I know - sounds overly dramatic, doesn't it? But this blog is being updated today (which is actually the day after) - the day it's posted - because I could not stay conscious long enough to do anything but eat yesterday. Yesterday was, hands down, the hardest ride I've ever been on. And I'm sure our whole group can say the same...
Now - yesterday was also the crowning acheivement on our bike ride. The reason we went riding on this whole adventure - to connect to the Route of the Hiawatha. And it was amazing. But because we were doing this unsupported, we didn't do it the way most people do - starting at the top, and riding to the bottom, and then get picked up. We started at the bottom. NO - we started 10 miles from the bottom, and rode gravel trails for 10 miles to reach the Hiawatha trail.
Suffice it to say, it was a hard ride. By the time we reached the Hiawatha, we had already climbed several steep inclines on loaded bikes, over very rough terrain. After getting to the trail, we had done enough riding that most people would be done... but not us. No, no.... we finally arrived, and had the 17-mile ride on the Hiawatha... uphill.
Now, the previous day was 35 miles on these old gravel roads... and I knew that this ride would be tough - but, wow. Tired as we were, we were able to slow down and enjoy the sights. Amazing sights. This is a trip well worth the wait. Lots of high trestles, and tunnels, and lots of terrific views... But my favorite spot couldn't be caught on camera... it's a 1.7 mile long tunnel, which took us over (technically thru) the continental divide, out of Idaho, and into Montana.
Montana was beautiful. But promptly after finishing the ride... and thoroughly exhausted, we faced the sobering reality that we were only halfway finished... and biking the next 25 miles meant trekking off into the bitterroot mountain wilderness to hopefully end up in Mullan... back in Idaho.
So we began climbing the grade up the NorPac trail to summit at Lookout Ski Resort. We quickly realized how tired we were when none of us could move our bikes faster than 5mph. On the gravel roads, we couldn't really go faster than 7 safely, but to not have the energy to move past 5mph is frightning - in the middle of the wilderness. So we took breaks. We drank Gatorade and ate energy and protein bars. And got back on the bikes... 5mph. We stopped and did it again. Then again. Practically nothing helped. About 20 miles away from Mullan, I distinctly remember thinking "oh this was a terrible mistake. I'm going to have to stay the night. We can't get back." And then just a few miles later we reached the top of the pass!!!
We were all so exhausted that we strongly considered just taking I-90 (which was accessible at that point) all the way into Mullan - because from Lookout, the highway route took only 5 miles, but the NorPac took 12. After a very long break, and a good amount of reassuring, we took the NorPac. And it was all downhill. All 12 miles.
I really can't say the terror that goes through your head when you feel like you may have had to camp the night in the wilderness because you just can't physically continue. But I felt like we were all pretty close yesterday. Thank you so much for the prayers and thoughts. Praise God for being sooo good!
I don't know if I would ever choose to do quite that route again, without much, much better conditioning. But just to recap: we crossed the continental divide. Twice. We rode 52 miles. On rocky trails. Uphill 3/4 of the way. With loaded touring bikes. I would rather have ridden a century.
My favorite moment was when, just shortly after leaving Lookout pass, we got cell service. Kyle called his folks to say that we were all alright, and nobody even knew that they should be worried. :)