“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Psalm 46:10 (NIV)
We planted a red rose bush in our front yard when my dear mom passed away in January 2007. Anyone who knew Char was aware of her passion for the color red. That rose bush has been in full bloom on her birthday every year since. It has been a remarkable reminder to me of her spirit. Yet often, I zoom in or out of our driveway, too hurried to take notice of the latest bloom, let alone pause for a few seconds to savor the fragrant aroma. I am too stressed out for that.
Stressing Out Growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s, I don’t think the word “stress” was in my vocabulary. Don’t get me wrong; we had our challenges. It was mostly around money. We didn’t have much! Our parents grew up during the depression and knew how to get by on nothing.
Today, my kids tell me that stress is in their DNA. It is unavoidable. I get stressed just thinking about their worries. I think we all would agree that stress is a byproduct of living in today’s world. So much seems to be out of whack. In surfing terms, life can be gnarly!
One only needs to look at our children in the school system today to see the depth of our predicament. Their challenges are earthshaking compared to what I faced at that age. How is it that grammar school students have to worry about a mass shooting at their school? (1) Middle school students today are questioning their gender identity. (2) College students are increasingly turning to suicide (3). We have a high school in our backyard that has a suicide rate that is four times higher than the national average. That is not something anyone wants to discuss, including the media.
I meet many parents and teachers from this high school at Trader Joe’s, and everything I see tells me they are doing a great job with these kids. But that does not remove the burden. The anxiety associated with living in today’s world is literally killing us.
We need a way to cope. “Slowing Down” (4) is a part of it, and having “Marathon Faith” (5) can surely help the long-term view.
But I need to get through today!
Sitting A valuable tool for dealing with our burdensome world is learning to pay attention to the moment you are in. “Being present” is a nonjudgmental phrase allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, which Wikipedia defines as “The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment. (6)
We miss so much about ourselves in a day because of our desire for forward motion. As human beings, we are constantly striving to improve and get ahead in life. But amid our forward progress, we tend to miss what we feel in our innermost being.
“Sitting” is a simple form of being present that I often recommend to my coaching clients as a practice for learning to pause in the midst of their hectic lives. I discovered the sitting practice in my training to become a New Ventures West “Integral Coach” (7). Our instructor Steve March requested that we spend thirty minutes every day sitting for the entire year of our training. Thirty minutes a day seemed far-fetched to me. I quickly did the math to tell Steve he was crazy if he thought I had a surplus of 182 hours this year to sit!
Fast-forward one year. Sitting had become a personal highlight of the training class for me. I worked up to thirty minutes a day in quiet and found that time to be transformative in developing myself as a human being who could help others find themselves. Sitting allowed me the freedom to connect with my spiritual center while feeding my soul in the stillness. I cannot recommend it enough, even if it is for just five minutes a day.
“How wonderful it is to have a moment in time where we don’t have to be anyone.” – Anonymous
Today I practice a daily ritual of sitting in the early morning for fifteen-plus minutes. I make a cup of green tea and then retreat into my sanctuary in the dark quiet of dawn. This time spent alone in perfect peace calms my heart for whatever God has in store for me that day. I have always felt that prayer should be a two-way conversation with God. Sitting provides me the margin to listen to what God might have to say. I come out of these sessions feeling refreshed and encouraged, with a sense of purpose around the upcoming day. The days when I have to miss my sitting practice are the days I feel the most out-of-tune with the world around me.
Sitting in the Surf Depending on the interval and size of the waves, sitting can be a critical skill for surfing. It isn’t easy to properly position the surfboard for an incoming wave if you cannot effectively sit upright while doing the eggbeater with your legs to turn the board toward shore. I am always amused when we take a first-timer out to learn how to surf, only to realize how difficult it is for them to simply sit upright on the board in the water. I must contain my laughing out loud as they continually tip over, trying to find equilibrium on the board. Learning to sit on a surfboard can be a humbling experience.
I will admit, I am not naturally inclined to just sit on my board in the water, waiting for a wave. I get a bit anxious during a long lull between sets. If there is a wave anywhere on the beach, I am likely to paddle after it. Isn’t that the point of surfing—to catch waves? Yet, as I have grown in years, I am learning to appreciate that time seated on my board. It can be a rewarding meditative experience. In my stillness, I sense the presence of God amid His amazing creation around me.
Recently, my son Matthew and I were out at Pleasure Point (Santa Cruz) at sunset, and I experienced sitting on my board in a special way. I paddled into a space where no other surfers were around me. As I scanned the horizon to see that no waves were coming, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding sea as the sun began its disappearing act below a thin line of clouds on the horizon. The streaked cirrus clouds above me began to light up with bright orange and yellow behind the darkening blue sky.
An endless bathtub of dark magenta-colored salt water carried me into another world as I listened to sea otters cracking open their fresh seafood dinner in the distance. The lull synthesized my sense of peace and tranquility as if I was floating above it all. A seal quietly popped his head above water to greet me, just a few feet away, as if on cue. I settled into my sitting pose to soak in the unfolding experience as if I were watching a movie all around me. I did not have to be anyone. I only had to be. God was speaking to me. I was all ears.
I began to enjoy the lull and hoped it would last. I wanted to grab onto this moment and keep it forever! I had stopped to smell the roses, and it was heavenly.
“Peace” – Sitting tandem with Mark Magiera; San Onofre, July 18, 1991
What Is Sitting?
Sitting is a simple skill that involves focusing your mind on the present.
Sitting is a practice of observing and discovering our true nature in the here and now.
Sitting is like exercising a muscle you’ve never worked out before. It takes consistent practice to get comfortable.
You do not have to believe anything to do sitting – it does not exclude any religion.
How to “Sit”:
Find a quiet and private place where you can be comfortable and free from distractions.
Sit in an upright posture with a straight back in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hand’s palms down on your thighs; be relaxed yet dignified.
With your eyes open, let your gaze rest comfortably as you look slightly downward about six feet in front of you (you can close your eyes if there is a visual distraction).
Take a few deep breaths, and feel the contact points between your body and the chair or floor. Notice the sensations associated with sitting–feelings of pressure, warmth, tingling, vibration, etc.
Bring your awareness to your breath. Do not change your breathing; begin to observe it without controlling its pace or intensity. Simply breathe naturally.
Focus your attention on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly.
If your mind wanders with thoughts, sensations, or emotions, gently let them come in and then release them with an exhale. Return your focus to your breath.
As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute to become aware of where you are. Then get up gradually.
Do this for 4-5 minutes at a time to start, and then gradually increase the time as you get more comfortable. Be patient with yourself. Like any new skill, it will take practice.
The focus of “Integral” Coaching (a New Ventures West trademark) is not as much about being more effective or accomplished in the world (the “what” and the “how” of life), although that often will come about. The intent is to assess the individual and design a program that provides freedom in their being; in “who” they are in the world. I call this “developing the individual.” This process is unique to each person I coach and typically takes a minimum of 3-6 months (meeting bi-weekly) to get deeply connected to the “Integral” Coaching approach. The outcome of this process is for the client to achieve long-term excellence with an ability to self-correct along the way to stay on track for whom they want to be in life.
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then sacrifices his money to recuperate his health.” –Dalai Lama
One of my greatest joys in leaving the tech industry was terminating my email account at Oracle. That was another leash I did not mind removing. As a marketing manager, I performed most of my job through email. I managed independent software vendors (ISVs) who ran their software on Oracle systems. These ISVs were all over the world, so emails were flying into my inbox 24 hours a day. I had the weekends to breathe, but as time zones go, Saturday mornings would see emails from Asia, and Sunday evenings, they started flying in from Europe. It was relentless and required constant attention to avoid getting in the hot seat with an important partner.
I love email and what it enables. But I hate it more than I love it. My brain was not made to operate in this way. Even without my tech job, I can’t seem to avoid using email. But I did find a way to keep myself from being enslaved to it. Working at Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) has made all the difference in the world. In my interview, I was told,
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
Are you kidding me? How can a company survive in today’s information-driven economy without email? A Freakonomics podcast titled “Should America Be Run By … Trader Joe’s?”(1) hinted that they are doing quite well without email, and much more, that grocery store chains accept as modus operandi. I believe TJ’s is on to something.
Most of us would agree that society would be better off slowing down and incorporating more rest. Much of the chaos and societal ills we see in the world today can be attributed to our being overloaded. Dr. Richard Swenson nailed it in his 2004 best-selling book about the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits, “Margin”(2). To take away that space is like reading a book without margins. You won’t get very far. That is what is happening today; we are exceeding our limits.
Email is a classic margin-eater. It not only devours our free time, but also creates a continuous 24/7 flow of information that can spew data like a fire hose on full force with nobody holding the nozzle. A small amount may hit the target, but most is wasted water, causing grief and exhaustion for all involved. We all have experienced how email has transcended into our personal lives and at work. Even a vacation can create a backlog of emails that is enough to make you wish that you never left.
Yet, we must acknowledge that email is a way of life today. There is no getting around it if you want to accomplish something that involves more than just yourself. Approximately 333 billion emails are sent every day. That’s 3.5 million emails per second!(3) Email is the preferred method of communication in almost all situations.
An interesting (and humorous) read about how email has impacted the mainstream business world is Dan Lyons’ “Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble.” Dan describes how HubSpot, a Boston start-up, was positioning its product as a means of reducing email spam:
“Our spam is not spam. In fact it is the opposite of spam. It’s anti-spam. It’s a shield against spam – a spam condom.”
Just under forty years ago, none of us were doing email at work. It had not been invented. Looking back now, it was wonderful. Email first found its way into my work environment in the mid-1980s as I launched my high technology career at ROLM Corporation. We worked hard at ROLM without email. Yet when I left the office to come home, I was truly done. My work stayed at the office.
Then IBM purchased ROLM in 1984 and we were introduced to IBM’s PROFS (Professional Office System), which was IBM’s first email system. Most of us viewed PROFS as a joke. It simply relayed information from IBM corporate, which had minimal impact on my day-to-day duties. It was like reading Morse code intended for the navy when you were in the army. I could go weeks at a time without checking my inbox and often made fun of those (mostly management) who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of their day doing it.
By the time I left Oracle 25 years later, about two-thirds of my day was spent navigating email. The volume was suffocating. Even in meetings, I was only half-listening as I browsed my “urgent” messages. Like the Israelites crossing the desert in the Bible, email became a cloud that followed me home and on my vacations. Improvements to the cell phone networks soon delivered email exchanges to my phone. Holy cow, I could send emails while sitting on the KT22 chairlift at Squaw Valley surveying my next ski run down (“Hey Mark, is my tax return ready yet?”).
Transitioning to Trader Joe’s
Leaving Oracle and my email inbox behind was great, but Marla and I still needed to find health insurance for our family. COBRA(4) is expensive! As we explored options, I decided to go into our local Trader Joe’s to complete a job application. No appointment was necessary. The application was quick—it only asked for my high school education.
Ha. This should be fun!
Next thing I knew I was sitting on a milk crate in the back of the store. Amelia (the Captain of the store) asked me a question about when I was available to work. Our discussion went something like this:
“I think you’re a good fit for Trader Joe’s. When would you be available to work?”
“That is complicated for me. Could I send you an email on the days and times?”
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.“
Mike [extending my hand to shake]:
“When can I start?”
Those words were music to my ears. Without a thought, I decided to give it a try. I am coming up on my fifth year at the store and have loved every day of it. When I punch out at the end of my shift, I am content to know that I worked hard to get the job done and can go home satisfied (and tired). Whatever is left behind gets picked up by the next shift. I’m working harder and resting more than I have in a long time. On payday, a TJ’s Mate hand delivers my paycheck with a sincere thank you. It may be missing a digit or two from my tech days, but the culture at TJ’s has won me over. As a life coach, I now understand the value of smiling and laughing all day. This is what I envision work in heaven to be like!
