151 miles - Total: 2111 miles
My fingers shake as they try to hit the keyboard to fill the page and make some order in the events of a very difficult day. Too much excitement, too much drama for one day. You may even think that I am making this up to add pathos to what is already a very challenging journey. This is what happened today.
I wake up at 6.30am and I shoot out of this miserable motel with the temperature of 44F outside. I tear across the parking lot to the gas station where I gulp down a hot chocolate, two bananas and one full box of fig biscuits. Enough fuel to get me going. I re-enter Interstate 94.
I ride fast in the vain attempt to warm up and break a sweat but the cold air penetrates my skin with ease. I feel like my nose, my hands and toes would just disintegrate into a thousand shards if something solid hit them. I fight the cold as well as I can with my hands tucked in behind the bag on the handlebar and the toes in my shoes in constant movement. I cycle well for about one hour. I have about 35 miles left on Interstate 94, to Glendive. I take a road parallel to the highway for about 10 miles then I swing back on 94 for 10 more miles until my back wheel skids to the right. I have a flat tire. Lovely. I am a few miles from the town so I don't go all crazy about changing the tube in the shoulder of the highway, I pump some air hoping that it would hold until town, only 6 miles away now. No sooner do I get back on the bike and the front wheel is totally deflated, flat tire number two, almost simultaneously. I can't believe this. What do I do? I alternate a fast walk and a jog dragging the bike. I do get warmed up this time, at least I achieve that. After about one hour I make it to Glendive and I feel spent. There are no bike repair shops in town but I manage to locate a guy who knows how to fix tires. I am no good at changing flats, I am no good at bike maintenance. Steve labors fast and patches the two tires because the truth is I could fix a flat but I couldn't fix two. I don't have the repair kit with me so I am dependent on the kindness of strangers. He is incredibly kind, fixes my flat, offers me vitamin water all free of charge. Really nice guy. At about 11.30 am with only 30 miles in the bag I am off again.
I leave Glendive with the sun shining and full of eagerness to get far but no sooner than I leave town that fate turns against me once more. When I am about 10 miles out of town there goes another tire, flat number three. The back tire is shedding air. I make the decision to trek all the way back to Glendive. I need to change the tube altogether. Steve is there to help again. 3 flat tires in 3 hours. Never happened before. On my 2010 trek, I had one flat tire the whole way. It's 1.45pm by now and I cannot describe my frustration. This is not my day, maybe not my ride? I clocked 150 miles in one day in Pennsylvania and I have ridden only 55 miles in two days. What shall I do? Maybe I should consider stopping for a while, count my chips and be grateful for the 2000 miles. No way. I resort to all my inner strength to stay positive and I get back on the bike because I want to reach the next town. Circle is 47 miles west and I fly down the road with a mix of rage, frustration and determination. I don't care for the tire now, I pretend that they are made of concrete. Surrounded by a barren prairie that I hardly throw a look at the whole way, I get to Circle at 5pm after an interrupted ride. The only motel in town looks horrible and I want to make up for a wasted day. If it hadn't been for the tires I would be in Wolf Point now. That's where I should be. And that's where I am going to be tonight.
I am still upset about all these mishaps, the storm, the cold, the flat tires. Wolf Point has three hotels and it is located 54 miles north west of Circle. At 5.10pm with only 3 hours of day light and a whole stretch of road without services is a long shot. But I don't think about it twice and I shoot the bike down highway 13 like my life depended on it. I have challenged the wind. For almost the whole way, the railroad is my most faithful travel companion as it runs close to the road, shoots across the Plains and crosses several Indian Reservations. It was built with a big purpose, big ideas of connecting worlds. Forget about all that, now it's about getting there quick and safe. I need to go fast before darkness has me stranded in the middle of a Montana prairie. The road in front of me isn't flat. It goes up, then down, then up again. It rises steadily. Greenish-yellow grass grows on both sides of the road as far as the eye can see and beyond. There is absolutely nothing in the fields, once in a while a little creek surrounded by short trees cuts the field and produces a large furrow where a barn or a little ranch is built. I focus on the road which has three-inch-wide cracks that snake across the surface and every time I ride over them the bicycle shakes and the handlebar bag rattles. It is all too familiar by now. I know it all, my body knows it all. I shift the weight of my body, I stand on the pedals, I move my hips, I turn my legs, I release pressure from my arms, all strategies to deal with what the road presents. The body absorbs the shocks, the mind controls the response.
From Circle to Wolf Point I work hard like I have not done on this journey. I climb the short but continuous hills, I fix the chain which falls off three times, I glance at my sides to check out the beautiful desolate scenery of Montana, a hilly arid prairie. Abandoned farms are like ghosts out there in the fields, motionless ghosts that scrutinize the road and all that it brings. I am here today, Montana. I am swinging by you with attitude and grit because I won't let a few mechanical complications put a dent in my mission. My belief is strong, my will is not enslaved by the fear of the impending sunset. I know that my legs can get me there because my heart leads the way, I can reach the destination. I press on fast and confident on the shoulderless road. I ride close to the white line and when I hear a vehicle approaching I stick my hand out to make sure that the driver sees me. The land is as beautiful as I'd imagined, the emptiness and the size of the space is overwhelming. Cattle is scattered around the hills and as I fly by, cows turn their heads and stare at me blankly. I throw a glance for a split second to my left and then to my right and then back to the front as my eyes are glued to the road. I am riding like a man on a mission. I stop a few times to sip water and devour a chocolate bar and after a race with myself, at 8.15pm, with the last streaks of daylight fading rapidly, with my legs so heavy that I can hardly walk and my hands trembling, at an average of 17.2 mph I enter Wolf Point after 13 hours on the road and 150 miles on the bike. I check in at the first hotel I hit, I take the longest hot shower ever, I write this crazy travelogue and now, at 10pm I am going to eat something.
My bike is letting me down. This gives me some apprehension. I don't know what is going to happen to the bike tomorrow but today I won my challenge.
After 4 miles on the road I enter Montana all fired up
This is Eastern Montana for you
Riding on the shoulder of I94 is not so bad at this time of the morning
I94, have you ever seen an Interstate so empty of traffic?
The road which runs close to I94, I rode for 10 miles and not a single vehicle
In a few minutes 3 flat tires will wipe that smug look off my face!
The empty road
Steve's house in Glendive, my bike is resting on the grass
All of these pictures are from the afternoon ride
Crossing Missouri river