Biking for triple

Biking+for+triple

Jackie Jahfetson

NMU grad hopes to break the Triple Crown record on the Arizona & Colorado Trail Race and the Tour Divide

At the end of forest road at the United States-Mexico border lies the start of a 750-mile race. A strenuous test of physical and mental strength depicts a competition for survival where only the strongest and fastest prevail. Never-ending stretches of desolate Southwest terrain where it’s only you, the lurking chatter creeping from behind your brain and a Giant Anthem Full Suspension mountain bike. Twelve-hour shifts of mad pedaling coincide with a 2 to 4 hour nap will erode your sense of willpower and confidence. But you must force your legs to keep pedaling, for turning back means another hundred or more miles in the opposite direction. Some might give up after a few days when they can no longer push out the average mileage of 100 miles per day.

But Dylan Gonda and “Fernando” aim to finish this Arizona Trail Race in 7 to 8 days. Then, take a little siesta, hop back on Fernando for another two enduring races in an attempt to shatter a new record in the Triple Crown Mountain Bike Series. After graduating from NMU in December, Gonda knew he wanted to accomplish something different this summer and decided now is the time. The Triple Crown includes the Arizona Trail Race on April 18, the Colorado Trail Race and the Tour Divide.

Competing in the Tour Divide in 2016 at age 20 prepared him for this epic challenge. Gonda hopes to knock out the 500-mile Colorado race in 4 to 5 days and the 2,700-mile Tour Divide in 16 days. Only 10 people have completed all three races in one year, and Gonda said he’s determined to be the 11th.

“There’s something amazing about being in the most beautiful landscapes and pushing your mind and body as hard as you can for 24 hours straight, riding your bike, sleeping for a little bit and then trying to do it all over again,” Gonda said. “You learn something new about yourself each time. There’s something weirdly addicting about that push and feeling that struggle.”

Since deciding to tackle this obstacle in September 2017, Gonda has been training nonstop. Throughout the winter, he’d train through his “deck of cards” method: where each card number would mean a certain amount of pushups, sit-ups or curls. And to build up muscle mass, Gonda incorporated weight lifting into his schedule. However, the most challenging thing about the Arizona race will be the 22-mile hike through the Grand Canyon where Gonda will have to strap his bike onto his back, to avoid his tires touching the ground. Preparing for that trek, Gonda carried his bike on his back and walked once or twice a week from his house to the top of Mt. Marquette, a 13-mile round trip.

Whether it was writing in his blog, designating a day for logistics, working on gear or going for a 20 to 100 mile ride, Gonda made sure to stay on top of his regiment. Training in the heart of the frigid Upper Peninsula, being originally from New Mexico and understanding the layout of the desert will also pay off.

“Arizona is so much different than riding here in the Midwest. But riding in the slush-snow right now from the back roads is very similar to riding in sand. Living and training in the U.P., it’s [those] rough conditions that makes you really tough, really fast,” Gonda said. “Dirt roads around here are amazing, so it makes you get into a really good mental space of how to slug through a few hundred miles.”

Most racers only carry the bare necessities such as 5 to 6 liters of water, a sleeping bag, some extra biking clothes and a bundle of zip ties, which doesn’t leave much room for food. But when you’re burning near 10,000 calories per day, raiding the high calorie gas station food will be a life saver, Gonda said. The race is 80 percent mental, he added.

By riding his full suspension bike, he’s definitely doing something different compared to other racers. Though it be slightly slower, it’s more comfortable and Gonda said if you’re more at ease you’ll end up going faster. Fernando has been through “hell and back,” with 30,000 miles but it’s Gonda’s “pride and joy.” The bike is the most efficient vehicle ever invented, Gonda noted.

“[With biking, there’s] the ability to do it with others in racing or touring with others, or very much solo. You can play soccer by yourself but it’s not great,” he said. “But also, the mechanical side of it is really fun. With football or basketball, you just have that and shoes. I love the science behind bikes and trying to fine-tune it and make it as efficiently as possible and being really knit picky about stuff is pretty fun.”

With a competitive edge and always trying to improve his own endurance strength, Gonda said it’s all about testing your own pressure points and being o.k. with suffering. Another challenge Gonda will have to face is the long stretches of being alone, but having fiancé Olivia Walcott, senior environmental science, by his side is amazing, he added.

“He has the most grit of anyone I ever met. He’s stubborn. He’s just so stubborn and in the face of adversity he just keeps on going. And I get it because I’m the same exact way. You can call it passion, but really it’s just being stubborn in a good way,” Walcott said.

Though it will be difficult not having Gonda here, Walcott’s more “wildly jealous” that he gets to ride his bike in the desert while she remains here at school, she said with a slight chuckle.

“In the grand scheme of things, I don’t view supporting my partner on his dreams as a sacrifice,” Walcott said. “I’m less worried than most people would think I’d be. He’s really experienced in the backcountry [and] he’s so mentally strong even if conditions are bad. I think his bike frame would have to break in half for him to not finish this race.”

Without a doubt, there will be some “hairy sections,” Gonda admitted, explaining, one wrong turn could could end up badly. But knowing he’ll be tracked by the race system with an SOS button at hand, Gonda said he’s looking forward to those 24-hour long rides.

“Seeing new places is pretty epic and the sensation of flying down a dirt forest road surrounded by mountains or canyons and just by yourself when you know there’s nobody around you for who knows how many hundreds of miles,” he said. “And proving to myself that I’m capable of these incredibly hard feats and that sense of accomplishment is addicting.”