Day 24: The day of the cow

Day 24, St. Mary Campground to Shelby, MT: 91.8 miles, 4,139 ft. elevation gain, 13 mph average speed.
Trip Totals: 1,004 miles (55.8 daily average), 60,076 ft. elevation gain, 11.2 mph overall average speed

Five days behind schedule.

Yay! We’re back on the road!

We woke up to a light drizzle and packed up camp in 40 minutes. We’re getting much better at packing up quickly. It was pretty chilly this morning and we both had a hard time warming up our muscles, despite the fact that we started out with a 6-mile climb. I think we forgot what climbing is like. It’s hard. We stopped after 3 miles to stretch and eat breakfast and decided that our lofty 120 mile plans were, indeed, lofty and perhaps impossible.

We pushed on and Ted did some mental math about how many miles we’d actually need to average to make it home by August 15th. Perhaps he was a little too engrossed in his math because we missed our turn and ended up climbing an additional mile and a half. Luckily, a very nice guy driving to his job at a road work site ahead stopped us (at the top of the hill; important detail) and told us to turn around to avoid a muddy stretch of road (that was, by his estimation, impassable by bike), many more hills, and an extra 10 miles. Thank goodness for that guy! We turned around and sped downhill to our turn, and were pleased to find flats / downhill through the Blackfeet Reservation until Browning. We officially left the mountains and entered the plains and encountered many cows, many of which just hang out in the road. For some reason, cows are somehow threatened by us, but respond calmly to cars. When we roll up, there’s lots of mooing and stomping and standing their ground, then running away.



We got to Browning quickly and were happy that, even with big hills and a detour, we had finished 35 miles before 9:30a. Browning appeared to be the hub of the Blackfeet Nation and it had far and away the largest non-white population we’ve seen since Seattle. It was nice to see people who looked a little more like me for a change. Not for long, though; we were on a mission to complete 65 miles by lunch in Cut Bank so we sped through. Lots of dogs. Lots and lots of dogs. Luckily none of them chased us for too long.


We rode against a stupid sometimes headwind, sometimes crosswind until Cut Bank, where we plopped down at McDonald’s (stop judging us! Fast wifi, clean bathrooms, and unlimited refills are a touring cyclist’s best friend), ordered quarter pounder with cheese meals, and abused the free refill policy on flavored high fructose corn syrup (Dr. Pepper flavor for Ted, Orange Lavaburst Hi-C for me). We planned to rehydrate with water before soft drinks, but they didn’t even have water on tap! Just corn sugar! It was a fun indulgence, but we both felt really gross and sat in a corn sugar / grease coma for about 30 more minutes.

While we sat with free WiFi, we called around for campsites in Shelby and they were all sort of pricy (though still cheaper than the Montana Bike Hostel when including free showers, not that we’re dwelling on that experience or anything) so we called motels out of curiosity, found one for under $50, and decided to splurge. This seemed like a reasonable decision given the state of our tent and Ted’s sleeping pad (replacements will come to Havre tomorrow!) and the possible thunderstorms in the forecast.

We stocked up on Snickers bars, jerky, and fruit at Alberson’s, then headed out for our last 24 miles, which were easy downhill with no wind. We were both surprised by how much we enjoyed the scenery. All of the green and yellow grass tones, gentle rolling hills, and an overcast sky made for a different, unexpected type of pretty. I’m sure it will get old, but I’m glad we enjoyed our first day in plains, at least. Ted’s knee hurt all day, though, so we need to be careful not to push it too hard as we try to make up time.


Our motel is much nicer than we expected for the price. AC, fast wifi, ice, comfy bed, hot shower, clean and recently refurbished, has a fridge. What more could we ask for? Stay at the O’Haire Manor Motel next time you’re in Shelby.

So here we are, catching up on our blog, eating a salad as penance for lunch, and watching TV. And we are clean.

  
Heading to Havre tomorrow. 103-mile day and we’ve got to get there before the post office closes, so we’re planning for an early start.

Day 23: Escape from paradise

Day 23, Many Glacier Campground to St. Mary Campground: 21.5 miles, 937 ft. elevation gain, 15.1 mph average speed.
Trip Totals: 912.2 miles (53.7 daily average), 55,937 ft. elevation gain, 11.1 mph overall average speed

Six days behind schedule.
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It came at last!

