I recently finished the Tour Divide, a trip of a life time and an unforgettable journey that I will not forget. While I could certainly write a book on the adventure, I was thinking about a different way to share my story while I was riding. I decided to share a single story from each day that I spent on the trail. A moment that is set apart from all other moments from that particular day. There were many unforgettable moments on the Tour Divide this year, I hope you can enjoy a few of my Tour Divide stories.

Day 1 – Start: Banff / End: Butts Cabin  IMG_9507 The start was perfect, a good steady pace, but nothing too drastic. It is always good to chat with folk and take your mind off of the race for a while.  We knew rain was in the forecast, but what we didn’t know was that today would be the most wet we would get throughout the entire ride. Between the rain falling especially hard outside of Sparwood and the ridiculous descent off of Flathead Pass it was quite the day. The road, which is extremely rugged and rocky, has been eroded so much that it became a flowing creek. After getting off of the Colorado Trail last year, I had learned that dealing with wet feet for over 24 hours can be extremely painful. Attempting to keep my feet dry for the divide would be a priority. But there was no avoiding it on day one. As I entered the 5 mile stretch of the “creek trail” the clouds would block the sun and the temperatures remained cool. The road conditions and drainage issues would eventually improve as the sun would set. Jay Petervary (JapP) and I eventually made it to Butts Cabin before 11:30pm and plenty of others would trickle in throughout the night.

Day 2 – Start: Butts Cabin / End: Ferndale
Day two was all about firsts and getting used to the divide rather than one single story. I got going at 3:00am, after a solid night of rest. Still damp from the day before, JayP and I would put down a steady but not over the top pace. A few things that I would experience today: Being sopping wet, freezing cold, wicked fast descents, overly stuffed, trying to keep up with a wicked fast JayP, sweating like crazy up Whitefish Divide, playing more catch up to other racers, then trying to remain from being seen after the pass while stretching out a gap before sleeping next to a fire station in Ferndale. I was also tinkering with where I would carry certain items such as my bear spray and water bottle.  I learned so much on day two, and it was this day where I would get my groove and understand the race side of the Tour Divide. I would also learn that no lead is safe, and I knew this was going to be a hell of a two week stretch.

Day 3 – Start: Ferndale / End: Stemple Pass Rd. IMG_9516 The story for today was about what the trail gives you. I found myself struggling to find a rhythm, but I would assume most of the other riders were in the same boat. At this point in the race, I had burned through all of my reserve calories and I needed to start eating more. Lucky for me I packed a lot of food from Columbia Falls and I also had 3 separate resupply locations on or close to the route throughout day three. One of which was the Holland Lake Lodge, a restaurant that is roughly a half of a mile off route. It was still early but I entered the restaurant as JayP was eating. I asked him if they were open, he said no but to be kind and they will serve you food. It was a strange place but it was an important resupply spot, especially with Richmond Peak on the other side. Ovando was my next stop, a town that has truly taken on supporting each individual racer. After that we would eventually make it to Lincoln where JayP and I arrived just after 10:00pm and the gas station had closed. We were fortunate for the pizza place that was still serving burgers and fried food. I learned to appreciate the people and business owners along the route today, they would always treat me well and it kept me going.

Day 4 –  Start: Stemple Pass Rd / End: I-15 underpass Today’s word was adversity. After leaving my camp in the morning I started to climb, JayP caught me and my saddle sores were the worse they would ever get. On top of a horrible morning, after few miles of climbing I realized I forgot my awesome Rudy Project photochromic sunglasses at the campsite. I was really bummed but I knew I had to continue on and search for some new ones in Helena. After going to a bike shop and then an outdoor shop I found some reasonable shades that came with interchangeable lenses. I then a stopped at a local bakery for a bite, after that I was finally on my way. Long story short, loosing my sunglasses made me take my mind off of riding and more on taking care of myself. After I left Helena, I felt super strong, and would catch back up to JayP just before the extremely fun and fast descent into the town of Basin. JayP and I would reach I-15 and prepare ourselves for Fleecer Ridge in the morning.

