Biking Logging Roads of Montana

Mountain Biking Haul Road in Montana

It is cold, the last days of October in Montana and a heavy white frost sits outside. 
I wake to the sounds of my husband in the kitchen as he raises the espresso maker to life. He brings a steaming cup to the bedside, yet I am still unwilling to open my eyes. I hear the cup set softy on the bedside table and he pulls a sheet up to cover my eyes before turning on the light. With one eye I watch him dress, human parts disappearing before me as he pulls on his camo. “You can stay and sleep” He gently encourages, tucking the cocoon of blankets round my shoulders. Mmm, I mumble, “but it will be a good ride”, and I slowly rise. It is a dark 5:45 AM.
Last night the plan sounded great. He will drive to the mountains to meet an uncle, I will ride along with him to their meeting spot, then I’ll ride my bicycle home as he hunts. I’ve already packed the truck with bike, food bars and water.
Shuffling out dressed in my winter tights and multiple layers to a steamy bowl of gruel, it now seems much too early to eat. Coffee and oatmeal get transferred into To-Go cups.

Haul Road Views in MontanaIt is an hour plus ride to their meeting spot. I nod off and wake suddenly with a jolt. “Why don’t you drive home and come back to get me at 2? He asks. He is walking that thin line of trying to be supportive while also thinking this is may not be a good idea. Again, last night this was a great idea, but I wonder to myself, why am I doing this? Last night I asked my husband how far this ride will be, he shrugged, “between 25 maybe 30 miles”. One last time he asks if I really want to do this ride. “I think so”, I say.

A full bright moon reflects off the Koocanusa reservoir, a 90-mile-long snake of water. The distant water is steel gray with slivers of silver when moonlight
reflects. Fingers of fog drift out of the Canadian Rookies to the north, layering upon themselves making the mountains disappear into mist.

Arriving at the meeting spot and pleasantries exchanged, the men are off to slink through the gullies hoping to slay the elk native to these mountains. I stand and watch them hike off. Cold seeping in my gloved hands, again, wondering; why am I doing this?

I swing a leg across the silver frame of my touring bike with its trusty Green Carbon Comfort bike seat and clip-in. Within 10 feet from starting I have already dropped into fifth gear, 10 more feet I drop another gear, and another Finally landing in second gear. Panting hard from the climb I force myself to “find some Zen” to relax into the climb and breath. The cold air hurts as I gasp, my eyes weep from the cold as well. I can’t feel the handle bars my hands are so cold. By the hill’s crest I’ve worked up a full sweat and am rewarded with a breathtaking view of lake Koocanusa shrugging off the fog. Stopping for a minute to take in the sight, along the road I also see a mileage marker. I let out a small gasp, it is marked 47, and from where this road starts, there another 17 miles home. This will be a 64-mile day before I get home. Now normally, 60 is quite do-able. But this road was built for logging trucks. It was blasted from the granite mountainside and is full of narrow curves, climbs, and dips. The total flat road of these 47 miles will be less than five feet.  I will either be grinding up hill in first gear or riding my brakes, careening down around the hillside. Although I would like to be angry at my husband for his bad advice on distance, I know it was my fault for not checking Google earth.

By the day’s end this ride 64 miles seems more like 100. Once again I am thankful for a comfortable seat. At least the bike seat is not causeing me pain. This seat will not give me any greif for the entire day. My legs will turn into noodles, my stomace will growl, but my behind will not hurt.  Over my lifetime, I have done a good deal of long distance touring. To build the confidance to tackel a multi-state ride, one must make day trips like today on a regular basis.

Mountain Bike with Air Horn AttachedI have been warned by many people that bears are often seen on this road so I’ve added an air horn to the bike today. A lightweight but really loud way to scare an animal, (so I have heard, never used it.)
Gradually the day warms and fog lifts, my hands warm and the ride becomes wonderful.

The road dips to lake side and the views are glorious. I am passed by a total 5 cars and two logging trucks the entire day. Not expecting a ride this long, carefully I ration my food bars and water reminding myself that the dinner tonight will be glorious as I will be ravenous.

By afternoon, this  becomes an exhausting ride, in part the low food supplies and in part the very rough road surface. If I were to do this again I would ride the opposite side of the lake on a smoother road designed for auto traffic not logging trucks. Rolling resistance from a rough road surface can have a significant effect on a long distance bicycle ride.

Why I do it? Because I can. Because some days it is really hard to get on a bike and ride. Yet, sometimes it is also good to be a bit miserable, because when we are miserable we know we are alive and the contrast helps us to appreciate what perfect is. When we complete things that are hard, that makes us feel good. Life is not meant to be too easy, it is a lot like riding a bike, it is a balancing act between pain and pleasure.

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