One-legged Rockstar Veteran Wayne shows us how to do it

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The trail was a rough one- a stream ford, climbing over moss-covered, wet slippery boulders, and incredibly steep, loose, rocky descent that people often slipped and fell on and always wiped us out when cross-country skiing. The loop hike was over 3 ½ miles long. We used that trail to train our llamas on before we left on our 500-mile, 2 month traverse of the Rocky Mountains years ago, because it has varied and challenging terrain and is a sizable length.

Last evening I was to lead a group of Veterans from the Lebanon VA Medical Center on a hike with my non-profit River House (RH) PA – sixteen Veterans who are enrolled in a resident re-hab program and their two Recreational Therapists. When I saw how young and strong most of them were as they piled out of the vans, I thought the little extra challenging hike would be good for them. Normally, I lead them along a gentle, smooth old woods road paralleling the wild & scenic Little Schuylkill River.

Until I saw Wayne step out of the van on his crutches.

Wayne was with us on two other RH events and had walked one mile on a stone road with his crutches to a swimming hole where the Vets enjoyed an inner tubing outing. We had doubts then about whether Wayne would be able to do that 1 mile fairly smooth, fairly level road, but he did extremely well. He proved us wrong.

The next outing, Wayne paddled a canoe all over Blue Marsh Lake for an evening full moon outing, but his upper body is beastly from hauling his bottom body around so we expected as much from Wayne. But on this hike, there are many two-legged folks I would never take on it. I advised Wayne’s rec therapist, Amy Cook, that the group should split up and take some along the gentle woods road. A sizable steep hill gets thrown at the hiker in the first tenth of a mile, before the trail drops down to a very slippery, wooden plank board bridge across Pine Creek. I would lead the more fit, faster gung-ho Veterans. But she shortly informed me that everyone decided they wanted to do the more challenging loop, including Wayne. Wow. OK. I was certain that once they got into the rough stuff, they would just enjoy the stream-side hike and turn around when they had enough and meet us at the vans.

I went on our merry way, chatting with Vets as they told me how great it felt to be in the woods and how beautiful it was. The evening was a beauty- 70 degree temps, color already highlighting the Appalachian woods, beautiful scenery through a hemlock and rhododendron forest, paralleling a native trout stream with deep holes and fish that swam in the shadows. Anyone would be happy here but especially Veterans involved in a rigorous therapy program.

I heard from one Vet, that he had not been OUT for two years, but stayed safe indoors away from people and potentially challenging situations. Until that evening. He wrestled with coming, not coming, coming and finally pushed out of his comfort zone and committed. I was pretty happy to share the walk with him and he was extremely happy to be there.

This is my world. One that I go to every day for a shot of rejuvenation after sitting at a computer writing all day. My husband and I are fortunate to live in a peaceful natural place on our 12 acres by the Blue Mountain. We enjoy sharing our beautiful log home and property, campfire ring and woods with Veterans who need a hand up while they work on getting better and healing.

It had been a tad too quiet around the house for me lately. I missed my grown kids. One is studying in Nepal, one is pursuing his illustration art career in Philadelphia. But Amy Cook, recreational therapist extraordinaire at the Lebanon VA promises she can bring me two vans of Veterans every month to recreate in the outdoors with River House. That makes me happy to share and them happy to get a break from the medical center.

As my group was finishing the loop and we were approaching the parking lot and the vans, I was looking ahead to see the rest of the group that had turned around when suddenly my cell phone rings. It was Annie Schnur, Board member Mike Schnur’s wife who accompanied the “slow” group.

We are right behind,” she says.

All of you? Even Wayne” I ask disbelieving?

Even Wayne,” she says.

I went for my camera to record this moment. The rest of the Vets that I had hiked with watched Wayne’s last steps. They applauded him as he entered the parking lot in amazement. It was a big moment for us all.