Day 5 – Start: I-15 underpass / End: Lima Reservoir Dam IMG_9637 I didn’t sleep well at all, cars zooming by, Alex Harris zooming by. Today would prove to be very difficult, mainly because of an injury or ache that I had developed. After taking on Fleecer, and walking the sketchy descent in the fog, JayP and I hit Wise River before they opened. We tackled the long paved road section from Wise River to Polaris where we stopped at a lodge for resupply. After the resupply, the famous Bannack Road section would present itself just as isolated storms started to pop up. This section is known to be horrendous when wet. Fortunately the weather turned out to be very isolated, but a muscle in my knee was screaming at me. It was a similar pain to what I had in the CTR, just not as extreme. My knee would hurt every bend, so I had to compensate by standing on my bike. After Jay and I resupplied on some water I told him I was going to let off the gas a bit. He seemed surprised. He told me something like this…”These aches and pains are like rain and smoke, it’s not comfortable but it will go away.” I thought about that a lot the next week and a half. Jay pressed on, and I had my first “quit” or “tour mode” thoughts of the ride. I finally reached Lima, beaten for the day, but feeling much better. I ran into JayP at the gas station here, he asked how I was doing. I was doing better, I felt good. I did however lose my knee warmers somewhere back on Bannock. That was two important items in two days.

Day 6 – Start: Lima Reservoir Dam / End: Buffalo Valley Cafe IMG_9517 I continued to battle through my knee pain as I made my way to Island Park. My pace had slowed down slightly over the last 24 hours. That being said I didn’t want the next racer to catch up to me. It is a long race, but all it takes is a little motivation – more on this later. I arrived in Island Park, a familiar spot as the town is host to the Fat Pursuit every winter. I found an Ace wrap at the grocery store and took on the famous Idaho Rail Trail. Today is where I learned how to overcome extreme boredom. While the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is stunning in many sections, there are a handful of areas that are either A. not bike friendly, or B. extremely boring. The Idaho Rail Trail is considered both. It has washboards that are created from 4 wheelers, it’s sandy, flat and it was very hot. While I had developed some mental tricks over the years to deal with these times on the trail, one thing that worked well in this circumstance and on the divide in general was music. I had two iPod shuffles which made up a total of 4 GB of music. When one would die, I would plug it into my Dynamo system and plug the headphones into the other device. I would listen to anything from the Infamous String Dusters, to Eric Clapton, Alabama Shakes and Pearl Jam. The wide variety of music kept my legs spinning and got me though the boredom of the Idaho Rail Trail and The Great Basin.

Day 7 – Start: Buffalo Valley Cafe / End: Just shy of HWY 28
Miles and miles of views
Miles and miles of views
Yesterday I left Montana and Idaho, and entered the state of Wyoming. Leaving one state and entering another would always be a huge boost in moral. The state of Wyoming would prove to be unique in a number of ways. Wyoming has National Parks, cold nights, scorching days, the Great Basin, towns with no services, rough roads and one ridiculous hike-a-bike. After passing by numerous bear tracks up near Togwotee Pass I finally made my way to the Fish Lake Mountain Bypass. In previous years, the route took on Union Pass, an apparently steep road climb that was not all that popular among divide riders. This year it was decided that we would take a different route, a route where even hiking your bike proved to be difficult. I’m used to hiking my bike in Colorado, especially on the Colorado Trail, but this was completely insane. The soil was saturated and loose and the grade was so steep, I found myself sliding backwards. Once I finally reached the top, The Continental Divide, the views opened up and I could see for miles and miles. After a bone crushing descent down to the Green River in scorching heat, I was excited for “The Place” Cafe. Of course the restaurant was no longer serving the public. Pinedale was roughly 30 miles away, and Seb and Alex were breathing down my neck. Wyoming was proving to be frustrating, tough, and was posing an extremely tight race.

Day 8-14 on the Tour Divide

9 Comments

  1. Good job Neil, was following you and JayP the whole way. You guys rode an amazing race! Look forward to your next account of the race. Congrats on a great run!

  2. I was hoping you’d do something like this. Awesome riding out there, Neil!

  3. Awesome job documenting your race! Can’t wait to read the next installment!

  4. Great job setting the scene, looking forward to more

  5. Scott Emmens

    Thank you so much for sharing these insights Neil. Congratulations on an awesome ride btw. You should come Down Under in February next year and ride a wee event here in NZ, Tour Aotearoa

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      Scott, not a problem at all, I enjoy it. Thanks for the kind words. I had thought about the Tour Aotearoa, but after the divide, I’m out of money. New Zealand is high on the list, before or just next to Italy, the UK, and Israel.
      Cheers,
      Neil

  6. Tom Anderson

    Nice way to document the ride. Thanks for the virtual memories.

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