Here are my top ten reasons I like working at TJ’s:
1. “We don’t do email…”
When I enter the store, I turn off my phone. No email. If we need to communicate, we go face-to-face or ring bells. It is refreshing. I have more margin.
2. We’re on a ship.
We’re all at sea on a ship in the South Pacific at TJ’s. Our jobs are crystal clear to keep our boat on course. One Captain (button aloha shirt), a couple of Mates (different aloha shirts), and the rest of the Crew Members (“Crew Member” T-shirts) communicate by ringing bells that allow us to be “armed to the teeth” to react to our customers’ needs on a moment’s notice.
3. Variety is the spice of life.
Each shift is divided into eight blocks (for each hour). Each block designates a different job in the store for that hour. At the top of every hour, we all switch jobs. In one shift, I work many different jobs to keep the store stocked, organized, clean, and profitable. It sounds simple (and it is), but it makes my day fly by hand-over-fist, and helps me learn the entire store operation.
Meetings (called “huddles”) are 5-minute stand-up gatherings in the back galley to communicate important news about keeping things “ship shape” in the store. No muss, no fuss. Quick and simple instructions with some good food and grog to sample, and then all hands back on deck to help wow our customers.
5. Fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs. Every day I get fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs from my fellow crew members at TJ’s, even at the end of a shift when they leave. This surprised me at first. If I were to exhibit this behavior at Oracle, I might end up at the HR office. The first couple of shifts I experienced this, I thought these folks were leaving the company! It does wonders for morale.
6. Happy people.
Employees at TJ’s are happy, which makes the customers happy. I am happy to work there. It’s “hunky-dory.”
7. Everyone plays. When I started at TJ’s, I wondered why they hired me. Then I saw others they hired, and I wondered why they hired them! It took me a while to understand their strategy. It’s like AYSO (American Youth Soccer). Everyone plays at TJ’s. They employ people with special needs who work right alongside the rest of us. It gives those individuals a great sense of pride to be a part of the TJ’s crew, and the benefits to all, overall, are huge.
Many of my co-workers are my young adult children’s age. They are fun, energetic, and full of interesting insights on life. Most of them have other jobs or school or both. They are all “gung-ho” to make a future. They talk to me like I am one of them. At T’Js, I am.
It’s a kick.
9. Hard (physical) work. Trader Joe’s business model is all about very high volume to attain very low prices. I soon discovered the considerable amount of physical labor involved in accomplishing that. Like the pyramids in Egypt, it all happens one block at a time. The physical effort to move all that product in the back door and out the front door every day is significant. I walk an average of 4 miles and lift an untold amount of weight every day in the store. I have never felt better. I’m getting paid to go to the gym.
10. Just be you. TJ’s tells you they hired you because of who you are, not who they want you to be. So, the word on deck is to “be yourself.” For those who know me, that is dangerous! I wear shorts and my Hoka’s to work every day. And I love dressing up for the holidays.
Authors Note: This journal is a brief interruption to my book (Surfing in Heaven). Chapter 19 (Surfing Without a Leash) will follow in the next couple of weeks.
The journal following covers the 30 days of a bicycle tour that my son Matthew and I just completed on the Great Divide Mountain Bike trail. It is not edited (mostly transcribed using iPhone “Notes”…) but intended simply to document our adventures from July 24th to August 20th, 2022. There is a summary on the last page, All photos of our trip are available HERE. I cycled a small portion of this ride in 1983 (where noted) at the same age Matthew is today (26).
July 24 (Day 1): 3 miles — Calgary airport to hotel
As we were flying in our Alaska Airlines jet over the continental divide in Canada (picture above) I had to pinch myself to make sure we were really on our way to this great adventure we had planned over the past two years… Thank you, God!
Yesterday (Saturday, July 23) was a complete blur — I don’t know how to describe the depth of work on the many, many(!) details (documented on my trello.com board) and planning items that went into the execution of this trip… It became apparent around 8 pm that they were not all going to get checked off on all the many tasks. At times I felt completely overwhelmed as the clock ticked closer to midnight (we were leaving for SFO at 5 am on Sunday), and our list seemed to be growing. Somehow, God and many of his angels carried us. I have no other way to explain why we are here in Calgary—especially considering my Covid diagnosis on Monday, which forced me to take three days off work (Thurs/Fri/Sat). It turned out that I desperately needed those three days to get ready. Matthew smartly took the three days before departure off. With all my many years of experience doing this type of thing, I somehow missed that. Even packing the bikes into the boxes became an ordeal. My bike was a bit of an unusual bike with “vintage” components – Ha — At one point, I was considering that I would need to completely disassemble it to get it into the box when it miraculously fell snug in (at 10 pm). I ignored a final check of my Trello checklist at that point (which I regretted) and went straight to bed, leaving Matthew in the garage, still tinkering.
At one point, I looked at all the myriad of gear on the garage floor around our bikes and told Matthew, “I wonder if this is all too much for us…”. When I had finally loaded my panniers with all the gear I was taking, I found it was way too much stuff. It must have weighed over 80 pounds! I was overwhelmed and told Matthew we needed to start removing things now! I pulled out Laura Brigham’s spreadsheet (of what she took on her GDMBR) and saw that we were over-equipped! I felt like the trip was doomed at that point. Then my wonderful wife Marla told us dinner was ready (when neither of us wanted to eat or talk), and the next thing I knew, we were setting our alarms for 5 am. That tasty and healthy dinner allowed us to pause and regain our sanity.
I can now look back and see how God answered 1,000 prayers to give us this trip. When I think of all the things that could’ve gone wrong, especially concerning the Covid testing at the Calgary airport at immigration, it was hard not to give God credit. Even when we reconstructed our bikes in the airport, there was not a single part out of place, and everything showed up on time in the right area of the airport. Calgary airport had a beautiful site to build our bikes with tools and water stations for our bottles — it was remarkable. Thank you, God!
Upon touching the ground in Calgary (connection through Seattle – monitoring our bikes with Apple Air Tags, which worked great), we assembled our bikes in the airport (no mechanical issues!) and cleared customs for Covid (I would have tested positive I am sure… although I felt fine). We finally removed our Covid masks outside and rode 3 miles to the airport hotel we had booked (by dinner time). Day 1 was in the books. We were on our way.
As I sat in our hotel room with my feet up on the bed (the only hotel stay of our trip), waiting for Matthew to get us dinner (he ended up getting lost, so we ate in the hotel), I began to realize that this trip was going to be a test of my faith to trust God. The fact that he got us to the starting line says it all.
Day 2: July 25 (34 miles): Calgary to Callaway Park Campground
We started our day with a decent breakfast in the hotel in Calgary before riding 4 miles to Walmart and Cabella’s (Calgary camping store) to pick up the extra supplies we left at home (some of which we forgot, like sunglasses and some we could not ship, like butane fuel for our stove). From there, we had a busy ride of 30 miles through the chaos of metropolitan Calgary to the campground on the outskirts of the city called “Callaway Park,” which was right off the Canada 1 highway ($34 Canadian) and next to a sort of amusement park for kids. Our ride was in and out of traffic, on and off a bike path, and was highlighted by a Boba milk tea stop (near Calgary University) that saved me (it was HOT). Matthew devoured a couple of hamburgers from a McDonald’s next door. We arrived at our campground by 8 pm (ready to STOP). We had a lovely evening camping on the grass, putting our tents and sleeping bags out for the first time to admiring the stars outside the city.
As I poked my head out of my tent in the morning, our campsite neighbor “Les” I heard a voice call out to me, “GOOD MORNING, HOW ABOUT A CUP OF FRESH COFFEE?” (in a porcelain cup with cream and sugar!). We gladly accepted and sat at the kitchen table of his RV as he served us. Les was a sweet man in his 70s who filled us in on some Calgary history and how he grew up at the ski jump area of the 1988 Olympics (before it was built). The Olympic ski area from the 1988 Olympics in Calgary had been a part of our ride (thanks to a local Calgary road rider who directed us). Climbing that ski hill and riding through a beautiful neighborhood of houses and homes on top (where Les had played as a kid) with beautiful fields of mustard was a remarkable change from the busy freeway (although it had a good shoulder for bikes). The homes were Huge!
July 3 (Day 3): 55 miles – Callaway Park Campground to Canmore “Wapiki” Campground
Rode 55 TOUGH miles!
We fixed our first camp breakfast of oatmeal and granola, packed everything up, and then shoved off. It got a little bit wet from the rain but quickly dried out as we rode on. Everything seems to be working well on the bikes, and despite a few loose ends (I can’t find the first aid kit!), we are on our way to Banff!
The 45 or so miles on Highway 1 leading into Banff looked pretty straightforward on the map. However, they were toward the mountains, which meant we were climbing up most of the way. It was hot, and with the newly added weight on our bikes, the riding took its toll on me. In the middle of a long uphill in heat that was feeling overwhelming (aka – bonk), our first guardian trail angel suddenly appeared out of nowhere. A car pulled over ahead of us and then backed up toward us.
Matthew and I looked at each other puzzled; this was a busy highway with HUGE trucks going 70 MPH! As we approach the car, the driver gets out, opens the trunk, pulls an ice-cold can of sparkling vanilla soda from the ice chest, and waves it at us. Are you kidding me!. … Matt and I pulled up to him as he was cheering us on, telling us what a good job we were doing and that he knew exactly how we felt, so how about a cold drink? His name was Shawn, and he was with a friend going rock climbing and just wanted to encourage us. Oh MY … He said, “I knew the water wouldn’t satisfy — enjoy this!” We just looked at each other and laughed. And it did! I felt great after that motivator.
To top the story off, he told us about a campground in Canmore (Wapiki) that we will go to and stay the night. Just before dark, Shawn and his friend show up from climbing and moves into the campsite right next to us! I think his friend’s name was John; they were Canadians and so lovely to us; he helped us a lot, just like a guardian trail angel would! We had a wonderful evening in town, devouring a large pizza at Boston Pizza Company with a couple of gallons of diet coke and water. It felt good to refuel the tank; we were both depleted after a long and hot day and not [yet] being in shape to pull all that weight, even if it was a paved road. It was a quiet evening in a friendly, secluded campground off in the woods, despite an active invasion of mosquitos… which I eluded by sheltering in my tent. Banff (and dirt), here we come.
July 27 (Day 4): 41 miles — Wapiki Campground in Canmore to Spray Lakes West Campground (Spray Lake) in Peter Lougheed Park
It was a long hot, ~20-mile ride from Canmore to Banff on a beautiful bike path that followed highway 1 straight into Banff. We were still climbing as the river washed by us in the opposite direction, and the Canadian Rockies continued to get bigger and bigger in front of us. In other words, we kept climbing… We had a great stop at the Banff Springs hotel, where Matthew bought us ice cold drinks, and we she sat out on the veranda surveying the Canadian Rockies with swimming pool sunbathers in the foreground. Time to get ourselves ready for the trail, which ironically started right outside the Banff springs hotel. We went back into town to get Matthew a fix on his bike computer (we were told we must have two!) before taking on the great divide trail itself.
We were eager with anticipation, and we glided off the asphalt onto a bumpy fire road late in the day (after 4 pm). We had 21 miles in for the day and needed another 20 to make our first campsite next to Spray Lake (wherever that was…?). On paper (“the map”), it looked easy – what is 20 miles? just a blink of an eye!… Ha — little did we know what we were in for! It was challenging and arduous riding as we suddenly were counting “tenths” of a mile like we used to count “miles” on the odometer. However, riding along a tree-lined and mostly shaded fire road of cross-country ski trails (in winter) was beautiful. Not more than 5-minutes in, we began seeing bears. Yikes! Our excitement to be on “the trail” carried us over some challenging climbs that were very rocky and loose. Peter Lougheed national park (our general area) was stunning. No people and a hundred mountains on both sides of the glacial valley we are riding up. Amazing views everywhere!
