The Flathead

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The right bike for the job is the one you are riding.  I fly into Whitefish under darkness.  Over a hundred paved miles from Fernie, B.C. to Whitefish, MT, I had not envisioned making it to town that night but I need to reach Missoula in several days.  The light and the night is right, and the road is wide open.  When I made the decision to reach Whitetfish, the sun was low and fifty miles lay ahead.  As I arrive, twilight had just turned to dark.  Pushing eighteen, twenty, twenty-one miles per hour in my aero position, I remain on the bike as the sky turns to fire.  In town, cheap cold beer and live American music are right where I left them last year.

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Taking the day to swim and visit friends, I meet Jason.  He intends to see a concert in Missoula, and suggests that he could ride there.  I sense bravado and his bluff, ordering that we arrange to meet the next morning.  Agreed.

Of his three race bikes– a Specialized Stumpjumper, Crux, and Tarmac– he selects the Crux,  a true cyclocross racer.  His previous experience with multi-day bike travel includes a trip around northwest Montana with his dog Cody, towed in an old Burley trailer.  The marriage of the race bike and the vintage trailer is inevitable, and ironic.  I suggest that he simply strap a sleeping bag to his handlebars, but the trailer is his “system”.  This is fine by me.  I am riding a purple snow bike, so I don’t have much to say.

We are up early, only to waste the morning with coffee and internet and bike preparations– none of which is really wasteful.  Leaving at two, we pedal a brisk ten miles and stop for ice cream and bananas.  Leaving late and eating ice cream is my M.O., but Jason is skeptical of our progress.  Back on the bikes, we wind along perpendicular valley farm roads to the shores of Flathead Lake.  He establishes a pace, I follow; I lead, he follows, and within the hour we are twenty miles down the road.  We stop for groceries and local Flathead cherries, spitting pits and pretending like the miles ahead of us will ride themselves and the day will last forever.  Finding a riding pace with a new partner is a challenge, but to find a rhythm and a rapport off the bike is harder.  With words, we dance towards a solution.

Should we ride?

If you want.

We can wait.

Well, we could go.

Ok, let’s ride.

A Pugsley with touring tires and a race bike and an old kids trailer is a whole lot of bike.  We could win road races and ride through a winter and carry around a family and shoot off for a quick two-day ride to Missoula.  These are real touring bikes.  Ten, fifteen miles later we stop for a swim.

Pacing along the shoreline fifteen more miles or more and we swim again, spitting cherry pits into the grass.  From here, we can see the topography that suggests the city of Polson, although the structures and the golf course are out of view.  Must be another fifteen miles or so, yeah?  “Probably.”  It doesn’t really matter, but neither does the weather or politics or anything.  These are things people talk about.  We roll into town by seven.  The cherry festival is wrapping up for the night.  We ride up the hill past houses and empty grassy lots.  We come upon an old cemetery.  This is the kind of town that doesn’t really care if you sleep in the grass; there is plenty of space and not enough people to fill it.  This might be the America that people are looking for, but this is the Res– the Flathead.  Tomorrow we ride to Missoula.

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Reading about riding; Adventure Cycling

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Looking around like I own the place, this is my second trip to Adventure Cycling headquarters in a year and I know where all the secret stuff is stashed.  The ice cream and sodas are in the cooler, you must sign the guest book for fear of Greg Siple’s becalming wrath; and the cycling library is straight ahead, left at the tandem and right toward the kitchen.  This may be the most extensive cycle-centric library in the country and it’s chock full of Dervla Murphy, Ian Hibell, Joe Kurmaskie, Barb Savage and other usual and unusual titles.  There are hundreds of old travelogues; some have become timeless classics and some are out-of-date stories of sweating up hills and running out of food.  In fact, while Barb Savage’s Miles From Nowhere is considered a classic bike touring text, her penchant for hyperbole is a little off-putting and after the fourth time that Larry retrieves escaped ball bearings from his freewheel, I lost interest.  Still, the book is widely read and was a gateway for many American cycletourists.  I was on the hunt for an adventure of a different caliber, and Ian Hibell’s Into the Remote Places was the reward.  Ian’s writing is even and descriptive, with a honest sense of his immense adventure– there’s no need for hyperbole when the truth is unbelievable.  The book begins with cyclists hacking a route through the Darien Gap, surviving on handfuls of rice.  It continues similarly.  Long out of print, it is books like these that make the ACA cycling library special.  For your next trip to Missoula, set aside a day to lounge in the shade reading about riding.

