Trail Angel Stories

Make America Bike Again

Day 24 –

Next morning Mayor Don of Mosby, Montana, stepped up once again, displaying his iconic trail angel colors. For a tank full of gas, he offered to take Robert and me to the nearest town with food and services. Thank you Don for your generosity. It turned out to be Glendive, Montana. More than 150 miles. Thank you Don. An interstate crossed the 2-lane highway there. Probably three days of travel on a touring bicycle. Thank-you Don from Mosby.

Glendive’s population is about 5,000. The next ride took us from one side of this fair city to the other. Not far in distance, but strategically significant because it planted us right on the interstate highway ramp heading east. I can’t even tell you the driver’s name. Robert didn’t write it down in his journal. I only remember that the back of his truck was full of supplies for muzzle loading rifles. It was about midday and warm for Montana. Traffic was light. In fact the next person to stop was a repeat appearance. A trail angel at heart, the previous driver was returning with a large piece of brown cardboard to aid us in getting another driver to slow down and look. On the sign he had written in big black letters: Bike Broke! Thank you, bearded, black powder rifle enthusiast.

A rolling bicycle can watch the landscape pass by at about 12 miles per hour with a light breeze blowing and a song in your head. It’s much more fun than baking on the stationary concrete of an interstate highway. Time crawled by, until, a small white GM sedan parked on the road and a lean looking stranger climbed out. It wasn’t the police. Instead, a talkative middle aged man walked towards us. He was a bicycle mechanic without any tools, but he wanted to help out. His name was Dave, the proprietor and Communications Director of Dave’s Mobile Bike and Golf Emporium.

According to trail-angel Dave, Glendive was no longer home to a bicycle repair shop. The latest one was another victim of the falling crude oil prices and a shrinking local economy. The city might be shrinking, but he was a fifth generation North Dakotan and…looking at my broken chain which he correctly identified as a Shimano…he believed that he could tap into a network of friends and acquaintances who would remedy our situation. He made some phone calls. Recommended a more universal kind of chain replacement. Sent some text messages.

This was not just an interstate highway ramp, this was a metaphorical folk in the road. Dave offered to install a new chain himself, if Robert would purchase the chain from his friends who ran a bicycle shop in Medora called Dakota Cyclery. It was several more exits down the highway and another 20 miles or so. We could all meet at a truckstop halfway in between, after the bicycle shop folks got off work. They would bring the new chain and some tools. Dave his expertise, and Robert would bring the credit card. In the meantime we all could wait in the shade of a friend’s storage unit, a few blocks away.

It was  choice: And with so much good fortune behind us that day, why not expect these people to be generous and kind? This was still southeastern Montana after all.

Robert and I spent the rest of the afternoon waiting in a well furnished storage unit in Glendive, drinking a beer…thank you Dave…and waiting for the sun to set on another day of business. The trickiest part proved to be transporting everything to the truckstop parking lot. For that, three adults and a disassembled touring bike had to pack themselves into a small GM car and drive about 15 miles down the road to the edge of a truckstop packing lot.

That’s where the deal went down, exactly as planned.

 

 

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Separation

Make America Bike Again – Day 13

It would be a fifty mile day, ending at an RV campground near Kamiah, Idaho. The canyon opens up at Kamiah. The Forest Service has an office there. That’s where Frank and Robert waited for the others to catch up, to come riding through the last curve in the road. Still no cell phone service; not in this part of Idaho. When the last of the employees left the parking lot for the day, they did too.

The day had begun in Myrtle Village, a lovely USFS campground carved out of tall cedars on a bend of the Clearwater River. As the touring cyclists set up their tents Don asked the camp host about the possibility of buying beer from some of the RV campers. Without much of a reply, Norm climbed into his golf cart and left, reappearing with a grin and a bunch of beers on the front seat next to him. He passed them around and shared a good story about unintended consequences, having once won a camp host hospitality award and then had to travel to Washington DC to receive it.

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They didn’t have a campfire that night. Didn’t need one. Robert has a story he likes to tell about changing his name from “Bob” during one of those midlife challenges. Didn’t tell it. He had already told that one earlier in the trip. Instead he asked Norm, the oldest one in the circle, how he had become a man. Norm didn’t hesitate. He explained that it happened rather late in life. He said with pride that he had become a man by learning to love his second wife.

