I'm still trying to figure out Montana. On the one side, it's a beautiful place. Everywhere I look, expansive plains guide my eyes to towering peaks. All I've known since I've got here are warm sunrises and clear blue skies. On the other hand, riding my bike in Montana has made me a bit uncomfortable. Much like Wyoming, I've quickly learned to respect the winds out here. Unlike Wyoming, however, the roads are inhospitable. Automobile drivers have a bogus sense of ownership over the roads and there are nearly no shoulders to rely on. Despite a relatively moderate ride, I found myself struggling to mentally process many things today. It was a puzzling day.
I awoke with dawn. Her rosy cheeks were on full display as I cranked across the Madison Valley. I believe I've said this again but it bears repeating: among the greatest joys of this trip has been my re-acquaintance with the beauty of daybreak. It's the time of day when everything is still but nothing is hidden. Observing the landscape at sunrise provides a peak into the fleeting moments of most-intimate sleep. There really is nothing like it.
This ride had an abrupt start. From Ennis I climbed nearly 2,000 feet within my first 15 miles. Luckily, I was up for the challenge. Each time I looked back towards the valley I was greeted by the groggy sun peaking it's head up from behind the mountain range. My physical exhaustion was silenced by my enthusiasm for a lovely new day.
Once I traversed the mountain pass, I had an exhilarating six-mile downhill with a -7% grade. This meant that I was blazing. With no winds to slow me down, I zipped down this mountain. I cruised through Virginia City and Nevada City, two very characteristic country-western towns. My face was painted with a smile as I effortlessly made my way down the backside of the mountain.
Twenty miles down, thirty more to go. You know, it's funny. Before this trip a 50-mile ride was a huge deal. If I was going to do a 50-miler, I would plan it out weeks in advance. I would study the route, tell all my friends and have to mentally prepare for the "long haul". I remember once I organized a Baltimore ride with my friends Sam and Michelle. It felt like such a big deal! Now, after having toured for nearly five months, a 50-mile ride is an afterthought. I will literally go into a 50-mile ride blind. Fifty miles has almost become ignorable. Reflecting as I rode, I realized that my perception of what constituted a ride had really changed. I had evolved as a cyclist.
I was by myself on this ride since my riding partners, David and Marion, had chosen to sleep in a bit. Well, maybe it's not fair to say that they slept in. They got up at a reasonable time. It was I who chose to wake up at 5:15 am. So yeah, probably more valid to say that I got up early rather than they slept in. Anyway, I was alone on the road, and that always leaves me feeling a bit more vulnerable than I already am.
It was during the latter half of this ride that I became uncomfortable with the riding conditions in Montana. I was forced to take the lane because there really was no shoulder to speak of. Per usual, a few cars came close enough to unnerve me. They never came in contact with me, but it's always disconcerting when you feel the breeze generated by their velocity. In my rear-view I noticed a dark purple SUV approaching from behind. I moved to the right to allow the speeding vehicle a bit more space.
It was as if the idiot drive accelerated to pass me. The gust from the vehicle caused my bike to wobble. I couldn't believe it! The jerk didn't slow down for a second! To make matters worse, despite the fact that there was no oncoming traffic, the driver didn't even cross over the median line to give me space. Man, I was fuming. Fuming and frightened. It was as if the glorious sunrise of just a few hours ago had never happened. My mind quickly went into a negative state.
I noticed that the reckless driver actually pulled off onto a country road. A piece of me wanted to follow the driver to give them a piece of my mind, but my reasonable side dissuaded me from doing so. I just kept on peddling. Well, what do you know? About three miles later I am again being approached by some speeding purple SUV. This couldn't be the same driver, could it? Thirty meters behind me, the car begins honking at me to announced its presence. You can't be serious?!?! It's like this jerk had some vendetta against me! I couldn't help to feel like I was being bullyed on the roadways. I felt helpless. In a sense I was, and had been for the last five months, at the mercy of disgruntled drivers.
I was in a poor mood for the rest of the ride. The scenery didn't matter. My perceptions were tinted by an ugly hue of anger and insecurity.
I rolled into Twin Bridges before noon. My destination was the library. I spent the first part of my day bickering with my bank about maintenance fees. I discovered that in order for me to get good service, I need to lead every conversation with the bank representatives by expressing my disgust with the service and threatening to take my money elsewhere. Sounds pretty therapeutic, right?
Anyway, in the early afternoon David found me at the library. His father, trailing by a few miles, had an experience even more puzzling than mine. Before diving into Marion's story, as relayed to me by his son, David, I should state that I feel like I need to create a side-blog about Marion's adventures through America. This guy's stories kill me. It seems like something quirky and ridiculous is always happening to this kind old man.
Marion is very demonstrative in his disapproval of aggressive and careless drivers. Each time he is passed by one, he pulls out into the lane after the vehicle has passed to shame the driver with a stern finger wag. It has been amazing to watch Marion masterfully evaluate the merits of each driver that passes and deliver swift judgment to them. I sure would hate to be on the receiving end of one of those finger wags.
So as Marion peacefully made his way from Ennis to Twin Bridges, a car zoomed by him, nearly forcing him off of the roadway. Trusting his best instincts, Marion unleashed a scolding finger wag at this careless automobile. Marion, bearer of vigilante justice, cared not that the vehicle was topped with red and blue lights and had the word "Sheriff" written on its side. This individual was guilty of reckless endangerment in the eyes of Marion.
When one authority figure clashes with another, conflict arises. The sheriff swiftly pulled over his vehicle and summoned Marion. Marion, staying true to his sense of justice, confidently approached the wrongdoer. The two of them had a heated debate on the side of the road. Very thankfully, Marion stuck to his case. He asserted, despite the sheriff's attempts at intimidation, that the roadways were shared. Marion let the sheiff know that he on his bike had just as much right to occupy the roadway as the sheriff in his automobile. Go Marion! The sheriff's ego had been hurt. On some level he knew that Marion was right. So, how did the sheriff react to Marion's assertion? He threatened to give Marion a ticket! There you go folks. Montana is West and the West is wild. Might makes right over here. Reason seems to occupy a low position in the hierarchy of civic values.
In the end, no legal action was taken by the officer. Words, and nothing else, were exchanged between Marion and the "sheriff".
Continuing my conversation with David, I asked him about the quality of the "bike camp" that we would be staying in that evening. I believe the word he used was "awesome." When I arrived later in the afternoon, I agreed that it was awesome. This shed, large enough to fit two sit-down lawnmowers, had been converted into a safe space for touring cyclists. It had one shower, one bathroom, one sink, two couches and a chair. Here are the pics of the "awesome" lodging that we stayed in.
I paused. The repressed Washingtonian within me cried out for attention. "Colin!" he said to me, "this place is shit!"
I was confused. The cyclist within me spoke up, "How is this place not awesome? I have a roof over my head and a concrete floor to sleep on. Plus, it's totally free."
The Washingtonian retorted, "Yeah, exactly, you're sleeping on a concrete floor. Dude, you've stayed at the W before. The W is 'awesome.' THIS IS NOT!"
Woah. There was a heated back-and-forth going on between the bourgeois Colin of DC and the rugged Colin of the road. I sort of laughed the conversation off, acknowledging that this experience has certainly molded my perceptions...a lot.
That night I spent $20 at a local restaurant to eat an entire chicken quesadilla and a plate of fajitas. I was starving. This is another thing that might not have been acceptable in my prior life, but was totally cool now. That night I fell asleep in my sleeping bag on the concrete floor of the bike camp, and I was happy as a clam.