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“Quitting is never an option”

Perkasie man finishes Canada-to-Mexico bike ride in 40 days


It took Mark Gibson 10 days longer than even his most pessimistic prediction to complete the Tour Divide bike race, a 2,745-mile off-road trek from Canada to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Along the way he encountered extreme temperatures, washed out roads, thick mud, enormous boulders, curious grizzly bears, and angry dogs.

He overcame mechanical problems, got lost a few times, survived for days at a time on energy bars, slept in the woods, next to roads, under a truck, and in two campground outhouses. He lost 10 pounds from his already lean body.

But at no point did Gibson ever consider calling it quits. There were a few calls home for a pity-party with his wife, Donna, when things got tough. And a couple of times when he stomped around feeling sorry for himself.

But the thought of packing up his bike and making a beeline for a hot shower and his nice comfy bed in Perkasie was never a thought.

“Quitting is never an option,” said Gibson, 62. “It makes you feel good for a couple of hours but miserable for the rest of your life. I’ve done enough of these challenges to know the bad times don’t last forever.”

It was that mental toughness that got Gibson through what he called “one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.”

That’s quite a testament, considering he has spent the last 13 years pushing the limits of his physical endurance.

Inspired by an invitation to join AARP in 2010, Gibson has completed some pretty crazy challenges, including a 50-mile ultramarathon and a 100-mile run along the Florida Keys.

The Tour Divide roughly follows the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, considered by many to be the most recognized off-pavement cycling route in the United States, if not the world. The route crisscrosses the Continental Divide from north to south using mostly high-quality dirt and gravel roads, trails, and a few short sections of unmaintained railroad tracks, according to event organizers. There is no trophy or prize money for finishing first. Of the original 200 competitors, only a little more than half completed the grueling course.

In his pre-race planning, Gibson hoped to average a little more than 100 miles a day, which meant he would have finished in about 25 days. But he also acknowledged 30 days might be more realistic, mostly because of the unknowns. It turned out he needed 40.

“It didn’t quite go as planned,” said Gibson, who owns Boing Gymnastics in Perkasie and is a motivational speaker.

Gibson rode a rugged steel-framed bike he painstakingly built during the pandemic, sourcing parts such as self-healing tires, the gearbox, saddle, and hydraulic brake system from around the world. He carried minimal gear to keep the weight down below 50 pounds: just two pairs of socks, one pair of shorts, two T-shirts, and a sleeping bag. Several times, the nearest creek bed served as his washing machine.

“It was way more technical than I anticipated,” he said. “It wasn’t the distance or the hills that were the biggest challenge, although they were tough. The terrain was in far worse condition than I expected. There were places a Jeep wouldn’t have gotten through.”

In those cases, Gibson resorted to the “hike-a-bike” technique, pushing his ride through the muck for miles at a time, sometimes even downhill.

Despite the challenges, Gibson said there were moments of “amazing scenery.” He recalled one painstaking 4-hour uphill climb that resulted in a view that was “drop-dead gorgeous.” The 165-mile stretch through the Great Divide Closed Basin in the Red Desert of Wyoming, which he had been warned could be treacherous, turned out to be one of his most favorite parts of the race.

“I went 100 miles without seeing another person,” he said. “The scenery was insanely gorgeous.”

And 39 days after the race began in Banff, Canada, and with 170 miles to go, Gibson knew he would make it to the finish line. As he turned on a main street in Hachita, New Mexico that would serve as the home stretch, Gibson was overcome with euphoria.

“Finishing is not what is most exciting to me,” he said. “It’s at that point in the race when you know you are going to finish. That’s when you just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

Gibson isn’t sure what’s next, except it probably won’t involve a multi-week journey. He’s mulling over some possibilities with his son, Tim. Several years ago, they completed a trip from Ottawa, Canada to Washington, D.C. on longboards.

Three days after he got home from the Tour Divide, Gibson took part in the Quadzilla 15K, a challenging run through the hills of the Trexlertown Nature Preserve, a challenge that left him struggling to walk for nearly a week.

“I had done that one every year for the last decade,” Gibson said. “I wasn't going to miss it.”

And certainly not quit.

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