The Pettit files, a little appitizer from the adventure
Eureka bound, broken bike and soul
Once back on the road and again loaded with food I headed out towards Stryker, and the infamous snow section. Coasting down a small incline wondering how far up was Norb and the others I had the cranks parallel, my right foot back. Next thing I know I’m picking myself up off the deck. I was doing about twenty and the awkwardness even now escapes me. My face slammed against the aero bars knocking off my GPS, my balls slammed the top tube and the wheel shot sideways out from under me, flipping me and the bike over.
I laid on the ground and watched my ride and thousands of dollars worth of equipment and gear bounce down the road thinking, “we’ll this ain’t any fucking good” I stood up to retrieve the yard sale that was my life when I fell again. The pedal was still clipped into my shoe, with the drive side crank attached. I was confused, I sat down again on the ground and twisted the arm sideways until it came off. Still some 20 feet away from the bike I sat and stared at the shape in my hand perplexed as ever.
The sram x7 cranks I had, use a bolt from the left side that snug’s the right side “drive side” arms together. Tightened down to a specific torque setting this shouldn’t/can’t happen. I picked up the bike and leaned it against a fence post, a little bloody and banged up I began my investigation. What in the? How in the? HUH? I am certainly no mechanic, but the fundamentals I understand, but this I didn’t comprehend. I pulled out the left crank from the bottom bracket housing, put it into the drive side but it just spun around the spindle, like it was missing a c clamp or something. It wouldn’t bind together to hold anything, the weight of the drive side just caused it to drop freely, I was swimming in shit creek with nothing to float down with.
I coasted the bike for a bit, found my missing pieces before it got too dark and slowly made my way back to Eureka. I didn’t know if they had a bike shop, it was Saturday night and I had no idea on what to do. It was a nine or so mile walk back to town, still confused the pain of the crash begin to set in my soggy bones. I absolutely despise walking, and now my feet hurt from the carbon cycling shoes, I could feel the goose egg bump develop on my knee and the burn of melted skin shredded open in the night air.
I placed the broken steed outside a “sports” bar in town. Ordered a double markers and sprite, and a tall Rainier. I had walked for a couple hours in the darkness until I reached the metropolis of all that is Eureka. I wasn’t sure what my next move would be or even what the appropriate decision was. There is no outside help on the tour divide, any help you do get has to be commercial available to all participants. So I had a few drinks, knocked back some ibuprofen and collected a good stack of rainier tops then slept in the park.
In the morning I called some bike shops all where 90 plus miles away and of course not open on Sunday. I settled into the Ksanka Motel Inn. A lovely establishment where you can get gas, groceries, load up on subway and check into a hotel all at once. The room was stank smelling with two queen beds and a small TV bolted to the block wall. I laid out all of my wet stuff, took a shower and chowed down and a foot and a half of subway. By this time news of my plight were streaming across the internet, everyone was trying to get me up and running. My phone was out of range and of course, at the Ksanka, there is no internet.
Like the good ole days, I bought a calling card and called Amber, I was down in the dumps and looking for answers. Seemed Matthew Lee got word of me looking for parts and he made sure I didn’t break any rules, or accept outside help. He informed me of what I could and couldn’t do. If I got a ride to whitefish which was forward on the route I had to be dropped off where I was picked up. On my way to the hotel a car stopped me while I was pushing my bike and asked if I was a tour divide rider, I said “yes” and he was all pumped up to finally meet one of the riders.
His wife was from Eureka and they lived in Kalispell, he was an avid rider and followed the blue dot nation, our GPS transponders leave a blue dot with your initials letting everyone know a see just how badly were suffering. He informed me he knew one of the owners of the bike shops in town, left me his number then dropped me off at the hotel. Amber had somehow conference in a call from Matthew Lee to me and we talked for a while, I told him of the guy with cranks out in Kalispell and he said a barter or payment is fine. Other than that it was 70 some odd miles to Whitefish, not to mention an over six hour snow walk.
I called Jerrod the guy out in Kalispell and told him I’m interested in the cranks, the shop had the same ones I had so they could warranty mine. He said he could meet me at the flying J out of town. So I made a sign that read, “Tour divide racer in need of ride to Kalispell, 50 dollars cash to whomever can give me a lift” I placed my hotel number on the paper and left it out on the door of the gas station. Five hours later my phone rang and a nice couple agreed to give me a lift, along the awkward way there they asked all sorts of questions, mainly why anyone would want to do such things.
I met Jerrod and we swapped cranks and I gave him 50 bucks for his troubles, the people who gave me a lift didn’t charge me, good Christian people couldn’t take money from a down and out guy, even if he was baptized Lutheran they said. So now outside of the Flying J truck stop in Kalispell I flagged down everyone I could with a 50 dollar bill waved in front of their face saying “50 dollars for a ride to Eureka” All my clothes were just riding clothes so I had a beanie, rain pants, windbreaker and riding shoes; must say I looked a little odd even by Montana standards.
