Monday, January 25, 2010

Tour Divide: Frequently Asked Questions

While I have a small (but growing!) group of folks who have read every damn word I've blasted onto this blog over the past 5+ years, many of my readers are people who stumble here via Google or some other search engine. I think Walter said it best in The Big Lebowski:
"So you have no frame of reference, Donny. You're like a child who wanders in in the middle of a movie and wants to know..."
Lacking the frame of reference, questions arise. Often, the same questions, over and over. Many of those questions have to do with my racing the Tour Divide this year, so I decided to create this little list of questions and answers. It should prove handy to at least a few of you.

Q: What is the Tour Divide?

A: A one stage, 2745 mile self-supported mountain bike race from Banff, Alberta to the northern border of Mexico along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. Details at:

Q: Who are you?

A: I'm probably not the best person to answer that. Back when I launched this blog, I wrote an introduction here. Much of it still holds true.

Q: Why are you racing the Tour Divide?

A: The best answer to that is here.

Q: Didn't you do this before?

A: Sort of. In 2005, I was the first person to complete the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race on a single-speed bike. I wrote the story of that trip in a Dirt Rag article and an online book called The Way of the Mountain Turtle.

Q: What bike are you riding?

A: A Redline Monocog Flight, courtesy of the wonderful folks at SBS. Details here and here.

Q: Why a single-speed?

A: I don't have good enough balance to do the Tour Divide on a unicycle! Seriously, I prefer single-speeds.

Q: What gear ratio are you running?

A: Probably a 32*18. I ran 32*17 on my 26"-wheeled Monocog in '05 and Chris Plesko ran 32*17 on his record setting Tour Divide Race last year (he rode a 29er). I rode the first 6 months with a 32*17 on my Flight, but I recently knocked the gearing down to 32*18 and my overall speed actually went up! The slightly lower gearing lets me spin a bit more.

Q: How are you going to carry stuff?

A: My main luggage is a home-brew coroplast trunk and a small stuff bag up front. Details here. Aside from making stronger stays for the trunk and getting a slightly bigger wedge bag in the frame, the kit is pretty well dialed in. The contents of the front stuff bag are detailed here. I also talk some about gear in an earlier post here.

Q: How do you train for something like the Tour Divide?

A: I don't train, I practice. Details here. A couple of ride reports from practice runs are here and here.

Q: What kind of food do you eat on long rides?

A: As I have said repeatedly, I am not a nutritional role model. That said, I queried a bunch of other long-distance cyclists and the result is this article.

Q: What about water?

A: Various Divide racers use filters, tablets, etc. My current plan is outlined here.

Q: How can you afford to race the Tour Divide?

A: I get by with a lot of help from my friends.

Q: My question isn't on your list.

A: That's not a question! But if you have a question that you don't see answered here, first use the search function on the blog, I may have covered your question in the past (I've written thousands of words about lights, for example). If you come up empty, it may be something I'm still figuring out or I may just not have gotten around to writing about it. If so, email me (kentsbike [at] gmail [dot] com). I can't promise I'll respond (it's amazing how damn much email I get!) but I'll try. A lot of blog posts come as a result of questions. If something is part of my secret, race-strategy I may keep mum or be cagey in my answer, but I try to be a pretty open guy.


OK, that's it for now. Stay tuned to the blog for more updates and keep 'em rolling,


Monday, January 18, 2010

The Weight (and Wait) of Water

A few years ago, in The Way of the Mountain Turtle, I wrote:
"It is easy and wrong to think that minimal gear and a simple quest equates to some kind of renunciation of the material world. In a very real sense, a Divide racer’s minimalism is in fact an extremely purified form of materialism. I’m not free of material goods, I’m intensely dependent on them. Each item I have chosen for this journey has been extensively studied and obsessively considered. I’ve literally weighed my options and made my choices. The other racers have done the same."
Now, in 2010, I am again committed to racing the Divide. I'm a bit older and the course is a bit longer but the principles remain the same. And in these months before the race, I am weighing my options and thinking about my gear.

I'm thinking a lot about water, for water is not something you take for granted on the Divide. If you are counting on water coming from taps then you are counting wrong, especially when the race goes into the high country and the dry lands of the Great Divide Basin, Southern Colorado and the enchanted lands of New Mexico. Those are the places where you learn that water is precious. You tune your ears to the musical notes of any drip or ripple. Your dry nose learns to long for subtle hints of humidity.

