Well it certainly took me long enough! On July 3rd, at 12:55 a.m, I finished the 2018 Tour Divide in 24 days, 16 hours, and 55 minutes. But really, getting to border crossing at Antelope Wells, New Mexico, after riding 2,700 miles, took me close to seven years and four attempts. During that time I've stretched myself as an athlete and even more as a human being. It hasn't been easy. And that's the point. Pressure, stress, and discomfort are required in order to adapt and to grow. Tour Divide delivers that in spades.
I could not be happier to have finally reached the summit of my personal Chomolungma. But I didn't do it alone. In fact, if not for the amazing people who fill my life, I wouldn't have even dared to dream about racing Tour Divide. It began when I met Joe Meiser in 2011 at Dirty Kanza and heard his tales of his 2009 epic along the Great Divide. Soon after I, like many, saw Ride the Divide, Mike Dion's documentary about the early years of Tour Divide. Then Meiser invited me and another new friend, Jason Gaikowski (who now contributes to Rambleur), on our first multi-day bikepacking trek in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. That trip thoroughly worked me over but it also injected me with the bikepacking bug. Without it I wouldn't have made it to Antelope Wells a couple weeks ago.
There were many other experiences in the intervening years that helped equip me for Tour Divide. More Dirty Kanza finishes. A week touring the Great Divide with Kristen. A Ramble Ride. Jay P's Gravel Pursuit. Gravel Worlds. Adventure Kanza with Jim, Ryan, Shawn, and Scott. Trans Iowa. A solo tour from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh for Adventure Cyclist. An overnighter with the Barchecks and Kristen. The list goes on and on. All to say that we are the sum of our experiences and I've been blessed with amazing friends, family, and trips.
Between June of 2011 and July of 2018 a lot has happened (marriage, homeownership, job changes) but Tour Divide has been a constant. My first attempt was in 2013. I headed to Banff for the Grand Depart and made it 1,200 miles before a knee injury sidelined me. I returned to Banff for a solo, individual time trial in 2015. That time around it was a strange ankle ailment that had me limping and unable to pedal. Last year, in 2017, I raced northbound from Antelope Wells, starting with six other brave souls. After seven days, arriving in Salida in the lead of the northbounders, I was toast, a shell of myself hollowed out by loneliness, stomach issues, and spiraling emotions. Even during the race, as I climbed up Marshall Pass, I convinced myself that I would never go return to Tour Divide. But like many of us in this little world of ultra bikepack racing, I too suffer from race-amnesia.
Still smarting from last year, I hadn't planned on racing Tour Divide this summer. In fact, it was my unicorn of a wife who suggested I head back to Banff. It was in February as we reviewed my race plans and training numbers that Kristen casually said, "You know you're fitter this February by a big margin over your figures from this time last year. What about another go at Tour Divide?" I nearly spit out the sip of coffee I'd just taken!
After arranging the time off with my ever-accommodating editor at Adventure Cyclist, the Legans went into full planning mode. Kristen and I discussed different ways to tackle the race based on my past experiences and also explored just what it was I was looking for in taking the start line again. The answer became clear fairly quickly. I wanted to finish. I had to put that first. Our approach was a simple one. No time goals. No daily required mileages or ride time. Just ride by feel, keep moving, and get to the Mexican border.
By letting go of my previous 20-day goal, I freed myself mentally in a big way. As I'll write about in an upcoming post here on Rambleur, it eliminated the stress that can come with a shorter day on the bike during the race. And it turned out that with the really wet weather up north, having the mental agility to roll with the conditions was perhaps the greatest tool I carried.
Another important perspective that I gained, especially last year, was that I am far more social than I previously though myself to be. I didn't write about last year's ride much because it was a highly personal experience and it took several months and many chats with close friends and my wife for me to process it all. But, even as uncomfortable as it is, becoming better acquainted with myself is one of the reasons I seek out difficult cycling challenges. They afford me the opportunity to stress myself while working to stay positive, to stay patient, and to keep problem solving and moving forward. So I headed back to Banff and the Tour Divide Grand Depart not just because I would know a few people on the line, but also because I would have to opportunity to make new friends along the way.
And this leads me to the riders with whom I shared the trail, in person and in spirit. To Charlie Hayes, Laura Anderson, Jesse Crocker, Wendy Stevenson, Joel Flowers, Gary Meyer, Ben Weaver, Bailey Newbrey, and many others, I thank you! Finishing Tour Divide wouldn't mean what it does for me without the meals, misery, and laughs that we shared.