We’re thrilled to get back on the road. It just feels right to be biking again.

Before I get started, let’s recap the last few days of being stranded at Many Glacier.

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Day 20:

Our third day, we took a 10-mile hike to see the aptly named Iceberg Lake. The hike was very nice, but it had a lot to live up to after Grinell Glacier (which I think is the most beautiful hike I’ve ever been on). The nice thing about the hike to Iceberg Lake was that the entire hike had a mild, steady grade. The downside of that is that the gentle grade makes it a very popular hike and we didn’t have any of the solitude we had on the Grinell Glacier hike.

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The other downside of this hike is that two long hikes in three days without proper footwear left Dani with a severely aching foot. Turns out it began hurting on the Grinnell hike, but Dani didn’t complain much because she knew I wouldn’t let her hike on a gimpy foot. It got so bad on the Iceberg Lake hike that she ended up limping more than half the way down. We couldn’t quite figure out what it was, but we’re leaning toward some sort of tendinitis related to not having proper arch support. Luckily, the foot doesn’t hurt much while she’s biking, but it’s still no fun.

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Dani, of course, tried to pretend that nothing was wrong. We saved the hike that she was most looking forward to for last and she was determined to do it, even only on one foot. She struggled to walk to the bathroom, but did her best to convince me that the 13-mile hike to Cracker Lake would be no problem at all.

I’m pretty gullible, but even I wasn’t falling for that one.

Days 21 and 22:

These days ended up about how one would expect given our strandedness in a National Park with one broken bike and one hurt foot. Lots of sitting. Lots of reading. Lots of sitting on the Swiftcurrent Inn porch drinking chocolate milk, lemonade, and beer. A few trips down to the fancier Many Glacier Hotel to sit by the fire, work on a puzzle, and drink chai. At this point, we were rather stir crazy. We just wanted to get back on the road.

Day 23:

The big day!  It was a pretty stressful morning and early afternoon. The wheel made it to a town two hours away at 7:15a, and then there were no further tracking updates. I would walk up to the inn every half hour or so to check, and each time I was more and more convinced that we would end up spending another day at the campground. But when I checked at 3:00p, it was delivered!  In shocked disbelief, I rushed to tell Dani and we hurriedly broke camp and packed up our bikes. We rode the mile down to the hotel to get the wheel. All that was left was installation.

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The magical J.A. Stein Mini Lockring Driver leverages the pedaling motion of the bike against the bike frame to unscrew and reattach the cassette lockring.

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I think I might do a post sometime about my bike tool kit, but for now I just want to mention that no one should head out on a bike tour without the J.A. Stein Mini Lockring Driver. Thirty-five bucks might seem like a lot for a “just in case” tool, but it saved my bacon here.  Without this tool, even once I received the wheel, I wouldn’t have been able to transfer my cassette from the broken wheel to the new wheel.  Also, if you happen to break a spoke on the driveside of your rear wheel, you need to be able to take off the cassette in order to fix it.

Thanks to that tool, I got the new wheel installed. Now, I’m eternally grateful to Velocity for sending me a new wheel completely free of charge.  But if I was going to pick a few nits, they would be 1) I had a 36 spoke wheel, and they sent me a 32 spoke wheel, which is a marginal but still measurable reduction in wheel strength, and 2) they only had a disc brake hub, and my bike has rim brakes.  I’m pretty sure I’ve read that you shouldn’t run rim brakes on a disc brake wheel, but I can make it through the trip avoiding my rear brakes. I don’t like using brakes anyway. They’re inefficient!

