Saturday, September 26, 2009

Day Two Hundred, 090916 - Alzada, MT

Day Two Hundred, Date Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Time in Saddle: 7:09
Distance for the Day: 65.38 miles From Ekalaka To Alzada, MT
Accumulated Trip Distance: 10,022 miles
Altitudes: Starting/Ending 3139’/2994’, Highest: 3530’ Accumulated: 1512’
Speeds: Avg: 9.1 mph, Max: 32.1 mph
Weather: 50° clear and dry, warming to the low-90s in the afternoon
Expenditures: $19

Woke up at 6:08am got up at 6:20am broke down ready to roll at 7:05am after using the church bathroom, again (thanks Father DeForest!) The crescent moon was in a pretty conjunction with Venus, a very close pass by each other; also got to see Mars for the first time this year in the constellation of Gemini. The weather this morning was beautiful and dry, and I heard a coyote howling at 5:30am which set off all the town dogs. I went into the church to have a sit and plug in my notebook, but all their outlets were the two-prong type, which I couldn’t plug into. I then left to go into town, and noticed the doors to the local bank were open at 8:36am. They weren’t open for business, yet, but let me have a sit and plug in just the same. I spoke with the manager, Mike Quady, he gave me valuable intel on routes I should take. I decided at this juncture to skip going to the Grand Tetons National Park, unless it doesn’t seem too bad to go down to them from Yellowstone and then back up through Yellowstone to West Yellowstone. I was already losing time with the reroute, and if I try, as I originally intended, to get to the Tetons, first, and then Yellowstone, second, it would take a lot longer, and I don’t think I have the time. Mike even gave me a promotional Ekalaka Bank cap (thanks, Mike!)

At 10:11am, I stopped in at the town café for breakfast (eggs, hash browns, toast - $7). I thought I’d better get a decent breakfast, because I wasn’t going to get lunch, or possibly dinner, either. Surprisingly, there was a strong wi-fi signal coming from *somewhere* (it wasn’t the café’s), and I was able to handle email, check weather, and use Google Maps. Afterwards, I took off, already stocked-up from yesterday’s trip to the grocery store with three quarts of Gatorade, two quarts of water, and four pints of sodas.

Woo! Tough day. The sun was hot, but thankfully, the air wasn’t just as hot – probably only in the mid-80s, plus, there was almost always a slight to moderate breeze out of the east. This turned out to be most helpful, which I’ll explain later. I started down my new route for the day, the one suggested by the guy who told me the gravel road was no good, yesterday, which was Hwy 323 to Alzada, a 72 mile stretch with no services, a 15 mile stretch of gravel road, the last 6 miles of which were under construction (as described, yesterday).

The first 30 miles of 323 went very well, with nice pavement, light traffic, and gentle breezes to cool me off in the warm sun. Very peaceful out here, with very little traffic, and I can hear the birds singing in the trees and not much else. The gnat problem has for the most part stopped, but the grasshoppers seem to have redoubled, with them jumping up as I approach, and hitting me in the face, chest, arms, legs – kind of annoying, though harmless. Once, one even got under my shirt – I had to stop for that. I went over a 500’ mountain pass, through the Custer National Forest, and past the Medicine Rock Park. I didn’t go into the park, but saw some samples of the weird, carved shapes of that region. I saw two gray deer leap over the roadside barbed wire fence, bound over the road, and then leap over the other barbed wire fence on the other side. They were only about 40 feet from me, and their movements were just astounding – they seem to give these little kicks, and then they’d rise up and over 4’ fences as though they were floating through anti-gravity fields. There was also a gray stag with a full ‘rack’ (antlers), but he didn’t like the looks of me, and turned around and hid behind some of the medicine rocks. Then, I got to the gravel road. Yeesh!

At first, it was a bit tough, trying to find ‘paths’ – usually where tires passed the most, that were somewhat free of gravel – that I could grip and travel on faster. Also, there was the fairly heavy traffic of huge ‘extra-long’ gravel carriers. I found that if I stayed on the *left* hand side of the road, the wind would carry most of these vehicles’ dust clouds off to the right, away from me. The drivers understood what I was doing, and helped by driving on the wrong side of the road when they passed me – most considerate. Fortunately, no convergences occurred (vehicles approaching from the front and the rear, right as they passed me), so I actually (amazingly) got very little dust on me for the 10 gravel miles I rode. There *were* fairly long stretches where the road became pretty decent – compressed dirt, which was smoother and easier to ride, so it wasn’t all bad. The fellow I’d talked with the evening before (the one who told me the gravel road from Ekalaka to Broadus wasn’t do-able), drove up in his truck, and offered to give me a lift over *this* gravel. I thanked him, but turned down his offer – that would be cheating! I wondered if I was going to regret that.

