Sunday, September 28, 2014

I Quit

I found this in my unpublished post list tonight. Its not a letter from my dog (yes, I am having fun being silly with this), rather it was one of those that I started, thinking I had something to say and a direction, but it just kind of fizzled out. Tonight, I revived it and wrote the ending:

The early morning sunlight grinned at me as I rounded the turn and started up Marshall Pass. I thought of the previous day's miles and memories, the absolutely shitty, laborious plodding through a sandy stretch leaving Del Norte, I remembered Carnero Pass's beautiful climb and anti-climactic summit. I thought about meeting Bill, my new favorite photographer ever; the heat going over Cochetopa Pass and the fantastic conversation with the good ol' boys from Durango (and their horse!) at the top.

photo credit: Bill Baca
I thought about my previous climbs to Marshall Pass and smiled even bigger when I looked down and saw my feet clipped into the pedals. Ride Foose's Creek to the top and then fly up the 4% grade on the road and you will know just what I mean. 

Winding up around the turns, climbing in the cool morning air, knowing the screaming descent into Salida that awaited my tires--my mind was clear, my legs were being cooperative and amicable partners and my soul floated along through the trees. The Tour Divide elicits these storybook portrayals everyday for at least a few hours, usually in the early mornings and late evenings. My brain leisurely waltzed through today's storytime and began thinking back to the maroon Honda Ridgeline I saw stopped along the river south of Carnero Pass the previous day.

The driver stepped out and pointed a camera with a lens longer than my arm across the river. I glanced over to see nothing really and stopped to inquire as to the subject of the photo.

"That Golden Eagle trying to fly off that rock."

"Ahhh, now I see him...Wow!"

"Where are you headed?"




Questions about my bike, setup, route and the night's destination ensued and I learned that Bill was an avid mountain biker in his day. And a very lucky one as well....

While training for the Leadville 100 MTB race, he decided to go on a 20 mile ride in the area where I was headed over Carnero Pass. Rolling along through some Aspen stands, he stood up off the seat to pedal and an Aspen tree fell, clipping the edge of his seat and completely destroying his rear wheel and tire. 

After Bill completed his story in a much more lively and descriptive manner than my short summary above,  I shook my head, blinked a couple times and felt my jaw dropping in amazement. How many people do you know have survived a tree falling on their bike? How many trees fall on bikes? What are the odds? And had he not stood up at that exact moment, I never would have heard that story or met such a friendly, cool dude who continued to follow my progress throughout the rest of the journey. But more importantly, think how thankful his kids are that he decided to stand up....

Once I summitted Marshall via the lazyman's route, I turned on the afterburners, turned up the tunes and played speedracer all the way into Poncha Springs. Vrrrrrooooooooom! I kept catching myself making moto noises and giggling immediately afterward. I hit 44.3 mph, which wasn't too shabby for my skeletal self, tucked tight onto the aerobars.

Soon I was at Absolute Bikes and found that it was going to be a while before I could head out, so I went in search of food.

"Are you doing the Tour Divide northbound also?" 

A late thirty-something man in a red jersey, cooked by the sun was sitting at an outdoor table at a pizza place in Salida. I did not see his bike anywhere, but noticed he did not look overly happy and sensed the day had been a rough one for him. I wondered how anything but a smile could grace one's face after the descent off Marshall Pass.

"Yep, I am. How is your ride going?"

"Ehhh, it kinda sucks."

"Really? Was Marshall not a good ride for you?"

"Marshall? It looked really steep on the map so I took Monarch Pass to get on some pavement and had to walk my bike for miles. I finally got so tired and pissed off that I slept somewhere near the top. I hate all the cars, I feel like I am putting myself in danger everyday and its just not fun...How long did it take you to get through New Mexico? I was hot and miserable and felt like it would never end."

"Five and a half days."

"Shit. It took me eleven....but I am just touring. I have all summer off, so time doesn't matter."