 

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Annie shared with me some of what was happening with her group in the rear. She walked with Veteran Wanda who said that she had a very serious fall and is still recovering from her injuries so her hiking was slow but steady. At the bottom of each hill she would comically moan and groan but with the constant support of another Veteran, Darryl, she would rally her determination and trudge her way up. Actually, each one of these veterans made sure that there was no one left behind. The care they took for each other was remarkable.

Annie said that two Veterans were deep in conversation about where they are in their lives right now, what brought them there and where they want to go from here. They discussed how they had gotten sidtracked from their goals but were more and more hopeful about continuing their educations. As they finally started downhill at the end, both sounded like they could do just about anything ! Annie said that it felt so good to overhear their optimism about their futures. 

Around the campfire, after dinner, Amy made a wonderful association for everyone when she pointed how the challenge and the fun that of what we all experienced had been done with out drugs and alcohol.

She then asked the Veterans to go around in a circle and share a “Gratitude” if they wanted to with the group- not mandatory. And so the speaking began. There was so much gratitude that poured from their hearts- gratitude for being alive (as some attempted suicide), gratitude for coming to a place of light after so much darkness, gratitude for a second chance, gratitude for the woods and nature and the walk as some had NEVER been in a forest before nor on a hike and many not since boyhood, and gratitude to Amy for believing in this type of nature-based therapy. I saw tears silently trickling down some of the Veteran’s cheeks as they poured out their hearts and thanked Todd and I for providing them with this opportunity.

It doesn’t feel like a big deal to us. I go for a walk every day anyway. I like to have people over and share a meal. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know these guys until they come, but then they are members of our family and are invited back, even after they leave the Lebanon VA program. But it is evidently a big deal to the Veterans. Many have trust issues and just the fact that we open up our property and lives for them, cook for them, share our time with them, give them an opportunity where they can find peace and beauty is pretty important to them.

IF WAYNE DOES NOT SEE LIMITS, How can I?” Limits in anything in their lives, including the ability to climb out of their dark hole that have found themselves in and make wiser, more healthy choices. It was hugely impacting to us all. When it comes down to it, I don’t think WAYNE knew how big a gift he was giving to all his fellow Veterans, and anyone that witnessed what he did.

Everyone said their good-byes with a full bursting heart last night and the hopes that our paths will cross again. I distributed my River House PA calling card to everyone and told them not to be strangers. Who would have thought a few years ago that Todd and I, who have so little in common with the military and that whole world, would be in the “business” of bringing Veterans outdoors in need of healing. But we don’t need to be in THAT world with them, because that world is receding farther back in their past and the poor choices that they made are too. What we do have in common is THIS world- their new healthy world they are choosing to create for themselves. This world we can share with them because we know how to go to the wild places for peace, and we have the beautiful property to base our non profit out from. There was gratitude in everyone’s heart after warm strong embraces and the big dark blue vans pulled away in the night, on their way to healing and health and a little more confidence and belief that they can turn their lives around. Sometimes that is all it takes. Seeing a one-legged Rockstar show you how to do it.

Why We Love Our Surly Mountain Bikes & Brick Wheels

When my husband Todd and I decided to cycle the entire 2,700-mile Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail for our next long adventure, we immediately went to cyclist guru friend, Tim Brick of Brick Wheels Bike Shop in Traverse City, Michigan for his advice. As I am a travel writer and plan to write multiple articles about our trip as well as a new book on our long adventure, Tim helped us explore possible bike manufacturers who might be sensitive and supportive of our plan. Twenty years ago, Santana was our sponsor and gifted us two tandem mountain bikes that we rode for a decade, advertising for years what marvelous machines they were and what a wonderful way to experience the world of travel with your children. This spring, Tim and I approached a handful of manufacturers looking for someone willing to work with us, but Surly, (as well as Tim) was the only one who believed in us enough to help. Little did I know then, that we had the best of the best working with us.

