Friday, August 1, 2014

Montana: The Name Says it All



Montana in a glimpse, the name says it all!
There was something oddly familiar about Montana from the moment I entered. The name, derived from the Latin word meaning “mountain” and this state’s nickname “The Big Sky State,”  there isn’t a better way to describe this state.  Like Colorado, every where you look in the western portion of the state, there are mountains galore!  The sky is a never ending sea of blue with traces of clouds that look like elongated cat whiskers blown in the wind.  There is an overwhelming sense of solitude in Montana; there should be considering the vast land expanse and diminutive population.  The state is the 4th largest in the US in terms of land mass, but with a population slightly over a million people, it is ranked 44th in population and 48th in population density.

I love looking at maps, especially a vast state like Montana

Coming out of Yellowstone park on my way to Livingston, my first views of Montana were impressive

Upon arriving, Montana reminded me fondly of New Zealand, which also has a nickname regarding the sky, “The Land of the Long White Cloud.”  There is something about the sweeping white clouds in both Montana and New Zealand caught on the mountain peaks and the color of the bright vivid blue sky contrasted by the white clouds that make for a breath taking landscape.  Cycling surrounded by this grandiose natural paradise, you feel like an ant, a minute nothingness that is constantly looking up and around observing their environment in awe, admiration, and respect.


Nuri and Viçcens are in front of Flathead lake with a tyrpical Montana sky behind

Montana in a nut shell, river valleys tall mountains, blue skies with lots of white clouds

Mountains soar out of lakes, glaciers that formed many millions of years ago, still exist today, although they are few and far between!  Once again, The Rocky Mountains kept me company in Glacier National Park.  Looking at them, you can see the crevices  where water once flowed and carved out sides of rocks from mountains millions of years ago.  The melting snow and water flowed down to the river valleys, leaving the impressive landscape we see today.  The mountains look as though they are peaks draped in bed sheets, all different shades of green from vibrant fresh grass to a dark earthen blue. The clouds leave  even deeper green splotches on the mountains, shadows, almost black in color.  The Rockies are a massive solid wall in northern Montana that reminds me of the French Alps, or maybe even the Pyrenees.  I felt like I'd cycled here before.  Nuri, Vicens, and I took on Logan Pass, starting our ascent in 3.4C weather at 6:30 in the morning.  The climb wasn't that difficult, although it is 35 miles from West Glacier to the summit.  We stopped frequently taking pictures in awe of the landscape.  By the time we reach the top at 11 am, temperatures have gone up 25C.  No wonder they call this road :The Road to the Sun".  Glacier National Park is busy, but to avoid the crowds we did a full loop around to the south of the park to get a better idea of the massive size of the landscape.  


Every where you turned there were mountains in Glacier National Park, rugged and snow-capped

Too much gorgeous scenery to capture

The Glacier Rockies, reminiscent of the Alps, Pyrenees, or even the Dolomites

Logan Pass, quite an accomplishment on The Road to the Sun, Glacier National Park

Towns; there are plenty in Montana, big cities just don't exist.  My first visit to a civilized quaint community was in Bozeman, home to Montana State University (MSU), where I wanted to adopt the university slogan, Mountains & Minds.  It can't be put any more simply.  Caution!  A cluster of young ambitious curious minds in the mountains may be hazardous.  You never know what may happen when you combine free spirits and education with living harmoniously with fresh air, mountain scenery, and the wilderness surrounding you.  I can't believe I never considered going to school at MSU.  It is home to about 15,000 students, which makes for a lively little town with a decent sized campus.  Main street is cluttered with outdoors stores, one after the next interspersed with brewpubs, bars, and delicious eateries.  I arrived for the county fair and what is known as “Crazy Days,” where vendors line the streets trying to get rid of their summer inventory.  I never shop for anything on my trip, but I did find a bright orange long sleeve Merino wool shirt, ideal for cycling in Northern Canada and Alaska.  Bozeman also has trails galore around the city, which made for two nice days of marathon training.  I must say, Bozeman gives Fort Collins a run for it’s money as a close 1st place town on my list of places I could live in The United States.        

My host in Bozeman, John, was the son of one of my followers, Barabara Faunce, who I’ve actually never met.  However, being from Eugene, and an avid outdoors man and cyclist himself, I knew he take good care of me! Barbara somehow failed to mention that John is also the creative type and runs a clothing company called Phar North that specializes in unique graphic prints on all American-made apparel.  I got to visit his studio/shop in town and drooled while he explained to me how they go about designing and making all their garments.  My creative juices started flowing, but for now, the only way they can express themselves is in the kitchen if people let me go all out and cook!  For two of the three nights I visited, I went wild making some delicious meals including collaborating on an enormous BBQ and making a typical Catalan sausage and bean dinner.                        .

