Looking for more Tour Divide coverage, check out our Faces of 2015 Article to see each and every finisher.
Most of us now know Josh Kato, the record holder for the Tour Divide. Now that winter is fading into spring, it’s time to talk Tour Divide again. This race is like a magnet drawing you back into the pain cave. With his third year of the Tour Divide on the horizon, we asked Josh a handful of questions about his experiences and his plans for 2016. After you broke your leg in 2014, how hungry were you to come back and finish the route last year? As soon as I dropped out of the 2014 Tour Divide I knew I needed to come back and finish what I had started. Once my leg was healed I was back on my bike and prepping for another go at the race. After I got my vacation time granted to give it go in 2015 I had a singular thought, finish the Divide. I’ve stated before that I never trained to go out and win the thing. However, I don’t think any of us go out to lose a race either. I prepared like a madman. When I wasn’t at work almost all of my life was consumed with the goal of finishing the TD as fast as possible. After you completed the ‘Kato Comeback’ how soon did you know you wanted to do it again? (The ‘Kato Comeback’… Ha! Hopefully this year it won’t be the ‘Kato-off-the-back’ ) After the race all I wanted to do was go fishing, eat pizza and drink some beer. I did plenty of each. Then it kind of sneaks up on you. You find yourself thinking about the race a whole lot. You think about what you could have done better. You think of the places you could have gone faster. You remember the good and sort of forget the bad. Even the bad parts start to seem good. Then you get hungry for the race again. I started getting really hungry for the TD again in December but I didn’t commit to doing it again until this February. You participated in the Smoke and Fire 400 last September, many Tour Dividers are still crushed then. How did you feel? Horrible! I really didn’t want to race. However, my wife wanted to do the race and I had talked with Dylan Taylor (4th overall in 2015 TD) who had done the SNF400 in 2014. He really like the race and was going to do it again so I thought it’d be fun to try another ultra. Problem was, I barely rode my bike after the Divide. I think I only did one ride after the Divide. It was an overnight fishing trip with a buddy. It was his first bikepacking trip. I went into the SNF 400 about 20 pounds heavier than when I started the Tour Divide. It is an awesome event! Glad I did it and I was happy with my result. However, I don’t recommend getting “off the couch” and racing the likes of Dylan Taylor or Rebecca Rusch. Fast or slow, participating in the Tour Divide takes a lot of energy, time, and preparation. What keeps bringing you back year after year? Well, one DNF, can’t stop there. One win, hard to forget the race. Maybe I just need another year to even it all out. The TD is indeed a huge commitment of time, energy and money. However, thinking back on my last 40 years I can count many other things I’ve poured a lot of time, energy and money into that were a lot less fun than riding my bike. I’ve been really lucky to have the time off of work to give this race three tries in three years. My wife is an avid cyclist as well so it really helps having a partner that understands what I’m aiming for. I love to ride and I love the Divide. Plus, there are some good fishing rivers out there and I can’t exactly remember where they are. What are your specific goals for this year? What do you have to prove after winning last year and setting the new record? I definitely am not going out to prove anything to anyone. I know the record will eventually be surpassed. I know my chances at another win a are extremely slim. Heck, my odds of finishing are about 50/50. 2014 was about chasing a dream. 2015 was about catching that dream. Maybe 2016 is gonna be more about living a dream. We saw that you may be interested in a northbound run on the Bikepacking.net forums, have you decided on a direction yet? I’m definitely considering it but at this point I’m really not certain. I’m edging towards Sobo just because I think the competition will be great and there aren’t many times you have the opportunity to line up with so many amazing individuals. However, a Nobo run looks really fun. I think it would be a totally different race. Besides, Banff would be an awesome place to finish a race. We all know what a party town Antelope Wells is. A YoYo would be awesome but time wise it is out of the question. Maybe I’ll have to plan another go. A NoBo ITT. We’ll see. What are some things that you are going to focus on this year, maybe that you didn’t do the last two years? That’s a good question. I’m not much of a planner. I usually prefer to just dive into something and see how it goes. However, prior to and during the race this year I am going to try and focus on my diet a bit more. I still eat like I’m a 20 year old college student. That doesn’t work so well anymore. So basically, less beer and fewer donuts before the race. During the race, fewer donuts. I’m aiming to trim myself and my kit down before the grand depart. How important do you think knowing the route is? Last year I had first hand knowledge on less than half the route. It’s funny because that was the part of the route that I think I lost the most time on. In that part of the race, I knew where certain stops were and I knew where some comfortable locations to sit and enjoy food were. When I got into the unfamiliar parts I didn’t know where anything was. I stopped only briefly and did not anticipate anything. I probably carried more food and water than I needed but that allowed me to stop less. If I couldn’t see it from the route I didn’t think about it. Food stops became just quick grabs at the first places immediately on the route. In terms of terrain knowledge, even if you know a climb is coming up you still have to climb it. In terms of actual navigation, the mighty GPS has taken most of the guess-work out of finding your way down the route.