This Easter weekend, I was blessed by a visit from my niece, Kristie, an energetic, athletic, college freshman. It was only natural that we’d take the bikes out of storage, give them a spring tune up and hit the mountains. It had been years since I’d been on my mountain bike and I was feeling out of shape and a bit intimidated by the mountains of Montana.
On Saturday we set off for the west side of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, to a campground called Fish Creek. The snowy roads had been plowed but were not yet open for the season for motorized vehicles. I wanted to show Kristie the view from a specific beach on the west shore of Lake MacDonald, just a few miles away from the closed gate where we parked our car. We jumped on the bikes and set off into the beauty of Glacier. Koda, our 3 year old Samoyed, jogged by the side of my bike and was enjoyed the run.
After only a minute on the bikes, the road started to climb up a steep incline. I peddled slowly as my mind quickly raced– what if I can’t keep up with Kristie, what if I can’t make it up this hill, what if I make it there and can’t get back, what if the temperature drops, it starts to snow and we’re unprepared, stranded in the middle of the wilderness, alone… what if?
The first uphill seemed to go on forever, but finally we reached the top and were immediately rewarded with an amazing view of the mountains peaks of Glacier, to the east of Lake McDonald. Aside from the huffing and puffing, the view literally took my breath away.
In front of us, the winding road invited us to coast downhill to the lake. With each coasting turn around another bend, I was already wondering how long it would take us to climb this hill on the way back, and if I’d make it up the hill without dying. Instead of enjoying the ride down, I found myself fearful of what I now knew was coming on the way back up. How crazy is that?
We reached our destination only to find that the melting snow had increased the water level in the raging stream, so much that we were unable to safely cross to get to the desired beach. Try as we might, we couldn’t reach the other side. We came all this way and couldn’t get to where I wanted to be, and we still had to ride back up that huge hill that we’d just coasted down! Yet, even though we hadn’t reached our destination, we still ended up somewhere quite beautiful and I found myself smiling in the sunshine and enjoying the moment as we watched the magical soaring of a bald eagle.
When it was time to head back, we started up the big hill. I noticed that Kristie had set a pace for herself and was maintaining a strong, slow uphill pace, while I was downshifting and peddling with less resistance, but I had to peddle much faster. I had to laugh at the similarity in life where we tend to run fast in circles and get less done, than when we maintain a slow, steady pace, and I thanked Kristie for the reminder.
As we continued to ride and talk about the beauty surrounding us, winding around one corner to the next, both of us were surprised when we realized we were already at the top of the hill! We thought it would go on and on forever, yet we made it quickly and in comparison to the challenge I had created in my mind, it was easy!
From there, we coasted back down the original big hill, back through the gate and to the comfort of the waiting car. I had not only successfully lived through my first bike ride in years, but enjoyed it immensely.
Disappointed with not being able to reach the picture-perfect beach, and impressed with how easy the return ride had been, we decided to drive to the east side of the lake and see if we could get to another of my favorite places, Avalanche Creek Trail.
After driving about 10 miles up the Going to the Sun Road on the east side of Lake McDonald, we reached a closed snow gate blocking the road, where on the other side, the road was plowed and calling to us. It was already 4pm, but we decided to take the bikes and ride toward Avalanche. Guessing it was about 5 miles one way, we were uncertain if we’d make it or not.
Our ride started out with a huge downhill coast that was just beautiful! As I was racing towards the bottom, that little voice in the back of my head started screaming, “Heh, you DO know we have to come back up this, right?” Even after the lessons of the last ride, the voice was still there. As we were coasting at the bottom of the hill, Kristie and I talked and decided to keep going.
It was late in the day and the sun was dropping behind the mountains, as we passed other bikers coming towards us, all returning. We seemed to be the only ones heading deeper in to the woods, farther away from the shelter of our car.
As we biked up one hill and down another, we enjoyed the magnificent scenery, but that voice was still there, questioning if we should keep going or not. I decided to ask the folks coming back, “How far is it to Avalanche Creek?” After about the fifth response, I had to laugh as I realized something important. Each person responded differently- in direct proportion to their own personal experience.
If I asked someone who was biking uphill, they responded that Avalanche was “quite a ways” or “very far”. Yet, when I asked people who were coming downhill, they encouraged us to continue as it was “just around the corner”. Each person’s perspective was different and individual- based on their own personal experience in that moment, and had nothing to do with how far the trail actually was from where we were. With that realization, we continued on.
About 45 minutes later we reached the trail, only to find that our destination, the handicapped accessible, flat, paved loop trail trail leading to an astounding waterfall – was completely buried by snow. So yes, we could get to the trail, but once again, the destination was unreachable.
I realized our quest had really been about the journey, not the destination. We thought about ditching the bikes and hiking through the snow to the waterfall, but concerns of time/cold made us decide to head back as we still had to ride up a big mountain to return to the car.
We figured it would take us more than twice the time to return, but once again, to our surprise, we reached the gate where the car was parked, only to ask one another, “What happened to that huge hill at the end?” Even after our first experience on the other side of the lake, it seems we rode up the hill without realizing it was THE hill we’d dreaded, and once again, it turned out to be nothing.
We opted to not hike around at Avalanche, for fear that we’d run out of time riding back, when in fact, we had plenty of time, but just didn’t know it! Part of me wondered if the entire experience of the day was just for me to get clear on these insights and how they apply to my life.
From our experience, I can summarize the top 9 things I learned from biking this weekend, that are good for me to remember in life as well:
– What we worry about most, rarely happens.
– The journey is usually better than the destination.
– Information from others is based solely on their own experience and is often, in spite of good intentions, irrelevant to our own experience. Follow your own heart.
– Fear of the upcoming hills robs us of the beauty of the moment.
– What goes up, must come down. If we get out of our heads, the uphills and downhills of life work in perfect balance.
-We’ll reach our destination fastest with slow and steady progress, even up the biggest mountains.
– The worst that we can imagine is most often worse than what shows up.
– When we reach the destination, we need to take the time to savor and enjoy it rather than being in a hurry to get to the next place.
– If we look for the lesson, we can learn something from every experience.
I’m hoping that the next time I’m riding into the mountains, I’ll remember these things during the ride, and not just upon my return, realizing that like life, mountain biking is all about the journey.