I was in heaven at Phar North, printmaking galore with design transfers

John Faunce's clothing company, Phar North, based in Bozeman, MT

After Bozeman I visited Helena the capital of Montana, which was a pleasant, quaint town.  It has a nice historic downtown and lots of eateries and shops, as well as pedestrian streets.  Houses resemble those out east and in the older neighborhoods of Portland and Seattle.  Unlike a lot of capitals in the United States, Helena was a lively place, especailly the local ice cream shop I visited with my host!
    
You can always tell a good town by it's local ice cream shop!

Helena is a quaint capital
Missoula was the next "big" town I visited, home to Adventure Cycling Association (ACA), America’s bicycle travel experts with an established cycling route network with 42,180 miles of routes throughout North America.  Missoula was a bit out of my way and the folks back in Bozeman would be upset to know that I went to their rival town, but, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the organization that has so greatly impacted my life and inspired me to travel by bike.  All the tour cyclists that pass through Missoula get their picture taken and added to the wall of visitors.  Plus you can use their free Internet, eat free ice cream, drink as many refreshments from their fridge, and if you are lucky like me, you get the leftovers from the lunch picnic they had for a tour group that passed through. All the employees ride touring bikes to work, and everything about the place alludes to passionate cyclists!
 
I've always wondered what the ACA offices were like in Missoula
From Missoula I headed up to north to western Montana with Nuri and Viçens.  We rode along Flathead Lake, the largest body of water in this landlocked state.  It was cherry and huckleberry season, which made it hard not to stop every 10 miles to sample or buy the fresh fruit and treats made with them. Cycling with Viçencs and Nuri, we had the lake or a river on our left and mountains to the east the entire ride.  There were a few small towns en route Glacier National Park, including Polson, Big Fork, and Columbia Falls, the latter being where we got to experience some amazing Montanan hospitality and culture, including a rodeo, lake riding and tubing on a platoon boat, and fire pits and delicious summer meals.  We went through Whitefish, a small resort town, and stopped and swam in a few lakes on our way to the Canadian border, again a serene environment.


We saw more than a half dozen different cherry varieties along Montana's roads


Tubing, we laughed harder than we've laughed ever before!  What a riot!


Plenty of mountains and plenty to do



Thunderstorms, typical in mountainous regions like western Montana

Montana, as I mentioned, shares a lot in common with New Zealand from a geographical perspective. However, the people in Montana reminded of my Australian friends.  Montanans, like Aussies, are humble and will never outrageously boast about their fabulous state.  It’s almost as if they keep their mouths closed on purpose, knowing that they live in one of the best-kept secrets states in The United States.  Their humble attitude keeps others from coming and spoiling their wonderful natural environment.  Montanans are pleasant, genuine, and peaceful outdoor enthusiasts.  Their are avid hunters, fishermen, cyclists, skiers, climbers, hikers, and everything in between.  Like in my own vocabulary, bored, is a word that is never used in Montana if you love the outdoors! 

One of the most pleasant country roads on my ride to Bozeman

This was the widest, cleanest shoulder we rode on in Montana

My only complaint about Montana are the roads; they leave little to be desired for a cyclist.  For being a state that strongly promotes tour cycling, I was surprised by the lack of shoulders, the treacherous road debris, and the absurd speed limits.  The state is so immense and sparsely populated, it is no surprise that there are also a lack of secondary roads, at least paved ones!  Montana may be a mountain biking paradise, but I feared for my life on the tarmac.  In fact, sadly, I felt the safest riding on Interstate 90, where the speed limit approaches 80 miles an hour, but a wide shoulder and minimal road debris makes for smooth, fast pedaling.  Rather than creating more national cycling routes, I would advise Adventure Cycling to advocate for a more bike friendly road network in Montana, starting with educating drivers regarding how to respect cyclists and  share the roads with them.  I'd love to come back and explore Montana further, but I doubt it will be on a touring bike!


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

From "Typical Espanish" to "Typical 'Merica"

When I first arrived in Spain, I kept hearing the phrase, It’s "typical Espanish" over and over again! The word Spanish is pronounced like Espanish by a native (since all of their words starting with "s" sound like es).  “Melissa, you have to try a paella, it is typical Espanish!” “Here in Espain, the stores close during the day so we can go home to eat lunch and take an afternoon siesta”.... “We have a Bermuth before lunch, it’s typical Espanish.”....... After all those years of learning about what is typical in Espain, I was so excited to show my friends what is typical in ‘Merica.  In the first few days of our trip, Nuri and Viçens have had a lot of different “typical American” experiences and tasted a bunch of different American foods.  In fact, it is a good thing we are biking with all we are consuming, not to mention, we are thankful for having a tail wind.  After eating all the eclectic flavors, it makes for some unsettled stomachs and more strenuous digestion, which leads to a bit of gas, if you know what I mean!

