Monday, December 14, 2015

Del Norte to Del Norte


     My mom said late that day while edging along the side of the mountain at 10 mph that Indiana Pass kicked our ass. It makes me feel dejected to admit that she was not wrong. Running out of time, it already being the first week of October and we were only halfway through Colorado with 900 miles still to go, we had been skipping to the highest passes to really get that “Divide experience” in before packing it in and heading home. The two days leading to Indiana Pass, I sat out from riding the passes and instead rode when we found the trail outlet where my dad would be coming from. 
     That Thursday morning, we dropped my dad at the base of the pass in Del Norte, CO, a small Latin influenced town. After he started out, heading south from town, my mom and I studied the maps, trying to find Platoro, the town we were heading to that night. We plugged the name into the GPS, with no results. We tried Summitville which was a few miles from the summit of the pass, but everything we were searching for seemed nonexistent, places that the Divide map creators thought up, maybe thinking that if people can live on their bicycles for weeks on end, they wouldn’t mind there actually not being a town where stated. We decided the best plan of action would be to take the same course as my dad, up and over the pass by way of forest roads. Not even half a mile up the road, my mom called out, “What the… Is that a horse hoof?” She pointed to a fence beside the road, where multiple large animal bones were wrapped into the fence and truthfully, I didn’t find it that odd until I did notice the particular bone she had referred to, the lower half of a horse’s leg with the hoof connected was tied into the wire halfway up the fence. We looked at each other, eyes wide and continued on our way. It was a long ride up the pass, and I felt for my dad, having to ride the sixteen miles up the pass, only to have to do yet another pass ten miles after it. As we gained elevation, I watched the temperature drop to the mid forties, then the thirties. 
     We stopped at a campsite at the summit, the area overlooking the fields of the valley, and was chased back into the truck by the nugget-sized hail. I looked over to the dashboard and asked how we were doing on gas, thinking we hadn’t filled up before we left that morning. My mom looked down and gasped. “Oh my god!” Her face drained of color seeing the needle pointing to just under a quarter of a tank. Most of the way was downhill, so we could coast for miles on end. I continuously checked the mileage left until we reached Platoro, which I assured my mother had a gas station. Ten miles went by easily, the road bumpy, but manageable. We passed a small private lake that had a sign for Platoro, 12 miles. Looking down to the needle hovering over E, we sucked in a breath and continued on our way. 
     After the sign, the road deteriorated to the point where it caused the teeth rattling effect again. We passed around a corner, the road containing jutting rocks and potholes, my mom and I focused solely on the gas gauge. Suddenly there was a beeping noise, accompanied by the truck computer flashing a low tire pressure on the back wheel. Three of the tires showed a steady 80bpm, but one showed 15 bpm. I looked over to my mom, her face a mixture of surprise and dread. “How can it be 15?” She stopped the truck and opening the door, we both heard the hissing, saw the rim sinking to the muddy road. We looked at each other, both our mouths agape. “But I can’t change a tire. Mom, I don’t know how to change a tire.”  We didn’t even know where the jack was. As we started unpacking the truck, thinking the jack must be underneath all the bags or we’d have seen it, the hail started falling again, small beads of ice clinking off the truck, off the top of our heads. I crawled under the truck, trying to figure out how to lower the spare. With all of our clothes, our gear and food stacked around the outside of the truck, my mom pulled the truck's manual out of the glove compartment, finding out that the jack was just underneath the front seat, easily accessible even if all of our belongings were still packed neatly inside. Thankfully, the manual gave us step by step instructions, the pages of the book soggy from the water falling from the trees. After getting the tire bolted back on, the blown one we managed to toss in the back, and all of our things stuffed carelessly into the backseat, we turned the truck back on, our faces and fingers red and numbing. In the excitement of the tire change, we had almost forgot about our dwindling tank of gas. We crawled along the road, going only 10 mph, each bump making us catch our breath. When we made our way off the mountain, driving past a small campground, the sign pointing towards Platoro showed five miles, however, it also showed the next pass, Stunner Pass was barring a straight shot there. On the way up the pass, snow fell, melting once it hit the ground, making for a muddy, slippery road.
     Coming around a final bend in the road, we made it to Platoro, a small town with forty or so wooden structures sprinkled at the bottom of the valley. Most of the buildings we drove past were boarded up, until we reached the center of town where a small general store and cafe sat. We walked in, noting the paltry amount of food on the shelves. An older woman walked out from a back room and asked how she could help us. We asked her where we could find the gas station in town, the doubt heavy in our voices. "Oh, no..." she said, "The closest gas station is twenty miles by way of the canyon road." If it weren't for the phone she was holding in her hand and the electric lights flickering overhead, I would have thought we had been transported back to the late 1800s. I asked the woman if there would be any way they had gas we could buy off of them, or know anyone who would have some. Her voice become a touch gruffer. "Well, my husband is on the mountain cutting trees, I'll have to radio him and see." After hearing that they had a jug to spare, we sat in the closed cafe, waiting for the husband. After a good lecture from the man about being unprepared in those parts leads to life or death situations, we noticed we finally had message from my dad on the satellite phone telling us to come meet him, he ran into some bad whether back in Summitville. I wrote back that we had had a bit of trouble and asked if he would be able to ride towards us at all since our maximum speed seemed to be 15 mph. After an hour and a half of driving the 20 miles back north towards Summitville, we saw a red flash and around the corner came my father, mud caked with a scowl on his face. We loaded up his bike, got in the truck and argued over which way to go. On the way to pick him up, my mom and I had decided it would probably be wise to go back up over Indiana Pass to Del Norte since we didn't know what the conditions of the roads past Platoro were and we were still low on gas. The ride back up and over the pass dragged on for another two hours. We passed by the gate adorned with the bones and drove to Three Barrel Brewing Co. in Del Norte. As we sat at the bar, drinking the coconut brown lagers and wolfing down the BBQ chicken pizzas, we laughed about our failure to gain any mileage that day, even while burning a tank of gas and a rear left tire.