We secured an ECR for me and an Ogre for Todd. I drove out to Michigan from Pennsylvania a week before we began our ride to pick up our bikes at Brick Wheels. Tim had his mechanics dress up our bikes with all the important and necessary gear like racks, odometers, etc that we would need in order to be successful on our ride.

Our Surly Mountain Bikes were the Rolls Royce of mountain bikes. The majority of bikes ridden by long distance GDMBT riders were Surlys. No other manufacturer was as greatly represented on the trail. And why is that? Because Surley out performed all their competitors. Most cyclists that undertake the entire 2,700 mile GDMBT do their homework. Your bike is the single most important piece of equipment. It was no coincidence that there were more Surlys on the trail than any other bike company. And MY bike, my fat tire ECR brought more oohh’s and aahhh’s from cyclists who did not have a Surly than any others. “THAT’s my next bike!” they would proclaim, or “That’s the best, right there, no better bike for this trail.” I felt pretty fortunate to be riding my rig. If anything was going to help me be successful, it was my bike. If your bike breaks, it doesn’t matter how much determination and drive you have, you need a reliable bike. And the GDMBT can be brutal on your bike. We saw broken bikes in the first few hundred miles but not our Surleys.

Before I left on our first leg of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail, I had a problem with dizziness and balance. While cleaning the ceiling of my daughter’s Boulder, CO basement apartment, particularly over the stove, I somehow jammed my neck by bending it way back for long periods of time. My neck muscles tightened and blocked blood flow to my ears, and so I was not stable. As the GDMBT has some single track to cross as well as considerable rough and rocky terrain to negotiate, I needed to be as sturdy and stable on my bike as possible. Tim had encouraged me to order fat tires on my new Surly Bike to help with this problem. And it sure did. The fat tires acted as amazing shock absorbers and rolled right over extremely rough terrain like a tank. Where my husband’s more narrow tires were wigging and wagging a bit as he steered around rocks, my bike remained stable and grounded. It was truly amazing. It gave me the confidence and control that I needed in order to feel safe.

Although we rode New Mexico’s GDMBT 20 years ago, which got us interested in long distance cycling, this was the first really rugged mountain bike traverse we have done since. We accomplished many other long cycling trails including the pilgrim path- Camino de Santiago across Spain (The Way of St James), the Erie Canal, the KATY Trail across Missouri, etc. but the GDMBT is in a league all its own. Although we found it more challenging that we anticipated, it was a very rewarding experience and we really enjoyed merely just riding our bikes long distance and seeing the land change as we paralleled and crossed the Great Divide of the Rocky Mountains as we headed south.

Part of our joy was crossing paths with the hiking trail, the National Scenic 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail which we covered with our small children over a 5 summer adventure. That journey is the subject of my sixth published book, “Scraping Heaven- A Family’s Journey Along the Continental Divide.” It has been over twenty years since we followed the Divide southward and we became very excited every time our paths intersected. Where the CDT is a foot path and hugs the mountain ridges of the Divide as closely as possible, the GDMBT usually parallels the Divide, often in the valleys and utilizes forest service gravel roads as much as possible. On that rare occasion when our route took us up and over the actual divide, there we were reunited with our old friend, the CDT.

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We also reconnected with some of the same folks who helped us resupply twenty years ago. It was wonderful to be back, this time on mountain bikes. Although we missed our children’s presence, who are since grown up, the GDMBT has become a way for Todd and I to reconnect to each other and usher in this new decade of life without children. What better arena than challenging ourselves on the GDMBT.

We finished up our month long ride this summer with 600 miles of the GDMBT as well as the 180 mile Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park to Banff National Park, which we rode as a shake-down ride before beginning the GDMBT- about 800 miles in total. We will head back out next July to pick up where we left off and hopefully cover the next 1200 miles- finishing up Montana, Wyoming and across Colorado to the New Mexico border.

We could not have done it without the support of Surly Bikes and Brick Wheels and of course our bikes themselves. Thank you and we look forward to continuing the adventure!

