For the Love of a Horse- The Story of Hayduke and I

It was a extremely hot day in July of 2016 down in Supai, a village located in the Grand Canyon, the home to the Havasupai Tribe. The sun was burning my skin, the heat was giving me a headache and as I walked pass a home; I saw him. A beautiful dark brown horse lying down in the dirt in the front yard, his legs stretched out, his body covered in sweat, he appeared lifeless, but, he was not 🙂 As I looked a little further through the wire fence I saw that his hooves were in terrible shape, his hip bones protruding through his sweaty and dirty body, his ribs so visible he looked like a skeleton. His spirit gone, his heart weary and lonely and it was then that I knew, that horse was going to be mine. I was going to get him out of there, come hell or high water, that horse was mine.

On this trip; I wasn’t down there guiding, rather I was down there to gather information and pictures of the abuse that haunted the canyon, the abuse that became the reason I quit my job. I left Supai a day later, with the knowledge that getting him out of that place would take awhile, it might not happen at all and he might not make the hike out, but, I was going to try. After all, I promised him that I would get him out.

I was no stranger to Suapi, or the Tribe, up until the 4th of June, 2016; I was a backpacking guide, taking people down to camp at Havasupai Falls. After finding out more information about the tribal wrangler our company used to haul our camping gear up and down the canyon; I quit my job, no longer was I going to keep my mouth shut about the horrific animal abuse that took place in that canyon, no longer was I going to accept what all the other guides and people did, I was not going to accept the answer of, “that is just the way it is.” NO, it was time to stand up, yell at the top of my lungs and tell everyone I knew about the truth of that deceptively beautiful place. I spoke to the Channel 12 news, created a page on FB to advocate for the animals and told everyone I knew. The attention began to grow and the pressure was felt by the Tribe. While all the attention was being brought to the abuse I worked everyday to get him out, every night, I dreamt of him. I was ready at anytime to go, hike down and get my horse, bring him out, take him to Flagstaff and rehab him, love him, and begin my journey with him. On July 26th,2016; I was at Best Buy and I got the text, “come get your horse”, it was around 6pm. I packed my backpack with everything I would need for an 8 mile hike down to the village and a hike back out not knowing how long it was going to take. My heart was screaming in happiness, I was getting my horse, I was on my way to rescue him and man, that was an awesome feeling. Wade drove my car, I couldn’t drive, I felt high, I was too excited to focus on driving the 3.5 hrs. We arrived at the Hilltop around 11:30pm and headed down the trail to Supai in the dark. We reached the village around 3am and were excited to get him around 630 am, but things did not happen the way I had hoped. When I arrived at the owner’s house, my horse was gone, I was terrified that something had happened to him. I knocked on the door and was told that my horse and his owner had left the village hours ago.
I started running. I had not had anything to eat, nor had I slept and none of that mattered. All that mattered was that I needed to get to my horse. I had made a promise to save him and so I ran my heart out, crying, praying he would actually be at the Hilltop. I ran 8 miles up, arriving around 940am at the Hilltop, he was there, my heart relieved to see him. I met up with the owner, he had run him up the canyon, riding him for a mile and a half. I had to keep my cool though I wanted to smack him and yell at him for what he had done to my horse and so many others, but I knew I just needed to get my horse and paid him $250 like we had agreed on. I will never forget the second he took his lead rope off and walked off.

There I was, in the hot sun, alone for the first time with my horse. MY HORSE!!!!! I was told by his owner he did not like people, but judging from the way he nuzzled right into me as I attached my lead rope to his old halter, I knew that wasn’t true. I had a HORSE!! I was excited, nervous, scared, worried, tired, hungry, but, I was content and I could see relief in his eyes. Well, I had a HORSE now, so of course he needed a name. I named him Hayduke, in honor of Edward Abbey’s writing and passion for the Southwest. So, now I had a HORSE and he had a name. We sat together at the Hilltop in the heat for almost 7 hours, his feet looked like paddles, his body like a skeleton, but I knew he was a fighter, I knew that he knew that I saved him and was going to get him out of there. We spent a few hours together hunkering down under the outhouse looking down into the canyon where he had been living, a place he was never going to see again.

Hayduke was transported to Flagstaff and taken to a wonderful place, that first night in Flagstaff was filled with a ton of commotion and unknowns. I watched as the farrier trimmed his feet, as the first set of abscesses appeared in his feet. It was bad, his feet were in bad shape. I remember feeling like a zombie, so tired both emotionally and physically and worried beyond words about this amazing creature that I had rescued and instantly fallen in love with. The next day, Hayduke’s first day in Flagstaff he ate and ate and ate and ate, and he seemed calm and happy. He seemed as though he felt safe.

