Solitude is what many seek in the Tour Divide. Just yourself, your bike, and 2,000 miles of dirt roads. This solitude is great until it isn't. When you start to miss the simple task of saying hi to a stranger or drinking a beer next to a fellow nomad it can drive you insane. The following towns were my favorite places I stopped at during the 2016 Tour Divide. These places provided great food, friendly conversations, and a welcomed break from the monotony of riding your bike from sunrise to sundown.
Saida, Colorado, USA
Located in Central Colorado between gorgeous mountain peaks, Salida is a welcomed stop for Tour Divide racers. This town of 5,000 people was in full bloom when I arrived on its busy streets in late June 2016. People recognized me from the Spot Tracker and offered me pizza and tips for where to sleep in the town for the night. I had some amazing green chili and heard great music! Can’t wait to go back.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado, USA
The ride into Steamboat was an ass kicker and I was still beaten up from the hell that was the Great Basin of Wyoming. Steamboat is gorgeous in late June and I ran into my riding partner Ricky at the local bike shop that was staying open late to save Tour Divide racers from our lack of bike maintenance. Ricky and I split a hotel room and had killer pizza. The scenery was beautiful and the people were kind, what more do you want.
Abiquiu, New Mexico, USA
Abiquiu holds a special place in my heart. In November of 2017, we scattered my Dad’s ashes in the Rio Chama just outside of town. During the Tour Divide, I rode into town with a deflating tire, little to no food and a need for conversations. I ran into some fellow racers, Russell from Texas and David from Spain. Russell ended up getting us all a room at the Abiquiu Inn and we ate like kings at the one restaurant in town. The next morning I had some amazing burritos in the local gas station and rode off into Georgia O'Keeffe land.
Atlantic City, Wyoming, USA
The Wild West still exists. In the middle of the Red Desert of Wyoming lies the sleepy town of Atlantic City. I rode into town as the sun was setting and literally walked through swinging bar doors to enter the towns only restaurant/ bar. The town has some amazing characters and I was able to stay in a small cabin for the night. It was a relaxing night before the hell that was the Great Basin. I hate the Great Basin.
I can't wait to make new memories this summer in new towns and revisit some of my favorite places that mean so much to me!
Dear Arizona Trail Race, Tour Divide, and Colorado Trail Race,
You don't scare me.
I hear your flowing creeks and raging rivers.
I smell your pinyon trees and juniper bushes.
I feel your dirt beneath my tires.
I taste the blood, sweat, and tears of your long days.
I sense the rising sun over your breathtaking views.
I see myself finish at a border fence in New Mexico and at a trail head in Colorado and Utah.
I feel the pain and joy of your finish lines.
I visualize every mile, every night.
I've ridden your routes forwards and backwards.
In my mind I have beaten you a thousand times.
You don't scare me.
See you in April.
GPS tracking is a weird yet crucial part of any expedition. It’s weird in the way that it allows people to know where you are at all times. That takes away a bit of the excitement of coming back with stories of where you were when people knew where you were at all times. But, once you get over that mental block they are amazing!
For the Tour Divide, Arizona Trail Race, and Colorado Trail Race the use of a GPS tracker is not required. Although it's not required, if you want to actually race and compare times you are gonna want a tracker. Trackleaders, a company that works with all these races to track the riders, has rentals for those wishing to be tracked. This is what I used for my first Tour Divide in 2016. It worked well and my family was able to see where I was and even today I can go back and see where I went and my speed at those points. Pretty neat!
The tracker I rented was a basic Spot Tracker Gen 3. Spot Tracker is the go-to GPS tracker for many of these races and is the only one supported by Trackleaders. I decided that instead of renting a tracker three different times for the races this summer It would be more cost effective to buy my own!
The Spot Tracker Gen 3 is small and robust but packs in a lot of features for such a small orange box. For one it has an SOS button that will contact the nearest first responders in the case of life or death emergencies. The majority of the racing is done in very remote locations where the cell service is very unreliable so this is a life saver, literally! It also features several custom buttons including a Help message that allows you to send a custom message notifying a selected people that you need help but are ok. Yet another feature that my family appreciates. These programmable buttons can also be used for simple check-ins or silly messages to let your loved one know you are alright. I will still be able to tell bad jokes even though I am thousands of miles away from my family.
