Monday July 7, 2014, 73 miles (117 km) – Total so far: 2,205 miles (3,548 km)
Some days on tour will stick in your memory forever. It is not because the day was perfect. It is not because it was horrible. It is not the day you climbed a massive pass or were awestruck by incredible grandeur. It sticks in your memory because it was the day that you knew you were meant to be there on that road, on that bike, under that sky and riding into that wind. Today was that day for me. It happens on every tour, and that is when you know that you are fully in the groove.
The ride itself is fairly straightforward. We leave the Yellowstone River valley early in the morning, the Absarokas growing smaller behind us until they disappear completely.
We’ll be riding up the Crazy Mountain Basin across those easily erodible siltstones and sandstones of the lower members of the Fort Union formation. It will be a gentle climb the whole day. Oh, there will be some downhills, but it is mostly a gentle up and up and up. Off to our right will be those Crazy Mountains, uplifted in the MIDDLE of a basin. Off to our left will be the Bridger Range on the very western edge of the basin.
The road will mostly have low traffic and the weather will hold. But it is the wind that defines this day. All day, we will ride into a 10-15 mph headwind while we gently climb. It will wear us down and never cease, not even for a moment. For 73 miles, it is just wind, wind, wind.
But somehow in all that wind, I become one with the bike, one with the road, one with the landscape and one with the sky. It doesn’t happen immediately. I struggle into it. I wonder how long it’s going to take to do all those miles into that wind. I curse its constant roar across my ears. I get angry that I cannot hear the cars coming up from behind. I’ve got to spot them in my mirror. I spin and spin. I churn into that wind.
Then, I break one of my riding rules. I’ve never broken it before on tour. I put in my headphones and ride with my iPod blasting music in my ears. I do this for two reasons. First, I cannot hear the cars coming up behind me anyway, because of the headwind. I have to use my mirror to spot them regardless. Second, I don’t think I can handle eight hours of the sound of the wind rushing past my ears. So I pop in the headphones and program in a mix of ‘angry’ songs.
And that is all it takes. My average speed goes up and the day goes from struggle to strength. Thirty minutes later, as I round a corner on a gentle downhill, I know I’m in the groove. I am here. On this road. Right now. And I will remember this forever.
The road casts its spell. It laces its magic through my spokes. Oh, yes, my Wizard (my bike’s name), you are magically transporting me to joy as I grunt it out into the wind. This is why I love touring. I love the feeling of triumph and pain, determination and accomplishment. I love the hum of my tires on the pavement, the whir of the freewheel. I love the feeling of my legs pumping the pedals 80-90 revolutions per minute, 4800+ per hour. Body and machine become one just as I feel my spirit merge with the expansive landscape around me. It is a powerful, powerful feeling that you’ll never find in normal life. And I feel it flowing through me today.
The guys and I go grunting into that wind, spinning hard, pumping up the gentle climb. I yell out the lyrics to songs as we go. There is no one around but cows to complain. I bang out the rhythms on my handlebars. I simply soar when my favorite Hunters and Collectors song “Holy Grail” comes on. I yell out the lyrics with all of the voice I can draw from my diaphragm while pushing the pedals as hard as I can.
Oh yeah, this is tough. Churning into the wind. Churning, churning, churning. But I love this. I’m in the groove. This feeling is boundless and joyful and spiritual. It is as if all of time fills your heart and all of life flows in and out of you with each hardworking breath.
Eventually, we climb out of the basin over a big anticline. We fly down the other side of it to Ringling. I pull up into the driveway of an unused church that’s for sale. I eat and drink – my clothes and hair flapping in the wind. I even have a few drivers wave. They must not be Montanans.
We are getting closer now. The traffic is a bit heavier, but I’m still yelling out lyrics and banging out rhythms on the bars. The songs are keeping my average speed up. My spirit is high despite that ceaseless resistance. To be totally self-sufficient while moving across landscapes sculpted over millions and billions of years gives a touring cyclist the greatest feeling of confidence and power while also making her feel incredibly finite and tiny. Oh yeah, I love this with every part of my being.
Once we get to the junction with US 12, I pull out the headphones since the road will be busier. We’ve got eight miles to go. Music silenced, wind roaring again in my ears. I hammer it down. The groove is good. The tour now has a life of its own. We are in it for the long haul. I am meant to be here. Right here. Right now. Oh yes, I am grateful everyday for the opportunity to ride. I will never forget this day – 73 miles uphill into the wind across a fairly nondescript basin. But today’s the day the tour got its groove.