On Sunday, I started my journey through the state of Montana and it has been impressing me ever since. Other than my first bleak morning in West Yellowstone the weather has been great.
And by great, I mean, really great. The temperature has been fifty or under every morning, and most days it never gets above seventy. Four days in a row, I began my ride each morning by warming up my legs on a good, miles-long climb. The bracingly cool air, paired with stunning views of freshly powdered, snow-covered mountains is a perfect way to wake up and get energized for the rest of the day.
And of course, after making it to the top of the mountain pass or ridge, the ultimate fun begins: soaring down at full speed. When I started doing major climbs in Colorado I was pretty cautious on the downhills but these mountains have taught me how to lean into corners without fear and without touching my brakes.
Since the temperature is low, bombing down hills robs my body of any heat I produced while I was climbing up the other side. I could put more layers of clothing on at the summit, but I love the adrenalin rush of feeling the cold wind bite into my arms and legs. Then the land flattens out and I sprint until the warmth returns to my fingers and toes. Warming up under my own power always feels great.
Montana held other surprises for me as well.
I rode through a herd of cows that were being driven in the opposite direction by cowboys on horses and border collies. The herd of bovines, about a hundred strong, were clearly not impressed their enforced trek down the asphalt road. The sound of their protesting voices was overwhelming. I stayed right on the tail of a pickup truck, which cleared the road of cows quite nicely for me. It also shielded the cows from seeing me and getting spooked. I did spook a few of the horses though. I guess they are not used to weird-looking cyclists.
The skies and marshlands have been filled with birds: ducks, geese, pelicans, kingfishers, osprey, bald eagles and noisy sandhill cranes.
The roads have been filled with friendly cyclists. There is a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the TransAm going on this weekend in Missoula, so many cyclists have been converging on Western Montana. Two Adventure Cycling groups have been riding to the same towns as I every day. They are really awesome and have given me watermelon, Gatorade, water and a map. We have also added another member to our motley little band. Mikey has joined Jenn, Karl and I, we have camped together for several days. It is fun to have people to hang out with after the riding is over for the day.
Yesterday, I ditched them and stayed in a real house with a real bed complete with pillows. My step-cousin, Erin, lives in Stevensville and graciously invited me into her home for the night. Spending time with her family was wonderful and the kids showed me their many chickens and turkeys. They also have a little kitten named Socks and we became buddies. I almost took him with me, but decided he might not enjoy life in a pannier!
After leaving Erin’s house, I rode up to Adventure Cycling’s headquarters in Missoula. It was hopping with a multitude of cyclists and their beloved steeds, due to the goings on of this weekend. It was so cool to see pictures and actual bikes of the folks who went on this ride 40 years ago, starting a trend of seeing the United States in the best way possible-on a bike.
While I was hanging out in Missoula, my Uncle Wayne drove several hours south to see me. Since we so far apart, I have only seen him a few times in my entire life. He took me to an amazing asian restaurant and gave me fresh, Montana grown fruit and a tee-shirt. It was stellar hanging out with him, my only regret is that I was so caught up in being excited to see him that we didn’t take any pictures together! But I will treasure the memory forever. It is really quite crazy: when I started this trip on May 18th, I was only planning to go to Colorado to see my brother but now I am almost to Idaho and meeting relatives I never thought this trip would allow me to catch up with.
I will ride across into Idaho today and into a new time zone and new adventures. But I will never forget my trek across Montana and the wonderful folks I have been able to meet.
And I will never forget the sky.
In small town of Wisdom, I woke up in the middle of the night with the need to use the restroom. I was so annoyed to have to wiggle from my warm, sleeping bag cocoon. I unzipped my tent and found that frost covered it like glass. Then I stepped out into the 28 degree air and what stretched out before me made me burst into tears.
The sky was glittering with more stars than I have ever seen and the milky way looked close enough to brush with my fingertips. The scene was so resplendent that I was instantly under its spell and in that moment, (but I think only in that moment) the thought that crashed throughout my entire being was,
“I never want to go back East again.”