Riding across the continent couldn’t defeat me, but COVID-19 can. It was with a heavy heart that I clicked the button to purchase my plane ticket.
I wasn’t going to decide today, but there were only a few seats left on the plane for the second leg of the journey, so I scarfed one up (a middle seat at the back). I felt both disappointed and relieved.
I failed to meet Rootchopper (riding east to west – or, rather, south to north today – on my route…turns out he was on MT 287 and we were on US 287 so, while I am in the town where he was last night, our paths diverged here. I will follow his route to West Yellowstone Thursday. Rootchopper is a self-contained rider going east to west and blogging at A Few Spokes Shy of a Wheel (see blogroll).
We landed in Ennis, MT, home of lots of fly fishing guides. ( I understand muskie fishing, bass fishing, perch fishing, but why would anybody want to catch flies? 😉 Ennis also has lots of horse and fishing- related public sculpture – see the 2018 post from here for photos.
Four years ago I visited a distillery here. Today, I had Belgian chocolate gelato followed by a rye IPA at a brewpub next to the gelato stand. Chocolate, ice cream, and beer – also medicinal substances that may help my recovery.
I’ve written about the many countries riders are from – from the top of my head I’ll say UK, Bosnia, France, Greece, Netherlands, South Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the US. We are ⅓ to ½ women, and ages range from early 20s to maybe 80. Many are early retirees (meaning younger than I and retired longer than I), but there is no gap from 20-60 this time, with a smattering of people in between. Generally, the people who can afford to do this are students, teachers, and retired folks. Others have trouble getting the summer off.
Before this blog changes to a tale of COVID rehabilitation, I hope to get on the bike tomorrow for a short ride; or maybe that will be the first installment in the rehab program. Last night was 5 degrees warmer than the night before and not damp – downright balmy by comparison. Tonight promises to be back to the mid 40s, which will pale compared to the near-freezing temperatures in West Yellowstone tomorrow night. I will be wearing my fleece riding clothes to bed – or at least having them close at hand for when the cold comes. A chill went through the crowd when the Trail Boss reviewed the forecast.
The decision to leave the sleeping bag at home was a bad one. While a sheet and/or fleece blanket will be plenty later, the bone-chilling dampness of Montana last night called for a warm sleeping bag. It won’t be getting warmer in the next week.
A friend in California introduced me to the concept of “laterclosen”, clothes to bring along for later when it gets cold (as is often the case in Northern California). Here, the concept applies for sleeping. As I get ready for bed, it is 77 degrees (25C). It will drop to a damp 55 (13) before morning. Last night it was closer to 50 (10). The clothes I need at 3 am are not the same as I need at 9 pm. I need some easy to apply “laterclosen”. Another blanket isn’t enough.
While the dewpoint was in the 30s and the temperature in the 50s, my rainfly was soaked through from heavy dew. I’m reading a book by a sailor lost at sea and his struggles to obtain drinking water, while it seems I could collect enough with my rainfly to survive.
I have a new companion on the COVID bus today, while I lose another to a hospital. The rider I spoke of yesterday is now on antibiotics for her elbow infection. (Addendum: I checked her elbow today and both redness and swelling are down.) Another rider realized on the climb to Flesher Pass that he was sick and couldn’t pretend any longer.
A herd of hundreds of sheep passed through this morning, led by a pair of livestock guardian dogs. When riders rushed to the road for the photo op, the dogs went over to say hi, leading the sheep off course, so the herding dogs had their work cut out for them. I have no pictures, not wanting to distract the dogs from their work. One more photographer probably would have made no difference, but you know what they say about being part of the problem or part of the solution. A couple of humans on horseback oversaw the operation, and a car with flashing lights followed.
Now for the decision part. I’m looking at airfares from Jackson, WY to home this weekend. I will be just far enough out from the onset of symptoms to fly per CDC guidelines, and am well-supplied with fit-tested N-95 masks. I will not endanger other travelers, like some people I know. I’m not sure I’m going to recover under these conditions. Going home to rest, sleeping in my own bed, may get me over the hump more quickly than this life. I may be able to rejoin the tour when it goes by my house in a few weeks.
