Rachel Pilley
yahoo-geocities1999 American Lung Association Big Ride Across America

THE BIG RIDE ACROSS AMERICA 1999

Rachel Pilley - Rider #82


JOURNAL - PART 3
JUNE 24-28
AVON, MT - BILLINGS, MT


DAY 11 - JUNE 24/99
MISSOULA - AVON, MT

Well, as much as I was looking forward to my second century ride, I didnít enjoy it much this morning. Right from the beginning I knew I was in trouble. I was tired. It wasnít so much from muscle fatigue as from two weeks of physical exertion with only about 5 hours of sleep per night. I just felt empty. Dave and Scott were both really good about waiting for me, but it seemed that as soon as I would catch up to them and they would start cycling I was eating their dust. We reached the first water stop at about mile 15, Dave and Scott were both talking and stretching and I decided to just lie down on the tarmac and take advantage of the extra few minutes to shut my eyes. I was so tired that I almost went off the road a while later. The is most bizarre sensation, and I have heard of other riders experiencing it too. Although you are working hard and your feet could keep going round and round, you have a devil of a time keeping your eyes open. It can obviously be very dangerous so when the guys pulled off at a road side diner for lunch, I decided to stay outside and take a nap. I didnít sleep , but for about 20 minutes I enjoyed a deep relaxation. I needed it, but when I got up I still felt tired so I went into the diner and had a cup of tea.

Shortly after that I began to feel better. I donít know if it is to be attributed to the rest, the tea, the change in the wind from a head wind to a bit of a tail wind, or the peanut butter, jam and banana sandwich that I had a few miles further on at checkpoint, I suppose it doesnít really matter what it was that made me feel better, it is just important that I did.

Todayís scenery was absolutely beautiful. Probably one of the prittiest that we have had to date. We were riding through hills on either side of us, slowly gaining elevation as the day progressed. At one point we were outrunning a thunderstorm. It was really cool to watch the clouds approach from miles away and to know that if you didnít keep moving you were gonna get wet. We managed to outrun the majority of it, but we did get a few sprinkles on us.

At about mile 85 we began a slightly steeper ascent up onto a crest that would then lead us down into Avon, our destination for the night. As we were climbing the wind changed again, this time against us and it showed no mercy. Amazingly enough, however, all of the energy that I had been lacking in the morning became unleashed and I confronted the winds with new found enthusiasm. Passing other cyclists I came over the last hill and began the push against the wind into town.

What was supposed to be a 97 mile day, according to my computer, was over 100. It was a long push in, especially those last 3 or 4 miles because you are looking forward to giving your butt and muscles a break. When we finally got into camp the clouds were looking ominous and the wind was still howling. We were warned not to camp on any green grass because if/when it rained that would be where the water would pool. I listened to the advice and promptly chose to ignore it. The rest of the field was dry patchy clumps of grass and I figured that I would rather be comfortable on flat ground and take my chances with the rain.

The evening was pleasant. We sat around outside of our tents and watched the clouds. It is amazing how quickly the weather can change up here; one minute it is clear and sunny and the next minute the clouds are dark and ominous, hanging over our heads.

DAY 12 - JUNE 25/99
AVON - TOWNSEND, MT

Last night was an early night. After the near accident I had because I couldnít keep my eyes open I decided to make sure to get a proper night sleep. I was in bed by 9:30 and didnít get up until 5:20 this morning. That was the longest sleep in a long time and I felt the difference it made. It was difficult to get out of bed this morning though, because it was raining and cold. I didnít even want to unzip my sleeping bag, let alone scramble around and get changed. We are camping quite high up, around 5000 ft. elevation and it is noticeable in the mornings.

Todayís ride was both enjoyable and monumental. Monumental because 5 miles out of camp we began an ascent up MacDonald Pass. The going was slow, but the grade was manageable. On either side of us we could see rolling hills covered with alpine grass and brush, slowly becoming further and further behind us. Bit by bit we climbed. The wind was not blowing too hard, but it was, thankfully, blowing in our favor. At last we reached the summit, The Continental Divide, the point at which I can say that for the rest of this journey there will be more down than up. 6325 ft. And like so many other points along the Divide, it was relatively unimpressive, there was just a sign which we all stood in-front of, but otherwise there was nothing substantial to symbolize the accomplishment that we had each achieved.

