Before I left on a big adventure when I was young, like hiking the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, my mother would make me a send-off dinner of pork and sauerkraut to wish me good luck. The local Germans in our area adopted this long-standing tradition, eating it every New Years. They believe that eating this meal will bring blessings and wealth for the new year. Before the meal, those seated at the table wish each other as much goodness and money as the number of shreds of cabbage in the pot of sauerkraut. My mom thought, why not the evening before a great journey. One needs good luck for that too.
This Thursday, Todd and I will leave for our first big wilderness adventure in nearly twenty years, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail (GDMBT). This trail is the longest mountain bike trail in the world- 2,768 miles. We’re also tacking on The Icefields Parkway, from Jasper NP to Banff NP, an added distance of 144 miles. It is considered to be “The Most Beautiful Bike Ride in the World,” so why not experience it too while we are in Alberta, Canada. We’re shooting for half the GDMBT this year and the remainder next year. This summer we plan to cycle about 1500 miles.
We haven’t been out for this long since we finished the National Scenic Continental Divide Trail (CDT) with our children back in 1997. We’ve traveled a lot in these twenty years, to many foreign countries, but nothing quite of this magnitude. I turned 60 this year and I expressed a desire to want to bring in the next decade extremely fit. It was Todd’s idea to cycle the trail and I jumped on the offer.
“Trail Boss,” as Todd was lovingly called those five years we spent llama packing the CDT, had taken a back seat to travel these last twenty years. He went from a “leader” to a “sheep” as we toured the world and not the wilderness. It is time to resurrect the title, I suppose he thought, and I am all for it.
Both children have moved out of the house. And although we are there to parent and advise from afar, we have more time and energy to focus on our own dreams and activities. It feels like a good time to do this. My 6th book, Scraping Heaven- A Family’s Journey Along the Continental Divide Trail” has just come back into print and into softcover after not being available for many years. Why not revisit the Rockies twenty-years later, on bikes this time instead of leading llamas. Perhaps a new book will come out of it.
When we first decided to tackle this long ride, we knew our beater bikes would not be a good choice. We have never been about gear and rode what we had (often second-hand bikes) on many 3-500 mile trails around the US and the world. (The Natchez Trace, Camino de Santiago, Erie Canal, the KATY Trail, etc.). These old bikes were “good enough.”
But we needed serious mountain bikes for the GDMBT, probably for serious money. I went to my friend, Tim Brick, who owns Brick Wheels Bike Shop in Traverse City, Michigan, who helped us in the past, and asked his advice. Tim lent us bikes in exchange for writing about him four years ago when I landed a contract with Adventure Cyclist Magazine. I wrote a feature story on cycling the Lelanau Peninsula and as a result, Tim and I became very close friends. See Tim’s story…..
I told Tim that twenty years ago, Santana Bikes sponsored our 650 mile cycle trip across New Mexico by gifting us two tandems. I wrote about Santana for years in magazine articles as we rode their great bikes all over America and abroad, both very happy in the win/win relationship. Tim was sorry to inform me, however, that those days are over. Tight budgets and so many people asking for assistance, made the donation pool dry up.
But then we tried SURLY BIKES, a bike designer out of Minnesota who specializes in steel bicycle frames. Christina Julian, SURLY’S Global Marketing Manager/Promotions took a chance with us and offered us a great deal through Brick Wheels.
We read accounts of other GDMBT cyclists rode and what they recommend and forwarded that to Tim to decipher. We had so many questions about tire size, type of tread, specific breaks and gears, and on and on. Todd and I had to learn a new language and trust that Tim could help us figure it out. When I let out my concerns and doubts, Tim assured me, “I will not let you fail.” When Tim uttered those words over the phone to me, they took my breath away and tightened up my throat. For a person who is verbally demonstrative naturally, I did not know what to say. It gave me a clue as to what kind of friend this bike shop owner has become in these last four years.
Tim and his mechanics built these state of the art SURLY mountain bikes for us and helped us select all the gear and accessories that we would need: comfortable seats for touring, pannier racks, handlebar grips, pedals with cages etc. and gave it to us at deep savings. Tim knew that I have been having some issues with my inner ear and balance and vertigo and so he recommended I get a fat tire bike. It would help keep me safe and upright.
