Snapshots From A Bike Tour

The only way to put perspective on my attitude while riding my bike from Montana to Colorado is to relate the unfortunate fact that due to an injury sustained through running, I was unable to run AT ALL for over a month. That’s right, from mid-August until “four to six weeks” after mid-August (according to the exorbitantly-expensive doctors I saw), I was forbidden from running a step. And since I have rarely been accused of being patient or reasonable, my attitude in the month prior to my bike tour was so bad as to be unrelatable. Suffice it to say that just about anything would be an improvement. I guess what I mean is that it’s never so bad that it can’t get worse, but the thing about attitude is that it’s sort of up to each of us to decide how we feel, which sounds like the kind of uncharacteristically-reasonable perspective that would just piss me right the hell off when my attitude is trending darkish. But that’s why I do my best to avoid perspective at all and just grind my emotions into exhaustion. Hence, a bike tour.

My attitude is affected by landscape. And there’s no better landscape for me than the wide-open spaces of the American West. I soar with long views in open country. So my attitude was in fine form while ascending the valley of the Gallatin River just outside of Big Sky Resort, on the first day, with rolling mountains on either side flattening comfortingly around the river, which wound back and forth across the valley, wetting the ground enough to prevent many trees from growing in the lowlands. The sky was clear and the traffic infrequent. I climbed into the golden evening with a sense of nervous purpose. The potential of the endeavor electrified me as much as the scale intimidated me. I could see heavy clouds in the south.

Yellowstone is a high, dark, cold, lonely place full of extraordinary features that awe and delight the millions of people who cross through on the fringes of civilized pavement that string through the park. Wolves and bears and moose roam the dense pine forests that will soon be destroyed wholesale by the beetles we have set in motion. Steam issues from vents in the ground that worry the observant passerby with thoughts that if it can erupt from there, why not right here wherei’mstanding? The vapor drifts across meadows filled with enormous bored bison wearing regal coats of fur around their shoulders who graze unconcerned while SUVs idle nearby, their occupants excitedly taking pictures. I rode past those SUVs many times on my passage through the park and resolved not to be “just another tourist” gawking and taking photos, and as a result I have no record of my passage beyond the memory of green meadows smoking like battlefields and the curved horns of bison as unwilling to look at me as I was at them.

On the third evening I found myself eating burgers and drinking beer in Lander, Wyoming with three guys I had met only hours earlier who were also bike touring. Their bike tour was more intense than mine, as they were going coast to coast. I only realized midway through the meal that they had all started their journeys alone, and had met up on the road and decided to ride together for a time. They would eventually splinter into singles again, but for a short time we all shared each other’s company. The night air was cool in Lander and the town atmosphere even cooler. The patio lights at the pub gave off a warm glow.

The bike is an incredibly efficient tool. I was amazed each day to find that I could cover seemingly impossible distances all on my own power, with the help of just two wheels, a frame and a few components. Places that were never connected in my mind as “reasonably close” became connected by my bike. I never did anything special, yet I managed to cover incredible distances by simply not stopping. I rode 850 miles total, which at the start was impossible to even conceive of. But each day I chopped into that by more than ten percent and in what felt like no time at all I found myself back in familiar territory. The bike itself became a sort of familiar territory that gave me confidence to try things and go places.

But it wasn’t all rosy. Even the best seat takes its toll.

The climb from Lake City to Cinnamon Pass was a cathartic return to the known world. After so much time away from home, I was back in the mountains I know best, returned to a landscape that felt familiar again. That emotion was mirrored by a sense that I was about to complete something big and difficult–which was something I hadn’t felt in a long time because of my foot injury. For better or worse I’m driven by a need to feel like I’m good at something, and when my normal something–running–was taken away I felt lost and confused. For a time, bike riding replaced running as my way to feel worthwhile, and this confirmed the fact that I’m a runner not because of any particular love for the motion of running in itself but because of what running allows me to do. On foot I can go almost anywhere I want, and as a climber I can extend that scope into the vertical world as well. But those aren’t the only ways to find adventure and to accomplish difficult things. The spirit of adventure and endurance thrives in countless other disciplines like skiing, swimming and, obviously, biking. I pushed my bike over the top of Cinnamon Pass in the evening of a cloudy day and felt a cold wind that parted the clouds and allowed shafts of horizontal sunlight to warm me just a bit from the west. From there I knew that even though I still had more uphills to ride, I was back home. All the rain that fell on me from then on would flow into the river that winds through my hometown.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • When were you too injured to run but so filled with restless energy that you had to take it out on another kind of activity? Where did you go and what did you do?
  • From what other sports do you find the same emotional calm created by running?