The Vet came out on his second day and gave him an exam, did blood work, etc. Again his feet were a concern and we began a daily process of soaking, medicating, wrapping his feet to help open and drain his abscesses. Hayduke moved from that first place to a ranch in Flagstaff where I spent hours everyday trying to heal his feet and allow him to eat as much as he wanted. He also received an excessive amount of love, he probably was so sick of the kisses and hugs, but he got him, everyday. His story began to touch others, so many were rooting for him. I became aware of how generous, kind and loving the horse community is as well as random people. I was nurturing this wonderful creature back to health. He ate and ate and somedays that is all he did 🙂 he became my best friend so quickly and my love for him grew daily. I woke up everyday excited to drive out and spend my days with him, it was as though the rest of the world stopped and it was just Hayduke and I. He was gaining weight, getting some of his spunk back, but his feet, his feet were not improving.

On August 15th 2016, the vet came out to the ranch, Hayduke had been lying down and I could tell his pain was immense. The vet opened a deep abscess that bleed like crazy, he preformed a series of X-rays and I could see it in the Vet’s eyes that Hayduke was in trouble.
Hayduke was taken into the hospital that night and put on IV meds, had medical wraps on his feet and received medical care around the clock. I spent my days lying in his stall with him, most of the day, he would lie down next to me, put his head in my lap against my chest and just sit there. It was like magic, but, I knew in my heart that he was sick and that no amount of love was going to fix this. After four days in the hospital it became apparent on X-ray and by watching him that his pain was not going to be manageable, he was suffering and the abuse and neglect he had faced could not be reversed. It was time to say goodbye, time to allow him to rest and be at peace. I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was a cold rainy day, I knew I had to say goodbye. The Vet told me that I did not have to stay, but, there was no way I was going to leave him alone. It was about 430 in the afternoon, I led Hayduke outside his stall and behind the office. The Vet explained how the process worked, I hated it, I was so angry and heartbroken, but I could not let him suffer any longer. The vet make a braid for me from Hayduke’s tail and handed it to me. He gave Hayduke the first injection, in a few minutes it caused him to collapse to the ground, I remember screaming out, crying my brains out. I felt so sad, so hurt, so fucking mad, so fucking mad. Hayduke now laid on the ground, his beautiful body right in front of me. I went to his head, started loving on him, the second injection went in and he faded like he was going under for surgery. I told Hayduke that I loved him, that I was sorry. And then, the last one, the vet whispered a few seconds later, he has no heart beat. I wanted to throw up, I wanted to run down to Supai and yell at his former owner. I wanted my Hayduke back. I wanted his silky nose to nuzzle my face, I wanted a story with him. But in a matter of minutes that was all gone. I felt like I had failed him. I felt so broken so lonely. I had three weeks with Hayduke and in that short period of time, I feel like I had a lifetime. A lifetime filled with love, hope, smiles, life lessons and compassion, for what else is there in life?
Hayduke is now in my heart forever, that is where is was always meant to be. He taught me so much, much more than I ever expected to learn. He loved me and I loved him and though I wish he was still here, I know that my job in all of this was to get him out of suffering and to send him to heaven knowing love. I could have never prepared myself for what Hayduke brought to my life. Out of all of my adventures, this one truly changed me. I am humbled to have been a part of Hayduke’s life. I am honored to have been there as his friend at the end. I am grateful to so many people- Scott and Terry Small, Kathy Oliver, Christine Griffin, Don and Marci Walters, Ruthann Penn, Dr Shane Dennis, Colleen and Dan Larrabee, ATGNIphotoworks, all my horsey friends on Facebook- too may to list, but thank you to everyone who donated, gave their advice, support, friended me to help, assisted Hayduke and I in anyway. Thank you for holding some of Hayduke in all of your hearts.

In loving memory of George W Hayduke, the horse from Supai

Leaving Abiquiu or not leaving Abiquiu on the Great Divide!

I had been so exhausted and defeated in the days leading up to Abiqui. I enjoyed a day off at the Abiqui Inn- a neat little respite from the long days on the Divide. A few weeks prior while I was in Colorado; I had been informed about a man who lived outside of Abiquiu who was holding bikers up at gunpoint and robbing them, it had been on my mind ever since learning about it. It had created an immense amount of anxiety and fear in me and I was leaning towards taking an alternate route to avoid that area. I spoke with locals and other bikers who for the most part knew nothing about that guy. After, a nice day off, my plan was to head out. I went to the restaurant to eat breakfast and was seated next to this guy who was also eating alone. He looked like a movie star, he had this sleek, kind and handsome look to him. At some point, we struck up a conversation, we talked about my trip and a little bit about who we each were and where we were from. I have no idea how the topic of losing my sister Martha came up, but somehow it did. He was so easy to talk to and I guess I was in dire need of releasing some of my grief. Grief is a constant ebb and flow of emotion. I hadn’t really been addressing my grief on my ride thus far. More so, I had been hiding it, pretending it wasn’t real and trying to ignore it. I mean, I was on my bike, I couldn’t ride at all or make any miles if all I did was cry and let my grief out. I had to stifle it and put it away. But, grief isn’t just tears, sometimes it shows up in the form of just needing one more day off on a big bike ride, or being extra anxious or lonely or feeling “off.” That morning it knocked me over and consumed me. He began to talk about his own losses and grief and what his process had been. The more we talked, the more both of us started to tear up. There we were two grown strangers crying at breakfast. It was one of the most therapeutic experiences of my life. I then told him I had planned to leave that morning and about my concerns about what I had heard about that guy harassing bikers. He could tell I was struggling with myself to continue riding. He said to me, “you don’t have to ask permission for another day off.” You can take it. He offered to take me into Espanola so I could get to a real store. I told him I’d let him know in a few hours. After, I finished my breakfast and exchanged contact information with him I left the restaurant and noticed that there was horses in the back of the property.

