Welmoeds Big Ride Journal
Sunday, June 21, 1998
Camp 6: Kooskia, Idaho
Happy Summer Solstice!
This day may not have started well, but it ended pretty nicely.
I packed up my tent and got breakfast, fully intending to just ride a little bit. I went to the Medical tent or my morning Advil and had Rosemary look at my left big toe, which was quite sore. She was concerned but let me ride, telling me I should ice it at the pit stops and keep an eye on it. Its red and swollen; I wonder what I did to it?
The day began with the Descent from Hell, down that hill. I walked down most of it, marveling at the riders who zoomed down in a full tuck. Im sure they were doing close to 50mph. The whole descent was a stream of "on your left, on your left, on your left!" June, another rider who walked down the steepest section with me, took a picture of me with "the hill I didnt ride."
The road was very nice, going along the Clearwater River. I took a lot of pictures. The route took us through the Nez Perce reservation. Every turn was a Kodak moment. The route was reasonably flat and everyone was pulling off and taking pictures. I got to Pit 1 in fairly decent time, arriving at around 9:30. But my foot was really bothering me, so I asked to be swept to Pit 2, where I would be able to catch the sag bus to camp.
Once I got to Pit 2 in Orofino, I put my bike in sag parking (where it would be picked up and taken to camp) and got lunch. I put my foot in ice for a while, which made it feel a lot better. I also managed to find a pay phone to call Bob (all the riders are getting good at spotting pay phones!). After a while I decided that I would get back on my bike after all and continue to ride, so I got underway a little after noon.
Im soooo glad I did. The views were spectacular and the road was mostly level and reasonably smooth. I stopped may times to admire the view. In Kamiah I stopped for ice cream (a very good Rocky Road) instead of going to Pit 3. Then I sailed through the last ten miles to camp. I stopped several times for sightseeing, including photographing the cottonwood trees shedding their cotton against a brilliant blue sky. Very artsy!
(By the way, Im writing this as I am inching forward in the waiting line for the cell phones. Ive been here 40 minutes so far. This area has a very small cell capacity!)
I also stopped at the "Heart of the Monster" historical site. This is the site of the Nez Perce creation story: it is said that Coyote had a battle with a monster and ripped it to pieces, and the pieces fell to the earth. Wherever pieces landed, people arose. The heart of the monster landed next to the river, and from it sprang the Nez Perce.
(Ah, finally a phone Ill finish this later)
At camp, I had time for a leisurely shower, laundry and dinner. Wonderful! But first I stopped at the Medical tent, where Rosemary looked at my foot and put me on medical exclusion. So tomorrow Im reporting to Camp Services, where I can work sitting down.
Now its time for postcards, a little reading, and bed!
Monday, June 22, 1998
Camp 7: Powell, Idaho
Was it a nice day today? I dont know. Right now Im so homesick I could fold up and die. I need to tell Bob not to send mushy e-mails for a while; they upset me too much.
Woke up this morning and around five and sort of took my time getting ready, since I knew I was sagging. Got onto the bus, which took off at nine. We followed the whole bike route, since there really wasnt another way to get from Kooskia to Powell. The road was winding with virtually no shoulder. Joyous.
There were a few interesting things to see from the bus. There was the helicopter logging operation, which was neat: a helicopter would fly across the river, pluck up a log and carry it back over to the waiting truck. Also, the river had some nice sections of rapids.
We stopped at Pit 2 to get out lunches, then continued to camp. We got here around one, and riders were already coming in! And this was a 96-mile day, all uphill! More and more I was feeling like this wasnt my crowd. And Im still feeling that way. I cant ride fast in order to make it to camp early. I dont want to spend twelve hours cycling. I cant bring myself to stop at a lot of the interesting places along the road for fear of falling too far behind. Yes, I know its a ride and not a race, but being so slow makes me feel like Im not even a real biker. I dont feel fit enough to deal with any of it. And now Ive got tomorrow staring me in the face: a long, hard climb followed by a long, steep descent. And I cant deal with the idea of doing any of it. But, on the other hand, theres the hot springs I would love to go to. I just cannot reconcile the two feelings. Why do I feel Im the only person who feels this way?
But I need to find out what it is about myself that is such a deficit that I cant get beyond this feeling. Is it just who I am? What I am? Am I trying to much? Did I try too much?
