Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across The Great Divide, by Jill Homer

27 Apr
Be Brave, Be Strong - A Journey Across The Great Divide, by Jill Homer

Be Brave, Be Strong

Every sports fan can give you a list of the heroes, icons and living legends of their favorite sport. I suppose most American cycling fans dream about going out for a long ride with great athletes like Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie or Levi Leipheimer. While I truly admire these men, if I had the chance to spend an afternoon cycling with anyone in America I would choose endurance cyclist Jill Homer. You will never see Jill Homer in the Tour de France, but her athletic ability makes those guys look like a bunch of wimps. I’ve read her blog, Jill Outside, for several years and a few months I reviewed Ghost Trails, a book about her 350 mile race along Alaska’s Iditarod Trail in 2008. I just finished reading her latest book, Be Brave, Be Strong, which tells the story of her record-breaking ride across the Great Divide.

The 2009 Tour Divide was a race that began in Alberta, Canada and ended on the border of Mexico at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The 2,740 mile course went through some of the roughest paths, trails and logging roads in the United States. Homer finished this harsh course unassisted (but with a little “trail magic”) in twenty-four days, seven hours and twenty-four minutes (the female course record). During the race the riders crossed the Continental Divide of the Americas (the Great Divide) on numerous occasions and they seldom had a chance to ride on a decent road since the race organizers apparently take a great deal of pleasure in making race participants suffer. In just a little over three weeks Homer did over 200,000 feet of climbing through some of the most deserted tracks and trails in the United States. Along the way she often slept in a sleeping bag near the side of the road, but was also the recipient of random acts of kindness by total strangers.

The first third of Be Brave, Be Strong sets the stage by telling the story of Homer getting a serious case of frostbite on the Iditarod Trail and then dealing with her break-up with Geoff, her boyfriend of eight years, and the emotional turmoil that followed. Normally, this is the type of stuff I would totally ignore in book about a bike race. However, in this case the story is told in such a way that you can see how human emotions impact athletic ability—and as any cyclist knows, one of the best ways to solve a problem is out on a long ride.

The story of the Tour Divide race itself begins on page 111 when a group of forty-two riders leave Banff, Alberta, which is about 270 miles north of Canada’s border with the United States. I think most professional athletes would consider Homer’s training program and cycling style unorthodox, but it obviously works for her. Throughout the book she refers to Sour Patch Kids, one of her favorite sources of carbohydrates—I cringed every time she mentioned them. And as careful as she was about most things, she somehow manged to lose seven pair of sunglasses during the race!

Out of all the adventure cycling books I’ve ever read this one is the best—once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down! This book is a model of what adventure cycling books ought to be. The story is well written, the photos are crisp, and it has a good map so you can follow her progress. It also has one item that most cycling books forget about, i.e., a detailed gear checklist. I’m sure some people wouldn’t care, but I always like to know exactly what distance cyclists take with them on their journey (not just a general list, but brand names).

Be Brave, Be Strong is available in paperback from for around $15. It is also available in several other formats, including editions for the Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle, B & N Nook, Sony eReader and as a PDF download. I bought the paperback version because I can’t read a book like this without a yellow highlighter (old habits die hard).


Posted by on April 27, 2012 in Book Reviews


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19 responses to “Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across The Great Divide, by Jill Homer

  1. charles

    April 27, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    Great review! I really want to read this book now. Any book recommendations for the beginning cyclist?

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 27, 2012 at 9:37 AM

      Charles, I haven’t written a review for it yet, but I would recommend “The Practical Cyclist” by Chip Haynes for a beginning cyclist. Also, you need to get a subscription to “Bicycling” magazine — it is full of great tips.

  2. Sajib

    April 27, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    Okay, so I was wondering what was the average speed during her record-breaking ride?

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 27, 2012 at 9:10 PM

      Sajib, I am not sure of her average speed, but she rode an average of 115 miles a day (one day she west 155 miles). You have to remember that she had to carry all of her own supplies and sleeping gear because outside assistance is not allowed in this race. Also, many of those miles were through deep mud and snow.

  3. Kalli and Bill

    April 27, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    i am gonna check out this book! thanks for the recommendation!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 27, 2012 at 9:11 PM

      Kalli and Bill — you both will love the book (maybe not enough to make you leave California so you can ride in the snow, but a good read anyway).

  4. Frank Burns

    April 27, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    These are the books that inspire me too. thanks for that recommendation!

  5. Frank Burns

    April 27, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    ……oh dear, I have just gone a bought it ;0)

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 27, 2012 at 9:12 PM

      Frank, you won’t regret it. However, after you read it will will feel guilty any time you allow the weather to keep you off your bike!

  6. Lisa

    April 27, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    Thanks for the recommendation! :) it’s now on my bucket list of books I should read!!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 27, 2012 at 9:14 PM

      Lisa, my bucket list of books will keep me busy for years to come (I have over 6,000 books in my library — and probably not enough years left to read all the ones I want)

  7. Cherry

    April 27, 2012 at 9:17 PM

    Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll have to check it out. Have you read “Eat, Sleep, Ride: How I Braved Bears, Badlands, and Big Breakfasts in My Quest to Cycle the Tour Divide” by Paul Howard? It’s a book that captures Paul’s journey as he rode through the entire Tour Divide. It was a fun read for me.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 27, 2012 at 9:26 PM

      Cherry — thanks for the suggestion — I just ordered it from

      • Cherry

        April 27, 2012 at 9:45 PM

        Hope you enjoy it! I sure did. He captured everyday of his ride!

  8. Jeff Shone

    April 28, 2012 at 5:40 AM

    Very nice well written and presented blog. Well done you!
    I truly hope mine develops into such a good one :-)
    Where abouts do you live? I spent some time in Illinois working, back in the early noughties. I worked at Beach Park near Chicago. I have very fond memories of my time in the U.S. I taught Scuba diving in the small puddle that is Lake Michigan.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 28, 2012 at 10:33 PM

      Jeff — You lived very close to me — I was one stoplight up the road in Zion. A lot of my rides are on the shores of that “small puddle.” Rid safely!

      • Jeff Shone

        April 29, 2012 at 5:50 AM

        Oh Wow! What are the chances of that! Do you dive? If you do then you probably dived the same wrecks as I did! The people I stayed with were raised in Zion but moved to Beach Park. They have a business on Sheridan Road called Sonlight Glass. I have VERY fond memories of my time in the States

        • All Seasons Cyclist

          April 29, 2012 at 8:38 AM

          Jeff — sorry, I don’t dive — but I know this is a great area for it. I also know where Sonlight Glass is it — I pass it all the time since it is on the main road through town.

  9. Jeff Shone

    April 29, 2012 at 4:01 PM

    It warms a little spot in my heart to meet someone this way. :-)


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