It’s no secret to most that the impetus for this trip came from being un-friended in a rather major way. What to do when a girlfriend of an exact handful of years and 15,000 touring miles says, “meh”, and quits?
Within two weeks I was on my bike– I don’t fool around.
Riding the Divide has been on the list for years; I often work during summer, so my thanks for the opportunity to quit my job to traverse the mountainous west goes to you-know-who.
But, this is about life on the road, alone; love, lost; friends for three days; and how not to be alone in a crowd.
Enter, me– in Missoula.
I raced to town, into a headwind for 54 miles on a half-gallon of chocolate milk and oats. ACA was closing early, so after Greg Siple showed me the sights and I suggested my way into the basement to see Ian Hibell’s bike, I was loose on the streets of Missoula. All my acquaintance-friends from Mexico were awol, and so was I. Lost and lonely in an exceptional city of how many? It makes sense when you don’t speak the language; it’s confusing when you are good at it.
Wish Jane was still around. Somewhere between maple-bacon ice cream and lazing riverside, I wouldn’t be scouring my psyche. That’s not the answer,but she reminded me how much I like people. I really like people on bikes.
I’m over-fed and well-hydrated; the riding is easy, and my bike fixes itself, if it were to ever break. Damned, if I’m not kind of bored, though. I occasionally blame the “route” for being rural/remote and boring, but it’s not boring and I know it. It’s beautiful, and the camping is anywhere you fall off your bike at the end of the day, deep in
USFS lands. Second to people– warm, interesting people– I miss milk and yogurt with my oats when I’m out of town. The feeling is called lonely; the milk is an addiction.
How do you slice and sautee a city like Missoula to make it more tender? Even a friendly city full of bikes has a shell, and Missoula doesn’t blink when a bearded guy shows up on a bike. Beer– the local cure-all– helps, but the result is rather like using sugar to feed yeast. With time and patience and healthy, mature yeast; bread will rise. With sugar, it will explode. Beer is cheating, and the result is fluffy white bread, which in real-life terms means you meet a lot of dudes who think it’s “sick” that you rode so far on a bike. Fluffy and white.
Then there is FreeCycles. FreeCycles is that daunting rustic loaf with nuts and seeds breaching the surface. For 15 years, this place has been helping people get on bikes. Operating much like other co-ops around the country, FreeCycles is bigger and better– better organized, better managed, and a lot bigger. A pedalbus to seat 21 is half-done, and Rockhoppers fight High Sierras for floor space. Bob, the founder and career alt-transportation advocate gave me a key to the place in less than a minute. It must have been apparent that I wouldn’t walk off with a dozen Huffys and a box of rusty chains.
Oscar is my housemate under the FreeCycles roof. He’s from Guatemela via Fairbanks, and one of those guys that keeps his hair neatly combed and some reading glasses nearby. I showed him the MayaPedal website. And we danced together, sort of, at the Union Bar. He’s a great dancer; but a little too old for me.
Even the abbreviated list of “why Missoula is better than wherever you are living”, must include the Good Food Store. Yep, good food. More of it comes from Montana than you’d expect. GFS beats the socks offa Whole Foods anyday.
Missoula has three Saturday Farmer’s Markets, the central and refreshing Clark Fork River, and some of the best on-the-ground cycling infrastructure in America.
Camping under FreeCycle stars for the night.
Be in control. Love Missoula. Ride your bike.