By the time I arrived in Alberta I was feeling very alone, and shaken by a week of crosswinds while riding across the middle of Canada. The many riders I passed on the road were going east. We extended our arms in greeting, quickly taking in each other’s steeds, the mounds strapped on the sides and rear, the stories that our gear told of where we had been and where we might be headed. We did not need words in order to share each other’s journey, and I was not in need of long conversations, rather I wanted someone riding by my side, going to the same place as I, someone with whom I could sit after the ride and without saying a word relive the deer that got in the way, the shock waves from trucks that almost knocked us off, the tight curves around which we scraped our pegs, the incredible colors of the sky at dusk, the glory of peaks rising out of the horizon as we approach the Rockies.
My plan had been to continue north from Lethbridge and into Banff National Park, and then onward to Jasper and then again west. Glacier National Park in Montana was to be one of my stops on my way back east. But in Lethbridge I met some kindred spirits who, knowing little more about me than the color of my Honda Magna and the fact that I was from New York, invited me to ride with them to Glacier. This was completely out of my way. Though my plan was flexible, going straight south at this point made no sense at all. I knew, however, that a true journey is not one that you take. So I let my journey take me where she saw it best and I accepted their invitation.
Luke and Mitch had been friends for most of their lives. Both, as any good Alberta man must, put in years in the oil fields of the north. They each bore signs of the rougher life - the one most of us neither know nor wish to know. Luke kept his head shaved, wore earrings and prominently displayed his tattoos. Mitch on the other hand had a full beard and, like myself, kept his desecrations of the flesh well hidden. He was more readily recognized as a lumberjack with his flannel shirts, large cumbersome build, and hearty, honest laugh. Luke’s toughness was not feigned, it was simply of another kind – one more often associated with the city and its rapid pace fueled by cocaine and easy pleasures. These differences were irrelevant to the two friends because each saw beyond the clothes and the flash of carnival masks. They have seen each other fly and fall, laugh and cry, fight and run.
We three were an unlikely match except for our mutual love and need for the road – another magic that the black top holds: it brings together more than cities with freight or people with money, it brings together and allows us to understand people foreign to our nature – thus broadening on a greater scale our acceptance of each other. (See my essay on the motorcycle here http://www.alexandertolchinsky.com/main/?p=272)
I arrived in Glacier some weeks ahead of schedule and with 2 new friends. It was nice to travel with some fellow bikers, if only for a couple of days. The following morning they left, and I met Sarah. She was also alone in the park and looking for someone with whom to hike. Within 10 minutes of meeting we were on the back of my bike cruising down the windy park road to get back-country camping permits. A couple of hours later we were on our way to Snyder Lake for a warm-up day hike, Sarah’s sweet southern drawl accompanying us along the way. The more she and I talked the more similarities we found; though from backgrounds as disparate as our gender, she growing up in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, we found an uncommon amount of parallels in our thoughts and ways. Sarah and I shared an incredible amount about ourselves, but it seemed as natural as we had known each other for years and not just a few hours.
The following day we found ourselves in the back-country of south-eastern Glacier, around Cobalt Lake.