July 03, 2010 – 53 miles
Last night was a great night to spend indoors. We woke to freezing cold temperatures and saw a layer of snow on the trees of the neighboring mountains.
With breakfast, I made a bowl of almond pudding – a bit of bonus energy in preparation for Fleecer Ridge. Fleecer Ridge is probably the most talked about landmark on the route – a quad trail goes straight up it for .3 miles of 38% a grade, then .6 miles of a 16% grade. It’s a hike-a-bike for northbound riders and all but the most daring southbound riders.
My fear for the day was my rear tire. It has had four flats in the past three days. It’s because an old tire boot attracts sand and gravel, which consistently wore through my inner tires. How long will it last today?
We started on a few miles of pavement. Where the main route turned off road, we could have went straight and bypassed Fleecer Ridge. If I chose that, I know I’d regret it. So we turned onto gravel and started gradually climbing. I was relieved my tire held air beyond the first few minutes. It gave me slightly more confidence.
The road became slightly steeper, but I felt very good. Most days, I’d be far behind Mathieu, but today I stayed right with him.
We climbed and climbed through lush forest. Eventually we came to a dead end. Where was Fleecer Ridge? Mathieu pulled out his GPS and I consulted the map. It looks like we missed a turn. But which turn? We backtracked slowly so as not to miss our turn again.
Here is where we went wrong – we continued up to the right instead of turning left.
After a creek crossing and short amount of rough trail we finally saw the beast. I believe Mathieu said something to the effect of: “That’s impossible.” We’ll see.
Once again for emphasis: .3 miles of a 38% grade, then .6 miles of 16%.
I looked at my watch and saw that it was just past 13:00 when we started pushing…
It was impossible to push straight up, so we made long switchbacks in the grass. We made hardly any vertical distance, though. After struggling a while, we decided to both push my bike. One pushed from behind, the other kept the bike upright while also pushing. We pushed a 20 feet then rested over and over again until the trail “leveled out.”
We went back down for Mathieu’s bike. With his BOB, it was much harder. After a while we got smart and carried the bag, trailer, and bike separately up the mountain. Too much of our energy was wasted trying to keep the bike upright.
When we scrambled back up to my bike, we went back to pushing our steeds separately. It was nowhere as steep as before, but still very tiring. As we pushed, I kept seeing false peaks. 100 more feet! 100 more feet! 100 more feet! It went on for .6 miles.
We summited Fleecer Ridge at 15:00 – 2 hours to travel 1 mile! And we had 35 miles and a Continental Divide crossing before Butte.
Fleecer took a lot out of me – Mathieu wasn’t happy either. I wanted to eat something, but knew time would be tight, so I munched on Pop-Tarts. They’re amazingly fast and easy to eat!
We enjoyed 10 miles of descent before…another FLAT TIRE. I changed it quickly and added more duct tape to the tire boot. At this point, the tire bulged where it was torn and the duct tape showed through. There was absolutely nothing protecting the tire from sharp rocks and sticks.
So now I’m tired from Fleecer Ridge, hungry from a lack of lunch, lacking confidence in my tire, and pressed for time getting to Butte. I was starting to lose it mentally.
At the bottom of the descent was I-15. Mathieu and I stood there and looked at our options. I could ride along the highway and get to Butte faster and with less a chance of a flat, hitchhike to Butte, or continue on the route. I didn’t want to hitchhike or ride on the interstate – on the main route we continued.
Right from passing under the highway, we climbed. It was a grueling, steep, four mile ascent. Mathieu saw I was struggling and waited for me to catch up after less than a half mile. He said something that unnerved me further – “We might not make it to Butte tonight.” Great…we might be camping right up on the Continental Divide (dry) and I have hardly any water. Add that to my fragile psyche.
I tried to climb but completely broke down. I was frustrated with myself, my situation, and didn’t want to climb further, but I couldn’t stop. My legs no longer could push the pedals, so I got out of the saddle and tried to sprint. My legs ached…my face contorted like I was eating something sour…I breathed in short whiny bursts. Finally I stopped to walk.
I have been close to breaking down in the past, but never truly got there. Right now, I was there. I stopped walking and let the tears flow. I sobbed for a few minutes. I felt much better after it was out of my system. I rode/pushed until I finally reached the top of the climb. Now, only a few short rollers before a long descent into Butte.
I was still low on energy, so I positioned an open bag of MMs at the mouth of my rear pannier. I munched on them until I made it to the start of the descent into Butte.
What a relief. Now I new I’d be able to make it the last 12 miles into town. I took it slow to avoid flats. The road turned into pavement and I could go faster. The bulge in my tire noticeably oscillated my bike.
It was 20:15 when we reached the outskirts of Butte. With three miles to go, my tire went flat AGAIN! “This will be my fastest change” I told Mathieu. I timed myself: 10 minutes from flipping the bike to riding again. Not too shabby!
We rode into town right as the sun was setting. Now we had to find a place to stay. It was a saturday night on 4th of July weekend, but luckily the first place we found had wifi, a lobby computer, breakfast, vacancy, and wasn’t too expensive.
We walked to a Walmart, ate at the Subway, and then shopped in the store. It was good to be in town. It was good to have Fleecer Ridge behind me. Better yet, there are bike shops in town so I can replace my cursed tire.