Takaka mountainbiker conquers Tour Divide through North America
The threat of grizzly bear attacks, unforgiving mountains and extremes of weather did not stop a Takaka mountainbiker from setting a new record in a notoriously tough ride from Canada to Mexico.
Brian Alder, 51, finished fifth overall out of 160 contestants in the gruelling Tour Divide race that follows the continental divide from Banff in Canada to Antelope Wells at the United States-Mexico border. He set a new record in the over-50 section.
The Tour Divide is touted as one of the toughest bike races in the world, covering wild and unpredictable terrain. It pushes riders to self-navigate through grizzly bear inhabited wilderness and remote snow covered trails.
"Mostly it was just having a mantra of 'keep moving forward,' whether that was riding up huge passes or pushing your bike through muddy sections. The key was to stay motivated to keep moving at all costs," Alder said.
He finished the 4,418km route in just over 16 days, an average of 276km a day. He rode for about 18 hours a day, getting on his bike by 5am and stopping to rest just before midnight.
Competitors covered over 60,000 metres of climbing in the race with the highest pass at 3,600m.
Alder is an experienced mountainbiker who was attempting the brevet-style race for the first time.
Riders must complete the race completely unsupported and carry everything they require with them and are only allowed to restock at outlets available to all competitors.
"You are on your own out there and everything you have or need you need to carry with you or buy along the way — so planning and preparation is a major aspect of the race," Alder said.
Alder said he started out riding with another mountainbiker friend from Christchurch on June 6. They planned to ride together through areas of Canada and northern Montana that had a high-risk of grizzly bear encounters.
But in a twist of fate, his friend was bitten by a dog on day two and had to pull out a few days later with a raging fever, and he largely rode by himself.
Alder came across grizzly and black bears and their cubs and moose and antelope along the way, but he always carried a bear whistle.
"It was sobering that the week after I finished a mountainbiker was killed by a grizzly in a similar area of Montana whilst riding with a friend, so it is a very real danger."
He said he camped in the wilderness or in campgrounds for around half the ride, and stayed in lodges or motels the other half.
Alder recalled arriving in Montana after midnight from the hardest day so far — he had almost given up for the day 140 km earlier due to headwinds and the heat across the Great Basin.
"I arrive to huge cheers from the other guests, a massive hug from the the host Kirsten and fresh wood-fired pizza straight from the oven. It was very uplifting and I felt I'd crossed a magic line with the finish now just a process of repeating day after day."
"The belief that was passed to me from Kirsten and the others was a just so motivating and suddenly I felt part of the Tour Divide legacy."
It's hard to express how much these businesses and people along the route contribute to the overall experience. The moments of connection and hugely motivating and it shows how much this is a mental challenge rather than a physical one."
Alder said the Tour Divide was the ultimate bike-packing adventure, with a wide range of physical and mental challenges.
Finishing with such a great time came as a complete surprise to him.
"I feel like I put in close to the best performance I could, so I'm extremely satisfied and proud of my effort."
Alder is an adventure cycle tour guide for Golden Bay company Escape Adventures and at Helibike Nelson.
He has led tours on the Heaphy Track and Old Ghost Rd, and internationally in Sichuan, China.
The next tour he will lead is in Kyrgyzstan.
"I'd like to thank the support I received from John and Mandy at Escape Adventures, Hyperformance Hardwear and Santa Cruz Bicycles and the Golden Bay and Nelson cycling communities."
In 2012 Nelson rider Ollie Whalley set what was then a new Tour Divide record time in 16 days, two hours and 46 minutes. The winning rider this year finished in 13 days 22 hours and 50 minutes.
The new adventure activity called "bike-packing" is gaining increasing popularity around the globe.
Earlier this year, 230 riders set out from Cape Reinga to Bluff on the Tour Aotearoa, a 3000km journey down the length of New Zealand.