But these are all additions to what the Spot Tracker is really here for, tracking. The device tracks you at 2.5, 5, 10, 30, and 60-minute increments depending on what you want and how much battery life you want to save. I will probably be tracking at 5 or 10 minutes for the races.
The Gen 3 runs off of 4 AAA batteries but it is also compatible with rechargeable AAA and even features a micro USB charging port to recharge the batteries on the fly. The tracker I have used in the past didn't have this and I went through AAA every 2 or 3 days.
The GPS signal is strong and only struggles to connect to the satellites in extremely dense forest. I never had an issue connecting during my experiences with it.
Now that I bought the device I have to get a service plan, similar to a cell phone. It's a pain but it makes sense based on what you are getting and how helpful the device is. The service varies in cost based on what features you want and for me, it will cost $200 for the year once I activate it. I know it's a lot but I plan on using this device for all my bike trips from here on out. Shit happens quickly and the majority of the places I travel to don't have cell service. I would pay anything if it meant being rescued faster and giving my friends and family a piece of mind.
Phew, lots of words… gonna go on a bike ride now!
Day 2 of the 2016 Tour Divide nearly broke me. I am not being dramatic. This day still gives me the chills as I recall it nearly three years on. June 11, 2016 started just like any other bikepacking trip day would. My body felt great, the sun was shining and I was 110 miles into the freaking Tour Divide! It was just after 6 a.m as I left my fancy campsite in Elkford, British Columbia. The air was a bit frosty and the roads were still wet from the torrential downpours that hit the mountains the day before. Elkford is tucked right in the Rockies and the views were stunning as I left this sleepy town.
As I started the days riding I began to visualize where I wanted to finish the day. I knew I needed to hit the Canadian/ US border by the end of the day If I wanted to stay competitive but that was only 140 miles away, I wanted to do 200! I was way to confident.
I hit Sparwood B.C., The next town down the line, and was feeling pretty good. I had passed a few riders and the hot chocolate at good ole’ Tim Hortons kept the spirits high as the bone chilling rains returned. Then the suffering began.
The line from the race start in Banff to the Canadian/ US Border is not straight, that would be too easy. No, It freaking goes all over the place! Jesus it looks like a 5 year old took a crayon to the map to decide on the route! This is a bit dramatic but there were tons of turns on the route that required frequent GPS checks and second guessing as I navigated the backwoods of British Columbia. I was still getting used to navigating as this was my first bikepacking race and 5th time bikepacking and the mental drain of navigating was taking its toll.
Ok, can I be frank for a second. I don't remember a good chunk of this day. It's been 2 and a half years and it was so hard lots of it has been blocked out. I remember riding through icy streams and hiking up huge hike-a-bikes. But there is one memory that stands out and made this day the hardest ride of my life.
I was somewhere between Corbin and Flathead B.C. riding up a stupidly steep grade when I heard a grinding sound. Being the exhausted cyclist I was at the time I just assumed the chain was a bit dirty and sang louder to drown it out. Big fucking mistake.
The grinding got louder and when I looked down the left pedal flew off the spindle, nearly taking me with it. In this moment of shock and horror I had a few options. I could…
A. Calmly get off my bike and see if I could somehow repair it ( News flash you can't replace bearings that disintegrate when you don't have them…)
B. Take a deep breath and find a big piece of wood to act as a pedal with the use of some zip-ties
C. Throw the pedal into the valley below and swear like a sailor.
I chose C.
After I calmed down, I started walking. Your allowed to be upset for a bit but in the end of the day you have to keep moving forward. The pedal failure was not due to lack of maintenance, but freak failure. Sure the pedals were a few years old but not old enough to have a dramatic bearing failure. I think they might have seen the torture ahead and jumped ship early. Thanks CrankBrothers...
