A Friend on Sheep Mountain

Last night I glanced across the street and saw my friend. A smile came across my face just as it always does when I see a dear friend. My friend has been there for some of my heart breaks and major decisions. My friend has been there when I have over come fear. My friend is simple and is connected to nature. My friend is original and beautiful. My friend connects me to what I love. My friend has a relationship to the Alaskan flag for much of these same reasons.

I met up with my friend last weekend during the third leg of the RMVQ. It all started out innocent enough. A pit stop in the Rattlesnake Trailhead. Alden, Sally, Julie, Laurie, Lydia, Tom, and some other people I recognized but cant put a name to.

I stepped off my bike after a solid 75+ mile effort and Lydia instantly jumped into action. Oiled my chain and assisted me with my nutrition. She quickly became my favorite person to see at the aid stations. She was a natural.

Tom was there with his camera and even followed my half way up the corridor taking photos and discussing the merits of doing Sheep Mountain backwards in the dark. Julie was there too with her broken camera. Finally she grabbed mine and snapped off a couple shots. I was excited to get going. I had a date with something I have had on my agenda for the entire summer. A date with Sheep Mountain at night after already riding the entire day. This would be epic.

I passed over Franklin Bridge and climbed up the where the Sheep Mountain Trail intersected the Corridor Trail.

“Ok, it’s just you and me now”, I whispered as the heavy breathing started. The climb started immediately and soon I was knocked off my bike by a large rock. The battle had begun.

I wanted to be on the slopes of Sheep when the sun set. So I kept my pace as quick as I could. I attacked the hills with vigor and for the first time of the day I was riding like I was in a shorter cross country race. Sheep had called my hand and I was throwing it all out there.

When fatigue started to creep in I was at a vantage point to see the last remnants of the sun leave Sheep’s face. I had missed the sunset and I was only 1/3 of the way up. Then it hit me. I was leaving my plan to pace myself. I needed to pace myself to finish the 24 hour ride but here I was giving every ounce to Sheep. I started feeling fatigue and walked most roots and rocky sections. I still tried to climb the hills but usually always ended up falling off my bike.

Bam, my bike reverberated and shook like I had hit a rock. But I did not hit a rock. I was jogging beside my bike and my knee hit the pedal. I winced in pain. I got back on my bike and could hardly pedal. I had to keep going because it was dark and getting cold. I still had to climb Sheep Mountain and descent down the other side.

I arrived at the base of the “real” climb and was finally on Sheep Mountain itself. Its rough cold surface is a beautiful thing in the daylight but at night everything that lives on it is menacing and hardened. The rocks get bigger and the trees are braced against the elements. I tried riding but could only muster about 50 yards to the next switch back where I would fall over or just dismount.

Soon I was exposed and could feel the magnitude of what I was doing. I was gaining altitude and just as I was nearing the second to the last switchback I glanced up the trail. There was my friend. A smile came across my face as it always does when one sees a dear friend. My friend was there once again. My friend original and beautiful. My friend who connects me to what I love. Gazing at the Big Dipper I reached out to my friend.

I climbed the remaining 100 feet and checked in at my new checkpoint. I stacked a “wish you were here rock” and spread Marcy’s ashes. Then I glanced over, smiled to my friend and started my decent.

Soon I was bombing down a never ending supply of astounding singletrack. The city lights of Missoula started to surround me and I got closer to the 3rd aid station. I don’t know who won the battle on Sheep Mountain but I do know that even though I was the farthest away from any aid then any part of the course I was the closest I have ever been to my friend.

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