Grand Tour of the Great Divide and a grand bike for it…

This blog was originally published on Cycleinjuries.co.uk in 2015. I have reproduced it for my site as an example of some of the adventure sports writing I have done.

 

Fancy taking a month off to ride one of the greatest mountain bike routes in the world? Need a bike for the job? This blog will look at the challenge and at a machine that’s just been developed specially for it…

The Grand Tour of the Great Divide

This is a 2745 mile cross country mountain biking route from Banff, Alberta in Canada to Antelope Wells in on the border between New Mexico and Mexico. In order to get on the leader board you must do the route within 1.5 times of the course record – in other words, just over 25 days for men and 29 days for women. In short, a bloke needs to do over 100 linear miles a day in the saddle, while a woman would do well to do the same.

You will climb over 200,000 feet during this ride, and don’t expect lovely paved roads as you do it – expect gravel, mud and slog. Even so you will see the Great Continental Divide that splits the US and Canada in two, in all its glory.

Navigation is one of the important parts of this – you won’t be in a peloton with 100 other riders, and again unlike the Tour de France it must be entirely self supported. Since on many days you won’t even see a town, you’ll need to carry enough water and food for the days of solitude. Where the riders of the Tour de France have special chefs and specialist maintenance teams, you will only be allowed to refuel and repair your bike using outlets that all other riders have access to. The same applies to accommodation – yes, you’re allowed to sleep in a hotel but not (as with Team Sky) on a bed designed for you and imported into a team house…

Over such a ride, expect to meet nature face to face. This is mountain lion and grizzly bear country and as you enter the southern US, you may see the odd rattlesnake too. This is a chance to see and feel the America of ancient legend in a way that the settlers saw it in all its glory and hardship.

Why isn’t there a media frenzy over it? One of the mountain biking Race Rules forbids spectators unless they’re resident of one of the towns on the route. Don’t expect a 6 figure sponsorship package or to be modelling clothes as so many road tour riders seem to do these days… This is about you, the bike and the road – there isn’t even a prize for coming first!

Looking at the website describing the challenge, honestly I’m ready to pack my partner and child off to her mother and get preparing for the mother of all midlife crisis adventures…

The Cutthroat bike

The GTGD ride has been running for the last seven years. Mountain bike technology has had a couple of major leaps forward in that time, including the advent of the disc brake and the 29 inch wheeled mountain bike (the ‘29er’).

The Cutthroat is one of the first in a series of ‘adventure mountain bikes’ that is coming onto the market. This is a carbon fibre framed 29er with drop handlebars and a number of refinements for comfort, reliability, refinement and efficiency.

Your ideal mountain bike should be light to get it up those hills, be comfortable enough you’re not walking like John Wayne after a decent ride, and be reliable enough that on the GTGD you’re not having to carry it 50 miles to the nearest bike shop. It needs to be efficient too – getting you up those hills and shaving seconds off the ride every hour could translate to hours and even days shaved off the adventure…

The drop handlebars give you more positions to be comfortable. Loaded up with the gear for this epic, you will need to adjust to a variety of positions to help with the pain of pushing so hard for so long. On this machine there’s a vibration reduction system known as the Class 5 VRS, that smoothes those gravel tracks out.

Finally, the front triangle is as large as possible. This is to give space for the in frame bag you will use for the adventure – more space inside means more volume for what you need.

Ready to pack your family off?

The top spec bike sells in the US for USD $4,000, on which you’d need to pay import duties to bring into the UK – unless of course you bought it in the US, rode the route, and took it back used and abused so no duty would apply…

Honestly? Given the wherewithal and ability just to disappear for a month or two, I’d be tempted. Very tempted…

A sailing geek’s view of the Vendee Globe…


A few weeks ago I discovered an old shipmate of mine from my square rigger days lives in Les Sables d’Olonne, home of the Vendee Globe singlehanded round the world race, and has connections to one of the teams, as well as one of the two Golden Globe entries from this quiet fishing town on the Biscay coast of France. I messaged him by Facebook and got an immediate invite to be a part of one of the greatest sailing events on Earth.I am a bit of an elite sailing geek. When I’m not getting depressed as hell about the destruction of the NHS and welfare state on Facebook I switch over to my passion of following the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean and Vendee Globe – not unlike a footie fan switching off by following their team. I’m lucky enough to have a few regular sailing writing clients too, so in some ways I can indulge my passion through my profession. This trip though, was purely social.

Everest my arse

People often speak of climbing Everest as the greatest physical challenge to man. It isn’t. I discovered today that something like 3500 people have summited the mountain and survived. Did you know that in the last 150 or so years, only 41 people have sailed around the world singlehanded? Most of those have done it in the Vendee Globe, though you have the odd record attempt such as Ellen MacArthur in 2005. With only 12 people walking on the Moon, a solo circumnavigation is closer to a Moon landing than Everest in terms of numbers of people who have actually done it.

