Archives for posts with tag: bicycling

Our joy ride had a life of its own.

We left Chicago and powered through the rust belt.  We slid into home, to Cambridge, but couldn’t stop…the game had changed and they didn’t tell us…we were waved on…heck, the brakes wouldn’t hold!  Despite all our intentions, we kept going east, only stopping when we got to the farthest reach of land curling into the Atlantic.  And then, we ran out of the car and jumped into the water.

And so it was that we skittered through Cambridge and on to Cape Cod.  Somebody said, “That was good thinking,” congratulating us on our wisdom in keeping our grand hippy honeymoon alive.  I had to demur – thinking was not at all a factor.  No thinking, no wisdom except that of our bodies that said, keep going, keep sleeping outside, the ocean is near, the tender beauty of Cape Cod is only the skip of a stone away.  It wasn’t my intellect working as I took out my laptop within hours of opening our front door to try to nail down a couple of nights at the state campground in Brewster.

Jeremy Point


The Cape is where I was partly raised.  Every summer from the time I was five, my family went down to Wellfleet.  We stayed on Pleasant Point for a few summers, until my father bought land across Loagy Bay on Lieutenant’s Island, and built a house (a comic masterpiece), which we owned until I was nineteen.

Great Island, on the bay side, forms Wellfleet harbor

The pale sandy shoreline changes shape with every storm and tide, every winter completely transforming; the fragrant scrub woods of oak and pine and blueberries and bayberries and sweet pepper trees hold the hills together; and the waters are a miraculous convergence:  the peaceful bay, the powerful Atlantic, and the sweetwater glacial ponds. I don’t remember learning to swim.  I was always in the water.

The coastline is in constant flux

We ate steamers and oysters from the flats in front of our house, and the flounder we caught there and in Orleans.  Every Wednesday night, we drove in for the square dances in the Wellfleet town parking lot. Like everybody down there, our days were shaped by the tides, and we had our tiny local newsprint chart taped by the door, three columns, two rows: bay side/ocean side/phase of the moon, and high/low.  Low tide coming in was the best for the ocean, for the long waves good for body surfing. As the tide went out on the bay side we dug our clams and played endlessly on the flats.  Lieutenant’s Island road was underwater at high tide, posing a logistical challenge which we often did not meet.  We’d get stuck on the funky wooden bridge over the marsh channel coming back from the drive-in movies, with all of us kids laid out like sardines in sleeping bags in the back of the station wagon.  When my only-child father was especially crazed and restless and feeling trapped in a large and unfortunately noisy family of his own making, he grimly herded all of us into his fantasy boat, a big used wooden dory, painted orange.  Mostly he was up in town working, which was fine, while my mother took us kids for most of every summer, except for those years of our western adventures.

Camping, Conveniently

Relief to be living outside again

Our campsite was pretty and private and flat.  But it hardly mattered where in the campground we ended up, because it is close to everything that is good in life.  The ponds on the campground are as beautiful as any on the Cape.  No need to ever get in the car –  the Cape Cod bike trail touches on the campground boundary, and takes you quickly up to Nauset Beach on the ocean side. A five minute ride gets you to an exquisite bay side beach.  We had our lunches at a great burger joint run by nice people virtually next to the campground.

Civilization at its peak on the bay

Horseshoe crab in the shallows of low tide

Makeshift lee

We watched the tide turn at the marsh channel. The flow never pauses at the moment of change, like water sloshing side to side in a bucket.

We collected pebbles, as usual.

Catch and release pebble collection

Joy Can Lift A Whale Out Of The Water

One morning in March years ago I stood on a dune 300 feet over the ocean at Lecount Hollow in Wellfleet.   The summer cottages were still boarded up, and nobody was on the beach or on the path through the beach grass, anywhere.  I was alone.  The sky and the water were clear.  Light and wind played, and the ocean responded with sparkling immediacy, in huge sweeps – shivers and thrills of love.  Colors shifted, dark, light, blues and greens, over the timeless depths and distances. About a quarter mile up the coast and offshore only about 100 yards out I saw a puff of white – a spout! – and just under the surface, the massive shape of a whale swimming down the shore. It was so big that I had to reset my perspective again and again to comprehend the distance as it swam toward me.  For almost an hour I watched as the creature leapt up and out of the water again and again, twisting and flopping and crashing down and splashing in every way imaginable.  I was incredulous, and looked around for somebody to affirm this as real.   The whale moved with amazing speed and acrobatic grace, yet so impossibly huge!  I was alone but for this one fellow creature, and I stood watching as it danced with joy in the magnanimity of the ocean.  Nothing to do but let the reality sink in.

