The Sopris Sun

Tour Divide rider reflects on 2,745-mile adventure

Canada to New Mexico in 14 days

By Ryan Gannaway

Sopris Sun Correspondent

Imagine riding a bike down the length of the entire United States through deep-forested woods and wide open-mountain valleys, to desert mesas and alpine meadows. Montana Miller did just that on a mountain bike. Miller recently raced in the Tour Divide, the ultimate endurance mountain bike race.

Did I mention he completed the race on a single-speed bicycle? To give the non-bicycler some perspective, riding mountain passes on a single speed bicycle is comparable to well, nothing because it’s pretty difficult.

Miller grew up in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. As a kid he spent his time playing in the woods, so when the opportunity to move to the mountains arose, the outdoor lifestyle of Colorado felt familiar to him. His fiancée, Colleen O’Neil, got an internship at Trail Runner magazine (based out of Carbondale) so the two made the move.

When I met with Miller for a beer, it was hard to hear him in the buzz of talk around us in Carbondale Beer Works because he so soft-spoken. I was first blown away that he would pick such a big adventure due to the amount of training and preparation involved. He shyly admitted that he did not even train! He lives near the Colorado Mountain College Spring Valley campus and makes the trek year round to his work at Aloha Mountain Cyclery in Carbondale, and that was the gist of his training regiment. Right out of the gate I knew he was an undercover bonecrusher, riding just under the radar in this radical town.

Tour Divide

The Tour Divide is no ride in the park. The race starts in Banff, Alberta, Canada and ends in Antelope Wells, New Mexico, taking riders roughly two weeks to finish. The trail system is mainly dirt roads and four-wheel-drive trails passing around and through national parks. The trail runs the length of the Continental Divide, the hydrological divide of the Americas. The divide separates the river systems that drain into the Atlantic Ocean from those river systems that drain into the Pacific Ocean. There are many other hydrological divides in America, but the Continental Divide is iconic because of its high elevation through the Rocky Mountains.

The Tour Divide race clocks in at 2,745 miles with 200,000 feet of vertical gain, which is equivalent to hiking Mount Everest seven times from sea level. The entire race is self-supported, therefore all the racers must rely on their own means for food and water and anything else they may need. There is a Grand Depart date on June 13 each year, but riders can also qualify and start the race at any time during the summer. The racers are tracked by an online GPS to determine the winner.

With that many miles to cover and towns situated 100-180 miles apart, Miller rode an average of 125 miles a day. This allowed him to carry only a couple of days worth of food at a time. I inquired about what he ate on the trail and he said, “I ate whatever I could find at gas stations because these towns were so small, my selection was to say the least, limited.” This menu included the ever-classic Mrs. Freshly’s Danishes, Hostess Twinkies and Big Texas cinnamon rolls.

He continued, “I counted a mere four opportunities to buy a banana during the whole length of the trail.” Naturally, I expected that he was overly excited to eat a good meal and drink a good beer after the trail. However, he said eating was not even enjoyable after the trail because of the effects the sugary processed food he had lived off for two weeks.

Inner strength

This race takes just as much inner strength as it does physical endurance, due to the fact that, as a racer, you are alone for much of the trail, out in the wilderness, and you ride from sunrise to sunset EVERY DAY.

I asked Miller how he stayed motivated throughout the race and he replied, “When it got tough I would think about Colleen, our cat, our warm home.”

The going did get tough, a lot. He said that it rained the whole first week when he was riding in Montana. He rode through all different kinds of weather including snow, freezing rain, blistering sun and stalling headwinds. To keep going, Miller said you need a lot of heart and in his words, “You have to truly love your bike to finish. The race seems to spit out people who don’t pretty quick.”

Being deep in the mountains and living out of what can fit on a bike for the more than 2,000 miles has got to take a toll on a person. So I asked Montana what it was like readjusting to town life after the race. His eyes almost glaze over as he said quietly, “Getting back in the car was weird. It was tough driving over the same amount of ground in a mere couple hours that I would struggle riding in a day.” He said that the painfulness of the race is fading and the beautiful parts of race, which he said there were countless, is what runs through mind. He concluded his thoughts by saying,  “I was looking forward to coming back to hot showers and a home after a long ride, something that I did not get the luxury of doing on the trail.”

Miller is a lifer, meaning mountain biking is just in his soul and always will be, no matter how painful the ride may be. He admitted that after all the regions he has covered on his bike over the entire length of the United States, that this, the Carbondale area, is the most beautiful place to him.

Note: You can follow Miller’s blog at theskrumble.wordpress.com to see what he is up to. It turns out he not only is a skilled biker, but a humorous and talented writer as well.