Here we go ... 10 questions with Aidan Harding. For those who don't know, amongst other things Aidan has competed in 2 Iditarod Trail invitationals and raced the Tour Divide last year. He'll be racing the TD again this summer but I'm sure the highlight of his year will be the WRT ;o)
You can follow Aidans adventures via his web site www.aidanharding.com
• On last years TD you rode singlespeed, was that for simplicity, weight saving or just because?
Mostly just because. There's no doubt that gears ought to be faster, especially on a route with as much flat as The Divide. There were definitely times when I would have killed for a big ring. But, singlepeed does impose a certain rhythm to long distance riding. You can't get to the top of a hill, whack it up a few gears and stay on the power - you have to slow down a bit when the going is easy. I like that. And if you ride singlespeed all the time, hulking up climbs is just normal.
• Are you going to have another go at the WHW double and how fast do you think it could be done in perfect conditions?
I'm not. I didn't enjoy it at all. That's not entirely the trail's fault - I did go there to train for the Iditarod Trail Invitational so I wasn't 100% committed to finishing the WHW double. What I got was a lesson in mental toughness and how much I'd let it slip. That was a useful lesson and helped me to get my head right before Alaska.
The thought of carrying around Loch Lomond again fills me with boredom, so I can't see the temptation to go back. I think someone will make it this year. The best person for the job would probably be a 24 hour racer rather than a multi-day rider. When I get tired, I just want to go to bed. To make the WHW double, you'll be going way into sleep deprivation.
• You ride a Singular, do you believe 29ers offer a big advantage over long distances?
I don't think that wheel size is the whole story. I absolutely hated another 29er I rode a few years ago, but the Swift is the best XC bike I've ever ridden. I was a sceptic when I first met Sam for a test-ride, but I rode the tightest trails I could find and it was great.
So, it's hard to speak from personal experience about 26 vs 29 without having ridden enough 29ers. But the numbers on a race like the Tour Divide are pretty compelling. In 2010, there was only 1 rider on 26" wheels. Maybe we're all sheep, but I think there's something to be said for having big wheels for long distance.
• Do you have one piece of kit you wouldn't be without?
In Alaska, my neoprene face-mask was the best thing ever. This year was the first time I've used one and I had no idea how much my perception of cold was dictated by my face getting chilly.
But overall, it's my Leatherman. Ever since a wet ride in The Chilterns when my brake pads wore out and my fingers were too numb to change them, I've always made sure I have those pliers. On that ride, I had to limp home in the dark with one brake and a light that kept cutting out. Eventually, the other brake was worn out too, I lost feeling in my hands and feet and I started to feel dizzy. It all started from not having the tools to sort my brakes out. I've used that tool loads of times since and it considerably increases my bodging options. With that, duct tape, and cable ties I can get out of pretty much anything. (Just ask Aron Ralston!)
• What keeps you motivated during an ultra endurance event? ... there must be times when you just want it all to stop.
The truth is: every single time, I reach a point where I don't want to carry on. Then, I have a sit down, eat and drink, and eventually realise that I couldn't quit if I wanted to. When you're a day or more away from help, quitting isn't very practical.
I like to read books about Polar exploration and I'm greatly heartened to find that those guys go through the same thoughts. And they reach the same conclusion, once you're committed, you're not going to be able to give up so you might as well get on with it. They also face much harsher challenges than I ever have and come through them.
In general, though, the places I've raced through are so amazing that they motivate you. If you can postpone your bad feelings, eventually some view or some section of trail or some local person will blow you away and then you realise why you're there.
Aidan ... Tour Divide 2010
• You're racing the TD again this year, will you do anything differently from last year?
I'm riding a lighter bike - a Singular Pegasus; and trimming down my kit. The biggest difference in kit is switching from a 35L drybag on the front (cheap but difficult to keep off the front tyre) to a smaller front bag and more stuff directly attached to the frame.
I'll also be going harder tactically. I slept in hotels a lot last time and that meant some days ending earlier than they ought to. I know I can do the distance, and just finishing isn't my aim so I can risk more in the direction of possibly breaking myself :)
• How many calories a day did you get through on this years Iditarod?
I have no idea. When I rode to McGrath in 2009, I had spreadsheets with calories per gram and all sorts. The food that I took as a result was dreadful. I didn't want to eat it, so I was undernourished for the whole trip.
This time, I just took the kind of foods I know I crave and guessed the amount per day by sight/heft.
But, I can tell you I ate about 2000 calories in one sitting in Kaltag (the village at the end of the Yukon section). My food had gone missing and the stuff I managed to get hold of had the calorie totals written on it.
• If you could ride with one person who would it be?
It's always fun to ride with my friends and I don't get to do that enough.
Aside from them, it would be Mike Stroud. He is a polar explorer, adventure racer, medical doctor, and researcher into endurance sport.
• Which do you worry about most bears or moose?
Moose. They're belligerent animals that will take you on just to have supremacy on the trail. Bears aren't generally that interested in messing with people.
• Is there anyone you'd like to thank?
There are way too many people, but here's a short-ish list:
Emily and my family for putting up with me.
Sam at Singular Cycles for making great bikes and helping me out loads.
9 Bar for helping me out with food for Alaska. Tastier, more nutritious, and easier to eat frozen than anything else out there.
And all the race organisers: Bill & Kathi Merchant, Matthew Lee, and your good self.