A total of three continental divide passes spanned the trail between Lincoln and Helena. These passes would prove to be a most formidable barrier to our progress, taking as it did about an hour and a half to move a mere five miles while riding up the first pass.
As soon as we made it over the first divide we bundled up in moderately dry clothes preparing ourselves for the incredibly steep downhill. I had been wearing but a tee-shirt, Columbia Dry pants, and wool gloves the entire day of climbing through the light snow flurries. To supplement these inadequate layers I put on my non-breathable nylon coat, and a knit hat. The freezing air penetrated right through the coat the second I pushed off on my bike, yet at the same time I felt liberated from the consistently strained lungs and diaphragm, and general overheating endured during the long uphill. Coasting down the narrow pathway of jagged rocks, small ice patches, without working breaks was reminiscent of snow-boarding; one had to use defensive steering to avoid rolling out of control in a tempestuous pace. At the bottom of the hill, I waited for my two biking companions to follow, watching as the twilight faded behind a ghostly grey hill that bore only one small tree casting an awkward movie set-design shadow. Goat and Jacob were either taking an incredibly careful and lazy decent down the pass or something was wrong. I began biking back and found them with the tool kit between their upturned bikes. They had dismantled their rear derailleur in order to clean out the frozen mud that was clinging and impairing the momentum of the tiny pulley cogs that allow the chain to shift into different gear. My derailleur turned out to be frozen stiff as well forcing my shivering arms to hunker down and affectionately clean and dry the tiny pieces to the pulley.
It was dark when our bikes were â€“somewhat- functioning again. We moved past lands thick with barbed wire, small barns that looked like quite an appealing squat to the likely alternative of pitching a soggy wet mess tent. We bike another three or four miles, slipping like clowns on banana peels through extensive mud puddles that we could not see. Finally we decided to bound down a mud hill into private grazing land â€“it being the only flat non-mud area for miles. First it was necessary to cut a single strand of barb wire; there had been other strands of the fence already broken from wear. The tiny mud hill was incredibly steep and slippery foreshadowing a near impossible amount of strength that would be required to haul them back up in the morning. Quickly we raised the tent without a word between us, and set about cooking oats and eggs over easy. Our tent sagged down low attesting to the sizeable amount of snow falling, dreams were absorbed in imagining the daunting task of bike snow plowing.
The next morning a jolly voice woke us from slumber, â€œHey you campersâ€�! None of these campers were interested in rising to greet the voice that obviously came from the owner of the land that we were trespassing on. We attempted to legitimate our presence by relating the story of last nightâ€™s mechanical failures, and luckily the man on the other side sounded sympathetic. Well, at least I could hear no sounds of a cover crew cocking their shotguns or pulling arrows back on their hunting bow, I tried frantically to open the tent flap and press my haggard face in greeting to the owner, but the zipper was stuck, broken, stubbornly obstinate. The owner must have been convinced of our peril for he directed us to an easier entrance/exit to the land located about ten paces from where we cut the fence. â€œIâ€™m just going to go up and fix the barb wire now, Iâ€™ve got cattle roaming around here, so whenever your ready to leave, just unhinge that door and make sure you close it tightâ€�. It was a bit surprising hearing such helpful advice from a man I could not even see. We took our time and cooked an enormous meal with the rest of our bacon; it would take all our strength to make it over the two continental divide passes lined back to back that day. A large amount of snow may have accumulated over night, yet the road provided decent traction due to the presence of tire tracks dug in by a truck driver â€“one of the benefits of making a late start is that someone will likely plough the road for you. A herd of twenty cattle block the center of the narrow mud trail, perhaps in protest of our insane endeavor. I road my bike straight at them, yelling, feeling like a cowboy robbed of spurs and a ten-gallon hat, and chased them up a hill. At the remains of an ancient mine we passed by a terraced section of hill that had been reinforced with a stone wall, some giant rusted stone grinding equipment littered the left side of the road, freshly cut trees lay in a heap to the right. We climbed higher and higher into the hills, and with the shifting temperature to colder air more and more ice had formed over the tire tracks. It was becoming more and more difficult to peddle, and to make matters worse the derailleurs were freezing again. During the progression of the day not every thought was consumed with the continual degrading condition of body and machine, the view of snow dusted mountains for miles and miles around reassured us that all the hardship of roughing the snow was worthwhile. When one huffs and puffs and works the lungs like an unfeeling appendage to slave up steep grades an incredibly serene euphoria sets in the soul when the traveler crests the top of a hill. Such a state of elevated spirit could never be equaled by any chemical/drug intake; ones realm of existence is suddenly completely redefined; no more city dweller, tax-payer, bus-taker, music for entertainment, daily gossip of other peopleâ€™s lives, the eternal drudgery of political discourse, T.V. remote/ pushing buttons, heading weather predictions â€“all this evaporates with the steam off the forehead.