Townsend to Ennis, MT

A slight change of pace today as I joined up with Keith London, one of two staff members known as “routers.” The job of the router is to drive the planned cycling route one day in advance, making notes, checking for unexpected hazards, and leaving directional arrow markers at key spots on the road with spray paint. The two routers usually do this alone on alternating days, so Keith was glad to have the help, as well as the company.

We started out by driving the route from Townsend to Ennis pretty quickly, then proceeded to scout the router for tomorrow from Ennis to West Yellowstone. This route was easier to plan than usual, as it followed the route used last year without any changes, and was relatively short. One main difference, though, was that this day was the first time that the riders had a choice of routes. Route A was a shorter route to camp (63 miles) that took them briefly back into Idaho for a few miles, then back into Montana. There were two mountain passes to cross on this route, but the grades were gradual and the elevation changes were small compared to some of the previous passes we have tackled.

Keith and I drove on Route B first, which made for a total route of 79 miles for the cyclists. The beginning of this loop went through the Earthquake Area of the Targhee National Forest. Here, in 1959, an earthquake caused the collapse of one side of a large mountain. Several people were killed, and others were trapped for some time as the slide covered part of the roadway and created a new lake. You can see the dead trunks of still-standing pine trees coming out of the surface of the lake.

The route then took us past Hebgen Dam and Hebgen Lake. The dam has a historical marker noting how it survived the earthquake. The lake is a popular recreation area. We saw a bald eagle perched atop a dead tree on the edge of the lake. By the time we got stopped and ready to take a picture, it flew away, but then swooped down along the lake surface, caught a fish, then soared back up in the air, directly over our heads. Later, we saw four deer crossing the road on the way into the town of West Yellowstone.

We found the route to our destination, which was the Red Lion Resort and Campground, where we checked in with the gruff but lovable manager. Keith mentioned to him how I had broken my collar bone, and he gave me probably the most unsympathetic look that I have ever seen. He didn’t say a word, but his eyes seemed to be saying “You stupid son of a bitch.” Keith asked him if he knew what kind of weather we could expect for the ride tomorrow; he just glanced out the window, then said, “It might be nice, or it might rain, or it might even snow.” Leaving the campground behind for now, we backtracked to West Yellowstone to grab a buffalo burger for lunch. I also got a delicious chocolate milk shake.

We followed the road past the campground again in order to follow Route A in reverse, and make our way back to Ennis. We stopped at an ice cream shop in Ennis to sit and write out the route sheet for the riders, based on what we had just driven. Then we found a drug store up the street to make the photocopies of the route sheet. As we went over to the Ennis High School to bring in our bags and set up our sleeping gear in the gym, the first few cyclists were just starting to make their way in.

We still had some time to kill before dinner, so Robert and I took a walk through town. I bought an inexpensive air mattress and foot pump at a sporting goods store; it has improved my sleep quite a bit.

After dinner, since I helped plan the route and wrote out the route sheet, the staff let me give the route overview during Tour Talk. Later, I joined a large group for a walk back into town for a few refreshments. We sat at a place with a nice outside patio; it started raining for a bit, but we were situated under a tree, so were able to stay out there in the pleasant evening air.

Lincoln to Townsend, MT

Another fairly uneventful day in the SAG van. Meryl drove; the other passengers were Alis, and Robert from Georgia, who has been having knee trouble.

The morning had what looked like another fun and challenging climb for those on the bikes. It was over Flesher Pass, which was over 6000 feet in elevation.

Our stop for the night was in the town of Townsend, where we arrived around 11:30am. I caught up on this writing until the library opened at 2:00pm, then went and checked e-mail. Robert and I walked around the small downtown area a bit. I napped for about a half-hour before dinner.

The quote of the day came from Jane during Tour Talk. We had passed another group of cyclists today. Jane talked to them for a bit and learned that they were on a two-week, 900-mile tour, staying in hotels along the way. Jane said to them (and you have to imagine this in her proper British accent): “Are we the first people you’ve met who are not impressed by what you’re doing?”

After Tour Talk, I went along along to watch Richard, Becky, Marisa, and Meg roll two games at Lucky Lanes.

Missoula to Lincoln, MT

Jeremy, the head bike mechanic on the staff, drove the SAG van today, and I was the only passenger. We had to make a couple of stops, one to drop off David from California at the airport, plus stops at FedEx and the Post Office.

