Monday, November 28, 2011

In Appreciation of Mountains

Reading through my entries between September and November 2011, there really isn't much mention of mountains. I talk about passes, I mention steep climbs, but really - take out the names of the places and you could almost miss the fact that I rode through the Rockies, Bitterroots, Cascades, and the Coastal Range. Or, somehow I did it without noticing that mountains are amazing.


The mountainous regions were not quite what I expected. In Western Kansas, I was twitchy with excitment to see the Rockies. Riding towards Pueblo, my breath caught and I stared in disbelief at the first faint outline of mountain peaks in the distance. Slowly, they grew larger, but remained hazy and indistinct. Then, all the sudden I'm climbing, but despite the steep incline, it just didn't look that big. That was my experience through a lot of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana; either I'm far away and it's hard to judge the size of the mountain, or I'm up on it and there is nothing to compare it to. All in all, mountains felt smaller than I expected.

There were, of course, exceptions to this.

Waking up in Guffey was the first - I had ridden in after dark, and never saw the transition from scrubby, red hills to alpine mountains. The rest of the day I rode in awe, feeling I was in a different world, loving the cold air and stubby alpine plants and the sheep grazing on steep slopes. Riding down Kenosha pass was a 12 mile drop out of the high country, through walls of conifers and bald gray stone. It felt like riding down a mountain should feel. On Togwatee pass at dusk, I looked behind - and below - myself to see nothing but cloudy peaks to the visible horizon and a total absence of flat land. The jagged teeth of the Tetons were clear and distinct against the sky. Idaho was incredible, hands down. Riding down the west side of Lolo pass on a rainy day, through gaps in the thick clouds, I could see clumps of green and brown improbably high in the sky. Those looked for all the world like floating islands. In Oregon, finally, there were the three sisters and the surrounding solitary mountains.

All in all, what I found most striking about mountains were not their individual size, but their mass in numbers. I had pictured a mountain range as being like a river - you cross it, then it's done and you ride towards the next. I hadn't quite understood that from Colorado to Oregon, you never really get out of the mountains. Like anyone who quietly assumes that what is familiar is normal, I had somehow possessed a belief that mountains were irregularies in a mostly flat country. Having ridden through the western US, now, I'm starting to think the midwest is a strange, sheltered little region.

So, to summarize. YES, THERE WERE MOUNTAINS. Lots and lots of mountains. If I don't mention how awesome they are, it's because most of the TransAm posts were written months later, heavily abbreviated. By that point I'd seen an awful lot of mountains. What should I even say? Just assume I appreciated them at the time, okay?

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