On the more positive side, the Continental Divide did provide us with spectacular views both to the east, down into Helena, and to the west, back from where we had come. There was a path that led up onto a peak and although we had just climbed to the pass we mustered up the energy to go to the peak. The winds were howling, but the adventure was well worth it.

The descent into Helena was also worth the climb up. It was an 8% grade for 6.5 miles. I tucked down onto my areo bars and went for it. I gained a speed of 50 mph and passed a semi. The only speed that I have heard of being any greater was a tandem that reached 52 mph.

In Helena we had a bite to eat and then pushed on towards camp in Townsend. As we were going through town, however, we had to navigate some busy streets. It was at this point that a very unfortunate thing happened. One of the busy highway roads that we were riding along had a very wide shoulder, but dividing the shoulder from the traffic lanes was a small rut, similar to, but not as wide or deep, as a railway track groove. It was into this rut that "Jack Green, the Miracle ManĒ or 68 yr old coma survivor, got this front tire caught and down he went. He was taken to the hospital and it turns out that he had a separated shoulder and a minor concussion. He will be kept in hospital over night. On rider from Hawaii, George, later stated that if we could obtain a tandem, George would ride with Jack across the continent, but somehow I doubt it will materialize.

Once we navigated the traffic and route through Helena we were back out on Hwy 12 making our way though an agricultural district with nice rolling hills. The wind was at our backs and after a while we found ourselves cruising along at approx. 30 mph. We pulled into town at a 1:30. It was great. The ride was spectacular, fun, monumental, and only 65 miles long.

We were camping at the local high school on the football field. We set up tent quickly because the same wind that pushed us into town was howling through camp. I sat down in my tent and the next thing I knew I was taking a nap for 20 minutes or so. After napping it was time to take care of some errands such as shower, dinner, a beer at the pub, and the internet at the library.

DAY 13 - JUNE 26/99
TOWNSEND - HARLOWTON, MT.

Today was a good day. When we left Townsend we began our journey along Hwy 12. The first 10 miles or so were more gentle rolling hills that meandered through agricultural areas. At about mile 10, however, we began a slow and steady ascent through a narrow valley with a small river. It was the first time that I felt I was actually in the Rocky Mountains. The hills on either side of us were heavily treed for the first time in ages. The trees, of coarse, were a different kind, not the Douglas firs like on the coast, but Ponderosa Pines. Each tree was about 30 - 40 feet high and they provided some welcome shade. The ascent through the valley was approx. 10 miles and when we finally came out on the summit we were welcomed by a group of cowboys on horseback all getting ready to do a cattle drive. We hung around with about 20 other riders for about 20-30 minutes waiting for the cattle to be herded up the road. At last we cycled down towards the paddock just as the cattle were being herded out.

After that reprieve we headed out into an open basin. The downhill was great but once we got into the basin we were exposed to headwinds as we traveled north into White Sulfur Springs. The 10 miles or so across the basin bottom were hard going and we were well ready for the rest at checkpoint. The last week or so, checkpoints have been great. The left overs from the nights before have been served up for lunch. While we often choose to eat out anyway, it does provide us with a cheap alternative.

After taking a nice break at checkpoint and a short stretch out on the grass, Dave, Scott and I were back on our bikes again. Again we found ourselves climbing, this time out of the basin and into the rolling hills. Now, however, we were travelling East and we had the wind at our backs. Dave got a spurt of energy and was gone. Scott and I maintained a comfortable pace in our high gears. We would cruise down the hill and then almost coast up the other side before cruising down the next one. It was a bit like riding a roller coaster.

Along the way we was a some great sights. Scott pointed out a herd of buffalo at one point. There were about 12-20 head all grazing. While we believe they were fenced in, it was still great to see. A little further on we saw something moving across the fields but unfortunately we were a little too far to determine whether they were antelope or deer.

Throughout everything, though, I think the highlight of the day was when a group of Hutterite school children had come out onto the road with their school teacher to meet and greet us. The children were dressed in homemade outfits, the girls in skirts, blouses and vests with bonnets in a wide array of colors and fabrics. The boys all wore suspenders and they either had on little while cowboy hats or these black caps that were a cross between top hats and ball caps. While German is their first language they all spoke fluent English, were eager to talk and were very curious about the functioning of cameras etc. After stopping for about 20 minutes or so we moved on again and made our way into camp.

