stories from the trail
I hope you will follow me over the next few months as I prepare for and race the 2021 Tour Divide! This will be my third attempt at completing the roughly 2800 mile route from Banff, Ca. to Antelope Wells New Mexico. Here is a link with a little information about the route. https://bikepacking.com/event/tour-divide-2020/
I will start by saying I have done the divide race two previous times, in 2014 and 2016 and have only completed the race to Colorado before pulling the plug. The first race in 2014 I was feeling phenomenal and thought for sure that I was going to finish the race but Altitude sickness struck and I was finished! The race in 2016 did not go nearly as well, I started off over trained and tired from the start. I had issues with a torn ligament in my calf and an array of mechanical issues with my bike.
On now to the third and what I feel will certainly be my finishing year. I have learned a lot over the last two attempts and will be sure to implement everything I feel will help me finish..
I am sharing with you what I feel will be the main items I will change from previous attempts.
1.) I will be going into the race a little under trained and rested compared to the last attempt of having to many miles into the build up.
2.) Over the years I have come to learn only pack what you will defiantly use, do not pack things you think you may need. You will be surprised at what little you actually do need when on the route. My base weight will be down considerably this attempt.
3.) My diet leading up to the event (keto fat adaption) I feel will certainly help with the energy crashes and not needing to carry as much food. Your body will use stored fat for fuel and there will be no threat of bonking. In training it has been one of the best things that I have done for long distance bikepacking.
4.) My gearing on the bike will be much larger with a wider range of gears. Last two attempts I feel that my gearing while working great when fresh is a little to much for tired legs or super long stretches of climbing. I will switch from a 27-38 low range to a 26-50. With this low of a gear I should have no problem pedaling long days. Which brings me to no. 5.
5.) With the changes to diet, gearing and less training volume I am hoping to ride a lot longer each day. Be it at a little slower pace but totals for the day will be much higher than in the past attempts.
6.) Mentally focusing but also taking in all the sights and sounds of the route. Really focus on being in the moment and not dwelling on the finish! Just keep yourself moving and not letting the draw of towns and motels keep you from advancing along the route.
Well, there you have my reasons! Please leave a comment on what else may be of help in my preparation for the tour divide. Would enjoy hearing any and all comments!
I started this race not knowing exactly how I would feel for I just started a new diet a month or so before. Early on in the ride I somewhat lethargically was searching for a little energy and was wondering if the new diet that worked so well for me during training might not really been the best choice for longer endurance racing? Boy, did that thought change quickly! After the first hour I felt rather amazing and was surprised by how effortlessly I was moving along. Before I knew it I was already 51 miles into the ride, still feeling great. I stopped then to resupply food and water before moving on. On this new Keto diet I don't need to eat nearly as much so I just had a hand full of nuts and a little water then was on my way again. The next 25 miles would see me arriving along the coast. My next stop was at the bike shop as somehow along the way I had lost my CO2 cartridge and needed someway to air up just in case of a flat tire. The following 35 or so miles were along the curving coastline with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and all the vacationers enjoying the great beaches of Southern California. At that moment I realized just how lucky I am to be one of the people who do not have to leave!
Torrey Pines along the coast approximate mile 80 on the route!
I was sorry to see the coast leave my second refueling stop at the Quickmart being 110 miles into the ride was a much needed stop. From there it was going to be a long arduous climb back up to Julian and to my car parked at the finish line!
Around 1:00 am in the morning I arrived in Ramona and my final stop before pushing on to the finish in Julian. I was still feeling surprisingly strong but my lights were not! They were really starting to fade and I knew the big downhill singletrack to Cedar Falls would have to be hiked instead of ridden as well as the massive climb back up to Eagle Point road. I arrived at the downhill and dismounted my bike and would hike what seemed like hours into the darkness, finally after what seemed like an eternity I managed to intersect Eagle Point road and once again pedal my bike. I had about 12 miles to go but the climbing was something that I had never really experienced before relentless! But along this stretch the sun would come out and I could smell the barn and the finish line. I pushed on knowing I was getting very close to the end of the race and could finally get some sleep!
I finally ended up in Julian at the beginning of where this all started! I had ridden 173 miles with about 14000 feet of elevation gain in 22 hours and 2 minutes.
