On Day 39 (aka Saturday, June 30), I wake up ready to GTFO! of my dark motel room and the town of Jordan. Coordinating and consulting with Kathryn (aka Kay) via text, I think I have mapped out basic blueprints for the next eight or nine days ending with our upcoming reunion-rendezvous at home in Missoula with her and Eric, and their kids Elizabeth and Michael.
Kay has been a goldmine of info re: Montana. She grew up in Missoula and after Wellesley and stints in Boston and Chicago and Los Angeles, she and Eric returned to Missoula for its more affordable lifestyle and stable kid-rearing culture. Kay met Eric while on tour as actors with the Missoula Children’s Theater, a nonprofit organization that brings theatrical performances and engagement workshops to kids living in arts-starved communities all over the country. Back in the 90s, Kay and Eric hit pretty much all these rural Montana towns I’m riding through and since then have traveled extensively around the state with Elizabeth and Michael.
Ever since South Dakota, I’ve been in search of a place to spend a few days in an Airbnb, so I can ‘catch up’ on my blog (which makes Road Danny seem cute and clueless as RealLife Daniel writes about Day 39 more than 40 days since it occurred). Thus far, a place that checks all the boxes (reasonably priced, in a natural setting – woods, river, anything – but with wireless and AC, available, and, most crucially, IN EXISTENCE) has proven to be quite elusive. I’ve decided now to spend at least a couple of days in Great Falls, which Kay assures me has a lot of history, though I care very little about that at this point. All I care about is carving out writing time. Kay’s been sending me links to places on Airbnb in Great Falls. I’ve committed now to a stay in what seems to be a residential part of that city in a loft apartment belonging to Jason and Ali, a rather attractive couple (based on their profile photo). I’ll be there for the Fourth of July – and riding screaming into the day on the Fifth when President Trump will be riding into town for one of his MAGA rallies. I’m sure Great Falls is gonna eat him up.
But I don’t have to worry about hightailing it out of Great Falls yet. Today the hand I’ve dealt myself is a 76-mile ride to Winnett, another tiny town along Route 200 à la Jordan but even more infinitesimal. While Jordan’s population is 300, Winnett’s is only about half that. Kay didn’t mention anything about Winnett, so I’m just going to assume that it isn’t home to extremist right-wing militia. That’s a win for sure! But even if it is, there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s not like I can choose another route. There’s only one road. (See Figure 1.)
Miracles are fleeting, and the one I’d experienced a couple of days before in the form of tailwinds that pushed me to the not-quite threshold of Jordan’s borders has come to a screeching halt – halting me. The storm that nearly blew my ass into Montana history (read about it here here!) twisted that heretofore undreamed-of miracle of winds from the east for hours and hours into something predictable: westerly winds in my freakin’ face. Yesterday, as I spent the day writing about Iowa during my first Montana rest day, it rained on and off and was cooler temp-wise. But the wind hadn’t changed direction, and neither shall I. One road. Westward, ho! (Yeah, yeah, I know, I said ‘ho.’ Haha. Very juvenile. We both caught it. Let’s move on.)
On the morning of Day 39, through the walls of the Garfield Motel, I could hear Gay the mystery cyclist from Virginia on his cell right next door (Yeah, yeah, I know, his name’s ‘Gay.’ Haha. Very juvenile. We both caught it. Let’s move on). He’s the gentleman I’d been told about several times. (“You haven’t met Gay? Well, he’s just about a mile ahead of you. I bet you’ll see him today!”) and was enjoying not meeting him. There are times I prefer figments of people to the real thing. And what if he’s a phantom? If there’s some ghost of a dead cyclist riding around making himself known to various people but not to me, I can live with that. Especially if he’s a vengeful spirit. With headwinds, I don’t need any additional barriers to my enjoyment or speed, and a scrap with a maleficent ghost would definitely slow me down and perhaps even cause my demise. Whether real or imagined, however, I can hear the entity known as Gay chattering on and on through the wall as I repack and reload all my gear and shove a yogurt and granola and a banana down my gorge. I use my preternaturally radical powers of analysis to determine that it’s definitely him. Southern accent. Reportage of cycling adventures, aches and pains, comparisons to previous tours. Damnit, I guess he’s real after all. Or the steroids of this very elaborate hoax just kicked in! I still don’t see him exactly, just his bicycle as I walk to the hotel office where there is a water cooler that I use to fill my bottles. I wonder if Gay has heard about me and is under the same spell of disbelief. Or, more likely, he’s similar to me: likes his solitude and is, therefore, avoidant.