I immediately walked over there and had another big release of grief. Horses are extremely therapeutic and it was exactly what I needed at the moment. The way they smell, the way they feel, the way they can reflect and comfort you without even knowing you, without any questions asked is such a special gift. I stayed there for a while and then decided to walk back to my room. I was so tired and now, I was emotionally exhausted. Grief wears you out. It drains you. It’s so hard. I ended up texting my new friend and he picked me up and drove me into town to Walmart and Dairy Queen. It was awesome and relaxing. I was so glad I had not ridden off that morning. I wasn’t ready to leave and that was okay. I had a kind escort for the day and a cool Kermit Car to ride in.

My new friend and his awesome ride 🙂

After we returned to the inn, he offered to take me on his motorcycle up Polvadera Mesa where that guy I was worried about had been known to be. He said it might help to see some of the route and if I did indeed decide to take the alternate then at least I wouldn’t miss some of the beautiful views of the actual route. The ride was amazing, it’s so special out there, so beautiful- the desert, the mountains, the rock, the sky- man, it’s all so indescribably beautiful. It was nearing the end of the day and I knew that in the morning I was leaving. I had to chose the actual route or the alternate. I got back to my room right at dinner time and said goodbye to my friend. It had been a very healing day for me. Though, I still felt sad, uneasy, and anxious. I knew that I had to start allowing my grief to surface more. That I shouldn’t be scared of it or try to ignore it. That it was okay to be a mess, to be vulnerable and lonely and sad even when I was on a big adventure, being a badass or trying to be a badass. It was okay to be just me and to be just where I was with my grief. The next morning, I packed up and rode to the general store. It was either turn left and head up to Polvodera Mesa on the actual route or go straight and take the alternate. I started riding and for some reason turned left onto the actual route. I surprised myself with that decision. But, I was not going to let some guy scare me off the route…

I made it into Abiquiu- The Great Divide continues!!!

Hitching back to the route from Tres Piedras was difficult, the traffic was almost non exsistent, at least in the direction I needed to go. After an hour and a half I got a ride in the back of a pickup truck, with no bed gate. I had to hold my bike so tight and keep us both from falling out of the back of the truck as the driver drove way too fast for the turns on that road. I was pretty scared to be honest. When I got back to the route, I put my panniers back on my bike and started the 5 mile climb up the paved highway 64 to Hopewell Lake. I was still feeling tired, my body was still exhausted and I was only planning to ride to Canon Plaza, 24 miles away. My riding was sluggish, I was still fading mentally and psychically. FR 91 was in alright condition, the terrain was pretty nice, there were a few climbs up to Burned Mountain and then again to the top a saddle that stood above ranches and wetlands. I loved riding through the tall trees that day. It was so quiet out there, no one else was out there, but me and my bike. Most days on the Divide were like that, but there was generally some vehicle traffic at some point and that day the road belonged to just me and my bike. After only 10 miles of riding I was beginning to feel the fatique worsen. My pernicious anemia and Crohns were giving me trouble as they often do and coupled with the fact that I was riding the Divide and pushing myself day after day for weeks now, my body was admittedly protesting. I rode into Canon Plaza and went to the store Joe and his wife have setup for bikers, I bought a few snacks and talked to Joe for a while. Joe kindly offered to let me stay at his house he was fixing up across from the store. I happily accepted his offer and ended my day on the bike early. As I was writing outside on the patio of the house a dog named Duke came to greet me. He was a skiddish shepard mix, but, sweet as could be. He hungout with me for a while as I wrote and then went on his way.

I struggled to sleep that night. I did not sleep at all in fact. I laid awake all night. You would think I could fall asleep so easy and fast because I was exhausted, but, I have always had trouble with sleep. Even when my body is beyond tired in every single way, there are nights when I cannot turn my mind off and I cannot sleep. It is like torture. Absolute torture. I have grown used to it over the years, but, it makes my days harder, especially when I am out on a big adventure like riding the Divide. The lack of sleep messes with my focus, emotions, appetite, endurance- everything- it throws yet another challenge into the mix for me. I have tried a lot of different things over the years to help with this struggle, but, I have yet to find anything that has worked long term. So, I have no other choice than to accept it as a part of who I am and learn to live with it, just as I do with having Crohns, Pernicous Anemia, anxiety and depression and POTS. All I can do is embrace those struggles and decide to not let them stop me from what I want to do.

