And on the sixth day, the Lord was merciful to us, when the storm lifted to 18,000 feet. That gave many of us a chance to escape. I wanted to wait another day to see if the winds would not leave us altogether. Perhaps we could make a summit attempt. God, I was so close to the point, I could taste it.
My teammates were weak. One of them was nauseous and vomiting. Another had a slight case of frostbite on his toes. The decision was made to retreat, and for a moment, I seriously considered going up on my own, bike and all, but my senses returned to me, and I knew if I had tried, I’d die somewhere along the way.
It was a difficult, gut wrenching decision, but there really wasn’t any choice. Before our final exit, I unwrapped the bike from its case, assembled it, and found a place where I thought a good photo could be taken. Although I could see the storm howl a thousand feet above me, where I was, the sky was clear. 17,400 foot Mount Foraker was in the background, with cotton candy clouds just below at 11,000 feet. This was the vision of the photo I had seen two years before when discussing the Tour with Charlie. Charlie…yeah. I wondered how he was doing?
Phyllis McCullough, Klein’s marketing maverick, put it best. “Kevin, we never thought you’d get as far as you did. Relax. Now, tell me what you plan to do next? I know you didn’t spend all that time in the tent twiddling your thumbs.”
“Well,” I blushed, “I was kind of thinking of going somewhere warm for the next adventure. Say…Cuba?”
She let out a horselaugh. “A tour of Cuba? I love it! When do you want to go?”
Was I dreaming? Or did I just turn my scars into stars? Whatever the reason, I wasn’t going to analyze it. The best remedy for failure is to turn it into opportunity. I was alive. I was able to return home without missing any fingers or toes. I had to face the music with the press, but all mortals fail. That’s what makes us human.
We accomplished one objective…the biker’s and hiker’s individual support groups were sitting down together to discuss their differences and the best approach to sharing the trails. The notoriety from the American Summits Tour was a result of that.
To try something great and fail is always better than to succeed at doing nothing…
In –40 below zero, I blew two rolls of film, praying my exposed fingers wouldn’t stick to the camera. I managed to get one good shot that eventually magazines around the world would use. When others saw what I was carrying, their cameras emerged as well.
The fastest way to spread news is through gossip. As we made our way down the mountain, everyone had heard about the guy who made an attempt to place a full-scale mountain bike atop Denali’s imposing summit. Some laughed. Others shook their heads, and a few cursed me. I didn’t care anymore. I had failed. What would my sponsors think of me? The press? Was my life as an adventurer over? Back to the 9 to 5 grind?
At the 11,000 foot camp, I met the “Denali Lama,” Vern Tejas. The only man in the world to have summated the mountain, solo, in the winter, among other ventures. He encouraged me to continue on. At least I was alive to try another day. Since that meeting, we’ve become good friends. Comrades in adventure.
It was two days before I called some of my sponsors to tell them the news. I couldn’t let them read about it. They congratulated me.