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I poured all my extracurricular energies into getting properly geared up for riding after that first ride. Frankenstein quickly went from concept to reality, pieced together from old derailleurs and chain and secondhand handlebars. As construction progressed, Zeke took the time to explain to me the function of every part we were putting on the bicycle. For a touring cyclist, such working knowledge of bicycle mechanics is essential. A malfunction can occur at any time on the road, and an undereducated cyclist can easily end up stranded with a dead rig on the side of a secluded highway. Zeke was adamant that I get to intimately understand my bicycle and how to repair it should the need ever arise.
The bicycle was complete just as the season began. The employee village started to come to life, Zeke and I having been two of the first arrivals. The kitchen was coming back to life as well as we swept out the winter's cobwebs in anticipation of paying customers. Our crew began to assemble, a motley collection of crusty resort-circuit veterans, idealistic interns and various disparate recruits from Eastern Europe and Latin America. Nothing had been left behind by last season's chefs save an empty case of Pabst Blue Ribbon on the loading dock; we were forced to reinvent the wheel. I was forced out of the kitchen into the office, creating our ordering and inventory systems, writing our schedules, dealing with employee discipline and such by virtue of my having the greatest knowledge of this part of the business among the assembled chefs.
Zeke, the executive chef at the location, had never been in power before. Not the most congenial of people, he had never had to deal with the business end of being a chef. Cooking was his passion, not paperwork -- hardly the traits one normally looks for when hiring a chef for a restaurant. The AM sous-chef, Matt, had come from ski resorts in Colorado and, like me, had never been in such a lofty position before. The difference was that, whereas I had just come out of restaurant management school, Matt had just come out from under the car he was working on as a mechanic. His only previous foodservice experience had come in a quick-service snack shop atop a mountain in Colorado. The third sous-chef, hired on a whim by the executive chef of the resort group, was equally green. Steven had come from Maui thinking he was the greatest thing since Escoffier, ready to bring some fine dining to a decidedly-casual family restaurant. As he bemoaned the dearth of exotic ingredients and begging me to order veal bones for stock, Zeke and I were educating Matt in the finer points of food and trying to keep the kitchen operational. Neither of us had any clue what we were doing, but we had signed up for this mess and we were hellbound to charge forward.
The days were running longer and longer even as my salaried position kept my paychecks looking exactly the same. The season opened with fifty-one straight days of work... ten, twelve, fourteen-hour days occupying most of my energy. The bicycle became my turning point for meditation and rejuvenation. Frankenstein was fitted with lights fore and aft, giving me the ability to take long spins into the night to clear my head after yet another perplexing shift. The rides got longer and longer, my insomnia keeping me motivated into the wee hours. Sometimes Zeke would tag along for the ride; more often than not, though, I was riding alone on the roads of my childhood, seeing things both in the daytime and in the dark at a speed I had never before experienced through the park.
After about a month of my nightly rides, Zeke began to notice how seriously I had delved into the sport. Pointing out my rapidly-evolving physique, he challenged me to a circuit through the park. We agreed to do the forty-mile loop from Colter Bay, through Moran Junction, down toward Moose and then back north via Jenny Lake and Signal Mountain. Now that I was working as the PM sous-chef, Steven having given up on his futile dreams of glory several weeks earlier, I would be getting off work around eleven. Zeke planned to be ready at his RV at the appointed time, itching to see if he could still hand me defeat. I loaded up on carbohydrates throughout my shift -- Zeke was planning to make this a killer. We started from Colter Bay right around eleven, bedecked with lights and reflective gear. Pushing off toward the highway, thoughts of work eroded with each pedal stroke.
There is nary an automobile on northwestern Wyoming roads at this hour. The moon hung full in the sky as we surged past Jackson Lake Lodge, our bicycles humming as we opened the throttle. Coming upon a fork in the road, we set our fate in a clockwise direction. Heading straight toward Moran, we would eventually pop back out at this point. The Snake River meandered past to our right, its waters reflecting the moonlight. Pacific Creek Road passed to our left. We took the bridge over the creek, popping out at the park entrance gate. Zeke led the charge as we turned westward, setting course toward Moose. I pulled up alongside, settling into a smooth rhythm as we rolled along through ranchland and meadow. These are the roads of my childhood, but long school bus rides never illustrated the beauty coursing by now, moonlit at fifteen miles an hour.