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Ian’s Norway to Cape Horn, South Africa bike is now prominently displayed in the reception area, featuring an old Carradice Overlander handlebar bag (the red one is not original, but is nearly identical to the black one he used) and Carradice panniers.  As well, large water reservoirs are contained atop the panniers, the load supported by an integrated steel carrier.  The bike is smartly packed for a trip spanning continents, and the Sahara Desert.  Before the days of fatbikes such a trek required a bit of walking.  Walking through too much water in the Darien Gap and with not enough water in the Sahara is what sets Ian apart from the field of long-distance cyclists, although the “field” is rather thin to begin with.  He is the first to travel, completely, from Tierra del Fuego north to Alaska.  At the time the road to Deadhorse at Prudhoe Bay wasn’t built, so Circle, AK near Fairbanks was the northernmost road-accessible point on the continent.  In the late sixties, my boss and the owner of The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, AK hosted an English cyclist for a week.  Leaving town, he pedaled with him out to Palmer.

“An English guy?”  There must be thousands, I think.  “What has his name?  (Pause.)  Was it Ian Hibell?”

“Oh yes, Ian.  He’s the only guy I’ve ever allowed to stay with me.  He stayed a week.”

And so it was.

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Greg Siple is always a treasure of information, especially of the early days of Bikecentennial and TOSRV.  This time we spoke of the influence his father had on his cycling career, and cycling in general.  Charles is still living in Ohio, and David Herlihy (author of Bicycle: A History) is soon to visit him to harvest stories of his experiences with six-day racing in America.  There aren’t many living cyclists front the pre-war era.  And since 1982, Greg takes our portraits for his collection; more recently he has begun to weigh the bikes that come through Missoula.  Mine weighed one pound more than last year at 67 lbs, without much food or water.  The heaviest bike weighed was a Swiss cyclist whose panniers contained over 174 lbs.

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This photo is from my visit last year, dated September 20th.  These are impromptu Polaroids taken in the office while Greg’s collection of photos are taken in the back alley in front of a large white background.  Convincing the organization to pay for film in 1982 was a challenge, he said.  He still shoots film, and presumably, doesn’t have to twist any arms to get it.  It’s impossible to see, but Carla Majernik’s chrome Peugeot in the background features rubber handlebar grips, installed on the drops.  Thirty years before I hacked Ergon grips to my drops, others were concocting similar solutions.

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I’m spreading the word, and have created demand for Ian’s book and for the ACA bike library– last year George the Cyclist came looking for it and spent the entire day reading; Sean’s return to Missoula had him looking for the same title, and I told a grip of young cyclists on the Trans-Am Route about it yesterday.  The door pictured at the top of the page was the entrance to the original headquarters on the second floor above Eddy’s Club on Higgins Street.  In a recent trip to Missoula, Dan Burden (Dan and Lys Burden cycled the first half of Hemistour with Greg and June Siple) signed his name on the door in the night.  Greg didn’t even get a visit from his old friend.

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Riding cross: Bannack, MT to Idaho

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My first few days back on fat tires wear the nubs off the knobs, riding on pavement.  Thereafter, I huff and puff up Fleecer Ridge, barreling down the other side.  Being able to descend with abandon is fantastic, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the ability to climb with vigor for some cheap thrills– I require a bike that can do it all, fast.  After a few days of dreaming about normal sized wheels and tires, something happened.  Finally, I can ride the Pugsley the way I want.  It has taken some acclimatization, literal and figurative, and some muscle development.

Leaving Anchorage, I labored up small hills and wondered if I would regret riding a fatbike through the other three seasons.  Over Denali’s passes and the Top of the World Highway, my body responded with strengthened legs.  Reaching the Great Divide Route, brutish climbs reawakened those climbing muscles.  At every major junction in the process of touring on a fatbike, I’ve labored under new challenges and wondered if my heavy go-anywhere bike was a good idea.  And finally, after fitting fat tires this week in Bozeman, I’ve had to grow a new pair of legs to keep up with myself.  I’m realizing the perceived limitations are in the rider, not the bike.  Even now, there’s more to this motor than has already been realized.

To propel a bike with as much utility and versatility as the Pugsley requires a strong motor, and following a few nights of sore muscles I can now ride the Pugsley like a cross bike, like I want.  Gravel grinding– climbing fast and descending faster– is now fun and familiar.  Doing it on 4 inch tires at 15 psi is new, but it is intoxicating and childishly fun.  I barely ever scrub speed while descending; while climbing, it’s good to keep the wheels turning and the momentum up, but traction is never the weak link.  And yesterday, across mild terrain, I pedaled and floated over 80 miles of gravel, culminating in a blistering sunset effort to Red Rock Pass.  Laying down to sleep amidst tall grasses and sage, I smile and reflect that riding the Pugsley does not limit my riding style.  I smile and laugh that I’ve spent the day riding it like a cross bike.  I laugh, for there’s a lot more to riding fat tires than floating over gravel at 20 mph, but it’s just one of many things that can be done on a fatbike.  Six months ago I was riding in the dark, in the snow.  Now I’m sleeping at over 7000 ft on the Montana/Idaho border, thanks to a particular purple bike.

