One hundred and fifteen days. Can that be? When I first heard of the Tour Divide and began weighing my fascination with this almost comical undertaking, June 14th sounded like some distant future date lodged in the next century. It’s apparently, not. Sixteen weeks. There does that sound better? Actually that sounds even more imminent. The fear of not being ready is already starting to nag me. It won’t be long before I’m waking up in a cold sweat with nightmares about arriving at the starting point beneath the majestic Banff Springs Hotel with nothing but a bike and a bathing suit. Where’s all that gear I’ve been agonizing over for months on end? Did I forget? Of course anyone who’s ever ventured out into some wilderness challenge knows full well that “the gear” is all consuming. Is it light enough? Warm enough? What if it breaks? What critical piece of equipment will I overlook and then kick myself at every turn because my ignorance is causing me more pain than I knew possible? What if it rains for ten days in a row and I turn into a mushroom? This is what happens when you decide your going to step off that cliff and make the jump. Something else starts doing the thinking for you; like an out of body experience. The Tour Divide. It occupies you like some alien being. Eat, sleep, Tour Divide. It’s the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing turning in my head at night.
Back to the “gear”. Serious outdoor adventurers obviously speak a different language than you or I. After committing to pedaling the spine of the Rocky Mountains it suddenly dawned on me that despite having hiked in a number of the western states as well both sides of the BC/Alberta divide, I really didn’t know the first thing about self supported travel or the language spoken by those who do. It’s not as simple as it sounds. We say “I need a lightweight jacket that can handle the elements.” They begin listing the trade offs between “cuben fiber; denier microlite XP, zero loft aerogels, hydrophobic down, polartec neoshell, DWR, baffles, fill ratings, hyperlite, DryQ….. the list is endless. It’s no longer just ‘Gore-Tex’. It’s Gore-Tex N80P-X Face Fabric. We say “I just need a shell jacket.” Arc’Teryx is a highly regarded Canadian mountaineering/outdoor specialty company. Go to their website and click on “shell jackets”. They make 59 of them. That doesn’t include the half dozen different vests in that category alone. Softshell, hardshell, insulated jackets, mid layers, fleece, base layers, shirts, tops, shorts, pants. Holy cow, I just want to pedal!
That’s just the tip of the iceberg as
they say. There are just as many options when it comes to shelters. Tents and tarps are now ‘shelter systems’. Nylon has become ‘cuben fiber’ with options for beaks, inserts and nanoseeum netting. Sleeping bags with every temperature rating and fitting arrangement you can imagine. If nothing else I’ve discovered that there’s an enormous world of adventurers out there that are every bit as passionate about pushing the limits as I am about a 40% power play..
I’ve loved bikes since I was a young boy, but here again lies a world undiscovered if you haven’t delved into the current state of ‘mountain bikes’. I think the last time I rode a so called ‘mountain bike’ was roughly 30 years ago. I vaguely recall that it handled like an 8 man toboggan and weighed somewhere in the vicinity of my father’s Winnebago. Hardtails, Soft Tails, All Mountain, Free Ride, Downhill, Trail, Cross…it’s overwhelming. Carbon, steel, aluminum, titanium,29’er, 26’er… you get the picture.
Beyond the scope of the what to wear, what to ride and what to sleep in, lies the challenge of fueling yourself while making sure you don’t become part of the menu for some of the hairy inhabitants of the region. This is big country and last summer while hiking in Glacier National Park I was reintroduced to several four legged beasts that call these mountains home. At a distance they’re spectacular creatures; up close not so much. I love wildlife. Whenever you venture onto their turf however you need to be keenly aware that this is no zoo. Bear spray will occupy a prominent spot on the top of my handlebars and I’m crossing my fingers that it stays there. And hey if we run afoul of some hungry four legged carnivore, at least I can take solace that my riding partner is a bit more appetizing than me; I’m just the hors d’oeurve!
Growing up on the west coast of Canada, I’ve had the good fortune of spending time traveling throughout the northern tier Rocky Mountain states and the Canadian Rockies. This is spectacular, rugged unforgiving country. The calendar isn’t relevant. It may say June but it can feel like November in a blink of an eye. Mountain climates are an entity all to themselves and ever-changing. The physical challenge of pedaling up and down the divide is daunting enough. Toss in the elements and it elevates that challenge to a whole different dimension: the mental challenge. In preparation I’ve taken to sourcing through several blogs authored by previous Tour Divide participants to gain a sense for how their journey unfolded; what aspects presented the biggest challenge and how they handled a variety of setbacks. In each blog the recurring theme is not so much the physical preparation, rather the ability to handle the mental highs and lows that are unavoidable on a journey of this magnitude.
For me, an adventure of this scope has to have an underlying purpose, a bigger than me, “why”. And in truth this is the easy part. I chose to make this about an organization that helps enrich the lives of those less fortunate. Twenty five years ago, Best Buddies began as a global volunteer movement creating opportunities for one-to-one friendships and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Three years ago I was introduced to this organization by a close friend and college classmate, Mark Berthiaume. We both love riding and Mark was a team leader for the Boston to Hyannis Port century ride sponsored annually by this organization. Through Mark’s dedication and passionate support, I gained an appreciation for why this is such a special organization and charitable cause. I’ll be joining Mark’s team this May 31st with my wife Karen to ride this year’s century in support of Best Buddies. But that’s really just a warmup for the larger journey that awaits me on June 14th.
I’m particularly drawn to the work done by the Best Buddies Organization. Given my recent separation from a career that has dominated my life for almost four decades, I realize just how fortunate and blessed I’ve been to have had so many great mentors and friends in my life. I have no idea where I’d be or what I’d be doing today were it not for these special people that gave selflessly of their time and experience. If life is measured in relationships, then surely I have had an abundance of riches fall into my lap these near 60 years. My father was my first and most powerful mentor growing up and he spoke endlessly about always giving back. I’m confident it was his influence that helped guide my coaching career over these many years. This for me is simply one of those moments that would bring a smile to my father’s face.
I don’t know what lies ahead. It’s a journey. Tag along. Over the next five months I’ll be posting updates as Brad Crossley and I prepare for the June 14th departure outside the Banff Springs Hotel. Settle in, pour yourself a drink and enjoy the ride.