Tail between my legs

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.

In the 70s, a feminist slogan said “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”. At the Ennis Public Library, I saw fish with bicycles.

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.

Just because I’m sitting in a van doesn’t mean I can’t see some things.

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.

Decisions, decisions

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.

Greg and Matt (with Dan in the plastic bag, carried in the turquoise urn) atop Flesher Pass. A bit of Dan will be atop each pass we climb. Beargrass grows between Greg and Matt.

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.

About 30 feet from my tent
All 4 of our PortaPotties went down. Matt had set up 3 before this picture. I don’t think I want to go inside.

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.

Meanwhile, for another perspective on this journey, or to continue to travel vicariously if vicariously is the way I have to continue, check out http://terrysspokereport.blogspot.com/?m=1


Tonight (Friday) is awards night at Cycle America. Each week we have the opportunity to present an award to a fellow rider. I wrote the “script” and today I found and made the physical award. But the ceremony will go on without me. The meeting about tomorrow’s ride will go on without me. I am eating dinner sitting on the ground outside my tent. Amendment: they moved the meeting outside (for me? to mitigate COVID risk in general?) Tomorrow would be century #4 for the week. My bike will ride on the roof of a van and I will ride, masked, with the Trail Boss in that van. I was able to present The Dread Pirate Roberts award to a rider whose strengths, like those of The Dread Pirate Roberts, are myriad. While he may seem intimidating, he is a hero. He stopped by my tent and offered to pace me all day. I’m not young and stupid enough to accept, risking the rest of my summer for one day.

I know I have a friend here…the one who brought me dinner. I know she’s not the only one. I am writing through tears. The tears and accompanying snot are contaminated. Tomorrow we ride to Missoula, MT for a rest day. It is a hard 100 miles. I will be riding it in a van. I won’t be staying in the dorm with the other riders unless Greg finds a spare room for me to occupy alone. I will probably spend the rest day in a hotel, ordering room service or takeout. Can I do laundry? Addendum: turns out I can stay in the dorm and share a room with another COVID + rider.

I rode EFI (every fucking inch) in 2018. There is nothing to prove. I can take some solace in the fact that I climbed a mountain pass with COVID-19 and that I kept up with a 24 mph paceline. I have the sense to realize that riding tomorrow would risk the rest of the trip. If I take two days off, I may be able to get back on the bike next week, depending on how much this knocks the stuffing out of me.

Greg offered the option of flying home – ending my trip, or flying home and coming back later, or spending a week in a Missoula motel and catching up with them. Or I can take two days off and see how I feel. I’ll take door #4.

I knew this was a risk. I haven’t been maskless indoors with anyone other than my immediately family since February, 2020. I got through multiple tours of duty on the COVID units of the hospital – but I was always protected. I have a large supply of N-95 masks with me. The supply looks smaller now that I have COVID. Early in the pandemic I wore masks for weeks after airing them out overnight. I’m not sure I want to do that with masks contaminated on the inside.

Yeah, I feel sorry for myself. Yeah, I’ll survive this…at least I plan to.

(Saturday) I’m waiting for dinner to be delivered and will go to bed soon after, as I never got a nap today. The restaurant delivers beer so I will drink a toast to the MGHS class of 1971, celebrating a COVID-delayed 50th reunion. I hope they don’t spread COVID among them. It’s not fun. It takes (and took) only one selfish and inconsiderate person to create a superspreader event. I verified with that person that they are the source. They didn’t say so in so many words, but made it crystal clear. They didn’t seem concerned, but are going home today. I am expecting a rolling infection through our ranks. People are taking more precautions now, but it may be too late.

After a frustratingly long day dealing with the healthcare system, I received my antiviral medication at a local drugstore 10 minutes before closing time. I just took the first dose. The nurse I spoke with also recommended multiple supplements. The anti-viral drug was free. The supplements cost $65. It took a half hour to walk there and an hour to walk back.

I saw the innards of Cycle America as I rode in the COVID van with the Trail Boss. We were the last to leave our overnight stop and we picked up the first water stop after verifying that everyone had passed through. The person riding shotgun checked off each rider as we passed them – we also check in at lunchtime and the end of the day. Watching scenery was, in some ways, easier, as we didn’t have to keep our eyes on the road. The river was running high and fast.

Tomorrow (Sunday) I rest. See you down the road.

I am in a dorm on a university campus. Ironically, this is the worst internet and cell service yet. The post failed to upload overnight. Maybe it will at some random time today.


We climbed the ridiculously steep hill from the Grand Coulee Dam up to breakfast. I passed the Dread Pirate Roberts on the way. At breakfast he said, “I want to be you when I’m 69.” That was one of the nicest things anyone has said to me. When I’m old, I want to be Martin Vanderhof.

After an early climb we settled onto a plateau at about 2500 feet. We escaped the Cascade Mountains rain shadow and entered grasslands, which eventually gave way to pine forest before we arrived in Spokane. The route was lengthened from the original plan to send us through the pine forest and a state park – definitely worth it! Pine forest is one of my favorite smells and I sang a Kate Wolf song with the line “Sweet smell the pines, Tall western cedars”.

103 miles flew by in a little over 6 hours – all credit goes to the tailwinds, not to me. The days of free wi-if seem to have come to an end. I’m going to upload photos anyway.

The song for the day
A community building with no sign of a community
Espresso break, mile 25 of 109 (yesterday). Riders from Bosnia, Australia, UK, US.
Columbia River – yesterday it was overflowing its banks and we rode in it.

At mile 100 we reached Deadman Hill. After 100 miles, this was utterly cruel. As I passed another rider, I said as much before I realized he was a local and not one of us. He had a beautiful jersey with the album cover art from the Grateful Dead album “Aoxomoxoa” (a meaningless palindrome).

After setting up camp I made my way to a local pub for a lager from Montana. It hit the spot. When the bartender offered another, I demurred, not sure if I’d be able to walk out after 2 beers and 212 miles in 2 days.

Tomorrow we cross the state line into Idaho!

Night falls on Camp Cycle America, Spokane, WA