After five or so more hours of riding on the dirt and realizing that our guidebook (which I had memorized over the past two years) was printed in “2013” and VERY out of date… we rolled into camp with just enough light left to fix dinner and go to bed (9:30 pm). Matthew soon took over the navigation of our trip with his downloaded GPS maps from Adventure Cycling (more answered prayers that he had already downloaded them as we had no cell service now). When we stumbled onto Spray Lake and the campground (after another trail angel showed up in a sports car to straighten us out on directions — where did she come from?!). By the time we arrived, we were both exhausted for what seemed like a 12-hour day of riding. I fixed a somewhat comical dinner of burned canned clam chowder and canned beef stew (the last time we did that!) that Matthew had bought in Canmore. It was a ginormous day – we were now on the great divide. It was dark. We quickly stashed the bear sack, rolled into our tents, and slept well with an absolutely stunning star-studded sky staring at us— hallelujah! The Banff Springs Hotel and the sunbathers by the pool seemed like a thousand miles away.
July 28 (Day 5): 37 miles — Spray Lakes West campground (Spray Lake) in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to Canyon Campground — woke up to stunning scenery all around us, and Spray Lake sits right in the middle of it all. I’ve never seen so many mountains unmolested by people, cars, or buildings. The lakes and rivers are everywhere! We struggled to find the route as we left Spray Lake reservoir down into the Canyon Dam area. This was another long, challenging, and hot day as we adjusted to the dirt, washboard, and weight of our bikes. I was far from in shape for this! Thank God I brought my riding gloves, as my hands fixed on the WTB handlebars were taking a beating (I almost cut them out in our weight-saving exercise the night before we left…). And I’m not sure how you could prepare your body for this kind of riding other than just DO IT.
We had a couple of cars go by us (kicking up plenty of dust), one of which frantically stopped to tell us a Grizzley bear and her cubs were walking right behind us as we went by on the bikes. And then it happened a second time, and this guy had a picture of a large black bear on his camera that he showed us (walking right behind us). What?
No campsites were available at Spray Lakes, but we immediately ran into two more cyclists: Jeffrey and Leigh (from Ontario — took off a year to ride the divide). They guided us to a beautiful spot that was a day-use area overlooking Spray Lakes Reservoir. Jeff and Leigh (Canadian; married) are professionals who decided to say goodbye to it all and are keeping up a blog on their travels over the next year on the great divide trail: https://bybicycle.ca/blog/.
We changed clothes, took a swim (Mike), and had dinner there (picturesque setting over the water) and then ended up consulting the camp host, who led us to join Leigh and jeff at a nearby hiker-biker campsite. Nice! We got well acquainted with them and looked forward to bumping in again down the trail. They were more of our pace, taking every 3rd or 4th day off for a rest and exploration in the area. Their bikes were amazing – made in NYC – belt driven (no chain), and all internal gearing in the hub (zero maintenance!). They also had the Jones Bars like Matt’s. Very Kool. We guessed (never asked) that they could be close to $10K each with all the equipment they had.
July 29 (Day 6): 15 miles (of hills) – Canyon Campground to Mount Sarrail Campground
We decided to make it a short day to try and rest before our first crossing of the continental divide over Elk pass. Rode 4 miles to Boulton Creek Campground along steep(!) bike trails for some groceries and food after taking an hour at the park visitor center to charge phones and [finally!] make a call to Marla, which was a very poor WIFI connection. But at least we talked. Matt and I pigged out at the park snack bar on hot dogs (Matt 2), pizza (Matt 2), and ice cream (Mike), chased by an ice-cold Pepsi (Mike).
At this point, the trail took us into Kananaskis Provincial Park, which quickly became my favorite of the entire trip. Wow! We are following a very lush valley of green, gold, and blue, following a river leading up to a vast glacial valley with an untold number of humongous mountains all around us. It is beyond beautiful – the pictures don’t do it justice. Even a paintbrush could never replicate what we were seeing. I was mesmerized – but had to keep my eyes on the dirt in front of us as there were lots of potholes and washboards to avoid, even though it was primarily flat riding (still hot). ` `
At exactly 13.3 miles (yes, I was counting tenths at that point…), I felt another bonk coming on… It was hot and dusty and suddenly seemed like we had been riding all day. Then our next guardian trail angel appeared in the form of a beautiful lodge out of nowhere that sat right on the river overlooking the entire valley. Too good to be true. But even better – there hung a sign saying “Engadine Hotel” and “High Tea.” What?! I told Matthew this was surely a sign for us and that no matter how far off the trail, we had to check it out…! And we did. I knew it was right when they asked us to take our shoes off upon entering the lobby. The tea service was everything I had wished for, including a charcuterie plate of meat, cheese, olives, and crackers and a natural European flair. We sat in ecstasy, looking out over the river and the mountains while our phones charged (stashed behind the couch).
That high tea was a little expensive for our budget, but I had no problem paying it as it saved us that day.
We spent the night at the Sarrail campground right next to Kananaskis lake (upper lake), where I went for another swim (wonderful). Spectacular mountain alpine scenery. Matthew was tired and in the tent already when we were hit with a deluge of a thunder lightning storm just after dinner. Wow!
July 30 (Day 7): 17 miles from Mount Sarrail campground to Elk Lake campground
It was a day of climbing over Elk Pass (6,443) for our first crossing of the continental divide and then down to the lower elk lake campground. After another grizzly incident at camp (I’ve lost count) — we rode off onto a tough climb up on a PG&E power line kind of trail that was lush with wildflowers, new pine tree growth, and LOTS of bear poop full of huckleberries. Lol. It was a tough climb, but we took a good break on top, at least a firm rock under our tires.
The downhill was rolling and fun, like skiing, as you could see the bottom of the mountain in front of you. Wildflowers flourished on both sides of the trail like an Olympic Downhill course with gates. At the bottom, we decided to have lunch at the elk lake trailhead (planning to ride on from there to Blue Lake). Well — we then decided to ride what some hikers told us was “5-Minutes on wheelchair accessible path” to look at the lake, and when we got there, we were immediately overwhelmed with the beauty and went in for a swim. We noticed the campsites were right at the lake’s shore ($5 Canadian), and we quickly changed our minds and decided to camp for the night there. After setting up our tents, we had lots of time, so we decided to do the hike ~5K over to upper elk lake, which some other campers had told us was spectacular. It was. It was surrounded by a rock amphitheater rising at least 3,000 feet high with huge glacial mountains surrounding an actual glaciated glacier in the middle. Just like Yosemite, water was coming straight out of the rock all over the place. And there was not one person there. Holy COW.
We had a nice dinner (fixed by Matt) and met some very nice folks from Calgary whom he stayed up with. They were just telling us about two moose in the lake last time they were there — and less than an hour later, that same two moose (we think) wandered right through our campground. It was hysterical.
July 31 (Day 8): 31 miles – Elk Lake campground to Blue Lake
We woke up to a ray of beautiful sunshine on the rocks around us on Elk Lake, bid farewell to our camping friends (who generously gave us gorp, cliff bar, and GU – thank you.), and rode back onto the trail at the Elk Lake trailhead. The scenery just continued to wow us — another winding fire road lined with brilliant flowers and mountains towering over us on all sides. It was a solid 31 miles to Blue Lake, which some bikers had told us about. It was listed as a “primitive” campsite and was free. Highlights of the ride included a grizzly bear popping out of the bushes 30 or 40 yards ahead of us and running full speed down the path ahead of us. Of course, Matthew pulled out the bear spray, and Mike pulled out the iPhone for a picture. Ha, it tells you where our heads were at…
Then we ran into a great divide hiker going all the way to Prince George (trail name: Spartacus). We stopped and chatted about his travels alone. He had lost his friend who led him on the trip to a sprained ankle two weeks into the journey, so he just decided to trek on. It looked pretty lonely to me, but these guys (and gals) are a unique breed. He ended up interviewing us for his YouTube channel.
At the end of the day, we made it to Blue Lake Camp and found the last campsite just waiting for us. We had a lovely swim and then fixed a great pad Thai dinner. We met our camping neighbors who were a bit wild (with cars and a dog) and then settled into our tents for the night. As Matthew and I were just getting to sleep, the fun erupted next door (they warned us) as our partygoers started lighting off a long series of firecrackers and Roman candles over the lake to 80’s rock music— it was quite a scene, not to speak of the fire danger. What? Another highlight was the camping neighbor coming up at the end of the night and offering us ice-cold Busch beer from his ice chest. Matthew said it was the best beer he had had in a long time. We are out of food — so looking forward to a store in our next town (Elkford).
August 1st (Day 9): 16 miles – Blue Lake to Elkford Municipal Campground
Blue lake to Elkford was a fairly relaxed 16-mile ride. We got to Elkford by noon to do shopping, charge phones, shower, use WiFi, eat real food, and check in to the campground. It was time to take a break and analyze our entire plan for the trip going forward. Things like where we will end up and how to get home have become tactics on which we need to make decisions.
The municipal campground was by far the best we have seen yet — including free wood (delivered!) and unlimited hot showers with WiFi. Geeze, we felt like we were in a 4-seasons hotel.
After claiming a spot in the campground and scoring some free wood, we immediately shot to the café across the street in town and scarfed down a delicious Chinese combination dinner (our first prepared meal in a long time). We all but licked our plates as the food tasted too good to be true. This was working out well.
After showering and shaving, we rode our bikes to the local pizza joint, picked up a delicious large pizza for dinner, and ate every crumb at the campground, watching Matthews’s brilliant wood fire as the local deer families wandered by.
I liked the town of Elkford a lot – amiable people (it’s a coal miner town) and very clean and orderly and sitting right on the beautiful Elk River (which started at our Elk Lake where the water came out of the rock walls). Wonderful town, which for us was the perfect place for a break. And we were ready for it. Interestingly, last night, the pizza restaurant owner said the pandemic had crushed them… She barely held on and said she was looking to move from the area.
August 2nd (Day 10): 26 miles – Elkford Municipal Campground to Mountain Shadows Campground in Sparwood
We got on the road late again (1 pm) as we are using the free Wi-Fi at our campground to make travel arrangements home… As it is in life today, it was complicated.
As a result, we decided to ride mostly highway to Sparwood (FAST and smooth), as we had met two women at camp who said they rode the GDMBR route, and it was through cow pastures and clear-cut forest with cows that would not move…
Kind of a cruise day as we had what seemed like a tailwind as we merged in with more of the Elk River and began to fly south – which felt like silk after all of that washboard dirt. We zoomed into Sparwood and went straight to the post office bubbling over with excitement for our food pick up, only to find out it was not there (WHAT!)… After checking, we found out it was sitting in Carson, California. Audios to that one.
We placated our depression with hamburgers and root beer floats at the local A&W across the street (yes!) as we checked out the iconic dual axel 1973 (!) dump truck (Terex 33-19) in the center of town— only one in the world — an amazing story about how it ran 24/7 and had to have custom parts made when it broke down. In its day, it was the largest dump truck in the world (for 25 years).
Sparwood is the heart of Canadian coal mining country, and we quickly found out that our campground was 50% mine workers who could not get housing — due to a minimal supply (we talked to a young family staying there with two small kids). They said it costs $4k per month to rent a house there! There was also a small ski area in town. It seemed everyone in the city lived for the short summer — as the winter was long and COLD. There was a lot of pride around coal mining – everyone was proud of their hard work to keep it going. We also learned that all the coal goes via train to Canadian ports and then to China to make steel. Crazy.
