If you are considering lining up at the Grand Depart of the Tour Divide next year, or if you have thoughts on an independent time trial, learning from the veterans can be extremely helpful. Mike Hall, ultra endurance cyclist and Transcontinental co-race director, has completed the Tour Divide twice in his cycling career. He has a wealth of knowledge regarding the route and has provided his tips below.

Don’t get too hung up on weight. Your bike only needs to be light enough that you can’t make it any lighter without compromising something else (or spending an awful lot of money). Don’t scrimp on tire sidewalls and pack volume. Packing less into a slightly bigger bag so that it can go in any old way saves a lot of time when deploying and packing up your sleeping kit, way more than a few grams will on a climb. Try not to compare your bike against other competitors for weight, try not to even weigh everything and definitely don’t do the energy calcs, it will only make it more difficult to stop thinking about and it doesn’t really mean anything. Other riders have other builds and other metabolisms and eating habits. There is such a thing as light enough and it may not be lighter than everybody else. It won’t make you significantly slower, you might just have to eat a few grams more food and besides there are plenty of other things to worry about.

Don’t worry about the weight of food. It pays for itself. Just don’t take it for a long ride for no reason, keep eating it. Carry plenty of food & eat excess just before re-supply. This will help you plan your re-supply better for a quicker in and out. No one ever made their best decisions wandering around the aisles of a shop dizzy with hunger.

Plan for the starved, weak, tired you. Learn about this version of yourself, learn their weaknesses and their thought pattern. Plan for them to be the enactor of your plans. The cold, sober, you must often make the plan and give them no way out. Choice is often a curse. Those with no choice are free of the burden of endless procrastination and can simply get on and do what is necessary. Those with an easy way out might just convince themselves they are doing it for the best or for safety or whatever rubbish we tell ourselves when we are are mentally and physically fatigued and highly suggestible. Sometimes its not a matter of brute mental strength but a more subtle game of self manipulation. If that seems a little underhand, think about finding an underfed, over worked and exhausted person who is maybe in a bit of pain in the middle of a hostile environment a hundred miles from the next services and probably with a mountain and a tailwind between them to boot. Giving them the temptation of a way out or a decision to make on which the whole enterprise hangs, when they might not be in the best condition to make it isn’t the kindest thing you can do either.

Crave the Trail and Movement. ‘Town Draw’ is a big inhibitor of movement on the divide. Cravings of what you expect to receive in the next re-supply can be dangerous. Crave what you know you can get. This way cravings are satisfied and the brain is happy to go on. Unsatisfied cravings lead to lingering. On the divide the spaghetti and sauce and the apple pie and cream you dream about probably won’t live up to expectations. Taunting yourself with such things is tortuous. Miles upon miles of empty dirt roads that extend beyond the horizon and many hours of solitude however are available in abundance. Learn to love and crave this latter and to seek peace of mind in constant movement and the whole experience will be much better and much easier.

When not to Stop. When going for a fast time knowing when and where not to stop is as important as knowing where and when to stop, if not more so. Again choice here is the complicating factor and it does us no favours. When there’s only one service stop in 100 miles its easy to know where to stop, but when there’s a few clustered it becomes much more tempting to stop more than you need to. If you concern yourself with trying to find all the places on route to stop at any worrying that there aren’t enough services, then you are going to be limping from one to the next. Work out ahead which ones you think you can avoid and make your choice. Don’t leave it to that tired, hungry crazy person to decide because they’ll want to stop at them all.

You are the scariest thing in the woods at night. This is a favourite of mine that I saw on the Bearbones forum. I worried a lot about the wildlife ahead of my first TDR in 2011. I lost my bear spray on day one and have never bought any more. Be sensible, learn the ‘what to do if…’ and respect the wildlife and hang your food in trees etc but don’t worry too much, it is very unlikely that this will be your biggest concern.

Look after yourself and avoid injury. The race ending scenario from many is over-use injury and it was almost the case for me too in the 2011 TDR. I realised that year though, that with the correct treatment and stretching and compensation on saddle height and bike position that tendonitis in my Achilles was something I could manage and something that didn’t need to end my ride. Prevention is better than cure so these days I tape my heels before every ultra but cure (or at least enough recovery) is possible mid race too. I can vouch that it is possible to go from one day being in great pain to a 200+ mile day the next but I never would have believed you had you told me at the time.

Get on the road with your kit before the race. Get somewhere away from home to ride with your gear and make final tweaks. Being away from all the other bits and bobs you might be tempted to add in ‘just in case’ makes things a lot more clear and simple and it is easier to know what you really need and don’t. If you have to buy something last minute then you know you feel you need it enough. Otherwise you can mail stuff to the end or home. For those travelling some distance to the start this is a good time to make those last few decisions. Riding from Calgary and spending a day in Banff ahead of the race is a good way to get comfortable with your gear but also have the option to do a few last minute changes.

Comfort kills. Stress makes you tired. Not sleeping makes you drowsy. We must all leave our comforts behind at some point and that can be stressful. Don’t make it too difficult for yourself by getting too comfortable in the first place and don’t worry about the sleep you didn’t have. If you have slept, even just for an hour, and you can stay awake you are fine. Any greater feeling of being tired is going to be compounded by the anxiety of knowing the hours or minutes you did or didn’t sleep for. Remove the anxiety and the stress and a lot of the tired feeling will go. Try not to keep count. Assume you will be alone, even when in company, try not to get too attached or reliant on the company of others. You might find otherwise if you become separated from others that you quickly lose motivation.

Relax and Enjoy. You’ve done the months of planning, decision making, research and worrying. You’ve tinkered with you equipment and changed your mind about which jacket a few hundred times. Now you are on the launchpad. Whatever happens now you can’t change anything, you just need to push the pedals and trust the you that made the plan. In many ways this is the easy bit. Over the next few weeks of your life you are only going to need to tend to only your most basic needs. Everything else gets left at home. Life is simple and beautiful and you are free. Enjoy.

4 Comments

  1. Really excellent piece. Answers a lot of unanswered questions about what the “stuff” is that riders need to have mentally to complete this thing. This kind of perspective is incredibly useful.

  2. Very helpful advice.
    I am told Achilles tendonitis is a very common problem in the TD and other endurance events.
    Can you please explain how you were able to recover from it while still riding.
    Thank you

  3. Such great wisdom imparted here. Thanks for tweeting this out again today Bikepacker.com
    We miss you Mike.

  4. Sounds like fun

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