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.
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.