coming home and why we roam.
Tales from our World Cycling Tour: Biking in Montana
“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”
Total kilometers cycled: 60,977coming home to the last best place
Severe weather watch for Ravalli county. Heavy rain and thunderstorms likely. Snow possible at higher elevations.
Not a promising forecast for August 14th. The day I would pedal home to Montana after 5 years away. Two years scrimping and saving to make our dream come true and three years living that dream: on the road cycling the globe.
Nights in the Rockies are cold. Even in summer. The alarm begins buzzing at 5:15 and I snuggle deeper into my thick down sleeping bag, not yet ready to face the high pass that lays ahead. Eric dresses quickly, yanks his fleece hat low over his ears and bounds out of the tent. Cursing the cold, he the lights the stove. Coffee will be coming soon. Reluctantly, I poke my head out of my mummy bag and suck in the cool mountain air. Brrrrrr. Feels like winter.
Looking like the Michelin man waddling around in my multiple layers, I mount my bike. I'm thankful for a climb--grinding up Lost Trail Pass warms me up and slowly I start peeling off clothing. At 7,014 feet (2,138 meters), the pass isn't the highest we've crossed, but it does traverse some of the ruggedest terrain in the country. It was here that the Lewis and Clark Expedition likely passed in early September 1805 in a failed attempt to follow the Salmon River to the Columbia. A journal entry records that the expedition was "...in perpeteal danger of Slipping to their certain distruction."
These days, a smooth highway winds its way up the lush mountainside. We climb higher and higher, past fields of wildflowers and lupine, marveling at the majestic Ponderosa Pines that line the roadside. Angry clouds blow in from the north. Snow threatens as we near the summit, but, in the end, all mother nature rewards us with is half-hearted sleet. I want snow. Snow in August. Now that would be a story worth telling.
At the top, a sign tells us we have entered Montana...the last best place on earth. We flag down an old guy in an RV and he willingly hops out to snap our photo. Commemorating the moment is important to me. Montana is still home. I say 'still' because I haven't actually lived in the state since 1989. It's where I grew up and I haven't yet found another spot that feels like home, so Montana still occupies that special place in my heart.
the million dollar question: why are you doing this?
We're collapsed at the top of the pass. Eric is stomping up and down to keep warm and I'm devouring bagels with frightening speed. "Bet you're not having much fun," a stranger's voice calls out. The comment annoys me, but I manage a smile and a nod, "Yeah, the weather could be better."
Actually, we are having fun. I don't bother to explain this to the tourist in his SUV, because I'm tired and cold and fed up with speaking to strangers. But seeing the world from the saddle of the bike is the best way I've found to experience our planet. Sure, bike touring may not fun in the classic sense of pleasure-seeking. Most of the time we're either too hot or too cold. When it rains, there's never shelter nearby and when the wind blows, it's always in our faces. We subsist on a steady diet of oatmeal and cheap pasta. Our self-inflating air mattresses regularly deflate during the night, and I wake shivering with a stone lodged in my spine. We're at the mercy of impatient drivers who regularly put our lives at risk. To put it bluntly, sometimes life on the road really sucks.
So, why are we doing this?
It has been said that exercise is like a drug: the more you do it, the more you crave. The brain responds to exercise by releasing the hormones endorphin and enkephalins. These are natural substance in the body similar to opium. In a sense, we've become addicted to exercise. Just like a lot of you readers.
We also seek adventure to satisfy our minds. We get a kick out of doing something slightly dangerous. Those are the physical explanations.But why are we spending a significant portion of our lives traveling rough when we could be living comfortable, easy lives? The easiest answer is that we want to see the world. To know firsthand what it's like to cross the desert under a scorching sun. To experience the glory of mother nature as we crest a peak and peer into the valley below. To realize that there are good people everywhere. To collect adventures and use them to understand the world.
comfort's not a bad thing
Not that we don't like comfort. We do. Beds aren't over-rated and coffee does taste better when brewed in a $200 machine. Clean clothes feel better than smelly ones you've been cycling in for a week, and a hot shower, ah, that's almost paradise. But as everyone knows, feelings of pleasure are all the more stronger when preceded by pain. How else can you explain the thrill of conquering a mountain pass. The sheer joy of turning on the taps in a cheap hotel in Egypt to marvel at the hot running water. The deep satisfaction of being warm and dry and knowing you have a safe place to spend the night. To appreciate the simple satisfactions in life. That's why we travel.
back on the road
Resting my head on my old, familiar pillow is doing wonders to restore my strength, but it's also fueling my appetite for adventure. Eric is anxious to be back on the bikes, and in a week's time we'll say goodbye to my wonderfully supportive parents and hit the road. Once we've dipped our wheels in the Pacific, we'll take a big left turn and begin the long trek towards Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America. From Oregon, our plan is to cycle into Northern California, then on to Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas before we cross into Mexico somewhere near El Paso. We'll hug the Gulf of Mexico, hoping to avoid all the current turmoil south of the border.Then it's on to Central America as far south as Panama. There we'll hop on a boat to cross into Colombia. In South America we've decided to bypass the well-worn Pan American highway to bike through off-beat places like Suriname and Guyana. Brazil will take months to tackle before we pedal into Argentina, on to Chile and finally back to Argentina and the tip of the continent. Adventure awaits.
How do you feel about home, adventure and the addictive nature of exercise? Please share and inspire.
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