Kurt Caswell

The Great Divide

It is no exaggeration to affirm that a journey by bicycle is like none other; it is a thing apart; it has a tempo and a style of its own.

—James E. Starrs

One morning I woke to find that the world had gotten smaller. I was into my thirties now, and everywhere I went I found people, people crawling over everything like ants, up the mountains, down the valleys, across the seas, even into the skies and beyond into outer space. If you go to a remote place to get some relief from our brave new world, a world of far too many billions of people, and that number increasingly increasing, that is no good either, because everyone wants to go to a remote place, and there are only so many remote places left, and someone always gets there first. Even if you do get there first, you can’t stand to be there anymore because you are, or you are going to be, like everybody else, addicted to the information flow that is made possible by the internet. You can’t stand to sit in that remote, lonely, disconnected place anymore the way you once could, because you can hardly focus unless you know what is going on with Britney Spears, and how close we came to annihilation when that meteor passed by the Earth, and what if the Groupon you were waiting around for finally becomes available? Every speck of land and sea on Earth, even the minerals and metals and oil under the surface of the Earth, is owned by someone, or a group of someones, a corporation or a government. Water—for irrigation, drinking, and making soups—used to be everyone’s birthright; now it’s owned by someone. Monsanto, an ugly corporation all around, is working on owning all the seeds on Earth, so that means all the flowers and trees and all the food. Especially the food. In that future, if a kumquat happens to take root in your backyard, you will have to pay Monsanto. Another corporation called Lunar Embassy has begun to sell off the real estate on the Moon. On. The. Moon. There is no atmosphere on the Moon. You’d be better off buying land on Mars, which, by the way, Lunar Embassy is also selling. As well as land on Venus. And Mercury. The temperature drops to 280 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) at night on Mercury, and rises to 800 degrees during the day. What are you going to do in a place like that? Land there is cheap though: $19.99 per acre. Might as well buy two. And for $250,000, Lunar Embassy will send you a piece of paper that says you own Pluto. Is this madness? “Perhaps you can’t own it here,” they boast, “but you can own it up there.” The land and the seas and the sky (on Earth) were once open and free. You could roam around happily and find good places to be yourself just about anywhere. You can’t anymore, and what places are left require a permit, and some permits are nearly impossible to get, unless you are rich, famous, lucky, or the president—the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, is one example. If you want to make a journey down that river, getting a private permit can take ten years, or more. And if you do happen to secure a permit, well then you have to abide by all the rules. Don’t do this over here. Don’t do that over there. Stop. Go. Pay. Dogs on a leash only. No dogs at all. No smoking. No drinking. No touching. No looking. No breathing. At Devil’s Tower in NE Wyoming, if you take a single step off the little paved path around that fantastic rock tower, you’ve committed a federal offense. And then, even if you are willing to swallow all the rules, you still have to share the place with the hordes, all innocent people born into this world who want exactly what you want: just a little space and a little quiet to be themselves, to be a human being, and maybe to see something interesting. I guess we’ve made things safer, except of course in cities where crime is rampant, and in small countries that don’t abide by the rules of big countries. Those small countries that break the rules of big countries, those are the most dangerous places on Earth. Still, these days, it’s safer in the wild than it used to be. If you get into trouble in a river canyon, push a button and a helicopter will fetch you. If your boat capsizes in stormy seas, push a button and the Coast Guard arrives, handsome men and women in sporty PFDs who pull your sorry ass out of the water. And if a tragedy occurs, if those handsome men and women don’t arrive soon enough, then someone who should have put up a sign or asked for a waiver or should have known that some idiot would lean out over the edge to take a picture, will have to pay recompense. Yes, the world is safer, but also more boring. For adventure, most people content themselves with yet another baby shower (imagine the wild excitement of expecting a gift to be blue, and instead it’s pink!), or a weenie roast in the backyard of groomed suburbia on Saturdays, or endless nights of movies about the end of the world. At least the end of the world, though hard on some people, would be interesting.


