Life is segmented by memories, they make up the DNA of our years and mark chapters of who we are and what and where we have been. Towards the end we all converge, like a notch in a mountain, a watershed ravine that spills to a river that swaddles and wonders towards a bigger ending, both a berth and a death.
I read, the pointed truths of those before me, with more education and a greater knowledge of vocabulary vernacular, but story tellers all are wishers and wonderers, all lovers of rivers and all with an internal twist for expression.
I recall a memory often of mine, maybe because it was full of fear, full of unknown and full of loneliness, defiance, effort and it marks my family perfectly.
I rode the Tour Divide in 2011, I started with a young man who I wish would’ve let me persuade him to who he is, but we all have destinations and disappointments, and those lesson he’s learned many lifelong assentation’s from. Now it’s a footnote to a long list of accomplishments, and for that, I’m deeply proud of the individual he’s become. Every failure is a window to future success.
I rode 90 percent alone, some 2,915 miles and 217,00 feet of climbing once Taylor sought a different path, I had some mechanical issues that needed time and that too left me trailing most. I wanted to ride in truth the ethos of the event, little help, little hotels and isolation. I read a lot of Norman MacLean, his family had a summer cabin in Seeley Lake Montana. The days leading up to that spot on the map where filled with cold nights, snow hikes, chilly rain and bears, a lot of bears.
On the run in towards Seeley Lake I encountered a typical Montana rain storm that I knew from growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I was experiencing the mild humbling’s of hypothermia to only find a laundry mat/restaurant at 5 a.m. My buddy stopped early, I walked in Snow for hours upon hours to the idea of Sasquatch, hunger and death. I really had no idea the true distance, nor did I want to, the idea of the next town was fuel, and my large imagination ran rampant on the idea of soft chairs, strong drinks and food.
You go through many epiphany’s in doing such an effort, you become manic in moods, they are marked on either end of the truest high, and the lowest low. My night in the Rockies of Montana, the closest I’d been to home where lonely and frightful, I saw well over 30 bears on my ride through the Forrest service road towards Owl Creek and the outskirts of Seeley Lake.
I had been awake and moving since Whitefish Montana and the massive rain storm, lying in a simple gor-tex bivvy I laid under a property sign hoping for some coverage, the tall summer grass laid over me and blanketed me in wetness, the bivy sunk from the pools of water and sat in my mouth attempting to suffocate me. I was once Closter phobic but, commercial fishing cured me of such nonsense, I pulled my shit together and rode to a gas station in town, stripped naked and blasted the hand harmer all over my frozen hands and man parts, life wasn’t good.
Waterproof maps soaked through and ruined, batteries corroded over, spirits where sunk and absolutely nothing was dry. I spent half the morning with everything in the dryer, then pushed off into the wilderness, off towards a destinations I’ve always wanted to see. The miles where long, with little stops but cute little churches, tiny A framed buildings of faith I knew people needed in this country, all painted white and coming to a cross over the doors.
A late afternoon sun broke through and shone on the green mountain next to me as I covered easy flat miles, it reminded me of home and the hills and roads I grew up in, my mood changed. A little gas station a ways off the track then the road to Seeley Lake, I had caught up to the South Africans, Luke and Meriam, really nice people doing it right. Somewhere during the miles we spit up in the long steady climb up. I had an old shitty blackberry phone and reception sucked, so I never had constant service or communication on who’s in front or behind, or little rest stops that others could search for.
I rode on, alone towards town some 75 miles away, I came to a clearing after seeing the most bears I’ve ever seen, including Alaska. The Montana Rocky Mountains laid over my right shoulder, it was nearly 10 pm but still light out, snow shouldered their slopes and gave a hint of white to the dark blue and grey mountains, the light was soft and the hue of some daylight hung in the air. I heckled at bears like you would cows, “hey bear”, “hey bear” ushering them out of your line, they were fat from a good spring, and my contraption was odd and they slowly meandered off the road. I rode in the dusk towards midnight, I had slept maybe three hours the day before and was done. At this point I still had my jet boil so I made some tea, romin and tried to calm myself about sleeping in the valley of bears. I found a random campsite and took that as an omen, it was complete with a built shitter, a water spigot and two picnic tables, one I slept under, life was good.
I woke up in the pre-dawn hours, looking over at eye level frosted grass I saw three bears no more than 20 yards away. I rolled my head back over, back to the down and synthetic warmth of safety and closed my eyes wishing they would see something different. I again turned to my right and saw three bears loaming about, I waited a second, noticed the bent forms of heavy bladed grass cursed with the weight of frost, I still had some of last night’s food in my mouth and gathered a plan. I moved and the crinkle of the bivvy and frost caused them to look at me, I stared at them in my most evil, don’t fuck with me alpha male look/please don’t eat me. They rambled off at the odd animal under a table and a pile of gear on top of it, occasionally all of us would look at each other, gauging, judging what we should do, I loaded up my gear on the bike, pedaled off and starred at bears.
