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Cross-country race challenges even hardiest competitor

Elite mountain biker

July 22, 2011
By DANIELLE PEMBLE - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Danny Hill knew that the Tour Divide Mountain Bike Race was not for the faint of heart.

The self-supported 2,745-mile bike race through the Continental Divide is not only strictly for expert-level mountain bikers, but riders must also be a seasoned backpacker, a proficient bike mechanic and a skilled navigator. Through the snowy mountains of Alberta, Canada, to the desolate deserts of New Mexico, it is the longest and most difficult mountain bike race in the world.

On Friday, June 10, Hill departed from Banff, Alberta, Canada. Eighty-two people left the starting line that day, and only a fraction would make it to the finish.

Article Photos

Danny Hill is seen in Canyon Plaza, Ariz., on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route to refuel during the nearly one-month long Tour Divide Mountain Bike Race on June 27. Some points in the race can span 183 miles with no place to stop for food or water. (Photo courtesy of Danny Hill)

"The first week went by real fast," said Hill, " I don't know if the drudgery hadn't set in yet or what it was."

His goal was to ride between 125-150 miles a day.

"The weather conditions sometimes dictated (how far)," he said, "Some days I couldn't go quite as far and some days I did 170 miles because I felt good and the conditions were good."

Most nights he slept on the ground in a hand-sewn bivy sack, which is a cinching Gore-tex sleeping bag cover that kept him shielded from the elements. There were six nights that he was able to spend in a hotel, but those nights of luxury were few and far between.

He was able to connect with family and friends briefly a few times throughout the trip with his cell phone and through Facebook, but the majority of the 22 days it took him to finish were spent alone. He had a small, hand-held video camera with him that he would use to record daily updates.

"Your emotions go a hundred different directions," said Hill, "One minute you're ready to cry, the next minute you're thinking 'you can do this.' Sometimes you felt like you were on top of the world and others you were just wanting it to be over.

"There were several times I wanted to quit. One time during a rain storm I couldn't pick up my bike it was so heavy, so full of mud, it had to weigh 150 pounds," said Hill.

Hill would burn so many calories a day that he had to eat constantly just to get enough energy.

One time, after a long day, he ate two grilled stuffed burritos from Taco Bell, a pint of macaroni and cheese from KFC and a large pizza from Domino's.

"I ate massive amounts of food, I was sick of eating," said Hill.

The places where he could get food were spread apart, the longest span being 183 miles, so he would stock up on gas station and grocery store food that would travel well.

Some of his staples included cold Dinty Moore stew and Chef Boyardee, granola bars, Fig Newtons, Skittles, gum drops, peanut butter M&Ms, beef sticks, trail mix and Little Debbie fruit pies.

Hill never sustained any injuries during the ride, but did come across a couple interesting setbacks.

In British Columbia, he saw a 500-600 pound grizzly as he was riding down a trail and in Colorado he got held up by forest fires.

"The biggest fire that bothered us was the Los Alamos fire (in New Mexico). The smoke there was so thick you couldn't even see your hand in front of your face," Hill said.

One challenging (and quite strange) experience brought some humor back to his situation was when Hill was leaving Lima, Wyoming. He got caught in a bad snowstorm in the middle of nowhere.

"I was freezing," he recalled, "The only place that I could find shelter was this little campground, and there was an outhouse there."

Hill went into the outhouse, stripped off his wet clothes and put on his dry down jacket and ski tights to warm himself up.

"I'm sitting in this outhouse and the wind is howling outside, and I thought I heard a vehicle but it was pretty remote where I was. Then all of the sudden there's a knock on the outhouse door, 'Danny Hill are you in there?'"

"I said, 'Who the hell knows me in Wyoming? And to look for me in an outhouse?'"

A reporter from had tracked him down using the spot locater Hill was wearing.

The reporter asked him for an interview, in the middle of a snowstorm, in an outhouse.

Hill probably could have used some humor during the last leg of the race.

The hardest thing Hill had to deal with was the southerly winds in New Mexico.

"The wind was relentless, it seemed like it would never quit," he said.

When he reached the finish line on Saturday, July 2, 22 days after he had started, he posted this status on Facebook:

"Touching the Mexican border today was an indescribable feeling! The mountains, the mud, the snow, the rain, the heat, and the wind were all gone! I am truly glad to be FINISHED! Thank you all!"

Hill was glad he did the race, but even more happy that it was over.

"It was tougher than I expected," said Hill, "I'll never do that again," he smiled.

Danielle Pemble can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 256.



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