In the Montana Road Tour 2021, Jennifer and her loyal volunteers at the Montana Cycling Project ran a well-organized bike ride through some of the prettiest country the United States has to offer.
But at about mile 25 on the first day of that ride, I became aware that I was not prepared for it.
Somewhere between Butte, MT, and climbing up Mount Haggin, I began to regret not doing more practice rides. Jerry had canceled out of this ride, saying he did not feel it in his bones. He may have been the smartest of the three of us signed up for the ride. I was feeling it in my butt bone, my shoulder blades and my arthritic thumbs. Not to mention my cranium where, inside it, I was thinking how to shorten this torture.
The ride starts and ends in Butte, goes to Jackson Hot Springs for the first two nights and then on to Dillon and back to Butte. So, I thought, I could stay in Jackson and skip the out-and-back ride on Tuesday. Pedal straight through to Dillon, skipping the RATPOD part of the ride, which I did in 2013 (Ride Around the Pioneers in One Day). That would cut the 115-mile day by more than half. Skip the out-and-back ride out of Dillon and hope that Armageddon arrives before riding over the Pipestone Pass back to Butte.
I had my cheater ride all figured out — if I could get through this 94.6 miles to Jackson. Up this winding mountain pass, to a long descent, which was too short to ever be called “long” and which greeted us with headwinds all the way to Jackson. I had my quilted jacket the whole day – and this was in August. But I pedaled all the way and may not have been the last one in.
Or maybe I was.
Laura, our third rider, had a better (as usual) plan for the ride. “Let’s abandon it,” she announced in Jackson. She finished ahead of me (as usual), but I found out she had done a walk-of-shame on Mount Haggin and had taken a SAG ride into lunch (!). This was shocking. As shocking as my sister once saying in the middle of a day riding, “Maybe we should stop here.” This was Capt. Turbo saying we should abandon the ride.
But that was fine with me.
Laura had a friend who said before the MRT, “If you are not having fun, I will come and take you home.” She was not having fun. Neither was I.
The friend came, we figured out how to get two bikes, two packs, three people and a dog in a Subaru and headed for Butte.
The problem with riding like this is: In order to ride 90 miles comfortably, you have to do practice rides of 90 miles, which for me, riding at 10 mph, is nine hours out of my day. I’m retired and could do that, but that’s a lot of time away from gardening, reading and several other activities I do to putter away my days.
Or maybe an electric bike is the answer. A woman, who looked 80, on the MRT passed Laura going up the mountain riding an electric bike and said, “An electric bike makes uphill fun again.” Can that be true? If so, my next bike is going to be electrified.
I have not come to the point of abandoning bike riding completely. I keep reading articles about how biking is the best exercise for people in certain age brackets. So I am trying to ride through Seattle’s rainy winter without getting wet. Which means I skip many days. But when I can, I take “coffee rides,” which is how Becky on my sister’s ride in summer 2021 described it: Ride for coffee and then back home. I’m riding to my Pilates classes and back home, probably 16 to 18 mile per ride, depending on which hill I take to get back home. I’m hoping this may be enough for whatever my sister comes up with in 2022.
There was no reason to ride to the Johnston Ridge Observatory on the Tour de Blast in June 2021. The observatory, which sits five and a half miles from the crater on Washington’s Mount St. Helens, was closed because of the COVID pandemic. No movies of the 1980 eruption, no snack bar.
Plus, I had ridden my bike there before during the 2013 Tour de Blast, probably my best day on a bike. From the Toutle school at 495 feet elevation, you ride up, up, up to 3,714 feet elevation for lunch at the Elk Rock Viewpoint. Then down, down, down to about the Hummocks trailhead at 2,400 feet. From there, it is a thigh-burner to get up to 4,314 feet and the Johnston Ridge Observatory, named in honor of David Johnston, the U.S. Geological Survey volcanologist who died during the May 18, 1980 eruption, He was one of 57 people who lost their lives in the eruption. The return trip to Toutle is the reverse of that – down, up, and then down again.
In 2013, it took me a long time to conquer the three hill climbs (hills?). But on the last descent I was riding through rain when a sponsoring Rotarian passed me in a truck and yelled out wondering if I was OK. The endorphins had kicked in by then, and I shouted some giddy yelp through the raindrops, gave a thumbs up and pedaled on only to find that the finish sign had been taken down, the pasta feed was over and my truck was the last in the parking lot. Still, I made all 84 miles.