Once the wheel was installed and all the bags were packed, we started off. Wanna know what’s fun? Riding down a gentle downhill slope with a big ol’ tailwind. We just flew down the road. We made it to Two Sisters (17 miles) in less than an hour, and we couldn’t resist stopping for another piece of that peanut butter huckleberry pie. And dinner too, I suppose. The food was still great, but unfortunately the service was pretty terrible. The server was rude to us from the beginning. He rolled his eyes when we didn’t order drinks, never refilled our water without me doing everything short of grabbing onto his apron as he hustled by, and then ended the meal by coming over to our table and saying, “I’m not trying to kick you guys out, but there are people waiting for a table. I’m just saying. It’s up to you. Do what you want. Whatever.”  Important detail: at least a third of the tables at the restaurant arrived before us, but no one else got un-kicked out kicked out. I’d say how I felt about this guy, but this is a family blog.

it was disappointing to have a place we enjoyed so much let us down, but there was a fun part of dinner, too! A fellow bike tourist saw our bikes outside, walked into the full restaurant, scanned the patrons and immediately picked us out of the crowd (perhaps we should be embarrassed by this?). We chatted (for too long, apparently; there are people waiting after all) about our trips. He’s a teacher in Richmond, Virginia, and uses his summers off to bike tour. What a life! He also had some of the coolest handlebars I’ve ever seen on a bike. I can’t find the exact setup he said he had, but it looked something like this. Next time I build up a touring bike, that’s what’s going on it.

After Two Sisters, we rode the rest of the way back to St. Mary Campground, where we fought through swarms of mosquitos to pitch our tent. We were sharing the campground with a couple who riding from Banff to Mexico, off-road, on the Great Divide trail. As we meet other bike tourists, I always enjoy seeing how other people set up their bikes. These guys had three-inch tires (twice as wide as Dani’s tires) and that Rolhoff speed hub I’ve been dreaming about. And I may or may not have embarrassed myself gushing over it.

Anyway, we hopped into the tent and tried to fall asleep asleep as quick as possible. Tomorrow is a big day! We need to start making up lost time!

Day 17: The day we came to paradise

Day 17, St. Mary’s Campground to Many Glacier Campground: 23.2 miles, 1,407 ft. elevation gain, 11.4 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 890.7 miles (55.7 mile daily average), 55,000 ft. elevation gain, 11 mph average speed

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It stormed last night, the first big rainstorm of the trip and we were lucky enough to be in our tent. The storm was short, but the rain was torrential. We have a few holes in our rainfly and we didn’t bother with the ground tarp since it really didn’t look like it was going to rain as we were going to bed, so our tent last night was probably best described as very water resistant rather than waterproof. But it was really just a little damp at the corners, not a big deal at all. At least ourselves and all of our things inside the tent fared a lot better than our freshly-washed clothes that we left on our clothesline overnight.

In any case, I woke up with more pressing priorities than damp clothes. Using Gina’s phone (thanks again, Gina!!), I called Velocity to see if they could help me. The rep answered the phone, perhaps a little hung-over, perhaps just not fully awake. (I was calling at 9:01a EST, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he had just sat down at his desk.) I told him my sob story, and he asked me a series of questions about the wheel, how it was failing, when it was made, what tire I was using, and under what pressure.

After the questions, he said, “Do you have an address to which we could ship you a new wheel?”

And that was that! Velocity is going to ship me a brand new wheel for free! He even agreed to ship it express. We’re having it shipped to the Many Glacier Hotel, and it should be there by Thursday. This is perhaps the best way this could have worked out. I get a replacement wheel for free and we get an excuse to do some hikes in the most beautiful part of Glacier National Park. Yay!

Since we were riding less than 25 miles, we decided to take it slow in the morning. We put things that got caught in the rain (helmets, shoes, the tent) into the sun and took Dan and Gina up on their offer to share their oatmeal breakfast. We finally packed up and got on the road, only to stop after about five miles when we saw a cool, funky looking restaurant called Two Sisters Cafe in the middle of nowhere between St. Mary, MT and Babb, MT. The server was a bike tourist, and regaled us with stories of his trips while we enjoyed a bison burger, an open-faced chili cheeseburger, mango-berry lemonade, and a piece of PB&J huckleberry pie (huckleberry pie meets peanut butter mousse!).

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After that incredibly satisfying meal, we continued on to Babb, MT where we stocked up on groceries for the next couple of days before riding the final 12 miles into the park.

Holy headwind, Batman. It was rough! I’m not going to complain though. I want that exact wind blowing at our back for the next two weeks.

Many Glacier is beautiful. So so so beautiful. It has a rugged majesty, a feeling that this is what the world was like before humans got involved. Walking and riding around here, you just can’t help but feel awed and amazed.

