We cycled the 1500ft Badger Pass climb out of Dillon this morning individually, the three of us strung out over a mile or so, each of us lost in our own thoughts. Perhaps it was because it was July 1st, our final month on the trail, or the realisation that at the end of the day we’d have less than a thousand miles to go.
Either way our emotions are mixed. We’ve all missed family and friends and the thought that in three weeks time we will be reunited is a great incentive to finish. But there’s also the realisation that one day soon we won’t be waking up and immediately pulling on cycling shorts. That change seems almost unthinkable – the routine of riding everyday is so ingrained it will be a difficult habit to break. Hell, we even went cycling on our rest day!
But in a few months time when the reality of normal life has returned it will be mornings like this that we will remember – cool mountain air, a steady climb past snow-capped peaks, flowers by the roadside and occasional encouraging waves from passing motorists. It’s these memories that will have us longing to be back in the saddle – and getting the maps out to plan further tours in far off lands.
We’ve got almost seventy miles to cover today, but again leaving the farmyard has been tricky, particularly in an interesting town like Dillion with a great cafe that even lets us in half an hour early for coffee, oatmeal and scones fresh from the oven. We are now so slick at breaking camp (yes even me) that alarms go off at six and three quarters of an hour later, the tents are packed, panniers loaded and we are rolling. But a breakfast stop is always a must – a big breakfast equals a successful ride.
On the outskirts of Dillon with barely two miles completed we stop and watch a pair of ospreys who’ve built a nest on top of an old telegraph pole. A closer look reveals again least one chick. Below swarms of martins dive and dart across the Beaverhead river, their nests safe and protected, nestled under an old railway bridge.
The climb up Badger Pass is long, but rewarding and soon we top the crest at 6,760 feet and are whizzing down the other side, jackets tight to the neck to keep out the cold. But the respite is short – a quick dash across the valley floor and we are climbing again – this time up Big Hole Pass, higher at 7,360ft but at a much shallower gradient. But by now the heat of the day has got up a little, a few mosquitos are out hunting and while Terry and Mike push on, I find it a bit if a struggle, ploughing through episodes of NPR’s ‘Car Talk’ on the iPhone for encouragement.
Beyond the top the landscape opens out into a wide, lush valley, deep green grass contrasting against the iced peaks of the Bitterroot mountains behind. This is the big Hole Valley and it is vast. It’s cattle country and we occasionally come across traditional wooden bailers, used to stack the hay. The valley is known as the ‘Land of 10,000 haystacks’ but today most appear to be the more modern round rolls bailed using modern machinery.
In Jackson we stopped for lunch and watched the USA knocked out of the World Cup by Belgium. Surprisingly the World Cup has been on TV in almost every bar we’ve visited – something Mike tells us would have been unthinkable just four years ago. Football, it seems, is finally gaining popularity in the States and is apparently the fastest growing sport in the country.
As we leave we prepare for battle for the final 18 miles to Wisdom. Everyone we’ve met in the last couple of days has warned us about the town – human population – 119, mosquito population – several million and counting. We spray every exposed inch of flesh, then spray our clothes. We even consider spraying the bikes. Mike’s is made of Titanium and from what we’ve heard they’ll bite through that like tissue paper. We set off riding three abreast (as if that will somehow help) and head North.
But the enemy, it seems, has been caught unprepared, we rode into town virtually unscathed but still decided to opt for the Nez Perce motel on the edge of town rather than risk camping. The moment we stopped though the attack began, so bikes, panniers and people were shoved onto the rooms tout suite. An hour or so later, when the coast was clear we headed over to the Antlers Saloon for beers and peanuts. They were a lively crowd, but friendly enough and Kyle from Iowa City even put the Beatles on the juke box to make us feel at home. The friendliness of your average American never ceases to amaze me.
Today’s Miles: 67
Miles since First Landing: 3320