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 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

Lookin’ at the world through a windshield

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.