It’s been billed as “the world’s toughest bike race,” and at 2,745 miles from Canada to Mexico along the spine of the Continental Divide, who’s to doubt it. The terrain alone is enough to kill the average person—the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest seven times.
And Boscobel’s Eric Seim is up for the challenge, despite being considerably older than most contestants at age 49.
Next Wednesday, Seim and his bicycle will board Dr. Tom Pelz’s private plane and fly to Canada—Banff, Alberta to be precise—and the start of what Seim hopes to be an 18-day test of endurance.
“That’s my goal, 18 days, about 150 miles a day,” Seim said. “It won’t be easy. The race zig zags across the Continental Divide 27 times.”
The Tour Divide race is also known as the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The route is filled with long dirt roads and jeep trails that go through the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. The race clock runs non stop, with the rider who can ride the fastest while making fewer, shorter stops usually coming out the winner.
“It’s all horrible,” said Seim. “The only part that isn’t at altitude is the Great Basin, and that’s a desert.”
Seim will be traveling through the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, and the states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and ending at the Mexican border. He expects snow in Canada, scorching heat in the desert, and everything in between along the Continental Divide.
Seim will be allowed to carry food, water and the seven different maps he will use to navigate his Salsa Mamasita bike. He has also been given seven different maps showing the route he is to take. The maps are set out in mileage, so if the bikers lose track of their miles they will end up lost. Seim’s 20-speed bike will weigh 52 pounds when fully loaded and is also going to be running tubeless to avoid flat tires.
“I’m using all paper maps with a GPS to track distance,” Seim said. “It’s not just going down the road—when there is one. It’s navigation and everything that goes with negotiating remote, mountainous terrain.”
Seim started seriously biking when he was 33 years old. When he was 35 he decided to start participating in long distance bicycle races, including a 24-hour race in Texas.
In order to train for the Tour Divide, Seim said he had to stop training like a sprint racer. When he first started training for this event he tried biking all the time, however that actually worked against him and he had to refocus his training regimen.
“I had to train enough to be fit and purposely put on weight,” he said.
When asked what was his main concerns were concerning the upcoming race Seim had one word, “Bears.”
“I will have to make loud noises in hopes that they go away,” he said.
Another thing that will be different than the 24-hour race he previously competed in is that there will be no sag support. During this solo, self-supported ultra-cycling challenge the racers can only depend on themselves. They have to carry what they can on their bikes and pick up what they need along the way.
There will be stops along the way where racers will be allowed to fill up their water containers. Seim’s bike is able to hold up to five gallons of water at a time. However, there will be times where there are 150-plus miles standing between him and the water supply.
“Even though my bike can hold up to five gallons, I will not always want that much due to the weight it will cause on the bike,” Seim said.
With this being Seim’s first attempt at such a grueling, long distance race, he has two goals in mind he would like to accomplish. He would like to finish the race in 18 days out of the 25 days allowed to complete the event. Secondly, Seim would simply just like to finish the race.
“Most people don’t finish the race and some that do finish don’t finish in the allowed amount of time,” Seim said.
In order to make his 18-day goal, Seim’s plan is to ride until he feels he can no longer push on, then he will stop wherever he is and sleep. This will be an advantage to him, as some racers will choose to stop and either camp or stay at hotels along the way.
However, with an advantage also comes a disadvantage. Seim feels with him being 49 years old that it will be something that sets him back when it comes to recovering enough to get going strong again, as he will be looking at biking 12 to 15 hours a day over some of the steepest terrain in North America.
When asked if he thinks he will be doing this event again, he said he would have to wait and see.
“It’s hard getting the time off for something like this, as well as the high expense of the event,” Seim said.
And what does his wife think of his pending adventure.
“She hasn’t told me yet. I think she just wants to get it over with. I’ve been obsessing over it for 10 years.”