Interview with Tour Divide Rider Andy Hazen

The Tour Divide is known as “The World’s Toughest Mountain Bike Race”. It is a self-supported, weather extreme, food management, multiple 100+ mile-a-day run through 2,700 miles of unfamiliar territory stretching across and along the Rockies from Canada to the US border in New Mexico.
My friend and neighbor Andy Hazen rode some 535 miles of the race, which started June 7 this year in Banff, Canada. Andy was over the worst of the snow and mud, and had just put together two back-to-back 110 mile days when he had a crash at 25 miles per hour coming into Lincoln, Montana. His accident required medical attention, and affected his shoulder, elbow, and ribs to the point where he had to abandon the ride. Andy was not able to lift his arm to reach the handlebar.
I caught up with Andy at his farm when after he drove himself back, and had a few questions I thought his legion of followers would like answered.
I found him hunched over his computer tracking info about this years Tour Divide.

Andy at work

Q: Tell me about your previous racing experience. This isn’t the first time you have put in hundreds of miles a week in training.
A: I was attending college in Boulder, when I graduated in 1971. I started racing in 1973. I got into bicycling through commuting up 14 miles one way Boulder Canyon. This was road riding, before mountain biking became mainstream. I worked my way up to State Championship races that were 125 miles long. At that time I was training 300-400 miles a week. Then Emily and Ben were born, and the demands of staying home to help out put racing on the back burner.

Q: How competitive were you back then?
A: I was coming in at the middle of the peleton. I remember a couple of bikes I had: I had a Raleigh Pro, with Campagnolo stuff, and a Schwinn Paramount, with Campy components- Shimano had not started then. After I dropped the long biking, I took up running, putting in 12-15 miles a day. I had a weak gait for running, and needed orthotics. If you don’t have a good gait, you develop problems- shin splints, sciatica Then here in Maine, I bought a Nishiki rigid mountain bike in the mid-80’s. I totally rebuilt that with Deore XT group and rode that around here for years.

Q: Post race analysis of your ride?
A: My biggest mistake was not pushing more the first couple of days. I should have been in Elkford at the end of the second day. It’s a decent town of about 1,000 people. My mistake was camping up on Elkford pass when it snowed three or four inches during the night. I did 85 miles that first day, and stopped at 7:30 PM. If I rode until 10 PM, I would have been under cover in Elkford. My gear got extremely wet, it also started to rain. I was up there with three other guys.

Q: What about food? I understand you guys burn up 5,000-6,000 calories a day out there.
A: They say you go through 400 or more calories an hour. You can spend a lot of time and carry bulk to find, buy, prepare and consume 1000 calories in veggies or get your calories in 2 minutes if you eat two big Snickers bars. I wanted crackers, but didn’t want a whole box, I had no room for that. Hostess fruit pies had 410 to 450 calories in them. Beef sticks were good. I ate sardines in oil. I was buying two packages of Canada bacon. I would have one for supper and the other one for breakfast.

Q: What was the most surprising thing about the course?
A: It was tougher than I expected. Not so much the steepness, I trained for that. It was so varied. I had to go over rock and snow avalanches, and there were lots of blow downs [Ed. = trees] that had not been cleaned up yet. Some times there were two or three blow downs at a time, and it was difficulty to get the bike over them. There was also plenty of mud. The canadian section was the worst. The weather up there was not good at all; snow , rain, cold, and wet. Everyone had to find shelter to get dry. I would sometimes get to a laundromat, and dry things out. In a motel room, you spread out your things to dry, If I stayed in a room, a shower would warm me up.

Q: Any additional strategy that have you acquired after riding those first 535 miles?
A: The major thing I learned was that timing was critical. You have to be thinking about where and when you are going to get food, where to sleep, and yet there were three times when the snow depth in the passes slowed us down. We were riding on old jeep trails. I remember crossing a 60 degree steep than ran out for a couple of miles covered with snow where it was work to push the bike. There were six passes that had snow depths of 5 to 10 feet deep.

