Hal Russell recently finished the Tour Divide in 32 days, 4 hours, 23 minutes. This was his second straight year finishing the 2,745 mile route. If Hal is not the oldest participant he must be up there, at 65 years young he defies the odds and inspires us all. Below is his thoughts on this years Tour Divide. Age? I am 65 years old, will be 66 September 2.   Birthplace? I was born and raised in the West Central Rural Missouri Ozarks near Lorwry City and Osceola, Missouri.   Where do you live now? I still live in the area near Osceola, Missouri. My wife and I have a home in the Ozark woods. It’s nice and peaceful where we live. It’s a great place to ride a bike and run.   What do you do for a living? I just retired this spring. I was an Elementary School Counselor at Osceola. Besides riding bikes and running a little, I also have several hobbies which keep me fairly busy. I really enjoy throwing pottery, drawing a bit and hanging out at my buddy’s bike shop, Truman Lake Bikes in Warsaw.   What was your first mountain bike experience? I think it was in August 2000. My wife and I were in Leadville, Colorado to meet up with our kids and a niece and nephew. We were there to climb a fourteener and I was running the Pikes Peak Marathon the next week. Anyway we arrived in Leadville between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. and all these mountainbikers were laying around on the courthouse lawn, then this tall cowboy guy, Ken Chlouber, shot off  a shotgun in the street. So I asked someone what was going on. I was told it was the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race! It looked pretty neat and I told my wife that might be cool to do someday. Anyway I bought a mountain bike when I got home and started riding and racing in local races. A few years later and a bike or two later I entered the Silver Rush 50 MTB Race in Leadville and I was hooked! I did the Silver Rush 50 for two years and then the Leadville 100 MTB Race the next four years.   What was your first bikepacking experience? Actually it was the 2013 Tour Divide, but I had trained for a couple years. The Leadville started getting hard to get drawn for so I set my sights on the Tour Divide!   This was your 2nd finish of the Tour Divide, what motivated you to get back up to Banff? Several reasons. 1) It’s addictive! I am a Vietnam Veteran and riding the Tour Divide puts you out there, it makes me feel alive! The openness, idea of freedom and maybe a little danger is appealing. I can kind of hide in plain sight if that makes since. Also, last year there were a couple of fire routes and we didn’t get to do all of the regular TD route. So to do the entire route was  a goal and maybe an excuse too! 🙂 My cousin, Gary Tucker also wanted to do the race with me. So Gary and I rode the entire race together. He is a little younger than me, so I was usually a ways back from him. He proved to be a good rider!   What was your preparation like, training, logistics, etc? I pretty well train and ride year around so my goal was just be in good physical shape. I did a lot of cold winter riding on my fat bike. I live in the Central Missouri Ozarks and we have plenty of hills to train on. I also rode to work a lot. I ate healthy and had a daily workout routine as well. The main goal was just to be in good physical shape.   Was it much different this year from last year? Yes, weather wise it was just the opposite from last year. Last year the weather was warm/hot and dry. It was a pretty fast race for the top riders. This year was completely different, it was raining and cold when the race started. Mud snow, cold rain, postholing, crawling and carrying the bike through avalanche snow, and hypothermia, pretty well describe the conditions for the 2014 TD.   How were you feeling when you got to Banff? Banff is a beautiful place! I was pretty excited, but low key and relaxed. I am not a great or even good mtb racer or rider. I just feel at peace out riding or racing, it’s peaceful and fun! I love the feeling I get when I began a new adventure. I feel good and alive!   Going into the race, did you have a plan and/or goals? Sort of, my plan was to ride as far as we could each day and just camp wherever we ended up at. Also, I wanted to do the entire Tour Divide route! I had three main goals which were similar to last year.  (1) I wanted to see the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, it doesn’t get old. The country and what it holds is magnificent! (2) I like to meet nice people. My dad taught me there are basically two kinds of people, good and bad, or nice and not nice. I wanted to meet a few of the many nice people which are out there! …..and we did! Like a fellow racer and friend told me the real prize of this race, is friendships you make and the brief moments you get to share with some kind and caring individuals! So in that case we were “winners”! We met some wonderful people! (3) As a Vietnam Veteran the memories of the past are still only yesterday. They don’t go away! I have found endurance adventures like the TD are very theraputic. I don’t ask anyone to understand, because I don’t either, but you sure get a chance to think and look around! It all allows me to smile in amazement! I smile, cry, and am very humbled out there!   