I chose July 5, 2008 to ride my Hollowtop 200 Permanent. Though I am intimately familiar with this route, this is only the second time I've ridden the entire thing in one shot.
Last night I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of fireworks going off all over town-some of my neighbors kept it going until about 1 a.m.! I awoke just before 4 a.m. to a similar, but more foreboding sound-thunder. So like any cyclist would-the first thing I did was turn on the weather channel. According to the radar map-a thunderstorm had indeed just passed through the area-but it didn't look like anymore storms were coming.
As I rode through the deserted streets to my starting point at the Main Street Town Pump I was dodging puddles-it must have rained pretty hard. The temps were in the high 50's and the air was quite humid-something we are not really used to in Montana. The air smelled a little like the morning air at my brother's home in Savannah, Georgia-except it's usually warmer and more humid there.
My biggest worry for this ride quickly turned out to be a non-issue. I was worried that the store clerks would resist stamping and signing my brevet card. Nobody out here knows what randonneuring is, and people aren't always willing to do something out-of-the-ordinary in their workplace. I could have just used a store receipt with the date and time, but I really wanted the card to be stamped-I think it just looks more official with a stamp. Anyway, the kid at the Town Pump here in Belgrade didn't think they had a stamp, but I spotted one on the back counter. He quickly retrieved it, stamped my card, and noted the time (5:00 a.m.). No problem. It would be the same at my other store controls-including my return to the Town Pump in the afternoon.
It was already starting to get pretty light as I left Belgrade City Limits, but I was equipped with lights front and back, and my new RUSA reflective sash and ankle bands...somehow I think I'm the only person who would think I looked cool. I could have rode in all dark right down the middle of the road-there were no cars out at all. Everyone must have been sleeping off their 4th of July. Starting early was a good idea.
My next control was 39 miles down the road at the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park-since I would be answering my own question at the info control-I took a few pictures just to prove I had been there and didn't take a 3 or 4 mile shortcut on I-90 .
My next stop was the town of Whitehall. Folks were starting to move around as I made my way through town a little after 8 a.m. There was some sort of farmers market happening, but there were far more merchants than customers. I got some water and a turkey sandwich as well as getting my card stamped at a C-Store and then sat down in front of the fire hall and took a little break. The bank sign said it was 70 degrees-time to take the arm warmers off.
After Whitehall, I headed back the way I came for 8 miles, before heading over the scenic and very lightly traveled Highway 359 towards Harrison and my next control in Norris. I took a picture of my route's namesake-Hollowtop Mountain, but some wildfires in Canada have put a little bit of haze in the air so the Mountain did not look as spectacular as it usually does-as you can see from the picture at the top of this page.
The folks at the little C-Store in Norris, McLeod Mercantile, were duly impressed with my ride. One nice old gentleman said he couldn't ride that far in one day on a motorcycle! I bought a bag of chips, some ice tea, and water and sat outside and had a little picnic. The sun was out now and it was warming up and getting breezy.
The ride after Norris goes along the Madison River and through the edge of the famous Bear Trap Recreation Area. The portion of the Madison along my route is an extremely popular river float. Traffic got very busy along this stretch as I met and was passed by people dropping off their rafts and inner tubes at the "put-in" and then heading back to the end of the float a few miles down stream. Thankfully, and according to plan, I was through this area early enough-that all the drivers were still sober. It won't necessarily be that way after they get done floating later in the afternoon.
I wasn't feeling great, but I wasn't suffering either, as I got over the very hilly portion of the ride between the Bear Trap and the Gallatin Valley, but I rallied considerably as I got to the un-chipped sealed River Road. It's amazing what a nice smooth paved surface will do for your outlook. I had headwinds through the Bear Trap-which is unusual. Every other time I have ridden through there the wind has come pretty strong out of the southwest. The wind slowed me down, but didn't hammer me too bad.
I cruised back to Belgrade and finished in a fairly respectable 8 hours and 40 minutes. My "on the bike" time was about 7 hours and 24 minutes. I could have saved some time by not taking breaks in Whitehall and Norris-but what the heck? It's not a race and I was riding alone anyway-no one else to keep up with. It is surprising though how fast time slips away when you're not moving-a lesson I'm sure, for longer rides.
All in all, I'm pretty happy with my first Permanent Route. I think it's challening and scenic. I hope some other randonneurs try it out someday.