Justin Simoni has raced the Tour Divide and I was fortunate to get an interview with him on what it’s like. I grilled him with some pretty tough questions like what the square root of Pie is or how many beers can you chug in under 4 minutes.
Justin gave me a bunch of great responses and this interview was a huge learning experience for me but left me super-excited to get to do this in June 2013!
It’s somewhat like purchasing a keg all for yourself, and then trying to drink the entire thing as fast as possible. Let’s put it this way, there’s
certainly some recovery time after finishing it all.
But little steps, taken consistently and you’ll sure enough get to the end. There’s most likely a Irish Drinking Song about it:
Get up in the morning, ride a bike all day, go to sleep at night – somewhere in the middle, eat a ton of food, the simple life!
The day I found myself on the bus back home. An overnight ride on a crowded El Paso-Los Angeles Limousine bus back to Denver is certainly an anti-climactic way to end things. Back to the Real World.
A few here and there. Some in Canada, some near Yellowstone.
My off-key singing of Ramones songs with re-written bear-themed lyrics helped prevent that.
Ah, yes, the Yellowstone bears. Those were the most dangerous bears, as traffic on the entire road will stop and motorists will want to take pictures. Pretty close to getting doored at one point.
No sign of Little Larry, but the route is filled with an eclectic mix of colorful locals, who – however recluse, individualistic, wary of strangers and who will also wonder out loud why you’d want to do what you’re doing – and probably tell you it’s impossible, will still be unconventionally friendly, if you do find yourself in peril. Cowboys look after the entire lives of animals, from birth to slaughter, you know.
Practically non-stop, I’m afraid to report. If I do it again, I’d forgo music entirely and maybe just bring a voice *recorder*, as you tend to think the most insane thoughts. It’s also a way to insulate yourself from everything, which, maybe isn’t the best thing to do.
I brought two iPods Nanos on the trip and a small charger.
One iPod I believe had nothing but Bob Dylan on it – ramblin’ music in other words, which was a bad choice, since most anything after his Desire album I can’t really listen to. The other had an eclectic mix – the complete Ramones Discography, lots of The Clash, some Black Flag – lots of energetic dance music – some Prodigy albums I should probably should have outgrown by now and strange things like the Harold and Maude Soundtrack and one of Joanna Newsom’s first albums.
Strangely, I don’t think I had any hip-hop on there. The closest would be some electro or something energetic – Avenue D got me through some large swaths of lands – one of the members has actually ridden her bike across country as well (http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/crossfade/2008/08/former_avenue_d_singer_bikes_a.php) . The Scissor Sisters first album.
Some folk music and some music to take me out of cowboy country, I guess you could say.
I’m preparing a mix for Tour Divide/GDMBR Inspiration that you may listen to, here:
C.: Honestly, my bet is on Eszter Horanyi winning the whole thing this year. I heard somewhat that women have a higher threshold for pain, make better astronauts and probably take less pits stops to boot.
Starting in the winter, I hit the gym and picked heavy things up and put them down again, I would take a fixed geared bicycle out on the bike paths every time it recently snowed and try to go *anywhere*, I would spend some time on the rollers watching kung fu movies and probably ran a time or two around the park. Not very proud about the running. Did a fair bit of snowshoeing in the winter, tried to summit some 14ers during winter snowstorms. Your usual, “active Colorado” lifestyle, padded with a few too many bike rides.
When spring sprung, I started riding my bike – any bike as much as I could – around 300 miles/week. Started to do overnighters and off road all-day rides and finally, took a few days to follow a small section of the GDMBR and cross the Continental Divide a few times. Just tried to have as much fun riding bikes as possible. All my rides started and ended at my doorstep, as I do not own a car. “Active Recovery” days were, you know, the usual commuting and doing errands.
I also have some experience with touring – a month doing the Pacific Coast, two months to circumnavigate France, another month in New Zealand and smaller tours through the Rocky Mountains to climb mountains, or to following the Paris-Roubaix race route along the cobbles, starting in Paris, where I found myself living at the time and ending in Amsterdam, where friends had moved to, from Denver. Raced the odd cyclocross race and a long time ago, raced a few alley-cats when all the kids were getting into track bikes.
