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We've ridden four miles when things start falling apart.
"I'm tired," Jonah whines. When a hill forces us to push the bikes, he sits down rebelliously in the dirt.
This is where I would start pulling my hair out if I wasn't wearing a helmet.
There are three more miles of dirt road and three miles of trail between us and where I've planned to camp. Fortunately, I'm prepared for this very predicament with a secret weapon: a yummy orange electrolyte drink. With caffeine.
"Now guys," I say, handing it over, "this is a special energy drink."
Suddenly, Jonah, all seven years and 50 pounds of him, tilts the bottle back and chugs it like he's just been rescued from the Sahara.
"Mmmm, this is good!" he blurts. "I could drink this whole bottle!"
Half the drink is gone before I manage to wrestle it back from him. Meanwhile, Silas is off banging rocks together trying to make arrowheads.
"Silas, let's go, you can do that at camp," Jacqueline says. After being told it's time to go approximately 3,000 more times, Silas puts the rock in his handlebar bag.
"Nooo," I say. "I did not just spend weeks trimming our gear weight so you could carry rocks."
"But Mom said we could do it at camp!" Silas cries desperately.
I look at the pleading in his eyes and sigh. I really want the trip to be fun for the boys.
"I snapped the handles off our toothbrushes to save a few ounces, and now you want to carry rocks," I tell him as I give in.
Jumping back on the bikes, we crank our way to the Morrell Lake trailhead, aided greatly by the fact that Jonah has been transformed into a pint-sized, pedal-pumping lightning bolt on the third seat. I'd expected to walk much of the root- and rock-infested trail, but to my amazement we power up most of it. Jacqueline, who is not a mountain biker, struggles with her loaded trailer and Silas frequently runs back to help her push up the steep sections.
There are high fives all around when we reach Morrell Lake, where the roar of nearby Morrell Falls carries from the forest. The boys skip rocks into the water and gather firewood while Jacqueline and I set up camp. Our legs may be tired and our pace may have been glacial, but our first day was a success. As we eat dinner around the campfire—sandpipers whistling, beavers swimming, late-day sunlight gilding the cliff bands above the lake—I smile victoriously and think, "Welcome to the next six weeks."
We wake to rain the next morning. My legs feel like they weigh 100 pounds each. A screw and lens fall out of Silas's eyeglasses on the walk to Morrell Falls. Suddenly the thought of civilization doesn't seem that suffocating.
After spending an hour MacGyvering Silas's glasses back together with baling wire and super glue, we ride back on the same root-lined trail (to the amazement of a few hikers) and turn north up Morrell Clearwater Road toward the little-traveled head of the valley. At an old, grass-covered logging road, we turn off and make camp in a small clearing.
"This is nice, isn't it," I say to Jacqueline. "Just being out in the woods right now instead of at home."
My wife pauses to look around at the trees for a moment, and smiles.
"Yeah, this is better," she says.
The ride in and out of Morrell Lake has proven something important—the Teasdale Train can go off-road. We've passed the first test. The next one starts tomorrow: a 2,000-foot, 8-mile climb to a saddle beneath the Swan Crest, the magnificent mountain wall that forms the high spine of the Swan Range. If we can muscle up it and safely navigate down the other side, I figure we have a fighting chance of reaching Banff. If we can't, then I've just quit my job and spent the last two months planning a fool's quest.
More rain drums our tent the next morning. We consider taking a camp day and waiting out the weather, but we only have food for two more nights. Staying here would leave us with a herculean push over the saddle and down to our van at Holland Lake. When we see fleeting patches of blue sky at midday, we say to heck with it, we're rolling.
But pretty soon we're trudging. There's just no way I can pedal the leviathan up these steep hills, or even the not-so-steep hills, without rupturing every muscle in my legs. Jacqueline, who's pulling the trailer with growing finesse, slogs with us up the dirt road. The tree-carpeted valley slowly drops away and the serrated ridge of the Swan Front carves the sky to our east.
"See waaaay up there guys? That's our road!" I say. "And see even farther and higher? That's where we're going!"