In 2002, my wife and I (for I was married once) moved from California to Wyoming (from the most populated state to the least populated state) and we wondered how we might get to know our new home. A few key truths evolved into a perfect storm: 1) I had developed a fixation on the belief that I’d feel better about the world if I could look out on an endless open country for a while; 2) Pirates of the Caribbean had been released (the first one, the good one), and without too much seriousness, I started to call my mountain bike The Black Pearl, despite the fact that it’s blue, because that’s what a ship is, says Jack Sparrow: freedom; and 3) some friends were then riding the southern half of The Great Divide mountain bike route, which runs along the Continental Divide from the U.S./Canada border at the Port of Roosville, Montana, to the U.S./Mexico border at Antelope Wells, New Mexico, a distance of about 2,500 miles. They rode from Antelope Wells to Fort Collins, Colorado, and we met them at their terminus. Hey, they said, you guys should ride the north half. Once we put it all together, it made perfect sense. The best way to get to know the state was to ride across it on a mountain bike.

My wife recruited Amy to join us, a friend from her Boulder graduate program in wilderness therapy, and we planned our ride, beginning southwest of Yellowstone in Island Park, Idaho, and making our way across the state in a diagonal to Saratoga, Wyoming, where we could end with a celebratory soak in a hot springs known as the Hobo Pool. We decided to follow the route exactly, newly laid out by the Adventure Cycling Association. That would be about 600 miles in eleven days, an average of about fifty-five miles a day. We would go unsupported, carrying all of our gear and food on cargo trailers. Of particular note, we’d cross the Basin, also known as the Red Desert, a notorious section of the Divide for its impossible treeless distances, its herds of wild horses, and no real services. Whatever food we needed over those 225 miles we mostly had to carry with us. For endurance athletes who live for this sort of thing, this section, though challenging, may be only a two-day ride fueled by a bunch of Snicker’s bars stuffed in a pocket. For we mere mortals, it would be a four-day crossing, and having never made a cycling tour before, let alone a mountain bike tour, we had no idea what we were getting into.


Imagine the beauty of that moment after riding away from the truck parked safely at a friend’s pottery shop in Island Park. We rode out a Forest Service road, the spruce and fir lining a path into the mountains. The world really was opening up ahead of us, and rather suddenly too. Turns out, it didn’t take much at all to find a place without too many cars, no buildings, and no people. It wasn’t an endless vista of open country, for there were too many trees, but that would come later. For perspective, I had recently heard that the entire world’s population, immense as it is, will fit into a small corner of the Grand Canyon. I even wanted to believe it. In my giddiness, I forgot to feel doleful and morose, and with my two cycling companions, we began our first climb to a wee summit pass of about 8,000 feet. It felt good, humping up the mountain, the first real challenge of the trip. My legs and lungs were burning, a familiar feeling from my years of dedicated running. Amy fell behind, and my wife and I waited for her. She fell behind again, and then again, until we realized that she had been stopping to throw up.

Waiting for Amy on that empty road in the mountain climes, I wondered if we were going to make it. If Amy couldn’t ride for one day on the Divide, nay for a few hours, how would we possibly finish an eleven-day, 600 miles tour that crosses the continental divide a dozen times? Up and over and down. Up and over and down. We were done for. Just as I thought, I thought, the world really is a tiny thing, we’ve all become weaker, and at best, we can expect a life of imprisonment inside our cookie cutter houses watching “Wheel of Fortune” and waiting to die.

When Amy caught up, she wasn’t shaken at all by her constant retching into the brush.

“God damn,” she said. “This is fucking awesome!”

“Do you feel OK?” my wife asked.

“No. I feel horrible,” Amy said. “I spent the last two weeks on the coast. This altitude is killing me. But this is fucking awesome. Why didn’t we do this a long time ago?”

“Because nobody had thought of it a long time ago,” I said. “Do you want to rest here or something?” I asked. “You don’t look great.”

“Ride on,” she said. “Our road descends in a few more miles doesn’t it? I’ll get better. Just a moment,” she said, and she retched into the brush again.