We then did some unexpected shopping for food (a LOT) and settled into the Campground in town with free firewood (again) and the best-unlimited showers yet. I had WiFi again, so we finalized plans to train home (taking three days from Whitefish through Seattle and down the coast to Emeryville)… We devoured another fresh food dinner from the grocery store and had a good night’s sleep. Matthew woke up to a crackling fire for the second morning in a row — lol – what a life. Reflections on this trip so far are many, but one is the time in the morning to start a fire, brew up a mocha coffee, and sit and type up my journal notes from the previous day. Absolutely GOLDEN.
August 3 (Day 11): 25 miles – Mountain Shadows Campground in Sparwood to Fernie Campground
1983: … “stayed at Fernie Mountain campground. Raining. I decided to pitch camp at 11:30 am. Found out what it’s like to spend a day and night in the tent….”
More time on the campground Wifi to get final travel plans in place and on our way right out of the campground onto the great divide trail right next to our campsite. It was a severe single-track trail that went straight up through a beautiful, forested area. We went ~3-4 miles and then decided it was too difficult and had to retract… riding the next 20 miles into a strong (hot and smoky ) headwind on highway 43. It seems a fire has started somewhere near as that wind is really blowing…
We arrived at Fernie at ~4 pm to find out all campgrounds were full… too tired to ride further after riding an extra 4 miles to check the campground across town. We immediately bumped back into two girls we had met in Sparwood (Taylor and Dee) who were in the same dilemma. We decided to partner on finding a place. Dee met a VERY nice camper (Laura, with a camper trailer on a 1-year sabbatical from teaching in Montreal) who let us pitch our tents in her RV site and watch her dog (Moss) while she went out to dinner with a friend. We cleared it with the camp host, and we were set. Perfect. Another guardian trail angel had appeared. As for the dog Moss, he was out like a light right after Laura left, of course, partly because we all went right to bed. As it turned out, later that night, Matt ended up saving Laura as he woke up and noticed she had left her car lights on after returning — and of course, all the dogs in the campground (A LOT) then started barking when he knocked on her door to let her know. Ha Ha Ha. I slept through it all, but had a dream about dogs barking…
August 4 (Day 12): 31 miles – Fernie Campground To Baynes Lake PR Campground
Woke up to a windstorm in Fernie! Yikes.
We went into downtown Fernie for shopping and bike repair (rotating Mike’s tires back to front) and first stopped for a french croissant breakfast with fresh coffee at a small french bakery (Le Bon petit — amazing!). Downtown historic Fernie reminds me of an Aspen kind of town from the 70s, with the main street full of shops, cafes, restaurants, and a ski hill staring down the town. Very quaint and old school. Matt had [another] breakfast at the big bagel banger (Mike, just more coffee). I liked the feel of Fernie. Very active culture with a lively downtown scene and outdoor feel to it. I think we could have stayed another day. Matthew wanted to go mountain bike riding as everyone in town seemed to have one on their car. We bumped into an elderly Canadian couple (ha — my age) a few times during the day — doing our same route. Fun.
Since the wind was still blowing, we decided to go into a stiff headwind towards Elko as it was just finishing raining, and it looked like it could rain more. We decided to stay on the 93 highway for part of the ride —- which was difficult riding with all the traffic/trucks… but we made good time (paved) and then dipped onto a 15 or so mile stretch of reasonably smooth dirt that was beautiful rolling mountains and open pastures that led us into Baynes lake.
Set up camp and were immediately greeted by two camp residents (Amy & Wendy) asking if we needed anything. Ha – “how about a cold beer and bacon cheeseburger?” (Matthew in thought…)
Amy brought us ice cubes for our water, and Wendy brought cherries, freshly caught salmon, rolls, cookies, and cucumbers— what the heck. More guardian trail angels… They must have seen our meager dinner and felt terrible for us — Ha. I probably would too!
I was eating oatmeal, and Matthew was eating a hamburger he bought earlier in the day and had stuffed it into a bag inside his bike bag… Wendy told us stories of the different bikers who come through Baynes Lake on the divide trail — including a guy on a unicycle who was raising money for charity. Amazing.
The sky looks very threatening as we bed down…
August 5 (Day 13): 37 miles – Baynes Lake PR Campground to Eureka (Warm Showers)
Our morning started with Wendy coming over to our camp to offer fresh coffee, toast, and butter for breakfast. Are you kidding me? We had a lovely chat with her at her campsite/home, watching all the many birds she had feeding in her yard on a very green grass lawn (with the lawn mowed) and a waterfall fountain running in the background. She is a permanent resident of PR, like so many others there from around the Calgary area, but they only spend three or four months a year there in their mobile homes due to the weather. Note that the “mobile” homes don’t move. Her husband is an oil worker and is often gone, so she comes down to hang out at her pad at PR.
We got on our bikes late again after a hearty breakfast and had a beautiful ride through open pasture land and lush meadows with mountains and pine trees in the background. We met up with four or five other GDMBR riders at a country store in Grassmere (picture) and then blasted off for Eureka on paved road, with only an hour and 15 minutes to spare before the post office closed @ 5 pm (~15 miles). Luckily, we had a tailwind through the border crossing in Rooseville (MT) and made it to the PO in Eureka with 15 minutes to spare.
Amazingly, our 2nd food package from Marla is not there. ☹ Double Ugh. Although tracking says, this one might (should!) come in tomorrow’s mail… We took it in stride and rode off to our warm shower hosts, Latimer and Carrie, who treated us like gold and gave us full access to the house as if we were living there.
Eureka is called the small town with a big heart, and Latimer and Kari reflected that to a tee! Our next guardian trail angels.
They set us up in their backyard for tents, which was like a rooftop garden, and then Matthew jumped on the shower — perfect. We were then served a tasty dinner of deer steak/sausages (Latimer’s first shot at a deer — and it was mounted on his wall!) – Huh? Yummy mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables, and green salad were also topped off with everything but the bagel spice on top. Amazing. Then cookie dough ice cream for dessert— staying up till 10:30 pm talking about their experience on the GDMBR trail (they did the entire thing) and bringing out the map to clarify what we want to see when we get to Glacier National Park and how best to get there. Amazingly, they did all this with their first triathlon the next day, a 6-hour drive away. I don’t understand. Big Heart.
They are coming to the bay area in the fall, and I only hope they will look us up so we can take them surfing…
August 6 (Day 14): 17 miles – Eureka (Warm Showers) to Graves Creek campground
It turns out the triathlon is Sunday (tomorrow), and they only need to drive today… because we woke up to a hearty breakfast of egg and cheese scramble on homemade wheat ciabatta with hot tea filled us up for our ride today. More talking till 10 am or so and then off to P.O. — …
EUREKA — Our food package from Marla arrived— hallelujah!
I can’t describe how good it felt to finally see it as we were depleted on food and starting to buy every meal individually, costing ten times our trail food costs. We spent the rest of the morning getting chores done in Eureka and viewing a quilt display (by monks), which looked like a big deal for the town as everyone from surrounding areas came in to see all the quilts hanging throughout the central part of town. We had a tasty Chinese food lunch at a food truck in the park, where they were taking donations for a lottery for winning a quilt, which Matthew contributed to.
It was hard to see the bikes loaded up again, as all the food fit, but we were heavily weighted down. We made one last stop at Latimer and Cari‘s house for water from their hose and then tracked off down the road for a ride of 17 miles to Graves Creek Campground. It was a lovely ride, I took several pictures along the way of open ranchlands, forested mountains, and wavering creeks wandering by us as we rode along a mostly paved and partially gravel road. No traffic at all. It was an easy day ride into Graves Creek, which was a perfect setting for a campsite right on Graves Creek (running strong). We immediately jumped in for a swim, Matthew, four or five times. I had a yummy dinner of our harmony vegetable stew and a Trader Joe’s sipping hot chocolate to finish it off. Matthew made a roaring fire out of wood that was not seasoned completely, and we sat around and talked until late into the night. These are times I will cherish. We had the campground entirely to ourselves. Peace and tranquility galore.
August 7 (Day 15): 17 miles – Graves Creek campground to Tuchuck Campground
We had a very relaxed morning with my best yet double “thrive” mocha cappuccino and a macro bar sitting creekside watching the sunrise over the streaming water with the sounds all around me speaking of God’s incredible creation. Matthew was sleeping in, which was probably a good thing, and I just soaked in my surroundings. Our campground was enormous enough to fit a couple of RVs, and none of the other campsites around us were taken. I could’ve caught us breakfast if I had a fly rod, as our swimming hole was a perfect place to toss it in.
The day ahead was a long climb of 3000 feet over Whitefish Pass. Again, on paper, it did not look too bad… It started out paved and steady and slowly built to dirt and steep. Suddenly, lots of loose rock and gravel became extremely difficult for me as we got to the top. The climb seemed to go on forever as Matthew kept his cool in leading me and reading off the next milestones on the GPS map. But for me, another bonk was surely coming on as Matthew encouraged another stop in the shade to take in more water. Walking (I found out) was even harder than riding, as my panniers kept me away from my bike, making it difficult to push. We met a solo cyclist (John) from Denver near the top, doing it alone, and had a friendly chat. He was carrying a ukulele with him for companionship as he had been with a friend who decided he had more fun playing in Whitefish (than riding GDMBR) and told him that he wouldn’t continue on the trip. Lol. I could relate at this point of the climb! John was doubling back to Fernie and then over to the coast and back down the coast to Mexico. Ok.
The top was a bit anticlimactic (nothing much to see except an avalanche), and loose rock and boulders got even worse as we began the descent. It was all I could do to hang onto my WTB handlebars and keep moving, albeit very slowly… by the time we hit the Tuchuck campground, I was spent — this might’ve been my most challenging day… Matthew was the perfect companion who kept me motivated through the difficult periods. We had only ridden 21 miles today (over, I am guessing, 6 hours or more), but somehow, it really took it out of me. I watched every tenth of a mile go by on my odometer.
Tuchuck is a primitive campground on a nice quiet creek with nobody else. We had the pick of the lot for our campsite. It was beautiful, surrounded by lodge pole pines with a nice bathroom and bear protectors for our food. We stopped at the creek to filter water, immediately made a fire, and had a wonderful dinner of pasta, sausage, and vegetables. I needed that and slept well after a tough day’s ride…. Matthew said he saw a deer outside our tents while he was going to sleep as it was grazing. In the deep forest, we have lodge pole pines around us —- it was a picturesque setting in the campground for a quiet and secluded evening.
August 8 (Day 16): 25 miles – Tuchuck Campground to North Fork Hostel in Polebridge
I woke up to another fire with a Trader Joe’s matcha latte while Matthew had peaches and cream oatmeal. Our campsite was all to us until two BRITs arrived late evening (John & Paul). We had a friendly chat before bed and talked about the difficulties of the road ahead. They were both on bicycles, and John had done GDMBR four years earlier, so he brought his friend back to do it again to the Mexico border. They look like they’ve got some getting in shape to do! Most riders were running a much stricter schedule than us regarding daily miles. It makes me wonder whether they’re missing some of what’s around them as they go by. John and Paul are heading out this morning for Whitefish, taking on 60 + miles ahead. Yikes… As they rode off, I noticed the 2 Liter plastic Coca-Cola bottles on their “everything” cages up front and wondered how the heck they were going to do 60 miles today. As John appropriately blurted out with his formal English accent when he saw me put our food in the bear locker, “You two have nothing to worry about. We have a LOT more meat on the bone than you two”. And I couldn’t argue; they did!
We headed out this morning without much talking. The road was marginal at times — a couple more bear sightings along the way (which we get almost every day), but overall much better riding than yesterday despite the continued heat. We made good time into Polebridge around 1:30 pm. It was sweltering (into the 90s), so we got our free pastries at the general store (a formality for GDMBR bikers) and swigged down cold drinks (Matt a beer and Mike two mango ginger kombuchas). Hit the spot. Aaaahhhhh.