The best water I have ever tasted came from these New Mexican cattle stock tanks.

In 2005 I rode with bottles, seven liters for the highest, driest, longest sections and I was sucking on fumes when I came upon these tanks. Filtered through a bandana and purified with tablets, this water got me down the trail to the next oasis and drop by precious drop I made my way southward.

A liter of water weighs about two pounds. Yes, I mix metric and English units, I'm an American, it's what we do. When I was younger I thought that by 2010 this country would be fully metric but it turned out I was wrong about that. I was also wrong about going everywhere by jetpack. It turns out that in 2010, I'm still riding around on a bicycle, albeit one that has fewer gears than the bikes I rode in my teen years. But I digress...

Where was I? Oh yes, obsessing about water. It weighs about two pounds per liter. If I didn't care about weight I could ride from tap to tap, towing a water tank trailer. But the weight of the water would slow me down. More time in the hot sun would mean I'd need to carry more water.

On the other hand, if I was infinitely fast, I could travel with no bottles at all, drinking like a camel at each stop and then sprinting to the next.

But I am neither a cargo mule nor a camel. I have to find the middle way.

Last time I had four bottles at the start, adding bottles as things got drier. I'd estimate and bet. Study the maps, study the sky and decide how many bottles would be filled for each leg of the journey. As things got drier, I got more cautious. In the high desert, I left each water source with both my bottles and my stomach full of water.

Questionable water sources mean precautions must be taken. In 2005, I chose water purification tablets over carrying a filter. I'd filter the large bits of crud from the water with a bandana and let the Micropur Water Purifier Tablets take care of whatever evil nasties might be lurking in the water. The tablets take a few hours to work so I evolved a strategy of rotating my bottles, drinking from the one with water that had been purifying for a few hours. Dropping a tablet in a bottle and rolling on is faster than waiting for a slow filter to drip-process the water. I had to think not only about the weight of water, but the wait for the water.

In 2005, I relied entirely on bottles, not wanting the weight of water on my back. I've rethought this and now I'm riding with a 100 ounce water bladder in an Osprey Daylite Pack. In March, I'll be getting some Ergon Team stuff including a BD2 pack that will most likely replace the Osprey in my kit. The BD2 should transfer most of the weight from my shoulders to my hips. The Ergon folks have done wonderful things with the ergonomics of grips, so I have high hopes for the pack.

Another addition to the kit will be a SteriPEN Adventurer Handheld Water Purifier.

This little device promises to act quicker (90 seconds!) than the tablets (which I'll still carry). I'll also probably work a water bladder into my Monocog's tailbox.

It's been raining pretty much every day for the past few weeks here in the Pacific Northwest, but maybe that makes this the best time for me to be thinking obsessively about water for all the dry miles on the trail.

Keep 'em rolling,


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Flammable Fritos

A few days ago Russ Roca mentioned in an online forum that he'd really grown fond of Fritos. In response, someone commented that they are not only tasty, they make great emergency kindling. This in turn prompted me to draft my son Eric into shooting this video of me verifying that Fritos are, in fact, rather flammable. The easy way would be to just use some matches, but that's not how I roll. So here in all it's unedited glory is me starting a fire with my Swiss Army Knife, some Fritos, a scrap of paper and a Magnesium Fire Starter. The witty banter reveals the great respect my son has for my efforts.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Chrome Shoes: A Better Bike Sneaker

While I'm not up there in the Bike Blog Celebrity Blogosphere with the really talented and hardworking folks like Fat Cyclist, Bike Snob NYC and Jill Homer, I am what is known as "a minor niche celebrity." I found this out when the Hershey folks used that term when they turned me down for sponsorship. I really thought Hersheys would be an ideal sponsor of my Tour Divide Race, but the Hershey people disagreed. Oh well, even though major chocolate company can't see the value in sending a fifty year old guy enough free chocolate to fuel him on a 2745 mile race, other folks do somehow manage to stumble their way to my blog and say "Hey, this guy is talking to the people we want to reach, we should send him stuff!" This is what happens when you are "a minor niche celebrity" and it's one of the cooler perks of having a semi-popular blog.

So the folks at Chrome, who are mostly famous for making tough, cool messenger bags and packs, email me out of the blue and asked if I'd like to have a pair of their shoes to try out. I said sure, went to their website and picked out a pair Kursks.

