TABR16- Day 8

After a disappointing day 7, I woke at the Driftwater Resort to my alarm at 4:00AM with renewed vigor. Day 8 would be a much better day and I was going to make it happen!

I gathered everything and hit the road quickly. It was a cold morning, but I was prepared with the kit I had. I made pretty quick work of the route along Quake and Hebgen Lakes, then made my way into West Yellowstone for a super fast breakfast at McDonalds. I ran across the street to a gas station for supplies and a nature break, then headed for Yellowstone. I spent a total of 15 minutes in town. I was bound and determined to get as far as possible into the park before the throng of people came.

Being the 100th anniversary of the national park service and the fact that it was Yellowstone on a Saturday in June, I figured the park would be crawling with tourists and traffic jams. I have traveled through this part of Yellowstone 3 times prior to this trip, so I had no desire to see anything except for the miles flying by. I went through the west gate about 8:00AM and after paying my fare, didn’t slow down until Grant Village. I passed right by every spot to stop and see something, right by all the traffic stopped to look at buffalo (I just rode on the small shoulder right passed them) and right by the buffalo themselves as they stood in the road. I was a little sketched out by the beasts being that close, but I figured as long as they were there, the cars couldn’t get by and I would have smooth sailing on the other side.

At one point I needed to pee REALLY bad, but I was climbing one of the passes in the park and the traffic was too heavy to just stop and go along the road. I decided that at the next little pullout, I would go up in the woods and take care of business. When that next pullout came, I started to slow down, but noticed a bike in the woods just a few yards off the road. Upon further inspection I saw the bikepacking bags on the bike and a bivy on the ground. I knew then it was a racer, so I never put a foot down, kept riding and tried to be as quiet as possible so as not to wake them. Every person I could pass made me feel a bit better about my debacle from the day before. Later I would look at Trackleaders and see it was Lee Fancourt taking a nap.

I made the 51 miles from West Yellowstone to Grant Village in right at 4 hours. I was super pleased with that given it was through the park with traffic and several significant climbs. I resupplied there and tore off again, aimed at getting over Togwotee before the night was over.

As I came out of Yellowstone and into Tetons, the weather was beginning to turn. Clouds were moving in and there was a bit of cold rain. The mosquitos were atrocious as well! I stopped at the station at the turn to Colter Bay, then headed off again. Just up the rode about a mile I came across two young guys who were obviously touring and had one of their bikes turned over changing a tire. I stopped to make sure they were ok and found they weren’t. The new tire they were installing was super tight and they had been trying for an hour to get it on the rim. I put the tire on for them and asked if they needed help airing it up. They blushed and said no, so I left them be and headed on. Later, when I got home after the race, they got in contact with me as they came through my home town. Come to find out I had punctured the tube with the tire levers while putting that tire on and they had to do it over! What a dope! They were good sports about it all and just grateful that I stopped to help. They mentioned I was the first racer they met as the others wouldn’t stop. That made be feel good. It is a race, but sometimes you gotta let it go.

My view of the Tetons was obscured by clouds as I rode passed Jackson Lake. No matter. I kept rolling with intent. Soon I made the turn at Moran Junction and headed East for Togwotee Pass. As I passed the Hatchet Resort at the base of the climb, cold rain began again. It set in and made things a bit nasty. I was fine with it. I was staying warm by climbing. The digital highway sign stating “Stay in your car!!!! Bears on the road!!!” didn’t help though. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to combat that. I just made as much noise as I could, singing and talking to myself as I climbed in the rain.

Half way up the pass (or so), I stopped at Togwotee Mountain Lodge and went inside for some food. I knew at this point that I would make it over the pass that night, but I wasn’t sure I would get to Dubois in time to get any food, so it was a no brainer to me. I wasn’t going to go through the same thing that I did in Twin Bridges. After a quick meal, I headed back out into the rain and fleeting light of day to finish the climb. It was only 7:00, but with the clouds and rain, it seemed pretty dark.

The remainder of Togwotee was fairly uneventful. Toward the end of the climb, the rain stopped. I never saw a grizzly, but it wasn’t for lack of watching. At the top, I stopped and put on clothes for the descent. It was cold and wet and I was a bit sketched by the curvy, wet road in the earliest, steepest part, but it was uneventful as well. I did have a few times where there were deer very near the road on my way down. That always makes me nervous, thinking they may run out in front of me. Nothing doing. They would look up as I passed, but then return to grazing. A few miles down, I stopped at Lava Lodge for a cup of coffee to warm up. It was a short stop, but a nice respite from the cold of coming off the mountain.

The sun set and I finished the ride into Dubois, pronounced DO-boys. Just ask the locals. As I came into town, I was pleased that I stopped at Togwotee Lodge for a meal. Nothing was open. I passed by a couple of chain hotels at the western edge of town and headed for a particular mom & pop place that I have stayed at before. The Wind River Motel is a 1940’s era place. Not much in the name of accommodations, but it suits me fine. As I was pulling in the lot, the old lady that runs the place was shutting the lights out in the office. I rushed over and she was gracious enough to rent me a room. I thanked her, did our business, took the key and found my room for the night.

In the end, I made 188 miles on the day. Not an earth shattering amount, but not bad considering it was through the parks and over the second highest pass on the route (9658′). Much better than the day prior. I went to sleep, pleased with my come back and anxious to make more headway the next day.

 

TABR16- Day 7

I had arrived at Twin Bridges the night before a little after 9:30PM, right at dark. Upon further inspection, I had no food left so I went to bed hungry. I set my alarm for 4AM with the intent on making a huge push the next day. I really wanted to make it through Yellowstone, the Tetons and over Togwotee Pass, but it was going to take all I could muster. From Twin Bridges it would be right at 275 miles with a boat load of climbing to pull it off.

As I lay sleeping, I was awoken by the sound of a couple guys just outside the camp/hostel. I remember being able to tell by what they were saying and the fact that they were shining a flashlight through the windows that they were up to no good. I tried to lay there, hoping they would see me, move along and I could continue my sleep. Whether they saw me or not, they came inside the hostel and started making a bunch of noise. I abruptly sat up in my bivy and gave them a stern “HEY!” At that point I realized that they had NOT seen me because I scared the crap out of them! They gave a half-hearted apology and took off. My guess is they were partying or something and were looking for a place to sleep or hang out. Either way, at that point, I was up. I believe it was a little before 4AM. I HATE being woke up before my alarm!

I got up, gathered my things, put on my warm gear (because it was COLD!) and got moving. I wanted to have a big day, so I figured I might as well start it early.

I rolled down the main drag of Twin Bridges, praying something would be open, but those prayers were in vain. Having not eaten the night before, my hunger was multiplied. With nothing else to do except ride, I rode on out of town. I needed to stay moving to stay warm. Hopefully one of the little towns just down the road would have something open early. It was only 10 miles to Sheridan. I would try my luck there.