I think this territory and terrain is too much for an inexperienced cyclist like myself. And I need to accept that.
Sigh. Why dont I just go home? Because, I guess, I will ride through the flat parts and get stronger and faster and get through. I need to have bike tech look at my bike and find out why its rolling resistance is so high.
Im going to stop ruminating. Tonights camp is a gravel pit, so the ground is really hard. This is also the first "purple chip" night, where we are supposed to double up with our assigned tent partners. However, that system rapidly fell apart. People are already pitching tents wherever they darned well feel like it, plus quite a few riders decided to continue on to Missoula, since it is just another 55 or so miles further and much of it is downhill. So there were a lot of empty spaces anyway. Meghan found a spot to pitch her tent, and my space was at the end of a row (right next to the gear trucks can you say noisy?), so we ended up not having to share after all.
Now I need to put this down. Its already after nine, which means its really after ten, since the camp makes the switch to Mountain Time our first time zone switch! tomorrow morning. We cross the time line when we enter Montana at the top of the pass. I wonder if Ill do it on the bike or on the bus?
Time to read a few pages and go to sleep.
Tuesday, June 23, 1998
Camp 8: Missoula, Montana
After a week of campsites and plastic cutlery, these accommodations are downright luxurious!
Got up this morning at around 5, now Mountain Time. Boy, was it a drag to get out of bed when it was still pretty darned dark out. Ate a light breakfast in the mist, then got dressed and packed. I still wasnt convinced I could do the day but I figured I should at least try.
The ride started easily for the first six miles, with downhills and some very subtle uphills. It was cool and a bit on the damp side, but this time I came prepared with my fleece jacket, rain coat and thermal undershirt. I also stopped a few places for pictures, including taking one of a weird piece of equipment tethered in the fast-moving river. It took me a few minutes to figure out it was a generator! Pretty cool. There was also a gorgeous stand of huge cedar trees. The whole area is so fragrant with the evergreens!
The real climb began at about the seven mile mark. I very quickly found my bottom gear, and after that I alternated walking and riding. I stopped at the scenic overlooks and historic markers, really taking my time. One humorous interlude came when a bunch of strong bikers sailed by singing songs from "The Sound of Music"!
The final push for the top was sweaty, but I rode into Pit 1 at Lolo Pass in triumph. The pass has an elevation of 5,233 feet (or thereabouts). I posed for my picture by the elevation sign at the visitors center, then went in the shop to buy some souvenirs. While I was in there it started to rain, so I took my time.
I started out fully decked out in rain and cold gear, and stopped immediately to have my picture taken at the Montana border. This was where the time change was officially, but camp time was set to mountain time this morning hence, the early wake-up call.
Going down the road out of the pass really wasnt as bad as I had feared. The first bit was, since the roads were wet and there was sand and loose gravel in the shoulders. I stopped a lot to let my hands uncramp.
But the reward was Lolo Hot Springs. I stopped there about 10:30 and stayed for an hour. They had an indoor roman bath and an outdoor pool, both fed by mineral hot springs. Delightful! There were about a dozen Big Riders in there already, and we did stretches in the bat, which felt absolutely wonderful. I got out of there completely relaxed and limp.
The remainder of the ride was a gradual downhill, although the wind did pick up a bit before Pit 2, which was at the sight of "Fort Fizzle". The last eight miles to camp was heavily trafficked, but there seems to be a lot to do here.
At check-in, there was a table from Adventure Cycling, which has its headquarters in town. This place is great, though: mattresses, flush toilets, a real locking door! I needed a trolley to haul my gear to the room, plus we have to keep our bikes in the room with us. So what if the bathroom is down the hall; you dont need a flashlight and shoes to find it.
I got my e-mail (just one) and sent Bob my latest update. I hope hes been updating the page!
Then I went to dinner. Ah, what a dinner. A salad bar! Metal cutlery! China plates! A cappuccino machine! Soda! We all just drank it in and enjoyed it thoroughly. Im sure I will not take quality food for granted anymore.
Now Im camped out in the laundry room in the basement, waiting for an empty machine and biding my time. I called Nancy and she will probably meet me in Billings, on our next rest day. So Ive got a whole day free tomorrow! Im planning on going into town (on my bike, of course) and poking around there. Gotta do the postcard bit tomorrow too!
