It was a Thursday night when I picked up Jill Homerís Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across the Great Divide and made a terrible mistake: I turned to the first page and started reading. Having previously enjoyed Jillís Ghost Trails: Journeys Through a Lifetime, I knew I was in for a good read. My plan had been to save it for the weekend when I could be assured of several uninterrupted hours to savor every word. On that Thursday, however, I found myself without ready reading material and Jillís book was there on my end table, tempting me. I succumbed to the temptation and paid for it the next morning after staying up much too late, unable to stop reading.
If youíve read Ghost Trails youíll recognize the beginning of Be Brave, Be Strong. Jill starts this story once again on the Iditarod Trail at the beginning of her second 350 mile ride across Alaskaís frozen wilderness. Unfortunately, this attempt does not end as successfully as her first. Sheís left with severely frostbitten toes and her faith in her abilities badly shaken. Sheís also left with an awareness that all is not well in her relationship with Geoff, her boyfriend of eight years.
The core of Be Brave, Be Strong is Jillís riding of the 2009 Tour Divide, a 2,740 mile race down the spine of North America, the Continental Divide. The race starts in Banff, Alberta and ends at the Mexico border near Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Traversing one province and four states, the Tour Divide is the ultimate in endurance mountain bike racing.
Tour Divide racers may all start at the same place and time, but they quickly spread out over the route, each truly riding their own self-contained race against time, but more importantly, against themselves. Race rules prohibit the racers from helping each other; each rider must independently navigate the route, carry all her own food and gear, and resolve any problems that arise along the way. In 2009, 39 men and three women started the race. Only 16 completed it, with finish times ranging from nearly 18 days to just over 31 days.
As I read Jillís story, I was amazed by her recollection of the details of her 24-day odyssey. She never mentioned keeping a journal; indeed, the sheer exhaustion with which she ended each day seemed to preclude it, yet she conveyed with grueling clarity the sucking mud, impossible hills and terrifying storms that punctuated her trip. Just in time to relieve the unending grind of the ride, she also shared glimpses of sublime mountain vistas and her sense of overwhelming accomplishment.
While the details of the ride were important to Jillís story, perhaps more important was her journey of personal growth. The Tour Divide provided a means for Jill to come to grips with the end of her relationship with Geoff, her doubts about her physical abilities after a failed Iditarod Trail Invitational attempt, and her uncertainties about her future. The landscape of Jillís mind and emotions is portrayed just as evocatively as the physical features of the Continental Divide.
Jill Homerís Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across the Great Divide should be on every cyclistís and every adventurerís book shelf. Perhaps, like me, it will inspire you to explore your world on the seat of a mountain bike.
I received Be Brave, Be Strong from Jill Homer at no cost after I requested a copy for review purposes. It was sent to me with no expectation of the type of review it would receive.