As I rode, I warmed quickly, but I had absolutely no power. None. Without eating before bed, I hadn’t restored my needed glycogen stores and that meant zero energy. I was screwed. It took me over an hour to make the short 10 miles to Sheridan. I was zonked and needed food bad. The worst part was when I got to Sheridan, it was basically a ghost town. Nothing open and nobody around. I found a diner that would open at 7AM, but it was only 5:20AM. All I could do was wait. I found a park two blocks away and found a bench to hang out on. I wanted to get my bivy out to nap and also stay warm, but there were signs that said no overnight camping. I put on all the clothes I had and sat, watching the seconds tick by.

After what seemed like eternity, it was finally 7:00 and I slowly rolled to the diner. I went in and ordered a huge breakfast as well as coffee to warm me up. It was so good to eat! I ate more than any two people should and started to feel a bit better. At least I was warming up. I paid my bill and went down the block to a gas station that was now open for supplies. I probably over did it on that shopping trip, not wanting to be without again. When I finally left Sheridan it was 7:45AM. I had been up for about 4 hours and had made a mere 10 miles.

The next 20 miles were a slog, through Alder and up to Virginia City. It was all up hill and even though I had eaten, my body hadn’t processed the food so I was still short on energy and power. To make it worse, I had the pass after Virginia City to deal with. I knew it was steep, but low on energy, I found myself reduced to walking parts of it. I just didn’t have the energy to turn over the pedals.

Once over the top, the descent off the pass was fast and right away I made it to Ennis. After a resupply and another meal at a diner, I was excited to tackle the next stretch of road. It is 76 miles from Ennis to West Yellowstone and a slight upward trending grade, but both of my previous trips through this area had afforded me a massive tailwind that helped me to dispatch it in short order. After the nasty morning I had, I couldn’t wait to start heading south.

What followed was one of the worst headwinds I had ever experienced. No sooner than I left town, the winds dialed up to maximum on the knob. The weather reports I saw showed that it was a strict and steady headwind of 30+mph with gusts up to 50. It was demoralizing. Over the course of the remainder of the morning and afternoon, it took me 7 hours to go 41 miles. Even down in the aerobars, all I could manage was 6-7 mph. By the time I reached Driftwaters Resort, I was beat and there was no fight left in me.

I had stopped by the Driftwater in 2011 on my tour. It was just a short stop in their little store to grab some drinks and snacks. Fast forward to 2016. Before the race while spending some time in Hood River with Thomas Camero, he gave me a list of great spots along the Trans Am. The Driftwater was one of them. This time I would make better use of their facilities.

When I arrived, I went to the bar and asked about accommodations. The owner said that I could stay in the great room next door on a fold out couch, but I would have to wait as there was a birthday party going on in that room. I had zero intention of going back out for more headwind, so I sat in the bar area, eating and drinking. Markku came in at one point and sat with me for a bit. He contemplated things and decided to carry on ahead with the intent of staying in West Yellowstone, some 35 miles down the road. There was no way I was staying there. I did that in 2015. Way too expensive and just got lucky to find a room. The Driftwater was to be my spot. It would just take awhile.

I hung out, chatting with some folks at the bar and eventually the lady of the house came through and said the common area was ready. We went over and she showed me where to put my things, where the showers were and where I could wash my clothes. In the end, she started the coin op washer and dryer for me for free and offered me some snacks as well. When I asked her what I owed her for the accommodations, she said $5. I gave her $40, thanked her over and over and went to bed after taking care of my things. She was an absolute joy and so helpful. I can’t praise her hospitality enough.

I was very frustrated with my progress on that day. I made  it only 83 miles and felt like it was such a waste of resources, time and energy. If only I had planned my food better the night before. I may not have made it through that area without headwinds, but at least I would have had more energy with which to put up a fight. Exhausted, I laid down and slept well. All I could do was put it all behind me and let tomorrow be a new day.

 

TABR16- Day 6

When my alarm went off at 4AM, after 5 hours of sleep, I can’t say that I was real motivated to get moving. When just a few minutes later I heard a door in the hallway shut quietly and the sound of a bike freewheel clicking as it was pushed down the hall, I knew Janie was up and out the door. I figured I had better get moving if I had any intention of keeping up!

I grabbed my things quickly and hit the road. As I left Lolo, I stopped at a gas station for coffee and supplies. This was where Scott McConnell and I had coffee after The Great Sprinkling of ’15. This time I wasn’t laughing- just trying to stay moving. I packed the supplies I bought onto my bike and headed down the road.

Over the course of the morning, as I traveled along the route, I stopped a couple times quickly at gas stations, but didn’t dally. There wasn’t anything of note that stuck out about the morning. At a couple points along the way I saw Andrej Zaman, the Slovenian racer. When I got to the spot in the road that is Sula, I had every intention of taking a good break and getting some food from the diner there. While I was there, in came Andrej, Markku Leppala of Finland and to my surprise…Janie! Although she had left the motel before me that morning, she unfortunately had went the wrong way from the motel and was headed to Missoula. By the time she figured it out, I had left and she ended up behind me. Not what I expected!

Everyone else came in the store, grabbed what they needed and left quickly. I took my time, enjoying a burger and fries, then loaded up with snacks and hit the road to climb Chief Joseph Pass. Chief Joseph is one of my favorite passes on the route and climbing it was wonderful. The mountains have such beauty and it is best seen riding a bike.

Once over the pass, I settled in for the long descent into the Big Hole Valley toward Wisdom. If I remember right, there was a little bit of a rain shower on that descent, but nothing too bad.

In Wisdom, as usual for June, the mosquitos tried to cart me off if I was going slower than 12mph. I quickly propped my bike up outside the grocery store and went inside for supplies. Janie and Andrej were there as well and I made quick work of the stop. I wanted to stay moving. In the race the prior year, I had started my day early in Lolo, but later stopped too much which forced me to end my day camping at a roadside park of sorts on Big Hole Pass just outside Jackson. That night I felt like I was going to freeze to death! I had no intention of doing that again, so I wanted to stay moving and at least make it down out of elevation.

Right away I was back on the road. I felt really lucky to have just enough wind to keep the mosquitos knocked down. Unlike the vampiric scene from 2015, I rolled into Jackson easily and without bug bites. I was feeling very hungry and although I didn’t want to take the time, decided to hit up a little bar and grill for a meal. Another burger and fries topped off with Coke and a Gatorade did the trick. While I sat, Janie and Andrej passed by chasing after Markku.

Back on the bike, I headed out of Jackson and shortly thereafter, up Big Hole Pass. It was such a relief to me to be over that pass in the daylight, much less at 5:00PM! I was much faster than in 2015 and seeing that seemed to spur me along.

Over the pass, there was a HUGE tailwind! Probably along the lines of 25mph or so. That pushed me along and I was flying. Couple the tailwind with the ~2000′ of elevation loss over 35 miles from Big Hole Pass to Dillon (minus Badger Pass in the middle) and the average pace was soaring. I passed Andrej going up Badger Pass and came off it feeling like a gajillion dollars, chomping at the bit to keep rolling and use that wind for all it was worth.

