Day 1 - Great Falls MT to Augusta MT (55 miles)
Given the magnitude of the wind yesterday afternoon I resolved to be on the road early in the morning. Often, the winds are low in the morning and pick up during the day but this was not the case this time ... when I emerged from the hotel it was already blowing very strongly from the west.
There are various mottos that cyclists have. My friend Kath Brown says 'Momentum is your friend. Gravity is a &%@(*'. Mine when there are long hills or headwinds is from Nietsche: 'That which does not kill you makes you stronger'. It was one that I would need to remind myself of many times during the trip, but especially on this the first day.
The route took me through town and ran next to Interstate 15 on the frontage road. There were many large truck service areas on the outskirts of town, a reflection of the importance of heavy trucking to commerce in the USA. One doesn't find drive in truck cleaning facilities or truck stops with sleeping facilities in other countries to the same extent as the USA.
The countryside was prairie with farmers making hay for the winter. I enjoy watching the baling machine moving along through the long grass, spitting out neatly baled hay from the back. It was a scene I was to be presented with quite often in the days to come. Near Vaughn the road turned away from the Interstate and the traffic became non-existent. The terrain was basically flat and one could see for a long distance, as the photo below shows. Route 200 was to be with me all the way to Missoula so I came to know it well.
I had this incredible sense of euphoria as I cycled along, in spite of the headwind. There was a song by the 'Who' in their album 'Tommy' which went "I am free, I am free..". That was me. For the next 2 weeks I could go where I wanted to. Stop where I wanted to stop. Push myself or be idle. Eat as much as I wanted (one of the great blessings of cycle touring) and just be totally self-indulgent. What more can one ask for a holiday? Especially when one has all those things surrounded by beautiful country and friendly people. During my previous trips I had still owned a company so I had those concerns and issues to deal with (or worry about) but 10 days before I started I sold my company to my staff so for the first time it was entirely someone else's problem. I still had some responsibilities to my ongoing projects, but they were trivial in comparison.
Even the headwind did not detract from my general sense of happiness at being on the road again (Willie Nelson song which also came to mind) and my only sorrow was that my wonderful wife Lis was not there to enjoy it. However, we had come to the realisation a few years ago that since I enjoy Spartan, hard work holidays and she doesn't, it is best if trips like these are done on my own. For both our sakes. At least e-mail and phone calls keep us in touch.
Montana is not exactly a heavily populated country, and the road to Augusta reflected this. The towns were few, and services fewer, with populations running from 131 to 373, and I think the latter was overly optimistic. Most seemed to be clusters of houses with old cars parked outside, and few people to be seen. As shown below, the land looked fertile, with cattle and horses, but there didn't appear to be much work beyond this. In the towns many of the services had closed, which was an inauspicious sign.
I had lunch by the side of the road just past Simms where I had turned off 200 onto Highway 21. It was about 30 degrees and I was able to find a stand of trees to sit in the shade under. Lunch was a tin of vegetarian beans and some bread which I had brought with me, as well as a protein bar. Good thing I'm not a fussy eater.
The wind had really picked up and it was quite a hard slog, but it was just head down and peddle. I began to fantasize about a long, cold drink. There was a particular brand that I enjoyed on my previous trip and I found gave me quite a pick up. God is good because when I finally arrived at Augusta and went to the town shop I found exactly what I was looking for. Seldom has such a drink been consumed with such appreciation as this by this hot, wet and tired cyclist.
August was a small town with a population of 284 and one store. It was just what one would expect, carrying everything from food to videos to fishing gear. The woman behind the counter was most friendly, and incredulous that I had cycled from Great Falls in one day, especially in the 30+ heat. Considering it was flat all the way it was no big deal, the head wind notwithstanding, but I was pretty tired. Thinking of Lis, I bought a bag of apricots which were absolutely wonderful. In fact, I was not to get another portion of apricots as good for the rest of the trip.
I was advised to get a room across the road in the 'Shack House' which was a western style bunk house. The proprietor told me that they regularly had cyclists through there, although I was the first from New Zealand. He advised that there were great steaks at several places in town, but on being advised that I was a vegetarian he said that was a problem. I managed to buy a few things from the store to satiate my appetite. I put my bike into the garage, although the owner said that there wasn't much of a problem with theft in town: everyone had a gun which he said served to dissuade thieves. I had a long, hot bath which was wonderful and then went next door to a craft shop which had an amazing array of Montana paraphernalia. I especially enjoyed some of the books, and was amazed at the number of ones available on Lewis & Clark.
I felt fatigued so retired to my old fashioned double bed where I listened to the radio. There was a small fan which made little dent in the hot, stuffy room, but I didn't mind. I was absolutely exhausted and was soon asleep. Normally, I have trouble sleeping but not when cycle touring. It's more of a problem waking up!
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