Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Day 19 - Beartooth Pass!

Today's ride was fairly short (43 miles) so we decided to make it a quase rest day.  The idea was to crank out the ride early, then head up to Beartooth Pass and check out Red Lodge on the way back.  Remember, we had to get up and drive back to Lavina and start from there this morning.  We did well and were actually pedaling by 7:15 am.  The Homestead Inn Bar and Grill, whose parking lot we called home last night
has breakfast burritos and coffee so we stopped there for our first break.  I will always choose a Cheryl breakfast sandwich but these burritos were pretty good.  Nice first stop and we are on our way.  

On the road it occurred to me that Jack has been riding with me for 4 days and one thing is clear.  He is in riding shape now and a very strong rider.  I will start the day pulling at about 17 mph depending on conditions, then after a few miles Jack politely says "I'll pull for a while" and the next thing you know we are cruising at 19 mph.  Following a leader is supposed to be break time yet I can barely stay on his wheel!  It sure has been fun riding with Jack these past few days though and I'm glad he's here.  

It also occurred to me that this part of Montana is not very exciting (my awareness is astounding).  Before all you Montanans start hatin' on me, I didn't say it wasn't beautiful but I will point out that we did have one straight stretch of road that was 14 miles!  14 miles without a turn.  Note to Montana Road Department - get some imagination!  The terrain is very beautiful but all the same so I tried to spice it up a bit with a little artsy shadow shot of me on the ground.  What do you think? 

We made really good time and arrived in Billings before 10:30 am.  We needed to pick up a rental car because there was NO WAY we were driving the RV up to Beartooth Pass.  Just look at the curves on that road.  Not to mention the elevation gain.  Remember this RV needs to get us to Portland ME and back.   So we got the car at the airport, grabbed our spot at the RV Park, ate lunch, showered and were on the road by 12:45 pm.  We are a well oiled machine I tell ya!

It was a beautiful drive up the mountain.  We saw a few idiot cyclists riding down the hill.  Apparently
there is a business that will haul your bikes up and you ride down.  Sorry, I don't mean to bash my fellow cyclists and I don't doubt the rush of riding down the incredible road, but there is no shoulder and it doesn't seem like a good place for cars and cyclists to mix.  Anyway, once we got to the top the effort and coordination it took to get there was well worth it.  Such a gorgeous view!  

We attempted to stop at Red Lodge for a snack and a beer but we had Zuri with us and didn't find a dog friendly establishment.  Besides the RV park had a pool (it was 93 degrees), ice cream and we wanted to BBQ and drink our 1000 mile bottle of wine so we headed back.  In addition to shaming me on the road all day, Jack put the hurt on my BBQ skills by cooking up some very tasty pork loin.  I think we may invite him on the rest of the trip as guest chef.  

As if the ride through Montana has not been in isolated areas already, the next few days we will be in REALLY remote areas.  Next stop is an RV Park called 7th Ranch near Crow Agency.  I expect good connectivity there but the couples days after that will be a cap shoot.  Dry camping!    

Until then.....

Day 18 - Doing work in my jersey and shorts

Well, the peloton is down to just two.  Me and Jack.  Unfortunately we had to leave the beautiful campsite at Martinsdale Reservoir but we have a big day ahead of us as we travel 72 miles southeast.  

It was a beautiful morning with another tailwind as we left the closed city of Martinsdale to the open (hopefully) city of Lavina.  We had to resupply and dump the tanks in Harlowton 27 miles down the road so our plan was to briefly rendezvous there and continue on.  Jack an I were flying with an average

speed of over 20 mph for those 27 mile (wish it would have lasted.)  Harlowton is a nice little town with all the services we needed and Cheryl found a spot to dump/fill our tanks and we were ready to roll.  As you see here and later on, I did a lot of non biking in my jersey and shorts today.  Probably not a welcome site in these parts of Montana (who's this yayhoo!)

