Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Oh Mountains, Where Art Thou?

So for over two weeks now, this has been our view.

Beautiful? Absolutely! But draining. It's no fun being able to see 15 miles ahead of you, just the get there and be surrounded by the same scenery. We did have a pretty amazing day into Miles City, Montana, but besides that, we've been on flat ground.

The heat gets to you by 9:00, so an early start is necessary. It's a good thing we like riding in the cool morning hours. One thing we used to love was stopping every 15 miles or so for a break. Getting off the bikes and into AC or sitting on a picnic table in the shade was a great way to relax before hopping on the bikes again. Only problem out here is there are really no places for that. The towns are so far apart that we're only passing one or two a day and they usually don't have any accommodations. Sometimes the town's population doesn't even reach 100. No gas stations or convenience stores there.

The saving grace the past few weeks has been the history we've been learning and the people we've met.
This is me helping Clark as he navigates his way through the Lewis & Clark Trail.  He was pretty lucky to have so many paved roads and wi-fi access spots along the way.  I wonder if he updated his Facebook daily, too?
Clark's signature in Pompey's Pillar from 1806. Pretty cool.

In Miles City, we were introduced to Jen who had also hosted Bike49, a group of touring cyclists who biked the 49 states to spread awareness for sustainability. Jen invited us to stay in her home for a day or two and we chose to take the day to recoup from all of our early morning riding. Jen was a plethora of information and taught us all about the area. She even brought us to a bar that had a bullet hole in the glass from the wild west days.

She let us use her home to get some work done while she went to work the next day. We stayed in, focused on our computers all day except for the hour we got out to grab some ice cream. It was at the ice cream shop that we met Jesse. He was making Goulash for lunch the next day and he gave us a heaping sample. Yummy! We shared our story with him and he was so interested, that he decided he'd ride us out of town the next day.

So we exchanged numbers and headed back to Jen's for a great dinner of Antelope steak (from one of their hunting trips) and sugar snap peas and cucumbers from the garden. Talk about local food!

The time in Miles City was relaxing, but we were on the road bright and early the next morning with Jesse by our side. He had stayed up until 2:30 the night before, getting his bike ready for our 6:00 ride! What a trooper!

The ten miles he rode with us seemed to fly by and we had made a good friend by the end of it. He had to turn back to get to work in time, but this wasn't the last we'd see of him.

Turns out he had a soccer competition in Billings a few days later when we were passing through, so even though we missed the soccer games, Adam did head out with him to see Horrible Bosses while I slept peacefully in our grungy motel room.

In between Miles City and Billings, we had the opportunity to meet plenty of other people. We felt homeless in Forsythe when we finished our 65 miles by 11:30. Our plan of hanging out in the air conditioned library all day before heading to the campground was thwarted when we found out the flooding had shut down the library and the campground was underwater. Without a place to go, we wandered aimlessly around, finally parking ourselves under a tree near the courthouse to enjoy lunch and a nap.

Under this tree we met Dave from Nutcase. No, no, no. Dave isn't a nutcase himself, he works for the helmet company, Nutcase. They are based out of Portland and we will try to link up when we get there in October. Looking back on this encounter, I can't believe how random it was that we would meet Dave in the little town of Forsyth, MT, who lives and works in Oregon. Must have been fate.

With a huge hail storm coming in that night, we forked over the $30 for a little motel room in town and I cooked dinner while Adam grabbed some shots of the incoming storm.

The next morning was clear, and we rode early again to Custer, MT. Custer was just big enough to have a gas station, but no grocery store. We pulled into the gas station asking about camping at the park when we were informed about the wedding happening there later on that day. The clerk assumed it would still be fine if we camped there and she was right. The bride, Loree, even invited us to the wedding and Adam became their wedding photographer! I wrote all about the wedding in this week's Madison Patch article.

With a wedding to add to the list of interesting events we've experienced, we retreated to our tent as the band continued to play through the night and got some good sleep before heading out early again the next morning towards Billings.

This was the day that broke us. Hot sun, flat ground, headwind, no shoulders, and building traffic. When we finally made it to Billings, we needed some AC and a place to rest. It hasn't been easy finding places to nap. We got yelled at the last time we napped in a library so a motel room was needed. Once we were indoors, it was hard to convince us to head out again, and after a Warm Showers host called us back and invited us over for the next night, we decided to sleep in and take another day off getting work done at Starbucks before heading over to Woody & MJ's.