As the daylight crept through the windows I knew I was going to have to pack up and start riding. I was headed for Abiquiu, 38 miles away. I left early as I was already awake, I wanted to see Joe again but I was not going to go over and wake him up. The morning air was cold, my eyes burned from staying up all night, my head was all over the place. I was supposed to have been in Abiquiu days ago, I just wasn’t riding as fast as planned because my body was just too tired. The riding out of town wasn’t too bad. The route took me across Rio Vallectios and then it turned onto FR 44 which was rougher riding than the nice gravel and pavement I had just been on. The road climbed up to a remote high point and then continued downhill for a bit. Then it went back up hill, eventually leading me onto Highway 554. I rode into El Rito and stopped at the little store there to get a soda and take a break. I was 18 miles from Abiquiu at that point and it was all pavement from there JAfter I was finished with my soda, I got back onto my bike and headed South on 554. The views were so beautiful riding into Abiquiu, the distant mesas and desert landscape did not disappoint. I was so happy to finally be in Abiquiu, a few days before when I was really struggling I did not think I would ever get there. I went straight to the Inn and got a room and ate a huge lunch.

First day in New Mexico- Not my best day on the Divide!

I was slow to pack up the morning after I entered into New Mexico. It was freezing out. My body was now in trouble. I was really struggling just to get ready that day. Everything seemed so hard. The day started with lots of rocky climbs. I struggled with each mile. FR 87 was rough and I was in no position to be riding that day. A few hours into the day, I called my parents crying- I was exhausted beyond exhaustion. My body was rejecting the physical aspect of the riding. My mom got online to look at maps trying to find a way for me to get off so I could quit. Honestly, I was at that point. My body was giving up on me, it didn’t care about my goals. I could hear my parents concern and worry. They know all too well that I often push myself past my limit and that my health issues cause me a great deal of stress and pain and my body is impacted by all of that. I just kept telling them that I wasn’t going to quit. That of course did not make my mom happy, but, I couldn’t quit. I had to keep going. I tried to reassure them as much as I could, but I think I was really just trying to reassure myself. I hung up and got back on my bike. There was a nice ROCKY descent after my phone call and it gave me some relief from the climbing. That was short lived though. I then began to push my bike up a half mile of some ridiculous terrain filled with sharp rocks and lose gravel. You absolutely couldn’t ride that section. Ugh! Right before the top of the climb I fell to the ground. I was crying like a baby. I was done. Mentally and physically I was done. Little did I know 100 yards away was an amazing view on top of Brazos Ridge looking down into Cruces Basin Wilderness. When I finally got to the top, the view was rewardingly peaceful and pretty epic.

I took a long break up there and then continued on FR 87. I was still struggling a lot. I was fighting each mile. I was fighting myself and I was fading. I always always carry extra food- usually one or two days extra- but I just couldn’t stop eating. I couldn’t get satiated. I was going through all of my extra food and I knew I was going to run out. I wasn’t riding as fast as I had planned and my tummy just couldn’t stop feeling hungry. It’s a terrible feeling to be eating through your extra days of food and knowing you will soon run out. On top of that my Crohn’s was flaring up and I was weak.

Riding down from Brazos Ridge was pretty fun and soon enough the road became smoother. I kept riding on FR 87, it went up and then down some and then back up, but the road was in good shape and the riding was pretty easy. Eventually, I started heading down through the aspen trees towards the Rio San Antonio. I could feel the sun get more intense as I approached the bottom of the descent and I wanted to find a place to camp, but, I knew I had to keep riding and so I did. I crossed the Rio San Antonio and turned off of FR 87 and onto FR 133. A couple miles later I met a guy driving back from a bike ride. I asked him what the closest town was, he told me about Tres Piedras and offered to take me there for some real food and a night of good rest.

Logistically, though getting back to the route from that point would have been too hard, so I decided to continue another 11 miles or so and try and hitch into Tres Piedras from highway 64. I really needed food and I needed some real rest, but I couldn’t put myself in a situation where returning to the route would be difficult. I kept riding, as I rode I felt so lonely, so tired, so defeated. When I got to Cisneros Park I could see the mountains of Colorado and that only made me feel more lonely. I missed my friends. I missed connecting to people and laughing and missed having days where I wasn’t on my bike. I followed FR 133 passed a dry Beehive Spring and began descending into Little Tusas Creek. The cows seemed to be amused by me, they were very vocal as I rode by. A short time later I got to highway 64, walked to the other side of the road and stuck my thumb out. I was going into Tres Piedras for the night. I had ridden only 44 miles that day, but for my body it felt like 100. The traffic was slow on highway 64 and the day was quickly ending. I didn’t want to be on the side of a highway when it got dark. A few cars went by and then the same guy I had met earlier that day pulled over. Unfortunately, my bike tires were too big to fit on his rack, but him and his friends flagged down a truck and I finally told got a ride into town. They dropped me off at the only restaurant in town. I ran in and found out they were closed, I was bummed. I secured a room for the night there at the motel and I bought a handful of goodies they had at the bar. The lady who runs the place stopped me before I left and asked me what I wanted to eat. She knew about bikers on the divide and she stayed late to cook me some food. She also told me to come back in the morning for breakfast. After a nice full dinner, I went to my room to unwind and eat all the goodies I had bought. I sat on the bed and ate for almost an hour and a half straight. It was like I was garbage disposal, I just kept shoving food in my mouth. I was able to really relax and get some good warm sleep and that made a giant difference. I slept in, I didn’t rush back on my bike in the morning. I stayed for breakfast and bought more snacks to take with me. I left around 11 and started to hitch back to where I had gotten off the route the night before. It was amazing how one night with lots and I mean lots of food completely turned me around. It was just what I needed.