So ride on we did, up and up onto the mountain’s back, and then over it, descending again through the trees and broken light as a storm fell in over our way. It began to rain, not a lot, but enough to wet us down, as a few booms of thunder-crack opened the distance. The cool rain and the descent made the riding easy, and Amy whizzed by.

“I feel fucking awesome,” she called out.

Over the final miles, dirt turned to pavement, and we rolled in at an easy pace to Warm River Campground. All the people in big RVs were set back away in the trees, so we had the river to ourselves. We took a swim to cool off and wash away the sweat of the day, then cooked up a big meal of noodle soups to go with what fresh fruit we had, and everything else we cared to eat. Pepperoni and nuts, some crackers and cheese, and then something sweet to follow. As night fell, we threw our bags out on the ground to sleep. The three of us lay side-by-side staring up at that immensity of the cosmos, and maybe that bright spot was Venus.

“Yeah,” Amy said, with great assurance, “tomorrow’s going to be fucking awesome.”


It’s not that easy, you know, shaking off a world-weariness that you spent most of your life taking on. It doesn’t just vanish with a good ride and a swim, with a little humor and a sweep of stars across the night. It comes back to you, and it comes back to you, and it comes back to you, again. You either have to let it come back to you and pay it no mind, or you have to confront it head on, wrestle it to the ground and dash its brains out, spatter them over the rocks. You have to do something. “There is no greater misfortune/than under estimating your enemy,” reads the Tao Te Ching. “Underestimating your enemy/means thinking that he is evil./Thus you destroy your three treasures/and become an enemy yourself.” That’s the deepest darkness there is, I guess, when you become an enemy, and especially an enemy to yourself. And what are the three treasures? A bit earlier in the Tao, its poet, Lao Tzu, offers this:

I have just three things to teach:

simplicity, patience, compassion.


In the morning, I didn’t feel as good as Amy had promised. I was sore and stiff and I had slept fitfully, dreaming weird dreams about god knows what. I don’t usually dream at all, but when I do, it’s never good. Even still, there was nothing to do but pack our gear and ride on.

Our route took us up out of the river canyon and into farm country, potatoes all the way to Wyoming. I didn’t know for sure, but they were likely Simplot potatoes, or Simplot had his hand in there somehow, and the crop would likely fuel fastfoodaholics at McDonald’s. That less impressive thought was soon dwarfed by the more impressive Tetons that marked our passage into Wyoming (imagine the desperation of the French trappers who named these mountains? Upon first gazing upon these jagged peaks, one must have said to the other: “Wow! Look. Three tits!”), but even so the early part of that day was for me the most benign part of our journey. We were just pedaling, and pedaling, the bikes on a smooth easy road, not much breeze, along long summer roadside grasses.

I forgot why I had come. I couldn’t remember anymore that I was in search of a long vista, or that I wanted to get to know my new state (we were still in Idaho, after all), and I had, without knowing it, somehow demoted my bike from The Black Pearl to My Bike. Well, I’d say, better get back on My Bike. Where shall I park My Bike? My Bike is over here. It wasn’t easy to be romantic after twenty miles of hard riding before lunch, and looking ahead to twenty more before dinner. I didn’t possess that beautiful optimism in Jack Sparrow on that drunken night on the island with lovely Elizabeth when he spoke of his infatuation with his ship. Because that’s what a ship is: freedom. My Bike, and its sixty-pound trailer felt not so much like freedom, but rather like a heavy stone rolling ponderously down a dirt road that was usually going up.

