Dreaming that I was dreaming, I was lying at home in my bed, dreaming of sleeping under the stars on a pass in Montana. As I started to wake, I realized that I wasn’t in my bed, but actually near the top of Big Hole Pass in western Montana, lying on the ground… and I was freezing! My exhaustion had led to sleep when I was so cold that everything hurt. I had on every piece of clothing I could put on and was under my sleeping-bag-turned-sleeping-quilt, but it wasn’t enough. The sun was coming up, but it wouldn’t warm me fast enough. I needed to get moving.
It was almost 6AM and we had slept too long. Despite the fact that I needed the rest, movement was imperative. Both to warm up and because we were racing! Scott and I slammed our kits together and headed out, finishing the short distance to the top of the pass. As I went down the other side of the pass, I froze. I had left most of my warm gear on, but the short little bit of climbing to the top of the pass before the descent wasn’t enough to get the inner fires stoked. I pulled back on the reigns and slowed a bit, just to help keep the wind off me a little.
Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long for the next climb- Badger Pass. As the road turned up, so did my body temp. I stopped along the way and shed layers. This process was repeated day in and day out in the mountains- strip layers off to climb and add them back on for descents.
On down the road, we rolled into Dillon. At the edge of town was a restaurant where Scott and I stopped for breakfast. We ate, made our trips to the john for daily duties and assessment, then headed off again. I took off first and made my way through town. As I rode through the streets of Dillon, I remember getting all emotional. I don’t recall if I was listening to music or just thinking about my wife and kids, but I remember having to stop and wipe my eyes. Tears were flowing to the point I couldn’t see. There really wasn’t a reason for the outpouring, but I couldn’t help it. The stress I was putting on my body and the lack of sleep was starting to take it’s toll on my mental state. These issues would continue.
On ahead, I was getting frustrated with myself. Before each stop to resupply or eat, I would plan out in advance things that I needed to do. In addition to getting food or drink, I would make a mental note to clean and lube my drive train and air up my tires. These simple maintenances needed to be done regularly, but each time I stopped, I would forget to do them and just ride on down the road. The push to stay moving overrode my ability to remind myself. As I rode along in my declining mental state, I was getting more and more angry with myself for not remembering to take care of these simple tasks. A few miles down the road, I had enough and stopped, leaning my bike up against a guard rail along the highway.
Scott wasn’t far behind and stopped to check on me. I told him that I needed to do maintenance and he looked at me like I had lost it. I am sure he was thinking to himself “why doesn’t he do these things at a regular stop?” He rode on ahead and I took a few minutes to stop, breath, gather myself and address my concerns. Cleaning the gunk off my chain and adding lube made the machine much quieter. A check of the pressures in my tires found them to be 20+ psi short of normal. Once back on the bike and riding, I asked myself why I hadn’t made the effort to stop and address these things before. The dirty, un-lubed chain and low tire pressures just added drag and resistance, meaning I had been working harder than necessary. Better be smart meathead!
After my little pit stop, I was feeling better about myself, at least for the time being. There is a saying in endurance cycling- However you feel… it won’t last. The point is, no matter if things are good or bad, it won’t be that way for long. My experience is that the farther into an event you go, the quicker the shifts in mental state and the amplitude of those shifts increases as well. This particular time, the mental shift was a lift and that translated to power to the pedals with the addition of the right songs in my headphones. It helped that the general inclination of the road was gradually down. I headed out in search of my little buddy Scott.
Before reaching Twin Bridges, I caught up with the Single Speeder from Tennessee. We rolled into town and found a gas station to stop at for refueling. I remember chatting up a local, but I can’t recall what about. Soon it was back to the road. The next 40 miles or so to Virginia City was a slog. I couldn’t tell at the time, but that general inclination had turned on its ear and now meant we were gradually gaining elevation. I remember being tired and hot. Somewhere along the way, Gav caught up to us. He had rode on late the night before and made it to Dillon. When Scott and I had rolled through town, Gav was still sleeping, but with that rest, he was ready to get after it.
The three of us stopped for ice cream in the tourist trap that is Virginia City. A ghost of an old mining town, Virginia City now hawks its wares as a tourist attraction. That means there isn’t a lot there for a endurance racer, but they do have a great ice cream shop. A perfect spot for a rest and the frozen treat does wonders when you need to cool down.
Immediately outside Virginia City, the road turns up, up, up headed toward an unnamed pass. Why someone hasn’t given it a name is beyond me. I can think of some pretty colorful words to use if the State of Montana wanted my help. What a nasty hill! Scott was hitting his stride and had no issue powering up the climb. I was struggling and had to stop several times. In 2011, when I toured the route, I took pride in the fact that I never walked a step of the way, all the way across the country. I pedaled my bike no matter what. I took breaks, but I never pushed my bike. This time, racing meant a different type of game. When I needed a break, I stayed moving, pushing my bike up the hill. I didn’t like the idea of pushing, but movement was more important. The breaks had been few over the course of the race, but that hill outside of Virginia City saw its fair share of them… and then some.
