Today was all about the choices I made... It is what defines me. What we choose to do in any given situation. Even if we choose to do nothing.. it is still a choice. And from those choices you can gain insight into your character and what type of person you really are. Make those choices when you are under pressure... or exhausted... hungry... cold .. dehydrated... and it reveals even more about the real you... the you that is left when all else is stripped away. When the you you project to other people has hightailed it outta there and even the you that you would like to believe is really you is gone.... what is left? And will you like that version of you? Do you accept it as the base foundation? Or do you work to change that too? if thats possible😁
All interesting thoughts and ones which often occupy my somewhat wierd brain. Today was a day where I stripped myself down to the bare bones...
It started off with a head that wasn't in the game. After the rigours of the Wall and the days in Canada I felt mentally shot. My thoughts as I went to bed were about scratching from the race route and continuing southwards at an easier pace... avoiding ... at least on this day... too much backcountry riding. I was going to take the road south from Elkford to Whitefish instead of the round robin route of up and over Whitefish Divide ... swinging round skirting Glacier National Park and then back over Red Meadow lake.. 100 miles of rough terrain... my head wasnt there. This thought was also driven by fear as the map I have warned particularly of Grizzly activity around Whitefish Divide. The more time I spend out here... the less I want to see a bear in the wild... unless its a mile or so away and has a river to cross to get to me!! People I have met here dismiss the fear easily but they are used to having bears 'around'. Besides I'm breaking the bear rules by being by myself out here. All advice says travel in groups!
So the fear was a factor as was my general weariness but when I got up in the morning... having slept well... the thoughts were changed so slightly.. "I will start off on the route and make a decision when I reach the turn off". Choice number 1 = not to scratch there and then.
I got my stuff together a bit later than usual... I had given myself a lie in until 6:00 and taken a while to get going. Reluctance was probably part of that too. When I eventually walked out the door... the sun was already shining and I had a mission to buy lots of food... I was going to try and do eating better... especially if I chose to stick to the race route!! (You can see what was happening here)
Then my phone rang!! I pull it out of my pocket... accept the messenger call and the smiling faces of Donna and Simon are waving at me from their hotel in majorca! What a fantastic surprisea and perhaps was the start... the mental kick to effect a sea change in my head... at least for today.. so thank you guys😁
On my way out of town I stopped at the gas station and proceeded to spend a small fortune on cinammon sweet buns... other sticky pastries.. cheese... salami...sweets and gatorade.amogst other stuff... until I had a bagful. On returning to my bike I realised I may struggle to carry it all. I proceeded to find space for all but one sticky pastry so ate that on the spot as breakfast! Then it was off ... down the old tobacco road (and if someone has time to google it and tell me why its called that I would be grateful). This old road was not flat of course and the first few corners tested out the legs.... and found that they were still working! I didnt have the achey pain thing shooting up my legs when I started cycling and although it was on tarmac (mitigating factor) my legs tapped out a climbing rythm and I felt ok. Whilst this was happening... my brain had realised that my soul wouldn't let me turn off route just yet. I may not reach Mexico due to time limitations but I wouldn't be able to scratch just yet. So I turned Left... choice number 2. The gradient was ok as I followed the road up and as it was tarmac to a point it wasnt jarring my body much.
At some point here I passed the 300 mile mark... at least according to my GPS and they were 300 very hard fought miles for sure.
The forest we were passing through had a few more diciduous trees than seen in Canada but the smell of pine still pervaded the air and it was wonderful to breathe in deep. It was getting hotter by the second but there was lots of shade to be had here. Despite that I was already sweating profusely. Have you ever had your knees sweat?? I have now. I love the sunshine and I'm definately not wishing for rain but this heat is ridiculous! It makes water supplies totally inadequate and I worry that as I get further south it may be harder to find. But thats for another day. Today... the legs were good and I wound my way up to Whitefish Divide.
As I made my way up... I was passed by all manner of cars... caravans... jeeps and ATV's. It was a pretty popular place. It also meant that it didnt feel as isolated as Canada and I felt like I didn't have to worry about bears... If they had any sense they would be far away from this road!
At one point I was passed by a bright green jeep... then a red one... then a blue one... then a yellow one. All the occupants waved. More about them later😁 I also met a nice couple who stopped and asked if I was riding the divide. Turns out the gentleman had ridden it back before the race became well known.
The road eventually turned Eastwards and became gravel... still rideable mainly. Towards the top the gradient became sharper and the terrain more technical making me push... but it doesnt matter as long as there is forward motion. The head was now looking at where to stop for the night and had settled on Polebridge... 5.5 miles off route. Given its the holiday weekend I was warned by Christana last night that it may be difficult to get a bed there but as it had a campsite too I thought it would be ok. This was at about 55 miles for the day.. not huge distances... but I had started late.
I got to the top of the climb... and over Whitefish Divide at around 5300 ft. It had been ok and the legs felt reasonably strong. As I stood at the top another procession of cars and caravans appeared and I realised that the bears werent the problem today... far more likely to be killed by a 4x4! It was now really hot! And the shade had disappeared. The white gravel seemed to make it all hotter and I was literally sizzling. I had been promised a 'glorious descent' by the map and initially it failed to materialise. The road winding round.. up and down and never really getting up speed. Then I rounded a corner and the downhill startdd proper! In the distance.. starting to loom ever closer.. were the mountains of Glacier National Park... a place I have always wanted to go as they have a road called the 'Going to the sun' road which is closed to cars a lot of the year.
