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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Idaho

Make America Bike Again – Day 15

Robert rose early. Packed, made coffee and oatmeal, and on the road by seven. He found good water at the old ranger station. There was more water at the Wilderness Access Campground, but Frank was already gone, heading east toward Lochsa Lodge.

We were closing in on Missoula, Montana, the navel of the bicycle touring world of North America. Both the Northern Tier and the Lewis and Clark Trails pass right through the city, and the Great Divide Bicycling Route passes very near. It is also the home of AdventureCycling.org. This has to be a good area for meeting other touring cyclists.

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First to arrive was Doug. As the distance narrowed Robert waved and applied the brakes. Doug did the same. I crossed the road onto the other shoulder. (Remember, I’m the bicycle that keeps Robert on the road.) Right away Doug informed us that he is in the race. Having no clue, as usual, Robert asks, “What race is that?”

“The ACA one,” Doug replies. “I’m racing across America, east to west.”

“How long have you been on the road?”

Six weeks,” replied Doug. “Technically, it’s already been won. Most racers go west to east. One of those racers has already finished. I just want to finish.”

The Adventure Cycling Association stated this race just a few years ago. The course follows the association’s TransAmericaTrail  from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia. Participants have to travel under their own power and self-supported. Most elect to go west to east, but a few, like Doug, choose the more challenging east to west route. You can read more about it on his blog: RideAllNight.wordpress.com.

Robert reached Lochsa Lodge by early afternoon. A breeze carried the smell of smoke and the sounds of not so distant helicopters. Frank was no where to be found. He must have taken a lunch break and kept right on going. For such a remote area, Lochsa Lodge was a busy place this time of year and a welcome stopping place for the traveler ready for a break and a good meal.

While Robert ate lunch, a large group of young cyclists arrived. They too were going east to west on a fully supported, charitable fund raiser. The earliest arrivals dropped their bikes, draping them over the grassy lawn, and close to the front doors, the bathrooms and the food.  Next came a hotshot crew, rotating out from their time spent on the fire line. They were followed by a small group of distinctly overweight motorcycle riders, dressed in Harley garb. Some carried sidearms.

Robert returned to the campsite just in time for an afternoon thunder shower. The tent and rainfly went quickly up. As the rain increased Robert grabbed his book and climbed inside for an afternoon snooze.

We would cross into Montana tomorrow. After the storm ended and dinnertime approached Robert found a meaningful way to honor the local Idaho gods. He donated a pair of Nike tennis shoes to the local lost and found, and lightened our load in the process. About 5 pm, who should roll into camp but the three lingering cyclists from our original group, Don, Frosty, and Gerry. We were back together again…minus 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Will the Hidden Gem Appear?

Make America Bike Again – Day 9

 

We follow the Columbia River from one small town to the next. The splendor of the gorge and the imposing volcanoes are behind us. We’re on a broad plateau made of  basaltic lava, disected somehow by the erosional power of a mighty river with geologic time on its side.

 

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Traffic is sparse. The sun is hot. The channel of the river guides us. We’ve even got a bit of a tail wind. So much like yesterday! We cover fifty more miles and in good enough time to reach an eclectic hamburger shop with milkshakes handmade from real ice cream, still open and waiting for us in Umatilla, Oregon.

We stay the night in an RV campground. As we sit down to dinner with our propane stoves and our freeze dried food, the trail angel appears. Her name is Judi this time. She’s a walnut farmer from California, traveling the country in her RV. She offers wine, cheese, and of course, walnuts to share. All she wants in return is to be serenaded. Gerry gets his guitar and we sing songs together, long after the wine is gone.

It was an amazing evening, a hidden gem. Even the Local Gods were entertained and that’s a good thing, because the border with Washington is just a few miles away.

 

Encounter With The Local Gods

Make America Bike Again – Day 7

It was the last day of our first week on the road. The Historic Columbia River Highway ended somewhere near The Dalles. There, we left behind the splendor of Oregon’s waterfalls and the serenity of her forests, and crossed the bridge into Washington. Right away, the terrain was different. It was arid with few trees in sight. We had good reasons for crossing the bridge. The road will be safer in Washington, narrower, and less traveled. Still, we were leaving all that generous beauty behind, without so much as a toast, some kind of offering to the Oregon Gods.

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Daedalus the Touring Bike

As we headed across the bridge into Washington, they watched and shook their heads in disbelief; the more malevolent ones taking control. They were probably watching as we set up camp by a pond, in the shelter of a few stout cottonwood trees. A few train whistles sang out, but otherwise it was a peaceful night. The wind waited until morning before it started to blow.

To the north a high ridge of basalt cliffs rose above the campsite. The road we wanted to take ran along the base of these cliffs, following the course of the river. To get to the highway, we had to cross about three miles of open prairie on a two-land road; one that led into the mouth of the only canyon in sight, the only canyon cutting a path through the massive lava flows. Out of its mouth of that canyon, a fierce headwind blew.

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Into the Howling Wind!

The roadway may have looked like a gentle uphill slope, but the wind turned it into an ever- steepening serpent. Even in the lowest gear it was hard work just to keep the bike moving forward, a struggle to keep it upright. The wind was relentless.

Somewhere ahead a stop sign marked the intersecting roads. After what seemed like hours of climbing the serpent’s back, it became the finish line. Until we ground our way past it, turned east and felt the wind’s force from a more agreeable angle. After twenty miles and a few bends in the river, the town of Biggs, Oregon appeared and another bridge. We crossed it, back into Oregon’s sheltering arms once again.

We camped at the Maryhill State Park, with its warm showers and just 25 miles from where we’d begun. It was the seventh day. We were ready for a rest. We set up our tents with a view of the Columbia River. It wasn’t before the Local Gods welcomed us personally. They were in the form of two young men, trail angels, with handcrafted beer to share and homemade blueberry cobbler. What a fine and memorable day it became!

 

 

 

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.