Slow and steady, tapping out a rhythm for 12 miles up a 2500 ft climb. Two hours sitting right behind Paul, the rubber of our tyres almost touching, watching his buttocks at close quarters rhythmically rise and fall was quite mesmeric … pity the hill wasn’t a few miles longer really (‘That’s enough! Stop now!’: Ed).
I thought it was just another bump in the road on the way down into Ruby Valley, but it turned out to be the jolt of a local discontinuity in the space/time continuum … Virginia City seemed to have come from a hundred years ago.
You wouldn’t have been surprised to see Doc Holliday stumble out of one of the saloons or John Wayne riding into town. It was a prosperous gold mining town in the 1860s that somehow managed to keep going … without changing … its ‘gold’ now coming mainly from tourists. Right cute. It was also the centre for the Vigilantes … not so cute. They were locals who took the law into their own hands to protect the towns from outlaw gangs operating in the then rich valley.
Neighbouring Nevada City was another mining town but is now a great collection of period buildings, mainly small wooden houses and shops that had been relocated there in the 1950s in an inspired move by a local couple to preserve them. Paul and I could have easily spent the day there just looking at ‘stuff’ and drinking sarsaparilla but distance had to be done, so we ploughed on … for about a mile.
Mining history was everywhere … a hundred years ago huge boats dredged the gulch for the last remnants of gold, leaving massive piles of still bare gravel where the river once was. But nature has a way of adapting to suit … the shallow ponds and scrapes now support a rich variety of wildlife including dozens of small hawks, acrobatically swooping low for insects in the morning sun. We could have stayed there all day too!
In hindsight perhaps we should have done. The short, sharp ‘whoop, whoop’ of the sheriff’s siren behind us didn’t register immediately … I thought it was just another truck with a fancy hooter … so we carried on pedalling. When I did drop behind Paul and Mike, I saw that all the flashing lights were meant for us.
We had been reported as cycling 3 abreast and then giving the finger to the vehicle when it overtook us … both actions being illegal in Montana. Disputing the facts was not my best idea … the threat of a citation soon moderated our arguements and good old English charm (yes, I can turn it on when required), albeit mainly in the form of obsequious apologies, stopped us from being booked. A healthy 4-way discussion then followed but it was agreed that the law, as often is the case, supports the powerful (motorised vehicles in this case) instead of protecting the weak (us cyclists!).
Now cycling in single file like the good boys we are (we didn’t know how far that particular officer’s jurisdiction extended), we stopped for an impromptu roadside cheese quesadilla overlooking the Beaverhead River and valley. This part of our route followed that of the 1804 Lewis and Clark expedition … the first push west by Americans after buying nearly a million square miles of uncharted land from the French the previous year.
Evidently France had ‘owned’ it since the early 1600s! Ironically, various tribes of Native Americans innocently helped them in their mapping expedition as they headed west, obviously having no idea of the consequences. The fertile valley supported migrating buffalo, then sheep and cattle once the Americans got there, with Dillon its major trading point. An ‘All you can eat for $6.99’ at Pizza Hut was the most trade it got out of us though. Job done.
All fed we camped by the river on a Kamp of America site, complete with showers and a swimming pool.
Miles today: 70
Miles since First Landing: 3253