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!

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.

Riding Maine’s Sunrise Trail

I joined my friend and next door neighbor Andy Hazen this weekend, on one of his two-day-long training rides in his preparation for the 2,745 mile Tour Divide race starting June 8th, arguably the most challenging mountain bike time trial on the planet.

Andy, ready to fuel up on Sunrise Trail

We were riding on the Downeast Sunrise Trail, an 87 mile section of old railroad bed that had been converted to a gravel rails-to-trails corridor.  Andy completed it up-and-back twice in this past three weeks after Tour Divide guru Matthew Lee Matthew Lee (Cannondale Factory Racing) and director of the unsupported race,  phoned him and encouraged Andy to train on as much gravel as possible. Two weeks ago Andy churned out 170 miles in 18 hours, riding a fully loaded camping/ parts/ tools rig.
Yesterday ( Saturday) I completed 50 miles on my Pugsley bike, outfitted with a rear rack, a pair of  panniers and a frame bag.

Pugsley- tent and sleeping bag go on the rack

Today we started humping back to Cherryfield at 6 AM, after walking up to 27 degrees inside the tents. Ice coated everything around us- the water in the ditches, swamps, and even the road under our tires. These were full-on winter riding conditions,  even though it is April 28.  Moving at 10 miles an hour creates a windchill equivalent to 19 degrees, and that is real cold, hour after hour. The best decision I made before I left was to grab my winter riding boots and insulated mittens. My hands and feet were not painful,  only mildly uncomfortable. I had 4 layers on up top.

Yesterday’s ride headed east was mostly fun, with 15-30 MPH winds at our backs.

Approaching bridge on Trail

We saw no other bikers all weekend.  There were no real hills, due to it being a railroad bed through mostly swamps and bogs.

There aren’t that many places to camp on the sunrise Trail, and certainly no promoted sites. Not too far from Cherryfield was a large cemetery where you could stealth camp. Then,  I spotted a place past a picnic table beside the Machias River. After mile 70 there is another place for 2 tents near 2 picnic tables over by Cathance Stream. We were lucky to find an elevated head piece of land near a field by a place called Robinson’s Camps at milepost 80.

Camping au sauvage

There is no need to carry much food.  We bought lunch the first day at Helen’s restaurant in Machias. Mileposts occur every mile, with marked gravel crossroads alerting you to lodging, grocery, and cafe options.

We saw quite a bit of wildlife this weekend, including partridges, snowshoe hares, a nesting osprey, various song birds, and a close-up sighting of a moose. We also saw bear scat in the road, but no bears.

We were up riding by 6 AM on Saturday, with no wind until we hit East Machias, where we made the bend around the river and turned due west toward Machias where the cold, strong headwind made pedaling more difficult.

Between East Machias and Machias

After breakfast and warming up at Dunkin Donuts, we continued to grind out more miles, trying to maintain a 10 mph pace, where you click off a mile every 6 minutes. We advanced against the cold wind and repeatedly moved to the side for more than at least a  hundred  scattered ATV’s that were out for their Sunday rides.

I was plumb done after my 53 miles to Cherryfield, where I had my car parked.  Andy wanted to keep going, so he continued alone the last 30 into Ellsworth, where I picked him up at the start of the Trail at the Washington Junction railway yard.

I really enjoyed bike packing. It is challenging and interesting to make so many miles in one day, on your own power.  Often you hear criticism about backpackers who like to walk quickly out on the trails- “Why walk so fast that you don’t have enough time to see anything?”  Well, biking is MUCH faster and you still see plenty- actually more.  On a backpacking trip I would have covered maybe 30 miles instead of over 100.  It’s all good!

I would definitely do this again, but not in June when the mosquitoes would be insane due to the constant flowage that surrounds the corridor. I would end my next foray on the Sunrise Trail by going into Dennysville, and then down Route 1 where  I would  camp at Cobscook Bay State Park, one of my favorite camping places in Maine.