– the blog –

Scratching the Tour Divide 2023, Part 1

So, I already posted an Instagram reel where I explained most of what happened during the Tour Divide this year, but here is a written account with even more detail, for posterity.

First, the backstory. Way back in early November, I was trying to decide what I would focus on in 2023. Thanks to the popularity of gravel racing and the early registrations, you really need to start putting together a plan by December. Given my enjoyment of remote, semi-isolated rides up in the mountains, I felt the Tour Divide was a worthy option. It is a ~2700mi race starting in early June going north to south along the Rocky Mountains from Banff, Canada to the Mexican border. Go read more about it, if you like, but it is a race where anything can happen: wildfires, floods, miles of mud, endless eqqipment failures, and there is so much climbing.

Sometime in mid-November, I decided the Tour Divide would be my primary bicycling focus for 2023. A few other races sprinkled would be spinkled around it (Old Man Winter, CO2UT, NedGravel, Steamboat), but the Tour was the focus around which everything else would revolve. Once the Black Friday sales started, I started acquiring the gear I thought I would need to pull off this challenge. I also ordered a Lauf Seigla as it seemed the perfect balance of lightweight, huge tire clearance, and a decent price.

The next four months involved training, learning more about how other riders have tackled the Tour Divide, and slowly purchasing more items I thought I needed as my budget allowed. Once my winter training block was over and the weather had improved here in Colorado, I set up the Lauf Seigla with aerobars, bikepacking bags, dynamo hub powered lights, etc., got a bike fit from IOG, and started taking it out for rides. Long rides, climbing rides, a few night rides, and rides where I tested new pieces of gear and resupply strategies at small stores or gas stations.

Switzerland Trail with Tour Divide cockpit
Testing my Tour Divide setup on Switzerland Trail.

There was so much trial and error. So many purchases to experiment with new gear and bike setups. It was a part-time job on top of the 12-18 hours of bike training a week, which was already on top of the 30-hours a week of web consulting I was doing. Still, things progressed and I got comfortable using such a heavy setup and riding it for hours on the roads and trails around Boulder. Also learned a number of new skills too. In May I started feeling actually ready to take on a 2700 bikepacking race.

The Wobble: One problem I did find during training was a wobble on the frontend of my bike that would periodically appear during rides, normally when fully loaded and on paved roads at 15mph or faster. The Lauf fork has springs meant to dampen bumps and hits in the direction of travel. However, it also does have some flex from side to side. Not much, but when you load it up (say for backpacking), are using wide tires, and have the weight positioned in a certain way, it will develop a wobble where the frontend shakes and you have to keep at least one hand on the handlebars. It was a bit unnerving. Manageable but definitely not quite right. I tried a few different setups and weight distributions, but I could never get it to disappear. Replacing the fork and maybe the handlebar was outside my budget and the fork definitely made riding rough gravel roads for hours far less abusive on my body, so I kept it and continued working on finding a way to keep the wobble at bay.

After a final bike tuneup, a haircut, and a day of packing everything up, Tina and I started driving to Canada on June 5th. Nothing special about the drive. It was long, took the better part of two days, and we saw a couple serious thunderstormes storms along the way. We arrived in Canmore (a short drive to the start in Banff) mid-afternoon on Tuesday, June 6th. We happened to run into a friend of Tina's in Canmore whose partner was also doing the Tour. Grabbed dinner with them and on Wednesday I did a shakedown ride to Banff along a bike path and then back via the first part of the Tour Divide route.

Tour Divide bike + gear
The final Tour Divide setup with all gear.

On Wednesday night, we went out to dinner at a local restaurant and my stomach felt a little uneasy. Chalked it up to all the driving, a warm day, a harder than expected shakedown ride, and maybe some nerves. I do not really get nerves at bike races, but the Tour Divide seemed significant enough that it might be the case. I grabbed a ginger ale with dinner to help and did not think much about it.

Woke up Thurday morning and my abdomen was gurgling and grumbling something fierce. Tina had already headed off for a bike adventure to Lake Louise by the time I got up to go bathroom. And the bathroom experience was an unpleasant flush of my system. Shit. Well, actually, not shit, just diarrhea.

My first step was to mix up a Skratch Wellness packet from the stash I was intending on taking with me on the Tour Divide and drink it immediately. The rest of me felt fine, including my stomach, so I hoped this was a minor blip and that I could deal with it by keeping well hydrated.

I had brought oatmeal to eat for breakfast, but I was not craving it so I went out to get a coffee and bagel with cheese + egg. Unfortunately, after eating breakfast, I got back to the hotel room and 30 minutes later had another bout of diarreha. The rest of the morning was spent drinking Skratch Wellness, going to a nearby bike shop to fetch more Skratch Wellness, and grabbing a couple of last minute items. I was still eating but only basic foods like animal crackers to try and help my system settle.

I think the point at which I started having a real worry was when I went to the grocery store mid-afternoon to get my first 150-250 miles worth of food and nothing looked appetizing. Months of Tour Divide gut training and two years of bike racing before that, and I could not figure out what I wanted to take. After a couple laps through the store, I grabbed what made sense, including an entire container of Gatorade hydration powder. I figured if the Tour Divide was going to start with a problematic gut than liquid calories should be readily available.

I did another 6 mile shakedown cruise before dinner and discovered the wobble had caused my wheel to wear away the protective tape on my fork, so I put some electrical tape there to reinforce it. Also discovered that my spare bib shorts had the left side of the chamois no longer attached to the bib fabric. Addressable and minor problems, but I was sort of hoping the day before starting the Tour Divide would be a bit more confidence inspiring than all this.

Dinner was uneventful. I was still eating. No diarreha since the morning and the bike was all setup to go, everything was organized, and even though the day had not been confidence boost I still felt ready to go.

Part 2 is coming...