This weekend was our stake Boy Scout advancement / merit badge camp at a ranch just past Pryor, MT. Adult leaders were to complete their outdoor training while the boys worked on two merit badges or finished up requirements for their Tenderfoot, Second Class or First Class ranks. I needed to be at the camp but Sarah needed the car to take the kids to soccer Saturday morning and whatever errands she needed to run. I decided, since there were enough leaders going to truck the boys out there, that I would pedal on out the 37 miles to the ranch. Somewhere along the way I got the idea that I would also haul all of my gear out there. I went and bought a rear rack for the bike and borrowed a set of panniers from Chris (who was excited to hear all about my adventures this weekend wishing to don the panniers himself one day). I stayed up late Thursday night loading up the bike, debating over various items, gauging whether the weight was worth hauling it for the weekend. The biggest debate was the tent. At 8-1/2 lbs. I figured I was better off without it knowing I could crash with someone else. I wish I'd weighed all my gear to get an idea of what I was hauling but I'm sure it was over 40lbs, much of which was just the panniers and rack before all of the gear was added. This is what I finally settled with.
I planned to leave early on Friday, attempting to reach the ranch by 5pm. A late running meeting and a few phone calls at work prevented me from leaving until 3:00 pm. It was a race against the clock now. I wanted to get far enough that I wouldn't feel obligated to hop in a vehicle as the other leaders passed so I'd get there at a decent hour but not travel fast enough to burn myself out too early. As I set out the weather really made me question my sanity in this venture. It was windy, really windy, and had been sprinkling all day and even though the forecast called for a clear day in Pryor, there was no sign of it letting up.
I trucked on for the first three miles on a flat while trying to acclimate myself to the extra weight and bulkiness of the bike. Surprisingly, the extra weight wasn't a big issue on the flats. Maintaining a good speed was easy, accelerating was the hard part, especially into the wind. On my three mile flat I turned over 3,000 miles on my road bike, and of coarse, being the nerd I am, I had to snap a picture. This is the only picture of my trip.
After turning up Blue Creek Road (South Billings Blvd.), I fought the cross winds up the 13 mile, 800 foot climb to the top. I am very familiar with this part of the road so the climb was actually pretty easy, even with the extra weight. I just geared down a little further to compensate. After reaching the top, I let loose and coasted down the backside, descending 400 feet in 3 miles. The easy part of the ride was now over and to my surprise, I was still ahead of the other leaders in their trucks.
The second half of the ride is the most grueling part of the ride. Already weary from the first 18 miles, I had to battle the tedious 18 mile, 600 foot climb ahead of me. The climb is just shallow enough to be deceiving. At points, it looks as if you are not climbing but your legs tell you otherwise. Your head says you should be going faster while your legs scream for a break. Having done the ride previously, I decided to listen to my legs instead and took the climb at a more comfortable pace. Traffic started picking up several miles into this climb as the masses of boy scouts and leaders were flocking to the ranch. My troop soon passed me with cheers of encouragement while the leaders most undoubtedly rolled their eyes thinking they'd be part of the search party later that night.
The tedium of the monotonous climb, pounding crosswinds and drizzling rain locked me into a trance. I counted miles, doing fractions in my head to keep my mind active. 1/12 done, 1/10 done, 1/8, 1/4, 1/3, 1/2! Half way there! 2/3 of the way. 3/4! Alright. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. Something that snapped me back into reality and then a panic. Two bulky rottweilers were tearing down the drive right at me. I looked down at my bike computer, 12 mph. Nowhere near fast enough. I jumped out of my saddle, mashing down hard on the pedals. I could feel my bike flexing with the load on the back swaying back and forth. Huffing and puffing now, I finally reached 20 mph, not fast enough but all I could sustain. The dogs were on both ankles now, keeping pace with me. I sat back down resigned to the fate of a few dog bites and a bad crash. I watched the dogs closely, ready to react when they finally attacked, but they seemed confused by the circular motion of my feet as they pounded the pedals. Then it happened, as if I'd crossed some unmarked boundary, they both ran out of steam and back off in unison. I didn't dare slow down until I'd left them far behind.
Now I was very close to Pryor, and although exhausted and starving, I found new energy in this slightly familiar landmark. It meant only two more miles to go. Tempted by the roadside diner, I reluctantly passed by, rode through town and stopped at the gas station to call Sarah to let her know that I'd arrived. I'd soon be out of cell service, but I'd made it, or so I thought. The excitement of reaching Pryor quickly wore off as I struggled to finish the last two miles and 200 foot climb of the trek. Relief overcame my tired, windburned and frozen body as I saw the ranch ahead. I eagerly turned onto the dirt drive looking forward to warm clothing and a satisfying dinner. That's when I saw the creek running over the drive. Usually the creek is only a few inches deep and 20 feet wide, but it had swelled to a wide, murky mess, now about 200 feet across. Desire to be done with the ride clouded my judgment as I took off down the road on my skinny tires trying to ford the river. I made it 15 feet before my bike was swallowed up and came to a halt. I slammed my right foot into the freezing water and pushed my bike as far as I could trying to keep my left foot dry. Before I knew it my left foot, still on the pedal, was under water. Realizing that there was nothing left to lose, I dipped both numb and soggy feet into the water and walked the rest of the way through the creek.
