We planned to do the ride on Sunday of Labor Day weekend-hoping that everyone was camped at their holiday destination and not on the road. I let Karel Stroethoff of Missoula know that Jim and I would be riding and that he was welcome to join us. Even though he had ridden this route with me on August 16th, Karel took me up on the offer and drove to Belgrade from Missoula in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Karel has had an amazing year-putting on mega miles on his bike-and even more miles on his car getting to the rides. This ride would help him keep his R-12 streak alive (the R-12 is a prestigious RUSA award given for riding at least one 200k or longer randonneuring ride in every month of the year). I've got a modest R-12 streak going as well, but I will probably end up letting it lapse when the snow starts flying. Karel and Jim cruising on the frontage road into Whitehall.
We had a cloudy, but fairly comfortable morning heading west on the Frontage Road through Manhattan and Three Forks. As we rode Jim and Karel got reaquainted-as they had ridden a 400k brevet out of Driggs, Idaho in 2007.
All was going great until we got to Sappington Junction (MT 2 and US 287) which is being completely reconfigured. As we approached the torn up road it was obvious that Jim, who had nice fat tires on his bike, was going to get over the mile or so of gravel and dirt much faster than Karel and me. As he rolled ahead, I told him our road (MT 2) would just go straight. Well-three weeks ago when Karel and I rode through here our road did go straight. But not anymore. The new configuration of the intersection now keeps the main traffic on US 287 heading towards Ennis while those of us going towards Whitehall on MT 2 have to make a right turn. Signage is very sparse at this stage of constuction with only one little orange sign pointing towards Butte. Jim, following my flawed advice stayed on 287. He was pretty quickly way out in front of us-but on the wrong road. I yelled and waved, but it was no use-Jim was a blip on the horizon-getting through the construction and heading up Harrison Hill to what he thought would be our first checkpoint in three or four miles-oblivious to the route mishap. So what to do? There's no cell phone service out here, and I wasn't too keen on trying to chase Jim up the hill-knowing he had at least a mile head start on me. Before long a pickup came by so I flagged it down. Fortunately it wasn't a redneck cyclist hater-just a nice friendly couple who pulled over for me. I asked them if they wouldn't mind telling the cyclist up the road that he needed to turn around. They said they'd be glad to and headed on up the hill. After a little while Jim came cruising back down the hill after almost making it all the way to the top. Oh well-at least he got to enjoy the downhill on the way back. I felt bad for my direction mishap-but was pleased with myself for successfully flagging down the pickup. It all worked out just fine...except Jim burned a few matches he would need later.
The rest of the ride to Whitehall was wonderful-with nice temps, very little traffic, and even a light tailwind at times.
The second half of the ride got much tougher starting with the hills of Highway 359 and then the wind-which was in the weather forecast-kicked up out of the south-southwest at 15-25 mph. The last few hills on 359 and and the hilly 10 miles on US 287 between Harrison and Norris were brutal. We just had to put our heads down and slog through it. The little c-store in Norris was a beautiful site to behold and our oasis as we sat on the leeward side of the building, ate a snack, and watched the flag on the post office across the highway whipping in the gale.
The good news was we turned east-northeast at Norris on MT 84 and the formerly vicious cross-headwind wind became a quarter-tailwind ally. The final 38 miles went relatively quickly as the wind helped us through the canyon along the Madison River and over the rolling hills back to the Gallatin Valley.
My tire started going soft in the last four miles. After pumping up with my wimpy pump and only going another mile, Karel used his much better pump to get more air into the tire. It worked-we made it back to the Town Pump in Belgrade with air to spare...so to speak. Jim, who fought leg cramps for about 80 miles, had to drop his pace, but came in only 13 minutes after Karel and me. I was very glad that my cue sheet brought him home with no trouble.
So other than our little route mishap-courtesy of the economic stimulus funded road reconstruction, the brutal winds between Harrison and Norris, and Jim's leg troubles, it was a pretty nice day. Going on Sunday was a good decision as traffic was light and trucks were very few and far between. Karel kept his R-12 streak going, Jim will get his name in this year's RUSA results publication, and best of all-I got to share my route again with fellow randonneurs. Yep-it was definitely a nice day!