro-waved food at the Ferndale, Montana, General Store.
Jake Kirkpatrick explained that the Tucson rider happened on a set of snowshoes along the snowy pass, likely left by another frustrated rider. He was annoyed by the delay, “Dejay passed them up and then hiked back like a half a mile to get them!” Jake continued speaking to Snyder,“We’ve got to get some sleep. This morning Dejay took 15 minutes to find his jersey, I told him he has to get up 20 minutes before me.”
Others fueling up in Ferndale included Danny Hill, Derek Bentley, Caroline Soong, Vance McMurry and Lance Griffen. Tour Divide fans can read interviews with many riders throughout the race at PushPedalCrank.com.
In the anxious days before the race, Birtch said his most critical piece of gear, besides his bike was, “My brain, I feel in the last week or so I have started to lose my mind. But when I start pedaling I think it will come back to me.”
Birtch added that another important item “would have to be my journal, I just hope I’m not too tired to write in it.”
“I will be out there doing what I can,” he said. “But finishing is the top priority, along with not getting lost, not starving, getting eaten by a bear, frostbite, drowning . . . really it’s a long list!”
In addition to tracking by SPOT, racers check in via telephone. “We we finally found the turn we passed three times,” he said from White Fish, Montana, in the first week of the race.
“When we found the right trail, we got welcomed by swooping bald eagle and bouncing deer. Stryker Pass was snow-filled craziness.”
He reflected on his adventures thus far with riding companion, Jake: “Jake and I would like to challenge anyone out there to a Lewis & Clark death match.”
A few days later in Lima, Montana, Birtch called in again: “Welcome to the land of no left-overs!”
He also reported that he had lost his mittens somewhere along the way. Ever the good-humored, but slightly sore bike-packer, he asked: “Dear Icy Hot, can I get just the hot?” To hear calls from all the Tour Divide riders, visit: MTBcast.com.
On day 8 of the race, Birtch rode into the Grand Tetons, in 21st place among the southbound riders.
Five had already dropped out. On the eve of the race, over a thousand miles north, Birtch said he simply hoped to finish the race course.
“I’ll be riding the way I feel and hope that puts me in a place I’ll be happy with.”