When I rolled into Dillon, I scanned every business I passed, expecting to see Janie and/or Markku, but saw nothing. That made me think that they had rolled on through and I didn’t want to get behind. I made a quick stop at a gas station as I went out of town, checked Trackleaders and realized that I had missed them somehow, as they had stopped on the other side of town. I got all excited thinking I would make some hay and head out ahead of them. I grabbed a few snacks and hit the road, looking forward to more tailwind.

As I left Dillon, I was smacked in the face with the reality that my tailwind had shifted and was now a headwind. Going along the fairly flat stretches of road by Beaverhead Rock, I was reduced to rubble as I had to grind against the wind. The road actually was slightly downhill, following alongside the Beaverhead River, but I couldn’t tell. I was crawling along, fighting the wind and averaging less than 10mph.

Just a few miles ahead, Janie caught up to me. She had stopped in Dillon and grabbed tacos for dinner. I had whittled through my stores and wished I had tacos, but alas, I did not. I did however have a bit of company as we rode and chatted for the 15 miles or so to Twin Bridges. She is a great soul and a pleasure to talk to. As I am a very social being, those bits of communication I had with folks along the way are some of the moments I hold very dear about TABR.

As we approached Twin Bridges, we discussed plans. Janie was headed to a small hotel in town. I planned to hit up the cyclist-only hostel/camp at the edge of town that was administered by the city in their park. We got there about 9:30PM and went our separate ways. I assumed I would see her again the next day somewhere along the road.

The cyclist-only lodging was little more than a thin-walled shed. Being right by the river, they had built the walls so that they were about 2 inches off the floor all the way around, I assume to help promote water drainage when spring rains and melt force the river out of its banks and into the park. This made for quite a breeze under the walls and plenty of bugs. I dug through my bags and found that I was out of food. Bad planning. I rolled out my bivy and laid down to sleep- cold, hungry and wishing I had thought things through more. Overall it had been a good day. I had made about 220 miles, climbed 3 passes and felt good about my progress, but my lack of preparation for the evening would come back to haunt me. Sleep found me very quickly.

TABR16- Day 5

The dawn of day 5 came way too early for me. I ended up sleeping later than I wanted, but I was zonked and needed some rest. I got up, gathered my things, ate as much as I could from the hotel breakfast and headed out into a bright morning sun about 7:00AM.

My original plan was out the window and I was trying my best to just keep moving and hopefully make the very best out of my race. To do that, I would shoot for 250 a day, which would mean on this day that I should make Sula, MT, roughly 80 miles south of Lolo. Between here and there would be 27 miles to Kooskia, then 100 miles of gradual climbing with no services (sorta) followed by Lolo Pass. After THAT, it was 34 miles to Lolo, 40-ish to Hamilton and yet another 40 or so to Sula . No sweat.

I rolled easy out of town and enjoyed the plains-type feel of the fields on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. That easy feeling was brought to an abrupt end as I descended down Lamb Grade, arguably one of the steepest, curvy and in my opinion sketchiest roads of the entire Trans Am. Dropping 1400′ in just 3 miles down a crooked little country road with no shoulders or guard rails, Lamb Grade insured that I wouldn’t come off my bike due to my flexed gluteus. It’s a beautiful ride, but man was I cautious.

Once at the bottom, I spent the next few miles into Kooskia trying to relax. I was more than a bit tense after that descent! In Kooskia, I loaded up on supplies and prepared for the long stretch of remoteness along the Lochsa River toward Lolo Pass. As I left town, I had my first flat. What a difference this year was compared to my other trips! At this point in prior journeys, I would have had 10 flats. Chalk it up to luck more than anything, but I’m sure the fact that I only had 10.5lbs of gear helped to reduce them as well.

The ride along the Lochsa is one of my favorite stretches of the Trans Am. It is literally 100 miles of gentle grade alongside a beautiful mountain river that is surrounded by nothing but mountains and evergreen trees. It is absolutely stunning. I took it all in as I went, doing my best to enjoy this moment. It just doesn’t get any better.

By late afternoon, I reached the end of my time with the river and turned toward Lochsa Lodge. I was really looking forward to a good meal and some cold drinks. I went inside the restaurant, ordered a big burger and fries with a Coke and proceeded to chow down. As I finished my meal, Janie Hayes came in. She was looking a bit worse for wear, but as usual, she was in fantastic spirits. She quickly ordered some nachos if I remember right and got to scarfing down her food. I went across the drive to the general store for a few supplies and got ready to head out. By the time I was leaving the store, Janie was out of the restaurant and headed over to the store! She was on a mission. As she went into the store, I left and made my way for Lolo Pass.

I settled in on the pass and found my groove. Some folks don’t care for Lolo, but I think it is a great climb. It just doesn’t seem that bad to me. Not that I am some great climber. By the time I reached the top, I needed to go to the rest area found there and use the facilities. I didn’t dally and as I got back on the road, I turned to see Janie summiting the pass. It was a treat to get to share that moment of triumph.

The two of us began the descent off the east side of the pass and quickly I was getting away from her. At nearly twice her size, gravity was my friend. In short order the grade leveled and we got the opportunity to chat a bit as we rode along. The miles passed quickly and we discussed our plans for the night. With a storm on the southeastern horizon, flashing lightening through thunderheads, we both decided that we would stop in Lolo and not risk having to bivy in cold mountain rain. In what seemed like no time, the 30 miles to the town of Lolo were gone. At that point I saw the advantages of riding near someone. It is truly no comparison to riding alone.

It was after 10:15PM when we got to town and many of the businesses were closed. After trying to get food at a couple different places, we came upon a McDonalds and grabbed big orders of food to go. We both then went across the highway to a motel and got separate rooms. We talked about sharing a room, just to save the cost, but neither of us felt comfortable with that. As we both checked in, the owner, who was running the front desk, offered us each a beer. Nice!

I went to my room, ate showered and hit the sack by a little after 11PM. I had finished the day at about 160 miles, 80 miles short of what I wanted, but I was over Lolo Pass and had made decent headway. I had to think of the race in little bits. Tomorrow is another day. I would start early.

 

 

TABR15- Day 9- West Yellowstone to Hatchet Resort

I woke up groggy to the sound of my alarm. It was late (about 10AM), but after the near 200 miles the day before that ended after 3AM, I was still tired. Scott and I kitted-up, packed our things and headed over for the continental breakfast. It wasn’t much, but better than nothing. We rolled out by 10:30 and started making our way through the crowded streets of bustling West Yellowstone.

I had a broken cleat that I had attempted to remove in our room, but in the end I stripped one of the allen head bolts out and couldn’t get the stupid thing off. I had put the other two bolts back in and was looking for a bike shop. Funny coincidence- this EXACT same thing happened to me on my 2011 tour…in West Yellowstone. Back in 2011, I went to Free Heel & Wheel, a cool little bike shop/cross country ski shop on the main drag out of town toward the park. They let me borrow tools to fix it myself, which was greatly appreciated. With that experience in mind, I made my way to Free Heel & Wheel to do the same again. Scott went across the street to a Mobil station to grab some supplies for the day.

