All that glitters is not glass

The thunderstorms that were threatening all evening never materialized. We were in Buffalo High School, home of the Bison. With a short ride today I lingered over a second cup of coffee but still covered the 34 miles to picnic by 9 AM. There’s something a bit strange about eating the second meal of the day that early.

One of four bison heads in the cafeteria.

This ride was the scene of my worst day in 2018 so I was happy to have a different route. Of course, that meant that 60 miles were on I-90. I had never before ridden o an interstate highway. There was a wide and well-paved shoulder, usually clean except when covered with the remains of blown tires. Very few exits and no one exiting or entering, as they were all dirt roads to someone’s ranch. The “exit ramps” were essentially 90 degree angle turns with 10 mph speed limit. From the fog line there was about a 2 foot buffer, then rumble strip, then our riding space, so we were well separated from the minimal traffic.

The router let us know we were starting with a 2 mile climb. What he didn’t tell us is that there was a 5 mile climb to the first water stop, with 3 false summits along the way – one actually descended 40 feet, which we quickly made up. The climbs were gradual, not much steeper than railroad grades, so speed remained in double digits.

I left picnic with 4 others. One quickly dropped behind while 3 sped ahead. I stayed in the middle, figuring I’d ride alone. I caught the group on a climb and stayed with them for the rest of the day. I was riding with “the big kids”, or “the animals”. The old man kept up.

Not a commentary on my riding partners, just the wandering mind when someone called the fast kids “animals”.
Diamonds or just broken glass? For me, the revelation of this album was the bass playing of Ray Phiri.

In the early morning light, the pavement glitters. Some of it is bits of glass that must be dodged, some of it is just bits of minerals in the aggregate. Some might be glass safely ensconced in books and crannies. You pay attention and dodge those that look suspicious and hope you are right abut the ones you ignore. The bits of wire from blown tires are pretty much invisible. They are the real tire flatteners. Three flats so far, so three tubes to patch this weekend.

Often we are riding between rumble strips to our left and a beveled shoulder leading to the abyss on our right. You don’t want to be on the bevel, as the bike wants to go down that slope. You pick a line between those and avoiding the debris. Sometimes that line is pretty narrow so it takes concentration. (Insert “Hold that line” football chant here.)

Riding on an interstate highway is not an invitation to linger and take pictures, nor is it particularly picturesque. It is a day to cover a lot of miles quickly. At mile 27 we had our last view of the Bighorn Mountains, the last snow-capped mountains we will see. By noon I was ensconced at the Ice Cream Cafe, enjoying two scoops (coffee bean and salted caramel) along with an espresso. At home I have only one scoop when I go out for ice cream – here I will burn all the calories I can eat. I lost 15 pounds on this ride 4 years ago and no longer have 15 pounds to spare.

My best purchase so far, in Thompson Falls, MT. Stainless steel, seals with an o-ring and screw top, and holds the noontime addition of sunscreen. Sorry it’s out of focus. I was in a hurry.We won’t say why.

The rituals and rhythms of this life are obviously different than at home. I wake at 5 (same as home). For the first week I was always up before the alarm. When I got sick, the alarm woke me up. (My alarm is the Everly Brothers singing “Wake up Little Susie”.) Breaking camp (including bathroom rituals and dressing) takes less than an hour. We load the trailer, eat breakfast, and ride. Arriving in camp, we unload the trailer, dry out the tent, sleeping pad, and anything else wet, set up, then take a shower and change clothes. Bike clothes get washed in the shower (if I wear them into the shower it takes very little extra time, water, and soap compared to washing me) and hung on a clothesline (or a chain link fence in a pinch). Avoiding saddle sores/infections is helped by washing clothes right away. I rotate 4 sets of clothes – essentially randomly but I may choose a particular jersey for inspiration (e.g the Horribly Hilly Hundreds jersey for a difficult climbing day). If we arrive early, we go out for refreshments first. The rest of the day is available to explore the town, shop for anything needed, rest, read, write, hang out until dinner and our after dinner meeting. Bedtime comes pretty early. Other laundry waits for the weekend.

We have become our own Superspreader event. We are well into our second wave of COVID infections. We range from barely symptomatic to going to urgent care or home. How many asymptomatic (or hiding minor symptoms) but positive folks there are is anybody’s guest. I would guess at least ¼ of us have tested positive so far. New protocols are in place. I still have an ample supply of N-95 masks, though I hope my recent infection offers additional protection to my 4 doses of vaccine. The COVID bus is filling up.

Back among the living!

My private dining room in the Holiday Inn – soon to be joined by another COVID+ rider. Yes, it’s a storeroom.

Frost on the tents in West Yellowstone. Going to sleep at 70 degrees (21 C), it was hard to imagine that it would be 36 (2 C) by morning. We had to sleep with a pile of clothes to put on as the temperature dropped. Again I rued my decision to leave the sleeping bag in the closet.

The creeping cold comes like an Ambush in the Night.

We slept on the high school football field, with meals in the Holiday Inn – white tablecloths for dinner, red for breakfast. 25 miles in the COVID bus followed by 40 on the bike as I work to get back into riding shape.

As I finished the last dose of my 5 day drug regimen, things started to look up. It took the full 5 days, but I feel better. Now it’s mostly the rigors of life outdoors on the road; that and the need to regain the strength I lost.

We rode through Mesa Falls on a Scenic Bypass. I was going to ride the COVID bus to the water stop to leave 40 miles to ride. Due to circumstances I wasn’t dropped until the Scenic Byway so I rode part of the route twice to get to the 40 miles I wanted for conditioning purposes. I have no pictures of the falls from 4 years ago because we rode out of West Yellowstone in a hailstorm and cold rain continued all day. Today’s 75-80 and sunny was highly preferred.

Lower Mesa Falls
Alpine meadow

At 10 AM, Grand Teton appeared on the horizon, perfectly framed by trees on both sides of the road. We were aimed straight at it, though it will be a while before we get there.

At the end of the ride I found a root beer float with my name on it.

COVID-19 has changed my life in ways I hadn’t imagined. Riding alone early in the pandemic made me realize I wanted to make this trip and that I was willing to retire in order to do so. COVID helped me decide to retire earlier than I planned to.

I look for places to eat/drink outside; now to protect others from me instead of vice versa as it has been for 2.5 years.

Sitting with a dying man as he enjoyed possibly his last pleasurable moment helped me to savor those moments. Having COVID-19 myself this week put me through a lot. I still have flashes of “COVID brain”, like today when I got out of the shower and realized I hadn’t brought clothes with me. I put my wet cycling clothes back on and made my way to my tent for clean clothes.

I found emotions much more powerful, with tears easy to come by. I bought a plane ticket home, ready to throw in the towel on this ride, and now every mile feels like a gift. Tomorrow will decide whether I get on that plane or give up my seat and prepare to ride through Wyoming next week.

Riding today felt good. I had the occasional burning sensation in the main stem bronchus, for those of the anatomical persuasion – windpipe to the rest of us.

Tomorrow we climb Teton Pass and descend into Jackson Hole for a day off. We’ll be staying at a science center outside of town. If I make it over the pass, I’ll let you know.

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, 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