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…

Electric City to Spokane, WA

Biked back to the Electric City VFW for breakfast at 6:30am. There was about a six-mile climb to get us out of the valley of the dam region. Although today’s route was somewhat easier than yesterday’s for most riders, I was starting to notice the effects of the fourth straight high-mileage day. The views were still great, but it also felt like more of the same—mercilessly rolling hills through fields of wheat and barley as far as the eye could see.

I started riding with Lisa, a staff member from Southern California, early in the day, and our paces seemed to match pretty well, so we stayed together for the duration of today’s route. The campus of Gonzaga University in Spokane was a welcome site. I had just enough time to catch up on e-mail at the library before having a delicious dinner at the cafeteria. Later, some of the usual gang headed to The Bulldog bar, but we made it an early night so as to try to get an early start and beat the heat tomorrow. The dormitory rooms were hot, especially on the upper floor where my assigned room was, so I took my blanket and ended up sleeping most of the night on a couch in the basement near the laundry room.

Wenatchee to Electric City, WA

I’m thankful for flat tires.

In the months leading up to this trip, people told me that things would go well because my dad would be watching over me. I’m not a religious person, nor a superstitious person, but human nature makes us think this way, and I found myself agreeing with this sentiment. As my mind wandered during the first 15 or so miles of today’s ride, I thought about the number of flat tires I’ve gotten lately. Last year, I only had one all season. Up through yesterday, I have now had seven flats this year. I know far worse things could happen, but the idea still nagged me. Just then, I rode past a Shell station and it hit me like a bolt of lightening. My dad owned a garage; he changed tires almost every day for 40 years. Maybe my flats are his way of living on through me, or of having me continue his work, or maybe just a way of reminding us all that we need to remember where we came from. Either way, I will now be thankful for flat tires.

The route today was tough. It started out tame enough, with a 10-mile ride on riverfront trails to make our way out of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee. It then followed the Columbia River for about 10 miles, before turning up for an eight-mile climb out of the valley. At some points during the climb, when I was riding alone and there were no cars, all I could hear was the spinning of my cranks. At the top of the climb, we were shocked as we virtually entered another world. Instead of the usual descent or more hills, the terrain opened up into the endless fields of the state’s central high plains. This continued for about 50 miles, with literally no shade, until we dropped back into another rocky valley, the area around the Grand Coulee Dam. The same extreme heat of the previous afternoon followed us most of the day today. The staff said that if you made it through this day, you could make it through any day.

I arrived at the end of the 99-mile route around 3:00pm. Average speed was 15.4 mph, maximum was 41mph.

We spent the night at Sun Banks Resort, a lakeside campground. This was our first overnight stop without an indoor sleeping option; my tent went up and down without any problems. The evening air was cool, clear, and dry, so most of us slept without the rain flys on our tents, giving an amazing view of the stars.

Dinner was at the Electric City VFW post. Afterwards, a bunch of us relaxed for a few beverages on the porch of the resort’s lodge. Later, a van load of us went to see the laser light show at the dam. On the way, as we debated whether to stop for some take-out beverages, Matt from Australia had the quote of the day: “I’ve seen the dam. We need beer.”

Skykomish to Wenatchee, WA

A tough start for the day….after breakfast, I had packed my bags and prepared all my gear for the day. The last step was to pump up my tires–and I found that my rear tire was flat. I should have thought to check it last night, because I topped it off at lunch yesterday, and it did seem to need more air at that time than it should have. I got a new tube put in, but it still wasn’t holding air. I noticed a small slit in the tire itself. Luckily, the baggage truck had not left yet, so I got one of my new tires out of my bag. I got it put on and pumped up, then noticed that I had put it on with the tread facing the wrong way. I left it on that way, since it wouldn’t matter in the dry conditions expected today. By this time, it was 7:25am; I was the last person (other than staff) to leave.

There were some short, flat sections at the start, but it was pretty much all uphill for the beginning of today’s ride. I caught up with David from California (on the recumbent bike) and Roberta around eight miles in, just before the turn-off to the Iron Goat Trail. This was a short side spur off of the main highway, a steep, narrow road through lush rain forest-like woods, with more views of streams and waterfalls. At about mile 10, it re-joined with the Stevens Pass Highway.

The next seven miles were a continuous climb to the Stevens Pass summit, where also sites the Stevens Pass Ski Area, which I had visited in February of 2003. We gained about 4000 feet of elevation from the start of the day. The air most of the morning was cool and comfortable.

As I started the descent down the east side of the pass, I pedaled hard to see what kind of speed I could get. But there was a pretty stiff head wind, and I could never get better than 38mph. So, I just relaxed and enjoyed coasting down the nine-mile descent. There were a few false flats near the bottom that made the descent feel like more work than it should have been. Then it was relatively flat for the 20 or so miles leading to the lunch stop.

After lunch, the pine forests thinned and eventually gave way to low scrub-brush foothills as the route wound along the Wenatchee River to the Bavarian-style town of Leavenworth. The temperatures really started rising as the sun beat down for the rest of the ride, through other small towns such as Cashmere, Monitor, and finally our destination of Wenatchee. At one point, the thermometer on my bike computer read 119 degrees. I know this is not accurate, depending on the sun and wind, but it gives you some idea.

With about five miels to go, my rear tire started feeling squishy again. I stuck my frame pump on it – the gauge showed about 40psi. I pumped it back up to 100 and hoped it was just a slow leak. I could tell it was getting low agin as I approached the end of the route, but I made it all the way, arriving at the school at 2:30pm. Once there, I replaced the tube again, this timebeing sure to install the tire tread in the proper direction. Just to be safe, I went ahead and installed the other new tire on the front wheel.

Total mileage for the day was 75.64; average speed was 15mph; maximum speed was 38mph. I spent most of the evening indoors to avoid the heat.