friday, november 4, 2011
here i sit.
on a couch. in a house. in the woods.
more specifically, i’m in the endless mountains of northeastern pennsylvania. i came in a car. which i drove (with tessa’s dad) from philadelphia, late last night.
the bike trip is technically over.
two days ago - wed. nov. 2, 2011 - at approximately 4:30pm, i pedaled into the city of brotherly love. philadelphia, pa. as i entered town from the city’s western limits, i was greeted by the usual hoots and hollers. stares and smiles. cheers. out of car windows. from storefront sidewalks and stoops. strangers. awed. curious. excited and entertained. but to me, this didn’t feel usual. it felt like a grand welcome. my homecoming. riding along haverford ave, i was giddy. the smiles and cheers were now, too, coming from me. i couldn’t help it. i made it. i was home.
uninterested in stopping at the approaching red light, i decided to make a right turn on 63rd and roll south for a bit. as i rode in the right lane, i eventually noticed that traffic was piling up behind me…in both lanes - even though i was barely taking up space in only one. that’s when i realized the vehicle leading the pack was a police squad car, which no one would dare pass. the cops were slowly cruising alongside me, iphones drawn. both the driver and the passenger were taking video of me. wide-eyed. big smiles. neither was watching the road.
welcome to philly.
after a brief celebratory stop at firehouse cycles (the birthplace of my big rig) to visit ricky (my baby’s daddy), i headed down to occupy philly. straight to city hall. center city.
and like that, the journey was complete.
of course, there was more to the night. hugs. champagne. smiles. and the final stretch home. (not to mention a cat-piss-covered bed).
and by no means are the stories finished. [in fact, it’s now time to pick up where i left off. fresh out of the rockies. western montana. the great plains. second story story, part II.]
but the journey, in a sense, is complete.
4,000 miles. 13 states. 110,000 feet of climbing. 82 days. (25 days of “rest,” 57 days of riding)
all of it, behind me. in the past.
so, here i sit.
on a couch. in a house. in the woods.
i’m taking this weekend to decompress. to map out what comes next. to figure out how to go about re-entering the world, so as not to get overwhelmed. baby steps. i’m no longer on the road. i’m no longer alone. i no longer wake up each morning, uncertain where i’m going to sleep at night. i’m back. back in a house - my house. back in a community. and the space that i occupy extends beyond the shoulder of the highway. beyond the synthetic walls of my tent. beyond the inner membranes of my own head. i have tasks. old tasks. new tasks. other tasks. i have projects. i have ideas to bring to life. ideas that have been developing, growing, bubbling, spurting, whizzing around my brain for the past 3 months. i have involvements and commitments. i have to find a job.
i’m back. back to life. back to this life.
but, moving forward. constantly moving forward. further. deeper.
there’s so much to say, to tell, to share. to reflect. for me, where the riding ends, the writing starts.
so, please, stick with me. because, believe me, there’s a lot to come.
oh, and then there’s this (click to enlarge):
so close, yet so far.
turns out my riding has been thwarted by inclement weather, yet again. this time, however, it’s snow. 6-8 inches and counting. everything, white.
only 4 days from home, but no way to get there. not yet.
i’m in no rush, i remind myself. warm and safe in the library. watching the fat flakes fall weightlessly from the thick, white covering overhead. they fall onto the ground. onto the trees. onto the roofs. onto the cars. they cover everything.
and thankfully, when the library closes at 4, i’ll have another warm, safe destination. another place to go. where i can crash another night. a bed. a blanket. more bar-born generosity.
a taste of winter in somerset, pa.
a rainy day in the western foothills of the appalachian mountains. zero miles.
those of you who have been adamantly following my progress are probably wondering where the hell i am. and why i’m still not home.
well, i have some ‘splaining to do.
two weeks ago, i left chicago (well, evanston, il).