Letting it sink in

From the heights of Beartooth Pass

From the top most point of Beartooth Pass, we could see the plateaus stretch out.

Ascent to the Top of Beartooth Pass

We’d taken an extra day in the canyons of the Beartooth Plateau, and we decided to move on to the high plateau itself.  Driving through the Beartooth Pass was harrowing – for me at least.  At various times in my life, vertigo has crept up on me.  It can be crippling, keeping me from walking steep trails, or getting anywhere near the edge of a precipice.  It’s Vertigo vs. Life for me.  The drive up the pass put me to the test.  Hairpin turns up the vertical pitch – at times with no guardrails.  Every time I saw an oncoming car, my imagination ran rampant, and all the alarms in my gut went off.  I wanted just to stop and walk down.  I suppose if I did stop, peeling my fingers from the steering wheel would have been impossible.

Our car seems to have acquired a persona on this trip. She is a stalwart little filly with more spunk than we had imagined, and her name is Nellie.  Thanks to our friend Marty who took such meticulous care of her before he passed her on to us, she is fit as a fiddle.  She did just fine on the climb, though I worried about her every time the road tipped us more skyward.   She didn’t care at all.  In fact her gas mileage never got below about 30 mpg.

Best little filly that ever crossed the continental divide, Nellie.

We came to the turnout near the top, and the huge plateaus that had been too high to glimpse from our hikes in the canyons stretched out below.  The tops were relatively flat and green, like broad islands of prairie that floated over the canyons.  At one overlook, a herd of mountain goats, a rare sighting, grazed a hundred feet below us, their kids gathered in the middle.

This was a rare view of so many mountains - the little ones are toward the center.

Herd of Mountain Goats on Beartooth Pass

The cold air filled my sails back up.  I thought we, Nellie, Mark and I, had accomplished something quite remarkable that morning.  That notion blew off the top of the pass like a feather in a high wind as we encountered a pair of cyclists who had made the same trip.   And they were smiling and relaxed.  These guys were the heroes.

Two Montanan cyclist after a morning ride to the top of Beartooth Pass

"One peddle at a time," they said. And so it was, to the very top.

Human Beings

All along this trip when we have seen cyclists peddling along the road, I’ve involuntarily cried out, “Human Beings!”  It’s a stirring recognition of some shared values, I guess.  Maybe, for starters, none of us are going to spend the money to run a car every time we want to go out into the world.  But often it appears that they are out there because they want to be in it, not watching it roll by through a car window.  They want to use their own muscles to go where they want to go, and they want to hear and smell the world, feel the heat and the cool, the passing clouds and crickets.  There are many values that might be extrapolated from the choice to ride a bike.  It’s a hopeful place to start, anyway.

This time, up at the top of the world, I approached the pair with my camera, saying that I’d like to take a picture of the true heroes of the Beartooth pass.  They were jovial and gracious, and we all struck up a conversation.  It turned out that they often take on very big bike trips like this one.  They had started at 5 that morning and, “just one peddle at a time”, made it up the pass.  We told them how we rarely got in our car at home – barely once every two weeks – and how using our bikes had become our primary, and beloved, mode of transportation.  One of them runs a bicycle education center near the Selway-Bitteroot Range and effusively offered us the use of a couple of his “hundreds of bicycles” (his friend nodded, yes, hundreds) for a ride when we got up there.  We told him of our old friend who started Bikes Not Bombs in Jamaica Plain, a wonderful group that takes donated bikes and parts and uses them to teach inner city kids to build and maintain them – and then gives them the bike they have built, for free.  The cyclist had heard of them, and immediately invited us to stay at his home when we came up to explore the Bitteroot.  “Or you can just come by and take a shower!”  This was truly a human being.  We traded information and hope to visit with him again soon.

[As opposed to…

Tens of thousands of motorcyclists took to the same roads we travelled that weekend.

The roads were clogged with hogs.

Our tour through the Beartooth region coincided with a motorcycle rally that brought tens of thousands of bikers from Red Lodge over the Beartooth to Cody, Wyoming.  The roads were filled with the loud machines, the towns and villages overflowed with the tough and regalia-festooned middle-aged cyclists.  The noise and crowds were tiresome, and made the roads dangerous. The day after we arrived at Crazy Creek, a biker skidded off the road just outside of our campground. While we did not see the accident, judging from the presence of the emergency vehicles and officials, we fear that he or she may have been hurt very badly.]

The View From Crazy Creek

This is our tent site view at the quiet Crazy Creek campground along Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone.

We camped several miles down the road, beside the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River, in the shadow of the Pilot and Index peaks, at a campground called Crazy Creek.  The mosquitoes were another story.  So we put up the screen house.

Mark plays for the mosquitoes

The nicest music is in the screen tent.

