The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route calls.
With summer fast approaching, I see a steady stream of new views of my blog posts about riding the Great Divide. It looks like many bikepackers are out there preparing for their own adventure.
There are many ways to answer this call.
In 2022 alone, three cyclists I know rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in three very different ways. Local fast guy Colin Schindler raced the Tour Divide from the Grand Depart in Banff to Antelope Wells to finish in 19 days. Endurance athlete Kate Geisen rode North Bound with her adventure racing teammate Chuck Vohsen on a self-described "Choose-Your-Own Adventure" tour. Cycling buddy Paul Brasby rode the GDMBR route south bound from Rawlins to Abiquiu, as he continued his journey of riding sections as his time allows.
All three of them offered to share their experience. Here's Colin's perspective on his race, as I captured from notes of our telephone conversation. If you're thinking of a Grand Depart start, this is a glimpse into the commitment, training, talent, fortitude, and judgment to finish.
|Colin Schindler takes a short break in Ovando, MT during his 2022 Tour Divide race.
(photo by Trail Angel Kathy Schoendoerfer of Blackfoot Angler)
1. The Decision
- Why the Tour Divide? I come from a background of touring. A decade ago, I rode an old Surly with panniers across South America and into the States. I heard of the Tour Divide race back then in the Adventure Cycling Association magazines and thought it sounded fun.
- Why race? A few years ago, I started working in a bike shop that was more race orientated. So, I rode the Arizona Trail Race as an ITT ("Individual Time Trial") in 2019, not really to race, but to try it. In 2021, I rode the Black Hills Expedition and tried to be faster. That's when I thought, maybe the Tour Divide next year.
- Why south bound? To start with the Grand Depart.
|Colin Schindler cranking out some serious early miles in Canada to stay ahead of a big snowstorm.
- What did you do to plan? Read all about it. Listened to podcasts. Jay Petervary has a lot of good information on gear, stops, strategies.
- What was your overall approach to the ride? I knew I could ride it, but I was going to try to go fast. So, I set a very reasonable goal, and knew that I could always go to Plan B. To ride to finish it, even if my expectations were to ride fast. Turn it into a good thing, have a good ride. I saw other people set their expectations high and, when they started falling behind them, it really messed them up mentally.
|Colin Schindler greets the "incredible" people of Ovando, MT during his 2022 Tour Divide.
(photo by Trail Angel Kathy Schoendoerfer of Blackfoot Angler)
- What was your best training to prepare? After the Black Hills Expedition in September, I decided to train for the Tour Divide. I worked with Neil Beltchenko and Training Peaks for a 6 month plan and followed it to the "T." It was the first race I ever trained for.
- What training would you do differently next time? I don't know. Every day I was getting up at 4 to ride a trainer for 2 hours before work. I don't know if I would do that again.
- Do you have a favorite piece of gear? My Six Moons Designs tarp-tent. It gave me the ability to really get out of the rain and the option to stop whenever I wanted, get out of the rain, and stay dry. The bivy people had "doom in their eyes" during heavy rains.
- What gear would you do differently next time? Not much.
- What bike? Pretty much stock Salsa CutThroat. It's designed to race that route.
- Any bike modifications for next time? I like the idea of a flat bar with aero bars. About 90% of the time, it seemed that I was happiest in the aero bars. But, if not, it's because it's rough and mountain bike bars would be better for control and braking.
|Snow gathering early on Colin Schindler's 2022 Tour Divide race.
4. The Experience
- Favorite People Story? Those people in Ovando were incredible. And Wise River, I was setting up my tent by the road and a lady that lived there asked me if I needed anything. She said I could sleep in a laundry room next to her garage. Really helpful people out there.
- Favorite Camp Spot? South Pass City. I was a pushing far into the night and getting pretty cold. To push further into the Great Basin then would not be good. I stopped by the museum and a guy asked if I needed a place to stay. He let me sleep on the floor of a heated bath room. It all went from "This is going to suck" to "This is awesome!" What a God-send! And I found plug-ins. It's crucial to charge all your gear when you're sleeping. Then you can go for 2-3 more days.