A cold, tired, hungry and humbled man rolled into camp as jaws dropped all around me. My boys rushed me with all kinds of questions. I tried to respond the best I could but all I could think about was dry, warm clothes and hot food in my belly. In hindsight, I think I was probably suffering from the onset of exposure. I shivered all night, even with dry pants, socks, shoes, a long-sleeved t-shirt, fleece pullover, and rain jacket. I couldn't shake it until I crawled into my sleeping bag.
Friday night we started our outdoor leadership training as the boys broke off to do patrol activities. The adults formed patrols and selected a patrol mascot and yell. We then gathered for a quick fireside and turned in.
Saturday was still cold and rainy. We ate soggy pancakes and sausage in the rain and then continued our training while the boys worked on merit badges. Our training was a speed dating version of tenderfoot, second class and first class ranks, compressing months of work into three hours. It was all information that we should know anyway and I was actually fun in its own way. We were done by lunch and lunch was well worth all the cold, rain, and exhaustion. Incredible chicken thighs and legs accompanied by some delicious scalloped potatoes, a sweet dutch oven apple dish, scones and an incredible corn pudding. I ate until my gut burst, then threw in a couple scones for good measure. I knew I'd need the carbs for the ride home.
After lunch, we worked with one of our 11 year old scouts on his first class requirements, showing him how to use a compass and other orienteering skills.
It was finally time to pack up and leave. The rain had stopped and it warmed up a little but still no sign of the sun. I caught a ride over the creek which was a great relief. My shoes were moist but not soggy like the night before. I started down the road and quickly got up to a 25 mph pace as I headed toward Pryor. My feet didn't lie to me the day before, there really was a good incline. As I pulled into Pryor, I attempted to stop to call Sarah and let her know I was on my way home. Just then three dogs came barreling down the road towards me. They weren't ferocious dogs like the rottweilers but I still didn't feel like chancing it. I finally stopped at the edge of town to call.
As I pedaled back, making great time, I was passed by several caravans of honking scouts and leaders as they recognized the crazy guy who rode his bike to the campout. I took it as encouragement. Although I was really moving and felt good, I anxiously watched the scenery to my right, watching for an ambush from the rottweilers. Then out of an unfamiliar field I head barking and saw three sheep dogs racing toward me. I was out of reach before they even hit the road. Not long after that I saw to brown flashes flying down the drive ahead of me. Dangit! Those stupid rottweilers got the jump on me. Again, I jumped out of the saddle and mashed hard on the pedals reaching 27mph. They didn't stand a chance. I passed them and was long gone before they had a chance to react. Victory!
After evading the dogs, I was able to enjoy the remainder of my ride. Even the last 3 mile climb to the top of Blue Creek Road wasn't too bad. Then came the fun stuff. A sharp, 400 foot drop in less than one mile with a steep but short climb at the end. I flew down the hill and pushed hard to climb the other side as far as I could without slowing. Huffing and puffing, I finally crested. Slowly I tried to regain a good pace. Psssst! Psssst. Psssst. I felt an odd sensation on my leg as short blasts of air blew by. That was the fastest flat tire I'd ever experienced. 100psi to completely flat in about 3 seconds. I stood on the road for a minute examining the damage and evaluating the best way to turn my fully loaded bike over and fix the flat. I finally got the bike over and took off the tire. To my dismay, the actual tire was slashed and should probably be replaced now. I slapped a patch on the tire and the tube hoping it would carry me the last 10 miles home. As I repaired the tire, two concerned cyclists stopped and offered help. They were relieved to discover I wasn't a touring cyclist from Massachusetts stranded with a bad tire 10 miles outside of Billings and that my wife could easily come to my aide if needed. I guess the panniers gave me the temporary status of a whole different class of cyclist. It felt good.
As I hit the road again, the sun finally plunged under the clouds as it retired for the night. The valley ahead was lit up in amber and gold, quite astonishing giving the drab gray scenery I was in. I finally crossed into the sunlight enjoyed the glowing ball of fire that I hadn't seen for two days but it was short lived as I ducked behind another ridge. Anxious to get back home before dark, I picked up the pace when again Psssst! Psssst. Pssssst. And that air blowing on my leg again, not more than half a mile from the first flat.
I managed to change my tube just as darkness fell around me. I committed to riding in the travel lane rather than the shoulder to avoid more debris and flats. I finally made it home after 7pm, in much better spirits than the day before but anxious for a warm shower and soft bed.