Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Little Rewards On My Trip

Devil's Tower from a distance

The idea of a reward on this trip is totally relevant.  I have to admit however, most people find it hard to believe that riding 60 to 90 miles day-after-day is enjoyable!  In fact they are more likely to classify it as pure torture! Some days are harder than others, awful headwind, hot temperatures, limited services on the road, and grueling climbs.  There are days when I arrive at my destination and I don’t want to see my bike for another week.   Other times, I don’t even make it to my designated destination and have to come up with a plan B.  Many wonder,…..What keeps me motivated? People ask me this question a lot and to tell you the truth, I can’t pinpoint one specific motive.  I’d say it’s a culmination of elements.  For an avid cyclist and explorer who seeks new adventures like myself, those 60 to 90 miles are filled with plenty of treasured moments, unforgettable encounters, and prized scenery that makes every mile worth pedaling.

You can't even imagine how excited I was to find these oranges, I hit the jackpot!!

During the course of a day there also seem to be plenty of little rewards, little prizes, besides the scenery and meeting new people that keep me pedaling. One day, I thought I had won the lottery when I found about a dozen oranges just off the shoulder of the road.  They were perfectly edible and ripe so I gathered as many as I could fit in a plastic bag and tied them to the back of my bike.  I had oranges for a week (actually they last about a day and a half)!  Lucky me!  Sometimes I’m tickled to death when I find good deals and delicious treats in the day old “Specials” carts at the supermarkets.  Fruit, veggies, day-old pastries…..while some consider it over ripe or not fresh enough to eat, it is the perfect snack for me and marked at an unbeatable price.  Lots of times gas stations let me fill my big water bottle for free with an energy drink or soda, and don’t charge me for a coffee refill.  I know, it seems ridiculous that something so small like that can make me so happy, but it does!

Just look at those deals, and a basket full of them.  No wonder I come out of a supermarket with 10 extra lbs. on my bike!
Upon arriving at Devil’s Tower a few days back, I had a different kind of reward waiting for me.  I had contacted the Warmshowers host there, a “Frank” who states that he is a rock climbing guide who works at the Devil’s Tower lodge.  There is a profile picture of a man with long white hair and some funky retro glasses.  I started envisioning this man in my head as I road to the National Monument. Frank told me there was plenty of room to camp at the lodge and if I arrived by seven, I could eat dinner with “them”.  To me, them meant the staff.  I pictured this place to be a huge old lodge with hundreds of tourists pouring in and out, like you see at many of the National Parks in the states during the summer.  I thought I’d be spending my evening with a bunch of college students with summer jobs at the lodge, avid rock climbers,…..and Frank. Frank, I thought, must really love to rock climb and works in the hospitality industry doing any odd jobs at the lodge, just to be close to the monument to climb!  An ideal situation, really for any climbing enthusiast like himself!   

A patriotic setting for the fourth of July

The line to get into Devils Tower was ridiculous, luckily on a bike, I just pedaled on through

After a long day of riding in temperatures that reached 100F, I made the turn off from the highway to Devil’s Tower and expected to see the lodge would be right at the entrance.  Contrary to my mental picture, the only thing there was an eye sore of a KOA campground with music blasting for the fourth of July and a typical “trading post” with all sorts of touristy junk. Hoards of tourists were swarming the area eating ice cream, snacks, and going back and forth from their car to the shop.  Devil’s Tower stood there bold and tall in the backdrop, so I figured most tourists didn’t even bother to pay and enter the park to get a closer view.  The lodge was still not in sight and oddly; it wasn’t listed or drawn on the map of the park.  I called Frank and asked him for directions, only to find out I still had to pedal 3 another miles (at the end of a 65 miles day, 3 miles seems like 30)!  I would have settled for the KOA at this point, but convinced myself to follow through with my original plans.  After all, I had bought a huge bag of pretzels to bring to the staff dinner to share.  It took me a little longer to arrive than anticipated, I couldn’t stop taking pictures as I made my way around the circumference of the tower.  Frank gave good direction thankfully, because I still hadn’t seen a sign for the park lodge.  How did the herds of tourists find this accommodation without a single sign on the road?  Strange.  I turned on the dirt road I thought I was supposed to be on and saw a car coming barreling down kicking up all sorts of dust.  I flagged them down to ask them if I was on the right road to the lodge.  They said yes, at the “T” turn right.  They didn’t seem super friendly, so I continued on without chatting.  I got to the “T” made my right on a private drive and finally saw the first sign of the lodge. 

