Sunday, July 1, 2012
Day's distance: 76.42
Average speed: 11.1
Maximum speed: 27.1
Overall distance: 1,103
The alarms went off at 5AM on Sunday morning to wake Josh and I up in time to get to the airport. I drove him the three miles there and said goodbye to my mountain man fiance. I returned to camp before 6:30 and my parents were starting to stir. Despite the fact that we woke up earlier than we had any day prior, we didn't leave until almost 10AM. We ate and packed up before realizing that my back tire was flat. My mom offered to change the tube while I did some quick blogging. Then, when we were about ready to go, this peacock appeared wandering the campsites near ours. A little girl, another woman with a camera, and I spent a long time staring at it and waiting for it to spread its feathers. It never did but was still very pretty.
Two miles from our campground, as we rode through town, I felt myself sink and looked down to see that my back tire was flat again. I yelled some choice words in frustration and my dad turned around to see what the problem was. A little disheartened, we changed my tube and set out again at 10:30. It was forecasted to be a hot day and we were not off to a good start. As we rode out of town I cursed at all of the broken glass on the side of the road. I was paranoid about popping another tube but I also just could't understand why a person would smash a bottle outside of their car. There is nothing productive or smart about that and it made me angry.
The first ten miles were pretty steadily uphill. Billings is inside a large canyon so the same steepness that we got to ride down the day before, we had to climb up on Sunday. The climb was pretty. It was hot and dry and there wasn't much around but we were following some pretty fun S curves up the cliff and all that kept running through my head was "she'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes..." Except, in my case, she'll be riding a trek bicycle, not six white horses when she comes. Here is the view from the top of the canyon to show what we climbed up from. It was very hazy with the heavy heat but the green/black in the distance is the city of Billings.
We rode down and was the landscape was barren and expansive. There were some cool mountain and rock formations, none of which I photographed very well. It was the perfect land for snakes and I was paranoid about coming upon rattlesnake baking on the road. We saw only one snake and it was dead.
We passed a bunch of salt ponds with banks of white salt all around. We were drinking up our water pretty fast and grew worried about running out. We were nearly two hours in and my mom, who stayed back to pack up camp and grocery shop, hadn't caught us yet. We texted her with urgent cries for H2O refills. She confirmed that she was on her way and I ran out of water completely. I only rode a few miles but I am used to sipping my water frequently and, in the dryness, I was feeling parched.
When my mom caught up, it was after 1PM and we'd only gone 30 miles. It was over 100 degrees and we were really regretting the late morning we'd had. The first thing my dad did when she pulled up was sit down in the back seat and crack open a beer. He tried to convince me that it was refreshing but I knew that, with almost fifty miles left to ride in this heat, anything remotely dehydrating would do bad things for my body. So I chugged water and gatorade while eating leftover pizza and a banana with peanut butter and nutella.
My mom set out just before me and, when I left a few minutes later, I couldn't catch her. I can always catch her. My Achilles tendon, which I'd iced at lunch, was hurting again and it was so hot that I was sluggish. She was always in sight but she was mostly a tiny dot in the distance. Eventually, she stopped under what seemed like the only shady place in a 20 mile radius and we stood there for a few minutes but barely cooled off. She kept saying how miserable it was and I couldn't have agreed with her more. A little later in the afternoon, my legs started to get red and splotchy with the recurring heat rash that I'd had during the later days in Washington. I reapplied it with sunscreen and rubbed ice on it during our next stop but it continued to flare and stung like crazy.
A few miles outside of Hardin, some clouds came into view and made our lives at least slightly more pleasant for the moment. We passed the site of the recent Custer's Last Stand Reenactment and it looked like a storm was on it's way. We checked our weather apps though and there was nothing but sunshine and heat in the forecast so we carried on.
In Hardin, we stopped in the only open store (small-town life on Sunday means virtually nothing is open) to use the bathroom and heard of a nearby dairy queen. I was worried about my skin and not willing to ride even an inch out of the way so my generous dad offered to pick up frozen goods and drive them to us. About five miles later, we consumed these delicious things which cooled us down for about 20 seconds.
My mom and I rode together for another five miles and then she and my dad switched again. The whole stretch from Hardin on was on Old US 87 which was a frontage road for I-90. It turned under the interstate and we rode through Crow Agency, a Native American town right by the location of Big Horn National Monument/Custer's Last Stand battlefield. We were warned that there would be wild horses roaming the frontage road on this stretch but we only saw a few in fields off to the side. On the soundtrack in my brain, "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones was playing on repeat. That's been a regular one through my head on the trip.
When we got near the site of Custer's Last Stand, we locked our bikes and hopped in the car for a ride up. The only place in the world I wanted to be, though, was in a cold shower so I wasn't in the mood to do much but pedal pedal pedal until we reached our destination. When we got to the entrance and saw that we had to pay for what we wanted to be only a 30 second view of the site, we turned around and left, getting a quick view of the battlefield and monument from afar. I think that counts as having been there. And if it doesn't, I'm ok with that too.
The final seven miles were uneventful. I felt strong and good inside but my skin felt awful. It stung a lot and it was making the rest of me feel bad. I wanted to get out of the sun as soon as possible. When we finally rolled into the ranch we were staying at, it was almost 8PM. The owner rewarded was with free huckleberry ice cream sandwiches. I knew this would make Josh, a die-hard ice cream sandwich lover and new fan of huckleberry ice cream, pretty jealous. But I'm not sure if he loves either enough to have gone through what I did that day to get one.
We rented a cute little cabin that was nothing but a room with a double bed, bunk beds and a small bar with a mini-fridge. We didn't expect it to have air conditioning but it did (see bottom left of cabin in picture). Upon entering, the first thing I did was drop to my knees and let the cool air blow on my inflamed thighs.
After showering, we made dinner and didn't eat until after 9PM. Dinner was canned beef stew to which we added brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and green beans. With it we had a salad and walmart bread that turned out not to be so bad. When you've ridden your bike nearly 80 miles in 100 degree heat and it is 9 o'clock at night, I think just about anything would taste like heaven.
My mom has since referred to Sunday as "the day from hell" and asked if I took pictures of "the oven" that we rode through. At the time it was complete hell but it is days like that which make this trip what it is. We wouldn't be able to appreciate the perfect riding days if there weren't challenging ones like these in turn. Little did we know, there were several more challenging ones to follow but we were more prepared having ridden through a deserted oven from hell.