Reminding us of who we still are

Had a fabulous reunion with my old boyfriend, Bryan Smith. whom I have not seen since I walked out the door the night before I left for my first epic long distance trail on the Appalachian Trail thirty-eight  years ago. My mom made her famous pork and sauerkraut good luck dinner and Bryan was there to cheer me on. Bryan moved on after that and so did I, down other trails, but after finding me on the internet, we had a wonderful lunch and hike to North Look Out today. Bryan would laugh or say things that I remember him doing thirty-eight years ago and it brought me right back to my youth. Why is connecting to these old friends so important? Because they remind us of who we were and WHO WE STILL ARE despite the passing decades and aging process- our spirits our hearts are still the same, and it gives us the opportunity to honor the people who helped mold us into who we have become, by their influence, their love, their support. Everyone we have met, most especially those impacting us deeply (like an old friend or a boyfriend) makes considerable impact on our lives. I thank you Bryan, for being a part of my life thirty-eight years ago, for loving me and for returning. What a gift. (Bryan is not a midget- He’s sitting- I’m standing. he’s really quite tall!! ha ha)img_9849

And just like that, it all changed and was over

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There was one week left to our mountain biking summer adventure. One week out of six remained. Todd and I both vowed that this last week was going to be the best week- taking our time, creating more joy, seeing beauty, making the most of our last days on the trail.

It took Todd and I awhile to figure this sport and journey out. We are no newbies to long distance wilderness travel, have logged thousands of miles on our bikes, even mountain bikes doing the 650-mile Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail in New Mexico with our kids on tandems twenty years ago and the 450-mile Camino de Santiago in Spain. But the GDMBT was different. It was much harder than we ever imagined and we never got strong enough to put in the 50-60 mile days we had hoped to evolve towards. We were in good enough shape when we left. Even after consistently biking 35-48 miles a day, we never once went to bed after taking Advil. Not a single pain killer was ingested and that is saying something for a 60 & a 57 year old. Once we accepted the fact that this was our best mileage, Todd relaxed about feeling the need to push.

We thought we were going lightweight when we left. We discovered that my loaded bike was comparable to the other male cyclists on the trail, even the young, very strong cyclists so I was no slacker. Todd’s bike, however, grew heavier and heavier as the weeks ticked by, taking more of my weight in hopes of getting me to cycle faster and farther each day. But the other cyclists were minimals- no stoves, no long pants or jackets- but SLEEVES and leggings of thin fabric which they pulled up to cover their limbs. Little food- One cyclist ate only cheese and crackers every dinner. We needed to step up our lightweight game.

Rolling along on level or downhill, the weight was fine, but pushing our bikes up and over mountains, was a real challenge. Nothing we could not do, but it was hard. The second to the last day before our ride came to an abrupt end, we had the most difficult push of the summer. We were taking our own gravel road route as opposed to the designated route, so we could cycle past an old logger friend’s home from twenty years ago. We were so excited to think of surprising him after all these years and couldn’t wait to arrive at his home. Gordon had directed our family and llamas to his log home when we were hiking the Continental Divide Trail, offering a steak dinner, homemade bread and a great friendship.

The gravel road that climbed up and over the Divide was the longest steepest we encountered. I could not push my loaded bike more than 15 yards without stopping to breathe deeply and allow my lungs to catch up to their demand for air. And my arms ached as I propelled my bike forward. I did push ups and lifted weights before we left but it seemed like it did nothing. My upper body is no comparison to Todd’s tremendous strength from chainsaw carving and wielding a very heavy saw, to blacksmithing, splitting firewood and all the manly jobs and activities he does every day throughout his daily life.

