• Lincoln to Townsend
  • Sagged at 55 miles
  • Crossed Continental Divide
  • Max speed 42.9
  • Elevation gain 2443
  • 738 total miles

What a day! The big news is that for only the third time in our cycling career, we took the sag wagon. (That would be the truck that picks up riders who can’t finish for one reason or the other.) The good news is that we are both well, there were no injuries involved, and the bike is fine. But let’s start the story at the beginning, last night in Lincoln.

We were well-fed by the Lincoln High staff and retired to our tent, knowing that thunderstorms loomed as a possibility. And at 1 AM we were awakened by a tremendous BOOM! And another! And another! It seemed to be the loudest thunder we’d ever heard. It was strange that there was no rain to speak of. The thunder continued on and off most of the night. At breakfast this morning, we learned it wasn’t thunder, but explosive charges set off to scare the grizzly bears away from nearby campgrounds. The scare part worked very well.

After breakfast we started our 90 mile journey to Townsend. The headwinds were fierce. On the flat we could only manage 12 mph, about 5 mph slower than our usual pace. We turned toward Flesher Pass and could pedal easily again. The grade increased gently, but steadily, but was never so much we couldn’t keep pedaling. The road had lovely switchbacks to ease the climb. in seemingly no time we were at the top. This was finally the Continental Divide, 6,150′ up.

After the requisite pictures, we began our descent. It was great. We were able to get up to 42 mph even though we had to slow way down for a couple hairpin turns. It was a twisty, technical descent which kept me on my toes to keep us safe. We flew past everyone in front of us on the 12 mile drop. After that it continued to be mostly downhill to Helena. Even with a bit of wind, it was wonderful.

We rolled into the picnic about 11:30. While we were eating, the wind came back up. Bikes were being blown over from the bike rack. It was seeming kind of dicey. A radio report said that the winds were quite bad at the end of the course. We opted to start out to see if we could negotiate the conditions.

windWe rolled the quarter mile to the park entrance without pedaling, with the tailwind. Then we turned and it became more of a quartering wind which was challenging. We turned again and it was a straight cross wind which almost blew us over. It knocked us off the shoulder into the traffic lane before I could regain control. We stopped the bike and opted to return to the picnic spot to wait it out. The return was even worse. Now sand and grit was being driven into our skin at high velocity. Clouds of dust obscured my vision and we could barely manage 6 mph. It was brutal. Click on the photo to the right to open a video showing you how strongly it was blowing or view the same view embedded below.

smoke from fireOther riders on singles were venturing out, but we decided the only safe thing for us was to take the sag if the wind didn’t die down. And it didn’t die down. According to a local meteorologist winds have been gusting at more than 50 miles per hour. It took quite some time before those of us who were sagging got off the course. Our friend Ric from Monroe had to walk 5 miles to the lunch stop because he couldn’t stay on his bike. It was miserable. While we waited we learned that there was a major fire nearby which was being blown into a sub-division of Helena. People were being evacuated. We could see the fire from the picnic lunch spot on the lake while we awaited our sag ride.

Of course, when we got our lift in, we discovered the winds had shifted and all the riders were reporting super strong tailwinds all the way from Helena to Lincoln, about 30 miles. People were going miles with virtually no pedaling. But one tandem got knocked down an embankment by shifting winds, so we don’t feel bad about having made our decision. We missed a great ride, but we stayed safe. Not a bad swap.

They say the winds are going to be high again tomorrow. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Week 2 begins
Earth, wind and fire