Three weeks ago around 100 riders set off on the adventure of a lifetime: a mountain bike ride from Banff (Alberta, Canada) to Antelope Wells (New Mexico, USA), southbound in the Tour Divide. This underground race has been taking place for a few years now, starting from a few individual time trials of the agreed course, to what is now highly contested smash-fest across the Rockies and beyond. And the best part is that there are no entry fees and no prizes in this self-supported adventure; it’s just you and your bike.
Hello? Are you still reading? Or has the thought of riding your mountain bike over 4418km of mountains put you off? Bears, snow, isolation, loneliness, exhaustion. Well this is exactly my kind of adventure and I have spent the last three weeks watching little pink and blue GPS spot-tracker dots crossing the Continental Divide. This year the race was won by kiwi Ollie Whalley in an new record time of 16 days and 2 hours! The female record was also smashed to pieces this year by Eszter Horanyi, who finished in 19 days and 3 hours, five days faster than the previous record.
Let’s just say right now that I know I am not up to averaging 230km a day over mountains higher than we have in our entire country…. but I have to start somewhere! Seb and I have had these wicked ‘Relevate’ bike bags for a while now, so we decided to give this long-haul cycling business a go. Even though it is winter, and even though I have never backed up 100km with anything the next day (24hrs don’t count), there was a route I had been wanting to tackle for over a year now. The plan was Canberra to Tumut via the Brindabella valley and return on Sunday via Wee Jasper.
With rain and snow predicted, Seb and I packed our bikes and had a leisurely 8am start on Saturday after obligatory porridge and coffee. The sun was shining and we had great weather all the way to Piccadilly Circus, which is a place I vaguely remember visiting when I was about seven years old and we drove up there to make snowmen!
The rest of the day was really quite uneventful. There was lots of climbing, some cold descending, some more sunshine, lots of cows, crap loads of 4WD hoons and some rain about 5km out from Tumut. I plodded away at the hills and Sebba ever so patiently waited at all the tops. I was grateful for the company but started to wonder how slow I would be going if I was alone. As our introductory ‘bikepacking’ adventure, and being mid-winter in the mountains, we had decided on a motel at Tumut rather than camping out. After eating the local Coles out of all their snack foods, we ordered delivery pizzas (from two blocks away) and watched the first stage of the tour from bed, listening to the pouring rain outside. Feeling slightly guilty about our luxury evening, we imagined what it would really be like out there in Canada, fighting off grizzlys, sleeping in a bivvy in the snow and eating a protein bar for dinner after having ridden double what we had just done. Ouch.
Our second day was home via Wee Jasper and it was great. Lovely rolling hills and gentle uphill following the Brungle Creek up to the plateau. It took a fair while for my knees to settle down and realise that, yes, I was serious and I was going to do it all again today. We had some really nice scenery, but Sundays weather was really bizarre and very stop start: rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, sleet, rain, hail, sun? Ah dear. A good test of toughness nonetheless 🙂
Overall we had a fantastic weekend of riding and I can’t wait to get out there and explore more of the Canberra surrounds. The next test will be getting some more weight on the bike (handlebar bag is soon to be ordered) and the wait for some slightly warmer weather to practice some overnighters in the bush (bivvy also soon to be ordered). Pretty stoked with 260km and 4500m of climbing, not a bad start. Where to next?!!