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Missoula, Montana, United States
On August 13th 2010

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Trip of a Life Time

We arrived in Kalispell, Montana on the 9th of August.  With the windows down, we pulled into our good friend Kevin’s dark driveway and were greeted by friends, good beer and the warm smell of the bonfire.  I hadn’t seen Kevin since Christmas time and the excitement on his face was the best part of the arrival. 

As I lifted my body out of the car and into my wheelchair, Kevin informed Amy and I that there was no need to for us to set up camp.  Connie, the owner of the property, offered her rental cabin to Amy and I.  This log cabin had an enormous amount of history behind it, along with everything else on the property.  Way back in the day Connie’s cabin used to be a one room school house, and the place we were staying was the teacher’s cabin.  This was the most unique and beautiful place that Amy and I have ever shared.

After an amazing nights sleep in the cool mountain air, we woke up early to get ready for our travel into Glacier National Park.  While sitting on my new modification to my chair that acted as my toilet seat I heard a crack.  Before I knew it the entire piece had broken and I almost fell through the frame of my chair to the floor.  As I hung on to the bed waiting for Amy’s help, I started to get very concerned.  This piece on my chair was my answer to the common issue people with spinal cord injuries have to deal with.  Without it I would not be able to camp in Glacier.

Its amazing how one little hiccup like this can make everything stop on a dime.  As I calmed myself down, I began trying to troubleshoot this new problem of mine.  Greg and I began brainstorming for the best and fastest solution so we could get on with our trip.  We decided that using a strong cloth material instead of plastic would be the best way to go; now all we need is someone to sew my new prototype together.

We hit the town in search of a seamstress that would be kind enough to help us out.  The first lady that we met didn’t have the time to sew the seat for me but she did donate a piece of material that would be strong enough to support my body weight.  Although she was too busy to put it together, she took the time to call around and find someone that could help us.  After reaching one of her friends that had some time we were off to the next shop. 

We arrived at her shop and started to explain what I needed.  In no time at all she broke out her tape measurer and took the project into her hands.  A couple of hours later she called to let us know she was finished.  This new seat couldn’t have been any better.  In fact it was the way it should have been made in the first place.  I guess everything happens for a reason.  I feel like every trick in the book has tried to stop me from riding, but I truly believe that this was the last chapter.   Now I know there is nothing that can get in my way of accomplishing my goal.

As Amy and I drove into Glacier National Park, I was quickly reminded of the incredible beauty of this land.  Amy was seeing all of this for the first time, and I could see the excitement in her eyes.  We rolled into camp after the sun had set, which seemed to be a trend of ours, to find everyone was there and pumped that the crew was now complete.  Now all we had left to do for the day was set up camp and get some shut eye for the long day ahead of us.

We woke up to the sun rising and quickly packed up so we could make the long journey up and over Logan Pass and on to Many Glacier where the ride would start.  This was the first time I had seen the entire road and I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me.  As my nerves were rattling and my adrenalin was pumping, we finally got to the start of the ride.

After some filming for the intro to the ride and some team cheering, we were off.  I couldn’t believe that this ride had started.  I spent many months confidently planning and training for this, now the road stared back, almost taunting me.  I was nervous at the start of the day, but I knew I would complete the first day of riding.  The whole team cruised through the rolling hills along Lake Sherburne and everyone was smiling.  In less than a year we were all back together do what we loved the most, outdoor adventures. 

As a team, we made our way out of the park to Highway 89 to head south for twelve miles to arrive at the Going to the Sun Road.  The high noon sun was blazing down on us, and due to my heat issues we made quite a few stops so I could pour some water over my head to cool down.  This section proved to be harder than I thought.  There were head winds and hot sun the entire time. 

Finally, there it was: Going to the Sun Road.  Only six more miles and we can rest for the night.  We were still fighting head winds, but the wind was now being cooled as it flowed across St.Mary’s Lake.  This was a tough six miles.  Not because of the terrain, but because I knew once this part of the ride was over, it would be time to sleep and wake up for the biggest challenge of my life. 

We rolled into camp just after five and our amazing support crew was set up and ready to start cooking dinner.  Amy and Alena prepared a delicious batch of beef stroganoff which had all the carbs and calories needed for the big day ahead of us.  As a cool rain fell over the mountains, I looked out of my tent and saw the final member of the team.

Tim made his way over to our tent with rain dripping off of his hood.  He reached out for a solid hand shake that seemed to say without words, it’s great to see you back in Montana.  As he greeted Amy he seemed to give her a hand shake that said, thanks for taking such good care of this young man.  It felt great to have the team complete, but now we all needed to get a good nights sleep for the 4:30 am wake up.

I had no trouble waking up.  When my alarm went off my eyes shot open and I felt like I already had my morning fix of coffee.  Finally, the day I’ve been training, stressing, organizing and dreaming about was here. Going about my morning routine, I was almost shaking, thinking: this is the biggest day of my life.   I have never put this much focus and energy towards anything.  As I shoved the last of my breakfast into my mouth I began to saddle up on the bike.

I placed my legs in the foot rest, attached my seatbelt, and strapped in my bum hand.  The sun was below the mountains summits and I was the first to start the ride.  Starting alone seemed very fitting.  I rode my hand cycle almost 900 miles while training for this, almost all of which were solo missions.  These moments alone were some of the most therapeutic moments in my recovery.  As I cranked toward the sun rise I realized that this was much bigger than I ever thought. 