I went in the bike shop and they were busy. Good! I explained my plight and the owner said I could borrow their work area and tools. As they handled their customers, I was left alone to handle my own issues. After removing the two good bolts, I grabbed the same pair of huge channel lock pliers that I had used 4 years before and tried to twist the broken cleat off with its stripped bolt. This worked in 2011, but not this time. What now? They had a cordless drill under the bench, so I went to town and began drilling out the stripped bolt. The owner came back between customers and sees me, one shoe off, that shoe upside down on the bench and me leaning on his drill like I’m going to run a hole through my shoe. He just shook his head and went on. 🙂

Quickly enough, the bolt head was gone and the cleat was free. I grabbed the pliers, twisted the headless bolt that was now free out of my shoe and proceeded to put my good cleat on. I made quick work of the whole thing and was done before Scott could make it back over from the gas station. I offered the shop some money for the use of their space, but they refused. Very nice folks!

I jetted across the way and into the gas station, quickly grabbed some supplies for the day and we rolled out. The traffic was all wadded up. Long lines of cars and SUV’s standing still, waiting in line to go through the gates to Yellowstone. Scott and I went around the traffic and made our way to the front. We paid our fee to enter the park and took off. It was right around 11AM. It had been a productive hour or so!

Riding through Yellowstone was beautiful, but terrible. The scenery is out of this world. Just amazing. However the traffic sucked! I mentioned to Scott several times that I didn’t understand why so many people come from all over the world ON VACATION to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and see the wonders that Yellowstone offers, only to rush around in a big hurry once they get there with no consideration for anyone or anything. The narrow roads coupled with lots of traffic made cycling a chore and a bit scary at times. Cycling there in June was exponentially worse than September as I had done in 2011.

We rolled through the geothermic area of the park and neared the main attraction- Old Faithful. Neither of us were interested in sitting around and waiting for the old girl to go, but it was now near 1:30 and we wanted to eat. After putzing around at several of the buildings, we finally found a simple restaurant. It was packed so we asked to grab a couple burgers to go. No can do- they don’t do carry out. You are required to wait your turn for an empty seat, then wait for your meal like a normal human. Well, that just wasn’t going to work. We rode off and headed across the lot to a gas station where we grabbed some grub. We said screw it and sat down outside on the pavement to eat. The breeze had been cool all day and sitting on the blacktop with the sun shining was nice.

After eating, it was back at it and down the road. There is a lot of climbing in Yellowstone and we crossed the Continental Divide a total of three times before we left the park. All that climbing was a challenge so before we crossed the divide for the third time, we stopped in Grant Village to refill our water bottles. At this point it was 4:30. Yellowstone is just so big.

Back on the road, we climbed the last pass in the park, up and over the divide again. There was a big payoff though as it was almost all downhill out of the park. We left Yellowstone behind and in my opinion, it was good riddance. I look forward to one day going to that park when there isn’t much traffic.

Cruising on south, we came across Flagg Ranch. For Tour Divide racers, Flagg is an oasis. For me, it is just a really expensive place to stop between two beautiful national parks. I had stayed there in 2011. I had been stuck with nowhere to stay and a night that was going to be too cold for the gear I had with me. I ended up paying north of $150 for a room with no TV and no wifi. Just a shower and a bed. This time I wasn’t staying, but after some discussion, Scott and I decided to eat at their restaurant. He had remembered it fondly from racing the Divide and I was looking for a good meal. You see, it was my birthday. 43 years young and racing the Trans Am- yeah, that deserved a good meal.

We went in and ordered. I had a pretty good buffalo burger, fires and a beer. For desert it was a big piece of chocolate cake. Fantastic! As we ate, we chatted and charged phones. They had wifi in the restaurant, but it was spotty at best. We did the best we could to catch up on Facebook posts and whatnot. Then it was back to the road.

Quickly we were into Grand Tetons National Park and right away, Gavaskar rode up to us. The three of us rode along Jackson Lake taking in the view. With the sun setting behind the Tetons, it was gorgeous. We rode along taking it all in. The sun goes down late that far north in the summer and right as the last light of day was going behind the mountains, we reached the gas station at the turn off to Colter Bay. It was 9:45 and the attendant was closing up for the night. The discussions began.

Gavaskar was beat and was looking for a place to stay. He was once again hoping that we would all go in together and get a room in Colter Bay. I wanted to go on a bit and had my eye on Hatchet Resort, an old motel about 20 miles up the road. Scott was looking to keep moving and go over Togwotee Pass and on toward Dubois, about 70 miles away. The issue I had with going on toward Dubois was the temps. We would be climbing Togwotee (9658′) at night and it was already chilly. Up on the pass it would be down right frigid. All this was discussed while we grabbed supplies and ate. Meanwhile, the attendant was getting antsy because she wanted to close up and go home. She called the Hatchet for me and confirmed that there was a hostel style room (private bedroom with bath down the hall) for $60. Once I knew that was confirmed, I was ready to roll. I just didn’t want to be stuck out in the cold. I went ahead and reserved the room and was told that the office would be closed, but my key would be in an envelope on the door. Pretty cool.

Gavaskar was headed into Colter Bay so we said our goodbyes. Scott and I took off into the dark and cool night. Having reached the gas station at sundown and thinking about all kinds of other stuff, I hadn’t thought to put my cold gear on and quickly I was freezing. I stopped to suit up a bit and Scott rode on. As I stood along the side of the road getting dressed, two bikes came flying bye in succession and I heard a “what’s up” from both of them. I had no clue who it was! I hurried up and got back on the bike, found another gear or two and took off in chase. I caught up to them right as they caught Scott.

It was Justin Chadwick and Bradford Smith! The last time I had seen them was at Lochsa Lodge, right before the climb up Lolo pass in Idaho. They had started the race with lower mileage days and were really finding their stride. They had every intention of going over Togwotee and Scott liked the idea. I was kinda feeling like the odd man out, but was pretty much dead set on staying at the Hatchet. What would we do?

The four of us rode along together in the cold, talking and cutting up a bit. Brad and Justin were pushing the pace and I was feeling it. They were just stronger than me and it was getting in my head. It seemed like a long 20 miles, but we finally saw the Hatchet come into view.

I was relieved. I just wanted to get off the bike, get warm, get some sleep and tackle the monster that is Togwotee in the morning. Scott still wasn’t sure and didn’t make up his mind until we got to the driveway turn in for the Hatchet. He said he would stay with me. I still don’t know why he chose to do that, but at the time, I took comfort that I wouldn’t be alone the following day. We said our goodbyes and watched as Brad and Justin rode off into the night. I’ll admit I was a bit worried for them. Togwotee can be a real bugger of a pass and it sometimes has strange weather. In 2014, the TABR riders that were mid pack got snowed on there pretty good there. I took solace in that I would have a warm bed.

