I made this trip in October of 2008. It wasn’t planned and I did not intend to come back. At the time I was in college attending school for Environmental Engineering. I felt as though my life had no direction, so I figured I would just leave and go do what I loved the most. I decided to leave in the middle of the semester for an indefinite climbing trip. I figured that I could really think about my future and maybe figure out what I wanted to do with it. I did end up coming back to school the next semester as a Geophysics Student and would eventually graduate three years later.
I packed up my things in 2 days, and began my adventure. I left with little money and decided hitch hiking sounded like more fun. I literally hoped my backyard fence and began the adventure. My ultimate destination was Yosemite National Park. My parents still do not know to this day that I dropped out of college for a semester. Along the way I met interesting people, very nice people and had a great time. I even witnessed a gang shooting while walking through Bakersfield, CA. I made it to Merced, CA where I went to the bus station and bought a one way ticket to Yosemite Valley. My bus got there late at night but while driving through you could see the walls of El Capitan glowing in the moonlight. It took me 5 days to make it, along the way I spent a total of 23 dollars. That’s 2 dollars for 100 miles.
Once there I met climbers in Camp 4. This is the campsite that has deep routes in the beginning of climbing history. Here you can find anyone to climb literally anything, never a shortage of partners. I climbed with a girl form Australia, she was very nice and let me stay in her tent because I didn’t have one. We climbed numerous routes including the Northwest Face of Half Dome, Direct North Buttress and soloed numerous moderates together. She left the valley and my friend Chris Leonhardt arrived in the valley. We climbed together for a few days but he ended up leaving early, we tried to convince him to climb The Zodiac on El Capitan with us but he declined and drove home. I felt pretty bad that he left early because of how far he drove.
Two days later me and Gary (in the photos below) began our 3.5 days ascent of the Zodiac on El Capitan. This was my first ever aid route/big wall. But I had told Gary that I had climbed El Cap before so that he would feel more comfortable with me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have any experience on big walls because I knew how to do everything already, including hauling, aiding techniques, excellent rope management skills, and the fact that I didn’t give a shit how scary anything was. I would just go for it.
We had a great time on the route and did 7 pitches the first day, and 3 or so more each other day. There was one pitch that stuck out to me on the route and still freaks me out every time I go back to climb the Zodiac. Pitch 14, 100 foot 5.10d off-width crack (Too big for hands, too small for body and very awkward). You need 3 large cams to appropriately protect this pitch, we had none. Because my free climbing skills were much better than Gary’s I was the one to lead the pitch. It was basically a solo with no protection for 100 feet of full on climbing, except for an old rusty rivet in the middle of the pitch. At the time I have only been climbing for a little over a year. If I were to have fallen at the top of the pitch, I would have take the biggest fall of my life. A 200 foot fall with a nice ledge to bounce off of half way through. This one goes down as one of the scariest pitches (Top 10) I have ever led. Since then I have been back to climb this pitch 2 more times, each time much easier.
The notorious pitch 14, me on lead with some protection finally in at the roof.
We topped out that same after noon and camped out on the top of El Capitan. A successful first El Capitan route and now my favorite route on the big stone. Since my first climb on El Cap I have climbed 12 other routes a total of 20+ times including The Nose in 7hrs 16 mins and Half Dome in 5hrs 34 mins in the same day for a total time of 18hrs 44mins Car to car with my friend Kyle Anderson. My love for the Yosemite Valley grows stronger every time I visit. It is a one of a kind place with an energy that is unexplainable.
Since I have gotten back I have gotten lots of questions about my setup for the Tour Divide. So instead of individually responding I hope to answer all of your questions right here. In this write up I intend to answer some common questions and give recommendations for your gear setup and training regimen rather than just tell you what I use for my setup. I believe this will be more beneficial because what works for me does not necessarily work for you.
First, I would like to begin by discussing tire choices. I believe that choosing the right tire is one of most important decisions when it comes to your bike because they get the most abuse. Whether you run tubeless or a tube setup you want to have confidence in your tires. How you make your choice will ultimately depend on what type of terrain the race consists of. When choosing a tire for the Tour Divide Race (TDR) I took into consideration 3 different qualities that we all seek for a TDR tire. This includes durability, weight, and rolling resistance. Now we all know that there is no perfect mountain bike tire out there, and getting a good balance of all three of the qualities is very difficult to near impossible. From all the time I spent reading reviews and researching tires and doing trial and error runs, I learned that you cannot have all three in one tire. It is easy to find a tire that is very durable with low rolling resistance, but forget about getting the tire under 600 grams. Once I accepted the fact that no perfect tire exists, and stopped being a weight weenie, I choose the two obvious qualities I wanted in my tire. Those were rolling resistance and durability. For me this was an easy choice, for 200-250 extra grams (~.5 lb) the durability was worth it. I wanted a tire that would last for 3000 miles, and have zero flats. Another reason why you want to have a durable tire on bike packing races is because the amount of weight on your bike. I was at 48 pounds with bike and gear plus 155 pounds for myself. With that much weight an extra pound in the tires won’t kill you, and you won’t need to worry about flats or whether your tires is going to fail. If you are worried about the weight, train harder, drink less beer and loose some weight off yourself.
