If you are reading these words, you have it. We sleep, wake, eat, work and play. Life is what we know, how we experience the world and what we give when we help another person. It is the thing we treasure and cultivate. It is what separates us from things like rocks, dirt and water. It is precious.
One definition I found for life is “the experience of being alive”. This experience is unique for every person, but the funny thing is, most of us take that experience for granted very often. Because we are inside the experience of the day-to-day, things begin to run together. Before we realize it, days, weeks, even years go by and we find ourselves asking where the time has gone. It can be difficult to step back, take a minute and see that regardless of our circumstances, whether good or bad, up or down, fortunate or not, we are all living.
My experience has shown me that it is the things that are out of the norm, the peaks and valleys of life, that make me recognize I’m living. Experiencing something out of the ordinary makes ripples in the flat calm of the day-to-day. Stepping even further and getting out of your comfort zone makes those ripples turn to waves. It is a volatile and turbulent way of life with many high highs and low lows, but the experience is rich, vibrant and fulfilling. Don’t take me to say it is all pie in the sky and rosy. That same volatility that creates astronomical heights will also bring giant abyss-like lows. It takes both to be fully alive I believe. The perspective of a deep low accentuates the mountaintops and makes them all the more grand.
I have had the pleasure of doing life this way, particularly over the course of the last 6-7 years. The bicycle has been my primary tool for getting into these rich experiences and it is by bike that I have met some absolutely amazing individuals.
In June of 2014, as I watched the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race begin to unfold out west, I sat at home watching dots on Trackleaders. I found myself completely enthralled in the process and fascinated by the folks who were racing. I had toured the Trans Am in 2011 and felt like I had some semblance of an idea of how the racers felt as they traveled quickly across the map. I couldn’t wait to have a chance to meet these curious folk racing bikes across America.
I made every attempt to meet as many racers as I could that year. Of the 25 finishers, I went out to at least cheer on if not meet 22 of them over the course of about 2 months. It was uplifting to see them fully embracing life and it inspired me to want to embrace it the same way. None of the racers inspired me more than the man in first place at the time, Mike Hall.
Mike was from England and in 2014, had already assembled a monster endurance racing resume. He had raced Tour Divide as a rookie in 2011 finishing 10th. Tour Divide is a 2745 mile mountain bike race from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, NM roughly along the continental divide. In 2012, Mike took on the World Cycle Race, racing a bike around the globe, covering ~18,000 unsupported miles finishing 1st. In 2013, Mike came back to North America to tackle Tour Divide again, crushing the fastest finish of the race at that time, although he wasn’t given the record due to mandated course re-routes in New Mexico to avoid wild fires.
As Mike’s dot neared my hometown of Farmington, MO during Trans Am Bike Race in 2014, I was star struck and eager to go out and meet the man. I rode my bike to the edge of town and waited. When he appeared coming into town, I rode up to meet him and was surprised with the experience that followed. Here was a man who had done some amazing things, yet he was quiet and humble like none I had ever met. I rode and chatted with him as we made our way downtown to our local bike shop. He purchased a few items and set out to head east again. I rode with him and chatted more on the way out of town. I mentioned that I was inspired by him and I planned to race TABR the next year. He was encouraging and thoughtful. He offered that I could reach out to him via social media if I needed any help getting started. I also expressed an interest in racing Tour Divide. I told him maybe in 2016. He said that he planned to do the Divide again 2016 as well.
After only 5 short miles or so, I had to turn back. I didn’t want to, but work beckoned. As I slowed down, I wished him luck and let him know I would be cheering for him. The last words he said to me were, “Hope to see you on the Divide sometime!” as he smiled, waved and rode away.
Mike went on to win TABR14 in impressive fashion, setting a time that has yet to be eclipsed. Although I did race TABR in 2015, I DNF’ed, pulling out in Colorado. With unfinished business to attend to, I went back for another go at TABR in 2016 instead of doing the Divide. Mike did race the Divide that year, finishing first again and absolutely destroying the time record, setting a bar that many think will be difficult to reach.
In March of 2017, Mike took part in the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race, a 3400 mile self supported race across Australia. Tragically, on March 31st, he was killed while racing when a vehicle along the route hit him.
Despite the very short time I was given to spend with Mike, we became friends on social media and I followed his pursuits. We would chat a bit about gear and whatnot as I prepared for TABR. What I saw of him in June of 2014 was confirmed over and over with the interactions I saw him have with people online and countless others who have spoken in the name of his character- Mike was genuinely humble, graceful in his approach with people and charitable to those in need. Along with those traits, he was a fierce competitor and never settled for less than his best. He poured himself into his dreams and lived life to the full. I looked up to him and view him as a hero.
On May 2nd there was a memorial service for Mike in Harrogate, Yorkshire. I couldn’t make the trip to England, but Mike was in my thoughts. I have been thinking since I heard of Mike’s passing that I would like to do some sort of memorial of my own- something fitting. A few weeks ago I realized what it was and have since began preparing.
In tribute to the first self-supported endurance racer I ever met and the inspiration that I received from him, I am going to make good, albeit late, on the last physical conversation I had with the legendary Mike Hall. I will be in Banff on the second Friday in June 2018 for the Grand Depart. I will race the Divide.
Mike, I hate that I will miss seeing you, but somehow I think you might be watching. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for living. I imagine this song was about you. Cheers and ride peacefully my friend.