Wednesday, June 24, 1998
Day 10 -- Rest Day
Camp 8: Missoula, Montana
How nice to actually have a day off. It was even better that I never had to share the room last night; Meghan never showed up. So I just had my bike for company.
Woke up at around six, which sure felt like sleeping late. Got breakfast another feast! and went back to my room to decide what to do. One of my first tasks was to set up my tent in the hallway by the elevator. There were at least five tents set up around me, in the hall and on the balcony. We had all packed our stuff at Powell before it had had time to dry. This way Ill at least have a dry tent at the next campsite, assuming the next camp is dry!
At around nine I got on the bike and headed into town. Found a photo processing place, then sort of bummed around town, buying postcards, sitting at Junga Juice and writing them, then going to the Adventure Cycling headquarters. They were having an ice cream social for the Big Riders (as well as other cyclists who were passing through Missoula on one of ACs cross-country routes). I met two Dutch cyclists living in New Zealand, and we chatted in Dutch for a while, which was fun. Then I bought a pair of cycling shorts and two pairs of thinner, synthetic socks (my cotton ones are taking forever to dry when I hand-wash them!)
I treated myself to some kung pao chicken at a Thai restaurant, and it was pretty good. From there I went to the library to web surf for a while. I checked out the official GTE Big Ride website and boy, is it ever lame! And I couldnt access anything I really wanted to, so I left and headed back to the room. When I got there, I was tickled to find roses on my bed. Turns out they had been delivered to the front desk, and Meghan was there when they arrived. She asked "Are those for Welmoed?" and of course they were, so she said she would take them up to the room so I would find them on my bed. How nice of Meghan, and of course of Bob. The other women on the ride are getting jealous.
After a while I went to the U of Montana store and bought a few things, which I then took to my room to pack up, along with some other stuff, to send back home. Thats three packages Ive sent back so far! So why isnt my bag any lighter?!?
Had dinner in the University dining hall. This was a paid dinner, offered as a convenience, and I dont think they were prepared for how many riders would take them up on it! They ran out of a lot of stuff. Luckily I was early enough to get properly fed.
After dinner I went up and cleaned my chain, then started sorting stuff to pack. While I was doing that, I nearly jumped out of my skin when the phone rang! Yes, we have phones in the rooms. It was Meghan; she had lost her key. She and I spent some time chatting and packing, and now were both winding down and I need to turn out the light because tomorrow morning is gonna come awfully early.
Thursday, June 25, 1998
Camp 9: Avon, Montana
Morning really came far too early. We struggled out of bed and saw that it was still damp out. We dressed and headed for breakfast, then went back to the room to get our gear. I checked out and got on the road at around six. I wanted to get out early because I knew the day was going to be rough and I wanted to get a head start. As I went over the Clark River it started to rain softly, so I pulled off and put on my rain jacket. I was also wearing my biking tights over my shorts, as well as my Big Ride T-shirt and my red fleece jacket. Within another ten minutes it was raining pretty hard, but it was intermittent: there were also periods of no rain.
Two miles before Pit 1 I got a flat rear tire from picking up a packing staple in the shoulder. A lot of riders succumbed to the same stretch of road! A woman named Carol helped me change it; I didnt even know how to take my rear tire off. Duh.
Got into Pit 1 and took my shoes off, then stripped off my socks and wrung them out. They were absolutely sopping. My shoes were wet, my gloves were wet, my pants were wet. But it wasnt really cold yet. So after about 20 minutes I got going again.
It was 24 miles to Pit 2. The rain started up again, and my hands and feet started to get numb. By the time I reached the "Ghost Town" peak I was really soaked, chilled and miserable. The temperature was dropping, but I knew if I stopped I would freeze. The descent chilled me even more. I was crying, shivering, too scared to keep going and too scared to stop. And there didnt seem to be any other riders around. It was a terrible feeling. I made it to within 7 miles of Pit 2 and saw a little bar/store/gas station on the left, so I pulled off. I didnt go into the store, but stayed outside to watch for a sag van, and after about ten minutes one finally showed up. I got in and was shivering, crying, so cold. They wrapped me in mylar and I got my wet tights off, but even so it took a while to begin to warm up. It really hadnt occurred to me that I was getting hypothermia; I was simply cold.
