Montana 2014 Part 1 – Day 49 – Livingston – White Sulphur Springs: The day the tour got its groove

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.

The Yellowstone River valley backed by the Absaroka Mountains in the early morning on the way out of Livingston.

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 Crazy Mountains, thrust up in the center of a basin, are off to our right all day today.
The Bridger Range, the far western edge of the basin, is off to our left all day today.

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.

Each tour should have at least one side shadow shot. Here it is.
Mountain man statue. I have a lot of admiration for these guys – much moreso than past military figures. My favorite is Jim Bridger. That guy went EVERYWHERE.

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.

And it is just about here that the tour gets its groove.

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.

Forward view.

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.

Still gently heading uphill. Still pushing into a 10-15 mph wind. “We were full of beans, we were dying like flies, Those big black birds were circling in the sky, And you know what they say, Nobody deserves to die. Oh, I’ve been searching for an easy way, To escape the cold light of day, I’ve been high and I’ve been low But I’ve got nowhere else to go. I’ve followed orders, God knows where I’ve been, But I woke up alone, All my wounds were clean, I’m still here, I’m still a fool for the Holy Grail.” –Hunters and Collectors —

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.

Rear view. This is what your streamers look like when you are pushing into a 10-15mph headwind all day.

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.

Ringling. Not much left to this town. Around 1910 it was named after the youngest of the five Ringling brothers of circus fame. There were rumours the brothers would make this the winter home of the circus, but that never eventuated. The flag shows the headwind I was fighting all day.

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.

As we get close to White Sulphur Springs, the Big Belt mountains come into view to the northwest.

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.

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