The TDR = The most grueling bike race in the world.

Jul 5, 2011
by Devon Balet  

Prepared for the Grand Depart.
  The idea of going on a long ride can be taken many ways. What does a long ride mean for you? Is it having to hike-a-bike your DH ride to the top of the mountain then rip your way down? Maybe it means being out on the trail all day. For some it is finally hitting the 100 miles in a day mark. No matter what you personally consider a long ride, the riders that have embarked on the Tour Divide route in 2011 can all agree they are in the midst of an insanely long ride.

Fading sun on day one of TDR. Rider makes his way towards Fernie BC.
  The 'TDR' or Tour Divide Route, could be nothing further from the common idea of what a race would be considered. The riders that set off from Banff Canada on June 10th heading to Antelope Wells, NM, were starting what was surely the longest, most dangerous, and life changing bike ride of their lives. The 2,745 mile route known as the Great Divide Mountain Bike route, weaves its way up, down, through and around the Continental Divide of North America. This long stretch of mountains separates our fine continent into East and West. From the beautiful Canadian Rockies all the way South through New Mexico, and into Mexico.

Not your common border crossing.
  Southbound, crossing the border into the USA. Not your typical border crossing...

A rider takes a breather mid way through Stryker Pass 11 miles of snow.
  With record breaking snowfall experienced this winter all through out the Continental Divide, the route saw a few changes. The valley bottoms everywhere through out Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado were experiencing major flooding, while high mountain pass areas were still sitting nine plus feet under snow. The late winter brought on a harsh spring that seemed as though Ullr was not ready to release his grip.

Making their way off Stryker Pass 11 miles of hike-a-bike through snow.
  With miles upon miles of snow covered passes to hike through, the never ending dirt roads that seem to go on into eternity, to battling with the weather and just wanting to find a safe place to bed down for a few hours sleep, the TDR is not for the faint at heart.

The dog is boss.
  To simply make your way into and out of Montana requires a self determination and preservation seen by few. Of the 89 riders that started more then 63 riders are still out grinding down the miles as of Monday June 27th. Some riders chose to start from the south and head north, while most rode southbound.

Full fuel tank.
  Hail, rain, sleet and snow were all seen out on course so far this year. As the riders now head into New Mexico, they have to be concerned with the possible 100 plus degree heat. From one extreme to the next. A full fuel tank helps the riders get through it all.

Warm food is all it takes sometimes.
  Warm food is all it takes sometimes...

Live catch bear trap.
  Live catch bear trap.

Rider topping out for the Divide.
  A lone rider crests a hill, one of what seemed like thousands of hills...

Continental camp location outside of Butte MT
  Camped for the night outside of Butte, Montana

Nice views while waiting always waiting.
  Nice views... Shooting the TDR meant a lot of waiting, always waiting.

Rolling out of the storm.
  Jake Kirkpatrick and Dejay Birtch - Rolling out of the storm.


Bitch Creek Trestle Crossing 144 feet tall at mid point.
  Bitch Creek Trestle Crossing in Idaho, 144 feet tall at mid point.

TDR riders take warmth from the weather in Atlantic City WY
  TDR riders take in a little warmth from the weather in Atlantic City, WY

The never ending roads of the Great Basin of Wyoming.
  The never ending roads of the Great Basin of Wyoming. Just another day on the TDR...

The story of our first day in Colorado.
  The story of our first day in Colorado.

Steamboat Lake waiting on riders.
  Steamboat Lake, waiting on riders.

Some days you don t get the shots you were hoping for... Captured this as the last bit of sun set on what would be my last day following the TDR.
  Some days you don't get the shots you were hoping for... Captured this as the last bit of sun set on what would be my last day following the TDR.

  The leaders of the grand ride completed their battle, finishing in Antelope Wells, NM just past 5am on Sunday June 26th after 15 days and many many long miles. Kurt Refsnider of Boulder, CO was able to edge out Gunnison Colorado's Jefe Branham in the final paved miles. Branham led most of the race, all entirely on a single gear. That's right, a single speed!

Sometimes putting together words in a way to display the difficulties of what these riders are experiencing can be quiet difficult. The saying of "a picture is worth a thousand words", well sometimes that isn't even enough. The small bit of the TDR that I was able to experience was just the tip top of an iceberg. The endless stories of experiences would flood the world in comparison to what I was able to experience and capture. I hope you enjoy this small gallery from my adventure while covering the TDR. Maybe it will spark an interest for some of you to pack up your bike and go for a really long ride.