It turned out that most of these aging cyclists, manhood had begun with a similar kind of heart-opening experience. Gerry and his wife had adopted and raised a daughter. Frank had raised a son. For Don, it was winning custody of his son and daughter, and then raising them alone. Robert had a similar story about raising and emancipating his children. Frosty listened and then shared his view: that manhood had arrived through the exploits of his single years, after he and his first wife divorced.

They talked and laughed while the last beer disappeared. As darkness filled the canyon a group of coyotes raised their voices in song, messing with the camp dogs.  When things finally quieted down, everyone was ready to call it a day.

Frank is the group’s early riser. As usual he was first up, first packed and first on the road. Robert and I weren’t far behind. Gerry was next. Don and Frosty hung back together in the parking lot. We wouldn’t see them again for two days.

Touch The Earth

Make America Bike Again – Day 8

Yesterday, we reconciled with the Local Gods. We rose early, loaded up our gear, and left Oregon’s Interstate highway system behind. Waiting for us on the other side of the Columbia River was smooth road, sparse traffic, and a nice little tailwind.

An easy forty mile day was unfolding. Nothing but two-lane blacktop all the way to Roosevelt, Washington. On the map it looks tiny. Once there, we found a cafe/store with delicious hamburgers, friendly people, and a campground that wasn’t even listed on our ACA map. An excellent day came to a close with a full moon rising above the Columbia River.

 

A Bell in the Courthouse

Make America Bike Again – Day 3

On the road from Gnat Creek to St. Helens, Oregon. It’s another warm, clear day. We tried picking up the pace a little, but the shoulder of the road had another idea.  First, my rear tire went flat. It is July 3rd, a Monday. Traffic is heavy. We stopped to fix the tire. Feels like half the drivers in Oregon are on the road. We caught up with the rest of the crew. All those cars must be looking for a good place to camp and watch fireworks. Just as soon as we started up again, Frank had the next flat…Nothing to do but smile!

The sun was setting by the time we reached the town of St. Helens. It was late. We were tired, and we kept going. After dinner and a few missteps, we found our way to the courthouse grounds…right along the Columbia River…where preparations were underway for an all day July 4th celebration. The gatekeeper wanted to let us in. His boss had a different idea. Finally, with two veterans in our group and some skillful negotiation (a solemn pledge to be history by morning,) the event planner relented. That night we camped on lush courthouse grass, right next to the mighty Columbia river. The bell tower sounded every hour.

 

 

 

83-Mile Day

Make America Bike Again – Day 10

Before leaving the campsite at Umatilla in the morning, we stopped by Judi’s RV in the morning to say goodbye. Her friend and traveling companion stood inside the entryway and peered out, unwilling to leave its comfort and security, but still very curious. She asked, “Are you afraid of the wild creatures at night?”

There were some laughs in response and finally someone replied, “We are the wild ones.” But, she had raised an important question,”Is it really safe?”

In our earliest departure yet, we wished them well and said goodbye. On the way out of town we stopped at the grocery store for a few last minute items. Sipping on a cup of black coffee, Robert walked out of the store with a small bunch of bananas in the other. The rest of the guys were already on their bikes crossing the parking lot and heading for the highway.

I could feel his hurried rush to stow the fruit, take a gulp of coffee, and throw the rest away. Without the usual, “Bless all travelers on this highway today,” Robert gripped the handlebars and lifted his leg over crossbar. He hurried into the street with a vague sense of the direction, but there were no bicycles in sight. In fact there was no traffic at all. “Shit,” he said, turned around and returned to the grocery store parking lot. He went back inside the store looking for his sunglasses. Came out a few minutes later and found them in their case. That’s when he took a deep breath and sighed.

 

 

A few miles later a trucker passed us on the highway, moving completely over into the other lane. That’s rare. Sure, sometimes they sound a couple of short beeps in greeting. Other times, it’s a long blast of get the hell out of my way. The memorable one from that morning didn’t sound the horn at all. He just moved completely over into the other lane and even slowed down minimizing the slipstream coming off the trailer. Bless all travelers on this highway today, was the message.

In an hour or so we caught up with the rest, having an early morning snack. Touring cyclists eat often and throughout the day, usually healthy stuff. In the dry heat of the west they drink a lot of water. Not the sweetened drinks or the heavily marketed “high energy” drinks. Mostly water, by day. Beer, after the sun goes down. By mid morning we crossed the Washington border. The lava formed cliffs had given way to farmland. Mature alfalfa and wheat grew on both sides of the highway. With an early start to the day and the wind out of the west, we would make 83 miles that day, a stand out record for us, finishing in Waitsburg, Washington.