When he signed up for the Tour Divide, Nate Ginzton’s main goal was just to finish the 2,745-mile mountain biking race.
Started in 2008, the Tour Divide takes riders from Banff, Alberta, in Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, which sits on the state’s border with Mexico. The route follows the Continental Divide through Alberta and British Columbia in Canada before crossing through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.
“The Tour Divide is the first and biggest and best-known bikepacking race,” said Ginzton, who lives in Boise. “Ever since I first heard about it a decade ago, it’s been on my radar. And I finally had an opening this year.”
Bikepacking is the term for long-distance mountain bike rides, a combination of backpacking and cycling. For riders in the Tour Divide, the backpacking component is especially important because the race is self-sufficient — meaning racers can’t give help to or accept help from anyone.
“You’re completely responsible for yourself out there, so bringing enough tools, enough spare parts and gear for everything from major rainstorms to hot days is essential,” said Ginzton, 40. “Going everywhere from Banff to New Mexico, you kind of hit on every kind of weather situation you can imagine.”
The course covers 200,000 feet of vertical climbing and passes through territory inhabited by grizzly bears and mountain lions. The route is entirely unmarked, meaning each racer must navigate their own way to the finish line. This year, about half of the entrants dropped out of the race without finishing.
So it’s no wonder that Ginzton’s goals were, by his own estimate, very conservative.
“Eighty percent of what I wanted out there was to finish,” he said.
He hoped to cross the finish line — if he crossed it at all — in about 16 days. Instead, he made it to Antelope Wells at 4:49 a.m. on June 30, according to the official race tracker. His finish time of 15 days, 20 hours, 47 minutes earned him second place behind winner Chris Seistrup, who finished in 15 days, 11 hours, 22 minutes.
To make good time, Ginzton had to hit the trail before sunrise and ride all day long. He camped alongside the route each night.
“The sleep deprivation was new to me,” Ginzton said. “The longest I’d ever ridden consecutively was two days previously. I was sleeping about four hours a night. As those nights wore on, just having a foggy head was the most challenging thing.”
Ginzton said he trained by biking in the Boise Foothills and competing in the Idaho Smoke ‘n’ Fire 400 bikepacking race for the past several years.
“I give (Smoke ‘n’ Fire) full credit for encouraging me to learn how to put in long days on the bike,” Ginzton said.
Despite the grueling route, Ginzton said he marveled at the beauty of the scenery throughout the race.
“I absolutely loved it, just the simplicity of riding every day and nothing else to focus on except to move forward,” he said.