We crossed into Wyoming, and aside from stunning beauty, and the camaraderie of motorcycles (“All right you guys!” a woman yelled from the back of a Harley as we climbed 9,658 foot Togwotee Pass), we pedaled endlessly for the next few days. Amy had completely recovered from her sickness, and settled into a passionless rhythm. She cranked along with no expression on her face at all. She wouldn’t say much, just cranked along as if in a simultaneous state of bliss and misery. My wife and I rode ahead and talked about her. What was wrong with her? Why was she so unfriendly? Maybe we were getting on her nerves? Maybe she was getting on our nerves? I rather liked her attitude better when she was retching into the weeds. I needed a pick-me-up now, as we cruised along, the three of us trading the lead back and forth. It was different when we climbed. I felt anxious and impatient, a powerful impulse to summit first whatever hill or mountain we had to summit. Perhaps it was because my wife had a great deal of cycling experience and skill, and courage to boot, and I knew she would always pass me on the descent. She was a talented rider, and I accepted that. But Amy? She passed me on every descent too, and she was just a skinny girl with short hair and stick-like legs. No matter what I did, I could not keep up going downhill. I’d never be a contender in a race, I knew, but at least I could keep them from waiting too long at the bottom if I beat them to the top. It became what I lived for. There was nothing else to do to pass the time but pedal my guts out up hills.

On day four, we rode a thirty-mile section of pavement on Highway 26/287 and then paused at the turn off to Union Pass. Most of the grizzly bear country was behind us, but you never know when you might meet a bear on the road. Heavy thunderclouds came in above our heads, and it started to rain. It was late afternoon, and this was the first serious rain we’d seen. It was clear to me it wasn’t going to pass, but rather, was setting in for the night. We had four miles of hard, steep climbing ahead of us before we could begin to look for a place to camp. What were our options: 1) get soaked on the climb, and then eat and sleep in the storm on top; or 2) ride nine more miles of pavement into Dubois and wait out the rain in a restaurant. Maybe have a beer! Or two. Or three, and then get a room in town, have a shower, and watch HBO.

“This climb will be here tomorrow,” I suggested. “Let’s go in to town.”

A mile down the road, a car coming toward us out of Dubois veered off onto the shoulder. A woman got out. She was yelling and scurrying about in the rain, waving her arms. She ran in front of a semi to cross the road to our side, and stood in front of us nearly breathless, waving her arms and shouting.

“Oh my god,” Amy said, as we rode up on her. “She must be a lunatic.”

“What do we do?” my wife said.

“You missed us! You missed us!” the woman shouted. “We’re right behind you! Twenty dollars,” she shouted. “Twen-ty dollars. Bike hostel! Everything you need. Everything you want.”

We stopped, and the woman calmed a little.

“My husband and I have a bike hostel just there at the turn off,” she said. “You missed us. Twenty dollars. I’ll cook you a big supper. How about a beer? And homemade ice cream. You can shower. I’ll do your laundry. And we’ve got a warm, dry place to sleep. It’s going to storm tonight. Oh, and I’m Jo-An,” she said when she finally took a breath. “What do you say? Oh, and breakfast too.”

This is what happens when you are out on the road, when you are out in the world traveling around. An angel descends, and often when you need one most. You think you won’t make it, or you think things are going to get worse, and of course they can, and sometimes they do, but that’s usually when an angel descends. If you listen to Melville, he’ll tell you that an angel is just a shark well governed. I think people are sharks, and angels are angels who try to show people how not to be sharks. This is what it felt like, anyway, when Jo-An led us out of the storm. She introduced us to Dave, her husband, and showed us to the garage converted into a guesthouse. Inside was a row of dry cots, a bench to work on your bike, and an adjacent outhouse, very clean, a two-holer.

The story is, when Jo-An and Dave bought this place at the corner of the highway and Union Pass Road, they began to notice that the summer months brought mountain bikers, loaded with gear, and heading off into the wilds beyond their house. Where the hell are all these mountain bikes going, they wondered. Then, on the highway, they’d see road cyclist, also loaded, buzzing by in groups. Come to find out, they were living at the intersection of two great cycling routes: the fairly new Great Divide trail, and the Trans-America. Opening a bike hostel seemed like the right thing to do.