Friday, October 9, 2015

to Steamboat Springs

 I crawled out of my tent, hands and knees, icy dew flaking off the rainfly, a rocky climb in my near future. We made our oatmeal and peanut butter breakfast, warmed our soup, packed all of our gear onto our bikes and waved my mom away, hoping she would be able to find her own way around the mountain to Steamboat. We inched along up the divide, breath becoming shallower, loose rocks barring our way to an easy climb. We knew we would be following Joe's tire tracks that day, but further up, we noticed a few others as well, the sand holding the patterns enough to tell the others had been through that morning. The map claimed the last two miles would be "a pusher" meaning I would end up either walking my bike up the hill, or crumpled underneath it. I chose the former, unable to concede to the gritty scabs I would likely find myself with if I fought my way up the hill on my pedals. At the top, thinking it a false summit due to the inaccuracy of our Garmin's elevation chart, we rode a little farther, looking around each corner expecting more uphill until we started the even rougher downhill.
     Usually I am ecstatic once we reach the summit, knowing I'll be able to let gravity do the work for me. Most of the time I end up laughing maniacally as if I alone own the mountain, the wind causing my eyes to water and my calves burning from holding the pedals at equal distances to the ground so they won't hit any wayward rocks. However, this downhill hurt. Hurt more than the uphill I couldn't wait to escape. I swear we were riding down a dried up riverbed, the jarring we endured for the six miles down the divide had me riding with my mouth open, believing if I closed my jaw, my teeth would knock my other teeth out. Thinking of it now makes me laugh, wishing I could trade places with my dad so I could have seen the face I had been making. Really, the only thing I can picture is being at the dentist during a routine cleaning when they tell you to open your mouth, and then they expect you to also lift your gums from your teeth like a snarling dog.
     Anyways, when we finally made it down, we came to the Clark General Store. We pulled in, seeing other loaded bikes, saw Joe up on the deck and waved. He came down, commenting on the food inside, asking how the ride down had been and after he joined the other cyclists again, we pedaled off, towards twenty miles of pavement.
     Sometimes after a morning of jolting trail, pavement can be such a lovely reprieve, especially if you are following someone who makes a great windbreak. It can also be monotonous, dull to the point that you play games with yourself. One of the games I play is to see how close I can get to my dad's back tire without getting pelted in the chest by small pebbles. Another is to mimic my dad's gear changes and if I'm able to  coast while he's still pedaling, he loses and I win. With him hitting most of the wind, I usually won, while he would be unaware of any of this taking place.
     After finding my mom in Steamboat, our tents set up in the local KOA next to the creek just outside of town, I checked my phone to find a message from Joe inviting us to a brewpub that night with a group of other cyclists.  I found myself on the city bus at 6:45 that evening, not completely sure where I was heading, and there on the outside of downtown Steamboat, I got off the bus, looked around and saw only a gas station and a closed grocery store. After a ten minute confusion on the side of the road, I realized I had put in the wrong address on my phone and figured out I was only a mile from the restaurant. I walked in, sweating and breathing harder than I should have been. I walked up next to Joe, excitedly waved at him and in that moment every person at the table turned towards me and stared, wondering what this girl, panting and red-cheeked was doing at the corner of their table. Joe pulled me up a chair, introducing me to everyone, giving first name and nationality. At the table were a few Australians, New Zealanders, a couple Canadians, Joe...and then me, the only American. Everyone smiled at me common-placely, asking me if I was riding the trail as well. I made a somewhat affirmative noise and said, "Yeah, I mean pretty much..." They looked at me, and one of the Australians said, "You should just say yes. You're either one of us, or not. Unshowered, or showered." I definitely found myself in the first category most of the time and thanks to the hurried mile I just semi-ran, I discovered myself being patched in to this arbitrarily exclusive club of fuzzy, smell-ridden travelers. I suppose this wasn't necessarily a new club to me, thinking of the state in which I live with my best friend in the summers and the baths I do receive taking place in lakes and rivers. We played pool, all claiming different rules throughout the games and killed time before going to a club playing jazz that night.
     I've figured out something very interesting hanging out with that group of bikepackers that night. People love to give things to young people who look like they live out of their bike. Being included in this group meant I got into the club half off, the bouncer thinking it incredible anyone could travel by bike. I also found out that Australian money apparently can't rip in half, but Canadian money does if you try hard enough. Who knew. We stayed in Steamboat for a couple nights, exploring the town the next day, riding to the breweries, navigating our way away from the thunderstorms and traffic, knowing the days that followed would be high elevation, rugged terrain.



