Yass High School maths teacher and cyclist Heath Wade competed and finished one of the toughest endurance mountain-bike races in the world.
He aimed for 20 days to finish the Tour Divide, a 4418-km race that began on June 13 in Alberta, Canada that then goes through the western hills of the US and finally finishing at the Mexican Border.
It took him 22.5 days, but finishing the event in 23rd place in his first attempt is a major achievement of its own. After all, 84 of 185 starters recorded ‘did not finish’ statuses.
Wade has been cycling for about 30 years and said the desire to compete was from “the love of adventures”.
“I just wanted to see if I’ve got the mental strength and physicality to cope with 4500 km of mountainous tracks,” he said.
To put the event into perspective, the climbing distance of the route is equivalent to climbing Mt Everest seven times. Event organisers describe the race as “not for sprinters”. The race also does not include rewards and prize-money.
“This battle royale braves mountain passes and windswept valleys of the Continental Divide from hinterlands of the Canadian Rockies to badlands of the Mexican Plateau,” its website states.
It is a self-supported racing event, which means the riders have to carry their own supplies, including sleeping equipment. As well, there are no designated rest periods. A far cry from the Tour de France.
It was about managing the many variables – from body failure to equipment failure to crashes to hunger and thirst.
Wade said managing his mental state to cope with the physical adversities was the toughest part.
“It was about managing the many variables – from body failure to equipment failure to crashes to hunger and thirst. I had to manage it all, including carrying my supplies,” he said.
Of the days he spent riding, he said it was an average of 15 hours a day.
“When you open your eyes in the morning after camping 3000 metres above sea level and it’s cold and everything is wet, you’ve got to have the desire to keep moving forward.”
Asked if he lost his way, Wade said there was one instance where he had a lucky escape during a 140-km section.
“I had hit headwinds and ran out of water. I thought it was going to take six hours but it took longer. It was dangerous, but I managed to push on where I reached an oil-mining section. There, a guy had a cooler and had melted ice, so he saved me basically,” Wade said.
Besides finishing the race, Wade said the camaraderie with other riders were a positive. “There’s no easy days and you know that the adversities you’ve overcome are with others. There’s mutual respect there,” he said.
Post-race, Wade enjoyed a recovery ride from San Diego to LA. As for the bike, he left it overseas.
“It was spent.”