2700 miles. Canada to Mexico. Alone.
That's the strapline for the Ride The Divide film. It's easy to focus on the first part of that statement, but the gravity of the final word is not apparent until you go there.
No-one to support you, no-one to love, no-one to share with. At times on the Divide, there's only dust and wind. And there's no help in screaming at the wind... I tried that and it neither f**ked off or turned around. The land can extend to all horizons with no features giving you either beautiful solitude or mind-eating vastness.
For a long time during the race, it wasn't a burden to be alone. It was a change from normal life and allowed me to have a Singular (subtle branding!) purpose. I could get on with just riding and being. But the burden crept up on me. By the final miles of the Divide, I decided to ride it out and get to Antelope Wells. Largely so that I could arrive that night and sooner be with people again.
While I was riding, I would sometimes imagine being at home, or out to dinner. Sharing the day and the night; some food and some drink. It would be so great to really live in a moment and not in the continuum of the race. I wanted the ease of the understanding and the bright thoughts of others.
And I wanted to ride with others. I wanted to chase and race for no reason. Face the bad weather with humour, face the dry and fast trails with anticipation. To have someone laugh at me when I fell off. Have someone to goad through the corners if they backed off.
But in the first couple of weeks of being back, the "alone" has continued to pile up. In riding I've missed people with good excuses (training for national champs) and bad excuses (feeling a bit tired) but it meant that even after being home for two weeks I hadn't shared a single ride.
So my return to the UK was plodding round the same old places. Not fast, not training. Just feeling like a ghost who didn't know any better.
Thank goodness Sam asked me to race for Singular: a weekend of bikes, beer, and hanging out? Yes, please.
We had a team of 5 for the 24 hour race at Bontrager 24/12 and it was fantastic to meet the guys. It wasn't a group ride, but it was something just as good. There is some common thread connecting those of us who race solo endurance events and it was a fun change for us to work together. They spurred me on harder than I have raced in a long time. To the point of riding that fine line between success and disaster, to the point of effort that I can only just sustain crank up towards the finish so that I collapse straight after crossing the line.
Part of the reason I want to do things like the Tour Divide is because they do make you appreciate what you've got. I appreciated that I was able to be there, in those beautiful places and travelling huge distances. But more than that, I appreciated what is here at home. It looks like I won't be writing a blow-by-blow account of riding the Divide, but bits and pieces like this will probably escape along the way...