YUMA, AZ — Tanner Morgan was desperate for water.
The Payson High School graduate ran out of it west of Superior near the end of the Arizona Trail Race, a grueling five-day 300-mile mountain bicycle race from Parker Canyon Lake to Superior.
“I actually ran out of water and was real close to being in a very bad situation,” he said. “I ended up finding a horse trough of nasty green water and drank that. I was pretty close to the finish line. That’s how bad a situation it was. I couldn’t just push through.”
Now, two years later, Morgan, 27, who was recently medically retired out of the U.S. Air Force after serving as a combat controller staff sergeant, is about to embark on an even more challenging adventure.
He’s preparing to enter the Tour Divide, a mountain bike race spanning the entire 2,745-mile length of the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. The race begins on June 13. The route crosses the Divide more than 30 times and has a total elevation gain of more than 200,000 feet — the equivalent of summiting Mt. Everest from sea level more than seven times. The race is completely self-supportive, which means no aid stations, entry fee, awards or even an official start or finish line.
The Arizona Trail Race featured an elevation gain of 50,000 feet. He expects it to take him roughly three weeks to complete the course.
“I’m shooting for 22 days but that’s basically because it would be a Fourth of July finish,” he said.
He said it’s not like most races.
“It’s an annual race but it’s an unofficial race,” he said. “It’s just a bunch of people who show up in Canada on that day and time and it’s basically whoever gets to Mexico first wins. The record for it is 15 days and change basically.”
He’s competing in the event to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF) and honor two local fallen heroes.
After two local military free fall instructors, MSG George A. Bannar and SFC Jason B. Granger, were killed in the line of duty last year, SSgt. Morgan committed to raising money for other fallen heroes. MSG Bannar and SFC Granger were friends and local coworkers of SSgt. Morgan who risked their lives on a daily basis training special operations soldiers in military free fall operations at the Yuma Proving Grounds.
Morgan, who lives in Yuma, is embarking on the grueling race despite shattering his left leg in a work-related sky diving accident about a year ago that resulted in his recently being medically retired out of the military.
“I went through a very aggressive physical therapy the last year,” he said. “One of the first things they did for physical therapy was cycling. And since I was a competitive cyclist before I got hurt, it was easy to get back on the bike. It hurts me a lot less to cycle than it does to walk.”
Morgan competed in the Leadville 100, a 100-mile bike race in Colorado, last August. “It’s the most prestigious mountain bike race in the world,” he said. “People come from all over the world for that. I did it in 10 hours and I think 44 minutes.”
SSgt. Morgan was raised in Payson and joined the U.S. Air Force in December of 2004. He was stationed at the Yuma Proving Grounds in the summer of 2009 and went on to become a part of an elite few who hold the title of military free fall instructor. In 2013, SSgt. Morgan helped the local mountain bike team, Team America, earn an Arizona State Championship title.
SSgt. Morgan is fundraising to support the SOWF, a nonprofit organization created in 1980 devoted to providing college education to every child who has lost a parent serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps during an operational or training mission under the U.S. Special Operations Command.
“It’s for an awesome cause,” Morgan said. “It’s near and dear to my heart.”
To help SSgt. Morgan reach his goal of $50,000 please visit: http://www.firstgiving .com/fundraiser/honorthefallen/thegreatdividemtbracecanadatomexico