Del Norte, CO into New Mexico on the Great Divide!

I took a day off at Danielle and Trenton’s house outside of Del Norte in South Park. It was a perfect day off, pizza by the creek with their doggies, easy errands, good company and good conversation. The following day, they drove me back into Del Norte where I had gotten off the route. And, the bike mechanic from Salida had texted me that my maps had finally arrived and his mother in law drove out to Del Norte that morning to bring me my new maps. Absolute wonderfully kind people. I was still incredibly tired and decided to just ride 12 miles to a local cabin that hosted bikers. I was anticipating the long hard climb to the summit of Indian Pass, 11,910 feet and decided an easy quick day of riding would set me up for the next day to tackle the big climb. The cabin was very neat, kind of like an artsy Jeremiah Johnson cabin, very unique and cozy and set in the low mountains of the Rio Grande National Forest. I did not sleep well, but, I got enough sleep 🙂

In the morning, I left the cabin prepared to handle the next 12 miles of climbing to reach the Pass. In true Elizabeth style, I walked my bike a lot of the way up. I even called my mom during the climb at one point and had a good conversation with her. Once I neared the top of the Pass the views were beautiful but the sky was hazy and the views were impacted by that. I rode from the Pass down into Summerville and then began to climb yet again. The views were great and the riding wasn’t too bad. I then climbed up to Elwood Pass and the views just kept getting better. I passed by a few lakes and kept riding with the intention of getting into Platoro for the night. I passed Stunner Campground and kept riding focusing on the final climb and final Pass for the day, Stunner Pass. That climb was so pretty. So many colors, so many rocks, lovely Colorado. At the top of the Pass I bundled up a bit, it was starting to get cold. I was ready for some nice downhill riding as the day had been filled with over 5,000 feet of climbing already and I did not want to face any other climbs that day. I rode into Platoro about an hour before dark, the store owners showed me the Great Diivde Cabin and set me up inside for the night. He later brought me some watermelon, cheese and a sausage, I sat on the deck of the cabin and ate my dinner. It was so peaceful there. I had lived in Colorado for 15 years and never even knew about that place or the surrounding areas. It is definitely a special part of Colorado and I plan on visiting it to adventure more one day. I slept very well that night, though my body was sore, so sore. I tried to stretch before bed and again in the morning, but I was beyond that being enough to help. My body was beginning to break down. I was beginning to feel my body breaking down. I was not recovering like I should. My health issues were getting the best of me.

In the morning I again received a generous home cooked meal from the owners of the store. It was delicious and filled me up enough to begin my day. The first part of the day took me along the Conejos River, it was like a scene from a cowboy movie, so much wild land out there. So much to explore. It was mostly flat terrain and easy riding. When I got into Horca, I stopped for a few Amish pies at the store in town and then turned up on Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway to climb to the top of La Mangas Pass. I stopped at a few viewpoints along the way to take in the views and take some pictures. The climb was pretty easy for the most part and only lasted 7 miles. I headed down from the pass absorbing the joy of the downhill riding. I left the highway and turned onto FR 117 which was a nice road with easy riding. Three miles later I left the Rio Grande National Forest and entered into the Carson National Forest/NEW MEXICO!!!! The final state of the Great Divide, getting that far was a huge moment for me. I couldn’t believe that I had actually done it. I was aware I still had hundreds of miles to ride to the Mexican Border, but, that moment, that moment when I knew I was finally in New Mexico brought me to tears. I felt so proud of myself. I was so excited. I rode about another mile or so and camped near a few other people who were out with their RV. One of the guys at camp had Kentucky Fried Chicken and offered me a few pieces along with some water. I was loving New Mexico 🙂 I set up my tent in a cluster of trees near their RV and prepared for the cold night ahead. I was still struggling with my body, it was fighting itself and it was breaking down. I was not feeling rested at all after days off or sleep, I was tired, I was slow, I was hungry. I couldn’t give my body the recovery time it demanded. I kept pushing myself in all ways possible and my body was now rejecting all of the pushing. I was in trouble physically and I felt it. My entire body felt it, but, I was in NEW MEXICO and nothing was going to keep me from getting to the Mexican Border. To be continued…..

Lima, MT to Grand Teton National Park, WY on the Great Divide!

