I’ve been a recreational cyclist going on 26 years. To me, cycling is freedom — a time to think, to experience my surroundings, to stop the urgency of the moment and take in a larger view of life.
This July, after a bike trip to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle and Vancouver fell through, I opted for a ride through Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies. Having been to Glacier on photographic journeys before, I had a good appreciation for what I was about to experience. Or so I thought.
Glacier and its Canadian counterpart, Waterton, make up the Peace Parks — over 2 million acres of pristine wilderness, towering mountains, glacier lakes and abundant wildlife. The aptly named “Going to the Sun” road forms a backbone across the top of Glacier National Park. The Going to the Sun road began with 14 miles of rolling countryside. Then we climbed for the next 11 miles, ultimately rising to 6,646 feet.
As my oldest son and I began the ride, it started to rain. I’d trained the previous four months to make this climb and I was determined to reach the top. As we begun our ascent, the rain picked up and the temperature dropped. The road is winding and narrow under normal conditions, but the weather made it that much more treacherous. The normally expansive views were now obscured by rain and fog. The path forward kept twisting and turning, never flattening to provide a pause for rest. I had but one choice and that was to keep grinding.
Nevertheless, the experience was incredible — everything I bargained for. The fog occasionally opened just long enough to catch a glimpse of the valley below. By this point the rain had turned to snow. As I climbed, I looked up and saw a Big Horn sheep trotting down the road straight for me. He gracefully hopped on a retaining wall separating me from a severe drop to the valley below and continued on his way. It was both unnerving and majestic at the same time.
I neared the top with less than a half-mile to go and was wet from head to toe, despite the rain gear. Park Rangers briefly stopped me to clear a slippery trail somewhere above the mountain pass I was about to top. Once I stopped, I realized how cold I really was. But the final half-mile passed quickly, and before I knew it I reached the top. And wow! I will never forget that experience.
We went on to have days ahead of beautiful sunny climbs and speedy descents. But it was this climb, this difficult ascent, that I remember most.
Why? First, I was prepared. I trained hard and it paid off. Second, the changing weather added a degree of adversity I hadn’t expected — exactly as things happen in life. Third, while topping the mountain pass was fantastic, it was the journey that I valued most. This was especially true since I cherished the time with my oldest son, who has been my riding partner for many years.
A good friend once gave me a phrase to live by: “It’s all up hill from here.” His comment preceded a debate about how we might solve a difficult challenge. Yes, it would be hard. Yes, we would face adversity, but by working together we would gain the high ground. There was a mountaintop experience ahead.
I hope you find this graduate educational journey you are on as an opportunity to gain the high ground. I trust it will be hard; you will face occasional adversity. But remember that you will gain the experience of working with others who will be become friends along life’s journey. I hope you will find a mountaintop experience in this effort and that it will indeed change your life. It’s all up hill from here.