The bug etymology on the road changes as frequently as scenery. With every new hill crossed, it seems there is a new set of flying insects to avoid. When I headed south from Glacier National Park, two bugs dominated the road: butterflies and locust-like grasshoppers. Everyone enjoys the company of a beautiful butterfly, however I barely tolerate the grasshoppers which unavoidably charge at you. I developed a fear of these crazy pests after a bad encounter with them when I was younger.
I avoid, hit, squish these pesky hazards all over the road from Glacier National Park down to Dayton. There I met CouchSurfer hosts Julian and Nick. Pulling up, this looks as an undeveloped piece of property with a stream leading to a pond. In introduction, I open up discussion of the land. Nick points to a heap of dirt and apparently vacant space that appears to be covered in weeds and states “this has occupied much of our time in the past months”. I’m puzzled by the contradiction of what I hear and what I see, but I don’t press questions. We grab our swimsuits and make our way out to pond for swimming in the later day summer heat. As we make our way through the maze of dirt and weeded area, Nick, Julian and friend Ben are picking and eating from the leaves. It’s then I realize these aren’t weeds, this is permaculture. As they describe, permaculture farming is a self-maintained agricultural system by which the plants work together helping each other thrive. A plot of land grows several different species of plants that all are part of the natural ecology. Instead of organized rows of one kind of crop that is sown, reaped, and repeat process, this ecological engineering renews itself naturally and friendly to the earth. I’ve heard of such design but never seen it for myself. It was amazing to pull from these dirt mounds mustard greens, lettuce that tasted like Wasabi, a fresh beets, radish, dill, and so many others that were delicious, abundant, and lush without the use of massive farming equipment or chemicals.
The next morning I left early in preparation for a 95 mile ride to Missoula, MT. In upwards to 95 degree weather, heavy traffic, and some pretty gnarly hills at the end. I got 2 flat tires along the way. While fixing the second flat on the highway, I called to where planned to stay. The conversation revealed that what I had thought was an invitation to stay was none at all. The door felt shut on me. Ugh…. I sat on the side of the highway, changing my tire, black grease all over my hands and jersey, a second skin of sweet and sticky sunscreen which adhered exhaust soot, gravel, and insects. The biggest climb ahead of me, and still 25 miles away from my destination. Was I wrong to feel upset in disappointed hopes? Back on the uphill, I fight myself over expectations in myself and humankind. Already demoralized, my spirit continues to drop under the heated sun, rushing cars, and a hardening sense of humanity. Halfway up the hill, a man runs out from a junkyard—a bearded, scrawny, torn shirt man chasing after me on an uphill. He signals a tipping cup to his mouth for water. He catches me and tells me I look like I could use water and a sandwich. In this jaded state down on humanity, I don’t want to trust him, but thirst answers the call. I decide to check things out. Walking past the parking lot of used cars and before the piles of junk is a large garage and inside a hostel. The man, Zack, tells me the history of the hostel being open, free, and generous to bike travelers. I soften over a ham and wasabi cheese sandwich. Sitting in the common area with a bearded mountain man and purple haired transvestite who also rooms here. Amazed. Here Zack saw a rider from a quarter mile totally exhausted, needing saving with sustenance. But what he really saved for me was a broken spirit.
Fed, hydrated and happy, I give my sincerest thanks and am grinning on my way back up the hill.Renewed, I notice the grasshoppers don’t feel like hazards, and, for the first time, I see the grasshopper go into flight with delicate designs of black and yellow wings. These are band winged grasshoppers, in flight they look like butterflies! Had my prejudice and previous fears blocked my ability to distinguish two sides were actually one? I saw disgusting pest grasshoppers and delicate butterflies but could not see that they were the same thing. Had my cynical side altered my perceptions so much that I could not see beauty in both sides of these dynamic insects, or in the plot of weeded land is actually a thriving permaculture farm, or a scraggly looking man off the road wants to offer the kindest generosity?
A person said “The road always provides”. Cycling the open road gives you exactly what you need, the biggest challenge is just accepting it and accept that it’s real.