A few days ago a rivet fell out of the exterior door, and now the screen door wasn't working quite right.  Looking closer at the remaining rivets I notice a few more had fallen out as well.  I was really nervous that it was only a matter of time that more rivets would fall out and the door would completely fall off in Ortonville MN.  I knew the fix but I had no drill to drill out the rivets and replace with screws.  So as we passed Central Lumber and Hardware and I was drawn to the store like Zuri to a biscuit knowing this was my chance.  I walk into the store in my jersey and shorts and the clerk and people at the register went silent and all eyes followed me as I walked back to the drill section.  Robb cautiously approached me looking at me with his head tilted slightly "may I help you son?"  After I explained my predicament he suggested I buy a bit and screws and graciously offered me the use of the store drill if I made the repair on site.  So I did.  BOOM!  Success right there across the street from the store!  Yes in my jersey and shorts! 

Following the completion of the repair I thanked Robb for saving me and during our short conversation I mentioned our evening in "closed" Martinsdale and he said "Monday is a bad day to be in Martinsdale."  I thought "geez Robb you sound just like the post office lady!"

So we continued on to our next meeting place, Ryegate.  A few miles outside Ryegate I see the RV parked next to a little roadside café called the Stage Stop.  Part of our plan is to checkout as many local establishments as possible so that's just what Cheryl did.  As we walked into café, Emilie the owner said "well, what do we have here" (of course referring to our "un Montana" clothing.)  We had a lengthy conversation about our trip across the café in earshot of the entire restaurant before we even sat down.

A lovely couple Robin and Darryl (two of the 7 there who heard our cross cafe conversation with Emilie) who are wheat farmers from Ryegate came over to visit and we had a wonderful conversation.  I so enjoy meeting people in various places on the road.  

Though we had a very successful morning, we were WAY behind schedule and the temperature was climbing fast.  We made it to Ryegate for a break and drink another GALLON of liquid and you'll never guess who pulls up to the RV.  CRAIG!  He drove from Great Falls to meet us and retrieve his bike.  Huge rally on his part to save a trip to Billings tomorrow.  It was nice to see him and thank him for being a part of the journey.  After unloading his bike, we started on the final 18 mile leg to Lavina in the 90 degree heat. It was brutal.  Trucks, heat, little shoulder and headwind.  A terrible combination.  

Finally within eyesight of Lavina we stop at the Cozy Corner Bar for a beer and a discussion on our

next move.  We had planned to dry camp in Lavina but it was sooooo hot and we wanted the AC but not run the generator all night so we opted to drive to Broadview, 15 miles down the road.  We will then come back tomorrow and start from where we left off today.  Great choice as we had a nice dinner and I am sitting in a nice cool RV as I right this.  

As if all of this was not enough for one day, today marks the 1000 mile milestone for the trip and another gift from my wonderful kids.  They are so

thoughtful and Cheryl and I appreciate these fun opportunities to have them join us in spirit with these terrific gifts.  I am so lucky to have them in my life.  

Tomorrow we head to Billings and hopefully a trip to Beartooth Pass (no we are not riding it!)

Until then....

Day 17 - Martinsdale - Closed on Mondays

After yesterday were are hoping for a straightforward day.  Get up, ride, get tired, drink a beer, eat, drink another beer, go to sleep. After a minor problem with draining the RV tanks (a slight leak in the hose) we were ready to roll.  Everything started great with Jack on his own bike (yea!), Craig on Skips bike (thanks Skip) and me with my bike.  The spare was happy to get some fresh air yesterday and we were thankful for its service but its back on the rack hopefully not needed again. 

Craig’s plan is to ride with us until the White Sulphur Springs turnoff then head towards Great Falls.  Jack and I will continue to Martinsdale.  It’s a 66 mile ride with 3100 ft of climb. 

The ride started out terrific heading into the mountains.  It was, cool, no wind and light traffic.  The scenery was beautiful until we came to the area of the Deep Water Creek fire a week ago.  Sad to see the burned landscape.  Once over the hill we reached the plateau and I’ve got to tell you, I was expecting a lot of open space in Montana, but not this much open space.  We turned a corner and saw a 2 mile straight away.  Turned another and saw another and another.  Montana is huge (I know, Captain Obvious).  We saw a lot of cattle both in the fields and in trailers.  One truck and trailer came by at about 80 mph (not sure the speed limit for semi’s but this dude was not obeying it).  I got covered with manure laden straw from its slipstream.  Not good.  On the last leg for the day, I noticed cow manure all over the road.  I said “Jack it looks like there was a cattle drive on the road.”  The further we went the “fresher” the manure became until I hit a patch that splattered on my leg.  OK, leaking sewer hose, manure straw to the face, manure splatter on my leg.  This has become a shitty day. 

