There was something magical about the Lochsa River. As a secular, logical being, I am loathe to attribute a fantastic quality like "magical" to anything. But, after riding down the Lochsa I am compelled to admit that there is something extraordinary about it. I don't know if it was the time, the place, the weather; but I do know there was something about the Lochsa that opened my mind and heart to the beauty that surrounded me.
Though my ride down Idaho's Lochsa River was predominantly a solo one, I did have the opportunity to discuss the ride with three or four other cyclists who completed it within a day or so of me. Debriefing with the other riders, I was intrigued to find that they had all had unforgettable experiences cruising down the Lochsa as well. What was it about this windy river in Idaho and its tall cedars that caused all of us to have experiences which bordered on spiritual?
My mind was at ease as I approached today's ride. Having crossed the Lolo Pass just the day before, I knew that I had a downhill ride to look forward to. I was also generally familiar and comfortable with Idaho's route 12, the main route for today's ride. It's low traffic volume promised to make the ride enjoyable. I chose to head out of the Lochsa Lodge rest stop around 8:00 or 9:00 with David and Marion, my riding buddies.
Within 30 minutes of departure I had lost David and Marion. It seemed that we were all content moving at our respective paces. I didn't exactly have a destination for the day. The town of Lowell was about 60 miles from my point of departure, so I considered making that my destination for the evening. But the ride was so pleasant that I kept my mind open to pushing further. There have been a few days on this trip where I felt like I could ride forever. Early on I got a sense that today could be one of them. The scenery was peaceful, winds were calm and I had a slight decline helping me along. My ride got off to a very nice start.
Route 12 exactly paralleled the river as it made its twisted southwesterly way down from the Lolo Summit. The river's rocky shores occasionally gave way to a small white sand beach. The white sand felt out of place among such lush mountain scenery, transporting the viewer for a brief second to the white sands of the Caribbean. Surrounding the road and the river were countless cedar trees which stretched upwards into the grey skies. The presence of some distant forest fire was felt all day as the air had a consistent haze to it, adding to the mystical feel of this mountain river.
Immersed in such beauty, my mind wandered.
I thought about the Lochsa Lodge where I had dined the night before. It stood out to me that this cozy lodge, along with so many other businesses, residences and public spaces that I had visited over the past month or so, was decorated with taxidermy. More often than not, the deceased animals on display were those same local animals which residents seemed so attached to. I was troubled by the apparent inconsistency of this culture. Though locals of these mountainous areas espoused a love of the distinct wildlife in their region, they also hunted those same animals. I didn't understand how one's love for another being would compel them to end it's life.
My mind gravitated to the idea of love. I thought to myself that if you truly love something, then you don't kill it or prod it or put it in a cage. Rather, you do everything in your power so that it flourishes. I thought to myself that if I loved the wildlife out here, then I would not be compelled to kill it. Rather, I would rejoice in the creation of an environment that nurtures it. Let's say, for instance, that I lived on a ranch out in Montana and felt particularly connected to the bull moose. It would seem a genuine and consistent manifestation of my love for this creature to care for the lands around my ranch so that the bull moose would feel comfortable grazing on them. Then, who knows, perhaps one day I will come home from work and, while enjoying dinner from my living room, look out my back window to find a proud bull moose comfortably residing on my property. I realized that for me, love was not force, love was harmony.
So yeah, that's my conception of love. A guy in Montana staring at a bull moose in his backyard while eating meatloaf. Hey, why not?
After pondering this conceptualization for scores of miles, an advisory interrupted my pleasant train of thought: Colin, you have been thinking about the bull moose for the last four hours. Never before in your life, except perhaps when watching an episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, have you ever spent more than 10 seconds thinking about moose. You have entered into completely uncharted mental territory.
Woah. This was a crazy realization. Back on the East Coast my mind was usually filled with thoughts of finances, music venues, restaurants, parties, work obligations, professional aspirations, etc. Here, as I made my ways from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Northwest, I found that my mind was very often filled with thoughts of clear night skies, screeching hawks, bull moose, bear families, harvest cycles, geological formations and wind patterns. Unbeknownst to me, I had undergone a radical mental transformation over the past two months of my bike tour. I had become in touch with nature.
I don't know why these thoughts and realizations occurred to me during this grey ride along the Lochsa. Something inexplicable occurred. I had some kind of clairvoyant experience. This is why I sustain that the Lochsa was a magical place. It helped me to see beyond the confines of my grounded nature.
I sort of snapped out of this serendipitous state when I arrived in Lowell, the town of 24, err, 23 people. Arriving at this town forced me to make a decision as to whether or not I would continue the ride. Based on the profound experience I was having, I elected to keep riding. Before heading out, however, I was joined briefly by Marion and David who were also taken aback by the ride. We enjoyed a light lunch together at the town's diner. On the menu I found an item which I absolutely had to try. It was marionberry sorbet. As a Washingtonian, there is only one Marion Barry; DC's "Mayor for Life". I had not idea that there was a fruit that was so closely named to this controversial political figure. I enjoyed a delicious cone of marionberry sorbet, not ready to let go of my nature as a city slicker just quite yet.
The rest of the day was a continuation of my blissful ride down the Lochsa. My joyous experience came to an abrupt end in the town of Kamiah. The place was quite downtrodden compared to the beauty I had just witnessed. That night I camped out in the town's park, being rudely awaken by the sprinkler system around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. Quite the fall from grace...