121 Miles from Yellowstone


Sitting in a Love’s truck stop 121 miles from Yellowstone National Park, my mind was racing as I waited for a friend to come pick me up. This was not how it was supposed to go! The plan was to cycle from Boise, Idaho to Yellowstone National Park and then return to Boise. The whole journey should have taken about a month, but now only seven days into the trip, I was quitting. I had failed.

The plans for my journey began about a year prior. Heeding the advice of my mentor I planned a two-month sabbatical after ten years of ministering in the Bronx.

I thought, I need something to do on my sabbatical.

At the time, my interest in cycling was growing, particularly cycle-touring; so, I envisioned a cross-country cycling trip. Over several months I bought a new touring bike, cross-country maps, camping gear, and began cycling any chance I got.

There’s nothing like cycling around New York City. The thrill of riding parallel to impatient cabbies honking their horns, gazing at skyscraper spires towering above London plane elms while peddling the southern loop of Central Park, or riding State Route 9W through hamlets along the Hudson River Palisades are each experiences unique to Big Apple cyclists.

Over those months, my sabbatical plans went through many revisions; practicality whittled lofty goals to an easier yet still challenging journey.

I began that journey midsummer. At dawn I left from a friend’s house in Boise. I looked prepared. Clad in a blue bandana, sunglasses, cycling shoes, and reflective neon-yellow safety accessories I thought, Here I go!

I hadn’t gone a block before my bike started wobbling and I nearly toppled! I wasn’t used to the extra weight of my gear. My brown Trek bike was loaded with two yellow panniers, a tent, sleeping bag, backpack, handle bar bag, two bottles of water, and two water-bladders. I was traveling through the dessert; water was essential.

My destination for the day was about 60 miles south to Mountain Home, Idaho. Boise city streets quickly changed to country roads. The harsh, desert landscape was unfamiliar to me. Brown hills rose above sandy valleys. Shrubs shook as shrews scurried.

Antelope stared cautiously and jack rabbits seemed to jeer, “Try to keep up slow poke!”

Each day was planned around where I could refill water, eat, and sleep. My path took me three hundred miles across Idaho with stops in Gooding, Carey, Craters of the Moon National Monument, and finally Idaho Falls. I camped out at a church, fairgrounds, campground, community park, and RV park.

I encountered other cyclists on journeys longer than mine. One young man had traveled west from Buffalo; another man had come from Virginia Beach; both were heading for the Pacific Ocean.

By the time I reached Idaho Falls, I was tired. Physically, I was fine. However, I was exhausted mentally and emotionally. Mentally, I constantly had to plan my survival. Emotionally, I felt like I was riding through a gauntlet–excitement, intimidation, anxiety, fear, loneliness, and guilt barraged my mind.

The origin of these feelings wasn’t my new journey; I was detoxing after ten years of ministering in the Bronx.

In Idaho Falls, I reached a tipping point. I returned from watching a movie at the theater to find destroyed bags. Squirrels had attacked!

How in the world will I fend off bears in Yellowstone if I can’t handle pesky squirrels?

Mayday! I’m done. Come and get me. Thank God my friend is only a four-hour drive away.

The fireworks in the sky that night from Fourth of July celebrations were at best anti-climactic; at worst, they mocked.

Sitting in Love’s truck stop, my pen was abuzz. As I waited for my rescuer, I logged fifteen pages of thoughts in my journal. Skimming those pages now, I see a weary traveler who needed a break. A traveler who needed to be still. A traveler who needed to not accomplish anything by the end of his day. A traveler that needed to enjoy people without any attached expectations. A traveler who needed to quit. A traveler who needed a lesson in grace.

A traveler who needed to realize that sometimes failure is more of a victory than success.