[note: in the interest of saving the details for a time when i can fully divulge, i shall withhold the adventures of that week. at this time, i will not write about the rains or the farmhouse or the home-cooked meals or the amish or the cops or the free hotel rooms or the bars or the bars or the free drinks or the bars or the couches or the luxury suites or the tailwinds or the indoor pools. but worry not, for those tales will come.]
i arrived in pittsburgh a little over a week ago. spent a couple days at the occupation. met some great folks. explored the town a bit. ditched my bags and my bike at the cyberpunk apocalypse - an awesome writers collective in the lawrencville neighborhood - and then boarded a train back to chicago.
yup. in just 10 hours, i was carried right back to the city where i had spent an entire week pedaling from.
the reason? my dear sister kourtney was to be in chicago for the weekend. together, we had devised a plan: to get to pittsburgh in time for me to hop on a train back to chi-town. then, the two of us could explore the city, which was foreign to both of us. together. and a wonderful plan, it was.
i got to chicago a couple days earlier than expected. wandered the streets alone. spent a good amount of time at their occupation. wandered some more. and thanks to my stepmom’s amazing grandchild, sam, had a cozy spot on the floor in the warm home of two warm folks.
kourtney arrived on saturday. and together, we had a truly great weekend.
kourtney is my youngest sister. we grew up together. we know each other. and this past weekend, we had an opportunity to really be with each other. to share. share the experience. share the laughter. share our lives. it was special. really special.
we also went on a rad architectural boat tour of the city. pretty darn cool.
on monday, after accompanying her to the airport, i headed back to the amtrak station to catch my return trip to pittsburgh. got in tuesday morning. the rest of the day was spent at the cyberpunk apocalypse, recuperating from my eventful weekend (which included an all-nighter at the occupation and a bit of jail support). then, yesterday morning, i saddled up and, yet again, hit the road.
this is the final leg of my journey. one week left. i cross the appalachians (which, judging from the western foothills are NO JOKE) and i’m back in philly. home.
HOWEVER, while my pedaling may finally cease, the second story story shall do no such thing. no. for these stories, i have a plan.
when i get back to philly, i will take the time to write. and write. and write. i have now accumulated two and half months of adventures, and i want nothing more than to share each and every one. so, the blog will continue. and when my words are finally polished. when i feel like the tales have been adequately told, i will turn these writings into a little book. something to hold. to have and to hold. in sickness and in health. self-published. hand-bound. i want these stories to be real. to exist in a form beyond the zeros and ones of the internet. so that when the e-pocalypse arrives, these adventures will remain unharmed.
and so, if you think you may be interested in getting a hardcopy version of the second story story, please let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org i’d like to get a rough idea of how many i should plan on making.
and with that, i conclude what is likely my final post from the road. with any luck, the rain will subside and i will venture, yet again, into the mountains. provided the appalachians don’t swallow whole, i should be home very soon.
from the carnegie free library in connellsville, pa,
those who are intimately familiar with my breathing habits know that i’m what one would call a mouth-breather. maybe it’s because my brain simply demands more oxygen than my nose can manage to take in. or maybe it’s because my nasal passage is always at least partially blocked. whatever the reason, i tend to breath out of my mouth. almost exclusively. and it becomes particularly noticeable whenever i’m either: highly focused; highly un-focused (ie. severely distracted); or unconscious.
mouth agape. heavy breathing. inhale. exhale.
drop back to september 9, 2011. noon. logan pass. continental divide.
mouth agape. heavy breathing. inhale. exhale.
i don’t think my lips touched for the entirety of that afternoon. the bottom one, hanging heavily an inch or so below it’s uptown counterpart. in awe of my surroundings - surreal, yet palpable - i wandered along heaven’s trails - some crowded, some not. meadows, nearly 7,000 feet above the sea, painted with lush grass and vibrant wildflowers. littered with sheets of ice. thick, white beds. surrounded by wooded mountainsides of pine. topped with snow-capped peaks.
about 3 miles behind the logan pass visitor center sits Hidden Lake (although with all the signage, i’d hesitate to call this lake hidden). glistening in the sun. reflecting everything around it with a foggy clarity. a blurred crispness. deep, deep blue.
i sat on some rocks just below an overlook and stared. stared into the water. stared at the hillsides. watched a ground squirrel come right up to me, hoping to score a scrap from my apple. watched the bees wizz from point to point. to point. to point. watched the butterflies flitter daintily, as if bobbing on the crest of an invisible swell. watched.
back on the trail, we were visited by a few groups of snow-white mountain goats. some had descended from the hills to feast on the rich meadowlands. others were simply there to lounge. spread out on a bed of snow. in the warm, late-summer sun.
in the distance, big horn sheep. rams.
add to this the black bear i had spotted, having its breakfast in the roadside brush as i approached my morning climb, and already i’d exceeded my wildlife expectation.