Guess what? These are nice shoes. And I'm not just saying that 'cause I got 'em for free. The Kursk is a tough, well-made sneaker. I picked this shoe because it's Codura nylon instead of cotton, so it's better in the rain. The shoe has a couple of nice bikey touches like a little loop that keeps the laces out of your bike chain, a reflective patch on the heel, and a good grippy sole for folks like me that prefer flat pedals. Most importantly, the shoe has a good stiff sole. I work as a bike mechanic so I wind up test riding lots of bikes with all kinds of pedals including a lot of bikes with various clipless pedals. When you're riding a clipless pedal without a clipless shoe, you really appreciate a shoe with a stiff, grippy sole.

The only real problem I had with the Kursks is that they are a bit narrow and way too hip for me. I'm basically a cargo pants and Keens guy but whenever I'd wear the Chrome Kursks I'd have this overwhelming desire to put on skinny jeans, grow a wispy goatee and move to Portland. My youngish friends, including the kids at Bike Works, all proclaimed the shoes to be "sweet." My wife, however, declared that the Kursks look like "bowling shoes gone bad." And I have to confess that the shoes just never felt right for me. So I passed them on to my cool colleague Muuqi and I'm back riding in Keens.

Keep 'em rolling,


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Coco Love Alcorn likes bikes and intellectual boys

Coco Love Alcorn is a witty singer-songwriter who managed to insert two songs into my mental bike-commute soundtrack. Her album, Joyful, has been out since last April but I'm slow on the uptake and only discovered her this morning. Coco's song I Got A Bicycle is a quiet anthem of two-wheeled liberation, a reminder that you don't have to sit in a box to get where you're going. I'll give darn near any song about bikes one listen through but Coco's got that way with words and a tune that keeps me hitting replay. If you go to her Myspace page you can check out her songs and see what I mean.

While I Got A Bicycle is basically a love song to a wonderful mode of transportation, Intellectual Boys is obviously calculated to appeal to anybody who has ever thought of themselves as a nerd or a geek. And it totally works. The lyrics are clever enough to convince you that not only does Coco like geeks, she is a geek herself. I'm the kind of geek who likes to support the geek singer-songwriters our there, so I'm plugging her work on my blog. The only thing I can't figure out is why Boing Boing or XKCD haven't discovered her yet.

Monday, January 04, 2010


If you happened over to the Bike Works Website over the holidays and clicked on EVENTS & NEWS you might have seen this:

Kent Peterson to train full time- Bike Works looking for Shop Manager to fill his shoes

Bike Works much beloved shop manager and bicycle celebrity, Kent Peterson is going to leave his full time position at Bike Works in early March to train full time for this summer’s Tour Divide; an epic self-supported mountain bike race along the great divide from Canada to New Mexico. The route is over 2700 miles of off pavement racing, and Kent returns to the race to reclaim the single speed record he set in 2005: 22 days! Kent will still be a big part of the family here, but we are beginning a search for a new Shop Manager. The job announcement is here.
While the tone of this announcement is a bit to gee-whizzy for my taste (Jake, our enthusiastic Executive Director, had something to do with that) but it's true, I'm stepping down as the Shop Manager at Bike Works. Rather than try to patch somebody in temporarily while I'm gone in the month of June, we figured that a better plan would be to start looking for somebody now to step into that role full-time in March. So if you or somebody you know would like to work at one of the coolest places on earth and you have what it takes to manage a bike shop, click the link above and read through the job announcement.

While I am going to be ramping up my training in March and yeah, I'm spending the month of June racing the Divide, Jake glossed over a couple of details in terms of my future. First off, it will take a lot of prep, a ton of luck and something of a miracle for this old guy to crack Chris Plesko's amazing 19:00:21 record for the 2741 mile course. My old record of 22 days and change was for the 2500 mile border to border route. Jake makes it sound like I'm just going to ride up and take the record back. I'm going to ride like heck (at a persistent, old turtle pace) to see if I can do it, but it's by no means a forgone conclusion. I'm racing to find out if I can do it.

