I woke up feeling slightly pummeled after three days of riding, and the open oven- door heat of Thursday afternoon. What will the next 3-4 days of 100º’s be like? A bit of bad luck to have caught a near record heat wave in this NE corner of Washington. We could drive out of this heat wave in a half-day. We will instead pedal through it over four.
The Methow Conservancy’s front door is bicycle length off Main St. in Winthrop Wa. I dropped in and had a conversation with the Director Jason Paulsen and Emily, who directs membership. Their focus is on the 1,000,000 acre Methow River Watershed, and a capital campaign of twenty times as many dollars. I was more than impressed. I was also more than just a little smelly, and it was very obvious who the elephant in the store was. A retreat to our camp at the local KOA was necessary.
Sara and her sister Catherine have been herding the gear, shopping, and cooking while we have been riding. The five of us are having some good times punctuated with laughter around the dinner table. But the effort to keep everyone fed and bedded is not slight. It has been full-time job with a few pauses to adsorb this scenery and culture. We took in both last night at a riverside outside deck at the Schoolhouse Brewery.
It is now 6AM, the boys are breaking down their tents and I need to serve coffee. The saddle awaits.
Over these past six days, I have had some thoughts bouncing around like the ball careening off posts and bumpers in a pinball machine. Perhaps I am living in a continuous state of heat exhaustion, and the pan-seared portions of the top of my head have become nothing but posts and bumpers.
The first two hours of our rides have been glorious; the next three manageable; and the last two awful. But today on day six a cloud appeared. And then more, and instead of 100º at the top of 5300′ Sherman Pass we were giddy with 80º road heat and cloud blessed shade. We even for the first time in five days felt sweat bead up rather than evaporate. It is the little things we notice.
Shade is our best friend. Sometimes we get so desperate that a sign “Rocks Ahead” will give us hope that the road will pass under a shady outcropping. I find myself dashing from one piece to another even when they are miles apart. Shade awaits somewhere. Homes are tucked under trees and bermed into hillsides. One had a watered sod roof. Yet others, almost exclusively new homes, are perched on sun burnt hill tops with grand views, slurping up energy. At the end of day five in Republic the watered lawn felt great to the bare feet at Margie’s. The grass temperature was 72º and the late day air 92º-98º, depending on what the wind was picking up.
Wind is among our short list of weather friends. A slight headwind keeps our heads cool enough to avoid heat exhaustion with these 105º-110º road temperatures. Yesterday we had a tail wind for a portion of the climb and my head took on a tomatoesque feel and look. To fully understand what it is like to top the pass and rip downhill at 30+mph into a mounting noon day heat wave over a 100º, you would need to roll up your car windows, turn your heater and fan on full blast, and shove your face into the vent.
On day four I saw a national weather map showing a large blob of 100º+ heat in the Great Basin and a slim finger poking up to Omak, Washington. There we were, riding the flying finger. All heat waves have an end and this one will wash out by Tuesday or Wednesday. We may see daytime highs of 70º. We are looking forward to this. The pre-dawn awake time for the past five days was initially novel, but it isn’t any longer.
Don’t send crying towels. We knew we would be introduced to adversity. It makes for better stories. If we weren’t so focused on the weather, we might be whimpering about the the passes. We do feel adequately trained, however. Bring it on: the cold front, please.
While Brad went off with Sara to Bozeman to have his bike looked at, and to later hitch up with Tania, Paul and I biked from Livingston to Emigrant on the east side of the Yellowstone River and up against the Absaroka Range. It was a RARE sunny afternoon and we soaked it up with a wind to our back for the first hour. The wind later did a 180º and we had to beat a path into it. I made a note to tell Paul’s concerned wife, Annette, that there was no traffic.
We had great close up views of the Absarokas. It was an ideal valley setting with the mountains on one edge and the Yellowstone River on the other. In fact we saw many ideal settings for residential development in Montana. Apparently so did the developers.
We saw many entry gates to potential subdivisions. Some were elaborate with fighting bronze elks, ponds, and gate houses to keep wanderers like us out. What was missing was houses. We saw only one house being built in more than a dozen empty subdivisions. I did envy their access to large rocks, logs, and loads of “housing boom” money.
Our stay that night after a 60+ mile ride was in a very upscale RV Park along the Yellowstone River that did not allow tents. However, they thought the bike trip so novel they allowed brother Paul to set up his tent under the pull out of the camper.
We try to avoid these RV Parks. They make us look and feel like poor country mice with our pop up camper. They do, however, have wireless internet connections and great showers to help offset the $30-$40 cost. It started raining that night (again). We had to take down and stow wet gear (again). This is not our favorite chore. It makes us lust for a “real RV”.
The next day Brad and Tania were still soaking at Chico Hot Springs. Paul and I donned wet gear and took to the road in a 42º drizzle, but we did have a good tail wind from the north. A drizzle is survivable on a bike at 15-20 mph. It does help keep the feet clean.
The clouds ahead seemed to indicate that more than a drizzle was in the future. Right again: we ran into a downpour that pooled water on the road and soaked us to the bone, especially when the occasional car passed us. Paul’s bike developed a wobble and soon a flat rear tire. We dashed back a quarter-mile to a US Forest Service Campground, where he tried to find shelter behind a “vault toilet” (aka “outhouse” or “pit toilet”). It did not occur to use to seek shelter inside, where the odor would actually have been less intense than it was standing next to the vent pipe on the back of the structure. We didn’t know it then, but we were acting confused and hypothermia was setting in.