Have you ever walked with a bike in the wilderness of B.C. in mountain bike shoes with the smell of bear shit all around you? You haven't? Good for you, cause it sucks. I am not saying I am scared of bears but I have a healthy respect for the damage they can do and when you can smell there musk and see there prints it's not a great feeling
I was in the heart of grizzly country and was keenly aware of it. I still had 50 plus miles till the U.S. Border with no towns in between and the nearest bike shop was another 100 miles after that in Whitefish Montana. I had to keep walking. I couldn't camp here. The stench of bear was strong and I was scared shitless.
I don't necessarily believe in miracles or divine intervention. I do on the other hand have a healthy respect for the weird ways the universe works. There were over 140 riders on the tour divide at this point and roughly 20 within 5 - 10 miles of me. By some miraculous chance one of these riders had an extra pair of flat pedals. Not only was he behind me but he was willing to help me out. Do you know how unbelievable this is?! He easily could have been a mile in front of me and my Tour Divide would have ended at the U.S. Border. But no, Mark Snidero saved my Tour Divide with unbelievable generosity.
Mark was carrying the flat pedals because he had some knee issues and didn't know if he may need them later on in the race. Luckily he wasn't using them at the time he caught up to me and after we talked for a bit and he saw the tears in my eyes as my dream of finishing was getting dimmer he told me about these pedals. Mark was keenly aware that helping me was not in his interest at all. Why would he let some weird 20 year old put hard wear on his pedals?
Ok, so I am riding again! With Mark by my side we pushed on deeper into the wilderness that is the Northern Rockies. We hit “The Wall” as the sun was setting. This section of the divide is extremely rocky and steep. It required climbing up a 45 degree bank, so hard to do after 100 miles of riding. Here is a video of the hill with a cameo by yours truly as I drop my freaking GPS and scramble down the hill to retrieve it!
As the sun started to set neither Mark not I wanted to sleep in the grizzlys feasting ground. We passed a few riders who were setting up for the night and wished them good luck as we kept on ticking off the miles. We eventually caught a rider named Ricky who would go on to become my main riding partner though most of the race and finish a few hours behind me. The three of us pushed on through the night with our bike lights showing the way. Then the snow came.
At this point it was 10 at night and I had ridden 120 miles. I was gassed. The day was dragging on and my body screamed for a break. This is also when I learned my bike light was not waterproof.
As my light died and I was forced to ride in dark and snow using Ricky and Mark's lights as a guide I began to bonk badly. It’s hard to eat, ride, navigate, and sing at the same time. Yes I sing while riding and no I will never stop. I started to get drowsy and wanted to sleep. As we reached the top of our last peak and bundled up we prepared mentally for the 3,500 foot decent we were about to face. It was 1 in the morning.
I don’t remember much of the descent. I was in pure survival mode and I think I was falling asleep during it. I had to ride right alongside Ricky in order to see the trail since my light was dead. It blows my mind that we didn't crash. Seriously I should have eaten shit on that decent.
I guess I am just that good at riding ;).
The descent eventually ended and we rode into the border control area where the U.S. agents weren't the friendliest, but that's for another time.
We warmed up in the border patrol bathroom and chowed down on some candy. Luckily there was a bar still open right next to the border control station that was serving coffee and was letting racers camp next to the bar. It was 2. A.m. by the time I fell asleep.
I woke up at 6 feeling like shit and looking worse for wear. The next day was miserable but beautiful and saw me get a new pair of pedals, Shimano this time.
The tour divide changed me and the second day nearly broke me. I can't wait to get another shot at this route in 6 months!
I am riding my bike a lot on the trainer and watching too many movies. So I figured I would share a few of my favorites with ya!
10. The Race of Truth
My Dad would probably hate that I included a film he made when he was only 26 on here, but hey it’s a fun film! He filmed and produced this "Colores" episode for New Mexico PBS way back in 1991. It’s a cool film that focuses on the 40 Km Time Trial Record as well as the general training, lifestyle, and gear involved with cycling in the early 90's. The audio online isn’t great (To many dubs probably) but it’s a fun time capsule! Also my Mom was driving the car for most of the riding shots.
9. The Stars and The Water Carriers
Eddy Merckx is a God among cyclists and 40 years after his retirement he is still the bench mark professionals are compared to. This film shows what it's like to race the 1973 Giro d’Italia in all its miserable glory. It's been 45 years since the race but the film still leaves you on the edge of your seat.
