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"Whoa," the boys say in unison, clearly awed by the scale of the landscape. Even Jacqueline's eyes widen. It occurs to me that pointing out how dauntingly far we have to climb might not be the best motivational strategy, but fortunately it's soon forgotten as the boys become enthralled by the sight of Morrell Falls, a white slash below. We may be moving slowly, but seeing the falls beneath us shows we're really getting somewhere. Even if that somewhere is deeper into nowhere.
To my surprise and delight, the kids issue no complaints. They've realized that we're on our own out here: There are no warmer-dryer-more-comfortable places to go. We'll be moving across this mountain until we reach water and a spot to pitch the tent.
Silas says the sharp summits of the Swan look like giant's teeth. We all sing made-up songs about, what else, pushing bikes up mountains. And after a couple of hours, the road narrows into a trail. Almost immediately there is a spectacularly large pile of wolf scat. I crouch down to show it to the boys.
"From here on things get wilder," I say with relish.
A mile or so later we come to a brook amid old-growth larch trees. There's just enough of a clearing for a tent and campfire.
"What do you think?" I ask.
"Great!" the boys say in unison, and they start running around gathering wood before I can even lay the bike down.
The next morning, Silas and I step out of the tent to find another pile of wolf scat.
"We're way up in the mountains now!" he says, looking at the peaks beyond camp. I proudly announce that the top of our climb is only three miles away.
Determined to make it there before another deluge, we push and sometimes ride up the narrow trail, hoisting the bikes over massive fallen trees, the mountain falling steeply away below us. By early afternoon we reach a saddle at the toes of the Swan Crest, with mountains upon mountains stacked to the horizon.
"Is this the top?" Silas asks.
Yes, I tell him, happily flopping down in the bear grass.
"Yay! Jonah, Mom," Silas yells, hopping up and down, "this is the top, this is the top!"
Our jubilance is short-lived, however, as black clouds surge towards us. We'd planned to make the long descent to Clearwater Lake and set up camp that afternoon, but now the only question is do we pitch the tent right here, or see how far we can get before the storm hits?
"This doesn't look good," Jacqueline says.
"We're going to get walloped, aren't we Dad?" Silas says.
"We're getting ourselves to lower ground is what we're doing," I say, while grabbing our rain gear from a pannier.
"What's getting walloped mean?" Jonah says.
Minutes after we ride off, the trail falls off the mountainside. Only about two feet of tread hangs onto the slope. Beyond that is a 100-foot drop.
"There's no way I'm riding that!" Silas exclaims.
We'll be fine, I promise. "We haven't fallen yet and we're not going to start here."
I squat down, put my hands on his shoulders, and say, "Silas, when you're riding a bike in the mountains you can't focus on what you don't want to happen. You have to look ahead at where you want to go, and if you focus your whole mind on it, you'll go there."
I smile. He grimaces. But he gets on the bike, along with Jonah, and we ride the trail, no problem, while Jacqueline—who walks it—nervously snaps pictures.
"That wasn't so bad, right?" I say when we stop for a rest. I'm hoping I've instantaneously become more cool and more trustworthy in Silas's eyes.
And that's when we run into the bear.
We stare into the eyes of the grizzly cub. I drop the S-bomb, the bear runs into the forest, and after an adrenalized pause the four of us start calling out "No bear, no bear!" in a full-throated wilderness chorus.
"We come in peace!" Jacqueline adds, reassuringly.