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Big Mountain Biking: Part II
Whitefish, Montana
Day 100: Sept. 11, 2002

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Whitefish Lake rippled calm and aqua. He stood, dismounted, at the first switchback north of town. Pines rose like bristling pikes below him. A sign said No Parking and another said Private Residence. A mansion perched like a mini-acropolis on the edge of a precipice. There was no sign of life within. It was getting hot. The sun was high above him. He stole another glance at the lake and forest below, and began another climb up the shady road.

Motorized vehicles groaned and whined as they barely passed by. His legs felt leaden and his lungs burned. They were good pains. They reminded him that he was not a machine. They were good pains because they told him he was alive, that he could stop anytime he wanted and relish the peace. They were good because they came from the mountain, and the challenge it represented. With each breath he was inspired. Millions of molecules of reality were inspired, as his chest heaved up and outward. They burned inside his lungs like raw material in a furnace. His blood carried fresh material into his mind, where memory and imagination churned out new ideas, or ideas as old as humanity. The waste expired as his chest moved down and inward. It was getting hotter. He drank cool, fresh water from his camelback. It was three quarters full.

A quick peek over his shoulder told him he was half way up the mountain. He was still on the south face of the mountainside, and he saw the town below, nestled in the mountain roots next to a dark emerald lake. The cyclist bypassed the dry alpine village, where shop keepers and café managers stood on their dusty thresholds furtively checking the time, counting down to the next winter season.

He found the trailhead that began where the asphalt ended. The trail zigzagged up the southern face, which was a ski slope in the winter. He took a sip from his camelback, allowing the water to wet his mouth. The final ascent began along hard packed single track. Now the trail was steeper. The going was tougher. He was inspired. One minute of cycling burned more calories than a four-hour waiting line at Disney World's Space Mountain. Reality fed the flames inside him. Altitude was a mind killer. This was a battle. He became Frodo climbing Mount Doom. He carried a great weight inside him. It was the burden of knowledge, acquired from long hours of invisibility. Hours spent invisible, inside libraries, studying, studying, and studying secrets and arcane lore, the stuff dreams are made of. He was Frodo climbing Mount Doom. He was climbing higher and higher, blue jersey plastered to his body, dark with sweat, panting, fighting the urge to let go, stop, and release himself from going further. The summit beckoned him to continue. Gravel crunched beneath his thick tires. He felt a cool sweet breeze upon his face. Yellow grasshoppers darted across the path. Now the wind sang, gently pushing and pulling, tugging the cyclist closer to the top. He passed a statue of Jesus Christ, arms outstretched. A vague memory from his life below threatened to infringe on the moment, of the mechanic telling him that once you saw J.C. you knew you were near the top. The memory came and went. So this is the threshold between heaven and earth. A few spins later, the cyclist reached the summit and exhaled. There he stood, legs quivering, chest heaving, one with the mountain, basking in the sunrays and wind like an eagle soaring on a draft of warm air. He was released. He had been Frodo and he had flung the burden into the great divide that stretched from Canada to Mexico. There was Glacier to the east, the Rocky Mountains like a dragon resting on a pile of dwarven gold, and the green of the forest clad hillsides. The sun was high and westering. There was his youth to the east, and his future to the west.

Coming down was like a dream. He wanted to stay up forever. But he had to come down sometime. So he knew that there would be more mountain biking another day. He closed his eyes and began the descent. He roared down a winding track carved out of the mountain face: a jagged wall of rock on one side and the valley below on the other, looming ever larger and closer as he glided zigzagging along dirt trails. The cyclist swung through pine and cedar groves and over their roots, ignoring the sound of rocks ricocheting off chain, spokes, and frame; and over shards of rock that have been shattered by lightning and land slides, over shards of rock that looked like they could have been fitted to arrow and spear shafts. Then he remembered to breathe because he had been holding his breath trying to manage the descent. A deer family gave him dumb looks as they nibbled on grass inside the tree line. The rest of the dream gets hazy at this point. There was only the afterglow as gravity brought him back down to earth where mountains are mountains, and he is whom he is.

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