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Going-to-the-Sun Highway
Glacier, Montana
Day 98: Sept. 9, 2002

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I awoke with a start. I had spent the night in St. Mary on the eastern side of the Rockies, and today was game day. It seemed like I had been preparing a long time for this day. Memories of my mother reading The Little Engine that Could to me before bed popped into my mind. Memories of Coach DeMarco yelling at us to go faster in freshman football practice popped into my mind. Memories of Parris Island obstacle course races also popped into my head. And recently, my ordeals in the mountains of Pennsylvania came to mind. Pennsylvania was like a pre-season scrimmage, and now fall had come, and today was game day.

Somewhere high above me a wandering cloud snagged on a snowcapped peak. I rounded the first bend in the road that was known as Going-to-the-Sun Highway. The morning sun warmed my back as I began the ascent. Snow flecked peaks towered to the west, and the road wound through jagged swaths of pine and cedar. The wind turned off. I shuddered. My heart skipped a beat. "Oh my God," the words fell out of my mouth. Inside, I heard myself say, "I have to get over those?" But these words, both outer and inner, were too trite to verbalize the awe, terror, joy, and dumbness, welling from a much deeper place inside me. As my ears readjusted to the sound of silence without wind, I smelled the pine forest and the fainter scent of mountain wildflowers. I knew that today was going to be one of the best days in my life.

The sun slowly arced over me as I climbed higher. At times the road lay exposed to the wind, and it roared in with such force as to drive all thought from my mind. I kept cycling and after gathering my wits I thought that this road might lead to a secret cave that is the source of western wind. Wit? Either the oxygen poor air was affecting my thought, or endorphins were thinking for me. With each pedal stroke everything made sense in a whole new way. Endorphin induced epiphanies were a dime a dozen, and I was too happy cycling to collect them.

I wondered if mythology was based on stories concocted by tribal athletes, as they pondered the questions of life in their sweat lodges, or came down from an adrenaline rush after gutting some Neolithic beast--I was wondering this when I found myself in a green meadow sheltered by a crown of peaks. Streams trickled down from the lofty crags and fed the great rivers of the continent. This was Logan's Pass, and the end of my ascent. This was the armored ridgeback of a gargantuan stegosaurus. In preschool my mother had me play a 'name the states' board game. I had also been immersed in toddler paleontology; dinosaur posters had decked the walls of my room. (This was pre-Jurassic Park, when we had go the Smithsonian to gaze up into the gaping maw of a dead T-Rex, and imagine the color of its flesh, rather than look at a screen in a cold, dark theatre, and let plot carry us through an experience.) So when I had played the 'name the states' game the map of the continental US always looked like a stegosaurus. Maine was the head, Mexico (though not a state, it was on the board for reference) was the tail, Florida was the fore legs, and of course, the Rocky Mountains were the armored spine of that Jurassic creature. So here was Logan's Pass, and the end of my ascent. The inner-child took possession of my mental faculties: it was one of the best days of my life because I was riding a stegosaurus.

I lingered in the shadows of Logan Pass for a short while, staying only long enough to stretch my legs and catch my breath. Already the sun had crossed over the Rockies and though many hours remained in the day the air was fast becoming cold. I went down, head forward and back flat along the top frame, along the winding road carved out of the mountain side, past the weeping cliffs, and gurgling brooks. After coasting at a steady 35 mph, McDonald Lake with the westering sun crystal glittery, and rippling upon a calm surface like scintillating diamonds greeted my eyes. At sundown I made camp along the shore in a village called Apgar. A waitress told me that the Indians once called the lake "Sacred Dancing Waters."

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