When I drove the 12 hours to Traverse City, Michigan to fetch the assembled SURLY bikes at Brick Wheels, I was speechless when I first saw them. They looked like sleek machines. I had never owned anything like this bike and I was not sure that I deserved it. Tim assured me that I did. While some 60-year-olds contemplate what type of Easy Boy recliner they will select to chill out with their favorite shows and flicks, I pick a SURLY mountain bike to take me to far away places and high adventure. What a good choice to ring in the second stage of my life. I am forever grateful for this ticket to health and big living.
MUIR RAMBLE ROUTE
It was only this past spring when another friend did a similar good deed for us, that too related to acquiring bikes. I once again had another contracted job with Adventure Cyclist Magazine to write a feature story on The Muir Ramble Route. This ride went from San Francisco to Yosemite, in the footsteps of John Muir, celebrating the 150 anniversary of the national parks.
We used to be able to fly with our beater bikes by putting them into a large cardboard box that went as oversized luggage. We stuffed our panniers and clothing and gear around the bike frame and never paid a cent for luggage fees. Today, shipping my, Todd and Bryce’s three bikes round trip to California would have cost us a grand total of $1200. Ridiculous. The flights were free with miles, the bike shipping would have cost a fortune. We toyed with the idea of starting to ride a day late and perusing second-hand shops for bikes, buying them and after completing the 300 mile ride, donating them to a homeless shelter.
Friends and philanthropists, Teri Graf-Pulvino and Ken Pulvino knew of a non-profit in San Francisco called New Door Ventures, a community service organization that prepares youth for success in work and life through paid internships, case management, and skill building workshops. One of their businesses is Pedal Revolution which trains at-risk youths how to assemble new bikes and repair used bikes for sale. The Pulvinos generously purchased bikes for Todd, Bryce and I and then donated them back to the store for resale as a contribution. We could have never done the ride without their help.
It is very clear to me that I could not accomplish the tasks I set out to do in my life, the adventures, the stories that I write to share and communicate, without the help of my friends. Their support and belief in me pushes me along my life like a tailwind from behind. I need their strength, especially on a journey like the GDMBT, where there are serious hazards like grizzlies.
A few weeks ago, a park service employee and mountain bike racer, collided with a grizzly bear on a gravel road two miles from the entrance to Glacier National Park. Yep, he was going fast, but so do vehicles on a gravel road. He surprised the bear and he got mauled to death. It was a fluke, but it gave Todd and I pause.
The last time we hiked through Glacier National Park, we had a 3 and a 5 year old with us, but also the company of another adult and about seven llamas. The back country superintendent said that there had never been an incident in the park involving stock- horses or llamas. We used the llamas as a shield and a warning system. Campgrounds were closing around us because of bear activity and our llamas sensed bears and were at high alert. We felt safe.
When we cycled in Alaska, we had to yell as we rode through thick vegetation so we did not scare the grizzlies. The distance between two mountain bike riders was far enough apart to surprise a wandering bear. A bike racer around Anchorage got mauled and killed by a bear during a race and that was within the city limit.
That year we hiked through Glacier NP with the kids and llamas, a few of my friends bought silver bracelets for me to add to my collection and be represented on my wrist. The idea was to be there with me through the danger and jingle like a prayer.
This year, I really do not FEEL as though this mountain bike journey will result in a fatality. But we are thinking about Henry David Thoreau’s quote, “We should go forth on the shortest walk (ride), perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return.”
So the night before we leave for Alberta, I will take off some of my silver bracelets (as dirt collects under them and they give me a rash when I can’t wash them in the tub every night), but I WILL keep on those bracelets that my friends bought me, (about half of the 20) including the beautiful one from Tim Brick, to keep their spirit and their strength with me. “I will not let you fail.” Powerful words, spoken by a powerful person. The power of love and support. It can move mountains and it can push me up and over mountains on my bike, safely past grizzlies.
And just for good measure, we’ll roast up some pork in a bed of sauerkraut for good luck. Can’t hurt.