I just don’t want to leave at the same time as him. As I discuss here, I am happy to hang with a fellow tourer, just not ride with one. Gotta ride my own ride. (Unfortunately, this motto has not yet been wholly internalized – so it’s just better to avoid cyclists going my same direction – or else I might get stuck riding with someone else, as dickish as that sounds. But, hey, that’s why we call it Handlebar CONFESSIONAL cuz we tell it nekked like it is ‘round here.) By the time I’m ready to leave, the noise next door has terminated. I think I’ve stalled long enough so it’s unlikely that I’ll catch up with him.
O, Ungentle Westerly Winds,
Ye sham sweet-breath’d Zephyrus!
Dust sweepers, alfalfa benders, air screamers,
O, Higher Power, whatever ye may be,
Ye who opens the bag of winds
The blows and gales and gusts
Battering unto my visage,
Fuck ye and the winged horse ye rode in on!
O, how I wish —especially for ye’s sake, Dear Hbar-Cfess Reader— I could write fewer words about headwinds! Now at two-thirds of the way across the U.S., I remain consumed by them and their literal and metaphoric impact. In other words, we are toughing it out together.
It’s a massive gift that every single day of this journey I wake up in a great mood and am excited to get on the road and experience what’s next. When I know that there are bad winds or other unfortunate weather issues ahead, I do get a little stressed about it, but my attitude is nearly always somewhere between a positively-charged bring it on! and a more neutral it is what it is.
But, this… strain. It crashes my mood. This wind. No matter how I slice it. It doesn’t matter if I start the day as MISTER POLLYANNA!, the lamely-handled loner superhero with an infinite quarry of positive attitude as his superpower! As the miles slowwwwwwly tick away, I begin to take the wind as a fucking personal affront. As I mention in other recent posts, I’m hipper to the crash now. Once those random fantasy scenarios in which I am expressing my resentments to the people who have wronged me, real or imagined, start to nip at my heels – and I begin to believe that the fly who buzzes in my face at indeterminate intervals keeping me guessing and irate is the same fly over and over who’s bent on driving me insane as he pursues me for miles evolutionarily predisposed for his survival and my annihilation – I grasp a hold of the reality in which I am NOT the center of the universe. I’m back at making the best of it, because look where I am! Gorgeous scenery! I laugh at myself! I sing! I converse with the livestock I’m pedaling by! Look at me! I’m MISTER POLLYANNA! Making the best of it!
But who can do that 100% of the time? Who can accept adversity with aplomb and grace and gratitude in all situations? What human can be this fuckin spiritual 24/7/365/plus-one-on-a-leap-year? I cannot. And THEN I have to accept THAT! All the while the wind is whistling in my ears and my excess helmet strap is fwap-fwap-fwwwapping on my right ear ONLY because I have such a stupid freakishly small pinhead and have to tighten the strap so fuckin tight that it creates all this extra unused slack, like a braided, beaded 80s rattail (god help us, I hear these are coming back in style, Samm has mentioned that she’s considering early re-adoption!!) If don’t tighten the helmet strap to epically lengthy rattail proportions, this wind that HATES ME will blow the helmet off my pea-brained freakishly small pinhead and then probably crush said freakishly small pinhead with a telephone pole squashing my pea-brain like a—a — goddamn PEA!
It’s unnatural for a human to choose the face of unrelenting hardship! It’s more natural to turn around and run down the easier, softer path! In a fit of rage, I threaten to do just that! God, how good would it feel to be riding with a 20mph tailwind right now. I’d be back in Jordan by like——whoa, whoa, whoa there, pard’ner. Moving forward is the priority. Not escaping adversity, as inorganic a choice as that may feel right now.
