A Trip Of A Lifetime: Day 4

I laid awake all night, my mind spinning with thoughts, ideas, worries and anxieties- sleep deprivation is a pretty consistent reality in my life. I often spend nights laying awake, pondering, reflecting, planning things or struggling with my own thoughts. This reality makes daily life a challenge and it wears on me, especially, during the times in my life where I am out adventuring and consistently pushing myself physically and mentally for extended periods of time. It never matters how tired I am, most nights my brain refuses to turn off, despite anything I try or have tried, it is in the late hours of the night, the hours where the world sleeps and becomes quiet, that my creativity and inspiration comes alive. In the dark of night, my tired thoughts create my best writing. My best photographic ideas. My greatest adventure ideas. Under the stars, quiet, and with everything else at rest, my creativity lives. It is both a gift and curse. I have learned to live with it and to stop trying to fight it. It is just how I am. Who I am. The morning light came through my tent and it was time to get up and start the new day.

Day 4 on the Colorado River had begun. After breakfast, a group of us hiked up to the Nankoweap granaries. These amazing sites were once used as storage for foods such as corn and pumpkin seeds for the ancestral Puebloan people; about eleven hundred years ago it was a thriving agriculture community. Can you believe that? These historic people once stood there and looked out at the very River I was paddling, the very place I loved more than any other place on earth. They saw the River and the Canyon in its purest state, in its best state. Not like it was now, controlled by government and overrun with people. Overrun with the modern world. Long ago among those very cliffs; people, families and communities lived an extraordinarily difficult and wondrous life. Their stories still hung around there. Their struggles still surround that area and their artistic talent for building dwellings and such lives on forever. Sitting there looking down at the River is a special experience, you can feel the time lost and imagine time to come. Imagine your wildest dreams, for, the Grand Canyon is the keeper of all dreams.

After about an hour it was time to hike back to the beach and go down River. I could have stayed there forever, but, the River was calling. I got into my packraft and paddled away from Nanko. I was struggling with fatigue and grief all day. I was finally allowing my body to feel the pain associated with losing my sister. I was leaning into it for the first time. I was no longer pushing it away. This was the day I began the true journey through my grief and everything it encompassed. I was finally allowing myself to physically feel it. It was worse than anytime I can remember of being sick. But, it was my journey and I couldn’t exactly blurt it out to everyone. It didn’t matter how physically sick it made me feel, I had to walk through it or at least start the walk. And, there at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is where I would stop being scared of my grief and instead, no matter how painful it was, I would start to welcome it. Throughout the day, I ran Kwanguant rapid, 60 mile rapid and Lava Camp rapid and I stayed in my boat all day; I was proud of that. The eddies were terrible the entire day, they were exhausting. We finally ended our day at Espejo, a camp that sat below Espejo Butte, which was a fun and memorable climb for me. I remember climbing Espejo Butte in early 2019, as my partner and I made our way back to the Rim a rainbow shot across the rock, it was one of the most magical moments I have ever had in the Grand. I was happy to camp there, knowing that memory hung above me at camp. To be continued…

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…

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.