Any Road Tour: Day 61 – Read the fine print

The day started with a sore butt, the result of last night’s fall off a bar stool. I swear I wasn’t even approximately drunk. Julie will vouch for me. Right, Julie? You know, Julie What’s-Her-Name.

What was her last name anyway?

Having name amnesia is no way to win friends or provide eye witnesses. It took me two hours but I finally solved the puzzle by combining “Julie” with specific details of her life that she shared with me last night. Suffice it to say, if she wasn’t a rolfer, her last name would still be a mystery.

Having solved the puzzle. I moved on to first breakfast, rolled oats with strawberries, a mixed berry scone, and coffee.

Then I carried all my stuff down 1 1/2,flights is stairs at the hotel/hostel and road off toward the sun. For the first time since I left home I was pointed in that direction. And I had a terrific tailwind. Over the course of the next eight hours I road much of Thursday’s ride in reverse. 600-foot climb? No problem. Downhill at 40 miles per hour? As you wish.

Every hour or so I stopped for a snack. I had second breakfast too. This time eggs, bacon, hash browns, and coffee. (Anybody hungry yet.)

I had no worries because I was planning on camping in the town park in St. Helens, like my Adventure Cycling maps said.

I stopped in Rainier for ice cream. No hurry.

I admired unusual signs.

And acvolcanic mountain (St. Helens) and a broad river (the Columbia).

After about 68 miles I arrived in the town of St. Helens and went to the town park to set up my tent. I called the police to get permission.

Had I read the addendum to the Adventure Cycling maps I’d have seen that camping in the Park was no longer allowed. Now it’s 6 pm on a Saturday night, there’s a county fair and s rodeo in town. The only hotel room in town was over $160. Dang.

I tried places ten miles away but nobody would answer the phone!

So I went back the the Best Western and threw myself on the mercy of the desk clerk. Once he realized that I had ridden over 4,000 miles, he cut the price of the room out of pity.

I checked in and called it a day.

Miles: the easiest hilly 70.5 miles ever

Tour miles: 4,240.5

Tomorrow: Portland

Any Road Tour: Day 41 – Wasted in Missoula

Before I begin today’s report I wanted to show you my trail angel from yesterday. Here’s Maria who invited me to join the “plant nerds” at the Montana Native Plants Society meeting in the woods west of Lincoln.

If I have the story right, she gee up in the tiny town of Ovando, MT about which more in a moment.

I hung out with the plant nerds all night. It was a full out orgy in the woods,

I’m kidding. It was an earnest group of field botanists who truly care about the flora of Montana. Got me the most interesting part was hearing how Maria and her friend Jack Potter (no not the former PMG) talk about their joint replacements and related medical problems. Hiking is very hard on the body. I feel better now because when I go hiking I feel sore all over.

Anyway, thanks to the MNPS and Maria for taking me under their wing got the night.

I slept poorly, the after effects of drinking beer the day before and riding hard two days in a row. And the fact that it rained all night, outside and inside my tent. (I will shop for seam sealer tomorrow.

Also i slept in my rain gear for warmth since the temperature dipped into the 40s. (There is snow visible on top of the taller mountains around here.)

After breakfast with the nerds I took off on the long ride ton Missoula. I had planned to ride to Ovando yesterday but the climb over Rogers Gap, fierce headwinds, and Maria’s sales skills put me nearly 30 miles shy of that town. A 55+ mile ride from Ovando to Missoula would have been a nice break from the long days I’d been putting in. With the distance from the MNPS meeting to Ovando, today’s ride clocked in at 88 miles.

The headwinds were moderate to start and the ride was nearly all downhill. Sleepy and sore, my body wanted nothing to go with the effort.

After a half hour I rode through Lincoln. I had been told that accommodations in Lincoln were probably sold out but I could see plenty of empty campsites as I rode through town. Sadly, I had to skip the town’s rodeo and it’s famous Ring of Fire.