The only stop with some semblance of food between Jordan and Winnett is the unincorporated town of Sand Springs (pop. 90). Aside from a few ranching/farming houses and buildings, the whole of Sand Springs is a church and a post office with a general store attached. The aptly named Sandy owns the store. She’s the postmaster as well, and, she says, has to be very cautious about when she’s a private business owner vs a federal employee. Sandy’s store is a welcoming place – not purely because it’s the only place; she allows camping on the property, which cyclists, as well as hunters and fisherpeople take advantage of, and there’s a large table inside at which you can eat the sandwich you purchase there after self-serve-sticking it in the microwave for a minute to heat it up. I do all this, except for the camping part, because Sand Springs is a mere 32 miles from Jordan, and Winnett’s a-callin’. But there’s an added treat to my quick lunch in Sand Springs: encountering Gay in the flesh. He’s a real cyclist! And a very well-traveled one. Retired. Doing shorter distances these days, so he’s camping behind the store tonight and not headed to Winnett. Gay tells me he has an aversion to warmshowers. (Yeah, yeah, I know, I said ‘warm showers’ for the millionth time on this blog. Warmshowers.org. It’s a website. No…Not that kind, ffs! It’s like Couchsurfing for cyclists. Hehe. Very juvenile. We both caught it. Let’s move on.)
Of course, I share with Gay that my story of him was that he was a figment of the collective imagination of the popup-seasonal cycling community of western North Dakota and eastern Montana. I also share the ghost version of my narrative but don’t mention that avoiding running into him is my character’s primary objective in all scenarios. Though I’m sure he gets it (I mean, he’s a cyclist traveling alone, ffs), one doesn’t wanna say all that. Solo touring cyclists have a generous helping of loneriety, but we’re not assholes, on the general. I may have taken it too far anyway with the whole ghost trajectory. But Gay and Sandy are amused at what goes on in my head – or they’re just being nice.
Before I divulge too much of my demented brain-rattling, I finish up my ham-n-american-cheez sandwich and bid them goodbye.
The only other stop between Jordan and Winnett is Mosby which is represented on my Adverture Cycling map as a dot with binarily-gendered restrooms. (See Figure 2.)
I’m wondering what sort of edifice, if any, will house these toilets. Port-a-potties by the side of the road? A shanty maybe? It’s in the mid-80s today, so it’s hot but not deadly hot. And hilly. 4,200 feet of climbing today within a 76-mile ride. To give you a comparison, two days ago when I rode 117 miles, I climbed less elevation and with a tailwind. The last 8 miles leading to Mosby’s toilets, however, are rolling hills but lose quite a bit of elevation. I’m happy to report that Mosby’s toilets are not two lone outhouses dotting the landscape but an air-conditioned rest area with water fountains that shoot cool water at a high enough angle so that I can easily refill all my bottles. I coast into the rest area/watercraft inspection station. Since entering Montana, I’ve been seeing signs everywhere to the effect of STOP! ALL WATERCRAFT MUST BE INSPECTED! For what? I’ve wondered. I finally have the opportunity to inquire. Another win!
Chris, a young gentle giant in an official fluoro-orange-and-green vest, is also refilling his water. “It’s a slow day,” he tells me. He’s 19. Isn’t every day a slow day when you’re 19 and have a boring job? Chris has recently moved to rural Montana from rural Missouri, and his summer job is inspecting watercraft. Apparently, it’s only busy on the weekends. When he’s not inspecting the few boats that are towed through, he’s sitting around doing nothing, fiddling with his phone. About the inspections… the following statement is hot off the presses, aka montana.gov:
Watercraft inspections are a way of intercepting vessels and equipment that have the potential to spread aquatic invasive species (AIS) and to decontaminate them (if necessary) before launching into Montana waters.
According to Chris, these AIS [question: is the A for Aquatic a thinly veiled A for ALIEN????] proliferate and block pipes. I assume he’s talking about oil pipelines, which, I gather, is what the publicly funded hullaballoo is all about. Gotta keep that oil a-flowin’! Truthfully, I am being cynical about the types of pipes Chris is talking about. Probably due to wind trauma. I have absolutely no idea whereTF I am getting this info from. But whichever sort of pipes they are, they can and will be invaded by proliferating Alien, er, sorry, Acquatic species of mollusks, unless they are inspected by the likes of Chris and other Montana public servants.
