The American Cycling Association’s mapped out route usually takes two or 3 months to complete. Tour Divide rider and adventure cyclist Nathan Jones decided to take the route to a new level and organize a race. It was once a dream, then a reality with over 40 participants in the first year. Here is what Nathan had to say about the race and much more. Where did you grow up? I grew up in the northern foothills of the Ozarks outside of a little town called Fair Grove, Missouri. Cut my teeth racing NORBA events in the mid 90’s there. Where do you live now? Smack dab in the center of Portland, Oregon. We have every type of cycling imaginable here, it’s overwhelming. What do you do to feed your cycling habit? I run a small garage shop in town called Ride Yr Bike that focuses on fat bike rental as well as helping folks with bikepacking and general repair. I opened up about 9 months ago and it’s been bikes 24/7 ever since. We’ve got good fat biking all over here, lots of good bikepacking terrain, and of course endless valley roads to cruise around, so it’s tough to get your fill of everything as the seasons shift. But they say diversity is the spice of life, so I’ll take it! What was your first cycling memory? I think it’s my dad stopping me as I was rolling down a hill too fast and not able to use the coaster brake on the bike. It was one of those terrifying memories as a child that wasn’t really all that bad, it just stuck. When did you start bikepacking? What was your experience? I started in ‘08 in preparation for the 2010 Great Divide Race. I’d heard it’s smart to give two years to prep as opposed to one and I’m totally glad I did. I was by no means “ready” and things weren’t. I only managed a single over nighter in those two years and mostly just focused on riding lots. I wanted to invest in a full bikepacking set up, but was mostly too broke, so I figured riding lots can’t hurt! What are some of your bikepacking accomplishments? Finishing the Great Divide Race is the top, going back to the Tour Divide in 2011 and failing, I still look at as an accomplishment. 9 days on the bike at breakneck pace was good, I just didn’t quite have my whole kit dialed. Last year I rode the Oregon stretch of the Trans America Trail in 80 hours as an ITT, that was my first ride across the state. Then just last week I rode from the top of the state to the bottom, self-supported, and then raced the Oregon Outback back to the top. Just need to get a couple criss-cross rides across the state and I’ll pretty much have Oregon on lockdown. How was riding the Divide route in 2010? It was the huge life changing experience that I’d hoped it would be. Physically it beat me up pretty good, mentally it hardened me more than I’d ever imagined. I said I wouldn’t do it the following year and I paid for it dearly as I hadn’t quite put all the pieces together on how to travel faster and lighter. In 2011 I still mailed six pounds of gear home from Butte and I realized after I left that I was still carrying too much! Both years I took a backpack instead of a handlebar bag. All the weight on my back was not good in either year. These days I do my best to tell folks it’s called bikepacking, not packing, leave that thing at home. You decided to put on a race across the country, what was your motivation behind this? In 2010 as I was riding the divide where it overlaps in the Yellowstone/Teton area, I ran into someone touring from west to east. He told me had started in Oregon and was heading east. Turns out he was riding the TransAmerica Trail by the Adventure Cycling Assocation, the same organization that manages the route and maps for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. After the race I followed his blog and noticed that he had ridden through my home town of Fair Grove, Missouri. All the sudden it sounded kind of cool to ride from my current home of Oregon to my old hometown in Missouri. I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought until 2011 I raced the divide again and ended up spending several days with a rider who had actually ridden the TransAm route before as a tourist. I ended up quitting the divide that year and having a bit of epiphany that I ride better than folks on pavement than I do on gravel. Not that life is about riding faster than others, but it’s good to realize your strengths and it just so happens it turns out it’s tarmac. As I mulled my mistakes from the 2011 divide I decided this route was really calling my name and it seemed almost silly that no one had thought to race it before. In mid 2013 I started hyping it and Mike Hall hit me up about helping cross promote it with The Transcontinental Race over in Europe. Since then things have kind of snowballed and we’re looking to have at around 50 riders at the start. What section of the Trans Am is the most physically demanding? Easiest? I would argue that the first 325 miles are the easiest despite a fair amount of climbing. They are loaded with services, bike shops, mild weather, and most likely tall winds. After that I would say the route gets progressively harder