I rode to Eureka and back with Cody in the trailer, a mid-September, Saturday-Sunday adventure.
I was gone a little over twenty-nine hours.
There and back, along crooked 93W -- west into the wind, then east, the cool Pacific wind from five hundred miles away at our backs -- one hundred thirty-eight miles.
I pedaled for a little over ten hours.
I towed nearly one hundred pounds, trailer, gear, and dog.
We followed vague MapQuest directions I'd copied to the back of my hand in black marker, but soon abandoned them. I'd planned to ride through the country, around the lakes, away from the world, but was forced to stay on the two-lane highway all the way -- MapQuest doesn't denote whether roads are paved or even graded. Most around here are neither ...
I rode, towed, for five miles at a time, then would stop to take a drink, a picture, a piss, reminding myself that it's always a race, but not today.
Once we got to Eureka, I found the first bar in town. I pulled my Jersey I.D. and ordered a Budweiser.
"You're a long way from home. Passing through?"
I decided to lie. "Sort of. Actually, I rode here. Left Jersey about two months ago. I rode the seventy miles from Kalispell today. I'm headed for Seattle. I have a friend there."
The next five beers were on the bartender. I was the pedal biker in the cowboy bar. They asked me few questions about my make believe trip and instead told me about their lives in Eureka, how nice it is, how much they appreciate the quiet. "I’m not trading this life for nothing," the bartender told me.
"I was a truck driver," the old man sitting next to me tells me without me acknowledging him first. "You mind?" he asks, pointing at the stool next to me.
"No, go ahead."
He moves over, his glass, too.
"Once, I drove across the country, Pacific to Atlantic and back again, four times in six weeks. I'd literally have twenty minutes time-off for two weeks at a time. I'd go home for those twenty minutes and my kids would ask me, 'How long you have off, daddy?' 'Twenty minutes,' I'd tell them and be gone again for two weeks. One day I came home and they asked me again: 'How long you have off, daddy?' Know what I said? 'Forever.' I quit and haven't left here since. Now I'm a ranch hand and, to make a little extra money," he tells me, then, pausing, he hadn't taken a sip from his drink, nodding, he excuses himself, takes a large sip of his beer, and places the glass carefully back on its napkin, "I brew my own moonshine. I've done it since high school. We'd spike the punch in school. Woohoo! This one dance, I think it was homecoming, I walk up to the bowl, nobody lookin', dump my 'shine in, then throw the glass flask in the trash and I hear clink. I look in the trash: Somebody else had already spiked the stuff! Half hour later they had to move the band into the bathroom! I also brew my own barley wine. Know what I call it?"
"Night, Night Darlin'!"
I start laughing.
"Or you can call it auf wiedersehen or arrivederci. Don't matter what language you use, it's lights out!"
By the time I left, I was too drunk, too tired, the sun had sunk too low, to ride the final ten miles to the forest where I'd planned to camp. What now? I got to the Eureka liquor store five minutes before it closed and bought a bottle of wine. The woman behind the counter checked my I.D. "You're from New Jersey, huh? Long way from home ..."
I camped for the night behind the town's historical village, just off main street. The grass behind the early-1900s library looked green and comfortable; the town was small enough that I figured I wouldn't be found. It started raining in the middle of the night; the temperature dropped fast. I put the rain fly on my tent and a hoodie on, no problem. I fell back asleep. An hour later, still raining, I was awoken by a loud fuh-shhh sound that, after ten seconds, didn't stop. Huh? I peaked out and, once I saw it, I groaned, recognizing the sound: a sprinkler system. Grass isn't native to Montana and when grass is this green this late into summer, it's being watered daily, religiously. The sprinkler system was still one hundred feet away, but I knew it would move my way soon and I couldn't risk a sprinkler head being under my tent. So, in the pouring rain, I unstaked the tent, carried it a few hundred yards to where, with my headlamp, I found a large patch of browned, dying grass, and restaked. Now I was soaked, the dog was soaked, the tarp under my tent was soaked, soaking the underside of my tent. Wet, it felt a lot colder. There was a few sips of wine left. I finished the bottle and fell back asleep, at least four hours until daylight ...
... I dreamt about a girl who's far away, but she moved here, just to be with me ...
I woke up to see a blue sky in the west, gray clouds above me, and a black sky to the east. If I was lucky, I'd travel the almost-seventy miles home trailing the storm. Remember, I told myself, proudly, you're not a pussy if you bring your raincoat, only if you check the forecast. It was only the third time I'd felt rain in two months; I was glad I'd brought my coat, had the foresight to be prepared.
I rode sluggishly, slowly, steadily with the wind at my back. This sucks, I thought. This is lonely. My legs hurt. I'm hung-over.
I started in a hoodie and overalls, wishing I'd brought a light pair of gloves, then miles later, I stopped to change into shorts and a t-shirt. Twenty miles east of Eureka, I stopped at the only gas station for another forty miles and bought and immediately ate a roast beef sandwich, three hardboiled eggs, and a large cup of cherry cheesecake. I finally felt better and got back to doing what I'd set out to do: pedal. I felt happier. I was with my dog, riding, in Montana. My three favorite things. Be happy, this is it.
Twenty miles later I caught the storm; I missed the rain, but the temperature dropped at least twenty degrees. I stopped and put my hoodie and overalls back on. Ten miles later, the west wind picking up, pushing the storm further east, the temperature rose back up twenty degrees and I changed back into shorts and a t-shirt.
After fifty-five miles I came to that fork in the road: go right, go home; stay left, add an extra fifteen miles to the trip and stop at the coffee shop in town. I chose left, coffee and bragging rights, hoping, while in town, someone would ask me where I was coming from.
It began to rain for the first time that day only two miles from home. Cody got out and ran the rest of the way along the shoulder. I didn't put my raincoat back on.