Riding the Divide

Whitefish man embarks on 2,711-mile cross-continent bike-packing odyssey to support Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation

By Beacon Staff

While logging hundred-mile training rides over snow-choked mountain passes, Tim Hinderman sometimes forgot that most people are unfamiliar with the Tour Divide, a race across the spine of the continent that is the longest, most rarefied and arguably most difficult mountain biking event on the planet.

“I’ve spent so much time thinking about this and training that sometimes I have to remind myself most people have no idea what I’m talking about,” Hinderman, 62, of Whitefish, said.

The Tour Divide Race doesn’t enjoy the infamy of the Tour De France, or the Race Across America, or even the Iditarod Invitational. And that’s just fine with divide riders – its obscurity is precisely what makes it so unique.

Hinderman has spent the last few months training for the Tour Divide Race, a 2,711-mile bicycling battle royale that follows the Continental Divide from Banff, Alberta, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico – or, in Hinderman’s case, and a small handful of other NoBos (north-bounders), in reverse, from south to north.

Unmarked, unsupported and featuring more than 200,000 feet of elevation gain, the race braves mountain passes and wind-scoured valleys, tracking along the rooftop of North America from the badlands of the Mexican Plateau to the hinterlands of the Canadian Rockies.

“The actual race element is obscure by design, and there is kind of a subculture, almost a cult following of the race who believe that if it gets to be a race that draws 1,000 people it is going to destroy itself by virtue of its own success,” Hinderman said.

Tour Divide requires no entry fee or formal registration. There is no prize for finishing, and little fanfare at the “finish line.” A toll-free phone number with voicemail is the only format that allows riders to file field reports and check in on one another’s progress. Voice messages are podcast on the race updates blog at tourdivide.org, and riders who carry SPOT GPS messengers are tracked via live tracker.

While pros competing in the Tour De France have support groups, trainers, managers and medical staff on hand, and riders in the Race Across America typically have a crew of eight to 12 people and two to four support vehicles, the Great Divide Race adheres to one central principle: do it yourself.

Navigational assistance, food supplies from a team, logistical support and replacement bikes are prohibited. Competitors can purchase food and stay at hotels, if they choose, but otherwise they’re on their own. Riders carry all their own gear, and most camp out along the mountainous route, riding from dawn and into the night before passing out when they are too fatigued to continue.

The route crosses the Continental Divide 30 times, reaching its highest point atop 11,900-feet Indiana Pass in southern Colorado. It passes through the Flathead Valley and Whitefish, by which time Hinderman will be within justa few days of his destination.

The DIY aesthetic of the race captures the Tour Divide’s spirit, and Hinderman said he realized he wanted to attempt the feat after watching the documentary “Ride the Divide,” which weaves together the stories of three riders’ adventures as they pedal through the Rocky Mountains.

Hinderman said he is excited to experience the challenges of riding world’s longest mountain biking route in the world, but he has another motive as well.

“I am primarily doing this as a fundraiser for the Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation and the new Ski Heritage Center Museum of Skiing,” he said.

Since he began soliciting pledges for miles ridden in support of the causes, Hinderman has raised nearly $25,000. A pledge of 10 cents per mile will raise $270. A pledge of $1 per mile will raise $2,700.

The ski foundation formed in the early 1970s, when local high schools dropped skiing as a sport, according to Hinderman. The foundation helped organize ski races on Big Mountain and continues to run the events today.
Hinderman said as long as there has been a ski foundation, there has been a dream of opening a museum in Whitefish.

In an effort to bring the goal to fruition, he and other members of the ski foundation leased a city-owned cabin near the Stumptown Ice Den for the ski history museum and hall of fame. Hinderman said the working title of the museum is the Flathead Valley Skiing Heritage Center, and it will preserve artifacts and stories from the early days of skiing on Big Mountain and in the Flathead Valley.

Having nearly met his fundraising goal, Hinderman says, “All I have to do now is ride,” but he will be accepting pledges during the entire ride, which he expects to take about 30 days – amounting to an average of 100 miles a day.

To make a pledge visit Hinderman’s website at 30cdxings.com, and to follow his progress go to tourdivide.org/leaderboard.

The most common time to “race” the Great Divide Route occurs around the second week of June, beginning from either termini of the route. Although riders can race the route at any time during the year, Hinderman will depart June 13 as part of the “Grand Depart.”

The goal of a common start is for athletes to challenge the route “in situ,” or under similar weather conditions and with maximum daylight.

The Montana section of the Great Divide Route has been called “a glorious 800-mile medley of fire and logging roads, jeep and singletrack trails,” and as a NoBo Hinderman is ecstatic that he’ll be riding through his hometown on the home stretch.

“I’ve got a month set aside,” he said. “If I ride 100 miles a day for 28 days I’ll be happy. Historically only half the riders finish, so that’s my ultimate goal.”

Both Hammer Nutrition and Sportsman Ski Haus are sponsoring Hinderman, and he said the local support for the Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation has been overwhelming.

“I can’t say enough about my two sponsors and all of the people in this community who are supporting the Foundation,” Hinderman said.

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