A flat road follows a series of valleys with only a few cabins and cows. The forest is less dry here, with ferns and moss beneath the trees. Eventually the valley ends, and I turn onto a highway that runs towards Priest River. The landscape flattens, but in the distance larger mountains appear. Fields surround the highway, and many cars pass by.
In the town of Newport I stop and eat. I feel better now that I’m out of the winding valleys. But as I leave Newport the road rises steeply. It takes the last of my strength get up the hill. There is a lot of pain. But nowhere in my mind is a thought of giving up. I have to keep going. I don’t consider another option.
Eventually the road levels and runs along the river, but more hills appear. I lean forward, and pedal. My legs and feet and knees are beyond pain now, like the feeling is happening to someone else. Not me. Who is me? Strange thoughts drift by. I stop in the shade and drink water, my legs feel even weak standing. But they still work. There is pain in my wrists, and my hands have begun to cramp. I shake them out, and get back on my bike, and keep pedaling.
~ ~ ~
Before I left, I had ] only a week to put my kit together. My bike was delayed at the shop, so I had time for a single test ride, without panniers, a 15 mile overnight to a secret camp spot on an island north of Portland. At the end of the week, I attached a rack to the front, and figured out how to fit a summers worth of camping gear, farm clothes, photography gear, cooking equipment and food into 35 liters. It didn’t seem like a good plan, but I didn’t have time to care, or money to fix any issues. Anyway, it was probably more interesting to figure it out as I went along I thought. I’d learned before that a perfect plan is unattainable. There are always things forgotten or unneeded. The only way forward is to go for it
Months before the trip, my plans changed entirely. I had planned at the beginning of the year to buy a van. When I found out my Subaru had major issues, it sold for $3500 less than I expected. This woke me up. I kind of hate cars anyway, I reasoned; aren’t we in the middle of an environmental crisis? How is driving a car all over the USA in pursuit of nature and adventure a moral act in light of current events?
When the day came to order my bike, I was hesitant. But I realized if I waited longer, I wouldn’t make the trip. I had to stop thinking about it. A quote from Encounters With The Archdruid had been ringing in my head all day: “Nothing is convenient, and there isn’t much time, so if you want to do something, you have to do it now.” I called the shop, and put down $1000 up front.
I’ve often wondered if following your interests is a selfish act. But as I’ve gone deeper into life, I’ve realized that following your interests helps you grow up. When no one is telling you which way to go, you form your own plan. Choosing this life can teach you lessons about all kinds of things. When you find yourself alone, far from anyone or anywhere you’ve ever known, you have to get over fear and self-consciousness. When you don’t have a reputation, you have to prove that you’re worth something.
Days spent in a self directed life are filled with beautiful and difficult times. They pass along with the seasons, a continuous flow of doing what makes you feel alive, creating memories you’ll never forget, that inspire art, or writing, or music, or give a deeper understanding about the interconnection of the world we live in. Going alone to places you’ve never been can make you feel small. It humbles you. It’s in this humble, inspired state of mind that I decided to take this trip, no matter what obstacles came.
~ ~ ~
Back in Northern Idaho, I sit at the base of a big hill where a stream flows by. The water looks cold. I’ve reached a placid state, where everything hurts equally, and thoughts drift slowly, like slow water, or far off clouds. How long do I have left? Maybe an hour, maybe three. Too tired to take off shoes or dip my feet into the stream, I filter water into my two bottles. Up on the bank, I notice two little cedar trees growing. They look dry from the hot sun. I climb down to the stream and get water for them before I leave.
Wide, marshy valleys appear. A long gravel track runs off into the distance. A hawk flies level with me for minutes. He cruises over yellow grass in a field, head moving left and right, searching for mice. I feel that I am flying along with the hawk. It makes me feel better. Of course I’ll get to Sandpoint, I think. This field is long, I think. The ground must be flat. That must mean I’m near the river. Which means I’ve reached the final stretch of highway before Sandpoint.
At lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, Idaho, the water is not quite warm enough for swimming. People lay in the sand, and watch sailboats move far off on the water. Lifeguards sit in chairs above the sand, watching the water, with nothing to do. I lean my bike against a tree. I sit down, take off my shoes. Now my feet are in the sand. The sand feels rough. Circulation returns to my feet, and they tingle. I stagger down to the water. Sparkling, effervescent waves of coolness run through my feet, into my ankles, calves, knees, and thighs. Everything is better. I can stand again. I think of nothing. The day has vanished. There is only the lake, the clouds, and the cool, clear water.
Staring at sailboats,
White sails of the boats,
White clouds in the blue sky,
The clouds and the boats move with wind.
The water is flat and cold,
My legs are cooled
I can feel the sand underfoot
No more movement today, something says
There’s a steady breeze
Coming off the lake