Friday, July 16, 2010
Twin Bridges Haven
The Mountain of Doom
So there I stood with strong headwinds blowing me back in my shoes and another huge mountain in my path, the largest of this section of the Trans-American Trail. My body had miraculously recovered from yesterday's grueling 72 mile ride. My knees hurt so bad during the night in my sleeping bag that they were popping every time I moved. Should I wait for my friends to catch up? I had had enough alone time. I was yearning for their companionship. They texted me and said they missed me and wanted to catch up and to not worry about the stubborn German guy. I texted them back and said I'd meet them in Twin Bridges, as I was determined to climb the terrible ascent out of Ennis against the wind. I figured if I could just get to the top it would be nice and downhill after that. What I didn't know was that a lowfront had moved in for three days that had conjured some of the most powerful winds I've seen, trumping those of Wyoming.
But I hopped on Magellan, stopped at the gas station to go to the bathroom and fill my water up, and then pedaled slowly out of town, with my rear still aching on the seat from the day before. But I felt strong, at least until the road turned sharply West toward that ominous mountain. With hardly any trees you could see the long winding road switchbacking its way up the mountain. I shifted gears and lurched forward anxious to get to the top. How hard could it be? I was only going about 50 miles to Twin Bridges and it was mostly downhill after climbing 11 miles.
Within minutes, I realized the gravity of the situation I was in and knew I should have waited in Ennis for my friends. Too late, as I was already a third of the way up the side of the mountain. I imagined the sweet ride back down the hill with the wind and I almost turned around several times, but there was no turning back on this journey. Alisha was waiting and Toto was singing in my I-pod the Africa song, "Hurry boy she's waiting there for you!"
So I pedaled harder and got my legs burning again, sweat dripping under my shirt. However, as I got higher and higher it got colder and colder, and I had to stop to break out my rain jacket to keep warm. The Wind was so harsh that I started yelling at it again, but this wind was relentless, not haunted like Jefferey City, but just plain relentless, like a teacher who is hard on you so that you learn discipline. I felt like I was being schooled by the Wind, and the Wind was kicking me in the teeth. I remember thinking, "I hate cycling! I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!" But then I remembered the fun times, the communities of people I've met, the campsites and camaraderie of rolling gypsies, the sheer intensity of going 46 MPH downhill, and I had to admit to myself that I loved cycling too. It was a strange love-hate relationship that shifted with the WInds and Currents. But this day, it changed sharply back to intense hatred as I pedaled as hard as I could to go 2 to 3 MPH. I swear I almost got off the bike, packed my stuff into my backpack, and tossed Magellan over the side of the ledge! That's how much I disliked cycling at that moment. Every cyclist you talk to dreads the uphill fight against relentless headwinds though. So you try to grin and bear it and keep your eyes on the road before you, with an occasional glance toward the apex, hoping you're scaling the distance fast. But the going is slow, very slow, and sometimes you get so burnt out that you just get off the bike and walk, and you feel like a failure as cars drive by. You imagine the people inside laughing at you and then a diesel blows by and scares the crap out of you! You drink and drink water, if not to hydrate yourself, then to at least try and lighten your load, desperate for anything that will help you make that ascent.
It took me three arduous hours to climb nine painful miles that morning and I still had not reached the top, but fortunately there was a nice rest area overlook where a conglomeration of motorcyclists going downhill had stopped.
"How's the hill?" they asked with smirks on their faces. I just shook my head and said, "Living hell on earth." We exchanged the usual pleasantries and I told them about my mission and my destination, and they suggested I stay at their Bike Camp in Twin Bridges, designed for cyclists and free! The former owner of The Shack restaurant, Patti suggested I ea there because if I was vegan, then it was the healthiest place in town. After a good thirty minutes of talking and pretending the hill didn't keep sloping up for another two miles, I had to force myself back on Magellan and slowly make that final ascent to what looked like the top, only it wasn't. When I peaked out over the rise, the road became flat, which was heavenly even with the strong wind threatening to blow me back down the hill, but in the distance I saw another ascent. I wanted to cry. I don't think I've ever cried as much as I have on this journey, especially from sheer physical discomfort and pain. Maybe the Universe was purging me of my demons. As I lost weight and reclaimed my former athletic body after living in too much comfort with Christina in the woods of North Carolina, I welcomed the transformation. But i was truly painful beyond belief. I took another picture of the ascent ahead and uploaded it to the web with a caption, "Could this truly be the top?" But i wasn't! After another bitter ascent over the next rise, another rise appeared in the distance. Good God! I stopped the bike and took another picture and uploaded it to Facebook with the words: "I hate cycling uphill against strong headwinds. I would rather be branded like a cow!" At least the fiery heat of the metal would be quick, one great scream, and some intense searing pain as the metal cooked into your flesh. I found it hard to believe that I would rather experience branding over climbing this mountain of doom. But it was damn straight true.
Finally I reached the highest rise and came to the top of the mountain. The wind was still pounding against my body but there was an utter serenity up there on the flat of the mountain. The top of a mountain is a tranquil temple of nature, a holy place that defies description other than sacred silence hidden in the how of the wind. I wondered if Jesus ever had to face harsh headwinds when he went up to the mountain to pray alone? At least he could command them to stay their ripping ways. I tried to do that, but to no avail. It was as if the Wind needed to cut into my soul, to make me surrender, to make me feel what it's like on the last threads of exhaustion. I remembered the time my first wife Tracey and I hiked the Colorado Trail in our early twenties, trekking over 13,000 foot peaks and falling into great snow drifts in June. We wished we'd a brought snow shoes! But the tops of those mountains had the same feeling as this one, serene with little foliage beyond scrub bushes, and a holy wind tha stood ready to deliver ten commandments. As I sailed across the melancholy landscape the Song Hallelujah came on my I-pod sung by a white dude with dread locks named Jason. His voice soothed my soul as I finally reached the REAL apex and began my sharp descent toward Virginia City.
