That's it. I was sick of Montana. For the love of God, I needed to get out of here. I couldn't take this place anymore. It was windy. It was cold. The roads had no shoulders. People harassed me on the roadways. I was done. Idaho, please liberate me from this miserable state!
I awoke on this 1st day of my 29th rotation around the sun laying on the floor of an open air shack in the middle of Wisdom, Montana, a town of 119 people. The first sensation I experienced upon awakening, or perhaps it makes more sense to describe it as the first sensation that I didn't experience, was that of my toes. They were numb. It was below 30 degrees outside. I was literally freezing.
Wait. I thought it was still in the month of August? Yeah, it definitely was, because my birthday always happened in August. The 28 previous times that my birthday happened, it happened in August. Hold on, was yesterday even my birthday? Ahh, this damned place didn't make any sense. Why was it freezing in August?
I had a 60-mile ride ahead of me to Darby. The first 30 miles would be uphill en route to Chief Joseph pass. The following 30 miles would be a pleasant downhill glide to my destination. What was most exciting about this day was that it would be my last time crossing the Continental Divide. Over the past two months it seemed that I had been zig-zagging back and forth across this topographical boundary. Today I would finally end up on the West side of it. From that point forward, the rest of the ride would be net downhill. I wanted to get the Pacific so bad, but had serious doubts. As I peddled towards the pass, my mind ruminated on the fact that I couldn't feel my feet.
You sort of need to understand where I was, both physically and mentally. Since I left Fort Collins two-and-a-half weeks ago, I had slept in a bed twice. Most of the cuisine that I had eaten was either a PB&J, Cliff Bar or tuna fish sandwich. I had ridden over 850 miles on my bike. My muscles were dreadfully sore. My life had been completely devoid of comfort...and it was getting to me.
As the sun inched higher in the sky, warming the air around me, I began to relax. My feet warmed, easing my mind that I was giogn to do some kind of irreparable dmaage to my extremities. I again found myself in a heavily-wooded national forest. Being in such a serence natural environment lightened my mood. My body and soul thawed as the chill of early morning gave way to the pleasant warmth of day. Ahh, I could finally re...
*HOOOONK* *HOOOONK *HOOOONK*
I swerved off of the road. Not again. This was the third time that a driver elected to honk and charge at me instead of using his brakes and/or giving me some space to get around. And, of course, it was the third time that it happened to me in the damned state of Montana.
I HATED THIS PLACE!
My mind rushed. There were some truly rotten people in Montana. What sort of a sick mentality justifies charging at a cyclist in a 2,000 pound vehicle and running him off of the road? Do you know how many times the cyclist is going to win that match? Zero. I die. You don't. What do these idiots have to prove? I couldn't take it anymore. I just wanted to get off these roads. I just wanted to be out of this state. I just wanted to be done.
I couldn't even enjoy the climb because I was so pissed off. I had to dissuade myself from picking up a stone to throw at the next jerk that ran me off the road. It had already happened three times in this state. A fourth was inevitable. I convinced myself that retaliation would not help anything, and that as a matter of fact it would probably make me less safe. I also convinced msyelf that there was something wrong with people in Montana.
Thank goodness that there is something cathartic about cycling. With each crank you're able to distance yourself from wherever you were, both physically and mentally. I resolved to stay focused and be extra cautious with these aggressive drivers, then thought nothing else of it. I had to get to the top of Chief Joseph's Pass.
And you know what? I did.
I wanted to "let me hair down" and enjoy this downhill, but I felt like I couldn't. It's funny, I mean "let my hair down," figuratively, but my hair is actually so long at this point that I could literally let it down if I chose. Anyway. I just wanted to get to Darby. I dropped into this steep 7-mile descent towards the Bitterroot Valley. I'm not going to lie. It was amazing. I couldn't help but to crack a smile. The route actually straddled the border with Idaho, leading me to a junction. Idaho to the left, Montana to the right. Man, I wanted so bad to turn left, but I had to stick to my plan. Only a few more miles before I would exit Montana. Low vehicle traffic and stunning views lightened my mood. In less than two hours I was in Darby. Whew.
Pulling into Darby I bumped into my riding partners, Marion and David. They were just mounting their saddles to head to Hamilton, perhaps 16 miles North. Somehow they had stumbled into the town's community center where Meals on Wheels was serving a home-cooked luncheon. They urged me to go in and get some food, telling me it was one of the best meals they had enjoyed in weeks. I didn't need any convincing. I was starving and wanted to get the heck off the Montana roads. I headed into the community center.
It seemed that I had beat the rush. Actually, it looked like I missed the meal. The staff was packing everything up. I approached Marianne, one of the three Meals on Wheels staff to beg for a meal. She was more than happy to serve me. While devouring this delicious, home-cooked meatloaf meal, I began conversing with the kitchen staff, Branden, Betty and Marianne. Man, these Montanas were so friendly. When they discovered that my birthday was the previous day, they told me that the meal was on the house. This was the first time I had actually interacted with real Montanans and, guess what, they were truly kind people. These three smiling people so quickly dispelled the rotten Montanan generalization that was developing in my mind. That generalization, along with any and every other generalization, was about as sturdy a house of cards.
That evening I headed to the home of Curtis, my host for the night. He too was a Montanan who was proud of his heritage in the Bitterroot Valley. This guy was right on with the other Montanans I had actually met. He was a genuine guy who was happy to share his home and life with a beat-up cyclist. Curtis prepared a great pasta dinner, then treated me to a sampling of a full selection of local mead. Oh man, I felt like I was at home. Mead is very popular in DC with the many Ethiopian restaurants in the city. I think I enjoyed the mead a little too much. In no time I was tipsy, sharing my entire life's story with this guy. Hey, I guess that's what a good host does. They make you feel at home.
So my challenging ride over Chief Joseph's Pass and down into the Bitterroot Valley set me up just to knock me down. Under duress I found myself clinging to some negative imagery of Montanans. And don't get me wrong, the several aggressive drivers that have threatened me in the state are some truly rotten people. Luckily, I was able to quickly realize that those people are just some bad apples among a pretty ripe harvest. This trip, ostensibly a physical journey, has had its greatest impacts not on my body composition but on my mental acuity.