Julie Horton reflects on Paul Howard’s Eat, Sleep, Ride: How I Braved Bears, Badlands, Big Breakfasts in My Quest to Cycle the Tour Divide and Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across the Great Divide by Jill Homer in preparation of her own ride on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail.
As I prepare for my month-long mountain bike ride along the Continental Divide from Banff, Canada to Colorado I’ve started reading accounts from racers who have gone from Banff all the way to the Mexican border to help psych myself into actually doing the trip. Every big adventure is a roller coaster of emotions that starts as soon as the plan is hatched. I’m so excited… oh my god what if I can’t do it…what if my bike breaks…this is the most amazing thing I’ll ever do…I can’t wait…only 5 months before I go, I’m not ready…I LOVE my bike… what if I get lost, hurt…I can’t wait to do it…what if I get lonely. Anyway, you get the idea and the best way I’ve found for me to quiet my overly active imagination is to try and be as prepared as possible.
Winter training for someone living in Colorado generally means participating in indoor activities. I’ve taken a few bike mechanic courses, started to look at maps, have been cycling when the weather allows, and have spent time working out in the gym. I’ve also been reading books written by those who have gone before me. The books have served several purposes. I’ve realized I’m not the only one who is afraid of being lonely, nor am I the only one who thinks they may have bitten off more than they could chew. Experience has taught me that adversity is temporary and these authors remind me that no matter how dark the storm may seem, the sun does, eventually come out. When Paul Howard, dehydrated and running out of water under the relentless New Mexican sun, takes a minor fall causing his dwindling supply of Skittles to fall onto the sandy trail – he despairs with tears of anger, and frustration. I admit that I laughed heartily at his account remembering similar scenarios I’ve found myself in and have made a mental note to do my best to remember the humor in such ridiculous and seemingly hopeless situations.
Adversity was a common thread in both books. Jill Homer battled with her failing bike the entire way across the Great Divide Basin. After a short stop she hopped back on the bike only to discover that pedaling no longer engaged the rear cassette. After a bit of investigation and a spat of cursing she discovered that by holding the rear wheel up with one hand and pedaling like mad with the other the cassette would, after a few seconds (or minutes), kick in allowing her to leap on the bike and continue on her way. Unfortunately whenever she stopped pedaling she had to go through the same process, never sure if it would work. She fought this battle over a 100 miles with as few stops as possible. Consider how often you stop for “silly things” like peeing, food, water, sunscreen- not to mention that she couldn’t coast. Needless to say when Jill finally rolls into Rawlins, WY she is a desperate woman who needs a wheel rebuilt in a town where 29ers and disk brakes are akin to Santa Claus and Leprechauns.
Both Paul and Jill weather these storms with grace. Sure they cry, cuss, throw things, and think of quitting, but in the end clouds appear and provide shade, a stranger offers shelter, food, or comfort, or quite often a magnificent vista appears and it is impossible for either of them to resist being consumed by its beauty. The stories are great fun for anyone who likes adventure. I was inspired by their effort and grew to like them both as people. I cheered for the downhills and moaned when mud jammed their wheels. I found it fascinating that though they were in the same race and were faced with similar situations they dealt with them differently. In the end both coping strategies worked so maybe mine will too. I’ll surely borrow Jill’s chant of “be brave, be strong” which will make me laugh. I’m excited to follow in their tracks and am thrilled that I’m not riding this as a race, but instead will have more time to cover less distance which means I’ll be able to ride fewer miles per day. I also pray to the patron saint of cyclists (the Madonna del Ghisallo – whom I visited in Italy!) that I will have better weather, fewer mosquitoes, no bears and more beer.