Some thousand or two feet up, Dave stops to look out over the valley, a collage of streets and buildings and farmlands walled in by mountains. He offers me one of his candy orange slices and I greedily choke it down through the sweat and dust coating my lips.
“No way to ride around here without climbing,” Dave says.
“Nothing wrong with that,” I reply, and we turn toward the thousand more feet in front of us.
We climb and climb and at the top of the mountain is a fire lookout tower. From its base we can see the great Mount Lolo up close, and the valley, too, although its faraway features are becoming more abstract. The lookout himself saunters up with his little dog, Sparky. He tells us the elevation of the mountain is 6,458 feet, and his room with a view is 50 feet higher. He tells us he’s worked the tower for 35 summers, and he hardly ever sees “people ride their bikes up here.” I’m hit with a spark of pride because this isn’t a special occasion; it’s just a Wednesday-night ride, embarked on after full days at the office, and the third similar ride in a row at that. I try to calculate the elevation gain in my head, with the earlier and future rollers, and come up with another night of ~4,000 feet. Just another ride. Day three.
The lookout lingers in conversation. I think maybe his job gets a little lonely up here. Dave points out that the sun is setting and we still have a long way to descend. We pedal to the top of the moto trail, all washed out singletrack and chunk and moon dust, and it’s rugged, and intimidating, and I feel more than a little bit dizzy. But I launch in anyway and hold on tight, real tight, because I have to find a way to survive this thing; after all, I have to do it all again tomorrow.