The Tour Divide is the world’s longest off-pavement cycling route, where self-supported ultra-cyclists race from Banff, Alberta Canada to the finish line in Antelope Wells, New Mexico.
Day 26 – The Beaverhead Work Center was at full throttle when I rolled up on my bike. To the left of the small, tired building a helicopter was receiving the thumbs up for take-off from a man holding a two-way radio. He stepped back as the blades began to turn, the dust swirling and racing away in all directions. I watched in admiration as the aircraft seemed to effortlessly lift and arch away, freed from the hot, New Mexico terrain.
Holstering the radio, he turned his full attention towards me. “Welcome to the Beaverhead Work Center!” he smiled despite the chaos ensuing around him, making me feel instantly at home.
I headed straight for the pop machine, infamous among Tour Divide racers – for both the refreshingly cold sodas, as well as its feisty behavior, often times gobbling up quarters providing nothing in return. The forest rangers at this location have been known to offer up their extra snacks and happily direct riders to the water spigot out front. With limited access to water, much less food, in any direction for at least forty miles, Beaverhead was an oasis. After drinking two pops and loading two more into my bike bags, I headed out, watching for the fires off in the distance. The sky was clear with only a slight wind allowing racers to continue onward.
In 2016, I had passed through this area on my first Tour Divide race and sadly the same familiar smell of smoke filled the air from fires burning on a nearby mountain range. As I made my way further down the trail, the smoke had became so thick, I unzipped my jersey and used the bottom of it to cover my mouth and nose to filter any clean oxygen I could get. Not always a pleasant solution when you’ve been racing for several weeks and haven’t washed your clothes, but it worked.
To the west, the sun began to sink beneath the surface of the distant horizon, a blanket of orange and purple hues trailing in its wake. Above me, the distant stars and dark of night gently pushed the day away. I switched on my handlebar light and rode on. The air continued to thicken and a grey haze drifted across the beam of my light. Off in the distant eastern mountain range, red embers glowed revealing nature in it’s discourse, and I thought of the firefighters who pushed through the dusk to contain the fires.
“Thank you,” I whispered in appreciation for all they do.
After a few more hours of pedaling, my tired legs let me know it was time to stop. With three weeks of camping nearly every night, I had become proficient at setting up camp, so within twenty minutes, I was home.
When I raced the Tour Divide for the first time, as a rookie to the race and bikepacking, I had no idea what gear to bring. I plunged into the abyss of on-line research, reading countless reviews, compared specs on products and looked intently at photos by previous racers. Fortunately, I was able to connect with a couple of veterans to the race, both of whom graciously shared what worked for them.
One of the best gear selections I made in 2016 was my tent. I chose the Big Agnes Platinum Flycreek. It was compact, light and turned out to be very durable. The Flycreek withstood snow, heavy storms, strong wind, cold, heat and the fumbling of a rookie. Instead of folding it nicely, every morning I would quickly shake each piece out and then stuff it into my front roll. When I finished the race, I transferred the tent directly to a storage bin where it sat until the following year. This past May, I fetched the tent from my basement, set it up in my living room (minus the stakes) and gave it a solid inspection. No tears, no zipper issues and race ready.
I took a step back and surveyed my completed camp site, I was set for bed. Before crawling into my tent, I kneeled down by my bike and dug a day old burrito out of the feedbag attached to my handlebars. After carefully opening the package, I stood up, flipped off my headlamp and stood gazing up at the endless canopy of stars while savoring the salty carbohydrates. It felt so good to be so small.
Nature has an undeniable way of reminding us that life is bigger than all of us and in so doing it puts a wonderful perspective on who we are and the things we experience. Folding the wrapper as small as I could, I stuffed it into the bottom of the feedbag for later discarding, then lingered a few more minutes before hitting the sack. Once inside, sleep came nearly instantly, as did morning.
Day 27 – I felt around in the darkness for the unnatural noise until I found my watch and pointed it towards my face. Four twenty in the morning. Rise and shine. I searched for the air pad gasket just under my head and pulled the plug. I’ve discovered that I get moving a lot faster if I am uncomfortable. From here, the finish line was just under two hundred miles away. Not far at all, considering I had come over twenty five hundred miles so far. A massive smile spread across my grimy face as I sat up in my tent. Almost there!
That was to be my last night camping. Over the course of the next twenty three hours I made my way down the mountain range and across the giant desert to the finish line in Antelope Wells. The feeling of completing the Tour Divide was indescribable. As I hoisted my bike over my head in front of the iconic border sign for a photo, an immeasurable amount of joy, gratitude and awe filled my heart. I gave everything I had during this amazing race and it had given me everything it had in return.
Bonnie was born and raised in California and currently lives in Minnesota. She’s traveled to several countries and enjoys the diverse landscapes and cultures she’s had the opportunity to experience. Bonnie is an avid off-road cyclist, a two-time Tour Divide finisher, and is passionate about hiking and trail running. She is the mother of four outstanding kids to whom she instills her belief that the greatest opportunity we have in life is to encourage someone. Follow her cycling adventures on Instagram, @loves_to_mtnbike.