6:30am, get up get dressed using the clothes meticulously heaped at the end of the bed. Panic. Where the bloody hell is my down jacket? The two most expensive items of gear I was carrying were my waterproof and this jacket. Crafted by PHD it is a masterclass in both form and function, super lightweight, super small and super warm. Also super flipping expensive.
I turned the room upside down looking for it contemplating the consequences. I’d brought a lightweight sleeping bag on the understanding that this jacket would upgrade it were temperatures to fall below 5 degrees. The helicopter guy had said we were in for snow. I needed this jacket. It was nowhere to be seen, oh shit! I bet I’d left it in the bar. I descended the stairs from my room in slow time. How would I replace it? I wasn’t scheduled to visit a major town for days. Wish I’d kept the tent, I could have wrapped that round me at the very least.
Thankfully the jacket greeted me on the final banister. Turns out there had been a discussion in the bar the night before as the barmaid had asked other riders if it was theirs. They’d been tempted but honest Geof had spied my bike in the lobby and decided it was probably mine. This would not be the first time he’d hoover up lost property on this Tour. We’ll come to Geof and the wallet later in the ride.
So far there was no signs of snow, but it was decidedly cold when I left the shop burdened with my supplies for the day. Jason skidded to a halt beside me.
“Is there COFFEE, have they got COFFEE here …man“
Jason clearly needed coffee. He looked a bit ragged out and I found out why when he told me of the last 48 hours. He’d decided that he would ride down Fleecer Ridge, but had crashed. In the crash he’d mashed himself, his bike and also managed to discard his GPS somewhere on the trail. His solution was to drag everything back up over the hills to Butte, get as much fixed as possible and drag it all back. Jason was on a 200 mile day and needed coffee. Right now.
I had to salute his resilience whilst silently air punching the fact that I’d decided to walk down the steep bit. I left Jason to his coffee quest only to be passed by him some 5 miles later as we ascended the scenic byway leaving Wise River. This road was sublime, just the right gradient, no a single car and nicely scenic (lucky for Montana as I would have sued otherwise). But it was very cold and snow began to fall as I summited. I was able to don a down jacket under my waterproof and keep warm on the descent. Legs turned vigorously as I ate miles in a quest for the High Country Lodge and a second breakfast. Snowfall had stopped but Dave’s warnings concerning the Bannock Road were still ringing in my ears. A little bit of tailwind saw me there fairly rapidly. Jason had blown on through.
Craig and Josh were fannying around with their bikes outside of the lodge. We had a brief chat which was interrupted by my stomach telling me to stop gassing and get fed. I went inside as was welcomed by Russ as have been many many riders before me. The High Country Lodge is a must visit on the Tour Divide. Russ and Winnie are there to shove food down your neck and send you on your way in the most welcoming fashion possible. I believe they refuse to take reservations during the few weeks of the race to ensure the Divide riders get their unDIVIDEd attention (sorry).
I nailed my breakfast in a single gulp. The weather outside was starting to turn and I needed to get over the Bannock Road before the onset of natural glue. Russ wanted a picture of me before I left. This caused massive friction in the part of my brain that deals with politeness as it collided with the “get-the-fuck-on-with-it” cortex. Politeness acquiesced and I let Russ line me up perfectly against his back garden (lol! half of America) and position my bike.
Photo done. “Goodbyes” said and I was off on the road again with enough furious cycling to get me a six month stretch back in the UK. The legendary Bannock Road was gained in the dry and I set about this 11 miles of dirt as storms circled around me.
The winds made it hard to judge whether or not I would fall victim. But dirt track was up for a bit of progress making and I didn’t hang about. I caught and passed Aussie Craig, marvelling at his pendulistic saddle pack that kept perfect time with his cadence. A few miles down the road snow flakes began to fall and so I accelerated. I had to get off this road before it turned to shit. A farmer waved and shouted something about the weather. I shouted something back about being used to British Summers. He probably heard “Anne Summers” which explained his hasty retreat into his barn.
I hit tarmac with huge relief as the snow stared to fall proper. I’d defeated the Bannock. No peanut butter mud for me today, so I blew it a raspberrry, ate something sweet and shitty from my food bag and trundled on at a more sedate pace into the scenery, best described as mahoosive great dirt road with hills in the distance.
Not long after the Bannock I encountered Dave Stowe again. He’d been practising his sarcasm overnight and did a pretty decent job of taking the piss out of me (for a Canadian) about my various frettings concerning snow and weather. We rode together over the plains chatting about stuff and taking pictures. All the time looking to the left where more weather was incoming.
I was chuntering on about how epic and awesome the whole area was and my huge level of “stokedness” (maybe). Dave advised that stokedness would go off the scale a little later on when we entered a very scenic canyon. This kept my spirits up as we were climbing and it started properly snowing. The chatting soon stopped . It was a real grind to get to the zenith made worse by the horizontal snow and increasing wind. Davy Patterson was there to greet us with a little of his Irish charm. Turns out that we’d both bought our bikes from the same shop in Manchester and were equally as sweary as its owners.
Like two rampant males we tried to out swear each other but lost out to the wind. A hasty retreat was beaten down the hill where Davy advised that my fucking seat fucking pack was fucking drooping all over the fucking back fucking wheel and probably fucking needs fucking sorting out.
So I stopped to fucking deal with it leaving Davy and Dave to fuck off up the road. Fortunately the snow storm decided to abate and weather conditions returned to just chilly. I was reunited with Dave at the top of the canyon into which Big Sheep Creek Road had decided to lead us.
Dave advised that not only was this canyon scenic but at the bottom of it we would find a bus covered in Jesus. I questioned this as my understanding was that popular belief had him ascending to the heavens to be with his Dad. It turned out Dave was referring to graffiti. So down we went into a beautiful canyon carved out of the earth by Big Sheep Creek. Fishermen waved from the river, large raptors flew above and the weather held back. All was good. We found Davy further down drinking something awful from a brightly coloured can and looking a bit tired.
The canyon spat us out onto a freeway with 10 miles to ride to get to Lima. The wind was going our way so I hitched a ride and made short work of these miles, stopping once to swear at my GPS which had run out of charge. A dodgy motel beckoned me in purely on location, it was sited next to a convenience store and a diner. Time for the daily nutritional jumble sale. Pickings were fairly slim in terms of fresh food but my eyes were opened by another fellow shopper, Geof. He was proudly clutching a large carton of banana cream pie.
“Thitelldofamebreky” he announced.
Five minutes later I’d deciphered his New Zealand into the fact that it would make rather a splendid alternative to Clif bars for breakfast. So I bought one as well, the thinking being that I might actually look forward to eating it in the morning.
Paying for my basket of goodies I couldn’t help but notice the rack of assault rifles next to the till.
“Anything else?” – the shop lady asked
“I’ll have one of those please” – I countered pointing at an AK47
She began to reach for it then paused
“Could I buy one really?” – I questioned
“Are you American?”
“Sorry sadly not”
I imagined the same conversation in Devon with an American trying to buy some of the extra powerful scrumpy. Although I think we’d have been a bit more lenient.
I met Geof, Dave, Davy and Craig in the diner later that evening. A masterclass in sarcasm was dealt out with England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand represented at the table. Canadian Dave just sat back and watched. The room filled with enough irony to power a Trump hosted climate change conference. I retired to bed with absolutely no piss left in me whatsoever, the Kiwi had taken it all.