Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Possibilities

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.