One of the greatest Type 2 Fun nights was on Red Meadow Pass. Lots of walking in the snow that day – starting on Whitefish Divide. At midnight, fatigue set in and I was sort of, well, lost on the top of Read Meadow Pass, wondering where the trail actually was, nothing looked like the right way in the darkness. Searching around, I realized I had a good chance to get terribly lost or I was going to fall in the lake itself. It started to rain/snow by that point and there wasn’t anywhere to sleep that wasn’t covered in a meter of snow. So, I found a largish fir tree, put on every single article of clothing I brought and made a little nest underneath the tree. I awoke shivering, fairly close to hypothermic and wet – it was a inconvenient time to realize my bivvy sack wasn’t impermeable to water. I’ve been in much tougher spots before, so I sort of shrugged off… shivering to death and just waited for the sun – and warmth to come back. Sleep is not a difficult thing to attain on the route. Getting up… a little harder.
Any night like that usually has a night completely opposite to make it all worthwhile. Upon waking up the next day, I slogged down the hill and finally hit dirt again and road down to Whitefish, Montana. Once over the bridge, I was greeted by one of the local cycling legends in town, finding an excellent bike shop (Glacier Cyclery) to repair the damaged rig, point to an excellent burrito shop and took some time off soaking in a motel bath tub. I fell asleep in the tub, drinking a PBR tallboy, eating a donut, while watching whatever was on the Travel Channel. McDonald’s that day seemed like a really good option and I dried everything I had in the laundromat that was inside a bowling alley, that was inside a casino.
Oh, maybe the odd bull snake on the road or something like that, nothing too astonishing to report.
Oh, well I’m sort of a the type that needs to be a recluse for weeks on end, before getting sad and lonely and wanting to be a socialite again – so if someone tells me that for the next few weeks, I’d have to travel through such out-of-the-way places as the Great Divide Basin, or the Gila National Forest, riding on forest service roads, jeep trails and strange overgrown connecting trails used only by hunters, elk and people researching bear populations; tramping through snow-covered passes; being hungry most of the time, being incredibly fatigued after day #1 =- and all this had to be done as fast as possible, I’d be positively beaming with delight. It’s a wonder I never joined the Foreign Legion, or the Forest Service Smoke Jumpers. I still may. Either. Both.
The pockets of civilization found along the route also help. The bottomless amount of kindness and generosity from locals really does keep one feeling good. Some magic takes place there – it’s a thrill to see someone excited about what you’re doing.
Well, a ton of the passes – basically the majority of passes from the start of the race, until after Steamboat Springs, CO were covered in snow, so I did a fair bit of walking. I joked that I was on the first ever Tour Divide Mountain Bike/Snowshoe Adventure Race Biathlon. My cruising speed was probably around .5 miles an hour, perhaps slower in some segments. I lost major time compared to others that took the detours, as they were mostly greeted with a road that simply went *around* the aforementioned mountain pass and for the Grand Départ, everyone took the most sensible detours, except ol’ rocks-for-brains, here.
The key to dealing with whatever never-ending pass you come across is this: however slow you go, the ace up your sleeve is knowing that it will eventually end. The tops of passes, I would actually *literally* give out a Rebel Yell and stomp around and belittle the ridge with obscenities and put-downs – but don’t tell anyone that.
Not that I wasn’t ready for riding over mountain passes – some training days for me would be 10,000+ feet of elevation, or crossing the Continental Divide three times or so – some of the perks of living in Colorado. My thinking during training was that it was best to try to get a little faster on the slowest part of the route – that meant climbing. I think once I was cleared of the snow, I showed a fairly good race pace. There’s more climbing than you can possibly imagine in this race, you have no idea what you’re getting into – if every stage of the Tour de France was a mountain stage, I think you get pretty close. The Race Across America has perhaps a day similar to the elevation you need to ride in the Tour Divide. You climb, you descend, you ride an undulating dirt path to the next pass and you repeat.
Total heaven for a mind/body like mine: slow, stubborn and light enough to take hills with delight. Any 20 year old on a fixed gear riding around in Denver can beat me on a sprint challenge around the block, but there’s not many that would take up a challenge to race me to Wyoming. And back. I’ve been avoiding bars, really so that no one has a chance to challenge me.
