The interstate had been much faster than the side road and so we jumped back on it in the sunny morning. It warmed up quickly and our layers came off. My nose was beginning to have that permanent summer crust that browns and peels as it continues to be exposed, despite the constant reapplication of sunscreen. My back, hunched over my handlebars, takes the brunt of the sun and my shoulders are darkening to a deep bronze. I thought my legs were doing the same, but found out that what I thought was a tan was actually road grime as I gave myself a “baby wipe shower” the night before.
Long slow hills stretched for miles and we discovered by monitoring the altimeter on Brenton’s bike that our eyes play tricks on us when we ride these long, straight climbs. You can see so far into the distance that the road looks small and sloped downward and creates the illusion you are going down hill when, in fact, you are doing just the opposite. It is frustrating and confuses your body until you look behind you and see the long way you have traveled towards the sky. The only way you can tell when you will actually be going down hill, is when you reach the point that you can no longer see the road. Here it drops off and we are able to blissfully fly with the cool breeze of momentum fanning our hot skin.
Then, as if things were going to smoothly, the construction began. One side of the interstate was closed and when we crossed bridges, we lost the shoulder. We would wait in the heat until there was a break in traffic, and then ride as hard and fast as we could because with only two lanes and cones down the center line, no one could pass us. This was nerve wracking and tedious.
We crossed the grassy median to closed side of the interstate to ride there instead. It was Saturday and the holiday weekend and the construction crew was not working, so we enjoyed the empty interstate as if it were our own 30 foot wide bike path until we met bridges that were out, and had to cross back over to risk being run over by a semi to cross the bridge.
About 28 miles in, we heard a familiar pop come from Brenton’s tire, and new that our luck was quickly running out. It was 120 miles to the next bike shop and we were down to one more tube, which wouldn’t last long with the defective tire. He patched it again, this time using a piece of flexible plastic from the side of the road. The nearest campsite was 15 miles ahead in St. Regis, but we had hoped to make it further. I tried not to show my frustration as I knew Brenton was already worried sick about whether we would even make it to St. Regis.
We hit a six inch crack in the road while trying to stop for a break in the shade from a construction truck on the closed side of the interstate on the side of a bridge. Brenton’s tube did not pop and he announced, “If that didn’t blow my patch job, nothing will!” I used a much needed porta-potty left there for the workers and it was the cleanest latrine that I have ever seen and even had a hand sanitizer dispenser!
As we hit the road, I stopped Brenton one last time, asking “Are you sure you don’t want to stop in this town to hit up a hardware store? They might at least have a tube for you and something else to fix your tire with.” He stopped and called the hardware stores in the town, which did not have the right size of tubes, and just as we were about to continue on, I glanced down at his back wheel and saw that the huge crack by the bridge had, in fact, broken the patch in the tire. The gaping hole stretching from the side of the rim showed the intact tube underneath. We didn’t dare ride further with that tire; it would surely pop the last tube and we would have to resort to using patch kits on the tubes themselves, which tend to be unreliable.
We walked our bikes into the town of Superior, Montana and passed a guy on the side of the street with a small stand of knick-knacks and a sign labeling him the local flea market. Brenton asked him where the nearest camping and hardware store was and told him our situation. The man suggested that we try the pawn shop next door for a bike tire, though we new they wouldn’t have a tire to fit Brenton’s 29er.
I went to get groceries while Brenton went to check out the pawn shop. When we met up outside of the grocery store, he told me that we were going to camp behind the pawn shop and that the mechanic next door was going to try to use some bead sealer for cars on our bike tire. We sat in the parking lot of the shop and tried unsuccessfully to use the bead sealer while chatting with the two dirty, blue-eyed rugrats on tricycles and the guy who owned the pawn shop. His name was Jay.
Jay said that our best bet was to head back into Missoula, where there were tons of bike shops and only an hour drive. Brenton asked, “Would you be willing to drive us in if we give you gas money?” Jay replied that he had never driven a day in his life, which we later found out was because he is legally blind. Brenton asked, “Do you know anyone who could drive us?” and Jay said that he sure did, and disappeared into the pawn shop.
He returned with good news, said that his wife was closing up the pawn shop at 6:00 and would throw our stuff in their horse trailer and drive us to Missoula, as they had a hankerin’ for some sushi anyway. The only problem, was that it was Saturday and all the bike shops would undoubtedly be closed by the time we could get there.
Brenton called REI and was able to buy two tires and two tubes over the phone and the guy brought them home with him, and gave us his address so that we could come pick them up. I was dumbfounded at our change in luck.
I met Jay’s wife, Amy, and accompanied her to drop off the horse trailer with all of our gear in it to their house. We were switching vehicles in order to get better gas mileage. Their fourteen year old daughter, who had just had a birthday, sauntered across the lawn in the evening sun that made me squint to make eye contact. She was shiney with tanning oil and greeted me with a warm smile, saying “I’d shake your hand but I’m all greasey!”
Brenton and I piled in the car, with MJ and Zerbert in the back, and Jay made sure that he had two boxes of 45 caliber hand gun shells for protection against all the granola crunchers in Missoula. He asked Brenton if he was packing a gun, and thought it was irresponsible to take your wife on a trip like this without protection. We told him that we had bear mace and a stun gun and this seemed to put him at ease a little.
Jay regaled us with tales of his many wildlife encounters and the many dangers of the back country in Montana, as well as the dangers of Lookout Pass and the hillbillies on the other side. He was the real deal, hunting by horseback or on foot to feed his family and eating whatever he killed, including bears and cougars. He told us that the bear meat was only so-so, but that cougar steaks taste like pork chops. He later offered to feed us bear meat, but then changed his mind for fear that our weak city-stomachs wouldn’t be able to handle it, and we would get trichinosis and die.
We got to Missoula and Jay mumbled something about damn granola crunchers not allowing him to bring his gun in to the restaurant, and stashed his pistol and six inch buck knife in the glove box. They brought us to the best sushi place at the most reasonable price that we had ever had. We love sushi, but would never had treated ourselves to it, had we not been in this strange situation. It was an unexpected and welcome treat.
As we drove to get the tires, Jay said he smelled pot and remembered his pistol in the glove box. We got to the house and Brenton came back smiling with the new Schwable tires and tubes. Jay told us that he had a tipi in his yard and asked if we would like to sleep there, and we gratefully accepted.
Back at the house, we met Bobbi, the eldest daughter, and were shown the most amazing hospitality by the whole family. Jeanna, the younger daughter, asked if we needed blankets and pillows and anything to drink and I replied, thank you, I think we have everything we need. Her face broke into that overwhelmingly sincere smile that she had, and told me she was gonna bring us some extra pillows.
The tipi was no play thing. Jay had stripped the poles himself and pulled the canvas over the huge structure. He built a fire inside of it and instructed us to keep the door shut or it would get smoky. A decent fire warmed the whole thing and we drank beers and I drank tequila with Amy. Jay doesn’t drink but stayed up late with us and we had interesting conversations around the fire with the whole gang. They are all great story tellers and expert conversationalists, especially little Jeanna, who tells a story with the expressive face of an actress.