Saturday, June 06, 2009

Enjoying the last days

My sister came out today and helped me box up my bike. As we hoisted it into the truck, she said, "Are you going to be able to carry this across the airport?" "I better," I said. "After that, I have to carry it across the country."

We started down the road as dark clouds billowed over the Oquirrh Mountains and a swirl of dust obscured the valley below. "Are you nervous?" she asked. "Kind of," I said. "I mean, it's not like this is it. I'm just flying to Denver. But it feels like this is my last chance to bail out. Once I get on a plane, it's going to be a lot tougher to back out."

The past few days in Salt Lake City have passed by in a blur. I've spent a total of an hour riding my bike since I returned from Heber on Tuesday. There just hasn't been time. I've had too much to do ... get a few last-minute things fixed on my bike, sort and re-sort my gear, track down charger tips for all of my miscellaneous electronic devices, print out map notes, and wander around REI looking for that secret item that will fix all of my problems. In what little time I wasn't muddling through preparations, I squeezed in the things I wanted to do before I left Salt Lake ... lunch in the Avenues, a hike on Mount Olympus, shooting engagement pictures for my baby sister, my first post-breakup date at a humorously bad baseball game, touring the Oquirrh Mountain Temple with old friends, a big sushi dinner and a late-night heart-to-heart with my sisters. To my sisters, especially, I want to say thanks. It was eye-opening to realize that even though we lead very different lives, we're all fighting similar battles and yes, we're all going to be OK.

So I'm spending Sunday with my aunt and uncle in Denver, and on Monday I head out with Chris and Marni Plesko en route to Banff. I'm going to spend a few days in town and then my plan - hope - goal - is to roll south on Friday with the Tour Dividers.

I have several reasons for opting out of the Great Divide Race. First of all, the GDR starts June 19. Despite the extra 200 or so miles of Canada, starting June 12 still gives me a better time window to actually finish the thing. Second, the Tour Divide has about 40 people on its start list.
Even though I’m likely to end up riding most if not all of the race on my own, having other people in the periphery - just knowing there are other nuts out there working through the same challenges - can be beneficial. Meeting these nuts is also a big part of why I like to participate in organized events such as the Divide races, as opposed to embarking on my own fast tour. The Great Divide Race has no published start list. I would guess a majority of people who plan to show up for that race are dedicated racer types, going for the record. The clock would start, they’d shoot off the front, and that’s it. All alone. For most of a month.

And finally - and this is the rule I did the most soul-searching about - is that silly cell phone rule. Tour Divide allows the use of cell phones. GDR does not. No cell phones in a race setting actually makes the most sense. It is easy and probably very tempting to use them to arrange outside support - either calling ahead to make hotel reservations, order a pizza, or tell your friends to show up at this intersection at this time with a spare tire and cold drinks. So GDR banned use of phones. Tour Divide organizers argue that racers are responsible for their own ethics. It’s a solo “time trial” anyway. If you want to cheat, nothing is going to stop you. I’ve always been fine with the non-use of cell phones. In fact, I didn’t even own one until early February. But now I feel like my situation has shifted. Going almost-completely-out-of-touch solo doesn't appeal to me the way it used to. This summer has been tougher than normal. I’ve had random periods of time where I slip into that dark, lonely place that’s so hard to climb out of. In these situations, I’ve usually been around my family and friends, who have helped me cheer up and put things into perspective. I recognize that a cell phone is only going to work about 5 percent of the time on the GDMBR. I realize that I’m always going to slip into that dark, lonely place when I’m the furthest from cell phone range. But, to be perfectly honest, just having the knowledge that at some point I’ll have the ability to call my mommy or my sisters and let them talk me off the ledge is very … comforting. Call it an emotional crutch. That’s exactly what it is.

The GDR is a solo-driven challenge. It’s a racer’s event. I respect everything about it. I’ve just, over the course of deciding what I really want out of this ride, realized that GDR goes deeper into the racing aspect of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route than I’m ready for. It's a freakin month for crying out loud. I really need to approach this as a bike tour - one in which I actually will have occasional fun and not suffer the whole time - if I’m to even have a shot at succeeding. My goal is still to complete the course in less than 25 days. I recognize that there’s still an ideological divide between the two races, and by choosing one, I’m essentially choosing sides (which I hate to do. I have deep respect for the pioneers on both sides of the border.) But I have to do what’s right for me. In the end, I’m the one who has to ride it.

So that’s where I stand right now. The pilot just turned on the fasten-seatbelt sign, which means I’ll soon be landing in the city where I was born, which means it’s time to stop typing. But I’ll try to keep up with the posting en route to Banff to talk about a couple other things - LIVESTRONG fundraising and the ride in Seattle; final gear choices; the awesome community of endurance cyclists, etc. Thanks again to everyone who has supported me, and thanks for reading.