The ride to Ovando was done on fumes. I just couldn’t get into a rhythm.

My friend Charmaine sent me an article about how this tiny town of less than 100 attracts Nicole tourists from both the Lewis and Clark Trail and the Great Divide Mountain Route.

I joined Tom, a GDMBR rider, for second breakfast at the town eatery. He described bear paw prints as big as his plate and riding into a herd of elk. I take my chances with Winnebagos.

We briefly talked to two other GDMBR riders from New Zealand.

On the way out of town I checked out some of the town’s kooky sleeping quarters for weary cyclists: a teepee, a chuck wagon, and an old town jail. I’d have stayed but my rest day in Missoula was my top priority.

Into the increasingly strong headwinds I rode. I was out of gas after 15 miles. I stopped to eat junk food. After another five miles I was bonked again.

It was misery amid splendor. The beauty of the mountains and woods and streams was astounding. I could have stopped every mile to take pictures. In the interest of getting myself off the bike sooner I kept riding.

After 75 miles I stopped at a sub shop in Milltown. I was starving. I ate giant sandwich and it instantly revived me.

Good thing too, the headwinds intensified with each passing mile into Missoula. One blast in particular almost brought me to a dead stop.

I forged ahead and asked the Google to direct me to a Warmshowers house. The Google tool me on a confusing ride through the University of Montana campus.

I finally found the lovely house in a beautiful neighborhood. As I rolled my bike inside, I became dizzy. I had waaay overdone it. It seemed like a fascinating place to stay but I just couldn’t deal with interacting with people. I made my apologies to the hosts and rode off to find a hotel.

And so I landed in a huge room in a Holiday Inn. Tomorrow I rest.

Miles: 88

Tour Miles: 3,044.5

Any Road Tour: Day 40 – The Mule goes over the top

Last night I over did dinner again. Cheeseburger (Montana beef is mighty tasty) with fries, three local Belgian white beers, and tater tots stuffed with jalapeño and cheese. Suffice it to say, I did not sleep all that well.

I awoke at 5:30 to a massive muscle cramp in my left calf. It hurt so much. I told myself to breathe through the pain and it subsided. (Frankly, I think the breathing just took my mind off the pain.)

Breakfast was a massive serving of biscuits and gravy with an equally massive side of hash browns at Mel’s Diner across from the Inn. I was disappointed that the Fonz wasn’t there but the food was great.

Off I rode budding Augusta farewell. I headed south roughly parallel to the Rockies. A favorable wind allowed me to ride comfortably for 20 miles before I turned west and began THE CLIMB OF DEATH.

I road a two lane highway with minimal shoulder (thanks to rumble strips). Speed limit 70. Up, down, and around the road meandered. The ups were bigger than the downs as I slowly made my way to 4,500 feet. Then the gun began.

The climb to Rogers Gap at 5,600 feet was 8 miles into a headwind.

Of course, to make it more interesting the road became steeper near the top.

I pulled over to rest about 3 miles from the crest and my bike started to roll backwards. I had been climbing so long that I didn’t realize how steep it was.

I paced myself as I ascended. Getting to the top wasn’t particularly difficult, it just took a long time.

Then I saw the sign for the top. Continental Divide, Ma! (Sorry. Geezer cinematic reference.)

Some cars were parked on the shoulder. A woman got out of the rearmost one and offered to take my picture.

Her name was Maria. We got to talking and I mentioned that I wasn’t sure where I was staying tonight. Maria was doing field work with the Montana Native Plant Society. She invited me to stay with her group (of over 100 people) just east of Lincoln.

I begged off then took off down the mountain. Or not. The dreaded soul sucking westerly Montana headwinds were much stronger on this side of the Mountain.

Running low on food and water I realized that it was poor form to turn down such s gracious invite.

After I crossed a beautiful river, I followed Maria’s directions and ended up at their campground . It has a lodge building and shower facilities. I will be camping along a river.

