Professional endurance cyclist Ashley Carelock of Dolores has begun a 2,600-mile adventure race across America from Canada to Mexico.
The Tour Divide is a granddaddy of self-supported ultra-endurance races.
The bike-packing trek begins in Banff, Alberta, passes through British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, and ends at Antelope Wells, New Mexico.
“I’m excited and a little nervous. I feel more prepared for this race than any other. This is what I love to do,” Carelock said Thursday as she prepared for a Friday morning start.
The route on dirt roads and jeep trails traverses the Rocky Mountains, climbs multiple passes of the Continental Divide, and wends its way through valleys and vast deserts and plains.
By route’s end, a finisher will have climbed nearly 200,000 vertical feet.
Riders must be self-supported and ride solo. No one can meet them for supplies, send supplies or follow along in a support vehicle. Riders camp out for the majority of the race and are instructed to avoid riding with other competitors to avoid drafting.
“Every racer is tracked. If they see you spending night after night at hotels, you get bumped from racer to tourer,” Carelock said.
Carelock, 39, said she plans to ride 140 to 160 miles per day and sleep four to six hours per night. She plans to take 200 calories per hour.
“My goal is 18 days, but it could be more, or hopefully less,” she said. “I took a deep dive on the specifics of the course. I’ll do my best.”
The Tour Divide race is particularly brutal and beyond the reach of most cyclists, many who see a single century ride as a major accomplishment. Imagine doing a century-plus every day for nearly three weeks, all with no help and sleeping on the ground night after night.
But Carelock combines her physical toughness with mastery of the mental game – mind over matter, staying positive and shutting out the muscle pain of grinding up high-elevation passes on a loaded bike.
“I listen to a lot of (electronic dance music) that helps keep up the pace,” she said.
Then there’s pedaling into the notorious headwinds of Wyoming, powering through summer heat and thunderstorms and camping alone with only a sleeping bag and tarp in the wilderness full of wildlife.
“Grizzlies are kind of a worry. I have bear spray,” Carelock said nonchalantly.
Racers use digital maps and GPS to track their progress. Carelock also has the route written down.
Participants can track how the other 170 racers are doing as well.
Carelock is sponsored by Rodeo Adventure Labs, Sportful bike apparel, Next-gen Sports and Kokopelli Bike and Board.
She rides a 12-speed, Rodeo Labs Trail Donkey, a high-performance gravel-grinder with drop-down bars. It is decked out in the latest bike-packing gear, aero bars, front and rear lights, and a tool kit. She carries an Osprey hydration pack with a water filter.
Carelock said she increased her training for the event, adding intensity intervals to her daily rides to add power and stamina during the pressure of steep climbs. She also adjusted her gearing to accommodate all the climbing.
“After a while, it’s just about the miles. It is so beautiful. I just love the bike-packing adventure, and you always meet cool people along the way,” she said. “I am so thankful to be able to do this and appreciate all the support from friends, family and sponsors. I’ve got this!”
She will update her progress on her Facebook page and on Instagram @ashcarelock.
Carelock’s racing resume continues to grow.
In 2022, she won the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde in Cortez, and also won it in 2016.
In 2021, she won the Ride the Ancients gravel-grinder century, which traverses the mountains north of Dolores, and is a race that she organized.
In 2020, Carelock was the only woman to compete in the 1,017-mile Arkansas High Country Race. She set a new solo women’s fastest known time of seven days and nine hours and placed second overall.
In 2019, Carelock was the only athlete in the solo female category for the Across Andes, a 900-mile backpacking race from Chile to Argentina. She finished with a time of six days, 2 hours.
In 2018, she won the Fat Bike World Championships, earned a silver in USA Cycling Fat Bike nationals and took third at 24 hours of Old Pueblo.
In 2018, she won and set a new course record at the 500-mile, multiday Colorado Trail Race.