I looked at fares this morning and resisted the impulse to buy. I will talk with the Trail Boss and see if they can transport my bike for the next few weeks. That way I can either rejoin them or pick up my bike and ride home from 50 miles away. This would, of course, entail missing my favorite part of the ride in western South Dakota. As a retired person, I may just have to travel back out there to do it some other time.
This is one of the hardest posts I’ve had to write. I just read a long Washington Post article about long COVID in the elderly (elderly – that’s me;) and wonder if trying to push through this would increase the risk of long term complications. It’s a gamble I’m not sure I’m prepared to make. Am I mature enough to do the right thing? And how can I know what the Right Thing is?
Check out this segment from the 2018 blog. Flesher Pass is beautiful and after the pass we ride into Canyon Creek, also beautiful. I remember some of the pictures I posted from this ride, though they may have appeared a day or two late due to internet issues.
Today we scattered some of the ashes of Dan, Router Extraordinaire, a long term Cycle America staffer died in the last year. He plotted and marked our routes. Each night we have a briefing which includes a description of tomorrow’s route. Dan often left out a little surprise, like a short and steep climb.
Toward the end of today’s ride was a construction section with a few miles of gravel. I don’t think anyone had fun. Multiple calls for help came in.
We’re staying in a city park in Townsend, MT; setting up in an impending thunderstorm. Everything is wet from last night so it was a race to try to dry out my rainfly before the inside of my tent got wet. How I fare tonight may be the deciding factor re: buying that plane ticket.
The storm is no longer “impending”. High wind and hail from the south, suddenly switching to the north, and over in minutes. 60-80 mph winds? I don’t know. Maybe more. I also don’t know if I have a bike. It was on the roof of a van. I don’t know where the van is.
A couple of shoutouts to fellow bloggers are due here. First, to Carrot at The Dihedral for the recommendation to read “Adrift: Seventy Six Days Lost at Sea”. A great read by a sailor who survived (no spoiler here) on his own drifting across the Atlantic in a life raft. Second, to Martha at Summer is the Season of Inferior Sledding (AKA marthakennedy.blog, AKA Women’s Wilderness Legend: Living the Metaphor, many other things) for information on livestock guardian dogs. Third to Rootchopper at A Few Spokes Shy of a Wheel, who I could meet on the road Wednesday as he makes his way east to west through some of the same territory I’m traveling west to east. (For that, I’ll have to be on the road, which may be a tall order.) Finally, a hearty “Fuck you!” to Typhoid Mary who brought this virus along on the trip; not exactly Typhoid Mary, as this person has already gone home sick.
I feel somewhat useful today. I’ve been able to advise a fellow citizen on the COVID bus re: olecranon bursitis and what is likely cellulitis, as they had a recent open wound. Another looks sicker than I feel and I advised re: the anti viral medications.
The healthy keep asking how I feel. Some are inpatient, as though I am a slacker for still being sick after two days off the bike. Others want me to go to a hospital. Can’t they just let me be sick? This is not a 24 hour bug, nor does it mean I am at death’s door.
We rode through the beautiful Blackfoot River valley with heavily-wooded hills on each side. The world is very green here, except for the distant snow-capped peaks. For pictures you’ll have to check the 2018 post, as pictures through the side windows are blurry and, from the third row seat of a large van, through the windshield is impractical. The Bob Marshall Wilderness is on our left. The home of the Unabomber is nearby. We did not make a side trip to see it.
On the bike, sometimes the wind is your friend, sometimes it’s your adversary. Putting up a tent, it is never your friend. One day my tent blew over a 5 foot fence before someone caught it. Today I had already put a suitcase in it to hold it down, when the wind carried it a couple of feet before I could get it staked down.
I helped unload the gear truck and put up my tent before needing a rest break. Don’t say it out loud, but I think I’m on the mend. That doesn’t mean mended, it means headed in the right direction. I hope that continues.
