There have been two earlier installments of this. As I stated before in the beginning, this is a nascent book idea which I am hashing out. This post and the two preceding posts are essentially the opening chapter (or possibly prologue) of the story of my self-supported bicycle tour through Wyoming and the subsequent RV-joined tour through Utah and Nevada (including a visit to Area 51 that ended quite interestingly!)... You can read the first two posts to get a feel for the entirety of the story here:
I started focusing my time, my energy and my bank account on getting Frankenstein tuned up for the odyssey across my home state. New wheelsets, complete with Continental Pro Touring tires and a specially-designed cassette with extra large cogs on the rear wheel for climbing hills with a hundred-plus pounds of weight, were bought on sale and affixed to my steed. Bar extenders jutted outward like bullhorn bars from the Ritchey mountain-bike bar and the entire assembly wrapped with two layers of Cinelli cork bar tape. I ordered front and rear heavy-duty racks from Jandd, along with four panniers which turned out smaller than I had expected but large enough for my purposes. I started buying river-rafting dry bags to put my tent and sleeping bag and clothing inside. My tent and sleeping bag had already been purchased earlier in the summer as I started backpacking to replace the lost bags and tents of my youth.
I was now riding with progressively higher quantities of weight on my new racks. Night after night, through moonlight and drizzle, I pounded the pedals in a fanatic quest to discover just what it was I was riding after. The commune with nature never ceased to calm frazzled nerves, offering plenty of personal time to reflect on just what I was seeking in my career and in life. Every revolution flooded me with new revelations. Even the simple half-mile ride home every day from the restaurant served to make me feel more ALIVE than I had ever felt in the past. The season continued onward, the inevitable stresses of running a high-volume restaurant in a national park building by the day. I turned toward the bicycle for solace, the saddle growing ever more familiar under me. It was something I could understand after a day of one unexpected disaster after another. Unlike seasonal employees made fickle by drink or drug or dementia, I could rely on the bicycle to do exactly what I asked of it every time without fail.
August turned to September. The last days of the summer trickled past, our customer counts falling with the leaves from the aspen trees outside. We had seen over twenty employees start their seasons in our kitchen only to depart before their contracts were up, some under their own desire, others under the weight of termination. The remaining few had emerged from the battle bloodied but not beaten; many would be crazy enough to play another day. I had received my final glimpses of the resorts where I had grown up, though. With Vail having bought the place, i could already feel the changes. And as I changed more and more with each successive ride, a hardened distaste for all the systems which had seemed so natural in my youth formed in the pit of my stomach. The year-end party, when we were theoretically supposed to unwind, only brought more stresses. Desserts had been lost in delivery, and I found myself racing back to Jackson Lake Lodge to haggle with the baker as I had so many times previously throughout the summer. The party went off, but it served as a telling snapshot of how the rest of the season had gone.
I was utterly finished with the place... and, with my parents moving back to the midwest only three months later after seventeen years on the resort, I knew my ties had been irrecovably severed. The chef who had given me my first job in a kitchen and my first sous-chef job was resigning as well at the end of the season. The general manager had already resigned several years before. The summer, even as it brought me into more intimate communion with the mountains, had ultimately served as my reawakening into a new life beyond my mountain homeland. As Zeke and I locked the kitchen doors for the last time, taking care to spark some herbal refreshment in the dining room of our nightmares to exorcise the demons before we departed, I knew instinctively that I would never again walk through these doors. As we turned the keys in back at Jackson Lake Lodge, I came to understand that my good-byes this time were not merely a cordiality to people I would see next summer. This was permanence personified, an innate knowledge that I might never see these people again, many of whom I had grown up with from the age of five.
We turned in our keys, said our good-byes, and walked out into the gray October sky as free men. No longer shackled to our contracts or this place, Zeke and I now had only one mission in store. We had been plotting this moment all summer, long feverish nights spent in his smoky RV plotting over maps and bicycles. The season was finally over. We were no longer chefs but mere cyclists. The time for the tour was upon us...