- Best food in town? Pie Town. The lady went into the back room, made extra food while the cook was making breakfast for others, brought out a bag full of cooked potatoes and more to take. All sorts of stuff. So kind.
- Best food out on the road? Lots of carbs, some proteins. You can find yogurt and hard boiled eggs at many C-stores. I also drank a lot of chocolate milk and strawberry milk. Heavy protein, right before going to sleep.
- Worst food? I stopped in most towns, but not really for a meal. I tried to be fast. The most was something like an Impossible Burger from a Burger King. I'd take a little break, eat some food, grab some ice cream. I didn't want to be a beast of burden, so I didn't carry much. I worked with a nutritionist to have a plan, started on it, and then whatever. I made sure to eat lots of carbs and some protein. The worst was the constant diet of processed food all the time, a big change from regular life. I hated Pop Tarts, but they're quick, easy, and full of carbs.
|Colin Schindler riding well into the night on his 2022 Tour Divide race.
- Most relaxing day? Colorado was the easiest State for me. Beautiful. My mind was distracted by the variety of roads and views. Also, watching the roaming wild horses in the Great Basin was one of the most beautiful moments. But I never want to do the Great Basin again.
- Toughest day? New Mexico, getting close to the end. It rained all day and the roads were really muddy all day. I could not really ride my bike and pushed a lot through ankle deep water. The rain just did not let up at all. It was really, weirdly cold. I tried riding on the grass, but went back to pushing on the road. Finally, at about 9 pm, I said screw this. This is just stupid. Stop and sleep. It'll be better tomorrow. It was.
- Hardest climb? From Whitefish, Montana, climbing Richmond Peak. Big snow was forecast. It was late, but if I pushed through the night, crossed the pass, got to Seeley Lake, and got a motel, I thought I could get ahead of it and get some good sleep. But it's hard. Good information is hard to get and you're making decisions with limited information and rumors. I'd never ridden an all-nighter before, but I decided that this was my time. Climbing the pass I rode into total rain, then it started to snow. I nodded off, while pushing my bike. Yeah, falling asleep while walking. And by then my mind was not processing information well. Trees looked like people and branches over the trail looked like hands. I finally made it to Seeley Lake the next morning, dried out in a laundromat, and found a place to sleep. One of two motels the whole race. I think one other got over that pass that night. Then it was pretty much shut down for a day or so.
|Finally, a downhill picture on Colin Schindler's 2022 Tour Divide race.
- Favorite part of the route? After Fleecer Ridge, I knew I was through the roughest stuff.
- Favorite road? The initial days in Canada, up Koko Claims. It's so remote and wild.
- Least favorite road? That mud in New Mexico, outside of Silver City.
- Worst weather? The snow in Montana. The muddy, clay soil in New Mexico.
- Best decision? 1) Riding through the night over Richmond Peak to get ahead of a big snowstorm. 2) Carrying a tarp-tent for the freedom to stop when needed to stay dry. So many pack so light, it's a dangerous mix. You're always going to be wet, then if you get cold, you're in trouble. I always knew that I had the option to stop, get in my tent, and get warm and dry.
- You averaged almost 150 miles day. How long were those days? I tried to ride until 2 am, find a spot along the road to sleep, set my alarm for 5:45 am, and ride by 6 am. That was the plan. But it varied. I mean, on the third day, I rode an all-nighter, because of conditions. In New Mexico, near the end, I stopped once at 9 pm, because of conditions.
|With a couple hundred of miles to go, Colin Schindler rides into unrideable mud on his 2022 Tour Divide race.
- Overall thoughts? For me, this Tour Divide was a feat of strength. I decided that, at 36, this was a good time to train for something really hard, to see what I could do. Once. This is the time. That kept me going out there. You trained for this. Keep going. This is the time. Let's see what you can do.
- Anything different next time? This quelled the need to do the Tour Divide. If I rode again, I'd do it with no time or distance expectations. Tour it. Stop and ask locals about roads to ride. Explore. People are way more open when you're on a bike. Way more powerful moments.
- What next? Bikepack the Colorado Trail. Would like to return to the Black Hills Expedition.
|Colin Schindler celebrates at his finish of the 2022 Tour Divide race. 19 Days, 1 hour, 2 minutes.