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I’m Happy Being Ugly

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine
flows into trees. The winds will blow their own
freshness into you, and the storms their energy,
while cares drop off like autumn leaves.”
John Muir

Heading toward Glacier National Park in Montana, I camped out at Flathead Lake on Route 93 the night before I pedaled into Kalispell.

It felt cool sleeping in late July. The day warmed up as I headed into the gateway to Glacier. I spent an hour in town picking up a new tube and chain oil. The past two weeks presented me with terrible flat tire luck. Every “goat-head thorn” in Montana decided to claim my rear tire as the perfect resting place for its sharp personality. My spare tube suffered so many patches it resembled the suction cups on an octopus’ tentacles.

After loading up on bananas and a watermelon, I readied myself for the 35 mile climb into Glacier Park. Before getting started, I gobbled four bananas. That made me hungry for the watermelon, so I cut it into sections and ate them. People walking past laughed as I hung the banana skins on top of my rear pack under a bungee cord. It looked like a fresh kill of bananas.

One couple with their teenage daughter asked a lot of questions as to how much I ate.

I told them on a 100 mile day on the flats, I burned between 7,000 to 8,000 calories. But my average daily distance proved more like 60 to 70 miles. In the mountains, I average 50 miles per day, but still burn a lot of calories because of the foot-pounds exerted in the climbs.

The highest mountain I ever climbed: a pass in Bolivia at 15,500 feet on a gravel road. That burned a lot of calories in the thin air. Then there was the craziest day of my life: friends talked me into an insane 200 mile day in New Mexico and Texas. My friends and I calculated that we each burned a total of 15,500 calories in 17.5 hours of riding.

While I talked, the girl’s spirit brightened and I could see a sparkle in her eyes. I may have inspired her to try world bicycle touring. As they walked away, she tugged on her mom for permission to go on a tour someday. I heard the mother reply, “That’s for people with wanderlust, not you dear.”

I wanted to catch them and correct the parent by telling her that I had met dozens of women bicycle touring in countries around the world. I wanted to say that everyone has that “wanderlust” and all they have to do is act on their dreams before they are convinced by their friends or parents to do what’s “normal.” What’s normal usually means settling down and getting a job. My father said, “Do it while you’re young, because once you settle down, you’ve got to take care of responsibilities.”

My smart dad!

I wish everyone could reserve their early 20’s for world travel, to give them greater perspective about people and conditions around the globe. They would come home richer in spirit and understanding. They would enjoy a greater environmental appreciation for our fragile planet. Furthermore, anyone can ride a bicycle around the world if they choose to do it. However, long ago I decided to keep quiet and let people make their own choices. I send a secret wish for that girl: “Follow your passions and live your dreams.”

After gorging myself with watermelon, I looked four months pregnant. I waddled over to my bicycle. Moments later, sweat poured from me as I climbed a hill out of town. I might make Glacier by nightfall.

Up ahead, right in the middle of a side road, I saw a man waving his cowboy hat at cars. As I drew closer, a red plaid shirt covered his thin features along with worn jeans, and pointed boots topped off with a ten gallon, black Stetson.

“You,” he yelled, waving his hat at me. “Come over here!”

“What’s the problem?” I asked, not wanting to be hassled.

“Why in tarnation ain’t you ridin’ a horse, or drivin’ a pickup, or anything besides that thar’ bicycle?” he drawled, drunk as a skunk.

“I like to go slow and I don’t have to feed my bike or put gas into it,” I said, stopping in front of him.

“Well I’ll be damned,” he said, scratching his scruffy black beard, peppered with gray. “Ain’t nothin’ like it used to be. Well, I’ll tell you what young fella’. I’m gonna’ buy you a drink.”

“I don’t drink, sir.”

“You don’t drink?”


“Well, sir, would you set down at that bar over yonder and tell the Ugliest Man in Montana why you ride a bicycle instead of a horse?”

“Who is the ugliest man in Montana?”

“You’re lookin’ at ’em and I’ll prove it.”

Even while drunk, he seemed interesting enough, so I walked my bike over to the bar he mentioned.

We walked into a log cabin that featured stuffed animal heads on the walls, including grizzly bears, elk, moose, badgers, trout and geese. Traps, guns, bows and arrows rounded out the artillery that decorated the back of the bar. I wanted to sit down in one of the wooden booths, but he pulled me to the bar. I quickly understood why. Up over the cash register hung a large picture of a man with a rifle walking out of the woods dragging a bear. It was titled: “The Ugliest Man In Montana.” It looked exactly like my newfound friend.

“That’s you isn’t it?”

He cocked his head as he rubbed the hairs growing off the top of his nose, “Shore ’nuff, it’s me, that bear was one of the toughest fights of my life.”

“You fought a grizzly?”

“It weren’t but a few years back when I had to battle the meanest and hungriest bear in Montana. He was so big, that my ole friend Paul Bunyan wouldn’t even come to help me.”

“No kidding,” I said, realizing that I was about to hear a story.

“Yep,” he said. “I was cuttin’ timber one day, usin’ a 10 pound ax, when this varmint comes into our camp and headed for the cook’s tent. Well sir, them lumberjacks scattered for fear of their mangy lives. Not me ‘cuz that bear made me mad……by the way, do you want to buy me a beer? My mouth is awful dry.”

“Bartender, give us a beer and a sarsaparilla,” I said, ready to pay five bucks to hear this man’s story. Strangely, he appealed to me. Even in his drunken state, he showed spunk.

“As I was sayin’, that bear had me upset because he ate my chicken and dumplins which didn’t bother me none, but then that critter gulped down my blueberry pie. Now that got me all fired mad. Nobody eats my blueberry pie and gits away with it.”

“I can’t blame you,” I said, chuckling to myself as this old coot relived his story by swinging his arms and raising the beer to his lips for a swallow.

“There he was slurppin’ down my pie when I charged into camp. Soon as he saw me, he knowed he was in trouble ‘cuz he ceased slurppin’.”

“What’d you do?”

“Why, I done what any self- respectin’ lumberjack woulda’ done,” he said, sweeping the hair out of his face. “I ran over ta’ where he was standin’ and grabbed a-hold of his tail and bounced ’em betweenst a couple of trees. I thrashed ’em and I bashed ’em and then I thrashed ’em some more.”

“What was the bear doing during this bashing?” I asked.

“Whall, he was so ah’ scared for his life that he crawled out of his skin and ran off into the woods and nobody done ever heard of him agin’.”

“You must have been a bit sore after the fight weren’t you?”

“Whall now, I had a few calluses on my hands, but nuthin’ to speak of….o’ course, there was another time when I was face to face with this killer….”

“That’s okay, Ugly,” I said, seeing his empty beer glass, which meant the next round was coming out of my pocket. “I’ve got to be getting down the road.”

“I guess yore right sonny.”

“By the way, what’s your real name?”

“You can call me, Ugly,” he said. “It don’t matter what you do in this life, as long as you’re happy. I’m happy bein’ Ugly.”

A mile out of town, I still chuckled to myself over Ugly. I never could understand what makes an alcoholic, but in this case, he had brightened my day with his bravado. In my travels, I’ve seen rich people, poor people, regular people—and what Ugly said is true—the bottom line in life is being happy.

It’s more important than anything else.

Read more posts by Frosty Wooldridge here. Frosty is a blogger for JenningsWire Online Magazine.

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