“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship's whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, once a bum always a bum. I fear this disease incurable.” John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
Thank you John Steinbeck. I am thankful the disease afflicted every day of my life from the time my dad took me on my first camping adventure in the back yard. My brothers and I staked out military pup tents with wooden pegs and no mosquito netting. Bugs crawled all over us and mosquitoes made our faces refueling landing zones all night long. When it rained, our bodies suffered water damage and the hard ground offered us no mercy. Strange animal sounds startled us throughout the night. Our imaginative minds ran wild at the “creatures” that might devour us during the evening hours. We discovered that adventure promises no comforts, no security, no warm bed and most of all, no surety we would live until morning.
“What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die of course. Literally shit myself lifeless.” ― Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
Later, we camped in the woods by a lake, stream or river. We fished until the last rays of the sun. We watched magnificent sunsets morph into color light shows that vividly imprinted on our minds and hearts. On one camp night, I vividly remember seeing the green Northern Lights sparkle across the night sky and roll across the heavens like a gauzy curtain blowing in the wind. Pure visual magic!
(How about dipping your feet into a cool mountain stream after a hot day in the saddle?)
My dad heated up Dinty Moore Beef Stew and hot chocolate on the campfire. We roasted marshmallows over the glowing embers. Nothing like burning the heck out of a marshmallow and let the gooey warm insides melt in our mouths and burn our tongues!
Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains. John Muir (1838 - 1914), Atlantic Monthly, January 1869
Dad told stories of his journeys around the world. He kept us in rapt attention with his magical story telling. Sometimes, we froze our butts off in the autumn. At other times, torrential rains soaked us in our old fashioned tents. I’ve suffered my share of bug bites over the decades.
(You cannot see this beautiful sight nor can you camp by it if you rent a motel.)
But you know something, I love to camp more than staying in a comfortable motel. I love the energy of the wilderness. I love the sight of a sunset. I relish a starlit sky backed by the ink black of the universe that stretches beyond my imagination. I love the smell of rain-drenched fresh air. I love the crisp chill of autumn camping in the colorful fall foliage. There’s something about being close to the dirt and rock of the Earth that enlivens my spirit, my soul, my essence of being a living, breathing creature upon this planet.
John Muir said, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of time and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
Muir, Abbey, Thoreau, Stegner, Emerson and others “get” it and share it eloquently with the rest of us. Our connection with the wilderness and fellow creatures on this planet cannot be underestimated. As our concrete-bound cities drive us crazy, up the wall, into a kind of nervous psychosis, if not a kind of lunacy—our salvation can be found by connecting with the wilderness.
(Camping in a bed of flowers may be the greatest sleep you ever slept.)
We must awaken from the stupefying affects of too much luxury, too much ease, too much opulence and endless indulgence. I can think of no worse fate than a “Happy Meal” with a plastic mug of “Open a can of happiness: Coke.” As Muir said, “No American wilderness that I know of is so dangerous as a city home with all the modern improvements.” One look at the craziness of our biggest cities illustrates his wisdom.
We left the Lewis & Clark Center late in the afternoon. The center kept us in rapt attention the entire day. When we gazed upon the Great Falls below us, we imagined those rugged men of history lugging those canoes onward toward their goals.
Needing a new tire, Robert stopped at a bicycle shop and bought a first rate front tread for his bike. We bought food at the local grocery store. On our way out of town, we stopped at a 1950s “Ford’s Drive-in” fountain shop. A bright, cheery teenager ran around taking orders and serving many customers. When she saw our sign, “Across America”, she talked to the staff and they served us two large milk shakes “on the house.” I tipped her the price of the shakes for her college fund. That young lady will go far in the world.
We didn’t make it too far out of town before the sun began setting fast in the West. We pulled up to a freshly cut church lawn and found a niche in a corner of the building for our tents. We cooked up dinner and quickly found ourselves in our tents and writing up our field notes for the day.
“You want to knock off a century tomorrow?” Robert asked.
“I guess so,” I said. “Why not?”
“Let’s do it,” said Robert.
In my sleep-fogged mind, I just agreed to a 100 mile day. What possessed me to agree to 100 miles over severely long climbs and very hilly terrain to Browning, Montana? Thankfully, my legs already climbed 18 passes, so they would keep up with a young man half my age. I hope!
“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”
Frosty Wooldridge has bicycled across six continents - from the Arctic to the South Pole - as well as eight times across the USA, coast to coast and border to border. In 2005, he bicycled from the Arctic Circle, Norway to Athens, Greece. In 2012, he bicycled coast to coast across America. In 2013, he bicycled 2,500 miles from Mexico to Canada on the Continental Divide, 150,000 vertical feet of climbing and 19 crossing of passes.
He presents “The Coming Population Crisis facing America: what to do about it.” www.frostywooldridge.com . His latest book is: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty Wooldridge, copies at 1 888 280 7715/ Motivational program: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty Wooldridge, click: www.HowToLiveALifeOfAdventure.com
Live well, laugh often, celebrate daily and enjoy the ride,
6 Continent world bicycle traveler
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