Jennifer Schofield
Pacific Coast
Sandpoint, ID to Libby, MT-Headwinds and Loneliness

 

Mypeople talked up how pretty the ride ahead was. I needed that, otherwise I'mnot sure I would have kept moving! Stocked up on apples and plums from theorchard. One by one we all headed out, Steve to the shop, Kjetil to school,Paula to work and me to the east. 

 

Theride was indeed pretty. And desolate. Stopped in Hope to clean my chain andvisit with the local guard cat. The Clark Fork Pantry was next, where I got aton of goodies! And, I found a couple of ladies from Ellensburg (about 3 hourseast of Seattle) to chat with. I had organized a cycling festival that wentthrough Ellensburg earlier this year and it was nice to find that connection,albeit a fleeting one. 

 

When Igot to the Montana border sign, I stopped for what felt like entirely too long.Wanted to get a decent photo with the sign. Really wanted one of the passingcars to pull over and snap a photo - and much more importantly, share in thismilestone. I don't carry a tripod and couldn't Macgyver one together. One ortwo cars pulled into the lot but then drove off before I could run up and asksomeone to take my picture. Knowing that flagging down a passing car was toomuch to ask, I eventually rode on. 

 

Andthe wind from the east picked up. Great. Just what I needed - a headwind. Thatwill really help my mood. I don't hate many things in life. But I hateheadwinds. 

 

A fewmore miles, and I stopped again. Laid Marge down. Okay, I may have dropped herin the grass. I started working on an ill-conceived of rocks and twigs that wasquickly breaking my heart, and an RV pulled up. The driver got out - saw me andmy bike laying in the dirt and wanted to be sure I was ok. I said I was, but ifhe wanted to do me a huge favor he could take my photo! He kindly obliged, andI got to say hi to three shih tzus and a pomeranian. 

 

Andthen, like the all others, he too was quickly gone. On the road either in adifferent direction, or at a far different pace than I. Found a quick respiteat the Big Sky Pantry with a couple on a road trip. But before long, they toowere off. 

 

Ineeded help; I needed my people. I sent out my bat signal to fellow ranger J.D.I figure if there's any bike route that gets lonely, it's the Tour Divide thathe rode last summer. He stepped away from his (Canadian) Thanksgiving dinner tosay exactly what I needed to hear: This is normal... try to enjoy where you areat... focus on what lies immediately ahead, just the next mile or if that's toomuch then just focus on the next pedal stroke. Then he was off to go eat anentire pumpkin pie. So glad I was able to catch him when I did.

 

Withthat little boost, I kept pedaling. I kept myself company snapping photos,telling a story with my camera, even if my audience hadn't materialized yet. Irolled into Dorr Skeels campground, which was deserted. Natch. I rode aroundthe entire park to confirm, that, yes, I had the place completely to myself. Itried to focus on the beautiful calm lake view, tried to appreciate that Icould change clothes or pee or fart without any concern for who might see(smell?).

 

In themorning I was off with a plan to stop in Libby for lunch, then ride until darkand stop at one of the campgrounds along the way. Again I tried to occupy mymind with photos, with the story of the intrepid bike tourist, who braved theroads all by herself, composed pithy tweets, kept a smile on her face whateverthe weather, just as winter was beginning to descend. And again the lonelinessrose up. This time it was so bad I didn't bother engaging a couple guys whostopped at the waterfalls for some photos. I just got back on my bike, headdown, aiming for Libby. 

 

Thisisn't a big deal, I told myself. I have absolutely everything I need - cookies,perfect weather, my bike works great, I had just climbed 5 mountain passes forcrying out loud. I'm fine. I don't need anyone. I have everything I need. Ihave everything I need. I have everything I need. 

 

There'san Amtrak station in Libby. Oh. I didn't know that. Well, that's certainly goodto know. I found the grocery store, and started shopping. Tried calling myhusband Toby but he was biking to work. Ok. Called a friend and chatted for abit. Kept trying to figure out what I needed to buy at the store - for somereason I just couldn't get it together. Kept going back to the register, sooften that the staff just set aside my pile of stuff until I would finally beready to pay up. Really wanted to talk with Toby, I needed a genuineconversation about calling it quits and getting on the train home. I didn'tthink I actually would do it - but it was a possibility and I needed to stareit down now, not before I started on the next 70 miles which were with suchlimited services I would carry a gallon+ of water and 2 days' worth of foodwith me.   

 

CalledToby's work. He wasn't there yet. Chatted with his boss. Finally bought mypathetic and strange pile of food from the deli counter and went to sit by thewindow. Picked at some food. Tried to journal but couldn't find any words.Finally Toby called. And the tears finally started in earnest. My brain wasn'tworking and I didn't know why. I couldn't pick out groceries and I didn't knowwhy. I wasn't hungry and I didn't know why. 

 

Tobytalked me into grabbing a hotel in Libby and taking the afternoon off. Takesome time to assess and see how I felt in an hour, a couple hours, in themorning -- as this was a way out of this morass that I could hold on to. 

