UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 22nd – 31st August 2018
There was no mistaking the excited individual as she rushed towards me outside of Helena Public Library. My face was surely contorted into a picture of shock, confusion, surprise, and, yes, probably a little bit of terror, while the face of the girl heading rapidly in my direction could easily have been found sketched into a dictionary under the word “overexcited”. Her Asian features glowed manically, her short frame moving as fast as it could under the weight of a backpack bigger than her. One outstretched arm held an iPhone, video-recording our reunion, as the blur of pink arrived before me and I struggled to find any words. Luckily my temporary muteness was not a problem, as the girl was speaking continuously at one hundred miles per hour. Before me stood Vivian, the girl I had spent weeks cycling across Canada with two years previously. She had flown out here to surprise me, and surprise me she most certainly had, but I had known it was her the moment I saw her. Who else, after all, would be hanging out in the town centre of Montana’s state capital with a can of bear spray strapped to the front strap of their backpack?
This reunion with Vivian occurred a little over a week after we’d left Tony and his wonderful, generous family, a week which had been spent continuing south on the Great Divide bicycle route. Quiet forest roads had taken us up into hills and mountains, through forests of evergreens where butterflies and grasshoppers vastly outnumbered any motorised traffic. Our decision to try our luck on the Great Divide felt vindicated with every day that we spent pedalling beneath the singing birds. The cycling was so enjoyable, the route nowhere near as technically difficult as we had feared, the nicely-graded gravel roads manageable even on our heavy bikes. We met many other cyclists, almost always as they overtook us. Deanna was the only one who didn’t pull away from us, as we fell into a routine of bumping into each other on a daily basis, but other than her everyone else with their lightweight bikepacking set-ups left us in their dust. Indeed, over the course of one day we were passed by a group of no less than twenty or so that were paying for a guided trip, who had nothing on their bikes and a big van following on behind carrying everything for them. Almost without exception they each commented on how much stuff we were carrying as they passed us, irritating us slightly, until we fell in with the lead guide and business owner, a friendly Dutchman, who chuckled about this. “You wouldn’t believe how much stuff they all have in the van!!!” he said.
The undoubted highlight of these days was the two nights that we spent at the home of Barbara and John. These amazing people had set up two cabins on their land that are free for divide cyclists to stay in. We arrived in the evening to find a note welcoming us and telling us to make ourselves at home. The log cabin was wonderful, and Dea and I spent a nice evening by candle light, but it was the following day when the real magic happened. Barbara and John, whose generosity had already extended to hosting 300 cyclists this year, came by and invited us to stay for another night if we wanted to, and we thought ‘why not?’. We chatted with them for a while and they were such lovely people, and with a lovely story of how they met too, for Barbara had once lived here alone.
“I was on a bike trip, and I was staying in this cabin, you see, you may have heard of it,” John explained.
“Wow, that’s some nice karma,” I said.
Dea and I spent the day relaxing around the cabin and hanging out with the rescued llamas and alpacas that Barbara and John have on their land. In the afternoon some other southbound cyclists arrived. There came an English couple, Charlie and Katie, an American named Andrew, and, predictably enough, Deanna. Barbara and John invited us all up to their house for dinner, and put on an amazing spread for us all, leading to an evening of much merriment. We concluded it sitting around the campfire and resumed it in the morning with pancakes at our cabin. I put jam, syrup, whipped cream, blueberries and M&Ms on mine, and this made me very happy for a while, and then made me feel a bit sick for a while longer. But it was the opportunity for playing games that brought real joy to my heart. Charlie and Andrew were very much up for playing the game that I invented in Eureka, which up until this point did not have a name. “You invented it in Eureka, why not call it Eureka Ball?” Charlie suggested. And this was a very good suggestion, and it led also to me thinking that it would be a superbly good idea to create a new rule – players should have to shout “Eureka!” when they scored points (by hitting another player’s T-shirt, or by catching the ball). If the player should forget to shout “Eureka!” then bad luck, no points! Eureka Ball, as you can tell, was developing into a seriously awesome game:
Predictably enough, Charlie, Katie, and Andrew were all faster than us. Andrew in particular was travelling very quickly and he raced off ahead to do the three passes to Helena in a single afternoon. Charlie and Katie also pushed on and we didn’t see them again either, but someone else did, a fact that became apparent once we were in Helena ourselves the following day.
