United on the Divide

Couple finish 3rd among 130 in Canada-to-Mexico race

Sam and Katie Newbury ride in chilly weather near Seely Lake, Montana, during the 2014 Tour Divide. Enlargephoto

Courtesy of Peter Newbury

Sam and Katie Newbury ride in chilly weather near Seely Lake, Montana, during the 2014 Tour Divide.

After pedaling a tandem mountain bike 2,745 miles along the Continental Divide through snow, rain and extreme heat, putting in 18-hour days, this has to be a sign of a solid relationship:

Katie Newbury calls it a “fun experiment.”

Katie and her husband and co-pilot, Sam Newbury, will talk about their 19-day ride Wednesday at the Durango Public Library. As well as an adventure, it was also a fundraiser for the Sky’s the Limit Fund, a scholarship that helps at-risk youths afford wilderness therapy programs. They’ve raised more than $18,000 for the fund.

The Newburys began the Tour Divide on June 13 in Banff, Alberta, along with 130 other entrants. The Tour Divide is a loosely organized race following follows the Continental Divide as best it can in deference to bicycles. It uses a lot of gravel roads, some singletrack and some pavement.

The Newburys rode the only tandem. When they hit the end of the ride July 2 in Antelope Wells, N.M., on the Mexican border, they were the third entrant to finish. It was the first time since 2009 a tandem attempted the ride. Whether a tandem is an advantage is up for debate.

“There are definitely pros and cons to it. It definitely comes down to how you work together,” Sam Newbury, 35, said.

They trained hard for the ride, clumping back-to-back 12-hour days this spring in New Mexico, said Katie Newbury, 32. Despite the hardships, they kept a strong pace and asked themselves, “Should this be harder?”

“We were riding super, super well,” Katie Newbury said. “We felt surprisingly strong. I think a huge part of that was our mindset.”

Both have experience in outdoor education and teach wilderness therapy. They met in 2006, bought their first tandem together in 2010 and married in 2012. They had ridden a few portions of what is called the Great Divide Route – put together by Adventure Cycling Association – and the idea to do the Tour Divide took shape.

It is self-supported, so many of the challenges are logistical – for example, getting into town quickly for supplies along the route.

“That and the preparation were the two most stressful pieces of the process,” he said. “Once we were out on the road just pedaling and going uphill that’s a pretty simple task – even if it takes a long time.”

Teamwork is crucial. The “captain” steers the bike while the “stoker” pedals from the rear.

“I think unlike most tandem teams we actually switch places every few days, which I think is quite rare,” Sam Newbury said.

Despite pushing through 10 to 15 miles of snow-covered track early in the ride, and a snowstorm the day of the start, they averaged 141 miles per day over 19 days. They reined in their speed a bit and focused on endurance.

When they hit the U.S.-Mexico border at Antelope Wells, it was about 105 degrees. But they were far from burned out, Katie Newbury said.

“We could have kept going.”

Sam Newbury pushes through snow dropped by a storm along Fleecer Ridge near Wise River, Montana, during the 2014 Tour Divide. Enlargephoto

Courtesy of Katie and Sam Newbury

Sam Newbury pushes through snow dropped by a storm along Fleecer Ridge near Wise River, Montana, during the 2014 Tour Divide.