 

Ifound a cheap motel. The woman working there very kindly let me use theirwasher and dryer and soap. I let a few tears of gratitude slip. In my littlewood-paneled room I turned on the tv and watched Ellen. I screwed around onFacebook. I closed my eyes. I listened to music. I called my dear old dad. AndI eventually felt better. Talked with more friends. Talked about my brain notworking right. Went back to the grocery to get the things I forgot earlier. Andyes, I did feel better. 

 

Wokeup before the sun, not wanting to believe it was time to leave but it seemed Ishould go. And so I did, leaving Libby behind for what would surely be a verydesolate day ahead - 70 miles up to Eureka, with no services the entire way.  

 

- IMAGES OF THE ROAD -

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Jennifer Schofield

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Jennifer Schofield
  • What was the genesis moment or inspiration for your upcoming adventure? I'm going to blame my fellow Ranger J.D. Pauls for this one. He told me about a new Trans-Am Race that's happening this June, and hopefully annually thereafter. After seeing 2013 Ranger footage of Nick and J.D. racing their hearts out while Carrie and I cruised down the coast eating ice cream (ok, Carrie rode a damn strong tour and I'm the one who cruised along from ice cream shop to ice cream shop)... and while I know I'm not a front-of the pack race contender, I kind of feel like maybe there's something I missed out on.

    I'm looking for a different challenge this year. One that still involves ice cream, but something that pushes further toward being the strongest version of myself. I learned that phrase at Seattle's Bike to Work Breakfast, listening to a high school senior talk about his recent experiences in Seattle's Major Taylor Project. Before he joined Major Taylor, Brook had never biked out of his neighborhood. He thought that their first organized 10-mile ride around SeaTac airport would surely result in broken bones or some other major injury. But he did it. And then he rode his first century. Then did his first 200 mile ride. Brook talked about how cycling has been a means to becoming the strongest version of himself.

    At the end of last year's tour I was the strongest I have ever been in my life. Physically, mentally, etc. – hands down, I was the strongest in every way. This year it's time to tap into that again, crank it up a notch... and see what happens.
  • Have you travelled by bike in the past? Last year's PCH tour was my first real bike tour. I hope to add to that resume during the summer of 2014 with my new job leading tours at Bicycle Adventures! I understand I’m being made to spend three weeks in the Glacier-Banff-Jasper area… and I’m bragging about that to anyone who will listen.
  • What is your goal for the route? I'm starting in Astoria, Oregon and will go as far as I can in 2 weeks on the Trans-Am route. However far I get, at the end of 2 weeks I'll go to the nearest train station and buy a ticket home.

    Someday I want to do a cross-country tour, and this trip will help me decide if this is the right route for me, and if an event like the Trans-Am Race is right for me. Will I get lonely on a less-traveled route than the PCH? What will it be like with fewer amenities along the way? (Will there be enough ice cream shops!?) I'm most curious about what will it be like to race the clock a little bit.

    During my tour last summer, I set out having just had a lateral appendectomy 6 weeks prior. While I got clearance from my surgeon to do the tour, I still rode conservatively, just wanting to avoid any possible problems. And then mid-way through the trip, I found out a friend would be in the Bay Area for a very limited time, and if I wanted to meet up I would need to ride several very challenging days - 70 to 80 miles over sections of highway with the word "Pass" in the name. I hemmed and hawed and ultimately decided to go for it. It was the biggest challenge thus far on the trip. It was tougher than I imagined - one day after bragging to some fisherman at the foot of Jenner Pass that not only was I going to make it another ~25 miles to Bodega Bay State Park that day, I was going to complete all 5 miles of climbing Jenner Pass without stopping.

    I stopped twice, ostensibly to pee, less ostensibly to catch my breath. But I made it to Bodega Bay. And then the next day, I made the meeting.

    I wouldn't have pushed myself if not for this meeting, this race against time. And if not for the meeting, I wouldn't have realized this new strength. And I wouldn't have gotten to that stronger version of myself -- the one who was shrugging off 80-mile days like they were nothing by the end of her tour.
  • What do you hope to get out of this journey? I took a leadership course with the Adventure Cycling Association last fall, in their office in Missoula, MT. On the wall near the entrance is a photo and essay about an ACA member who has cycled across the country 7 times. His goal in life is to "make every second count." Whenever he feels that slipping away, he gets on his bike and rides across the country.

    There has been a lot of transition in my life recently - going from a corporate desk job to an outdoors lifestyle company was huge. I'm still adjusting. I still spend a lot of time in front of the computer, and at times I still catch myself hunched over the keyboard like a vulture. Some days I struggle to find time to ride my bike. There are still too many "should's" in my mind - how I should (working!) or shouldn't spend my time (goofing off), what I should or shouldn't say, eat or do. I hope to get closer to finding my passion or purpose or true north or whatever you want to call it, that is "making every second count."

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