At Pit 2 they put me in one of the warming vans. I was still terribly cold, and wasnt having much luck feeling warm. Finally, Jon, one of the guys I met at Lolo Hot Springs, came to my rescue. He realized my clothes were still soaking wet, especially my shirt. I was standing in the parking lot, and he told me to take my fleece jacket and T-shirt off, and he would give me his (dry) fleece vest and raincoat. Good thing I was wearing a sport bra. Modesty goes out the window when youre hypothermic! After that I started to feel a lot better, but still spent most of my time in the van. After a while I felt good enough to stand outside (it had stopped raining) with the other riders and huddle with them. Then the sag bus came and Jon and I ended up in the very back seat, behind the spare. Hes pretty big on hugs, I guess, because he had his arm around me. Hmm.
A few interesting sights on the bus trip to camp: a teepee on a ridge, a covered wagon train going the other way along the road, and I think I saw a bear up in the woods.
At camp, I got my tent set up and my clothes hung up to dry, then enjoyed a nice, hot shower. I gave Jon his clothes back and stood in line for a cell phone to call Bob, only to get the answering machine. Grr. I made arrangements to meet Stacy at bike parking tomorrow morning so we can ride together. Now I need to find Jon and see if he wants to go along.
More later; Im in line for a phone to try and call Bob again.
Friday, June 26, 1998
Camp 10: Townsend, Montana
Its interesting how one day can be completely different to different people.
I overslept; didnt wake up until a little after five. Oh shit, I thought, Im supposed to meet Jon and Stacy at bike parking at 6:30 and Ill never be ready in time. Went to grab breakfast; it wasnt raining (although it had rained during the night) but the skies didnt look friendly. Got my stuff packed up and got ready to ride. My shoes werent quite dry and neither were my gloves, but I figured they would dry out as I rode.
Got to bike parking and found my bike, looked at the route map and felt the first drop. It started to rain, a cold, piercing rain. Not fun. I was torn between the desire to climb MacDonald Pass and get my picture taken by the sign for the Continental Divide, and my innate sense of self-preservation. Then Jon came up and we sort of looked at each other, looked at the skies, looked at the map and said "Sagging!"
Then I saw Kristine Goade, who was getting ready to ride but had some reservations about it, and I convinced her not to go. Later on in the day, she thanked me profusely.
So Jon and I got on the sag bus and got comfortable. We took off at about 8:30 and soon realized that we had, indeed, made a very wise choice. We were within two miles of the summit when it began to snow. Soon there were big, fat flakes. Soon after that visibility was extremely limited because we were in a real snowstorm. We crested the summit and passed by Pit 1, which had lots of people huddling under the tent. It was hard to see anything, because the leeward side was actually worse: the snow was sticking and the roads were icy. Many people were walking their bikes down the slope. We heard later that more than one person found themselves with no brakes, screaming down the hill at speeds in excess of 50mph. Not what I would call fun.
Once we got to Helena it had stopped raining, and we pulled into a Burger King for a bio break. There were already frozen cyclists wrapped in mylar huddled around the hot air hand dryers in the bathrooms, trying to dry out their gear and thaw their hands and feet to they could go back out and ride. Insane.
We got to camp in Townsend and were ushered into one of the display barns (we were at the fairgrounds), a corrugated-steel shed with a concrete floor. Someone from the local Lutheran Church appeared within a few minutes with a stack of blankets and Kristin, Jon and I huddled together under one of the ugliest blankets Ive ever seen. Soon after that we were transported to the local library, which was warm and had showers. Maybe it was the high school. Anyway, there were chairs and books and lots of frozen people, and the American Red Cross showed up with emergency blankets and assistance.
Since we werent particularly cold anymore, Jon suggested we walk the few blocks into town and get some lunch. So we ended up at "The Mint", a bar/casino/lunch counter place. There seem to be a lot of them in Montana. After a really good burger (and a snootfull of cigarette smoke in the loo) we headed up the street to an antique store we had spotted. The only thing I bought was a package of stroopwafels! Finding those was a treat.
We went back to the library and got a ride back to camp from one of the locals in her Safari van. As we left town, more buses were showing up with riders sagged from the Pass. Pallotta had to charter two tour buses on very short notice to get the riders off the top of the pass. Our gear had been dumped by the camp because they needed the trucks to get all the bikes off the pass. By this point, no one was allowed to leave Pit 1. I think only around a hundred riders actually rode the whole route.