I arrived around 1:30 so it’s a short day for me. Tomorrow will be a tough 80+ mile grind into the wind to Missoula and a rest day.

Miles: 52

Total miles: 2,956.5

Any Road Tour: Day 39 – Detour

Today was supposed to be an easy 54 miles of relatively level terrain. Just the thing for my tired legs and bloated belly (I totally overdid dinner last night).

I found my way out of Great Falls and across the Missouri River on a bike/ped bridge.

along a nondescript highway to Vaughn where is was greeted with this sign.

This road is the last 20 miles to Augusta, my planned destination.

I decided to continue on to Simms at the beginning of that last 20 mile stretch and then consider my options.

It was a pleasant enough ride into a not-too-annoying headwind.

In Simms I consulted the local gas station for information. He said a couple on bikes made it through a few days ago but could not say I’d be allowed passage over a partially washed out bridge.

We called s couple of places in Augusta but nobody was certain I could get over the bridge.

We all agreed the safe thing to do would be to ride north to Fairfield then west then south to Augusta. This would be an additional 17 miles.

Off I went into a cross wind. When I made the turn west I got clobbered with one of Montana’s soul sucking headwinds.

Whatever. It is what it is. Just keep on pedaling.

Then, unlike the original route, it got very hilly.

This went on for 15 miles then I came down off the hill. Eek!

Then up again. Then down again.

At least the view was interesting. (There was actually a road sign that said Rocky Mountains got the geographically impaired traveler.)

Fortunately the wind died down and I could ride into Augusta with relative ease.

In Augusta I checked into the Bunkhouse Inn. I was expecting a dive but this place is beautiful. Here’s the lobby.

I don’t want to leave but the restaurant across the street is calling me.

The proprietor of the Inn told me that Lincoln MT is having some festival tomorrow. Lincoln is the first town over Rogers Pass. The next one is Ovando, about 80 miles from here. Let by story short: tomorrow’s going to be brutal.

Miles: 71

Total miles: 2,904.5

Any Road Tour: Day 38 – The Tour hits the breaks

I slept nine hours last night, probably recovery from whatever made my head spin.

Breakfast was late so I didn’t hit the road until 9. Into a headwind. But I didn’t care. I was rested and fed and I’ve ridden 2,700+ miles and I’m getting used to wind abuse.

The landscape was greener and less spectacular than yesterday. Field. Grain. Cattle. Butte. Repeat.

I confess to talking to the livestock as I ride by. I swear they understand English. Good morning! How’s it going? Wanna run?!

They said the cattle of central Montana are a lot less interactive than the ones in North Dakota.

I’ve seen some deer now and then. They bound like cartoon animals. You can almost hear the BOING BOING BOING.

After 20 miles I could see cliffs off in the distance. The Missouri Breaks. Here the Missouri, which I crossed back in Bismarck, cuts s deep gash in the land.

At 25 miles the road corkscrews steeply downward to the river at Fort Benton. Yowza!

The town has some historic buildings and an old river boat but I came for the French Dip and the tater tots, or gems, at the Club House sports bar.

What goes down must go up, but the way to Great Falls turns to the south. I had a tailwind for the first time in days. I still had to bring in granny for the climb but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought.

About 15 miles later I did another steep descent. My top speed was 39.9, feathering my brakes. The wind had become a cross wind and nothing says “wet your pants” quite like a side blast as your approaching 40 miles per hour in a runaway mule.

It’s a very zen thing. If you think about what might happen you’ll lock your arms and bad things will happen. If you just stay loose, pay attention to this specific instant, and breathe, you’ll turn fear into excitement.

But you may still wet your pants.

The 50+ miles from Fort Benton to Great Falls was pleasant but unremarkable. The last few miles were on a divided highway with strange rumble strips. They were on the edge of the paved shoulder instead of next to the white line. I ran over a few of them and they barely rumbled. Or maybe my ass was numb from so many miles.

