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.


The ride to work started like an ordinary day. Temperature 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) with a light wind. As I turned onto the lakeshore path it turned magical.

There was a thick, low-hanging fog over the lake. I was in it, so I couldn’t see the fog, just the effect of the fog. Visibility out toward the lake was maybe 5o feet. Walk out 100 yards and you would be lost. Those who have read this blog before know what happens when it is cold and foggy.

Light was beginning to creep into the sky from behind me to the east. My headlight striking the hoarfrost on the eye level shrubs reflected back as diamonds. I rode through a moving wall of diamonds. I wanted to shoot video so you could see what I saw. But work beckoned.

I can’t show you the diamonds. You’ll have to trust me as I didn’t have time to get the lighting that I saw. Or you can get up at 5 and wander along this path or some other low-lying land on a cold and foggy day.

As I entered a grove of trees, the entire world lit up around me. I knew what Bing meant when he sang:

I wanted to lie in the meadow, look up at the trees, and make snow angels. Maybe I could shine my light straight up and have those diamonds shining back at me. Alas, work called to me again.

I floated into the hospital. Since the fog only appeared along the lake, I didn’t know if anyone else had seen it. I wondered if I’ll get up at 5 and ride this path after retirement, when I can stop for as long as I want, bring the “real” camera, take pictures and video until the sun comes up, try to light it the way I see it.

I started seeing patients and got to a fifth floor window that looks out over the woods. The fog hung low in the valley and the trees in that valley were coated in rime. The trees on the hillside answered back in evergreen. The fog was visible and there was a sharp demarkation between bejeweled trees and regular trees. I asked my patient if she wanted the shades open. She looked out and could see those trees from her bed. She agreed to get out of bed and sit up in a chair for a better view. My work was done.

More snow is coming tomorrow, heavy and wet, then an arctic cold front. A high of zero F is forecast for Sunday and Monday, with morning lows of -15 (-26 Celsius). Don’t you people down south wish you lived here?