The madness began…

I warned my clients, including my sailing writing clients, that I was off for a few days to indulge my passion, and got in the car last Friday on my crazy adventure. Accuse me of being a midlife crisis boy if you wish, but I’m not going to get a replica boat and wear replica gear and go to sailing event ‘sportives’ like middle aged men in Lycra (Mamils) do on their racing bikes. I was just going down to see and taste the madness around the event. I left at 5 in the morning and got there 15 hours later and caught up with my host who I hadn’t seen since we were hard drinking 19 year old tall ship crew in the US Northeast. Bed (finally) after a 22 hour day…

Golden Globe? A race for real men…

Outside the village was ‘my friend’s’ Golden Globe boat, a very sturdy and very slow 32 footer that is set to sail its occupant and a steady pace around the world in 2018 in around six to eight months. Unlike the IMOCA 60 Vendee Globe boats, its autopilot is controlled mechanically by a wind vane and its navigation systems are a sextant, speed log, magnetic compass and a paper chart. The racers will leave Falmouth in 2018.
The last Golden Globe was completed by only one man, Robin Knox Johnson, while the rest of the competitors sank, retired or committed suicide. Six months alone at sea is as much a psychological battle as it is a physical one.
Into the village…

The village…


My friend and I went down to the race village with our access all areas passes, and joined the crowds. It was estimated that 70,000 people turned up the day before the start – the picture above is just the press to get through security at the gate!

It was an opportunity to see the boats close up, though understandably with 24 hours to go you had to have a wristband as well as an access all areas pass to get on the dock. Our passes gave us access to the press area and a chance to breathe in air that wasn’t flavoured with red wine, garlic and cheese…

Even though I have an aversion to crowds I caught the bug of enthusiasm from the French there. The symbiosis between the town’s government and the Vendee organisers made it a real success. Two months after the summer season petered out, so the local tourist businesses got full tables at the restaurants and many a bottle of wine was sold for a solid week. UK seaside councils could replicate this and really benefit – offer free entry to a global event and let your local businesses have a field day. UK councillors generally don’t understand that events such as this have a direct impact on their tax revenues…

Beer o’clock

After going sailing on a classic boat that afternoon, so the time came to socialise. We met a Vendee veteran from the UK who was ploughing through the beers, who told us a few stories. While racing on your own you never sleep for more than 20 minutes at a stretch. Alex Thompson, skipper of Hugo Boss, has a shock watch that gives him a jolt if he has been still for more than 30 minutes. My new drinking buddy explained that there’s no sense in practising sleep before – he spent the week before getting drunk and making last minute decisions before waking up at early o’clock and getting into routine once the race had started.

The Vendee Globe begins…

After another extremely late night I was up at 0800 on the Sunday. Coffee and cigarette in hand, I noticed cheering from a crowd. The coast was half a mile away and clearly many of the 350,000 spectators had found their spots many hours before and were using wine to fend off the cold.

The family had national TV breakfast news on and all the skippers were interviewed before they headed out. The French take this event at least as seriously as the Tour de France (unlike the cycling event they have a chance of winning it) and I know that the Vendee Globe race tracker will get millions of hits a day.
I’d paid €75 to join a spectator boat myself. A week earlier and I may have got a €230 place on a boat with lunch but it is worth shopping around – it isn’t just the Vendee organisers who run the boats. Anyway, the ten vessels left the dock after the 31 racers, and the dangerously drunk crowds on the shore cheered us as if we were in fact going around the world…

We passed some of the competitors as we went to a holding area, around a hectare of sea where ten, 100ft ferry boats jostled for a view of the start line. If you imagine a dancefloor full of pissed hippos, then add in the 1200 lives aboard, you can imagine just how nerve wracking watching the other boats was… Whenever a boat tried to get sea room, the French Gendarmarie boat jostled us back into the pissed hippo mosh pit.
The gun went off and suddenly everything changed for the spectators – the ferries’ bows turned out to sea, and throttles on full ahead as we just about kept pace with the IMOCA 60’s. In sunshine and on a broad reach in F5 winds, this was the best ever weather for a Vendee Globe race start. People explained to me it is usually into F7-9 head winds and big seas that break half the fleet in a few days.

Not today – we blasted out to sea in perfect conditions. With 1.5 metre swells those on the bow got wet, while those with hangovers or prone to seasickness soon lost their lunches. An hour later we slowed, and headed back to port at a cruising pace. I’d been told we would be out until 4 and we were home by 3 but I had a massive grin – it was brilliant fun and something I plan to do again.

Overall?

Beer and food until the wee hours, and up early for my drive home. 16 hours after my return I’m still a bit of a wreck from the weekend.

I write this with a note of sadness though. I’m from an island nation that once ruled the waves. With regard sailing we might as well be a central European nation with no sea whatsoever. We ignore our sailors by and large, who are still some of the best in the world.