Todd was far behind me when I was on the top steepest section of the climb, (he stopped to filter water at a lake), when I became overwhelmed with the struggle and began to weep. I shocked myself. It was quiet sobbing and I hung my head and said in a whisper, “This is so hard.” When I told Todd what happened later he was surprised as I had recovered (as we always do on the downhills) and asked why. I said that I did not know, it just sprang forth out of me and I could not control it. It was cathartic.

Hard was “okay “most of the time. We told the kids years ago when we continued to return to the CDT and hike every year, despite the challenges, “It’s not always easy, but it’s always worthwhile.” Todd and I also believed this when it came to the GDMBT. We were experiencing beauty, were drawing closer as a couple, and certainly were becoming more fit- a big goal of the trip, and we so planned an attitude adjustment, to try to have even more fun next year. We had every intention to return next summer and pick up where we left off and continue making our way down to Mexico. Until, Todd woke up the morning we were in Butte, Montana, looked me in the eyes and uncharacteristically said, “I have to tell you something.”

“WHAT?”

“I think something is wrong with my heart. Last night it raced for an hour and now it is still pausing and speeding up.” I put my hand on his chest and sure enough I could feel the obvious inconsistency.

When I asked him if it actually woke him up in the night, he told me that he had gotten up to pee, which he never does, and noticed it once he retuned to our tent. We were camping in a KOA and the stupid shitter was across the campground and you needed a four digit numerical code to open the door, which he could not remember. I asked him, “Do you think you were anxious over not remembering the code and freaked out? Really? Do you think you had heart palpitations over the need to just take a piss?” He didn’t think so. “Why didn’t you just pee in the stones on the parking lot? ”

He told me that his heart does this about once a week or every two weeks his whole life and I said, “are you kidding, married to you for over thirty years and you never told me that? No, that is not normal.”

He said he is afraid to go back onto the trail and have something bad happen like a heart attack or a stroke and leave me to deal with a dead husband in the wilderness. I told him I did not want that to happen nor did I want him to worry so much and have it impact the fun we just decided we deserved to experience in this last week. Plus his father just had his erratic heart cauterized to regulate it and Todd was pretty convinced he inherited the same issue, (as was Bryce).

We spoke to a local nurse that we met and she said that no doctor would probably be able to tell anything without putting on a Holter monitor and recording his heart rate for multiple days and nights, which we may as well wait to get until we are home. We had pushed it that day (the next day after the weeping Divide climb), although the terrain was much easier. Every time I took a swig from my water bottle, I said to Todd, “You aren’t drinking, why aren’t you thirsty?” He said, “I’m not sweating much.” I reminded him it was windy and we were so sweating. We were out of salty snacks and were looking forward to chowing down at an all-you-can-eat in Butte. When we discovered that our Butte warm showers.org host was across town by 5 miles, up the steep hill, we grew hungrier and thirstier. Our nurse host said that perhaps Todd was low in electrolytes -sodium, potassium and magnesium, and it threw his heart rate off. We decided to not return to the trail, quit a week early, and take our time getting home, stopping at national parks and watching how Todd felt and seeing if his heart acted up again. He did not want to go to the hospital.

When our daughter, Sierra caught wind of her parents NOT getting this issue checked out, she demanded that we go to an urgent care facility in Jackson, Wyoming, and so we listened. The EKG looked fine at first, but then it showed a pause and 4 rapid beats. The doctor wanted us to go to the hospital immediately. There 6 nurses and doctors worked on him (no one else was in emerg), taking chest x-rays, blood tests, more EKG’s and finally after a whole afternoon, released him. His valves were all open and showed no signs of blockage. His blood had returned to normal after eating and drinking a balanced diet, but low electrolytes “with an irritable heart rate” was the supposed culprit. “Go to your doc when you get home and get a monitor,” were their directions. And so we went to Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Custer State Park, and had some fun.

