For the past few years I’ve followed the Tour Divide, a self-supported bike race that follows the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route—over 2,700 miles of mountains, snow, gravel roads, logging trails and muddy paths. Sometimes the trails are so bad that instead of riding it becomes a “hike-a-bike” session. The race starts each June in Banff, Alberta, Canada and ends at the border of Mexico in Antelope Wells, New Mexico (USA). I recently read Paul Howard’s account of his experiences during the 2009 Tour Divide. His book, Eat, Sleep, Ride: How I Braved Bears, Badlands and Big Breakfasts in My Quest to Cycle the Tour Divide, is definitely worth your time!
Howard, a British citizen from southern England, never owned a mountain bike until he decided to race in the Tour Divide. His brief training for this ride was rather unorthodox—it appears as though he was willing to “wing it” and “learn by doing” (fortunately, he was a quick learner). In the Tour Divide riders are not allowed any planned support, nor are riders allowed to assist each other. Some riders sleep outside every night, while others are sometimes willing to pay for a hotel room for a few hours of rest and an opportunity to wash their clothes. Unlike many riders, Howard decided to travel the route without a camp stove or water filter, but did take a tent (instead of a bivvy bag).
Except for a few tire punctures, Howard’s bike apparently held up well during the ride. As is common in races like this, other cyclists were not so fortunate. Rugged mountain roads and bikes loaded down with gear are not a good combination—cyclists often have trouble keeping their wheels trued. Even if you are out in the woods truing a wheel is not that difficult if you have a spoke tool (they are found on most bicycle mini-tools). However, it seems that some tour riders never took the time to learn how to make simple repairs to their own bikes!
Howard has a rather dry sense of humor and his perspective on American customs and society is fun to read. Until this race he had never been in a Walmart before (what a lucky guy). On more than one occasion he made snide comments about how fat many Americans are—I’m just glad he didn’t visit a Walmart in Wisconsin!
Eat, Sleep, Ride is very well written and a joy to read. Instead of providing professional maps, this book has maps that look like they were drawn by a bored high school student—this is actually a compliment! Though the maps are hand-drawn and not to scale, I actually liked them better than in any other adventure cycling book I’ve ever read.
I do have two criticisms of the book. First, there is not a single photograph in the book! Second, though it is not absolutely necessary, I prefer adventure cycling books to include a detailed gear checklist (I like to know exactly what distance cyclists take with them on their journeys).
Eat, Sleep, Ride is available as a paperback book (272 pages) and retails for $17, but you can find it on Amazon.com for under $12. It is also available in the Kindle edition for $10.