Whatever I wanted to! I had a brief problem with cash flow, especially in Wyoming and a lot of the route was done with a loaf of bread I bought from a restaurant on the route and a few jars of peanut butter. Adding jelly to the mix was a revelation. In less leaner times, I’d try to find the best burritos in town and eat a few of them. I bought a pizza off route below Union Pass that was literally Pepperoni, Sausage, and Bacon. I dubbed it, “The Bear Surprise Special”. I made sure to finish the entire pizza, then shower, before heading out. Lots of candy – Jelly Bellys were certainly a favorite for me. Breakfast was the absolute best – the biggest, messiest scrambles or omelets on the menu. A lot of hamburgers on the route, which gets tiring. A few bowls of ice cream. Keep the food intact constant! Listen to your body and what it wants – get good at that.
At least a water bottle or two, most of the time. North of Salida, water was plentiful and was never a problem. South of Salida, CO, things really dried up and it got a little tricky in areas. One really wanted to trust one’s water treatment system. In New Mexico, I had capacity for 1-2 gallons of water at a time. I tend to require copious amounts of water to function.
Without a doubt. Simply no way to take in more calories than you’re expelling. That portly belly could come in handy on those long stretches where gas stations are non-existent. Plus he’ll eventually pass through Pie Town, with some pretty amazing pie. My favorite I believe was the Apple, Pine Nuts and I think Chili Pepper Pie.
Had a spectacular crash, a couple miles from Silver City, NM. I guess I misjudged the speed I was going and hit a nice bump in the road. Reminded me of how you’d make a dirt kicker in a secluded setting. Found myself airborne, landing nicely on the front wheel, which flipped my handlebars sideways, which made me land with full force on the back of my left shoulder. Pretty painful. Actually, probably the most painful thing I’ve ever managed to do, on bike or off. I was listening to Joanna Newsom, which only furthered the surreal tragedy of it all.
When I kinda came too, I checked for major damage on my shoulder – bones sticking out, etc. Finding nothing so bad, I collected what scattered and assessed the situation: My left arm didn’t really work, my front wheel was taco’d, I hadn’t seen anyone since I left that morning and I had no idea what was in front of me. I gingerly made it down the hill and to the next road to turn onto, as my front wheel was slowly leaking air, from me attempting to bang the front wheel back into some sort of rideable shape with one arm and with the tire still on.
To my complete surprise, a jeep was coming in my direction, so I waved it down. Turned out to be some people on vacation, going to a boy scout reunion party. They dropped their plans and helped me get a little bit down the road and transferred me to a fish and game police truck that also just so happened to be on the road, investigating a report. That officer took me to the Gila Regional Medical Center to get assessed and X-rayed.
It was a severely emotional time for me, as I was forced to break a major rule of the race: No Forward Hitchhiking to get to the ER and see what I managed to do to myself. Being so close to the finish only exasperated the tempest brewing inside me. I had literally a day left to do an “easy” route to the finish line – something I was going to do once in Silver City, after a little nap, some coffee and a few 5 hour energies along the way. After all the trudging over all those snowy mountain passes, it was hard to give up the race because of a stupid crash.
Without a working bike, or a working arm, it seemed a little silly to try to make it to the finish line, so I left that up as a mystery to be solved at a later date. The personal Hero’s Journey isn’t about finishing, but the change created by the experience.
Well, every day on the Divide is different and I’d be prepared to go through quite a wide spectrum of emotions on a daily basis. I remember one day, I did an all-nighter through major bear country to get to Helena, going over the Divide three times, only to collapse at the border of the national forest for a few hours and riding into town fairly numb and lifeless.
I was greeted just inside of Helena by some local super fans who came out to greet me in their car, honking their horn and rallying me on. I found a great bike shop to again fix the damaged ride and some incredible coffee to perk me right up. A few hours rest in town and I was out again. It didn’t take long to bump into some touring motorcyclists, following the GDMBR who were excited to meet me – having seen my tracks through all the snowy mountain passes north of us and telling me they themselves couldn’t get through.