It had been well over a couple hours before a couple of rough looking rednecks snatched up my 50 bucks and I crawled into the extended cab of an older f-250. I forget their names, but it was one hell of a ride, at the time I was thinking “shit, why didn’t I at least bring my bear spray?” Every time I tried to get in their conversation they would shut up and both turn around and stare at me, I stared back not wanting to give them a notion I’m some pussy. So from there on out I kept my mouth shut. At a Y in the road they slowed to a stop and said this is a far as your going, I said another 20 if you get me to my hotel, they said no, where going this way, pointing right and your agoin that way, pointing left.
I had known this road because I’d already walked part of this piece of shit before. It was nearly 2 am and I couldn’t even get a night cap beer, so I walked along the side of the road, new x7 cranks in hand dressed in all black cycling gear, about 5 more miles to my hotel a cop rolled up and asked what the hell I was doing. After debriefing the peace maker and going over my id, I asked for a lift and he told me he had a call to check up on. As his tail lights faded in the rain, now almost 3 in the morning I thought to myself out load that’s why nobody likes the police.
I passed out onto my bed at 3:45 and slept for four hours. I installed the new cranks and had some shifting issues, the front derailleur was all jacked up, maybe from me mix and matching different brands and parts, and also because of my lack of mechanical skills. I stopped off downstairs, got some goodies and checked the hell out of the Ksanka motel. I rolled downtown and saw Justin Simoni’s bike, he’s doing the original route, a massive effort and one with miles upon miles of snow hikes. He too was bugging the same lady for internet usage. It took me awhile to get the bike right so I was pushing off later than I wanted. It was Monday mid morning and I was itching to go.
I was making good time once up and running, that is until Stryker pass. First it starts out as blotchy random snow covered roads, before becoming just a vast expanse of sheer snow. Completely alone in the pouring rain I began a trudge of nearly 16 miles of snow hiking, all while pushing your bike. The temperature was hovering around 48 and spitting rain and snow, there was no dryness left of equipment or skin.
During this time I began a divide ritual of cursing out loud. Curving around a bend thinking its going to get easier, its got to get easier and when it didn’t I let out a “FUUUUUCKKK!!!!?” So loud any grizzly or sasquatch wouldn’t want any piece of me. So completely frustrated and alone, but I just kept walking. Once near the peak, or what I thought was the peak stood a small “danger, avalanche area sign” With only about 3 feet of it visible. I played jokes with my mind, I would look down at my computer and say okay lets do 3 mph for 1 hour straight. I would think up songs and sing while I marched to a military like cadence, but these tunes turned sadistic quickly and the language was well beyond pg 13. Then my mind would go, weren’t we just at mile forty, I thought we were at mile 43, how come I’ve walked for a half hour without the tenths of a mile moving on my computer? Every once in awhile I would stop and have a long look behind me, making sure no grizzly was eye balling me for dinner.
The snow started to break up and the road began to decline. I was nearly orgasmic, I threw a leg over the bike and finally was going over 5 mph. Gaining speed I would throw all my weight behind my seat, plowing through up to two feet of slushy goodness. I quit worrying about getting wet or muddy long ago. Clipping along at a pretty good pace I hit one section at terminal velocity and instead of cutting my way through it the front wheel just stopped and I was shot over the bars and slid for along time on my belly, this was the most fun I had in two days.
The road eventually bowed into a soupy, muddy, icy mess with a low layer of condensation hovering just above the road but at least ridable. I flew through the forest section knowing if I don’t get out of here before sheer darkness my attitude and condition will worsen immensely, not to mention a couple old creepy vans parked along side of the road filled with who knows what. Whitefish was still a ways to go, but I at least I was moving.
Dear Montana; why you do you hate me so much?
As far as I know I’ve never done anything to Montana, I don’t think I’ve committed crimes of adultery, I haven’t robbed people of their social security, bombed a federal building, stolen any of her natural bounty, been charged with a crime or even littered as far as I‘m aware of, but it would take me seven days to get through all of her misery. Showing me no where near a good time, or the sun as it turned out.
A couple miles from town the rains stopped. The outskirts had a couple restaurants but our trek was to go through near downtown. Passing Flathead lake at dusk was gorgeous, a heavy grey clung to everything but patches of blue eked out, all around the rim filtered in green, the lake twinkled with azure skies infused with a petunia like color of light pink with almost purple. I had never been to Whitefish so I thought lets see this town. It was after 10 pm when I rolled through the main streets, I settled on the great northern bar or something. It had an emblem that resemble that of the railroad and I could smell the cooking of meat and see the taps of beer, so in I went.
Once again I got a double bacon cheeseburger, fries and salad. Seems it has the right amount of fat, salt and protein not to mention a couple of one dollar MGD’s. I asked the barmaid where a fella could lay his head for free and she informed me of a dog park a couple blocks out of town. So with a belly full of goodness I set out towards the park and instead found a field with a large lot sign on it, and tall grass slick with raindrops. I laid out my bivy and readied myself for some sleep. I propped the bike up behind the sign and soon passed out. Around 1 am the rain started and by 3 it turned into a full on Montana mother F-ing monsoon. It was so heavy it pressed the bivy and sleeping bag down onto my face, I laid huffing gobs of air through the synthetic fibers I was both nearly suffocating and drowning all at once.