Q: Other things for people to know?
A: The maps for the trip are from Adventure Cycling http://www.adventurecycling.org/routes/greatdivide.cfm . When you want to camp, you find a mossy spot right on the side of the trail. I chose not to cook on this trip, but hung my food at night. There are grizzlies in parts of Montana that are not going to let a tent stop them. I slept with my bear spray right at hand. Any of the Montana natives that I saw out in the woods had two cans of bear spray on them. Some people had sleigh bells on their bikes. I used a whistle. The bikes are quiet, and I yelled, “Bear!” coming up on any turn.

Q: Any change in training in the coming year?
A: I am doing it again. I won’t ride with the same intensity I did for the past year. I like to ride, and will ride recreationally during this summer, also some longer rides. In February, March, and April I will plow on the miles. I plan to put in 6,000 miles this year rather than the 8,000 that I did getting ready for this Tour Divide.

Andy and Lincoln Jamrog outside of Livingston, MT

Here is a photo taken this week north of Livingston, MT viewed from the radio tower in town. It is the Willow Creek area- the wind shifted and the fire didn’t reach the town. It is the same area where the previous photo was taken.

TD’12 Race- Where’s Andy Hazen?

I DK, no one does.

It appears that Andy’s Spot device has not transmitted properly since 6/9/ AM ( yesterday), so we don’t know where he is right now.  You can’t call him, and he can’t call us right now, but we know that at last report, he was in the middle of the pack.

Updates and discussions about the race are on on the Bikepacking.com list serve that one can follow. TD’12 Race Discussion. <<–Click this link to get there, and view three pics from what looks like Elk Pass.  Andy had told me that he pushed his bike 4 miles through the snow on his ride up to Banff, so he is familiar with the whole route up through the US Border.

One pic reflects the fresh snow that fell there yesterday.

Morning on this year’s Tour Divide

Go Andy!

Andy’s going to reach Banff

At 5:30 PM, Saturday, local mountain time zone, I finally picked up a steady stream of GPS points off Andy’s Spot device. Thanks to Cal Latham, who is assisting Andy with digital supports, for listing the procedure for following Andy on Google Earth.
Here’s the process, from Cal:
“I have been tracking Andy on Google Earth. You need to have both the SPOT page and Google Earth up. In the tracking info on the left side of the Tracking page is his LAT/LON. Click on the Plus sign and it opens up with more info about date/time and his last co-ordinates. Highlight those co-ordinates, drag and drop them into the Search Bar of Google Earth, and it will show you just where he is. If you have the “Places” and “Photos” boxes checked on the lower left side of Earth, you will then see all these little photo symbols show up. There are several where Andy is riding now and you can then click on these and get a feeling of what the terrain is like.”
And here is what comes up right now. Looks like he’s somewhere about 40 miles out of Banff. He is right at the lower edge, center on the north shore of the lake. You can see Banff above, near the Transcanada.

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So if the race starts on June 8, what the heck is he going to do all day for the next week? Ideas?

How to Follow Andy ?

My most faithful blog reader, and hiking budddy Tenzing (AKA Clarkie) posted the question many are pondering today: “How can we keep up with Andy’s adventure now that you have left him?

My answer is that I am not sure. I will try and post any updates I get here on this blog, which automatically is set up to report to both my Twitter and Facebook accounts. There is also a website set up about Andy’s Ride that allows you to follow him, get more info about the Tour Divide, and make a pledge that will support the nonprofit Camden Rockport Animal Rescue League. Reader Bill Dickey forwarded a link to Andy’s Spot device which is currently tracking his progress.

I highly recommend that readers also watch the 2008 documentary Ride the Divide, an award-winning feature film about the world’s toughest mountain bike race, which traverses over 2700 miles along the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. The film weaves the story of three characters’ experiences with immense mountain beauty and small-town culture as they attempt to pedal from Banff, Canada to a small, dusty crossing on the Mexican border. Appleton Ridge’s own Stephen Gleasner completed the 2008 race and appears in the massed start in the film. The film is now available through Netflix, either as a stream (instant), or DVD in the mail. I have a copy at home if any of my friends or neighbors want to watch it. Call Marcia.