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We fought our way through the wind and made our way to Many Glacier campground, which was full… but not for us! The National Park Service always sets a site aside for hikers and cyclists that enter the park without a vehicle, and we headed straight to that site and set up our tent. It was still pretty early in the day, so we went out to explore our surroundings. It turns out that the campground is a five-minute walk away from the Swiftcurrent Inn, which has a camp store fully stocked with cold drinks including chocolate milk, lemonade, and single beers. What more could we want? Public hot showers? Ok! A porch that looks out onto amazing scenery where we could sit and drink a beer? Sure!

This is a great place.

We decided to make the most of our time here, and so we found a short (3.6 miles round trip) hike to Red Rock Falls. I have a feeling that we’re going to spend the next few blog posts struggling to express the beauty around us, so maybe it will just be easier to say that if anybody is wondering where they should go on their next vacation, we suggest putting Many Glacier near the top of your list.

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After our hike, we came back to the inn, had a few beers on the porch, and reflected that if my wheel was going to break, this is the best possible place on our trip to be stuck for a few days. We’ll get to do a few more hikes than we thought, and we should be able to make up the day or two that we’ll lose.

Dinner was pasta with a spicy red sauce with tuna, green pepper, and carrots, and we went to bed immediately after cleaning up. Tomorrow we’re going to hike to Grinell Glacier, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the park!

Day 15: The first day of Glacier

Note: Our current access to internet is very slow, and we’re having trouble with uploading pictures. I think I managed to get some pictures into this post, but I’m not positive. If not, I’ll come back and update again later.

Day 15: Montana Bike Hostel (Whitefish, MT) to Sprague Creek Campground, Glacier National Park: 35 miles, 1,392 ft. elevation gain, 12.4 mph average speed
Trip Totals: 781.4 total miles(55.8 daily average), 49,635 ft. elevation gain, 11.1 overall average speed.

Today was a great day. It was a great day for relaxing and enjoying our surroundings, for slowing down the general “we have to rush to the place we’ll be sleeping” mentality that sneaks into your mind when you’re on a bike tour.

There’s a little irony there, because today we actually did have to rush to the place we were going to sleep. Glacier National Park prohibits cyclists on certain stretches of Going to the Sun Road, the main road through Glacier. We had to ride 35 miles before 11:00a to make it to Sprague Creek Campground in the park, which several people had told us was the best place to camp on the west side of Logan Pass. There were a few hills on the way, and we decided we’d rather have too much time than too little, so we were awake at 5:15a, and on the road at 6:00a.

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We were a little better informed heading out of the overpriced backyard hostel than we were coming in, so we were able to stay on paved roads heading into and through Columbia Falls. The Northern Tier route took us on back roads, since apparently sections of Route 2 between Columbia Falls and the park are terrifically dangerous for cyclists. The back roads were nice, but we had to fight against a powerful headwind for four or five miles. At that point, we turned off North Fork Road and escaped the headwind, but then we had to ride on a gravel/dirt road again, this time for 2.6 miles. As much as we don’t really enjoy riding on gravel, the experience is reminiscent of our time in Zambia. There we pretty much exclusively rode on gravel, and the best road there was less well-maintained than the worst gravel road we’ve ridden on here.

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We made it through the gravel and back onto Route 2 for only of a couple of miles before we turned toward the park. We passed through West Glacier, which was a cute-looking town, but we didn’t want to stop because we wanted to get to the campground as soon as we could. The road inside the park was flat and newly paved. It’s amazing how big of a difference a beautifully smooth surface can make. We felt like we were flying! We covered the nine miles between the entrance gate and our campground in a half hour or less, which got us to the campground by 9:15a. That’s right, we were finished riding for the day by 9:15a. How exciting!

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Dan and Gina arrived shortly after us, and Clive was staying a mile up the road at the historic Lake McDonald Lodge. We set up camp and headed up to the lodge, where we all passed a lovely day doing not much at all. We bought snacks, lemonade, and chocolate milk at the convenience store; sat on a bench behind the lodge and chatted and watched the lake; and ate a buffet lunch, stuffing ourselves with as many calories as possible and making sure we got our money’s worth. After lunch, Clive ran into another British biker tourist named Jules, who, funnily enough, was ALSO touring on a carbon road bike with minimal gear packed into a Carradice saddlebag. Something about these English men, apparently.