I can’t believe that I am doing this.  Only one year ago I was broken down to almost nothing, I drug myself up from what seemed to be a bottomless pit.  Now all that I have to do is make it to the top. That which seemed impossible at first was now happening right in front of my face.  I had twelve miles of painful climbing ahead of me so it was time to get into the zone and crank. 

Slowly but surely the rest of the team showed up, we were now all riding together.  I was traveling anywhere from 1 to 3 mph, so you could imagine how slow time was passing by.  I found myself only focusing on Logan Pass, which was way out of reach at this point.  I started thinking about the book “No Short Cuts to the Top”, about a man trying to climb the worlds’ fourteen highest peaks.  He said that because the climbing was so slow and the summit was so far, he would set small goals for himself.  He would focus on a rock a hundred feet away and nothing else.  Once he reached that point he would then focus on a new landmark and make his way toward that one.

I began practicing his method, and over and over I would spot a landmark and focus only on making it to that point.  This seemed to help the time pass and not make the climb feel so overwhelming.  As I painstakingly cranked away I rounded the final corner and there it was, Logan Pass.  It felt unreal that I was almost there.  I had to calm myself down though, since I still had a couple of miles to go and this was the steepest section. 

As I traveled at about 1 mph I knew that I had about an hour and a half left with the rest stops I would need.  Crank by crank I inched closer to the pass.  Once I had about a mile left we bumped into the journalist from the Flathead Beacon.  He was writing about my journey over the last year.  As he interviewed the others riders I continued my slow climb.

The final push was here, I was only about 100 feet away from the top. We waited for a member of the film crew to arrive so they could document us reaching the pass.  I struggled through my final cranks and then, I had the pleasure of making the last turn into the parking lot for Logan Pass.  I made it.

I parked my bike and we all celebrated with high fives and cold beer.  What a great moment, when there was no longer a question if I could make it up the pass or not.  It was done and I did it: I hand cycled to the top of Logan Pass in less than one year after my accident.  Words can’t describe a moment like this.  Kevin even rewarded me with a Going to the Sun Road cycling jersey.  The amount of positive energy in the air as we shared lunch was unlike anything else I have ever felt.  All breaks had to come to an end and it was time to enjoy our reward, the descent. 

                               Relaxing at Logan Pass

We cruised down the curvy mountain road at high speeds.  This was the best part of the ride.  All the boys back together, laughing and yelling about how much fun they are having.  I was having so much fun that my disability disappeared; I was so focused in on high speeds and a curvy road that I didn’t have time to think about how I was doing it differently.

As we made our way down to the bottom I realized that the work was far from over.  We still had about 24 miles to ride that would be a mix of flat, up, and downhill.  This proved to be the hardest part of the ride but I knew that I couldn’t give up.  All I wanted to do was make it to Fish Creek Campground.  Mile by mile we slowly made our way to the next check point.

While we cranked away Kevin was informing me about the day that I had ahead of me.  I didn’t realize how tough of a day I had set up for myself.  It would have been a harder ride than what we were already doing.  By the time we reached Fish Creek Campground it had turned into a fourteen hour day of pure exhaustion.  I decided to call off the last day of riding.

I had accomplished the main goal and that was to make it up and over Logan Pass.  As I thought about how much hard work the support and film crew had put in, I thought it would be great to celebrate the anniversary of my accident by truly enjoying Glacier.  I loved the idea of all of us hanging out together by Bowman Lake. 

When I woke up after one of the deepest sleeps I have ever had, I got really excited about a day to just relax.  As we made our way to our final destination we all made a nice pit stop at the Polebridge Mercantile.  We grabbed a little lunch and of course one of there famous huckleberry bear claws.  What a lunch, sitting down and relaxing before we make the last jaunt over to Bowman Lake.

We set up camp and switched out my bikes tires from slicks to knobby tires. Now the Lasher looks like it is ready to tackle just about anything.  We made our way down the dirt to the lake where the others were already playing in the water.  With paddle boards and canoes everyone was have a fun day instead of a work day, just what I wanted to see.  I even rode the Lasher with no hands down a hill right into the water.  With nothing but smiles some of us headed back to Polebridge to meet Alena’s mom for a nice dinner.

This dinner turned into much more.  I sat around with the support and camera crew and couldn’t help but think, none of this would have been possible without their dedication. With glasses in the air we made many toasts and celebrated as the time passed 8 pm.  One year ago at about this time I had crashed on the side of the mountain and almost died.  Now I am in Glacier National Park with my closest friends after accomplishing my biggest goal. Life couldn’t get any better. 

When we got back to the campground we all gathered around the campfire to talk about our favorite parts of the trip and say one word to describe the journey.  Everybody had amazing things to say and they all brought tears to my eyes.  I talked about how none of this would have been possible with all of the support that I have had throughout my recovery.  I don’t know if anyone truly understand the meaning of support until they go through something like I have.  I can’t thank everyone that has played a part in my recovery enough.  It has brought me to where I am today.  My word to describe the weekend was “support”.

We capped off the night with a canoe ride on the lake under a full moon.  This was my first time back in a canoe and it felt wonderful.  This weekend was filled with positive energy that was on a level like I had never felt before.  It was everything and much more than I expected.  Thanks again to everyone who played a part in our journey. 
                       Support Crew  -  Amy and Alena
                             Production Crew - Greg
                       Production Crew - Katie and Jason

                Riders - PJ, Tyler, Brian, Tim, and Joe
                               Riders - Kevin and Joe

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