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From Banff to Mexico: Riding the Divide for First Descents

By: Brent Goldstein

Support Brent’s incredible Out Living It Project benefitting First Descents by donating to his Riding the Divide campaign. To date, Brent has already raised $80,000 for First Descents and young adults impacted by cancer! To help him reach his ambitious goal, you can donate to his OLIP Campaign HERE

Allan Goldberg was my best friend from age 6 to 40.  Allan was a childhood cancer survivor who had made cancer philanthropy his life’s work.  Allan defied his cancer by also becoming an Ironman triathlete.  Two momentous events happened to Allan in the summer of 2006 that changed our lives.  First, he took the job as Executive Director of First Descents, a fledgling (at the time) organization that provided outdoor adventure programs for young adult cancer survivors. Second, he was re-diagnosed with the same pernicious cancer that he suffered and miraculously survived 26 years earlier as a kid.   As any good friend would do, I asked Allan what I could do to help.  He responded that he’d like me to do an Ironman with him the following summer.  I told him no fucking way.  I don’t run and I only like to float in water with a beer in my hand.  Without missing a beat, Allan asked me if I still like to mountain-bike.  I said sure, not really knowing where this was leading.  He followed up with a challenge to race in the 2007 Leadville 100 mountain bike race in Leadville, CO.  I again told him that he was out of his fucking mind.  Yes, two “fuckings” were used in the space of 20 seconds.  Stating my case, I asked “how the hell can I get off my couch and get myself in shape to ride a mountain bike 100+ miles over 14,000 feet of mountain climbing at altitudes reaching 12,600 feet in one day at nearly 40 years old?” Allan’s response was simple and to the point: “Dude, I have to do 6 months of chemo and radiation. Quit your damn whining.”  And that was that.

So as 2006 turned to 2007, Allan and I created “Team First Descents” and rounded up several like-minded friends to not only race Leadville, but to use the race as a platform to raise money for First Descents.  I trained like crazy, I groveled for money like crazy, I lost some belly fat and I managed to finish that first race in 11 hours and 11 minutes. More importantly, our Leadville Team succeeded in raising over $85,000 for FD.  Heartbreakingly, Allan passed away in June, 2008, but I have kept the torch alive with addictions to endurance racing, money-raising and the First Descents mission, over which I have presided as Board Chair since 2009.  The accomplishments for these addictions have been incredible.  On the racing and money-raising side, I have finished Leadville another 10 times with a personal best time of 8:54 (and BIG BUCKLE!!) in 2013 and another big buckle in 2016. More importantly, our FD Leadville teams have surpassed $1.35 MILLION in total funds raised between 2007 and 2017.  As for the mission, I have watched with pride as First Descents has grown from a 3-employee, 5-program, $300,000 budget small-town organization in 2007 to a 18-employee, $3.5Million budget, 100+ program, national organization today.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2017.  My wife (Lisa) and I are driving to Colorado from our home on the east-coast and Lisa asks me whether I am getting bored with training for and racing the Leadville 100 year after year after year.  After a few moments of reflection, I responded that I actually was getting a little bored, but couldn’t imagine not doing it.  Here is how the rest of the conversation went:

Lisa:  “I figured as much.  But I know you.  You obviously have something else on your bucket-list that would top Leadville.  Care to share it?”

Me:  “Are you sure you want to know?

Lisa:  “Shit, I knew there was something.  What is it?

Me:  “Well, about 8 years ago I saw a documentary about a mountain-bike race called the Tour Divide which was the story of 15 certifiable nut-cases who raced down the Continental Divide from Banff, Alberta, Canada to the US-Mexico border in New Mexico.  Over the years, the race has grown in stature, size and myth and I think I’d like to give it a shot someday . . . maybe in 5 or 6 years when the kids are all out of the house.”

Lisa:  Silence.  More Silence.  Deafening silence.  Then the bombshell:  “Why wait 6 years?  You are turning 50 in a few months and aren’t getting any younger.  Who knows what the future will bring?  Why don’t you do it next summer?”

Me:  “Wait . . . WHAAAAATTTTT?   Seriously?  You realize that I would be gone for 4-6 weeks?

Lisa:  “It wouldn’t be ideal, but I’ll survive!”

Me:  “Who’s the boyfriend?”

Both:  Laughing out loud

Sooooo, fast-forward once again to Friday, May 25, 2018 and two weeks from today a gun will blast from a park in Banff, Alberta, Canada and, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Allan’s passing, I will embark on the Tour Divide (www.tourdivide.org) along with another 160 or so riders from all over the world. Here’s the real skinny about the Tour Divide:  for one, it travels 2,760 off-road UNsupported miles from Banff down the Continental Divide ending some 26-33 days later at the U.S./Mexico border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Second, my chances of finishing are probably 50/50 as I’ll have to overcome snow, wind, sleet, rain, heat, cold, dehydration, hunger, physical ailments, river-crossings, downed-trees, bird-sized Montana mosquitos, sleep-deprivation, bears and mountain-lions, bike-hating rednecks in pick-up trucks, boredom, loneliness, saddle sores, raw taint, flat tires and other mechanical failures, scary wilderness noises at night, never-ending climbs up Rocky-mountains, steep technical descents, an unwieldy 50+ pounds of bike and bags and tent and food and water, and massive cumulative mental, emotional and physical fatigue. Third, the total elevation gain on the route is some 235,000 feet (think riding a heavy bike from sea-level to the top of Mt Everest . . . 8 fucking times.  Sorry, there’s that word again).  Fourth, I’m an idiot.  What I’ll have spurring me on is my usual mission to raise money for First Descents and, more importantly, the inspiring stories of all those cancer survivors who have attended First Descents programs after (and sometime while) battling their own personal medical Tour Divides to defeat such a pernicious disease.  For this epically insane adventure, I am setting an epically ambitious goal of raising $200,000 for FD.  As of today, we are about halfway there.

I have spent the past 12 months planning, training, accessorizing, purchasing gear and generally fretting (and stressing) over this adventure.  I am both incredibly excited and incredibly scared to death.  I know it will be incredibly hard, incredibly dangerous and probably incredibly painful, but it isn’t chemotherapy, it isn’t radiation and the hardship will be completely self-inflicted. Thankfully, I have the opportunity to use my current good health to make a difference for those like my buddy Allan.   I can’t believe it is now just a few weeks away.  In the days leading up to the race, I will publish a web-link to a webpage where everyone can track my progress online throughout the race via a gps tracker.  I also plan to update my personal blog with narrative, pictures and video during the race whenever I have some downtime in a location with a wireless signal.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and First Descents.  Your donations have implicitly condoned this madness.  To the wilderness I go . . . 

Support Brent’s Out Living It Project benefitting First Descents by donating to his Riding the Divide campaign.

Start your own personal Out Living It Project here

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