Racing the Tour Divide is all about sleep. Wanna go faster? Ride more, sleep less. To cover 190 miles a day, the winners ride 18 hours. If you’re lucky, 3 0f the remaining 6 hours are for sleep. Now imagine that with sleep apnea, a condition which keeps you from breathing correctly while asleep.
You wouldn’t recovering enough to put in any sort of athletic performance, and you’d have a very hard time making memories. Worst case scenario: microsleeping while on the bike – it’d be easy to ride right off the road into who knows what.
My own apnea is serious enough to drop my blood oxygen level down below 80% when sleeping at sea level. Sleeping at 5000 feet makes it worse.
What’s adventuresome soul to do? Mandibular Advancement Devices seem like a good choice for some folks, but if your apnea is more that moderate you’ll likely need to haul around a CPAP. As far as I know, nobody makes an extension cord long enough for the Tour Divide.
Enter the HDM Z1 Auto. It’s a small, light weight cpap built for travel. Thanks to the generosity of HDM, I was able to carry one this year.
The Z1 itself weighs about 10 oz – about the same as a light weight sleeping matt. The base, batteries and charger bring the total weight up to a bit more than 2lbs. Less than your tent. Less than a synthetic sleeping bag. And in terms of your ability to recover from a strenuous day, just as important.
Sleeping in the woods? The Z1 is battery powered. The lithium ion battery will last a full 8 hours when fully charged (watch out for cold weather though, might be worth moving the battery inside your bag if it’s very cold outside).
Charging takes 5+ hours, and doesn’t take place while using the Z1 itself, so if you need to stay outside 2 nights in a row bring a spare. Maybe future versions of this device will be able to charge the battery while the unit is in use. Until then, you might consider bringing 2 chargers (1 for the battery, one for the cpap) to charge up while you’re sleeping if electricity is available.
The Z1 is a bit noisier than my home unit, but this is a small price to pay for good sleep in the woods. I like to think that the sound from the unit scared off Bear 6 (the worst bear – the one I never actually saw) at the Red Meadow pass, where I was sleeping alone at 5,5000 feet. It also has a few small custom pieces that are important not to lose. Best to keep the custom hose adapter attached to the hose at all times, or perhaps bring a spare.
Particulars aside, the Z1 really lets me expand the range of adventures I can undertake. Getting good sleep lets me ride harder and stay happier than waking up night after night with a hangover from an oxygen diet. What’s most important though is that I was able to stay positive and focused on this incredibly demanding trip. A bad nights sleep for me is a recipe for pessimism, procrastination and a painful head – no way to keep on keeping on in the worlds longest mountain bike race. The Tour Divide is certainly one of the greatest adventures of my life, I’m happy to have had the Z1 along for the ride.