Man-made wind blew through my helmet, summer mountain air keeping me cool. I opened a Clif Bar as we passed Triangle X Ranch, sweeping down toward the S-curves of Deadman's Bar. Up ahead, a slow-moving apparition came into focus. Zeke and I hit the brakes, coasting to a stop and peering ahead. We took the opportunity to snack and drink water as a moose crossed the highway in his own stately time. After the moose had passed safely back into the trees, we clipped back into our pedals and pushed off down the road. Back to speed, we rode through the S-curves onto Antelope Flats. The moon cast ethereal light onto the Tetons. Sloping slightly downhill, we picked up speed on the deserted highway. Blacktail Butte rose out of the valley ahead, a monolith holding post between the Tetons and the Gros Ventre. As we approached, the road swept around its western flank toward an intersection. We turned right, Dornan's passing by before we ride over the Snake River and through Moose. The gate unmanned, we continued along without pause.
The ride seemed effortless. We chewed up the miles as we headed back northward, skirting miles away from the glowing glaciers of the Teton range. Zeke and I rode side by side. As we near Jenny Lake, a herd of elk appears from nowhere on either side of the road. At least a hundred strong, the herd runs alongside the highway, sharing in the journey for the next five miles. We slow slightly, cherishing every second in commune with nature. Some dart across the road, playing in the light-beams from our headlamps and bike lights. The crowd thinned, and we continued onward, the time now well past two in the morning. Our progress became a blur soon afterward. We stopped at Jenny Lake Lodge to refuel, then continued northward. Jackson Lake appeared to our left as Signal Mountain hovered to our right. We were soon sweeping across Jackson Lake Dam, high over the headwaters of the Snake River. We popped back out at our initial fork in the road. Five more miles, and then the gas station and convenience store at the entrance to Colter Bay appeared out of the trees on our left. We sprinted the final five-hundred yards home to finish the journey right, our minds forty miles clearer and ready for a new day.
Zeke was suitably impressed with my progress on the bicycle. It was that night when the concept of our oft-discussed tour became plausible. Before it had seemed like some abstract goal hovering on the horizon. But now I had proven my mettle in the saddle, having taken mere weeks to shed my ignorance and become a competent rider. I had shown Zeke that I could keep pace with him, even hurting him in places with my recent surge in fitness, and I had proven to myself that I was indeed progressing. It is one thing to recognize progress as you work all alone; it is quite another to gauge that progress against a benchmark in the form of another, more veteran athlete. I had passed my first quiz of sorts, discovering that my body did indeed respond to the rigors of cycling -- and did so quite well.
But I was not going to go on without taking my lumps quite yet. I was riding into work on a sunny July day, a backpack strapped to my back, unaware that I was about to suffer a nice tumble and become a cycling injury statistic. I had spilled before on the bicycles of my reckless childhood; a prominent chip out of my front teeth and assorted scars attest to that fact. But this cycling injury was different, unexpected, absurd in how it happened under such innocuous circumstances. The wheels of my bicycle left the pavement near the service station at Colter Bay Village. A single-track path wound through the sagebrush, taking me closer and closer toward Colter Bay and the restaurant where I was a sous-chef. Something wobbled a little -- a large rock shot out from my back tire. Unaware of how to arrest my fall, I floundered like Hincapie without handlebars before tumbling sideways. The weight of the backpack drove my left shoulder into the ground. My head rolled into the crash, my helmet absorbing the secondary wave of contact. I sat on the ground for a second, dazed...
As I arose, the effect of the injury manifested itself: my shoulder would not rotate to get my arm above navel level. My bicycle appeared fine, and nothing else had sustained injury. I remounted my bicycle, gingerly riding with my left arm dangling worthlessly at my side as I coasted in the rest of the way to work. The leader in charge of the kitchen, I was unable to leave the restaurant to drive the hour into town to get this arm examined. I soldiered on throughout the night, icing down the injury throughout the night on breaks in my office. Expediting dinner that evening was pure hell; every time I went to grab a plate out of the window from the saute station, I had to arise on tiptoe. It eventually turned out that I had messed up my rotator cuff, but I hadn't discovered this fact until going in for an annual physical months after it had healed in its own lopsided way.
But for the most part the summer evolved onward without major incident save the one. I began to supplement my trips on the bicycle with voyages into the wilderness on foot, hiking and backpacking on the trails of my childhood. A rediscovered love of adventure had blossomed along with the admiration for the bicycle. I traversed the park, under my own power whether by wheel or by foot, the length and breadth of its expanse. There was the hike up Lake Solitude where several of us got caught in a freak afternoon hailstorm without any gear to alleviate our suffering; there was the summit of Static Peak, looking northward toward the Grand Teton and Mount Moran and seeing the valley splayed below; there were nights spent under the stars down Granite Canyon. Just like the bicycle, I found myself hiking at all hours of the day and night. I was rounding into some of the best physical health of my life, and getting ever more excited at the prospect of spanning an entire state on my bicycle.