I went along as best I could, and refused to look at my odometer. I find it’s too torturous to keep looking at the odometer when you’re suffering. In circumstances like this, it’s best to keep it out of mind, and be pleasantly surprised when you’ve reached goal. Believe you me: time flies by a lot quicker when you’re not watching the clock/odometer! I eventually passed over the 10 miles to where the actual road construction was happening, and one of the supervisory type guys called me over, and offered (in a friendly, though somewhat insistent manner) to give me and my trike a ride the rest of the way past the construction zone, and to pavement again. There were huge scrapers and loaders working the last 5 miles toward Alzada, and they have trouble seeing cars and buses, much less tiny little gnats like me. I accepted, in truth, gratefully, as I was getting a little knackered riding over this slow, tough road. We loaded my trike, and he drove me over the last 5 miles of gravel, past all the big construction machines. Looking at that road, I was glad to be getting that ride – it was big, thick gravel, no bald spots, and would have been super-tough to traverse – I probably would have made a top speed of 4-6 miles per hour on that road. We got to the paved road, and he let me off, there, and we chatted a bit before I thanked him for the ride, and he took off. I noticed my brand new trike flag was starting to come off its pole! I thought, “I should shoe-goo that on,” and then got thirsty and drank some Gatorade and promptly forgot about it. My best excuse was – I was a bit loopy from the heat, thirst, and no food since breakfast. It was 20 more miles to Alzada – my legs and knees were already a bit strained, but, 20 miles isn’t *so* bad. I had muscles that were a bit painful, and had to use the leg-stretch trick to keep my knees from flaring up. A ways down the road, I remembered the flag, looked up, and it was gone. DEMITOL! It wasn’t that breezy, but when these huge rigs go zooming past at warp speed coming from the opposite direction, they hit you with a hefty gust of wind, and I figure it was one of those times, which occurred at least several times every half hour, that I lost it. Now, I need a new flag, again. I think I’ll just get a roll of that thin, stretchy, fluorescent plastic tape, and make a bunch of tassels for the damn thing. Ach-patooey! I was feeling weird at this point – kind of weak and breathless, and knew I needed to eat something, but I wasn’t hungry, only thirsty. I forced myself to choke down a PayDay bar and a meat-n-cheese stick, and felt a little better.

I eventually made Alzada at 6:30pm, and got one of those “been cooking all day” Polish sausages (it was pretty good – but maybe that’s just because I was very hungry) and a root beer for dinner, plus got a couple more drinks for tonight and tomorrow morning ($12). I found out that I could camp at this location for free, so at 7:20pm, with the sun just about ready to set, I decided I would stay here for the night, and have breakfast here, too (N45° 1.439' W104° 24.365'). Tomorrow, I would head down SR 112 to Hulett. I’m told it’s a 31 mile, *very* hilly road – terrific. But, it’s paved the whole way, lightly traveled, and also goes past Devil’s Tower (you’ll remember that from the movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”). And, it’s part of my new, viable route into Yellowstone. I’ll have to go on Interstate 90 for a while, but I believe it should be cycleable. I’ll find out if it’s not when I get there.
I blogged from what I *thought* was 7:40pm to 9:30pm, and chatted with a couple of truckers who were also staying overnight, plus the gal who was working the mini mart that evening. Everyone left after a while, but one of the truckers came back with a couple of pints of ice cold water bottles for me – his donation to my trip – that was nice! Then, I set my tent up on the concrete walkway right next to the store. As I was setting up, I saw a medium-small tarantula scuttling across the concrete near my tent – cool! I like tarantulas. They’re quite harmless, and very interesting insects. I chased him around a little bit, and then let him on his way. I got to bed by what I *thought* was 10pm (I had passed into the next time zone [Mountain Time] without knowing it, so the time was actually 11pm). The noise from the nearby highway was pretty loud, even with my earplugs, but that didn’t matter – I was out like a light within 15 minutes.

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