Got my tent set up, then started helping others set theirs up. Then went for a cup of coffee and stood in line for a cell phone to call Bob; he told me it was 100 degrees and getting ready for a thunderstorm. I talked to Alice for a few minutes too and she told me about her day with the kids on Sugarloaf Mountain.
Had dinner; turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce made for a very appropriate menu as we were all very thankful to have survived the day. Then went back to my tent and finished the book I was reading. At a little after seven I invited Jon for a cup of tea, and we sat talking in the dining hall for an hour about life choices and career paths. Then we went outside to watch the clouds and the sunset. As soon as the sun went down it really got cold. Right now its almost 10 p.m. and if its warmer than 40 degrees Id be surprised. Jon and I have already agreed that if its raining and cold tomorrow (which its rumored to be) then were not riding. So we shall see.
Saturday, June 27, 1998
Camp 11: Harlowton, Montana
Boy, was it ever a drag-in-the-brass-monkeys night. I completely mummied myself in my bag, and was wearing my fleece warm-up suit, and I was pretty comfortable, but I dont think I expected this kind of weather in June. Is this summer?
Jon came to my tent and said the word was "dress for snow." I said, "See you on the bus." So I took my time dressing and packing and had a leisurely breakfast. Then I helped load tables and chairs before boarding the white bus for the next camp.
The first part of the ride was rainy and cold and steep, but not snowy. Still, many were sagged from Pit 1. We arrived in camp in Harlowton and riders were already showing up, helped in large part by a 50mph tailwind. Setting up the tents was just loads of fun. I helped Jon with his pop-up tent, and couldnt help but laugh as he tossed it in the air and I had to catch it as it blew 20 feet away.
After helping unload three luggage trucks I walked into town. There was a neat little historical-society-type museum there. It looked for all the world like the entire town decided to clean out its collective attics and put everything it found in a museum with labels on it. Still, it showed a great measure of pride in the area. After walking back, I went to medical because my foot was really starting to bother me again. Nurse Pat wanted me to go to the hospital to have it looked at because she was concerned that the black spot in the middle of the callus was some foreign material that would have to be excised. I asked if I could have someone come with me, so I went in search of a friendly face and found Janine. She came back to medical with me, but by that time there was a doctor there who had stopped by to see if he could be of any service. He looked at my foot and told me I didnt need to have it examined at the hospital, but I should put a moleskin donut over it to relieve the pressure, and to keep an eye on it for a few days. I was much relieved! So I had dinner (a very good chicken creole) and went to the "Town Meeting" which was a pretty good Q&A about the MacDonald Pass debacle.
Now I realize Ive gotten to bed too late; Meghan is entertaining a friend and Jack is snoring. Oh well, heres to earplugs.
Finding Our Way
One of the questions we were often asked as we made our way through small towns was, "How do you know which road to take? Do you follow maps?"
Yes, we did get route maps at the start of each day. On one side of the paper were turn-by-turn directions for the days ride, including any special cautions (like railroad tracks or heavy traffic). On the other side was a chart showing the elevation of the route. Since the vertical scale was exaggerated, some of the days rides looked like very bad EKGs! Unfortunately, these directions were very often difficult to follow, as they relied on street names that werent always easily spotted while cycling. After a few days, most riders didnt use the directions as their primary guide. What we learned to follow were the route markings on the road. These were bright yellow circular signs, about a foot in diameter, with arrows on them. They were put up the day before by the Route Marking Crew, and indicated turns we had to take. There were also safety-orange signs posted every so often along the route which said "CAUTION: Bicycles On The Road." These gave motorists a heads-up that we were there, and also served to reassure riders that they were still on the route. Some of the orange signs also warned riders of hazards in the way: railroad tracks, rough shoulders, rumble strips, heavy traffic or difficult intersections. If an intersection was either very confusing or crossed an exceptionally busy road, one of our motorcycle traffic crew was usually posted to direct riders safely across.
As the ride progressed, the route markings improved, and included markings on the road itself with spray chalk to highlight deep potholes or other road surface problems, as well as marking turns with big arrows. There was one point in the ride when the traffic crew changed (there were several crew changes during the ride), and for a few days the route markings were few and poorly placed. Luckily, this was corrected pretty quickly after riders complained about missing turns that werent well marked and finding themselves miles off the route.
Go to Week 3
Go to Redwall Home Page