September 24, 2002
Little Big Horn, MT to Sheridan, WY
67 Miles Google Map
Seeing a crummy weather forecast for tomorrow, I got out of the blocks at 7:20 this a.m. The goal was to do the long trek to Sheridan, setting up at worst a half day ride into Buffalo. If the rain gods then caught me — which did happen — I wouldn’t suffer unduly. An exemplary example of commonsense, self-motivated planning.
A milestone was reached early on in the day when I crossed the state line into Wyoming after almost two weeks in the “Big Sky Country”. The highway became smoother and began running in a southeasterly direction — perfect for absorbing the gusts out of the northwest.
With the wind blowing me through long downhill grades, I hardly had to pedal at all for the first nine miles, causing my affection for this new state to blossom. I made such good time in fact that I decided to continue on to Sheridan for lunch rather than stopping in Ranchester. Later I ended up consuming a small Hawaiian Style pizza, which like many of the things I’m eating nowadays tastes like the best food in the world.
I’ve begun reading “The Straw Men”, a light (as in not heavy) paperback picked up at one of the Little Bighorn Battlefield tourist traps in lieu of some weighty tome about Crazy Horse. So far it is proving to be a real page turner and a welcome diversion from TV.
But I mustn’t badmouth the boob tube too much. After all, I’ve really been enjoying the PBS rerun of The Civil War. Every night I make the effort to locate the Public Broadcasting Channel and find out when the program will start. It’s nice to have some intellectual stimulation to offset the day’s physical demands.
Today: 67 Miles
To Date: 1,054 Miles / 1,696 Kilometers
September 25, 2002
Sheridan to Buffalo
37 Miles Google Map
Even for a rain day, which I’m grudgingly learning to tolerate, this was unusually depressing: an unending drip, drip, drip except for the three occasions when, out of spite, it came down harder. I never was able to get dry.
To add to the merriment, there was road construction work going on. Some seven or eight miles of tight, one lane traffic that I’ve come to view with trepidation. On one occasion, the wind and water from a passing truck nearly knocked me over. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, there were the three times that “oversized loads” rumbled by. Even on the outermost edge of the shoulder where I was cowering, it was a close shave. At least the drivers were considerate enough to lightly honk as they came up behind me. I’d acknowledge by raising my left arm.
It was a day that was close to the limits of my cycling stamina. There were the seemingly endless series of small valleys that I had to labor my way out of. Not that physically demanding, but they did wear me down mentally. And since the temperature never got out of the low forties, my soggy feet came to feel like blocks of ice. Yet I gritted my teeth and toiled on. Sometimes you just have to take what Mother Nature chooses to dish out.
Good thing I had only planned for a short day.
The good news is that I made it into the Buffalo Pizza Hut in time for the lunch buffet! These affairs are heaven-sent for famished cyclists. I ended up wolfing down five thin slices of pizza, two helpings of pasta, one cinnamon breadstick, a large glass of Mt. Dew and a cup of hot chocolate which in my near-frozen state I initially tried to warm my hands over.
This feast seemed to turn my fortunes around. After eating, I located an agreeable, inexpensive hotel that has ground floor rooms with outside access. This allowed me to wash off the worst of the dirt and grime from the bike right outside my door. Later I laundered my already-soaked riding clothes. It’s amazing how many tasks that need taking care of on a day like this.
Time for a hot shower!
Today: 37 Miles
To Date: 1,091 Miles / 1,756 Kilometers
September 26, 2002
Buffalo to Gillette
70 Miles Google Map
Went to bed early last night, had a good sleep, then a passable breakfast at the House of Ronald McD, which along with Pizza Hut is emerging as one of the frequent places I chow down. Probably because these are both ubiquitous national chains, along with Super 8. On a long bike trip there can be a lot to deal with, so it’s nice to have some consistency in the eating and sleeping departments.
The morning was chilly with some fog. Fine biking weather, which was good as I had a demanding day in store: a seventy mile jaunt to Gillette with absolutely nothing in between. The bike shop guy back in Billings had even warned me about this stretch of road. Traffic would be light and should anything go seriously wrong, there’d be no quick rescue. Wanting to give myself plenty of time to deal with any contingencies, I started off shortly after seven. I was especially keen on piling on as much mileage as possible before the afternoon sun began bearing down on me.
An hour or so into the ride, I was working my way through the vestiges of the fog when suddenly there was a bump and a pop — the noise I had been dreading the entire trip. My back wheel had run over a razor-sharp rock, causing the tire to puncture. In one of the last places I wanted this to happen.
