By Jefe Branham – Cover Photo Matt Burt
The twinkling of multiple alarms shake me from my tiny broken world of sleep. Somewhere there exists peace and tranquility yet it is not found inside my precious little bivy. There is only drive, no neutral, no reverse, only forward movement and progress, painful dedicated progress. Just enough time spent laying down to recharge the batteries and keep the eyes open and maybe not quite even enough for that. Inside a battle rages for what is the right thing to do. My mind, the whip, tries to make rational decisions on what is most efficient and in the end fastest way to proceed. My emotions run the gamut from wanting to lay down in the road and give up crying, to riding all night, every night and taking this mother by storm. My body, the horse, protests every action proposed, seeking only sleep, rest, recovery. So far it seems that none are winning on this sinking ship.
As I cruise on South, making my way through lonely Idaho and Wyoming there is plenty of time to ponder my state of being, my place in this mad race and the hard reality of watching my goals slip between my swollen fingers. Despite riding long long days, barely sleeping, falling asleep on the bike, crushing myself through days of storms, huge climbs and watching my legs swell like balloons from the effort, I am forced to admit that I am not making 200 miles a day. Not even close. A 14ish day finish is sliding away from me every time I fail to push harder, every time I hit snooze on the alarm, each time I sit down in town to eat the food I have dreamt of for the past 100 or so miles.
Luckily the weather has become lovely, the air is clean and fresh, the landscape changes from one glorious picturesque painting to another everyday, sometimes a few times each day. The sunsets on Union Pass and in the Divide Basin leave me filled with joy, wonder and perspective, simply breathtaking, incredibly special. I am reminded of how small I am, how small and unimportant my mileage goals are and how privileged I am to be taking part in this mad dash down the spine of our continent. I keep hearing advice my mom gave me before I left for Canada, “live in the moment, in the now”. That sagely string of words suddenly rang true for me, enjoy what is here, directly in front of your wheels, surrounding you on all sides, breath deeply of that air, remind yourself it really is the journey that counts, every pedal stroke, every minute, every mile.
Despite these high points my nagging brain constantly confronts me, reminding me of those lofty goals I set out to live up to. Easy to say it is all good, that you are doing the best you can, much more difficult to swallow that bitter pill. For days and days I torture myself with reasons why I am not strong enough, holes in the actuation of my plan big enough to drive through. I determine that I simply am over the hill as far as this level of bikepack racing goes and it is time to move on. Everyday I struggle with the desire to push harder and to just take it easy and enjoy the ride. Usually the mornings are filled with self doubt and slow movement, the afternoons I rally the troops (my legs) and fly along the course feeling like anything is possible. Day after day this give and take becomes a brutal roller coaster ride, one so rough it is hard to not break down and start screaming.
This backdrop of emotional, physical and mental struggle stays with me all the way through Wyoming and Colorado. I hit incredible highs, like hammering all the way from Rawlins to the Brush Mountain Lodge Oasis and finding a wonderful Solstice party going on when I arrive, freaking awesome! Then there are the collapse and crawl on your belly lows, the very next morning I struggle to ride and have to walk on every climb, have to stop a thousand times on the way into Steamboat, once for a gushing nosebleed on the side of the highway that leaves me wondering what is going wrong with me, what am I doing to my poor body? Then upon arriving in Steamboat feeling like a zombie only to have a host of locals waiting there to cheer my sorry ass on, damn people are nice!!! Having to admit that my body is rejecting the gas station fare I have little choice in eating all day long and yet still barely making it between towns with enough food and never figuring out exactly why?
To top it off I am riding alone, every hour of everyday. There are few distractions from my thoughts, tirades, emotions, perhaps this is one reason I linger in towns a bit too long, to get a break from my own internal conversation. Even as slow down and give myself a small boost by sleeping 4-5 hours a night instead of 2-3. I simply do not stop quilting myself for not working harder to chase down the record. Through a haze of exhaustion I still cling to my dreams of being superhuman, I really thought I could do it, I really really did. Sure the weather was tough for the first 5 days, sure I could have paced myself better as well and maybe I would be faster if there was another racer to actually race. It all sounds like excuses for simply reaching too high and being too human and weak to pull myself up there.
All along through out the ebbs and flows, the ups and downs I keep pedaling. There are some real low down weak moments when dropping out sounds to good to pass up at least to my body and emotional side, but seriously the mind knows that ain’t gonna happen. To get to Mexico you’ve got to pedal, pedal all day, part of the night and a bit of the morning. Failing to hit my mileage goals is heartbreaking, it bothers me still, but damn it I still know how to pedal my bicycle. Just Keep Pedaling, Just Keep Pedaling, You Will Get There If You Just Keep Pedaling….