On Jun 14th Luke Ragan embarked on Tour Divide a totally unsupported cross country bike race of 2700 miles across some of the most difficult terrain in North America. At 5 AM on July 5th he had completed the ride. Luke and a small group of riders he had befriended crossed the line together tying for 14th place out of 140 riders. It’s a dumbfounding accomplishment.
Luke decided to undertake this journey after seeing the film “Ride the Divide, which documents the trials and tribulations of several riders from the 2006 Tour Divide race, including former Carbondale Illinois resident Mary Collier who was the first women to complete the race. ”I just want to see if I’m capable of it, a test of the mind and body,” Luke says when asked why he wanted to do the race.
Luke began his training for the ride over a year ago, by focusing on long distance rides on his mountain bike. He began to slowly add equipment and bags to his bike to become used to the weight of the gear he would have to carry. Tour Divide is a self supported race and the organizers are serious about keeping it that way. You can receive no outside assistance from anyone and must pay for service, food, or item you might need on the ride. Luke says the rules are no laughing matter.
While riding near Butte Montana Luke ran into a cyclist not doing the divide who was determined to give him some help by riding in front of him to block the wind. ”I explained that I couldn’t receive outside help and that even includes getting a draft from someone. Every time he would get in front of me and try to block the wind I would speed up and get beside him, he was asking a lot of questions and before long I was winded and had to slow down.” It turns out this cyclist was a reporter for The Montana Standard and wrote an article about meeting Luke on Tour Divide.
Luke knew that staying within his limits would be key to finishing the race, but he was frequently seeing other Tour Dividers on the route, and not all shared his goal of simply completing the race in 25 days. Luke was eating supper late in a town on his second day of the race when another rider encouraged him to keep moving. ”The guy really wanted me to keep riding through the night with him, he was almost mad when I said I was going to stay in town,” Luke said. The rider in question was on his second tour divide and had never made it past Wyoming, it may come to no surprise that he dropped out this year as well.
Perhaps one of the funniest stories from Luke’s ride was when he encountered another rider on a soft cinder covered rail trail that was slow and difficult to ride on. ”They guy was real upset we were on this trail, but I was still chipper and told him he had to find the sweet spot,” Luke said. Eventually Luke pulled away from the other cyclist but shortly up the trail his front wheel washed out in the loose surface and he crashed. As the unhappy rider passed Luke by he yelled, “Looks like you found your sweet spot.”
Tour Divide is legendary among touring cyclists and at one point Luke was treated like a celebrity by a cycling tourist riding across country. ”He was treating me like I was a star, he even asked me to autograph his map, I was thinking, I’m just a dirty, hungry bike rider,” Luke said. They say its a small world, and that statement rang true when Luke found out the cycle-tourist was from Mt. Vernon Illinois, very close to Luke’s hometown. The odds of them meeting in Rawlings Wyoming has to be astronomical.
Keeping the body fueled was a constant struggle with both its up and downs. ”I was eating nearly 10,000 calories a day so I could eat whatever I wanted,” Luke said, but it there were drawbacks as well, “Someone asked me, ‘I bet you’re saving alot of money seeing the country by bike,’ but every time I hit gas station I would drop 35 dollars on Gatorade, candy bars, Sweedish fish, and especially Texas size honey buns.” There were stretches of 150 plus miles along the route with no services and many nights were spent sleeping on the side of the road. ”I was laying in my tent and eating a honey bun while camping in an area known for grizzly bears and feeling so bad I didn’t care if one attacked,” Luke said.
Despite the fun there is no doubt that Tour Divide is a grueling race, 41 riders have dropped out, and there are still many riders on the course 7 days after Luke finished. Keeping your bike in working condition as well as your body could be a constant challenge. Luke replaced nearly every part on his bike before the ride, but his pedals broke within the first week. He was forced to buy pedals on the route twice. He broke a chain, the mount for his light and he lost parts from his aerobars, but never had a single flat on his tubeless Continental tires, which Luke attributes to riding slightly higher air pressure then other riders.
Despite all the hardships and Challenge Luke said Tour Divide was a good experience. ”I had tons of support from friends and family following my progress on the internet, and the people along the route were amazing, many were big fans of the race and were really great people.”
Now that the race is finished Luke has been contemplating his accomplishment, “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, physically or mentally, many finishers say they are never the same after Tour Divide, maybe I’m not a very deep person but I’m just glad its over.