6pm. time for my descent. 2,000 feet down the east side of the park. highest gear. mashing the entire way. faster. faster. faster. swooping from one side of the lane to the other in avoidance of potholes and cracks. like an x-wing at warp speed avoiding wayward asteroids. faster. faster. faster.
once at the Rising Sun campground, i set up my tent in the empty hiker-biker site and proceeded to sit. just sit. i was exhausted from my day and, to be honest, a bit discontent for want of a more lively one-night community - like the one i had had the previous evening. here, though, i was the only one. every other campsite was full. full of groups, couples, families, friends. but my little plot was just me. no one to share it with. it’s funny. after nearly a month straight of being alone, i had yet to feel lonely. but as soon as i was surrounded by people, as soon as i was not completely alone, the feeling crept in. had there been no one else in the entire campground, i likely would have reveled in my solitude. but, that wasn’t the case. and so, there i sat. another can of beans. a bit of writing. some reading. and then bed. all with a soundtrack of the cracking fires and laughter of others.
and then, as if responding to my inner dismay, i was graced with a visitor. from the next campsite over came Lyndsay to ask about - what else - my bike. and yet again, the novelty of my rig saved the night.
soon enough, i was sitting around a fire with Lyndsay and her friend Rachel. the two of them had known each other back in Ohio. lyndsay now lived in missoula, mt, where she goes to school for social work, and rachel was en route to seattle, wa, where she had taken a job working for a family. they decided to spend the weekend together in glacier park. camping. hiking. catching up, before relocating to disparate parts of the country, as so many of us young folk are doing these days.
though we had just met, i felt as though i were in the company of old friends. comfortable. another night of sharing. stories, not only about my travels, but about the adventures these two ladies had under their belts, as well. about rachel’s recent 8-month, transcontinental van trip with two or three friends and a baby. about their time in the florida keys, working landscaping jobs after kayak sunrises in unfettered, crystalline waters. about their time in the mountains of vermont and the deserts of new mexico. about her friend, john wayne, and his tipi home. about lyndsay’s summers working for the forest service as a wildfire-fighter. about creating safe zones. about camping on the edge of uncontrolled blazes. and about napping against burning logs - literally - for warmth.
by the end of the evening, we decided that the next morning, we’d all hit the trails together. they had a car - which would make for convenient transportation around the park - and i seemed sane enough to be included in their weekend adventure.
that night, two and one became three.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
8am. breakfast consisted of peanut butter and jelly on some bread, and words on a page. once my sleepy pals arose, we readied ourselves for a day on the trails. with our lunches packed, cameras at hand, we hopped in lyndsay’s car and headed off to check out some waterfalls. first to Sunrift Gorge. then, St. Mary Falls. then, Virginia Falls. and back. long falls, tall falls, step falls, steep falls. this late in the season, the waters from melting snow-caps were still barreling down the mountain. powerful and fierce. a fluid violence amidst such peace. or, rather, a violent fluidity. the water was clear. cold. fresh. after meditating a while on makeup of the falls - the sheer volume of water, the non-stop movement, the unbroken contact between liquid and stone (hundreds, thousands of years of unbroken contact), the drip of individual drops on rocks that lay behind the curtain of falling water, the thriving moss in a world of infinite moisture - we returned to the car. time for lunch. and a new spot.
from left to right: rachel, lyndsay, and me at sun point.
sandwiches and trail mix at Sun Point, after which we had planned to head over the pass to avalanche creek on the west side of the park. but, plans change.
while i was waiting by the car, rachel had gotten caught up in a parking-lot conversation with two guys in a pickup truck. i figured it would be no more than a couple minutes, so i waited. but, as the minutes passed, rachel only seemed to get more comfortable standing outside the passenger window. and now, lyndsay - back from the restroom - had joined her. they were engaged by their new acquaintances, deep in chat. though about what, i was too distant to know. i couldn’t hear their words. so, i eventually made my way across the parking lot to the pickup truck as well.
as it turned out, larry (aka Maui) had simply called out to rachel: hey! you look like you want to go swimming! and while his quick judgment may have seemed like a cheap pickup line, he turned out to be spot on. an astute observation. rachel did want to go swimming. badly. and so, she responded. excitedly, larry told us about a spot in the park with secluded swimming holes, 15 feet deep. and wildlife abound. he practically ensured us a moose sighting along the edge of a lake and guaranteed that, with enough patience, we’d also spot huge trout trying to jump up the waterfalls - which lay just a bit further down the trail. and all of this, he reminded us, in the absence of the park’s standard, large crowds. in fact, he had just come from there and it was, he promised, as magical as we could imagine.
we would have to drive, though. not far - out of the park’s eastern exit and about 30 miles north to a small side entrance called Many Glacier. since i had been planning to take off the next morning - and i really wanted to see Mama Moose - we decided to abandon our initial agenda and head for many glacier.
