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Adventure, Cycle / July 25, 2016

Best of 2016: The Tour Divide’s Lesson

Written by: Jan Bennett

Riding a bicycle along the Continental Divide over 2,700 self supported miles on mostly gravel roads involves a great deal of preparation. Researching every mile of the route, memorizing resupply points and testing your gear in every conceivable condition is all but a small part of the preparation for the Tour Divide.

I had spent the previous weeks in restless fits of sleep, waking up to panic that I overlooked something crucial. Now I was standing on the Spray River Trail outside of Banff, Alberta, Canada. I was on the Tour Divide!

On day three I awoke to a body that was puffy like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Even my face was puffy! Figuring it must be allergies, I picked up some meds and breakfast and hit the trail again. I stopped by Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish, Montana to have the guys take a look at my bike. Walking in, the mechanic took one look at me and said “I’m guessing you want us to do the work so you can go sleep?”

I didn’t argue and let them take the bike while I grabbed a room, once again. Once in the room, the mirror explained everything. I was still a good candidate for a Michelin Man double.

Day 4 and I awoke to a face that I didn’t even recognize. I sent my husband a picture and received a similar response. I opted to take the day off to rest and recover. After a 5 hour nap and 6 full meals, I spent the rest of my free time researching edema. I was going to take advantage of the off day and make sure I was recovered enough for another big push the following day.


Echo Lake Cafe was only 40 miles down the road the following day. Having arrived before my riding buddy, I secured a table and ordered hot tea. He showed up, took one look at me and shook his head. I was puffy, once again. I knew I was in for trouble if I kept pushing forward. We decided to hit up a bed and breakfast as the locals confirmed that the upper elevations were getting sleet and snow. Maybe a short day would give me a little more rest and I would be good to go.

Corbin was the goal the following day and I found myself struggling to make the climbs. My shoes were starting to give me hot spots that I had never experienced before thanks to swelling. Calling it at Seeley Lake, I did more research on edema. I also took the opportunity to do some serious soul searching.

Edema in female racers on the Divide isn’t uncommon. What concerned me was that my edema wasn’t confined to my legs, as it is with most others. Coupled with a cough that was getting worse, I started to really question the push to continue on at the possible expense of my health.

Things weren’t getting better, even after taking a day and a half off the bike. I would swell instantly upon riding in the mornings and it only got worse throughout the day. The pressure in my abdomen made it feel like I had gone 3 rounds in the ring. I had a decision to make and I wasn’t happy about it.

I ended up calling it and made my way into Missoula where I boxed up my bike then caught a flight home. I was simply crushed but I knew that I made the right call. The Divide will always be there. My health may not be.


Bryant Creek

Spray Lake Reservoir

NF-888 in Montana

Pristine Single Track, Pristine Scenery

Continuing to push when things get really hard is the hallmark of bicycle racing. It is where races are won and lost and where character is built. My most memorable races have been the ones where the conditions have taken a turn for the worst. Knowing when to call it quits wasn’t something I was good at.

I learned that even if the mind is willing, when the body is setting off alarms, no amount of pushing through will make things better. Learning when to stand up for myself and say that I need a break isn’t something that came easy.

In the end, I walked away from my experience with complete satisfaction at my effort. While it’s easy to get down and play the “what-if” game, it doesn’t change the past. Remembering that part of the beauty of the Divide is the growth that takes place in preparation and the experience once you are out there. It’s the learning process along the way that defines the experience, not how far you make it on the route.

about the author

Jan Bennett

An adventure seeker at her core, Jan Bennett has always been drawn to the outdoors and being active. Completing three different wilderness expeditions before graduating high school, Jan has always been at home in the wilderness. Even though she has a degree in Technology Management and a minor in Business, Jan took the leap and left corporate America in 2015 in order to persue her cycling passions. On any given day, you can find Jan in Dallas, Texas preparing her mind and body for the next outdoor adventure.

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