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

In Hope To Inspire

Awhile back now, my best bud Brett got me into running long distances on trails. I had always enjoyed running, but I rarely did it. He always jokes about 'Sofa to Summit' and that has always somewhat been our situation. Nothing has changed over the years, except my own sense of what I realize the human body and mind are capable of achieving.

Liz Pollak setting a solid pace on the  NUT 50k

Liz Pollak setting a solid pace on the NUT 50k

Last September, I ran the Equinox Ultramarathon in Fairbanks, Alaska. It's 40 miles long and was my first solo foot race (I did the 3-person relay marathon with Brett and his wife Christina two years prior). I hadn't run in three months before the race and I was horribly sick three days prior to the start. In the spring and early summer, I had run only four times, at 7, 13, 16, and 27 miles each, after a cold Fairbanks winter. I finished the ultra feeling great, in 7 hrs 51 min. I was very sore after, but relatively speaking, not at all a wreck.

Finish line of my first ultramarathon last fall.

Finish line of my first ultramarathon last fall.

Since the Equinox, I moved to Eugene, OR, and lost a commute to work in working from home, which means, before this past weekend, I had only run 20 total miles in the last nine months since the Equinox. Life happens. Oh well. My very accomplished buddy, Brian from LA, had long before convinced me to run the North Umpqua Trail (NUT) 100k with him in June, since I had done fairly well with the Equinox. The plan was for me to train, something I apparently still don't understand.

Thursday and Friday before the race, I was (again) horribly sick. A bad cold had zapped me, hard. I had called in sick to work and told Brian I was going to let him and our buddy Josh (also a runner who came to race) take my truck and go, while I sleep all weekend. After picking them up, I was starting to feel a little better and by early evening, I was packing up to go with, maybe with hopes of waking up feeling good enough to, at best, plod along for 50k (31 mi).

Night before the race.

Night before the race.

As the night progressed, all symptoms except deep coughing and a totally blocked nose were gone - it was indeed a hard-hitting 24 hr bug. I slept fitfully, yet hard, and woke feeling somewhat better and that I had no reason not to run, thankfully. I saw them off at the start of their 100k and drove to the start of the 50k, asking to drop down since I was sick and hadn't been running. Not a problem. Off I went. 'Sick on the Sofa to Summit' was my own mantra, once again.

Running felt good. I instantly felt as if I was running out my sickness and remained that way all day. I felt I had power in me, a 180º from the previous two days. The trail was narrow and poison oak reached across it from both sides. I hung back a bit, intentionally only passing when others stopped... until a handful miles in, at the first big steep hill. I was feeling great, so I took normal long walking strides up it, passing a bunch of people taking half steps. I gained a big open trail in front of me and found more people of my own pace. Soon, I found not only a pace but a set of clothing that matched mine. I (strangely) instantly knew it was a pace I not only should, but could, keep all day, as hard as it might be, but I knew it would change my day from just trying to finish to actually trying to race. I settled in.

NUT 100k & 50k profile

NUT 100k & 50k profile

The only other foot race I've done (Equinox), I mostly ran alone. My pace was probably highly varying and it was certainly slowing throughout the race. Even with rough, while running math in my head, I could tell it was precipitous. On the NUT, however, I had found an experienced runner and now my day's pacer in Liz Pollak, a vet from Bend, OR. Soon, Ashley Gerber from Eugene caught back up and tagged on, too, commenting on Liz & I's matching attire. We had a trio that lasted the next 25 miles to the finish. Liz was strong, as it was her third 50k and held a consistent and unforgiving, yet realistic, pace all day long. Ashley was an accomplished marathoner on her first ultra and was full of excitement. I knew that these two would not only pull me along the trail, but also be motivators to not slow down and walk the rest, as I'd probably, and then did, feel like doing. I also thought that if I kept up with them setting the pace, I could try and at least provide some continual positive motivation to keep up the pace and enjoyment of the race, especially for Ashley's first ultra.

After a handful of miles, and me still coughing hard, Liz turned around and asked if I was ok and said if I start coughing up blood, I have to stop. Fortunately, I wasn't quite that bad and didn't get there, either. The coughing got a bit better throughout the day, but not much. I was just glad I was out there and not still feeling awful and horizontal on the couch, like I kinda wanted to be anyway.

Drinking straight from a trailside waterfall. Photo by Ashley Gerber.

Drinking straight from a trailside waterfall. Photo by Ashley Gerber.

After about 20 miles of keeping pace with the two, I was starting to get quite sore and wanted to just walk, but something in me kept saying that I could keep up 'til the finish, even if it hurt. I realized, at 32 and having felt a slight slowing down the past couple years, I was feeling I still had some fight left in me from my youth and ability to push through huge physical challenges. It was a great feeling and an urge I couldn't silence. Every time Liz started running after the trail mellowed out again from a hill, both Ashley and I muttered a soft 'damn it.' Alas, we were having a blast together, pushing and pulling each other along to a finish stronger than each of us would have done alone. What a great feeling and opportunity a race brings.

20-some miles into a 50k and smiling. Always.  Photo by Paul Nelson Photography

20-some miles into a 50k and smiling. Always. Photo by Paul Nelson Photography

After a very hard, nearly all uphill 50k course (and a UTMB qualifier!), we finished the 50k right on each others heels (video), just as we had been for about a marathon distance before, in just seconds under 7 hours. Like at the Equinox, I jumped with joy over the finish line. Once again, I was pretty damn sore, but not a train wreck. Happy, I was, to say the least!
My official stats: 28th out of 80 finishers, in 6 hrs 59 min 51 seconds. Not bad, I think, for now only having run 154 miles in the last 13 months, 71 of which were the two ultras.

The sub-7hr trio at the finish.

The sub-7hr trio at the finish.

Brian (below) and Josh finished the 100k ultra in awesome times of 13:45 & 14:45! What an effort! I am so happy I went along, and both helped and watched them finish so strong.

The North Umpqua Trail is one of the most stunning places I've seen in Oregon. Around almost every bend, all I could say was 'Wow!' So why go any faster? I already didn't feel like I took it all in quite enough, as the trail was rough and required strict concentration, even though my gaze did wander quite often. The place deserves more time - backpacking probably.

Maybe I don't train for 'events' because then I'd get hooked on going fast, ie, hurrying through a place, which goes wholly against my 'Stay sane, Sleep outside' mantra. Why rush through a place, only to finish and wish you were still out there? I enjoy slowing down maybe more so than going fast at times. Either way, I'm sure this isn't my last foot race, as it was so much fun and also really mind-blowing to find out how much farther even I thought I could push myself beyond what I thought previously possible, all in hopes of inspiring others to do the same in their own lives.

You have no idea what you are capable of until you go out and wholeheartedly give it your all, way more than you think 'your all' is. We are all awesome inside and that includes you. Don't miss your chance to live and feel it.

Cheers to Brett, Brian, Josh, Liz, Ashley, the NUT race, all the finishers, and to doing amazing things by pushing yourself. See you on the sofa 'til the next summit.

Well earned.

Well earned.