4:30pm. we parked the car, gathered our cameras, water bottles, and bear bells, and hit the trail toward Swiftcurrent Pass. within a mile, we came to an expansive lake - swiftcurrent lake. with our eyes, we scoured the shores for mama moose, but to no avail. no moose. and so, eager to swim, we continued down the path.
as we walked, we talked. feeling it all too appropriate for our surroundings, we exchanged stories of bear sightings. on another long journey, 2 years ago, i was traveling cross-country with a good friend named Job (the ‘j’ is pronounced like a ‘y’ and the ‘o’ sounds like a cross between a hard ‘u’ and a hard ‘o’). being from amsterdam, job had never before been to the states, and i figured, what better way to experience this country for the first time than to hitchhike all through the South? so that’s what we did. from NYC to DC, and onward through virginia, north carolina, tennessee, mississippi, louisiana, texas, new mexico, arizona, california. while in virignia and north carolina, we did a bit of hiking and camping along the appalachian trail, where we consistently spotted bears. black bears at every turn. in one day, we caught close sight of 5 different bears. i figured job had bear karma. or maybe it was his dutch aura that inconspicuously called out to the wild creatures, much like the silent summons of a dog whistle. either way, i saw more bears in one day that many of the local residents had seen in their lives. it was pretty damn cool.
rachel and lyndsay shared past experiences too. first-hand. second-hand. stories of their own. stories of friends. stories upon stories. like the waters we had watched fall earlier in the day, the stories flowed. until rachel stopped short, throwing her right arm up firmly against my chest - as a mother does to her child from the driver seat of her car when braking unexpectedly. in response to this sudden halt, my eyes immediately raised from the ground before me to the path ahead, where i focused on an enormous, brown, grizzly bear. it had appeared from just around a bend in the trail. its shoulders were broad. its fur was thick. and like a name tag worn proudly on one’s chest, the massive hump on its back put to rest any uncertainties we might have had about its identity. casually, it walked. directly towards us. and in utter shock, awe, and fear, i managed to exhibit a degree of eloquence achievable by few in such a position.
at hearing those two profound words, lyndsay, too, refocused her eyes from the dirt below to our newest acquaintance. and right there, frozen in horror, the three of us stood. clueless of what exactly to do next.
[note: with gracious foresight, friends had equipped me with not one, but two cans of bear spray - just in case such a situation as this were to arise. of course, both were packed securely in my bags, roughly 40 miles away at the rising sun campground. and, as for rachel’s bear bell: we had gotten rather irritated - very early in our hike - at the constant ringing that came with each step. as a result, the bell had been silenced by the tight grip of rachel’s left hand. or maybe it was her right.]
panicked whispers: what do we do? what do we do?
just stay still, i said. nobody move. my thought was that maybe the bear, seeing a group of humans in its way, would simply turn off the trail. go around us, so as to avoid any unwanted interactions. fortunately for us, it didn’t feel threatened, and thus showed no signs of aggression. unfortunately for us, it also didn’t seem to mind our presence one bit. it continued along its path. directly. towards. us.
and so, we began to back up. slowly. very slowly. we don’t want to spook it. it faced us as it walked. and we faced it as we backed. but, one can only back up so far. and the bear was changing neither its pace nor direction. for fear of tripping over something we couldn’t see, we each turned around and proceeded to walk with our backs to sr. griz. lyndsay at the head of the pack. followed by rachel. then me. then the bear.
three and one became four.
as we silently guided it down the trail, back towards the parking lot (don’t worry; we were still a good mile from the trailhead), i tried calming myself and my compañeras by repeating: slowly. sloooowly. i wanted to ensure that no one would give into our natural instinct to run. however, for fear of startling the bear by moving too quickly, i was, in fact, moving too slowly. as a result, the bear was gaining on me. closer and closer it drew. 50 feet. 40 feet. 30 feet. each time i peered over my left shoulder, out of the corner of my eye, i saw the beast growing. larger. and larger. at one point, i insisted that lyndsay - who was walking at the most casual speed and was, therefore, at the safest distance - take out her camera and “film my death.” at least, i’d be temporarily immortalized on youtube.