So now imagine when that storm hit hard that night, the lightning and thunder, the rain dumping from the heavens. Imagine it. And now imagine the three of us in our sleeping bags on dry cots, after a very pleasant meal with Jo-An and Dave, as much as we could eat—spaghetti, meatballs, bread, a nice salad, and beer, followed by exquisite homemade ice cream. Imagine how warm and happy we were in our bags, the rain running off the roof. How miraculous. How lovely it was. How easy.


On a bike, riding for eight to ten hours each day, you develop a bruise on your ass, a bruise shaped and fitted to your seat. The bruise of course is made by your seat, and because the bruise and the seat are one, each morning when you climb back on your bike, that bruise, each square inch of it, makes contact with the seat, each square inch of it. That bruise can develop into a terrible raw spot, or several raw spots, where your cheeks rub together. It hurts, and it doesn’t matter what kind of wedding tackle you have down there, it’s all the same to your seat. Cowboys know this. There are only three ways to fix this problem: 1) stand up on your pedals and remove your ass from the seat, a temporary fix; 2) stop riding, a permanent fix; and 3) continue riding, despite the pain, until you ride your butt into shape, also a permanent fix. You have to harden your ass. You can work on this project before you start your journey on the Divide, which my wife and I did, but everyday life does not usually afford ten hours a day on a bike, so you have to go through this process during your ride. One small trick I learned from my female companions is that you can buy a particular slather made for women to reduce friction between the thighs. We bought some at a drugstore at Colter Bay. Each morning, we three stood in a circle and shared out the tube, stuffing our hands down our cycling shorts to ease the day’s burden.


Union Pass was a striking ride after the storm cleared everything out, with high, cool air, roads empty of cars but not of cows, and once we made that morning climb, a pretty easy flat crossing at the top. But we had been thinking about the Basin for a couple days, and so stopped in Pinedale to buy food. A cowboy at the front doors of the grocery warned us: “There’s nothing out there.” We rode on along the skirt of the Wind Rivers to a place at the edge of that nothing where the pavement ends. First you’re riding along happily, it’s all smooth sailing, and then the road becomes the raw land again, and you struggle, unhappily. Out ahead of us now was some 200 miles of unbroken Red Desert, very little water, and very little food. Now, at last, I could see it, that endless endlessness, that vista I had longed for, and for the first time on the trip, I felt at ease. I wanted to ride out into it. My life, it seemed, was in the rhythm it wanted, the rhythm it belonged in. I felt like I had mastered myself during that stormy night, whatever that means. If you want to read something interesting, take on the German philosopher Martin Buber’s essay “The Teaching of the Tao.” Here he makes reference to the importance of the three treasures. He doesn’t call them out by name, but rather, brings them into amalgamation by offering a clear understanding of an authentic life. Your life is not “an abstract conception,” Buber writes, “but the most concrete living.” (I am aware that by quoting Buber here at all, I risk making life into an abstraction, which is his concern as well.) Buber goes on to explain that an authentic life is unity, not the unity of a body of knowledge, or of the spirit, or anything that is “thought or felt or willed, but the unity of this human life and this human soul that fulfills itself, the unity of your life and your soul, you who are seized by the teaching. Genuine life is united life.” (Buber uses the phrase “the teaching” to mean the Tao.) What strikes me here as so beautiful and complete and simple is that authentic life is personal, tailored to each individual. First, Buber is saying, my authentic life is likely different from yours. Second, my life can fulfill itself, which means I don’t really need anything or anyone to do it for me. I don’t think he means that I am alone, but rather, no one can do it for me. I must fulfill my life myself. In other words, here is the 8th Century Chinese poet Li Po, also a Taoist of sorts, expressing the same idea: “Follow Tao, and nothing’s old or new./Lose it, and the ruins of age return.”


The Great Basin of Wyoming is the only place where the Continental Divide divides, where water does not simply drain off to the east or to the west, but it drains off to the east and the west, and also into a basin in the middle, a 3,600 square mile sink.

