Tour [vs] Divide

In early March, I decided that after turning 35, I needed to finally do the Tour Divide, the 2700mi mountain bike race from Banff, AB to Antelope Wells, NM along the Continental Divide. After almost two months of preparing in both planning and riding a ton, I think I’ve come to fully realize my inner desires that birthed this idea. Basically, I’m not sure my heart is in the Tour Divide race.

For a few years, I haven’t done anything big for trips. Sure, I’ve done some awesome trips and rides, but nothing BIG. This made my drive for something ‘big’ to do on the bike really hungry… starving. That led me to revisiting the desire to do TD (eight years running) and I thought that best fit the experience I was feeling I wanted. After some consideration and riding big miles per day, I think my thoughts were incomplete and slightly askew, albeit not too far from the truth.

Hear me out as I try to find where my heart really lies and leave your wisdom and insight below.
More important than what I do is knowing my heart is truly into it. This is that process… which might not end until I reach Antelope Wells or finish that post-tour beer.

The most spiritual moment I have ever had on a bike, and possibly in my life: bike touring Alaska, late at night in fall, alone on the Denali Park Road above Wonder Lake, watching the pink rays hit Denali’s northern 18,500ft rise at blue-hour. It brought me to tears, to see something so heartwarmingly beautiful and realize at that moment, I was doing exactly what my heart desires.

The most spiritual moment I have ever had on a bike, and possibly in my life: bike touring Alaska, late at night in fall, alone on the Denali Park Road above Wonder Lake, watching the pink rays hit Denali’s northern 18,500ft rise at blue-hour. It brought me to tears, to see something so heartwarmingly beautiful and realize at that moment, I was doing exactly what my heart desires.

I need to be me. That is a wide ranging statement, but at its base, it means doing ‘trips’ and spending extended time in wild areas.

Biking far in a day or each day is a huge interest, but not racing. Why rush through life? Sure, it’s a blast and I’ve raced before and probably still will in the future, but I don’t think over two weeks is my desire. I’m a birder and a photographer, if that explains it further. This being said, I reeeaaally do like seeing as much as I can each day, usually measured in miles experienced.

I like sleeping outside in beautiful and wild places, not napping in a ditch or on concrete in town.

I don’t like missing scenery at night. I like stopping to watch it get dark and then light again, in the same place.

Riding on the Stagecoach 400, wishing I was touring with friends, not racing solo. Still want to go back and finish it.

Riding on the Stagecoach 400, wishing I was touring with friends, not racing solo. Still want to go back and finish it.

I respect the natural flow and pace of the seasons and light and darkness cycles, both daily and seasonally; something I think our bodies are intended to follow.

Touring is my real interest. Going far, fast, slow, or not moving, and doing other things beyond traveling, all whenever you want, and not being stuck to one style or a rigid agenda. But, I do like having big goals, too…

It’s so rewarding to share the enjoyment of the outdoors with other people. Oregon Outback, 2014

It’s so rewarding to share the enjoyment of the outdoors with other people. Oregon Outback, 2014

I like stopping, for photos and to take the place in… to talk to people... to enjoy life with others… to live a different pace than daily life, which is already far too rushed. Trips are a time and place, or even space, for me to slow way down, maybe literally and maybe not, but surely mentally, which allows me to tune IN to myself… but in all honesty, any time spent pedaling beyond ten miles or so does this, too. 2700 sure would give a lot of that.

It’s a big snow year in Rockies, and I like riding my bike. Some pushing is inevitable and even fun, but lots is undesirable. I’ll be wholly honest here, I really dislike pushing my bike through snow if it’s not actually winter and I truly hate mud. Been there, done that PLENTY, in both snow and mud in all my biking across Alaska. I’m not looking for more of that unnecessary challenge. But, maybe things will still be ‘normal’-ish this year, as the TD starts on June 14th, the latest it ever can, since it’s always the second Friday in June. Just maybe this big snow year will melt some by the latest possible start date…? Fingers and toes crossed.

Atigun Pass in Alaska’s Brooks Range. The highest pass on the Alaska road system and the northernmost mountains in North America. An early and unexpected fall snowstorm blanketed the mountains.

Atigun Pass in Alaska’s Brooks Range. The highest pass on the Alaska road system and the northernmost mountains in North America. An early and unexpected fall snowstorm blanketed the mountains.

I need a big challenge, but that can be a tour. For some reason I don’t quite yet understand, my mind went to racing the Tour Divide when I realized and knew I wanted to challenge myself immensely this summer. Touring solo can be arguably the most challenging option, however. Thankfully, options there are plenty.

