Global Athletic Pursuits
Interview with Tom Demerly

Adventure athlete Tom Demerly likes things that move in circles, mountains that scrape the sky, desert sands that scorch the feet, and polar cold that frosts the breath. As the 40-year-old owner of a high-end bike shop in Dearborn, Michigan, Demerly, a former U.S. Army Ranger, launched his athletic career as a pro skateboader in his teens, before moving into cycling where he was a three-time Michigan state champion. Bike racing later took him to Europe as part of the Gatorade amateur cycling team. He subsequently added swimming and running to his cross-training regimen, and then began a long skein of triathlon competition with over 200 finishes. His multisport rite of passage soon segued to the British Columbia Eco-Challenge adventure race. Next up for Demerly was a 150-mile run in the Sahara Desert as part of the six-day Marathon des Sables; and then seeking a climatic change of pace, he participated in another running race of temperature extremes - the Antarctic Marathon. He has also spent a significant chunk of his time mountaineering, with several ascents of Mt. Rainer and an ardurous trek up the north face of Aconcagua, in Argentina, which is the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.

"I have a life-long thirst for adventure," he modestly admits. He's also a steadfast fan of RailRiders. "The clothing is designed for travel on your body and in your luggage. It packs light and compact, folding down to almost nothing. I can carry a week's worth of clothes in less than a daypack. This is a huge advantage since I don't have to worry about lost luggage; you can carry on your entire wardrobe in a small pack. The styling is functional and attractive. It goes from the jungle to the hotel restaurant easily. I met the President of Morocco wearing an Eco-Mesh shirt, the same one I ran across the Sahara in during the Marathon des Sables, though I rinsed it out, of course!"

Q: What were the most difficult aspects of the climb up Aconcagua?

Tom Demerly: Aconcagua is a graduation exercise from Rainier, Orizaba and Kilimanjaro to very high mountains near 7000 meters. The wide weather extremes, duration of the climb and the altitude make it a real gutbuster. There are a lot of ways to suffer. In the Relinchos Valley, during the approach, it can be 100 degrees. At base camp you are suffering from the altitude: Bad stomach, splitting headache, the whole misery assortment. In a few days you acclimate and do some carries up to the higher camps. You work through the weather windows, carrying loads up so you're ready for a summit move once you're fully acclimated and you get good weather. By now, the trip is just getting really long. Summit day is huge, just this long, freezing cold grind. Nothing is technical, it is just cold, long and hard. A lot like a bad day at the Hawaii Ironman, except it lasts a month.

Q: Will you someday tackle Everest?

TD: Any climber would want the opportunity to attempt Everest. I tell people, if I don't get a chance to climb Everest, I will regret it. In addition to a lot of experience, good judgment, and excellent conditioning, it takes money and time.

Q: You've raced bikes in Europe. How did you fare there, and how would you do in a stage race like the Tour de France?

TD: Racing in Europe was a wake-up call. I was a big fish in a little sea here in the U.S. I was good local racer with a bunch of state championships. I then went to Europe and get my butt kicked big time. It took me 13 attempts to even finish a race. I never DNF'd in a bike race here in the U.S. unless I had a bad crash. There, I was getting dropped. It was a very steep learning curve. By the end of a couple months I was a new rider, super strong and a good bit smarter. At my best, I think I might have been able to get through a Tour stage if I rode in the group. Even then, people have no feel for how difficult it is. These guys are on their bikes five hours a day for days on end. When they go hard, they are going ballistic hard. The best riders in the world suffer like dogs.

Q: How would you compare Greg LeMond to Lance Armstrong? Each won three Tours. Who is more of a legend?

TD: Tough call. Both these guys are unique personalities and great athletes. You gotta love Lance, he is tough, scrappy, a little rough around the edges and no BS. Greg was an innovator and a pioneer. It's tough to compare them. Lance's cancer ordeal and LeMond's shooting accident add an incredible element to the story.

Q: Did you ever race against LeMond, Fignon, or Hinault?

TD: Yup, I raced LeMond and Fignon. Well, at least I saw them at the start of the race. Then they said "go."

Q: You have climbed Mt. Ranier several times. Any comments?

TD: Rainier is a classic. Rainier is the place you go to learn mountaineering. It is an incredible resource. On any given day you meet some of the best climbers in U.S. on Rainier. Since most of them are guides it is a huge classroom for people learning the sport. You have to respect it though. Rainier can kill you just as dead as Everest. People die on Rainier because it is so accessible. There is an exit of the freeway that says "Mt. Rainier.". There is no freeway exit that says "Aconcagua" or "Everest." I did a winter climb on Rainier. It was a huge wake-up call. My group got caught in this massive storm and you could not see. The wind was way over 40 miles per hour sustained, gusting to over 50 or more. It was like being in a milkshake. I thought, in a detached way, "So this is how you die in this sport." It was a few days of suffering. My hands hurt so bad from the cold I thought I would lose fingers. When I got down I thought, "No more." That spring I was back.

