I guess I'll ride this winter out
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. I've had bronchitis once before, while I was living in Idaho Falls in 2005. During that bout, my symptoms were so severe that I nearly called 911, because I couldn't pull myself up from the floor without blacking out, and I had to lay on the floor because it was the only way I could breathe at all. There was no way a person could ride a bike a hundred miles a day with that kind of illness, unless they were super-human like Lael. No, my Divide crud was uncomfortable, but it wasn't bronchitis.
In the morning, I added Benadryl to my daily dose of caffeine and Claritin — another antihistamine that I'd been taking as a preventative measure since day one. As I rifled through my drug baggie for the pink pills, I realized I hadn't taken a single painkiller on the Divide. So far, I was riding pain-free. Knees, toes, butt, shoulders — all of the issues that I expected hadn't cropped up once. My bike hadn't had so much as a flat tire. But the worst allergies I've yet experienced? I never expected that.
At least the indoor stay seemed to have the effect I hoped, and my lungs felt clear when I wheeled my bike into the warm morning air. For arriving in town reasonably early, I left my room late — after 6 a.m. I felt guilty about that, so I made only a quick stop at a convenience store and devoured two bananas and a green smoothie for breakfast. But I did get a coffee, and pedaled away from Helena feeling like an indestructible super hero.
The first 1,500-foot climb was a breeze, and I started up Lava Mountain with an abundance of energy. I attacked the root-clogged doubletrack with zeal, clearing steep pitches that I normally wouldn't have attempted with an unloaded bike on a day ride. Topping out at 7,500 feet, my lungs were still clear and I could breathe the fire I hadn't felt since the first day. Helena may have forced me to endure the wrath of the Gordon Lightfoot fan and a crappy night of sleep, but in exchange she had cured me! Hallelujah!
Eleanor walked in as I was filling a basket with all of the store's remaining string cheese, along with my new favorite power fuel that propelled me up Lava Mountain — cinnamon bears. She asked if I was aiming for Wise River that night. "Oh no," I replied. "Not with Fleecer Ridge in the way. No, it's far." I scanned her expression for hints of whether she planned to take on Fleecer that night. I wanted to warn her the approach is faint and difficult to locate in the dark, the descent drops off the face of the Earth, and the area has a reputation as a haven for mountain lions. But I felt I shouldn't try to influence the decisions of a competitor. As it was, it seemed she may have stopped into the store specifically to ask about my plans, because when I turned around again, she'd already left.
I was aiming for the Beaver Dam Campground, just 116 miles from Helena, but it was about as close as I was willing to get to the mountain lions on Fleecer. When I caught glimpse of the campground sign, consciousness came flooding back in a tsunami of fatigue. It was a strange sensation, as I don't recall feeling terrible on my bike. But as soon as I stopped, I felt utterly shattered. The audible wheezing had returned, and I looked up at the stars as I gulped air through the narrow straw of my lungs.
After taking a Benadryl, I settled into my bivy feeling inexplicably depressed. In hindsight, this was perhaps another symptom of low oxygen levels. My mental energy was just fumes, and I wondered if I should try to eat something, but I'd already slung my food bag over a branch.
"Tomorrow," I mumbled, and then found myself humming, "the sun will come out, tomorrow," and then I was asleep.