I thought doing the Tour Divide would make me “nicer.” I thought I would realize some long lost appreciation, that my eyes would open up and I would be a gentler, softer person. Less abrasive, complimentary, like I would smile more or something.
Smile just like that. Uncomfortable and confused at the DKXL. That’s right, I had no idea what was going on. A couple days after this picture I was packed and headed towards Canada.
Tour Divide whipped me into shape in ways that I could have never wanted. Forced me to forget about my “obligations” and relearn riding. Now I have a fresh, albeit grungy, perspective.
The catalyst for convincing myself to go do the Tour Divide would be returning and heading to school. Like ripping off a bandaid I would leave the bike shop after 6 years of dedicated service to an industry that had left me frustrated and feeling stuck. My mindset rolling into the Tour Divide was one of surrender, I had done everything I could for bicycles and people. That when I returned I would no longer work in a bike shop, the passion was gone; it had become just work, and lots of work at that. Too much work. For all those years my life has been spread over a couple jobs. Driving a bus, teaching touring classes, hosting clinics, leading group rides, attempting to be a sponsored athlete, none of it was good enough. I struggled every day to work as hard as I could. I worked so much that all of the efforts were 1/3rd of what I could actually do. In 2017 I pushed myself to lead a weekly group ride, that worked. In 2018 I pushed myself to get the fuck out of Iowa City and go do the Tour Divide, it worked.
Training for the Tour Divide and prepping my bike was extremely fun and stressful. It was a mix of using what I already had and excessive splurging.
Here’s what I already had:
- 10 years of commuting/ hilarious touring experience all over Iowa.
- An athletic background (college athlete/enough discipline to stubbornly ride too far)
- 7 years of successful ultra-endurance gravel and winter events.
- 6 years of bike shop knowledge.
- The perfect bike/access to gear/jobs to pay for gear.
- Support from Salsa Cycles.
- Mental preparation that consisted of convincing me that this was a natural progression.
What I didn’t have/acquired:
- Fancy bike parts
- A proper Garmin
- Money for the trip
- A ride to the start
This preface is just as important as the ride. While I sit here and look for the words. It will unstuck my brain. Help me get back to that place when I said to Ryan Baker, I think I want to do the Tour Divide next year and he said, a slight nod, a shoulder shrug, “Do it.” Ryan has been my boss at World of Bikes for the past 6 years, when he says do something I do it. For the most part. So there it was. October 2017 I had decided to do the Tour Divide. I sent an email out to my friend Bailey. He had done the Tour Divide the year before and would do it again in 2018.
“Could you answer some questions for me? I want to do the Tour Divide.”
Actually typing out the thought and sending it to a person and asking for their time. This was real. HOLY SHIT.
Then I got real calm. Like a giant blanket. Don’t freak out this is normal, you want to do this. It’s just the natural progression of my riding. Duh.
ha! With a hair flip I waltzed away with my decision made. sure.
The prep that went into organizing myself for the ride is one of my favorite parts. The route presented in a way to me that feels safe. Lots of people do it, Adventure Cycling Association seem like a nice bunch, wholesome route makers. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the distance or time, probably because I had no concept. Could I ride 100 miles every day for 28 days? WHO FREAKING KNOWS?!
I know a lot about myself at this point. I’ve done plenty of digging through my brain while pedaling my bike. Plus I spent the other part of my life working real hard to build up a crazy athlete ethic centered around rowing and being real good at it. If you don’t know what events I’ve done click here. I’m proud of those rides. It’s how I built myself. Every single ride is different, and they all do a great job illustrating the kind of rider I am now. But the picture had gotten fuzzy. Marred with the same lines, cutting deeper and deeper, until everything was static, trapped. And there wasn’t much down there. Just lots of blah and pedaling and oh look a hill with gravel on it, I can probably ride that. Sure why no go do that. Blah.
One of the last events on my list you clicked was the Spotted Horse. That was the first time I had tried real hard and wanted to in a long time. The kind of trying that creates the ability to being real good at it again. It hurt, it was the most pain I had ever put myself through during a ride. More than the stupid frostbite (which was an unacceptable consequence, and I make sure to be transparent about the things I won’t do again for a long time, a.k.a-fat bike racing.) Spotted Horse was an acceptable amount of pain and consequence.
Tour Divide seemed like the next, normal step. Right?
Getting my bike ready was easy. HA. First I thought let’s build up my old shitty Kona Unit frame, it will be so so so much cheaper cause I have a garage full of shitty parts that aren’t terrible. HA. Because the only other option is to get everything you want because taking apart the Salsa Cycles Woodsmoke that’s been staring at you for over a year is the actual plan you want to accomplish. You have to take it apart and buy all the parts you want with your hard earned money. That’s why I drove a school bus. So I went crazy, not quite fully, but I had to. This is the nerdy part where I talk about my bike and what’s on it.
I built up my Salsa Cycles Woodsmoke. First I took all the suspension off and put a Cutthroat fork on it. Then I sold the fork and put some 29er Whisky rims laced to an Industry Nine SS/boost hub and a Shutter Precision dynamo hub. Ohhh my first set of carbon wheels. SWEET. I opted for Vittoria Mezcals cause everyone else uses them and I checked out Drew’s at the shop, they seemed supple. Oooohohoho. Frame and wheels done. Dynamo system was my old Supernova E3 Pro 2 and a Sinewave USB charger. Not the brightest light, but my emotional connection to this light could have powered it. ( it came off my townie bike, the bike with more miles than the gravel bike.) Cockpit was Thomson stem and post, Thomson Ti Bars, Cane Creek Ergo bar ends, T.O.G.S Y’ALL, Bar Yakk, Pogie Lites, Ergon SM Women’s saddle, and good gosh that is a lot of stuff to be all over the bars. The other stuff attached to the bars was a Garmin Etrex 30, Light and Motion headlight strap, 2 Revelate Feedbags, voile straps x1, sometimes socks, and sometimes more food. Feedbags housed 1×32 oz. water bottle and foods. By my seat post I had a Oveja Negra snack pack that I’d picked up at Dirty Kanza. That snack pack was all toiletries. Attached to the back of my saddle was a Revelate Terrapin tiny, lil’er guy, he’s purple, holds 8 liters. That housed my Helium Bivy, Thermarest blanket, space blankey, and Thermarest NeoAir pad. Within the massive frame of the Woodsmoke lived a Rogue Panda roll-top frame bag. Buying this bag was the first jump money wise and the best one. I used every bit of it. In that bag-tubes, MSR water filter, extra food (I carried the same dates from Canada actually all the way back to Iowa, go me), extra plastic bags, journal, notecards, pen, knife, zip ties, multi-tool, extra clothes (rain gear and long layers fit), and more food (sometimes small water bottles). SUCH A GOOD BAG. Finally bolted to the fork was two Velo Orange Mojave Cages w/2xNalgenes and downtube was a Salsa stash bottle with my flat/tool kit.
I sure do wonder if that’s everything. There are plenty of things I started with that I left behind and also plenty of things I gained along the way. Those things may or may not get talked about along the way. If it’s important enough it will be.
Next was getting to Canada. I only had a passport card because it was the cheapest route to get out of the US, either via land or sea, not air. So flying wasn’t a great option. After weeks of weaving intricate plans with my fellow Tour Divide rider and co-worker Jason, they all fell through. Jason opted for flying, I opted for reaching out to the cycling community, it worked. Ed, a Monday Night Gravel rider, who had just retired decided to make a vacation out of the trip and took me to Banff.