I thought I needed to find what I’m capable of, in terms of how hard, fast, and far can I go, so that meant I should do TD, but now it seems a tour actually better fits ME and where my heart is, right now in MY life. I can still do the how hard, fast, and far thing whenever I want to and not have to do it continuously and deal with the mental FUCK of feeling like I’m riding too slow or stopping too long, every day, for over two weeks. Fuck the stopwatch. Life is already too short. That’s the fucked up daily life we live and I need a break from that already, not choose to do that in doing something I love, er, i mean rush what I already love doing. I’ve long criticized rushing through these places and experiences we pay to have or do and take time away from our daily lives to make happen, only to finish and say we wish it wasn’t over.
Arguing point: there is more to life and the experiences we choose than simply how fast or slow we do them… I think one of my strongest things going into TD is my mentality, far more important than physical strength. But if I am really mentally strong and positive, I can stay out of the stopwatch mindgame, the ‘I’m falling behind the leaders’ fuckery, the ‘WHYYYY AM I DOING THIS’ darkness, and simply play on repeat ‘I AM AWESOME’ and ‘It will get better’ no matter what the situation is.
(sidenote: the ‘I am awesome’ positive mental attitude reminder on repeat is what got me smiling every mile of the three off-the-couch, no training trail 40, 32, & 32mi ultramarathons I’ve done, the last two on back-to-back weekends.)

Fatbiking Alaska’s Kenai Coast as a big group with the Salsa guys in 2013.

Fatbiking Alaska’s Kenai Coast as a big group with the Salsa guys in 2013.

Lemme repeat, I like sleeping outside, as in real camping, in remote and wild places. I once heard a mantra about doing this to maintain one’s sanity…

Far, fast, remote, and self-supported endeavors are my interests, but in doing that, as equally important is taking time where and when I want to and not BEING (read being, not feeling) rushed. When you’re racing, you ARE rushed, regardless of how you feel. Otherwise, it’s not a race or you are not racing. Being ultra-efficient is appealing, though.

Solo-riding the White Mountains 100 route in Interior Alaska

Solo-riding the White Mountains 100 route in Interior Alaska

I think from all this and these photos, it’s obvious I need to get back out bike touring, not racing… in Alaska.

Or am I wrong and misinterpreting all this and all my experiences and preparations just the preamble to a monumental ride down the spine of the continent, blowing my own mind and pushing the limits of my abilities further than I think is possible? There’s a reason I still want to do this after eight years and have been focusing on it so intensely lately.

In all honesty, I’d be the happiest lad to hop on my bike and tour with no end, starting today, but maybe equally or even happier when I finish the TD, waaaaaay further and longer than I’ve ever traveled before.

Simply put, I need to go be ME for a while and not a slave to a stopwatch and an even more rushed pace of our current society. I need to do what I want to do and not get involved in anyone else’s ‘thing.’ I’d prefer to share that experience, but going solo might be what I need. But like I said, it’s possible to race without being a slave to the stopwatch and do my own thing, regardless of others - something I want to do anyway, as I want to race myself, not actually anyone else. And throwing myself into a massive situation willingly so I have to get myself out of it is exactly how I usually and like to operate life, hence the off-the-couch, ‘Sofa to Summit’ long history of endeavors.

Winter training in Alaska.

Winter training in Alaska.

When I sat down to write this, I wrote it as an ‘I’m going touring instead’ piece, hit save, and walked away. I talked it out, thought about it more, and then talked with a dear friend who isn’t able to do these sorts of things anymore, who told me she believes in me and she thinks I would surprise myself in how well I might do in the race. That really moved me and got me to extend this narrative in a slightly different way.

For being a pretty confident person, based on all the incredible experiences and skills I’ve been fortunate enough to have and learn, with and from so many wonderful people I deeply respect, I sure do seem to have a lot of self-doubt, not only in what I’m capable of, but even more so in what I truly want. It’s a hard discussion to ask yourself what YOU really feel inside, not influenced by the push of society or the wonderful but unintended pressure-filled communities and world we find ourselves in.

Searching for guidance with my grandpa’s compass on the summer solstice sunrise at the northernmost point in the United States, Utqiagvik, formerly know as Barrow, Alaska.

Searching for guidance with my grandpa’s compass on the summer solstice sunrise at the northernmost point in the United States, Utqiagvik, formerly know as Barrow, Alaska.

Alas, I’d love to hear your insight and wisdom. It will help me find the truth and answer in my mind and soul.

Regardless of what I choose to do, I need to find what lies in my heart. The only thing I actually want to do at the level I’m considering is what my heart is truly into.

Cheers,
Josh