I've tried to answer the "why" question since I started this journey. I may finally be starting to understand it. Hang on, it's complex to explain but in the end, I think, simple to understand.
"Because it's there," comes to mind. The 100 mile mountain bike race is a challenge that appealed to me that seemed both hard but also doable.
But that doesn't really explain why me, why this and why now.
In his non-motivational speech Ken alludes to the promises, both implicit and explicit, that the riders make to their loved ones and their communities. "I'm going to do the Leadville 100!" you proclaim. Then you have to put your money where your mouth is. That "why" only answers why you show up at the starting line when your stomach is doing somersaults at 5am on Saturday morning.
If you never make the proclamation the you can never let anyone down. So why make the proclamation: "I'm going to do the Leadville 100"? That becomes the real question.
For me it's been a lifelong "I dare you" to myself. I grew up lacking self-confidence. Myopic, skinny, snaggle-toothed...I was a sight to behold growing up. I was reserved, solitary, and non-confrontational to a fault. Dump some vague attention/sensory issues into the mix and you'll get me. I wasn't popular, but I wasn't stupid either. There was a bit of resentment toward the world in my mind. I always felt like the worlds biggest failure. Nothing ever seemed to go my way, and my own successes, those I'd defined for myself, never seemed to impress anyone else.
At 34 I finally entered into a conventional career path. It quickly became obvious to me that I'd not made the best choices from a personal standpoint, but I was satisfied that I was somehow fulfilling my duties as a husband and a father.
The didn't change the drabness of the cubicle walls, the insanity I suffered punching a clock, and working for The Man.
My job took away most of my free time, the time I desperately wanted to use to get out and explore and have my made up adventures in the mountains and on the roads. I wasn't getting any younger either. Stress-related weight gain was fusing me to a back-twisting and soul-crushing office chair. I hated who I had become, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I'd become the victim I loathed to see in everyone else.
Then I saw the movies. They stirred my soul, caused my mind to tingle. I saw the potential for a mighty, life changing adventure. I saw the potential for an event that would inspire me to reach my lesser goals, my greater goals, and that would incite me to get off my butt and return to the person I used to be, the free spirit that would have punched the cubicle dweller in the face.
I had misguided, but strong, ambitions when I was younger. I wanted to do something, but I never knew what. I was always headed off toward some grand horizon, with no knowledge where I was going or why. The stars were too high out of my line of sight, but I'm sure I could have reached them if I'd just known they were there.
It has seemed tragic and ironic to me that when I finally have the means and the imagination for what I truly want out of life I no longer have the freedom.
But that's the victim talking again. So I've learned to be creative. I'm the master of the mountain bike commute, taking detours to and from work to get a little dirty and have a little fun. I can conceive ambitious rides from home and then plan and execute them, surprising others as well as myself. I don't have a concept of conventional limitations. There's a stupid part of me that thinks that I could, at 38 years old with no previous experience, get into endurance racing and do exceptionally well.
It may not seem realistic, but stranger things have happened.
I feel my youth slipping away, even as maturity is beginning to feel like a good fit. Oddly, with maturity I seem to be finding the courage to challenge myself and take bigger (calculated) risks.
I've always been cautious. I've never been reckless or oblivious in my adventurous pursuits. For those that know me, that may seem strange, as I typically do risky things all alone. I've rope-soloed many rock climbs, I bouldered alone for years. I was a solo hiker, paddler and cyclist. I don't need company in an activity to be comfortable. I believe in, and practice, self-reliance. It's deep in my life philosophies.
So back to "why." I crave the unique and amazing experiences. I'm not content to visit a national park and take the post card photos. I want to go off the beaten path and find the novel, the interesting, the beautiful. I cherish those experiences. I value them above all material wealth.
The social animal in me does that because I want to discover, and then share, those experiences with others. My social side has been trying to encourage others to experience Leadville in some way. I want to share the experience with my family and friends.
The selfish side of me does these things to get away from everyone else. "Off the beaten path" means no interference or complications from people. I crave solitude to enjoy my experiences in peace.
I'm both of these people, all at the same time, in the same skin. It's hard sometimes.
Leadville, the race, appealed to both sides of that coin. The race is such an incredible coming together of an amazingly diverse group of like minded people. The event is like a festival and a race, and the Bataan Death March all rolled into one.
I love facing and overcoming adversity. I'm not a masochist, but pain let's you know you're alive, teaches you, and refines you. Adversity (even the contrived kind) is the forge where you craft the tools to deal with life's true challenges.
My 20 year high school reunion was a week after Leadville. I had to choose. I didn't have enough vacation time for both. Reunion...or Leadville this year? I chose Leadville. I could have put off Leadville for another year, I mean, your 20th high school reunion only happens once. But then I found out those organizing it wanted to have a party in a field. 20 years later and they're still stuck in that field...I didn't fit in that field then, and I'm not going to subject myself to that dysfunctional socialization now.
As for Leadville...
There is a new "why" now. I don't think I wanted to finish bad enough. I think I wanted to have done the ride. Now that I've fallen short, there is a hunger in me to go back and do it the right way, from a place of power, to finish, to take the medal and buckle after crossing the finish line to the cheers of loved ones and strangers, to cry and not care, to swell with joy and forget those damned 13 miles I should have ridden.
The new "why" is that I have unfinished business in the mountains west of Leadville, Colorado.
As for the third question, I'll answer that one next August.