I met the hostel manager Oliver ($20/pp), and really liked the place, so I decided to stay, pitching our tents in their front yard. It was a modern log cabin with a library of amazing books (I think Oliver has read them all) and a large balcony and patio. Best of all, the hostel was almost cold inside. We showered, shaved (Mike), and sat down to read some of Oliver’s books. I got caught on “One man’s Wilderness” By Sam Keith (Richard Proenneke), and Oliver let me borrow it for a day. Richard Proenneke reminds me of Oliver.
A Black bear was rummaging in the bushes as we got ready to go to the restaurant next to the Polebridge general store (a short walk). We had a yummy dinner of a pulled pork sandwich (Matt), a Gyro with fries (Mike), and more COLD drinks. The camp hosts of our campsite tomorrow (at Bowman lake) bumped into Matthew and had a good chat – charming people. He is the mayor of his town in Northern Montana. We returned to the hostel to read some of Oliver’s books in absolute QUIET and talked to him about how much he liked the place. He’s been there 20 years (his family is all back in Germany), and he looked to me like he did not want to leave. He had his own greenhouse (with vegetables he eats) and solar running the house. He said he eats fresh vegetables all summer and fresh meat all winter. We had a good sleep amidst a few barking dogs in the distance.
August 9 (Day 17): 7 miles – North Fork Hostel in Polebridge to Bowman Lake campground
I woke up and strolled into Oliver’s study to read trail guides for our ride today to Bowman lake. Complete quiet — this hostel was VERY peaceful. I went to the general store once Matthew woke up for a drip coffee (with oat milk) and my free pastry from yesterday (saved it – huge huckleberry scone). I watched the many morning campers come and go as we sat on the porch and took it all in. Matthew said he had finally gotten into the trip. lol.
People are amiable and easy to talk to. We could sit here all day. We finished our breakfast and mounted the bikes for what appeared to be (from all discussions with other campers) an “easy” ride 7 miles up to Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park (our first entrance). Ha — it turned out to be more challenging than expected (as usual) on a hot and dusty road as the temperature is in the 90s again around the valley. Cars were coming down from the lake too fast with lots of DUST, a four-letter word in Montana. Still, we did get up there by 1 o’clock safely and joyously parked at the edge of the lakeshore to see the magnificent bowman lake with the surrounding mountains of glacier national Park around us. Wow!
We found a nice campsite directly across from the camp host, whom Matthew had met in pollbridge and got to know quite well. We immediately moved to the lakeside to spend the entire afternoon and into the evening, where we cooked our dinner and watched the lake change tones and colors as the sun slowly crossed the open sky. We do not see clouds all day until near sunset, when they start moving in as the mountains around us change colors. It was a wonderful time. Matthew went in for four swims, I think, telling me he wanted to swim to the end of the edge and back of the lake, which honestly gave me concern as the water was freezing! But he may do it tomorrow, so I stand prepared to watch him as he seems pretty determined. I went in a couple of times and loved the refreshment of the water and the glorious surroundings as you swim.
We turned in early and had a brief rainfall on our tents which caused us both in the middle of the night to get up in darkness and put our flies on. But it never did rain much — it just kept threatening with drops. I’m not sure if Matthew slept as well, but now that I’m at Lakeshore the following day having my coffee, I’m guessing that he’s sleeping in good today. We don’t have to leave until later today, so we plan to sit and enjoy Baumann Lake while here.
Thank you, Lord!
August 10 (Day 18): 7 miles – Bowman Lake campground to North Fork Hostel in Polebridge
Oh Lord, oh Lord, how magnificent is your creation. How glorious are your ways. I profess to the truth of your Holy Scripture. Oh Lord, how magnificent is your name on all the earth. As I sit here at Lakeside on Bowman Lake and contemplate the 19 days we’ve had on this trip and study glorious mountains around me with the beautiful lake at my toes edge, I realize how great our God is. It is in the morning, and Matthew is sleeping; I think he needed the sleep, and I have my mocha Starbucks “Via” cappuccino at Lakeside (we finally found some Via!).
Watching the lake’s colors and texture shift to the movement of the sky above gives me a script for my journal in describing our day yesterday. One thing occurring to me is how little I understood and knew Matthew. He has the warmest heart in the world. And his ways are beautiful, and his personality is sweet as honey. It has been a glorious thing to get to know him. I thought I knew him, but he taught me about who he was on this trip. I realize I have been trying to fit Matthew into my view of who he was. The time with Matthew is the time that God gave me as a gift to understand and see him and, hopefully, in the future, to encourage and support him in the path he takes in this life. It is not my path; it is his path. I thank you, Lord Jesus, for that opportunity.
This is also a point in the trip where I am dearly missing my beloved wife Marla, daughter Marisa, and of course, our new addition to the family, Willow (new dog!). It is hard, as we have been out of cell touch for five days. And we have one more day of that, which causes my heart to ache some. But I know it’s all for good, and we will soon be back in touch. So, I am spending this gift of time at the lake praying for health, safety, and wellness for all of them at home. As the textures and colors and smells of the lake and sky and mountains around me change, I sense that is how life changes.
I feel more strongly than ever that I’ve been on a path to teach the world about the truth of the gospel and Jesus Christ. Thank you, God, for placing that on my heart. It is such a clear direction and purpose for my life. I have not one question in the world about what it means. Thank you, God, for this day again and for my family’s safety, health, and wellness at home.
Matthew joined me for breakfast of oatmeal on the lake shore, and we decided (after talking to our camp host friend — Leap) and the ranger (Marty) that we would do the hike to Lower Quartz Lake (a 5-mile round trip) to try and get a cell signal to Marla. It was a beautiful yet strenuous hike (with my “Zero Sandals”) along a lush forest path with huckleberries galore, which was a nice change of pace from the bikes. No luck, unfortunately, on the cell signal — so we hiked back and packed up for a late departure for Polebridge (~3 pm). I had a final conversation with our other camp host friends – the one who is the mayor and retired CHP officer — he reminded us a lot of Rich Maher.
Finally rode an easy 7 miles to Polebridge. I stopped at the ranger station to ask about WiFi, and he let me use the phone to call Marla (praise God!), so at least I could leave her a voicemail.
We feasted on a GRIZZLY pizza at the general store (and mango kombucha!) as we found out they were having an outdoor movie night of “Napoleon Dynamite” at 9:30 pm — FUN. Set up camp at the hostel and relaxed to read in Oliver’s library (more of “a life in the wilderness”) while talking to a GDMBR hiker who had just arrived — “Matt.” He was hiking from Waterton, NP, to the coast — he is a retired lawyer working with microbreweries in NC — he had great audible recommendations.
I also chatted with Ganesh and his 8-year-old daughter— who left for Bowman lake at 10 pm in a car… From Berkely. They got lost, I heard the next day.. . I sent Matthew to the movie, turned in early, and had a perfect night’s sleep — due to being tired from our rain exercise the night before.
August 11 (Day 19): 28 miles – North Fork Hostel in Polebridge to Lower Whitefish campground
We woke up in our quiet setting at the north fork hostel to chilly air with chirping birds, the buzz of hummingbirds, and light fog with dew on the bikes and tents (the first time we had dew). Waiting for the sun to rise and burn it all off (and Matt to get up) so we can resume our ride after a good two days of rest from long days on the dirt roads. We almost stayed in Polebridge one more night as Matthew wanted to do the full moon river float down the Flathead River with Amy and others from the general store he had met at the movie last night… Clay drove by in his truck as we were climbing up the hill out of town (“f…that hill!”) and offered WiFi at his home for me to call Marla — thank you – yet another trail angel! Unfortunately, when we returned to Polebridge, Matthew discovered that the river float was an “employees-only” event, so he could not participate… bummer.
So we regrouped and left for Red Meadow with a 2nd baked Rueben sandwich stashed in the bags (best ever — that Polebridge bakery was amazing). We had a long grind ahead of us, and I think it was after 1:30 or 2:00 by the time we started to ride (NOT my high-energy time of the day…). We had to climb over 2500 feet to get to the first campground. It was a long haul that slowly got steeper, although the road was pretty good most of the way. The steeper portions at the end were still tough for me. Matthew patiently kept my pace and encouraged me — just like a good domestique teammate in the Tour de France.
One highlight was being passed by “Stephanie,” who had a trail name of “puffin.” She left Roseville (that morning) and was riding all the way to Whitefish, which was well over 100 miles (that took us almost a week). It was her first day on the trail, and she was planning to ride all the way to Mexico in one month. What? Fortunately, her parents were waiting for her in Whitefish because she had a serious head cold, a very light set up on her bike, and was not prepared for having to spend the night and fix dinner by any means… But she was quite an interesting study, a marketing manager in North Carolina on the Outer Banks, and said she competed in 150-mile gravel events and many others. It was an excellent example of the type of people we see on this trail. And she was quite open to discussion and even took an LMNT from Matt, saying she had heard about it on social media. She zoomed off as Matt, and I got back on our bikes and continued pulling through the climb (she later that night texted Matt that she made it to Whitefish).
As we were approaching Red Meadow (and the summit), or so we thought, two women driving by from Utah (plates) pulled the same event that we had in Calgary — stopping and pulling two waters out of the trunk of the car and waving them at us as we approach got our bikes. AYKM! More guardian trail angels…It was a big motivator, and the 16-ounce waters went down in a nanosecond. We wanted to talk, but the mosquitoes immediately went on the attack and started mobbing us. Literally, Matthew had blood running down one leg! So the conversation was cut short, but they appreciated that I had attended the U — and we continued our climb from there.
The rest of the way went OK after our inspirational Utah fans. We came into the campground at the summit just in time to have a nice swim in the red meadow lake (beautiful) and talk to our friends we had also met on the trail who were traveling in a group of four more along the pace Matthew and I were keeping. They had lots of insight into the hostile in Whitefish and the many services they offered, including picking them up on their bikes from Banff.
We didn’t think much of the campground, and the mosquitoes were performing a blitzkrieg on us again — so we zoomed off after the swim and made it down to lower Whitefish lake campground., a VERY rocky descent. I arrived Just in time (8pm-ish) to set up camp (free again in Montana) quickly for dinner and put the mountain home lasagna with the rest of the vegetable mix, which had way too much salt from the bottom of the bag. That caused me to be extremely thirsty for the rest of the night, of course, the one night, we didn’t have much filtered water to drink. I was listening to Hemingway’s “A Movable Feast,” and he kept talking about having DRINKS at the bar, so I finally just got up in a rainstorm and gulped down the remainder of my water. It was worth it.
We had a nice fire, the mosquitoes were nowhere near as bad as Red Meadow, and we both settled in for a good night’s sleep as a raging electrical thunderstorm hit upon us like a bat out of hell — lightning up the campground like daylight every two or three minutes. Suddenly, we were scrambling to get everything wrapped up, hang the Ursack, and get ourselves into our tents to stay dry. By 2 am, the moon was full in a clear sky and shining like a flashlight into my tent. Wow — It was another AMAZING day. Like every other day — as different as a fingerprint from the rest. Praise God for taking such good care of us and for hearing how Marla is doing with Willow (she is BUSY…).
August 12 (Day 20): 42 miles – Lower Whitefish campground to Columbia Falls RV Park
Yikes — almost back to civilization and into our 4th week! It has sure flown by.
I woke up dry after our electrical thunderstorm last night. Exciting! The last two nights have been the best sleep I have had on the trip. I woke up to bright sunlight shining into camp to dry our wet clothes on the line (so glad I brought that ursack line — as we used it as a clothesline several nights). Journaled as Matthew got some extra sleep and appreciated the quietness of our camp (about half full) and the sounds of the birds singing their different melodies around us. So glad we did not stay at red meadow camp. Mosquitoes alone would have done us in — but no campground spaces open anyway. And delighted to have that 7-mile rocky descent behind us also.