Tuesday, October 6, 2015

from penitentiary to the UK.

     We left Rawlins, WY anxious to make it to Colorado. The days before, we were buffeted by the winds through the Great Basin, seeing nothing but cows and shrubs, three cars within hundreds of miles. We ate our paltry breakfast sandwiches at the local cafe, made our way to the starting point just  past the next Divide crossing, past the Teton reservoir, it's water silty and rough from the wind blowing over the mountains. We passed Aspen Alley, Aspen trees lining a mile long stretch of road, golden canopy, initials carved in every tree along the way, couples professing their lasting love, the trees' bark folding in around the gashes.
     Halfway through the day we passed  over the border, not even noticing we had done so, and twenty miles later, we waited for my dad just past the closed lodge we were supposed to be meeting at. After a half an hour, my mom cocked her head to the side, looking in the side mirror, noticing someone coming up the road on bike. "Is that him?" I pivoted around in the front seat, noting the meandering pace of the packed down biker. "No. That is definitely not him." The biker came riding up beside us, shirtless with a grin spreading across his face. He pointed at the bikes on the back of the truck, "You're doing the trail as well?" he said in a lisping British drawl. We looked at each other, my mother pointed to me, "Well, yeah...she is. Pretty much." We asked him if he could use any water and declining politely he wished us well and went on his way.
      Forty minutes later, my dad wind burnt and drained got in the truck and directed us to a primitive camping site shown on the trail map. When we pulled onto the road where the supposed sites were, we looked around in confusion only seeing trampled down prairie grass, the ground hard and undulating underneath. "This is the nice camping site they mentioned?" We drove a little ways up the dirt road, until it became narrow and the grade steepened. We backtracked, trying to find an alternative to the night that would be spent lying on small mounds of packed roots and dirt. As we backed the truck closer to the turn, we noticed a cleared spot to the right of us with even ground and a  recently used fire pit. We pulled the truck in, shrugging and setting up the tents and a new fire pit that would not be surrounded by dried grass and leaves.
      We all looked up towards the road where we heard the rustling of bags and tires over gravel. My dad waved as the Englishman rode past us, "I'm not sure there's any decent campsites up that way," he called to the man. He rode about a quarter of a mile up the road, rotating his head in that same desperate way we had when we saw the mashed down grass. My dad walked towards him. "You can share this site with us up here, there's plenty of room." The man pedaled back towards us, swinging his long leg over the seat and walked his bike up into the  site where we had begun to set up. He introduced himself as Joe, shaking my parents' hands, cordial and relieved to have found a spot for the night. When we got the fire started and the chairs and coolers set out, Joe brought his little pot with water over, asked if we minded him using a part of the fire. Knowing what was coming, I squinted up to my mom, looked back at the squatting Joe, "You're welcome to join us for dinner. We have potatoes and all kinds of meat and vegetables." "VEGETABLES?!" Joe cheeped in a way that made it seem inconceivable that there would be fresh food this far in on the trail. "Oh my goodness," he said, "I was just going to have my Kraft dinner, but potatoes and vegetables sound lovely." "Do you drink beer, Joe?" My mother asked delicately. His eyes widened, the edges of his lips turning upward, "Oh! Yes!" We sat around the fire, talking and drinking, shooing Joe off of the beer cooler every twenty minutes for refreshers until the dark set in around us, the fire burning to coals, the lantern's incandescence creating a circle only wide enough for the four of us. The next morning, I woke hearing tires rolling past my tent, thank yous and goodbyes ringing through the cold, knowing we would most likely not see the jovial cyclist again.
 "sheep jam"

