I wake up in the Lolo Hot Springs cabin around 5AM feeling like a hungover 80-year-old. My knees creak and my brain is fried. I click on my shoes and get out the door, feeling disoriented by the bright morning. The hours spent in the cabin feels like a time lapse. I hop on my bike and like magic, the shifting works again. I drop the cabin key off in a mailbox slot and I’m pedaling downhill all the way to Lolo.
These mornings it takes a few minutes to get reacquainted with my saddle. I have to sit for a couple minutes through the hot discomfort until my saddle and my seat become friends again. The pain in my knees remains. I trust it’ll go away eventually, everything does. For now, every pedal stroke is a grind.
Evan catches me at the gas station in Lolo and tells me that Kai has caught up with us and he thinks he past Lee sleeping on the side of the road. Sarah and Steffen are battling it out a hundred miles ahead. I feel like we’re not even in the same race at this point. Evan leaves first and I watch him pull away on the bike path to Hamilton. Even though the sun is shining, I feel a little sullen. I want to ride faster and I do sometimes but then my legs run out of juice and I just can’t keep up. I work on turning my attitude around. I tell myself to do my best and I remind myself to be thankful for so many things– my health, the weather, this place, my family, Nick, the trees, that rock, this road and on and on and it works.
I buy a box of snickerdoodles in Stevensville. They taste like dust. I stop at the Sinclair in Victor and ask the cashier if I can fill up some water. She says there’s only a sink in the restroom and I shouldn’t fill up there because that’s where people wash their hands. I thank her and fill up. Outside of town, Joan and Cindy are standing with a huge Lael banner on the side of the bike path. Joan tells me not to stop because she doesn’t want me to lose any time, but of course I want to stop to give her a hug! It definitely brings my spirits up. I’m through Hamilton and Darby quick. Kai, Evan and I all converge just outside of Sula at the start of the climb up Chief Joseph Pass. Nathan Jones and Anthony Dryer are there to take our picture. A man cheers out of a van window that I’m doing great. For the first time in days I feel like I’m actually in a race. I tell him I feel better than I’ve felt in days and he says that probably has something to do with the weather. He’s right. It’s not nearly as hot as it’s been. Kai and I start hammering up the hill and Evan just smiles knowingly. At the top, I stop to fill water at a stream and Kai cruises by. Down the hill, I turn into Wisdom cause my legs are whipped. I buy a quart of chocolate milk at the general store and chug it out front while Nathan and Anthony stand by quietly. It hurts my gut, but I’m desperate for energy. I pat my tummy and say that I hope it goes straight to my legs. Anthony smiles and nods and says that it will. Nathan says I have a beautiful ride ahead of me, his favorite of the whole route. As I’m heading back out, Evan is riding into Wisdom and tells me to have fun riding into the headwind. I pedal out of town real slow. My legs feel like they have nothing left. Evan catches me quick on the ride out of town and then Kai passes us both. Finally the chocolate milk kicks in. Evan and I ride together to Dillon. In the evening light, the rolling ride through the valley is exceptional. The descent into Dillon is torn up for construction and we take our time. Evan splits off to find a motel. I stop to resupply at a gas station. The girl at the register is on the phone and frazzled. Their computer system is down. I give her a $20 for some chocolate milk and a sandwich and tell her to keep the change. I consider getting a room at the motel because it’s chilly, but decide to head down the road and take my chances with the cold. The wide highway is empty in the night. I pedal five miles down the road and pull my bivvy out in a field.
I wake up early and cold and move on. The ride to Twin Bridges is flat and easy with lots of signs for bikes, but it’s so early that nothing is open. I stop at the Sinclair in Sheridan and buy a Nesquick and heat up a double-decker burger in the microwave. Some lady is hollering about idiot tourists in Yellowstone and the cashier is friendly. I coat the burger in ketchup and mustard to mask the flavor, wrap it in a paper napkin and stuff it in my gas tank. It’s terrible. I climb past Virginia City, a phony western town, and rip down to Ennis. I buy a bunch of drinks and a turkey sandwich at the gas station. The attendant asks if I want mayonnaise and notices my cracked and bleeding bottom lip. I tell her about the race and all the sun I’m getting. She tells the other cashier gal and they get all excited and then show me where the chapstick is and then cheer me out the door.
I start pedaling the long, straight flat road towards West Yellowstone into a fierce headwind. It’s relentless. I watch my speed drop below eight miles an hour and I’m flailing out there. I start wondering if I’m even going to make it the 70 miles to West Yellowstone by tonight. Evan rides up behind me and I’m happy to have a friend out there. We agree that this is brutal. He says that Kai pulled over for a nap in the sun. He says if I want I can watch his wheel and we can fight this wind together. I don’t draft, but I stay within sight and it really helps to have something to focus on. I’ve never ridden with anyone for any extended period of time in a race. I usually relish riding alone, but I’m here to do my best and for the time being, riding with Evan and getting past the wind is the best that I can do. We get through it! Mountains offer some relief and the road turns a bit and everything gets way easier and more possible. We stop at the Sinclair in West Yellowstone. I copy Evan and buy some candy and also pack a pepperoni Hot Pocket for later. I spot Kai rolling into town as we’re packing up. We pay fifteen dollars at the Yellowstone Park entrance and pedal into Wyoming.