From a business perspective, the likes of Weymouth, Plymouth or Christchurch could run an event such as this and make their local businesses very happy indeed. Make it free, and get a buzz going: watch the cash flow in by the kilo. I hope one of my old home towns Falmouth does the Golden Globe like Les Sables d’Olonne does the Vendee Globe, as it could inject tens of millions into their coffers through business rates.

The UK has the resources to make sailing big again. It just needs the bollocks to go for it.

Click here to see a short film of it…

Richard Shrubb’s adventure sports writing

Richard’s adventure sports writing comes from his need to get out and explore the world.

It is all very well watching something – many get a thrill from that – but what about doing it? What is it like for your body and mind to scream “NO MORE!” yet to still push to your destination? At sea, far from the nearest port there is no way of getting off the boat unless you’re so hopeless you decide to quicken your demise by going over the side. Far out in the countryside on your mountain bike you could be miles from mobile phone reception when it goes tits up so you just need to repair and recover.

Adventure sports are not always great for TV. Indeed, there are at least two sailing events I know (The R2AK boat race annually, the Golden Globe next year) that eschew continuous coverage altogether. They do need covering though, and who has done adventure sports before and has a passion for the genre can write about it in a way that brings it to life.

Over this piece I will write about my own experiences and show that someone who has been out there can be the best adventure sports writer for your website or magazine…

Life at the edge

Some kids find that they are good at sprints. They may have good agility and be able to do great things with a football. They worship teams of men who get paid millions to chase a ball around a pitch. I understand the camaraderie having stood at the Fratton End of Fratton Park watching Portsmouth play.

Others like a bit more substance. They are loping, long distance runners, cyclists and sailors. They enjoy asking questions of themselves – can I climb that mountain? What’s in that bay? Can I run 15 miles at a rate of 5 minutes per mile? Once you take those first few steps to answer those questions, so a physiological and psychological battle begins. Initially you’re going well, and then the pain sets in, grinding you down and asks your mind, “Can I do this?” Your mind has to respond, “I will assess in a few miles” or you could end up finding your way home with your tail between your legs.

I had a collision with a runner while on my bike last summer. He ran in front of me, I locked up and we both went down. I shouted, “Jesus Christ! You OK?” as he ran off. I thought my arm was a bit bruised but felt alright otherwise, and cycled on another 14 miles. It wasn’t until I had had a bath and tried to drive my car later that I discovered the adrenalin had got me home and that something wasn’t right – an hour later I was treated for a broken elbow at the local hospital.

Over longer distances and journeys, the weather and nature will play a part. You need then to assess whether your body is good enough to tackle the new conditions and progress. It is safer to run for port than get your arse kicked at times. Others? You believe you have the skills to make it. Crossing the Bay of Biscay in 2005 over two days and two nights in a 32ft yacht with 30-40 knots of wind on the nose, seemingly every other wave breaking over the cockpit, we knew we could do it slowly and gently. Dodging 500ft tankers that were driven by autopilot and getting far too close for comfort in the middle of the night sharpened the senses, and extreme tiredness made it a lot harder. You walk away from that and you believe in yourself a lot more than before the adventure.

spirit-1It ain’t all bad!

There are real highs to be had – blasting up the west coast of Scotland on a brisk, sunny day with waves breaking 50 feet up the deck from the bow of the schooner, spray flying and the crew grinning like Cheshire cats. A day crossing Lake Erie aboard a 186ft square rigged sailing ship (and my home for a year) in perfect winds in 30 degrees C of heat, all sails set and the crew thinking collectively, “This is what I signed up for!” Seeing parts of Dorset that few others have the privilege of seeing, only an hour’s ride from home.

At the end of the best adventures you walk tall. You know the challenges you have faced, scrapes you have got into, and know that nothing will stand in your way in the real world. If you can walk the length of the topsail yard, 75 feet above the deck while in a rolling sea without using your hands to balance you, you may have a little too much confidence, but the respect of the trainee you have just spent half an hour guiding up to that point.

How does all this translate?

Those who know what they go through to achieve their own adventures can get a good idea as to what others must do to achieve their own. If your legs feel like fire as you climb a 400 metre climb on your mountain bike then you look on in awe at Chris Froome who leads the peloton by half a mile as he climbs Alpe D’Huez. If you’ve crossed Biscay in a storm then you can imagine what your hero is doing on Hugo Boss in the Southern Ocean on the Vendee Globe single handed round the world race.

Get in touch today!

Among the adventure sports I have done, I have done kite buggying, sailing, cross country mountain biking, hang gliding, run half marathons, and climbed mountains. I have canoed down the Shenandoah River over five days. I have done all this in Europe, the Falklands, Caribbean, and the US. I am a paramotoring writer, cycling writer and sailing journalist. From these references I can write about your adventure sport too!

Contact me via my contact page and I will be to discuss your requirements!