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My breakfast of choice, of late, has been Cream of Wheat.  It cooks quickly and sticks with me better than oatmeal.  I add brown sugar and fruit in the morning, or for a savory evening snack, garlic and vegetables do the trick.  Surely my mother will laugh, as I grew up hating oatmeal and tolerating Cream of Wheat.  Now, I love both.  On this occasion, peaches, bananas and brown sugar give me fuel.

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Of course, that’s a Scott Montana overhead.  This wilderness lodge near Polaris, MT welcomes cyclists, although I only stopped to admire this nice vintage ATB.

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Some southern hospitality can even be found up north.

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Bannack is a ghost town and the first territorial capital of Montana.  A hearty thank you to my hosts at the Bannack Campground, Paul and Jamie, who are full of life in this deserted valley.  We shared an evening together, and they shared their dinner and cold silver cans of beer with blue (lavender) mountains.  Since retirement, they’ve discovered that working as campground hosts satisfies their love for travel, and their desire to meet people in a more relaxed, conversational setting.  In exchange for their time and effort, they have free rent all summer in a spectacular corner of Montana with a steady stream of visitors.  Two main bicycle routes, the Trans-Am and the Great Divide Route, pass near Bannack.  It sure beats Texan Gulf Coast summers, they say.

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The ride up and over Medecine Lodge Pass into the Big Sheep drainage challenges me; the sustained climb on the Pugsley strengthens me.  I’m finding that the more I do it, the easier it becomes.  Descending, my rear tire begins to slowly go soft.  I don’t mind fixing the occasional flat, although I hope it’s not something I encounter daily.  The big tires require well over three hundred pumps with my little Lezyne road pump and the older dropout design of the purple Pugsley requires me to loosen the rear brake caliper, which feels like one step to many.  The process is a bother.  I will be searching for a system to minimize flats, especially in the thorny southwest.  Sealant applied to tubes, or a pure tubeless setup are considerations.  A pump with a bigger chamber would be nice.

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On this night, I encountered a group of adventure motorbike riders.  All were on the de facto “ultimate adventure bike”, the BMW GS-1200.  They were riding a variant of the Great Divide Route from Albuquerque to Helena, in a ten day period.  Some of them laughed at my pedal-powered efforts.  Secretly, I laughed at the imminence of Monday morning, a pot of Folgers, and a desk job.  I will still be here in a week.

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And in a push to the Idaho border, a dotted line of classic gravel roads lead the way.  All I have to do is pedal.

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Hitchin’ to Helena

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Our fortune is that we are young and able, riding bicycles through the mountains.  Peeling ourselves from Missoula’s caring grasp and an incidental free lunch at ACA, Sean and I finally pushed out of town.  Our first day was pleasant, our first night quietly spent by a river, and our first flat only a small misfortune.  Ironically, I’ve made it this far and have only used my pump twice, but Sean’s voluminous fresh rubber must have been a magnet for roadside shrapnel.

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When Sean awoke with digestive disagreements the next morning, it concerned me how similar his symptoms were to my own up on the Cassiar.  It was not quite a cold or the flu, but a sort of anxious, dehydrated nausea that likes to ruin every meal.  We pushed on after a swim and some coffee, finally turning off pavement onto the Divide.  Approaching the top of our first pass, it became apparent we weren’t riding any further.  At best, we could roll back downhill and camp by a creek before deciding upon our next recuperative movements.

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Early morning brought a fiery sky, but wildfire digestion was going to keep us from riding for a few days.  In time, we staggered back to the main highway and stuck out a thumb– at least in Helena they’d have orange juice and air conditioning, and chicken noodle soup.  Against Montana’s bluebird backdrop, a rich mustard mirage arrived to whisk us to Helena.  A deep waxy shine preserves the exterior, but the interior shares it’s history with rusted floorboards and old-time country chirping from dusty cones.  A 1978 Ford F-250 is living history in this land– there is no better ride in all of Montana than this yellow truck.

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From here we’re hopscotching to Bozeman to receive my fat tires and Marge Lite rim; by the end of the day I’ll be rolling on fat tires again.  WIth several days of rest, we’ll shoot back towards Helena or Butte to intersect the Divide.  A pile of maps await me in Butte, sent priority from Alaska.  Thanks Dawn!

