The Best Gift: We all remember That One Gift that gave us The Most Joy. Show us what that gift was for you and describe why it gives you all the feels.
I didn’t realize I was marrying Indiana Jones until I was so far down the rabbit-hole of love that I knew this was just my new normal.
In the final days of 2010 I met a scholarly and intelligent young man who likes art and history and Star Wars (well, “likes” Star Wars is a bit of an understatement that I didn’t really understand at the time, but that is for another day). He took me on intellectual dates to art museums and orchestra concerts, dinners out included conversations about philosophy and psychology, the intersection of pop culture and classical art, and reasoned arguments about politics. This was my Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Jr. Scholarly, learned, wearing tweed.
And somewhere in 2012, perhaps before we were engaged but well after I had decided I would probably follow this man everywhere for the rest of my life, the switch flipped. I don’t recall if it was gradual (we had previously enjoyed casual bike rides and the occasional camping trip together) or if it happened all at once. It’s entirely possible I just never had a chance to see the adventurous side of him until we took a trip to Yellowstone National Park, but all of a sudden I was inextricably linked to a partner who always wanted to go further, higher, faster, better. This was my Indiana Jones. Driven, unafraid, no tweed.
Recognizing that interest in adventure, for Christmas that year I bought him a film called “Reveal the Path”– a documentary about a group of guys who ride their bikes around the world. He watched it, seemed to like it okay, and I kind of thought that was that. Simple.
My life with Aaron is never simple.
A few days later, he said, “Hey! You know that guy in the movie, Matthew Lee? You gotta see what ELSE he did!” and we watched another bicycling film called “Ride the Divide.” This film highlighted a bicycle touring race on gravel or unmaintained roads from Banff, Canada to the Mexican border in New Mexico, at a tiny outpost called Antelope Wells. The film was great and it was inspiring to see people pushing themselves to ride 2700+ miles in 14 days time. I kind of thought that was that. Simple.
Fast forward to July 2013 and here I am standing in our driveway with my brand new touring mountain bike (A Salsa Fargo Ti for the gear junkies out there), a wedding gift from my mother-in-law, which we asked for with the express and sole intent of riding our bikes from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico in the summer of 2016.
On this day, in this picture, it was all about the bike. And in the life that has intervened between that day and now, I know that it was never about the bike.
See, this is actually a really bittersweet story for our little household. We bought the bikes and the gear and we practiced and we planned and we were about 98% ready to take 60 days out of real life and spend that time biking the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which loosely follows the Continental Divide of the United States. The 2% of me that wasn’t ready was still looking at the Canada section of the map and asking out loud, “You sure there’s no way to avoid this stretch here? The part called The Great Bear Highway…,” a section well-known for it’s grizzly bear population.
But real life happened, and in January it happened HARD. Aaron was laid off. And while we both knew that position wasn’t a great fit for him anyway, we also knew we had taken a hard hit. While Aaron picked up a contract legal job at his old firm and looked for a new job, we continued to run the numbers and play the “if this, then that” scenarios over and over. Around February, though, we knew. More than the money, I couldn’t ask my husband to take an eight or nine month gap in his young career.
A trip three years in the planning, with tens of thousands of dollars invested and saved, was postponed indefinitely. It was crushing. At times, even today, it is still crushing. We don’t talk about it very much; it’s a very raw wound for each of us.
But it was never about the bike. And, quite possibly, it was never about the Great Divide. Because the joy that this simple machine gives me can almost not be measured. Because this simple machine inspired me to learn how to ride my bike on gravel and Aaron and I completed the Almanzo 100– a 100 mile bike race on gravel roads– last spring and gave it a hell of a shot this spring before mechanical failures and howling wind ended our attempt around Mile 70.
Last summer we took our bikes, fully loaded with all of our camping gear and bike equipment, and rode a section of the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route. It was designed as sort of a test ride for the Great Divide. We succeeded big and we failed big on that trip. I cried at least once almost every day.
It was one of the best trips of my entire life.
It’s not about the bike. And it’s not about the Great Divide. It’s not even about the trips and adventures we have had– all of which have made us stronger riders, more resourceful outdoorsmen, and more aware of the things that really make us come alive.
It’s about having a shared dream. That’s what it has always been about. It has always been that simple.