Photo shoot at Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula, MT
Upon the arrival of Nuri and Viçens, we were welcomed like rock starts to The Adventure Cycling Association with a big photo shoot.  Every cyclist that visits normally has mug shot snapped that goes on their wall of visitors. As foreigners, we got the red carpet treatment.  It’s not every day that someone cycles through Missoula coming from Spain.  Their photographer wanted to document this for one of their issues and he was even more thrilled to hear that I was awaiting the arrival of two Spanish cyclists who would accompany me for two weeks.  They arrived and surprised me with “designer” t-shirts, for our trip together, designed by Viçens and his sister.  We got our photos taken together and separately, and then participated in their ritual weigh in.  We had to guess the weight of our bikes before they were weighed.  Being the optimists that we are, all of our guesses were 20 pounds under their actual weight.  Nuri’s bike is the lightest at 40 lbs. (25kg.), Next comes Viçens at 85lbs. (37kg.), then me, with the heaviest bike of all at 90lbs. (40kg.).  Pretty impressive to think we carry all that weight around on two wheels!

Before getting changed, Nuri and Viçens were preparing dinner (for 10 people total)

From Missoula we went to Ronan, just south of Flathead Lake, where ironically the husband of our host couple, Tom and Annemarie, was a Spanish teacher. It was the perfect situation because all of us could communicate and Tom got to practice his Spanish, something he doesn’t have the opportunity to do much in rural Montana.  The Leafty family was numerous, like my own family, and it just so happened that 7 or 8 of them were visiting with their kids (5 of them staying at their house, along with two church missionaries, which made for one big crowd.  Since all their rooms were full, we had the choice of putting our tents in the back yard or sleeping in their pop-up camper.  Need I say which we chose?  For Nuri and Viçens, it was their first time sleeping in such a vehicle, “pop-up” campers don’t exist over in Europe, so this was a typical American camping experience for them.  For me, motor homes are becoming my second home!  
 
We all slept in a pop-up camper, a typical American camping vehicle


On a fire pit, Nuri and Viçens picked up on the art of a lightly toasted marshmallow right away

We made dinner for the Leafty family, a typical Espanish meal of oven roasted chicken and vegetables and they provided us with a typical American desert experience called s’mores.  For my non-American followers, s’mores are a desert here in the states associated with camping and camp fires.  There is an art involved with this desert from finding the perfect roasting stick to how to go about roasting your marshmallow just right and preparing the actual cookies/treat.  They had a fire pit in the backyard and we all sat around making S’mores.  Nuri and Viçens got the hang of it right away without even explaining how to get the best roasted marshmallow. Ironically, it was little Ms. I haven’t lived in the states for 10 years to practice, who repeatedly burned hers!  For me, it was more of a patience issue and the excitement to eat a roasted marshmallow than the lack of practice!



The native burnt hers, while Viçens had more patince

From Ronan we headed up to Columbia Falls where Teri Ann and Ron awaited our arrival.  They are friends my 49er host back on the Pacific Coast Highway in California, Murdock.  Prior to our visit I was corresponding with Teri Ann via email and something told me we were going to hit it off.  Shortly after arriving, she had me painting my toe nails, sampling different body lotions, and even had her mom give me a hair cut!  These seem like petty little details, of little interest to Nuri and Viçens, but when you’ve been out on the road for 11 months, the smallest of treats such as this, makes a world of a difference!

The ladies had a blast getting dressed up for the rodeo

A rodeo was one of the events I wanted to make sure I hit up while in the Montana
You can’t visit the Wild West without going to a rodeo, typical ‘Merica.  None of us three had been to a rodeo before, and it is actually one of the three things left on my list of attractions and things to do while riding my bike around the world.  Luckily there happened to be a rodeo on Friday night in Columbia Falls.  Teri Ann, of course had cowgirl attire, so we dressed up, traded our two wheels for four, and hit the rodeo!  We had a grand time watching the different events.  One could equate it to running of the bulls or bull fighting, typical Espanish, but neither are customs in Catalonia.  Our favorite was the bareback riding and bull riding!  The announcer was so excited to welcome all the tourists visiting, I made sure they gave Viçens and Nuri a special welcome, as you can hear in the video below!



