A proposed general classification of the blue dot watcher

23 01 2014

I’ve been following and dreaming of riding the Tour Divide Race since 2008, so when I was asked to submit an article for volume 5 of the Cordillera I said yes! The Cordillera is a collection of literature and art inspired by the worlds toughest bike race, the Tour Divide. Profit from sales of the Cordillera go to the college funds for the daughter of a rider who died on the ride a few years back. Below is my short article which made it in to this years edition:

A proposed general classification of the blue dot watcher

I’m a fettler, as I suspect are so many other blue dot watchers. But I’ve not always been. I blame this affliction firmly on my academic training and long distance cycling. The former taught me to analyse the world, to develop hypotheses and models to explain it. The latter has seen me spend hours thinking about different ways to attach route instructions to my bars, pondering the effects of tyre pressure on saddle sores and the calorific and nutritional content of petrol station food. Both require an attention to detail, the ability to problem solve, to reflect at length, to fettle with ideas and things, to classify approaches and solutions.

The hours of attention that blue dot watching requires, means that like other areas of my life, it’s also became the subject of a classification.

By reflecting on my own experience and that of others, I propose a general classification of the blue dot watcher for consideration. I have to caveat my reflections by acknowledging that ‘us’ blue dot watchers are a breed apart from the general public. What turns us from a normal person into someone that eagerly awaits that few weeks in June when we watch a series of blue, pink and maybe other colour dots travel along a red line marked on a google map, is not discussed in this musing. I see that there are four basic groupings that a blue dot watcher can fall into.

blue dot watchers model

Group one. Up until this year I myself have fallen into this category. We are the avid fans of the tour divide (other blue dot events do exist). We don’t know anyone personally that is doing or has done the ride. We have not ourselves completed the event, but many of us would probably like to. We watch the dots, listen to some of the mtbcasts and read the forum trying to imagine the people and stories behind the dots. We develop our own theoretical race plan for when we get to be a blue dot ourselves. Maybe we look for a connection to some of the dots to better allow us to imagine what it’s like to be out there. I always look out for the Brits, but also follow the single speeders. Our emotional attachment to the race is that of an avid fan so on the whole we are looking at the big picture, the general flow of the race, have a real interest on the front runners along with our selected riders.

Group two. This year I fell into this category. We too have not competed in the TD, but would like to. However, we know a person behind one of the dots, not very well, but we know them. Maybe as for me, you trained with and had your arse kicked by them during a few cold winter months. They are not close friends or family but you know their smile, know how they talk and maybe know what it looks like to watch them disappear up a hill in front of you. This means that you have an idea of the story behind one of those bluedots and as such their dot becomes the most important one in the race. You’re still interested in the big picture, what’s happening at the front, maybe even still lookout for fellow countrymen, but you now have a reason to focus in on some detail. The TD suddenly takes on a new level of interest, you update more frequently, you use the bluedot phone app, you use satellite view to look at the towns, roads and landscape they travel through. Anything that allows you to also be there.

Group three. In many ways I feel sorry for this group. I’ve heard their struggles on the forums and been told first hand why they would rather not be blue dot watchers again. This is the group that have close family and friends in the TD. I was a blue dot in the Highland Trail 400 this year and my wife became an obsessive member of this group. I can only imagine what it would be like for her if I actually went to Banff and became a dot for several weeks. This group have a level of obsession that goes far beyond that of the previous two. They will stay up until the very early hours to make sure their loved one has bed down in a good spot for the night. They will shout at the computer if their dot goes the wrong way, or if another dot is catching up. They will worry like hell if the dot stops without explanation or communication for hours on end. They know the story behind the dot, but at times they would rather not. They don’t care that much about the big picture, they might look at the front of the race but are more concerned with the dots immediately in front of and behind their loved one. This group is also unique in that before their son, daughter, husband, wife, etc became a blue dot they themselves were not blue dot watchers. It is also unlikely that they will watch another blue dot again once it’s all finished. They do not necessarily come equipped with the background TD knowledge to make sense of the events as they unfold. As a result, you will find them on the forums being advised by members of group one, two and four.

Group four. This categorisation is reserved for the small but ever growing pool of TD veterans. They have been out there. They know what it’s like to plan the ride and finally roll out and down the trail from Banff. What it takes to keep the spot tracker signal going for the folks back home so they have a blue dot to watch. On the forums they tend to be the calmest of posters, the ones with the wisest words for those in group three. Maybe with all the build up to doing the TD, they themselves once having been in group one, possibly group two, having put their close friends and family through group three, they then back off from the event. It becomes less romantic to them.

That’s my four groups explained in brief. There maybe other groupings or you may consider my proposals to be wide of the mark. This is to be expected. I wish to start a discussion. Regardless of our grouping, we can can be sure that ours is a strange sport to spectate, unique even, given its grassroots amature nature. The ITT rules all but exclude us from watching in person and there is no corporate interest. Despite this the race directors and others have used technology, through phone ins, forums and satellite technology to create a truly unique event to spectate. In the processes they have created a bluedot following which itself needs to be increasingly managed. Like it or not we have become as much part of the TD experience as the riders themselves.

I wish to thank Mike Hall for putting me in group 2 during the 2013 TD. It was riveting!

James lives in Birmingham, UK and will be a group 2 blue dot watcher again during the 2014 TD.

 Have fun Greg!


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