Soon after the splatter, we turned the corner, and this happened………

After working our way through the cattle drive (I can't believe I just wrote that), we were on the home stretch to Martinsdale.  As if the climbing and long rolling straight aways wasn’t enough, the biking gods giveth yesterday with a tailwind and taketh away today with a tough headwind for the final 20 miles.  Overall it was a good but tough day.  Thank you Jack for pulling me through it. 

We were expecting to dry camp in Martinsdale (population 26 – not a misprint) but heard there was a nice restaurant and pub (no store or gas station).  Turns out both had signs that read “closed on Monday”  The only business I could find open was the post office and the nice lady in there said, “Sorry, you shouldn’t have come to Martinsdale on a Monday”  (who’s Captain Obvious now).

As it turns out there is a campground on the Martinsdale Reservoir and it was great.  The site itself was nothing special but being next to the water, with NO ONE around with a spectacular view lifted our
spirits. We had a great BBQ dinner and even built a fire (I actually used an hatchet to chop some wood) and made S’mores.  Fantastic end to a “shitty” day.

Tomorrow we head to another small town Lavina.  Hopefully Lavina is not closed on Tuesdays.


Until then…. 

Day 16 - Should have brought two spares

Been looking forward to today for a while.  There will be 4 of us riding.  We will actually have a real-life Peloton (not the one I have a subscription to).  The best part is, if I play my cards right, I can just pedal from the back and get pulled all day!  The four riders include Skip, Craig, Jack, and me.  Unfortunately, Skip has to get back home to Missoula tonight so he and Betty will be leaving halfway through the ride. 

The day started just fine though a little more chaotic than normal.  4 riders significantly increases the time it takes to get on the road.  There are four sets of tires to pump up, filling up water bottles, packing up the RV and of course additional breakfast sandwiches (sorry Cheryl but they are a high demand item). 

It was further complicated by the fact that we needed to load all the bikes on the RV because there was a mile of gravel that we rode on yesterday that we DID NOT want to repeat.  We finally got to the starting point at a little after 8:00 am.  Pretty impressive all things considered.  We were riding a high for about the 15 miles......then it happened. 

Craig mentioned that he heard a little “noise” coming from the back wheel and wanted to pull over and fix it.  No problem.  About a mile later it persisted, and he wanted to fix it again.  No problem.  Starting up a hill, Craig pulled over and started walking his bike.  Big problem.  He took his back wheel off and discovered the hub catastrophically failed and there was no way to fix it.  Major problem.  

Think. Think. Think. Think.  Use the spare bike?  Nope, Jack needs that until his comes in.  Let’s go to a bike shop?  Nope, its Sunday and everything is closed.  Then Skip got the winning idea.  “I’m leaving halfway through today’s ride so just take my bike.”  BOOM!  Obviously, there are some minor tactical issues like returning Skips bike to Missoula and Craig retrieving his disabled bike from us in Billings.  Oh, and we are currently on the side of the road at Canyon Ferry Lake but hey, those are just details.  The big picture is we can continue riding!

Sadly, we had to say good-bye to Skip and Betty.  Cheryl and I so appreciated them taking the time from their busy schedule this week and joining us.  So much fun.   

So now the peloton is three (not sure that constitutes a peloton but I don’t care).  Jack on the spare, Craig on Skips bike and I’m on my bike.  There is no room for error now.  The ride ended up being excellent.  We were on HWY 284 with some light traffic and some initial hills but at about mile 40 things leveled off and we had what felt like a 20 mph tailwind.  I was in shock because whenever there is wind it is ALWAYS a headwind.  I think the biking gods felt sorry for us.  

We rolled into Townsend at about 2:30 pm and hit the RV Park a short time later for a shower and a little refreshment (Kettlehouse Double Haul IPA was my choice).  Our good fortune continued, we were sitting in camp, thankful we somehow made it to Townsend, when the phone rang.  Jack’s bike had arrived in Helena!  So we hopped into the RV and headed back to the Helena airport (again).  