So, no reason to ride to the observatory except for some never-quit idiocy that lives somewhere in my brain. It helps to tame that fellow if someone else suggests that there is no reason to do something except for some misguided machismo. Jerry said that at the end of a previous STP and Beyond Ride after we had ridden 55 miles from Welches, OR, to Hood River, OR. Except for some macho reason, should we ride 22 more miles to Skamania Lodge or pile the bikes into the truck and drive there, Jerry asked. Bikes in the truck right now.
So who was standing next to me at the start of the 2021 Tour de Blast when I asked if we should ride to the observatory? Jerry looked askance as if there were only one reason, which he did not need to say, for even asking the question. No, Jerry said, he wanted to go camping later that day with his wife. It put my bad hombre into a brainwave hammock for a siesta.
The thing about Jerry is that he is a much stronger rider than I. He got to Elks Rock so long before I did that he could have eaten three lunches, ordered and hiked in from Portland. I ate mine, had a photo taken and turned around and sailed back down to Toutle for a 54-mile ride. Lots of time left for Jerry to spend with Wendy while I drove back to Seattle wrestling with some compete-with-yourself demon I’m still trying to exorcise.
For anyone who has been sitting on the edge of their seat wondering what kind of bicycle I bought (as mentioned in my last post, oh so many months ago), sit back.
After shopping online and riding my bike to bicycle shops, I realized that the answer was beneath me — my Trek 2100 road bike. I had been riding that bike for more than a dozen years, and I loved it. So why not look at what Trek had to offer in the way of a gravel bike?
As I had found out in my bike-shop visits in February, not many bicycles were making appearances on the display floors of brick-and-mortar stores because of pandemic slow downs in production and an increase in demand by pent-up slugs who finally decided a bike was a way to get out of the house and go somewhere — anywhere.
But Gregg’s bike shop in Seattle had a Trek Checkpoint ALR4 gravel bike on the floor, and I rode it home.
Since then I have put 1,400 miles on it, which was not enough.
Not enough to keep up with the people I rode with or with some of the rides I tackled.
Not enough to keep up with the week I rode with my sister and her bike gang from Cincinnati. Not enough to do the first — and uphill — part of the Tour de Blast, and not enough to do the 95-mile first day of the Montana Road Tour comfortably.
The first ride came on June 1 when my sister and the BABES, which stands for something not nearly as politically incorrect as you might think, showed up to ride from Seattle to St. Louis. My sister’s original idea was to ride from my house to her house in Cincinnati. And I thought I was the madcap schemer in the family! But someone talked some sense into her: Two months is a long time on a bike, some of us are still working and, in my case, we had a graduation party to host for a grandson.
Nine of us started from Seattle with three support vehicles (thank you, Don, Kathy and Pete). I made it to Quinn’s Hot Springs in Montana. Others dropped out in Cody, Wyoming, more in Omaha, Nebraska, and three made it to St. Louis six weeks later. It was an honor to be included, even though I was kept at a safe distance — usually several miles behind them trying to catch up.
They kept a better blog on the trip than you will read here, but I have some daily thoughts on a long-distance ride that are trying to get out of my notebook:
June 1 — Despite the accusing question from my sister — “What is the longest ride you have done to prepare for this ride?” — all of my 56-mile longest ride covered the route on the first day. Down to the Burke Gilman Trail to Sammamish River Trail to Marymoor Park, then onto the East Lake Sammamish Trail. This is where I decided that the $1,700 for my new bike was money well spent. I spilled on the gravel part of this trail some years ago while on my road bike. On the gravel bike, the knuckles could relax. Then to the Preston Trail — more gravel, no sweat — but then the hills came. Anything over a railroad grade (2%) is Mount Everest to the weakest part of my body, be it legs, breath or maybe my will. From Fall City to Snoqualmie Falls, I fell behind. And Highway 202 is a crummy road to ride on. Narrow, bad shoulders, lots of traffic. I did not ride past the group who were down viewing the falls, mostly because my sister hailed me down as I chugged past. But a few oranges, some water and many other treats supplied by our excellent SAG staff had me leading our way to our motel in North Bend. Especially enjoyed the ride on Southeast Mill Pond Road past Borst Lake and the North Bend schools and athletic fields.