Second, I could see where folks reading the Bike Works announcement might think, "hey Kent must be rich if he can afford to take that much time off to train." Actually, no, that's not the case at all. What is the case is that Bike Works was and is more than a full time job, one of those jobs that you love but that can easily suck up way more than forty hours a week. And when you add on the fact that I pile on 3 hours per day in bike commuting, which is sort of training but not the mountain riding I really need to do, it makes for some damn long days. So I decided to make a change to let me do more real mountain training.

I do need to earn money. Not a lot, I live pretty simply, but I need to earn a living. I've got a few sponsors like Redline and Ergon helping me out with gear and all you blog readers buying stuff on Amazon and sending donations help out, but the simple fact is that like pretty much everybody else in this world, I work. I mostly make my living fixing and selling bikes. And starting in March, I'll be doing that at a shop that is four blocks from my place in Issaquah.

Yep, The Bicycle Center, which has been in Issaquah even longer than I have, is expanding. They are moving into half of the old Allen Furniture store right next door to their current location on Front Street. The other half the building will be the new location for Amante Pizza and Pasta. Starting in March, when I'm not on the trails, I'll be working at the Bicycle Center. My new commute is so short I'll walk to work.

But I'll get my miles in. I live at the base of the Cascades and now I'll have time in the mornings and/or evenings to hit the trails that are right out my back door. I'll still be doing the bigger adventures on my days off and in June I'll head up to Banff and then south along the Rockies. Of course, the stories and the pictures will show up here.

Keep 'em rolling,


Friday, January 01, 2010

Seattle Cargo Bike Ride

Some cyclists are pure minimalists, their machines are stripped of every extraneous gram. And then there are the cargo folks, whose motto is "sure, bring it along, we've got room."

On the first morning of the new year, I ride north out of Issaquah as the morning light comes over the Cascades. I take the long way to Seattle, up through Redmond and along the north end of the lake. It's a damp, breezy day and there aren't a lot of cyclists out, even though it's what Aaron Goss calls "the first day of biking season." There are a lot of runners on the trail north of Marymoor and a lot of them have numbers on. I figure they are running some kind of New Year's Day event.

I'm headed for another event, the Seattle Cargo Bike Ride. When both Val and Aaron made sure to invite me, I knew I had to go even though my own philosophy these days is something like "if I can't haul it up a mountain on a single speed bike, I can probably do without it." Val assured me I'd fit right in with the cargo crowd and have a great time.

It turns out that, as usual, Val is right. I tend to be overly punctual for these things, so I do a quick orbit of Green Lake, something I realize I'd never actually done in all my years of living in the Seattle area. As I come back around to the basketball courts, I see Val pulling up on his Fuji. The Fuji is Val's "light" bike, where light is a relative term and that relativity is distorted by the massive gravitational pull of his "heavy" bike, the Dread Nought. By the standards of this day, Val's bike and mine are bantam-weights.

I can't even try to list everybody and their bikes and in many ways the pictures speak for themselves. Carl's rig gets the most comments. It's an old Swiss Army bike (there's more to the Swiss than just fine watches and clever red knives) and he's towing a long trailer originally designed to carry casualties from the battlefield. Today he's carrying wood, an ax and a collapsible pot-bellied stove. Other folks have more conventional trailers with more conventional cargo, carrying things like children.

We roll slowly from Green Lake to Golden Gardens and I do mean slowly. At one point a jogger passes us but today is about fun and carrying capacity, not speed. We stop for even more supplies at the Ballard Fred Meyer store and roll into the deteriorating weather.

The wind at the beach at Golden Gardens is fierce but once Val and Carl get the charcoal grill and wood-stove going, we have a fighting chance against the chill. And we have huge amounts of food. I'd brought things that could be eaten cold, things like summer sausage, cheese, crackers and Peanut Butter Cups. The others brought things like bacon and eggs, clam chowder, hot cider and coffee. Of course, even traveling relatively light, I did have the good sense to bring my own mug of coffee.

photo courtesy of Val Kleitz

Despite (or perhaps because of) the weather, the picnic is extremely fun. We all get to gawk at the woman who polar bear swims in the sound and watch the sailboat captains realize this is a better day to be in port. Megan explains the vegan fake-bacon cooked in real bacon fat is really, really good and still vegan in some homeopathic sort of way. We get to find out that if a tree falls in the forest and there's a bunch of cyclists around to hear it, it makes one heck of a racket.

Val's pictures from the day are here and I've included a slide show of my photos at the bottom of this post.

Keep 'em rolling,