It was a cold, wet, soar morning. We got going quickly with fruit and granola for breakfast and hit those rolling hills with a little less gumption than the day before. My knee immediately began to protest at every stroke of the pedal and before we had been riding for ten minutes I was grunting in pain with every push of my left leg. I suffered up a small hill and jumped off my bike, insisting that my saddle was adjusted wrong since we had taken it off for the drive, and that it was the cause of my misery. I was hoping this was true, but didn’t really believe it. The pain was bad enough that if I couldn’t fix the problem, I would not be able to ride at all that day.
I was relieved that a quick adjustment, in fact, completely alleviated the pain all together, and I was able to push on through the gray morning and mild wind that blew in my face.
The terrain had less valleys and more trees. The establishments were more frequent and less quaint. In fact, there were shacks with junk piles and broken down cars beginning to line the highway. One of the shacks had a strange looking animal on the roof that we later identified as a badger.
We stopped to make lunch at a rest stop and met another couple, April and Shawn, who are bike touring from Portland to the east coast. We shared stories and I wished that we were going the same direction and could camp with them for a night. They seemed to have so much in common with us.
After lunch, we climbed a huge hill and saw tons of other cyclo-tourists and were beginning to enjoy the sun that peaked out of the clouds. We crested the mountain and were greeted with a spectacular onslaught of the western wind that will blow in our faces for the duration of our trek to the coast. This was the beginning of a long descent that would take us all the way into Missoula.
The wind grew in gusto at every bend. There was no twist or turn that we took that lessened the strain. We pushed into it bravely, but were soon crawling down the mountain between 2 and 5 miles per hour, when we normally do at least 20 miles per hour down hill.
The day went on this way for ages. We struggled with all our might into the wind, and it relentlessly blasted in our faces with that constant, grating howl in our ears and the dry bite sucking the moisture from our mouths and eyes. By evening, I was exhausted and frustrated to the point of tears, and we were both so hungry that we stopped at the first restaurant we met. Here, we wasted money on beers that we couldn’t enjoy due to our already delirious state, and devoured pricey food with little satisfaction. We knew we would have to get back on the road soon and push to our campsite to arrive before dark.
I used the restroom and took a look at myself in the mirror while washing my hands;. I was shockingly red in the face from sunburn and exertion, I was filthy with dirt and grease from my bike chain. My hair was wild and wind blown in an Albert Einstein sort of way.
Back on the road, I felt dizzy and was seeing spots. It was all I could do to sit on my bike seat and pedal forward. I waivered dangerously on the side of the road. I thought of all of the brave and able people of history, like nomadic Native Americans, who hiked miles and miles in a struggle to survive and find food. I wondered if they were really that tough or brave, or if all people will do what they have to in order to survive. I was riding, still, that day, not because I was tough and able, but because I had to. I could not stop and sleep on the side of the road, as I fantasized, I could not time warp via a motor vehicle to get to the campsite of which the wind was depriving me. The only thing to do was pedal.
And just as I was contemplating these things and unseeingly staring at the ground beneath my wheels, an eerie silence fell about me. My legs quivered as I looked up to see that the wind had stopped, not by God finally taking mercy on my worn and weary soul, but because a great vertical incline loomed ahead, blocking the wind. The new challenge was welcome, however, simply for the change.
Before my head drooped back into a position of broken resolve and I unthinkingly let my hands shift my bike into the appropriate gear, I vaguely took notice of a brightly colored cross draped in plastic and silk flowers near the top of the hill. As my body went into auto-pilot and my now swollen and throbbing ankle was forgotten, I contemplated the circumstances at which a person must have gotten in a car accident and died there at the top of this hill that might be the death of me as well, and some despondent loved one comes to this spot to maintain the memorial day after day.
I glanced up again and was passing by the cross and cresting the hill. Back into the wind I went, broken out of my trance with a shiver.
We finally made it into Missoula and stopped to get our bearings. As I stood, waiting for Brenton to navigate our way to the grocery store and then to our campsite, my legs began to cramp painfully and I walked around frantically trying to shake them out. We got back on our bikes and headed through town, passing many a hipster as we rode by the river, which was hosting a whitewater kayaking contest.
We stayed at a KOA, to my distaste, but I was grateful for the wonderful hot shower that I took there. I told Brenton that kamping with a “k” was about like krab with a “k;” not even a little bit like the real thing.