Thursday, June 02, 2011

Be Brave, Be Strong eBook release

Note: Thanks to everyone who bought eBook and paperback copies of "Ghost Trails." It's now officially past June 1, the day I was hoping to release of my new book. Thanks to last-minute proofing and printing needs, it will be a couple more weeks before the paperback is available. But the digital eBook of "Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across the Great Divide" is available now for $8.95. You can purchase it in many different formats from this Smashwords link: ePub works best for iPads, iPhones, the Kobo eReader and the Barnes and Noble Nook; LRF for Sony Reader; PDB for palm devices; and RTF or plain text for reading directly on your computer screen. You can also purchase the Kindle file directly from Amazon at this link. A fully formatted eBook that includes black and white photos and a couple other extra features can be downloaded as a PDF file here.

For now, here's an excerpt from Chapter 15, "The Great Divide Basin"

A layer of frost coated my bicycle as I packed up my stale pastries and Spam and pedaled out of Atlantic City. A chill hung in the pre-dawn air, which was thick with frozen vapor. My right knee was still slightly swollen and stiff, and protested loudly after just a few strokes up the hill out of town.

“Lucky for you, the Basin’s pretty flat,” I said as I hopped off the saddle and started pushing. The gravel road cut steeply up the bluff, gaining 600 feet in just over a mile. Cold oxygen burned my lungs as I labored around the switchbacks, trying not to think about my knee or the remote miles that lay in front of me.

As I rounded the last switchback onto a plateau, my shoulders relaxed and my jaw dropped. The Great Divide Basin yawned over an unbroken horizon, as vast and open as an ocean. Rolling drainages rippled like waves, clusters of sagebrush appeared as islands, and tall grass shimmered like seawater as it swayed in the breeze. The warm light of sunrise saturated the surface in iridescent colors. Greens took on a florescent glow, browns became bronze, yellow turned to gold. I pulled out my camera to take a few photos, but understood the images would always be a disappointment. Such is the price of great beauty, because while eyes can see and cameras can mimic, only experience and presence can reflect the sublime.

Of all of the regions along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the Great Divide Basin has perhaps the most notorious reputation, at least among racers. Veterans speak of it in dismissive tones and warnings: “There’s no trees, there’s no water, there’s no people, and there’s nowhere to get food. There’s only wind and heat.” It was hard for me to believe that a lack of crowds could be a bad thing on a cold, calm morning, with a pack full of food and water, and the absence of trees to open up a spectacular view. It’s on these open plains where the true shape of the world becomes apparent, with its scoured surface and arching horizon. For all of its jagged contours and conventions, from a distance the globe is just that — plain and round.

I felt deeply drawn to the Basin for personal reasons as well. My family on my Dad’s side comes from a long line of Mormon pioneers, hearty stock who immigrated to Utah in the 1850s after traveling through this region with a human-powered handcart company. The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route closely parallels the old Mormon Pioneer Trail, crossing historic sites where my ancestors and their families and friends toiled, struggled, and sometimes perished in a harsh, high desert that hasn’t changed all that much in 150 years.

Of course I had modern gravel roads to follow, the modern wonder that is a bicycle to propel me forward, and modern knowledge and technology to help guide me. But on some levels, my struggle was not entirely different from the struggles of my pioneer ancestors. Like many of them, I carried my whole life on a contraption that I had to move with my own power. I had to cope with similar isolation and uncertainty. I had to battle a primal sort of pain and fatigue that even 150 years of progress hasn’t stripped away. As I gazed out across the prairie, I liked to believe that I was seeing the same things that my great-great-and-so-forth grandparents saw, that I was feeling the same things they felt. Their blood pumped through my veins, their sacrifices inspired me, and their faith drove me forward.

As I pedaled into the rising daylight, a small group of antelope grazing next to the road became startled and sprinted beside me, loping through the brush with enviable grace. I passed the cutoff marker for Willie’s Handcart. Marjane had told me this was the site of a Mormon tragedy, where sixty-seven pioneers became trapped in a severe October snowstorm and died. I asked Marjane why they were traveling through Wyoming so late in the year. She told me the pioneers had difficulty with their handcarts. They had built their wheels in the humid east, and when they reached the west, the wooden hubs cracked and broke. The collapsed wheels and required repairs slowed them considerably until winter caught up to them. It was a quiet reminder of that precipice everybody straddles; that sometimes all it takes is one thing going wrong for entire lives to spiral out of control.

The first thirty miles of the day passed in dreams about the distant past, until the present was all but lost to me. Grass shimmered in the sun and breeze, antelope darted beside me, and my imagination didn’t have to stretch too far before it was 1854 again. I was still floating through the time machine in my mind when I started up a hill and my crank suddenly stopped working. The bike slowed to a stop. I spun the pedals frantically but the back wheel stayed planted in place until I nearly tipped over. I jumped off the bike. “What the hell?” I said out loud.

I lifted the back end off the ground and spun the crank with my hand. Even as I turned it as fast as I could, the rings did nothing to engage the wheel into motion. I checked to see if the chain was broken somewhere, but it was still intact and the rear cassette still turned with the cranks. I thought with sinking dread that the problem must be my freehub — one bicycle part I definitely did not have the capacity to fix.

A freehub is an internal part of the wheel hub that allows a cyclist to coast. When the cyclist spins the crank forward, the pawls inside the freehub engage and catch the hub, turning the wheel. Then, when a cyclist stops pedaling, the pawls release, which allows the wheel to spin free even if the crank and pedals are not moving. It seemed my freehub was stuck open, which caused the pawls to disengage even when the pedals were being turned. My bike was locked in “coast” mode, a mode that only works if you have gravity working for you. Without a working hub, my bicycle was as useless as a laundry cart.

“Crap! Crap! Crap!” I called out to the still air. I threw my bicycle onto the road and paced around. What were my options? It was a thirty-mile walk back to Atlantic City. Doable in a day, but what exactly could I do when I got there? I needed a new hub — and probably an entirely new wheel. As lucky as I had been in Atlantic City, expecting that town to contain an available 29-inch rear mountain bike wheel was pushing that luck more than a little. There was no way I could walk forward on the route. It was 110 miles to Rawlins with no towns or even houses along the way. I didn’t have enough food or water to make such a trek on foot, and hitching a ride forward on the route was a race-ending infraction, although I didn’t expect the temptation to arise because I doubted that much vehicular traffic ever ventured out this way.

I remembered from my Iditarod days a trick racers used when their freehubs froze in the extreme cold. They would zip-tie their cassettes to the spokes of the wheel, converting their drivetrain to a fixed gear and bypassing the need for a hub. But I had only heard about this repair in theory. I had never seen it in practice. I carried a few emergency zip-ties, but I only had about five of them. The expectation that five thin strips of plastic could handle all of the thrust and force of 110 miles of gravel-road pedaling seemed dubious at best. If I didn’t break the zip ties, I’d break the spokes, I felt certain. And if I broke the spokes, then my wheel would collapse, and I’d really be screwed.