4:30 am in Missoula, Montana as hunger rumbles in my belly, I started rolling ideas through my foggy head on how to compress eight days on the Big Ride into my first blog post. Each day is better than the last, and I can barely remember what town I woke up in. Life moves at an incredible pace, sensory overload but I imagine this is similar to the life of a goldfish. Memory plays a negligible role these days, because each stroke of the pedal takes you to a place you have never been.
We started the ride last Monday, June 18th in Seattle, Washington. The team rolled out on a cold rainy morning, temperatures were in the 40’s but excitement and nerves powered us through the endless Seattle bike paths until we reached the outskirts of town. Talk about an incredible cycling infrastructure, Seattle takes their bike culture seriously. They have biking path tunnels and bridges. Let’s get on it, Cleveland.
The team of 17 made their way 95 miles to Easton, Washington through the Cascades, along interstate 90, and climbing on our bikes through miles of the beautiful woods of the Northwest. The pain in my quads was quieted with the beauty of snow capped mountains, crystal clear streams and trees with the girth of a small VW. The cold rain, and hypothermic conditions gave me the power to roll into camp first, all I wanted was a hot shower, and warm clothing. Chilled to the bone, I pitched my tent and warmed by the fire with a nice beer and snacks. Day one, check.
The following days on the ride took us along the Columbia river as a fantastic tailwind and sunny skies powered us 70 miles to Vantage, Washington. After rolling hills and slowly climbing all day, we had a mind-blowing 11 mile, 2,000 foot descent with massive wind turbines along side of us. This was the most fun I have had on a bicycle, ever (ok, well over the last 4 months of cycling).
From Vantage we rolled out before traffic began on I-90 - another quick jaunt on the shoulder of the major interstate as 18-wheelers blew past at 70 miles an hour. There is a cycling rule that the vehicle with the greatest amount of lugnuts wins, and well, a bicycle is a vehicle and has no lugnuts. The easterly winds picked up, creating a very unpleasant headwind. We trucked on for 83 miles to Odessa, Washington and camped on the lawn of the high school.
The next day the winds were the enemy. We barrelled down, got in two draft lines and “cruised” at a rough 12 mph average through the rolling hills of sagebrush in the high plains of western Washington. Landscapes turned from dry plains to pine trees and rivers. 78 miles later we arrived in Spokane. Rest day was a welcome relief. Getting your body used to riding 83 mile average days is a challenge, and a lot of fun. I’m currently on a see-food diet. I see it, and I eat it. No limits.
For our day off we stayed in the dorms at Gonzaga University. I spent the next day working on my bike, buying accessories from REI, eating, resting, and doing yoga. Since I am new to cycling, Gene’s bike camp (our mechanic sets up shop) has been a great way to learn the details of bike maintenance. In addition to mechanic work, our group leader, “Coach” has a long history of cycling. He has organized post-ride cycling school where we learn proper riding technique, tire/flat care, and how to handle the demands of a ride of this caliber. If you want to learn how to cycle, bike across the country. I am surrounded by such amazing riders with impressive experience. One day I hope to get there one day, one mile at a time.
From Spokane we headed out of Washington to the spud-tacular state of Idaho. Light rain and wind from the northeast blew in the morning, but the scenery caused us to stop at every mountain turn. Our daily cue sheet noted that we were in bear and moose country, I kept my eyes peeled, but unfortunately did not have any sightings. Drat. We stopped for the lunch stop and a small town rodeo parade was going on so we warmed up in the local soda shop, sipped lattes (with whipped cream), and watched the entire town’s population on the street. After lunch we were greeted by state number two of the ride. Only 10 more to go! We arrived in Sand Point, Idaho 75 miles later. I was pleasantly surprised to find such a cute mountain town. Awesome breweries, outdoor shops and a backdrop of snow capped mountain.
Montana was next on the list and we made our way from Sand Point to Thompson Falls for a 88 mile day. Once again, we cruised in the rolling valleys along the Clark Fork river which was flanked by stunning mountains. That night we had to remove all food and smelly products from our bags because of the threat of bears. The next morning we had our first 102 mile century. For the first time, I felt the inability to be full from dinner. The furnace was firing up, big time.
We said goodbye to Thompson Falls and headed east to Missoula around 6:30 am - we had a big ride ahead of us. The weather was perfect, but near the end temperatures reached the upper 80’s. Overall the ride went well, even the long slow climbs, I just had to take in as much fluid as possible to keep riding strong. The rest day came at the perfect time, 105 miles was enough for me (we tacked on a few “bonus” aka “I got lost” miles). The University of Montana warmly greeted the Big Ride, and even put up cute bear signs on our dorm room doors. This afternoon we had an ice cream social at The Big Dipper ice cream shop with the mayor of Missoula, the CEO of the ALA of the Mountain Pacific and all of the Big Riders. I guess when you raise $135,000 dollars for charity they want to give you ice cream. Sounds good to me. Tomorrow we roll out to Avon, MT 99 miles away. For some reason the mileage does not scare me, it’s just another day crossing the country on the Big Ride.