Those first two days heading into the Basin went along rather well, and on the third day, we faced our longest ride of the journey, nearly seventy miles of dirt road. We rose an hour earlier, and filled every water container we had from the Sweetwater River. This water stop was important to early American pioneers as well, people traveling the Oregon, Mormon, and California Trails, and the Pony Express. There really isn’t much water in the Basin, so you have to complete the miles suggested by the guidebook, water stop to water stop, or haul enough water with you. But that’s a lot of weight. Our guidebook also told us that A&M Reservoir, the water stop at the end of this longest day, might be dry. We could not know until we arrived.

Those early first miles, the first thirty or so, were pleasant enough. The day still cool, and the riding still easy. We rolled on through that wild empty space, making turns and switching back along the dirt track. We passed massive piles of horse manure, “stud piles” they’re called, the markings of wild stallions setting the boundaries of their domain. As vast and open as the land was, we were not alone. That was some comfort. By afternoon, in our fatigue, the road stretched into endless miles of disappointment, and then a lot of sand. More disappointment and then more sand. I couldn’t ride it. I dismounted and started pushing. Behind me now, my wife and Amy pushed their bikes too. The sun falling. The temperatures cooling. That long thin line of light at the horizon. It was getting late. Seven o’clock. And then eight. A truck appeared out of the desert, a big Ford dually. A cowboy at the wheel. Cowboy hat. He stopped as he passed headed in the opposite direction. A space of silence between us. He looked at me as if I were an alien.

“Man,” he finally said. “This is hardcore. You need something? A ride or something? Water? A beer?”

It would have been nice to feel hardcore, but the sand took from me any hubris I thought to have. I wanted help, a lift to somewhere, another angel, but this man wasn’t an angel. He was just on his way to his cows or out to a ranch somewhere. That wasn’t any place to go. We had to get through the Basin and on into Rawlins down on the freeway. We had to push on, so I waved him off.

“No,” I told him. I was too tired to say much. “We’re fine. Those are my companions back a little way. We have what we need with us.”

“Damn,” he said. “Damn. This is hardcore.”

About mile sixty-five for the day, we ran out of water. Five miles later, pushing and pedaling, we came at last to A&M Reservoir. We left our bikes at the bottom of a hill, and walked up the steep hump of ground to peer in. It was nothing more than a muddy hole. It looked like a bomb had exploded, gouging the earth. We could see the hoof prints of wild horses skirting the brown puddle, and strange creatures swam circles in the nasty water. Suckers? Some kind of deformed frog? Who wanted to go down and find out? What would we do? What could we do, but ride on. We read that a spring might be running two miles down the road through the emptiness toward the little community of Baroil. Hadsell Spring, it was called. If not there, we decided, our last option for water was to ride into Baroil, and start knocking on doors.

We rode on, and over, and the road descended until we could see a little collection of buildings in the distance. Green grass and shrubbery came up out of the desert along the road. We heard trickling water. The spring was running clear and clean, off the hill, under the road through a culvert, and into the empty land. At last our long day was over. We unhitched our trailers and laid our mountain bikes down. We would camp along the fresh springs this night.

Each in turn, we stripped down and washed off in a pool downstream of our camp, then set out our simple supper. More noodle soups. Hard Italian sausage. Crackers. Cheese. An apple. We finished it all, and made more. Broke open a tin of sardines. I was wasted, spent, and really just wanted to sleep now, but we sat up, the three of us, as the night came on, watching the Wyoming grasses bend in the little breeze. The sun went down. The moon came up. Then footsteps in the dark. A clip-clop of horse feet. We watched a line of wild horses come down their trail to the water. Six of them now, seven, now eight. They passed by, heads slung low, bobbing up and down off their shoulders, that familiar gate, their dark skins a little shimmery with the Moon. Easy now. Easy now. We sat there. We had nothing to say to them, and they had nothing to say to us. Plenty of water for everyone. They passed by. We could smell them, a little, as they passed by, a familiar, comforting presence of the animal, of the animal in us all, and I could feel the warm body of my wife along my right side, and the warmth of Amy on my left, and the moon held the sky open a little longer as the horses drank deep from the spring below us, and the clouds built then again. We put up our tents against the rain, and then we slept, our bodies in contact with the dark earth. The rain came on, heavy and dark, and lightning lit it all up. I woke and worried that the little spring would rise and fill and take us away. So I roused my wife and Amy, and we moved our tents onto higher ground in the rain, and then we slept again. That was a good night. A short night for its beauty and darkness. A long night for my exhaustion. I didn’t dream at all. I slept soundly when I slept, and then I woke to the two women I traveled with, and together we made coffee, breakfasted, filled our water bottles, and rode on.