After chatting with Jules for a while, we headed back to our campsite, which, as it turns out, was situated right by a beach on Lake McDonald. We jumped into our suits and jumped into the lake, alternating between floating on top where the water was warm and diving down into the chilly snowmelt below.

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When we finished swimming we headed back up to the Lodge, where Clive was kind enough to let us use the shower in his room. As Dani showered, I investigated (for what was at least the third time) a squeaking noise that my rear wheel had been making for a week. It had suddenly gotten worse, evolving from a simple squeak to a shuddering, antilock-brake shaking every time I used my rear brake. I was dismayed to discover that my rear rim was unaccountably bulging right by the valve. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t good.

Dani finished her shower and headed back to the campground and I quickly cleaned myself before throwing myself into Google to try to figure out exactly what was going on. I read that bulges like mine might indicate a cracked rim, and I hurried back to camp to remove my tire to see if this was, in fact, what had happened.

Back at the campsite, I found Dani talking to a Dutch couple, Gerry and Klaas, who were biking around Southern Canada and the Northern US and had bike toured extensively in their life. They were a charming older couple, and they were full of good advice from their experience. They also developed an inspirational (at least to us) style of touring that emphasized comfort on the bike and in the campsite. Their tent was like a palace, including a vestibule to store all of their gear, and still folded down to be quite small. We’ll definitely be taking some of their tips on our next trip.

Anyways, Dani had our chicken burritos ready when I made it back to camp (what a girl!), so I didn’t look at my bike until after we ate. I took the wheel off the bike and the tire and tube off the wheel, and my fears were confirmed. My rim had developed a jagged crack at the inside joint of the rim wall and base.

This is the first big bike problem of the trip, and the fact that it’s my wheel failing is rather ironic. I have Velocity wheels, which are renowned for their toughness and durability. The rims are wide and the spoke count is high. These wheels should be able to withstand anything. When I went to my local bike shop to measure our spokes so I could get some spares, the mechanic said, “I could sell you some spare spokes if you want, but I would be shocked if you were able to break a spoke on this wheel. This might be the most solid wheel I’ve ever seen.” Several other cyclists we’ve met on our trip have echoed his sentiment. “Boy,” they all said, “You’re really ready for anything with those wheels, huh?” The word “bombproof” has been thrown around a half dozen or more times.

I guess I was ready for anything except an inexplicable wheel failure after only 5 years and 6,000 or so miles. Oops.

Klaas, who has a significant amount of on-the-road maintenance experience, took a look at my wheel and told me that I should definitely get it replaced, but that I could ride on it until it was convenient to replace it. He opined that it might even last for several hundred additional miles or more. But most importantly, he said that when it failed, it wouldn’t be some sort of catastrophic failure that would send me flying off the bike at high speed, but rather a loss of tension and balance that would break spokes and make it impossible to ride, but not before I had time to realize what was happening and slow down and get off the bike.

So that’s that. We’re climbing our last big pass of the trip tomorrow and I’m doing it on a gimpy wheel. I’m not exactly sure what we’re going to do next. We’re a few hundred miles away from the closest bike store, and I don’t know if I willing to gamble that much. I think I’m going to try to call Velocity from the other side of the pass and see what they can do for me. We’ll see!

Day 14: The day we raced the sun

Day 14, Eureka, MT to Whitefish, MT (and then to the Montana Bike Hostel): 63.4 miles, 3,411 ft. elevation gain, 11.5 mph average speed
Trip totals: 792.3 miles (60.9 daily average), 48,243 ft. elevation gain, 11.0 mph overall average speed

Map and stats here

The title of this post may be a bit misleading, since we’re only a couple of days away from taking “Going to the Sun road” over Logan Pass in Glacier National Park. But today, we raced the sun.

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Yesterday, you’ll remember (or you just read), was terrible. And the fact that we were riding in 100+degree temperatures made it so much worse. Then, the other bike tourists at our warm showers place last night told us that it was going to be even hotter (!) in Whitefish, our destination for today.

