I pedaled out of Island Park on a Sunday morning. a day after my best day on the trail.
all things lined up for me on the ride from Lima, MT to Island Park, ID. The weather was perfect: sunny with enough breeze to keep me cool and smiling. the first 50 miles of road was my style, hard-packed dirt along a high mountain bench with panoramic views. i felt strong, my knees were quiet, and my butt was tolerable. i had good snacks and plenty of water. it was finally my day to crush it. i was a giggly fool.
then the road condition changed. to freshly dropped and graded gravel. again. it slowed me down considerably. it was my day though, so i could not let it dampen my spirits. i was caught off guard when i got to the top of Red Rocks Pass and learned that Montana was over. i was happysad sadhappy the remainder of the roll into Island Park. The end of Montana! that meant i was incredibly close to my finish line.
a lady passed me on the Henry’s Lake road. several minutes later, she turned around and caught back up to me. she was familiar with the race. she was trying to shove a styrofoam container of fish and chips out the window for me. she couldn’t believe that a woman (i think she called me a girl – most people did) was out all alone.
i assured her i was in super shape, just had best day of riding my bike in my life. i wasn’t dying for to-go fish and chips, although it was a lovely offer. She told me to “eat at Susie’s…take a right across from the Chevron.” so i did. and it put the perfect cherry on top of the perfect day.
i camped alone that night, scrounged up some gas station breakfast, and pointed my bike in the direction of the Tetons – my beacon. i also stuffed my sleeping bag with my socks still inside…so i had to have a do-over…
i re-routed myself along the highway to avoid the dreaded miles of sand that were waiting for bikers on the actual route. it was awful. dreadful. scary. too much. trucks with trailers, RVs, speeding campers whizzing by me while i tried to hug the white line of the shoulderless highway, it was more than i wanted to deal with. too risky. the stakes seemed way too high.
i sent out my first and only distress call. i mentioned that i would rather be smeared in honey, rolled in berries, and dropped back off in the Canadian Rockies than ride a single more mile with Yellowstone tourists. i needed transport from Flagg Ranch to Sheridan Creek. i set the finish line for 3pm the next day (Monday) on the top of Union Pass.
of course, Shank responded immediately. he met me along Grassy Lake Road Sunday evening. Greeted me with a hug and a cold beer (everyone greets me with cold beers!), took me to dinner for a delicious salad and burger, and deposited me, alone, at Sheridan Creek. my hood.
Jeremy showed up a bit later, with a bigger tent. we made a fire, looked through some photos, and slept together under the big sky of stars. he had to leave at 7am, so i piddled about camp and stretched in the sunshine before i began to climb the final 22 miles to the top of Union Pass.
Shank passed-me-by a mile below the first crest. we tailgated for the second day in a row. i ate a pear in the sunshine. i told Shank that the first inspirational movie i remember seeing was The Terry Fox Story. i saw it several times, and it always got-me-good.
Terry Fox was pretty bad-ass. but so were all his people. and he needed his people. they were the story too. so was the super-rad camper van that rode along every mile with him.
he had something impossible to do. and a team of love supporting him to make sure it was possible.
so did i.
on my flight to Calgary, i began to write down a list of names of all the people who helped make this happen for me. everyone i have ever known, basically. it went on and on. two columns per page, 6 pages long, teeny font…you get the drift.
once i began pedaling alone. and charting my own course. to one that i felt a bit more authentic…i thought about that list everyday.
that list-of-love was packed inside a sweet-ass camper van like Terry Fox’s, only it was invisible (sort of like wonder woman’s jet, but cooler). and sometimes it pulled me up the hills, and sometimes it pushed me down them, and oftentimes it rode alongside me with high fives, hot coffees, and cold beers.
and part of every one of those days it quite literally took my breath away. and i had to learn to breath through the feeling of overwhelming love. to breath through the intensity of the incredible fortune i have had in my life. i inhaled and exhaled up and down the Continental Divide all day long every day…and the the only thing that made it tricky to catch-my-breath was what was packed in my invisible camper van.
my mood was typically light and bright. even when the-going-got-tough. i recalled what this fella told me on day 1 about everyday having new challenges – nothing insurmountable. i reminded myself constantly that everything was temporary. the trail condition would change…for better and for worse…bazillions of times. and i had practice with that. infant and toddler growing was a daily and hourly and minute-by-minute practice in accepting that all things are temporary. change was a-comin’…appreciate the smooth sailing, the hard-packed dirt, the recently wetted dust, the afternoon shade, the descents where you could let loose, and when i couldn’t appreciate the recently graded roads, or the bumpy descents that were destroying my shoulders and my knees, or the bugs, or the week-of-wet and cold, or the burn of the bear spray, then i endured. and i had practice in that too. and i kept moving forward. even if just a little bit…
the mornings had many rough starts. fatigue. soreness. loss of sensation in some fingers and function in some others. knee pain. and i would remind myself that it was all temporary too – especially if i acknowledged the causes and took what action i could.
