Big Ride Across America Update: Day 14
It’s two weeks since we started the 48-day, 3300-mile Big Ride Across America–I joined two days late, owing to a Sloan Foundation Board meeting in New York–and we’ve ridden across Washington state with a day off in Spokane, one beautiful day in Utah camping in Sandpoint and five days across the Big Sky Country of Montana with a day off in Missoula and now a rest day in Billings. We’ve climbed through the lush, blue-green landscape of the Rockies and crossed the Continental Divide at Macdonald Pass and now we’re heading into hotter, drier Great Plains territory. We’re camping in tents most nights but have also slept in college dorms, a Pentecostal church and a high school gym floor.
It’s a great way to see this great country and to try to embrace and comprehend it in its totality. The Big Ride may inspire me to write the next book after Immortal Bird. Or it may just help me to situate and understand things better. And it’s a wonderful, challenging adventure.
What follows are some photos from the Big Ride thus far. I will try to post more regularly–we have five weeks to go and finish, if we are so lucky, in Washington DC on August 4. The Ride is raising money for the American Lung Association and I am riding in memory of Damon, as well as in honor of my surviving children Sam and Miranda and the future.
Camping in Vantage on my first night (day 2) with a near-gale force wind.
Charlton Durant, Big Ride Director, supervises the early morning start after distributing the daily cue sheet.
Battered by a relentless headwind en route from Odessa to Spokane, the Big Riders form a pace line.
Rolling fields of grain in eastern Washington
A roadside antique store where we stopped for a break and the owner, a born-again woman in a black tank top with a silver lame Harley Davidson insignia, gave us fresh strawberries, chocolate and cold water
Washing and lubing bikes in Spokane, a regular ritual on our day’s off.
Wolffy’s, a popular diner near the Gonzaga campus where we stayed in Spokane.
Kelly’s Bar, the second oldest tavern in Washington state, where we stopped for a burger and fries and schmoozed with the motor-bikers, who were on a poker run, traveling from bar to bar across state lines and drawing a card in each place until the best hand won
A rodeo parade down Main Street in Newport, Washington. A woman stood off to the side trying to register voters–from either Washington or Idaho since Newport is on the border–and worried aloud about the assault on unions, teachers and now new voter restrictions.
After four days traveling through Washington, we cross into Utah
The magisterial Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, Utah with a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
Charlton Durant gives riding pointers to the riders. The truck carries all our gear, food and medical supplies including such magic elixirs as Bag Balm, aka udder cream, applied to any part of the anatomy that is sore after sitting all day every day on a bicycle saddle.
Clark Fork is the largest river in Montana which flows northwest into Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho , draining an extensive region of the Rocky Mountains. As for Hope, it springs eternal.
Charlton and Doron in front of the Clark Fork during a check-in. We have one every 20-25 miles where you can fill up with fresh water and power drinks or power snacks, relieve yourself, add or shed clothes, and prove that you remain alive and ambulatory.
Big Riders relaxing–and texting–at Minnie’s in Thompson Falls, Montana.
Early departure from Thompson Falls to Missoula. We normally rise at 5 am, have the truck loaded by 5:45 am and are on the road by 6 am. As we head east into hotter weather and deeper summer, we may start even earlier to beat the sun.
Descending into Paradise Valley towards the town of Paradise. 25 percent of Montana is forest, with a lush covering of lodgepole pine and ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, larch, spruce, aspen, hemlock, alder, ash, red cedar, Rocky mountain maple and cottonwood trees. Big sky, big mountains, big trees.
Five Big Riders with the Mayor of Missoula, John Engen, honoring the American Lung Association at the Big Dipper ice cream store in Missoula.
First view of the Rockies, en route from Missoula to Avon. The Rockies are over 3000 miles long and stretch from British Columbia in western Canada to New Mexico.
Cattle lolling in a pasture. Ranching remains important in Montana and includes cattle, sheep, buffalo and a hybrid of a cow and a buffalo called a “beefalo.”
Changing the menu at the Avon cafe, famous for its pies.
Big Riders chow down after cycling a hard 98.2 miles that included significant elevation as they approach the Continental Divide.
Camping under soft moonlight in Echo Valley Campground, just outside Avon.
First to reach Madconald Pass in the Rockies, elevation 6300 feet, where we cross the Continental Divide, the line that designates whether water flows to the Pacific or Atlantic. This is the highest point on our 7-week journey.
A friendly store owner in Winston, Montana where we stopped for an ice cream. He didn’t have Montana Mud t-shirts our size but was very helpful.
The track at Townsend High School, where we camped. Half of us slept on the state of the art gymnasium floor where we waited till 8 pm for the motion detector to go off so we could lie in darkness.
The shadow of an early morning cyclist, en route from Townsend to Harlowton.
Riding through Helena National Forest with Big Rider Rob Wilson.
Doron on a break between White Sulphur Springs and Harlowton.
A wind farm outside Harlowton.
Doron standing before the Crazy Mountains, part of the Rockies and the most revered and sacred site on the northern plains for the Crow Indians. A place of refuge where their enemies would not follow them, it remains a key vision quest site.
The Castle Mountains surrounding Harlowton, whose population shrank from 4000 to just under 1000 when the railroad pulled out of town. But Harlowton, site of famous dinosaur and other fossils,has survived with ranching and wind farms and bee-keeping and some novel businesses like ticket printing (for New York Giants games, among others). We were overnight guests at the Assembly of God Church.
Bar and cafe in Ryegate, with a sign for the Montana Testicle Festival an annual event that includes rodeos, street dances and that great bull’s delicacy also know as Rocky Mountain oyster.
Just past Ryegate, a marker honoring Chief Joseph, great leader of the Nez Perce people who crossed the Musselshell River nearby in a valiant but doomed effort to lead his tribe from Idaho into Canada. He surrendered to the U.S Army on this spot in 1877.
Entering Yellowstone County, the most populous county in Montana,so named for its yellow sandstone cliffs, and bisected by the Yellowstone River.
Standing before the rail line that leads, about 30 miles away, into Billings, Montana’s largest city originally founded as a railroad town in 1882 by Frederick H. Billings, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Chinese rail crews did much of the work.
The grain elevator you can see forever, in Commanche Montana.
On the rimrocks overlooking Billings, Doron with two very fit sexagenarian Big Riders, Rick and Mike.