I am back in Wyoming. After four most enjoyable nights in Montana I have made my way back to the beautiful cascading expanse that is Wyoming. I came by way of Beartooth Pass. A large undulating mountainous pass that reaches an altitude of 11,000 at it’s highest point. Highway 212 cuts right through it as it crosses the border of the two states that I am currently playing hopscotch around.
I’m not alone now. I actually picked up a traveling companion, a friend from Minnesota who was taking vacation in this general area, so we made plans to meet up (he rides a KR1100 BMW, by the way). It is different traveling with somebody. I’m independent. I’d much rather be by myself than with another person so for me this is an oddity. I am enjoying it though. The company of another human on a bike, it feels comfortable, even if for only a little while. Although I think the comfort comes from knowing it is only a little while.
Yesterday morning I woke up chilly. It was nice in my sleeping bag, but my sock-less feet were cold so I knew from experience it was frosty outside. I got up, sometime early dawn, to pee. I was met by a chill as I exited my tent with my bearspray. I made it a quick trip and just squatted by a tree near the tent. Not only does this method allow me to get back into my tent and warm cozy sleeping bag faster it also helps me to feel safer. The stench of human urine seems like a great deterrent against the wild creatures out here. So far it is working.
Here in the mountains I have a disconcerting fear of bears. I have some odd fears. Fear of a deer running at my bike while I’m riding down the highway. Poisin ivy catching my barefoot feet. My bike leaking to much oil without me noticing. The fear that tops them all though is bears. Having another wiser camper around helps to alleviate that fear just the tiniest bit.
But, still, I pee on my neighboring trees.
I am currently reading Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild. In it she says “Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”
So I’m trying that. I am trying to be more powerful than a bear. I carry bearspray, I whistle while I walk, I do push ups, and I pee near my tent.
All in all it seems to be working just the tiniest bit, but last night during a rainstorm I had a freak out. All I could hear were little paws batting at the bottom of my tent. The raindrops were low in comparison to the deafening scratching of imagined creatures. I grabbed my bearspray and clutched it to my chest before considering the fact that if there was a bear I was more likely to spray myself in the face than spray it. So instead I set the spray on my belly and put my hand by my side so I could be quick to the draw. I lay in my sleeping bag, staring upwards, shaking, and listening to the miniature creature that was only the rain. And then I remembered Cheryl Strayed’s words:
“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.”
It was then I realized that regardless of whether or not there really was another living creature cozying up to my tent or not there was really nothing I could do about it. I could get out of the tent, confront it and interrupt my sleep. I could lay there and let it either claw its way through or not, while I fell back asleep. Or, the best option, I could realize it was just the rain that I was turning into a scary story. I chose the last option, and fell back asleep.
It is interesting how the human mind works. We all have the ability to create our own perceived reality and that is generally how we walk through life. I have been told countless times over the last few weeks that what I am doing is brave. That is the exact word, brave. I was first told it by a close friend when I had first announced my plan to start this adventure with Little Wing. Sitting in one of my favorite bars, listening to a great Duluth band, he said “The running theme throughout our whole conversation has been bravery.”
That stuck with me. I didn’t really believe it, but I sort of liked the adjective of brave being applied to me. However, as time has gone by I feel a little intimidated by the term.
My third night in Wyoming, right before my first trip into Yellowstone I met a woman at the campsite I was staying at. She was intrigued by Little Wing and had noticed the previous night that I was the only one going in and out of my tent.
“All by yourself? Traveling on this all by yourself?”
I responded with a smile, and a nod. I told her “Of course, why not? I know many people who have done it.”
She looked at me puzzled. “Girls?”
This frustrated me. Who cared the gender of the person traveling? People are people, my gender does not determine the bravery of my actions.
She went on to tell me “Honey, be careful. There are many people looking to take advantage of a cute young woman like yourself. Don’t be telling to many people that you are traveling alone. Maybe I watch too much True Crime, but there are a lot of bad people out there.”
“Yes there might be” I responded “but there are many good people out there too, those are the ones I want to meet.”
When someone calls another person brave there are two ways it can come out. It can sound like it is a compliment given out of admiration, or an insult born out of judgement. The kind of judgement that says ‘your dumb, here let me tell you why.’
The truth is I am aware of the dangers, but I don’t feel brave living my life. Which is really all I’m doing, living. Sure I might get ate by a bear or kidnapped by some lunatic, but that could happen in Minnesota too. Truth is, I know I’m a woman, I have always been of the female gender, and I always shall. The truth is bad people do tend to target women. Truth is, humans are kidnapped/killed/raped in our world daily. However I am subject to the same risks whether I stay put or travel.