Between Sand Springs and Mosby, the scenery has begun to evolve from treeless prairie to the promise of mountains ahead. [Insert head-exploding emoji; exploding in a good way I mean. The brains are splattering, yes, but its face is rosy-cheeked and smiling.] As usual, something as simple as witnessing inaugural conifers dotting the landscape affects me on a cellular level. And I swear the sky is a deeper blue. When you are moving at the speed of a bicycle, change is not only good, it’s miraculous. Part of the thrill is that I’m counting on the mountains that lay ahead in the coming days to blunt some of the winds’ power. No mountains in view yet, however. Kay had told me that I may see some Rockies in the distance as I approach Lewistown (tomorrow) but also suggested I not get too excited – because, based on what I have told her about my route and her solid knowledge about the Lewis and Clark expedition, I won’t be going through a ton of mountains in the near future. (See Figure 3.)
Damn. Aching to climb mountains. Definitely exemplary of the one-two punch combo of (1) desperately-needing-a-change-of-scenery-no-matter-what-it-may-be and (2) being insane.
The town of Winnett is a half-mile south of the main road. Because of the winds and climbing, it’s been a particularly long day – almost 8 hours of riding, plus the longer stops in Sand Springs and Mosby and the briefer pitstops. So, more than 10 hours. The lack of cell service has made impossible to plan a place to stay. (Well, I guess I could have planned ahead, but I just don’t, except when it’s a warmshowers stay and you’re a guest in someone’s house so you have to.) According to the Adventure Cycling Lewis and Clark Trail map, Winnett has a motel and allows camping in the city park. Every time I approach one of these small towns it’s a gamble. Will there be room at the inn? If not, will there be a shower at whatever formal/informal campsite? The maps only have so much info. I’ve managed to shower every night of the journey thus far, and I don’t wanna quit that streak. I wonder if my luck will run out ever, and I won’t have any place to go – and then I’ll have to stealth camp or really ask someone for help. I remember that my South Dakota travel buddies, Kelly and Milo, will call the local sheriff if they ever get in a bind to ask if there’s anywhere to crash, a church, somewhere. I know that I’d never choose to be in a situation like that, but I’m daring it to happen to me by not planning out lodging ahead of time.
No such bad luck. It’s endless winning on the lone road. There’s a room at the inn, the Northern Motel, and it’s sweet. The elderly proprietor, a tall cowboy-looking chap who’s had a few drinks already this early evening (if his breath and glassy-eyes are telling true tales), divulges that there are a couple of Dutch cyclists checked in, traveling the opposite way. Not surprised. I’ve already heard about them. Tomorrow’s stop will be a ranch outside Lewistown with warmshowers hosts Becky and Mel. (See what I mean about planning ahead if it’s warmshowers?) Yesterday, while in Jordan, I’d had contact with Becky via the warmshowers site and she’d let me know that their current guests, a couple from the Netherlands called Marius and Hannie, will be in Winnett tonight as well and to look out for them.
I wheel Whitey to the room, but no sign of the Dutch couple. I’m definitely in that place of wanting to meet them but also wanting to not have to deal with people. Story of my life. I shower and connect my phone to the hotel’s wireless, so I can attempt to call Alex. It’s Saturday, aka Weekly Call with Alex Day. The plan is that he calls me, but it’s past our usual time. I had no service all day, so I have no idea whether or not he called. Worth a shot. The phone works but he doesn’t pick up. Bummer. I shower. I guess I should seek out dinner.
According to my hotelier host, there are two places to dine in Winnett. One is the Kozy Korner, but it’s unreliable in terms of quality and hours, and the other is the Happy Heifer Bar and Grill. I choose the latter, not least because it’s definitely open. And, kan I konfess something? I kan be down with kute or kool misspellings for effekt (see all previous posts and everything I have ever written) BUTTTT I kan’t deal with ‘k’ subbing for a hard ‘c.’ There was a store in a local mall in Wayne, NJ where I grew up called Karin’s Kurtains, and it drove both Natalie and me krazy! There would be plenty of people out there besides my sister who would kringe if my blog was kalled Handlebar Konfessional. All this fuels my decision; plus, the word heifer makes me happy. Evokes that moment in The Color Purple where Rae Dawn Chong’s character says to Sophia (Oprah Winfrey): “Well, you ain’t nothin’ but a big ol’ heifer! Ha ha ha!” and then gets her lights punched out.
