A blog post by Sandra Broadus.
October 7, 2015.
We left Free Cycles at around 4:30 in the afternoon, wearing our rain gear and with our panniers loaded full of tools, food, and camping gear. A quick stop for beer, and we were on our way - heading east on HWY 200. It didn’t feel like a Wednesday.
This was a small tour, both in length and in attendees (at least compared to the only other overnight tour I’d ever been on): just Bob, Emily, Locke, Cameron, and myself. The elementary school in Potomac was hosting a bike-a-thon the following day, and Free Cycles was coming to offer assistance. They even fixed up four children’s bikes to donate to the kids at the school who didn’t have one. There was discussion for a while about the logistics of how we would be strapping the kid’s bikes to our own bicycles on the way over – thankfully a rockstar volunteer named Silas loaded them up in his car and drove them to Potomac for us.
We were accompanied by a light drizzle for most of our ride that first day. But rather than being a deterrent, it felt cool and refreshing. I was inspired by the realization that this was probably my last big bicycling adventure for the year, as soon it was going to be too cold to want to stay out overnight.
Before long, the others pulled ahead of me, but I wasn’t worried. I was enjoying the feeling of getting out of the city, like a weight lifting off of my shoulders with each pedal stroke.
Upon cresting a hill, I saw the guys hanging out at a pull off. We regrouped and took a few moments to enjoy the view of the Blackfoot River. It was overcast, but the wetness seemed to be bringing out the saturation of the fall colors, making everything seem more vivid and alive. It would’ve been nice to stay longer, but it was going to be getting dark soon, and we needed to get to a campsite.
Coasting down the hill, my mind was at peace. The wind created by my motion whips past, and I felt cool drops of water on my skin. If I was thinking anything at all, it was just about the beauty of my surroundings and a thankfulness for roads with wide shoulders.
The first stretch of the journey goes by much too quickly. Just 19 miles from Missoula, we pulled off the highway at Johnsrud Park Road. Just a couple miles in, the pavement stopped but we didn’t. The road turned to dirt and rock, and I was reminded for a moment of my last bicycling trip over Jocko Pass. Dusk has settled in, but we kept pushing on. I didn’t know what the others were looking for in a campsite, but I just pedaled along, happy to not be in charge of anything and enjoying the ride.
Finally we found an area that seemed to satisfy everyone, and we pedaled off the road and into the woods (which quickly meant dismounting and walking, as dusk became dark). I then relied on my dim bike light to tell me where the rocks and logs are as we continued down a steep hill, and I tried to remember the twists and turns so we could find our way back to the road in the morning. We kept going until we found a pleasantly flat spot just above the river.
I wandered around with my detached bike light as my guide while I gathered firewood, and there was ample discussion of where our sleeping spot should be relative to the fire; I don’t have much of an opinion on such matters - Growing up in Kentucky, the mosquitos are so thick that the only camping you can do is inside the safety of a tent, for fear of being eaten alive as you sleep. So I was happy to throw my sleeping bag anywhere so long as I got to enjoy the night.
Finally, a fire got going, and before long, dinner is on, with Bob cooking in his wok. I honestly don’t remember what we ate that night, other than that it was warm, delicious, and exactly what we all needed (washed down with a cold beer and some cookies). When dinner was over there was a crust of cooked food stuck to the inside of the wok, and Locke took it down to the river and set it underwater with a large rock to hold it in place so as to not attract any wayward critters.
The drizzle continued, as it had all afternoon, and Locke and I decided it was time to string up a tarp between some trees to provide us a bit of sleeping shelter. The tarp was oddly shaped, and the trees were unevenly spaced, so it was a harder proposition than expected. Cameron came to help eventually, and after many struggles (not enough rope, mainly) we finally had a shelter that would suffice. It wasn’t pretty, but hey, we weren’t boy scouts.
Sitting back around the fire to warm up, we talked for several hours. Bob proposed that we build a sort of bicycle with train wheels that could ride on the railroad, and how great it would be to see America that way, with no cars to worry about. We talked about politics, college, transportation, and the world, laughing and trading stories for what seemed a long time and no time at all.
After a while Emily, Locke, and Cam disappeared into the woods to protect our food via a bear-hang (another foreign concept to me as a Kentuckian). Bob and I continued chatting around the fire until we heard a large “CRACK” and then an outburst of laughter – after which we got up to investigate. With no rope to work with, the industrious trio had tied together a series of bicycle inner tubes, which had been slung precariously over a branch. Brilliant.
Soon it was time for sleep. I had no idea what time it actually was, but it seemed late, and we were getting up early the next day to make it to the elementary school by 8:30. I set an alarm for 6am. Locke, Cameron and I rolled out our bags under the tarp/shelter, but Bob and Emily insisted on sleeping out in the open forest, rain or no rain. I listened to the soothing pitter-patter of water droplets hitting our tarp as I drifted off to sleep.
Morning came far too soon. Our sleep had felt much more like a power nap. Slowly and groggily, camp started moving. Bob swore that was one of the best nights of sleep he’s ever had, and I just laughed. I wake up to a flat tire, and set to work getting it fixed, using my own patch and a borrowed pump. It must’ve happened while we were walking through the woods in the dark last night. But no worries, I’ve fixed lots of flats already this summer, and I feel like a pro at it now.
My trunk bag and panniers are pretty well soaked through at this point, so I decide to continue wearing the shirt I had on yesterday, since it’s drier than the damp one in my pack. It took us a little longer than I expected to find our way back to the road. I guess we went further into the woods that I had thought the night before. But soon we’re back at it, pedaling down Johnsrud on our way to the highway. I stop just for a moment to snap this picture before moving on.