June 2 — If the gravel bike paid off on Day 1, it made it’s worth 100% certifiable on Day 2. The Palouse to Cascade Trail through the Snoqualmie Tunnel is all gravel. Despite running into the side of a bridge and bleeding like someone who takes blood thinners, it was a successful day. I apologize to my sister for not carrying a first-aid kit, but everyone of the BABES had enough bandages to handle an amputation. I’m also sorry for not having a light that would get me through the tunnel without running into the side of it. Thanks to my sister for the light on her electric assisted bike. We probably looked like a train coming through the tunnel. I have since upgraded the light on my bike. Two bears were spotted on the ride today by Steve and myself. It’s amazing how fast bears can move. Katherine was riding right behind me, but the black bear and his long shaggy coat disappeared into the woods before Katherine saw him/her. Looking forward to riding this trail again in 2022. We had a nice snack break where we could pet horses nearby.
June 3 — My worst bike-ride heat day ever. (Worst bike-ride cold day ever was on the Coeur d’Fondo. Rain soaked me through before the 8 a.m. start. I dropped out at 38 miles to take the boat back to Coeur d’Alene, shivering all the way, which. whenever I am in the cold, returns to me.)
I led out of Cle Elum to Highway 10 where I waved goodbye to the group, telling them to follow 10 to University Avenue in Ellensburg and then on to Vantage Highway. Hills, of course, were what put me way behind, But I caught up at a convenience store in Ellensburg. I am sorry to my sister for pouring my unfinished coffee into my water bottle, which is apparently not allowed on a BABES ride. The descent down to the Columbia River on the Vantage Highway was a gas. The ride on the other side of the river? Not so much. I can remember little of this part of the 90 plus mile, probably because your mind blocks out the horrid things that happen to you. I remember someone said it reached 107 degrees out there on Highway 26, that my right foot felt swelled up to the size of a Sequoia stump and the rocks in the Columbia National Wildlife Area all looked like hot potatoes. And I apologize to my sister for her having to wait 20 minutes while I did my walk of shame up the last hill before Othello.
June 4 — My best decision of the ride: Only rode 45 miles, half the distance to Colfax. I pulled up at the lunch stop in Washtucna, which has the only shade trees between Othello and Colfax. Rode the rest of the way with Kathy in the truck.
June 5 — Yesterday’s decision put me back in the driver’s seat — make that in the bicycle seat, without a sore hot butt. Out of Colfax on gravel roads. Yes, yes, yes. My gravel bike had me flying over stones, rocks, dust, sand until I got to a T in the road. Left? Right? I apologize to my sister not having a map, a Garmin and not anything on my cell phone that would tell me which way to turn. So I waited there for someone to catch up and tell me where to go. They did by rolling right by me. But off we went to Tekoa, WA, where we were supposed to meet for lunch in the park. Katherine and I got there first, and no one showed up. Who knew that Tekoa, with a population of 779, had two parks? Spotty cell service led us to the right one.
The Idaho border and the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes were just a few miles beyond Tekoa. Several bikers were gathered at the start of the trail in Plummer, Idaho. We asked why so many bicycle riders were there, and one of them said, “We live here, and it’s Saturday, which may not mean too much to you.” Obviously this came from someone who had been on a long bike or hiking trip where days of the week become pretty much meaningless. That’s the day we were in Oakesdale and rode 60 miles, rather than that was Thursday.
Is Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes the best trail ever? Could be in my book. Flat, paved, scenic. A great ride into Harrison, Idaho.
June 6 — I got a late start on this day, waiting for Kathy before she headed out with the truck and someone who needed to go for a COVID test (negative). The first person I spotted on the trail was a moose, which I think is paid to stand there. The rest of the group had seen him too. Since then, everyone I have talked to about the trail asks if I saw a moose. He could be on a billboard advertising the trail. We rode on the trail to the Snake Pit, a restaurant that has been in Enaville, Idaho, since 1880. We turned off the trail there and headed to Prichard, Idaho. We had a line going up the grade to Prichard, and I rode in the middle of the pack. Felt comfortable, don’t think I slowed anyone down. No reason to apologize to my sister. Waiting for our room to be ready, I spent part of a Sunday afternoon in the Prichard Tavern, which had an excellent Bloody Mary buffet (celery, shrimp and other things to dump into your drink), lots of tRump T-shirts and maybe the oldest tavern singer still standing (probably thanks to the grip on the microphone stand, which looked very tight).
