The Path Divided (Film)

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The Path Divided is a film by Jonny Moses Altrogge that chronicles his experience riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 2019 and challenges the narrative of who belongs in the outdoors. Watch the full film here, including a reflection and photos from Jonny…

Words, photos, and video by Jonny Moses Altrogge (@jonnymosesoutside)

“Oh shit, I’m really doing this,” I thought, roughly 20 miles into the longest expedition I’ve ever embarked on. Some 2,700 miles of backcountry bikepacking from Banff, Canada, following the continental divide to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, alone. Well, now there were just 2,680 miles ahead. One mile at a time baby, one crank rotation after another.

The first half of day 1 was overwhelming. The size of everything felt almost like it was too much to handle. The enormity of the trip I was just starting, the beautifully daunting mountains around me (Banff is impossibly and beautifully massive to the point that it almost looks fake), and the weight of simultaneously leaving everything and everyone behind and heading toward a future in which I would be a different person. Added to this was the reason and mission I’d set out to accomplish on my ride: to advocate for and represent diversity in the outdoor industry, and to encourage and inspire kids of color that we can make the outdoor industry a more inclusive space. So much had gone into this moment on day 1. I was terrified, frankly.

The Path Divided
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Biking the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route had been a dream of mine for roughly six years, having been inspired by a few individuals I know who’d embarked on their own massive personal expeditions. Then, in January of 2019, my partner, Aileen, more or less threatened me to start the process, knowing it was a dream I had been sitting on. “This is the year, just start working toward it and see what happens,” she said, with some other, more colorful language probably. I started a GoFundMe, put the mission out into the interwebs, and it took off. Support came from everywhere. Friends and family, GoFundMe donated to my GoFundMe (meta, right?). Patagonia donated gear, Salsa donated packs, and Joe at 718 cyclery in Brooklyn (where I live) was beyond helpful and supportive. I couldn’t quite comprehend the amount of support I was receiving. Among many things, it meant there was no backing out now. I was committed.

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I worked for Outward Bound for seven years, first in Minnesota and then here in NYC. The essence of the work is running various kinds of expeditions with teenagers and promoting and teaching things like leadership skills, character development, and teamwork, while using the outdoors as the classroom. Students backpack, paddle, climb… you name it. My students from NYC came from a wide array of backgrounds, and often were in groups made up entirely of students of color. Their experience in the outdoors varied, but commonly there were expressions of distrust, or sentiments of not feeling like it was a space in which they belonged. Hearing them say things like, “Black people don’t hike/climb/ski,” or literally, “I don’t feel like I belong here,” led me to start seeing the larger issue. With my own experience in expeditions as a black man in America, I fully understood what my students were feeling. I’ve been tokenized, been treated differently, and have felt unsafe because of my skin color. The outdoor industry historically has not had black and brown representation. Outdoor companies don’t market to people of color, and it sure as shit doesn’t make things accessible. So it was the representation I wanted to provide. I wanted to show my students that we out here. That we can claim space.

“I don’t feel like I belong here” … With my own experience in expeditions as a black man in America, I fully understood what my students were feeling.

So, there I was, tears of excitement and feelings of being overwhelmed clouding my vision, 20 miles into it and 2,680 to go. And I got leg cramps. I had been training prior to starting, but in my nervousness I had forgotten to fuel up properly the night before or that morning (I had a banana and a red bull for breakfast, what a balanced meal), and my body was feeling the effects. The next morning, day 2, my tire was flat upon waking up. I was off to a great start!

The Path Divided

My first rest day I had planned was in Helena, Montana, approximately 700 miles away. The 10 days it took to get there were beautifully grueling. My legs burned and screamed at me every time I got on the bike. I got saddle sores within the first few days. I couldn’t eat enough and was constantly hungry. I was a bottomless pit. Really good nights were on restock days, when I could gorge on some camp meal with cheese and mayonnaise mixed in and drink a cold beer or two. Once I made it to Helena, my body and mind had begun to transform, getting stronger and more resilient. I knew I could do this thing for sure at this point, and knew I was going to do it well.

A full month later I pulled up to the border of the US and Mexico. I had gone through mountain passes at 12,000+ feet and hail storms with no cover. I’d ridden through the Great Divide Basin in Wyoming, a 135-mile expanse of desert with no water access. I’d pedaled up 5,000-foot climbs that took me 4 or 5 hours, and had been given beers by numerous strangers passing in cars (thank you, kind beer giving humans). I’d follow grizzly tracks and nervously camped near obvious bear activity. I’d raced countless storms and often lost. I’d had more than one flat tire, had to change my cassette, broke a few spokes, and fallen off my bike more times than I care to admit (13… it was 13 times). But there I was, at the border, looking into Mexico. I’d made it. Alone, through 2,700 miles of beautifully open big skies and massive mountains. Through grizzly territory. And to my standards, I crushed it.

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Jonny Moses

About Jonny Moses Altrogge

Jonny lives in Brooklyn, Ny, and greatly enjoys living in an immensely diverse city, and being surrounded by like minded individuals and athletes. There’s excellent road cycling to be had, and even some hidden mountain bike parks. Jonny has led various types of expeditions for teens and staff for 7 years in the Midwest, NY, and Central America. Jonny recently joined Team Onyx, the first all black adventure race team featured in Bear Grylls Eco challenge, and hopes to begin racing with them in 2021. Find him on Instagram @JonnyMosesOutside.

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