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Part IV: The Big Mistake
After a sleepless night spent in fear for your life, one is not in a position to make wise decisions about anything.
I knew the weather was going to be bad for a couple of days, and though I did not yet do everything I wanted in Glacier, I decided I needed to take off and sleep in a bed – alone, sans 1000lb beasts.
I called my guardian angels in Lethbridge, Alberta and got the go ahead to spend another night in the warmth of their company.
I knew I had a wet ride ahead so I decided to take a nap with Sarah under the single patch of blue sky in Glacier. An hour later the patch had closed; the clouds seemed to be moving in from the east, the interior of the park. At the time I thought nothing of this fallacy. So I packed up my bike and, against the suggestion of my GPS and the campground host, turned west to leave the park.
That one turn, that one moment when I could have double checked the time and distance of the road I was going to take…
I did not want to go east because that meant crossing the Rockies over a road potentially clogged with slow driving tourists, and over Logan pass on the continental divide (elevation 6646 ft.) which would potentially mean snow. And for some reason, which I cannot to this day explain, I thought that if I first went west, then north, I would not have to cross the Rockies when I went back east to Lethbridge!!! I thought there was some magical flat area in the middle of the range between Glacier Park and Height of the Rockies Park in Alberta!! This thought, along with my decision to first go west, was based on a vague recollection of a map I had seen some days earlier which I thought showed the road going just slightly west before turning north and then back east.
All of these assumptions would have been extinguished had I taken a moment, just a single moment, and checked a map or my GPS. That one moment would have saved my traversing the razor thin ridge between life and death which was my nighttime, freezing and soaked, crossing of the Rockies.
As it turned out, the route I had chosen would take 270 miles over the course of 6 hours, instead of the 130 miles over 4 hours it would have taken otherwise.
So I made my turn west (remember that my destination is north-east), and decided to ignore my GPS’s pleas for me to make a u-turn as soon as possible. But I was sure, with no actual confirmation, that my way was quicker and free of snow. Within 20 minutes I was driving through a wall of rain, at just a few degrees shy of turning to hail. For a while I had to keep my left hand over my face to keep the “rain drops” from busting out my teeth.
When the rain let up for a few minutes I was able to fully see (not grasp) the magnitude of my mistake. The western sky was a solid charcoal wall past which no mountain or forest was visible. The rest of the sky put on a full display of the beauty of clouds in all their shapes and styles, but I could not contemplate them for the imminent storm about to engulf me and the Rockies. To my great dismay the eastern sky, over the road I should have taken, showed no evidence of snow or even a downpour the likes of which I just crossed.
I continued west and north and began to feel the cold that would be my companion for the rest of the ride. At this point it would still be faster to turn around, but I felt committed to my mistake and used the possibility of snow over the pass and the fact I just passed a massive downpour to justify my continuing on the wrong path.
This was the first compounding of my initial mistake.
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