63 miles - Total: 2518 miles
I am in the mountains. Just me and the bicycle. No prescription needed. Symptoms: craving to climb mountains. Medication prescribed: do it. Side effects: happiness.
Away from the cut and thrust of urban life, in rarefied air, nothing can be trusted but myself.
My sleep is disturbed by a feeling of excitement for the imminent climb through the mountains and the usual apprehension about a possible mechanical breakdown of the bike. After a quick breakfast I get on the bike and I speed down highway 2 in the direction of those big dark walls that rise in the distance. Cut Bank is history already. I look ahead. The mountain range is there; the jagged line of the Rockies cuts the sky in half and leaves no doubt as to what lies ahead. The mountains rise tall, they goad me, they tempt me, they seem to be close, then far and then close again. For 3 hours of steady cycling they flirt with me through the haze, which resembles an early spring fog hovering in the air. It is sunny today but the air is not as clear as other days, the sun brigthens the world but the haze makes the peaks look myterious, unpredictable, almost unreal. Is it a mirage?
After 35 miles I hit the dusty town of Browing. If you ever wonder what a poor American Indian town looks like and you want to see one then come to Browning. This town is the ugliest and poorest I have seen so far. It lies in the Blackfoot Indian reservation. Most of its inhabitants are Native Americans and over 50% of the population live below the poverty line. The Blackfoot Reservation is probably the poorest in the country. Suffering and deprivation continue to characterize the history of peoples whose geography has been chosen by those who conquered them. Geography means opportunity and very few are given to the groups that inhabit these marginalized reservations. Lewis and Clark were about to end their exploratory journey just a few miles south of Browning; the men were starving and were freezing to death. Who came to their rescue? The Indians. And I keep thinking about that Indian guy raising the flag at Iwo Jima. History is forgetful..
I stop at a gas station for a snack but I hate staying here even for 5 minutes, the air is polluted, dust kicked up by the wind blows right into my face. I quickly leave town through North and then West on 89. Back on the raod, back in the open land. After 5 miles the scenery changes dramatically. They cannot hide forever, they have been wooed by me for many miles and many days; I have fantazised about them and I have desired them so much and now they must give in to my courting and so after 40 miles the road unmistakably starts to climb and I find myself in the mountains. The shift is abrupt: dry grass disappears and trees start springing out of the soil, creeks run down the slopes, the air is crispier, the wind shifts from a warm sweeping grassland gale to a chilly strong mountain wind. The change in temperature is the first factor that I recognize. The wind rustles the trees and blows with a faint rushing sound and comes down from the north in cool waves. Sometimes I stop and close my eyes and let the gusts wash over me, pull away the heat of the climb, and leave behind the smallest shiver. It feels incredible, just like I had imagined. I know where I am.
And I start the climb. Many cyclists get scared at the sight of a steep slope. Many fear the hike and its incline and what it will do to one's legs and spirits. I cherish it; I can't wait to see the road climb up, it emboldens me, it sends a burst of energy through my body, makes me feel at home. I am familiar with what it takes to climb. Maybe because I did it two years ago, maybe because my physique lends itsef to climbing rather power or speed, maybe because I find it a natural act, with creativity and imagination as the most vital ingredients. How can I describe the pleasure of climbing? How can I extoll the virtues of a strenous and long act of fatigue? You climb a mountain through your senses, you reach the top through your feelings. I stand on the pedals, the sweat streams down my face, my legs become two little power engines which rhythmically swing around on the pedals, the breath takes a deeper sound, the heart frequency increases, the muscles tighten and then immediately relax. You only fear the things that you don't know I suppose, mountain performance is known territory to me. I control it. Maybe, for the first time since an unknown medication was injected into my bloodstream to keep me live, for the first time since those days at the hospital which I remember too well and I will always want to remember, I get a chance to test my body and just let it be, let it create, let it improvise on the beautiful slopes of the Montana roads. I am just so grateful that I have this opportunity.
Imagination materializes through the spontaneuos gestures of pushing my bike up the hill. I hear no sound, I see no distraction; I am in that zone, that mystical zone that one feels in rarely in a lifetime. My body feels healthy. I know it won't fail me today. It is too strong, my muscles have been trained on the road, my legs, my arms, my back are strong after 25 days of pedaling on the roads of America, after 2500 miles of dedication. No need to fear anything now, let's just listen to the body and let's enjoy the stunning scenery which almost brings tears to my eyes. I have earned every inch, every mile of this long road. Althought the days behind me seem to bleed into another, I know that every turn and every bridge I have ridden since Washington DC is not forgotten, they are there somewhere in my brain and they have made me stronger, they have trained me and shaped me from my bone marrow to the outer skin, the road has wiped out the bad cells and has allowed the good ones to regenerate.
I let the magic feeling sip in and I can now be what I want in the middle of a dream land. The patches of ice that cling to the rocky slopes high above, the tall pine trees that smell like heaven, the sound of the rushing streams along the road, the cool wind that sweeps down from the mountain tops, the SUVs and RVs full of families that pass me and wonder what the hell I am doing. I think that the distance between the Pacific and me is shrinking, for the first time since I left DC I am thinking the dream can be realized. I am thinking about my final push towards the West Coast, how I will react when I see the Vancouver sign and the people that I love that cannot see me. And more than ever I am convinced than home is an idea in my head which only comes alive when the people I love are with me.
At 2pm I arrive in St. Mary, which is the gate to the Glacier National Park. I could have cycled on but the half day woud have forced me to hurry through this beautiful part of the world and I don't want to. I want to do to the Park in one full day, slowly and peacefully. Tomorrow's weather forecast predicts cloudy skies in the morning, then thundestorms, gusty winds and small hail. Great! My alarm goes off at 5am.
First picture of the day, I can hardly see them through the morning haze
A bit closer now
Still a long way to go..
The mountains behind the awful town of Browning
They are very close now
I am entering the mountains, at last!
The first serious climb
When you see this sign you better make sure your brakes are in working order
GNP in all of its beauty