So some final thoughts:
1. The diet seem to work great.
2. Have an extra light if planning on riding all night and an extra battery.
3. Sleep deprivation can be a lot of fun and feel kind of trippy!
4. And above all just enjoy the ride!
5. Rich Wolf put together a great series of rides and I hope to do the desert loop next!
Here is the facebook page for the Julian challenge.
Here is a link to my facebook page for some photos along the route!
Thanks for reading,
SBR Adventure Cycling
Well winter is in full swing here in the Mid Atlantic Coast. Time to ride outdoors is limited so you have to take advantage when you can. Last snowfall of 30 plus inches is gone....mostly, so Pete Wolfe and I hit the gravel roads located in his home town of Augusta WV. We headed out to ride to "the fire tower" as Pete called it. Not having a clue, I was game since the temps were in the 40's and the sun was shining! I loaded the Fargo up with a pair of "skinny tires" hoping to make better time on the paved roads than on previous rides with 2.4" tubies..
We left at noon and did a few miles of pavement and gravel quickly getting us to the "starting" point of the fire tower climb. It was clear from the start that mother nature still had a few surprises in store for us. The roads were mostly clear, but in the shadowy areas the gravel was still covered with a mixture of icy patches and snow of varying depths. Pete asked if I was OK with the conditions....well duh we are here to see a fire tower...lets ride! Skinny tires on 20% gravel grades are a challenge, snow covered gravel roads are a totally different animal. Let’s just say there was enough traction for gravel or snow but not both, so a few hundred yards of hike a bike were needed to climb to the top. In the first 7 miles we had already covered 1400' of elevation!
We stopped at an overlook a few miles from the top and took in the view. Pete asked again "are you prepared" as the next big push looked to be totally snow covered. Off we went, Pete even had to push up this piece, LOL. ALMOST to the top we pondered just how much further we had, it was getting late and the temps atop of Nathanial Mountain were getting colder. Riding just a few more feet and there it was, our destination of choice, the 1941 steel fire tower atop of Nathanial Mountain. Elevation at the base just a tick over 3000' above mean sea level. We ate a bite, took a few pics and attempted an assault on the tower. Well at the mid-point the shaky steel structure and my fear of heights ended that assault.
Time to head back, the decent was entertaining! At this point the skinny tire choice with close to 100#s of air made for a ROUGH decent. The advantage was I was able to punch thru the crusty snow and ice and maintain a pretty good line thru the snow vs. the line Pete decided to take. While riding the edge of the gravel, almost in the ditches Pete was making good time. But the ditch ended abruptly and he had to turn into the snowy segment at which point the front washed out and Pete did a 10 style point slide into the snow. Unhurt we finished the decent and headed back to Petes for the day.
22 miles, just over 3000' of climb and 3.5 hours in the saddle made for a good day. The average pace was nothing to brag about, but the view was well worth the effort. Probably back to the trainer for the next few weeks as winter is scheduled to assault us again for the foreseeable future.
Glenn "the Fargo" Murphy
It was a busy end to 2015, followed by a crazy couple of rides in the first weeks of 16. As a celebration of the end of 2015, I was invited by an intrepid group of 21 other endurance riders to attempt a five-year tradition of assaulting Spruce Knob. Spruce Knob is the highest point in WV at an elevation of 4862 feet. We departed the small town of Whitmer at about 10:00 am, temps were in the mid 30's and a slight breeze was blowing. The sky was threatening all day.
The group of cyclists were from all over the western WV panhandle and as far away as Pittsburg PA. Each packed weighed more than the usual ride of this type as the temps at the top were an uncertainty as well as water and food availability. The ride to the top was uneventful, at several key locations we regrouped and rested and discussed what surprise weather we expected at the top. The mountain did not disappoint us! As we peddled the last several miles into the clouds it became obvious that our stay at the top would be short. The wind was blowing and gusting into the 20's while the temps dropped reportedly into the upper 20's. We sought a break from the wind in a covered picnic shelter while almost everyone changed into dry clothes for the BANZI back down the mountain. We paused long enough to take a few quick group photos and then everyone headed back down.
Happily, the temps a few miles down the road warmed and each began the process of shedding the extra layers added at the top. As we made our way past the Sinks of Gandy, I was reminded of an overnight trip I had completed a few years before. Shane was preparing for his inaugural run at the Tour Divide. We met and rode one last long overnight ride and followed many of the same roads I was now riding. The trip back into town ended without any more excitement. Each of the riders were rewarded with a celebratory glass and we went on our way. Total time on the ride was a scant 4 hours and we covered 44 miles and climbed 3100 feet.
