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When no maternally deranged griz appears, we slowly try walking forward. The kids, strategically placed between our bicycles, sing, "Bears, bears, go away, come on back another day."
Unfortunately, their song has no effect on the rain, which begins pelting us when we start riding through the woods. When I see an old logging track leading to a clearing 15 minutes later, we call it a day.
With the boys' help, I miraculously manage to set the tent up without it blowing away like a kite. A few minutes later, while Jacqueline and I cook in the meager shelter of stunted, 5-foot fir trees, exhausted from the day's effort, she says Jonah told her the trip was harder than he thought it would be.
"I think he expected more downhills," she says.
"There are three big climbs like this one between us and Banff," I tell her. "And I needed to see if this whole plan was completely insane or not."
"Well, what's the verdict?"
We're cooking in a storm; the tent, with our children inside, is clinging to a mountainside; and we've just seen a grizzly bear.
Before I can answer, Jacqueline turns back to the camp stove. "We're insane," she says.
The wind and rain blast our tent that night, and I get nervous at the sound of thunder. We're not exactly sheltered and we're all lying around a 6-foot metal pole. I step out of the tent to check the sky—pocket showers, but no lightning. To the northwest, between the midnight-blue mountains and gray-blue clouds, there's a glimpse of a distant sunset where a jagged blaze of orange cracks the sky.
"Whoa, guys, you have to come out and see this," I call out.
Moments later, while the boys and I stand side by side by side, peeing over the avalanche chutes and marveling at the sweep of our perch, I notice something flashing far below. That wasn't thunder I was hearing.
"Fireworks!" I shout.
Jonah jumps up and down, and Silas says, "It's like our own fireworks show!"
I'd almost forgotten it was the Fourth of July.
Our brakes shriek as I steer the plummeting Teasdale Train down the switch-backing ribbon of dirt toward Holland Lake the next morning. Everything is splattered with mud; wet grit coats our wheels and I'm afraid the brake pads are disintegrating by the second. A long, steep descent down a muddy road is something I'd worried about—our rig puts tremendous weight and force on decade-old brakes. I don't want to think about what would happen if they fail.
But they don't fail, and as the kids excitedly point to snow patches and waterfalls in the avalanche chutes, I realize I've worried about too many things on this trip—our brakes, the lightning, the kids' enthusiasm, my tired legs, making it over the pass—but here we are, in terrible conditions, pulling it off.
I look over at Jacqueline, whose burgeoning bike confidence and all-weather cooking skills have transformed her into a superhero mom, and she smiles the kind of smile I married her for. Silas sings nonsensical songs. Jonah, finally getting his downhill, laughs maniacally.
What I told Silas about riding bicycles in the mountains has greater truth than I'd recognized—focus on your goals, not your fears. Put all of your effort into where you want to go, and you'll get there.
I have mud on my teeth, my forearms strain to steer our mammoth bike, and we're still miles from our van, but a feeling of well-being washes over me. We're actually going to do this.
As we descend into the belly of the Swan Valley, I look back for a moment and say, "Goodbye mountains!"
"Goodbye mountains. Goodbye!" the kids cry together. Then they wave at the peaks rising higher and higher as gravity pulls us onward into the adventure of our lives.
The Teasdale Train rolled into Banff seven weeks after the ride in the Swan Valley. Silas wanted to keep riding to Alaska. Jonah was ready to go home. Jacqueline vowed to never eat a freeze-dried meal again. Aaron is convinced it's the best thing they've ever done.