These were our wheels for the night.  What fun it was to drive!

Never knew there were so many events at a rodeo........


The stands were full at The Blue Moon Rodeo in Columbia Falls

The following day, we made the most of our Saturday before hitting the road.  We took Teri Ann and Ron’s platoon to Hungry Horse reservoir and spent the day tubing, soaking up the sun, and had a BBQ on the lake. My family grew up water skiing in the summer, so it felt very familiar to be back on the water.  With five kids, water skiing was always great entertainment with lots of laughing.  Nothing had changed since I last went, except perhaps the shape of the inner tube, which could fit all three of us.  We had Viçens strategically placed in the middle and a lady in each side.  Like the white water rafting, which I discovered was just slightly out of my comfort zone for thrills, tubing is a lot scarier as an adult than an adolescent. 



We fit so snuggly on the tube, thank goodness, because with more weight, the less likely you are to fall off!
While Nuri smiled and laughed almost the entire time letting out a few shrieks, Viçens held on to the middle handles grips with a giant grin on his face, completely silent with his legs bouncing everywhere.  I on the other hand held on to the tube for my dear life, shrieking at the top of my lungs, making some of my typical, ridiculous faces.  We all had hoarse voices that night and sore biceps from using all our strength to hold on to the tube trying not to tip over.  We laughed so hard during those two five minute sessions of tubing our stomachs hurt so badly we felt like we’d done a major abdominal workout!  In fact, we were still laughing the next day thinking about our experience!  What a riot, definitely a typical American experience none of us will forget!

The facial expressions are back!

1, 2, 3, jump! We do everything together and coordinated, we even have the same tan lines, imagine that!

Ron hooked us up with delicious burgers on the boat
That evening we pedaled 20 miles up the road to Glacier Park, where our hosts Jamie and Brad, who work seasonally in Glacier National Park, lived.   They invited us to go huckleberry picking with them, a hard offer to turn down.  Spaniards typically do a lot of picking of wild vegetables such as garlic and mushrooms, but berries are hard to come by there, the tradition just doesn’t exist like it does in the States.  My Oregon summers for me were filled with picking wild berries along the bike path in Eugene.  My mom also had at least 3 or 4 loyal strawberry pickers during the summer and we would fill up flats after flats so she could make jams we could enjoy all year long with peanut butter for our sack lunches at school.  In West Glacier, the five of us set out to pick huckleberries, each with our own container.  It was reminiscent of my childhood, yet Jamie brought bear spray with her just in case, although I think our chatting that deterred them.  For this harvest, it was a win-win situation! We could eat the huckleberries as we picked and the ones we collected were eaten when we got home, immediately, with milk and sugar, a typical Pritchard dessert!

Tubers by day, an afternoon bike ride, and hucleberry pickers by night!

As for typical American food, well, Nuri and Viçens are trying it all!  I don’t think they’ve refused one things so far, although peanut butter isn't a particular favorite.  They love the snack items from chips and dips to the crackers varieties and have tried a new cereal almost every morning.  Beef jerky, of course, was a total hit, and so are the different pastries at the local supermarket bakeries.  There was a care package waiting for me TeriAnn from Murdock filled with lots of candies among other items, which was also a big hit!  TeriAnn had a create-your-own pizza party for us, and Viçens got to try his first American hamburger on the boat that Ron barbequed for us.  On our second day in Glacier National Park, our hosts in East Glacier made us a an enormous dinner including potato salad and corn on the cob, typical American summer foods. Breakfast the next morning included blueberry waffles with fresh fruit and syrup, along with turkey sausage.  We stuffed ourselves so full of waffles that we hardly made it up the 10 mile hill first thing that morning! 


Teri Ann prepared one heck of a pizza party for us!

Best "Make-Your-Own Pizza" party I've ever been to!

That was a typical American breakfast


Thankfully we have about 10 days left on the road and are soon to hit another country, Canada, so now we will go from typical American culture to discover the Canadian culture.  We are all excited to see what sort of fun and unique experiences and flavors in store for us!  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Reflections After Eleven Months on the Road

Just a few weeks ago you saw me in a picture with a birthday cake with the candles 1-5-6-8-1 all nicely placed on the confetti white frosting.  Now, there's another reason to celebrate, or should I say another excuse to indulge in a sweet treat......What’s the occasion? Another big milestone on The Loong Way Home!