Cresting the pass meant a long descent into Ennis. There were a few places where the grade was pretty steep, but the important part was that it was all downhill! Once in Ennis, the three of us grabbed food at a restaurant and supplies at a gas station. After a nice little break, we headed south out of town on Hwy 287. Next stop West Yellowstone!
Well, sort of. 🙂
The 75 miles of road from Ennis to West Yellowstone is a bit of a slog. The gradual ascent toward the caldera that Yellowstone sits on makes it that way. You gain roughly 1800′ along the way and there are few services, especially at night. We left Ennis about 7:30PM and watched off to the west as the sun set and a storm brewed. We were concerned that we would get drenched, but it never happened. What did happen was an amazing sunset through the thunder storm clouds. What a site!
Right about dark, we passed a roadside bar and thought we should fill up our bottles. The parking lot was full of pick-ups and I could only imagine that we would stick out like sore thumbs in our cycling kit. We leaned our bikes against the wall outside and headed in. It was almost like a scene from an old west movie, where the guy walks into a bar and the piano stops playing as everyone turns to see who walked in. Only this wasn’t a room full of good ole cowboys. This bar was full of 20-something year old guys who looked like they were looking for a reason to fight. We quickly asked the barkeep if he would fill our bottles and were told that we could fill them from a water spigot out back. There’s some hospitality for ya. Not! We exited, ran around back, filled our bottles and got down the road before trouble was made. Fortunately, we were able to get away without incident. Maybe it was all in my head, but that was the one time during the race that I felt like I was truly in a bad spot. No harm, no foul. Down the road we went!
Now after dark, we rode along and chatted. Soon enough, Gav’s surplus of rest, relative to our’s anyway, translated to him getting out in front and then ahead out of sight. He had mentioned that he planned to stop at a place that had cabins some miles up the road, but well before West Yellowstone. I think his thought was that we could share the expense and all of us get a room together. Typically I would have been game for such an idea, but as Scott and I rode on, we talked about it and decided to push and get a room in West Yellowstone. The thought was that maybe we could put a gap between us and Gav.
As we rode, it got late and it got cold. June in Yellowstone can see some pretty low temps, even snow. We were fortunate to not have precipitation, but the area was certainly living up to the billing of being colder. As we neared Quake Lake, we started to climb and we were right beside the river. I recall it being very dark out and the noise of the river seemed ominous. Yellowstone and the area is know for its bear population and my thoughts were certainly right there. Would bears be out around the river at night? Made sense to me. Much like climbing out of Hell’s Canyon, I just kept talking and singing. Anything to make noise actually.
The worst part was I was really getting tired. We were nearing 170 miles for the day and my sleep the prior two nights was less than stellar. As we rode on, riding along Hebgen Lake in the dark, I started falling asleep on the bike. Just nodding off here and there, but enough to scare the crap out of me. I didn’t want to crash. I needed to make it to West and I needed to get there as quick as I could.
The turn onto Hwy 191, which leads into West, was a big high for me. I was cold and tired, but it wasn’t far now! My memory from 2011 was that this stretch was all downhill and very short. Evidently my memory was fairly short because that wasn’t how this stretch of road went! Don’t get me wrong, it was not a big climb, but not the downhill of my memory. My lapses into sleep kept getting deeper and closer together. The glow of my headlamp was mesmerizing and I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. The 8 miles to town seemed more like 80. It just drug on and on.
Eventually, we saw the lights. YES! Like weary desert travelers finding an oasis, we rode into town at 2AM. Now we just had to find a room. No problem in a small town with 100 hotels, right?
WRONG!! Everywhere we went had their NO VACANCY sign lit. Tourist season had begun and everywhere was booked up. The ones that didn’t have a sign up, didn’t have a desk clerk either. Knocking on doors and going from hotel to hotel without luck, I was getting fed up. I just wanted a place to sleep. Eventually we came across a hotel that didn’t have their NO VACANCY sign on! We leaned our bikes outside and went in. We were in luck! She had one room left….. for $180!!!!! WHAT?!?!?!!? No way man! I was not going to pay $180 for a hotel room that I only planned to spend 5 hours in. We went back out into the street and kept looking. Surely there had to be another room.
We rode on down the street and around a few blocks looking for another hotel. Each one sported their sign showing no rooms. It was cold and late. It was now pushing 3AM. We needed to make a choice. Back to the one room it was.
When we walked back in, I figured the desk clerk would be smiling, knowing full well that she had us where she wanted us. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. She was a sweetheart. Not only did she offer us muffins, but she knocked $20 off the rate because we were so late at night. She then told us about the continental breakfast and gave us our keys. Another story of hospitality. Yeah, I know, we paid big money for a room, but she didn’t have to offer us a break.
We were fortunate that the room had two beds. It wouldn’t have mattered as we were both exhausted, but the personal space was nice. Scott got a shower, then I got mine. I put on my rain pants, washed-out my kit and hit the sack. By now, we were getting pretty efficient at bedding down, even in a hotel situation so it went quick. The day was done. We had made it 191 miles and in the process had knocked another of the 12 Adventure Cycling maps down. Wanting to make the most of my $80 half of the room, I was out like a light.