But then Todd’s arm and hand began to go numb. Friends and family alerted us that this could be a stroke symptom. Todd’s mind went wild again– open heart surgery, a pacemaker, not being able to cycle the GDMBT next summer or do anything physical again. When we pulled up to a minute market, he went past the Handicap space and said, “That will be me soon.” Bryce went back and forth between being very concerned and worried about his dad and also teasing Todd calling him “Pacemaker Padre.” He claimed that he had the same issue with his heart and Todd said they can both go get pacemakers- two for the price of one.

Once we got home, we called the doctor and in our appointment learned that his numbing arm and hand was caused by a pinched nerve in his neck, aggravated by pushing his heavy bike up the Divide, vibrating severely on the rocky downhills, gripping the steering wheel as he drove for hours around Chicago & Gary, Indiana with tons of trucks, and mowing with a vibrating mower only an hour once we got home, because he couldn’t stand the sight of a lawn and an orchard with long grass. No stroke, and a very clear and clean EKG- the electrolyte deficiency probably was the culprit. We have an appointment at the hospital tomorrow for a stress test and a monitor. The doctor does not think they will find anything wrong. He already had his “stress test” mountain biking 800 miles and pushing his loaded bike up and over the Divide.

So it looks like after we unpack and get back to normal life here, Todd will pull out the GDMBT maps and begin planning next year’s ride. He won’t be getting a pacemaker probably, (Bryce changed his nickname to “Paranoia Padre.” I told him the acorn does not fall far from the tree), I’m not going to need to wipe his drool and diaper my beastly, manly husband anytime soon, and we have vowed to do things differently next year. As in more salty snacks, potassium and magnesium rich foods, vitamin supplements, Gatorade drink mixes, and NO STRESS to go faster, farther, longer. I had an issue with my German gestapo husband in the beginning weeks of this ride, him wanting me to go faster, farther, longer and me, on the other hand, wanting to be happy with what we were covering and trying to have more fun along the way. I have learned that my husband was not just pushing me, but himself and got a little carried away with thinking he was invincible and could push himself to extremes. This is not a question or a problem with age. Age has nothing to do with electrolyte deficiency.

Besides learning about what is lightweight on a mountain bike and what is too much, how much is enough electrolyte supplements and not enough, we’re also learning how to get along on a challenging journey in a many decades-long marriage when we have not been alone for all these years. This bike ride is teaching Todd and I a new way to learn to live together. That is what this GDMBT is truly about- our introduction to life beyond children. The Great Divide is our theatre. Maybe there is another book in there, twenty years after we traveled this way with kids and llamas. And oh by the way, our old logger friend that we were looking for outside Butte, died five years ago, from cancer, unbeknownst to his friends in PA. We stopped a man in a pick up near Gordon’s house and asked if he knew if Gordon was around and he gave us the bad news. One more message in life to not take one day for granted, to take it slow and make the best of this life.

Reliving a Scene / Memory from “Scraping Heaven”

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As Todd and I neared Stemple Pass on the Continental Divide, it occurred to us that this was the area where our historic “windstorm on the divide” happened,the dramatic intro to my book Scraping Heaven. We went off our route for a few miles to see it and reminisce about that scary day that happened 21 years ago.

Just the day before, we were crossing this wide Montana plain where horses were grazing and great green fields of grass were growing, and the Beaverhead Mountains rose up from the valley floor.  We heard there was a cold front moving through that would lower the very challenging temps we’ve been riding through. The wind was so ferocious as the sky behind the mtns turned a bruised purple, and we raced across, sometimes being blown off balance, it was so intense. We made it to the safety of the forest in time before the sky opened up with violent thunder, and trees cracking and blowing over right behind our tent.  The rain fell in great sheets and battered our tiny nylon tent but we safe and dry.

We woke up to much cooler and crisp air, cool enough to enable us to ride 50 miles the next day and cross the Continental Divide two times. We came down to a cyclist-only cabin after a long day, and found Barb Nye who graciously opens her home and property to cyclists.

