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.

 

 

Advertisements

Redemption on the Lewis & Clark Trail

Make America Bike Again

Day 23 – The search for beauty continues. It didn’t take long to pack up and get on the road that morning. We left the pine covered hills behind in a long, easy downhill through pastures and farmland, and out into a wide expanse of brown prairie. That’s where the guys were waiting, their bikes lined up and leaning again the guardrail. Robert and I brought up the rear. He rode past them with a greeting, slowing and stopping on the shoulder, a little beyond the guardrail. He unfolded the clickstand, set the padded end against the earth, and let my weight balance at the crossbar into the braced open end. On any other day, it would have been ideal for me, a fully loaded touring bicycle, to stand upright. That day, however, was the beginning of the time warp.

Robert had been using that clickstand everyday since the start of the trip. But as he stepped away that morning, to lean against the guardrail and share a bite with the boys, a slight gust of wind hit me broadside. I started to rock, to lean toward the steep embankment. Robert rushed back, grabbing for the rear rack. The clickstand fell to the ground. Heads turned as I began to fall, rolling down the embankment in a perfect 360 spiral. Don roared with laughter. Frosty joined in. Good thing bicycle’s can’t feel embarrassment. Instead, I lean against the hillside, wheels slowing spinning as if they were searching for pavement.

It only took a few seconds for Robert and Gerry to reach me. By the handlebar and the rear frame, Robert pulled and Gerry pushed me back up onto the shoulder. We touring bicycles are a hardy bunch. Everything seemed to be working. Wanting very much to get going, Robert said goodbye, lifted one leg over the crossbar, and climbed onto my seat. He just wanted to get away and down the road, and leave the noise and laughter behind.

There were prairie fires ahead, a small town and at least one roadside cafe. Places to rest, refill water bottles, and wonder how far to the next city with a bicycle shop. The map indicated that there was camping at Mosby, a small place where the highway crossed the Musselshell River and few permanent residents.

 

This part of eastern Montana was one rolling hill after another. In our haste and near the top of one of them, my chain broke. We didn’t carry a chain tool or a replacement link. Robert put the pieces into a plastic bag, pushed me to the top of the hill, and put out his thumb…

It wasn’t long at all before a quintessential Montana rancher named Don stopped and picked us up. He had a pick up truck and a generous spirit and said that he would take us as far as Mosby that night. With a grin he said that in addition to being the mayor, he owned the whole town. A few miles later it was apparent that his town consisted of an asphalt pad, the RV that Don called his home, a well stocked tool shed, a warm shower, and a hardy patch of green grass. Don proudly asserted that his dream was to turn it into a bicycle hostel for passing cyclists. That’s where the boys caught up and camped. Don even loaned us his truck so that we could run to a MiniMart…down the road about 10 miles…for pizza and beer. It would be Robert’s goodbye party. Don was on his way to becoming an icon among trail angels.

Closing on the Time Warp

Make America Bike Again

Day 22 – Eastern Montana awaits.

Followers of this trail diary know that the regular blogs began about half way into the journey, on day 24. Robert was taking pictures all along, making handwritten journal entries too. Creating a readable blog meant switching from laptop to smart phone and dealing with erratic cell phone service in Idaho and Montana.It was a steep learning curve for an aging cyclist, one who learned to write in an analog world. Since returning to Denver a few weeks ago, he has faithfully documented those early pages, starting from Pre-Launch and continuing to the present.ouroboros

The result is a trail journal that starts in the middle, reaches a possible ending, but comes back around to pick up what was left behind. An inefficient use of linear time? Definitely. Differing  perspectives aren’t necessarily in conflict. Not according to the wisdom of the Ouroboros; that ancient symbol for the fusion of opposites, continuous renewal, and the dual nature of life. It’s the way of the natural world. .

Day 22 was for traveling from Stanford, Montana to a wild camp just beyond Lewiston. Here are some pictures.

 

 

Pictured above is a 3d sculpture from the legend of Medusa in Greek Mythology. She was a Gorgon, a dreadful monster of the feminine persuasion, with the power to turn anyone into stone, if they looked into her eyes. Maybe that’s why Robert has his back turned to her in the picture above.

In any event, we were dealing with the Local Gods in this section of Montana. By the end of that day, they were definitely exerting their influence. At the end of the day and right at the top of a long hill, the place where we planned to camp in order to start the morning with a long downhill run, my front tire went flat.

 

 

 

 

 

How Safe Is It?

