Running Down the 2024 Tour Divide (Part 2)

In the second part of his comprehensive coverage of the 2024 Tour Divide, photographer Eddie Clark offers an immersive glimpse into latter half of the race. He shares his experience of pursuing elusive cyclists and capturing ephemeral moments amidst the hills and hollows along this legendary route. Find his detailed recap and another stunning photo gallery here…

Salsa Cycles

Picking up in Del Norte, Colorado, where I left off last week, after getting some photos of Laurens ten Dam, I got out my laptop and found a hotel in Monte Vista to get some work done. Once I had the first report in the queue, I loaded up and headed back out on the route to intercept racers in the Old Woman Creek area just north of the Del Norte airport. I crossed paths with Cade Reichenberger who was on his phone, probably calling in a pizza or something of the sort. Cade rode on to take a fourth place overall finish in the race this year, not far behind Laurens Ten Dam, which is quite the accomplishment.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

At this point, a theme in my remaining coverage would start to play out: time gaps. If I ventured further into the Old Woman Creek zone—which is quite scenic in a 1950s western cowboy film way—it would be a couple hours of sitting in the hot midday sun while being tormented by bugs tormented. Instead, I got myself closer to the Penitente mountain bike trails where I’d try to get some photos of Aiden Lampe with the Sangre De Cristos in the background.

I slept in the Penitente campground last year and made a mental note to come back and ride those trails the next time I was in the area. Setting out in the heat of the day wasn’t the best idea, but spending a few hours on the bike sure was worth it, and the technical trails there sharpened the mind a bit, too. The hardest thing about shooting the Tour Divide is the mind-numbing hours behind the wheel and accompanying lack of physical activity. I’d promised myself not to go so deep down that rabbit hole this year.

With an appetite worked up, I headed back into Del Norte to fuel up with a Subway sandwich and gas at the Alta Station. That’s where I caught up with Tomas Fabian. It was nice to see him doing well and still in good spirits; make no mistake, mental grit and a positive attitude are a supreme requirements for doing well on the Tour Divide. An interesting side fact; I’ve had more photos published from in front of this gas station than any other spot on the route, which is just a little bit hilarious and random.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

With full tanks, I headed up the longest climb of the entire Tour Divide to play the waiting game atop Indiana Pass. Fortunately, it was considerably cooler than the summer heat down in Del Norte. An advantage to doing so is that I’d gain some hard time checks and not loose Trackleader times on the next racers I’d photograph, enabling me to guesstimate their arrival on top of Indiana Pass. It mostly worked and I had some spare time to soak in the abundant beauty and some fine evening light. Listening to a pack of coyotes and watching them roll around on the alpine tundra through the binoculars was a bonus for my early arrival and one of the real reasons for being on the Divide. With time to spare, I flew the drone to take this selfie, which turned out better than all the other landscape photos I captured with it.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

Finally, I could see Aiden from a distance and got myself ready to fire off a bunch of photos as he rode by on his way to eventually placing 6th overall in the race.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

As the minutes flew by, the evening light got considerably better until it started disappearing, which had me scrambling for a new location to photograph Meaghan before it was completely gone. As I’ve said before, timing is everything, and my photo of Meaghan ended up being just minutes late from amazing with bright golden sunset light. It happens far more than I like out there, but it’s a situation where I’ve learned to adapt and spin on the fly to salvage the scene, which is what you see here of Meaghan riding off the backside of Indiana Pass with the mighty San Juan Mountains in the background.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

I slow-rolled my way towards Platoro after photographing Meaghan, looking for a place to sleep for the night. Just south of Summitville, I grabbed this post San Jaun sunset photo in the waning light.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

Not much further down the road, I parked for the night right next to where I’d photographed Steve Halligan several years ago during a very snowy edition of the race; this section of the route was completely covered in snow that year. That was a memorable day as I’d ridden my bike on snow for a good four or five miles to get to that location and had a fun doing so. This time wasn’t so fun, but mostly frustrating and somewhat comical in hindsight. At midnight I awoke to an odd sound underneath my truck that kept getting worse. With my flashlight, I found a porcupine on top of my rear axle! I chased him off only to be woken up again two hours later, but this time I just got in the truck and drove several miles down the dirt road to get away from him. The next morning I learned that he had been chewing on the ABS wiring harness!

I guess the good part of that story is that it put me in a good spot to capture Ana Jager the next morning. They were the last nice photos I got of Ana, and then I spent the next couple hours repairing the chewed up wiring harness on my truck. Apparently porcupines like copper.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

By this point Justinas and Uba were closing in on Antelope Wells, which meant another mega-drive to get down to Demming, New Mexico, a 1.5 hour drive from Antelope Wells, where I’d get a hotel for all of six hours that night. The thing about Antelope Wells is that it’s not really a place you want to hang out. There’s no nearby campgrounds, no toilets, no services of any sort, or even any shade for that matter, but there has been cartel activity in the area and also an abundance of zealous border patrol agents doing what must be a very difficult job.