Our trail angel park ranger friend Tom Banks drove all the way from Glacier National Park to be with us and help us, and he brought along a fabulous homemade huckleberry peach pie and whipped cream that we shared with our other cycling friends.

Since Barb had llamas in her pasture, we mentioned our family’s llama traverse on the CDT, and sure enough, Barbara had read Scraping Heaven. She also remembered the historic windstorm. We walked these same national forests roads to safety that we cycled on over 20 years later.  The circle continues and sooner or later the wind blows the hardship away and let’s the sunshine back in.  We could not make it without our friends along, not on the Great Divide Mtn. Bike Trail or in life in general.

Going Gets Tough. . .

It’s hot. So hot that heat exhaustion is trying to get me to not like this mountain bike touring. Nausea and feeling very ill on hot, sunny, steep climbs. I soak my head and shirt  in streams so I can get up the next hill. We do a lot of walking and pushing the bikes and Todd’s is heavily loaded.

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Mine is about the same weight as every other long distant cyclist out here but Todd’s a beast. And believe it or not, we are going semi lightweight.

Most of the time we are watching our front tire for rocks and ruts on the gravel roads. If you try to look around, in the rare instance that there is a chance, you seriously risk wrecking.

We see Montana rural life when we enter and leave town. So as you can imagine, a stop in town is a highlight. . . A&W root beer floats with double the ice cream help us get by.

Todd is losing his enthusiasm. We are in a great green forested tunnel most of the time. It reminds me of the AT. Our national park ranger friend Tom Banks took us on a day hike in Glacier National Park high up at Logan Pass, and we scraped heaven and were reminded why we love to WALK trails up high at altitude. This is just ok. Bryce said, “If it isn’t that much fun. Why not quit and come home?” But it is too late for that.

We’ve begun it. Have nearly 700 miles on our bike tires. We will get to Mexico sooner or later -in a few years. It is up to us to increase the fun factor where we can. It is about the journey traveling the country from north to south on National Forest service roads. It is not road touring; mountain biking long distance is a completely different animal. And much to this extroverts disappointment, there are very, very few cyclists out here to hang and eat with in town.

Todd and I are enjoying each other’s company, and we must be getting stronger although I feel like a wet dish rag on most climbs. I remember climbing Mount Mousilake in Maine on the AT. I could not believe I could hike all that way and still feel so bad. It was hot and humid and I had 57 pounds in my pack including a 5 lb canned ham by mother sent to me.

I came out here to get fit., as I entered my 60th decade. I suppose that is happening. My belly is a tiny bit smaller. But a piece of duct tape over my mouth for a few days in the comfort of my home may have ALMOST done the same trick.

It should rain tomorrow we hear and a cold front go through and reduce temps from the 90s to the 70s.

Just so you know. This is no walk in the park.
Love to all. Have some fun for us.

Here in Sparwood, British Columbia

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We thought that cycling the 190-mile Icefields parkway from Jasper to Banff would help get us in shape but we have learned in the first 4 days on the Great Divide Mtn Bike trail that it is no walk in the park.

Our nephew Clint is with us for these 9 days of cycling down across the border and into Montana. He has proven to be very helpful as in only a few days we have experienced multiple gear breakages where the boys had to use bolts, tape, rope etc to fix gear.  Very hard on the equipment on these downhill rides over rocks and roots. It rained hard one day, and we were freezing and wet and came across an open cabin for cyclists and there were other cyclists there with a wood stove fire going.  So nice. The dirt road was so muddy that my fat tires kicked it up and covered my wheels and gear so much that I could not even push it along while walking.

We had to find a stream to wash the mud off of the gears and brakes.  But I am thrilled with my 3 inch tires, which give me stability on the trail.  Thank you to Tim Brick and Surly Bikes. I have not experienced any dizziness since I have been riding, thank goodness, which I think it is from turning my head as I look around constantly.