Make America Bike Again – Day 21

Rush hour on Friday afternoon was probably not the best time to be riding a bicycle down the main street in Great Falls. The city’s downtown commercial center hadn’t aged well. Population was on the decline. Parking spaces that once lined both sides of the road were gone. Gone to accommodate more lanes for cars and traffic. Today there were four lanes filled with cars and trucks, a couple feet of shoulder and a high curb. A motorist probably wouldn’t even notice that kind of detail. A bicyclist would.

There were just a couple more blocks to go. Then Robert would turn right and be off the main drag. A horn sounded behind him. The engine accelerated and started to pass. Directly ahead a sewer grate lay embedded into the shoulder. The driver of the car wouldn’t even notice. Robert noticed. His hands gripped hard on the brake levers and the handlebars as my front tire, a Schwalbe Marathon, dropped from the pavement to the sewer grate with a thump. But that was nothing compared to the impact that rocked the bike when we hit several inches of asphalt ledge on the grate’s other side.

Coming into Great Falls that afternoon, Robert was several hours ahead of the boys. He went straight for the Missouri River and a grassy park on the eastern shore. There were Canadian geese, white pelicans, and cormorants on the water. Children played in a municipal swimming pool on the far side. I needed a bicycle shop. Robert wanted to find a sporting goods store. Great Falls had several of each to choose from. But first, we needed a place to camp. He tried texting the guys. No response.

It was getting late. Dick’s RV Campground had space for tent camping, and a laundry, showers, and internet connection. It would turn out that Bill and Ed and their Honda Goldwings were already there. Both men were traveling the country, including Alaska, from their homes in Florida. Ed was a gregarious man. He came over offering a can of beer as Robert set up the tent, proudly announcing that in his travels he had never met a stranger, just people he hadn’t yet met. When he wasn’t riding his motorcycle, he was a voracious reader, one who preferred hardbacks. It was alot of common ground. Robert had to introduce him to his latest book, Icarus and the Wing Builder.

While they talked, Gerry got in touch by cellphone. The boys minus Robert and Frank were downtown, having dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, a national chain restaurant with a recognized brand and mediocre food. The campground was out on the edge of town. But, the panniers were off the bike and inside the tent, holding it down. Without their weight, pedaling the few miles to the restaurant would feel like flying. That’s how Robert found himself on Central Street at rush hour in Great Falls, surrounded by strangers in their cars and trucks.

When the front tire impacted the edge of the pothole, my forward momentum just died and I dropped towards the asphalt. Robert landed on the sidewalk, taking the impact on his right side. It all happened so fast. He wore a helmet, a polyester long-sleeved bicycle shirt, and gloves. I could hear him angrily cursing at the driver, the one who continued down the road without stopping. Robert was already on his feet, road rash on his forearm and a torn bicycle shirt. Cars behind us were already stopping, asking if we needed help. He bent down to pick me up off the street and stand me upside down on the sidewalk.

We never made it to Buffalo Wild Wings that night. I had a broken spoke on the rear wheel and a tear on the sidewall of my front tire. It was so much easier just to ride back to the RV campsite, a shower, and a hot meal.

So: How safe is this bicycle touring?

Answer: For an older cyclist, if the rider is reasonably fit with sound heart and lungs, then bicycle touring is about as safe as recreational skiing.

Even the best skiers fall sometimes. Usually, they’re having fun. Skiers pick themselves up after a fall and keep right on skiing. It’s the same for bicyclists. Even the most experienced cyclists fall. On this journey, we’ve been making 40, 50, and even 60 miles per day. And, having fun. After a fall you pick yourself back up, fix whatever needs to be fixed, and return to the journey. That’s what Robert did. He skinned his elbow. Got a bruise and a good story to tell. Our six week journey would eventually cover more than 2,000 miles. The fall in Great Falls was the only serious one;-)

Be safe. Put away the car keys. Rediscover the bicycle.

MAKE AMERICA BIKE AGAIN!!!

 

 

Forest Fires

Make America Bike Again – Day 19

Those aren’t clouds on the horizon. That’s smoke from last July’s forest fire in the Flathead National Forest of western Montana. Fire crews are already on the seen. And how do two local entrepreneurs respond? Did they get all caught up in the drama of having a forest fire in the neighborhood?

I think that they coped with the situation quite well. Here, are a couple of committed merchants making the best of the situation and set up just off the highway. The sign says, “Lemonade for Sale.” When we first met them they were waiting for the next car to come along. They had no difficulty focusing their attention on a passing tourist riding a bicycle. To add some zest to the story, while Robert was talking with the girls a passing motorist pulled up and bought two lemonades; one for the driver and one for Robert. Another trail angel gets its wings.

