Viscerally, I learned why mountain is often a metaphor for difficulty. In my imagination, the mechanics of a gracefully constructed bicycle would leverage my energy to overcome the difficulty of mountain climbing.
While my journey is definitely orders of magnatude easier than lugging a pack through the brush up the mountainside, Newtonian physics cannot be bribed away.
Two and a half days, eighty miles and seven thousand five hundred feet into the Rockies, the muscles and tendons in the back of my right knee began to swell in discomfort. I unpacked my bike and got a pickup truck ride from a friendlly Colorado family who drove me a third of the way of Monarch mountain. My parents arrived to visit and drove me another third up to Monarch Mountain Lodge, two thirds up to the pass.
Their visit was a great treat for me, and I was very happy to catch up with them and drive to visit some family friends in Colorado Springs.
Memorial day, I trudged the last five miles and two thousand feet to the 11,300 foot pass, unable to pedal much because of the elevation and racing crankset on my bike.
Down the otherside was like a night stargazing. Riding down a mountain does not provide an adrenalene rush of a steep descent so much as a growth of awe and wonder at the scope of such a great edifice that can rise so high with such magnificence against the straining gravity of the earth.
I camped and ate dinner with a Dutch couple who were bicycle touring the western United States in retirement. Their conversation was a delight with refreshingly European perspectives on politics and lifestyle. Who knows, maybe a bicycle trip to the Netherlands lies in my future…
The next morning my feet and knees ached, but I set out with slow and deliberate pace, knowing my day held only gentle downhill riding. I made it to Gunnison and should have stopped at the first camp, but I remained determined to press on beyond the river canyon to the resivoir. The wind kicked up and slowed me to a crawl, dragging my morale even lower.
As the four O’Clock storm lifted I rolled into Stevens Creek campground, and was greeted by a neighbor who had just caught two trout and invited me to eat with him. I was extremely grateful for this kindness, and an unexpected hot meal after an unexpectly hard day.
I crawled into bed still wired from the 10am coffee earlier in the day and did not drift to sleep until 10pm or later. I awoke to a bright eight O’Clock sun and stillness of wind. My knees and feet still felt weak, so I reluctantly decided to pass my day in camp resting. My neighbor, ever so kind offered to drive me to town for lunch. Hot pizza was irressistalble. His name was Terry, a young retiree from finance work in big pharma. He offered me good advice and perspective on my next career move.
As the cool night air rolls in like the banks of chilled air from a regrigerator door, I am nestling into my warm sleeping bag, and thinking about what I have learned of setbacks and difficulties, about how mountains literal or metaphorical break my pride and change my pace or course, how they are difficult to live with and impossible to live without. I owe who I am to the challenges and hardships of my life. This is where I learn how to really hold dear what I love and how to let go of unessessary wishes and unworkable goals.