I turned off the highway and stopped at the first gas station I saw. I asked to use the bathroom and the clerk laughs and handed me the key. I must have looked like a maniac doing the pee pee dance.

I followed my map to the river edge trail. The Missouri looked angry and muddy. The trail was well designed and seemed interconnect with neighborhoods and other trails. Wayfinding signs made it easy for me to navigate.

Water blasted through the dam near town. It was an impressive site.

After 82 miles I pulled into the Holiday Inn. It looks like an old Embassy Suites hotel with an atrium that appears to be stolen from a Cabelas.

It was a long hard day. I got my money’s worth. Tomorrow I ride to the mountains.

Miles: 82

Tour miles: 2,832.5

Any Road Tour: Day 36 – Over Judith

Well it rained four times last night. The first two, at 11 and 1, were loud thunderstorms with lightning. Needless to say, I was awake through every flash and boom. At 3 we had a heavy rain shower. This time drops of water started falling onto my torso.

I put on my rain jacket and tried to sleep. Tried. Then at 5 am another shower came through with more intra-tent dripping. When I got up at 7 some of the inside of the tent was wet but I was pretty much dry. Sleepless, but dry.

I left the tent to air out and rode to the Kozy Korner got breakfast. It was one of those legendary monster pancake breakfasts (with eggs and bacon on the side).

The cook and owner was working alone. She must have been 80 and was using an oxygen tank. The customers were fetching their coffee for themselves until reinforcements showed up. Life out here is hard. Apparently meth is a problem.

After buying some fruit at the General Store, I packed up my tent and bade Michael and Leonore goodbye.

I rode west into a strong headwind. The route was flat for several miles but I couldn’t break 10 mph. I accepted my fate and counted cattle and buttes.

I decided not to stop for second breakfast and continued west. The winds died down a bit but the road now tilted upwards. For 25 miles.

There was a massive field of grain topped with red flowers.

There were some serious hills in the distance. These were the Judith Mountains. The road went over them at a little over 4,500 feet. It steepened near the top as evidenced by this charming sign.

I didn’t bring any tire chains so I forged ahead.

It was a healthy climb, longer but not as steep as the two climbs outside Pittsburgh.

I could now see some serious mountains off in the distance. I suspect they are if the rocky persuasion.

I planned on staying with a Warmshowers host. I checked out his house and the yard was filled with debris from his handyman job. The lawn was filled with tall weeds and the place was protected by three barking dogs (not to mention the neighbor’s barking dog).

All the decent hotels in town are booked or very expensive so I got a room at a cheapo motel. The air conditioner is hard at work drying my camping gear. Unfortunately the place doesn’t have a washer and dryer so my WABA socks will be a tad ripe for WABAsocksWednesday.

Total miles: 57

Tour miles: 2,675.5

Any Road Tour: Day 35 – MOTS

There was a weatherman in Boston who used to put the word MOTS on his weather maps. More of the Same. That’s what today was.

Highway 200 which I was on all day yesterday continued to Willett (emphasis on first syllable). The road rolled but I had several instances of miles long level stretches. The route pivoted toward the southwest so, of course, did the winds. It was also about ten degrees warmer but, by DC standards, this is hammock weather.

The ranges here are thousands of acres with only a handful of cattle on them. You see a house every ten miles or so.

After having a lousy day on the bike yesterday I decided to eat and sleep like a king. Dinner was French dip with gems. Blueberry pie a la mode finished me off.

I took some ibuprofen pm back at the tent and slept through the night. Except my body won’t give up east coast time.

I had a breakfast platter to fuel my ride. Eggs, bacon, toast, and hash browns.

I rode for over 20 miles to Sand Springs where I stopped at the town market and post office. The Postmaster has just made a huge platter of cinnamon buns so I had one with some Gatorade. Bwaaaa!

I had another Gatorade with a cookie while talking Postal Service with the Postmaster.

About mid ride I noticed evergreen trees on the rolling hills. They were a welcome change of scenery but they seemed to be either damaged by fire or some kind of blight.