As you can see, the fires are visible from the highway and burning right behind these houses near Lincoln, Montana.

We are approaching the continental divide. Decker Pass is just a few miles down the highway. Those are the last mountains that we will see on this trip. From there it will be high plains and eastward flowing rivers. Tomorrow, we reach Great Falls, Montana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grateful in Montana

Make America Bike Again – Day 17

Lolo Pass was behind us. The land began to change. We were losing elevation, moving from mountains into high plains. IMG_1400We lost an hour, moving from the Pacific Time Zone into Mountain. We regained cell phone service. And, caught up with Frank! He was staying at a motel in Missoula, and close to all amenities a city has to offer. It was a great place for a wandering band of gypsies to reconnect. A good place to catch up on laundry, bicycle maintenance, and resupply.  It was also the right place for the sadness of our last dinner together as five.

Next morning we met up at the Adventure Cycling office space in downtown Missoula. This is a must see and do for the touring cyclist and bicycle. The office staff is professional, welcoming, and knowledgeable. There’s a scale out back to weigh the fully loaded bicycle. I topped out at 98 lbs. There are tools and a secure work space for the do-it-yourself bicycle mechanic. A large bulletin board to record this year’s catch of touring cyclists that pass through their doors. And, a business office for cyclists wanting to catch up with the outside world.

Robert rotated my tires and bought a set of maps for the rest of the journey. Frank was there boxing up his bicycle. He was shipping it back to his home in California, all except for the broken front rack. There were tearful farewells and Frank was gone, returning to the motel and his flight back home. The band of gypsies, now four, would pedal north toward Great Falls.

IMG_1401

We camped that night, next to Montana’s Clearwater River. Here’s a picture of the early morning mist rising on Day 18.

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.

IMG_1373

 

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.

Hello Idaho

Make America Bike Again – Day 12

This picture was taken with Robert’s IPhone camera by an entrepreneur from the Washington side of the border. A techie from Seattle, perhaps?

No. He was a retail marijuana shop owner. He advised us to turn around and go back to his shop in Clarkson, Washington in order to stock up. “You’ll get busted for sure if you try to buy anything over here.”

As he returned the camera, Robert said, “Most of us are from Colorado. There’s plenty of pot back home. But, we only put good clean air in our lungs.” They laughed together, talked about places to eat in Lewiston, and went their separate ways.

Before Lewiston, the morning had been spent riding in the sparse traffic and warm sunshine of southeastern Washington. The hills wore a rugged beauty, draped in the colors of wheat or alfalfa.

 

 

 

After Lewiston, the highways became busy with construction and trucks for the first few miles until we reached Forest Service land. All the bikes carried long, flexible poles with at least one reflective flag at the end. That’s me on the upper left with the orange one. It can get quite creative. Gerry has the flag of Ireland. Frank, a string of Tibetan prayer flags. Don tops his array off with a US flag. Frosty has a sign. Five cyclists, all at least 60 in age. All in pursuit of good health and happiness and inspired living. For that to transpire, each one must be capable of being seen from a long way off by approaching traffic. When the shoulders get narrow and the traffic heats up, flags and reflective clothing are essential. Hello Idaho, were here, thousands of nonpolluting touring bicycles and their cyclists crisscrossing your beautiful state every summer.

Resist Mediocrity

Make America Bike Again – Day 11

Trail angels again. One welcomed us into Waitsburg, Washington yesterday evening. He showed us around the County Fairgrounds and we camped there for the night. This small town in western Washington lies directly on the path of the Lewis & Clark Trail. Every summer hundreds of touring bicyclists pass through.

Before leaving the next morning we rode into the commercial part of town for groceries. The city’s downtown is decorated with life-size bronze statues, setting the stage for some

significant photo ops. While Frank and Robert hammed it up, another trail angel appeared, a middle aged woman who had just moved to Waitsburg from Boulder, Colorado. She wore a big smile and a T-shirt that read, “Resist Mediocrity,” lending credence to the claim that she hailed from Boulder. When Robert asked her why she picked Waitsburg, she said because of the relatively mild climate, and because of her dream: which is to build a bicycle hostel on the Lewis & Clark Trail. He responded that it was a wonderful plan.

img_1354-1.jpg
Garfield County Fairgrounds

We made another fifty miles that day, as far as the fairgrounds at Pomeroy. There, Robert let the Local Gods know how grateful he was for the generous people of Washington and for the good roads, traversed without incident. Good timing, the Snake River and the Idaho line were just down the road.