I woke up with a start. There was something breathing heavily in camp. It was a noise no human could make and I immediately assumed the worse: bear. It had eaten all our food and now had laid down to take a nap in the middle of our camp. I laid dead still, assessing the situation, before reaching out slowing and grabbing my armed can of bear spray. I slowly got my head out of my sleeping bag, ready to spray the intruder and pinpointed where the breathing was coming from. A giant lump next to me. Shifferly. Snoring! I laid back down, relieved, losing consciousness the moment my head hit the ground for another hour before the alarm roused us.
I struggled to all fours to do a body assessment. The right ankle was not happy with life. My wrist was non weight bearing. The glue on the duct tape had started to irritate my skin. I had to get to Helena pronto for some real first aid supplies. We rolled into Lincoln together, found an open gas station and I ate some semblance of breakfast before loading up on snacks for the three pass trek to Helena.
The road quickly kicked upward on a steep jeep road that was technical enough to keep my mind off of my current body situation. It passed quickly, as did the second and third passes of the day and before I knew it, I was coasting down to Helena in time for a late lunch. I stopped at the first grocery store and in addition to buying food, I bought an ankle and wrist brace. Pulling my sock off brought bad news. My food had swelled since I'd wrapped my ankle days before and the skin between the duct tape and open air had split and was now oozing yellow pus. Crud. I almost had to laugh. Another potential game-ending injury? I cleaned the wound out, put some antibiotic cream on it, bandaged it up, put my sock on, shoe on, and said a little prayer.
I wasn't going to make it out of Montana at this rate!
I pedaled out of town, climbing the impossibly steep roads which initially didn't seem to end but as lunch digested and energy seeped into my cells became more beautiful with each passing pedal stroke. Then, the energy ran out at the base of the Lava Mountain Trail and the two mile climb on trail followed by several miles of technical riding became sheer agony. I finally emerged on a dirt road, sat down and extracted my comfort food: my jar of peanut butter. I pouted.
'There's pizza in Basin, Eszter. You're not getting any close to Basin sitting here. MOVE!'
I pedaled the final hills and began the long descent into Basin only to find the pizza place closed. Across the street, I saw a bar open with a loaded bike on the balcony. Maybe it was Adam who'd passed me earlier. My spirits lifted until the bar tender told me that the kitchen was closed, but she could get me some chips and salsa. I accepted, not wanting to go back outside. I talked with Norman who was just touring the route, and when the chips ran out, I kept pedaling. Bonked out of my brains. And then it started to rain.
This is where experience kicks in. An experienced bike packer would don rain gear, eat, and pedal 10 more miles up to the tunnel to seek shelter. A stupid one would find the nearest tree, lay their bivy down among cow patties, skip dinner, and hope it didn't rain too hard.
I spent the night wet, hungry, and dejected.
I woke up with all my gear soaked. I ate a spoonful of peanut butter and nearly gagged. I forced a few sips of water down. If there was a crux to the northern part of the route for me, it was the 27 miles from Basin to Butte. It followed a dirt road paralleling the highway, traversed a huge butte, and then dropped down into Butte.
I was bonking. I couldn't stomach any food. Liquid seemed repulsive. I crawled, watching the landscape inch by at a ridiculously slow pace. But, like all hard segments of the Divide, it too, ended and I found myself overlooking the Mecca of Butte with the golden arches of McDonalds staring me in the face. By this time, I knew I was bonking and I wandered in and ordered a massive amount of food. I carried it on my handlebars to the Outdoorsman, Rob Leipheimer's shop. It was 7:30 in the morning, they didn't open until 10. Crap. TD Lore said that Rob had been known to open his shop early for TD racers so I parked myself in front of his shop with the hope that he'd see my SPOT dot and open his doors for me. I ate and ate, thousands of calories going into my belly with no sign of Rob. Eventually, I wandered over to Safeway to restock. I came back to the shop, 8:45 and still no sign of Rob. I kicked myself for not getting my bike worked on in Helena
There's a saying that if you're not eating, sleeping, or pedaling on the Divide, you're wasting time, so I figured I'd just use the time to eat. This may have actually been a saving grace as I was able to down on the order of two to three thousand calories and let them digest before setting off. Plus, the shop was part of TD Lore, I had to see it.
Rob showed up at 9:15 and mercifully let me into his shop. Some fresh Stans, some fresh brakepads, I was out the door before ten, headed for Fleecer Ridge of TD Lore. But first there was a boatload of climbing and descending to do, and while it was beautiful, it served to run my energy supplies low again so by the time I reached the climb to Fleecer Ridge, I had made a firm reentrance into Bonkersville. I crawled up the climb. The hike-a-bike descent was a welcome relief from the saddle time. I rolled into Wise River broken.
The Xing tea helped with the revival. The Sour Patch Kids did wonders. The information that the trio of boys had left less than an hour before reignited the fire to pedal. I was off. Not 10 minutes into the paved climb, I felt a twinge from my left achilles. What the heck? I've never had achilles pain before. I ignored it as it continued to tighten, making each pedal stroke agony. My rear was chaffed, my wrist still preventing shifting and holding onto anything but aerobars and barends, my right ankle was still sore, and now my left was causing the most pain of all.
I sat down, two miles from the top of the climb, completely and totally dejected. Was this it? I knew I couldn't continue my current pain killer regiment. I didn't want to cause permanent injury. I couldn't ride another 2,000 miles with that level of pain.
So I did the only thing I knew how to do, I got up, pedaled to the top of the climb and coasted down the other side keeping an eye out for the Grasshopper Inn. I rolled up, elated to see a loaded bike outside on the rooms. I hobbled into the bar where they fired up the deep frier for me and made me some fried chicken and french fries and I met Warren from Avon who agreed to share his room with me.
I stood in the shower for an excessively long time, hot water washing the dirt from my body. It may have been time wasted for some, but the hot water breathed life back into my body and I slipped in between two clean white sheets, set an alarm, and knew I'd have to make a call to quit or go in the morning. Never quit at night. I knew better.