8. Slaying the Badger
Greg Lemond is one of the greatest American Cyclists every, probably only after Major Taylor. Slaying the Badger tells his story of dethroning Bernard Hinault, France’s last Tour de France winner, in dramatic fashion. The high production quality and excellent storytelling brings a cycling story for the ages to the masses.
7. Ride the Divide
When I first saw this film in middle school my life changed. I saw what I wanted to do in life and that was to win the Tour Divide. The film can be a bit dramatic at times but it does a great job showing the beauty of the Tour Divide and the toll racing nearly 3,000 miles takes on a person. This is a great film to watch while spinning away on the trainer.
6. Working Dogs
Sam Smith is known for his excellent cyclocross coverage through the Behind the Barriers series as well as numerous mini-docs. Working Dogs is an example of his excellent work. The film follows Canadian cycling legend Geoff Kabush through the 2010 mountain bike race circuit as well as a sled dog team in Quebec. Sam seamlessly blends the two stories and creates a film with lots of laughs and great insight into what makes a high caliber athlete tick.
5. Transition: An American Cyclocross Season & Transition 2: ‘Cross the Pond
Although technically two films, these Sam Smith productions can't be separated and live together on this list. The first Transition Film follows the 2004 North American cyclocross series and all the characters who raced in it. Looking back on it now and knowing where these cyclists ended up is really fun. Transition 2 focuses on some of those riders from the first film as they travel over to Europe to race cyclocross in the “Homeland”. If you love rooting for the underdog and the weird sport that is cyclocross these are great films to watch. Also Sam Smith is really freaking good at his job and these films are no exception.
4. A Sunday in Hell
Paris Roubaix is a badass race! Cobblestone roads from hundreds of years ago and a freaking Velodrome finish! Commonly known as the Hell of the North not only due to the rough conditions or the roads but also the hellish landscape of the area after World War I. This race has become one of the most noteworthy and legendary races in the cycling calendar. A Sunday in Hell follows cycling legends Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, Freddy Maertens, and Francesco Moser and their respective teams as they prepare for and race the Hell of the North in 1976.
3. Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist
Drugs, Passion, and Beauty underline the tragic story of Marco Pantani, one of Italy's greatest cyclists. Pantani was at the height of his career when outside pressures and inward struggles caused his untimely death. Marco showed the world what pure talent looked like and the damages the cycling world can do to it.
2. Breaking Away
I was a kid in the midwest who raced on an old steel bike and was learning French so I could go race in France, Dave Stohler was a midwest kid who raced on an old steel bike and was learning Italian because he idolized Italian racers. It was a match made in Heaven! Breaking away spoke to me not only as a cyclist in the midwest but also as a kid who was trying to find my place in the world and grow up in a college town like Dave did. This film is not only a great cycling story but an even better coming of age story. It will bring smiles, tears, and cheers and is a necessity for any cycling lover and film lover alike.
1. The Road From Karakol
Pure inspiration. When I feel low or want to watch something to keep my stoke level up this is what I turn to. Kyle Dempster was adventure personified. He made first accents in regions many humans have never been to as well as document his numerous travels. In this film he goes on a solo climbing trip to the breathtaking land of Kyrgyzstan. But instead of using a helicopter or jeep to get to these remote places he uses an old mountain bike to travel some 1200 km in two months. Kyle has a way with words that instills a sense of adventure and wonder that no one else has ever done for me. Kyle sadly passed away a few years ago in a climbing incident and this film lives on as an amazing tribute to him.
Do you disagree with my list or have any other favorite cycling films you want to recommend? Add them in the comments below!
It’s hard to believe that in a little over 4 months I will be toeing the line for the Arizona Trail Race, the kick off for the Bikepacking Triple Crown. If I am being honest I am nervous as hell.
750 miles of dirt, mountains, cactuses, and literally thousands of creepy crawlies will stand between my start in southern Arizona and the Utah border. I know mentally that I can take the suffering but I would be a fool to say I am fully prepared physically.
