June 18, 2024

The Great Divide

With thanks to Eric Gunnerson, I want take a break today to talk about something real and good and worthy, unlike so much in the media and the world at the moment and, in all likelihood, in all moments.

The subject is the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race, as documented by one of the riders. Kent Peterson is way cool and his experiences on the 22 day, 2500 mile ride are the kind that can and inevitably must shape a person’s life.

Read all of Kent’s day-by-day account of the trip, it’s awesome:  well-written, entertaining, and heartfelt.  After reading about the adventure I find myself thinking that I’d like to do it someday.  Soon.  I’m not getting any younger and neither is my already-bad knee.  Soon my older sons will be able to outride me – perhaps then.

Some exerpts from the first half of Kent’s ride:

Every racer but me has chosen a 29” wheeled, multispeed bike so naturally my rigid steel Redline Monocog is the bike that attracts the most attention.  I’ve gotten used to confused looks from folks when they see my choice of bikes and many people seem compelled to issue forth well-meaning critiques starting with phrases like “wouldn’t it be easier…?”  I’ve learned to keep my responses as simple as my bike and often reply that the Redline is a fun bike and it’s really all I need. If I’m feeling chatty I point out that it would be easier not to ride the Divide at all or to ride the course on a motorcycle, but that really doesn’t seem to be the point. Every person racing the Divide is here for a challenge, I’m just defining the challenge a bit differently. I want to see how fast I can ride a rigid singlespeed mountain bike from Canada to Mexico.

June 20th

I roll into Helena around 9:30 AM and arrive at Great Divide Cyclery just as it’s opening up.  I work at a bike shop, so I know that my own crisis is just one problem in a litany of woes the shop will see today and that they probably have a queue of regular customers with higher priority concerns.  I present my case to Gwen Sensing and Steve Coen, the two folks working here this morning.  What I need is a new rim and some spokes to lace it up, or a new wheel, and I’ll be happy to do the work myself.

It turns out I don’t have to do that. In a stroke of extreme good fortune, Great Divide Cyclery has one Specialized Hardrock Singlespeed on the sales floor.  The chainline is right but the tire has to be swapped and a 17 tooth cog installed.  In order to clear my rear rack, we have to pull the rear disk brake.  But the new wheel sports a beefy Ditch Witch rim with a great braking surface and everything comes together with what the Taoists call effortless effort.  I am on the proper path.

I leave Helena and ride back into the wild country. I’m really loving the descents now that I have two working brakes. I get a bit of extra excitement as an enormous elk leaps across the trail about eight feet in front of me on a particularly steep descent and later I see more deer and beaver and various other creatures. In places the trail is very rough and steep and in other places the headwinds are fierce but my general sense is just an overwhelming
feeling of joy that I’m able to ride.

June 24th

The night is bear-free and in the morning I roll down to Flagg Ranch, a tourist Mecca on the main highway that runs between Yellowstone and the Tetons. Mr. Rockefeller has his pavement here and the pavement seems to have attracted every RV in the western hemisphere. I know that many people are saying that gas prices are too high these days but on this day, in this place with large nomadic herds of mobile comfort careening from one scenic spot to the next, I’m thinking that gas prices could stand to go a bit higher.
June 30th

I’ve seen a lot of emptiness on this trip but the small spot where my Tarptent should be is a void that dwarfs even the Great Divide Basin. In the twilight I stare dumbly at a flapping loose strap as I mentally replay the day. I’d packed the tent up this morning, about sixteen hours and 116 miles ago. I’d double strapped the various bags as is my custom but in a moment of inattention, two straps were looped into one. And that key strap, somewhere on the trail between Breckenridge and this dark place, a path of beautiful stony climbs and high-speed, high-bounce descents, somewhere on that long trail, a single buckle gave way. I think about chains with weak links and how you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. I think perhaps that I am too stupid to race the Divide.

It is easy and wrong to think that minimal gear and a simple quest equates to some kind of renunciation of the material world. In a very real sense, a Divide racer’s minimalism is in fact an extremely purified form of materialism. I’m not free of material goods, I’m intensely dependent on them. Each item I have chosen for this journey has been extensively studied and obsessively considered. I’ve literally weighed my options and made my choices. The other racers have done the same.

Like I said, read the whole thing – Kent’s race diary is the coolest thing I’ve seen on-line in way too long.

At the risk of putting my words to his story, the last paragraph above says something to me about the way most people live their lives.  I’m no exception, I’m sad to say.

What it says to me is that we too often bind ourselves to material things and immaterial ideas that seem valuable but are worthless.  The ability to see, hear, and feel the truth is inate in men and women.  It’s part of us.  But participating in society deadens the spirit inside us.

We’ve all felt it, that sense of understanding that comes during a long stretch away from work, at a funeral of a loved one, on the beach facing an endless stretch of water.  We glimpse it at odd intervals, for too-short moments, and know we have a purpose that we’re not fulfilling.  Duties call and, rushing to met them, we forget that we have higher obligations.
The truth about us is not in our jobs.  It’s not in our televisions.  It’s not down at Moe’s Tavern.  It’s not in the public faces we present to the world or the falsehoods we mouth to keep the illusions in place.
The truth is in our hearts and minds.  But where did it come from?
Tune out the noise, turn off the cell phone, forget your job, your boss, your sister-in-law, the newspaper.  Don’t believe the lies you tell yourself every day.

A ride like Kent’s prunes the useless debris from our lives and leaves us with only the most important things in our hearts.  There’s only so much we can carry.  Consider and accept what is true, whether you like it or not.  What else matters?


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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