Devil's Tower Lodge,....not like I pictured it (Jimmy is mystified by how I actually pedal a 70lbs. bike)

It was different than I expected, it didn’t look like an official “park lodge” and was much smaller than I expected.  My mind was preoccupied with arriving for dinner, obviously, so I quickly got off my bike, grabbed the pretzels, and with my helmet and sunglasses still on, went up the side balcony door and right into the dining room!  It was 5 past 7; I had made it! Just in time for dinner!  I had walked right into the dining room where I found everyone, holding hands about to say grace.   Everyone in this case wasn’t staff as I had imagined, they seemed more like guests to me.  I was really confused about this lodge, but my hunger preoccupied my mind.  With my helmet still on and my dirty hands, I reached out and joined hands with the last two guests to say grace, led by a white-haired man at the end of the table with his back to the tower, Frank I presumed. 

The dining room overlooks the tower
“Melissa, you made it!” Frank said.  He welcomed me, said grace and dinner began.  I managed to get my hands washed and the pretzels on the table for all to enjoy, although they didn’t really fit in with the enchiladas, salad, and rice.  I was so excited to eat, but everyone else was intrigued and mystified by my presence. Who was this young woman and why was she in full on bike gear (not to worry, by now I had removed my helmet)? Where did she come from? I had a captive audience with a lot of questions; the food was going to have to wait.  I forget the shock element that comes along with hearing about my trip.  I tell so many people everyday about what I’m doing and I’ve been doing it for the last 11 months, that it has just become my normal life.  But nothing about it is normal for the other people who I encounter. Frank asked to share with them where I started my trip, when, and how many total miles I had done. Before anyone could take a bite of their dinner, their jaws dropped when they heard I was about 15,500 miles into my trip after being on the road for nearly 11 months, starting back in Barcelona.  After all, it’s not everyday you have dinner with a young lady who is riding solo around the world.

Jimmy, 84 years old, on a road trip with a lady friend, what delightful company!

Dinner was delicious and the conversation entertaining. Directly to my left was Jimmy, a nice elderly man, 84 years old to be precise.  He was so hard of hearing that I practically had to shout in his ear, but he was the sweetest old man who used to bike ride himself and incredibly curious.  After dinner he actually tried to pick up my bike and couldn’t, he was shocked by how much it weighed. I wondered what brought Jimmy to Devil’s Tower, and so he explained that so many of his friends were passing he decided he could either sit at home and sulk or go and visit his friends one last time.  From the bay area in California, he had flown up to Seattle, where he met a lady friend and together, the two set out on a road trip together visiting friends and family all the way as far east as Minnesota.  Remind you that he is 84, hard of hearing and driving.  That is a recipe for disaster if you ask me, especially being a cyclist. He did tell me that when he sees a cyclist ahead he gets way over even if it means entering the lane of oncoming traffic.  God bless him (more like god help him) out there on the road! I sure hope to never come across him on the road cycling.

The view from my room, can't beat it and front row parking for my bike
I was pleasantly delighted that the lodge was completely different than I had picture, even Frank himself!  Frank owns and runs a quaint bed and breakfast just off the park boundaries, that caters to a lot of rock climbers but also all different walks of life. At max capacity, as it was that night, it could hold about 15 to 20 guests plus tents for campers in the lawn. That is where I was going to stay for the night.  After dinner I helped clear the table, the least I could do for the meal they’d given me.  When the kitchen was tidy, I was ready to get washed up and set-up my tent.  I was told the showers was outdoors and there was a field where several other rock climbers had put their tent.  I went to thank Frank for the meal and say goodnight, when he surprised me and told me I had a room.  A What????  Yes, there was a cancellation and I had a room.