Harlowton is a nice sleepy town. We got a wonderful welcome from the locals, even down to the cashier in the grocery store who gave us a replacement bottle of wine when I broke the first. The Chamber of Commerce catered our meal in the Youth Center and we camped at a campground with a creek running by. The weather was good the company was great, food was plentiful and the sleep will be well deserved.

DAY 14 - JUNE 27/99
HARLOWTON - BILLINGS, MT

Hmmmm. Where do I begin to describe this day?! It was definitely unlike any day so far.

We, (Dave, Scott, Ken, Doug, and I) got off to a late start. By the time that we had packed up camp and then ridden back up to the youth center, eaten breakfast and then got ready to begin our ride, it was 7:30. We all headed out as a group and found that the winds which had pushed us into town the night before had turned against us and we were now fighting a head wind. After struggling to fight my way forward for a number of miles I decided to tuck in behind Scott and draft a little. The going was much easier so I stayed there for a number of miles before deciding to take the lead and give Scott a break. Shortly after my lead began we came to our fist water stop where we pulled in because we had been unable to get fresh water before leaving camp. The break was short and then we were back on the road again.

Within a matter of a hundred yards or so Doug, Ken and I formed into a pace line. Scott and Dave didnít join in because they had waited for me as I ran back to the pit to collect something and then when I came back out they were stationary and were unable to catch up enough speed to join in the line. Unfortunately I didnít realize that they were not with us because I was leading the line and couldnít see past Ken and Doug. About a mile or two later we realized that they had lagged so we slowed our pace but when they didnít catch up we just resumed speed again. Those 15 miles went relatively easily. We maintained a speed of approx. 15.5 mph which was cooking when he headwind was factored in. At mile 30, or there about, we reached a little town called Rygate which had a cafť/casino. The cafť served hot chocolate which was both a welcome change from Gatorade and something a little warmer to make our insides feel better as the cool morning and brisk wind hadnít enabled us to get warmed up. The town also boasted a ďTesticle FestivalĒ which is apparently a time of year when the locals castrate the bulls and sheep and then enjoy the testicles which apparently taste like chicken and are quite a delicacy. We didnít sample the wares as it didnít tempt my pallet, nor was it the right time of year. We were at Rygate for about 30 or 40 minutes before Scott and Dave made their way in. They had apparently had a bit of a collision: Dave went into the gravel on the side of the road, and Scott who was close behind, went into Dave. Fortunately neither were hurt.

At last we were back on the road again, but soon split up into the two groups again; those of us who rode the paceline and those who didnít. My computer was being finicky at that point so unfortunately I didnít clock anymore mileage for the rest of the day. The reason I mention that is because of the three of us, no one had a functioning computer so we resorted to switching off as we passed the mile markers on he road. It was incredible how quickly the next 15 miles passed. When you were in the lead you exert yourself and keep hoping to see then next mile marker come quick, especially if you had the chore of leading up a hill. When you followed you were hoping that the next two miles would take a while so that you could recover and muster up enough energy to take the lead again. Finally, however, we made a right hand turn onto Route 3 which lead into another small town called Lavina. The wind was finally behind us and we took it easy into town where we stopped at checkpoint and waited for Scott and Dave to catch up to join us for lunch.

Ken, Doug and I all wandered around town and enjoyed the trinkets in the hardware/grocery store while waiting for Scott and Dave to catch up. It was Kenís 30th birthday and he showed Doug and I an ďAuthentic Vigilante Wind ChimeĒ that he liked. The wind chime was made of clay and it was a cowboy with a long coat and a couple of boots that dangle and chime against the coat. What made it all extra different was that the cowboy was hanging from a noose. Anyway, Doug and I though it would be nice if we all chipped in and got it for Kenís birthday, so we did.