June 7 — Any comfort I had in bike riding was instantly dissipated by Thompson Pass. Who puts these things there? Who chose this route? Why am I pedaling so slowly? Should I stop? But then a truck passed me by. Through the rain and the sweat and my glasses that make me see double, I recognized the driver as my wife. Did I want a ride? Did I! I took it, and within a half a mile we were at the top of the pass. Coulda, woulda shoulda. Oh well. I need to apologize to my sister and MK for not carrying any gloves for the descent into Thompson Falls. My hands did get chilly, but the coffee in Thompson Falls warmed them up. And I did not pour it into my water bottle. Nice ride into Quinn’s Hot Springs, the end of my ride. Some on Highway 200 (yikes!) but nice meandering through Plains and along the Clark Fork.
Special thanks to Don and Pete, the other SAG drivers during this part of the journey. We were well supported.
Next up: Chugging up to Elk Rock on the Tour de Blast — and no farther, thank God.
This is about people riding their bikes from Seattle to St. Louis. They started with nine riders, including me. I dropped out at Quinn’s Hot Springs in Montana, returning to Seattle to celebrate a grandson’s graduation from Seattle U. Two other riders had plans to go to Cody, Wyoming, and then return to home in Cincinnati.
So there are six riding now, three to Omaha and then three on to St. Louis. Carol keeps a blog worth following. Check it out:
Say you were going on a long-distance bike ride with your sister and you had never been able to keep up with her in previous trips. And now she will be on this next ride with her newly purchased electric assisted bike. She will travel halfway around the world while I am putting on my shoes.
I will only be on the trip for one week – she goes on forever. During that one week of my pedaling, there will be one day of gravel riding. I have a road bike, which tend to go over on gravel.
But I also have a mountain bike that has been converted into some Frankenstein monster bike: no knobby tires, no bar ends but now with fenders, two bells, compass and headlights. The fenders, bells and compass could go away to make it at least somewhat presentable on the trail. Ride that bike for a week? After riding my road bike for several years, I feel uncomfortable on the faux mountain bike, like my torso is being bent upward between the handlebars and the seat.
So given these choices below, offered to me by biking friends, what would you do:
Buy a gravel bike: “It’s all I ride anymore,” says a riding friend who also owns a road bike. Clerks at three bike shops tell me it is the bike to have for Seattle: low gears for hills, wider tires for wet streets and the option to start riding non-paved roads and trails. My sister has already suggested two other gravel trips we could in the years ahead. So, dear bike riders, would you buy one of these:
Buy an electric assisted bike: In even suggesting this, I have already been called a wimp by a biking friend. A gravel ebike could go every day on the upcoming trip except that the battery range is up to 50 miles on a trip that has at least one century day. The battery goes dead, and I’m left pedaling a 40-pound bike up hills. My sister would go twice around the world while I’m doing the walk of shame up mountain majesties.
The bike above is not the Marin Four Corners, but it is close enough, and the Four Corners could have electric assist added. That’s part of the problem on this bike and others like it: The electric assist looks like something added later. Mostly because it was added later. One of the problems with buying the Richey above would be if I added electric assist later it would look like something that had been added later.
This is the Hilltopper Discover Electric gravel bike. The battery is in the front tube as if the bike had always been planned to be an electric assisted bike and not cobbled together later in its life. However, it is out of stock. I talked to someone who answered the phone at Hilltopper, who said COVID had done no favors to its supply chain or its ability to bring people together to build bikes. I heard that from other bike reps I talked to: Lots of people want bikes now, perhaps to stay socially distanced and go somewhere, and the ability of the bike builders to keep up with the demand ain’t there. Maybe by summer, as Hilltopper’s website says.
Switch bikes: The first two days of the trip cover 105 miles, including the gravel trail. I could ride the Frankenstein bike for two days and have a SAG person carry my road bike for me to switch to for the rest of the week. Frankie could be left out back of the motel and could be picked up later, depending on how I felt about it after riding it for two days.
