Today we rode 56 miles from Chester, Montana to Fort Benton, Montana, starting the first day of another detour (a multi-week one this time) from the Adventure Cycling Association pre-tested bike routes. As will be evident (and as we kind of knew), there are pros and cons to this approach.
My ride for the day was delayed by a work-related conference call that went from 8:00 to 8:45 (yes, I’m still attempting to service a few understanding legal clients from the road). Bob, very reasonably, had no interest in being a standby listener, and got a jump on the day, leaving before my call started. Which was a smart move in and of itself, given the forecast called for temperatures getting into the upper 90s by late afternoon. I ultimately didn’t get going until about 9:30, at which time it was cool enough outside, but meant my ride was solo and stretched into late-afternoon, when it really, really got hot out there. It seems that peak heat out here is generally from about 2:00 to 6:00, so taking a siesta to escape the worst isn’t really feasible – you just want to try to complete your day’s ride by two-ish, if possible, before it gets completely scorching. Which, obviously, I failed to do.
But at least the decision to leave the ACA route, which stays completely on Montana’s so-called “highline” – aka Route 2 – felt fantastic. I headed down a completely traffic-free, but well-paved, County Route 223, which would take me basically all the way into Fort Denton. It was a great road, much more scenic (especially in terms of the topography not just being flat, flat, flat) and my first 30 miles or so were a complete pleasure.
But it got hotter and hotter, and there was literally zero shade to be found (at one point, I took a moment's respite in the limited shade cast by a utility power box center -- Bob told me he took refuge in the shade of a telephone pole -- it's slim pickings out there). And, as a result, I began going through my water faster than I had thought I would. Now, I’m not completely stupid. We had done our research and realized that there were no services anywhere on this route, so we would have to be completely self-supported for the full 56 miles. Accordingly, I loaded up every water bottle I had, plus a reserve sac, which gave me the equivalent of about 6 full water bottles. And, normally, I go through about one bottle every 15 miles or so. Plenty, yes?
Well, you know the answer by now. By mile 30 I realized I had better begin rationing my remaining supply and, by about mile 50, even with that effort, I was completely out. I tried a couple of ranches that cropped up every now and then by the roadside, but struck out each time (nobody home). I waved my empty water bottle at passing cars, but either I didn’t look desperate enough (because I was still riding) or they simply thought I was saying “hello.”
It was unpleasant, but not life-threatening. If it had been the latter, I would have stopped and gotten off of my bike and waved down a passing car in unambiguous fashion – and I have no doubt people would have stopped. Instead, I persevered and arrived at a gas station at the edge of Fort Benton a tad dehydrated – and very thirsty. Evidenced by quickly downing a 32 ounce Gatorade, a 16 ounce chocolate milk, and a 20 ounce Soba Water. All before I even got to the checkout. The clerk was a bit surprised that I was paying for 3 empty bottles.
Fort Benton, by the way, is a fascinating town of historical interest to Wild West fans. Known as the “birthplace of Montana,” it’s situated near the upstream most navigable portion of the Missouri River, and was the northern-most fur trading post of its time (around 1850). It had a strong run for about 30 years, attracting steamboats carrying goods, merchants, gold miners and settlers, and acting as part of the overland link between trade on the Missouri River and the Columbia River, at what was then Fort Walla Walla, Washington (thanks, Wikipedia!). Its importance in trade was superseded by the construction of transcontinental railroads in the late 19th century. But walking its streets today, which are remarkably well-preserved (portions of the town have been designated a National Historical Landmark), one can still imagine gunslingers having it out on the dirt roads, bordered by the numerous saloons (that still populate the area and, yes, we tried a few).
It was too hot today to take pictures, although I did manage one (attached), which was kind of representative of how I felt out there.
Here are today’s route and metrics: