One of the most fascinating aspects of embracing the challenge of the Tour Divide is the responses of family, friends, peers, neighbors and acquaintances. Lately I’ve grown accustomed to the quizzical stares accompanied by “you’re doing what” or “you need to get yourself checked out”. Yes I probably should.
But there’s more to these responses than meets the ear or eye. I understand the initial reaction that I’ve lost my marbles or likely have a few crossed wires. I mean it’s not normal for people to put themselves in a position where they’re under enormous physical and mental duress with failure as a very real outcome. We’re human; we seek comfort; even when that comfort doesn’t serve our best interests. So why?
I mean what is so appealing about mounting a two wheeled self propelled piece of steel, titanium or carbon and pedaling it up and down the Continental Divide for almost a month?
If you sat and interviewed the hundred plus participants that set out last June or the years dating back to 2000 when the Tour originated, I’m sure you’d get some entertaining responses. Given that it’s billed as a ‘race,’ the logical conclusion might be that it attracts a macho group of testosterone driven competitors whose elevators don’t quite reach the top floor. What other logical explanation could account for someone actually getting excited about embracing a challenge like this?
There are plenty of “why lists” that I’ve stumbled across reading articles on the internet. Here’s a collection that have brought a few chuckles and ah hah’s from my lips:
1. An Excuse To Play With New Toys: clearly more a ‘guy’ thing that needs no explanation…you either get it, or you don’t. If you’re a guy reading this, enough said.
2. The Divide Diet – Eat Anything + Everything: yes the thought of trying to find the highest calorie items in the snack aisles is appealing.
3. Expand Your World: I like this one…going outside your comfort zone into new places is scary but thrilling at the same time.
4. The Preparation: It’s a journey. It’s as much about preparation as it is setting out in June. There’s a satisfaction associated with the grind and discipline an event like this requires. It pushes you, it nags at you and it empowers you.
5. You Can Do More Than You Think: All of us realize the truth in those 7 words. Too often we settle. We have our reasons, but those are better known as ‘excuses’. In my case it just seemed an appropriate time “not” to settle.
6. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify: This one resonated with me. The opportunity to focus on moving forward, being present, increasing my awareness….all attract me. Nature has a way of nurturing healthy introspection and sharpening our perspective on life.
7. Teamwork: This is a big piece for me. The prospect of sharing the ride with someone I respect. The knowledge that Brad and I will have to find our rhythm and develop a routine intrigues me. I’ve always been a ‘team’ driven personality. I’m not sure the prospect of doing it alone appeals to me as much. Sharing the ride is as important to me as the potential of finishing the ride.
8. Oh The People You Will Meet: I love adventures with the prospect of meeting ‘real’ people. People are fascinating. Seeing them in their own element, even more so. Almost every account I’ve read highlights this part of the ride, with good reason. This is one of the big silver linings for me.
9. Accomplishment: I’ve read a lot about the sense of accomplishment. But I’m not sure that those who’ve actually completed the TD would cite this as their primary driver. I know it isn’t mine. I find that mindset too ‘destination’ driven for me. Completing the TD is an amazing accomplishment and given how many riders drop out, not easily done. Many riders return after dropping out more than once. As I’ve come to grasp of the magnitude of the preparation that goes into this event, I’m pretty confident that anyone straddling a bike in front of the Banff Springs Hotel on the morning of June 14th has already accomplished a lot.
So what’s missing? There’s something else about this event that I find deeply appealing. I struggle putting it into a single word or simple phrase because it’s more about the fabric of what my life has been up to this point. It’s about the lessons I was taught time and time again growing up. It’s about ownership, self reliance, accountability. If you want something then put your mind and body in motion and go out and do it.
I’m not entitled to finish. Everyone doesn’t get a gold star for showing up. This race is about owning your preparation ( or lack thereof ), it’s about fixing problems you encounter along the way ( no help allowed ) and ultimately it’s about accepting the consequences of your own decisions. There are no sag wagons to pick you up when you’ve miscalculated distance, weather, water or food supplies. Your on your own. There are no race marshals standing at every junction or pass to guide you. Go off course and it’s up to you to back track and find your way. There are no style points or politically correct versus incorrect approaches. It’s black and white: you ride the route as outlined, without assistance, period.
If you fail there are literally hundreds of reasons why, but my hunch is those riding don’t really care to discuss it. Excuses. Noise. I’ve read dozens of online discussions from former riders of the event. They embody the mantra that it’s what you do, not what you say, that matters. The TD is a metaphor for life: tough, grueling, full of setbacks, bad weather and wrong turns….and ultimately, rewarding in ways unseen.