Sunday, July 13, 2008

Great Divide dreams

Date: July 13
Mileage: 45.8
July mileage: 287.2

Well, Jenn Hopkins hit the Mexican border early this morning, making her the seventh and last finisher of this year's Great Divide Race. Given that this English singlespeeder who I had never heard of before last month is my new hero, I was really happy to hear she finished. But, like all endings, the news was bittersweet. This means no more call-ins, no more blog to update, no more racers to worry about and times to track. The Great Divide Race has been a huge part of my life this summer. Even beyond Geoff preparing for and competing in this year's race, which would have kept me glued to the updates in and of itself, I became intimately involved through the blog. Listening to the daily messages and attempting to transcribe them made me feel like I was right there on the sidelines, watching the racers struggle and succeed even as I went about my normal life thousands of miles away. It was great, really great, and I wanted to say thanks to Pete for letting me be involved, and also thanks to the racers for participating in the grand drama. There is a reason I no longer watch TV. Reality has forever ruined it for me.

It was hard when Geoff dropped out of the race. But the effort put in by the remaining racers, the heart and the grit, actually did help temper the disappointment - for Geoff as well as myself. I have to admit that when Pete first sent me the list of starters for the 2008 race - Geoff, Carl, Fred, a couple of previously unsuccessful GDR veterans and a bunch of people I had never heard of - I didn't expect much from this year's race. So it was even more exciting to watch John Nobile break the course record; for Carl, Rainer and Simon to pull in under 20 days; for Fred to tackle the granddaddy of the Mountain West's ultraendurance races, pretty much all of which he's finished; for Noah to finish on his second attempt and for Jenn to finish at all, given all the hardships she pushed through. A good year for sure.

And a good field - despite the recent division of Great Divide racing. Like many, I too was originally disappointed when I first learned about the creation of the Tour Divide. I feared a squabbling end to the Great Divide Race and bitter feelings remaining for most involved. But, as it turned out, both races worked out beautifully. Both attracted strong fields and both developed their own voices, their own compelling stories and inspiring efforts as the races progressed. One one hand, it's strange to divide what is really a small, small community. On the other hand, this year proved that there's not only room for two events in Great Divide racing, there may even be a need. Tour Divide has its passion and sense of community. Great Divide Race has its history and competitive spirit. Together, they coaxed more people to race this crazy route than ever before. I like to think of it as similar to the American League and the National League in baseball - separate but equal.

That said, my heart is with the Great Divide Race, and I really hope to see it survive. I noticed on the Web site there is already a "2009" stamped on the start date, so it looks like someone is thinking of giving it a go next year. This is great news for me, because it helps set some framework around my most audacious dreams, which simmer well on the backburner but tend to not stop once they start boiling over. Would I ever toe the line? Hard to say. I didn't think Geoff would actually do it when he announced his plans in June 2007, and look where we are today. I'm still not sure I'd even want to toe the line, though. Dave Harris put my conflicting feelings about the race well: "Every year I get excited for the first week of it, and then I see how much nearly everyone breaks down and it doesn’t look so attractive." The Great Divide Race does seem an impossible thing to do without digging a deep physical and financial deficit. That said, the best life experiences demand enormous debts - look at college.

Would I even stand a chance of finishing the Great Divide Race? Hard to say. Twenty-four days is a more-than-reasonable cutoff, accessible to most who are reasonably prepared, mentally determined and don't hit too many strokes of bad luck. I love the idea of riding fast as I can, pushing as hard as I can, out there alone - because no matter how many people show up at the starting line, you are in this race alone. But I also like the idea of touring with friends, soaking up companionship and scenery as the days loll by. Two very different approaches - both rewarding in their own ways. I'm still not sure which is right for me.

What I do know is this route has rendered its way into my dreams, stretching over my day-to-day thoughts like the distant horizon of the Great Divide Basin. I should see it because it's my country. I should see it because it's beautiful. I should see it because it's frightening. I should see it because it's humbling. I should see it because it's already a part of me. I should see it because otherwise it will haunt me. I should see it. Someday.


  1. wow, the baseball analogy is dead on. the national league steeped in tradition, purity, and fundamentals would of course be in line with the GDR while the american league focused more on drawing the new fan to the game with glamorous high powered offense would fall in line with the TD.

    different but equal i suppose, but you will have a hard time finding any avid baseball fan who likes each league equally. passion for the sport as a whole though is increased by preference of one "league" over the other. I think (and hope) this same idea will evolve over time in divide racing and strengthen it as a whole.

  2. Interested in getting paid for your post? Feel free to email me your blog URL here Thanks.

  3. I've been following Jenn's progress with great glee! Every time she has rocketed past me at events it's always been with a smile...

    In fact I fell off in front of her at 2006 Sleepless in The Saddle

    Fat Lad

  4. 2009. I don't know how I'll do it and I'm hoping for unity but giving it another shot seems almost certain.

    I love "the route" and what it does to people. I want the world series and not league play.

    Anyone know I can transport a mini-Marni with me the whole time? ;)

  5. Go for it. I'll kick in $20 at least. Fat lad will match me, won't you laddie?

    You could be sponsored by individuals like Barack.