To kick off the new year I was again invited to ride with another group that was advertising a "moderate paced" ride of about 50 miles. Let's just say the term "moderate" has different meanings to different folks. When a group of 100 plus pro and cat 1/2 cyclists do a group ride, well you can just image the resulting pace. Needless to say I dropped off the back and finished the 43 mile ride with a small group of like skilled riders.
Enough of these road rides! I’m ready for some gravel. Saturday the 9th rolls around, the weather is pure CRAP. Fog, freezing temps, and I want to do an adventure ride. When Shane was back east to visit in December we rode in Sleepy Creek. I took him to the power line easement and we pondered what was at the top of the eastern side. Well I later learned that there was a well-marked trail that was accessible at the top, so I mapped out a route that included the as yet unexplored power line climb.
I posted the ride looking for company, but as expected there were no others willing to suffer along with me. I waited until 10:00 am hoping the weather would break a bit, but that wasn’t in the cards today, so I loaded the Fargo and headed to Shanghai Grocery. Since this route was new and there were no stores I picked up two of Shanghai's famous country ham sandwiches for the trip. The planned route kept me mainly off of the busier roads so off I went. As I made the first turn I noted that the front bar end shifter had all but fallen out, roadside repairs made I was off again.......! Only to be stopped by a gate on the road that I was traveling. Two more attempts to find the "road less traveled" and I was back onto the main roads. The five mile climb up Hampshire grade was eerie as the entire mountain was shrouded in a dense foggy mist. All of my gear and clothing had little droplets of condensation formed.
I have hiked and ridden the first double track section a few times, and generally it’s a pretty easy segment. Not today, frozen wheel paths and icy patches made for some hairy riding. At least two times I succumbed to the ice and fell of the Fargo. The downhill section to the lake was not much better. The leaves hid the dangers of sharp rocks and I was getting cold as my clothes were now soaked. I added a second pair of wool gloves to keep my hands warm. As the trail flattened out the fog lifted a bit. The trail was covered in a fluorescent green moss worthy of a picture or two. Pictures taken, I rode off, promptly leaving one of my wool gloves laying on the ground. Well there was no way I was backtracking to get it!
The power line was ahead. Fog covered the pathway. On previous visits I tried to recall the number of towers between the valley and the southern top that I was about to assault. Looking at my GPS It appeared to be about a mile of climbing....no sweat! The grade started out in the mid-teens, the path was well traveled by 4wd vehicles and was easily passable. About half way up at the first tower everything changed. Ahead of me was a vertical wall towering about thirty feet. It was scarred with tracks where adventurous off road vehicles made attempts ate climbing. To the right was a path "around" the wall.... it looked to be the better solution so off I went. The grade was now hitting the mid 20's and topped out at one point at 35%. The rocky path was slippery, take 10 steps rest, take 10 steps rest. Finally, at the top I mounted the Fargo and rode off into the fog. After finding the new trail, 3rd Mountain Trail, I quickly dismounted and began yet another short but steep hike a bike. The GPS assured me that the climbing was over, so back onto the bike I went. The trail was a wide rock strewn pathway rolling along the spine of the mountain, obstacles were everywhere. This was Mountain Bike territory, no "cross" bikes here. Three miles later I emerged back onto the main gravel road leading to the Lake.
As the day was getting late I decided to shorten the ride and BANZAI down the mountain and head back to Shanghai. Good decision, it was 4:00 and I had been on the bike for 5 hours. Total ride was a mere 32 miles with 3500 feet of elevation gained.....why am I so sore?
The decision has been made, I am an adventure cyclist! Looks like a lot more SOLO riding is in my future..............
Glenn "fargo" Murphy
Stage three started out with a 6.5 mile downhill singletrack into Sedona. I thought well all downhill could not be too bad but I was mistaken. Don't get me wrong it was a lot of fun but certainly not easy. It started off with a rather exposed portion of trail clinging to the mountain side and all I could think was do not look left!
