From Big Spring to Banff and Back

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My hands grip the handlebar and strain to keep the bike upright and straight. My head is down and I glance up the road only a couple times a minute. The sun is finally shining through the rain clouds, but does nothing against the battering crosswind. My eyes are watery underneath my sunglasses and the lactic acid in my legs is burning cold. The onset of fatigue gnaws at my core as I grit my teeth through each gust of Wyoming wind. I feel beaten and whipped. It’s time for a break.

The screech of worn brake pads bring me to a stop. The wind calms, the sun warms my face and I shake the feeling back into my fingers. I remove my glasses, wipe my eyes and look out onto the Great Divide Basin. It is silent. The grasses just off the road wag in the breeze without a sound. A saturated glow radiates from the south facing hillsides speckled with sagebrush. The cloudy horizon blurs into the sodden land, tens of miles away. My rain jacket has succumbed to the moisture and wind, leaving me chilled while my leg muscles endure a fitful spasm. A 360 degree swivel confirms that I am the only one around. I giggle and then giggle some more.

“Look where I have brought myself… How?” I ask aloud.

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I arrived by bicycle. A few days ago I was in Yellowstone National Park and a few weeks before that, Banff, Alberta. I am riding along a number of remote forest service roads, old jeep trails, and singletrack trails that criss cross the Continental Divide Trail to the Mexican border in New Mexico. The 2,700 mile route, known as the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, was established in 1998 by the Adventure Cycling Association, based in Missoula, Montana. Day after day the trail has taken me up thousand-foot climbs and dropped me into low valley floors. I have warded off grizzlies, bathed in snowmelt creeks and eaten hand picked huckleberries for dessert.

I didn’t get here all on my own, though. My confidence and competence for such life out of doors has been years in the making; and Sanborn has provided me the space, people and time to grow into an adventurer. The decision was made at the start of the year to set out on the continent’s longest unpaved mountain bike route. I was in need of specific bikepacking gear, a new bike and a long list of logistical matters to solve before my August 16th departure to Canada. Luckily, as one of Sanborn’s program directors, it is part of my work to plan, organize and lead our summer’s backcountry trips. It’s a job where I often can’t tell the difference between my work and my play.

After six and half months of fundraising, selective gear purchasing and mentally playing the never ending what if game, I found myself in Canada. For the first time in my life, I traveled outside of the United States, solo bike-traveled through undiscovered lands and learned what it truly means to be an Outdoorsman, an identity that I gained from my first summer in the Brotherhood of Outdoorsmen at Big Spring. From the seat of my bike I experienced the raw, dramatic and wild landscapes of the Rocky Mountains. I ebbed and flowed through their foothills, was vulnerable to their bliss and fury and rode out a painstaking test of endurance. As each sunset welcomed nightfall, my physical fears of bears, getting lost or severely dehydrated, faded. Fear was replaced by courage, vulnerability was embraced and discomfort was largely dealt with. During my month of pedaling, some days were dream like and full of wonder, while others were hellish and painful. I learned that life is very much like riding a bike: We are either going to go uphill or downhill, and all downhills aren’t exactly downhill. The challenging days make the average days so much sweeter and are worth going through.

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“I won’t be needing these anymore.” I say to myself as I shove my maps away.

The turn onto Hwy 24 is windy, uphill and soon to be engulfed in precipitation; a familiar forecast since I’ve been in Colorado. It is just after 6 pm and the sun is beginning to dip behind the Collegiates and storm clouds. My stomach is swearing, saddle sore is the cause of a tightly clenched jaw and my legs feel overworked. I can stop at any point, but I am nearly home. As I pedal up Wilkerson Pass, my odometer pushes over 1,800 miles. Behind me lies a bicycle’s dirt track that spans from Alberta, Canada, through Montana and into Idaho, down along the Tetons, across the Great Divide Basin, over several mountain passes, and rides right up to my doorstep in Florissant, Colorado.

It is adventures and experiences like this that allow me to live such a healthy and joyful life. My hope as a young man, team member of Sanborn and outdoorsman is to inspire others to venture outside in any minor to major way and reap the benefits of life out of doors.

-Jalen Bazile, Big Spring Program Director

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Jalen Bazile
About Jalen Bazile

Jalen has been a counselor and Ridge Leader at Big Spring each summer since 2014. He has also been an instructor in the HTOEC program since 2015 and joined the year-round staff in 2015. He attended the University of Missouri and is a Community Team Leader for Outdoor Afro, as well as an organizer for the ACA, Rocky Mountain, EPIC (Emerging Professionals in Camping) group. Jalen’s program passions include mountain biking, hiking, and the arts.