As we reached the top of Alpine Road, I hinted at extending the ride over Russian Ridge or perhaps Indian Creek. But by the time we descended into Stevens Canyon, the guys could smell the barn at the end of 80 miles, and raced up Bella Vista away from me. I couldn't catch them in time to make my case. "That extra 10 percent effort costs too much," I explained. "But actually I feel really good. At this pace, I could keep going for another 80 miles." I can't always say that at the end of this route, and took this as personal confirmation that my "Forever Pace" fitness is in top form. "Then again," I thought as the urge toward motion continued to pull at my heart, "that's often the only element that differentiates our ability to keep going, and the need to stop. Desire."
It was our last long ride of this particular training season. This Friday, the guys leave for South Africa to ride the Freedom Challenge, and I will fly to Calgary to meet my wonderful friends Keith and Leslie. After a long spring of looking for someone or something to tell me no, I finally arrived at the conclusion, "Why not?" So on Friday, June 12, I plan to line up with the hundred-plus others at the Spray River trailhead in Banff, and start the 2015 Tour Divide.
For those who didn't follow my blog back then, the Tour Divide is a 2,700-mile, self-supported bike race from Banff, Alberta, to the U.S. border with Mexico in Antelope Wells, New Mexico on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. I rode it in 2009, in 24 days and 7 hours, and wrote a book about the experience, "Be Brave, Be Strong."
Why, after six years, would I return to such a time-intensive endeavor? The years have their way of both softening and sharpening memories. A lot of experiences happened and a lot about my life changed since 2009, but the Divide is a place I find myself going back to frequently — a place of fierce beauty, discovery, and moments of crushing weakness that pushed me into murky depths of my mind, only to discover strength I never knew I possessed. Also, the second half of the Divide was a place where I was truly alone, and no one was coming to help me, and I had to work through each struggle on my own. In sifting through these memories, I realized it's been a while — six years, perhaps — since I've experienced anything quite like that. A challenge where I had to think ahead in days. Where I made all of my own decisions. Where the parameters weren't rigid, but entirely of my own making. Where the only reason not to quit was my own stubborn desire. What if I could go back to that place? Would I rediscover deeply buried pieces of myself? What would seem different? What would look the same?
What I'm seeking is the edge of the galaxy — the sort of self-transcendence that results in intense and satisfying engagements with both inner and outer landscapes. Endurance racing fosters these experiences, by setting parameters beyond what I believe to be possible, forcing me to break through my own perceived limitations. Much has changed in six years, and to reach that far edge, I'm going to have to push these parameters little bit farther. My goal is to ride the route in 20 days. To do this, I'll need to cover between 130 and 140 miles per day. At my Forever Pace, that's likely to require 15 to 16 hours a day of moving time — meaning sitting in the saddle and turning pedals. Stopping to stretch my back, eating a snack, collecting water from a stream, chatting with locals — every moment of stopped time must be subtracted from the eight hours that remain. Sleep will have to be rationed, and often caught in naps inside my bivy sack. It's ambitious, and I don't know if I have it in me. The ability or the desire. But I won't know unless I try.
I still remember how hard it was in 2009. Time hasn't softened those memories. When my body feels spent and my mind is tangled in a whirlwind of emotions, I often find solace in repetitive mantras. In these moments, there's often nothing left of me but a scared little girl who has long been hidden away behind years of experience and convictions, only to be exposed when the walls are torn away in the storm. She's terrified to move forward, and I can feel the storm about to consume her, so I often start chanting, out loud, and it helps. During my first journey on the Iditarod Trail in 2008, this chant was "I'm scared, but I'm okay," sung as a lyric in "Going, Going, Gone" by the Stars. In the 2009 Tour Divide, it was "Be Brave, Be Strong" — a mantra that followed me for years afterward. During the Freedom Challenge in 2014, I'd repeat "Every day is a gift," when I felt frustrated or stressed. Although the 2015 Tour Divide has not yet started, this is the mantra I already have in mind:
I can't wait to get going.