This June, I will begin racing my fully packed bicycle from Canada to the Mexican border along the Great Divide Mountain Bike route. I will be sleeping under the stars most nights. In between my starting point in Banff, Alberta and the far off finish in Antelope Wells, New Mexico lie 2700 miles of classic American landscape and culture.
I have been following the very unofficial event called the Tour Divide (or, historically the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race) since 2008. Jon Billman wrote a story called “The World’s Toughest Bike Race is not in France,” for Outside Magazine in July of that year. I remember it because I was car camping around Lake Superior with my wife and one-year-old daughter. That article stuck in my head and toggled on my still yet-to-be-developed endurance-racing gene. I knew someday, my time would come to make that passage down the Divide.
This year, I will race the Tour Divide for the first time. I am racing the Tour Divide for selfish reasons, yes. But I am obliged as an American and a stakeholder on our public lands to start speaking about the importance of saving, protecting, and even expanding these shared landscapes. Public lands do not belong to state governments. They do not belong to private companies. They were not created solely for profit.
These lands do have a voice. Many have heard it while out hiking, cycling, hunting and fishing. It is the voice of open spaces, mountains, forests and wild rivers. But those who seek only financial gain are drowning it out. I am obliged, and honored, to dedicate my Tour Divide ride to speak up for our public lands.
A lot has changed in my life since I first read about the Tour Divide. I have created my own gravel cycling races on the North Shore of Lake Superior. I have raced a handful of the toughest events in the country. And I have two girls now that share my love of being outside. They made the leap from car camping to wilderness canoe travel in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness a couple of years ago. My wife and I have introduced them to wild places in the hope that they will know the joy, challenge and fulfillment that outdoor living and adventure can bring. They also get a kick out of my passion for all things cycling. Luckily, I see the same joy in their eyes as they ride their own bikes now.
As someone who uses public lands to enrich my life, I decided it was a good time to start advocating for this truly unique American ideal. Public lands are one of America’s greatest assets. I know as a cyclist, wilderness traveler and fisherman, I go to these places for many reasons. Escape. Recharge. Imagine. Connect with my family. Dream. Challenge. But most, including me, sometimes shy away from the politics that surround our traditional outdoor pastimes. They are sacred places where we go to avoid the drama, stress and animosity of the current political world. But that has to change.
Like me, you probably have gotten to know the unique outdoor places where you live. As Americans, we should use them responsibly, share them with our friends and family, and we should not be afraid to speak out on their behalf.
Thanks for following my journey down the Continental Divide. And thank you for donating to the Outdoor Alliance.