finally, after what seemed like days (but was most likely minutes), the bear decided to turn off the trail and head into the trees. it had clearly grown impatient with the idiot in front of it, who seemed incapable of walking any faster than the glaciers were receding. while bears like to bushwhack as much as humans do, it faced the twigs and trees and branches and leaves in order to carve out its own path. though it was no longer directly behind us, it had only moved about 20 or 30 feet off the trail before continuing its course. it was now essentially walking alongside us. in the bushes and trees. which made us feel like we were being stalked. and so, we continued our slow, quiet, fear-driven walk.
when we reached the turnout for swiftcurrent lake - which stood opposite the hillside along which sr. griz was making his way - we collectively decided to take refuge on its shore. silent and wide-eyed, we released half-suppressed laughter. unsure of what else to do. our breaths were still restrained. our hands still gripped tightly around any noise-making accessories (rachel’s bear bell, my keys). as i looked around the edge of the lake, my mind couldn’t help but insist that - given our luck - mama moose would probably be standing right there, and we’d have yet another giant beast with which to deal. or maybe, i thought, the grizzly and the moose would notice each other, bypass us altogether, and engage in the most epic of epic battles the wilderness had ever seen. and that’s when i heard the sound of stirred water. legs. not wings or fins. girth.
from out of the lake, emerged not mama moose, but a second bear - this time, a black bear - onto the very shore on which we stood. in response, i altered my script, ever so slightly:
frozen in fear, yet again, we watched as the new arrival (this one only 300 pounds or so - much smaller than the 600 or 700 pounder who was still just across the trail in the trees) made its way right passed us. casually, it carried its fresh catch across the path and plopped down in the brush to chow down. it was dinnertime, and it, too, couldn’t care less about us. once it was settled, we returned to the trail to slowly make our way back to the safety of enclosed steel. yet, seeing as the black bear was preoccupied with its feast, i couldn’t help but stand there in awe. it was no more than 20 feet from me, just tearing and chomping at its fish. i watched closely, as this amazing beast finished its meal. and then - still paying us no mind - it rose, shook the water off its body - much like a giant, wet dog would do - and headed out of the bushes and onto the groomed trail. nonchalantly, it walked away, back towards the trailhead. and in doing so, it helped us determine (really, it determined for us) in which direction we would head next.
we were not about to follow a bear back to our car. and so, still shaken and in utter disbelief of what we had just experienced, we continued our trek to Red Rock Falls.
although larry’s promise of mama moose had yet to materialize, he was spot on about the rest. leaping trout and secluded swimming holes, indeed. with limited sunlight remaining, i did not hesitate to strip to my bike shorts and jump right in. only to be reminded of what glacial waters feel like. refreshing, yes. borderline freezing.
never before had i swam in such a setting. crystal clear water, at the head of a waterfall, surrounded by 9,000-foot snow-capped peaks. and in the distant sky, a large bird swooped and sailed. a golden eagle, perhaps.
as the sun gradually hid behind the western mountaintops, we made our way back to the car. but, the magic didn’t end there.
before getting into our vehicle, we were asked by a couple - equipped with binoculars and cameras - if we had seen “the moose.” the moose. THE moose. it seemed as though everyone and their cousins had seen this moose. in the morning. in the evening. the moose, the moose, the moose. we explained to them that we had looked on our way out and on our return, but had seen no moose.
well, it turns out we were searching at the wrong lake. mama moose hadn’t been spotted at swiftcurrent lake, but rather at fishcap lake. although it was super close, it wasn’t the easiest to find. the turnoff was poorly marked by a tiny, nearly hidden, wooden sign, which most people pass without ever noticing. but now, we had experienced guides. so, back down the trail we headed.
the trailside shore of fishcap lake was populated by a handful of folks, all of whom were looking through binoculars, cameras, and scopes at the hillside across the valley.
what’s there? what do you see?
a grizzly bear. waaaaay up there.
ha! little did they know. i mean, such a sighting - at any distance - is undoubtedly special. to be lucky enough to see such a massive, powerful creature in its natural habitat, feasting on the wild vegetation is absolutely beautiful. amazing. and rare. but at that moment, i could still smell the musk of our own big, brown friend. shit, had we been looking through binoculars, we would have been able to count the cavities in its mouth.