We downed our oatmeal+ breakfast and loaded the bikes to the lake so that we could make more water for the ride to Whitefish. It was a fantastic descent into Whitefish with an oiled dirt road and excellent easy gliding “most” of the way. We needed to make the post office by 5 pm for our final food pick up from Marla. We were making perfect time and then paused for probably 30 minutes to talk to another father-son team from Australia (Stewart & Will) from the Gold Coast — Brisbane — their last name was: “Bible.” lol— Then, Stewart tells us, “My wife’s name is “Holly”!
You gotta love that Aussie Humor.
We had a lively discussion with them as they came from the Mexico border (63 days in) and heard many stories about their travels. One is about a bear harassing them at home they were camped at (outside), where the lady locked the door to the house. We tried to give them lots of tips for what was ahead as they were going north, and we traded stories of food stops, including the guy who spent $400 at the Polebridge bakery (I understand).
Once we saw lower Whitefish Lake, it was up and down hilly riding around the lake. And then suddenly, we hit the asphalt, which made it much easier (aaahhhhhh). Riding into Whitefish was a bit of a shock as we re-entered civilization. It wasn’t as touristy as I had anticipated (like Banff). It’s a very neat town with beautiful (huge) homes. Everything seems so new and nicely groomed with tennis courts, golf, and LOTS of activity on the lake with beautiful boats. It reminded me of Lake Tahoe — but newer and much less crowded.
We immediately rode to the post office to find our package waiting (Yeah), that was a thrill!
Reloaded on food and mailed back a package of warm clothes that neither of us were wearing since the weather has, for the most part, been very warm and sometimes hot. We found an outdoor barbecue place (john said they frequent — Piggyback BBQ) and ordered two amazingly huge burgers topped off with sausage and a couple more gallons of cold drinks.
As we were feasting, an electrical storm moved in, and it appeared that the day would end right there as the clouds were dark and the wind was swirling like a tornado. But as quickly as it moved in –, it moved out, and by the time we were ready to mount our bikes for Columbia Falls, it was gone entirely. I couldn’t believe it!
It was getting late, so we decided (with John Arledge) to aim for the RV park in downtown Columbia Falls rather than ride the extra ten or so miles to John’s house. We ran into a local doing a century ride and advised us to try aluminum Road, where he thought there’d be some free camping. It didn’t pan out, so it was dark when we were ready to hit Columbia Falls. We rolled into the RV park, picked the last available spot, and shot into town for some groceries and ice cream. Upon arriving back at the RV park, probably well after 11 PM, we both showered and tucked into our tents for a good night’s sleep, which was interrupted by another loud and lively electrical storm that rained on us pretty well before we slowly drifted off to sleep. Both Matt and I had to get up to fasten down our rain flies. Full moon night.
I slept pretty well, and in the morning, it was clear as a bell and windy, which helped to dry everything out.
August 13 (Day 21): 27 miles – Columbia Falls RV Park to Apgar campground in Glacier NP
1983: … “stayed at Apgar campground. Montana roads are absolutely the worst imaginable.”
Breakfast at Montana Coffee Traders, just down the street from our RV park — is excellent. WONDERFUL drip coffee in a mug with cream and honey. We mapped out our day to glacier NP — did some final shopping / ATM cash, and were on our way. Aside from 2-3 miles of no-shoulder craziness on the major highway.. we were mostly on a paved bike path that was very nice into Glacier NP. I got to the Apgar visitor center (excellent) for questions about our strategy (going to the sun…) and decided to camp at Apgar and give it a GO in the morning (early). They told us, “it is 16 miles to the top, and you can’t leave any earlier than 6 am due to road construction.” We knew we had to be off the road by 11 am, so that should work out, right?
Did the $5 hiker-biker campsite with three other hikers (Brenda; Ninja; space alien? — and another guy on his own). Checked out the little town of Apgar (like south shore Lake Tahoe) with lots of boating and food/drink options. Matthew and I returned there for two ice cream shakes of huckleberry heaven! Matthew brought back a 6-pack for Brenda and the space alien guy, and we chatted until it was time to turn it in. It was an interesting combo of those two…
August 14 (Day 22): 44 miles – Apgar campground in Glacier NP to Rising Sun campground in Glacier NP
1983: “Hit Saint Mary Lake (picture-perfect glacial lake) for my usual end-of-day swim and bath.”
I could not sleep after 2 am as I had to get up at 5 am (quietly in the dark) to get the 16 miles to Logan summit before 11 am, right? We were looking good — although VERY cold. Then I went by a sign (on McDonald lake) that said, “Logan pass 16 miles”. Wait, what!!?
I had to let it sink in for a few minutes in my frozen stupor (my hands were sending painful twitches up my arm) — and then it hit me; my odometer read 16 miles, so we had to go “32” miles to get to the summit BY 11 am — or get sent back down by the park ranger….! Oh MY.
My first thought (and Matthew) was “IMPOSSIBLE “ …. We decided to take a break— get warm clothes on — and re-think this. We had 16 more miles to climb 3,200’ in 2.5 hours (it was 9:30 am). We broke it into three segments of 5 miles each — with two good breaks to refuel and change clothes. We both pushed hard and steady and made it to Logan pass (6,646’) with 8 minutes to spare…! My most challenging day on the trip, for sure. We pushed hard for a solid 5 hours without letting up.
Wow — what a great feeling— and the scenery on top was magnificent.
I had a cookie from the visitor center on top to celebrate and rode the 10 miles down to the rising sun campground and found a spot— charming— immediately over to the restaurant for a well-deserved lunch (Matthew two). Ha.
Relaxing around the campground in the afternoon as we both were tired — Matthew’s 2nd nap in a row. We went for a refreshing swim in lake Mary, made a yummy dinner of veges and chomps, and sat and watched a local black bear rummage for foliage on the hill right next to us. Fun.
We carried our hot chocolates over to the ranger’s campfire talk, which was very informative on Glacier’s future challenges (climate, fires, bears, cars, fish, wolves, etc.). Slept well after the rising sun.
August 15 (Day 24): 38 miles – Rising Sun campground to Many Glacier campgrounds in Glacier NP
1983: “While snacking on raisins on the lake, I heard a loud splash. I looked to see a black bear taking a swim.”
I woke up to a beautiful “rising sun” and realized why this area got its name, as the sun hits it first in the morning. Casual-paced breakfast of the remainder of our oatmeal (and double Columbian Via mocha) and packed up to ride over to many glacier. Huge tailwind to St Mary visitors center — where we caught Marla by phone on their WiFi — and ate a massive sandwich before riding off the 25 or so miles to many glaciers. Hit a stiff headwind, including 3 miles of dirt. Many glacier is like a slice of Switzerland + Yosemite — wow! I immediately ran into a BIG black bear crossing the road and then a moose grazing on the Swiftcurrent Lake. Amazing. We checked into our campground and went back to the beach at Swiftcurrent Lake for a refreshing swim — and sunbathing on the smooth pebble rock beach. We both passed out till 6:30 or so…💤
Back to camp for a dinner of Indian curry + veges + chomps + hazelnuts and a giant choc chip cookie and the ice cream from the store (and of course a salmon sandwich for Matthew from the SC cafe). Matthew got the fire going to settle us in for a good night’s sleep.
August 16 (Day 25): 00 miles riding; 10 miles hiking – Many Glacier campgrounds in Glacier NP
I spent the morning in the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn getting an egg wrap breakfast, coffee, phone charge, and sending a couple of texts — when bars appear!…Ha. as Matthew was getting an excellent dreamy (and LONG) sleep 💤 .
The first time we did not need to pack our bags in the morning. Nice.
We took it real easy in the morning and then off by 1 pm for the 10-mile hike (1800’ climb) to Iceberg lake. Immediately encountered bears — as they rummaged for berries along the trail. I stopped at the waterfall (Josephine, I think) for a snack and swim (Matthew) and passed over 100 people (seriously) going back down (and more bears). It must be worth the hike. And yes, Iceberg Lake was worth it all (and then some). WOW! I was especially struck by the wildflowers. SPECTACULAR. Never seen a lake like it. I immediately went in (with a kid named Luke), knowing it wouldn’t happen if I waited. ICE COLD is an understatement. Or “harmfully cold” as one other hiker described it. And, of course— Matthew went in twice. Crazy. But it was invigorating after. We both were very thankful for the experience. The hike down was much smoother (literally dodging bears), and we went straight to camp to sit down and have a cold drink. Our hiker/biker camp got busy as three more joined us:
dark web — this guy is a NUT — hiking GDMBR and got fined $235 for not having a wilderness pass…
Charlie Janssen (email@example.com) — trying to be one of only ten people to hike the triple crown in 1 year (wife a traveling nurse) — told us the story of circling orbs one night in Virginia (sent him “make my bed “ book). WILD story.
A biker from NJ (Brian Sampson, 34 years old), who has been on a 4-year sojourn on his bike… He’d been everywhere! told us where to go in Canada and Alaska (the golden triangle in Alaska)… what an adventure he was on.
Dinner of the last of our vegetables with chicken and noodles and sat around the fire to hear of Brian’s escapades (all state capitals except Honolulu + book on 100 places u need to go before you die); And Charlie’s stories on the trail chasing the triple crown (AT, PCT, GD) around Matthews warm fire. Fascinating to hear of their experiences (Brian, no stove!) traveling alone.
August 17 (Day 26): 00 miles riding; 3 miles hiking – Many Glacier campgrounds in Glacier NP
Yikes— one more day… Really!?
Charlie, Dark Web, and Brian were all gone when I woke at 7 am. These guys don’t let any grass grow under their feet.
I spent the morning in the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn getting Eggs and trout sandwich breakfast, coffee, and sending a few texts — but no service today…
Matthew and I packed our hiking gear and headed off for a hike around Swiftcurrent Lake over to Lake Josephine. We weren’t sure how far we would go and ended up at lake Josephine on a beach with a family that was hiking further up to the Grinwald glacier and lake. We had heard from other hikers that bears were around and saw one across the lake jump in the water for a swim. We followed him around the lake shore, rustling through the bushes when suddenly he popped up on the dock right in front of us and began a slow trot directly toward us. It was shocking. All eight of us ignored protocol and ran straight into the bushes while Matthew smartly turned and held out the bear spray, yelling at the Bear to let him know we were there. I believe he saved us. It was quite a scene; luckily, I captured a part of it on video. One lady even dropped her phone amid the scare. As we were hiding in the bushes, the bear walked down the beach and back into the woods, giving us the safety to return to our beach.
Matthew and I quickly returned to Swiftcurrent Lake and decided to spend the day on the beach in front of the mini glacier hotel, swimming and sunbathing, which was relaxing and refreshing. We went into the mini glacier hotel for a yummy hamburger dinner at the bar — which Matthew treated me to. It was a bit of a celebration for our last day in Glacier. That hotel is a gem. We returned to our campground, had some ice cream from the café (mike), and sat around Matthews’s fire while talking to several of the Great Divide walkers; one of them, Erik, had just completed the entire GDMBR walk. He had started at the southern border in Mexico in April. It was a lively discussion, including our two new additions to the campsite, Peter and Erica, who were just embarking on nine days of the GDMB R hike. Matthew and I packed her bags for tomorrow, knowing we had to head off early to begin our trek back home.
August 18 (Day 27): 56 miles riding – Many Glacier campgrounds in Glacier NP to Arledge home in Columbia Falls, Montana
We were out of our campground by 7 AM, wishing Erica and Peter safe travels on their 9-day trek, and rode to the mini glacier hotel for a coffee and English egg McMuffin breakfast. It was cold for a change, so that hit the spot; we sat on the balcony and admired the sunrise as it warmed up Swiftcurrent Lake and formally bid farewell to the mini glacier area. What a fantastic place! The wildflowers were abounding almost everywhere, and the glacial mountain lakes were strikingly beautiful.
