Day 11: Reaching the Interstate

September 13, 2002
Plains to Missoula
76 Miles Google Map

Technically, I’m about three miles short of Missoula, but this was such a pleasant day of cycling I’m crediting myself with the extra distance.

By the way, it was a very good idea yesterday to pull up and spend the night in Plains. The next town up the road (ironically named Paradise) did not have much of anything; certainly no hotel. I’d have ended up furtively camping out in someone’s back meadow.

This morning I got out of the gate early, a little after seven o’clock. The sun was just coming up, the air was cool and the traffic scarce. There were no steep hills to tackle and plenty of straightaways, allowing me to simply put my head down and pedal. Despite my sore left leg, I pumped out the miles: forty-one by mid-morning.

The hamlet of Dixon turned out to be yet another wide spot, so I had brunch at a restaurant some seven miles further on in Ravalli. Along the way I encountered the first gusts of wind which would bedevil me much of the rest of the day. I also picked up a brief traveling companion in a frisky dog who harmlessly chased me for a few hundred yards.

After finishing my usual eggs and potatoes (and casting nervous glances out the window at the swaying trees), I struggled out of town on a narrow highway then, to my surprise, suddenly put in ten strong miles. The contrary “breezes” had died down; the shoulder of the road got wider; and the food must have kicked in.

Then the wind returned with a vengeance and I found myself struggling up a long hill. But at the top, like a crown jewel, was a Conoco Station and convenience store that provided me with a much-needed Gatorade break. Beyond that gift was an even better one: a downhill slope that seemed to extend for miles. I was able to coast to almost within shouting distance of Interstate 90, my goal for the day. (A second, less pleasant dog took after me partway down and I was fortunate not to be run over when I did a knee-jerk swerve away from the shoulder — and into traffic — to avoid it.)

At this point the Montana Department of Transportation — which would become my travel nemesis — got in the way, tarring the last stretch of road leading to I-90. This closed off one lane, which left me bailing out when trucks inched past on the remaining narrowed one. A few times, after running over one of the tar streaks, I had to stop and scrape off sticky bits of gravel that had adhered to my tires. But eventually I got through the blackness and emerged onto the wide and forgiving Interstate. For the next six miles, I cruised and watched Missoula unfold around me.

My Motel 6 (how I love motels with numbers in their names) is as far removed from last night’s depressing dump as the Earth is from the moon. The furniture is newer and more comfortable, and the desk doesn’t look like it’s about to collapse. There is even a laundry facility that allowed me to skip the washing-by-hand ritual for tonight.

Dinner was a couple of McDonald’s burgers and a vanilla shake mixed with Cherry Pepsi. It all tasted near heavenly, I’m embarrassed to admit.

    Today:       76 Miles
    To Date:  576 Miles / 927 Kilometers

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