It was time to give up. I’d ridden out some pretty tough storms but this one had me beat. I stood beside my heavily loaded touring bicycle and put my thumb out. Off in the distance a red pickup approached, slowed, then sped on past, dousing me with a wave of slush, grime and debris. I guess I couldn’t blame the woman driver. I was a soaking wet mess. Clothed in a filthy rain jacket and rain pants with clunky and tattered rain boots, muddy wool gloves, my face caked with dirt and my hair hanging over my face in a tangled mass, I didn’t look like the kind of guy you’d want in your nice dry cab. As I watched the truck disappear into the maelstrom of that stormy Eastern Montana highway, I felt the queasy beginnings of The Fear stirring deep inside.
There wasn’t much traffic on the road that morning. The locals knew enough to stay home when the weather got that bad. I tried to see back west, through the heavy wind-driven rain, hoping another potential ride would come along, but no, the road was empty. With a rising sense of dread, I turned and started pushing my bicycle up the hill. It had become too windy to ride. Head-on gusts had blown me out of the saddle and into the ditch several times that morning, and my left knee was swollen from one of the tumbles. I limped along through the deluge, stumbling to a stop and bracing against the freezing onslaught each time a powerful gust hit.
There aren’t many trees in that part of the American West. Rolling hills and rocky escarpments dominate the landscape. With no natural barriers, the storms come on with a vengeance. And when it gets really ugly, staying out in the weather isn’t an option. Shelter becomes not just desirable, it’s downright necessary, and if I didn’t find some soon, well, I wouldn’t be the first tenderfoot to be gobbled up by this rugged land.
Earlier, when I’d left camp that morning, I’d donned every piece of foul weather gear I had. Still, after four hours struggling against the elements, I was starting to bonk. My hands and feet had lost feeling in the thirty-six degree cold and the driving rain and treacherous wind had sapped my strength. I hobbled along through the storm, thinking this wasn’t what I had in mind back home in Seattle three years ago when I had first conjured up the idea of riding my bicycle around the world. But there I was: barely three weeks and six hundred and fifty miles into the trip, alone, miles from anywhere, scared and on the verge of panic and hypothermia with no help in sight.
At least they’ll have a good story to tell at my funeral, I thought.
I’ve always believed that it’s important to keep a sense of perspective in that kind of deal.