Saturday, January 12, 2008

Great Divide What?

June 2006 - I'm minding my own business when 'swtchbkr' puts a post on about a crazy event called the Great Divide Race - the mother of all mountain bike races.

A non-stop, 4000km, point-to-point bike race from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide. Check out for the details and an inspiring slide show of what's on offer. It's nearly all on gravel roads and 4WD tracks. A total of about 200,000 feet of climbing. Unsupported (ie: no course marking, no drink stations, no support crew of any kind). Solo - no drafting. No entry fee and no prizes.

How cool is that?!

I was glued to the race coverage for the next 3 weeks. In 2006 there were 8 starters and only one rider, Matthew Lee, managed to finish. The others did well just to make it to the remote start line of such a daunting event. Unfortunately they fell by the wayside as extreme weather, relentless climbs, illness and mechanicals took their toll.

Matthew, an experienced GDR racer, finished in 18 days, a couple off the race record set by the organiser, Mike Curiak.

In August 2006 I was helping run the UCI MTB Worlds - the antithesis of the GDR. The Worlds is an impressive exercise in promotional hype and organisational overkill. It is a huge MTB party where riders are outnumbered 100-to-1 by spectators and crew. It's a world away from the adventurous roots of mountain bike racing.

Straight after the worlds I started work for the Cycling Advocates' Network, a grass roots organisation lobbying for a better environment for everyday cycling, particularly commuting. It was a relief to be doing something 'useful'. I tried to put foolish notions of riding the Great Divide Race out of my mind. 'The race is so gruelling it's unhealthy'. 'It would be too expensive'. 'I would probably end up hating cycling before halfway'.

These perfectly good arguements against doing the GDR failed for various reasons. I was inspired by a book my brother was writing about New Zealander Harry Watson who completed the 1928 Tour de France. Planning for the GDR was an easy escape from the reality of my dad's battle with cancer. The Great Divide Route looks like it heads through some awesome country. And, I'm just vain enough to think that I might be able to finish GDR without suffering permanent injury.

Although the Great Divide Race became firmly lodged in my consciousness, a start in 2007 was not to be. My first child, Miro, was born on 19th June, shortly after a record 24 riders started the '07 GDR. A week later, my dad died.

No comments: