Wednesday August 20, 2014, 79 miles (127 km) – Total so far: 4,128 miles (6,644 km)
I have a problem, a fair-sized problem. Like many problems, it started small and has grown. Back at Avalanche campground, I was having trouble with my pump. I needed to top up my tires, but no amount of fiddling could get it to work. At some point, perhaps, I fiddled with it too much, and now the pump is absolutely finished. I figure it is the seals – I’ve had the pump for eight or more years.
My hope had been to just borrow bike pumps from other cyclists in the hiker/biker sites. Last night, I borrowed the hipsters’ pump and promptly destroyed the valve on my tube. I was too rough with the presta and broke it off. I’m not strong enough to pump and not jiggle the valve. I obviously jiggled way too much. So I put in a spare tube and borrowed the pump off of Rebecca’s rental bike. I managed to destroy the valve on that one, too. So, after Louie came back from the ranger program, I asked if he could pump or hold the valve for me, so I didn’t bend, shear or otherwise destroy it. I don’t carry valve stem spares since I’ve never had this problem before. Louie and I managed to pump up the new tube, but I was reluctant to ask him to pump forever with the mini-pump to get it up to a pressure I like. So now my tube/tire is usable, but squishy.
I don’t like this situation at all. No pump. No spare tubes. No bike shop anywhere nearby – I either go back to Kalispell or Whitefish. I don’t like that option either. After much consideration last night when I couldn’t sleep, I’ve decided I’m going to give up on Glacier and start heading east. The weather is forecast to go shit today and remain poor for three to five days. Cold rain and no views of glaciated peaks are a factor in the decision. It is a shame, though, because I could have gone up to Many Glacier with Louie and Rebecca and had hiking partners for bear territory. But I don’t like the idea of being stranded without pump or spare tubes; I am feeling pretty peopled-out already; and, the weather forecast is crap. So I’m going to head on. When we visited state parks as a family when I was a kid, my Dad would always say, “Well, we have to save some for next time”, if we didn’t get through all the trails at a park. So Glacier, we’ll have to save some for next time.
Sun illuminates the peaks and valley walls when I head out, but there are dark clouds swirling about, too. I stop to get a drink at a gas station in St Mary then start up the long hill that climbs out of the Hudson Bay drainage. Soon, we will be back into the Missouri River drainage. A fire has been through here and opened up the views of the mountains and the Lewis thrust fault. I didn’t know I’d have this hill, but I use it to ride out my frustrations. I pedal hard and churn up that hill with lots of angst. From the top, there are views of the road curving through forest and grassland far ahead. The road climbs and falls, steeply at times. All of this land was glaciated – the glaciers flowed out of the mountains and pooled out here. They met with the continental glaciers in places and have sculpted the landscape as far east as Browining. How cool would that have been to see massive valley glaciers meeting continental glaciers!?
The road is quite curvy and winding, so I’m glad to ride this early in the morning before the RVs get going. The views are fantastic, the intermittent rain is not! Soon enough, though, I’m turning off on the back road into Browning. It follows a creek valley and has a wide shoulder. There is so much drunk driving on the Blackfeet reservation that there are good shoulders on many of the roads so that people have a little more room for error before they hit the dirt. It is sad, but it works to my advantage as we roll out onto the plains.
I stop at a gas station on the edge of Browning to get drinks. This is not the tourist side of town, so I’m the only white person in there. It is interesting to feel like the minority for once. As I’m drinking my choc milk outside, I watch a Blackfoot woman peddling peanut butter cookies to the people filling up at the pumps. She is not overly successful. She comes up to me, cookies returned to handbag, and starts a conversation about how she saw me riding into town, etc. She gets around to asking me for money, but I’m not going to just give her a hand-out. So I say, “I don’t have much cash on me, but did you have cookies for sale? I am hungry.” She is taken aback for a moment, but hey, if you’re gonna sell cookies to the Blackfeet, you can sell cookies to the white lady. She says, “Oh yes, I do.” She pulls them out of the handbag. They are wrapped in pairs in saran wrap. I ask how much they are – 50 cents a cookie, or $2.00 for three pairs. I have a dollar note – so I give her that. There is no way I’m going to eat those cookies. I don’t know if she mixed the batter in the same bowl she uses to make meth, but I’ll be damned if she will sell cookies to her own folk but think she can just ask for a handout from me.
I stop at the Subway in town and eat my sandwich inside. I look around to see if there would be somewhere in town to buy a bike pump, but there are enough people wandering around aimlessly that I don’t want to leave my bike outside somewhere I couldn’t keep an eye on it. Browning, like every reservation town I’ve been to, is a very sad place. I don’t think it is scary by any means, as I’ve read others describe it, but it is certainly not a place you’d want to spend much time.
I head out of town on a back road – on a shortcut described to me by a bike guy back in Kalispell. But I get five or so miles out of town and decide it is too risky. I will have to do some sections of gravel, I don’t really know which roads I need for sure, and I don’t really want to get lost or stranded on the reservation. I ask a miner guy in a work truck about the shortcut and he says it’s not that straightforward and I’d probably be best going back into town and just getting on Highway 2. So that is what we do.
The road shoulder is very wide for some time, and I just cruise up and down the hills. The rain has moved off for now, replaced by a thin overcast. The ground is golden with late summer dryness in the grasses and the stubble of harvest from the wheat. After quite a few weeks riding down in valleys, the absolutely massive horizontal views are pleasing. I imagine that I’m riding on top of a thick and heavy, grinding continental glacier. All the while, I keep repeating in my head, “Please no flats. Please no flats”. If you’ve ridden across a reservation, you know the concentration of broken glass is greater there than elsewhere. That is not a good thing when combined with low pressure in your tires.
Onward we go. Storm cells build and dump rain far off on the horizon. Grain silos poke out of the ground in the distance, growing larger in size as we close the gap. The silos seem to outnumber any other type of building out here by large margins. Every so often, trains create a long, hypnotic movement on tracks to the north. It is all energy over there – many of the trains consist of coal cars and gas tankers from the Bakken fields.
I love the plains and the gentle glacial landscape. But I’m a bit preoccupied by the tube situation and getting to Cut Bank before the big storms arrive. Consequently, I fail to appreciate the beauty around me as much as I could today. But we make it to Cut Bank a couple hours before the high winds and storms arrive to drop the temperature 25 degrees in less than 10 minutes. I stay in a motel since the bluff-top RV park doesn’t seem attractive in high winds and cold rain. The Ben Franklin store has cheap-o brand bike pumps. I buy one. Later in the evening, I get up the courage to put more air in the tire. I promptly kill the valve and get myself stuck in Cut Bank.