May 18th 2016 Kamiah – Lolo Pass
After battling 14 miles of hell I decided I would treat myself to a campground. My budget would not allow me to do another hotel so soon, but the KOA at the far end of Kamiah was so cozy that all it lacked to be a motel room was a bed and solid walls. They even had a cafe, and in the morning I stepped in for a cuppa Joe. As the waitress poured, I asked her about the road ahead. “Is there more shoulder on Lolo pass than there was those last 14 miles into Kamiah?” She grimaced and said, “Sorry honey. There’s not much shoulder for the entire 100 miles to the top.” When she saw my shoulders sag she added “But bicycles go up there all the time, so just take it slow and you’ll be fine.”
But in my mind the last miles of hell suddenly stretched ahead of me for three more days.
I wanted to go home. I wanted the journey to not be so cruel. I wanted to be welcomed on the road and fall into my dreamy pace.
That morning, I do not want to finish the quest I had started. It was too hard. But life being too hard never stopped me before.
I mounted Old Blue, lips tight, teeth grinding, and my eyes felt lifeless.
The first part of the road was nearly flat, with enough shoulder and road width that trucks didn’t have to swerve wide to give me space. I pressed into my pace, trying not to think about shoulderless curves ahead. But to my surprise, the road stayed wide, and few trucks or cars passed by. The sun was warm and the road soon invited the river to dance with it. I swayed back and forth on the curves, like a ballroom dancer waltzing in fluid motion with her partner. As the hours passed I expected the road to begin its climb, like when I did my Three Passes tour in 2015, climbing to 5,000 feet in one day over Rainy and Washington Passes, and 8 days later nearly as high over Steven Pass. It had taken me 9 hours of climbing at 5MPH to crest the first pass. For this tour, this quest for the many roads to kindness, I was neglecting research of the road. I did this for two reasons. One, there was too much to know, too much new in my life to grasp, and so as kindness to myself I had decided to trust that the road would figure itself out as I went. The other was deliberate. I wanted to learn how to live a fluid life, an adaptive life. I was so tired of the gerbil running on its wheel in my head – I wanted to let my heart guide me for a while. There would be little reason to plan farther ahead than two or three days. By letting the road guide me I would not be following any preconceptions.
And because I did not plan, I do not know that Lolo pass is 95 miles of gentle, peaceful incline on one of the most beautiful mountain roads in the country. Mile after mile passed, and I let go the frigid muscles, the tensions and apprehensions, and relaxed into my daydreaming pace. I made a promise to myself then, a kindness to my future self, that I would not ask those who do not cycle the road about road conditions. They I do not differentiate between the different measures of “no shoulder”. To those who do not travel the slow pace of the two-wheeled self-propelled life, anything that is not as wide as a full lane, anything that allows a truck larger than a little pick up, anything that does not limit the speed of all traffic to city speeds is a bad road to cycle. But to those of us who coexist with all varieties of traffic there are many ways to measure the value of a road. I began a list, and then slowly worked them down into a nice little measuring tool for judging the roads ahead.
A Good Road: A road that has wide shoulders, wide lanes, polite traffic, and gentle grades
A Polite Road: A road that is not prime, but traffic compensates. On narrow shoulders, traffic skirts wide when they can and keeps a slow, straight line when they can’t.
An Aggressive Road: A road that is safe enough to travel as long as I keep my awareness at high alert. Traffic does not skirt wide enough to keep the adrenals from kicking into high gear, and the shoulder is too narrow or non-existent and often has obstacles like glass, gravel, or potholes.
A Death Trap: A road that cyclists should never travel. The 14 miles of Hell was one of these roads.
I camped that night about a third of the way up the pass in a little roadside campsite beside the river. Happy, content, hopeful.
In the morning I woke to the first day of the tour without cell signal, and heavy rain. The rain did not bother me. My tent was dry, although I found that one of my dry bags had failed where I left it sitting on the ground. During a break in the showers I emptied and drained it, glad that it wasn’t the bag that held my electronics or composition books, and proud of myself that I double bag most of my things in ziplocs just for this reason. Then I hunkered back down in my tent. The grade of the pass was so easy that I could have climbed the pass in one day if I needed to. Two days easily. I decided I had an extra day and would not torture myself by trying to ride in rain. I would stay another day in this peaceful space. But it meant no communication with my guy.
My guy and I had met 27 years before, as homeschoolers growing up on the same island in the Puget Sound. We used to talk on the phone for hours. I would sit on the bathroom vanity and we would discuss anything and everything while I played with my hair or make-up, ignoring the rest of my family pounding on the door. No matter what our lives threw at us, we’ve always been able to talk to each other. Even after years of losing touch with each other, we started the conversation up again as if we had never stopped. When my life went sideways last fall, he was there. Over the next few months I had to strip myself of the things I thought defined me, my job, my home, the love I thought I had wanted but found out that it was not the right fit. I struggled to redefine myself with the leftovers, and always my guy was there. He texted me from his travels to eastern time zones, catching me during those 3am terror wake-ups, and his words soothed and calmed the panic. I began to look for his texts as if I were drowning in deep water and his words, his reaching out to connect, were a life preserver thrown out to me. From the moment I finally leapt out on faith to begin planning this quest, he has been there. Every morning, he reaches out to me from wherever he is. Every day we talk, like when we were kids. Every moment, experience, and event shared, connected, enjoyed between us. He is my love, my family, my teammate on this quest, my cheerleader, my audience, my companion, my best friend.
And after two days of cell phone dead zone and no contact, I woke on the second day feeling the gnawing, aching, longing homesickness that is painted with the same hues and colors as grief.
On the third day I cycled for the pass, and I realized just what sacrifice this quest would require of me.
I’ve always felt grief because it found me. After Mom died, after Vasu, I had no choice but to step fully into it. But on this tour, I would have to choose every day to continue traveling and find room to carry this homesickness. On that third day cycling to the pass the homesickness struck me in waves, like grief did not so many years ago. The climb was easy, the road polite, the river beautiful. And during each wave of homesickness I battled the desire to end the quest and go home. Home to wherever my baby was. Home to his arms, his voice, his scent.
And yet, he was up ahead of me. We had planned to meet near the top of the pass. His career traveling allowed him to meet me on the weekends that I traveled near a major airport. When I had told him months before, as we realized we were falling love, that I would not cancel my plans to tour for 14months, I had been worried that a long-term long-distance relationship would be too hard. His first words were “Baby, I think that’s wonderful! You should do that!” His next words were “And I will find you along the way, no matter where your are.”
I was only miles from him now, and I began to pedal harder, wanting to get to him faster. I did not know he was doing the same. Not bothering to wait for me at the pass, he drove his rental car over the top and found me just a little farther down. Even one more hour was too long to see each other.
When he found me I was in full rain gear, dripping with sweat, three days unshowered but for quick splashes of cold water from the river. It did not stop us from our embrace, on the side of the road, in the rain.
This quest required me to sacrifice a physical closeness with my guy, my person, the companion that would always be there. But it replaced that closeness with something I have never experienced before. The kind of love that would do everything possible to find me no matter what road I chose. The kind of love that would reciprocate in its sacrifice, and work hard to help me achieve my dreams.