There are 10 of us. We manage our 6989 km in 17 days. Costs in dollars, and days in leave, dictate our crazy pace.
We make a wide sweep in a clock-wise direction, across 2 Canadian provinces and 5 USA states. We ride in a blur of loud beauty. And ‘on and off’ there rings a barely audible, sad note?
After Seattle and Vancouver, we leave the Pacific Ocean behind us. We climb, climb, climb the Coastal Mountains, the Cascades and at last, the Rockies. Up, up, upstream, we forge alongside suck-eye salmon to reach endless Hanging Glaciers. Here, together we leak into Turquoise Lakes. We sink, a little, to follow the Continental Divide. The Rockies STAND west of us. They leave nothing to the east of us. We ease, this way and that, through the Rolling Hills of Montana. We whiz along the endless semi-aridness of Wyoming, Dakota all the way to the Badlands. Here we shrink beside towering walls of erosion and squat at the sight of small prairie dogs. We pass through the dusty towns of Miles, Billings, Howard. We stop for a full 3 days at Sturgis for a motorcycle rally to see 250,000 cowboys parade on 70,000 Harley Davidson steeds. And this is only the half of it! Geysers, mud-pots and hot-springs bubble and boil and burst at Yellowstone. The bison, elk and coyote graze away at the Tetons. We pick away at the severe nothingness of the Craters of the Moon. We zig and zag along the Snake River and the Salmon River. We carve through the Sawtooth Mountain Pass and inch up and over the Rockies. A drop downwards completes a full circle at Seattle. And we collapse, in a heap, at the foot of Mount Rainier.
And in that heap, I read a book about Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce. The disquieting sad note that rings on the trip is the echo of Chief Joseph’s words, “I will fight no more forever’.
The ‘flight’ of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce coincides exactly with our trip, albeit in reverse. It rivets the trip to my chest!
…. Joseph is the chief of the Nez Perce, the Native American tribe of the Wallowa Valley in the Northwest. In 1877 they are ordered to an Indian Reservation and refuse to go. Instead, Chief Joseph decides to lead his people to their freedom; to the Queen’s land; Canada. They are 800 men, women and children of whom only 200 are warriors. It’s a 1200 mile journey and they fight the U.S. Army all along their way. They hide in the mountain passes and slip across the Snake River, the Salmon River. They fight off 2000 soldiers in four major battles and numerous skirmishes under the leadership of generals called Miles, Howard, Gibbon and Sturgis. Then just forty miles short of Canada they are trapped. After a 5 day fight, with less than half of the Nez Perce remaining, Chief Joseph makes a now famous speech that starts “I will fight no more forever.”
He surrenders with the understanding that they will be allowed to return home. Instead they are taken first to reservations in Kansas and then Oklahoma. Here many die of epidemic diseases. It is only in 1885 that Chief Joseph returns to a reservation in the Pacific Northwest …