I just received a call from Andy this morning. I am relieved that he did call me, and will be able to in the future. I made sure to program my number in his contacts list on his cell phone, as he claims all the ones he put in there were erased.

Andy’s already altered his plan. Mike won’t be driving Andy to Rooseville. Instead, Andy will be packing up today and riding his fully-loaded bike those 60 miles, on an asphalt road, up to the Canada border. He’s restless, and is compelled to ride, as he has done almost daily for the past several years. It’s in his blood . He plans to either get a motel room, or camp at the end of the ride to Rooseville. I hope he takes the motel room, as he’s never done this on his own in the thirty years that I have know him, but should do OK. He will have to, sooner or later.

Motel arrangements by phone, and subsequent motels stays are a salvation to long-distance endurance athletes, at least they are for me, generally on a weekly basis. You use their land lines to connect, call manufactures about gear failures, fix or stitch up broken or torn items, connect with family, wash your clothes, repack food you buy in town, and generally hole up and lick your wounds, check maps, and prepare for what’s next. It can be scary, and I know what it is to be homesick, even as a grown man. Andy claims this was his original plan, and he’s one to stick to initial decisions. For example, I couldn’t convince him to change his clock to Mountain time for the duration of the trip ( a two hour change in time from Maine). So his clock will be two hours skewed from any other clock in the “real world” out there. He’s holding onto Maine time.

I’m hoping Andy will check in with me, as he does with his wife Judie, but phone contact will get tricky in Canada. Andy’s on a limited Verizon plan, where once you cross into Canada, exorbitant, insane, roaming charges kick in. I understand that if you call Verizon and let them know you are entering into Canada, and refrain from data usage ( texts, web access), for about $20 extra bucks you can use your cell phone, but I don’t thing Andy knows that, or even if he did, would have the patience to endure the rather lengthy and mostly unsatisfying customer services exchanges that seem to be the norm with them. When I was in Vancouver for three days in 2010, staying with Dusty at the end of my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, I used my cell phone sparingly, and was shocked beyond belief when I got home and opened the monthly bill to see that I was assessed an additional $690 in international roaming charges charges. So I advised him not to use that phone from tomorrow, or even today until he gets out of Canada, which may mean a couple of weeks until he returns into the US after the June 8 start of the Tour Divide.

In the meantime, he just bought a phone card, which will allow him to make calls on a land line at a reasonable rate. Sounds easy, but in reality it is not. Land lines are only in private homes and businesses, and they are in motels, and pay phones are a rare breed these days. The problem is Andy’s not used it yet, and there are things like an international codes for the US that has to be entered as part of the dialing sequence. Sometimes riding one’s bike, or hiking is the easiest part of these extended trips. I know it is true for me. I generally am terribly stressed out and get into all sorts of trouble when I go into a town after a week of hiking- not police trouble ( that’s another story) but losing-stuff trouble, like clothing, glasses, wallet, Passport, or debit cards, which I am embarrassed to say has happened to me. I can’t even think clearly enough to buy groceries in a big store and once even begged my hiking buddy General Lee to let me follow him and just buy what he bought.

You will be able to follow Andy’s progress on a daily basis after the race start on June 8 by going to the Leaderboard on the Tour Divide web site. For a taste of what he is facing in the next few days, go to the Leaderboard, then look on the right pane, and select Map Layers . Then check Snow Depths, and view the purple sections are still reporting snow on the route. I enlarged the Canad portion of the map and this is what Andy will encounter on his ride up to Banff. Looks pretty purple up there to me. Whether there will be much melting of these sections between now and after the start on June 8th is anyone’s guess, but after the snow melts there will likely be mud instead, which may not be much better .