I waited for a lull in what I’m sure Noah himself had been waiting for. Finally around 3:45 it softened to just a heavy downpour, I hastily packed up my shit and b lined for town. Shivering beyond control I walked into a gas station and sat by the dryer in the men’s room and drank a hot chocolate nearly naked in the stall. Stumbling around town in complete bewilderment I met the Sheila’s, two women with the same name. Both from Texas there where heading to a place called the Pin and Cue. A magical laundry mat open 24 hours with a restaurant attached. I took this as a sign from the mountain bike heavens I was to continue on to fight another day.
I threw everything I owned in one big commercial dryer. Sleeping bag, backpack, clothes, socks, riding clothes, if it was wet, it went in. I was still beyond cold. It rained so long and hard it ruined “water proof” maps. I hopped into the restaurant and listen to the old timers talk about the town. Logging, quarries and some nut that’s running from the sheriff after squeezing off a couple rounds at a deputy. Seems he’s a militia man, last I checked, they still haven’t found him. I wolfed down some steak and eggs, oatmeal, pancakes, fruit and once the lady got tired of bringing me coffee she said “honey, I think I’ll just bring you a pot on a plate”
A solid three hours went by, I tried to take a nap in the laundry mat but the proprietor came by and said “I can see your hurting buddy, but if I let one guy sleep in here, then I have to let them all sleep in here” Seems Whitefish has a homeless problem too. Next door was a Safeway and I stocked up and by then after two dry cycles, my goods were warm enough for me to head out.
Whitefish to Owl creek; here a bear, there a bear, every god damn were a bear
I was tired, my eyelids where heavy not to mention my body hated me, and it was only eight in the morning. I got maybe an hour of sleep, and now here I was shoving myself out of town and towards Seeley Lake, a destination I was deeply looking forward to. My favorite author Norman MacLean, had a family cabin along the shores of the lake, if you don’t know he wrote a river run’s through it. But it’s his short stories I read over and over. Logging and pimping, the ranger the cook and a hole in the sky, along with Young men and fire recounting the tragedies of a forest fire in 1949 where 12 men of a 15 man smoke jumper unit died while battling the flames. I imagined him in the 20’s and 30’s roaming these same roads in an old ford pickup truck. I could also imagine him turning in his grave at the sight of the town and what they call progress.
As I was rolling out of town a guy on a cannondale lefty started shouting for me. I had seen him before, he to was holed up in town after having some rear wheel problems and having to walk some 35 miles into Whitefish, we crossed the boarder together and he must have carried on. Paul Jobling was his name, a good guy from England who lives in Germany now and designs cars. Even spent a good bit of time living in the US doing the same. He as experience bike packing in the Alps and was looking to push into Seeley lake a 150 or so mile ride. I wasn’t feeling all too chipper. Running on minimal sleep and an extremely wet night I was just looking for miles of any kind.
As it turned out Paul was the bloke who had to go back for his mobile as he calls it some six miles into the start of the race. His knee was bothering him a bit to, and sooner or later he dropped me and I was left to ride alone until I caught up to the South Africans. Luke and Marianne, I first met them at the farewell dinner in Banff, we all sat together and as we looked around the room we where at the time, the only table eating meat and drinking beers. Super nice people, Luke is an ER doc and immediately Amber looked at me and said, “you get hurt, just ride backwards” Life was simple. There were in good spirits as usual, we stayed together for awhile then on the long and sometimes steep climbs towards Seeley Lake I lost them. But together we went pass signs that read do not enter, grizzly catch and release area. But sure enough our path was straight on threw.
The climbing was tough and monotonous, over your left shoulder glorious views of the
Montana mountains where every where. Later on however it was another beast all together. Once you were done with the climbs the road carves around like a maze. Tall trees shun out the light and make you feel nearly clostophobic and to my surprise there where black bears absolutely every where. Shooting down the decent they would just be mozing up the road and scurry off when they saw me. I lost count at ten, when I saw one in the brush behind a large stump, then all of a sudden the stump moved and so did the other smaller bear, they turned almost directly into me. We made eye contact as I went flying by. I will not lie, I really didn’t want to sleep outside that night. The dirt road finally ended giving you three miles of pavement along the sight of the Mission Mountain range. Then another left towards owl creek campground. The hour was getting late and I knew I just had to keep going to matter how unsettling.
Past some lodge a couple miles the other way you begin to climb again. I looked over to my right and saw a nice little picnic table in part of a campground, must be lower owl creek I thought. I saw a spigot and new I was in a good place. I was still packing the jet boil at this time so I whipped up some ramen and a little tea. After having only slept for a couple hours the night before I feel asleep on top of the picnic table with remnants of ramen in my mouth and cup.
In the early morning hours I rolled over and looked out unto a new day, and not thirty feet away from me where three black bears, just grazing on some grass. As soon as I chimmied in the bivy they took for the hills. Un nerved I fell back asleep for another hour.
Owl Creek to Lincoln, nothing like bear in the morning and family reunions.