I’m at a café in Ten Sleeps, Wyoming. I’m at this café because I heard that they had good muffins. They are out of muffins. The following is my description of bicycling up the mountain towards Yellowstone. I may repeat some stuff from the last post, but it’s probably good review.
I wanted to bike eighty miles after leaving the Idaho Falls Motel 6. I knew that the weather would be bad and that the last twenty miles would be mountainous, but I wanted to get as close to Yellowstone as possible so that the next day, in the heart of the mountains, could be leisurely and highly enjoyable. Island Park was my destination. I figured they’d have a good place to warm up.
So I bounced. Sixty miles went pretty quick. Rain fell on every mile, but I felt good, and I had muffins.
I stopped in Ashton at the base of the mountains and ate some sardines in tomato sauce. Sardines have salt and protein and other lovely nutrients for a biker, and sardines are cheap, and these sardines were on sale, but I may be eating too many of them. The first can was alright. I gagged a little on the second can.
And I began the ascent. Slowly. I biked for ten minutes then encountered freezing rain. Visibility was still good and I felt good and I still had some muffins. So I continued.
That twenty miles in freezing rain was a struggle. Cars slowed as they passed me. The people inside looked concerned. I looked back as determined and as seasoned as a biker could while wearing a neon yellow jacket and a bright pink bandana tied around the head bank robber style. The people in the cars shook their heads and drove on.
My clothes were soaked with the freezing rain that pelted me then melted on me. My toes were cold. My cheeks were cold. My muffins were cold. Two hours of biking.
Finally. The ground leveled. The rain turned into a sputter. I saw Island Park peeking out around a curve, a little way down the road. A clearing opened to my left. I could see the foggy mountains that I was pedaling through. I was up there with them.
And I felt so good. Only two times before have I experienced that powerful of a combination of long-built anticipation, beautiful surroundings, and hard work.
One time was when I was hitchhiking from Dublin to see my buddy Portice on the Connemara Peninsula in northwest Ireland. I’d been on the road, ride to ride to ride to ride, for about ten hours. It rained off and on all day. Foggy. Damp. I was tuckered, foggy and damp, too. I had arrived on the peninsula. The fog lifted. The rain stopped. Mountains crisped in the distance. The sea pushed against the road. And a damn rainbow shone among the mountains.
I happened to be riding with the most Irish, amiable, happiest Irishman in Ireland. He looked half leprechaun. He said, “Look there, Robert. A rainbow. Isn’t she a beauty.”
The other time that I felt a similar goodness was at the end of a cross country race. The race was outside of Rudyard on some sort of nature reserve. In the middle of the woods during late autumn. Snow fell as the runners approached the starting line. We all ran 5k through the red and the orange and yellow woods, snow falling on our heads and shoulders and on the ground. I didn’t feel like I was running at all because everything was quiet, peaceful.
But all those leaves and trails and snowflakes still tuckered me out. At the final 200 meters, the trail came out of the woods and we all ran for medals. My dad, the principal of Rudyard High at the time, was at the finish line awarding the medals as each runner crossed the line. I was running in a pack. Twenty places received medals. The pack crossed the line and entered the shoot. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. My dad was pulling off the medals from duct tape wrapped around a piece of cardboard. Twenty. I reached him and he held out the piece of cardboard and said “Sorry, Son.”
The medal didn’t matter much. I felt good seeing my dad there at the finish line after all those trails and leaves and snowflakes.
The rainbow in Connemara. My dad in Rudyard. The mountains in Idaho. Welcoming. It was nice.
We’ve been planning this bicycle trip for a year. We’ve been talking about it for three years. The trip came together for me a few days ago as I stood among those mountains. We had some trouble in California. (I headbutt a car window. Stuie hurt his knee.) We missed Big Sur and the Redwoods, but that’s no big deal. I’ll get to those eventually, and I don’t have to be on a bike. But the mountains. The pinnacle of the trip for me has always been, building for three years, the mountains.
I saw the mountains, and I stopped pedaling. I stared at them and felt relief and accomplishment and joy. I ate a muffin. I felt good.