What would you do, dear biking friends – or strangers. I’m willing to listen to some sage advice before digging – or not – into my wallet.
We woke up to rain this morning, our first day of it on the whole trip. However, using our weather apps and some luck, the bike riders avoided all of it. The app showed that the rain would end in Lisbon at 7 a.m. and in Fargo – the end point! – at 10 a.m. So it looked like we might be able to sneak in behind it and never catch up with it (as if we ever caught up with any thing).
So we trucked to the route and started biking around 7 or 7:30 at Enderlin, ND. We never had a drop fall on us. Don, in the truck ahead of us, said he had quite a rainfall hit him when he was parked in Kindred, ND.
We also had less wind today although the forecast called for 14 mph winds from the east. Mostly hit us as side winds when heading north and much less than the last couple days.
AND . . . the afore-promised table-top flatness finally showed up – like as flat as good old Northwest Ohio, where I learned to ride a bike and never got used to hills. And trees, too, finally.
Not that anyone was going to stop riding on this day, the last day of the trip.
We got into Fargo on a flat bike trail around 2 p.m. Nice lunch at the Island Park and then rode the last two miles to the motel. Loved the downtown of Fargo, had a nice dinner at the Boiler Room, which is hard to find but worth the trip, and then spent the evening repacking for the next adventure.
Here’s the trip summary:
From Great Falls, MT, to Fargo, ND:
Mary Jo rode 707 miles, John rode 679.5 miles.
Longest day: 86.2 miles
Shortest day: 40 miles.
MJ’s list of 48 Lower States ridden across: 46 of 48.
The sign said the restaurant opened for breakfast at 6 a.m., and we were up at 5:30 to have an early meal and a good start on the day – maybe before the winds came up. But the signs were wrong. and it did not open until 7 a.m.
So we left Don behind to pick up some breakfast at Mabel’s Bakery and started out. Breakfast caught up with us about 10 miles down the road. It was the coolest morning yet, and the first time I rode with my jacket out. Some wind and lots of up and down – still no table tops to guide across two days out of Bismarck.
It still looked like doing all 97 scheduled miles for the day would be a possibility. That was before the wind picked up to 17 mph and blew out of the east and north. Whatever happened to the west wind.
“Secret and malign forces throbbed about us; forces against which we had no armor,” said Sax Rohmer in “The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu,” speaking of everything that comes out of the East without delving into his racial statements.
As the winds came up, our speed came down. Never got above 13 mph the rest of the day. Thirty-eight miles down the road in Gackle, ND, we met our second and third bike riders, two Ohio students riding to Seattle. Gave them my name and told them to look us up for a place to stay when they get there in August. Hope I remember them. Just say, “Gackle.”
I abandoned the ride at 47 miles, Mary Jo made it to an even 50. Back in the truck, it seemed flatter, the wind less strong. Everything looks flat as you zoom across the landscape in a vehicle, and the wind barely seems to be rustling the leaves in the trees. Out on a bike, the topography and weather undergo drastic changes.
We trucked into Lisbon, a town of about 2,300 people that was having its “Happy Days” celebration. The motel clerk told us about the rib cook-off downtown, and we went off to judge which one was the best. Didn’t get to try all 11 of them, but I did my darned (liked Number 2 from South Dakota). Corn on the cob, too.
So here we are out with all the town’s blue-haired ladies and many kids, having a great time eating and talking to neighbors. I did wonder though about the cooks’ T-shirts at some of the stands: “If I rub your butt, you can pull my pork.” Or maybe this one: “When you get my meat in your mouth, you are going to want to swallow.”
The cook off was sponsored by the LIQ’R PIGZ Motorcycle Club, which may not be the Emily Post of refined language, but most of the cooking teams were the ones wearing the shirts.
Never one to stifle language, of course, but it did make me wonder, “Are we becoming a more crass nation?”
Still some wind today, but much easier than yesterday. It got stronger toward the end of the 72.1-mile ride and winding our way through the ponds outside of Napoleon brought us face up into the wind.
And about those “table tops” we’d be sailing across after we got past Bismarck? No signs of them today.
