Finally we’d managed to stuff, squeeze and squash all our bulky, Alaska-proof, cold-weather gear into four panniers and a dry sack each. Our bikes were heavier than ever. 40+ kilos of gear weighing down each bicycle, we reckoned.
One last snapshot with mom and dad on the front lawn and we headed off into the great unknown.
Two months off the bikes had taken their toll. Luckily, it’s downhill from my parent’s place to the Adventure Cycling headquarters where we were meeting up with photographer Greg Siple for an official bicycle tourist portrait.
With our shiny Ortlieb bags, un-weathered cycling gear and Eric’s brand-new Koga we exuded the air of two novices on tour.
And, indeed, I felt like a novice. I was nervous and jittery, talking a mile a minute. Nudging myself out of the comforts of home—a sure place to sleep each night, a well-stocked fridge and a ready support network—was proving to be more of a hurdle than I’d imagined.
Even if you’ve been adventuring for half a decade, it’s easy to get lulled into the trappings of comfort and predictability.
But, we’d needed a rest. And although I’d rather not have been forced into a break by the theft of a bike, I’d relished the time off.
But there’s a time for everything, and now was the time for novel situations and unfamiliar, untested territory.
We wobbled a bit on the way out of town, fiddled around with our new rear-view mirrors, and even took a wrong turn and ended up at the municipal garbage dump. After a short-lived squabble, we turned off onto Montana’s Highway 93 and set our sights on Alaska.
I hunkered down, plugged into a podcast and tried to ward off the gut-wrenching fear of failure. Because no matter how many miles these thick thighs and ample calves have taken me around the planet, there’s still that little voice that cries out, “Impossible! You’ll never make it.”
It was the active brain’s duty to quell those self-defeating thoughts, or at least drown them out with the reassuring voices of NPR.
I’m certain my legs and lungs have never pumped so hard. Western Montana’s beautiful country, but there’s a climb or two.
Around 5 PM, we rolled into the evening’s destination, a place called Ronan on the Flathead Indian Reservation some 100 kilometers and two massive hills away from Missoula. A sense of triumph overwhelmed me. We were truly back on the road.
Just one more obstacle for the day: find a safe place to sleep.
As we scouted out the City Park, earnestly sizing up the risks of being bothered by rowdy teenagers or being asked to leave by an unaccommodating sheriff, a car pulled up.
“Camping’s better over at my place. Just two blocks away,” shouted out a friendly voice.
And so it was that we met the Hall family. Larry, Mary and a whole lot of other relatives. They took us in, fed us pizza, shared all the secrets of a sweetgrass smudging ceremony and even gave Eric a go at playing native and trying on a genuine buffalo robe.
But, most of all they gave us confidence. Confidence that there are kind people everywhere. Confidence that a bump in the road doesn’t spell disaster. Confidence that maybe, just maybe–with the help of humanity– we’ll make it to Alaska, perhaps even all the around the planet one day.