From there we took two hikes, one up to Clay Butte, and the other at Island Lake.  We were in an alpine world, where snowbanks 4 feet deep were still melting into the high meadows and forests.   At Clay Butte we hiked along the road to the fire tower.  The road was still closed to cars, but was becoming drier and more passable with every day.  Once we got on top, we hiked out onto the alpine meadow, where tiny flowers of every color bloomed, as numberless as the stars in the sky.  The field fell away in every direction under a perfect sky.

At the top of the Clay Butte hike

From Clay Butte, Pilot and Index peaks are on the horizon.

A zillion forget-me-nots

Like stars in the sky, alpine flowers in bloom.

Shooting stars

An amazing variety of alpine blossoms.

Clay butte looks at the back of Beartooth Butte – a geological mystery.  It is a thick column of sedimentary rock dating back to the first appearance of plant life on earth, unlike any of the rock around it.  Perhaps some of my geologist friends have some insights about it.

A geological anomaly - Beartooth Butte

The Source of the Torrents

Island Lake Trail

The snowy shore of Island Lake

We drove up to the Island Lake campground – snowy and not yet open to campers – and walked out onto the high tundra along a little string of alpine lakes.

The lakes were like openings to the sky on the ground.

At the moment of getting out of the car, it was clear that we were in the sky.  We approached the trail in the cool morning air.  There was no humidity to soften the edges, so shadows were voids and anything that caught the light shone with saturated color.  The lake water was dark blue and patches of snow were everywhere along the shore.  Only fifty yards into the trail, we had to cross a roaring outlet.  We had to take off our shoes and trousers and ford the wide and deep boulder strewn stream.

We had to take the plunge to go on...and the water almost reached my waist.

The water almost reached my waist, and I was thankful for my walking sticks, as I groped for each foothold over the rocks through the surging current.

Paw prints, front and rear, only about a day old.

Judging from the tracks on the muddy trail, only two other walkers had preceded us on the snowy and muddy trail, within a day or at most two:  the Oregonian hiker who probably left his car in at the trail head, and a mountain lion.  Pumas often track humans out of curiosity, and perhaps this was the case.  We saw the front and rear paws plainly differentiated.  The rear paws were almost as long as, and broader than my hand.  Its prints were deep and clear, implying a heft at least half again more than mine.  How scary, how exciting, to know that we were in the territory of such a magnificent animal.

My hand is slightly in the foreground. The length of the print was just shy of my hand.

This was a walk over the tundra, a vast squishy sponge of grassy snowmelt.  The snow banks were shrinking fast under the diamond-hard sun as we rock-hopped and slogged through the endless rills.  We wondered at the survival of the gnarly spruces on the windy ground, and saw the tailings of moles’ sub-snow tunnels left behind like fat cursive messages on the grass.  Marsh marigolds and globe blossoms bloomed in places that must have been buried under the snow only a day or so ago.  Sometimes the flowers didn’t even wait for the snow to melt.  Maybe the light triggered their emergence, the length of the day started their urgent growth.

Marsh Marigolds through the snow. Brilliant, persistent, life.

By the time we got back to the stream near the trailhead, the water had risen a couple more inches.  In we went again.  The cold was numbing, but as I cleaned and dried my gruesome, beat-up feet, I felt great.  I wouldn’t have traded these encounters on the high source of the torrents below for anything, not even dry skivvies.  It was soul-satisfying.

Carpets of Wildflowers

My mother and her sister loved wildflowers.  They would pull over along their many criss-crossings of the West from California to Arizona to New Mexico, up to Montana, and scan the meadows, joking with us that they would only settle for carpets of flowers.  Not a few, not just one kind, but the full and dazzling display.  They often took picnics with their flower books tucked under their arms, ever on their quest.  We never saw the carpets she talked about when we were together.  I never saw them like this before this trip, actually.  But here they are.  And my mother’s love of this world is strong in me now.  How lucky I am to have had such a mom.

The list of the wildflowers that we’ve seen just keeps growing.

Ennis hillside garden

Fuzzheads in Ennis

Perfect yellow beauty in Ennis, in the carpet of flowers

Columbine

Mountain Heath

Wild Clematis

An Indian Paintbrush riot was going on.

These pictures only represent some of the dozens of types of flowers we saw over the last couple of weeks.  The flowers were going crazy everywhere we looked.  Many in this collection were photographed in Ennis, close to my grandparents’ ranch.  The hills were lower elevation and the blooms of every sort were at their peak.

I should note here that I often thought of my friend Amy Rothstein, a gifted photographer, and her stunning pictures of flowers, and natural abstracts.

Next up:  Yellowstone, Ennis and Red Rock Lakes