Tony Painter stands with his bike on a path in the woods near his house in Whitehorse on July 18. Painter was one of 10 Canadians to ride the 4.400 kilometre Tour Divide bike race. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukoner finishes 4,400-km Tour Divide in 23 days

‘I like a challenge and it sure is a challenge’

At a little more than 4,400 kilometres long and with 60 kilometres — yes, kilometres — of climbing, to say the Tour Divide is the world’s toughest bike race isn’t much of a stretch.

Starting in Banff on June 8 and following the Continental Divide all the way to Antelope Wells, the southern-most community in New Mexico, the Tour Divide is a bike-packing mountain bike race like none other.

Yukoner Tony Painter was one of 10 Canadians to join the 164-person field for the 2018 race and finished with a time of 23 days, 18 hours and 52 minutes — 30th of the 72 racers to finish.

“It was very gruelling,” said Painter. “It’s mostly on dirt roads, 70 per cent on dirt roads, … and it follows the continental divide, so it’s down through the Rockies so huge amounts of climbing.”

Racers need to be self-supported, meaning no support vehicles or supply drops.

“You carry everything from the beginning to the end,” said Painter. “Some people decide they might have too much stuff so they might post things back home, but I pretty much dialed it pretty well.”

With snow in the mountains at the start of the race and 40 C heat in the Chihuahuan Desert, packing was no easy feat and Painter said he thinks his supplies for the race — strapped to his Kona Raijin mountain bike — weighed about nine kilograms.

That figure included a tent, sleeping bag, a change of clothes and rain gear, but not a stove.

During the race, participants eat whatever they can buy at convenience stores since calories and ease of consumption are the name of the game.

“The most gruelling thing was probably the food,” said Painter. “You’re eating junk — highly processed, lots of sugar. You’re burning 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day and it’s almost impossible to eat that much food.”

Chocolate bars, burritos and pastries were the go-to foods.

“One thing that was really popular with guys was to get these sort of Danish pastry things that were packaged,” said Painter. “They probably have a shelf life of about 20 years, but there are 500 calories in them.”

As far as the burritos go, Painter said racers would buy them frozen, stick them in their pockets and eat them once they thawed.

Riding close to 250 kilometres a day near the end, Painter said he likely lost 10 pounds over the duration of the race.

The route included a whole host of different landscapes, including mountains and deserts.

“There is some really stunning scenery,” said Painter. “A lot of the time in the north it was quite similar to (the Yukon), so it was nice but nothing spectacular. Further south, in New Mexico for example, it’s the Chihuahuan Desert and you can see forever. It’s pretty amazing.”

As just the second Yukoner to take part in the race and the first to finish — Dylan Stewart raced northbound in 2013 but ran into flooding — Painter didn’t mince words when asked if he’d do it again.

“No. Definitely not,” said Painter with a laugh. “It was a pretty tough challenge — it really beat my body up. It’s taken two weeks to recover and I’ve still got numb toes. My taste buds were completely shot when I got back.”

Painter is no stranger to bike packing — he and his wife cycled around the world — so the idea of doing the race seemed reasonable after watching a documentary on the tour.

“I like a challenge and it sure is a challenge,” said Painter. “I’m 60, so I thought it would be a good year to do it.”

He trained on his fat bike all winter, and started using his race bike outdoors in April.

There is no training regime possible to accurately simulate the stress and strain of riding such long distances, but Painter said after a few days he settled into a rhythm.

“After two or three days, I hardly saw anybody,” said Painter. “You tend to see the same people because you fit into a sort of group — you’ve all found your place.… You might ride all day and maybe see somebody at a lodge or the end of the day.”

Painter said he plans to do some more bike packing trips — just without a running stopwatch.

“I would do more just bike packing I think,” said Painter. “It was good to do it once just to get it done.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

Cycling

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: Another election, another anomaly

Monday’s “double-tie” election is generating some free publicity for the Yukon as Outside news agencies scramble to find someone to interview.

A cyclist rides along the Millenium Trail in downtown Whitehorse on a frigid Feb. 9. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of an e-bike bylaw that would designate how e-bike riders can use city trails. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
First two readings passed on Whitehorse e-bike bylaw

Delegate calls on city to consider age restrictions and further regulations

Whitehorse City Hall at its Steele Street entrance. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Change of plans approved for city hall

Project would see 1966 city hall demolished

A city map shows the property at 107 Range Road. The zoning is now in place for developers to proceed with plans for a Dairy Queen drive-thru. If plans proceed on schedule the new restaurant is anticipated to open in October. (Cyrstal Schick/Yukon News)
October opening eyed for Dairy Queen

Will depend on everything going according to plan

NDP candidate Annie Blake, left, and Liberal incumbent Pauline Frost. (Submitted photos)
Official recount confirms tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin riding

Both candidates Pauline Frost and Annie Blake are still standing with 78 votes each

Crystal Schick/Yukon News Whitehorse International Airport in Whitehorse on May 6, 2020.
NAV CANADA suspends review for Whitehorse airport traffic control

NAV CANADA announced on April 15 that it is no longer considering… Continue reading

A bulldozer levels piles of garbage at the Whitehorse landfill in January 2012. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Rural dump closures and tipping fees raise concern from small communities

The government has said the measures are a cost-cutting necessity

lwtters
Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at city council matters for the week of April 12

Joel Krahn/joelkran.com Hikers traverse the Chilkoot Trail in September 2015. Alaska side.
The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer

The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer Parks… Continue reading

Letters to the editor.
Today’s mailbox: Hands of Hope, the quilt of poppies

Toilets are important Ed. note: Hands of Hope is a Whitehorse-based non-profit… Continue reading

École Whitehorse Elementary Grade 7 students Yumi Traynor and Oscar Wolosewich participated in the Civix Student Vote in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Yukon Student Vote chooses Yukon Party government; NDP take popular vote

The initiative is organized by national non-profit CIVIX

Yvonne Clarke is the newly elected Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre. (Submitted/Yukon Party)
Yvonne Clarke elected as first Filipina MLA in the Yukon Legislative Assembly

Clarke beat incumbent Liberal Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre

Most Read