I set my alarm to go off every two hours to be sure I wouldn’t miss getting to the finish before Justinas, and it actually worked out. It would have been nice to get photos of him on the new Continental Divide trail section before Antelope Wells, but unfortunately it’s about 30 minutes from any cell reception there, and it just wasn’t worth the gamble of missing him at the finish if he’d gotten ahead of me there. With time to spare, I rolled up to Antelope Wells and waited. Evidently, that same night Justinas had sleep hallucinations and sat down in the middle of the dirt road after Separ waiting on an imaginary ride until some imaginary people told him he could get a ride at the finish!

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

Even with the wasted hour that night and a couple hours walking back up the trail in northern New Mexico to find his passport, Justinas still took the win and did it with a new fastest record time for the Tour Divide. It was quite a moment to be there to celebrate his amazing accomplishment.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

He even finally ate his lucky pickle and a double cheeseburger he’d been carrying with him for a while just for this moment.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

Of course, I’ve got to talk about the bike. Justinas was the first ever to win the Tour Divide on a full suspension mountain bike, and honestly, it was the most dialed Tour Divide bike I’ve seen to date. He said that in 2023 he’d shown up with a very unprepared kit, but this time he was ready with no detail left unquestioned.

“Being in pain is not mandatory,” Justinas said in regards to his full suspension Trek Supercaliber. For many years full suspension was not considered as necessary for the Tour Divide, but for those many years full suspension mountain bikes also were not nearly as good, efficient or robust. Having 80mm of rear suspension was a vital key to Justinas not enduring the energy sapping abuse from the rough 2,700-mile route. Another key aspect of the record ride was having no mechanicals. He started with a new drivetrain and new pedals, and the only service besides cleaning the bike and lubing the chain he did was to replace one set of brake pads. He even used the same fast rolling Continental Race King 2.2″ tires that Mike Hall used when he set the previous record, and Justinas rode the whole route with no flats.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

After brewing up a pot of coffee to share with Justinas and Jeffrey Sharp from the Hachita Bike Ranch, I headed back up the route to find Uba. Before I got to him, I waited out a soaker of an afternoon storm so I could actually see where I was going. The summer monsoon season was now in full effect in southern New Mexico. I could see that Uba’s dot was not moving, and when I rolled up to his bike on the side of Tyrone Ridge Road, he was just coming out from underneath a lone tree. With conditions this bad, he could only laugh at his bad luck.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

This year the gods of mountain biking were smiting him with foul weather and strange mechanicals. At one point he found a five-inch needle inside his back tire, and later on, grit worked its way into the piston of his rear caliper to create excessive brake drag that forced him to stop and waste hours trying to fix it.

  • 2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark
  • 2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

Timing was everything, and for Uba it was the wrong timing. Frequent storms that begat muddy roads stopped him repeatedly. Another aspect was the constant switches from rain gear to warm weather clothing as temperatures would fluctuate 30 degrees (F) between the storms and sunshine. He eventually made it to Antelope Wells early the next morning with a time faster than his previous year’s which was also the second fastest ever for the race.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

Unfortunately, Laurens was right in the middle of the Gila National Forest and not moving; this was probably due to storms and muddy roads much like what Uba experienced. I promised myself years ago I’d never drive through the Gila again due to it’s extremely remote ruggedness, and I had no intention of breaking that promise this year, so I made a midnight run around the Gila to park in the campground at Pie Town for a short night’s sleep before resuming my dot stalking in the morning.

I caught back up with Meaghan on the washboard dirt road leading to Pie Town. She was making good progress on an amazing first Tour Divide ride.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark
  • 2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark
  • 2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

At Pie Town, while Meaghan got herself and her gear sorted and ordered food, I corrected some photo backup and memory card assignment mistakes I’d made for myself while getting a photo dispatch out the previous day. By this point I was walking on eggshells and cringing at what the next mechanical or technical gremlin I’d encounter might be, and when it came to dealing with photo files, it was a full stop situation I had to resolve before taking more photos. Also, I’ve found it best to stay out of the racers’ way if at all possible, and wait until they actually have a moment for themselves before approaching them.

With her last bit of pie left, I walked up and asked to sit and chat before she finished her meal. It’s been quite a ride for her, and hopefully we’ll see Meaghan back in the future armed with experience and route knowledge to show us just how fast she really can ride the Tour Divide. Until then, I’m looking forward to listening to her new book about the TransAm race called Shifting Gears when it’s released on audiobook next week. In addition to her cycling accomplishments, Meaghan has a degree in writing, and the new book should be quite interesting.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

After Meaghan rolled out to become the first woman to finish the Tour Divide and the 7th overall finisher this year, I did a quick dot check to find Tomas at Pie O-Rama just down the street. He too was excited for the pie and had to do some resorting to get all the extra food on his bike. Praise the lard!