  6. We were just talking about you the other day. 57 miles and 12 hours into our 'lets see if we can ride a 100 miles of singletrack in a day' ride. We were talking about being humbled by your riding in bad weather (we don't get much bad weather here in Colorado) and how we really hope you ride the GDR next year!

    Do it, you'd have fans all along the route.

  7. I'll stick in $20 for sure, thats about £1.34 and the minute isn't it ;)

  8. Great post! It is an strange thing how these routes get into our blood, our minds, our souls. The Kokopelli did that to me, and I became enthralled with that trail. We have this love/hate relationship, like a bad romance where neither can fully walk away from the other.

    The GDR is haunting me as well. I have no idea if I will ever attempt it. I have smaller ambitions for the time being. But who knows.

  9. Jill,

    I think you'll have to ride it to get it out of your system and even that might not do the trick. What finally kicked me into riding the GDR was not knowing if I could do it. If you know, you don't need to do it. If you wonder, there is only one way to find out. My first Divide story is here:

    and you know how things turned out:

    Huge congrats to Jenn and all the others. It's all just part of a much longer trail that we're all on, one way or another.

    Keep rolling,


  10. Getting older is not a good training regiment, do it while you can. From your writing I can see the rationalizations already... sounds like you'll both be out there next year. Nice writeups on the GDR.

  11. I'm with you, Chris. I would rather the two races just merge back together and everyone ride with one another, but that doesn't seem very likely. I think now it would be best of the two races distinguished themselves even more - maybe the Tour Divide could go from South to North, or start in August. Lots of room still to build. As it is, with the two still so similar, there is a strange dynamic. You probably didn't notice it as much as you were ITTing the route, but Geoff told me that the Tour Dividers in Whitefish definitely started to treat him differently after they found out he was part of the Great Divide Race. My first thought was the same as yours - "Can't we all just get along?"

    But I'm so happy to hear you're thinking about giving it another go in 2009. I can understand how lonely it gets out there. I went 24 hours during the Iditarod without seeing another soul, knowing Geoff was back in Palmer eating nonfrozen food and taking hot showers and not pushing a bike through the -30 degree night. But, looking back, that turned out to be the most mermorable portion of my trip. The solitude is a reward in itself.

    But you should just talk Marni into doing it with you. That girl's tough! :-)

  12. Jill,

    I totally agree with your feelings towards contemplating attempting the GDR. I have been an avid follower the past 2 years and had even put this years into my Outlook Calendar with travel included, but I knew that to attempt this year would not be wise.

    When will it be wise - probably never, but I, too, hope someday to be in Montana at the start, to develop bonds with people that you might not ever see on the trail again, and to see if my mind has the ability to push my body past limits that are unapproachable in daily life!

    What scares me most is the fact that I just might hate my bike after I am all done (if that is in the cards!) and never want to ride again. That would be sad!

    Love your blog - keep up the good work.

  13. This post is third in line tonight on google for 'Great Divide Race'. Interestingly, just above the official race home page and just below Tour Divide. I realize commenting now on last summer's posting is somewhat passe, although the post now rings interesting again for `09. Forgive me. I'm just a wannabe racer someday myself. I hope you go for it.

    After reading your post -and also taking in bits of the debating on the 'Mountain Bike Review's forum'- I must say Tour Divide looks like the more pure, fundamental -even competitive- of the two races (as one commenter above used to differentiate the two). Ultra racing is first about pushing ones personal limits, yes? Which club or 'league' is cooler ought be secondary or tertiary; as are all the fans impassioning followship. In the case of GDR v. TD, Tour Divide appears to have done what was unpopular in the name of the individual experience. The Great Divide Race's do-or-die premise of border to border racing appears to have ultimately rung hollow. It's curious they were unwilling to concede this and avert secession one year and the next all too ready to take their 'original divide race' to Banff. To the outsiders, they maybe don't look so original anymore. As well, their start date of 24 hours ahead of Tour Divide seems desperate and only to confuse would be racers. Was there not any thought given to merging? I guess I can see how Tour Divide might not go out of their way to join with GDR, preferring to serve them up a dose of border to border crow instead but I can't even find anybody blogging about the latest news. No matter what happens it's inspiring to see that a few individuals can still change the establishment by doing their own thing. Isn't that what DIY stands for? Of course, the racers themselves are the true inspiration. Someday me, i hope. Great blog.

  14. Hi Anon,

    Thanks for your comment! I'm really glad you are considering the route. I am as well.

    As to the politics of the two races, after mulling it over for a year, I can truly say that I do not care. They are both the same race, fundamentally, and the reasons for the GDR moving its start to Banff are unknown to me. Perhaps the people involved who were really pushing the border to border concept faded away. It happens. We cultivate other interests and let go to those pieces of our past.

    I think the most pure thing a person can do is ride the route on their own terms, on their own time. Choosing to line up with a race by definition requires established boundaries, established rules. But if I were to line up with a race, I would probably still choose the GDR, even with the odd 24-hour-before start in Banff (and yes, I do think this is really odd.) But it is the race I carry in my heart.


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