The truth is I love riding motorcycle. I love traveling. I very much enjoy meeting new people.
I was in Red Lodge, MT the other day when it started to storm. Large clouds filled with rain, thunder, and lightning filled the sky. My initial thought was to ride through it faster and find a camping spot, but then a voice of reason came through. One of those motorcycle buddies I spoke of, one that has traveled quite a bit on his bike through multiple countries, came to mind. His words were to stop. If it is raining the first reaction should always be to pull over. So I did.
Red Lodge is a nice town. A small community that is pitched as a tourist town, especially to motorcyclists who are looking to go through Beartooth Pass. That being the case there are many places along the mainstreet for a biker to pull over, dismount, and feel comfortable. The place my gut directed me to though was the Red Lodge Cafe. I went in, seated myself and tryed to slow my shivering.
The rain had just hit. I mean I had seen the rain clouds for miles, but they were headed East while I was headed South. I had figured we were going to pass eachother and I would be free to find a campsite. Because of this I didn’t stop to put my rain pants on. So when I sat down in the Cafe my jeans were soaked.
I was sitting and shivering when the waitress came over with a menu. “How are you this evening?”
“Cold and wet.”
“Oh no” she said. “Can I get you some hot coffee? Water?”
“Just water for now.” I told her. I then went on to ask if she knew of the cheapest motel in town. She asked if I was on a bike and then asked if I was looking for something cheap because I didn’t have much money. I told her yes to both the questions and then went on to tell her I had been planning on camping until the lightning started. She told me to look at the menu and she’d be right back.
When she came back she brought water and I ordered the cream of mushroom soup (the cheapest and most appetizing thing on the menu). She took my order and then offered me a bed at her place in her trailer.
The kindness of strangers is amazing to me. My gut had told me to stop at the cafe, chance – or fate or whatever it is – had the lovely waitress wait on me, and human kindness saved my ass from getting struck by lightning that night.
It turns out that she is also originally from Minnesota. She has been riding motorcycle since she was fourteen and has a beautiful Excelsior-Henderson in her garage. She had previously been a producer of commercials, back when producing commercials (though it still is) was predominantly a field for men. She had worked her ass off despite the glass ceiling and now is the owner of two pieces of land in Montana. Being a server is just a side job for her.
That cream of mushroom soup at Red Lodge Cafe is some of the best I’ve ever tasted. The conversations with the lovely waitress there, who gave me shelter and kindness, were just as good. During our exchanges she also made mention if how she thought my adventure was brave. She said it in the complimentary way. She told me that the world is full of good people and that traveling was a great way to meet them. Her days of traveling when she was younger had helped shape her, and she knew they’d do the same for me.
That’s how I am perceiving of the adventure. Little Wing and I may be traveling alone, and I may be a girl, but nothing about that is scary. Like Cheryl Strayed says “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told.”
There is no reason anyone, man or woman, should feel the need to edit their life for ‘bad people.’ Choosing to live in fear because other people intimidate you is the worst way to exist. And that’s all that is, existing. Living is making choices you want to make. Living is being a good person to strangers and not being that scary individual people fear. Living is good.
Camping is wonderful. I love camping both by myself and with another pal. I dislike that I have a fear of bears, so here it is, I don’t. Instead I have a healthy respect for them. I work around them. I store my food, carry my bear spray and pee near my tent, but I don’t waste my time worrying about their nightly activities. The same way I respect Little Wing and check the engine daily for leaks. The same way I watch for deer and don’t ride at night. The same way I respect that humans can be dangerous while also being kind and positive with strangers.
Brave is an intimidating term. When people tell me I’m brave I have to ask myself why they chose THAT word. I have to ponder what there is that Little Wing and I have to be brave about.
Choosing life over fear, that has got to be it. We all have the ability to create our own perceived reality and that is generally how we walk through life. My perceived reality is that.I am stronger than my fears. I am able to do things not despite my gender, but because of my gender. Because as a female I know what it is I am taught to fear. I know what barriers I face, and so I know which ones are the first for me to knock down.
“Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”
I’m not afraid. I am powerful. Maybe I am brave, who knows. All I know is that I am tired of having my gender brought up when asked if I’m traveling alone.
Regardless, right now, I am hopscotching in between Wyoming and Montana. Checking out the mountains that are starting to win my heart. Carrying bearspray and camping amongst the pines and stars.
And enjoying the hell out of it.
“With a thousand smiles she gives to me free. It’s alright, she says it’s alright, Take anything you want from me, Anything. Fly on Little Wing.”