After a nap, I located the most miserable 5 miles of track I’ve yet seen, even flipping over my handlebars when I hit a patch of quicksand and invariably needing to put on and take off my snowshoes for hours on end, being met by small snow fields that were simply too big to not use shoes.
Finally getting out of the dirt, the Interstate Highway greeted me, as did rain as I made it into the environs of Butte Montana. Even the cold, wet, being miserable and fatigued didn’t stop me from marveling at all the lights so brightly burning in the middle of the night – I believe Butte is one of the most populated areas you go through on the route – the day previous, you pass the road that the Unibomber had his cabin on – talk about dyadic relationships. An hour later, I’m checked into a motel and eating pancakes at a diner I had been to, a few years before on a different road trip.
So, that’s actually a pretty usually 48 hours. And every 48 hours seems to work like that. Quite the undulating narrative dramatic structure. That’s why it’s said to never make a decision to stop racing, until after a good night’s sleep. My tears of anything but delight were saved though, until right after my crash, as I entered the jeep of my good samaritan passer-bys. Really strange for a 30 year old dude to cry in front of absolute strangers, who are also so very thankful they can help someone in a dire circumstance.
That’s a good question and I’m not quite sure how to answer it. I was shooting for at least 1200 miles a month for March, April and May and use June to, “taper”, which left basically no time for anything else and life took on quite a monkish existence. Using miles as an indicator of training is flawed as well, since well – what type of miles are we talking about? Road miles? Dirt miles? Single Track? Fully loaded? If I was a smarter person, I would probably invest in creating some sort of periodization regime, working up to some long weeks, tapering and repeating. But I’m an emotional person – sometimes during training I couldn’t figure out the way to get out of the house and other times I couldn’t seem to stop riding a bike, regardless of time or weather.
Whatever miles you do, do it intelligently and be realistic at your current form. I bet my personal form is a ton better than it was last year, but my mileage is around half of what it was. Maybe I’m a little smarter about things: my fast days are fast – and keeping track of my times, are getting faster every few weeks or so. My long days are longer – I’ve broken my personal best in distance in a day. That’s all really great positive feedback and my rest periods see me actually resting. I’m not even officially training for the Tour Divide – but hey, if somehow I get everything together or I feel I need to escape from civilization, I may just line up again. Got to finish the job, you know.
Every day was probably the best day, but like I said, the best days are usually prefaced by some of the worst:
The Great Divide Basin was nice enough to give me safe passage without too much wind, but the ride afterwards into Colorado was mentally debilitating – tons of rolling hills on dirt road with semi trucks passing you. Ran out of food save for half of one Pop Tart in Slater, CO. In such a state, I missed out at stopping at Brush Mountain Lodge, the mythical owner and her equally mythical fruit and quesadilla platters – a huge regret. But, the next day, just outside of Clark’s Store, local Steamboaters were waiting – and were waiting for hours as I had taken an extended nap at the store, with a sign that read, “Justin Simoni is Badder Than Leroy Brown!”, which was entirely unexpected.
A few days later, I was able to see my Brother, who has the amazing position to both live and work right on the route – I made camp about 2 blocks away from where he was staying in Silverthorne, which is in National Forest – Colorado is quite a special place!
Riding out of Breck, over Boreas Pass, I bumped into a former TD rider who was randomly vacationing in Summit County – was it Eric Nelson? I joked to him that I was bettering my last time over the past (which in May, was completely snowed over) by a good… 13 hours, below the pass, I stopped in at the Como Depot and found an anonymous patron had put a bar tab for all Tour Divide riders stopping through – very thoughtful! South Park delivered nothing but smooth ride, and I found that Fawn, a former employee of Salvagetti (my LBS) was working at Absolute Bikes – a routine check also yielded a small reunion! Met up and past the only other Tour Divide racer I had seen since Eureka on the top of Indiana Pass and had a great breakfast at the Skyline Lodge, right by the border of NM. Made fairly good time through it all, too.
But again, this is balanced by all of New Mexico – heat, a detour past forest fires, exhaustion, a broken pedal and finally – the crash at the end. You get nothing for free in this world!
A big thanks to Justin for providing a great overview of the divide even with my curve ball questions. If you want to read more about his adventures, check out his site. He’s also a helluva artist, check it out!