Day 19: A Fellow Traveler

September 21, 2002
Billings to Hardin
46 Miles Google Map

Nothing like waking up and starting the day changing a flat tire, my first one of the trip. This was a slow seepage that no doubt began around the end of yesterday’s ride and continued through the night as I slept blissfully unaware. Fortunately this happened on the front tire, which is far simpler to fix. It took only a minute or two to detach the wheel, then a little more time to pry loose the tire. Once I got that done, instead of messing around trying to locate where the leak is and patch it, I simply replaced the entire inner tube. Less risk. And doing this inside a hotel room is far preferable to being out on the road under a blazing sun with large vehicles whizzing by.

My day’s maintenance work hopefully out of the way, I strolled the seven or so blocks to the Golden Arches for breakfast. While eating what felt like my twentieth Sausage & Egg McMuffin of the trip, it began to rain outside, making my return to the hotel a brisk, wet walk.

In my room, I flicked on the almighty Weather Channel. Since they had by some minor miracle detected the rain in Billings, I kept watching. The “local radar” seemed to indicate that the annoying precipitation would be moving out of the area shortly.

So I settled down to wait. Glancing at my bike, I noticed that after fixing the flat, I had reattached the front tire with the tread facing the wrong way. (A favorite screwup of mine.) Not only that, but the morons in the bike shop back in Seattle (where I’d taken the Sequoia to get it checked over) had made the same mistake with the rear one! I had cycled almost a thousand miles with the tire tread biting into the road in the opposite manner from what it was designed to do. It’s a wonder I had not suffered a dozen flats by this point. 

With its sprockets and greasy chain, the back tire is no fun to deal with, so I’m leaving it alone for now. Obviously the reversed treading has not been a serious problem. 

By mid-morning I had finished packing up the bike. Not trusting the Weather Channel any further than I could spit, I once again encased the panniers within the kitchen-sized garbage bags (my rain gear). It’s never a bad idea to prepare for a wet ride. But then when I poked my head outside — wonder of wonders — the rain had stopped and the clouds had miraculously parted! Clearly God was telling me it was time to get my butt on the road.

I was checked out and back on the Interstate within a half hour. A late start compared to my usual routine, but far better than sitting around an extra day in Billings, which the early morning’s rain had had me briefly contemplating.

I-90 out of the city had a series of unusually long hills the first fifteen miles. The weather was weird too. I’d nearly melt like the Wicked Witch of the West during the extended climbs, then freeze in the breeze going down the backside.

At Exit 469, I noticed a cafe off on the left, about three hundred meters from the road. I took the exit and cycled over in anticipation of a warm meal. But it was closed and deserted. However, I’d brought a sandwich along so I enjoyed an impromptu picnic next to the chained doors. Gazing out over the empty countryside with no trace of modern civilization, it was easy to imagine a group of Sioux Warriors roaming the gentle hills in search of game. Or perhaps General Custer.

Merging back onto I-90, I was startled to hear a voice saying hello. For a brief moment, I wondered if perhaps all this lonely biking had caused me to start cracking up. Instead, to my amazement, I found myself sharing the road with another cyclist! Out here in the middle of nowhere. 

His name was John Cruise (no relation to Tom) and by a truly bizarre coincidence was also on his way from Seattle to Iowa (Iowa City, to be exact). Riding with next to no gear or extra clothing, he was tooling along at probably twice my plodding pace. Since I’d slow him down if we rode together, after a quick chat we made plans to meet at the Super 8 that night in Hardin (my usual abode) and compare traveling notes over dinner. My brief companion then effortlessly speeded up and was soon out of sight.

John turned out to be an amiable, retired lawyer who loves telling stories. We spent close to two and a half hours at the local Pizza Hut discussing biking, family, work and whatever else came to mind. I was impressed with his “Travel Light” philosophy and the century days he regularly puts in. I was also surprised at the similar values we seem to share such as saving money; seeing work as a means rather than an end; even motel etiquette (e.g. using just one bar of soap and one set of towels during a stay). It was a real delight swapping stories and getting to know a bit about him. Too bad he’s traveling so much faster; it would be nice to see him again. 

The temperature has dropped in the past twenty-four hours. I had had a helpful but chilly wind at my back today, which along with a major elevation drop sped me into Hardin but left me feeling cold as a corpse. I’d like to deploy my camping gear again sometime but maybe the season for that has passed. 

Because tomorrow will be a super-light biking day, I’m staying up late watching the University of Washington football team beat up on hapless Wyoming, which has lost eleven (soon to be twelve) straight games. I feel sorry for the Cowboys, going up against an established program and its million-dollar-a-year coach.

    Today:       46 Miles
    To Date:  972 Miles / 1,564 Kilometers

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