After a much needed day off in Lima (I called it Lima Bean) I headed out for a 57 mile day which would end with meeting the Denver boys at Upper Lake Campground in the Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge. It was pretty easy riding that day, however, my body was still wiped from the 81 mile day into Lima. I arrived late afternoon and the boys were already there, sitting in the shade at a picnic table. I remember eating a ton of food, talking about food we wished we had and enjoying the cold water from the piped spring at the campground.

Leaving Upper Lake Campground, I left before the boys and headed for the Idaho border. I was ready to be out of Montana and into a new state. Afterall, Montana was over 700 miles and it seemed at times as though I was never leaving that state. So I was really looking forward to riding into Idaho and feeling like I was making progress. At about 12.8 miles from camp after summiting Red Rocks Pass I entered into Idaho and the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Yay!!! Idaho!! I rode for another 18 or so miles and stopped at highway 20. A few miles before stopping at the highway the route took me through an amazing section of trail winding aspens and flowers, it was absolutely beautiful and peaceful and oh the smells, the smells of the forest. The smells are so good for my soul. At the highway, the boys caught up to me and we all rode down the highway into Mack’s Inn and went straight for the Mexican restaurant. We ate a lot. Then we decided to go live it up at the Marriott for the night and watch scary movies and of course, eat more. There we were dirtbag filthy bikers in the fancy clean Marriott lobby, it was a hilarious site to see. We enjoyed our evening there and in the morning against our best judgment and the advice of my mother to stay another night, we headed out in the sub 40 degree pouring rain 🌧 the route followed an old rail way and it was, well, it was not fun. The bumps, the rain, the cold, the washboards, holy moly!!!!! My fingers burned all day from being so cold and I was soaked. When I arrived at Warm River-it’s not warm :)- the boys had taken over the group campsite and awning picnic area and looked just as defeated and cold as I was. We unpacked everything and laid it out on the covered picnic tables to dry. It was so cold!!!! We decided to get wood from the camp host to build a fire, which is something that is rare, but on that night, we needed a fire to warm up and lift our spirits. On the way to the camp hosts site we were offered chocolate cake from a couple I had met right before I got to the campground. Chocolate cake!!!! We happily took the cake and began chatting with them. I noticed the women’s bike and I fell in love with it. That’s where my bike addiction will start, that exact moment of thinking and planning on having more than one bike. Not good. Ugh! After chatting with the couple and exchanging stories and such we made it to the camp hosts site and bought a bundle of wood. We returned to camp, cooked dinner, built a fire and boiled water to put in our water bottles inside our sleeping bags to keep us warm. It was a cold cold 🥶 night at Warm River! But as always camped with the Denver boys made the sucky times a little easier and better.

In the morning, I left and headed towards Flagg Ranch about 47 miles, the air was freezing in the first hours of the day, but the scenery was beautiful. Riding Ashton Flagg Ranch Road was awesome. So pretty! Grassy Lakes reservoir was crystal clear and the colors throughout the day were brilliant. I arrived at Flagg Ranch in the afternoon and planned on camping there until I found out how ridiculously expensive it was to stay there. I waited for the boys to get there and we ordered food, bought snacks and decided to ride another mile to different campground down the road that wasn’t going to charge us $82 to pitch three tents. When we got to the campsite this guy and his son welcomed us into their campsite and we setup there. As if that wasn’t kind enough of him, he offered to take us into Yellowstone to see Old Faithful. We took him up on his offer and went along for a night I’ll never forget. We saw old faithful, Grand and a few other geysers erupt under the stars. Pretty rad! It was a late night, but, so worth it. The kindness from strangers is just so amazing and it’s what makes this journey what it is. That night I started having bad pain in my legs, achy, painful, annoying sensations that made it hard for me to sleep.

The next day, I left early as always. I knew I only had 16 miles into Colter Bay, WY, but the pain in my legs became worse and I couldn’t even pedal, it was so bad. I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t experienced that sort of constant pain in my legs before. Those 16 miles into Colter Bay seemed to never end. At that point on the route, those were some of the hardest miles for me due to the pain. I walked a lot of it. The redeeming part of that section was finally getting to see the Tetons. When I arrived at Colter Bay the boys had already secured a cabin. I told the boys about my leg pain and Zach suggested maybe I was low in salt, he gave me a salt pill and we took the rest of the day off. The salt pill did in fact help with the leg pain and I realized I was going to have to pay closer attention to my electrolyte intake so this pain wouldn’t become an issue again. The amount of tourists was a tad too much for me, but I needed the rest, I needed to do laundry and resupply so it was what it was.