The Happy Heifer is hopping for a town of 150. Definitely cut from the same basecamp beef cloth as many other places I’ve been: more bar than restaurant, deer/elk/antelope (I don’t know who’s who) prizes festoon the walls, electronic gaming stations. Hopefully the Happy Heifer is happy in heaven, because her remains are on special tonight. I eat a thin, overcooked slice of her and walk back to the Northern.
As I approach my room, I hear “Hi, Danny!”
A man and a woman in their sixties are seated on the collective porch eating grapes, drinking wine. “It’s you,” I say, forgetting their names, “… the Dutch couple!”
Hannie and Marius are lovely people, witty, warm welcoming smiles. Marius is a recently retired head and neck surgeon, but his work life clearly did not hinder he and Hannie from traveling the world on their bicycles. They’ve been…everywhere practically. Told me about riding the Tour D’Afrique which is now on my bucket list, despite the $17,000 price tag. They had a wonderful time with the Jacksons on their ranch, eating elk sausages from an animal that Becky hunted, killed and brought back 200 lbs of meat in her pickup, all on her own. “You will love them,” Hannie says.
“But, whatever you do,” Marius adds, “No politics or religion.”
“No!” I say. Among touring cyclists that probably can only mean one thing.
“They love guns and they love Trump. Don’t say anything against Trump.”
Insert The Scream emoji many times.
It’s not like I WANT to talk about the president – with anyone on this trip, maybe ever, supporters or antis – but avoiding topics drives me to distraction, adds fuel to the ever-burning pilot light of worrying-about-saying-the-wrong-thing that’s always lit, never blows out, wind or no wind.
To be honest, any angst aside, I’m enticed at the idea of being in that situation. (If I didn’t state this directly, I would be faltering here in the confession booth.) It’s like going to a horror movie. You want to be scared. Sure, I’ve been surrounded by ultra-conservative people for weeks now, but I’ve never known ahead of time that I was headed into a Den of Trumpiquity.
“We really got into it,” Marius said. “But we still had a wonderful time with them.”
I held up my hand. “I don’t wanna know anything more!” TMI shapeshifts into many forms, not just sex and bodily functions.
Our conversation does stay with politics, and, more specifically, identity. I share with Marius and Hannie my experience of Otherness in Red State America, despite my white skin and the entry ticket it affords me in these lands of near homogeneity. I explain my desire to be a fly on the wall – and my hesitation to identify as gay or Jewish or progressive along the way, for a variety of reasons (I don’t mention recovering drug addict but the same applies): not wanting to stick out, it’s nobody’s business anyway, we don’t need any additional barriers to human connections because of wide-divide differences (especially nowadays), and, of course, sometimes for safety reasons. They understand that it might be unsafe to share my sexual orientation in certain situations and have just experienced for themselves the minefield of political identity – but surely there’s no danger in divulging that my background is Jewish? I’m surprised that they challenge me on this point. Haven’t we all been witnessing the same uptick of neo-Nazism, jingoism, cries of ‘fake news!’ and the accompanying rhetoric of Jews controlling the media and, thusly, being responsible the outflow of bad press regarding His Dicktatorship? I recount my experience with the woman at the South Dakota visitors’ center who was so insistent about knowing my background, wanting it to be German in spite of my telling her several times I’m not, and then when I explained the origin of my name, she referred to reading something about Jews being persecuted in Europe before Hitler but not being certain of the veracity of the claim. (Check out that post here!)
I’m open to the idea that I have an, er, hyperactive imagination, can be a little overcautious at times, sensitive, not easily trusting, and not comfortable with who I am every second of every day, but I know that treading lightly in the identity arena is the right thing for me…in these ‘divisive times.’
After exchanging social media info, I bid Hannie and Marius goodnight. Tomorrow won’t be too long a ride in terms of mileage, but most of it is up a mountain and weather.com is predicting winds upwards of 20mph in the usual face-battering direction. I need my strength for the climb – and possibly for some work on the ranch! Becky says in her warmshowers profile, we might put you to work. And then there’s the possibility of politically discursive discord. Ride with me tomorrow to Lewistown and find out. Til then, sweet Big Starry Dark Sky dreams from me and this multigenerational family of ladybugs I encountered on the property of the Northern Motel. The biggest one (I guess she’s the queen?) is for sure mammoth, but don’t be scared; she seemed friendly. (Unless that is a Jew-hatin’ smirk plastered across her face!)