Day 13: The day of 6,000 feet of elevation gain in 6,000 degree heat

Day 13, Libby, MT to Eureka, MT: 74.6 miles, 5,954 ft. elevation gain, 10.6 mph average speed
Trip totals: 728.9 miles (60.7 daily average), 44,832 ft. elevation gain, 11.0 mph overall average speed

Map and stats here.

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Oh boy. Heat warnings all over Montana. You know what 100+ degrees feels like, right? Pretty terrible. Now add riding a bike with no shade at all for 6 hours. No shade, but with cliffs on one side of the path that absorbed the heat and baked us from the side. Let’s just say I was not the happiest camper at the end of the day. Some kids on ATVs were complaining about how hot it was on their ATVs. I wanted to ask them to trade vehicles or stop complaining so close to me.

We started out of Libby a bit earlier than usual (7:35a), and it was actually quite cool in the morning. We had a lovely ride on a country road with rolling hills for 15 miles. Ted said he wanted to capture some of the chilliness he was feeling and put it in his pocket for later. I couldn’t agree more. We decided to enjoy the cool, calm road while we had it.

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We turned onto the main route to Eureka and started climbing toward Libby Dam. We ran into our trail friends, Gina and Dan, who were exiting the dam. I don’t think we mentioned them before. We met them at the Bicycle Barn after climbing Washington Pass. Gina and Dan are moving from Sacramento to Minneapolis and decided to ride the Northern Tier during their transition. Fun fact: Gina is from Apple Valley, MN, where I lived from 1996-99, and was a year behind me at Falcon Ridge Middle School! This is the second random person I’ve met from middle school later in life (Katie, our friend from Peace Corps, also grew up in Apple Valley and went to Falcon Ridge). Anyway, we ran into them at the entrance of Libby Dam and they warned us that the climb up from the dam was steep, so we stashed our bags behind a road barrier and rode down–free!–on unloaded bikes. What a feeling! After the steep descent, we saw seven bald eagles perched on the dam and two ospreys flying from tree to tree. Ted’s family would have been in heaven!

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We climbed the steep mile-long hill back to the road, sat down to eat a snack, and up rolled another trail friend, Clive (the one who is carrying very little luggage on a road bike). Clive decided to slow his pace for the day and ride along with us. We stopped at the upper dam lookout about a mile further up the road (and sort of wished we hadn’t added a couple miles onto our ride to look at the dam from the lower perspective), then proceeded on our ride. The ride was extremely hilly and we actually exceeded our largest total elevation gain of the trip, but never exceeded 2900 feet of elevation. It was just up and down all day and so incredibly hot.

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We rode along Lake Koocanusa for around 50 miles. The lake is 90 miles long, is beautiful, and was formed by Libby Dam. A professional cyclist later told us that professional cyclists ride along Lake Koocanusa early in the cycling season because it’s a banana belt and good for hill training. So add five to ten degrees onto the 100 degree high for the day and that’s what we were riding in. On hills that were good for training.

There’s very little real estate along the lake, so it was pristine and very few boats were out. Clive kept our breaks infrequent and short, so we made better time than usual. I tried to tone down my complaining since we had company, but it was hard to cut it out completely. Can we talk about saddle sores here? I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say I have them and they are painful.

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Just when we thought we were in the day’s downhill/flat approach to Eureka, we climbed three unexpectedly steep hills around mile 72 and ended up at a gas station at the edge of town (which, in my opinion, came straight from heaven). Upon arrival, I haphazardly threw my bike against the wall, ran inside, and bought a liter of seltzer water and a liter of chocolate whole milk. I then went to the attached Subway to chug seltzer water while Ted moved my bike to a more reasonable position, and when he returned, we quickly downed both liters of liquid. Turns out when it’s 100 degrees outside and you have stainless steel water bottles, you will be drinking 100-degree water all day. Dreaming of seltzer is what got me through the day.

After I regained a bit of composure (emphasis on a bit), we pedaled the remaining 1.7 miles into town and arrived at our warm showers host’s house, where we found Lou, the guy on the recumbent bike, and met Steph and Tom, a retired couple from the bay area riding from Oregon to Maine on a recumbent bike. They retired in their 50s and are living it up! I’ve got to start maxing out my 401k!

Our host, Nikki, was fabulous and incredibly generous. We’re having the best luck with warm showers so far and are so grateful to all of the kind souls who are so hospitable to total strangers. It really helps restore my faith in humanity. Nikki has two dogs, one of which has a happier and more proportional version of Ellie’s face, so Ted and I gushed over him all night and morning and got very homesick for Ellie.

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Getting up early tomorrow to beat the heat (learned our lesson today!).

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