Some days you don't capture any good photos. While waiting for riders I was able to capture this cool time lapse:

Steamboat Lake on

"Laughter has been my best friend out on route." -Dejay Birtch

Comical Dejay Birtch on

With support from: Pioneer Sales and Marketing, Delorme, Contour and Goal Zero
Follow the riders at Trackleaders
Hear their stories from the road on MTBCast
For more stories and photos follow Push Pedal Crank

-Words and Photos by Devon Balet

Author Info:
devonbalet avatar

Member since May 5, 2007
70 articles

  • 72 1
 10 bucks to do it on a dh
  • 8 0
 You deserve a +1 for making a least I thought it was.
  • 13 0
 we should keep it nitro circus style, the dollar bet. A dollar for whoever does it. dollar for doing the mega avalanche on a ht
  • 5 2
 I'd do it on my Fatbike, would make the snow sections way easier Smile
  • 3 0
 wow, thats incredible.
  • 26 1
 Sounds like a life changing epic adventure, like through hiking the PCT. Doing something like this helps you really find out who you the very core. The good, the bad, the ugly. I would love to be a part of something like this....kind of makes me think....whats stopping me? We make too many excuses, Im too busy with work/I cant afford it/I have a family, etc.......MB its time to stop thinking, and start doing.
  • 3 0
 so true
  • 2 0
 totally agree. I'd love to even meet some of the riders who have done this or are doing it. They all deserve credit for attempting this and finding the time to do it!
  • 3 0
 amen brotha. I did my first 50 mile ultramarathon run by mt. whitney/mammoth here in CA without training, hated it, then decided i'd sign up for my first off road 100 miler in november. Endurance races like this or Badwater Ultramarathon or the PCT give you such crazy feelings. Feelings of complete satisfaction like you've never experienced and then feelings of suicidal thoughts and lost hope. It's just extreme on both ends, a serious mental game.

It's kinda like doing shrooms/LSD knowing full well that you are going to have the worst trip of your life and probably the best at times as well.
  • 5 0
 ^^ nice name
  • 18 0
 Absolutely amazing. I have tremendous respect for the people that choose to undertake a challenge like this.
  • 1 0
 Go Paul Attella
  • 14 1
 and people say xc riding is pussy....

singlespeed rigid = epitome of man
  • 2 0
 Agree. That is brass balls.
  • 3 0
 gold balls
  • 5 0
 I must say that Pinkbike has changed; and for the better. There was a time when stories would like would have had comments like "So ghey" or "eww lycra". Instead there's appreciation for what these guys are doing and also appreciation for the time and effort Devon put into capturing this in pictures. Thanks Pinkbike for changing and running stories and thanks Devon for contributing such fine work
  • 5 0
 Man it takes balls to embark on something like this. Its like riding a DH track knowing that your going to fall and experience pain, every day, for weeks on end.
  • 2 0
 well put, i race ultramarathons and those are the exact same sentiments.
  • 6 0
 these guys put the tour de france to shame, no drugs, no celebrities or team car, just riding
  • 2 0
 Epic! thats amazing, I would do it for the fun of if if the time was there, not racing though. Tooo much beuty to take in! Congrats to al the riders, how long ago was the Canada/usa boarder crossing, the patreol must have loved you all! Awesome photography! anybody have a clue where the 12th picture from the top is taken?, the one with the camera in the shot.

Two words sum this race up "Epic Win"
  • 3 0
 That shot was taken just outside of Lima Montana. Classic s-curve creeks/rivers everywhere. And thank you for your kind words on my photos. I am stoked you enjoyed it!
  • 3 0
 incredible and inspirational athletes! A race like that just proves how strong us Humans can be, physically and mentally. Great article.
  • 3 0
 i usually skip to the vids or pictures not even reading, but for this article i read it all. huge probs for the people ridnig this
  • 2 0
 I was driving home from Fernie on the weekend and think I saw one of the South to North riders just before Sparwood. Watched the Divide movie and was amazed at what these ordinary people put themselves through.
  • 5 0
  • 4 0
 i would have a heart attack about half way through.
  • 2 0
 I would attack my heart
  • 3 0
 I have to say I have a tremendous amount of respect for these guys, the ability to go so far is just amazing .
  • 2 0
 that's crazy. thanks for the link Smile
  • 3 0
 Madness! The photos of the long roads remind me of Forest Gump "I just kept ridin"
  • 2 0
 +1 to Devon for capturing the race so well. I wouldn't care to do this against the clock but just riding the trail for the scenic aspect would be fun.
  • 3 0
 Thank you!!
  • 2 0
 Anybody know how old you need to be to participate in this? I cant find it on the site.
  • 2 0
 probably 18 like all the other stage races. but you can get in younger if you send enough emails and have good enough race results
  • 2 0
 I am not interested so much in racing as just participating. It would be such a neat experience.
  • 2 0
 Masochists! I wish i had the drive to inflict that much pain on myself and see that much of the country on a bike!
  • 3 0
 Awesome, I'd love to read up on their bike's setup and their strategies...
  • 2 0
 I 2nd that
  • 2 0
 here is a quick link of a short story on one of the riders set ups.
  • 3 0
 thats nuts.
  • 4 0
 Looks like a life changing experience
  • 5 0
 tl;dr ( too long ; didn't ride ) Razz
  • 2 0
 My goal is to ride that route... I can wait a bit longer... haha
  • 2 0
 Just ordered Ride the Divide. Can't wait.
  • 2 0
  • 2 0
 love living in Montana!! so many great views
  • 2 0
 Thank you Devon. Awesome.
  • 2 0
  • 2 0
 because you can?
  • 2 0
 might sign up
  • 2 0
 added to bucket list.
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