I went over to the office door, grabbed the envelope with the key and headed off in search of the room. Around behind one of the buildings which looked like a regular house was a very narrow, steep and rickety staircase that led up to a hall where I found the room. It was a trick carrying the loaded bike up those narrow steps in the dark. Once inside, we found the room and it’s one queen size bed. Scott offered to take the floor, but I didn’t think that was right. We vowed to never tell anyone (sorry Scott!) and pretty much marked out the centerline of the bed as a no go zone. I went down the hall and got a quick shower and got in bed. It had been a long day in the saddle with lots of climbing, but we didn’t cover near as much ground as we would have liked- just a little over 100 miles. I was feeling some mental strain from not doing what I had intended to do and being torn between riding with Scott or on my own. Added to that, my body was exhausted. I was asleep quicker than I could ever imagined.

TABR15- Day 8- Big Hole Pass to West Yellowstone

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.

TABR15- Day 7- Lolo, MT to Big Hole Pass

Have you ever been woken up badly? I don’t mean someone shaking you awake or a loud noise. I mean something a bit more shocking that just rocks your world and strips away everything that keeps others from seeing the rawest version of yourself. That happened to me in a park in Lolo, MT.

When I left you last, Scott and I had gotten to Lolo late at night, stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant if we could bivy up behind the store. His suggestion was a RV park across the road. He said, “They have a park next to the RV area where people tent camp sometimes. You just have to be careful that they don’t have the sprinklers on. hehehehe

Hmmmmm

When we went to the RV park, we found a wide open field just over a chain link fence. With no place to hang my hammock, I laid my foam sleeping pad down on the lush, thick grass, and pulled my sleeping bag/quilt over the top of me. Scott was in his bivy snug as a bug and our bikes were locked together so they wouldn’t walk off while we slept. As it was heading toward 1AM and we were right at 1000 miles into the race in only 6 days, sleep was found quickly for both of us.

Now most of you are smart enough to read the bold text above and see the omen. In my sleep deprived state, I was not. Oh, I heard what the guy said, but it went in one ear and out the other. One other thing to add, we noticed there were three or four concrete blocks laying at the base of the tree. Strange. Even if I had been at full capacity, I don’t think I would have picked up on that one.

So fast forward through the next couple hours.

All at once at 2:48AM, I woke up from a dead sleep to the sound of PSSHHHHHH…tic, tic, tic, tic and felt the water hitting my face. With a guttural sound that was a cross between a zombie moan and a crazed ax murderer, I jumped up, grabbed my sleeping pad, sleeping quilt and my helmet (which had my phone in it and was laying by my head) and took off at a sprint to get away from the invading deluge. How I managed to get away from the unseen whip of water and not fall or run into another sprinkler’s path, I do not know. It was a blind run, but effective.

When I stopped 50′ away and turned to watch, I could see under the glow of lights at the RV park and the moon that there was a row of sprinklers making sure that the grass stayed lush and green. This row was parallel to the fence that divided the RV park from the field and about 50-75′ away from the fence. The culprit head that had awoken me was less than 10′ away from the tree that had Scott laying under it and he wasn’t moving. My first thought was that he was just hunkered down and didn’t want to come out of his bivy. Then I thought about it a second and realized that his sleeping accommodations are waterproof, so he was probably just dreaming of pie or something. Frustrated at having been woke up so abruptly and mentally numb from sleep deprivation, I laid down again right where I stood, thinking that there was a 50-50 shot that the sprinklers that watered the area I was in now had already done there nightly duty.

As I laid there, I noticed my heart rate was through the roof. What a way to wake up! It took what seemed like 5-10 minutes for me to calm back down enough to drift off. I just needed to sleep.

All at once about 15 minutes later, I woke up from a dead sleep to the sound of PSSHHHHHH…tic, tic, tic, tic and felt the water hitting my face AGAIN!!! With that same zombie/ax murderer sound, I jumped up, grabbed my sleeping pad, sleeping quilt and my helmet and took off at a sprint toward the fence. Once again 50′ or so away, I stopped and surveyed the landscape and thought, “What pretty grass!”

NO!!!! That is NOT what I thought!!! I was furious. And jealous. Scott was still snug in his bivy, dreaming of pie. I however, was up running around like a madman in the middle of the night dodging the evil sprinklers! I thought, “well, I will fix this”. If your getting wet, MOVE!!! I walked through the gate in the chain link fence and on into the RV park. A lot of the park was covered in gravel, but I kept going and found a spot between three RVs that had a nice little spot of grass. Wet, frustrated and tired, I laid down again on my wet pad, pulled my wet sleeping bag/quilt over me and tried to calm down. After another 5 minutes or so, I drifted off. Finally I would get some rest.

All at once about 15 minutes later, I woke up from a dead sleep to the sound of PSSHHHHHH…tic, tic, tic, tic and felt the water hitting my face YET AGAIN!!! This time, when I stood up and looked for my escape, I realized that there were three sprinklers in a triangular fashion around me and no where to run but through them. You might think that I would just give in and play in them like a kid. Nope. I was pissed. If I couldn’t sleep, nobody would! I dropped my pad, bag and helmet in the gravel drive where the sprinklers weren’t watering and walked back over to the gate toward where Scott was. I saw the tent camper (that was missing his rain fly) walking across the grass to the tree. He grabbed a concrete block and went to place it on top of a sprinkler head. Genius!!

When I got over to Scott, I shook him awake. I noticed that another round of sprinklers was going to re-soak the area where he laid. I wanted my bike so I could leave, but it was locked to his and I didn’t know the combination. I couldn’t see it anyway because my light was on my helmet which was now 200′ away over in the RV park. My thoughts were that he needed to get moving to keep from getting sprayed by the sprinklers, but what came out of my mouth was, “Get up! You got two minutes!”

LOL!!!! Looking back now, I realize how hilarious this was and just how gracious Scott was that morning. He jumped up, turned his light on and unlocked the bikes. We grabbed our stuff and headed over toward where the rest of my things were in the RV park driveway. As we walked by the tent camper, I saw him sitting up in his tent indignantly. Between us waking him up two hours before with bright lights in his face, then the sprinklers soaking him in his sleep and me running around like a maniac telling people, “YOU GOT TWO MINUTES TO MOVE!!!!!”, he wasn’t a happy camper. He never said a word, but my guess is, if he had, they would’ve all been four letters in length.

As we packed up our wet gear onto our wet bikes, I fumed. Scott laughed. That made it worse! I got everything jammed into places on the bike and mounted up. Back across the road to the same gas station I went. I wanted coffee and to choke that idiot at the station. When I got there, he just looked at me and smiled. Poor ignorant fool. I gave him a mental stay of execution and stumbled to the coffee pot. With coffee in hand, I grabbed a pastry, paid for them and sat down at the same booth that I had been at a couple hours before. The only thing that had been accomplished in the time that lapsed was everything I owned being soaked and I got to run around the park playing in sprinklers.

As I gnashed my teeth and pouted, Scott came in and sat down across from me. Evertime he would catch my eye, he would bust a gut! After a few minutes, I just couldn’t keep up my hostility. We laughed together and I explained the events that had happened. The more I told him, the funnier it got and we both got the giggles. Picturing that poor tent camper sitting up in his tent like a wet hen all fluffed up just kept the waves of giggles flowing. As we ate breakfast and wiped laugh-induced tears, I looked out the window and saw a racer go by. Before we went to the RV park, we had been talking about how Tommy Chen seemed to be making a late night move toward Lolo Pass, but he was quite a ways back toward Kooskia. Had he rode all night and caught up? We quickly gathered our things and headed down the road. It was now right at sunrise and the race was still on. Time to make hay.

