My plans to cycle the Great Divide Trail never really held much reality. Sure, the weather was clear when I was down in Portland, but at 12,000 feet the weather can change pretty quickly. And my research had only gone so far as to see it as possible, until I started climbing Lolo Pass and realized the kind of skill the Great Divide Trail takes.
I have the skills, but only just barely. And the idea of cycling wilderness trails alone for a week or more with no place to refuel certainly didn’t fit my idea of a lazy 40 miles per day and finding a nice coffee shop or bar to write my stories. And then of course there’s the Bears.
I’ve camped with black bears my entire life. And in none of those years did I ever get used to bears. When I wake in the middle of the night to a branch knocking against another branch, I immediately think bear. When a raccoon digs around my campsite looking for munchings and crunchings, my mind makes the noises big enough to be a bear. The night I woke years ago to something large getting closer to me in the underbrush I didn’t wait to find out if it were a bear, I grabbed my sleeping bag and walked-did-not-run to the girls shower and slept on the floor with the bugs and toenail fungus.
I can do bears. I have the skills. But I don’t do bears if I can avoid it.
I checked the road maps. The roads were a doable alternative, but the distances between towns meant I would have to carry a lot of food weight, and it was roads through Wyoming. My only recollection of Wyoming was our family trip through when I was a kid and the roads were covered in locusts. I mean covered. The truck actually slid on their little squishing bodies. The one fun part I might do, Yellowstone, turned out to be mostly closed. I know, I know, that’s like Westley being mostly dead. There were two campgrounds open, and only one on my route. It would be a lot of cycling to get through, and probably stealth camping, in Wyoming, in bear country.
I would say that it was an hard decision to make to rent a car, but it was actually a no brainer. I could always come back and do the Great Divide Trail with a group later. And to put a cherry on top, my man ended up getting the week after Missoula off from work. He could drive with me from Missoula to Denver.
We were both expecting Montana and Wyoming to be dull. We expected dry grasses and rock for mile upon flat mile. We weren’t expecting green rolling hills and Pronghorn and giant Sandhill Cranes. We didn’t expect to drive through two days of awe and wonder. We also didn’t expect there to be so much history here. I guess somehow I missed the fact that much of the Wild West is actually Wyoming. We also didn’t expect to find in each other the thrill of exploring the nooks and crannies of small towns.
Our relationship has been kismet from day one. Our habits are similar, we finish each other’s sentences and read each other’s minds. And somehow, Dumbfuck chance occurrence keeps throwing us together when we weren’t expecting it. I was always told relationships take hard work, so it was no surprise when my relationships did. It was a complete surprise to me how easy this one was.
We drove until our butts hurt, and then spent a day in Boulder with a friend I had not seen in a long time. She was the mother of two of Vasu’s best friends, and I was a little nervous to see what his friends might be like almost seven years after Vasu’s death. After an evening though, I decided I must be over that particular hurdle in all this, because I felt nothing but enjoyment. My man and I spent the rest of the week in Denver. One habit we both have in common is we like to explore without planning much. We find out where the artists hang out, the counter-culture, the creative types, and we walk around. When I was cycling down the coast after Vasu died, I called it “putting out my feelers.” I would stay alert for something to catch my attention, and then bee-line it as soon as it did. I’ve found hole-in-the-wall places in some of the most ordinary of towns that way. Hole-in-the-wall places always have unique creatures from our species inside them. They are like candy shops to those of us who enjoy something different.
We spent several days exploring Denver together. It wasn’t quite domestic, since we stayed at a hotel and ate meals out, but it was as close as we were going to get for a while. We may have incredible kismet for meeting up, but domesticity was not yet in our cards. As the day for him to fly out got closer and closer, I felt my anxieties build. This constant cycling to him and cycling away again was a lot harder than I thought it would be, and I’d only done it twice now. How would it be 5,000 miles down the road and after those sections where it would be weeks or a month between visits?
He left on a day that threatened thunderstorms. He had an early flight and left before I did. I found myself making excuses not to leave the hotel room, then more excuses not to leave the breakfast bar. Finally, I called my friend in Boulder. She was going away for the weekend and had offered her place if I decided to stay longer.
I wanted to hunker down. I did not feel anything resembling joy to get back on the road.
I don’t know why I have to hunker down now and then. I don’t know what the benefit is. But when I do, I can feel it coming on like a migraine. It begins with feeling like I’m interacting with the world through a fog or from a great distance. My smile feels faked, my eyelids constantly droop, I hate talking. Talking is more difficult than cycling up a mountain pass. Every word hurts, every thought exhausting.
I cycled back to Boulder feeling only a copy of joy. Not real joy. This was the photo copy of a photo copy, a washed out semblance of something I remembered feeling just the day before. When my friend left the house, I dove into her freezer, pulled out half a gallon of ice cream, put on some tv show I never knew about or cared about and began my binge.
It lasted almost three days.
I did manage to get some work done around the house and my laundry done. I thought about what could have triggered the binge, but trying to find that thread is a lesson in futility. The closest I’ve come to a great description is from Stephen Prescott. The enemy of creativity is resistance. When I give in to the blahs, the down days, the binging, I am giving in to resistance. Resistance wants me to stop, to hunker down, to let go of all the dreams I desire. Resistance loves lethargy, and ice cream, and Netflix. The more I give in, the easier it is to continue giving in and the harder it is to start movement again.
My life is exactly like trying to get my 75 pound bicycle to move. At first it is difficult and wobbly, but as I pick up momentum the weight actually pushes the bike forward. It becomes more difficult to stop than it is to continue.
I knew this. I’ve known this for years. And yet still, I give in to resistance regularly. It was why I chose a bicycle tour to help me after Vasu’s death. I did not want it to take years to gain momentum again, like it had after Mom’s death. I wanted to feel my life, even if it meant feeling every drop of sorrow losing my son.
I managed to get on the road again. I followed cracks of light in the sky between thunderstorms, trying to shake the resistance, dispel the lethargy, find my pace once again.
That night I slept in a campground filled with huge trailers and motorhomes. It was a beautiful nature preserve, but I didn’t have the energy to go explore. Instead, I took my time to set camp, careful to build a shelter with my blue tarp for Old Blue to stay dry under.
In the morning I still felt blah. I began my take-down routine. Halfway through packing my neighbor stopped by. He was an older man with a motorhome and car hitched behind. He was curious about my road, and as we talked we discovered many similarities between us. The wanderlust had bitten us young. We talked long after I was supposed to get on the road, and he told me the story of a man he had met years before who had exclaimed when he heard about the man’s wandering heart, “You are searchin’ the world!” Then my neighbor quieted me behind his motorhome to show me the mural painted on the back. It was a painting of his beloved dog and cat and below them the words “Searchin’ the World.”
I cycled the road again, and my brain fog was gone. I had been inspired to search the world.