At the Y

16 Days in the Saddle


A map showing the trail Ty Hopkins biked from Canada to New Mexican–Mexican border. Starting in Banff, Cananda, Hopkins rode down through Montana, along the Idaho border, then through Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
Art by Mandy Douglas and A.J. Rich

Cycling from Canada to Mexico in just 16 days, 7 hours, and 43 minutes, exercise-science professor J. Tyson Hopkins (BS ’96) finished fourth out of 166 entrants in the Tour Divide. This is no road race—the bike race covers a rugged 2,725-mile trail over mountains and through deserts. Contestants sleep where they can; for Hopkins this included under strangers’ trees and in a concrete toilet block (since the alternative was sharing the great outdoors with a grizzly bear, “the toilet block looked like heaven”). The bikers also have to eat whatever they can find quickly along the way, which, it turns out, is a lot of gas-station food. Hopkins not only collected some wild stories, but also data for research on the effects of extreme exercise on the body. He shares both in his new book, Just Ride.

1 big takeaway: “The body is capable and adaptable.” Hopkins’s research showed that, enduring extreme exercise, the body:

• Turns type-II muscle fiber (used for power) into type-I muscle fiber (used for endurance).

• Shifts energy from less-essential systems, like digestion and the immune system, to the muscles.

• Taps fat stores for energy to a point, then preserves remaining fat crucial to essential processes.

22 hours in the saddle one day—his longest. Hopkins rode for an average of about 16 hours a day.

1.5 hours of sleep one night. Hopkins’s average was 5.5 hours.

222 miles traveled in one day. Hopkins averaged about 159 miles a day.

179,533 feet of elevation gain over the course. Hopkins climbed an average of 10,561 feet a day.

4 bears encountered on the trail, all but one fleeing upon seeing Hopkins. “If the bears had had any idea how scared I was of them, they may not have been in such a hurry.”

4,418 calories in debt daily. On average, Hopkins burned 10,795 calories a day (about 19 Big Macs’ worth) and consumed only 6,377 calories a day.

2020the year he does it all again. “Yeah,” sighs Hopkins, “I don’t know, it gets in your blood.” Hopkins will ride the Tour Divide again and the Arizona Trail (750 miles) and Colorado Trail (570 miles) races. Completing all three in a year is known as a Triple Crown.

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