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We couldn’t fathom riding through that heat again, so we decided to get to Whitefish as early as possible. We woke up shortly after 5:00a, ate an AMAZING breakfast prepared by our Warmshowers host (you’re wonderful, Nikki!), and got on the road by 6:30a, an hour before our standard time.

You'd think they'd realize their mistake pretty immediately, but we saw several of these on the road today.

You’d think they’d realize their mistake pretty immediately, but we saw several of these on the road today.

And that was just the first half of our race strategy. The second was to cut down on our usually numerous breaks. We took a short break 5 miles in to stretch, a brief break shortly after that to take a picture, another break 30 miles in to grab second breakfast, and then we pretty much cruised the rest of the way. Although, part of the reason for the lack of breaks was the fact that we were riding on a major-ish highway with minimal shoulder.

The shoulder in this picture is a bit of an aberration. More often they looked like the one in the picture below.

The shoulder in this picture is a bit of an aberration. More often they looked like the one in the picture below.

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The last four miles into Whitefish were on absolutely terrible road conditions. No shoulder, horrible pavement conditions, steep rolling hills, and tons of traffic hurtling around sharp corners. Miserable. But we hear those are the worst four miles on the entire Northern Tier route, so we’re grateful to have seen the worst!

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We made it into Whitefish a little after noon, and made a quick trip to the post office to mail some more stuff home (a lot of it was our cold weather gear that we brought along for Glacier; remember that record heat wave we were talking about?), and then went searching for a place that had both WiFi and smoothies. We found a little café that had both, but the smoothies were much better than the WiFi. Then we headed to the bike shop to pick up some odds and ends. While there, we ran into Dan, Gina, and Clive and we all went out for lunch at an Italian eatery next door, where I gorged myself on a giant calzone. The best part about riding 60+ miles day after day is the  enormous amount of food we get to eat. No calorie restrictions on tour!

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Afterwards, we went up to Lake Whitefish and took a quick dip to cool ourselves off (heat wave). Then we pedaled to our camping place for the night, The Montana Bike Hostel and Campground. This is a side business run by a couple of folks that live almost on the way (but not quite) between Whitefish and Columbia Falls (the next town over), but a couple miles down a gravel road. We chose to camp here because we’ve had great luck with cyclist-focused lodging so far, but this was a letdown. It is run as a business that seeks to take advantage of the cycling culture around Whitefish and Glacier National Park. It exists to make money. The other places we’ve been staying have been run more for the love of cycling and helping bike tourists along their journey, without really seeking to make a huge profit.

Beautiful! But out of the way and pricey!!

Beautiful! But out of the way and pricey!! And notice the locked door on the hostel. They came out to lock it up after we had the audacity to go in and look around.

I guess we had no reason to expect that everyone is just going to be kind, but if we had to do it again, we’d stay at one of the other campgrounds closer to town and not come out of the way to pay the most we’ve had to pay for camping so far to pitch a tent in a guy’s yard and get lectured (citing half-truths and some outright lies) about how fair the price was and how untrustworthy and cheap cycle tourists can be.

There was also a little misunderstanding about the shower situation. When I talked to the owners on the phone, the man mentioned that there was an outdoor shower that we were free to use. When we showed up, the hosts were nowhere to be found (and didn’t answer our knocks on the door or rings of the doorbell), so we started to get set up. We pitched our tent and saw a small structure across from the bike bunk house (which we couldn’t afford) with the word “shower” across the top. “Oh,” we thought, “that’s the outdoor shower.” So we turned on the water and I jumped in the shower.

The hosts came out and started to talk to Dani as I was getting out of the shower. The first thing they told her was that we were not permitted to enter the bunkhouse (which had electricity, a cooktop, and a weak wifi signal), because those luxuries were only for people paying to stay there. Then, when we tried to pay the exorbitant camping fee, the host said, “And also $5 for the shower.”

What?!

First off, $5 for a cold shower is really steep. Secondly, he had told us that the outdoor shower was free. But, as was quickly explained to us, the shower I took was in a shack. So it wasn’t outdoors.  The “outdoor shower” he was referring to was hanging the hose from a tree in their yard and letting us stand under it.

