Last I left you, on day 11, we were taking a "nearo" in Helena, MT, which basically means we rested all day before riding out 20 miles in the evening. Mind you, those were 20 miles of climbing, but it was a short day nonetheless.
Since then, the views have changed dramatically from lush alpine lakes to barren cattle country. We've crossed two state lines - Montana > Idaho > Wyoming - witnessed the mind blowing total solar eclipse amid a sea of Teton tourists, rode our biggest day yet of 90-some miles, and taken our first rest day here in Pinedale, WY, our unofficial halfway point on the Divide.
It's hard to believe we are three weeks into our journey south. It feels like just yesterday that my parents were dropping us off at a hotel near Dulles International with our boxed bikes, clean and eager. The ride felt so novel at first, like any good vacation. Within the first 10 days I was able to get two showers, wash my clothes, and by and large, maintain that fresh-off-the-plane aura.
But yesterday, after pushing over 90 brutal miles into Pinedale and collapsing on a chair at the local Mexican restaurant, I finally felt (and looked, as I'd later come to find out) like a road-hardened traveler. My clothes reeked of sour sweat. A rim of salt outlined the straps from my backpack and the seat of my cycling shorts. Hidden behind my polyester hat, two tan parallel stripes ran vertically down my forehead from the slats in my helmet. Through bloodshot eyes caked in grit and dust, I ordered a plate of huevos rancheros and a margarita. Our waitress gave us wary looks but served us just the same. I don't remember the eating part much, but within minutes my plate was empty, so it must have been good.
Full and exhausted, I started the search for a hotel room. With all of the eclipse hubbub mostly over, I thought we would have no trouble finding an affordable place to crash on a Tuesday night. Wrongo. All of the cheap lodging in town was full and what rooms were available came at a cost of $160 per night or more! As it was now nearing 9pm, I desperately browsed through Airbnb, doubtful that I would find anything last-minute. By some grace of karma, I managed to find us a reasonably priced cabin owned by Phil, an avid climber, world traveler, and all around super nice guy. At 9:30 at night, he had no qualms about giving us a tour, showing us where to wash our clothes and store our bikes, and even offering us beer and coffee. His hospitality was a welcome respite from my frayed and fragile state. As he closed the door behind him, he said, "You guys get some showers now." Jokingly I shouted back, "What, do we smell or something?"
When I finally did catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror, I saw what our poor waitress and Phil must have seen - a f@&*ing mess. Dirt smeared my cheek, crusted snot clogged my nostrils, and my lips were completely raw from the sun and wind. The sight of my haggard self nearly brought me to tears. The shower, refreshing as it was, only peeled back the layers of grime that had been masking the ridiculous sock, glove, shirt, and short tan lines.
When I woke this morning (which was still 6:30am sharp, despite turning off all of our alarms), those feelings of despair had entirely evaporated. We ate breakfast at a local cafe, met some West Virginians with whom we have many mutual friends, ran errands, got our bikes ready to roll, drank a lot of coffee, did laundry. Truth be told, when I sat down to write this blog, I wasn't thinking of yesterday - the dust, the washboards, the endless stream of RV traffic, the rip in my seat pack, the calorie crash I had 75 miles into a 90-mile slog. All I could think of was the moose we saw near Big Springs, Idaho, the jaw-dropping view of the Tetons and surreal experience of witnessing the total eclipse there, the sound of coyotes yipping in the night, the small-world encounters we have made with other cyclists, our quirky little tribe of riders who have ridden together since day 5. I thought only of the "happies," not the "crappies," as our friend Logan likes to say, which I suppose is what this trip has taught me the most thus far- that our lives are unpredictable, sometimes challenging and capricious yes, but they aren't defined by those moments. If we can endure and open ourselves up to the possibilities beyond those obstacles, the universe has an uncanny ability to make us see the beauty in all that mess, and then want more (even the dust boogers and sweaty butt stains).