It was a cool ride to Saint Mary’s, where we checked into the visitor center to board our bus to Logan Pass. Everything went well, and we connected with a bus to Logan pass almost immediately (free). Again, at Logan Pass, we immediately caught another bus down the mountain and enjoyed the ride as we watched our ascent go by through a nice window picture while someone else was doing all the work. It was an excellent way to end the trip. We ended up at Apgar Village, where we knew we had to have a full meal to make it to John’s house, which was still about 30 or 35 miles away. Had a nice fish and chips (Matt) and chicken wrap (Mike) lunch with french fries and a huge glass of iced Diet Coke. Perfect.
We decided to swim in Lake McDonald before leaving, as the lake was friendly, warm, and crystal clear. And it was HOT out. Refreshed and ready to go, we boarded our bikes and headed into a 94° heat storm as we came down the valley into the Whitefish area. It was a long and hot ride, broken up by a stop at the gas station for an iced tea and cold water. We called John at the “10 commandments corner” about 10 miles from his house and got good directions to avoid the busy highway (and prayers for our salvation – lol).
It had to be 6:30 pm or later when we finally arrived at John and Holly’s beautiful home situated on a wide open hayfield looking straight up at the towering Columbia Mountain with hardly anything blocking the view. It was almost too good to be true. John generously gave us access to his shiny Ford rapture truck (which Matthew LOVED) and screaming internet service like we had not seen in a month. It was pretty much everything we could’ve dreamed of: hot showers, huge towels, ice-cold drinks in the refrigerators, a game room full of toys, and very comfortable sleeping quarters. It was a shock to both of us to suddenly be in such surroundings after sleeping for almost 30 days straight on the ground. We enjoyed a couple of cold drinks and an especially long shower (thanks, John) and then headed into town in John’s bright blue turbo-charged truck for “gun site,” a local restaurant with live entertainment.
I had a juicy hamburger with blue cheese sitting outside in a very comfortable environment, and Matthew had a fried catfish sandwich and a cold IPA. We relaxed and reflected before walking down a few doors for ice cream and then headed home in our blue spaceship. A funny note is that we met two gals outside the ice cream store from California (on vacation) who reveled hearing about our outdoor adventure. It occurred to me that they might have wondered about the authenticity of it all when we drove off in John’s truck. Ha ha ha. Regardless, it was a very appropriate ending to a trip that was way better than we could have dreamed. God truly answered 1000 prayers!
August 19 (Day 28): 22 miles riding – Arledge home in Columbia Falls, Montana to Whitefish Amtrak station
The morning started wonderfully as I got my first listen to my daily prayer app on my phone (Pray-As-You-Go) in a month. It was a special moment to be in the Arledge living room watching the sunrise over Columbia Mountain as the word of God was read to me about loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. As the sun came over the ridge peeking into my body, I felt God‘s love washing through me as I reflected on the month Matthew and I had together. There was so much around this trip that was weighing heavily on my heart over the last year, with the hope and prayers of our ability to pull it off and connect in nature in a way that would make a difference in our relationship as father and son. God answered those prayers in ways I never imagined possible. And right then, I felt his presence with me as the sun was first shining into my soul, as my prayer app was speaking the verses about loving God above all else in our life. That was a moment I will not soon forget. I’d be lying to say I did not have many anxieties about returning to life back home with all that was there when we left. But in this special moment, I was comforted by God‘s word to love him first. We’ve kind of pushed aside our struggles with this trip, as we just had to focus each day on the task at hand and appreciate the beauty of God‘s creation as we rode.
All praise and glory to you God.
My words are not expressing it well right now, but it all makes sense as I saw the warmth of God’s light come into that room and fill me with joy and a desire to love him above all else. That is my hope and prayer for Matthew that he would learn to love God above all else. When we get to heaven, we will see that everything else pales in comparison.
Our ride to Whitefish was hot (still in the 90s) and long (22 miles) as we rode into the afternoon heat. Our freshly cleaned bodies and clothes were soon soaked again in sweat. We repeated our “Piggyback BBQ” dinner (just as good the 2nd time) before entering the Amtrak station and loading our bikes onto the luggage car for Seattle. We slept well in our “coach” seats and woke up in Seattle without a place to stay for the night (1st time on our trip)…
August 20 (Day 29): 4 miles — Seattle Amtrak station to Anne Thomas’ home in Seattle
On Amtrak and headed home!
We made it safely onto our “coach” seats and slept reasonably well after our Piggyback” hamburger extravaganza dinner in Whitefish (best hamburgers). Time to process the trip and reflect on God’s amazing care of our many needs… including Anne Thomas’ (backroads friend) offering to put us up in Seattle for the night … Before we knew it, we pulled into Seattle station without knowing where we would stay tonight. Anne left us an option, but Mike is still struggling with whether that is the right thing to do…
We got the bikes back in order and rode off to Pike’s Market Place for an INCREDIBLE pressed “deli” sandwich ($8) — then rode steep hills (in my zero sandals) up and over the mountain of Seattle to the Lake Washington side, where we had a text exchange with Ann Thomas (from our Backroads tour in Santa Fe) about the lack of campsites in the area.
Anne insisted that we drop in:
“See you around 4. We can assess the larder then and figure out if we need anything. I will be interested to hear what route you will be riding to get here. Be careful of traffic! I’m happy to pick you up.”
August 21 (Day 30): 4 miles from Seattle Amtrak station to Emeryville station to HOME!
By the time we left the following day, I would be referring to our stay with Anne as “the Seattle Miracle”! She served us a perfect dinner of hors d’oeuvres; fresh sockeye salmon (which Matthew BBQ’d perfectly), fresh potatoes & broccoli, with cookies and ice cream for dessert. She repeated it all the following day when we woke up to eggs, toast, yogurt, fresh berries, and a rich cup of coffee in a nice porcelain cup. It was amazing. Her hospitality was generous, and her place was beautifully situated (and architected) overlooking Lake Washington as we gazed upon the many boats of all kinds crossing the Lake. As I told Anne, it was a fitting end to an incredible trip, indeed the cherry and whipped cream to top it all off. A very fitting final visit from our guardian trail angels on our journey.
Thank you, Anne.
The train ride from Seattle went too fast … It was a blur.
Review the Trello.com checklist(s) the night before we leave. Wow, I can’t believe I missed this… but we were so overwhelmed getting bikes equipped and boxed that last night that it slipped right by… things like my sunglasses, first aid kit, cup handle, and more were left in the garage…
Get bikes “boxed” a day or two before There were too many questions the night before
Don’t buy camp fuel until arrival (can’t ship it).
Bring a good razor and shaving cream. And more dental floss.
Order Harmony-type food earlier (it was a good buy, but I had to ship it ahead – it arrived late).
Needed a long sleeve riding shirt (Matt had a white one). The riding jersey worked, but too much sun on the arms. Most riding the entire length of the divide had long sleeves.
You only need two pairs of socks (riding) & 1 pair of riding shorts (with liner). Thanks, Laura
Don’t leave out the air bag for my air mattress (that blows it up). I ran out of air each day…
Bring postcards (or something similar…) to leave as thank you notes to our many angels.
Too many warm clothes (gloves and leg warmers especially) — mailed them home… just needed the puffy + rain jacket.
Bring Via coffee + Mocha cappuccino (the extra touch really helps in the morning)
Next time, take Amtrak home (again); the perfect way to step back into life (it took three days…)
WTB (Wilderness Trail Bars) on my 1991 Specialized Stump Jumper with bar end shifter are great for road riding. I need to change that on the next trip – waaaaaay too much weight of my body leaning forward onto the handlebars. I was totally envious of Matthew’s Jones Bars – which kept him upright and weight off his hands. If I hadn’t had good padded riding gloves, I could not have done it, but it still beat up my hands.
Panniers worked, and I could do it again, but very difficult pushing up the hills. I could not get next to my bike to push (I bumped the panniers…). Again, very envious of Matthew’s on-frame packs. Smart. But my big question is how I fit my camp chair with on-frame packs. Ha.
I need a new bike! lol.
Mike’s MVP list:
Riding gloves (my hands got hammered with the washboard roads, and they saved me)
Fold-up chair (my saving grace at camp – Helinox)
Zero sandals (saved my back?)
REI long pants (lightweight, dry in a minute, protection from mosquitos, wore every day)
Running shorts (felt great after riding; became swimming & camp shorts)
Wired earphones – book on audible (Hemmingway’s “A Moving Feast”)
Chomps (The only food I did not get tired of)
Voile straps (thank you, Laura – great story about using them to repel bikes off a mountain…)
Oil & clean the chain daily (not one mechanical issue)
Apple air tags (the best $30 investment we made)
New tires (not one flat – AYKM)
Trello board (for organization and planning, I can’t imagine doing it without Trello)
A long nylon cord for hanging out laundry each night (I used the Ursack cord)
Brooks saddle (yes, yes, YES!)
SPOT GPS tracking device – worked perfectly. Marla got it every night. Peace of mind.
“Mike, it all boils down to preparation, details and work, work, work . . . Everything the man says makes so much sense that I can’t believe so few coaches have followed his philosophy. I suspect because it involves too much work.”
–Kona Jack, reflecting on Coach John Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success”
If there ever were a perfect sunset, Dad (A.K.A. “Kona Jack”) surely would have seen it over his 27 years at the Keauhou Kona Surf and Racquet Club on the big island of Hawaii. It was a nightly ritual for him to collect with neighbors on the shore’s edge to stare down the sun as it dipped into the royal blue Pacific Ocean. As the glazed orange ball reached its final glimmer, all eyes were peeled for a “green flash” at the horizon’s edge as a final tribute to the day. With the curtain closing and the skies darkening above, Dad would always have a conclusive comment to abruptly move everyone out of their reverie so he could go about his evening:
“Ah, another day in paradise!”
Dad passed on the night of a full “Strawberry moon” in 2016 on Father’s Day (1). I was on my bicycle en route to work at Oracle when the call from my sister Terry came in. In a flash, the world stopped turning. It was monumental. Life would never be the same. I had known it was coming, but could not fathom the feelings that surfaced.
Dad was a man’s man, and I lucked out by being his boy. Life with Dad just happened. We didn’t talk things out. We mostly just hung out doing things guys do together, primarily around sports and exercise. He taught me most of what I know about surfing, skiing, and tennis. I don’t mean that he instructed me; that definitely was not Dad. He was about being together and doing whatever it was we were doing; not much needed to be said. Later in life, I realized what I had learned from him. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. He taught me how to truly relax and enjoy life. That was my most valuable lesson from him.
I am looking forward to heaven. That is also a nice way of saying that I look forward to dying; that’s OK with me. My faith is firm in the truth of a glorious life in heaven awaiting us for eternity. Keep reading; we will soon be surfing in heaven!
The Bible is crystal clear on the joy and peace that await those who place their faith in Jesus. I don’t know if that includes Dad. I communicated to him how simple it would be to accept Jesus into his heart. On my last visit with him in Kona I was able to share my Christian faith. We watched a video together to get him thinking about heaven. He did not say much, but appeared receptive to what I was saying. It rests in God’s hands.
I often dream about being reunited with Dad in the prime of his life in heaven. It would be a wonderous homecoming. I imagine, of course, he is going to say,
“Michael, let’s go surfing!”.
Until then, I hope that I can have as much of an influence on people as Dad did on his friends and family. Somehow, Dad seemed to rub off on everyone, including people he would seemingly completely ignore. Everyone who knew Dad would agree that he left a mark that won’t soon be forgotten.
Following are a few of the areas from Dad’s legacy that his grandchildren should take note of. I like to think of it as passing the baton to Marisa, Matthew, Brennan, and Hayley. These are all quite simple—not anything that would surprise those who knew Dad. But the combination of them together is what sets Dad apart. He lived each one of them to the fullest.