In Rawlins, we brought our bikes inside the After Hours Bar and Grill. We sat down, ordered beers, and when they came, so did a plate of fried appetizers: cheese sticks, onion rings, fries, fried mushrooms.

“From the table over there,” the waiter told us. “That group came in on motorcycles. They said you looked like you needed the calories.”

“God, we do,” Amy said.

We raised our glasses to them. They raised their glasses to us.

The owner came out. “You know,” she said, “now I have bike envy. Where are you headed?”

“We’re on the Divide trail,” my wife said.

“Yep,” the owner said. “I know it. I ride a little myself.” A weathered, glowing woman, long blonde hair, mid-fifties. She told us she had been an art teacher in California, but wanted to be her own boss, so moved to Wyoming and bought this bar. She talked longingly about her younger years as a teacher, about adventure, about a freer life. She wished she could make a trip like ours, but she was all tied up in her business.

What was it she was talking about? What was it that she wanted? Liberty? Escape? Courage to pick up and strike out? Seemed that she had that already. We encountered other people along the Divide who expressed the same, who wanted something they thought we had. A couple at the Flagg Ranch lodge in Grand Teton National Park asked us about the trailers we used to carry our gear. They told us they wanted to make a journey like ours, but they’d never do it without professional guides. They admired us, they said. They wished they could go with us. A man standing outside his RV at a roadside turnout called out to us. He wanted to take our picture for his wife. She wanted the picture for her refrigerator at home to inspire her. And just before arriving at the bar, we talked to the biker camped next to us here in Rawlins. He was on his way to Sturgis. He held his hand on the handlebars of his Harley.

“It’s the only way to travel,” he said. “Driving a car, you can’t see the sky. On a bike it’s all there above you. And that’s the most important part.”

I suppose Li Po is right. The best life is a life of “spent abundance.”


We rode in to Saratoga to meet our friends at the Hobo Pool, the friends who rode the southern half of the Divide. We soaked off the muscle fatigue in the springs, washed the sweat and dust away. They had brought a feast, and planned to camp the night with us, then in the morning, take us home.

“Didn’t you just hate it?” said one of them. “And didn’t you just love it too?”

What I hated and loved was the way the world expands and contracts. One day you wake to find the world has gotten smaller. The next day, it’s immense, and you can’t see the end of it. You wake in the terror of a night storm, and fall in love with “a six-dragon sun crossing ten thousand/ravines, valley streams meandering away.” Your poet, Li Po, “leaves horse tracks winding through/emerald peaks all green moss by now.” You sit among his “wailing pines,” and “gaze north at wild headlands … lighting storms” rising “from the bottom of the earth.” You want never to lose heart. Never to despair. Never to take on that small little mind that closes down the world for you, and sews it up inside so that you can’t even get your tears out. That is “becoming the enemy,” and losing the three treasures. Instead of locking yourself inside, go out into the storm, tear your clothes off (others have before you), let the rain wash your hot flesh. Bow, like your poet, and “then bow again, deeper, ashamed” that you “haven’t an immortal’s talent.” And yet, in the act of bowing you have all the talent you need.

Kurt Caswell

Kurt Caswell’s newest book is Getting to Grey Owl: Journeys on Four Continents, due out from Trinity University Press in 2015. He is also the author of In the Sun’s House: My Year Teaching on the Navajo Reservation, and An Inside Passage. He teaches creative writing and literature in the Environment and the Humanities minor in the Honors College at Texas Tech University.