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Showing posts from July, 2015

But ... be brave

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Up at 9,000 feet, with frost coating my bivy sack, it was finally cool enough that I made it through the night without dousing myself in sweat ... or at least that's what I assumed. There were a few coughing bouts, but I'd become used to those. Night coughing was just part of the waste removal routine, like peeing. But the night sweats were disconcerting. They caused feverish, weird dreams and sucked all the moisture from my body, leaving me dehydrated, exhausted, and achy in the morning. If I could stay away from the night sweats, I actually woke up feeling okay. 
It helped that I woke up here, on the shoreline of Wind River Lake. It was a day-use picnic area, but I stashed my bike in the outhouse for bear safety and did a little stealth camping down the shoreline. I sat on a picnic table eating my morning bars and breathing frosty air that seemed to flow freely into my lungs. Today was going to be a good day. I could feel it.


Coasting along the Brooks Lake Road, it didn'…

At home with the ghosts in the national park

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Night sweats woke me up before my dawn alarm, so I stripped off my soaked clothing and draped it over my bike before crawling back into the bivy on top of my sleeping bag. Sometime later I awoke in a fit of coughing, burst out of the bivy and stumbled barefoot through prickly bushes to vomit. It was just the coughing that made me throw up, but the result left me feeling weak and feverish. I laid down on the dirt in my underwear, feeling the cool Earth on my clammy skin, and took quick and shallow breaths as I stared up at the tree canopy, framed by stars. A minute or two passed before I stood up, shivering heavily, and crawled back into my sleeping bag, which was wet.

Before these little emergencies, I'd been so deeply asleep that I floated through them with a kind of disoriented detachment. When dawn came, I wasn't sure if any of it had happened. But my clothes were still draped over my bike, and my head was pounding. Early mornings had turned from being the best part of the…

This heart of mine is just some broke machine

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Beat finally asked me about the strange titles of my Tour Divide posts. They're lyrics from the most recent Modest Mouse album, "Strangers to Ourselves." I listened to this album rather incessantly during the ride, and it became the background score to many high and low moments along those dusty roads. The lyrics fit well with the stubborn optimism and strife of a slow decline, with just enough humor and nihilism to beat back despondency. Now I can't think back to the Tour Divide without hearing these songs in the background. After I wrote about "Of Course We Know" on day three, it just made sense to go with the theme. I suppose that's strange, but hey ... this is my blog. 
Now, where was I? Oh yes, Big Sheep Creek canyon in southern Montana. In the morning I woke up with a piercing headache and disorientation. I blinked through pounding confusion as the world came into focus — high cliffs loomed over the narrow canyon, but just enough sunlight swept o…

We're lucky that we slept

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During the Tour Divide I always felt best in the morning, which is the opposite of my usual modus operandi. Regardless of the total hours of sleep I managed the night before, mornings always brought cool air and clear lungs. I indulged in deep gulps of sweet-tasting air and gazed up at the pink sky with renewed optimism. This would be the day the sun wouldn't scorch my skin, dust wouldn't fill my airways, and gunk wouldn't clog my lungs. This day, I'd be free.

A number of riders had trickled into the campground during the night, and it seemed I was the first to leave. Without realizing it, I'd ascended about half of the climb up Fleecer the previous evening, and was surprised when I reached the wall only a half hour into my day. I pushed my bike up an eroded track, skirted around a saddle, and dismounted again to hike downhill. Brave or reckless cyclists will ride their loaded bikes down Fleecer, but it looks like this:

It only gets steeper as you descend. Once yo…

I guess I'll ride this winter out

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For reasons unknown, it was more difficult for me to sleep indoors than outdoors. After my coughing fits, I tended to toss and turn rather than passing back out, as I had in the bivy sack. It was the air, I suppose — drier and warmer — along with the stimulation of city lights and sounds. Around 2 a.m. I scrolled through Facebook for a half hour, and learned that the woman leading the Tour Divide, Lael Wilcox, sought medical attention for respiratory distress and was diagnosed with bronchitis. She received treatment in Helena and continued down the trail that evening, about four hours before I arrived.

Lael and I spent two nights in the same house in Banff, so it wasn't implausible to speculate that we'd caught the same bug. Her symptoms sounded similar to mine — night coughing, congestion that got worse through the day, tight breathing and wheezing. But they also sounded much more severe. I wasn't having asthma attacks, and my tight breathing didn't force me to stop.…

These veins of mine are now some sort of fuse

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I guzzled a liter of water during the night coughing, and still felt parched when I woke up in the morning.

"Why am I so thirsty?" I wondered as shook out my dew-covered bivy sack. My hands went numb as I collected another liter from the creek. The 6 a.m. sky was already bright, but the air was icy and damp, and I felt an odd pressure in my chest as I breathed.

The first seven miles of the day were spent obsessing about coffee. It had been more than four days since my last cup — that incredible sugar sludge I obtained in Elkford. Each morning I took a caffeine pill to stave off headaches, but it wasn't the same. It just wasn't the same.

I rode by a sign fixed to a fence that read, "Ovando is Open!"

"I sure hope that's true!" I yelled back, out loud.

Ovando, population 71, is a lonely town in the Blackfoot River valley, tucked away between the Mission and Swan Ranges. It's close to Missoula, the city in Montana where I lived for a short ti…

Troubles on the headwinds, troubles on the tailwinds

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The coughing returned for another round of midnight fits, and all I could do was prop open the bivy sack so I could dislodge whatever piece of lung was trying to escape this time. I drank all of my water trying to soothe the coughs, and fell back asleep with the bladder valve between my teeth.
Despite the coughing fits, I slept fairly well, and rose to beautiful light on the edge of my grassy clearing. While rifling through my backpack, I rediscovered the piece of chocolate cake I'd purchased at the market in Whitefish. It was another one of those items grabbed on a whim (as all Divide food is), and I'd completely forgotten about it. It held it in both hands for several moments, admiring the five layers of cake slathered in dark chocolate frosting with floral designs. It wasn't even smashed. I wanted to eat it badly, but no — this cake was too special, and mornings were too easy. I needed to have my cake for hard times. I gently placed it back in the pack after pulling ou…