I have written several times about the experience of a healthcare worker during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can use COVID as a search term to find them. Since the University of Montana guest internet connection isn’t working, I’m not going to use up my data finding and posting the links.
Having COVID is different from working with people who have it (duh). It is a confusion of emotions. Other people on this ride talk about the number of times they’ve had it. One even took a transatlantic flight while infected. (She says she got sick en route.) Since I couldn’t have imagined flying in the last 2.5 years, it’s hard to imagine flying across the world without a mask during that time. Working in a hospital and in a pretty aware town, I guess I’ve been isolated and naive.
Someone came on this trip after prolonged exposure to a sick person who chose not to get tested. This person also chose not to get tested. As a result, several of us are known to be positive. An unknown number are positive and asymptomatic, symptomatic but blaming those symptoms on 600 miles of riding this week, or hiding their symptoms. I am angry and bewildered. I fully expect more symptomatic people in the next week. I fear that the COVID bus will fill up and/or that I will be forced to choose between riding and abandoning the tour before I am ready for either.
I knew there is an anti-viral drug regimen which is effective at mitigating the symptoms and shortening the duration of illness. I spent all day Saturday gaining access to those medications – a day that I would have preferred to be resting, and which ended with a long walk to a pharmacy to get the prescription filled. Add frustration to the emotional mix.
After hours of empty promises from healthcare providers, one came through and did what others said they would do. Add deep gratitude to the mix.
Many riders have asked how I’m feeling. A couple have brought meals to me. Another brought me a cup of coffee. Another has offered to essentially pull me on rides. Add a feeling of “I’m not sure I deserve this much caring from people I hardly know” to the emotional stew. I also know that I would do the same for others if the situation were reversed; so I feel a bit guilty and undeserving but also judging myself for feeling that way.
I am learning about being supportive; that there’s a difference between “How are you feeling?”, “What can I do for you?”, and “I’m going to WalMart. What do you need?”
But what about the disease? First, that emotional stew is likely due, in part, to the disease. I have a fever so I alternate between chills and feeling hot. I have a decreased awareness of the environment. I walked to the pharmacy in jeans and a sweatshirt, clothes I would never wear when it is over 70 degrees F. (The rest of my shirts were in the wash, though I did have a pair of shorts available.) I bought a t-shirt at Walgreen’s to make the walk back more bearable.
I am in a mental fog. I asked what time dinner was last night, though I know that the tour does not provide dinner on Saturdays. I have no endurance. I can feel good for a few minutes, then suddenly have overwhelming fatigue. I can’t imagine riding a bike for 100 miles. It’s hard to imagine I did that 3 times last week.
I have a slight cough, I am a bit congested. Breathing feels funny – I’m a bit short of breath, but more in the sense of exhaustion than any feeling of struggling to breathe. My voice doesn’t sound right. I have a funny metallic taste in my mouth. My appetite is fine, but last night I was almost too tired to eat. I ordered a pizza, knowing I had to eat something before I slept.
I guess I look better than I feel, as no one tells me I look like shit, though I have admitted I feel that way. Sometimes I want to fake it and pretend I’m okay.
So is it like the flu? Yeah, I guess so. That’s not to belittle it. Influenza is deadly to thousands every year. Influenza is not consistent with riding a bike 80-100 miles/day. So, sure, it’s like the flu.
I am angry with myself. I knew the pandemic was not over. I knew there were risks to being in a large, unmasked group. I knew there were risks to traveling through regions where the pandemic is taken less seriously than it is at home. I did not take those risks seriously enough; partly because I assumed that others in the group would be conscientious and I was wrong.
Another aspect of the emotional roller coaster is that when I saw this “Ode to Joy” video Sunday morning, tears were streaming down my face the whole time, though I’ve seen it before. I guess this experience isn’t all bad.
This week we ride to Jackson, WY. The week culminates in the climb of Teton Pass, possibly the single most difficult day.