Now, here is what I used for my tire setup…
Rear Tire-Maxxis Crossmark UST 2.1 (Faster Rolling tire in the back)
Front Tire-Geax Saquaro 2.2 TNT (Good fast center tread line rolls quickly with good side knobs for extra grip on turns)
For the 700 miles that I did ride on the Divide I did not get one flat. The same tires are still on the bike and they currently have over 1000 miles on them with very little wear. I would highly recommend this setup. Also to note-The Saquaro TNT version is very hard to get onto the rims, but once they have been ridden on for a couple weeks the bead stretches and it is much easier to take them off by yourself. So if you choose this tire for any race make sure you put them on ahead of time so that you don’t have problems if you need to take the tire off.
Enough said about tires. Lets move on to the sleeping kit. This choice of gear is a little more personal but can still be broken down into 3 qualities (Just like tires). The three that come to mind are comfort, durability or reliability (interchangeable) and weight. Of coarse all three of these come into play for each piece of the kit, which, usually consists of a sleeping bag, pad, and some sort of a shelter. I will go into the options that you have with todays hi end light weight materials and hope to break things down to simplify everything so that choosing a setup for you is strait forward. Once again, the gear choice is subjective to what race you are in, and depends on a number of variables such as the length of the race, where it is located and the time of year. For example, the Tour Divide is so long that you will go through all kind of weather that you cannot predict, so being ready for any kind of weather will be considered. On the flip side, the AZ 300 is so short that you have a better idea of the weather for your 3-5 day push and can plan according to the forecast. So now that we have established that length of the race is the most dominant variable when it comes to choosing your sleeping kit lets go into the three qualities that will mitigate the variable.
#1 Your Sleeping Pad-This is the most personal choice of the sleeping kit. Some of us can skimp a little in this area. Usually the younger guys can get away with less padding, the older guys are tired of sleeping on rocks I guess, unless your name is David Goldberg! With todays high end materials it is much easier to have a very light weight setup and still have a good night sleep, but, not necessarily have the durability. Some of you may disagree on my opinion about durability, but I am speaking based on my experience with certain sleeping pads. This leads the discussion to the Neo Air Thermarest. I have seen a lot of racers using these, and there are many good reasons. These are very lightweight, take up hardly any space, and are very comfortable. Some drawbacks include the material being very noisy when you move around, provide very little insulation from the cold ground and can be easily popped if you are not conscious of where you lay down at night. My experience with the Neo Air wasn’t pleasant because the first night on the AZ 300 my mattress popped, therefore I am a little biased. It was annoying to have to blow it up 4 times a night in order to be comfy. Others have had better luck with blow up Thermarests or other air mattresses, so try them for yourself. Remember to test your gear to the max so you know it works.
I recently switched to a standard foam pad. Some Pros-Lightweight, high reliability/durability and good insulation from the cold ground. Some Cons-Little bulkier and not as comfy. Once again the gear choice comes down the durability for me. With the Tour Divide being as long as it is, I wanted something that wouldn’t fail me. Once again, decide what is more important to you when choosing your sleeping pad. When I enter these long races I always consider durability the most important factor. Do you want to sacrifice some durability for a little more comfort? If so then maybe something like the Neo Air is a better choice. The Neo Air is just one of the super light sleeping pads out there. So explore your options and find one that suits you best. Enough on the sleeping pad, I could analyze this all day. Sometimes you just need to go with something and try it rather than spending tons of hours researching it. Because there are hundreds of opinions and reviews online and the only one that matters is yours when it comes to personal gear. So try not to over think things because you will drive yourself nuts.