Woody and MJ had just gotten in from a trip to Glacier, but they already had a room waiting for us in their cool basement, a snack of apples and cheese, and dinner in the oven. They were travelers. They loved adventure and we shared stories of our travels as we sat on their deck and listened to bugs dying in the bug-zapper. We told Woody and MJ of our need to see mountains soon and they both smiled. "You'll see 'em tomorrow," Woody assured us and we went to bed excited for the next day.

After an early morning breakfast that MJ made for us, we were on our way to Columbus, hoping to beat the 100 degree heat. Woody was right. Only a few miles into the day and we could see the snowy peaks of mountains in the distance. What a sight!! It was breathtakingly beautiful and scary at the same time, knowing we'd be climbing those mountains soon. But for now, we were happy to be on flat ground, heading towards the mountains.

It took us two days to get to Big Timber where we spent the day at the library, like we do often to run away from the heat.  With all this time in a library, we've been able to come up with a fun contest to raffle off one of Adam's Photos.  Our challenge this week is to post a picture on our Give a Bike Facebook page of yourself on a bicycle (you can see the directions here).  Here's what Adam's family posted from the family vacation we're missing!

Once we spent enough time in the library, we were headed out to find a camp spot when we met D'Jeane who invited us into her home for the night. D'Jeane was interning in Big Timber for the summer for the USDA and thrilled to have met us. I guess the 20-30 year-old population in Big Timber is pretty limited. She called the one 21 year guy she had met in town, invited him over, and the 4 of us shared a yummy dinner of burgers from her parent's ranch, rice, and corn.

check out the Temperature!

We did take a walk down to the Fairgrounds to try and get pics of the mountains but we couldn't find them.  Instead, we found some pretty horses and some interesting clouds.

We all woke up early, D'Jeane headed to the pool to get her morning triathlon training in and Adam and I over Bozeman pass to Bozeman. Little did we know that the wind would keep us from our final destination. The 35 miles to Livingston took us double the time we had intended and we were so exhausted from battling the wind that we decided it would be best to stop here for the night. We've eluded the mountains for one more day, but tomorrow we head over Bozeman pass and into the start of some crazy climbs.

Wish us luck!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

When Life Gives you Lemmon... Lemmon, South Dakota That Is

You ever notice how sometimes things don't quite work out the way you plan? Like, that darn car tax bill that takes all of your spending money for the month of July. Or, the woman checking you out at the grocery store takes a million years and makes you late. Or, the campsite you were going to camp in was underwater. No? Did I lose you there? Well, the point is, that sometimes, life might give you a lemon, but you still have to make the best of it all, right?

Lemon #1 was just outside of Chamberlain, SD. We rode into Fort Thomson hoping for a free campground, but found out it was actually underwater. The heavy spring rains accompanied by the fast snow melt in the mountains have made for some fairly high levels of water in the Missouri River. After a conversation with a young woman who warned us about snakes, we chose to feel safe in the motel that night. We may have been a little bummed about spending the money, but the sign on the door made it all worth it.

The next morning, we got out early and rode 15 miles when we passed the one and only pit stop until Pierre, filled up on water, then used the wind to help us with the last 47 miles. We had basically come to terms with the fact that we'd have headwinds for the next 4 months, but we've been lucky with a few days of the wind helping push us and we are appreciating every moment!

Lemon #2 again happened to be a free campsite underwater. We were not about to spend the money on another night in a hotel, but we weren't sure what to do. Along with the park being closed, there were houses with red X's indicating the family had evacuated, and all the businesses in town had sandbags around the foundation hoping to keep the water out. It looked like a war zone.

Mary found us wandering around looking for a place in the shade for lunch, and she invited us into her office. She and the rest of the staff racked their brains to help us find a place to camp, and they found a couple 13 miles outside of town who were willing to take us in for the night. It ended up being another night inside as Sharon and Dan showed us to the back of their garage, complete with a kitchen and shower.

It's been tough to get good sleep at night because the sun doesn't go down until 10:00 and we've been loving the cool early morning riding and getting up at 4 or 5. Even with the late night, we managed to get ourselves up early again the next day and started what happened to be one of our longest days of riding since CT.

The first 30 miles was cake. The next 20 were manageable. But the last 36 were brutal. Thank goodness for Wayne and our air conditioned lunch inside his store. When we saw his store, the only store on the road for 20 miles, we went to ask if we could find a spot in the shade for lunch but he invited us right on in. We enjoyed our tuna wraps as Wayne ate a Spam and mustard sandwich and shared stories of Buffalo and Rattlesnakes... neither of which I'd be too excited to see while on a bike.

