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.