and more remote as it passes Idaho in to Montana. Then all of Wyoming is rough especially the high traffic section in between Lander and Rawlins. You are at the mercy of the wind out there big time and the traffic can be infuriating at times. Rawlins to Kremmling, CO where it overlaps the divide is a huge 200 mile stretch with no real groceries, just sparsely stocked markets. Kansas is bound to break some folks’ will, it’s a good 500 miles of not a whole lot. After that it’s rolling hills all the way to the coast with a huge section in Kentucky that doesn’t have many full service groceries on route. I would say most of the route is pretty tough when you break it down. Just one “it’s all downhill from here” section from exiting the Front Range of the Rockies but most likely with headwinds. Do the Appalachian Mountains really have more vertical than the Rockies? Over 15,000 feet more climbing when you look at it like this. The 1150 miles of the Rockies is 52,000 feet of climbing. The last 1150 miles of the route which is IL, KY, and VA is 67,000. The entire state of Colorado barely cracks 10,000 feet total elevation. How is that for a bit of a head scratcher? This is a completely self-supported race, are there any particular spots on the route with long stretches of no food or water? Lolo Pass of Idaho/Montana is a good 125 miles with only a few lodges in the middle. The edge of the Great Basin in Wyoming, and finally the edge of Appalachia in Kentucky. Is there a current record for the route? No, and that was an easy motivator when I originally thought it would just be me ITTing it. Who thought so many others would want to join in? I figured I’d go out by myself the first year and set some sort of best time and then maybe folks would challenge it in the following years. What do you think an average rider’s finishing time will be? I think 30 days is a good target for folks looking to just finish. I think we will see times as low as 18 or maybe even 16 days. What are your personal goals for the race? Ride fast, take lots of pictures whilst pedaling, and just take a step away mentally from all the craziness that goes on in the world. When did you hear Mike Dion would be producing a film (Inspired to Ride) about the race you started? He started talking about it back towards the end of 2013, it’s been on the DL until just recently. I’m quite excited to see such an amazing event have a top notch film crew out there with experience doing just this sort of thing. It’s as if it were meant to be. How difficult has it been to organize the Trans Am race? Mostly pretty easy. I have found myself overextended at times with logistical questions. I repeat Bill Hicks famous quote “It’s just a ride” as a mantra daily. What bike will you be rocking? A Surly Straggler with a 2×10 SRAM drivetrain, a Supernova Infinity S dynamo hub, a Supernova E3 Triple dynamo light, and The Plug 3 for USB recharging. Bags? All bags are from APIDURA, a new manufacturer based in the UK. I’ll be using a large frame bag, two top tube bags, a large seat bag, and a large handlebar bag as well. I’ll be carrying more than most as I am a vegan and just need to carry more stuff that “sounds good to eat” as my range of selection is somewhat limited on these sorts of rides. Tires? 37mm Schwalbe Marathon Racer’s set up tubeless on Velocity Blunt 35mm rims. This works out to with the tire an overall width of 41mm, plenty of cushion for the long haul. Whats more fun to you, skinny, medium, or fat tires? I get into the zone on the skinny bikes and can throw down serious power, but I always say fatter is funner, I think I might hear the Iditarod calling me! What is Nathan Jones doing on an average summer day? Staring at Google Earth planning the next big ride, and then riding around town to pick up parts and fix up bikes. Most of my riding is just here in town as a means to get around. Less driving, more riding! Do you have any unique adventures on the books? I went out and tried to ride the Oregon Outback in February earlier this year. It was a huge learning experience, my first time bikepacking in sub freezing temps. I failed pretty bad at it and am anxious to go out there this next winter to knock it out and maybe have a few other folks join me. The Oregon Outback Winter Extreme or something to that effect. Favorite meal and beer? BBQ tofu, mashed potatoes, corn, and chocolate espresso stout will pretty much take care of me.


  1. Pingback: Color Me Inspired - Bikepackers Magazine

  2. Hello! I’m planning on doing the Divide this year with my partner. We’re vegan and a little worried about food along the way. Nathan it makes me feel much more optimistic to know you are vegan – if you could give us any advice I would really appreciate it. We’re coming from the UK so won’t be able to prepare food at home. I was wondering if there’s anywhere we can post packages to? And what it’s like trying to get vegan snacks along the way (especially as my partner is allergic to peanuts – disaster!).

    Really hope to hear from you.


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