Newspapers should also be covering portions of the ride. Just this morning, while eating breakfast in the Montana Cup I read in the Bozeman Chronicle that there is a 152,000 lightning-sparked wildfire burning in the Gila National Forest. More than 1,100 firefighters and nine helicopters are fighting it’s expansion. It is 0% contained, despite the millions of dollars that are being thrown at the fire in daily services. Although this year has a close to record low snow pack on the high mountains, persistent droughts and a “record breaking dry air mass” are fueling the fire. I don’t have a good map with me here, but I suspect that the proximity of the fire to both Silver City and Pie Town will force evacuations and possible closures in the area. Who knows what will happen by the time Andy reaches the area toward then end of his ride, but this is definitely not good. Thunderstorm season is upon us in the southern portion of the CDT, and more fires are likely, triggered by lightning. It is hard for easterners to conceive of this, but these wildfires are common in the windy, dry, desert areas. This particular fire is one that may break all records for that area of New Mexico, and soon.

Hope for rain on Andy’s parade? Sheesh! We may have to, but first there’s that snow ahead of him……

Every Person Needs a Quest

The featured attraction of this morning’s truck ride was viewing one of my favorite towns, Butte, from the highway. Flanked by the gaping maw of the Berkley Pit, the mountainside town looks uneven, slanted even, as it is perched on the side of a mountain.
By 11AM Andy was at the wheel making time on route 200 toward Whitefish when the thermometer dropped into the forties, the skies darkened, and cold rain dashed against the windshield. Lincoln was riding in the back seat of the pickup, and it rained hard enough that he opened the back window, and hauled all of Andy’s gear into the back seat.
At some point, we left I-90 and struck due north through increasingly wooded and sharply elevated mountains, stopping for a quick sandwich at Seely Lakes.
Some 7 hours later, we arrived at Whitefish, the final destination for the beer truck, some 60 miles south of the Canada border. Andy tracked down his childhood best friend, Mike Fitzgerald, who lives there.

20120529-224744.jpgAndy will be staying with Mike for two days. Andy shed another layer of protection and familiarity when he left the comfort of his beloved truck, handed over the keys, and said goodbye to his last Maine connection- me. I had to make our goodby quick. I started to tear up. I so much respect and support what he’s going to do. Andy’s been my neighbor and friend for 33 years, and I consider myself privileged to haven ridden bikes together and to have played my part in this most unique adventure.
I have come to believe that Andy’s plan on coming out here early is a masterful decision, one that is rooted in wisdom, shrewd tactics, and a brave heart. He’s going to be better acclimated to the increased altitude in the mountains, and will start the race on hundreds of miles of familiar terrain.
On May 31, Andy catches a ride from Mike, who will drive him to Rooseville, on the Canada border, when he peels off the last layer of safety and connection, clicks into his pedals, and faces a solo adventure of some 270 miles into wilderness Canada as he advances on an uncharted, likely snow-covered, trail to the Tour Divide’s start in Banff. None of the other 100 plus riders are adding additional
Miles on the course, but Andy is.
Andy’s representing High Street, Lincolnville, Maine, and all of New England when he pushes off at the start line on June 8 at high noon.

20120529-224924.jpgHe’s worked so hard and long to be ready, and a force bigger than we can understand is gathering within him to lift him along the 2,700 mile Continental Divide and bring him home.

Moving Andy 800 Miles Closer

20120526-202120.jpg800 more miles today for the Tundra beer transporter, on top of yesterday’s 644.
In Le Roy, NY we were dismayed and too early to view the Jell-O Museum.
Although it was Saturday, it still was bumper to bumper around Chicago through the middle of the day when it hit 90 degrees out. Andy’s keen on leaving the air conditioner off. He claims he can see the gas needle go down at 70 MPH, which is our speed routine- with the cruise control engaged. Andy told me today was the first and will be the only time he ever takes I-90 through Chicago. He was worked up while we suffered the worst of it, coaching me how to drive, and pleading with me not to get in an accident as little bizarre souped-up cars were jacking lanes and injecting terror into our veins. I was more than concerned that Andy’s giving the finger to one road- raged driver would result in retaliation. He needs to be ready to ride!
Right now, a high point- we just realized that we went through a time zone, so it is only 6 PM local time, instead of 7. It’s raining, but the bikes are dry in the truck bed.