Need use of truing stand…

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My Surly Marge Lite rim and ultralight Larry tires have arrived in Bozeman, according to the recipient.  That part was easy.  Tracking down a rear 32h disc hub, of any kind, is a lot more complicated.  Bozeman has a half-dozen bike (and ski) shops, and none of them definitively have what I’m looking for.  I’d expected this hub to be easy to find, even common, as it’s the bread and butter of the mountain bike world.  One shop has two used Deore hubs with “loose axles”, which means I may or may not have a serviceable hub once the bearings are adjusted.  I’ve found a shop with a spoke cutter, so that part is solved.  Finally, I’m hoping to track down a truing stand for the finish work.  I can lace the wheel in the park while sipping a cold beverage, but I’d like to bring this thing into the world in front of a proper truing stand considering what I’ve got planned for it.  And as a small detail, the Surly 35mm axle spacer would be helpful for dialing in the dish of the wheel, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

These things are complicated while traveling, and ironically the weird snow bike with the offset frame and wheels has nothing to do with it.  The most common part, a 32h hub, is the hardest to find.  I’d hoped to spend my money locally and I’ve come across this problem before, but this is what happens sometimes when you rely on the LBS.  I don’t want to hear “we can order it”.  What’s the point of a physical shop that doesn’t stock bicycle parts?  There is a strong argument for the sale of bicycle parts on the internet to able home mechanics.

Note: All the bike shops claim to sell “wheels”, but none stock hubs.

I’ve called a lot of shops today, but from my experience this is what you do sometimes:

Need use of truing stand… – $1 (Bozeman)


Date: 2012-07-27, 6:41PM MDT
Reply to: xnkkt-3167619481@sale.craigslist.org [Errors when replying to ads?]


I’m touring through town and am building a wheel this weekend. I’ve got everything figured out, except the use of a truing stand for the finish work on Sat or Sun. Any help is appreciated. I’m offering a donation of some kind.
The long story:
I’ve ridden from Anchorage, AK on a Surly Pugsley that was my transportation through the winter. Thus far I’ve mostly been riding paved and dirt roads and have used a medium-volume Schwalbe Big Apple tire. I’m passing through Bozeman this weekend and will be putting the big fat tires back on the bike as the rest of the summer will be on dirt roads and trails through WY, CO, UT and AZ. I’m also building a new rear wheel with a Surly Marge Lite rim, which is over a pound lighter than the current Large Marge and should add to the fun. As such, I need use of a truing stand for about an hour on Sat PM or anytime on Sunday. Anyone have a personal stand they’d be willing to share for a donation of beer or cash or fresh food? I’m aware of the Bike Kitchen, but their hours are limited. Thanks.
nicholas
http://www.gypsybytrade.wordpress.com

  • Location: Bozeman
  • it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

I’m in Helena, MT and will check with local bike shops in the morning for a new 32h disc hub.  Between the resources of ten shops in two cities and a persistent cyclist, a wheel will be built.  Full fat, coming soon!

The live CL ad is here, and my listing for a new or lightly used 32h hub is here.

Missoula’s many hands

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FreeCycles is a Missoula institution, a community bike shop offering tools, parts and bikes, for free.  The operation runs on volunteers and donations and Bob Giordano has been the ringleader for about 15 years, extending a helping hand to the community even when his own are deep in another project.  When the Missoula Urban Demonstration (MUD) needed to transport their tool library to the Missoula Home ReSource project (building materials reuse center), a lightbulb flickered in Bob’s mind.  With a repurposed John Deer haywagon, a homemade three wheeled tandem “tractor”, and a couple of able bodies pushing from behind, several tons of tools could be transported across town entirely by human power.  The result was a jalopy of well-loved tools and sweaty bodies ambling and rambling through Missoula’s urban center at rush hour.  In a friendly mid-sized cycling city like Missoula, rush hour isn’t much to speak of, but pedestrians and motorists offer hurrahs and cyclists lay down their bikes to assist the effort, pushing for a block or two.  Actually, many skeptics turned down the offer to assist but several touring cyclists and locals jumped on the proverbial haywagon.

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Our route took us around the railroad tracks to avoid any topographic challenges.  With enough hands, anything is possible.

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This is Sean’s first day in town and I’ve signed him up for 5 miles of strenuous wagon-pushing.  He’s been following the blog for almost a year and when I put a call out for cyclists to join me this summer, he responded and bought a plane ticket.  He has optimized his 90’s Novara Aspen ATB with drop bars and 2.3″ Kenda K-Rad tires, which you’ll be seeing more of over the next few weeks.  A wide range of gears, platform pedals, homemade fenders, a Brooks saddle and some Swift Short Stack panniers round out the ride.  Leaving Missoula, we’re headed for the Divide.

I visited FreeCycles for the first time last fall, and was inspired by the experience.