What a deluxe set-up for the night
He and his assistant brought me down a hall passed “my bathroom”, a huge double shower with all sorts of fun toiletries, to a room called “Windows”.  We walked in and there was a monstrous bed with a big window in front of it and right then I understood the name given to this room.  The view from the giant window was a pretty special one it looked directly upon the tower.  I couldn’t believe this was my room for the night! How did I get so lucky? What a reward for all my efforts pedaling.  Frank explained to me that there had been a last minute cancellation. Some ladies had arrived, looked at the room and decided they didn’t want it.  Remember the car full of the women who told me I was on the right road? For some reason, they didn’t want the room and Frank, was more than delighted they decided not to stay because that meant he could give the room to me!  He said, “Melissa, I don’t have to say this out loud, but I like to.  I believe in serendipity.  Those women were meant to not like this room so that I could offer it to you.  People like you are really neat and you impact and influence people whether you know it or not.  Look at the conversation at the dinner table tonight.  All of those people will be talking about you for weeks, amazed at your journey. You see, this was just suppose to happen!”  Frank’s words resonated; they sounded awfully familiar? It seems to me like Frank and Susan the Lakota spiritual teacher have met!

Frank and his assistant at Devils Tower Lodge
Ironically, being the fourth of July and all at a national monument, my first 4th of July in the United States after 10 years, I was looking forward to seeing fireworks that night.  However, I was so thrilled with my room and the view, I didn’t want to leave.  I was perfectly content hearing the fireworks crackle outside while I enjoyed my deluxe suite inside.  How did I get so lucky?  What a big reward at the end of a long day.  Thanks to Frank, I won’t ever forget my first 4th of July back in the States!

The view from in front of the Lodge
A pretty impressive rock, even more so close up on my run the next morning
Here’s one entertaining extra detail, just to remind me again to never say “never”.  I left Devil’s Tower the next morning a bit later after a nice trail run around the tower.  I took some pictures with my favorite elderly man, Jimmy, packed up, and set off.  Jimmy and his lady friend were about to leave as well.  I had a relatively easy day with pretty countryside scenery. I arrived in Gillette my destination a bit early and needed to go to a pharmacy before heading to my host’s house.  I approached a stop sign and waited for a car to show up to ask for directions.  I could see a car coming in my distance but they were driving so terribly slowly, I thought they’d never make it to the stop sign.  I looked closely as they pulled up beside me.  Who do you think it was: Jimmy and his lady friend.  I screamed with joy to acknowledge the coincidence, but the two didn’t seem as carefree and friendly as before.  Jimmy’s lady friend was talking on her smart phone (yes, an 80+ on a smart phone) using the speakerphone.  I could hear her shout into the phone, “No, no, he’s talking the another gal, the cycling girl from Devils Tower is here on the corner.”   Jimmy seemed flustered and shouted from across the driver seat, “I can’t believe you beat us here?  We are lost! We can’t find out BBQ!”  I thought to myself, if he drove as slowly the whole way to Gillette as he did to the stop sign at this intersection, it’s no wonder I beat them!  It looked like Jimmy was about to pull over to talk some more.   After all, we had bonded at the dinner table; we were friends. Jimmy turned the corner cautiously, then, all of a sudden, instead of breaking completely; he hit the accelerator nearly leaving all the rubber from his tire on the street.  Off they went, peeling away in a hurry to find the BBQ.  I was completely shocked and felt a little betrayed.  They didn’t even say good bye!  I took the next day off in Gillette.   That will give Jimmy and his friend a bit of a head start!  For safety sake, I hope we don’t find each other on the road again!

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