Just shy of 11 months, I celebrated 15,000+ miles on the road in Gillette, WY

I left Barcelona on August 23, 2013 with absolutely no idea if what lied ahead of me, from Barcelona to Eugene, Oregon except for 30,000 kilometers (20,000 miles) of tarmac.  I was accompanied by a few of the members of my local bike club, Club Cicliste Gracia, for the first 50 km, after that, Viçens continued on with me for the first week, also a CC Gracia companion. I had one flat tire that week, the first in my cycling career.  We stayed with one host, treated ourselves to hostels and luxurious campgrounds, and didn’t dare to camp in the wild!  I said good-bye to Viçens in Nice, France and went off on my own to explore the world on bike.  Now, eleven months later, I’ve spent more than 150 nights with hosts, changed 6 more flat tires, and refuse to pay for a campsite!  I’ve made it 27,000 km (16,800km) around the world through 4 continents and 25 countries.

The morning I left, several CC Gracia members ride with me up the coast

Viçens joined me to Nice, France, not a bad destination!
A few days ago in Bozeman, after telling one of my host’s friends about my trip he said, “Cycling around the world for a year would be the last thing on my bucket list! In fact, it would go on the list of things I NEVER want to do in my life!”  It made me laugh, and of course I didn’t take it personally, but the funny thing is, it has been the most fulfilling experience of my life!  As I’ve stated many times throughout the year, I can’t imagine a better way to spend a year (or more) of my life.

A lot of people ask me why I’m riding; what inspired me to set off on my bike around the world.  Time and time again I get ask if I’m raising money for a charity.  When I tell them I’m not, they follow up in a sympathetic tone and say, “Oh, I see, you are doing some soul searching and trying to figure out your life!”  Nope, not doing that either. I figured that out long ago, which is exactly why I decided to quit my job and leave my life in Barcelona and set out to cycle around the world.  I know precisely what makes me happy, what I like to see, eat, and experience.  I can identify my preferred scenery, know the “must see” locations along the route, and still manage to keep an open mind for all the unexpected encounters and experiences in between.  I thought I knew myself well 11 months ago before I set off, but now, let’s just say that I am exponentially happier pursuing my interests and discovering new places after all this time on the bike!  My day-to-day life on the bike keep me motivated to continue pedaling, thankfully, as I still have approximately 5,000km (3,500 miles) to go over the next 3 months.

What’s next? I know a lot of you want to know.  Maybe a visit to Susan “The Spiritual Consultant” is in order, but I don’t really care to know, I’m too busy enjoying today!  I used to be a real planner and have all my future calculated down to exact dates.  You could probably saw I was somewhat of a control freak, and not to say that it doesn’t still permeate my personality, but I can confidently say that I now truly understand what it means to live in the moment.  There is a big picture out there for me, but my priority at the moment is my trip, whether it be organizing my stay with upcoming hosts or my specific route over the next couple of days.  Other times it’s an even more immediate focus like the climb that is 5 miles in front of me, or the 12% gradient slope that I am foolishly trying to conquer with an extra 90 pounds of weight.  I’ve got a short-term vision right now and that is what I cherish the most about my life at the moment.  I am living in the present and soaking up all of that is around me and comes my way. 

I waited and waited and waited for their arrival at Adventure Cycling.....


Adventure Cycling rarely sees cyclists going around the world, it was a big deal and a BIG photo shoot

Ironically, today, July 23rd, is also the day that I have met up again with a few of my fellow CC Gracia companions.  Exactly 11 months after we departed from our usually  club meeting point in Gracia, I met Nuri and Viçens in the tour cycling hub of The United States, Missoula, Montana.  Missoula is home of The Adventure Cycling Association, America’s experts in bicycle travel.  It was an emotional day for me.  For the past week, I’d been envisioning this moment, when they would find me on the streets of Missoula or the road leading into town.  I get excited to see a lot of people on my trip and enjoy the company of others.  It is a unique experience to have my Barcelona world collide with my transient world on a bike in my native country! 

CC Gracia Club, group photo 2013 

My entire cycling career has been in Barcelona; it is where I started road cycling. For four years, the Gracia Cycling Club took me, “the permanent tourist” as I like to call myself, under their wings.  They showed me the best of the Catalonia region on the smallest and most picturesque rural roads.  We spent countless hours climbing Catalan mountain passes, riding winding coastal cliffs, farm roads, and competing in epic Gran Fondo races all over Catalonia, the Basque region, and France.  When I joined the club, I practically doubled the club’s women membership.  However, four years later, there are a good handful of us, although many are also foreigners, like myself.  I started out in the “B Group,” the first season, but lasted little time there.  I quickly wanted to ride just a little bit further at a faster pace (sound familiar)?  I joined the “A group”, the first woman to do so in the club, and found I could keep up with the slower riders in that group, who called themselves the “A2 Group,” without any problem. We differentiated ourselves from the “Super A” group, the guys who ride with their tongues out lucky to hold on to the wheel in front of them.  For me, there is no enjoyment in riding that fast, it is beyond what I consider a good workout!