It was a fairly pretty drive today; lots of pine-covered hills and mountains, streams, and a few deer. We arrived in Lincoln, MT around 11:30am. This town is known for being the home of Theodore Kazinsky, aka the Unabomber. There didn’t seem to be much to see or do in town, so after Jeremy and Alice unloaded the baggage truck, I decided to ride out with Jeremy again as he did the afternoon SAG support. We got back into town again around 3:30. The local library was right across the road from the Lincoln Public School where we were staying, and it opened at 4:00, so I went over to catch up on e-mail.

I thought it best to take it easy and get some rest tonight. The usual gang headed out the local bars, but I stayed in the gym and talked with Richard, Molly and Marisa from DC, Jane, Bonne from George, Aussie Matt, and Colleen. Went to bed at 10:00pm and slept pretty well until about 6:30am.

Rest day in Missoula, MT

Walked back into town for breakfast at a café called The Raven with Jane from England, David and Ken from California, and Meg from Massachusetts. Walked back to camp with Jane, stopping at a bike shop to help her pick out a new helmet. We also stopped for a few groceries; most important for me were floss sticks, and a box of baby wipes to use in lieu of showering. Ken and Meg walked to the REI, so I had them pick me up a bottle of rinse-free shampoo.

I used these supplies to get cleaned up, and put on some fresh clothes. I took another walk into town with Colleen from Portland, Maine, and Robert from Georgia. They got some Mexican food for lunch, while I did some more shopping. I picked up a nice Prana shirt on sale at a store called Trail Head.

Colleen and I went to the local theater to see Fahrenheit 9/11, where we saw Richard in line, and afterwards saw Marisa from DC, and Sue from Bend, Oregon. This theater happened to be the only one in Montana that was scheduled to run this film. We walked back to camp to get ready for dinner, and met a few of the new people joining us for the next week of the tour.

After dinner, I went out with Brian from Oklahoma, and Becky, who is from Nevada near Lake Tahoe. We tried to find the local microbrewery, which was supposed to be just a couple of blocks away from camp. However, we found out from a local resident that it had moved to the other side of town within the past year. So, we found a place called The Bridge Lounge not too far away, and had a couple pitchers of an organic porter. I don’t remember the name of it or what brewery it comes from, but it was good.

Thompson Falls to Missoula, MT

Today’s ride, the last of the week, sound like one that I shouldn’t feel too badly about missing. Most of it was along state route 200 into Missoula, where there were not really any challenging climbs, no great scenery, very narrow shoulders on the road, and traffic whizzing by at 70mph.

Peter drove the van today, with me and Alis (the massage therapist on staff) riding along. We arrived in Missoula around 11:00am. Our overnight was at the Loyola High School Sister Rita Mudd Activities Center. Missoula is a good town for a rest day, as it is a relatively large city with things to do. The University of Montana is located here, so it is the state’s most liberal city, and is also very bike-friendly. The activity center was kind of a depressing place, though, as it was not connected to the school itself, but just sits kind of alone in an isolated neighborhood.

I tried to take a shower, but in the process of getting undressed, must have worked my shoulder too much. Where any pain I had felt so far was a very generalized throbbing, it was now a very localized and severe burning sensation. So, I just rinsed off a bit in the sink and got dressed again, and took a much-needed nap until most of the other riders got in.

Since tomorrow is a rest day, tonight’s dinner wasn’t included in the tour, so a bunch of us walked into town, and about eight of us settled into the Iron Horse Inn. I got fish and chips and a Bomber Stout, both very good. After eating, we moved to another table to join with a few others from our group. I had a Fat Tire Ale or two. People started filtering out a couple at a time, until I was left to help finish a pitcher of Bud Light with Matt from Iowa and Matt from Australia. They wanted to check out the scene a bit longer, so I made my way back to camp alone, having to ask for directions from a couple of friendly locals on the way.

Kellog, ID to Thompson Falls, MT

Today’s ride was in in the SAG van, and was quick and pleasant. I regretted not being able to pedal over Thompson Pass into Montana. We arrived in the town of Thompson Falls around 11:00am.

I spent the afternoon exploring the town with David Butler, a former AOL executive who was taking some time off from biking due to dehydration problems earlier in the week. We checked out a few shops, as I was looking for button-up shirts that I could more easily wear than t-shirts (I’ve just been wearing my cycling vest since the accident). Didn’t find any at first, though. We got some lunch at a local diner, then caught up on our e-mail at the library. Then we got some ice cream at a great little shop, where a lot of the other cyclists were starting to trickle in. We walked to the far end of town to a grocery store, as David wanted to pick up some snacks, and there happened to be a second-hand store next door. I found a nice gray, short-sleeved dress shirt, and a light blue Hawaiian shirt ($3 each!).

