As a cross-country cyclist, I constantly dance between two worlds. On a daily basis I share the road with air-conditioned gas-guzzling monster vehicles. I ride through towns with stores and newspapers and internet access and gourmet restaurants. But while I’m exposed to all these modern frills and ameneties, I’m just a vagabond who sleeps in a tent, doesn’t shower, and spends most of her waking hours pedaling a bike. It’s a weird, hybrid sort of existence, where I’m neither isolated nor immersed in society or the wilderness. Instead I’m a perpetual fencesitter with one leg touching on the cultivated field of civilization and the other leg dangling in wild, overgrown, wonderfully neglected weeds.
I have to admit I prefer weeds to neatly trimmed grass. So when I met a Continental Divide Trail thru-hiker yesterday on the high point (elevation-wise) of this trip – an 11,500 ft pass in the Colorado Rockies – and he told me about the dramatic isolation and profound peace he’s encountered on his trek so far, I felt a pang of envy. As he hiked away after our conversation, I was sorely tempted to follow him, to trade in the concrete and traffic and entire eastern segment of the bike trip for the twisted trail leading over wind-whipped mountains all the way to Canada. I fear that the incredible beauty and remoteness of Nevada and Utah have spoiled me for the rest of the country; even Colorado seems urban and bustling by comparison, and the roads will just get busier from here to the east coast.
I’m in Salida, Colorado right now, and if I must pass through towns, I wish there were more like this one – snuggled between mountains, it’s an outdoors-obsessed, artsy, cultured haven populated by incredibly generous people. I rolled into town yesterday afternoon and in the span of an hour, three total strangers had offered me a place to crash. I ended up staying with a bunch of college-age kids working at a wilderness adventure camp, and I was treated to food, a shower, a sofa-bed sleep, and – this morning – a whitewater rafting trip down the Arkansas river. It felt wonderful to be pumping arms rather than grinding legs for a stretch, to feel the refreshing bite of water rather than the pulsing stab of the sun. This rafting adventure perfectly illustrates why I prefer cycling solo or in a small group, why I split from Brian’s biking crew. Traveling as part of a 9-person mob – while undeniably fun for a while – was really prohibitive to having these sorts of random, serendipitous experiences.
Now as I head into the flatlands of Kansas, I’m bracing myself for a totally different game. The eastern half will present a unique slew of challenges, more mental than physical in nature. That same CDT thru-hiker had some advice for long, dull, boring stretches of any trip: “Find the beauty.” It’s a good mantra, and as I leave the spectacular west behind, I’m determined to ride and live by it.