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 first part of several recounting the race and how he got there.
Throughout my journeys I’ve found writing to be the best form of processing major events in my life. Below you will find the beginning of a long processing of a very major event in my life up until this point. I hope you enjoy following along.
Sometimes you have no idea how big a journey is until it’s over. I don’t mean big in the literal number sense (i.e. distance or time) because in this day and age that really has no meaning, we can fly thousands of miles around the world in mere hours when once it took months if not years. The other morning, for example, the Tour de France kicked off and I was sitting on my friend’s couch watching these racers fly around corners on special super aerodynamic road bikes only mere seconds after they actually did that. I was in Tucson and they were in the Netherlands. Time and space have been compressed in our modern day. What I mean by big is something far more intangible. Something that doesn’t hit you until you finally take a seat and look back from where you came and something is different. It could be small or it could be big. The Tour Divide was big.
I imagine whether you finish in 14 days or 30 the feeling is the same, that was big. That feeling doesn’t go away on the drive home or a day or two after. It lingers. Its given new life when you try to wrap your head around what just happened over the past however many days, weeks, or month or so of your life. Riding the Tour Divide really feels like the total detachment from society. Sure we eat food grown in our industrial food system. We stay in hotels every now and then, or not. We use bike shops, and we have products that were made thanks to global capitalism, but more often than not those things are not the main focus. We are human powered transecting the U.S. and Canadian rockies. We eat whatever gives us fuel to allow us to turn our legs over. Our bikes are hidden among bags carrying our shells of a life, and we pray to whatever that our bikes hold up until the next day given we hose them down once in a while and put lube on their chains. Time is simplified to day or night, what day of the week is it? What exact time is it? What day of the race is it? These all have no meaning so long as, in the words of Mark Caminiti, “…the body is willing…” we keep moving.
I suppose it’s really sinking in. Sitting in my trailer, my slightly larger shell of a life, typing these words I’m beginning to understand what exactly just happened. The culmination of everything makes the Tour Divide big. A little explanation to those who have not heard of the Tour Divide. The Tour Divide is the modern version of a race that used to just transect the U.S. portion of the rocky mountains on mostly dirt roads and trails best done on a mountain bike. The main premise of the race is to be self sufficient, this means no support crews, no aid stations, no medical staff on hand. Its a gentleman’s agreement with no referees except other racers and one’s self. A start time and place is agreed upon and on that day everyone shows up with the gear they need to cross this distance by themselves. And at the given time they take off. The modern version of this race saw the addition of about 275 miles of Canadian rockies added making the total distance 2762 miles stretching from Banff, Canada to the border crossing into Mexico of Antelope Wells, NM. It goes through two Canadian provinces and five U.S. states. The route is essentially the Adventure Cycling Association’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route with slight deviations. The route in and of itself is big. It is the longest mountain bike race in the world.
The big that I’m talking about is not the vastness of the route. The big I’m talking about is the culmination of many small moments that once built on top of one another create an experience that has an effect much larger than those individual parts. It is not uncommon in the course of one day on the trail to feel the lowest one has ever felt, either on the verge of tears, or fearing a lack of water, or having one’s bike become instantaneously unrideable in some unforeseen mechanical calamity to feeling absolutely invincible, turning the pedals over with a consistent powerful cadence, singing out loud, astounded by the views and content with a belly full of food. Every night is a search for a slightly obscured place to sleep, sometimes mere feet from the road yet invisible to passersby. A sleeping bag can be easily hidden behind just a few foot tall shrubs. Crawling in takes on a familiarity of one’s own bed at the end of a long day. It almost becomes a detractor from forward progress during a push through the cold dark night, whispering from your handlebars, hey that over there looks like a good spot. Crawl inside, I’ll keep you warm and you can just rest a bit. You are tired aren’t you? I realized when I competed in a similar trek across Arizona last year that I will never skimp on my sleeping system. I learned in an attempt this year on the same trail that sleep is important to my mental and physical faculties. Its these small parts of one’s entire day that built into day after day after day of riding that you start to see what I mean by big.
How in the world did I get involved into something of this magnitude? One evening a few years back working at my folks bike shop in Tucson, AZ an Englishman arrived. He had called earlier claiming he was at the TTT truck stop off of I-10 and needed help getting his bike ready for a flight. Slightly perplexed we gave him bikeable directions to the shop. Upon his arrival we saw he was on a mountain bike with bags the likes of which I had never seen. They filled his frame and hung over his handlebars. He was definitely touring but what a setup. I asked what he was up to and he explained to me about the Tour Divide. We packed up his bike and I drove him to a hotel. I eagerly asked questions as we drove. I dropped him off and headed home. Scrolling through Netflix I saw a movie entitled the Ride the Divide. Reading the description I saw it was the same thing this guy had done and I watched it.
I was hooked and I proclaimed to my then girlfriend that in two years time I would do that. Excitedly I shared my new found goal with many people. In a chance bumping into with a friend and her partner at a bar, I explained my goal. Her partner not only knew about the Tour Divide but rode it! Unfortunately he had to drop out because of knee issues. This sparked an evening of conversations about a whole new form of mountain biking, ultra endurance mountain biking. Just you, your bike, gear and the trail, lots of trail. It was there my friend informed me about the Arizona Trail Race, 750 miles from the border of Mexico and the U.S. to the border of Arizona and Utah. It was a shorter type race maybe a good one to get tuned up on before the Tour Divide. Great, now two goals, the AZT and the Tour Divide.
Last year I accomplished goal one, the AZT. Now it was time for the big ticket. The record had just been set a few years back by Jay Petervary at around 15 days and change. I was not aiming to be close to him. If anything I learned from my numerous attempts, failures, and limited successes at ultra endurance mountain bike racing it was aim low and just focus on what’s going on now, not getting to the finish in a certain time, all else will fall into place. I set a goal of 25 days but taking 30 off of work just in case something goes awry. During a race that long one can only imagine the possible things that could go wrong. Somewhere around January I was sitting at my desk at the bike shop and thought the first step to doing this thing is the plane ticket and committing. I booked the flight. There, I was going.