Q: If someone said, "Tom, I want you to run in the 120-Fahrenheit desert heat or on the 50F polar ice cap," which would it be, and why?

TD: I'm up for either. It seems harder to die in the desert as long as you have water. If you sit down in Antarctica and just give up, you'll be dead in four hours. In the desert, it might take a day or two. Antarctica is awesome, but the Antarctic Marathon was not any more difficult than a trail marathon in Michigan in January. It was more interesting, but not any more difficult. It was in the mid-30s and pretty windy. Wind chill would have been about 15 degrees. Not bad. The Sahara was much tougher, but the desert is so beautiful and the desert people are very fun to be with. There is something very basic about being in the heat. You need less equipment too.The desert seems so pure. But the 45-mile day at Marathon Des Sable was murder too. My feet were pretty beat up. Being in the Sahara in the middle of the night redefined my concept of desolation and isolation. It was an incredible experience. The price of admission to those types of experiences is a big deposit to the suffer bank.

Q: What is it like traveling to Antarctica?

TD: I was saying to other competitors aboard the ship, "I don't get motion sickness, I don't need a seasick patch," I was an Army Ranger. I was rough and tough, jumped out of planes, flew at low altitude over rough terrain. I barfed my guts out on that trip. I got so seasick. I was saying, "Hey, give me one of those patches!" The ship would collide with these waves at night. Most of the crossing was smooth, but one night: Wham! I fly out of my bunk, I'm on the deck. I climbed up to the bridge and there were just these huge walls of black water. You surf down one and collide with the next at the bottom. The Russian crew was so cool and calm. It was like an everyday thing for them. Amazing. It was the full "Hunt For Red October" experience.

Q: What adventure-travel destinations are on your ultimate wish list?

TD: After I got back from Aconcagua, I thought "I need to go someplace warm." I rented a grass hut on the beach in Belize and went scuba diving with sharks. It was so beautiful. The cold of Aconcagua and the warm sun and beautiful life in Belize: Yin and yang. One wouldn't have been as good without the other. My ultimate adventure would begin in late March with a trip to Everest and an attempt in early May. Following that, a few weeks on the beach in Bora Bora or on Tokoriki. Then I'd head over to Borneo for a climbing trip up Irian Jaya, which is unique because of the jungle setting.

Q: What kind of weekly training do you do?

TD: I split my training between weights, running, swimming and cycling. The variety keeps me fresh. I love training outside so going to the gym and the pool can be tough. Every week I'm putting in a couple of longer rides, at least three hours each, and a couple shorter, more intense rides. I run almost every day. Running is pure. The weights have to happen, I'm in the gym four times a week. I've had a lot of injuries, at 40 years old I need the strong musculature to support my busted up old skeleton. I spend at least fifteen hours a week training, sometimes more. It's the lifestyle, I wouldn't know what else to do.

Q: What is it like owning and operating a bike store?

TD: My job at Bikesport is a dream. We build triathlon, road and mountain bikes for people who live this lifestyle. We get to work with people all day who are going on adventures, doing triathlons, learning how to get fit. I get to build the best bikes from all over the world every day. The store is an environment where we have the luxury of very high standards. We're building great bicycles using the best equipment for great customers. Imagine a work environment where your entire focus is to get the end-product as close to perfect as possible. That's us.Every day I get to work with the things I love. It's not like working. One day I'm building a new bike for someone doing a triathlon in Australia, that afternoon I'm fitting a first-time rider on their new road bike and the next day I'm packing bikes for the Olympics in Sydney or the Tour de France. We have customers who are Olympic athletes and Tour de France veterans, and we also have customers who have just started riding. We build bikes the same way for all of them.

Q: Any additional comments about RailRiders clothing?

TD: I've worn RailRiders clothing for about six years. When I did the 1996 Eco Challenge in British Columbia, I had a difficult time finding clothing that was perfectly suited for adventure racing. Our team's uniforms had to be extremely lightweight, durable, comfortable through a wide range of temperatures, packable, easy to maintain in the field and have all of the features and benefits we needed without a lot of unnecessary bells and whistles. We needed clothing that was simple, elegant, versatile and bombproof. RailRiders was perfect. Ever since I discovered RailRiders in '96. I have worn it all over the world in all conditions. In addition to being perfectly suited for adventure racing, RailRiders is perfect for a long Transatlantic flight in coach class where you want be comfortable and still look presentable when you get to Paris, London, Marrakech or Amman, Jordan. The clothes are a breeze to take care of. You can do a week's worth of laundry in the sink on a 747 at 30,000 feet, roll it up in a towel, stomp on the towel to squish out the water, and it will be dry in a half-hour. As a guy who is a confirmed gear freak, I've come to really appreciate refined, simple elegant designs that are the very essence of the phrase "form follows function." RailRiders is a rare and perfect example: Everything you need, nothing you don't. I've tried a lot of so-called "adventure clothing." Nothing comes close. This stuff is the real thing, it really works. There's nothing better.