Little did we know that when we left this little haven, we were in for a rough afternoon. Lemon #3. The wind shifted so we were pushing against it, the sun was hot, beating down on us. We felt drained and ready for a nap but there was nowhere in sight. And about half way through, Adam looked at me and I knew something was wrong. Having stomach problems while on a bike in the middle of nowhere was interesting, to say the least.

The first time we had to stop, we managed to find a tree for him to hide behind to do his business. The second time there was nothing but a hay field. Oh well, you use what you've got, right? The huge bales of hay were enough of a shield to cover him for the duration. We did, however, completely run out of anything useable as a wipe after this episode but still had about 10 miles until the next town. Miraculously, Adam was healed after this second stop and by the time we passed the ice cream shop in town, he was ready to indulge in the treat with me.

No more lemons that day. There was free camping in a park that was not underwater! Instead of the park being submerged in water, there was a pool where we were able to get a free dip along with a shower. The price? Everyone seeing my remarkable tan lines and Adam's white butt as his shorts fell down to his ankles after diving in. Pretty embarrassing.

Our only other obstacle for the day was having a stove with no fuel(couldn't find a place in South Dakota that sold the correct fuel for our stove). Luckily, we had stayed with Paul months earlier who showed us how to make a stove out of soda cans that uses an antifreeze found at any gas station. Adam went to work and in a few minutes we had a working stove to cook dinner.

The nice part of waking up early is the sunrise pictures that Adam can get.

We had our sights set on McLaughlin for the next night. I asked a grocery store clerk if it was a decent town and she looked at me and said, "you see Dan over there? He's 280 pounds and he wouldn't camp in McLaughlin." After having 3 people in a matter of 3 minutes tell us to steer clear of that town, we thought we'd better head one town further, 30 more miles away.

In all honesty, though, McLaughlin seemed like a nice town as we passed through, made friendly conversation with a few locals, ate lunch, and met Nathaniel, a solo bike tourist. Because we had an amazing tail wind that day we all decided to head the extra 30 miles to McIntosh and make it an 80 mile day.

We spent that night and the next day with Nathaniel before he turned south. It's always nice sharing the road with another traveler. Nathaniel was on his 2nd bike tour, living off of Ramen Noodles and rice. He said the less he spent on food the longer he could tour. I guess that made sense except I didn't want him totally wasting away so we had to treat him a little and shared some jerky, strawberries, Cheez-It's and a candy bar.

The next day was the biggest Lemmon. Lemmon, South Dakota. Even though there were only 1,200 people living there, it still was the biggest town around and there just so happened to be a big festival that weekend. No lemons for us in Lemmon, that's for sure. We missed the parade and the mud volleyball, but made it in time for lunch in the park and the big rodeo at the end of the day. Nathaniel continued on that day but we decided to enjoy what we happened to stumble upon.

We got an offer from Steve and Susan to camp in their yard for the night, and they gave us a ride to our first rodeo. Adam and I weren't even really sure what to expect but we got it all! Bareback Riding, Bull Riding, Barrel Racing, Steer Wrestling, and more. Within our first few minutes we were already seeing people flying off horses. It was a night to remember. Lemmon, South Dakota.

After Steve gave Adam a present of Jerky made from one of his kills, we were on our way to North Dakota where we spent only one night. Bowman was a small town, but had some great ice cream! We met a few locals who pointed us to some free camping.

The last lemon we've encountered was a big one. 3 miles of road construction. The road was completely torn out and was dirt and gumbo (apparently stuff that sticks to your tires and cakes all up) and the ornery sign lady wouldn't let us through on our bikes. There was no option for a detour so for the first time in 8,100 miles, we had to take a ride forward. We didn't like it (ok, maybe we did just a little), but it was the only option.

After the 3 mile ride in a pick-up truck, we were back on our bikes riding the wind to Plevna, Montana where we spent a quiet night at the city park.

Finally, after weeks of straight roads that seemed to go on forever, we hit some hills today and did a little climbing. It was so good to see hills and trees that the climb didn't even feel so bad. We finished the day with a nice downhill into Miles City where we're hoping for an invite inside and a warm shower. We'll see what happens. Whatever does, though, I'm sure we'll find a way to enjoy it.