How did you hold up in Montana? To me all of the divide is challenging and neat. Each state, each map, has it’s own hardships, challenges, and great beauty! Montana was tough, but with the weather elements in each state had it’s tough challenges. They were pretty daily. I think we only had 3 or 4 days without rain. Hal Russell Comparing this year to last year, you were slightly slower, can we blame that on the weather? No excuses, but for sure the weather slowed us down as well as many others. Several times we stopped early for the day to take care of hypothermia issues. Also, the conditions, such as pushing and postholing several miles through the snow and mud, undoubtedly slowed us down. The mud and snow was very hard on our bikes and caused us and others to have several mechanicals. I had my chain and cassette changed at Pinedale, then we got out about 40 miles out and my bike just wouldn’t stay in gear anymore. I only had a couple of gears in the high side. So I had to push and coast back to Pinedale. I must thank the A to Z Hardware /Bike Shop in Pinedale, WY, Orange Peel in Steamboat, CO, Absolute Bikes Shop in Salida, CO, and Gila Hike and Bike in Silver City, NM. Each bike shop was great to me!   What was the biggest challenge for you this year other than the weather? Maybe Father Time!  🙂 To me age isn’t an excuse though. I plan to keep seeking adventures until I can’t go anymore, but like the song says, “I am not as good as I once was!” 🙂 I wasn’t in as good physical shape as I would have liked. I was really busy working as an elementary school counselor getting ready to retire and it cut into my training time. 🙂   What was the most rewarding? Without a doubt it is meeting the many nice people out there! Young, middle aged, old, rich, poor, it doesn’t matter. A nice person is special no matter of their social status, race, age, etc.  I like to think I have made some great friends and acquaintances out there from many walks of life!   What bike/components were you using? I have rode the same bike both years, a KHS Team Carbon Hardtail. Most of the components were Shimano XT and XTR. I am not sure what they are now. I had many of them replaced along the way and I was good with whatever the bike shops had. The mud took it’s toll on the poor old bike. I also had a small break in the carbon That occurred in Wyoming, so I tried to take it easy after that. It never got any worse.   Tires? (No flats) I started with Tubeless WTB Nano’s. The front tire made it the whole way and still looks good. I changed the back tire at Salida with a Fast Track 2.2 just to be safe.   Bags? I have a mixture of the normal bikepacking bags. Some are made by Phantom and some by Revelate. They worked well!   Favorite meal on the TD? I would start with dark soda and ice water then a lot of whatever look best on the menu. A big burger and fries was usually the go to! Then “Icecream”!   Could you share one bikepacking trick you have learned over the past few years that has helped you? As much as possible see the glass “half-full” and “smile”!!! When a catastrophe occurs, I try to engulf it and make it a learning experience!   Any Sponsors? Yes! My main sponsor is Truman Lake Bikes at Warsaw, MO. They are the best to me! Also, Birdman Apparel of Warsaw, Cosmic Coffee of Warsaw, Steve’s Computer Service of Warsaw, Evening Shade of Osceola, and my many “Rocking Friends” of Warsaw! Whats next for Hal Russell?   Man, just more dreams as long as I can stay healthy and keep the support of my family and friends! 🙂 I am trying to get a little more sponsorship. Not many entities want to sponsor an old slow guy. 🙂 Some ideas for future adventures are the Arrowhead 135, the Iditarod, ride from the top of South America to the bottom, and ride in Vietnam in the Central Highlands and Central Lowlands near Ahn Kha and Bong Son! …..and I still have the Tour Divide bug!  I haven’t seen a bear yet, just tracks and a lot of scat! 🙂  Then it is such a special adventure with people like Kirsten at Brush Mt. Lodge, Bruce and Greg up in the Mountains in NM, the lady with hot chocolate and whiskey at Swan Lake, the nice lady at Ovando, Sterling, the nice girl we visited with at Orange Peel, the friends we rode with, and many, many, others.

One Comment

  1. It was a pleasure to meet Hal on the route. The section I met him on sucked ass, so it was nice to take a little break and chat with him and Gary. Gary was using pretty much my entire line of gear, but I was mostly enthralled with Hal after I noticed his Vietnam Vet sticker on his bike. As a vet who served in what I refer to as “the fantasy army”, Hal’s military experience was not by choice and I have a ridiculous amount of respect for what he did and how he manages those emotions today. Cycling is definitely the most awesome way to travel and let your mind go. Kudos to both Hal and Gary. Despite the shit during that first week, I’m betting they had the time of their lives.

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