 great basin
aspen alley

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Yellowstone.


  We sat at breakfast one morning in Wise River, MT listening to the Scottish owner of the 3-in-1 motel/restaurant/casino tell stories of the Divide racers coming through in the middle of the night, knocking on their door at odd hours, their beards frosted and lips blue, hoping for a place to get warm. He told us of the riders that would come through for breakfast, wolf down six pancakes, fourteen eggs, guys that were thin as the rails running alongside the dirt roads. After he walked away, we all looked down at our plates, two eggs, toast, bacon and hash browns, all of us bloated from our meager attempt at a “Divide breakfast.” We sat there bleary-eyed and consumed with tracing our fingers along the lines on the map, contemplating where we would meet up, seeing no distinct town for the next couple of days. As my dad slipped the next map on the table, I caught sight of a town outside our trail limits, the hometown of a favorite author. Pocatello, Idaho, a place I thought was home to him only in his narratives, but alas, it was real! After a few hours in the backseat headed south, the landscape reminiscent of Manitoba, my mom looked back to me, "So. Are you ready to see Idaho? We're thinking of staying the night in Pocatello." I couldn't believe it. I sat in the back for another hour with the stupid smile plastered on my face, my eyes scanning the farmland for some hint of what caused the crude genius of all the works I love. 
     We drove through, only catching glimpses of storefronts and the eyes of the truck drivers passing through the city. My mom caught my eyes in the mirror. "Not how you pictured it, huh?" No. Not at all. We drove back through, back onto the interstate, up towards the Wyoming border. 
In Ashton, we restocked on beer and ice, searching for a place to camp for the night so that we could start riding in the morning. On our way out Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, we passed semi-trucks piled high with dirt covered potatoes and we entertained ourselves by scanning the shoulders of the road, wanting to add to our potato supply, my dad consuming them as if they were candy. We drove twenty miles before we noticed the signs that we were entering Yellowstone and somewhere along the way, we ran into a Ranger, informing us that the road we were searching for to get back on the trail was closed until the following Friday which meant another bypass. Luckily, the fastest way to get back where we needed to be was driving through Yellowstone and Teton National Parks. 
      After stopping at the ranger's station, the older man's fingers tapping against the forest maps, we made our way to  a lakeside lodge. A man in a pickup truck waving us over, telling us about the grizzly bear up ahead, "Just take your next right and you'll see it before the bridge." Instead we saw a moose swimming across the water as we pulled up to the lodge, calling for it's mate, wandering through the woods on the other shore. The next day, we drove through Yellowstone, unable to ride because of the shoulders of the roads, the tourists looking everywhere but the road they were driving on. We continuously pulled over, ready to pull the bikes from the back of the truck, but as we would look from car to car, we decided it would be too dangerous...most likely we would be hit by a passing RV rather than accosted by a bison. 





Friday, September 25, 2015

from Helena...