= We know it’s early, but it looks like you are going to be riding a Salsa Cycles Cutthroat. Are you excited to drop some weight and continue to use a drop bar bike? The Cutthroat is awesome! I was eyeing Jay’s bike pretty closely during our ride out of Silver City in last years TD. It looked so perfect for a race like the Divide. It really is a different bike than the Fargo but it is a very easy transition from the Fargo to the Cutty. I’ve ridden drop bar mountain bikes primarily for the past 6 years. I don’t see myself switching away from the Woodchipper bar for this type of race anytime soon. The bike is a bit lighter than my titanium Fargo but not by an enormous amount. The main difference is the ride. The Vibration Reduction System built into the rear triangle of the Cutthroat is very smooth on rough Divide-like gravel roads. Also, the handling of the Cutthroat feels more accurate and precise. I’m guessing this is due to the lack of lateral flex inherent in a well build carbon frame. Any other thoughts on gear that you will be using this year, are there some new items to your kit list? While the Cutthroat will be a bit lighter than my Fargo from last year I have plans to drop a fair amount of weight off my kit. Last year I was rolling with a rather portly setup. Again, I was out to finish and if that meant having some extra items of comfort and security then so be it. This year I am approaching it in a more minimalist manner. One item I am excited to use is a K-Lite Dynamo setup. Dylan Taylor had one on his bike last year and when I was riding near him at night I was very impressed with the amount of visibility he had. My battery powered system last year worked well but I did spend some time worrying about finding new batteries. I was probably carrying a few pounds of AA batteries by the end of the Divide. In the Smoke and Fire 400 I ran out of batteries for my light, SPOT tracker and my GPS. I rode half a night in the SNF 400 with maybe 20 lumens of dying light to show me the way. Given that almost every other recent TD winner and front runner have had a dynamo hub I should probably pay attention and get on board with this one. I am parring down the rest of my kit. I’m still experimenting a bit with some parts but I expect to be able to shed at least 5 pounds from what I was carrying last year. At first glance it looks like a stacked roster this year, with plenty of vets taking on the route. Who scares you the most? The field of the Divide is growing every year. Last year was amazing for sure. Yes, this year is shaping up to have another blazing group of racers. I believe it will be the first year we have more than one previous overall winner returning to the grand depart. Indeed, there are going to be some awesome vets coming back. Mike Hall of course and hopefully Jefe Branham. I could list several riders that have a significant chance of getting to Antelope Wells first. I have no idea if my training time this year is going to allow me to be up with any of them. However, I don’t think we can ever discount anyone that starts. Heck, who would have thought I’d be anywhere near the top of the field last year? I think there are a lot of people out there that none of us know who could be real contenders at the pointy end of the race. I’ll be just as excited to watch it unfold as everyone else. There is that tall fellow, Seb Dunne – if he finds his way back to the start this year keep an eye on him. What is the most important piece of advice you would give a rookie taking on the Tour Divide this year? Enjoy the ride! It’s a long race. You are going to feel terrible. You will eventually feel wonderful. It hurts, it can be scary. It’s also one of the most amazing experiences you may ever have. Embrace it all. Any plans to race any other events this year? I plan on fly fishing a lot after this years race. However, there is a possibility of a 1000 mile ultra in Washington state coming to fruition this year. I’m gonna keep my feelers out for that one. I’ve got a lot of other routes I’ve been wanting to explore as well. Mostly I want to go bikepacking with my wife and friends and spend lots of nights under the stars. Each and every year, there is more and more press on the Tour Divide. How do you feel about this race blowing up the way it has? I almost didn’t do the race in 2014 because I felt it was becoming too big. I’m a rather introverted guy and really like to ride alone. A start group of 150 riders is huge for something like the Divide. It spreads out quickly of course but it can be difficult to be alone out there. I think I can understand why JayP seems to prefer racing the Divide as an ITT. Of course bikepacking is awesome and I wouldn’t deny anyone wanting to eat, sleep, ride and repeat. As long as we keep the core values of these type of races intact it’ll be great I hope. What are those core values? I don’t really know for certain but when it changes I think we will all know it. Self-supported, don’t be a jerk, take responsibility for your actions, the honor system, no cheating EVER! Yes, it’s easy to feel when these things are lost. At least for now these concepts seem to be oozing away from races like the Divide slower than they are from our society. In my experience, bikepackers are generally a great lot of people. It’s still a fun little band of misfits out enjoying everything via a bike. Did you reap any rewards from winning last year, ie. sponsorships and / or industry support? The Divide was never about a prize other than finishing. Of course, with the added attention the race is garnering it does make a person who wins more visible. Bikepacking is growing and that means companies want to associate with those people who are visible. From what I’ve seen so far in this type of event the racers who have sponsorship are amazing people backed by some rather awesome companies. Companies that really enjoy the biking life. Many of the bikepacking oriented companies are very involved in growing the sport and fostering the great culture surrounding it. I mean really, who can complain about things like free pie or better bikes designed for ultra-riding? That’s really pretty cool. Before winning last year I had no first hand knowledge into the companies that are involved in bikepacking. Since winning I can say that it is has been tremendously refreshing to be able to correspond with and meet a few people who are in the industry. There are some great people in this great sport. I don’t know how you would define sponsorship but I have received a few amazing gifts from companies and people in the industry. These gifts haven’t come with a list of stipulations or requirements. No one has said to me, “if you race we’ll give you such and such.” Everything I use while bikepacking, be it just touring or racing, is something I’d use regardless if it was given to me or not. I only ride with items I would purchase with my own money. So far, the items I have received have come with one common theme. A heartfelt congratulations. That means a lot to me. None the less, the support that I have valued the most has been the kind words from my peers in the biking community. It’s been a rough, circuitous road but I finally got somewhere and to hear people congratulate that or mention that they’ve been inspired by that means the world to me.