Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"What do you win?"

"If you've never stared off into the distance,
then your life is a shame
And though I'll never forget your face
sometimes I can't remember my name."

-- Counting Crows, "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby"

Various times, in brief conversations at stops along the trail, a mini-mart clerk or a waitress in a cafe would ask about the Tour Divide, the 2745 mile mountain bike race from Banff to the Mexican border. I'd be there, buying a dozen Snickers bars or wolfing down a huge second breakfast and the question would come up, naturally, "What do you win?" And because time is short and the race is long, I'd give the easy answer, the short one, the lie. "Nothing," I'd say, "we do this for the fun." And I'd head back out on the trail.

The longer, truer answer is the one that reveals itself, bit by bit, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, mountain vista by mountain vista. It is the truth found in the distance and at the center of this bit of flesh I call myself. On a tiny trail in a vast world, with my possessions pared down to the minimum needed to maintain forward motion, with thoughts in my head of every kindness shown me, each step that lead me here, I answer to the wind, "Everything. I've won all this. I'm the luckiest man alive."

Matthew Lee reached the Mexican border at Antelope Wells, New Mexico 17 days 15 hours and 13 minutes after leaving Banff, Alberta. Matthew is a true racer, the man who built this race out of his own love for this course. And he can love these miles faster than any human I know.

Blaine Nester and Erik Lobeck reached the border together, 18 days 11 hours and 38 minutes after leaving Banff. Fast friends, sharing second place, they've won the course, a well-earned right to rest and so much more.

As I write this, others are still on the course and still others, like myself, have ended their quest for the border. I've won too much to think of myself as a loser and I hope that the others, the stopped and the rolling, will also see how much they've won in this wonderful tour.

My own race didn't end when I hit a barbed wire gate at speed, although with one bit of bad luck, one slightly different landing, I might not be writing this right now. Dave Blumenthal had the sudden, brutal, tragic, fatal bad luck. It is his life and joy we remember and his final gift to all of us, the haunting reminder that every moment is precious and we should love to our best in every moment.

My own race didn't end when I hit that gate and it really didn't end when my bike's freehub mechanism gave up and I was reduced to walking and coasting. My race ended in hundreds of moments, moments when a racer would roll on but a tourist would stop and wonder, stop and take a picture.

I am the Mountain Turtle and in the end, I guess this turtle doesn't race, he tours. And that's OK. For me, it's even better than OK. I knew my race was over when the horned lizard crossed my path and I stopped to chase him down, to get a picture.

I've got pictures and stories and a trip that never ends. I've just built up a slower bike, geared even lower, with no freehub to break. Fixed in every sense of the word. Not perfect, but perhaps a bit closer to fine.

As I pause from writing this, I look up and off into the distance. Tiger Mountain rises up and fills the view from my kitchen window. There are trails there I've yet to hike. Christine and I will explore them.

Later today my friend Mark and I are going riding. It's a beautiful world. And I've won it all.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA
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