The following morning, I left Colter Bay and headed into Grand Teton National Park. A few miles before the park, I met this photographer and we talked for awhile. He gave me water and a Coke and snapped a few pictures of me- it’s hard to get pictures of yourself when traveling alone, so I’m always happy when I have someone willing to take a few pictures of me. Proof I’m actually doing what I say I am 🙂 after riding into the national park I saw signs stating there were grizzlies in the area and to stay in your car. A few minutes later I saw a group of people on the side of the road, I then looked to my left and saw two grizzly cubs playing in the trees. I got off my bike and moved further off the road. Then, there the two cubs came, out of the trees onto the road and then came mama grizzly. All three crossing the road right in front of my bike. They were so beautiful 😍 what a special experience that was. I could watch them for hours but wanted to be respectful and let them be and continued on with my day. To be continued…..

The final day of the Divide!

Tonight, 10/23/20 I am staying at the Hacita Bike Ranch, owned by Jeffrey Sharp. It’s 11 pm and I cannot sleep. I rode 80 miles today from Silver City and I should be exhausted and dead asleep by now. However, I just can’t sleep. My mind is all over the place. Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll arrive at Antelope Wells/ Mexican border and my time on the Great Divide will end. A few days ago while riding into Silver City I was overwhelmed with memories of my journey out here playing in my mind like an adventure movie. Scene by scene. And, tonight it is even more overwhelming for me, this journey has been difficult to say the least. I am no stranger to great adventures, to long adventures; I’ve thru hiked and traveled 1000s of miles on my own two feet. I have thru hiked Mexico to Canada and I know all too well the emotions that accompany the completion of these kind of adventures. But this accomplishment is more emotional than any of my past ones.

I set out from Canada on my bike, having not ridden a bike in 15 years, I knew nothing about bikes or specs, or maintenance. Hell, I couldn’t even pedal up a 200 foot hill 🙂 seriously!! I was a rookie in every way in regards to biking. I set out to heal, to reflect and process the loss of my sister and come to terms with the horrible man I married, the destruction he caused and my choice to divorce him. I set out to find the person I was and had lost through years of his abuse. He robbed me of time, of myself and of all my goodness and happiness. I thought that riding from Canada to Mexico would be just what I needed to heal. Tonight, as I lay awake unable to sleep due to the anticipation of finishing tomorrow I realize that my expectations of this journey didn’t come to life. I haven’t healed. I haven’t processed anything. I have had many many moments of tears, of wondering why Martha is gone and thinking about how I miss her so very much. How she was always my greatest cheerleader and she wasn’t here for this journey. I have struggled internally everyday to keep riding, to not give up, no matter how hard it got. I have met fantastic people from all walks of life, I have shared conversations, laughs, tears and food with so many amazing people. I have felt alone. I have felt lost. I have felt scared, happy, hopeful, sad, defeated- I have felt at one time or another out here every possible emotion. Yet, I haven’t healed and I fear that returning home tomorrow will bring everything back, everything I wanted to escape from. I worry that maybe nothing will help me heal.

Everyone carries their own definition of adventure- to some it’s having a baby, buying a house, moving to a new place, walking across or biking across the country, climbing Everest, etc. For me, adventure means mental and physical challenge and being outside among the wild for extended periods of time. I have always used my adventures in the past to help me heal and this time it just didn’t work. I hope in the coming days after I complete this journey there will be some kind of realization inside of me, some sort of healing. And, if not, I guess I’ll just have to keep adventuring until my heart is whole again.

Great Divide- Butte, MT to Lima, MT

My cousin, Mark drove me back to Butte after my stay in Bozeman. It was nice to be able to get to know him more, talk and spend some time together. We stopped at Dairy Queen before he dropped me off. We said our goodbyes and I spent the rest of the night preparing for the next day. I woke up early and grabbed some breakfast. I rode about 36 miles the next day, which landed me at Beaver Dam Campground- the haze from the fires continued to block any and all views. I set up camp and during that time a creepy guy drove up to my campsite, got out of his truck and walked over and sat on my picnic table. He let his dogs out of his truck, they were sprayed painted neon orange. When I questioned him about why his dogs were spray painted, he responded by saying, “there’s a lot of weirdos out there.” Oh my goodness 🙂 He then proceeded to tell me he had a cabin a few miles back and told me I should come stay there. He was way too interested in my route and itinerary and he began to really freak me out, he didn’t take any social cues I gave to leave and acknowledge that I was super uncomfortable. A few minutes later this red van pulled up to the site across from mine and I walked over to talk to them. The guy left and I was happy to be near others for the evening.

In the morning, I filled up on water and left camp. Today, I was to climb up and descend the famous Fleecer Ridge, which is an extremely steep unridable rocky section. Many great divide riders opt to avoid this section and take an alternate to save themselves the headache of navigating this section. The climb was moderate, the cows were so incredibly vocal during my ascent. Once I reached the top the clouds started to darken, it started to drizzle, but the views were incredible. I could see for miles and it was so peaceful up there. I walked my bike to the edge and began the descent. No way on earth could I imagine myself or anyone riding down that. I squeezed my brakes, braced myself and carefully walked/slid down the worst of it. My bike slid all over, it was very difficult to maintain footing and keep my bike from falling down. Once I got to the bottom the rest of the ride into Wise River was fairy easy.