i re-routed onto paved roads on many of the more difficult sections of trail through Montana. i typically rode the highway in the mornings, iced my knees at lunch, and hit the hills in the afternoon. i felt strong in the evenings, and tried to stop in time to get plenty of rest. rode alone most days, and spent most nights with other peeps.
i had a yoga sutra a day…and it was fun to keep coming back to.
i took the time for yoga every day. and hot coffees when i could. and lots of soups and salads. couple of bugers and fries, not enough cinnamon rolls, and more chocolate ice cream cones than i saw coming. i had mighty-bites from a store in Elkford that got me through the canadian backcountry and sugary dried pineapple for Montana. i packed honeycrisp apples and grapefruit, naan or tortillas, avocado, pepperoni, spinach, peppers, and cheese. i carried a bag of cherries for 3 days. peanut butter and nuts and seeds…and sometimes chocolate. i packed a couple of cliff and luna bars, and some beef jerky too. i put the electrolyte tabs in my water bottle. i did the things i could, but my muscles still did not have the nourishment and rest they needed to fully recover.
i stopped frequently to refresh my sunscreen and put on adventure-face every afternoon. i washed my face with a face-wipe everynight and brushed my teeth. i tended to my saddle sores (i didn’t know what that really meant before…) i was warm and dry everynight. i slept with my clothes in my sleeping bag to dry them overnight. although in Canada they just turned from wet to damp. i had the right gear. i sent some stuff home from Helena.
From Canada, i zeroed in on Whitefish. From Whitefish, i zeroed in on Elkhorn Hot Springs.
i arrived at the Hot Springs before happy hour and it was a beautiful and hot climb out of Wise River to get there. i got a room, borrowed a lost and found bathing suit, and went for a soak. i had fried chicken for dinner and borrowed a pen and paper to go back and remember what had transpired over the past 2 weeks. From Elkhorn Hot Springs, i zeroed in on home.
the wind defeated me one afternoon. the lowest low i had. i endured. made it to a general store of sorts, drank 2 iced teas and ate a chipwich and recollected enough to go the 10 miles further to Lima. where i stopped at 6:30pm and bought myself a beer.
like so many other events of this nature, people report that it is the people-they-meet that make the experience. and i get it. you show up as the rawest version of yourself. the light inside you is absolutely shining. it has to be. and it is in everybody else too. there is no place for judgement of any sort. you don’t go thinking about whether or not this would be someone you would avoid at the water cooler at work, or arrange to meet frequently there. you just bow to them. every one of them. and honor that light that is brilliantly glowing. it feels like for real, open-hearted compassion and you would absolutely do what you could to help each other. because of the shared experience of the bike event.
weird, eh? why not the shared experience of living as a human???
i had a bit of pre-game angst about the rules. i didn’t like them. they didn’t suit me. i just wanted to go for a bike ride and see what happened. Deep Woods batted away my nerves with his blatant matter-of-fact speech. “You are just acknowledging the consequence that your dot (that can only be seen on a computer screen) will turn a different color. You have not followed a rule since i’ve met you. You aren’t going to follow the rules.” whew. got that out of the way. it gave me the permission i needed on the morning of the second day, to change the finish line. i was still a LONG WAY FROM HOME, but i thought i could get there, as long as i could do it on my terms. and i slowed down the pace, enjoyed the moments, accepted the help, followed my own path, grew strong and grew soft as i mountain-biked my way home. to the top of Union Pass.
All my alter-egos participated.
This was Ultra-Violet’s kind of show. She crushed it, as long as the sun was shiny and the wind kept the respectful level of a breeze. She took sun baths in fields of wildflowers on the top of high meadow mountain passes. she drank the fresh mountain air.
La Madre iced my knees, rested in the shade, stayed at established campgrounds, found safety in numbers, and bought the Butt Cream in Whitefish. she drank the coffees.
Hardscrabble put her head down and pedaled. while on fire from bear spray. into the rain. over the passes in the snow. with limited visibility. with non-functioning hands or brakes. with the windy wind and the muddy mud. she earned the beers.
i arrived at the top at 2:30pm. i kind of lost my marbles the last mile. all along, i have been so grateful for the help and support and encouragement of all the people who breathed life into this journey…
that last mile, i allowed myself to think about all that i had done to get there too. my pride overflowed a wee bit, and my wonder did too.
i all-at-the-same-time felt detached from myself and absolutely myself.
DW arrived 15 minutes later. and then my homies pulled up in the invisible campervan and handed me hugs and beers, and high fives and fist bumps, and smiles, and cheer.
i got dropped off in the Canadian Rockies with my bicycle, tent, sleeping bag, maps, and a GPS…and i pedaled myself home.
i had my once-in-a-lifetime.
i had the time of my life.