I had not felt too much pain yet, but I think all of the walking finally got to me and I started to feel pretty sore in the shoulder. David was getting tired, too, so we bummed a ride from the grocery store back up to camp (at Thompson Falls High School) from a couple of locals. They turned out to be a man and his grandson from outside Spokane, who were on their way to meet the rest of their family at their summer cabin in the hills outside of town.

After dinner and Tour Talk, we had our first weekly awards ceremony. Kira gave me some duct tape, to fix my collar bone. I told some of the tale of the hospital trip, and thanked the staff and my fellow riders for all of the help that they have given me already with getting around, packing and unpacking at camp, etc. I decided I could handle of couple of beers, so I joined the usual suspects, as we hit two of the local bars for a little while.

Spokane, WA to Kellog, ID

Got an early start about 6:35am from Spokane. Easy city streets, a bike trail, and a moderate climb got us back out onto country roads. Stopped for the obligatory photo at the Idaho state line, around mile 33. Was feeling good today; felt like I had gotten “over the hump” after the tough day yesterday.

At about mile 48, we dropped down into a state park and got onto a beautiful, paved, flat rail trail, which runs mostly along Lake C’our d’Alene, and across the lake at one point using an amazing restored railroad bridge. Around mile 57, we had a fantastic lunch in the quaint town of Harrison.

I had been riding with Richard all day, who is riding to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity of Denver. About a mile up the trail after lunch, we were cruising along, and I guess I was enjoying the scenery too much. Richard slowed down a bit, I didn’t notice in time, and I went crashing into him. I flipped over my handlebars and went flying off into the gravel to the right side of the trail, landing hard on my head and right shoulder. I managed to roll over onto my back, and laid there for several minutes to try to assess the damage. I could not move my right arm. Everything else seemed okay. Richard had fallen, too, but not very hard, and he was okay. He gave me a few drinks of water, but we decided that we should try to get out of the sun. He helped me to my feet, but I started to feel lightheaded. I remember putting my hand on his shoulder to steady myself; he said that I passed out. I remember waking up in the gravel again. After another few minutes, he helped me up again, and we worked our way over to the shade next to a nearby restroom. By then some other riders showed up. The ride side of my body was covered with this weird furry stuff, that had fallen from nearby cottonwood trees; I remember Kira saying that it looked like I had been attacked by a duck. She poured some water on my head, which felt good, but I started to feel naseous. I laid down, but remained conscious. I recall David from Vermont being there, and Steve from California examining my helmet, which had a slight dent in the rear right side. Kira radioed back to the lunch stop, and somebody there called for the ambulance. It might have been difficult for the ambulance to get to me on the trail, though. Fortunately, just then a trail ranger employed by the C’ouer d’Alene Tribe drove by in a maintenance ATV. My bike fit in the bed in the back, and I rode in the passenger side as he gave me a ride back to the lunch area in Harrison. The Harrison EMT squad showed up soon after. After hearing my description of the fall, they were very concerned about spinal injury, so they took the usual precautions of putting me in a neck brace and strapping me to a back board, and we proceeded in the ambulance to the Benewah Community Hospital in the town of St. Marie, about 20 miles away. Kira came along with me. The ambulance crew gave me a small brown teddy bear, since I had the dubious honor of being the first person that they ever had to evacuate by ambulance off of the trail since its recent dedication. The worst part of the whole trip to the hospital was that the back board I was laying on was very painful on the small spot on the back of my head.

At the hospital, I got x-rays of my shoulder and neck, and was examined by Dr. Clyde Hanson, who reminded me of the actor Ronnie Cox (of Robocop and Total Recall). The bad news: a fractured collar bone, with an expected recovery time of four to six weeks.

They cleaned the scrapes from the fall on the back of my shoulder, and had to dig some bits of gravel out of a deep gash in my knee. I also got a tetanus shot. They put my shoulders in what is called a figure-eight harness, which holds them in the proper position to promote the collar bone’s healing. I got a prescription for painkillers (Vicodin), and was told to get a checkup in a week.

Paul was waiting outside with the SAG van; we stopped at the local pharmacy to pick up my pills, then had to head back to Harrison to pick up some staff still left at the lunch stop. We proceeded on to the town of Kellogg, our stop for the night. I somehow managed to get a shower at the Kellogg Middle School, and was dressed in time for dinner. Later, a few of us headed over to a local bar, where I had a Pepsi. We saw an amazing sunset over the mountains, then watched a display of lightening bolts as a thunderstorm approached from the west.

So, the other day I was getting all philosophical, trying to explain the meaning of flat tires. That will teach me; now I have to figure out what this means. I will keep you posted…