"That's great that you have all summer, I would love to have the time to spend a day or two at some of the places in northern New Mexico and near Horca. What a surreal, beautuful and magical area, huh?"

"Not really. I just had to push my bike all the time. I mean, it was ok I guess, but I don't really know why I am out here, I planned for so long and am not sure why I am doing this. By the way, is that all the gear you have?"

His voice was rough and I could sense a slight aura of anger in his words. Trying to lighten the mood a little I made myself the butt of a couple of humorous minimalist jokes that did not even elicit a return smile. Whoa, this dude was really in a hole of miserable. A deep one.

"Yeah, I am weighing in around 40-41lbs depending on how much food I have on board."

"Hmmmm, do you ever push your bike?"

"Not much so far."


"Well, I don't stay in hotels, I don't shower and I don't even stay in campgrounds. That's my rule."

I had to turn my head away and cover my mouth, pretending to clear my throat so he would not see my smile and so I could stave off laughter. "Hmmmm, I see, but what prompted you to make that rule for yourself?"

"Because I can."

Wow, that was pretty much my cue to wander down the street to another place to eat. This guy didn't want to casually chat, he wanted a sounding board. I opened my mouth and took a breath to form a polite exit excuse and then stopped myself. This was the first cyclist I had encountered since I saw Big Dave in Cuba as he blew by. As unpleasant and gruff as this guy was, something told me that I should accept his offer to sit and eat some lunch. Maybe it was my fascination with understanding the psychological workings of people who choose to ride the GDMBR and their motivations, maybe it was just my intuition telling me to be a kind ear or maybe I needed a good example of a bad attitude to avoid.

I took off my gloves and helmet and sat down. The midmorning sun was beginning to heat up and as rough and dirty as I surely looked even having taken a shower since I started, he looked pretty exhausted, sunburned, windburned and harbored a fulltime half-scowl on his face.

"I wonder if you would enjoy the ride a little more if you took a shower?"

"I don't know, this is just not that great. It's not what everyone says it is. It's really hard and I am tired of pushing my damn bike all the time."

He pointed at my bike.

"Really, Jill, where is all your stuff? And your wheels are bigger than mine. But I am not SPOT-tracking and I don't stay in hotels or shower, not even a campground. I have all summer off to do this, I have a great job."

Whoa, where do I even start in replying? I played the positive/pretty places card. "Wasn't La Manga Pass a beautiful descent? How did you like the views from Brazos Overlook? Did you eat good food in Platoro?"

"I have pushed my bike so many hours. I think it may be too heavy...."

The negativity continued for another ten minutes. I let him vent his doom and gloom, offering only subtle and kind suggestions of ways to be more comfortable and allieviate his misery, getting only anger-filled justifications for responses. Having been in very similar gloom/fatigue holes, I empathized, but was secretly relieved when my food came. I wished him luck and headed for the bike shop with my right hand on the handle bar and my left stuffing my face with food.

I saw Mr. Angry three more times before the Canadian border. Once a few minutes later at the bike shop as he was starting out for the big climb out of Salida. I saw him again about three hours later on the climb pushing his bike. I offered all the genuine encouraging words I could think of and pedaled on, figuring I would never see him again and silently hoping he would lighted up the 85lb menagerie he was pushing (no exaggeration, as I saw it on the scale at the shop in Salida!) and somehow find some happiness in his journey.

A couple weeks later in Whitefish, MT at a street festival, my jaw dropped. How in the world could he have gotten here so quickly? Yes, I had a major mental collapse in Pinedale which put me in a deep, dark, shit-filled gloom hole and lost an entire day, but there was just no way.....

I smiled. "Hey, you are almost there!"

"I finished."

"Holy crap! Did you trade your bike for a motorcycle?" "Or a rocketship?" I tried the make-a-joke approach but the same scowl that I saw back in Salida still prevailed. "Did you have a cold Canadian beer in Banff?"

"No, I am only riding border to border. No sense in going to Canada. I am catching the train outta here in an hour. I took some highway detours. Just wanted to get this over with so I can say I did it."

