July 22, 2016
My husband, Todd busily chomps on salt & vinegar chips while sipping a Pepsi and driving at high speed on I-80. We’re heading west across America towards the Rockies. He can’t do multiple things well so his speed suffers as he slows to 10-15 miles UNDER the speed limit. “You’re becoming a hazard,” I tell him, but he is hungry and happy.
We’ve made this crossing five separate times before, all 20-25 years ago but many things have changed since then. For one, we were busy in the truck cab, tending to kids needs. That Ford truck had a king cab with a full back seat, where our young children sat for the crossing. We fed them snacks, passed back sippee cups of drink, climbed back to help them sleep and let them lay their heads on our shoulder. Todd spent much of those crossings smashed in the seat between young Sierra and Bryce as I get car sick, so I drove the truck.
We were pulling a stock trailer of llamas in those days, as we headed west to hike another 500-mile stretch of the 3,100- mile National Scenic Continental Divide Trail. There are no llamas and no children in the truck today, but we do have Surly mountain bikes strapped in the truck bed. We’re gonna ride the Divide this time instead of hiking it , 20-25 years later, and we are unsure how it will be.
Walkin’ Jim Stoltz is playing on the CD, songs about the long trails, even one on the Continental Divide, where we are headed. Years ago, the kids wanted to hear Jim’s “A Kid for the Wild” tape. They knew every word to every song. They felt like those words were meant for them and they indeed had more than one private concert as Jim sang to them in their high chair with his guitar when he visited our home. Walkin’ Jim is dead now, taken from us prematurely from throat cancer. That man sang his heart out for all us wandering wilderness lovers.
I’m sitting in our quiet truck cab (except for the munching potato chip) and while I listen to his lyrics, I’m wondering why I am not more excited. I think I should be. Fifteen hundred miles is an epic adventure on this longest mountain bike trail in the world. But we are concerned about the grizzlies. They will be thick the whole time we travel through Jasper, Banff NP, then Glacier, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Yellowstone, the Wind River Range, and the Tetons. Years ago, we had bubbly, babbling children with us, other adults and two strings of llamas to keep the bears at arm’s length.
A New Challenge
Todd and I are also hoping the trail will not be too hard, that we can physically do the miles AND have fun at the same time. I glance over at the eastbound lane of the interstate and know that when we will be on our return drive home, we will have a whole slew of memories to think about. Some of them may include encounters with this top of the food chain critter.
I look at my husband who in place of his thick dark curly hair has thinning white hair now. But he is still beastly as his muscular arm dives into the chip bag. I think we have many more wilderness adventures remaining in life. I’m hoping this long journey will set the bar high again and I want to stay fit like that for the rest of my life.
Before we left on this trip, I contacted some of our old friends who helped us on our family’s 5 -year llama pack trip. (The subject of my 6th book, Scraping Heaven, just now out in soft cover). They were friends associated with the llama industry who helped us be successful 20-25 years ago. They met us at road crossings, trailered our llamas to their home, fed us, did our wash, helped us re-supply.
“Of course they remember us,” they said when I called and want to help us again when we cycle through. We wonder if they still have llamas. All of ours are dead, filling the pet cemetery in the orchard back home. I packed photos of my adult children to show them. It will be great to reconnect with these Trail Angels, these people who helped make our dream come true.
It suddenly occurred to me what this mountain bike trip is mostly about. Cycling back and reconnecting. To our old friends AND to my husband over there across the cab. Reconnecting to him after our kids have grown and moved on to their own lives. This is our first wilderness expedition without them and I hope we will have fun and enjoy each other’s company.
Our marriage has not been without its bumps in the road. Any couple that stays together this long (33 yrs) is not being honest if they say otherwise. But we are still here, liking each other most of the time, besides loving each other, and that is a big deal. And it is an even a bigger leap of faith to be heading into this wilderness adventure together with no kids along to occupy us and distract us. He smiles at me between swigs of his Pepsi. “What?” he asks as I look at him. My husband, Trail Boss Todd, would follow me anywhere, whether I was leading llamas loaded with children or on a fat-tire mountain bike. Here’s to a great second half of our lives together. What better way to kick it off than an epic ride down the Great Divide.