Michael Devitt of Boise entered the grueling Tour Divide bicycle race earlier this summer with three goals.
“No. 1 is to have an adventure, which obviously you’re going to do,” he said. “The other thing was I wanted to challenge myself with something I could legitimately fail at — only 49 percent finish. And the third thing was to have fun.”
Devitt achieved all those goals during the 2,704-mile ride on mostly dirt trails along the Continental Divide — from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, N.M. He finished in 24 days, 6 hours and 7 minutes. The course covers more than 200,000 feet of vertical climbing. He lost one day with a broken wheel hub.
“Pretty much everybody has some problems,” Devitt, 49, said. “I didn’t even have a flat tire. I just had a catastrophic wheel failure.”
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He camped and stayed at hotels about half each during the ride. He carried at least three meals with him every day in a collapsible backpack — his staples were frozen burritos, salt-and-vinegar potato chips, soup and chocolate milk — but also stopped at restaurants. He re-supplied along the route.
He tried to hit the trail around 5:30 a.m. each day. He averaged about 110 miles a day.
The Tour Divide’s “self-supported” rule prevents giving or receiving help during the race. Devitt rode with 10-15 other cyclists that he met along the way. One guy made a wrong turn and nobody could tell him.
“We just watched him disappear,” Devitt said. “... He had gone six miles down the hill and had to go all the way back up.”
The experience, Devitt said, was “the best thing I’ve ever done.” He is a physical therapist and owner of Focus Physical Therapy. He wrote into the bylaws that anyone with 15 years of tenure can take a 30-day sabbatical. He utilized his own rule for the race.
“Kind of the most epic but also the most meaningful experience I’ve ever had,” Devitt said. “When you look at it, 2,700 miles on a mountain bike, self-supported, sounds ridiculous and stupid. Every morning when you wake up, if you look at the map and think, ‘I have to go 135 miles with 10,000 feet of elevation gain,’ you wouldn’t do it. You’d just curl up and suck your thumb. But you just get on your bike and start pedaling. It’s amazing, because whatever you think would totally kill you doesn’t kill you. You’re way tougher than you think you are. How often do you get that to hit you in the face every day?”
A few other notes:
▪ The route is in Idaho for about 100 miles. “Everybody hates Idaho,” Devitt said. “You go on the old rail trail. Unfortunately, it’s about six inches to a foot of this black, volcanic soil. It’s like sand. It’s whoopty-doos for 30 miles in this sand. As soon as you hit it, everyone falls. Even though you know it’s coming, it’s impossible.”
▪ Like many race participants, Devitt was inspired by the movie “Ride the Divide.” He watched the movie three times on Netflix, then asked his wife to watch it. “It kind of became an obsession,” he said. “About a year ago, I thought, ‘If I’m ever going to do this, it’s got to be now. It’s always going to be nibbling in the back of my mind to do it.’ ”
▪ He talked to many riders who also drew inspiration from the movie. “I had people from around the world tell me they didn’t even like the movie, it’s a dumb movie,” he said. “... You can’t dangle an epic thing like that out in front of some people without them taking it.”
▪ Devitt trained during the winter by riding in the Foothills to the snow line. He rode to McCall, rode to Prairie and spent six-plus hours riding in the Foothills loaded down with gear. “That’s not 18 hours a day, but it was enough,” he said. “I never got cramps. My physicality was never a limit. I never thought, ‘I wish I had trained more.’ ”
▪ Devitt also prepared by competing in the Idaho Smoke ’n’ Fire 400, a self-supported mountain bike race. The third annual event is Sept. 14 this year.