I made my way to the outskirts of Seeley Lake, from gravel to pavement where the dirt road shot up mud till I reached pavement. I saw a long row of US flags at a cemetery and swerved my bike across, a list of those gone but not forgotten proudly remembered. The town had grown from what I had read about it, but those where the 20-30’s and in his last book, “young men and fire”. I found the first diner I could, rolled my bike up and fiddled with equipment as the waitress brought hot food an drinks, it was here I found that my camera charger could charge my ipod and for the first time during my ride I could have tunes. My spirits began to sore, I had a belly of food, a plan of action to Lincoln Montana, and beyond. The South Africans joined me on my last round, and as well all reveled in our experience I paid my tab, saw my music device fully charged and was stoked to cover miles.
It is a process to load up your bike and gear stash, and I was still a rookie at this point. In gathering my things and making my way to the door I saw a twin to my brother, we locked eyes and he began to make his way to me. It took me awhile to realize that it indeed was my brother, it had been nearly five years since I had seen him, my dad had joked that he would find me when I “ride my bike” at the time telling them of the trip it didn’t really sink in till we started, then they realized the scope of what we were doing.
Josh came up to me and said we’ve been trying to find you for days, you had some shit weather. He said Dad was across the street, I hadn’t seen my father since I moved to Arizona. I walked outsided, past my loaded up bike and looking north across the street was a grey haired man looking to leap frog through traffic. He came up to me and for a second there was a brief awkwardness of side hug or full hug. I waited till he was done looking at my bike so we were shoulder to shoulder for a good solid hug. The last couple of days where the most trying mentally and physically for me, and for the first time in a long time I felt the security of having your father there, even if it was for a moment, the security, the piece of mind, it righted me for the rest of the trip.
He didn’t have a smart phone, so he was in contact with my mom back in Snohomish about where I was and how to find me, distant GPS signals and no name towns and then, boom, a reunion. We had a brief conversation, I needed to make use of the sunlight and good roads, we had agreed to meet in Lincoln. It was 80 or so miles to meet back up, I had tunes in my ears and The head and the heart played as I left the nostalgia of seeing my dad in half a decade, my brother was healthy and present, I rode along a swollen river to see them again, through a couple small towns and asked them to stay open for the South Africans, through fields being irrigated by rolling sprinklers leaving a mist that laid at the foot of the mountains, past the big Blackfoot river where MacLean fly fished and I stopped and took a pic of tombstones rising up like shark fins in the flooded waters, his staccato matched my cadence and gave further song to the ride.
The last little bit of ride to Lincoln is pavement, alongside it was a creek cut deep into the earth, a beautiful sunny ride, my first in Montana, I rolled into town and heard “PETTIT”, “HEY, PETTIT”, “JONNYP” and there as promised sat my dad and brother, hanging out waiting for my meandering ass. I had to do laundry again from the muddy roads, we ate together and then I wanted to push off, but he waitress had other plans, she showed us the dumpster out back where a bear had shoved it open, a grizzly to be exact. So instead of covering ground I stayed with my family and we talked for hours, and to some to not see each other for years is odd, for me and us, its normal. We got caught up as big mosquitos bumped my a bear totem pole outside the hotel, the late night air was much lighter than the day before, here, with my dad and brother I was awash in safety and familiarity.
In the morning we had breakfast, we shared a room and they both snore beyond control, a large part of me wanted solidarity, to experience the divide as it comes, but I knew these days are few and rare. I stayed longer than I should at breakfast and enjoyed them for who they are, I knew a long lonely day awaited me and maybe we would meet up again, but here, in Lincoln, we were perfect, and together, a beautiful sunrise had greeted us, there was no, “you should call more” just love. Love for me being me, love for them being them, I had a 20-30 mile climb ahead of me and at the top, surrounded by myself, I stopped at the beauty of all that was around, in the snow and wind, with the pines and dirt, it was the only time I cried on the entire trip.
My dad has since had some health issues, and my brother is dealing with issues that I don’t know how to speak of, but I know he’s more than what he has been, and certainly more than who he is right now. I sit in the sun and he sits somewhere remarkably different, past failures are a window to success, we don’t have to be limited to our past and we have to have the imagination and integrity to become what we imagine, all I really know is, when I was the most scared and lonely, my family was there, and approaching the 40 mark I should probably let them know more often, they’ve always laid a path for me to get where ever I’ve ever wanted, and that, is beautiful. I rode than damn long stretch of trail, I saw them again and it brought us back together.
As should bikes, effort and forever seeking limits and truth should.
Florescent garage lights flicker as my eyes hemorrhage to gain vision. The house is cold and the only noise comes from Mr. Coffee percolating the caffeinated goodness, I swipe the ipad to Pandora and now tunes fill the space I share alone with my thoughts. My lips meet the hot coffee in a porcelain cup as the rest of me attempts to awake from the fog of sleep. I know as soon as I hit the garage door button more blast of cold will cover me. It’s dark out and will be for hours, skin is exposed to bare air, crisp and cool it draws any moisture and makes me look older, I know however at 36 I’ve gained plenty of miles, most of them off the bike.