About 50 miles of rangeland later I rolled into Willett with its dirt streets and weathers buildings. There was nowhere to tent camp but a couple of bicyclists had parked their RV so I joined their site. This is legal as long as I am traveling with them, you see.

Michael and Leonore are very nice folks riding west to east with a humongous sag wagon.

I am eating dinner at the Winnett Bar. The waitress forgot my order of tater tots so she brought out a huge basket of them. The perfect accompaniment to my chef’s salad.

I’ve been getting conflicting information about Rogers Pass, so thanks to Marie Morris for tracking down the official websites and 800 number.

Miles today: 76.5

Total miles: 2,618.5

Any Road Tour: Day 32 – Badass in the Badlands way

Before we begin today’s tale, I need to clear up something from yesterday. I did indeed cross into the Mountain time zone late yesterday.

Last night I splurged for a decent hotel and had dinner at a sit down restaurant. Salad and jambalaya. The portions were huge. The walk back to the hotel was mostly a waddle.

At hotel breakfast this morning I met Peggy an Jeff who were traveling to Milwaukee by bike. They are known on Crazyguyonabike as PB&J.

The way west was aided once again by a mild tailwind. I must have been good because Bike Santa is sure being nice to me. The road climbed gradually and rolled a big bit I was having no problems. Then I realized that’s The Mule had achieved a milestone coming out of Dickinson.

The number and size of buttes increased today as I rode west. I startled a pheasant in the tall grass next to the road and he blasted up and away. I also spotted another fawn.

Frankly I thought the green hills and buttes were quite pretty. After a few miles the route took me into I-94. The shoulder is paved, ten-feet wide, and has a rumble strip so I felt very safe. Interstates tend not to have steep hills which made my legs happy.

I noticed the soil near the road was not brown. Instead it was white like a sandbox or gypsum in wallboard. I spotted a couple of cool looking mesas in the distance. Then I went around a big grassy hill. When I came to the other side of the hill I saw it. The Painted Canyon of the Badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Not only had the terrain changed in what seemed like an instant, but it was spectacularly beautiful. I rode to the scenic overlook, parked my bike, and walked around for over a half hour.

The road to the scenic overlook contains a cattle guard, a metal rumble strip that catches the feet of large animals. The large animal here is the buffalo. Sadly I didn’t see any but when I got back on the interstate I could hear and see prairie dogs. (No pictures though because I was going downhill.)

I left the interstate to visit Medora, a funky western town that looked cheesy to me.

I stopped at a pub for lunch, a steak salad. Delish.

When I started up again the wind direction had changed. The headwind increased in intensity for the rest of the day as a storm passed through, mostly to the south and east.

Also the hills increased, or seemed to. A bike tourist zoomed by me in the opposite direction. He waved as told me that the food in the gas station in Sentinel Butte was great.

This gave me something to look forward to as I fought the wind and the hills. It also began to rain, not hard but the raindrops were big and cold.

I stopped at the gas station that looked like the one in Mayberry. Inside three men were packing up a burgers and snacks lunch. They offered it to me but I had eaten only a couple of hours earlier. Instead I asked for some ice cream. One of the men paid for it. Then another mad opened up a container on the table. Cookies. I had one, again for free.

Heading west was one big hill then a long downhill through rollers to the town of Beach. Here the route took me back to I-94. And the storm started building over me. Fortunately the road began to angle to the northwest. Into Montana. Note the selfie path.

There were two signs that just might have been related.

For the last five miles I had a strong tailwind. Despite very tired legs I flew along at 17 miles per hour until I exited the freeway at Wibaux. All the rain had convinced me to grab a hotel. I found one just outside of town in a gravel road. No lie.

Time to take the gas station dude’s recommendation and head into town for some pizza and beer.

My thanks to the people of North Dakota for a pretty awesome week that began with colorful ASL bike racks and ended in jambalaya and gas station freebies.

Miles today: 76

Total miles: 2,395