The long and winding road

June 8, 2010

By David Hayes

Issaquah resident Kent Peterson leads a procession of well-wishers as he departs June 3 from the Bicycle Center of Issaquah for Banff, Alberta, Canada, the starting line for the 2,745 mile Tour Divide race. By Greg Farrar

Ultra-distance athlete departs Issaquah for 2,745 Tour Divide race

Kent Peterson hasn’t owned a car in more than 20 years. He simply bikes everywhere.

So, it should go without saying that the sport of ultra-distance bike racing would attract the interest of the Issaquah resident.

Peterson left June 3 for his latest excursion into the extreme sport — The Tour Divide — heading north from Issaquah, atop his Redline Monocog single-speed mountain bike, to the starting line in Banff, Alberta.

The race kicks off June 11, the course winding south, staying as true as possible to the Great Continental Divide, for 2,745 miles to the finish line at the Mexican border at Antelope Wells, N.M.

There is neither an entry fee nor a prize waiting at the end, just bragging rights, which Peterson boasted until last year.

He read in Outside magazine about the first ride attempted in 1999 by John Stamstad, who pedaled from the Canadian border to the Mexican border.

“The idea of the route was initially to attempt the 2,465 miles over a few weeks or months,” Peterson explained. “Stamstad wanted to see how fast he could do it.”He polished off the route in 18 days.

Later, a few enthusiasts set it up as The Great Divide Race.

Peterson joined the fray for the first time in 2005.

“I tried it in the same spirit as John, just to see if I could do it,” he said.

Not only did he do it, he set a record for 22 days atop a single-speed mountain bike. The record stood until last year, when a new standard was set at 19 days.

Now 51, he wants to top that feat by completing The Tour Divide, a 300-mile longer route, in the same time or less.

Peterson said there are many challenges over the 2,745-mile course. Only 10 percent of the ride is on pavement. Another 10 percent is on trails. The rest is along gravel or dirt logging and mining roads.

“The uphill portions of the route is the equivalent of going up Mount Everest seven times,” Peterson said.

There are few designated rest stops along the route. Each rider carries his or her survival gear with them, including food and shelter.

Much of the race is greatly affected by the weather. There’s snow in the higher elevations. There’s sandy soil in the southern states. And there’s the rain.

“The first time I did it, in Montana I got caught in the rain,” he said. “The rain just pancakes the mud in the tires, making them useless. I had to carry my bike for five miles until the sun came out.”

Oh, and then there’s the wildlife.

“We’re all conscious of bears. We’re seeing grizzlies continually. And one time, I ran across a herd of wild pigs in New Mexico,” he said.

Peterson admits the wildlife is his wife’s main concern. He said Christine is more of a walker than a biker herself, and he got a rather mixed reaction from her when he announced his intention to return to the road race.

“She rolled her eyes when I said I was going back this year,” Peterson said. “She told me, ‘Oh, man, I thought you were done with this.’ She misses me when I’m out there, but she’s still very supportive.”

Christine will follow his progress through GPS trackers all racers have and take nightly phone reports — when satellite connection allows — to post on her husband’s blog, kentsbike.blogspot.com.

Peterson expects about 45 competitors to start the race; usually half of the field is unable to finish.

“Ideally, I’d like to set a new record,” he said.

Win or not, the good news is he doesn’t have to bike back home to Issaquah when he’s done. He’ll be catching a ride for that leg of the trip.

On the Web

Follow Kent Peterson’s status in the Tour Divide race on the leaderboard or at his blog.

David Hayes: 392-6434, ext. 237, or dhayes@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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