I’ve already mentioned what a hassle it is to remove the rear wheel of a bicycle. Besides having to unload everything, there’s the slippery, greasy chain to deal with. It has to be lifted off the sprocket to free the wheel, then carefully coaxed back on when the job is finished. But I wasted no time lamenting my misfortune. The clock was ticking and every minute spent not cycling was a minute that would have to be made up in the afternoon heat. I went at the task in a workmanlike manner.
The flat was fixed in the same fashion that I handled the one in Billings: put in a completely new inner tube. Don’t screw around trying to patch the leak; you don’t want to risk another rupture in the same place. Not on a day like this.
It took a little over an hour to change the tube, re-attach the wheel, re-pack everything onto the bike and return to the road. At this point I was still a good fifty miles from Gillette. The occasion now called for some extended, heads-down cycling and I obliged, putting in over two hours of hard work (while keeping a diligent eye out for any more sharp rocks). Following a quick roadside lunch that I’d packed, I added another tough hour and a half. Then one brief rest stop, a final burst of determined pedal pushing, and I ended up roaring into town in the early afternoon, having covered the fifty miles in a little over four and a half hours.
It was very gratifying to be able to finish strong. One of my problems has been getting a bit wobbly once I am in sight of my destination. I begin packing it in for some reason, making the final miles go on forever. So today’s finishing kick was especially gratifying. Assuming of course that I have not overextended my middle-aged body. I’ll find out tomorrow — which will also be a sixty-plus mile endeavor.
Today: 70 Miles
To Date: 1,161 Miles / 1,868 Kilometers
September 27, 2002
Gillette to Sundance
62 Miles Google Map
My (cycling) hat goes off to those people working the early shift at the Conoco gas stations. It cannot be a very rewarding job, and having to rise before sunup on a cold day seems to only add insult to injury.
Not that they’d necessarily want to trade places with what I’m doing at the moment.
This morning was a textbook ride. Again, I’d gotten started early and had covered an impressive number of miles before I stopped to enjoy a snack. Returning to work, I was vigorously peddling my way towards lunchtime when everything suddenly went south.
Northeast, actually. The Interstate began turning in that direction and an opposing breeze appeared. Now, I knew from the Weather Channel that winds would be shifting that way. What I had not anticipated was a seem-ingly endless rise I had to struggle up at the same time — probably the third or fourth longest of the trip. Thankfully the breeze weakened, but by the time I reached the “summit” I was nevertheless pooped.
At least the scenery was turning out to be interesting. The area I was cycling through is the gateway to the Wyoming Black Hills. Soon after leaving Gillette, I had noticed how the land was becoming flatter and greener. Then to my surprise, long-needled pines began appearing. It was like some magician had conjured them up. Quite a transformation over the course of thirty miles.
But back to the story. There I was at the top of the extended hill, having my lunch in a convenient parking area. Just happy to have made it to the top, though more than a little weary. But when I finished my meal and did the descent, it seemed like I went maybe a third of the way down compared to the elevation gain coming up. Not fair! I should have been able to enjoy the full fruits of my labor.
Then there was the wind. It was now blasting out of the north-northeast at over twenty miles an hour. Worse, the highway had positioned itself so that I was biking right into the teeth of it.
How bad was it? I had trouble cycling downhill, having to drop into the lower gears. And going uphill (yet another long incline) was an absolute nightmare. After Steven’s Pass and the demanding “canyon” on the way to Waterville, this was the toughest ride of the entire trip. There was a viciousness to the wind that I felt helpless before.
In one sense, I was very fortunate in being “only” seven miles from my destination when the conditions deteriorated. Still, those miles went by with excruciating slowness. Cresting the final hill, it was a battle all the way down and into Sundance. There I was fortunate to quickly locate a rustic hotel (which had a collection of old-style, western furniture). Once unpacked, went out to round up some ice cream and a Cherry Pepsi. I felt I had earned it on a day like this.
Rather than have dinner perched in front of the TV, I decided to go out to eat. The hotel woman pointed out a place just across the street where I had an open turkey sandwich and a mashed potato, both smothered in gravy. A welcome change from The Colonel and Ronald. Since it was a Friday night, the restaurant was nearly full, making for a pleasant atmos-phere. I noticed a few of the locals glancing over at me so I tried to use the silverware properly. For my dessert, I walked down to the Conoco for a candy bar. The wind was still howling. Probably upset that I made it here in one piece.
Today: 62 Miles
To Date: 1,223 Miles / 1,968 Kilometers