Being geared, I could put down more speed on the flats than Scott and his single speed. I wanted to catch up to Tommy. I wasn’t going to let him beat me! I got down in the aerobars and started pumping along at a good clip, leaving Scott behind. As I rode, I looked up track leaders on my phone. Things weren’t loading well and I couldn’t tell what the gap was between us or how far back Scott was. I just rode.

Several miles down the road, frustrated because I just couldn’t seem to close the gap on Tommy, I slowed down. Why chase somebody like this? Sillyness. I chilled out and enjoyed the morning ride. As I rode along, I called into MTBCast and told the story of the sprinklers. It had been an epic morning already!

Upon reaching Florence, I caught up to the rider, but it wasn’t Tommy Chen. Rather, it was Chris Hockett! Scott and I had mistaken Chris’ dot on Trackleaders for Tommy. Chris had made the push over Lolo Pass in the night and stayed at a hotel in Lolo. A much better option, I explained to him!!! He was headed to look for breakfast at a diner in the next town. I explained that Scott and I had already eaten and we would see him farther down the road. He rode on and I stopped at the next gas station I saw to use the facilities and supply up. While I took care of things, Scott rolled up and we headed back out together.

Another 30 miles or so, we made it to Hamilton. Scott had been having an issue  for several days with a pedal and needed something to tighten it with. I had a pair of tiny pliers in my fix-it kit, but he refused to use them. This is self supported racing after all! He headed to a hardware store for a wrench and I went to Walgreen’s to find some replacement lithium batteries for my headlamp and SPOT tracker. After our own stops, we met back up and left town at the same time again. On down the road!

Near 11AM, we found the city of Darby and stopped at a grocery store. It was getting warm and we were hungry. We went inside to grab supplies and upon returning outside, found Chris had caught up. Right on his heels was Gav! He had pushed late into the night and stayed in Hamilton. We had gotten past him as he slept in that morning. The four of us chatted and laughed. Everyone thought the sprinkler story was a hit. HAHA!!!

Scott and I rolled out first and went to the local post office. Each of us sent a few things home- maps we were finished with and little items that we didn’t need. Nothing of real importance or weight, but no need to carry things without a reason.

Off again, the road turned slightly up. Just an easy grade that was leading us toward Chief Joseph pass. Along the way, we came across the iconic stop that is the market at Sula. Another oasis in the middle of nowhere, the market has supplies and a diner, which is always a great idea in my book. I got there first and went in to order. The cheeseburger was great and I enjoyed the air conditioning as well. As I sat there, Scott rolled in and ordered. Shortly, Gav came in as well and said that Chris had ridden by, headed up the pass. The three of us finished our meals and rode out together.

As we climbed, we chatted, but soon Gav fell behind. The climbs were a bit harder on the flat-lander. Being from Southern Florida, Gav had made the comment that the largest hill he saw in training was 150′ of elevation gain… and that was the bridge over the bay! Scott and I climbed on and found Chris at the rest area at the top. Chris rode on with us as we started the descent into the Big Hole Valley and headed toward Wisdom.

As we rode, we talked about home and our families. We weren’t riding hard and it was a great time to get to know each other and share. Times like these are great memories. Soon, Gav caught up. He wasn’t much of a climber, but man could he descend! He flew past and I felt like a dog behind a rabbit. I found a few more gears and started to chase. Down into the valley we went and I was gaining! Not quick enough though. As we reached the limit of Wisdom and the route turned to the right, Gav made the turn and I went on into town. It was getting late in the day and I figured the one store in town would close soon. I wanted to make sure I had supplies for the next stretch toward Dillon as I knew it was remote.

Scott rolled into Wisdom and said that Chris had fallen behind. We grabbed supplies at the grocery store and went down the block to a bar and grill for pizza. I over-ordered and found myself struggling to eat what I paid for. Before I had to worry about it much, Chris came in. He was frustrated, having had what seemed to be a fluke mechanical. I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was a bent chain or chain ring. His chain wouldn’t stay on for him to ride. I gave him my leftover pizza and we wished him well. Scott and I headed out in the setting sun to ride down the Big Hole Valley.

The Big Hole is known as the “land of 10,000 haystacks” for the great quantities of hay they produce. This lets them feed the cattle that graze there through the harsh winters. In order to make this hay, the ranchers use flood irrigation with the snowmelt from the mountains in the spring. It just so happens that we were there in June and the flooded fields were a prime breeding ground for unbelievable amounts of mosquitos. As we left Wisdom, we noticed that the air was cooling off, so we stopped along the road to put more clothes on. Before we could get stopped, the mosquitos swooped in and started to carry us off! It was amazing!

I never came to a complete stop and chose to ride on. The mosquitos were resilient though and continued on in the slipstream of air behind me, biting me on the backside as I rode, even at 15 MPH. As I rode, I was tiring and wanted to slow, but every time I did, there was more mosquitos. Poor Scott was back there somewhere and I just knew that he was getting literally eaten alive. I couldn’t do anything for him though, so I  just rode on. When I go to Jackson, I made a beeline for the hot springs hotel and bar. I just wanted to get inside before I was drained of all my blood. On the porch, I realized that there weren’t any mosquitos in town. Weird.

Scott came in behind me and we got the low-down from the barkeep. He told us about the flood irrigation and mosquito breeding. He said that the irrigation was far enough away that the mosquitos didn’t get too bad in town, but right outside town, they were bad. Scott and I decided to push on and get past these little devils. We hoped that Chris got things figured out behind us! Imagine being stuck on the side of the road with mechanicals! They would find his bloodless corpse sometime later!

We rode on into the night and eventually got to the base of Big Hole Pass. I remembered this pass and the little road side park that was near the top. It was only near 10PM, but with the ongoing fatigue and lack of sleep from the night before, I was struggling. The plan had been to push on into the night and try to make the 60 or more miles to Dillon, but I talked Scott into stopping at the little park.

Looking back, stopping late at night for a nap on a pass in springtime in Montana might not have been the best idea. Temps were dropping and were expected to reach near freezing overnight. My sleeping quilt works fine to 45 in a hammock where the sides come up and the quilt doesn’t have to cover as much. Laying flat on the ground on a pad, the quilt wouldn’t reach on both sides. Putting on all of my clothes and laying as flat and still as possible was all I could do. As I lay there, I was freezing. Scott was cold too and broke out his his last line of defense, a mylar blanket, to add to his sleep system inside his sleeping bag. I remember going into another giggling fit as he spent what seemed like a half hour unfolding the crinkly, chip-bag material inside his bivy. I said something like, “are you about to get that?” Another great memory.

At one point, I considered asking him if we could snuggle up. I was just so cold. But my man card wouldn’t let me make the suggestion. Eventually, I drifted off, dreaming really strange things, which I think had to do with being so cold that my hands and feet hurt. The big Montana sky above and the rocks below mad me feel small, but I felt so big in my head, knowing I had ridden an average of 163 miles a day for 7 days straight. This was Trans Am Bike Race and I was doing it. Living it. I was racing and it’s all I wanted to do.

