Big Mountain Biking: Part IWhitefish, MontanaDay 100: Sept. 11, 2002
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An early morning freight train rumbles through town. Its whistle bellows at the rising sun, commanding sleepers to emerge from whatever dream cave they might be browsing in. A traveler wakes up and finds himself in the Bunkhouse Hostel of Whitefish, Montana. Somewhere nearby a bell rings at a train tracks crossing. He has journeyed almost four thousand miles over mountains, desert, forest, plains, swamp, suburban wasteland, and even the shriveled remnants of a glacier to get there. Though he is used to waking up in a tent by the road, the first thing he does, as if it is what one naturally does upon first waking, is turn on the television. A bottle of Gatorade sits untouched by the bed stand. Maps lay discarded on the floor. Packages of granola bars spill out of the pockets of a camelback. He sits on the edge of his bunk, attention fixed upon a box of glass. He is hypnotized by replays and spin-doctors. He remembers a very short story:
A long time ago, in a burg, far, far away, a student almost fell in love. One early autumn morning he went for a bike ride. He was happy. The day before, a girl he liked had just turned nineteen. They had lunch together and talked about meaningless things, content only to spend meaningful time together in between classes. He came back from his bike ride along the forested roads paralleling the river. On the way to his first class he stopped at the university center to grab breakfast and collect mail. Students congregated around television stations. It was curiosity that brought him into the group. He realized that he had been in the shower when it had happened. He went away from the television. His Hemingway seminar was meeting at the library. He had to do research, research, and more research. He had a presentation to prepare for. He still had to read For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Three months and a 3.3 GPA later, the couple went to Times Square to bring in the New Year. They were determined to defeat bin Laden by doing their little part by not giving into fear of anthrax attacks, and braving the target rich environment of Manhattan on New Year's Eve. Ice-skating would become the chief primary mode of transportation in Venice before a malignant and turbaned Turk would defeat them. Times Square was like an island in a sea of popular culture. Dazzling totem poles of brand names rose high above them like the walls of a cathedral. At last, Gulianni strode upon a dais and raised his hands in benediction. The man and woman held each other for hours in order to keep each other from succumbing to hypothermia. The crowds saluted the mayor with red and blue elongated balloons like light sabers. They kissed ten seconds before the New Year. They were still kissing when it began to snow paper.
Spring semester begun. The student went to a party. He got drunk, and found himself making out with a girl he didn't know. He couldn't hear the alarm bells going off in his mind. Later, he would like to think it wasn't his fault, that he had been plotted against, that he was deliberately fed some poisonous concoction of OJ and alquedahol, or maybe it was due to prideful hubris, that it was only a matter of time before he would fall down from his high horse of idealism, and armor of principles. Whatever the case, he went to the girl he liked and told her what had happened. She thanked him for his honesty, and told him she didn't think they had anything more to say to each other. A short time later the student graduated, and went on a bike ride.
The traveler turns off the television. The train had come and gone. Outside, birds sing their morning songs. He dresses and packs his camelback. The day before he had went to the Glacier Cyclery where a mechanic had told him about Big Mountain. The mechanic lent him a pair of thick, knobby mountain bike tires, saying that this area has some of the best mountain biking he has ever ridden. Today would be another good day. He pulls his bike off the wall rack and checks tire pressure, spokes and chain. Everything is in order. The sun is up and it was starting to get warm enough to ride. There is the street, the now silent train tracks he would cross, and the mountains overlooking Whitefish. He is excited. He is excited by the morning and mountains beckoning him to come. The cyclist is too hurried to bother with breakfast, so he eats granola, and drinks Gatorade in the saddle.