#2 Sleeping bag-This is a simpler choice IMO. Comfort and weight come into play here, durability shouldn’t be as much of an issue. My sleeping bags have always lasted me plenty of time. First thing you need to decide on is whether to buy synthetic or down. There are hundreds of articles out on the internet about the differences so I do not feel the need to discuss it here. Next criteria for the bag is the temperature rating. This will depend on the weather, how much resistance you have to the cold, and will also be a factor of weight if that is important to you. For me on the Tour Divide, I used a 55 degree bag made by Lafuma, super light. I have used the same bag for every race, I was able to stay warm when temperatures got down to 18 degrees. So this bag is useful for practically every race. Most riders will choose a warmer bag because they aren’t as resistant to the cold weather like I am. A bag in the 30-40 degree range seems to be a common choice. Also take into consideration that you will be completely thrashed when going to bed and your body may not be as efficient at keeping you warm, you will find out by testing your gear while training I hope. Try to buy a bag that will work for any race that you do, therefore you don’t have to buy 2 different bags. Do everything you can to save money, the costs really start to add up. So a quick overview…synthetic or down? Temperature rating? and make sure you get the correct length bag as well. Simple.
#3 Shelter-This is a difficult one. And I could write easily write a novel on the subject but instead I will keep it short and touch on the subject just to get you thinking on your own. This is also a weather dependent choice. If you are in the Tour Divide or any long race where predicting the weather is impossible make sure that your shelter can handle anything. When it comes to my shelter I get the most waterproof material without sacrificing to much breathability. My personal choice is a bivy sack made by Black Diamond with a material called Bibler Tech. The material is highly waterproof and I never wake up with condensation inside my sack. The material inside the the sack is kind of fuzzy which attracts moisture and easily transports it outside the bag. Other bivy sacks on the market aren’t so good at getting rid of moisture and you wake up to a really wet sleeping bag. If you can afford one of the Black Diamond bivy sacks at around 250 dollars they are well worth the investment. They are lightweight, durable, breathable, no need for setup, provides some insulation, and is waterproof, but they are expensive and don’t give much room for moving around.
Basically what the sleeping kit comes down to is deciding how much of each quality is most important to you. Comfort, durability/reliability, and weight all come into play. Its all about finding the perfect balance (which don’t exist but you can get pretty close), which can be a frustrating task. Do a little research, go test your gear, revise if needed and then go ride to your hearts content.
To Be Continued…
Just like everyone else that has ridden in the Tour Divide, or any long self supported race, I was stressed out to the max trying to get everything ready in time. Whether it’s dialing your gear, getting together enough finances or finding the time to train. Put those three tasks together along with all the other responsibilities of life and you got yourself some major stress. But, when the race/ride begins all the stress is overshadowed by the joy of beginning a new adventure, and no matter how bad things get sometimes we all usually come back happy and wanting more.
For this years Tour Divide (TDR), I began training at the beginning of April right before the AZ 300. I had only 3 days on the bike before I went to ride the AZTR. I had a great time, made a bunch of new friends and finished what I left off one year prior. I hope to come back this october for the AZ 750. Once back from the Az 300 I rested a couple days and my training went into overdrive with the Prescott Monstercross just 4 days later. Once I was finished with school I was able to train more and put all focus toward getting everything prepared for the Tour Divide, I was super psyched. I was riding 25 hours or ~350 miles/week and getting in shape quickly. Most my rides focused more on fitness and speed rather than putting a bunch of long rides, I guess long is a relative term… A daily ride consisted of around 80 miles (~8000 feet climbing) with mixed riding of long sections of FR and some single track all above 7000 feet. After a solid 1 1/2 months of training, eating lots of healthy food and doing everything to keep my body from falling apart I began to taper everything off 2 weeks before the TDR.
I was out on my last training ride doing a loop around the peaks and having a good time. My ride came to an end with a broken spoke on my rear wheel. I didn’t want to mess up my nice racing wheel so I got a ride back to my truck from my girlfriend Alicia and went to my bike shop. I replaced the spoke and got some extras for the TDR, Single Track bikes always lets me use their tools, super cool guys. Right before taking my bike off the stand I saw 3 long cracks on the chain stay of the frame. I said “fuck” a little too loud but no one except Paul (employee at Single Track) paid any attention. I went into panic mode, 4 days before leaving for the TDR I had a worthless bike. Even if Trek could get me a new one in time I didn’t want it (Trek Superfly). I didn’t want a bike that could potentially crack in the middle of a 3000 mile race, I think anyone would agree.
Immediately my stress level went through the roof. Trek couldn’t get me a new frame in time anyway and I didn’t want a new Superfly carbon bike. At this point I didn’t know if I was going to get everything together in time. I had the money for a new frame but that would leave me totally broke going into the TDR. Before the race even started I was already out it seemed. I thought of everything I could to make it happen. I ended up taking out a title loan on my paid off truck. I made an investment in a bike that would actually last me more than 3 months and bought the Salsa El Mariachi Ti. It was quickly overnighted to my house.