The downhill slope was harsh, which was unusual, because ordinarily you get to relax and enjoy the fruits of your uphill labors. But the headwind was still so strong, that you had to pedal hard just to maintain 8 MPH. In addition the Current was rough with lots of little rocks and sand on the shoulder and a narrow shoulder at that. When I finally got to Virginia City I felt terrible. It was a quaint little tourist town with the main street sloping downward a about 25 degrees! How do the people walk the main drag leisurely in this town? They must develop intense calf muscles! I pulled into the local pos office and almost fell to the ground when I got off the bike, as my body was still trembling from facing and overcoming the mountain of doom. The lady inside took one look at me and said, "How did you like that hill?" I just groaned. The famous German cyclist Heinz had given me a booklet full of pictures of his 48 years of adventures that included pics of him camping and biking in some of the most remote corners of the world. I especially liked seeing his tent pitched on the Great Wall of China. I thought my son, a fellow Capricorn like Heinz would enjoy reading about his adventures and his devotion to science and progress. After reading his story I understood his aversion to mystical arts like astrology. He was a realist who wanted physical proof of celestial influences, but astrology works through the archetypal spiritual realm on the principle that the inner world we live inside is reflected an connected to the outer wold we experience in space-time. In final analysis, I figured my Capricorn son Arian would be inspired to do some wold traveling after seeing what his fellow Capricorn had accomplished. SO I sent the pamphlet on to Dauphin Island, AL where Arian was summering with his other family, including his step-dad David who is an avid cyclist, sailor, and all around adventurous spirit himself, and who wants to cycle with us in the near future. Maybe he can et away and come join Arian and I on the Pacific Coast route down the 101. I hear from many cyclists that it's their most favorite route with tailwinds the whole way south. That sounds like heaven!
After a veggie burger at one cafe, served by these two twin sisters, and a mean hummus wrap at a pizza joint, I continued my trek hoping to make it to Twin Bridges by nightfall. There I would wait for Alex, Iris, and Tony all three bound for Olympia. After another long flat leg-numbing, knee-hurting, headwind struggle I finally rolled into Twin Bridges only to realize that my bike rim had blown two spokes. I was sick of these lame wheels breaking spokes. I vowed to see a TREK dealer in Missoula right after I returned my tent to REI with the broken pole. The first place I saw was an antique shop where two mechanics were in a connected garage working on Harleys and other motorcycles. The bike mechanic in Jackson who fixed my spoke and trued my wheel told me that if it happens again, don't try and fix i myself, but seek out a bike mechanic. I wondered if these two knew about bicycles too.
Feeling utterly defeated after two hash days of traveling, I rolled Magellan up their driveway and asked for help, feeling humiliated. They perked me up with their bright spirits and zany banter and the assistant mechanic actually knew a lot about bicycles. IN a matter of minutes we had Magellan stripped of his baggage and turned upside down. We pulled off the back wheel and started disassembling it piece by piece intil we got to the sprockets tha hoist the chain. There was a crazy hex nut lock on it an we couldn't figure out how to unlock it. We must have tried every tool on their garage, trying not to damage it. As one mechanic tried to turn the lock, I held it in place with two rags but i wouldn't budge. After about an hou we finally gave up and I thanked them for helping me. Then I logged onto their wireless on the I-pad and did a search for bike shops. There were two in Butte 100 miles north, one in Dillon 28 miles south along my route, and miraculously, one in Sheridan about 8 miles back where I had stopped and enjoyed a kiwi fruit. I called the guy in Dillon and he told me he'd be in his shop at PM the next day and that he'd b glad to help. He told me to hitch a ride to Dillon so I didn't damage the rim.
So I rolled over to the supposed free Bike Camp and came upon the three wise women who had left an hour before me from Ennis. They already had their tents set up by a lovely smooth flowing river surrounding a wondrous shelter designed by cyclists for cyclists. I had reached cycler's Nirvana. The three wise woman helped me set p my tent in the harsh winds when they saw how exhausted I was and when they saw the wind blow my tent footprint across the green grass. Thank you three wise women! I was in Twin Bridges, with two broken spokes, two funky funny motorcycle mechanics and in need of at least two nights of rest. I took a long hot free shower and then crawled into my tent defeated once again and wondered if I should just hitch a ride in the morning to Dillon to ix my bike before the others caught up. Before I drifted off into a well-deserved sleep, my intuition said to call the local guy from Sheridan named Nick Pairitz, so I did and left a message. He called back right before I fell asleep around ten O'clock and told me he'd be there at 5:15 Am sharp, because he had to be at his regular job at 7 AM. I hung up and thanked the Universe for two possible bike mechanics and knew I'd be back on the road soon. Luckily I had planned ahead and carried two extra brand new bike spokes on my supplies! I went to sleep anxious to see what mysteries would open themselves on the morrow, glad that I would see my friends again and welcome to this marvelous and unique cyclists haven!