TABR15- Day 6- Grangeville, ID to Lolo, MT

My first shower and first real bed of the race had an amazing affect on my mind, body and spirit. When my alarm went off at 6AM, the short five hours of sleep weren’t enough, but I felt a bit more refreshed than I had the previous five mornings. I did have a bit of contention in my mind. Gavaskar and Scott had ridden on when I did not. I was concerned that I would “fall behind”. Of course, looking back, this was silly. Ride your own race, right? That is easier said than done. My brain was telling me a better get going!

A quick check of Trackleaders showed that Scott and Gav had bedded down just before Kooskia at about 2:30AM and were still down. Being just 25 miles ahead, I thought that if I  could hustle up, I just might be able to catch them before they headed out for the day. I got dressed, gathered my things and hit the road.

It was a gorgeous morning and the ride to Kooskia was a great one. The only caveat was the descent down Lamb’s Grade going down into the valley that holds the South Fork of the Clearwater River. It was SUPER steep and quite frankly, scared the crap out of me. There was lots of puckering and braking, but eventually I got to the bottom and got to enjoy the views along the river as I rolled into Kooskia.

When I got to town, Scott and Gav had gotten up and their trackers showed them at a dinner. I got there just as they were finishing up with breakfast. We quickly told each other’s stories and caught up on the news of the night. Short versions of the story were that they had camped along the road together. Scott said he was headed out of town to soft pedal up the long grade toward Lolo Pass. Gav was headed across the street to resupply and I ordered some pancakes. In normal fashion, I made quick work of the flapjacks and got to the grocery store across the street before Gav left town. The two of us took off in search of our little buddy Scott on the highway ahead.

Our search was fairly short. We caught up to Scott within the first 10 miles. The three of us rode next to each other chatting a bit and made quick work of the 20 miles or so to a small cafe and c-store that was to be our only chance for supplies along the gorgeous 90 mile stretch of road that takes you from Kooskia to Lochsa Lodge near the western base of Lolo Pass. Next door was a very small motel that Andi had stayed in the night before, but he was long gone now. Supplies were had by all and while I was in my “office” answering a call from nature, Gav hit the road. Scott and I then took off in search of our Ranger friend.

The stretch of remote highway that parallels the Lochsa River between Kooskia and Lochsa Lodge is one of my absolute favorites of the entire Trans Am route. As you climb the gentle grade, you get view after view of the river in all its glory, just a few yards to your right the entire way. The roiling mountain waters beg you to stop and take it all in, but that was not the order of the day. With a race to run, Scott and I trudged along past the pines and picturesque waters, eventually getting a bit too hot and running out of drinking water as the temps had risen and the day was getting long. The road that leads to Lochsa Lodge was a sight for sore eyes when we came upon it!

Lochsa Lodge is a bit of an oasis as there are few services in the piney woods of northern Idaho. When Scott and I got there, we dropped our bikes outside and headed into the lodge’s restaurant to fill up on food and drink. Gav was there and had just finished filling his tank. As Scott and I sat down to eat, Gav took off and headed out to climb Lolo Pass.

Almost immediately, Bradford Smith and Justin Chadwick sauntered in. This pair had been chasing Scott and I for days and had finally caught up! The four of us sat together and caught up on everyone’s stories. The two of them had started the race doing shorter days and slowly worked their way into longer ones. They were starting to hit their stride and it was obvious. Both of them seemed in great shape and great spirits. As we ate together, they said that their plan was to stop at Lolo Hot Springs, just at the eastern base of Lolo Pass.

When the food was gone, Brad and Justin headed out in search of the hot springs. Scott and I took a few more minutes to resupply at the little c-store at the lodge. Our plan was to climb the pass and make some hay on Brad and Justin, but that would mean pushing on in the night and we would need supplies to do so.

Loaded up on junk food and drinks, we went out under the dim light of the setting sun to climb Lolo pass. I decided as we went along that in honor of Scott, I wouldn’t shift my gears. Scott was riding single speed, which meant when the going got tough (read:steep) he simply had to crunch on through or stop and walk. He almost never did the later and in a show of support, I wouldn’t either. I set my chain to the closest gearing I could to his and proceed to take his instruction on how to climb with a single speed. As the climb intensified, my heart rate did as well, but following his guide, I found my happy place in the burn of my quads and continued to pump up the climb. In what seemed like no time, I looked up the road to see the visitor’s center at the top of Lolo Pass and the Montana State Line! I had done it! I climbed Lolo Pass in my 32-16 gear and no-dabbed it, which just means I never stopped or put my foot down on the ground. It was a small accomplishment within the race that I won’t forget!

After a potty stop at the visitor’s center and a wardrobe change to keep from freezing on the descent off the pass, we took the obligatory photos at the Montana State Line sign, then pointed our wheels north and downhill toward Lolo Hot Springs. Despite putting on extra clothes, the sweat that I made going up the pass kept me more than cool under the light of the early evening moon as we lost elevation. I just shivered and tried to ruffle my shoulders up to keep the cool mountain air from getting in my jacket around my neck. It was no use. It was just cold! Montana in June, particularly in the mountains, is simply cold at night. Suck it up buttercup!

After what seemed like forever, but was actually only 20 minutes or so, we were off the steepest part of the mountain and saw the lights of the lodge at Lolo Hot Springs. After a short stop to fill a bottle, it was off into the night to continue toward the spot in the road known as Lolo.

The stretch of road into Lolo was only about 30 miles, but with cool temps and a slightly downhill grade, there wasn’t much heat to be made from working the pedals. I found myself chilled and to make matters worse, it was getting late and the ongoing struggle to fight off the sleep monster was a losing battle. I just kept praying for a place to stop. When the lights of the truck stops at Lolo broke the horizon, I was a happy man. I needed to get off the bike!

We leaned our bikes against the outside wall of the gas station at the corner in Lolo at 11:30PM. The fluorescent glare was blinding after hours of riding in the dark and the country music that blared from the speakers overhead was an assault on my ears. We stepped inside and saw a seating area- a perfect spot to drink some coffee, look at the map and discuss options.

As we sat and warmed up over the steam of a truck stop cup of joe, the dialogue went something like this:

Scott- “So, what do you want to do?”

Me- “I don’t know man. I just want to sleep.”

Scott- “Well, we can find somewhere to sleep here, or move on and try to make Hamilton. That’s just another 30 miles. We could make that in about 2 hours.”

Me- “Dude, I just want to sleep. I can barely keep my eyes open.”

Scott- “We could bivy up behind the gas station here and get an hour or two, then push on. What do you think?”