After finally arriving in Sedona I topped of my water and belly at the nearest convenient station. Then it would be a little bit of pavement before we hit the next long run of singletrack that would take us through Devil's dining room and along the bottom of Cathedral Rock. Most of the singletrack was ridable and was a real blast and would eventually drop me out into the town of Cottonwood, AZ.
I stopped at a BBQ joint and ate a way to big pork sandwich, took me a while to recover from that! It took me entirely to long to find water to fill up my bottles. Needed it badly because the next section was Mingus Mountain and it was a long, long, long slog up! The climb started as a nice gradual paved climb then switched to a somewhat manageable fire road climb then a 3 mile death march up singletrack! By the time I made it to the summit both big toes were in a lot of pain. ( I lost one of the toenails), but it sure was an exhilarating hike up and one of the most difficult hike a bikes I have done.
After finally reaching the top the final bit of daylight disappeared. I rode down the hill looking for the other riders but not see them. I stop to ask a family that was having a nice fireside cookout if they had seen any of the other cyclist. They had not but they were very interested in the race and had been on a lot of the trails that I had rode to get to this point. Tom, Paul, Dave and Mary could not have been nicer and fed me hot dogs and potato salad. They also gave me enough water to fill all my bottles. It really made me realize that there are some really good people out there. And Tom will be mentioned again soon.
Tom and the gang left and I tried to sleep but once again did not sleep well at all. Next morning I rolled out and my legs felt fine but I just felt a little disconnected. Things that I should have handled easily were just giving me trouble. I thought I just needed to get into a rhythm and all would be good. I descended on some really smooth and fun singletrack until I crossed 89 and hit some gravel for a bit. Then we turned onto a road that followed a powerline, nothing to crazy but some babyheads. And there is were it happened WHAM, I went down hard after falling asleep at the handlebars. Luckily it was minor damage to the body but it did some damage to the bike.
I awoke from the fall 3 miles from the road I just crossed (89) and a long way from my car in Flagstaff. And here is where Tom really came to the rescue. He had given me his number the night before to let him know how the race went. I sent him a message and in about 15 minutes he showed up to give me a ride to Flagstaff! I can not tell you how appreciative I was. This guy who I had just met came and picked me up and drove me a good 70 miles one way to my car! The race did not end the way I wanted but I was so fortunate to meet such a great family and hope to get out and go for a ride with Tom and his boys in November!
Iron Cross race day started at 03:45, with a 3.5 hour drive to Williamsport PA., I wanted to make sure I got to registration early and found a good parking spot. I was successful at both and wound up parking very close to the starting line. The race started at 0900, and as I had expected I was off the back letting the hammer heads do the "neutral" 3 mile ride out of town. About 2 miles in, my SPOT fell off the bike and I had to make a fast u turn to retrieve, this put me behind the MOTO and officially DFL.
The course was awesome, a well blended track consisting of empty country paved roads wandering thru the valley along with both packed and loose gravel sections climbing to the summits. Thrown in for "fun" miles of leaf covered double track and a few miles of rocky single track requiring the utmost concentration. As I am NOT a mountain bike guy, I was mostly successful on the single track segments. I did hike a few hundred feet or so of steep rocky downhill. I was able to meet up and ride with a nice group of 3 others for a few miles. We all had about the same level of ability on the rocky sections so we "buddy" rode until the next pave section where the "cross" bikes shined vs my heavy "over tired" Fargo.
About mid way through the race mother nature decided to step up her game. We left the starting line at about 38 degrees. Forcast was for overcast day with strong winds and highs in the mid 40's. I elected to do a 3 layer torso starting with my Foxwear power dry base layer, followed with a full length partial zip wool jersey and last my 2014 SBR short sleeve jersey. I only wore a Foxwear power stretch base layer and SBR BIBs for my legs. Of course my shoe selection was my cold weather boots with wool socks. Liner gloves and a pair of no finger cycling gloves were the ticket for MOST of the day. As I said earlier, Mother Nature had some interesting weather in store for us, about 1100, half way up a nice double track climb the SNOW started falling. Not heavy, and never really stuck to the ground.
The second of 3 check points held the preplanned stores I needed to continue the race. Being at the bottom of a loooong paved decent the weather was warm and sunny. I fueled on the remaining food I had brought and refilled water and Perpetium bottles ready for the next leg of the race. There were still quite a few folks at the rest area as I left, giving me hope that I would NOT be the last to finish. Making the next turn and starting up the long grade to the summit, the weather again shifted into blustery, snowy conditions. At the top I was able to get a wonderful view and pictures of the squall line that was about to batter me on the decent. In deed the temp dropped and for the first time all day my fingers got cold.....real cold...so I added another layer of silk liner which helped a bit.
