Steamboat rider cruises through town in Tour Divide |

Steamboat rider cruises through town in Tour Divide

John Fairbairn rides toward Steamboat Springs on Monday while competing in the Tour Divide mountain bike race. Fairbairn, who lives near Stagecoach, said the ride has been difficult but rewarding so far.
Joel Reichenberger

— The riddle of the Tour Divide mountain bike race was woven into the first words out of local rider John Fairbairn’s mouth on Monday afternoon as the crew at Wheels Bike Shop tidied up his rig.

“It’s been going well, so far,” he said. “Haven’t had any problems. It’s been fun.”

He didn’t pause as he launched in with more details.

“We had six days of rain coming out of the start,” he said.

That rain left some riders on the verge of hypothermia and made for a miserable existence for the rest, slashing the daily mileage and obliterating their schedules.

Still, reflecting back, Fairbairn described the days as without problems, and as “fun.”

The Tour Divide is an unsupported 2,745-mile race/ride that tracks along the North American spine — the Continental Divide. Its course is set up on a series of trails, forest service tracks, country gravel roads and highways that stretches from Banff, Alberta, buried in the Canadian Rockies, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, a remote border crossing on a lonely stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border.

In five years, the race has gone from a few dozen starters on the line in Banff in mid-June to around 150, and its racers have become a sign of the summer in Steamboat as they stream into town, with dirt-caked faces and bed rolls tucked under their handlebars.

Fairbairn, who moved to Steamboat Springs three years ago, learned about the event in a documentary. He had been becoming more active since he moved to town and set riding in the Tour Divide as a huge fitness goal.

“I was in the worst shape of my life when I moved here,” he said. “I saw the movie, decided that was what I wanted to do and challenged myself.”

He was working at Backdoor Sports in Steamboat Springs, then took on extra hours at Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant to help save up money. He got some help in sponsorships from local equipment companies, like BAP, Big Agnes and Wheels, and when the race came, he was ready.

So far, so good, even considering all that rain.

“Your emotions run the gambit,” he said. “Sometimes, you want to kick your bike. Sometimes, you’re having the best time of your life, but overall, it’s just an incredible experience.”

He’s expecting the remaining miles through Colorado and to New Mexico to be marked by increasing temperatures, a new problem from that cold rain but an equally troubling one.

He guessed Monday that he may end up sleeping on top of his sleeping bag, rather than in it, or simply riding at night instead of during the day, to take advantage of the desert’s cool nights.

Besides getting a bike tune, he had only one plan for his stop in Routt County, which ended with a ride out of town Monday afternoon.

“I’ll go see my girlfriend Joyce,” he said. “I’ll stop, give her a kiss and say, ‘Honey, I’ll be home in a couple of weeks!’”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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