Training was not aided by the holiday season. It was great to see family and friends and eat copious amounts of food but I wasn't quite able to ride as much as I wanted to. I did however do lots of visualization for the race and the mental break that being with loved ones brings can only help my mental fortitude.
The snow is finally in place for me to start xc skiing for the year which has been a welcome change in pace from the hours on the trainer. I will be trying to ski a few times a week to keep training exciting! On a side note, hey XC skiing why do you make my legs hurt so much yet I am still going so slow...What gives! Any ways... what I am really excited for is what I am now calling MAXIMUM MONDAYS.
My work schedule for January has given me Mondays off for the whole month. This will allow me to huge training days like 100 mile snow/ gravel rides or 20+ mile hikes! I am very excited to get these going and see where they take me. Next Monday I will be snowshoeing 20+ miles along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Besides the training and mental conditioning I have begun a more serious look for sponsors for the race. This would include getting some more gear for the races as well as potential financial support! Which is wayyyyyy easier said than done. It’s hard asking for help but the worst thing that can happen is that they say no.
Anyways Thanks for following along and supporting me as I try to achieve this incredible goal!
As much as I hate to say it road bikes are where my roots are in cycling. I wish it was something cooler like Cycle-Ball (the pinnacle of cycling) but alas it’s getting decked out in tight clothes and riding skinny tires, and I loved it for many years.
I worked my ass of for a summer in middle school detasseling corn in rural Indiana and Michigan just to save up for my first road bike. It was a gorgeous blue Tommaso Tiempo made of good old steel. This bike took me on my first centuries and through dozens of crashes. This was at a point in my life when I wanted to be a Tour de France winner and I had this odd idea at the time that this old bike would miraculously take me to the top of the podium. No, Seriously I though the Tammaso would be my bike forever and would, without a doubt, win the tour. I want to say that’s cute and all but I know that even back then I knew damn well that bike was heavy and outdated but I was blinded by love, gross.
Anyways, the Tomasso was a great starting off point and was great, till it wasn’t. It was followed by a lovely Aluminum Specialized Allez, an outstanding Giant OCR (Outstanding because it was free, otherwise it was just alright), a classy steel Trek 1200, and then my dad’s exquisite steel Basso Paris- Roubaix. All of these bikes have thousands of miles under them and many more stories at that. But back to my main point, all of these bikes represent my roots as a road biker.
Road biking was the sole focus for all of middle school and high school. I would race cyclocross and mountain bike races as well but these races were all an effort to get in better shape for road season.
When I entered college I quickly discarded road bikes. I was in the freaking U.P. where cyclocross and mountain bikes are king! I would use the road bike for commuting when the weather was nice, which it never was, and winter training on my rollers but that was about it.
The training for the Triple Crown has forced me to revisit old memories of training and racing for guidance and inspiration. I quickly remembered the amazing benefits of riding on pavement and the joy it brought to me. Alas, the U.P. is not great for road bikes due the lack of its key ingredient, roads. But West Michigan ain’t too shabby.
While in Allendale, Michigan with Olivia’s family for the holidays we went for a short road ride. Boy was it fun! We found some gravel as well which is always a welcomed treat. Ya, that’s right I rode my road bike on some freaking gravel and didn’t die, imagine that? Road bikes are gravel bikes with different brakes, there I said it.
Anyways the ride reminded me of the hours I would spend riding the farm roads in Michigan. It was my meditation space, a time for me to clear my brain or think hard on any given topic. I grew up on roads like these and it was a joy to return to those roots.
Sadly I will be leaving the clear roads on West Michigan in a few days when I drive back up to the frozen tundra that is Marquette. But I am bringing back with me renewed energy and a belly full of food.
Till next time
The Arizona trail race is 750 miles long from the Mexico- Arizona border to the Arizona- Utah border. 24ish miles of those will be though the Grand Canyon. When I first learned that the route goes through one of the wonders of the world I was over joyed! I had never been to the canyon before and the idea of passing though it on my bike seemed too good to be true. And alas it was. The park service does not allow bicycles through the canyon which is a blessing and a curse for those wanting to ride the whole Arizona Trail. Many chose to ride around the canyon but those racing and wanting to push their personal abilities suck it up and throw their bike on their back. Crazy, right?