I wasn't going to believe it until I'd seen it but YES we have Jack's bike.  Now he just needed to put it back together.  Jack is a master with bikes so that was no trouble at all, even with Craig and I heckling him from the cheap seats (ie lounge chairs).  Well done Jack.  Just in time for tomorrows ride in what should be the hardest since the infamous Biggs debacle.  

Craig, Jack and I will start together and then Craig will peel off and bike to White Sulphur Springs while Jack and I continue to Martindale.  

Until then......

Day 15 - Where's your bike?

Leaving Lincoln with a partner for the first time in 10 days.  Happy to have Skip riding with me to Helena.  Skip is from Montana and familiar with this area of the state so I am very excited that we will
not get lost today.  The weather is a little chilly with threatening skies this morning so we went with the coats and hoping for no rain.  

The morning started with the usual breakfast sandwiches but with a BIG surprise.  The Donettes stayed in the cupboard as we have a dozen doughnuts with Apple Fritters!  The Higgins brought a variety back and if that was not enough, Skip made coffee with the jet boil.  An amazing start to the day.  Helena Here. We. Come.

The ride was really nice.  We started on HWY 200 with light traffic but after 12 miles we turned southeast on to HWY 279 where traffic was even lighter.  Skip and I were able to ride side by side for most of the ride up to Fletcher's Pass.  Oh Fletcher's Pass.  I didn't look closely at the route before we left and after about 16 miles the road turned up.....and up.....and up.  Not expected.  But as has happened multiple times so far, you just keep pedaling, (albeit a lot slower!) and
you eventually get there.  We reached the top at 6131 feet and what a welcome sight.  Cheryl and Betty and the SAG wagon! 

While Cheryl and Betty were waiting for the two mountain pedalers (it was a long wait), they saw a herd of sheep being moved across the highway.  Hundreds of them.  complete with horses, sheep dogs and flaggers.  It was a THING.  Yep we are in Montana. 

The ride down was well worth the climb up.  In fact since we started the day at close to 4500 feet, the ride down went to about 3600 feet so we actually received more than we put in.  It was awesome.  We made great time!  We even stopped for some refreshments at Eaton and Kirsten' Lemonade Stand. It was delicious and Eaton and Kirsten are well on their way to their first million.    

We had no time to waste as we had to get to the airport to pick up Craig and Jack.  As Skip and I pulled up to passenger loading area I see Jack and Craig and only one bike.  I'm pretty sure I told them that this particular ride requires each participant to have their own bike.  As it turns out, Jack had a tight connection in Seattle and though Jack made it, the bike did not.  Hmmmm this is a problem. OK, so here's the plan, Jack rides the spare bike tomorrow and after the ride to Townsend, we dive back to Helena and get his bike then drive back to Townsend and pick up where we left off.  BOOM!  Problem solved.  Of course that assumes Alaska gets the bike here tomorrow.  Big assumption.  Can't control that so let's get a beer! 

We stopped for a beer at Lewis and Clark Taproom which has a fun atmosphere.  We then headed to the Brewhouse for some dinner (and of course another beer).  It was so much fun having us all together laughing and learning more about each other.  It just so happens both Craig and Skips families have roots in Choteau MT (population 1710) and their parents know were in the same class!  Skip even shopped at the local five and time store Craig's Dad owned.  I have to say it.....small world.  

Skip's friend from Montana State, Bob, was very generous and allowed us to stay at his house even though he is out of town.  He has a terrific house with acreage so it is very peaceful and has plenty of space for us including the RV.  

Tomorrow the four of us rife to Townsend around Lake Helena.  Should be a beautiful ride.  Can not wait to get started will the new members of the team. 

Until then....

Day 14 - Rest Day in Lincoln

Rest day number 2 in Lincoln MT home of the Unabomber (just learned that today).  It felt good to sleep in today and take a break from the bike (no red Strava line). I took a walk with Zuri down to the local espresso cart for a cup of coffee to start things off.  Two days in a row with morning coffee!  Wow.

We caught up on some email and did some clean up on the RV then it was out to explore Lincoln.  Richard gave us the scoop on the Sculptures in the Wild exhibit just outside Lincoln.  A very unique experience, walking through the forest seeing these beautiful works of art. 

