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Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Great Divide - Give Yourself A Chance

You go back, Jack, do it again
Wheel turnin' 'round and 'round
You go back, Jack, do it again
Do It Again, Walter Becker & Donald Fegan 

Another glorious day rolling along the Great Divide.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Every day on my ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, I affirm a mindset to enjoy the upcoming day, with everything that comes with it, while giving myself a chance to ride the next day. See, Living A Dream. The whole live-in-the-moment mantra is pretty straight forward, even though daily challenges make it not so easy to do. But what do I mean by giving myself a chance to ride the next day? 

In general, it means to take care of your bike, your body, and your mind all day today so that you have the opportunity to ride tomorrow. To be blunt, don't mess up something today that takes away tomorrow's ride.

Looks inviting, but no swimming in Upper Whitefish Lake on this cool, overcast day.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

What that looks like, on a daily basis, takes some time and thought for me to work through, particularly after Paul finishes his ride in Rawlins and I ride solo the next 1,300+ miles to Antelope Wells. Riding across Colorado is one thing, but venturing solo into sparsely populated and practically undeveloped New Mexico takes the meaning of self-supported to the next level. That is not a place for mistakes. Not for body, bike, or mind.

For the body, I work to stay on top of food and water.  It's much easier to keep up than to catch up.

After a few weeks on the Great Divide, I realized that when I get a little low on calories, the front of my thighs start to ache, something like a dull version of lactate acid overload during a hard sprint. When that starts to happen, I learned to immediately stop and eat at least 500 fast acting calories. Usually within about 10-15 minutes, that achy feeling goes away and my legs feel good. Before recognizing this and responding this way, I would continue to slide negatively in energy, performance, and attitude. 

Eventually, I also learned that I could start my morning with a few big handfuls of trail mix and ride moderately hard for several hours, while snacking regularly. Then I would stop, maybe for 30 minutes or more, for a substantial meal, e.g., 1,000+ calories of peanut butter/honey tortillas and Snicker bars. That would fuel me until early to mid afternoon, when I would stop for at least 30 minutes for an even more substantial meal. Sometimes, that would be enough riding for the day. More often, I would ride longer until late in the day or even into the evening. I loved the ability to let the day decide its length, rather than my poor decisions or inattention.

Riding in the heated high plains between Montana mountains.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

I also regularly monitor body temperature and respond. Yes, I can still change into and out of a jacket on the fly on a road ride, but here I stop to keep things right. Add layers. Subtract layers. Change layers. Take a break in some shade. Take a break sheltered from the wind or rain. Sit down. Stretch. Lie down. Do what it takes. I want to ride tomorrow.

I govern effort for the long haul, such that I can fully recover overnight. That's easy to say, but hard to do. I really did not know how hard I could go all day, day after day, for weeks, until I did it. It's just not the same as the sustained effort and recovery of one day races. I struggled for almost two weeks before beginning to understand how to balance this type of effort and recovery. The Great Divide - A Hard Start. Once dialed in, however, I rode comfortably (and faster, and farther, and higher) for the next 5 weeks and I know I could have ridden for many, many more. But it took thoughtful attention and time.

The takeaway is simply stated, though not simply executed. Don't dig a hole so deep today that I can't recover to ride tomorrow.

Flying down Cataract Creek Road can quickly get too fast.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

I also ride more conservatively than normal to minimize the risk of crashing. I'm a relatively conservative cyclist anyhow, so that isn't hard. But my Jones 29+ handles great on rough stuff, even loaded, and it's easy to forget where I am during a fun, fast descent. It's also easy to let pride decide whether to ride a sketchy technical section. Out there on the Great Divide, one moment of inattention may end my ride, or worse. Now, think of the added complications when riding solo. 

For the bike, during the day, I occasionally check for anything abnormal. When stopping for water, food, or even pictures, I take a look. An abnormal sound definitely means stop. Figure it out. Make a decision. Fix it. Adjust it. Clean mud and other debris. At the end of the day, I check tires, wheels, brakes, cassette, chain rings, and chain. Clean what needs to be cleaned on the drivetrain and lube the chain. It takes but a minute to stay on top of things. I want to ride my bike tomorrow.

Finally cresting Fleecer Ridge on a 90+ degree day after climbing over 5,000 feet.
A little downhill lies just ahead. 
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Finally, most importantly, I commit to a mindset and diligently work to maintain it. Well before Day 1, I hammered home what I called BP3:  Be Positive, Problem solving, and Pedaling. Yes, I need all three, all the time. And I remind myself daily to be positive, be problem solving and be pedaling. BP3, baby.

Upon hearing this from me, a young Great Divide cyclist chirped, "All you really need to do is pedal!" I asked him how he was going to pedal to Antelope Wells without deciding which road to take. If you're just pedaling, where will you end up? How are you going to pedal without resupplying water and food? What about rest and shelter?What if your bike breaks down? You're constantly solving problems on the Great Divide or, better yet, you're attentive to your situation and acting to prevent a problem from developing.

I certainly was not positive, problem solving, and pedaling every minute of every day. But it was a mindset I committed to before the first pedal stroke and worked at until the last. I know it helped me to successfully ride the Great Divide, and have a lot of fun doing so.

Steady Freddy single track through Grizzly Basin.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

So, enjoy the day, with everything that comes with it, and give yourself a chance to ride the next day. What that looks like for you, you get to work out yourself. 

Do It Again, Steely Dan (1972)

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