It’s that time again. The cyclists begin laboring up the hill along the highway in front of our house. For those pedaling westward, this slope is the first real hint of the challenge that faces them in the Rockies.
We see them all summer, in pairs and in groups, in the heat and the chill and, almost always, the headwind. Dubois is a well-known way station for cycle trekkers heading in both directions on one of the favorite cross-country bicycle routes.
Why do they go through this ordeal? Some of them are cycling for a cause: a cure for cancer, or houses for the homeless. Others are doing it for the challenge.
Whatever their reason, Dubois clearly loves the cyclists. Many of them know, through word of mouth or the Web, that they can find a place to spread out their sleeping bags overnight at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. We leave the wifi password on the whiteboard, and sometimes prepare meals for charity cycle groups.
Last summer, someone installed this bike repair station in the center of town, in the parking lot in front of the Opportunity Shop.
I once asked a cycle trekker what went through his mind when he was passed (as regularly happens) by one of those fume-spewing RVs as large as a railway carriage. The answer was not what I expected. “I wish I was riding inside,” he said.
I’ve called it an “ordeal,” but as I chat with them over dinner we’ve cooked up in the church kitchen, it’s clear they’re been having fun. These groups tend to be young folks in their gap year, finding a good way to spend time while deciding what they mean to do with themselves next.
For our very own hometown cycle trekker, a 40-ish mother of two, a much different experience awaits. She will be more likely to encounter a grizzly bear than a huge RV when she launches off tomorrow, alone, on Tour Divide 2016.
It’s a 2,745-mile race on “the world’s longest off-pavement cycling route.” Participants travel solo and care for themselves along a trail that runs in back country, unmarked and circuitous, from Banff, Alberta, to southern New Mexico along the Continental Divide.
I’m a bit worried about Becki, who is not only my yoga instructor but a dear friend from way back. I shouldn’t be.
In her pre-Mommy days, she used to cycle to work from the east side of town all the way to the top of Uphill Road 10 miles to the west. That was her commute to her job as head of the Dubois branch of SOAR, a wilderness adventure program for young people with learning disabilities. Camping out in the back and beyond was in her job description.
TourDivide 2016 is no mere cycle tour for Becki. Nor is she actually racing to win. Another cyclist called it her “once-in-a-lifetime.” Becki told me the inspiration for this dream was the sight of sheer joy on the faces of some cyclists she saw crossing Togwotee Pass on the same tour several years ago.
She writes that a bicycle was her best wedding gift, “the best piece of marriage advice i received, and … it brought me the joy that i knew was possible.” Her training for today’s challenge actually began years ago, cycling from Steamboat to Boulder through Rocky Mountain National Park, when she was one year married and newly pregnant with her first child.
“I had 4 days alone … on my bike over high mountain passes in some Rocky Mountain fall weather to process and reconstruct my world into one that had a baby in it,” she wrote, “a wee taste before my world was rocked into smithereens.”
She has been training for this challenge with “consistent inconsistency” ever since then, in all conditions, just by the way she lives and where she goes with her children, on skis and snowshoes, on foot, on a hunt. And also of course on her bike.
She raised funds for the trip by selling her art, hand-appliqued T-shirts, and block-printed cards. (Who knew she is also an artist?)
I imagine her waiting now at the top of the trail, one foot on a pedal.
“can i do this?” she wrote recently on her blog. “i can’t do this, but i’m gonna say out loud that i can…to participate in the trajectory i set for myself, i must give it a whirl at impossible things.”
You go girl! And come back home to us, safe and triumphant.