Surrender: A Day in the Life of a Cycle Tourist

Our view for the last couple weeks: hay fields and open roads.

Near the headwaters of the Missouri River, Chelsea cruises through our view for the last couple weeks: hay fields and open roads. Hazy from Washington fires and hot as a firecracker in July.

The day’s intensity ratcheted higher like a rising guillotine blade. 99 degrees. 25 mph headwinds with gusts. Nothing except barb wire fences whistling in the wind for 80 miles in front of us. The “town” we’d just passed through, Mosby, consisted of two houses, one abandoned with a roof caving in. A rippling series of long rollercoaster hills spelled our doom in thousands of feet of elevation to climb that day. And there we were, two specks on the ocean of the plains, beat down and buffeted, with nary even a cell phone signal to be found to even complain on Facebook. Good thing I have a blog and can do it later!

Sometimes, the warrior’s path is to push on, head down into the morass, battling our way to victory. We all are stronger than we think, both mentally and physically, and I am certainly in the Stoic’s camp believing that suffering makes you stronger and better equipped to handle future adversity. I find that small challenges and tests will often make life’s tougher obstacles seem easier in comparison, and am occasionally circumspect enough to cherish the pain afterward.

Cranking into the wind in the Montana plains.

Dakota cranking into the wind in the Montana plains.

This, however, was not one of those days! While we wake up with tired bodies every morning, on this day our legs hung like lead pendulums churning away in a thick soup of blasting hot air. We’d pushed through 60 mile scorchers before, yet this total feeling of exhaustion was like a crashing wave trying to drown us.

Only 25 miles in, with 50 to go, we found a rest stop in a fancy new building in the least populated area of Montana. Why they put it there, I have no idea. The cold, filtered water (most water in the plains tastes like warm dog farts) and hard slat benches to relax upon in the air conditioned space made it feel like Cleopatra’s palace. I sat and relished the cold air and took on the unofficial and unpaid Greeter of Road Trippers for awhile, chatting with each new arrival. “Heyyyy, where ya headed? Seen any stores to the east of here? No?”

The motorcyclists have been awesome! Super friendly and always interested in talking to us. Or giving me a fist bump on the highway. Good thing - the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota attracts 500,000 visitors and is starting while we're here!

The motorcyclists have been awesome! Super friendly and always interested in talking to us. Or giving me a fist bump on the highway. Good thing – the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota attracts 500,000 visitors and is starting while we’re here!

After much deliberation, we listened to our tired bodies and scoped out a spot under a picnic structure in the far corner of the parking lot. Baked brown earth lay on the other side of a sagging fence and semi trucks pulled in and out every so often, but we chugged frosty water, threw down a tent footprint and sleeping pads and lay on them with sticky backs. All our technology came up blank looking for a signal, and that was ok. Our Truckstop Hilton provided shade, solace and relief from blasting winds and it felt good.

Home sweet home at our rest stop.

Home sweet home at our Truckstop Hilton.

We’d done enough pushing through adversity for the day – there will be plenty more of that to come in future days. For now, a concrete pad and picnic table in the middle of nowhere Montana felt like a warm hug from Grandma. We reclined, napping and reading, for the afternoon, then justified carrying our emergency backpacking meal by gobbling it up for dinner. Dessert was a 180 degree lightning show crackling in the distance, the rumble of semis thundering behind us. (Why do trucks leave their engines running nonstop?!)

Next day, after absolutely terrible sleep thanks to constant semi traffic, we rose early and vanquished the remaining 50 miles on another 100 degree day with fresh(er) legs. It was a good reminder that while usually we press through biking and life doing things even when it’s tough, a day like this needn’t be misconstrued as weakness. Instead, it takes a different strength to accept our lot and deal with struggles one day at a time in a way that builds cumulative success. And, for us at least, that’s what it takes to ride through barren countryside all the way across this giant country!

A vivid sunset on the plains.

A vivid sunset on the plains.

Middle of nowhere on the plains.

Middle of nowhere on the plains. Click for full view.

Faces from the Road: Ray from Quebec

Ray from QuebecSome people just embody an activity. Ray, who we met on a remote highway in NW Montana, sums up the essence of bike touring.

We crossed paths with him on the 4th of July as he biked west. Sporting a cotton shirt with “America: the best things in life are free” emblazoned across the chest with an eagle patterned in stars and stripes, Ray was astride an old, well-worn bike with thousands upon thousands of miles on it. He had been all over the place on tour – Mexico, Canada, the US, and elsewhere.

Ray doesn’t travel with a computer, GPS or a specific route in mind. He camps along the way and is simply out exploring the world while enjoying the heck out of it. When we asked if he was all good on water, he gestured behind us and said, “There is lots of water in the mountains.” Hell. Yes. A true adventurer!

I love the common ground that bike touring brings to life. Chelsea and I with our shiny bikes and glossy panniers, helmet lights blinking and reflective jerseys on, were doing the same thing as Ray with his rig: pedaling across the country trying to find food, water and shelter while taking in whatever scenery, people and adventures present themselves. Every day is a fresh landscape and challenge to surmount, and we can point our tires wherever we please. And that seems like true freedom to me!

Happy (belated) Independence Day,