CC Gracia members after a gran fondo race in France

Without a real family overseas, CC Gracia adopted me.  Perhaps you could call CC Gracia a religion, comparable to a church community for those who attend Sunday morning mass, we had our own devote rituals on the bike every Saturday and Sunday morning.  We’d meet at the crack of dawn and ride anywhere from 100 to 200 km at a pretty fast pace all around the Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona, and Lleida counties.  Some of the guys in the club nicknamed me The Radio because I like to talk while riding.  The guys do converse, from time-to-time, but their conversation revolves around power meters, heart rates, wheel profile, all the boring stuff!  I liked to talk about other stuff like their family, friends, travel.  To keep things clear, let me just add that I never let my talking slow me down. In fact there was nothing that would upset the guys more than passing them on a climb while chatting with another member!  What can I say, I liked to form a relationship with the people I rode with.  I wanted to learn all that I can about the Catalan culture and it helped me feel grounded in Barcelona.  It didn’t take long before I would have dinner parties with the guys, their partners, and friends.  I made big Thanksgiving feast, celebratory meals after a few races, and would meet them up for beers on occasion.  For me, CC Gracia was a lot more than a bike club; it was my family overseas! 

Wearing our CC Gracia Barcelona jerseys with pride!

Exposing them to all the good American customs, including S'mores

Which explains why I’m so ecstatic to be reunited with two of my CC Companion as we cycle from Missoula, Montana, USA to Jasper, British Columbia, Canada during the next two weeks.  I can’t wait to show them where I’m from, see their reaction as they cycle through picturesque places over here, try out some of our typical meals, experience North American hospitality, and get a glimpse of this culture.  Nuri is also an elementary teacher and an outdoor enthusiast, like myself, who has traveled the world.  She is one of the most carefree and happiest people I know!  Viçens, has one of the biggest hearts I know, always there for his friends.  For the past year he has dedicated a lot of time and energy to my trip, compiling videos and updating certain parts of my website.  Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to document my trip in near as much detail nor in such an entertaining format!



Nuri, Viçens, and myself have an established history, a common bond, many in fact, and I have no doubt that we will have the most wonderful time pedaling together for the next two weeks.  Today, eleven months after I left the gardens of Gracia, I’m excited to set off on a different stage of my trip with my fellow Catalan cycling companions!  It is a memorable milestone indeed!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dreams, (Rather Nightmares), Do Come True!

I’m 99.9% sure that Susan the “spiritual healer” has jinxed me.  I believe in destiny, but my trip just keeps getting more and more bizzare with some of the most peculiar coincidences taking place, like today.  I left Bozeman this morning prepared for a century ride (160km) to Montana’s state capitol, Helena.  I had been off the bike for the last two days just hanging out in Bozeman and my legs were itching to pedal again.

John Faunce's garage, the best bike shop in Bozeman

John, my host and patient mechanic, in Bozeman, had helped me fine-tune my breaks and true my back wheel so that I was all prepared. I wanted to pump up my tires with a real foot pump, but unfortunately his was out of commission.  I went to use mine, which is when I noticed, that the little nozzle that attaches to the tire was missing!  That would explain the funny noise I heard earlier in the week, I had disregarded it as a little rock hitting the frame. Darn, I would have to get a new pump, or find a replacement tip, but it would have to wait until Helena or Missoula.  He offered to give me a gas station air adapter, but I refused, knowing I had one in my bag of spare parts, somewhere. I’d be fine until I made it to a bike store, after all, what were the chances of getting a flat tire in the next 100 miles anyway?
  
That night, I went to bed, but I also slept really badly.  I actually haven’t been sleeping well lately, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a few friends from Barcelona.  In the middle of the night, I woke rather irritable in the middle of a nightmare.  The bike pump must have been on the back of my mind because I had a nightmare about a flat tire on the road and searching high and low for a bike pump.  I was distraught and it took awhile to calm myself down.  Melissa, it is only a nightmare, I thought.  A few hours later, I woke up again, this time to the sensation of wet droplets on my face.  I had been camping in John’s backyard for the last few nights and wasn’t using my rain fly.  The nights were warm without a cloud in the sky, perfect sleeping weather for a tent. Obviously the weather had changed, because I it was sprinkling on my face.  Thankfully, I have a freestanding tent, so I got out, picked it up, and carried it over to the carport where his truck was parked and tucked it under cover. 


