We woke early this morning and threw all of our gear into the back of Gary's old Ford pickup, and we headed to McDonald Pass. We chatted light heartedly as Gary drove with his elbows on the steering wheel, twiddling his thumbs.
He sent us on our way at the top of the pass and watched us begin the flight down the mountainside under the pristine big sky until he couldn't see us anymore. We were both giddy and anxious with anticipation, though the nervousness was for entirely different reasons. I was afraid of the physical exertion, not necessarily afraid that I couldn't do it, but knowing all too well how one's body feels when pushed to its limits. Brenton was nervous for the uncertainty of where we would stay and what we might encounter.
We flew down the shoulder of the highway at around thirty miles an hour, so fast that my brakes hesitated a little too long for comfort before deciding to finally bring my rig to a stop. We went on this insane charge for about 5 miles, riding our brakes to maintain control, and finally slowed on milder hills to the town of Avon, where we turned onto the highway that would take us towards Missoula.
We immediately met the first of the bewilderingly many bike tourists we would meet along the way to Missoula. They were both on Salsa Fargos, the “fun guy” green one, just like Brenton’s. I felt instant camaraderie from our brief but friendly discourse. We were finally on our way!
We happily and naively pedaled over the brand new blacktop on a wide shoulder through the rolling hills of cattle country under the vast blueness that caudled our morning. The wide open space of the valley with snow capped mountains in the distance panned from one shoulder’s view to the other, and the fields immediately to my right were littered with the sweetest, daintiest wildflowers and fragrant clover.
We have been told that Montana rarely has mosquitos, but this summer seems to be an exception. We were getting swarmed so badly that we were even being bitten through our clothing and had to stop and use our small bottle of deet bug spray, even though Brenton doesn’t like to use it and calls it cancer in a bottle.
Gary had loaned us an ice fishing rod to use as a small portable rod and we decided to use it at a beautiful babbling brook that looked like exactly the way someone would paint it in a landscape of a small farm nestled in a valley at the foot of the Rockies. I had the video camera ready and watched Brenton take the rod down to sit on a solid looking boulder on the edge of the stream. The boulder split into pieces the moment he set foot on it and he went tumbling down into the water where he frantically grabbed for the shore, only to realize that he could stand up and walk out. Unfortunately, the reel of the fishing pole was crushed in between the broken rock, but all else was fine. We laughed, unfazed.
We felt invincible still, when the black and rain swollen clouds crept over our view of the sun. My over zealously sunbathed shoulders were soon shrouded with a t-shirt, (as I was riding in a bikini top), and then with a rain jacket, to laugh in the face of the pittering sprinkles that came and went with little or no warning. The sun occasionally peaked through the clouds and forced us to stop and layer down again, only to disappear again just as we cooled off, exposing us to a growing chilly breeze.
The hours rolled by with the hills and we climbed into wooded terrain. We began to grow weary of the roaring sound of traffic spoiling the brief and peaceful silences, soar from the constant bumps in the road rattling our bones, uncomfortable with the fickle temperature, tired of the nagging wind, itchy with bug bites, tender from a sunburn; and then the rain began.
We had neglected to put on our rain pants and water proof socks because for hours the sky had only tiredly spat at us, but now it rained with a vengeance. We were soaked and cold, but finally rolled into the tiny town of Ovando, where we pulled into a little tavern called Trixi’s and bought some overpriced Coors from an unfriendly and burly woman behind the long and dark bar.
As we pulled into Ovando, hoping for a campsite, I thought that we were inadvertently riding down someone’s driveway but Brenton pointed to the road sign that read “Main Street.” The town was tiny.
Across the street from the store and gas station, which was closed already at 5:00, there was a small clearing with a porta-potty, fire pit, picnic table, and a covered wagon made of shiny tin and wood with the words OVANDO MONTANA arching across the side. A sign nearby inconspicuously labeled the site as “Cyclist Camping.”
We set up camp not a moment too soon, as we had been riding for nearly nine hours without stopping and were secretly feeling quite miserable. My left knee had begun twinging with each pedal stroke about halfway through the day and was becoming unbearably soar. An old man drove past in a truck and told us “If it rains, you can sleep in the chuck wagon!” Sure enough, we peaked inside and there was a bed set up with pillows and all! We did not sleep in the chuck wagon, as we had already set up our tent, though it did rain all night. Our first day of riding was under our belts, we had completed the first 58 of a couple of thousand miles to come.