After lunch in the local cafť the 5 of us were back on he road. About 15 miles of hard riding later (lunch didnít digest too easily and the wind turned a bit against us again) we reached a small town called Broadview. We went into the pub to use the restroom and when it became known that they had Labattís Blue the guys convinced me to stop and have a beer. While I enjoyed the beverage I knew I would be doomed for the remaining 40 miles. It was 3 when we left the pub and sure enough, I was doomed.

We stepped outside to find it had started raining. I had not brought my gear except my rain jacket with me but that was okay. Next I got on my bike and road 1 block before realizing that my rear tire was flat. We all pulled over and quickly replaced my tube before heading off again. Feeling like a slug after the lunch and beer I fell behind and then within 2 miles my tire was flat again. Ken stopped with me and 30 minutes later, a patch job, blown valve and finally another new tube (not to mention the rain and wind) we were back on the road again. The other 3 had eventually turned back to look for us and our paths crossed as we were just starting out. Cold and we I cycled on only to later realize that the guys had fallen back as Ave had gotten a flat and then so had Scott. Thus, between he 3 of us regulars we had gotten 5 flats.

Anyway, while the guys were dealing with their flats I came across a young mountain bike rider from New York who was cycling in the rain in sweats. I finally convinced him to stop and put on my mid-weight cycling jacket. I then rode with him the remaining 25 miles into camp, coaxing him on and giving him encouragement. We finally pulled into camp at 7 pm. It was a long, cold, wet day and I was really happy to reach camp.

I have now put a little food in my stomach, washed my tired and stinky body, and am now off with Ken, George, Eric and Scott to a bar downtown where a whole bunch of riders are.

DAY 15 - JUNE 28/99
BILLINGS, MT - DAY OFF

Thank God we donít have to ride today. We didnít get back from Montana Brew Pub in downtown Billings until about 1:30. I managed to sleep in this morning until about 0830 only to realize that the usual breakfast hour had been changed from 8-10 to 7-8. Fortunately Dave had saved me a cup of juice and a muffin.

Everyone else had been up for a while and were in the process of making arrangements to rent a car so that Laurie would be able to get around with her knee in the soft cast. By 1015am Scott and Laurie pulled into the campsite in a flashy Monte Carlo. We loaded in with our dirty laundry and hit the road in style.

First stop was the Cyclery, a bike store owned by Chris the bike mechanic who is coming along with us on the ride. Reason we wanted to stop by there was because Chris apparently had a tandem bike in stock which would fit Dave and Laurie. Laurie is one of the BC Riders who hurt her right knee on day 3. She has sat out about 5 riding days because her knee has swollen and she has to immobilize it as much as possible. Anyway, Dave has made the very generous offer to purchase the tandem bike in order that they can equip it with a peg instead of the fourth pedal so that Laurie can get back out on the road. The purchase was made and they are planning to be out on the road tomorrow.

While Dave and Laurie were busy at the bike shop, Ken, Scott, and I headed off to do laundry and drop off film. Once those chores were taken care of we went back to the bike shop to pick up Dave and Laurie so we could all go out for lunch. We went to a really nice restaurant called the Rex. We sat out on a patio and were later joined by Landon and Tom, a couple of other riders who happened to be walking by.

After lunch Scott and I decided to go to an Internet cafť on the corner while Landon, Tom, and Ken took Dave and Laurie back outside about 1-1/2 hours later.

We went to the cafť, ordered a tea each and were then informed that the cafť was closing in about 20 minutes. Fortunately enough, however, the employees were nice enough to allow us to continue working on the computers while they cleaned up. I managed to read all of my e-mails, send one, and get Ĺ of a dayís journal typed in before we were kicked out. We went across the street and waited about 20 minutes before Landon came and picked us up.

By the time we got back to camp Laurie and Dave had made it in on their new tandem. We didnít have long to admire it or chat because everyone was off to Chris the mechanicís house for an open house/dinner. We (Scott and I) picked up Ken and headed back out to drop off the rental. The rental company then gave us a ride to Chrisí place.

I got the impression that by the time we got there things were on the downswing. Most people had already eaten or were just picking a little. We helped ourselves to food and disbursed to socialize with other riders and crew. About an hour later 20 riders and crew piled into one of the sweep vehicles to be ferried back to camp where there is a few more chores to be tended to before tucking in for a good nights sleep.

It has been a good day off. Seeing Laurie on the road tomorrow will be even better.