Last summer, in the middle of June, Brooke and three friends biked over Boulder Mountain, altitude almost 10,000 feet. He’d been training for this adventure for about a month, doing hill climbs and long rides, but of course nothing compared with the reality of the actual mountain. He was with his frequent biking companion, Chris Jones, as well as Steve Parker and his wife Priscilla, also serious bikers; Kirtly Jones was driving the swag wagon and Peggy had Brooke’s car (as the kids always called it), the Zurdmobile, since she'd have to return earlier.
We had the swag wagon, Kirtly’s four-wheel-drive, loaded with cool drinks and lunches and huge amounts of high-energy snacks. We followed the bikers up from Chris and Kirtly’s cabin in Torrey, at about 7,500 feet, first out onto the Teasdale road, heading east, already a bit of a climb, then south onto the Boulder Mountain road, climbing, climbing, then descending slightly, then climbing again for a longer stretch, losing a bit of altitude as the road in the midranges of this mountain curve around its flanks, then climbing again for a longer, much longer stretch. It’s midsummer, though fortunately a temperate day, but the sun is bearing down and it’s getting warmer. Chris and Steve and Priscilla are stronger bikers, usually out in front by a half-mile or so, though Chris would loop back from time to time to see how Brooke was doing, and would always find him still pedaling resolutely along on his thirty-year-old bike, about three times as heavy as the newer, fancier bikes. The bikers stop at the first overlook; the cars pull in too, one an air-conditioned SUV with music on the CD player and comfort-adjustable seats. We open up the cooler with thr cold drinks and energy snacks. We all gaze out at the view: a hundred miles it seems of open desert and canyon country, with Factory Butte standing out slate-blue against the redrock background a bit to the northeast; Bowns reservoir a brilliant blue down below; and off in the distance, the Henry Mountains, the last place in the continental United States to be mapped, and still so remote that there’s herd of three hundred bison who inhabit it.
Then it’s back on the bikes. The four ride out together and it’s climb again, climb again, climb more as the road leads up over the flank of the mountain, aspens and evergreens, rock outcroppings and then more patches of aspen and stands of evergreen. Another several miles and we break again, stopping the cars at the mouth of a trail road to eat lunch, and somehow taking a hike—all of us, the four bikers who’ve already ridden three-quarters of the way up this mountain and are now adding another five miles of walking to their efforts, and the two in the cars. It’s a lovely little hike we’ve done many times, gently uphill among the aspens and the evergreens, up a rough dirt road to the stream, and we spend some time among the grasses and the flowers scoping out exactly how the lateral moraines have formed this delicious little valley.
Then it’s back on the bikes again, now more resolutely uphill; it’s now midafternoon and hotter, steeper, the road climbs now relentlessly, and from the inside of the cars Kirtly and I can each see the bikers approaching the top, the crest of the road before it begins its twenty-mile descent into the town of Boulder, where we’d all have dinner and spend the night before going off to explore more of the redrock country. We can see them reaching the crest of the road, Chris and Steve and Priscilla are still in the lead but Brooke not far behind, and my car passes alongside him just as he reaches the altitude marker at the summit. I can still see that extraordinary look on his face of tortured endurance and complete triumph, as I will always remember, and I honked my horn for him gently, as he still remembers.
Today, just a tiny bit more than a year later, Chris and Kirtly and Steve and Priscilla and I are all with Brooke in his hospital, just a happy coincidence. It’s Brooke’s physical therapy session. Brooke is suspended in a blue sling from the lift device known as a hoyer, being lowered down onto the seat of a recumbent stationary bicycle, still hooked to the vent but levered upright onto the seat of the bicycle and held in place by the sling. The physical therapist and his aide are slipping Brooke’s feet into a pair of green Crocs that, coincidentally, had been a present from Kirtly some years ago, and the PT and the aide are strapping elastic Theraband around the Crocs to hold Brooke’s feet onto the pedals. Brooke’s only been on this bike once before, a week or so ago, but then without much result. There’s some tension in the air now; there are an awful lot of people in the room; there’s what seems like a lot of pressure for him to perform. The therapist holds one foot, and at the same time holds the knee to keep it from falling down to the side; the aide and Steve work with the other foot to keep the Croc from hitting the floor. They guide his feet around on the bike for a couple of revolutions, and then the therapist tells Brooke to push with his left leg, by himself. It is slow, slow, but he manages to push his leg down and the pedal moves forward, around, and then the other leg, less strong but also able to push forward, does so, and all of us in the room breathe a sigh not just of relief but excitement for these first few very slow, terribly difficult but brand new functionings of Brooke’s legs. He still can’t make a complete revolution of the pedals on his own, but it’s a beginning.
"It’s as hard as biking over Boulder Mountain," someone says. Brooke agrees, with something akin to the same look on his face as when I’d seen him at the summit.