Saturday, June 19, 2010

Yeah Banff

It's been a mere year since a wonderful Banff ultrarunner named Leslie e-mailed me out of the blue and said, "You're coming to town for the Tour Divide ... do you want a place to stay?" Since then, she and her husband, Keith, have become good friends of mine, Banff has become one of my favorite places on this wide continent, and I've been back to visit four times. "Do you realize I've visited you guys more times than I've visted my home in Utah in the past year?" I said to Keith as we geared up for another binge that he calls "training" and I call "I'm really tired from driving 2,100 miles but yeah, why not?" Keith just laughed. "Honey, we're your home now," he replied.

I wish Banff could be my home. I'm still looking for that Canadian citizen husband, but Keith tells me it's not as easy as getting married to a Canadian. Until then, I learned that Missoula is only 7-8 hours away by car (and maybe four days by bike), so there will hopefully be many opportunities to come and visit. We crammed a lot into this weekend - power hiking, road biking, mountain biking, barbecue and race spectating. I have to say that my favorite part of the weekend was the road biking. I'm actually one of those people who can count on one hand the number of times I've been on a "real" road bike. This particular bicycle (which belongs to Leslie, who was in Wyoming running a 100-mile ultramarathon, crazy girl) was ridiculously light. It zipped effortlessly up hills and rocketed downhills. At one point I tore down a hill and sprinted by the small group yelling "This is soooooo fun!" as I flew by. I think I can finally understand now why people bother with road bikes, rather than just riding their heavy steel mountain bikes on pavement. :-)

I'm also officially kitted out for TransRockies. It occurred to me recently that the seven-day stage race is a mere six weeks away. Gulp. I said to Keith, "Does it really matter that I haven't been training and that I still kind of suck on singletrack?" He just laughed. "It's our bike holiday," he replied. "We're not calling ourselves 'Team Self Preservation' for nothing." (I think our actual team name is "Rocky Mountain Trail Trash," because we're sponsored by Rocky Mountain bikes. Gulp. By the way, don't tell Rocky Mountain that I'm not Canadian. It's OK to not be a pro or even a very skilled mountain biker, but an American is just scandalous.)

After hour three-hour mountain bike ride, we headed downtown to sit in front of the Ski Stop and watch the crit races come by. Another new experience for me ... the pro group was by far the most exciting. Two riders broke away in the 50-km race (50 laps) and eventually lapped the entire pack. One of the riders then pushed all the way to the front of the pack and was in fifth position after lapping the group. Plus, a tight group of 60-odd racers fly by at 30 mph and sometimes crash hard on hairpin turns. Exciting stuff!

Being in Banff near the summer solstice has also left me steeped in Tour Divide nostalgia. While visiting the Ski Stop, I chanced across a DVD of the documentary "Ride the Divide," which documents the 2008 race. Keith and I watched it and I relived my own race experience, instantly recognizing the locations of most of the landscape shots and relating to the wildly swinging joy and malaise. Then, during Saturday's crit races, I just happened to bump into Robin Borstmayer, a Banff resident who started the 2010 Tour Divide a week ago but dropped out of the race in Helena. He said knee was bothering him, he was surviving on painkillers, and the mental game wasn't worth it. I can completely relate. I got really lucky in my own race to have fairly easy passage through Canada and Montana. All of my big struggles came later, by the time I was fully entrenched in the Divide.

I then talked to Robin's wife for a while. She asked me to sum up my race experience and I said "It was really like living an entire lifetime in the span of three weeks. I entered that race as one person and left as another." It was the first time I had ever voiced that thought, but after a year to reflect on my experience in the Tour Divide, I still believe that's true. I was a child in Montana, when I was traveling with John Nobile and learning from his examples. I was an adolescent in Wyoming, discovering my own path and facing the desert alone. I was an adult in Colorado, at ease with my situation and wise in my own ways. From Summitville, Colo., through New Mexico was my old age: broken down, exhausted, plowing through struggles that would have seemed insurmountable in my childhood. At the Mexican border, I felt reborn. The idea sounded corny then and it still sounds corny now, but there's a lot of truth in that simple word. Rebirth. New starts. It's one year later, and I begin my next new journey tomorrow. Wish me luck.