We moved the RV to a site with full hook ups so we could fill up and empty tanks for tomorrow.  It had been awhile since I had cleaned my drive train on the bike so I decided to put this new product recommended by Riley in Walla Walla to the test.  The procedure was so simple I was skeptical it would work.  Spray it on (brushing optional) wait a minute and wash it off with water. Hell, even I can do that.  I did use a brush but I will attest, the results were incredible.  The chain and gears were sparkling clean. Muc Off Drive Train Cleaner if you need a spokes person, I'm here for you.

A short time later the big event of the day happened.  Skip and Betty arrived!  They have been on their own excursion around Montana and have not been home in a week so we sure appreciate them extending their time to be with Cheryl and I.  They will continue on our journey for two days to Townsend.  

After a couple hours sitting in camp catching up, it was time to see what the local pubs and restaurants had to offer.  We wanted to have dinner at the Montanan Steakhouse (Montanan) but it was a little early for dinner so we walked across the street to the Wilderness Bar (no website) for a beer.  We order four Pale Ales from Lewis and Clark Brewery (pints mind you).  Cheryl offered to buy the first round and when the bill arrived the bartender said "that will be $12."  Cheryl then replied "No, I would like to pay for the round." Then the bartender said "that will be $12."  $3 pints!  I'm moving to Lincoln!

The atmosphere was what you would expect in a tavern in a small Montana town.  Complete with the young boys sharpening their pool playing abilities and a Texas Hold'em game going on the side.  We had a good time there.  

It was back to the Montana for dinner and it was delicious.  Richard recommended the Au gratin potatoes and they were amazing.  All in all, we owe Richard a big thank you for all of his advice.  He was spot on.

Rest day number 2 in the books and it was a lot of fun.  Thank you Lincoln.  Back on the bike tomorrow to Helena.  Weather looks terrific.  Excited to get back on HWY 200 with Skip.

Until then....

Day 13 - Melted Donettes

Final day of this series and then it is rest day 2 in Lincoln MT.  Since we were in Skip and Bettys driveway this morning there was no need to disconnect and the bikes were stored and ready to go.  We needed to drive 15 miles to where I left off, so we simply woke up and started driving.  I figured this was the perfect opportunity to hit a Starbucks and find a good WiFi network.  I can already tell
scavenging for connectivity is going to be a major challenge for this trip until we get to the Midwest.  I can personally attest this Verizon map is a bunch of BS.

It was all good for this morning as we hit an Albertsons Starbucks right off HWY 200. 

I have only had a few cups of coffee since we left on the trip, so this morning was a special treat to get a coffee and have a strong WiFi signal! What a start to the day!

After coffee we traveled the 15 miles to where we left off yesterday to get ready.  As I have mentioned before, our daily routine involves Cheryl making these delicious egg sandwiches while I get the bike ready and finish charging my 12 devices and gather everything else I need for the day.  We have also started the tradition of eating these extremely healthy chocolate doughnuts (Donettes to be precise).  I’m pretty sure they are vitamin fortified and gluten free.  It’s been hot in the RV cupboard lately and they are not faring to well.  “Waste not want not” is what my mom always said. 

After downing a few Donette remnants,  I hopped on the bike and enjoyed one of the best rides so far.  Weather was cool, road was very good and the scenery was again beautiful.  Traffic was pretty heavy on HWY 200 and I had a few unnerving encounters with a couple semi’s but all in all a really terrific day. 

In addition to the usual roadside artsy shots, I also got one of the sag wagon so you could see it in action.  I was also happy to see an old friend I thought I left in Idaho.  The Clearwater River.  More of a creek at this point. 

We found what appears to be a very basic place for RVs to park in Lincoln.  Minimal hookups but we are fine with dry camping for a night and will get full hook ups tomorrow.  We asked the caretaker of the place (Richard) for recommendations for places to eat.  He had plenty to say and was very helpful.  Regarding the local pizza place, he said “they used to hand toss their crust, then they shipped in hand tossed crust from Helena and now they get it from Sysco  Just one more thing going in the wrong direction in the world.”  Now you won’t get that review on Yelp!

We are looking forward to our second rest day tomorrow.  A few errands to run and small “to dos” on the RV.  We are super excited to have Skip and Betty join us.