Stategic tent placement when the rain came

When my alarm rang at 6am, I was far from feeling well rested, but got up regardless, packed up my things and prepared my bags for my route.  John’s dad, who was visiting, saw me off and I set out for Helena.  I was expecting a gradual uphill but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was cruising continuously at a 1% downhill.  Images of Barcelona infiltrated my mind while I listened to Carlos Ruiz Zafron’s novel Angel’s Game on my ipod, helping me forget about my nightmare and my poor night sleep.  With Zafron’s imagery and Montana’s blue mountains and vast sky in front of me, I was in heaven.  In fact, I pedaled 50 miles effortlessly without stopping.  Townsend was approaching,15 miles away, a perfect lunch stop. 

The Montana countryside, it keeps me entrained while pedaling

All of a sudden a few miles out of town, I noticed that my bike starting to feel heavy.  I looked down at the tires, still full of air.  Was it just my imagination?  I could see a gas station less than half a mile away and the heavy sluggish sensation was still there while I pedaled.  This time when I looked down at my back wheel, I could tell the air was getting lower and lower with each revolution. No way!  I had a flat tire! It had been ages since I had a flat tire.  In fact, I had just made that same comment out loud to John yesterday while talking about the bike pump, hoping I wouldn’t jinx myself! I had!  My dream had foreshadowed the events, however, I considered myself lucky because without a working bike pump, I needed a gas station air hose.  Here I was 100 ft. from a gas station, it’s like fainting right in front of an ambulance; who does that anyway?


I found a comfy place to work on my bike.  The double fuel tanker in the background.

All I had to do was find my gas station adapter, change the tube, and I’d rolling again in no time.  Besidies, I was in need of a stop anyway to eat and by the looks of the sky ahead, a storm was about to roll through.  I found a bench outside the gas station and supply store, got comfortable, and started searching for my adapter.  I searched all through my bag of tools and parts and couldn’t find the little sucker.  Where was it? I was beginning to regret not having taken John up on his offer.  There was a truck driver filling a double fuel industrial size tank truck at the pump across the way.  I asked him for a hardware store in town and he gave me the name.  Townsend was not big enough to have a bike shop.  I called the hardware store and the guy who answered told me they sold an adapter.  I decided to change my tire, get the new tube in just using my mouth to fill it with air and then I could walk my bike down. 

It was a good plan, or so I thought, until I couldn’t get enough air into the tube to get the tire to stay on the rim.  I was going to have to go down to the store.  The truck driver across the way offered to watch my bike and another truck driver who had overheard our conversation, also at the pump, offered to take me down.  I hoped in and we went down to the store, bought the adapter, and the same pick-up actually took me back to my bike! The same truck driver was still there and so was my bike with the tire waiting for air. The adapter I bought looked different than the one I had owned, but I thought I could screw it on to the air compressor.  I slowly unscrewed the valve they had on at the gas station, when a huge powerful stream of air erupted from the compressor making a horrible noise!  It looked like one of the hoses in a cartoon that has a mind of it’s own spraying water, wiggling and moving in every direction possible like a snake, only this hose had air coming out.  Luckily the same truck driver knew where the emergency stop botton was on the compressor, pushed it.  My adapter wasn’t going to fit. 

Time for plan B.  I went in search of another hardware store after asking some locals.  The truck driver whose tanks were yet to be filled continued to watch my bike.  I went to a tire store, no luck.  Another gas station, rejected again.  I was turning the corner to go to the last hardware store in town when I saw a yard full of bikes.  Surely a household like this was filled with kids and would have a bike pump, I thought.  The door was open so I went in saying Hello, asking if anyone was home?  A man in a wheel chair rolled out, I was caught off guard.  I was even more surprised to see that he didn’t have any pants on in the chair and only a little gauze strip covering his you know what!  I tried my hardest to look only at his eyes. In fact I was actually probably looking at the ceiling, overcompensating for the fact I didn’t want my eyes to wander down.  If I weren’t so frantic and adamant about finding a bike pump, I probably would have stopped to wondered what on earth had happened to this man and why was he hanging out in his garage without pants or underwear in his wheelchair.  Of course the man didn’t have a single pump, just a collection of a half dozen of bikes outside! 

Back to plan B, finding a store that had a bike pump or adapter.  I was right in front of the town’s trading post when I saw a women get into a mini SUV. For some reason, something told me this lady had a husband who might cycle.  I had made a correct assumption.  Kathy lived a few blocks down and her husband and daughter had just gotten back for a cycling trip in Italy.  I knew this meant they had road bikes, and therefore a pump that would serve me well!  BINGO!  I got in her car and we went to her house, walking straight to the garage where she handed me a sparkling brand new bike pump.