The hike takes you some 4,500 feet down to the Colorado River and then another 5,800 feet to get out of it via the north rim. I will be doing the whole hike in one push with the hopes of finishing it in around 15-20 hours. I am by no means running the trail but the goal is to keep moving forward no matter what.
Now on to the exciting part! How in God’s name do you do this? I have some ideas but, if you find a better way please let me know since I haven’t done it yet…
There are a few options on carrying your bike through the canyon. You can either
The Osprey Talon 22 is the go to pack for most bikepackers looking to use a light weight system that will be brought with them for the race and used to carry the bike. This will be my choice for the race because…
There are a few downsides though… The main downside being that with extra space comes the ridiculous need to fill every empty space. I will be working to reduce this need but we will see how it goes.
The nitty gritty of the setup is as follows.
This set up still needs some tweaks but overall it has been working out pretty well! I did have the weight too far to the right side for a few hikes which has led to some back pain but readjusting it has helped.
I will also be using hiking poles for the whole canyon as they help reduce muscle fatigue in the legs and give me something to focus on besides my legs.
Grand Canyon here I come!
Well, I did it! This past Saturday I walked across a stage to receive my Bachelor's degree in Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management. It feels weird knowing that I will not be in a classroom taking notes or studying for the next exam in the foreseeable future. That being said it makes me beyond excited to throw myself fully at my life's next chapter, Rambling on Bikes!
Rambling on Bikes is the brain child of both myself and my partner Olivia Walcott. It was developed in an effort to record our adventures and act as an umbrella from which all of our adventures can take place under! In the future we plan on riding the Baja divide and "Hemistour" under the Rambling on Bikes umbrella.
The logo and color scheme was designed by our extremely talented friend Savannah Wheeler and we can't thank her enough for the help!
The first large scale adventure under the Rambling on Bikes umbrella will be the Bikepacking Triple Crown (as I am sure most of you know already)! for those of you who don't know I will racing to Arizona Trail Race, Tour Divide, and Colorado Trail Race in an attempt to break Jay Petervary's cumulative time of 27 days, 18 hours, and 33 mins for all three races!
I am finished with school for now which means I can fully focus on developing Rambling on Bikes and training for the Triple Crown. This is so exciting and I can't wait to see what it develops into.
The training for the Arizona Trail Race has been going very well. I am battling a bit of a head cold right now which is requiring me to sit back and focus on finding sponsors for the races and develop my gear list. I have been doing lots of long hikes with all of my gear and bike on my back to prepare for the Grand Canyon Thru Hike. Look for a longer post on the set up and training tomorrow!
Thank you for following along for this incredible journey and supporting me as I train and Olivia and I develop more trips and go explore the world by bike!
There was a moment in the 2010 Tour de France when the yellow jersey wearer, Andy Shleck, dropped a chain and all but lost the race when Alberto Contador rode away from him as he came to a standstill on the side of a mountain. I remember the look of complete hopelessness on Andy's face as his dream of winning the Tour rode away. The moment is now refereed to as "Chain-gate"
When Andy finished the stage he had an emotional interview that ended with him saying the legendary line "My stomach is full of anger, I want to take my revenge". Whether of not he actually took revenge (He didn't) Doesn't matter. I was an impressionable 14 year old when I heard that quote and it has stuck to me ever since.
The days when I feel down on myself or hear the doubters I let that anger turn into incentive to prove them wrong. Is this healthy? Probably not but it is working right now so don't fix what ain't broken.
Anyways, my training is on the right track for the most part despite a week off to travel to Orlando for an experiential education conference. Leaving the 90 degree weather of Florida and arriving to single digit temperatures and a foot of snow in Michigan was quite the shock.
With the snow on the ground outdoor riding days are a bit limited but once some of the ice melts ill be out grinding on snow-packed gravel roads. In the mean time XC skiing will start up in a few weeks and this will be my main form of training for the months leading up to the Arizona Trail Race.
I have felt the doubters closing in on me a bit more this month and I am using all of that doubt to fuel my drive. I want nothing more than to prove myself and others wrong and get this damn record!