by the light of the sunset, we took turns looking at the bear through scopes and binoculars. then, out from a clump of trees - far below the bear, yet on the same hillside - appeared a bull moose, its enormous rack reflecting brightly the sun’s last rays. and behind it, two bull elk, topped with comparably sized antlers. the moose continued its path to the right, while the elk made their way down the hill. and there, before us, across the lake, across the valley, was a display of some of the most incredible animals in these lands. all visible at once - a grizzly bear, a bull moose, and two bull elk. as if that weren’t enough, while we were all giddily ooing and awing at the wildlife theater, two white-tailed deer - a doe and her tiny, spotted fawn - made their way out of the bushes behind us and through thecrowd for a sip of fresh lake water.
we were in it.
our disbelief resonated for the rest of the night. in fact, every 10 minutes or so - in the car, around the campfire, in my tent - i would literally laugh out loud in sheer amazement at what i had just witnessed. the magic of such an experience was heightened by its rarity. in all 16,000 square miles of Glacier National Park, there are, more or less, only 300 grizzly bears. and not only did we see two, but we had a very close call with one of them. fucking mind-blowing.
and - as is the theme of such travels in general - it all happened on account of pure chance. if it weren’t for larry (and his friend sean), we wouldn’t have known about many glacier or red rock falls or fishcap lake. if it weren’t for lyndsay and rachel, i would not have been able to go. and if it weren’t for me, the girls would have simply waited until the next day to go. but, instead, things just worked out. perfectly.
the next day - day 30 of my trip - i started out early. i had a special package waiting for me at the post office in east glacier park, mt - about 40 miles away. on my ride out of the park, i kept my eyes plastered to the shores of st. mary lake. i was still hoping to catch a closer sight of mama moose. but instead, at the top of a tree between the road’s edge and the water, i spotted a bald eagle. perched high above everything, it scanned its surroundings. i jumped off my bike and stood in amazement. it was so huge. so majestic. just as i got my camera out, it spread its wings and took to the sky. away it soared, into the distant airspace above the vast valley.
in a way, it feels like the it was responding to my specific actions. like the bird was trying to remind me to simply live the experience. forget the camera. fuck the camera. even without a photograph, that image, that memory, will forever exist within me.
after standing on the side of the road for a few more minutes, on high from the experiences this place had provided, i saddled up and continued my departure. a few miles out of the park and down the highway, i realized that it was sunday. therefore, there was no point to rush out to east glacier park at 8am. the post office was closed. a great excuse to head right back into the park.
the rest of the day was spent thumbing my way from spot to spot. first from the rising sun campground - where i ditched my bike and bags - up to logan pass. then from logan pass down to avalanche creek. after hiking along the trail of the cedars, i popped a seat on a fallen log next to the water and wrote a letter. after a few hours, i headed back to the side of the road to catch a return ride. up to logan pass - this time retracing the path i had ridden just days before. and, finally, back down to rising sun. each trip along going-to-the-sun rd. was a new experience. each driver, a new companion. and though i always appreciate the friendly conversation of a generous host, a front seat rarely compares to the open-air bed of a pickup truck (in which i sat for two of the four rides).
by the time i returned to retrieve my bike, the afternoon had nearly passed. in the interest of making a bit of headway - and thus reducing the following morning’s miles - i decided to leave the park and ride through the remaining twilight hours. steve, who worked at the st. mary lodge gift shop, recommended i take an alternative route. instead of heading southeast, directly to east glacier park - and, in doing so, facing some gnarly climbs and treacherous roads - i’d be best off riding north about 8-10 miles, then east, then south. it would be much flatter, he said. although longer, it would be easier. and quicker.
so, north i headed.
that night, montana got the first taste of a harsh cold front, which would end up lasting a week or two. as i rode, the sky got dark. and quickly. thick, ominous clouds formed overhead. and the wind blew. consistent headwinds at 25 mph, with gusts of 35-40, rendered me slow, powerless, exhausted. and they killed my spirits. i felt like i was riding into the eye of a terrible storm. and i was only getting further and further from any towns or homes or people. further into the barren, rolling hills of montana. i was definitely out of glacier park. the warmth, the magic, the inspiration was gone. left behind.
a rude and sudden welcome to what would be my ground for the next 600 miles.
