Update from Missoula, MT…

Woke up at the abyssmal hour of 5AM this morning when my alarm went off at 6AM Central Time. You would think I would be entitled to sleep in every time I change a time zone, but noooo…

Anyway, I did turn the alarm off and roll over and wake up two hours later. I was still really tired and worn out though. Got breakfast at a shop around the corner and scarfed down some eggs, sausages and toast, the last made with white bread which I haven’t tasted in years.

Got out on the road at 9:30AM today, still feeling tired and groggy but just wanting to make it to Missoula, a whopping 300 miles away. Into the first 10 miles of the ride, I think I was in Alpine heaven as I went through the Galladin National Forest. I was immersed in a landscape that for the first time on this ride reminded me of the vast splendour of Alaska. Huge mountains, frothing rivers, little idyllic lakes, big blue sky and white puffy clouds with the sun shining down through the cold, crisp air. This here was a slice of heaven and unlike anything I had imagined I would see in Montana. I couldn’t stop pulling over to take pictures. One lake in particular was arrestingly striking in that it had thin spiny trees growing right out of it. It was like nothing I had seen before. I couldn’t stop grinning with disbelief as I each corner revealed another new landscape.

Forty glorious miles later, the forest came to an end and I descended into a flat plateau of more desert which continued for another hundred miles. I think that by this time I had had just about enough of the big sky and longed for a break in the scenery. The forest and mountains I had passed through seemed like a distant memory. It was getting hot and dry and arid again and I could feel myself tiring. My bike wasn’t handling that well either and I felt like I had to really work hard to accelerate and maintain a good pace. The wind was back too, whipping my helmet around and making me feel like I was fighting the road, just trying to get through.

There were occassional breaks with unusual colored mountains in the distance, but these were few and far between. At one such spot, I thought of pulling over to get a good picture, and as I slowed down on the side of the road, I felt the bike wash out from under me in some loose gravel and down I went, this time with the bike on me and myleft leg trapped underneath it. That made TWICE in as many days. I was not amused as I lay there fuming and trying to get out from under it. It had fallen good and proper this time, with the rear wheel sticking up in the air as it rested on the right saddlebag.

A truck that had been following me and had passed me as I had slowed down pulled over and the driver came over to help. He managed to get the bike off of my leg, but we were unable to get the it off the ground and upright. We flagged down another car and with the help of that driver managed to get it upright. It started right up and there seemed to be no damage. For some reason, both the convex mirrors that I had stuck on my main mirrors had fallen off and the right mirror was tweaked out of shape which I straightened. I felt okay too except for a spot on my left leg that felt like it was going to have a beauty of a bruise on it soon and my left hand and right shoulder felt a bit sore. Nothing serious though and I pushed on.

I didn’t feel too bad about the incident. These things happen and that gravel was most unexpected. Added on top of my already weary feeling though, that’s when I decided that I was heading straight home now
with no detours.

After this I got on I90 for a little bit and stopped briefly for lunch at a McDonalds. The prices this time were normal – they actually doubled their prices at the location in Yellowstone (can they do that?). I ate my sandwich and ignored the fries and then just lay with my head on the table feeling weary and worn out and wanting to curl up in a cosy bed more than anything else in the world.

After that bout of patheticness, I scrutinized a map and decided to take a little detour to the towns of Philipsburg and Drummond just to avoid I90. When I got on it, I saw a sign that proclaimed it to be a Scenic Route, which made me happy. For all of 10 minutes.

I hadn’t thought to check the weather before I left because I rode right into the eye of a thunderstorm. The road itself was pretty and winding and had some great views but about 20 miles in I started shivering with cold as the temperature dropped by 20 degrees and big angry clouds gathered in the sky and thunder rumbled in the distance. It was too late to turn around. I made it to Philipsburg, stopped at a gas station and took out my liners from my dry bag to zip them into my suit. A trucker who was passing by said that the worst was over because it had hailed there a few minutes ago. I doubted it though and just wanted to make it to Drummond safely.

As soon as I hit the road, I saw lightning fill up the sky and I fervently hoped that I wouldn’t be a target. It would have satisfied my need for the dramatic, but it would be a rather ignominous way to go. Rain started pouring down and pretty soon I was unable to see very much except a beautiful, blurred landscape. Situations like this seem to bring something out in me though because I rode like my tail was on fire, bike not handling well be damned. It was a mere 25 miles to Drummond and I must have made it in 15 minutes.

I have often heard my friends from the south long for the thunderstorms they had grown up with and thought them quite mad, but now I know fully exactly what it was that they missed and empathize.