20120526-201739.jpgWe just ate at a Chinese buffet. Andy sure doesn’t eat much and he seats slowly. That has to change if he’s going to make his 22 day goal.
I am desperate to watch the final game of the Celtics Philadelphia 76′ers , played at Boston Garden. Could be an adventure brewing for me in locating that game in La Crosse, WI if the Econolodge cable lineup is deficient. Andy is sitting in the driver’s seat,shaking his head.
“You are crazy. We need to have you in a good mood and up at 5 AM tomorrow. Just go to bed and look up the score in the morning.”.
A sidebar glimpse, we just passed – “Sparta, the bicycling capital of Wisconsin.

20120526-201914.jpg “Ben Bikin’” is the name given to a 32-foot-tall sculpture of a Gay Nineties cyclist atop an old high wheel contraption. Because Victorian-era bicycles were so tall anyway, this statue seems less impressive than it probably should. It was built by hometown fiberglass gurus F.A.S.T. Corp. to mark Sparta’s claim as Bicycling Capital of America.”
Celtics are ahead. There’s hope!

Day 2 Road Trip

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Made 644 miles on our first day yesterday.
Had to rely on the iPhone last night to secure a room. Don’t give me no crap about electronic tools. Friday night into the holiday weekend resulted in some full motels. The phone connected us to a Econolodge motel around Buffalo that was right near I-90, that I reserved from the Tundra.
Andy got his first lesson today on how to use a debit card in a gas pump. Tomorrow’s workshop will be “Andy faces an ATM machine”.
The pic above was taken at 5:25 this morning when Andy was exited to see a seagull from Maine that must have followed us out here. I’m pleased to learn that Andy is also an early riser. Team High Street up at daybreak to get ‘er dun!

Road trip to Montana !

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Road Trip for the Balrog and Beerdog. Today marks the start of our journey to Montana, where Andy will depart of what will turn into a very long, bike ride- a 2,750 mile ride from Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico at the Mexican Border. He’s competing in the Tour Divide, the longest single stage bike race in the world. Read all about it here: Article on Andy’s upcoming Tour Divide race
We left High St. In Lincolnville, ME at 8 this morning, with no real plan of where we may end up tonight. We could camp or motel it. We have a drive of some 2,500 miles to our initial destination of Livingston, MT, where my son Lincoln has a home.
Conditions are good- overcast, not hot, traffic reasonable.
It was an emotional departure this morning- this is a big deal. Andy doesn’t get out much. He just told me that the last time he was in Western Massachusetts was in 1971.
I’m assisting getting Andy up to Rooseville, MT where we will part and he’ll ride his bike 280 miles north to the race start on June 8. I have my own bike in the back of the truck and plan some rides on and around the Continental Divide Trail.

Ride the Divide DVD- now via Netflix

On June 8th, this astounding yearly  race begins again.  I just found out that the DVD is now available from Netflix, either as a physical in-the mail- DVD, or as an Instant download format.

DVD cover

Appleton Ridge’s  Stephen Gleasner completed the race in 2008.  This year, my next door neighbor, Andy Hazen, is planning to be the second rider from Maine to finish as well.  Starting in Banff, Canada, and ending at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Great Divide mountain bike race extends 2,700 miles along the Continental Divide. This scenic documentary follows three determined cyclists, from the 2008 race,  attempting the grueling ride.

Gleasner appears in the pack at the start.  He has also written a story about his experience in the excellent short story “Chasing Mary” in Cordillera- Literature from the World’s Toughest Bike Race.

via Netflix: Ride the Divide.