Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Date: July 6 and 7
Mileage: 22.0 and 8.7
July mileage: 79.3

I had nearly reached Gold Ridge when my watch hit 60:00:00, about three miles and 2,700 feet elevation since 0:00:00. Not bad for a walk. Could I take it to a run? I've never really been interested in running anywhere before, but for some reason I'm interested in running this Mount Roberts trail. I'm interested in running these mountains in general - to take it faster and farther than I've ever been able to before.

Faster and farther. With Geoff back in town and a few long-suffering racers still on the route, the Great Divide Race has been a heavy topic of discussion in recent days. When I am alone on my bike - and more often than that this month, on my feet - my thoughts often return to the question of whether or not I could ride the GDR. I feel motivated by the glimmer of excitement sparked by distant dreaming. But I end up kicking the scree or mashing my pedals when I arrive at the sheer absurdity of it all. All my past experience tells me I could not finish the GDR. All my past experience tells me it's impossible.

I was somewhere in the hills of Southern Ohio in fall 2003 when I just couldn't make the pedals turn anymore. My mind said go but my knees said no, and without another protest we were off the bike and walking, up the road, the finish line in upstate New York still unthinkably far away. Rather than becoming stronger every day, I was slowly breaking down, and I crossed those last three states on increasingly larger doses of pure willpower. And those weren't big miles back then. We were touring ... averaging 50 miles a day ... on pavement. The miles I've ridden since 2003 are exponential compared to the miles I put in before my cross-country tour. But still, the difficulties of that experience linger. They remind me that I am, at my core, just an ordinary person with ordinary abilities.

"It was really easy, until it wasn't," Geoff told me. "It was beautiful and enjoyable riding and great people, until my body gave up. And when my body gave up, my mind quickly followed."

I remember those hills in Ohio. More than all the mountains in the Rockies, they shattered me. Of all the things I learned from bicycle touring, I know emotionally there are wildly fluctuating days of good and bad. Mentally, the hardships get easier. But physically, the line seems to only trend downward.

And then there's faster and farther. I've watched Geoff scamper up Mount Roberts like a care-free mountain goat, fading into the clouds as I gasped and clawed my way up points far behind. He can coast up these trails effortlessly at a near-sprint; I get winded on a walk; and the GDR broke him. Where would that leave me? The ordinary person?

Faster and farther. If someone had pulled me aside on that road in Ohio in October 2003 and showed me a map of Alaska and the trails I would travel in the next five years, the rides I would not only attempt but finish, I would have never believed them. I was already on the bicycle ride of a lifetime, a lifetime, and it was harder than I ever imagined, and was more rewarding than I even anticipated, but Alaska would be another league entirely. Alaska would be impossible.

Still, it's fun to dream, even about things that may never, and maybe could never, happen. Because if there's anything I've learned from Alaska, I know where I take my ordinary abilities is entirely up to me. I get to set the limits. Faster and farther.


  1. I think you should always remember to pace yourself. Thats a LONG race and once you do it, lets say to finish...then what? Whats longer? And do you really have the time for longer? I bet you could do it, but why not do other smaller races first and work your way up to that. Once you reach the tiptop of the tallest mountain...you cant go higher. So wait, enjoy other races and keep it in the future. :)

  2. Interestingly, I think for most people it is the mind that says no long before the body does--for me it is a constant struggle. Perhaps that is what differentiates you and Geoff and others from the recreational athlete.

  3. Physically, women are far better equipped for the long-haul type experiences. We have higher body fat to live off of and our bodies don't deteriorate nearly as quickly. I'm a big believer that the GDR is more in reach for a person built like a mere human rather than a skinny athlete.

    No doubt in my mind that you could do it.

  4. I think you could do it too, when you want to and set your mind to it. Gooneyriders is right on many points he/she mentioned.

  5. I have no doubt that you could finish that race barring injury. You have already proven the ability to train the number of hours needed for it. Mentally, you are tough enough. Physically, you would pace yourself from the start and I think you would definitely stay within your abilities to avoid blowing up.

    The question is, if you rearrange your life for this goal, what person will emerge? Do it if you want to find out...

  6. Jill, you are anything but ordinary.

  7. Jill,
    Love your blog, read it everyday!
    Your ability to write and the gorgeous picutres you take have me hooked. keep it up!

  8. Gooneyrider is right, my mother in law was one of the few people to get to the top of Killimanjaro a few years ago. The super fit marathon runners just plain ran out of fat reserves and energy...Sue motored up there :)

    I think you are at the same place as me, we have come on leaps and bounds in terms of what we can do but stand at the edge of a cliff wondering if we would soar like and eagle or splat like a lemming :)

    Guess there is only one way to find out.


  9. You are not ordinary in so many ways, you are extraordinary in your love of the challenge, your discipline, and courage.

    I'm with everyone else, baring injury, you could do it.

  10. Hi Jill,

    Dominik just brought my wheel back this afternoon. He was going to stay with us, but he decided to check out some more of New Mexico with Leighton and Valerie (Leighton's girlfriend)before he heads back to Germany.

    Other than incredibly sore butts, they certainly had no regrets about participating in the race. In fact, I have never heard of anyone who regreted doing any part of it.

    When the FedEx driver went by he swung back around to see how they had done. I have so much bike stuff (and bikes) shipped here that the regular drivers know all about my adventures and the races. So, when he saw Dominik and Leighton on my front lawn with all the bikes on the roof of the Sports Mobile he got very excited and demanded a brief firsthand report of the race.

    My point is that not only do the participants get excited about the TD and GDR, but the spectators get a rush from it too. Unfortunately, many of us following the blue dots on the TD Leaderboard are starting to look for some kind of 12-Step program to overcome our blue dot junkie addiction.

    I suspect that you might be even more caught up in the trauma and drama of the races than most of us. Nevertheless, either the TD or the GDR might be good goals; certainly worthy of consideration.

    Personally I would rather tour it than race it, and had we not recently had a death in the family I would be back out there right now. In fact,this afternoon I received a call from two of my recent GDMBR riding partners from Montana inviting me rejoin them.

    However, family comes first. Next year will be here soon enough. As for you, decide soon, because the physical training is huge. As you already know, and as Geoff has pointed out, when the body goes, then the mind is right behind it. That is especially true at altitude. You can't fake it until you make it.

    Whatever you decide, have fun. Good luck!

  11. hmmmm - of course you could do the GDR. But the intro to your latest makes me think that you might be considering the Mount Marathon.. Seward Alaska, 3022 Feet, and winners are in that 50 minute range... now that would be really hard to do the same year as the GDR unless you beat the mens GDR record, flew back to South Central AK, turned out for the 4th of July race and then.. . well , as you know - you have very few limits.

    Geo' rocks -

  12. Damn. That's good writing. It's like a fine meal for the mind, the couses expertly put together. Definitely not Pop Tarts and Pepsi.

  13. "I know where I take my ordinary abilities is entirely up to me. I get to set the limits."

    One of the best lines ever. Outstanding!

  14. How do ordinary people compete? With big hearts. The race is not for winning, it is for experiencing. And if you find at the end, that you were really extraordinary after all, that is just a bonus.

  15. I think you are anything but an ordinary person with ordinary abilities.


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