Me- “I just want to sleep”

After I finally wore Scott down, we asked the station attendant if he cared if we bivy up around back. He said he didn’t care, but “it would be at your own risk as the deer like to run through there all night.” What?!? Last I checked, deer see pretty well at night and I am sure they wouldn’t stomp us in the dark. Obviously he didn’t really like the idea of us being back there. He then suggested the RV park across the road. He said, “They have a park next to the RV area where people camp sometimes. You just have to be careful that they don’t have the sprinklers on. hehehehe”

-Insert ominous raising of one eyebrow by me-

Choosing to ignore or at least not really listen to his second sentence, we hopped on our steeds and rolled out of the fluorescent glow, back into the dark and across the street to the RV park. Just as he mentioned, directly adjacent to the RV area and on the other side of a chainlink fence, we found a park area. It was wide open with 3 huge trees spread out more than 100′ from each other. There was no chance I would be able to hang my hammock, but there was plenty of very healthy and soft grass. We looked at each other and said, “looks good”. We found a man gate through the fence and headed out onto the lush grass.

Just off to the side, not far from the fence was a tent. In the bath of our headlamps, we saw that the tent had a bike beside it and that the tent lacked a rain fly. As we walked our bikes by, Scott shown his lamp down in the tent, thinking that it was a racer and we might know him. Nope! We did manage to make sure he wouldn’t be a friend though. He didn’t seem to happy to be awoken after midnight with a light in his face as he lay in his sleeping bag. Hehehe.

We went over another 50′ or so and locked our bikes up together with Scott’s cable and combination lock at the base of a big tree. Scott got his bivy out and was snug as a bug really fast like. I, not having very good ground-dwelling capabilities with my hammock setup, proceed to layout my thin foam pad, lay down on top of it and drape my sleeping-bag-turned-quilt over the top of me. After we had hem-hawed around at the station, then made our way over to the park, time had slipped away and it was now pushing 12:30AM. As I laid there under the big Montana sky, I wasn’t very comfortable and I wasn’t very warm, but I was happy to have another state down and be at least 30 miles ahead of Brad and Justin. Gav and Andi had gotten away from us, but the race is long and there was time. At that point, I just needed some sleep.

Old Faithful

This morning was a maintenance morning. My back tire was so worn that it had a flat spot about a half inch wide down the middle of it and I had been babying it for two days, so I pulled out my spare and changed it. Also cleaned and lubed the drive train and wiped the whole bike down a bit. Not a John cleaning, but a once over. The cleat on my right shoe was broken and I had been babying it for two days as well. I got it changed no problem, but my left one had a bolt that wouldn’t come out. I had stepped in some tar a couple days ago and then gotten little pebbles stuck all around it. What a mess. I had to go to a bike shop and replace my tire, so I figured I would get some help with the cleat too.

Down the road I go, to the closest bike shop. Not open, and it was 10:05. So off to the other one in town, Free Heel and Wheel.

This place was cool! When I walked in, I met one of the owners, Melissa.  She hooked me up with a new tire to be my spare, let me use a pair of pliers to remove that pesky bolt, fed me brunch from the espresso bar(breakfast burrito and a Mt Dew!), took my photo and added it to their album of touring cyclists and was just really cool to talk to. Her husband Dan also came by for a few minutes while I was there. Good people.

The shop is a hodgepodge of various things, but it fits and is classy. Of course it’s a bike shop, but the summer is so short out here that it makes it hard to make a living on the bike business alone. Their bigger business is skiing. They also have the espresso bar, apparel and some various souvenirs for the tourist crowd. If you are ever in West Yellowstone, make sure to go check it out!

After stopping for some snacks to carry along with me for the day, I was finally ready to leave town at 11:15.

The ride through Yellowstone was not what I expected. It was definitely scenic, but I was expecting something like RMNP, and it wasn’t, in my opinion. Later on this evening, I looked the park brochure over and realized I missed quite a bit of the park. Just way too big and too much to do in one day on a bike. Guess that means I need to come back!

I digress. I did the one thing I wanted to do, which was to see Old Faithful. Although it was quite amazing, it seemed a little anti-climatic. Maybe it was just my mood today. I don’t know.

After the geyser, I was off to finish up my day. I had just 40 miles to go and according to the way I read the map, I didn’t figure it to be too bad.

I should have read the map better! I had 3 passes to go over. None of them monsters, but considering I was already at about 8000′, the elevation started working on me a little. Might have had a little something to do with yesterday’s 146 miles. Maybe. Lol! Each one of the passes was a continental divide crossing, which was kind of cool.

I made it through it all and got to my destination, Flagg Ranch, which is just outside the park. This was the worst part of the day. Flagg Ranch just happens to be the only place within about 30 miles that had vacancy. There are campgrounds, but I’m only set up to go down to about 40 degrees. Tonight it will be in the upper 20’s. So inside was key. Being as this us the only place to go, I really didn’t have much room to complain. But I did. It was 179 freaking dollars for a room! No wifi, cell service, tv, microwave, refrigerator or continental breakfast. What can I do though? Sleep outside and freeze I guess. Whatever. I know one thing for sure. I will NEVER come back to this place again and I will tell everyone that I can not to come here either. Ok, I’m done with it. Moving on!

So overall today was good. I’m now in Wyoming, my 4th state. And I broke 1500 miles for the trip! Also, the bright side of no connection to the outside world is that I did some route planning and have every day’s destination planned from now through the end of the month when I roll into Farmington! Nice to have it done and have some goals for each day. Now it’s time for bed!

Stats:
Mileage-78.60
Total-1552.91
Trip time-5:56
Avg speed-13.21
Max speed-40.02
Climb-3246

Mind over matter

I stayed in bed a little later this morning and hit the road just a bit later to let it warm up a little. I then planned on riding later in the day. I must say that I like this approach!  It works well. The plan was to get 112 miles for the day.

So I got on the road about 9 and was feeling really strong. Fairly quickly, I had covered the first 50 miles and was averaging over 17 mph. it was this point that I started considering the thought of going farther than the plan. 

At 3:00, I had covered 73 miles and was in Ennis. I had already climbed my hardest climb for the day and I was only 40 miles from my original planned stop. I did some mileage and timing calculations and decided to go for West Yellowstone, even though it was 72 miles away. 

The short story is I put the hammer down. For a long way. About 40 miles of slight incline. Fortunately I had a tail wind. Passing my original planned stop at 6:00, I felt ok about carrying on. 

Little did I know I would find some more climbing!  Around Quake and Hebgen Lakes, big rollers just kept coming. Having already rode over 120 miles, each hill was demoralizing. On top of that, the hills has slowed my pace and I was watching the sun set over the mountains. Beautiful, but I still had 25 miles left and this is bear country. Not where I want to be after dark. 

Luckily the sun goes down forever in the mountains. After it’s gone, it stays dusk for quite awhile longer than back in Missouri. 

So I rolled into West Yellowstone exhausted, starving and road weary right after dark. Sundown was supposed to be 7:45. I hit town at 8:05 and went straight to Arby’s!

All in all it really was a good day. My biggest day on tour yet, the end of map 4 of 12 and what will be my last night in Montana. Tomorrow is Yellowstone and Wyoming. I’m stoked!

Stats:
Mileage-146.14
Total-1474.31
Trip time-8:55
Avg speed-16.37
Max speed-42.42
Climb-5524