My problems weren’t over. The headset for the El Mariachi was proving to be a hard one to find. I called over 100 bike shops looking for the ZS 44mm headset. I had numerous people trying to help me find one in time. I even called Cane Creek directly and they were out of stock. I called back again the next day and they had gotten one in stock. I was so relieved and once again, thought my troubles were over. I paid for overnight shipping with saturday early AM delivery. Saturday morning came and went, and no package. 4 hours to departure. I drove around phoenix going to every bike shop I could think of. In the mean time I had three other Tour Divide riders looking for me. 3 hours before departure. I went to the Slippery Pig bike shop and told them I had a flight in 3 hours and that this had to happen quick. The owner, a very nice guy, looked through all the headsets and was able to find one that worked. The headset was for a strait steerer tube, I have a tapered steerer tube. I bought a new carbon fork that would work with the headset. On a side note, anyone considering the TDR, I highly recommend a rigid carbon fork. So we got everything together and I was out the door.
2 hours before departure. I drove from Camelback to Glendale going over 90 mph the whole way. Not quite sure how I didn’t get a speeding ticket, I guess luck was on my side for once. I called Alicia and told her to have everything ready to go. We quickly throw everything in the car and I pack my bike in the box in literally 15 minutes. I remember my mom telling me to slow down while driving her car to the airport, so I went faster. We ran through the airport, passed everyone at checkin, ran through security, ran to the gate and made our flight with 10 minutes to spare. We had a really good flight that went direct all the way to Calgary, Canada. I remember leaving at sunset in Phoenix, flying in the dark and then arriving in Calgary where there was still a glimpse of sunlight visible in the horizon. It was like we were chasing the sun.
We spent about 5 days in Canmore and Banff before the start of the race and had a great time riding the trails and hanging out with some of the locals that work at Rebound Cycle in Canmore, all really cool guys. The shop was decked out with a kegerator and espresso machine where I drank free coffee and beer. Not sure how they manage to still get stuff done and drink beer all day, must be a Canadian thing I guess. Vacation time came and went quickly and and I soon found myself at the YWCA with all the other racers.
We all took group photos and away we went. I have never felt so much relief and stress vanish so quickly. A feeling all riders can relate to. All I had to do was ride my bike 3000 miles and enjoy spectacular views, no problem. The first 60 miles out of Banff were incredible. The barren peaks with looming storm clouds, valleys of lush green forrest and dark blue glacial lakes were unreal. Things quickly changed on Elk pass and the large pacific storm closed in for the next 2 days. Even though it was cold, wet and dreary I enjoyed the suffering and had a great time. I called it a day in Elkford and camped out for the night.
Me, Max Morris, and another rider left Elkford @ 4am. The last I saw Max was in Sparwood eating breakfast. I was going at a slower pace that day due to knee pain. I wasn’t used to the new bike and I only had time for a quick bike fit, both of which were contributing to a little knee pain. Knee pain would take on a whole new meaning on Flathead pass. After walking through the 5 miles or so of snow I began descending down the pass. The road in some places was more of a creek than a road. In some sections there was riding through a foot of running water and it was difficult to see the bottom. In hindsight I should have just walked through the creek, I was already soaked to the bone and cold anyway.
One second I was on the bike, the next I was on the ground. My front tire went out from under me, it washed out on a loose rock. I tried to unclip in time to put my foot down but instead my lower right leg was pinned below my frame and all of my weight leveraged onto it tearing my bones out of their socket. It happened so quickly that there was noting I could really do. Right after I wrecked I hadn’t yet realized what happened until I tried to stand up. I couldn’t move my right leg, it laid there limp from the knee down, it also had no feeling. My Tibia and Fibula were both detached from the knee. My first thought was to press my 911 button, so I got out my SPOT device. I never pressed it, mainly because I didn’t want to quit, nor did I have money to pay for an expensive extraction. Instead I proceeded to put my knee back in its place, which I learned how to do as an EMT a few years back. In the process of doing so I passed out 3 times due to the pain, a solid 10/10. I used my bike for traction to get my knee back in place, took some super strong pain killers and got back on the bike where I continued to ride. All of this happened in a matter of about 10 minutes. Trying to remember the pain is impossible. I think my mind has blocked out that feeling since and I really cannot grasp how it actually felt but I know it was pretty bad.