In the mornings, I have to sit up in my sleeping bag, cross my legs, rest my head in my hands, close my eyes tight and trace our steps to where we are currently camped. Sometimes I skip towns that we’ve stopped at, wondering how we made it so many miles in that one day before I remember my yearning for ice cream in Lincoln two nights before and I’ll add that in as a waypoint. The trails all pass as one, all the gravel, all the rocks barring our way from a smooth ride, but it becomes hypnotic the way you ease your tires around the softball sized stones, up the washouts, around roots and bushes, rubbing against the barbed wire to keep from the tire sucking mud on the edges of the puddles. I sat down yesterday on a bank leading into a creek, rubbing the grease and dirt from my calf, finally noticing all the bruises running from ankle to thigh, how I thought it was only muscle soreness I was feeling.
For hours we climb, next to the sage and cow tracks. We break the miles down by making it to the next shaded spot, the next wooded area where the wind might finally die off, the next crest of the hill. My dad watches the Garmin, the elevation screen ticking up the numbers. He’ll look over at me after ten miles, “We’re now at 7,600ft.” The breath I’ve been regulating for the past couple hours always whooshes out of me at that point, exasperated as I try and calculate how many vertical feet we are supposed to be climbing for the day and I know we’ve only just passed halfway. At our highest points, we always look higher, wondering why they wouldn’t just take us to the very top if they’re going to take us that high at all. At the end of the days, we message my mom telling her where we’ll be and where we should meet and there she’ll be with the truck, whisking us off to the campground she’s found us for the night, our tents set up with dinner and new local beer in the coolers.
The day before yesterday we started in Helena, MT and made our way to Butte. At the beginning of our ride, we hit construction on the road we were on, and being an extremely large project with three bridges being built, the pilot truck put our bikes in the back and ushered us inside, giving us a ride through the flat four miles of our ride. After saying our goodbyes, we started climbing some of the roughest trail of the ride. On the map, it reads, “a rough four-wheel-drive track, next two miles-plus are steep and rough.” This is where the infamous Lava Mountain Trail tries to tear you as a rider from your bike as much as possible. Two feet deep water ditches run down the middle of the trail, roots sticking up half a foot bump your front wheel up, threatening to overturn you on the already steepening trail. My dad and I seem to have a terrible habit of taking pictures at the false summit, leaving another half mile of climbing, me usually whimpering at the sight of it and my dad cheerfully riding on, his pedals rotating at an annoyingly steadfast pace. The rides down are always short and acrobatic in nature. A steep drop on one side, rock face on the other, the gravel awash under our front tires, where most descents I find myself in what I like to refer to as my “Tour de France-speed-crouch” where I tuck my knees into my frame, feeling the water move around inside my camelback that’s zipped inside my frame bag, my fingers fluttering on the brakes, my torso parallel to the ground.
In Helena, we stayed at the lovely Super 8, relishing in the washed out flickering light of the TV, the sitcom Modern Family on a marathon run through the episodes.  That night, my dad and I visited the Lewis & Clark Brewing Company and Blackfoot River Brewery. We are both religiously unvaried when it comes to choosing the type of beer we want at each brewery. My dad ordering scotch ales if available, and if not then a red ale usually being in order.  I however will always order the IPA. At the Lewis & Clark Brewery, I tried their Double Dry Hopped IPA which was good, but much preferred the unfiltered citrusy zing of the IPA at Blackfoot River Brewery where the popcorn was buttery and the dry air wafted through the open garage door of the upstairs deck.
Yesterday, after our climb up Fleecer Ridge, we began our steep, rocky descent where the map highly recommends walking. My dad and I had to try to ride it down just to be able to say we gave it a go. About two hundred feet down, our brakes failing us miserably, I toppled down over a rough patch of sage held down by chunks of slate, the rest of the trail littered with loose pieces of the thin rock. A hundred feet from where I fell, I looked down where my dad was positioned amidst the branches of a lone spruce tree along the trail, his bike turned on its side. We laughed, shook our heads and barely made the way down on foot without wiping out again. At the bottom of the hill, there was a short, steep dip and then a pass over a creek where I took another digger and ended up with the bike on top of me, my legs every which way, my headphones wrapped around me, connecting me to the iPod latched to my handlebars.
On our way from Butte to Wise River, our main backdrop was barren fields dotted with black and brown cows. Every few miles, we would pass an outcropping of rock, where I would always look up, checking for any perched felines, or lumbering bears. Yesterday, I came around a turn, looked up to my left and there beside me was a large black animal. I yelped, almost leaping sideways on my bike, figuring out moments afterward the large animal was only a relaxed cow, staring at me with large brown eyes, unceremoniously chewing on its grass as I settled my heartbeat. 
In the Canada section, before the snowstorm, we met a hiker from Toronto, on his way from Canmore, Alberta to Banff. He had asked if we had encountered any bears along the way and we shook our heads, and asked him in return, noticing the bear mace looped around his wrist. He smiled, said no bears and no mountain lions. He went on, “You know, my buddy said to me before I left that if I encountered a mountain lion on the trail, if I saw him in a tree, or whatnot then I shouldn’t turn around and keep walking, I should keep my eyes on it.” He laughed. “Like if I saw a mountain lion lurking above me in a tree, I would just nod to it and be on my way! I’d be walking backwards for the next mile and a half with my eyes on the thing.”