“Six lessons for the grandchildren,” from Kona Jack:
1 – Keep your sense of humor.
This may be the single most important of all!
Dad was hysterical with his many dry and humorous comments that always seemed to come when you least expected it. He had a fantastic wit and was not afraid to use it on anyone. Most importantly, it didn’t wane at all as he launched into some challenging times in his eighties. Dad was a walking comedy act that I appreciate now more than ever.
On my last trip to Kona (before he passed), I had come to assist him after he took a severe spill walking down the hill from the KTA market with a full bag of groceries (in his flip-flops!). He was quite bandaged up head to toe and not moving too well when I arrived. His first comment to me was:
“I’ve lost my swagger, Michael.”
I couldn’t have said it any better.
His first request was to drive into town for a haircut at his regular barber. I had been there many times. As we approached the barbershop, Dad shuffled slowly in as a customer held the door open and patiently waited for him to get by. The guy was looking at him and his bandages with obvious curiosity and sympathy (along with everyone else) when suddenly, out of nowhere, Dad looked up at him and blurted out,
“You should see the OTHER guy!”
The man holding the door was pausing to process what the heck Dad was talking about when it hit me as I was taking a seat. I was laughing so hard that I almost started to cry. Dad just shuffled up to the barber chair and sat down as if nothing had happened. The barber knew him well and took it in stride as he began dressing him for his haircut.
Dad was not a letter writer, but he was famous for his sticky notes on stuff he would send you in the mail. Often, they were written on a card or piece of paper that he would reuse. Here’s one he wrote on an article he sent me:
“Hey, it’s not all wine and roses over here! This can be a very tough life, especially if you’re in your late, late eighties. I messed up cutting these articles out of the paper, but I’m sure you’ll get the drift. Dad”
Another sticky note on a rather lengthy New Yorker article he sent me about Apple and the upcoming iWatch: “ Mike – I don’t want to over burden you with too much shop talk, but thought this might be of interest. It’s a little long and drawn, but does have its highlights, and it’s a good inside look into Apple’s modus operandi. In any event, you’re stuck with it! P.S. For your appreciation of my sending it, you can give me an Apple watch for Father’s Day.”
This one was written on a copy of the Santa Monica High School alumni newsletter, which included some photographs of his classmates:
“Mike: I have enclosed 2 Xerox’s from the recent Viking news, which is a quarterly published for SMHS alumni. One is a recent picture of Charlie French, which I thought you would like to see. The other caught my eye because I knew everyone involved from my Malibu days. Dave Rochlen is the founder of Jams, and Peter Cole and Buzzy Trent were famous big wave riders (Buzzy looks like he had a couple of 20 footers break on him).”
And looking at the picture of Buzzy, I had to agree!
2 — Sleep trumps diet.
A key to Dad’s long and physically active life was his ability to sleep anywhere at any time. He regularly took two naps a day and never (that I remember) had a hard time getting a full night’s sleep. I will never forget one incident on the day Marla and I got married. I came into the bedroom to get the tuxedo on and found him flat on his back, taking a nap. I thought he was kidding at first, but with his hearing aids out, I could hardly wake him up!
Dad’s sleep habits also seemed to counterbalance his daily nutritional habits, which were not healthy by any standard. He should have written a book on how to live a long and healthy life while eating and drinking anything you want.
My favorite story was the trip we took back to Kona from Queens Medical Center in Honolulu after surgery to install a stent in one artery. The surgeon had ordered him on a low-fat, low-sodium diet and told him not to lift anything over ten pounds for two weeks. He repeated the last one three times! We were driving back to Dad’s place from the Kona airport when he had me stop at one of his favorite restaurants along the way (“Michael, pull over here!”). I was not surprised when he ordered a giant schooner of draft beer and a large plate of french fries. Of course, he salted the fries heavily and covered them with ketchup.
Picking my words carefully, when I mentioned that the schooner probably weighed over ten pounds (deciding to ignore the rest), he looked at me like I had gone mad. I will never forget that gaze as he held the giant glass mug with both hands visibly shaking as he lifted it to his lips. It was as if I had threatened to turn off his air!
And, of course, there was Dad’s infamous grocery list. Here’s one he gave Marisa for her trip to KTA one day:
– Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream, Ranch-style Doritos, Eye of the Hawk beer, Laughing Cow cheese, Frosted Flakes, Half n Half, Snickers bar.
On a thank you note he sent Terry, he outlined what would likely happen to him if money were no object in Kona:
“Terry, I want you to know that I had a big time blowing away your gift certificate at Drysdale’s: 1 beer, 3 Rob Roy’s, 1 Stinger on the rocks, and the Shrimp basket. So thanks a lot. I hope I can repay you if you make it over in December.”
Surely, he slept better than ever that night!
3 — Keep life simple.
Everyone who knew Dad was envious of how he had simplified his life. He had boiled his world down to the bare essentials. He should have won an environmental achievement award for having the lowest carbon footprint in the state of Hawaii. We all have a lot to learn from him in this area.
On the day I took dad to Los Angeles airport for his move to Kona from Newport Beach (Park Newport apartments), I came to the shocking realization that he was serious about simplifying. He told me he had sold everything for the move, including his car. When he got into my car with a single (small!) suitcase for his flight and nothing else, it hit me.
“Dad, where’s your stuff? Did you ship it?”
His quick reply:
“This is it, Michael. I got rid of everything.”
And he stayed that way. Dad never succumbed to a life of possessions and complexity. Including never again owning a car. His unit #29 at the Keauhou Surf & Racquet Club was a perfect example of that. A couple of $3.99 plastic Wal-Mart chairs around a $4.99 plastic Wal-Mart table was the only furniture he needed. He didn’t seem to mind that we all had to stand around to talk with him when we visited. I think he liked that you would never stay long if you didn’t have somewhere to sit. I tried to buy him a Lazy Boy chair several times to help him get his feet up.
“If I want to lay down, I’ll just go out to the pool!” he quickly shot back.
Dad’s fantastic ability to keep life simple and avoid the stress attached to the things we accumulate was genuinely something to be admired. Here’s another note he wrote us on the back of his race number for the Keahou 5K run, effectively reusing the race number as a notecard:
“Hi Gang: I picked up my race booty, which consisted of two T-shirts in addition to the race shirt (I may not leave much money, but I’ll leave a lot of T-shirts,) a twelve dollar gift certificate at Drysdales (that’s 3 Rob Roy’s), and a medallion on a blue ribbon…. The weather has been great. Highs in lo 80’s; lo’s in high 60’s with afternoon clouds and no vog. The snow bunnies are real happy!”
And yes, he did leave us lots of T-shirts.
4 – Exercise for life!
One quality that most influenced me was Dad’s example with consistent exercise throughout his entire life. This was one of the few areas where he did offer advice as we were growing up. Dad believed exercise was a true fountain of youth, whether it was his tennis, surfing, skiing, or even jumping rope in the living room. And he was living proof that it worked!
This note on the back of a reused Christmas card says it all:
“Life here goes on! Following is my current schedule: – Monday: work 9-12:30. Tennis 3-5. – Tuesday: Bike to the village. Coffee at the Pub. Work out at the club and a run. Bike back to the pool. – Wednesday: Tennis 2-4. – Thursday: same as Tuesday – Friday: same as Monday – Saturday: same as Tuesday and Thursday – Sunday: rest it up at pool. Tennis 3-5. Of course there are variations, but not many. I’m sure you get the idea! Love, Jack”
5 — Enjoy life.
Everyone who knew Dad agreed that he set the stage for enjoying life. Whether it was a brilliant Kona sunset, cold beer, or a well-played football game on TV, he enjoyed it to the fullest and let everyone around him know. It was a fun quality of his that I miss a great deal. Dad never let work distract him from taking pleasure in life and kept a keen eye on those who did the same. No question that a part of this has propelled me into the work/life balance coaching arena.
Here’s an insightful comment he made about Bob Simmons, a fellow Malibu surfing pioneer, in a note to me about a recent surf auction of a Simmons surfboard for $40,000:
“This is the same board I’m riding in the Malibu photo. I’m not sure how many of these Simmons made, but don’t think it could be more than 5 or so. I can only remember seeing one other that was owned by Jim Arness. Bob was anything but a grinder when it came to making boards and never let work interfere with his surfing. There seems to be a lot of money out there for old surf collectibles. I may be sitting on a fortune!”
Dad was not a complainer. Later in life, when the speed bumps (as he called them) started showing up, he would still find pleasure in the midst of it. Don’t get me wrong; he let you know if he didn’t like something or if something had not gone well. He never dwelled on it and soon was making light of it after.
When we made a trip back to Queens Medical Center in Honolulu for his bladder cancer surgery, he had to carry a catheter bag with him along the way. I could not believe how he kept his spirits up and maintained a sense of humor about it all. I was cringing at the sight of him carrying the catheter bag when we came to airport security and he (of course!) got pulled aside for the complete shakedown treatment by the TSA agents. He kept looking at me with an “are you kidding me” look on his face as they patted him down.
“I need a beer Michael,” was his first comment as he rejoined me. I’ll never forget that beer. He took a long draw from the cold, wet mug, and belted out:
“Ahhhhh, that’s a good one, Michael.”
I was looking at him and wondering how he possibly could be enjoying a beer right now? Yet he savored it as if it was going to be his last!
6 — It’s OK to be sentimental.
The family all knew about Dad’s goodbyes. They were painful for those of us who were trying to leave from a visit with him. I dreaded it every trip, as he always fell apart and started to cry when it was time to say goodbye. My last trip over was the worst of all. It was as if he knew he would not see me again, finally just telling me to leave.
The point I think he would make for the grandkids is not to hold your emotions in, but to let them out. I wish I could be more like that. Here are a couple more of his sticky notes as evidence.
This one is regarding a blog I had written about my San Onofre experience with him growing up:
“Mike, this is pretty good. I must confess your re-capitulation of a trip to SanO brought tears to my eyes. I’ve out-grown my motion sickness, but it doesn’t look like I’ll ever outgrow my sentimentality, which I for sure inherited from my father.”
In the mid-80s, Dad had taken a three-week solo trip to Australia in which the airline (Quantis) lost his luggage on the flight over. We were surprised to find a detailed daily journal he kept from that trip where he periodically lamented over the loss and its impact on his emotions. His final entry in the journal:
“Checked with Qantas about my suitcase and no luck. Someone else is wearing my snappy clothes and it pisses me off to no end!
And finally, a birthday card (not reused) he sent me shortly after college (early ‘80s):
“Hi Mike – They do roll around awfully fast don’t they. I hope you have or had a real good one! This is one birthday that always sneaks up on me. I am watching the U of U – San Jose St. basketball game from Utah and couldn’t help but have a flash-back to your graduation. You can be real proud of what you accomplished then, and what you have accomplished since. To put it mildly, you have done quite well; and I’m a very proud father.
Utah seems to have one of their better teams and I cant look at Tarkanian without thinking of Woody [our tax accountant – who did in fact look like him!]. “Fresno State has a 26 to 11 lead and the Utah coach is having kittens! Love, Grandpa Jack”
All told, dad’s life was a bit of a fairy tale. The “strawberry moon” on the day of his passing is the nickname for June’s full moon, which coincides with the summer solstice. According to AccuWeather.com, the last time these two phenomena coincided was back in 1967, and it won’t happen again until 2062. I would venture to guess that it has been even longer since it fell on Father’s Day.
Dad passed away just four months shy of his 90th birthday. He had just spent Father’s Day with his daughter Terry, and her husband, Bob Hankenson. They went out for his favorite meal of fish and chips and his favorite cocktail, a Rob Roy served “up with a twist.” To top it off, sitting on the table in his dining room was the day’s crossword puzzle in the Honolulu Advertiser with every box filled in!