In spite of the tension and the need to get to shelter and find warmth and safety, I couldn’t help but marvel at the gloriousness of the country and how much more spectacular it looked in inclement weather. While on a normal day, you might pass through it without comment, when the storm was raging down, the pastoral idyllicness of the country demanded that you took notice and appreciate the splendour of nature at its most raw and primal form. Tired as I had been for most of the day, I should have been full of frustration at having to deal with the weather on top of everything else. Instead, I couldn’t stop smiling and biting my lip in glee as I sliced through the roads full of marvel and gratitude at being privileged to have experienced this. I felt vulnerable and powerful at the same time. Vulnerable in that the storm could chew me up and spew me across the landscape at any time, and powerful in that my human made machine allowed me to laugh at the danger and go my way secure in the thought that the weather posed no real tangible threat as long as I kept my wits about me. How powerful nature is and how equally powerful us humans are with our strange and myriad technological creations!

At Drummond I stopped at a gas station and went inside to get a coffee. The rain had decreased now and I thought of just waiting it out. It was another 50 miles to Missoula and I felt tempted to just keep going but I decided to be prudent instead.

As I sipped my coffee, my eyes wandered across the gas pumps to the other side of the street where stood a Used Cow Lot with a cow head mounted on the gate. I decided that this was too David Lynch even for me and knew that I had to get back on the road soon.

I checked Weather Underground on my phone and the radar map and a weather advisory revealed my folly of riding into the bad weather, a little too late. I would be fine as soon as I headed a little northwest though.

The rain subsided shortly as I had guessed it would and I set off again on I90. As far as freeways go, this part of the ride was not dreary at all and went through some rather scenic territory. I was once again riding like a madman and made it to Missoula in record time.

I pulled over and started consulting my GPS to find the closest coffeeshop when a guy that worked in the garage next to where I was, walked over and asked me what I was looking for. He told me where the downtown area was and to find the Days Inn close it it which would have covered parking for my bike. I asked him if he was a biker too and he confirmed it. What a nice way to get into a city. The way people treat outsiders really does a lot to make or break its image. I was happy to have had a good first encounter with someone. He had guided me well because the inn really was walking distance to the downtown area.

The lady at the inn was also remarkably friendly and gave me a killer rate for the room because I was a biker. Again with the niceness! This feeling of being welcomed and wanted would continue through my stay in
Missoula as I encountered nothing but cheerful smiles and nods from perfect strangers wherever I went.

I parked, unpacked and walked into downtown to find food. I was a little intrigued to find that all the coffeeshops closed at 4PM and I wondered if there was some kind of curfew that I didn’t know about. Perhaps vampires roamed the town after it got dark or something. I also saw a lot of vagrants and curiously enough they all had dogs. Curiouser and curiouser, one might say.

I ended up at a sushi bar called Sushi Hana, making me nostalgic for Hana Sushi on Capitol Hill. :) It was delightful to find some real food after day upon unending day of eating sandwiches or burgers for lunch and dinner. I polished off a dish of sauteed calamari and a Punk Rocker roll – eel, tuna and crab – which didn’t taste like any punk rocker I’ve known. Ha! All washed down with some plum sake and I was a happy camper.

Back to the hotel for a long talk with my sweetie whom I miss more than ever, and then some blissful sleep.

I woke up the next morning, felt the exhaustion in my bones and knew that I wasn’t riding anywhere today. I staggered out of bed when I felt able to, asked the hotel manager to extend my stay by another night, then wandered around looking for breakfast. I managed to walk all the way down the street for 6 blocks and back before finally finding a place that served breakfast – almost across the street from the inn. *sigh*

Breakfast was coffee – my first morning coffee in weeks since it dehydrates me and I don’t drink it in the days when I’m riding – and a three egg omelette with spinach, mushrooms and sausage, and a potato casserole and toast. They didn’t have wireless internet, so I read my book instead – “The Devil and Miss Prym” by Paulo Coelho which is a very rivetting read so far. I’ve wanted a relaxing morning like this for a long time and I was surprised that I wasn’t in the least bit guilty about not getting on the road at the crack of dawn to add on the miles. I’m close enough to home now that I don’t feel the pressure to just keep going anymore and am fnally able to relax and ramble again.

Back at the inn now. I climbed straight into bed and am probably going to try and take another nap. I feel like I could use one even though I just woke up a few hours ago. Then I’ll go get lunch and wander the streets to see what Missoula has to offer. It’s certainly a town with character and one that I’m going to enjoy exploring.