The morning we left Condon, we met John Denver, a fellow Divide rider, going the opposite way, about a week from his ending point. As he asked us pointed questions, pursing his lips and raising his eyebrows, he shifted his weight on his bike, slowly crunching the stones under his tires. We shared trail conditions, places to stay, wishing each other well and went on our way with a slight, yet convinced notion of the type of person willing to take on the trail by themselves.
                                                                    past Helena, above the reservoir
                                                              the "rough four-wheel-drive track"
                                                             

   abandoned Merry Widow Mine- near Butte



                                               


                                                             top of Fleecer Ridge
                            dirt lines from splashing through creeks and then wiping out
                                                                    John F. Denver

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Polebridge to Whitefish

    The start from Polebridge was quite similar to that of the day before where we climbed the other side of Whitefish Pass up to Red Meadow Lake. About a half mile from the top of the pass, we heard a truck start sounding incredibly like my father's truck that my mom was supposed to meet us with in Whitefish. Riding around the corner, we saw the red of the truck bed, noticed the lime green handlebars of my mother's bike latched on the back. We stopped, knocked on the window, her head flying up, her eyes widened innocently. "Mom, what're you doing up here?" She looked around, "Oh, I was just doing a little bit of reading." We found out that as she drove along the road ahead of us, she became more and more distressed that our backwoods trail was harboring something quite sinister, so she wanted to make sure we would be okay. As we came around the lake, followed by the pursuant truck, we saw two women and a small dog carrying a paddle boat across the road and into the lake, both women armed with revolvers belted to their hips and off we went, seemingly oblivious along the densely forested track with our bear mace and knives.
      Returning to civilization meant reaching Whitefish, MT, home of a treasured ski resort and for us, a brewery! On our jump from Canada to the U.S., we had decided we would make it a little more fun for us by stopping at the local breweries along the way and being as the brewery in Eureka was only open four days a week, our first was located in Whitefish. The Great Northern Brewing Company is a large glass paned industrial type building right in the heart of downtown. The beer, we found, satisfied our need for microbrew draft wholesomeness and left us mellowed out as we dealt with the older woman on guard at the local campground.
      In the morning, my mother and I shuffled over to the three dollar/ six minute showers. I put in the coins, the shower starting immediately, reached my hand in, shrieked and pulled it out, colder than it was in my 36 degree tent. Three minutes later, the water was tepid. My mom calling over to me, this shower is great! Somehow her water was twenty degrees warmer than mine just three feet away. Afterwards, as she regaled me with the story of the night, looking across at the woman with three wandering cats, her hands flying wildly, "At three am, there was this cat shrieking in the woods and then just like that it was right there, right next to our tent and the next thing I knew, there was the bear mace in my hand and the knife in your father's, him crouching just outside his sleeping bag waiting for this wild animal to pounce." Even now, they tell me it had to have been a mountain lion, there being no way that a house cat could make such a sound, and me sleeping so soundly having no idea what they were talking about.
 red meadow lake
 towards whitefish 


 eighteen miles until whitefish
finally there, beer'd up and getting the fire started. 



love my sister.

Where We Are! -Mapshare