Right before I left in March, I'd gotten a call from Grace Llewellyn. Grace was the director of Not Back To School Camp, and she told me that two brothers from Montana had just registered for camp—and that they were also planning to ride their bicycles there.
“…They’re building recumbent bikes that sound really cool,” Grace said. "I thought you might want to give them a call.”
It turned out that Dan and Jesse Green lived not far off the TransAm Trail. They were interested in having another travel partner, and so a week before I left on my own journey, we made tentative plans to meet up and ride together in the middle of July. “I’ll call you sometime, maybe in June, to finalize things,” I told them. “By then I’ll have a better idea of when I’ll get to Montana…”
I'd called Jesse from Yellowstone, since I was riding nearer and nearer to Bozeman.
“Hey!” Jesse’s voice was still that of a stranger, but during the past few months I'd gotten to know him and Daniel a little by phone and letters. “Are we really gonna do this? I can’t believe it’s already the middle of July!"
"Yeah, well, I can't believe I'm almost in Montana already!"
"Papa and I were hoping you'd be at our place by the weekend—do you think you could make it? If you got here tomorrow or the next day, then you could spend Shabbat with us on Friday. Daniel and I still need to do some work on our bikes, so if you wanted to stay in Bozeman for a week or so, that'd be cool.”
"Friday sounds fine," I'd said.
And now I was with the Green family, who lived on the side of a mountain in a house they built themselves, ten miles outside of Bozeman. Ken and Kaya were the parents. The two younger kids, Sam and Rhea, 11 and 9, seemed nice although I hadn't gotten to know them yet. Then there were Jesse and Daniel, who would be my traveling companions for the final leg of my journey. Dan was 14, a happy-go-lucky guy with an incredibly big grin.
Jesse was not happy-go-lucky. He was my age, very intense, very intelligent, and just a little standoffish. He had designed and built the recumbents that he and Dan planned to ride, and he was interested in aspects of science and computers that I'd never even heard of.
The night I arrived, we had Shabbat dinner outside. Kaya was a wonderful cook, and went all-out for Friday night dinners—the picnic table literally creaked under the weight of all the food. After dinner, we walked up the mountain behind the Green’s house where you could look westward over the valley, all the way to the city. Montana wasn't called "The Big Sky State" for nothing. Past the city limits were more mountains, and the sky was wild above that with flaming red and purple and orange.
For a few days, all was well, and I enjoyed the chance to relax and enjoy the city of Bozeman.
Four days into my visit, I started to worry that we were never going to leave. Neither Jesse and Dan or their parents had mentioned a date of departure; everyone had been alluding to “leaving,” but every time I said, “Well, when do you think we should go?” no one really answered me.
Ken would just repeat, “Those bikes have to be test-ridden 200 miles before I will allow them out of the driveway!”
The problem was, Jesse and Ken still had welding to do—and if we were going to have time for leisurely riding, we didn't have time for the guys to put two hundred miles on the bikes. It almost seemed like Ken was trying to make the welding take forever so he could keep his sons nearby for as long as possible. In the last few days he'd kept saying that he didn't have time to work on the bikes.
Kaya kept worrying aloud and saying, “How are you boys ever going to leave? You’re not nearly ready.” I happened to agree, since they didn't even have all their gear yet. So on Wednesday night I called a meeting.
Sitting cross-legged on the carpet in Daniel’s small room, we examined our maps and my guidebook. “Okay,” I began. “We haven’t really talked about a definite leaving date, and I’m feeling a little uh—well, uncomfortable with that. I don’t mind being here for a while longer, but like I've said, I want to get to Eugene on August fifteenth so I have some time to relax before camp. That's my main concern—I don’t want the next leg of the trip to be rushed. I think we need to decide how many rest days we want, and all that—and make sure that we’ll be in nice places on Saturdays since you guys don’t want to ride on Shabbat. So: what do you two think? What were your ideas about leaving?”
“Well, it’s about nine hundred miles or so, right?” said Jesse. “I’ve been thinking that we could take two weeks or maybe a little longer. We still have work to do on the bikes, so we can’t leave right away.”
“Uh—well, it’s actually not nine hundred to the coast,” I said, a little bit nervously, “it’s more like twelve hundred.” I showed him the map. “And personally, I don’t want to do marathon days—we’ve talked about 50 to 65 miles, and that sounds good. I think we need to give ourselves more like three weeks, so we have plenty of leeway in case something goes wrong. Also, so we can explore!”
“Yeah and remember, Jesse, I’m not in as good shape as you are,” Dan said.
“You don’t have much left to do with the bikes, right?” I asked Jesse.
“No, just a few little things that papa keeps saying he’ll do ‘tomorrow.’ “
"Well, I wish he could get them finished—do you agree that we should take about three weeks?”
“Yeah, I guess that sounds about right.”
“Then how about we leave next Thursday, the twenty-fourth? I really want to set a date.”
“Yeah,” Jesse said slowly, fingering the map. “I think we can do it. How about you, Dan? Can you be ready by Thursday?”