Fumbling for warmth, gloves and something to cover a bare scalp, I attempt to chug the heat from a cup for my last bit of reprieve from this lonely chill. Lumens now shoot towards my neighbor’s house and music attains my brain as cold heavy legs clip into contraptions that hold me to a machine. Everywhere my head turns, a narrow beam of light accompanies it, I wish my concentration could be as accurate.
It’s pavement for a couple miles, then the familiar trailhead. Darken empty parking lot, humble and chilly. I unlock the suspension, adjust a couple things and make my way to the rocky trials. My legs move like pistons, and my body the serpentine belt, but these glow plugs aren’t warm yet, the parts aren’t lubed and it seems a convoluted mess of things moving out of harmony. My heart thumps a faster rhythm than the rest of me want’s to, and it takes a while for the parts to find themselves and catch up, my brain however is still in thread counts and cotton.
Pockets of heat and depths of cold come and go in the hollers, every once in a while I’ll look for another light, but the better part of me knows I’m the only soul out here. It’ll be nearly 3 hours till the sun comes up, I know my music will be interrupted with emails from corporate back east, I also know I’m both doing good and evil to my body. Rocks kick up and splinter my chin, bringing me back to the realization I should pay attention and not on my finances, the sphere of life and makers mark. I stop at the next trailhead and look at my garmin held to the bike by electrical tape, it broke in the last crash and Chase bank said I can’t have another one. Coyotes and Javelinas are my only company, along with the bugs that sway in my headlight when I stop. The bike glides over the harsh earth and fully suspends me in air sprung comfort, giving further thanks to the relationships I’ve established since moving south.
First loves and fairy tales left handed diamond bands and life rolls on. I chuckle to myself, the cloud of breath hangs around my head like its waiting to be filled with quotations, instead I say fuck, where is the sun. I rumble through a bit of isolated singletrack and reach the backside of the mountain, random things sparkle in the rocks and dirt. Not all that shines like gold is golden, and not all efforts are even. The towers atop South Mountain are my only company; they blink in succession and mark their territory. I get to the top and turn back around and head toward San Juan and another random bit that doesn’t see much action, linking together sections of trail and asphalt, and then repeat the effort until finally the temperature dips a few degrees, then I know the sun is making its way to me.
I turn of the artificial light and allow the morning to come to me, set in my bones so I can feel its complete warmth, I know soon enough I’ll be too damned hot but that’s the motion of what we do. I sit on a cold rock on a good vantage point to watch the yellow orbs fingers of heat cover the valley, watch as they bend up the mountain and splash my face first then work its way down my body. I rarely during the week get to ride in the daylight, and while trying to balance life, love, money, work, events, and everything else it seems I’m more nocturnal than most. It’s a dance to ride in the dark, odd things stick out, your fall line changes in tunnel vision of light, your mind races of things you’ve think you saw. I’ve ate shit a time or two making the adjustment, “when Jonny p crashes in the woods does it make a sound” Yes, and usually the words are not sweet. Luckily barely anything is exposed so I’m just bruised but no blood.
Someone asked me what determination looked like the other day, and leaving my house before 4 am and seeing the glow of lights between my blinds and knowing its warm and cozy I imagined that’s it a little, the ability to shove off into the unknown, be humbled, emphatic, lost, confused but knowing we’ll be alright, that’s a brief description I’d give. Leaving something you know works for the betterment of us and our minds, friends and just plain ole exploration, chasing haunting fears and doubts.
I believe I’m a reclamation cyclist. Cobbled together things that were broken and forgot about, held together by glue I can’t describe and an unhealthy need to try everything. I found it early by way of getting away from situations, to be healthy, explore and come back home torn open, tired, bleeding but damn happy from an adventure, seeing rare parts of the globe. Your mind creates a wonder lust of what you saw and experienced, sometimes I’m a little wounded by seeing so many of these things alone, I’ve gathered many diamonds that have forever stuck with me. We all have crutches, shoulders and personal ambition; it’s the balance between them all that allows us to be creative. Life is for living, bikes suit anybody like a tailor fit, the further I got outside that knowledge my world came apart. We meet people that become bridges, allowing us to see and experience a different part of life, get across our own fears; this band of peddlers is the most sporadic and genius bunch I’ve met.
I really never thought of a career, never graduated college and barely made it through high school. A decades worth on the ocean, pounding nails, pouring concrete, skiing trees and riding bikes, that all sounded pretty rad to me, but understanding life doesn’t always have to be tough is a hard lesson for me to learn. In dating women they always see what could be, I tell them this is actually quite the refinement compared to what I use to be and do.
It’s not just about speed, but when we get twisted we find the purity of the effort when we swing a leg over a bike, then instead it becomes a magic carpet and away we ride. The older I get, the more happy I am to see the different scope of people on bikes, the endeavor is the same and I find a great deal of joy in that, sometimes I feel like I’m the vessel to go where they would like to, but can’t. Finding a purpose, revealing gratitude, having friends and quieting that internal mystery between our shoulders and ears, that’s a lot of the reasons I do it, it’s the only life I’ve known. Things could change in a year or ten, but the driving force will involve the machine itself, and the friends made along the way.