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”
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.