This concludes the regularly scheduled programming for today so if your reading for the ride you can stop now.  However, I mentioned early on I would provide a little background on the trip and with tomorrow being a rest day I figured tonight would be a good time.  So if you would like a little more background information feel free to continue reading…….

I am asked all the time why I am riding my bike across the country.   Is it a bucket list item?  Are your raising money for something? Are you an idiot?  The latter is probably the most accurate but It’s a little deeper than that.

Personal aspect - There is some truth in many old cliches, one in particular is “no one lies on their death bed wishing they spent more time at the office.”  This does ring true to me and even though I have enjoyed my career and feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with amazing people, there are many things I want to do away from work and thee are finite number of days to be physically able to do them.  8 years ago Greg and I rode our bikes to the Golden Gate Bridge (see the beginning of this blog) and it was such an epic experience that I didn’t want to end so I started thinking about a longer ride.  For me, if I could combine three of my favorite things: a physical challenge (I thrive on physical activity), an RV (my RV is my happy place) and being with family, in this case, Cheryl (the love of my life) then I felt I should try and make that happen sooner than later.  Of course, I needed help.  First of all, my leadership and teammates at work were very supportive for me to take a leave of absence, my kids are absolutely amazing supporters and keeping things going at home and Cheryl, of course, is the MVP being the sag wagon.  What a support system I have.  So thankful!  So I said let’s do this!

Charity - I was originally going to do a much longer ride and make it a fundraiser.  My grandmother

Freda and Cheryl’s mom Cathy both suffered from Dementia and we were going to dedicate this ride to them and seek donations to help stop this terrible disease.  As time went on, it occurred to me that donating is a very personal experience and I don’t want to be presumptuous to suggest where you donate your hard earned resources, so we scrapped the idea.  We are still dedicating the ride to Freda and Cathy but not actively seeking donations.  I would simply say that when you are considering opening your purse or wallet to donate, you consider one of the many charities fighting against dementia.  The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research (Fisher)
Foundation is very good.   

So there is a little background as to why we are on the road to Portland ME.  I appreciate all of you out there joining us for this adventure.  And now back to the ride…

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Day 12 - Missoula!

Started the day from LoLo Hot Springs.  I had to get a starting picture of the RV "office."  They don't use it anymore and you check in across the street.  They keep the building as that is were the only Wifi for the park is.  You would see campers gathered around the buildings checking their phones and talking.  Consider it the  modern day watering hole.  

The morning ride was just how I like’em, all downhill.  Though it was chilly with a few sprinkles it was a nice morning.  I covered 32 miles to Missoula in about an hour and 45 minutes.  I went faster than normal because of my sleek aerodynamic appearance (I finally shaved last night).  It was only 9:45 am when we pulled into Walmart for a break.  Yes Walmart, our favorite RV park.  We didn’t spend the night but did stay there for a couple hours to catch up with civilization since we had been without cell service for two days.   

Since the first 32 miles were so easy today, we decided to continue past Missoula for 15 miles to get a jump on tomorrow’s trek to Lincoln.  The wind was at my back, so I continued with my best pace of the trip so far.  No official records due to geography and wind aided but still nice riding.  The scenery is different than what we’ve seen thus far but still just as beautiful.  You will notice the aftermath from the recent wildfires.  Such a bummer.  Also rode through the University of Montana Campus.  Didn't plan it, I just followed Siri's directions (see I learn).

The afternoon was uneventful as we did some shopping and had a nice lunch at Iron Horse brew pub (Iron Horse).  We opted out of Walmart because we got a much better offer to spend the night in the driveway of our good friends Skip and Betty (for the record, they offered us the house).  Unfortunately they are out of town and we missed them today, but we are excited they will be joining the tour Friday!  The good news for us is that their son Kyle and girlfriend Chanelle are house/dog sitting so we had the pleasure of having dinner and being with them all evening.  It was delightful. 

Not much more to report on today.  Kind of scary that I haven't got lost in three days and everything seems to be running smoothly.  I am excited for my second rest day Friday in the often imitated but never duplicated city of Lincoln Montana.  We will also be meeting up with Skip and Betty.  We can not wait!

Until then........