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Tuesday, April 19, 2022

After The Great Divide

And oh, after the love has gone
How could you lead me on, and not let me stay around
After The Love Has Gone, David Foster, Jay Graydon & Bill Champlin (1979)

So many roads to explore in the Black Hills, and beyond.
This is Fuller Pass Road in Custer Gallatin National Forest, near the North Dakota border.

From the very day I finished my 2021 ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, I started fielding questions of what's next. Months later, I still do. Now, it's a valid question and I appreciate the interest. But, man. I don't know. I just don't know.

The time after achieving a big goal is always challenging, but the Great Divide is at a whole nother level. This developed over so many years of blue sky dreaming, so many months of detailed planning, and so many weeks of challenging riding. I don't know that I'll ever launch an adventure this big again. I just don't know. I certainly do not have one in mind right now.

On the other hand, I'm not done, either riding or writing. I have a laundry list of weekend and weeklong bikepacking routes rattling around inside my head that I'd love to create and ride, as well as a number of local and distant areas to research, map out, and explore. Also, there still are a good number of nifty rides and events, especially in Iowa and Minnesota, that I have yet to ride. I plan to ride more than a few miles in 2022.

Working through this post-Great Divide process, I remember writing a post back in October of 2018 about my journey after achieving a multi-year goal of riding my Black Hills BackBone cross-state gravel route. On a far smaller emotional scale, that post still rings true today. Here it is.

The "A" race. The premier event. The epic destination.

For endurance athletes, the end of the calendar year triggers dreams of the big goal for next year. What could it be? Is it even possible? How? To make it so, what must be? What must not be? The questions and analyses percolate for hours, days, weeks, even months. And that's just identifying it. Then the real work begins. Gotta plan. Gotta organize. Gotta train. Gotta turn everything around to focus on the big goal. 

I've spent most of my adult life with such a mindset, resulting in many memorable races, events, and destinations over the years. And many things outside of athletics. There's much to be said for setting a big goal and working to achieve it. I'm a big fan of big goals.

The big goal dominates all thought, like Pikes Peak looming over the Colorado landscape.
Back in 1989, my big goal was running the Pikes Peak Marathon.

Undue emphasis on results, however, inevitably leads to a letdown afterward. That is, after achieving the big goal, what then? Typically, I respond by identifying the next big goal and fixing it on the horizon. Start the process over again. Then again. And again. The process becomes a lifestyle, all dependent on setting and achieving the next big goal.

It's all good. Until there is no next big goal. Or identifying the next big goal is elusive. What then?

In July of 2017, I finally completed a bicycle ride covering the 310 miles of the Black Hills BackBone, a North-to-South remote road crossing of the State of South Dakota. Admittedly, the ride was different from that originally conceived, but I celebrated achieving a major, multi-year goal.  Three Days of BackBone.

Then, I drifted.

Months passed. Fitness plunged. Weight soared. In October of 2017, the changing season eventually triggered a nagging feeling that I needed a big goal to kick start stuff. But identifying it was more than elusive. For some reason, I could not even begin to consider one.

A simple journey with no big goal in sight.

To clear my mind one day, I went on a long bike ride. Somewhere along that remote dirt road, I recognized what has been a mainstay for the past 10+ years - my daily bike commute. Every day I ride to work, unless a family commitment prevents it. It's what I do, regardless of weather, mood, physical ailments, or anything else. It's just part of my day. There is no big goal.

Well, maybe it's that simple. Maybe I don't need the next big goal, after all. Maybe I should just add something small to my daily routine. Make it part of my day. Like my bike commute.

But what? What's missing? Running. I don't run anymore, since all but abandoning it over 15 years ago. Thousands of hours spinning circles over the years must have physically changed something. Running now is awkward and uncomfortable, rather than natural and smooth. This will be difficult to start, let alone maintain, especially without a big goal.

Then, one morning, I just started. It was short (less than a mile), slow (barely above walking speed), and painful (ice and ibuprofen afterward). Too sore to run the next day, I ran again the day after that. To allow some recovery, I decided to run just three mornings a week, making my third run on my favorite M-Hill trails. Time passed, but progress was almost imperceptible. I repeatedly reminded myself that speed and distance mattered not. Just keep at it.

Now, over a year later, I am still running three early mornings a week. Speed, distance, and difficulty have increased some, but not a lot. Maybe that's the next step, or maybe not. I just love getting back out there running. A part of me awoke from a long slumber.

I didn't set or achieve the next big goal in 2018. It's much bigger than that.

After The Love Has Gone, Earth, Wind & Fire (live 1981)

After The Love Has Gone, Leonid & Friends (EW&F cover) (2021)


  1. Thanks for sharing your thought processes and goal setting strategies. I like to set goals, but not the enormous physical challenges which you take on. Being an arm chair explorer through your writing is much easier, haha! I am 65 now and retired last August so hopefully I can do some smaller adventures. But know that people enjoy your blog, even if you don't always receive a lot of feedback. Keep us updated on your 2022 plans!

  2. Oh, and if you ever get to Mitchell, SD we have some bike trails around Lake Mitchell. Would be happy to ride with you. We also have the Tour de Corn in the Fall.

  3. Thanks, Bruno. I'm glad to hear you enjoy my blog and appreciate your thoughtfulness. Best wishes on your adventures! And keep us posted! You never know who might be reading.