By Andrew SchuhmannThe act of getting on a bicycle and pedaling for hundreds, if not thousands of miles, through every kind of wilderness in a solo, “self supported” fashion is a truly honorable, glorious, and self-fulfilling act. And due to recent forum discussions, it may be surprisingly more profound and insightful than even that! In short, how one races the Tour Divide (and now the TransAm) could be reflective of their moral views and political affiliations… Who knew that racing a bike could be so (gasp!) political?! Hear me out on this one…. Lately there has been a great deal of discussion on the forums regarding cheating in this year’s Tour Divide and TransAm races, and in bikepack races in general. What constitutes as cheating, and what does not? Where is the line drawn between moral diligence and moral turpitude, and who determines it? There have been calls for more rules and more governance in order to quell the perceived flood of “immoral” racing, and counter arguments against such actions as being “un-policeable”. Overall, the question seems to be: is there a choice in how to “Ride the Divide”? The easy answer is sure, you can choose to race it or tour it. But 130+ riders aren’t lining up in June to tour the Tour Divide. They’re lining up to race it, (and for the exhilarating experience of riding 2,700 miles with other like minders riders.) And it’s becoming quite clear that that experience means different things to different people… Being a social studies teacher myself, I relish a good debate! But perhaps it was my history teacher prowess that got the best of me on this one… Forgive me, I could not resist… In one corner, are the Purists. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call this the “Communist Bloc.” (See, I warned you!) Pursuant to the goal of equality, they hold that there is but one class of racer, subject to the same stringent rules and standards from which there can be no disobedience. Necessary to instill this equality is a totalitarian command to control every aspect of the rider’s daily life while on two wheels, to ensure that each and every rule is followed to the utmost standard in order to attain the most pristine physical prowess and moral achievement. Purification purges to clean out the immoral or unfit must be carried out systematically and frequently; only then can the true standard of bikepack racing be brought to its purest, singular form. But we have learned this lesson in history before… No person, (or rider) is ever fully equal to another, and any attempts at regulation in order “equalize” them will often fall into resentment at best, or failure at worst (think the Great Divide Race)… So is it useless then to try to equalize? Useless to compete? Of course not. It’s an individual race. Let’s turn to the other corner, where we have the Opportunists; we’ll call them the “Capitalist Bloc.” They seize every little opportunity to capitalize their gains in order to achieve the maximum advantage over their opponents. Every possible loophole and shortcut is exploited, every handout accepted. They’ll beg, borrow, and bend the rules to make it to Antelope Wells (or Yorktown), and sometimes do. Rules and regulations are seen more as a guiding recommendation open to free interpretation, rather than a decree from high command, and any effort to regulate or instill order is an effort in futility. “We hold these rules to be semi-evident, that all riders are kinda equal?” But we have learned this lesson too… Wherever there are rules, there are rule breakers, and whenever there is competition, there are cheats. And whenever there is law, there is “open interpretation of the law.” So is it useless then to try to regulate? Useless to compete? Of course not. It’s an individual race. * * * Obviously, the two camps I have presented are extreme exaggerations of two labels, which rarely exist in reality. I describe them here in jest, not to offend or ostracize, but to bring home the point: Bikepack racing: To govern? Or not govern? If that’s the question, I think you’re missing the point… As Hamlet himself stated so eloquently, “Keep it simple, stupid!” …Or was that Calvin?… Nevermind… On my all too brief Tour Divide attempt this year, I can honestly say that I’ve seen both sides of this argument. In one case, a rider I was riding with (and truly came to like and respect) found their front derailleur to be shifting improperly. On the first night, he wandered around the hotel beseeching other riders, “Hey, are you a bike mechanic?” No one seemed to be… The condition only deteriorated over the next pass, to the point that he had to pedal in the big ring over the next three passes. I knew how to fix his derailleur (I expect a simple tune up would have done the trick), but I didn’t. The purist came out in me, and it really annoyed me that he was relying on the knowledge of others to resolve his mechanical in the field. In my opinion, no one should be attempting this ride without simple bike maintenance skills. If they do, they’ll suffer the consequences of an inevitable bike failure, and rightly so. As a middle school teacher, this kind of thinking does not come easy to me. I considered for a moment teaching him how to do it, but knew that if the problem was more complicated than a simple tune up, it would then become my responsibility to fix because I had committed. And this was a RACE after all. So I simply sped ahead… (He’ll probably be reading this. I consider him a friend now, and I hope that he does not take offense. Which begs the question, in the end, was it worth it to me? Did I make the correct “moral” decision in not doing anything?) On the other end of the spectrum, I found myself in potential need of “outside support” when my frame bag failed, literally deteriorating in the constant, wet grime. Frame bags aren’t a dime a dozen, so the prospect of picking up another one in Whitefish seemed a stretch. And would I have the money to do so anyway? I had plenty of options back home: another frame bag, a backpack, etc. But my wife would have to mail them to me, what I believed to be a breach of the rules. What complicated things further was that she was the one that made the frame bag in the first place (though admittedly I chose the wrong material for it, so the fault was mine, not hers). If it was a commercial entity, open to all riders, then I could simply call the manufacturer, complain, and be shipped a new one. But she was my wife, certainly not open to all riders. So could I call her for a new one? (Though I wouldn’t dare complain!) And what difference did it make anyway? In jest, I had called her my “sponsor,” but now that term was taking on a whole new meaning. And initiating some questions as the muddy miles accumulated… Is a race purely equal when some riders are sponsored and others are not? In the middle of the Canadian wilderness, I broached the topic with another rider. He told me I would be disqualified if my wife shipped a bag to me. For some reason, I had to spend money with a shop or retailor to legitimize my race, despite the fact that I already had what I needed at home. It didn’t make sense to me. So I protested. “Do I have access to your wife?” he quipped. “Do I have access to Matthew Lee’s sponsors?” I retorted, getting more emotional than I had expected. “She’s my sponsor, she makes the bags. What’s the difference?” He paused, then responded, “Hey, it’s certainly a grey area. I’m not going to say anything…” It wasn’t a comfort. I spent some 120 miles stressing over the issue, a rule technicality. In the end, I called my wife and she packed a box, but I ended up purchasing two water bottles and cages and a cheap fanny pack to replace the failed frame bag instead. And I didn’t feel more pure for doing so… I felt disgruntled… And as it turned out, it wasn’t even against the rules in the first place:
- Rule 8a. Once a race clock begins, a rider may be assisted by a third party in receiving emergency repair/replacement items only. Emergency items must be shipped using a commercial shipper such as USPS, UPS, etc
- TIER 1: For the purists, competitive at the highest level. No trail magic whatsoever, just self supported to the T, no if, ands, questions, or buts… Sub 20-25 day finish
- TIER 2: More tolerant of “trail magic”, but still looking to follow the rules and push the limits of self supported riding, etc. 20-30 day finish
- TIER 3: Simply along for the ride; pushing themselves for their own fastest time, but not looking to be competitive or turn down assistance if offered, etc. 25-30+ finish.