My name is Erik, and a couple of years ago I watched “Ride The Divide” on Netflix. It’s a documentary about a mountain bike race that loosely travels the continental divide from Banff, AB to Antelope Wells, NM. It spans 2,753 miles and sustains an elevation gain of 220,000ft throughout the route. There is no entry fee, no finisher medal, and no vehicles following behind in case you have a mechanical. This is an unsupported, self-sustained, carry everything on your bike, self-navigate, figure-out-your-own-logistics type of event. Competitive cyclist average 100 – 150 miles a day for 18 – 25+ days straight, and they are on the bike for 18 – 20 hours per day. So why do this? What’s the point? Some say that it’s a spirit quest, and that they come out of it with a better sense of who they are or what their purpose in life is. Others do it for the experience of biking across the most beautiful landscape Canada and the USA have to offer. Everyone who accepts the challenge of the Tour Divide does it for different reasons, but in the end there is nothing to gain or lose from this event, but honor.
After watching the movie, I was in awe of the mountain bikers who took on nature and themselves as they pursued their dreams of finishing what is arguably the toughest mountain bike race in the world. As much as I was in awe, I never thought I would be able to achieve such an accomplishment. I do have some mountain bike experience, but honestly I’ve always finished in the last quarter of riders in the Texas Mountain Bike Racers Association (TMBRA). In addition, I work as a paramedic and a recent promotion placed me behind a desk or driving a vehicle to fulfill the needs of my crews for most of the day. As a result, I gained 45lbs over the last couple of years and I was in the worst shape of my life at 245lbs. I was far from the fitness level of Matthew Lee, Mike Hall, Scott Thigpen, or Billy Rice; some of the legends of the Tour Divide. People actually thought I was joking when I first told them I wanted to attempt the Divide one day… They made me feel like I was nothing more than a joke.
One day, I came across a meme on Facebook that said “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.” I liked the post, and so I shared it on Facebook for others to enjoy. A few days later I was on shift experiencing a particularly trying day, and I found myself sitting outside that night thinking about how horrible of a shift it had been. Then, I started thinking about the things I’ve been blessed with in life such as my job, my wife Marianne, and my daughter Natalie. I started to think about that Facebook post, and wondered if I had played it safe in life or if I had any dreams that scared me. I’ve talked to Marianne about the Tour Divide before, and she had given me the blessing to follow my dreams if I wanted to. On top of that, Billy Rice, a former coworker of mine said he would help me along the way as a coach if I decided to race. Billy is a veteran of the Divide and he was the first person to ever complete the “Yo-Yo”. Most riders elect to ride North to South on the Divide, but Billy decided that the traditional route was no match for him. In 2013, he started from the South and headed North. When he got to Banff, he turned around and went back South. He rode 5,506 miles and climbed 440,000ft of elevation. The man is very in tune with the Divide and he presented an excellent opportunity for me. It seemed that I was running out of reasons to say no, and all I had left to do was say yes.. so I did.
That night, I told myself to take a leap of faith into the unknown. It was scary because the physical part of it wasn’t even the most daunting. I’ve heard stories of Divide riders who found on the side of the road, crying because the mental aspect of the Divide devastated them. I tried to imagine what they must have felt to hit a low spot like that, and I just couldn’t contemplate the battles they faced to bring them to that point. As for me, I’ve never been in that situation before. I’ve been known to be stubborn and show grit when life warranted it, but regardless of those experiences, it dawned on me that the Divide would be the greatest challenge of mind and body I’ve ever faced… and that really frightened me. Dreams big enough to scare the “you know what” out of me? Check!
As exciting as my decision was, I felt a bit guilty because the Divide is epic, something that could painted on the canvass of life forever. It’s something to reflect back to when life puts mountains in front you. No matter what adversity you may face, you’ll find the strength to overcome it just like the countless mountains you overcame along the Divide. That night I realized that the Divide is much larger than any dreams of mine, so I decided to utilize the it to aid others who might need help, but whom?
My wife, Marianne, is a teacher that specializes in deaf and hard of hearing education. She’s been to the Dominican Republic to help forge deaf education in that country, she’s helped out with her church bell choir, and she knows no enemies. She’s a wonderful person, far better than what I deserve so I try to do everything I possibly can to keep her happy. We recently married, and our wedding was June 21st, 2014; which makes our anniversary June 21st 2015, and that is smack dab in the middle of the Divide. She what I mean? She’s amazing and completely selfless for agreeing to this endeavor. Since she was going to be without me for an entire month over our anniversary, I asked if she would pick the target charity.
When I told Marianne about my idea, she immediately told me about Jacob’s Ride (www.jacobsride.com) and how this amazing young man named Jacob raised a ton of money for children who needed cochlear implants by riding to every professional baseball stadium in the USA. She had met him at a San Diego Padres game when he went through that part of the country, and said he was truly inspirational. She continued that he raised money for the Gift of Hearing Foundation (www.giftofhearingfoundation.org), and together they were able to provide funding so children who needed cochlear implants could have access to them. As she was telling me all of this, I realized that she wasn’t just telling me the back story of the organization… she was telling me her choice of charity.
With the charity identified, the first step was to gain their blessing to collaborate with them. I visited the website for Jacob’s Ride and sent them a message, asking for help. A wonderful man by the name of Randy Landis (Jacob’s father) responded, and he put me in touch with the Gift of Hearing Foundation’s founder, Eillen Jones. After 1-2 weeks of exchanging emails, I’m happy to report that today we signed the letter of collaboration between all parties involved, and Erik’s Ride was created. The GOHF, Jacob’s Ride, and now we are working synergistically toward the common goal of providing the gift of sound for those who need it. I’ve never done anything like this before and the unknown is a bit scary for me, but that just means that it is big enough to call a dream. Who knows what may come of this, but I encourage you to join me along the way.
Erik’s Ride: Racing the Divide for the gift of hearing.