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.
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.
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.
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.