We have been riding some fun single track but also pushing our bikes uphill a lot. My arms are not that strong but I guess I must be getting more in shape.  I do not feel that strong yet after traveling over 300 miles

We are meeting many cyclists from around the world:  France, Germany, England. Some going faster , others intersecting our trail as they travel cross country. We are seeing more moose than anything.  Eating is good. Stopping at restaurants and mini markets for salty snacks.

In two days we will reach our own country and be able to make phone calls. I miss everyone but Todd and I have settled into the rhythm of a long distance journey which enables the process of separating from the rest of the world and focuses on the goal. Even the day’s goal of just getting to camp for the night.  Todd is happy out here, and is kept busy fixing things and is trying to push us along, but he is relaxing from being a drill Sargent, as we are doing fine and on schedule

We look forward to seeing more friends as we cycle thru Montana. Some whom we have not seen since our llama packing days 20 years ago.

My nephew is learning a lot about the freedom and independence of self propelled travel as he gets strong to compete for the green berets. We love his company
Here on Sparwood, British Columbia, we see huge coal mines on the sides of the mtns.  And supposedly “the world’s biggest truck,” but we think we have that same animal in Schuylkill County coal pits.  Makes us feel at home!!!!  Love to all.

Joy on the Ride

 

The Athabaskan river flows by our side, pale blue and creamy, completely contrasting with the dark green conifers shooting skyward like arrows. It was frozen solid in the Athabaskan glacier hours ago. glacial flour is suspended in the water as it rolls toward the ocean . We roll past the river on our mountain bikes.

Day 1 of our 6 week 1500 mile ride and today, cyclists and even the biker dudes on their Harley’s give us the thumbs up. We feel silly. Our bikes are loaded with stuffed panniers, dry bags and foam pads wrapped in garbage bags giving us an air of homelessness.

We pedal rapidly on the climbs like gerbals on a spin wheel. We did not have our cycling legs yet nor our Canadian Rockies lungs. We were day glow yellow construction worker shirts that practically glow in the dark, wrap around sunglasses for speedy downhills and flying insects. Our Hornet bike horns, loudest in the world are mounted on our handlebars and our bear spray holsters with the quick release are strapped on our handlebar bags. I ride first, then Bryce then Todd with his rear view mirror. ”

Motor home!” Or “bus!” He yells and we move as far over to the far right of the Icefields Parkway as we can We are cycling nearly 200 miles on this “most beautiful road in the world” making this bike ride on the Icefields Parkway the most beautiful too. Bryce is here to break us in before we begin our major trek on the Great Divide Mtn Bike Trail.

First day’s ride we see a herd of elk, a herd of bighorn sheep, Mtn goats and a black bear swam across the Athabaska River, climbed up the bank in front of us and over to the roadside berry bushes. There were 6 rainbows after 6 showers and after glow on the granite peaks that completely made us breathless.
We rode through Jasper & Banff national park past monster granite mountains lined up like walls, glaciers calving and melting light blue water that fills the rivers and lakes making them look radio active . The Canadian Rockies are some of the most beautiful range in the world.

We camp at campgrounds that find space for long distance cyclists no matter if they are filled with large cooking shelters with wood stoves and wood to warm us. We meet cyclists from around the world and wonderful people everywhere.
We got hit with hail twice and rain everyday. It is so cold in the morning that our eyes water on down hills and it looks like we are under water and can’t blink fast enough. We covered about 35-40 miles a day, had a few campfires and only got a flat once so far.

After the first 6 days on the road, enjoying black top with our son’s marvelous company and the exquisite Canadian Rockies he is ready to return to Philadelphia and we will welcome our nephew, Clint Ross who will join us for 10 days down to Glacier national park. We have single track and dirt and gravel roads ahead, as Todd tried to find ways to lighten our load and make it easier on us. Two hundred miles on our tires and a little stronger legs,here we come GDMBT. And on our last day on the parkway, there was a Griz chomping on berries right by the road, we hear they are down low chasing berries and hopefully not cyclists.