“If you are not the lead dog,
the view never changes.”
Before the rain fall showed its pretty face one more time. Just a short bike and bike to see autumn leaves, waterfalls, and snow at the higher elevations. Many hikers took advantage of the favorable conditions. You might need snow shoes and a good sense of orientation to find me the trail ride n the weeks to come.
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”
John F. Kennedy
In order not to dwell on my last encounter with a grumpy hunter I have decided to honor some fellows that helped me and others along the Divide. Their kindness and action have made this trip exceptional. We call these folks trail angels. Usually you don’t notice them, but in moments of need they magically appear.
I met Greg on my first day of riding. I was still a greenhorn then. Out of logistic reasons I had decided to park my van in Canmore, incidentally at a car dealership, but that’s another story.
If you have ever been to Canmore you may be familiar with the steep, dusty gravel road that goes up to Spray Lake. It’s a beast.
Well, the day I started my adventure we also had massive smoke and ash falling from the sky, which did not lend itself to a healthy riding experience. The road was so steep that I had to push the bike. Remember, this is day one. My legs are out of shape, the bike is fully loaded and I have no clue how to ride gravel roads on a recumbent with skinny tires. I have a handkerchief in front of my nose, cars are zooming by, dust and smoke make for an eerie atmosphere.
Out of the gray plume comes a red pickup truck. The truck is going downhill while I am struggling uphill. At the next pullout the truck comes to a stop. A few moments later I hear a voice:
“You need a lift?”
I stop and begin to think. Slowly. This is day one. I want to ride 2700 miles and I catch a ride at mile 3? Then again, I rode this part already yesterday on my mountain bike. There is no need for misguided pride here. And the conditions are really awful.
I accept. On the short ride up I learn that Greg is visiting the area and owns a bike ship in Saskatoon. Aha. He can relate to fellow bikers. Nevertheless it takes a special kind of consideration to stop what you are doing and reach out to a complete stranger. That’s what trail angels do.
The closer we came to the end of our journey the more we talked about the time afterwards. We joked about having to adjust our eating habits. After not using a belt for 2 months I had to put 2 additional holes in my belt after the trip. Apparently it pays to work out 8 hours a day.
That was the easy part.
Now it is 2 weeks later and I am still grappling with reentry into the “real” world. It feels like I have landed on a different planet.
Today’s encounter certainly didn’t help.
I am currently driving a camper van across Washington State, spending the nights in the National Forest, or at a Walmart parking lot (which is another story altogether, as several Walmart locations do not allow overnight camping anymore). So, today I am heading up a forest road finding a dispersed, unimproved camp site that is occupied by about 10 large fifth wheels. No one around, except one gentleman, who eyes me with a incredulous face. There is plenty of space for my tiny camper. Nice guy I am, I get out and ask the man: “Howdy? You guys hunting?”
“Is there space for me for one night?”
“Well, we have been coming here for 27 years and there are 10 more guys coming on Friday.”
Today is Monday!
“I see. So for one night that would be ok?”
“I can’t say. This is not my campground, but we pay for the 2 port-a-potties. They don’t just bring them around. Why don’t you try across the highway. There is a big public campground.”
At this point it is clear to me that the guy does not want me around. Ok. I am not welcome. I get it. Although, what he says does not compute.
“Thanks.” I don’t say what I think and leave.
This experience is in stark contrast to the hospitality we experienced during the Divide ride, which must be in a parallel universe. I liked that one much better. I guess it is up to me to choose and live in the environment that makes me feel good.
You might ask, what makes you want to ride 2700 miles and climb Everest 6 times along the way? What’s the motivation and what’s the payoff? Those are good questions and I have been wondering myself about that before and after the ride.
Before the ride, I looked at this as a challenge. It’s there. Not sure it has been done before on a recumbent. And even if so, it was a challenge for me. Could I do it? I had an inkling about the daily routine: bike, eat, sleep. That simplicity had an appeal.
After the ride, I can say, yes, it can be done on a recumbent and I could do it. There is some pride in that. However, that’s minor. I found a quote by Gary Fisher, one of the inventors of the mountain bike, who found the words to describe best the attraction of adventure cycling or cycling in general:
The body, stronger. The mind, sharper.
The air, cleaner (Ed. Maybe not in a Montana wildfire). The grass, greener.
The pretzels, crisper. The beer, colder.
The weekday, shorter. The weekend, longer.
The sun, brighter. The sky, bluer.
Life is better, when you ride a bike!
I believe, this sentiment is true for anything that requires effort, endurance, patience, and maybe sacrifice. The feeling of accomplishment is so much sweeter. There will be memories and appreciation for moments that cannot be repeated. Call it happiness.
“Most federal lands, while held in public trust, are only loosely protected. They can be used for private profit—for mining, drilling, logging, ranching and recreation, depending on the landlord, whether it be the BLM, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Park Service. Only designated wilderness areas are conserved to be the place where, in Margaret Murie’s words, “the hand of man does not linger.” These constitute less than 5 percent of the landmass of the United States.”
While riding the Great Divide we came close to protected wilderness areas, and to areas that have been wildly abused in the past. I think it is important to give Nature room to breathe and simply be. No resource extraction, no wildlife management, no visitation. Just observe from outside the boundaries. We need more not less protected areas. Otherwise we will have humans, cockroaches, and the memories of the Discovery Channel.
While relaxing in El Paso, I found myself glued to the TV, watching endless discussions about the president, the NFL, and Puerto Rico. One thing I can appreciate is the immediate and dire need of the people on the island for water and medicine. One can go without food and electricity for a while, but water and medicine are a different story.
To get me off the TV, I walked into a bookstore and checked out the adventure and travel section. Being in Texas I didn’t expect to find much on cycling or mountaineering. Well, they had some classics and new books, like Alex Honold’s “Alone on the Wall”. I opted for something else: “The Yellow Envelope” by Kim Dinan. Not giving away too much, it is about a young couple “plagued by anxiety and a persistent feeling that there is more to life than paychecks and mortgages”. They decide to go on an open-ended journey.
Before they embark on their adventure a generous couple hands them an envelope with money and the instruction to give away that money during their trip.