Robert Orr: Riding the Triple Crown; Mike Schlichtman: Riding the Tour Divide
Total miles: 4,100
Days: 34 days, 12 hours, 29 minutes
Dates: April 15-24; June 12-30; July 26-Aug. 1
Fun fact: The Triple Crown involves a total vertical climb of 340,000 feet; only nine people have ever completed it.
Total miles: 2,745
Days: 21 days, 9 hours, 11 minutes
Dates: June 12-July 3
Fun fact: Schlichtman lost 16 pounds during the race, on a diet of convenience store burritos and M&Ms
Robert Orr: Racing the Arizona Trail, Tour Divide and Colorado Trail
Don’t blame North Routt local Robert Orr if he was a tad saddle sore last summer. He had just completed mountain biking’s notorious Triple Crown — racing the Tour Divide and Colorado and Arizona Trail races all in the same calendar year — at the ripe age of 61, breaking the age group records in all three.
It began in April when Orr, a former world-class adventure racer, headed to Mexico to race the 750-mile Arizona Trail Race, a suffer-fest taking riders from the state’s southern border with Mexico to its northern border with Utah.
Including the section passing through the Grand Canyon, where racers had to carry their bikes down and back up the Big Ditch (“It’s a national park,” says Orr, “so your wheels can’t touch the ground”), Orr finished in just over nine days for a fourth-place showing overall. “It was pretty brutal,” he says. “And the finish line was in the middle of nowhere — there wasn’t even any water there.”
Next up came the Tour Divide, a 2,800-mile cycling slog along the spine of the Rockies from Canada to Mexico. The world’s longest off-pavement cycling route, it takes riders through the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, as well as Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. By route’s end, riders climb nearly 200,000 feet of vertical, more than half of Orr’s total for all three races.
Racing it for the second time, Orr almost wasn’t able to finish.
“I hurt my back and had to go to a chiropractor in Butte, Montana,” he says. “It cost me about a day off my time.”
You wouldn’t know it from his clock-in of 18 days, six hours, shattering his age group record by almost a week and good enough for 11th place overall. “I’ll go back and do that one again for sure,” he says.
Barely off his bike saddle, at the end of July, it was then off to the Colorado Trail Race, a 550-mile, high-altitude affair from Durango to Denver, which he finished in seven days.
“It was pretty hard coming off the Tour Divide straight into that one,” he says, adding that the route included more than 100 miles of hike-a-bike terrain. He finished that race in a new age group record of just over seven days.
And he’s not resting on his laurels. He kicked off 2016 by racing the 200-mile Fat Pursuit fat bike race through the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, taking fourth overall.
“I had a few issues in the second half, but it went pretty well,” he says. “But it dropped to about 6 degrees during the race, which is pretty cold. When you’re depleted, things like that tend to have more of an effect on you.”
Mike Schlichtman: Riding the Tour Divide
His body hurt, there was no one to talk to and he still had hundreds of miles before his journey was over. There was no nearby food or water. Just desert. But that night, after setting up camp on Wyoming’s Great Basin, Mike Schlichtman’s mind was vividly clear.
“That was very surreal and pleasant,” he says. “It really made me feel alive.”
The Tour Divide mountain bike race is not for the weak of heart or mind, taking riders 2,745 miles through the Rocky Mountains from Canada to the U.S-Mexico border.
Riders who complete the course climb nearly 200,000 feet — the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest from sea level seven times. There are no aid stations or cushy, catered campsites along the way, and riders are responsible for providing their own food, water and anything else they might need.
Six years prior, Schlichtman found himself out of shape. The former hog and cattle farmer said “enough is enough” and started running. First, it was a couple miles. Then he worked his way up to a marathon. Then, it was onto a half Ironman and full Ironman.
After moving to Steamboat Springs, he bought a used mountain bike off Craigslist to give it a try. A couple years later, he found himself training for the Tour Divide.
The views on the ride helped pull him through. “Around every corner at elevation there were just beautiful views, particularly in Canada and Montana,” he says, adding that in the Great Basin a pronghorn broke off from its pack and offered him a race and another time a bear ran in front of his bike.
The Montana leg took seven days alone, and his stop in Steamboat en route provided needed motivation, even though rules kept him from sleeping in his own bed. “To be over halfway done and to be in Steamboat was a milestone — more so than the actual finish,” Schlichtman says.
While in Steamboat, Schlichtman replaced the drive train on his Moots along with the rear tire. His only other mechanical issue was a broken valve stem.
He only crashed once on his trip, a fall onto a cactus that left him digging out thorns from his shoulder. His body withstood most everything else, after altering his shoes to accommodate flared-up achilles tendons. Days and nights of being cold and wet wore on him, but his mental attitude carried him on.
“The task is so monumental and daunting that you don’t really have any time to think about anything in the outside world,” Schlichtman says. “There’s something very freeing about that.”
On his second to last day, he ran out of food and water in hail and freezing rain. “If there was a helicopter with a ladder I probably would have climbed on,” he says.
Finally, on day 21, finishing 34th out of the 153 who finished, he arrived at what he calls the “dirty, hot and dusty” border. There was no fanfare — just a couple of people waiting for their son who was six hours behind Schlichtman. But even without clanging cowbells, he already has plans to compete again 2017. “I just want that feeling again of no outside pressure,” he says.
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