Wise River was a nice little stop for pizza and charging up my phone. After lunch, I turned on to the Pioneer Mountain Scenic By-Way, which climbed for miles and miles but it was an easy grade climb, with fabulous views, running water, rainbows, trees and plenty of nice campsites along the way. I camped about 13 miles after Wise River. It continued to rain heavily all night and it was freezing cold the next morning while I packed up, but it didn’t stop me from heading out. The remainder of the climb from camp on the By-Way was a bit steeper and I walked my bike the final 5 miles or so. I was rewarded with a super fun downhill from the top and then an easy and very enjoyable rest of the day into Bannack State Park. A few miles from Bannack I was stopped by two guys in a car who offered me a coke and water. They pulled over and we began talking. The older guy told me about his adventure of riding his tandem bike across the country with his wife in 1989, we shared stories, laughs and then went our separate ways. I remember feeling so good this day, feeling like today was perfect. Then, right before Bannack I met the Denver boys. I kinda invited myself to camp with them that evening and I would end up tagging along with them for the coming two weeks. We all set up camp, then decided to go explore the old ghost town of Bannack. We visited each building, creating our own stories about what the history was in each of them. It couldn’t have been a better day.

The next day, I packed up early and left. The boys were still sleeping. My bike was soaked and so was my tent. I hate packing up wet gear 😦 My plan for the day was to ride 38 or so miles and camp after the big climb up to the medicine lodge/ big sheep creek Divide. Around noon after about 31 miles the boys caught me while I was eating lunch and Zach made a comment about riding another 51 miles into Lima. I laughed and told them I was camping at a lake off route and that there was no way I could ride another 51 miles. They took off and finished my lunch and dried out my tent fly. The climb sucked. I rode down the other side of the climb expecting to see the boys camped, I didn’t see them anywhere. I assumed they actually did ride another 51 miles into Lima and from somewhere I decided to ride into Lima to meet up with the boys. The rain started up again, it rained hard, it was freezing. I kept feeding myself donuts and riding, luckily it was easy riding. The route took me through this beautiful canyon area, it was even more beautiful in the rain. Miles and miles kept going by and I kept telling myself, “Elizabeth, just get into Lima”. It was mentally difficult to keep riding and I was more than exhausted. Just before dark I arrived in Lima, 81 miles from camp. I went to Jans to eat, there was no sign of the boys 🙂 I spent the night in Lima and the next day the boys rode into town around 1 pm. They thought it was hilarious that I had actually ridden 81 miles the day before and they told me that they had camped at the off route lake I told them I was planning on staying at. The rest of the day was lazy and all I did was laundry and eat a lot of food. My body was way more exhausted than I thought. I decided that day that there would be no more 81 mile days! However, I was very proud of myself for accomplishing that, but, knew it wasn’t something I could sustain. The day ended with a yummy dinner at the steak house in town.

A girl, a bike and a new adventure!

As I finish up the last week of preparations for my upcoming bike ride from the Canada to Mexico, I feel many things, I feel strong, but, scared, scared of the unknown and the loneliness I am about to endure. I feel excited and also nervous because I am leaving a safe place and replacing it with living off of my bike, away from my life as I know it. I have done this dance many times in the past prior to big adventures and it has always provided a time of reflection and it has allowed me to push myself, to get uncomfortable and to embrace the adventure ahead. Biking is way different than hiking, it requires more focus, more logistical planning, more thought. I have been able in my past adventures to zone out while moving, to get in a routine of constant movement on the earth and to allow myself to get inside of my own head and face whatever comes up. When I am peddling, I cannot give myself that same freedom to explore my inner thoughts and just stay in my own head. I have to focus on where I am riding, what is up ahead and I have to connect not only with earth under me, but, also with the bike that I am riding. I cannot lose my focus. Maybe some can, but, I cannot, I will no doubt fall off my bike or run it into something. In many ways this new form of travel for me is a welcome distraction because it will require more focus and not allow for exploring my thoughts and what is in my head as much as I can do while hiking. Biking is a faster form of movement, you cover more ground and it is not as peaceful and quiet or connected to the ground as hiking is. But, it is still pretty grounding in its own way. Being on a bike for me, brings up feelings of being a little kid, it is a whole kind of freedom in its own way 🙂 My hopes are that with each mile I pedal on my trip, that some amount of healing will occur, that some shift will happen inside of myself. I hope I can remember my strength and use it at the moments when I am completely broken out there, because those moments will come up. I look forward to the next few months on my bike, stopping to see family and friends, breathing in mountain air, connecting to the mountains, connecting to myself again. I have no idea whether or not I can pull this off, but, I will give it my best go and whatever happens from that will happen. The last year has been the hardest year of my life. I lost my sister, who was a great support and friend to me and I have divorced a guy who was beyond terrible to me. I have had moments of indescribable sadness and pain, moments when I thought I could not go on, times when I wanted to pull all of my hair out and scream and never stop. I have watched as the world has changed. I have been shattered and it is time to pick those pieces up and make something worth while out of what has happened.