A Sussex man has become only the eighth Britain ever to complete the 2,745-mile Tour Divide mountain bike race.
Paul Howard, 36, from Hurstpierpoint in Sussex, rode solo and unsupported down the crest of the Rocky Mountains from Banff in Canada to Antelope Wells on the Mexican border.
He saw bears, rode past rattlesnakes, howling coyotes and herds of elk, deer and moose, and was overtaken by one of the world’s fastest animals, a pronghorn antelope. Riders also had to contend with marble sized hailstorms, snow drifts and knee-deep mud.
Rod Lambert, owner of Mr Cycles in Seaford, who supplied Paul’s Marin Nail Trail 29er, said: “He is proud to have finished the race and the bike stood up excellently to everything the world’s most diverse weather could throw at it. Paul did an amazing job.”
Only 18 of the 50 or so starters completed the rugged race. Paul’s time of a shade over 27 days’ riding, spread over several days, won him admiration from toughened competitors who are more used to the gruelling conditions.
In all he climbed more than 200,000ft – equivalent to scaling Everest seven times from sea level. The highest point of the race was IndianaPass at 11,910ft.
Paul said: “I’d like to enter my bike into the ‘world’s highest mountain bike’ competition. Maybe only joint first due to others on the race also passing this way, but there can’t be many that have been higher.
“I saw two bears. I saw one black bear at the side of the road in Canada and one brown bear walking down the high street in Breckenridge, Colorado giving out flyers, so it could have been somebody dressed up as a bear…”
“In spite of the atrocious conditions – the worst ever experienced in the race – all my bike needed during the whole ride was a new chain and two new gear cables. I wasn’t even too saddle sore.”
So would the adventurer go back for more? “I had a whale of a time, even if there were definitely moments when I was wondering what on earth I was doing there,” said Paul. “I still can’t quite believe I made it all the way to the finish. I saw some amazing things and met some wonderful and generous people, both in the race and on the route. It really was the adventure of a lifetime.”
He plans to write a book about the race called Two Wheels on My Wagon as a follow-up to his books Riding High (about riding the Tour de France route) and Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape, both in print with Mainstream Publishing.