once night fell, temperatures dropped into the 30s. the winds had failed to let up. and all i wanted was to be asleep. i had made it roughly 13 miles to my destination - the duck lake campground, which steve had told me about. more specifically, i had made it 13 miles to the duck lake campground sign. i was still one mile from the campground itself. one long mile down a steep, winding, rock road, which i had interest in neither walking nor riding. and so, instead, i took refuge under a small cluster of trees. i climbed into my sleeping bag and simply pulled my tarp over me (to break the wind). it was far too windy for the tent, and - as i was clearly on a private cattle ranch - a tent would be far too conspicuous.
atop thick roots and dried cow-pies, i closed my eyes to drift in unconsciousness.
september 12, 2011
as the day broke, i awoke to the desperate-sounding ‘moos’ of concerned cows. surrounding me at a safe distance, they were obviously curious as to what the hell was occupying their territory - which, i could see in the morning light, was thoroughly marked with countless landmines of green and brown dung, both fresh and stale. with my first motions, however, their sense of caution proved greater than their desire to investigate. as i sat up, still in my sleeping bag, they quickly scurried. all of them. and after the sound of trudging hooves faded, i was left in silence.
i had slept remarkably well. and warm. which was surprising considering the cold gusts that continued to blow the whole night through.
by 7:15am, i was on the road. the plan was to ride to browning, ditch my bike somewhere in town, thumb my way back to east glacier park, grab my package, and find a return ride.
even though i was now heading south - the opposite direction of last night’s ride - the wind was still against me. and the road was anything but “flat.” pedaling my way, slowly, along seemingly endless, empty plains, i learned the following lesson, which would remain one of the most vital insights of this trip: when someone says that a road is flat, unless they just finished riding it themselves, understand their description to mean either: it’s flat; or it’s comprised of long rolling hills, with drawn-out climbs, many of which could be rather demanding.
unfortunately for me, steven’s description translated to the latter. (i’m still willing to accept, however, that this highway was preferable to the direct route, with its s-curves and 7,000-foot summit.)
once in browning, mt - the largest town on the blackfeet nation indian reservation - i successfully stashed my rig at an auto repair shop. i then walked to the nearest gas station, bought the fattest permanent marker they sold, asked for a cardboard box out of the trash, and made a sign:
ONLY 13 MILES, PLEASE
in less time than it took to peel an orange, a lady had pulled over to give me a lift. she was a schoolteacher from minnesota who owned some land out here. we spoke about the mountains. about traveling. about the buffalo. and within 20 minutes, i was standing at the front door of the post office in east glacier park, mt. the doors, however, were locked. they closed daily at 12:00pm for lunch and reopened at 1:30pm.
it was 12:05pm.
so, with an hour and a half to kill, i sat down and got to writing.
at 1:30, i was inside, eager to claim my package. tessa had hand-bound me a new journal, which turned out to be absolutely beautiful. and especially timely, as the first one she made me had but two blank pages remaining.
envelope in hand, i took to the roadside and held out my sign.
ONLY 13 MILES, PLEASE
and again, a ride within minutes. this time, in the bed of a pickup truck with three teenagers from kalispell. they were headed to browning, but had to make a quick detour first. i told them i didn’t mind.
four miles north from where they grabbed me, the driver’s father was buried in an overgrown field on a hill. she wanted to pay him a visit. after turning off the road, the old pickup struggled to climb the unpaved, unplowed hillside. from side to side, we rocked turbulently, like a boat in violent waters. once parked, the three of them go out of the truck. i remained in the bed, facing the magnificent rocky mountains. behind me, a young lady, whom i had never met, walked to her father’s grave to lay down a bouquet of bright blue flowers made of silk. she spent a few minutes kneeling next to the cross, which marked his burial site. she spoke softly. her two friends were goofing off elsewhere in the field.
and then, we were back on the road. this time, the boy, jim, had eagerly joined me in the back, while the two girls remained up front. in true teenage fashion, we sped recklessly, carelessly, along the highway. 13 miles and i was back at the auto repair shop.
before taking off eastward, i headed across the street to the grocery store. while lunching on recently purchased peanut butter and jelly, i was met by a small crowd of inquiring minds. for nearly an hour, i fielded questions. beyond the standard how do you get on that thing? and how do you get off?, the gathering group asked all about the construction. the engineering. the design. the process. the idea. the experience. with an unmatched level of curiosity, the people of browning seemed genuinely excited to share this novelty with their neighbors. some would call out to strangers as they passed by. hey, sis, you see this guy’s bike? others would leave momentarily, only to return with a friend. you gotta see this bike.