But we were on the “Lawrence Welk Highway” today, which brought back many memories. Thought of my Grandma Saul, who sat down in front of these TV shows every night, long after they had gone off the air leaving only reruns to go on and on forever. If they aren’t still there and if she were still alive today, she’d be searching for the Lemon Sisters and Jo Ann Castle on Youtube.
We did love Grandma back then, but at the time, we had little good to say about Mr. Welk and his music. Wonder if we’ll be sitting around looking for American Bandstand, Shindig and Soul Train reruns in our older days? Maybe not yet.
Napoleon had a special ring to it for those of us who grew up in Henry County, Ohio, whose county seat was also named Napoleon, the dreaded arch rival back in the day for those who grew up nine miles down the road in Liberty Center, which is not some shopping center that came along much later.
Not so friendly coming out of Bismarck, where the sure-to-show-up on any bike ride is some jackass yelling out the window at they speed by you. Made me wish we were back in friendly Montana.
But in Napoleon, ND, they were getting ready for a parade of old tractors the next morning, and several of them were out cruising the town that night. Every tractor driver I ever met was friendly and always gave a wave. Same here.
June 14, 2018 – Glen Ullin to 15 miles short of Bismarck, ND.
For the second time this trip, I heard Mary Jo say something I never expected to hear from her: “Maybe we should call it a day here.”
“Here” being 15 miles short of Bismarck and only 40 miles of riding? I had steeled myself against this throughout the ride today, hoping I would not be the poltroon who put my bike in the back of the truck and myself in the back seat. But I happily changed course and agreed as going up hills in a 24-mph head wind was a struggle. For me, it meant straggling along at three mph and impossible to get over 10 mph on down hills because of the winds. Still not to Bismarck yet, so no table tops to cruise across.
So the bikes went into the truck, and we drove into Bismarck and had a nice lunch before taking Kathy, the No. 1 SAG person ever, to the airport to fly back to Seattle and head south to California with No. 1 grandson, who finished his first year at Seattle University.
My birthday came earlier this year as Mary Jo and Don bought me a new bicycle pump to replace the one I bought in 1992, when I did my first Seattle to Portland ride. We tried the old pump out while in Medora, and it did not work. Nothing like a worn-out, busted pump on a long bike ride.
North Dakota seems richer than Eastern Montana, and others blamed that on fracking and what that has done for the economy here. But some of these things have been in place much longer than the oil industry arrived here. I’m blaming it on agriculture – more croplands instead of range lands, well-kept buildings instead of whatever holds up over the winter. Just looks that way from over my handlebars – even into the winds.
Breakfast at the Farmhouse and then on our bikes for the pedal across North Dakota – where we thought the winds would come out of the west and blew right up our back and push us across the state. But there was an easterly wind right from the start, and it got stronger as the day went along.
We made a few turns during our route to Glen Ullin, which made me realize that no matter what happens in North Dakota, the wind never stops and it always blows right in your face. It was almost impossible to get going more than 10 mph even on the down hills because of the wind. We still managed to average 9.7 mph. Not sure how we did that. Longest and hardest ride of the trip, but there were better things to come: A woman in the Taylor Nursery shop said that once we got beyond Bismarck, there would be nothing but “table tops” to cruise across.
But for today, we crossed a time-zone change out here in the middle of the state and did not finish our 86.2 miles to Glen Ullin (pop. 800) until late.
Did I hear that right? That’s right, Wet Spot at Mile Marker 69. We had to go there.
Frozen pizza on round cardboard, which was not too bad at all. Great selection of liquors, and the bar maid said she did not think a bunch of milquetoasts like us would be offended by their double-entendre name. She pointed out the mile marker out front was designating 69. Not fake news here.
But we didn’t want to sleep on the wet spot though, and we headed back to the Red Roof.
Life is a journey. We are on yet another one as we zigzag our way across the USA this summer. The plan is to reach Cumberland Gap National Park in the Applachian Mountains before turning around and heading back to the Spokane area. We are traveling in our trusty 26 foot, 2006 Artic Fox travel trailer pulled by a 2010 GMC Sierra truck. Mom, Margaret, is with John and me. Why should she stay home and read the blog when she can be part of the journey? I’ll try to keep it current with travel updates and photos for you to enjoy…or ponder…or laugh at...as the miles roll past us. Cherish the journey!