Minutes after beginning to ride again I caught up to another rider that had passed me earlier, I forget his name but he was having some lunch or something. Everything is kind of a blur for the rest of the day and only bits and pieces I remember. I was walking very slowly and I told him what happened. I asked him to ride with me, I was worried it might come back out of socket due to the ease of which it went back in. For about 15 miles or so we rode together, occasionally I let out a loud scream from the pain, but I was able to keep up for a little longer. At one point I stopped because it was so bad, I was crying in extreme pain and crying because I didn’t want to quit. At the same time I was balling my eyes out 2 other riders caught up to me. It took me a couple minutes to get my composure back so that I could talk. I told them what happened, and that I was going to finish the race. Obviously I was mentally delusional, high on pain killers and not thinking clearly. I rode with them for a mile or two then told them to continue on. The pain killers were making me really drowsy so I laid on the ground for about 10 minutes or more, not really sure. To give you an idea of the pain I experienced, I had taken two 60 mg Oxycottin pills, 40 mg of prednisone and was still experiencing a 6/10.
I caught up to them at Butts Cabin. They expressed their concern for me, but I was eager to continue. It was around 4 pm. I left Butts cabin and made it another 20+ miles to another random cabin where there were other racers camping out. I don’t remember who was there, or how many of them were in the cabin. Except for Rich Wolf, who stayed a little longer the next morning. I slept in till 10 am before continuing. Rich would call me throughout the route to check on me and ask how I was doing, he was concerned for my safety I believe.
Getting back on the bike that morning was one of the worst experiences of my life, I dealt with excruciating pain for 10 miles. At this point I was not on any pain killers. I decided not to take any afraid that I would fall asleep for another 14 hours so I settled for some NSAID’s. I got off the bike numerous times because I couldn’t pedal. Then the level of pain slightly subsided and I was able to ride at a decent pace. I passed a couple riders going up over Galton pass just before Rooseville, MT. My goal was to try and make it to an urgent care facility ASAP, the closest one was in Whitefish, 100 miles away. While on my way that night to Whitefish I was followed by a black bear going up Whitefish pass. I found a camping bathroom right off the road and quickly went in, the bear would hang out almost all night scratching at the door. This was highly annoying, but I was so exhausted I fell asleep anyway. I was woken up the next morning by Prentiss Campbell, he saw the restroom on his way by and found me sleeping there and I think he was bummed that he couldn’t use the restroom. That day I made the next two passes and rolled into Whitefish. I went to urgent care the next morning in Whitefish and had it checked out, surprisingly I had no tears or damage on the right knee. Unfortunately both of them were flared up and swollen. I had developed tendonitis in both knees. My left knee especially mainly because I was either compensating or only pedaling with the left leg for the 150 miles to Whitefish.
I rode the next 40 miles to Ferndale that day and had to stop. I knew that I was going to need a couple days off, so I posted up in Big Fork, just off route, where I got a hotel. I slept, ate food, and iced my knees for 2 days. The first day back I got to ride with three kids from Big Fork, MT. They were riding 3 days on the GDMBR for fun, so it was nice to have some company. I made it to Holland lake that day and camped out for the night. The first day back was the hardest day that I had on the TDR, I actually quit the race because the knee pain was so bad. I took a 2 hour nap, got back up and continued to ride to make it to the highway where I was going to bail. The knee pain once again somewhat subsided so the ride was still on. The next day my knees felt great and I made it all the way to Lincoln and stayed at the 3 bears motel. Another rider was also staying there, her name was Michelle. Michelle and I, along with the owners of the Motel all went out for a big breakfast the next morning. After that we went back to the Motel where I slept another 5 hours, it was pouring rain and I didn’t feel like riding in it so it seem like a good time to sleep. I took off at 4 pm that day and got into Helena around midnight. The descent from the pass into Helena was awesome.
The next day I could barely move, I went to the Safeway down the street to get another pain medication prescription. I left Helena around 2.. By the time I got the the HAB section on the pass before Butte, my knees had reached a new level of pain. Right then I knew it was over, I knew that I couldn’t continue to ride on pain killers. I was hopping that my knees would slowly get better to where I could gradually increase my mileage to catch up to the pack, but that didn’t happen. It was a terrible moment, I still didn’t want to quit, but I knew it was over. I rode into Boulder and went to the only place open in the whole town…the bar. I bought a beer and the lady working the bar got me a ride from her friend into Butte.
I am now looking forward to riding again next year. I had a great time and amazing experience. Thanks to everyone that supported me in making the race happen. I couldn’t have done it without you. Especially my fiancé Alicia.
Hope to be back next year.