from the grocery store to the post office - to send off another batch of postcards - and from the post office to a gas station - to charge my phone and make some calls before finally beginning the trek east. 8 miles to the small, residential community of blackfoot, mt.
along the way, i was passed by a camper-van. with a few friendly honks, it pulled over. the vehicle was, indeed, familiar. i had met its owners - cindy and david - a week earlier, a few days before entering the rockies, when they had first hit the brakes to snap these fotos:
at that time, they were just outside their hometown of libby, mt. now, however, they were en route to indiana. after yet another pleasant roadside chat, i was back on the bike. with a smile and a wave, we bid each other safe travels. this time, cindy captured my departure:
soon enough, i was in blackfoot. with its houses square along the highway, i figured i would simply walk up to the first one and politely ask to throw my tent up in their yard. at worst, they’d say no, and i’d move onto the next one. but, as expected, my request was met with a gracious display of countryfolk generosity. in fact, no sooner had i finished explaining my situation than i was offered a full breakfast-supper of bacon, eggs, and hash-browns.
appreciative, i declined. my can of beans would more than suffice.
sitting in my tent, on the soft, thick, marshy grass of george’s front yard - which was littered with old pickup trucks, in-progress rebuilds, stripped automotive carcasses, and frankenstein mash-ups - i watched as the setting sun filled the western sky with a bright blend of pink and orange. i had a strong feeling that this would be my last night with the craggy peaks of the rockies in plain sight.
to the east, a giant, full moon glowed yellow overhead, designating my new direction. from here on, it would be eastward, across the vast plains and beyond. the first part of my trip had officially come to an end.
at the foot of the backside of the very last page of my first journal are the following words:
tomorrow begins part two of my journey.
the trip to Glacier is behind me.
now, i’m on my way home.
last night, after finishing up at the aforementioned shell gas station, i hopped back on the big rig and headed out of town. though the sun was barely above the horizon and i wouldn’t enter another town for at least an hour, nothing drew me to remain in east troy, wi. i had no interest in turning off the highway to explore the large town for a place to crash…and the establishments on the highway - shell, mcdonalds, burger king - offered no sleepytime refuge. so, following my gut, i figured i’d test my luck. just ride onward. see what i’d find.
what i found was a man standing in the driveway of his farm home about half a mile down the road. his name was joe and, as i approached him to request a small plot of his land for the evening, he asked me “how the hell do you get on that thing?”
a few words and a can of beer later, i had my tent set up in his front yard, nuzzled between the big, red barn, a pair of small sheds, and some trees.
October 11, 2011
East Troy, WI
back to dewy mornings.
as the sun’s first rays break through the tops of distant trees, a thick layer of moisture hovers just above the ground of every surrounding field.
i can see my breath. but it only adds to the serenity of the early, farmland morning. the air is cool, but by no means cold.
and for the first time in a while, i really notice the morning. i fully take in the morning. i’m in love with the morning. again.
all packed up, it’s time to depart from this red-barn yard. for nearly the 60th time, i leave last night’s home only to find another.
it’s now 3am. i’m sitting in the living room of my friend Ariel’s apartment. the pulsing sound of the window fan to my right blends with the faint snores that emerge from the bedroom to my left. i’m in evanston, il - a college-town suburb of chicago (the land of infinite suburbs).
i should be asleep. i woke up about 20.5 hours ago and proceeded to ride nearly 90 long miles.
15 hours ago, i learned that, somewhere in wisconsin, i lost my camera - the one item i carried which visually immortalizes memories.
2 months. 3,000 miles. zero fotos.
admittedly, i was pissed. for about an hour. and then i came to terms with it. a lesson in letting go. and all the more reason to write. and to write in detail.
so, tomorrow morning, i will attempt to catch up. at least begin to catch up. tell of glacier national park. and maybe of the lands beyond.
but, i’d also like to announce that i have plans for this story. plans to refine my tales. add to them. censor them less. and share the complete work. the entire journey. the second story story. so, please know that once this trip has ended, the stories will have just begun.
and with that, it’s time to find some sleep. on a couch. in a room. no tent. no sleeping bag. and no morning dew.
ps. can you smell the freshness through the screen? that’s right, i just showered.