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

Tomas Fabian would roll into Antelope Wells to claim 8th overall.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

New Mexico, I think, tends to be a very misleading state in regards to the Tour Divide. As pretty as many sections of it are, it’s certainly the most rugged and rough part of the route. On my drive from Pie Town to Grants, I stopped to take this photo of New Mexico’s misleading beauty featuring pretty white fluffy clouds and an endless empty dirt road that is made of spine jarring washboard bumps for almost its entirety. That and the crazy thunderstorms, and the heat, pretty much sum up the Tour Divide in New Mexico for me.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

I also managed to get a few photos of Lieven Schroyen in front of the sandstone bluffs of the El Malpais National Monument. There’s a nice little campground nearby, and the El Malpais National Monument is definitely a place worth stopping at to learn about some very interesting volcanic history of the region.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

By now, wide swathes of the route were empty with giant time gaps between the racers. It seemed Ana Jager had stopped for a hotel break in Grants but just before I’d decided to hop on the interstate, she rode by me, and my plan was already in motion so I wouldn’t see her again. Ana went on to become the second woman to finish this year and the 11th overall with another impressive ride on the Divide. These time gaps also meant most of the singlespeed crew were in the middle of an area east of Cuba that I’d learned years ago was quite difficult to shoot. My best decision was to put the miles behind me and work my way back towards Colorado to see the other new bits of Continental Divide singletrack in northern New Mexico.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

The new section comes after Brazos Ridge, and I’d heard it was fun mountain bike trail from Justinas, whom I knew had experience with racing mountain bikes at the elite level, so I was very excited to go ride some of it. The new Tour Divide addition exceeded my expectations, and I thought it was some darn fun mountain biking on legitimate singletrack with great views. Granted, after a couple thousand miles of the Tour Divide, a racer might not have that same joy for the trail, but regardless it’s proper mountain biking and 18 miles of it. If anything, the new addition cements my thoughts that the Tour Divide really is a route for mountain bikes and not gravel bikes.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

Of course, attitude is everything, and despite being on a gravel bike, 15 year old Edyn Teitge was full of stoke when I came across him riding up some of the aspen lined singletrack. The cycling stoke definitely is strong in this one, and it looks like Edyn is on track to complete his first Tour Divide in under 20 days. Utterly amazing!

  • 2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark
  • 2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

After getting some solid mountain biking in, I started the 25-mile drive on rough dirt roads back to highway 285 to head back up the route. Thinking I’d intercept third-place Marie Soleil Blais in Del Norte, I went straight to Alamosa for a food, fuel, and water resupply. I found she’d already headed up the Indiana Pass climb, which made my options much more complicated. The route between Del Norte and Abiquiu is quite long, very remote, and devoid of any cell reception or internet access, so trying to photograph racers here is much like walking around in an auditorium in the dark and hoping you’ll find a light switch.

I did some dot stalker math and made a run for the dirt road section that leads up to Brazos Ridge with plans of getting photos of her in the morning. But first I stopped on the drive up to La Manga Pass to take this photo of a wet Conejos River Valley. According to a roadside plaque, the last Grizzly Bear in Colorado was killed near the headwaters of the Conejos River in 1979 by a man who had supposedly been mauled by the bear and used a handheld arrow to kill it. How sad that it was our last Grizzly, and that it had been living a solitary life since 1952 when it was previously thought the Grizzlies had been killed off in Colorado.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

Yet again, my plans were foiled. In the middle of the night it started really raining and I couldn’t remember what the dirt road was like that I’d driven on just a few hours earlier—a lack of sleep has this effect. Out of fear of poor conditions, I emerged from my warm sleeping bag and drove back to where I could tell I’d be okay despite how much it might rain for the rest of the night. And so, the photo below of a muddy tire track is the closest I got to Marie as she rode by me in the dark.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

In the distance is Brazos Ridge. In doing research for this year’s Tour Divide, I googled Brazos Ridge to learn more about the region. In Spanish, Brazos means arms, and when referenced geographically it takes on the meaning of the arms of God.

2024 Tour Divide Part 2 Eddie Clark

A couple days ago I looked up at Brazos Ridge, and decided it was time to wrap up this Tour Divide and go home. This was the last place I saw Mike Hall, and I intended to go back there this year, not to take photos, but to remember my old friend. I didn’t make it up there on this trip, which is fine because just seeing it was enough. I’m not religious and I don’t think Mike was either, but now I can’t help but think that my last photos of Mike were of him riding into ‘The arms of God’

Mike Hall Tour Divide Record

Mike and his record is one of legend now, but his memory lives on. In memory of Mike Hall, in memory of Magnus White, and in memory all of our friends and loved ones who have been hit and killed by cars, I ask that you please consider following and donating to the @thewhiteline.foundation as they are working and fighting to make the roads safer for all of us to ride bikes on.

Further Reading

Make sure to dig into these related articles for more info...

FILED IN (CATEGORIES & TAGS)

Inspiration

Culture

Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.

11 Comments