A day in the life: Up, and down


There are many joys to cycling the land; riding up and over three Continental Divide passes in a day is one of them. A bloody melange of blood, dust, and gravel; on the downslope of the third pass, is not. Aside, Helena National Forest was just another day.

On the backside of Priest Pass, less than 15 downhill miles from Helena, I was probably focused more on cold milk than on cobbled roadways. Actually, a single melon-sized cobble in the roadway was enough to unseat me from my proud, lofty perch. I had been riding shirtless most of the day– three passes and ninety degrees excuses me from decency– yet had retained my helmet (always) and clownish lime-green speckled not-Wayfarer sunglasses. I was proudly being weird amidst more traditional outdoorsmen– I figured the beard would excuse me.

Over the pass and gaining speed, I waved to a man suiting up with a bow and a handgun, on a mountain bike. Eight seconds later I was sliding along dusty, dirt track tangled with my bicycle. I quickly stood up to wave to the crowd, and to dismiss the suspicion that I was “hurt”. No one had seen it, and it did hurt. “Fffff…”, I grimaced, then went back to pretending.

I washed up with water– which makes muddy blood– and rode to town, broken.

I got some first aid fixins at the grocery store, and had a picnic pondside which included: A quick dip to start, followed by some rubbing alcohol (hurts, a lot), Neosporin, and a side of gauze and tape. I felt human again.

I met another touring cyclist on his way back to Seattle from Houston, and we both agreed that we had not seen or heard of any camping in town. I made a desperate attempt at securing a patch of grass by calling the police station; the dutiful operator informed me that there was “a city ordinance that prohibits camping within city limits”. Right, as do all cities, but I’m asking you a question…a favor. Maybe the message was prerecorded– she repeated the phrase four more times. Obviously, I had been persistant. Many other Montana towns have open arms to cyclists. Helena has ordinances, and a “No Vacancy” sign. Maybe that sign said No Vagrancy; I was seeing double.

John and I rode nine miles out of town to USFS land for a pleasant creekside camp. A local fellow on a vintage 26″ wheeled BMX cruiser showed us a secret campspot.

Upon returning to town the next morning, I headed directly to the State Park pond from the evening prior. This time, I was immediately identified as an out of state vagabond and asked for $3. I scoffed, sarcasto-politely thanked the kindly old man, and left.

The flickering “No Vagrancy” sign creaks, swinging in the dry winds of the high plains.

To clarify, the pond is man-made, and the park operates without gates. It looks like a city park, and Montanans come and go freely. But if you’re weird and homeless, it costs three dollars, or five; still seeing stars.

Helena has a nice looking downtown with a pedestrian mall, old brick buildings, and a rustic firetower on a hill. It’s probably a nice place to visit if you are a tourist, just not a cycle-tourist. The bar is now set low– Bozeman’s got it easy.

Note: I’m doing fine (hey mom); I’m a bit bloodied and bruised, but thankfully not my angelic (bearded, sun hardened) face. There’s a nice dent in my helmet. Now I can tell you to wear yours. Wear it: there are stupider looking hats.

I am to blame for falling, but I had been cursing my undersized 1.75″ (47mm) replacement tire all day. The CST Selecta is notably smaller than the Schwalbe Marathon tire by the same nominal description. Misrepresenting tire size should be criminal. A proper tire will be fitted in Bozeman.