“Oh my God! I wanted to surprise you! I’ve been here looking for you since yesterday! I thought I found you this morning, but it was the wrong Chris and Dea! It was the wrong Chris and Dea!” Vivian repeated. In actual fact a nice woman named Melissa, who had seen Vivian wandering around and asked if she needed help, had told her about a pair of English cyclists sitting in a Helena bakery, and Vivian, naturally assuming it to be us, had rushed in with her iPhone filming everything, only to be disappointed by the sight of Charlie and Katie, who from this moment on would be referred to as ‘the wrong Chris and Dea.’
But after a night spent camping outside of Walmart, she had found the right Chris and Dea now at the library, with no need to use her bear spray. “Do you know, all the way across Canada I never knew how to use this bear spray,” Vivian informed me, “But I know now.” Which was perhaps a good thing, because she was doing some hiking around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park during a two-week holiday. I was glad that meeting us wasn’t the only reason she was here, but we still needed to find a way to spend some time together given all of her efforts to find us. Luckily Melissa, the woman who had directed Vivian to the wrong Chris and Dea, had also offered her a place to stay in Helena, and the invitation was soon extended to all three of us.
Melissa and her family went out for the evening, leaving us alone to catch up over a dinner expertly made by Vivian. It was good to see her again, for we had parted on a sour note two years earlier and, while we had made up via online communications, it was still nice to be able to talk about it in person. Our silly falling out had happened because I’d overreacted to feeling underappreciated by Vivian after cycling with her from the Rockies to Ontario, but by now quite the opposite was true. Vivian was giving me a lot of credit. “Seriously, you don’t get it. You saved my life,” she said. More credit than I deserve, I think, considering all I did was cycle with her, but it was certainly great to see Vivian doing so well. Now divorced, putting her unhappy marriage behind her, qualified as an estate agent, and seemingly doing well and happy. She seemed more mature than before, more settled, less scatter brained.
Melissa was such a nice woman and she
insisted that we were all welcome to stay another day if we wanted,
so that is just exactly what we did. The next afternoon Dea and I
went out to lunch with Vivian, and at some point she gave us some
money, asking us to use it to go out on a date together sometime. We
tried to refuse, but Vivian was quite insistent. “You never spend
money on things like that, you should go out and enjoy yourselves,
have a good time,” she said. It was a very thoughtful gesture.
“Besides, I was going to spend the money on things to make a big
surprise for when I found you, with balloons and cheese and
“Well, yes, perhaps good you didn’t do that.”
In the evening we were invited to a
barbecue across town with Melissa and her family and friends. Dea and
I cycled there, which was not a problem because, despite being the
capital of Montana, Helena is a modestly-sized town. There were
veggie dogs and table-tennis and consequently it was a really super
night. Vivian repeated that she was happy to be single and out of her
troubled marriage, and told me that she had a check-list for future
boyfriends, which, presumably, was intended to make sure she found a
better match this time.
“He must drink lake water,” was the surprising first thing on her list.
“I’m sorry, did you say lake water?”
“Because he has to like the outdoors, you know.”
“I see, yes. What else?”
“He has to love my dog more than me.”
“More than he loves you?”
“My dog is very important.”
“Okay. Anything else?”
“He has to be close with his family, family is very important and, erm, he’s got to have calluses.”
The following morning as Vivian taught me some yoga moves before hugging us goodbye I thought about this imaginary man. He sounded like quite a catch, perhaps truly the perfect man for Vivian. Here’s hoping they find each other.