“Sure,” Dan said. “I don’t need to do much besides pack—you need to get a sleeping bag though, don’t you?”
“Yeah, but that’s not a big deal—papa can get it for me tomorrow. Also the rain gear. There's a few other things, but we’ll get them sometime this week. Okay: let’s leave Thursday.”
“Okay,” I said, taking a deep breath. “The only thing we have to do now is tell your parents. Do you think your dad's gonna be upset that you can’t do much test-riding?”
“Yup,” Jesse said, “but there’s no way we can do two hundred miles before we leave. He'll have to get over it.”
“So, sounds good,” Dan said. “Thursday it is.”
Several days before we left, Jesse and I walked up to the ridge top, where you could see the mountains and the valleys for miles around, the flowers blanketed the ground, and there was so much sky. Jesse told me about his experiences in school, which had been pretty awful. He had left four years ago, after reading *The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education,* and he’d been recovering ever since.
Jesse explained that in school, he'd been the smart kid that nobody liked.
I was realizing that Daniel was different from Jesse in more ways than I'd seen at first. Dan was social, able to get along with everyone, and laid-back almost (but not quite) to the point of irresponsibility. He liked to have fun, and didn't necessarily think about what needed to be done. Jesse was the opposite—more like I was.
I admired how Jesse thought about things—he was extremely analytical, and if he believed in something, he Believed it with a capital B. But I was uncomfortable with him, and I found myself not knowing exactly what to say when we talked. I was beginning to wonder how we would get along on the trip. Had I gotten myself into another Nate situation? *No!* I told myself. *You've got lots more in common with these guys, and it'll be fine. Besides, now you'll have company again.* Was this déjà vu all over again?
Thursday, July 24 was a morning of chaos. Dan and Jesse packed frantically while Ken tried to stay calm. His constant reminders to the guys—"Did you pack the stove? The instructions for it? The pots? Your forks? The lighter?"—betrayed that he was as agitated as his sons. Sam and Rhea didn't know what to think about everything, and Kaya was not even trying to conceal her apprehension.
I stood sort of awkwardly in the middle and on the sidelines at the same time, knowing that I couldn't do much to help the process and feeling uncomfortable. Ken and Kaya were making me nervous with all their nervousness, and making comments implying that at least I was along, to make sure the trip went okay. "I'm not gonna be babysitting!" I kept wanting to say.
Jesse had just told me that six months ago, his parents were against the bike trip idea—and very much opposed to Dan going. After the guys made plans to ride with me, Ken and Kaya felt much better. Which, by itself, wasn't a bad thing; after all, there's safety in numbers and all that, and my parents were also pretty glad that I'd be meeting up with some nice Jewish boys in Montana. But then Kaya started saying things like, "It makes me feel so much better that a female will be with those guys—they need that steadying influence…" I hoped she didn't expect me to do all the steadying.
Meanwhile, Ken wanted us to plan to cook together. “It’ll save a lot of weight with cooking gear,” he'd said persuasively, “and that way you can each take turns cooking and stuff.” But I politely said that actually, I’d really prefer to cook on my own. I knew exactly how I liked everything to taste, I’d finally figured out how much I needed to make, and I liked being in control of my own food. I knew from past experience that shared meals can cause lots of problems in group situations.
As I watched Daniel and Jesse and the inevitable first-day confusion, I remembered back to last winter, and my trip preparations. Much like Dan's and Jesse's, they had also been rather chaotic.
One night back in February, Dad said to Mom “You’ve got to talk to your daughter about this trip. Tell her I’ll take a ride with her in New York State or something. We’ll spend three weeks, maybe a month. She can’t go on planning to ride alone…” My mother told him to talk to me himself, which he did, explaining his fears and trying to convince me not to leave.
Eventually, he understood that I was going. I was grateful for the freedom he gave me despite his fear. My mother had understood why I wanted to go more than anyone did. She told me she was thrilled to have a daughter who was not afraid to go off on her own. I decided that I had remarkable parents.
Also in February, though, I seemed to find reasons to be angry at everyone. I came stomping into the living room and started complaining to Mom about some petty thing, and she listened as I spat out my tales of woe.
She didn't say anything until I was through. “I think that when you're about to leave somewhere, you tend to get upset and sad. That's normal; but the problem is that sometimes, instead of recognizing that they're sad, people find it easier to create conflict at home so that there is a justifiable ‘reason’ to go. What better reason to leave than because you’re angry at people you’ve left behind? Then once you leave there aren't any personal attachments to make you want to stay; you've severed connections. So be careful now. It's okay to want to leave without having a definite reason why.”
Her tone was the one she used when she knew I needed to know something and also knew that I wouldn't like it much.
I felt instantly abashed—and wondered, *What the heck am I going to do this summer when it’s up to me to make sure everything goes well? What if I make silly decisions and discover that I'm not as good at taking care of myself as I thought??*
Later that week, a family acquaintance said, “A seventeen-year-old female traveling alone will never make it across the country alive!"
I'd stayed alive for three-quarters of the way, and Jesse and Daniel were about to join me. Now we were in it together.