The Tour Divide, a bikepacking race from the Canadian Rockies to the U.S. border with Mexico, has always been a test of fortitude. But extreme weather is making it much more dangerous.

Kevin Latta pushed his bike forward, following the Bull River down a ridge in the Canadian Rockies. The tire tracks from riders ahead of him had disappeared.

He searched for a shallow place to cross. But after just one step, the swollen river swept Latta and his bike downstream. Gripping the bike in one hand, he swam one-armed, dragging his gear through the churning current. He reached for a tree branch and hoped it would hold.

Two days before, about 200 cyclists had gathered in Banff, Alberta, to start the Tour Divide, an ultra-endurance event in bikepacking — backpacking by bike — that extends all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Some riders are professional athletes, others simply recreational cyclists with an interest in the extreme. There is no entry fee and no prize — only the glory of surviving one of the most grueling solo competitions in the world.

“It’s like the Wild West,” said Matthew Lee, a cyclist and organizer of the race — or “disorganizer,” as he calls himself.

The route twists through almost 2,700 miles of the Continental Divide’s alpine peaks, woodlands, picturesque towns and deserts. Most riders see bikepacking alone through the Rockies as a personal challenge, a transcendent test of their fortitude rather than a competition against others. But in recent years, extreme weather has become one of their most dangerous adversaries as they race against flash floods, landslides, driving winds and wildfires.

Facts about Cycling

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