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.

 

“Crossing Saskatchewan”

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Cycling Back to the Divide

Blog post #2

Things changed immediately when we crossed over the border from North Dakota into Saskatchewan. We left behind the depressed towns of the northern tier raped by the fracking industry and entered the brilliance of the rape fields, that crop grown for its canola oil. The yellow flowers naturally glow with a light that appears to be radioactive but on this evening, the lowering sun dripped honey-colored light over the entire landscape. A long freight train kept pace with our loaded Ford pick-up, running parallel on the tracks alongside our road. (Tracks ran along our route across North Dakota too but we never saw a moving train, just hundreds of parked gas tank cars.) It was a fun race to see who was faster. It was us. The words “Saskatchewan” and “Canada” were printed on the sides of the cars, as well as a line drawing of a lily, perhaps the providence’s flower. Along the base of the cars was graffiti, rounded letters spray-painted various colors.

Abandoned barns sat along the road, their rectangular window holes were vacant and black, like hollow dead eyes. The weathered grey barns have been replaced with small round galvanized silos, dotting the fields. On the horizon, there were
no tall office buildings or even church steeples announcing a town was ahead, but monolithic grain elevators, towering many stories above the plains into the sky. They are situated right alongside the railroad tracks for ease in loading and unloading.

As soon as we crossed the border, the American establishments and businesses gave way to unfamiliar Canadian companies. Dunkin Donuts was replaced with Tim Horton. No recognizable American songs filled the radio waves but songs by Canadian artists. It was good to see that this close to American soil, our foreign neighbors maintained their own identity. In a land enveloped with wheat and rape fields, we listened to an appropriate talk show on paranormal activity, particularly the phenomena of crop circles.

We drove through lake and pond country and when we saw a moose crossing warning highway sign, we searched the roadside bodies of water for the magnificent creatures but only saw ducks with their butts in the air. Through this area, a Canadian talk show host interviewed a cadaver search dog trainer and heard an appropriate story where the dogs searched for the remains of a 5-year-old, missing for 42 years on a family fishing trip. The dogs located the body in the lake underwater, as they sniffed the gases that the submerged bones gave off on the surface, in invisible bubbles.

In the tiny roadside village of Borden, we stopped for gas and at the cash register were small homemade packages of beet seeds for sale for $2.00. The words “Bathroom Fund” were written on them, the proceeds going to a much-needed potty in the local museum.

Along this rural Canadian highway, huge bales of hay sat alongside the road like after thoughts. Hay is cut and baled here on the medial strip sand on the road side banks. All the roads are straight as arrows in Saskatchewan, looking like they could all double as air strips. This is the heartland of Canada, where a slight hill or a change is elevation is noted and appreciated. There are towns with the names of Cut Knife, Moose Jaw, Eyebrow, Foam Lake and Fairy Glen. A sign in ne of the towns announced an entrepreneur’s business, Ice Skates Sharpened. Up in the cloud studded sky, long jet lines streaked the brilliant blue, paralleling our trans-Canadian route. They ran in the same direction that we were headed, on this fourth and final day`s drive from Pennsylvania…on an angle towards Edmonton, Alberta, the capital airport. Our son, Bryce is flying into this airport and will join us on our first leg of our bike ride down the Rocky Mountains.

Back to the Divide BLOG #1

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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.