P1030532.JPGTEAM CARLSEN

One could be forgiven for thinking our ride was a succession of sunny days and triumphal ascents to mountain passes. Sunny days and triumphal ascents make for better photos than rainy days and snafus along the trail. But on at least one occasion, our ride almost ended far short of its intended destination.

And while I’m clarifying what was going through our heads as we made our way south, let me take another stab at explaining what long distance bicycling is all about to me.

I have often attempted to impart to the reader a sense of what it is like to do a lengthy bicycle trek; what induces me to forego the comforts of home for the challenges and uncertainties of life on the road. But it occurs to me as I think back over the Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride that I have neglected to mention a key component of what makes these trips meaningful.

Perhaps the best way to explain what I’m getting at is to take the reader back to August 31, 2015 when Mary and I had pitched our little green tent among giant motorhomes and fifth-wheel trailers in a campground along Interstate 15 in Lima, Montana. It was barely noon but we needed a rest. That morning we had ridden out of the Beaverhead Mountains after two grueling days during which the headwinds had grown ever stronger and the hills steeper while our reserves of energy had seemed to drain from us like sand moving through an hourglass.

The adversity of the previous days had affected Mary’s mood to the point where she spoke only when spoken to and then with as few words as possible. I knew what was up and I made several attempts to engage her in a dialogue about how the ride was going but the most I could get from her was

“This ride is not what I expected.”

I tried to neutralize her dark mood by reminding her of some of the good times we had had on previous rides. I tried talking about some of the scenic places that lay ahead. I commended her for the grit she had shown so far on this ride but she wasn’t buying any of it. She remained sullen and distant. It wasn’t long before she retreated to her air mattress in the tent and began playing solitaire on her iPod.

Realizing that lifting Mary out of her funk was beyond my limited capability, I left her to her game of solitaire and took a walk through town. Lima didn’t offer much in the way of tourist attractions but I was able to decide on a course of action for the future during the walk. I was keenly aware that we both had to be on board for this ride to work.

When I returned to camp, Mary was still in the tent playing solitaire. I crawled in and lay down beside her. I said:

“I know you’re thinking about quitting. Look, you’re not having any fun and when you’re down, you’re no fun to be around anyway. If you want to quit, quit. But if you quit, I’m going to quit too. I wanted this trip to be something we do together. I’m not interested in doing it by myself. You say the word and we’ll hitch a ride out of here.”

I meant every word of it. During my walk I had realized that the most important component of a good ride, at least for me, is the sharing of the experience. All those refreshing sensations on early morning bike rides, the exhilaration of racing antelope across the prairie, the satisfaction of a cool drink on a hot day – those things are good in their own right but they are much, much better when they are shared with someone special. Mary was that special person for me. Think about it: What if you got straight “A”s on your report card but had no parents to show it to? What if you heard a really funny joke but the only friend who shared your sense of humor had moved away? We humans are social animals and even loners like me derive great satisfaction from sharing our experiences with certain other people.

The autumn after I graduated from college I took a trip by myself from California to New England. I had a vintage Ford Econoline van, a few hundred bucks, and a hankering to see the fall color so I drove to Vermont. It wasn’t a bad trip. The maple and oak trees were lovely but I remember thinking

“I’d sure like to share this with someone. What I need is a wife.”

It took me a few years and a few awkward intervening relationships but I met and married Mary in 1981 and have never looked back. She’s the one person of whose company I never tire. She’s the repository of all my hair-brained schemes. She’s the person I most want to tell about my day and she’s the person I was determined to ride the Great Divide with. If she was going to quit the ride, well, it just wouldn’t be the same without her.

Mary didn’t immediately respond to my declaration. In fact, she slept on it. But when morning came, she was ready to resume the ride. I’d like to say that was the last time Mary ever got discouraged. It wasn’t. There were a few episodes of grumbling toward the end in New Mexico but all through Wyoming and Colorado she rode strong and we rode as a team. We both enjoyed that part of the trip immensely. The smiles you see in those photos are genuine. Reflecting back over those seven weeks during which we rode the entire length of the Rocky Mountains I realize that she is right there in every scene and that, for me, is the best part of our Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride.

THE END

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