How lucky was I to meet Kathy, probably one of the only road cycling families in all of Townsend

We made it back to my bike, which was still there, although the truck driver had lost patience with me.  Just as I started to work on my tire, the skies opened up and it began to pore! I brought all my gear into the gas station garage, while Kathy took refuge in the car.  I didn’t want her to wait while I fixed my bike, but she insisted andused a phrase that is becoming rather familiar. “Melissa, I was suppose to go to Helena today, but my appointment got canceled.  I had just pulled up to the hardware store when I saw you…..I don’t really know why I was going there…..I think this was just meant to be!”  She assured me she didn’t have anything else to do so I could take my time.  But by then, I was out of energy, frazzled, and wanted to get my tire changed once and for all!  It went smoothly until I tried to get the brakes back on and I couldn’t.  What on earth was wrong?  I had gotten them off, but couldn’t seem to get them back in their clip.

My bike stayed dry in the supply shop garage
I asked a strong looking man in the shop for help, but he couldn’t get enough leverage either.  I went out to give Kathy back her pump so she didn’t have to wait any longer.  I could tell she was worried about me, not for the mechanical part, but for the weather and the simple fact of being a solo young lady out on the road.  She had a daughter who was a teacher, probably around the same age as me and I’m sure it made her take my situation more to heart.  She had written her phone number on a piece of paper and told me I was welcome to stay at her house to wait out the storm, or even stay the night.  She also offered to help me out on the road in case I had any other further problems on my way to Helena.  Kathy was so nice.  She asked if I had money for lunch.  When I assured her that I did, she wanted to know if I had enough money for my trip!  Kathy had already been a huge help, probably the only resident of Townsend to the bike pump.


Erik played a key in helping with the final touches of getting my bike back out on the road!

I went back to my bike and by then Erik, the strong guy, had managed to get the brake cable back in, using a wrench, no less!  He also had a little tiny adapter in his fingers, he’d found it rummaging though his tool box while I was talking with Kathy.  It looked different than the one I thought I had packed away, but wouldn’t you know it fit perfectly? We made a fair trade; I gave him the adapter I had bought and in return he gave me the small adapter.  It was a done deal!  An hour and a half after I rolled up to the gas station, my wheels were changed, brakes on and adjusted, and I was ready to pedal again…..except for the fact that buckets of water were still pouring down. I decided to enter the supply store attached to the gas station and wait out the storm a little while longer. 

Hey, I'm happy hanging out anywhere, even next to the ammo and guns!

This one is for me, the "Muddy Girl" model.....
What is a supply store anyway you might ask? I had no idea!  It has everything from livestock feed to Coca Cola, groceries, coffee, women’s clothing and hunting apparel, postcards and tourist knit knacks to guns and ammunition, and ham and cheese sandwiches, which, YES, I avoided!  I got a coffee and ate some of the food I already had, hanging out by the only empty counter in the whole store, the gun cabinet no less!  I’ve been in bait and tackle stores before for pit stops and sat next to crickets used for bait, so chilling by the guns locked away didn’t even phase me.  In fact I was intrigued to read the names of the different models while I waited for the rain to let up.

There's my mountain supply store and it aftermath of the rain storm left a lake in front of the place

After another 30 minutes the storm dissipated and I could see sunshine in the direction of Helena.  I got back on my bike and started pedaling, engrossed once again by my audio book.  I had anticipated a 30-minute pit stop to change my tire and eat, but now, almost 2 hours.  What an ordeal!!! If I only would have taken John up on his offer to keep his gas station adapter! 

The rest of the afternoon was gorgeous with peaceful farms dotting the countryside
By the time I arrived to the capital, I was hot!

Three hours later I arrived at my warmshowers host, another John.  He listened to my story about the bike pump, tires, and brakes and then commented, “Gee, that is funny, my bike has a brake release you pop out by the handle bar!”  My head dropped slightly along with my bottom jaw.  I starred at him in disbelief.  That was it!  I had forgotten to open the brake release on the handle bars.  How could I have forgotten?  I was so preoccupied with the tires and bike pump, I had forgotten all about the brake release……. I shook my head laughing, thinking, only you Melissa!  My day had unfolded exactly as my dream had foreshadowed, or rather nightmare I should say. 

What should I dream about next?.......I’m afraid to even ask.

Ice cream at the end of the day makes for a happy ending to any story!