About midway down the decent, the MOTO caught up with me as I made the turn from paved to muddy double track. Immediately after making the turn, I was again riding with a fellow cyclist, well sort of you see he was "sweeping" up behind me and pulling all ot the trail blazes. CRAP, I was DFL after all. When we reached the next "challenge" he quickly reminded me that what came next was a bit of "hike a bike". Remembering how crazy WigWam was at last year's Iron Cross Race, I was prepared....mentally...for what was about to come. Just as planned the grade increased and the push the bike to the top turned into a carry the bike segment. As we rounded the "last" corner the top was in sight. I told my trail mate "the sweeper" I HOPE we are NOT climbing THAT rock face.......well we did. It was about 300' of almost vertical climb with the bike off my back. At least the path was obvious from the numerous other riders that had already made the assent. When I reached the top I was ELATED and met with cheers, music and BEER.
The elation was soon replaced with disappointment. Alas I had missed the final time check for the next point and would have to "ride" in the truck back into town, some 17 miles away. The good news is that I had conquered all of the "good" parts of the course as most of the remaining miles were hard packed gravel and asphalt.
I "officially" rode just over 46.7 miles and 5.75 hours. Much better than 2014 attempt but leaving me a NEED to return next year and FINISH. In summary, the event was well organized and the route was amazing. Great job to all of the people that made this race happen and the course workers that sat in the cold making sure we made all the right turns.
The true start of the race was a few miles from where I had parked, had to do a little route finding to get to the true point of beginning ( I get turned around easily even though I am a surveyor!). Luckily the clock does not start until you get to the designated spot!
This was the first time I have ridden in Arizona and the singletrack certainly did not disappoint. We would be on the AZT for the next 30 miles. Before long I had arrived at the Marshall Lake. I made the mistake of not filling up my water bottles and paid for it a little later with some cramping ( I never learn)! Just outside of Horse Lake we hit some double track for a short period then we were onto an old railroad grade. I could image the old logging trains running through the woods. Then back onto some great flowing singletrack and was really enjoying the smooth rhythm and speed. I hated to see the singletrack end but eventually we hit Schnebly Hill Road and the climb to the first nights camp overlooking Sedona, Az. The first stage total miles: 54 miles (including some extra riding because of missing some key turns!) Stage one complete and feeling really good, other than not quit drinking enough fluids. That evening it was nice to socialize with fellow racers and admire some intriguing bikepacking set ups. The racers were from all over the country, one of the guys, Jeff, came from all the way from Florida. We talked about races we have done before, what gear we liked and why, we shared how we prepared for the race and what food we packed. It was nice to connect with others who shared the love of bike packing…
That night I did not sleep well again, I think it was due to the excitement of the race and that the stars were just so amazing and the sky crystal clear; I just couldn’t stop admiring them and wait for the next day! Sedona was only 6.5 miles downhill the following day. So should be easy I thought but it did not turn out that way! Stay tuned for the Stage two story.
Here is the link to trackleaders please follow along!
I’m entering the final few days before the trip. The bike is still in the shop and waiting for a boot from Cannondale to arrive, hopefully by Wednesday. Planning to do a quick shake down ride on Wednesday as on Thursday afternoon I will be leaving directly from work to make the approximately 7 hour drive to Flagstaff, AZ for a Friday morning start.
Right now I’m still on the fence about taking a backpack for this race as I would prefer to have all my gear on the bike. Just hoping water is available along the route which should allow me to get away with only carrying four water bottles. The weather looks to be almost perfect for a bikepacking race, daytime temperatures in the lower 70's and nights in the 40's. Another reason to assume that a little less water may not be an issue.
I will be using a large seatbag for the sleeping gear and food that I plan to carry. Also have jersey pockets which will hold a surprising amount of food. The water bottles will be attached to the frame of the bike. Overall this should be a very light setup while still providing me access to all the things needed for a few nights out in the woods!
The tracking page will be posted in a couple days and I hope you guys will follow along! The photo ops should be outstanding on this route. I’m very excited and can not wait to start!