It is cold, the last days of October in Montana and a heavy white frost sits outside. I wake to the sounds of my husband in the kitchen as he raises the espresso maker to life. He brings a steaming cup to the bedside, yet I am still unwilling to open my eyes. I hear the cup set softy on the bedside table and he pulls a sheet up to cover my eyes before turning on the light. With one eye I watch him dress, human parts disappearing before me as he pulls on his camo. “You can stay and sleep” He gently encourages, tucking the cocoon of blankets round my shoulders. Mmm, I mumble, “but it will be a good ride”, and I slowly rise. It is a dark 5:45 AM. Last night the plan sounded great. He will drive to the mountains to meet an uncle, I will ride along with him to their meeting spot, then I’ll ride my bicycle home as he hunts. I’ve already packed the truck with bike, food bars and water. Shuffling out dressed in my winter tights and multiple layers to a steamy bowl of gruel, it now seems much too early to eat. Coffee and oatmeal get transferred into To-Go cups.
It is an hour plus ride to their meeting spot. I nod off and wake suddenly with a jolt. “Why don’t you drive home and come back to get me at 2? He asks. He is walking that thin line of trying to be supportive while also thinking this is may not be a good idea. Again, last night this was a great idea, but I wonder to myself, why am I doing this? Last night I asked my husband how far this ride will be, he shrugged, “between 25 maybe 30 miles”. One last time he asks if I really want to do this ride. “I think so”, I say.
A full bright moon reflects off the Koocanusa reservoir, a 90-mile-long snake of water. The distant water is steel gray with slivers of silver when moonlight
reflects. Fingers of fog drift out of the Canadian Rookies to the north, layering upon themselves making the mountains disappear into mist.
Arriving at the meeting spot, pleasantries exchanged, and the men are off to slink through the gullies hoping to slay the elk native to these mountains. I stand and watch them hike off. Cold seeping in my gloved hands, wondering again why and I doing this?
I swing a leg across the silver frame of my touring bike with its trusty Green Carbon Comfort bike seat and clip-in. Within 10 feet from starting I have already dropped into fifth gear, 10 more feet I drop another gear, and another Finally landing in second gear. Panting hard from the climb I force myself to “find some Zen” to relax into the climb and breath. The cold air hurts as I gasp, my eyes weep from the cold as well. I can’t feel the handle bars my hands are so cold. By the hill’s crest I’ve worked up a full sweat and am rewarded with a breathtaking view of lake Koocanusa shrugging off the fog. Stopping for a minute to take in the sight, along the road I also see a mileage marker. I let out a small gasp, it is marked 47, and from where this road starts, there another 17 miles home. This will be a 64-mile day before I get home. Now normally, 60 is quite doable. But this road was built for logging trucks. It was blasted from the granite mountainside and is full of narrow curves, climbs, and dips. The total flat of these 47 miles will be less than 5 feet, I will either be grinding up in first gear or on my brakes careening down around the hillside. Although I would like to be angry at my husband for his bad advice, I know it was my fault for not checking Google earth. By the time I end this ride 64 miles seems more like 100.
I have been warned by many that bears are often sighted on this road so I added an air horn to the bike today. A lightweight but really load way to scare an animal, (so I have heard, never used it.)
Gradually the day warms and fog lifts, my hands warm and the ride becomes wonderful.
The road dips to lake side and the views are glorious. I am passed by a total 5 cars and two logging trucks the entire day. Not expecting a ride this long, carefully I ration my bars and water reminding myself that the food will be glorious tonight as I will be ravenous.
It becomes an exhausting ride, in part the low food supplies and in part the very rough road surface. If I were to do this again I would ride the opposite side of the lake on a road meant for auto traffic not logging trucks.
Why I do it? Because I can, because some days it is really hard to get on a bike and ride. Yet, sometimes it is also good to be a bit miserable, ‘cause when we are miserable we know we are alive and the contrast helps us to appreciate what perfect is. When we complete things that are hard, we feel good. Life is not meant to be too easy.