But, as Dani said, just because an outhouse has walls and a roof doesn’t mean it’s an indoor bathroom.

Anyways, this only seems like a bad experience because we’ve encountered so many selfless, generous people who have gone out of their way to be kind to us. This serves as a reminder to us to be grateful for every kindness and not take anything for granted.

Tomorrow’s another early day! We have to make it 36 miles to our campground in Glacier before 11:00a. They close parts of Going to the Sun road to cyclists from 11:00a-4:00p, so if we don’t make it in time we’ll have a long journey ahead of us on Monday!

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!).

Day 12: The day of daydreams

Day 12, Clark Fork, ID to Libby, MT: 74.7 miles, 3,350 ft. elevation gain, 11.5 mph average speed
Trip totals: 654.3 miles (58 mile daily average), 38,878 ft. elevation gain, 11 mph overall average speed

Map and stats here.

Dani and I first started seriously considering the prospect of a long-distance bike tour in the middle of January. So that means that I’ve had a little over 5 months to daydream about what bike touring would be like. Although each daydream had its own variations, they all generally involved us riding along a nice paved road along the bottom of a beautiful valley, alongside a creek, and with mountains in the background.

Or to put it more succinctly, I was daydreaming of today.

We started out from Annie’s Orchard at what we assumed was 7:45a, but we forgot that the time zone changed at the Idaho/Montana border, so we almost immediately lost an hour.  At the beginning of the day, we had to make a choice between taking the main Adventure Cycling route or talking a slightly different route, the “Heron Alternate.”  The Heron Alternate was three miles longer with considerably less traffic, but poorer road conditions.

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After a little debate, we decided that we valued less traffic over better road conditions. However, if we knew that “poor road conditions” meant a washboarded dirt road with no smooth path, we might have made a different decision. That being said, the scenery was incredible. Farmland. Mountains. Trees. Beauty.

No official welcome from Montana, but at least the Inn was happy we arrived!

No official welcome from Montana, but at least the Inn was happy we arrived!

Montana's unofficial welcome: an end to the paved road.

Montana’s unofficial welcome: an end to the paved road.

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After we rejoined the main route, we rode for about seven more miles before we stopped at a market near the junction of Rt. 200 and Rt. 56. This might be the best store ever. We bought banana nut bread, fudge, two types of cookie bars, chocolate milk, and a fresh-as-you-can-get-just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookie. Everything was divine, and inexpensive, to boot! We met a friendly retired man who grew up in the area and had done a fair amount of biking on the roads we were taking today.

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After getting back on our bikes, we made the turn onto Rt. 56, where we spent the next 35 miles. At first we were a little nervous about spending so much time on a road with a variable shoulder width and a 70 mph speed limit, but traffic was light, most of the drivers were very polite, and those that weren’t didn’t end up hitting us, so all’s well that ends well.

But this road was the stuff of my daydreams. Exactly what I thought touring should be. Just wonderful vistas everywhere we looked.

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Halfway through our time on this road, a man in a camper who was going the opposite direction pulled over to chat with us and ended up leaving us with an ice-cold bottle of water and can of Dr. Pepper. We haven’t really mentioned how hot it has been. Record heat wave in Montana and all that. Suffice to say, the cold drinks were MUCH appreciated!

A little bit further down the road, we came upon Bull Lake.  It was clear and beautiful and we were hot and sweaty.  So we jumped in!! A midday swim is just what we needed! We also definitely needed the giant pile of cheese and bacon covered fries we ordered at a restaurant called the Halfway House a mile or so up the road. To be honest, we might have ordered food just to give us more time to enjoy our delicious huckleberry lemonade.

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After we finished Rt. 56, we turned onto Rt. 2.  A few miles down the road, we stopped off to hike down to Kootenai Falls, which were lovely.  So much of the water around is a lovely blue-green, and we never get tired of looking at it.

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After visiting the falls, we pushed through the last 10 miles to Libby, MT. Libby is a much larger town than we expected and we got turned around a little bit, but we eventually we found our way to the campground, which was conveniently located right next to a grocery store, which conveniently had free seltzer water on tap and free wifi that reached to our campground, so it was all gravy.  The only downside is that there was no shower and it was still quite warm, so it was a hot and sticky night.