One day I will take my road bike into those mountains😁 In places the burnt trees and the desolate nature of this place reminded me of a end of days film... last humans on a scorched Earth kinda thing. Very surreal in parts.
As for today the dry dusty track and the scorched earth around me reminded me of New Mexico and Arizona.. not what I had expected of Montana for sure. I shot down ... debating to myself about the merits of going to Polebridge. It was 5.5 miles off route. That was 11 extra miles on the legs. All so I could use wifi.. didn't seem very sensible. So I said to myself.. if I reached the turnoff by 4pm then I would continue on up the 10-12 miles to Red Meadow lake camping ground.
I was crawling up a gravel bend when a pickup with a load of people dressed for the 4th July pulled up alongside me and asked if I wanted to throw my bike in the back and grab a lift! I explained that I'd love to but couldn't and told them about the charity and the ride. I asked about the route up to the lake and what it was like. The gentleman in the stars and stripes top said that it was nothing like this bit... which I took to mean steeper and harder. They then offered me water!! Yes please! I was almost out and could do my stream filling thing but safer to get proper water for sure. I followed them up to their cabin in the woods... omg so lucky... so in the middle of nowhere .. so pretty! Turns out Michelle and Danny who were cousins and their friends and family were meeting up for a 4th july weekend party! After handing me loads of freezing cold bottles of water Michelle handed me a bracelet to take with me. Intertwined colours of braid with blue beads she said it was so I could take her along on the journey. What a nice thought and gesture. They offered to let me bivvy on their land and join in for the celebrations and I was so tempted as it was unique opportunity. But 2 factors stopped me from downing tools then and there. Firstly I would havd felt like I was intruding a bit on their celebratory weekend. 2nd... a plan was forming... it was craZy ... but forming nonetheless. What if I got to Red Meadow Lake with enough daylight to make it all the way to Whitefish??
So I set off again .. choice number 3 and as I did... I was passed by a red... a blue... a green and a yellow jeep... waving again!
I bombed down the road to realise with horror that I'd missed the turnoff to the Lake and was headed down to Polebridge. That option was no longer an option in my head... so I chose to turn round and made my way back to the turnoff. And then I was expecting the worst!! It went up and up... and all the while I was gradually gaining height I wondered where the sting was. This was fine. Just meandering up gradually... all cyclable so far. It was pretty strange... waiting for the bullet that never comes! This continued right up to the last couple of miles where it got pretty steep and my legs were now hurting... making me think that camping at the top was a better idea!
I was then passed by a red... a blue and a green 4x4. There should be another... a few mins later... up roars the yellow one!
Being passed by all these cars meant I was getting coated in a fine layer of dust which may have acted as a sunscreen to be fair but it also made me choke a fair bit! I eventually rounded the corner and a beautiful lake with snow still evident on its shores was glistening in the evening sunlight. On the far shore was a large group of people... when I arrived amongst them were the jeeps that had passed me 3 times today and I got a high five from a couple of the occupants. These self confessed 'crazy Montanans' were very friendly and interested in the ride and the charity and selfie's were the order of the day. I asked about the road to Whitefish and it apparently got better on the way down. So deep breath... 2 1/2 hours daylight left to do the 20 miles to the lake at the bottom. Choice number 4. Most of the descent was taken at speed... taking more care on bends because of cars not bears. Some of the shale proved for tricky cornering but managed to stay upright. I passed the second campsite and kept going. I now hurt all over and any little up was killing my legs off. My back and shoulders hurt and I had pains in my wrists. Whose stupid idea was it to go to Whitefish today?? My new song was the words... food ..shower.. bed.. over and over again!
Then the road turned into a not so good road and as I bumped along... realisation dawned! I had gone the wrong way... missed a turn... SHIT !! And for over 2 miles!! Downhill!! I almost cried. Looking at the map... I could have continued along that road and gone a different way into Whitefish but would have been scratched from the race for alternating from the route. Given what I felt I had accomplished today... I didnt want it to end like that. So I turned round and crawled up the 2 1/2 miles back... wondering how I could have missed the turn. My food shower bed song changed to fcuk fcuk fcukety fcuk song... which made me feel a bit better. When I finally got there... I was no wiseras to how i'd missed the turn but continued along the correct route. After what seemed like forever I got to the lake. The light was fading... I had nothing left to give.
But of course a lakeside road is... as all cyclists will know.... NEVER flat! The distraction from the all pervading pain was looking at the entrance gates and stunning lakeside houses. What a place. Someone was doing jetski donuts out in the dusk and the orange glow reflected everywhere. My lights were now on as I mustered a final effort to get into the town.
Eventually buildings... lodges... gas station...
I headed downtown for the motel there.. only to find it full. The lady there took pity on the wreck of a human standing in front of her... and phoned round some other motels and found me a room. The last 1.5 miles was agony. Saddle sore and aching all over.
Once at the motel I ran to pizza hit nearby before they shut at 11pm. There I perfected the 1000 yard stare and watched as a group of four people proceeded to consume their body weight in food whilst I myself was barely able to stand upright!
Pizza eaten and slumped on a comfy bed... I reflected on the day. I didnt give up and pushed well beyond what I thought was possible for the day. Tomorrow... an easier day wending my way through several towns before stopping ready for a launch for another big effort. I want to get my bike checked over too.
My choices today led me beyond...
Anything is possible...
If you make the choice
LHS as always. X