Out of nowhere a young woman appeared and walked into the toilet.
What was she thinking when she saw two men hiding behind the toilet tearing into their bike bags for tools? Such composure she had. We did not. Pedaling had kept us minimally warm in that cold rain, but as soon as we stopped the cold sunk in. A minute later a voice asked, “Would you like some tea? Earl Gray or Black?” Out of the rain appeared Jared Moore from Bozeman with a mug of hot water and a choice of teabags. We learned that he was from Blue Earth, Minnesota. Paul and I were born and raised in Jackson, Minnesota. I played sports against Blue Earth. What a small world, and what a good soul Jared was.
In spite of being soaked and cold, we were hoping to ride to the gates of Yellowstone, but in my panic to get us back on the road we made a simple error and the new rear tire went flat within 100 feet of the fancy outhouse. What might that error have been? Contact me for the answer.
Sara came to our rescue and we rode through the gates of Yellowstone near Mammoth Hot Springs. I made a mental note to look up Jared’s dad when we rode through Blue Earth.
No doubt everyone is wondering what we are riding on and carrying with us during the day. Sara is carrying all the camping gear. But we’re still loaded down.
My bike is a TREK 520 ($1,200), a steel touring bike that weighs approx. 30 lbs. with the three bottle carriers, rear rack, and extra liners in the tires. My tires are currently a mix of brands; Bontrager and Continental Gatorskins ( $40 each). Each tire is fortified by a line of thick plastic tape between tire and tube, so minor pinprick flats don’t happen. I have only had 2 flats in 1,600 miles. I ran over a jagged piece of metal that tore a 2″ gash in one tire….wooosh went that tube. And 2 days later wooosh went $50 for a new tire. The bike and all the gear/water/food/clothing weigh about 50 lbs.
In the rear bag I carry the following: assorted bandages; 2 tubes & tube repair kit, tire levers, spoke wrench, all purpose tool, latex gloves to attempt to keep grease off the hands and clothing, electrical tape to put a temporary “patch” on large holes in the tires, leather gloves to assist in getting the tire back on the rim ( very stiff tires/ weak fingers), a portable but not small air pump that will pump 120 psi ( $40 for those who wonder what good equipment costs) Most pumps stop at 80 psi. I also carry handiwipes, sunscreen, vitamin I (Ibuprofen, for those of you under age 40), a flashing red tail light, a small canister of bag balm, an extra knee brace in case my good knee goes bad, reading glasses, and finally pepper spray for dogs. This is really just a psychological aid, since it is so buried in the pack I could never retrieve it while on the move.
The rear bag can also have any or all of the following: an orange vest, one of three extra pairs of gloves for warmth/ wind/ rain protection, a heavy duty rain jacket and pants ( which cost more than $200), and leg and arm sleeves that can be pulled up or down as needed for warmth. I might pull them up for a cold 30 mph downhill or roll them down for a long uphill. I also carry one of three different caps under my helmet for sun/wind/cold protection, and a neck gaiter for cold. There are lots of clothing choices, and we don’t always guess right, especially this past Saturday when we started out from Spearfish in a cloudless sky and temps in the 70’s and ended up in a north wind driven cold front with low 40’s and rain. This has happened to us before so we should know better.
It never fails that guys will ask us how our butts handle those tiny seats. I observe that cyclists have a variety of approaches. Mine was to throw $125 at the problem. Thanks to Chad at the Geneva Bike Center back home, it was the best money I ever spent. I bought two pair, and my previous ” way too expensive” $75 pair have not been used on this trip. What do you get for that over- the- top price?
You get “Baboon butt” one-piece foam padding that will return to its original density and shape. And leg grippers that work. And the padding does not give you that diaper between your legs look. We hate that.
Most touring cyclists will use some kind of ” crotch butter/gel/cream” to prevent chafing. I go to my local ag supply store to buy mine. It is also known as udder butter. Mooo.
Shoes have clips on the soles that fix ( trap) the shoe and foot to the pedal for a more effective and efficient pedal stroke. They allow you to not only push down but pull up. It took two falls to earn to unclip them before stopping. My shoes come with red flame socks, thanks to my two grandkids Alison and Emma.
Neoprene over- boots help keep some heat in on cold wet rides, but do not keep water out.
I learned about energy bars from Brad. He prefers “Clif bars” which he calls hippie cookies. I like Luna bars, but they are marketed for women. After a long ride, we get a bit punchy and the same old jokes start flying about our bar choices. On a 70 mile ride I will eat 4-5 bars, each of which has approx. 200 calories, 30 grams of carbs, and 10 grams of protein. I use Gatoraid in my water to add about 200 more grams of carbs during a 5-7 hour ride. My energy level remains high for most of the rides, depending on wind direction. We have had head winds during portions of most every ride for the past several weeks.
I also carry a cell phone, camera, cap, and my “junior ranger” wallet. Not pictured are the maps that we carry and usually refer to. We have not had much insight on elevation changes for some of our roads. We really paid dearly for that yesterday in the Black Hills ( aka Black Mountains).
That is what 20 lbs of “gear” can look like. What have I forgotten?