I stood in the middle of the food vendor trucks and tried to pay attention to the conversation, but I was pretty much done. He was no happier than when I first met him in Salida, so I let him vent all his disappointment of the journey once again. When he finished, I smiled, congratulated and complimented his effort with the friendliest and kindest words I had and just walked away.

To. Say. I. Did. It.

I thought about those four words and wondered to whom he was going to say he did it? To himself? To his family and friends? Students? To Facebook? To his blog? He was clearly miserable the whole trip and would not take a shower or change a bike setup that he disliked having to push up all the hills. This guy was tough as hell. He held strong to what he set out to do but suffered the whole way and took paved roads to make it easier. Not knowing him and going off only what I observed and heard in conversation with him, I kept wondering if he would have finished if no one had known he was riding? If he had no one to tell of his showerless month of riding and camping, would he have finished it? Would he have held fast to his rule or would he have made himself more comfortable and found some enjoyment in what he was seeing along the route?

My thoughts returned to this guy as I pedaled the days away and my mind wandered here and there. I had never encountered such a genuinely unhappy cyclist. It was totally foreign to me. Sure, I have seen many riders in pain and agony from fatigue, but it is all a bit tongue-in-cheek, because in a weird, sick way, we all love the suffering we inflict upon ourselves. Those who truly hate it quit racing. I think that's what puzzled me a great deal as well: the guy was touring, NOT racing, and suffering like a dog. But, as I mentioned before, I do not know him, so my only conclusions are based on inferences.

Running across this guy and his words "To say I did it..." kept haunting me and I chose to elaborate so extensively because it relates directly to a recurring issue I have yet to make right within myself. Miles and miles were spent pedaling and thinking about my ongoing struggle with and social/relational challenges in the

                                             I SHARE THEREFORE I AM

world. I do not have the personality type that will ever see social media as "real life." It does not sit right in my heart the way we connect and communicate. I need words, emotions, facial expressions, laughter that I can hear, not laughter I see written as LOL. Yet I do it. Everyday. Whether I want to or not, I habitually log into Facebook. I get completely bored with the overly-enhanced pictures and wonder about the compulsion to make real life pictures better. I eventually get tired of the constant noise and deactivate my account, but anywhere between two and four weeks I am back. Why?

Time to get real honest.

I, too, feel some sort of compulsion to share. It exists. I share because I want to tell people what I am doing.

I questioned my heart for many miles on that topic. What the hell have I become? Why did this compulsion arise? Why does it feel so wrong yet I do it? Why do I ignore that feeling and do it anyway? I ultimately wished I could find a culture where sharing every aspect of our lives was done through human interaction instead of electronically. Ha, yeah right, Jill. It is 2014, not 2004. I thought about how when I started this blog and joined Facebook, my brain was different. It was not a habitual thing to post and record my life to put on display. I honestly wanted to use them as a memoir of my own and to inspire people to chase big dreams. Because, hey, if a complete no one from nowhere can make a run at some crazy dreams that fuel her inner fire......

But somewhere, somehow, someway life is becoming this:

Yeah, I laughed too. But then it hit home pretty hard.

My quit date is October 1.

The personally negative (addictive) effects I experience and am acutely aware of everyday, yet for some reason choose to basically ignore coupled with the degradation of my friendships and relationships far far far outweigh the good things social medial has brought.

Yes. There are good things. Many.

But not enough anymore.

I checked and I joined Facebook in July of 2009 and I immediately wished I had back just half of the time I have wasted. I don't want to wish for time back ever again. I don't want to struggle with it anymore.

I want it gone from my thoughts. I want to deepen existing relationships with the beautiful, inspiring and genuine people I know the old-fashioned way. I want to continue to do epic shit and not feel a compulsion to post a picture of it. Call me an old soul. Call me overly-sensitive. Call me an over-analyzer. All I know is that my heart is not right with me having a Facebook account.

And I must listen to what it says.