Scott Thigpen Q&A: Tour Divide on a singlespeed

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Earlier this year, I won a copy of “Trail Magic and the Art of Soft Pedaling” from Neil Beltchenko and the folks at Bikepackers Magazine. Written by baller-extraordinaire Scott Thigpen, the travelogue-style book chronicles Thigpen’s experience racing the 2013 Tour Divide. He began the race in Banff, Alberta, against 167 other racers—some first-timers, others TD veterans—from around the globe. After mashing 2,745 miles, Thigpen reached the U.S.-Mexico border in Antelope Wells, N.M., in 22 days.

Thigpen placed 4th in the singlespeed category that year. That’s pretty damn good, considering his story: Starting from couch-potato, he trained for two years while holding down a family, freelance career illustrating for the Wall Street Journal and The Atlanta Journal Constitution, and a teaching gig at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

He’s not the guy bombing downhill in that Pinkbike video on Instagram, nor is he picking off riders in the dual slalom at Sea Otter. Off the bike, his appeal is that of a normal dude dealing with the same trappings of modern adulthood as the rest of us. But his Tour Divide finish—on a singlespeed, no less—is a testament to the payoff of such balls-to-the-wall (or boobs, for the ladies reading) commitment necessary for such a feat. The title “Trail Magic” refers to the unexpected moments of generosity or coincidence on the trail just when it’s needed.

And so, as the 2015 Tour Divide begins on June 12, we emailed Scott for a Drunkcyclist Q&A.

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If you were a stripper, what would your stage name be?

“Bear-It-All-McSly”

If you could be anyone for one day, who would it be and why?

The late, great Utah Phillips! In fact I aim to just become him one day. Not only did he look like Uncle Jesse from the Dukes of Hazzard, Phillips was a political activist, singer but most of all, he was a storyteller and I listened to him for days during the Tour Divide Race, good stuff to keep you entertained.

Early on in the book, the race crosses the Canada-U.S. border (“Montana” section). What was the crossing was like? Everything from the bureaucratic stuff to where you physically crossed into the U.S. It’s not something many riders get to experience.

It was kind of uneventful for me. Four or five of us rolled up with a line of cars to get through the border guard. We waited for what seemed like an eternity. When I fished my passport out, the guard half hearted glanced at it and then motioned me on. Before I went into the United States, I stopped at a Canadian gift shop and drank a Coke, ate some beef jerky. The owner came out and sat and talked to me for a while, that was kind of cool just sitting and listening to how he ended up owning a store on the Port of Roosville.

When I crossed over the border, there was some mass confusion as some cyclists went right, some went left. I was looking at my GPS thinking, ‘Which way should I go?’ (spoiler alert: Turn right!) I don’t think it really settled in until that evening that, “Hey, I made it through Canada!”

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Aside from the Tour Divide, what’s something that is really hard and long that you have to bust your balls to get through?

The Trans North Georgia Adventure. First of all, it’s harder than the Divide—hands down. 350 miles of singletrack with 56,000 feet of elevation. That’s a fourth of the Divide’s 200,000 squished into a tiny amount of mileage and yes, it truly is a ball buster of a route.

Would you rather ride the divide of a country or ride the divide of a woman’s bosom?

Given my wife would throat me if I answered this incorrectly, let’s say country side.

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Should they allow e-bikes in the tour divide?

Hell, I was hoping Red Bull would sponsor it, implement a race fee and have neutral support with a SAG wagon following you the entire time. I’m really hoping they get a HammergelGuTrekSpecializedNinerTifosi Sponsored van that comes up to you and hands you a feedzone portable plus a perfectly mixed nutrition drink so you’re at your best.

What’s your take on how to handle the mental game of Tour Divide? Are the frustration, rage and exhaustion things a new rider can even prepare for?

Meditation and mindfulness…oh, and yoga. So, how many subscribers did you guys lose with me saying that? Seriously, keeping a positive attitude, stopping for a moment and doing some deep breaths does help ebb the rage beast inside. Basically something breaks every single day on the Tour Divide race. It could be something on your bike, or your mental stability. The best thing to do is not be Mister Manly Man and stuff it all down because your heart explodes. Crying is a nice way to get stress out (yes, crying) and focusing on positive things such a deep south pork BBQ.

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Estimate how many beers you consumed between the start and finish of the race.

Um… heh… a lot? When I got to Helena, Mont., the bike shop there had a keg to “pour your own,” then afterwards a few of us went to a local bar. I sorta woke up the next day with a wee bit of a headache. There was one day I stopped at a place for lunch and had a beer, just one and it was magical. The cold, golden brew with all those calories was just the ticket to get up the next hill. If I did the Divide over again, I’d not drink a drop though because the sluggish crash you get later on is not fun to bounce off of.

After a huge day on the bike…beer or blowjob?

Figuring I was riding around moose, guys and grizzly bears? Let’s stick with beer for this answer.

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What kind of responses (ranging good to bad) have you received about the book?

Towards the end of editing, there were a few snafus of getting the book pushed out. I and two other people combed over the book looking for errors but for all our efforts, there were still some and people caught them and called me on the carpet about it. Those are the worst reviews. Some people didn’t like that I wrote about the book from kind of a “in my head” perspective, but honestly I’m a “in my head” kinda guy. The good reviews are generally all the same which is “Scott tells a good story.” I think the biggest compliment I get is that it inspired an average dude to get on his bike and try something big.

We approve of your racing a singlespeed on Tour Divide.

My friend calls it “Simply stupid,” but hey, ask me about all my shifting problems I had along the route.

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What are your next big ride plans? Where can we find you these days (on the road, on the trail, online)?

Online. As much as I love all forms of social media, I am mostly on Facebook. Sometimes I tweet, but it’s hard for me to plug in and chat as much there. I am on Strava too if you really want to see boring updates of my training.

I’m not doing much trail riding during the summer and am in full on triathlon mode. So I’m trading in my fear of bears to fear of sharks now… because while they don’t exist in lakes, you try telling that to my overly active imagination when I’m swimming in the murky waters. I train run with my dog these days too, she’s 110% energy and 80% legs (I’m bad at math) so she likes to run. I think she’d freak if I tried to ride my singlespeed next to her.

In the fall, I’ll hit the singletrack more.

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The Grand Depart of the 2015 Tour Divide is June 12. Scott Thigpen’s Tour Divide blog can be found here.

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About Wrighteous

Keeper of the DC colors in the American Midwest.

6 thoughts on “Scott Thigpen Q&A: Tour Divide on a singlespeed

  1. I can’t count the miles I’ve gobbled up listening to Utah Philips. One of the most under appreciated songwriters of our time.

  2. Pingback: Scott Thigpen Q&A: Tour Divide on a singlespeed | PEDAL CANTON

  3. Wrighteous, the expression “balls to the wall” is not gender-specific. It comes from aviation, where a throttle had a ball at the end, much like a gearshift knob. To go faster, push said ball forward, or toward the wall.

    Just something you can use on trivia night.

  4. Scott may have finished a hours before me but I drank waaaaay more beer on the route then he did…..

    You the man Scott!

  5. Scott is a BS’er. He actually finished the race in 23 1/2 days and there is no singlespeed class in the Tour Divide. Only a singlespeed record holder.

  6. Sam – how many TD’s have you completed ? ……. Crickets……..

    Thought so asshole.