Okay, so observant folks will notice this post comes months after the trip. I'm working from my notes and recollections now. But I want to finish this out and I promise not to ever be this remiss again. Anyway, here it goes....
The Lochsa Lodge offered the best breakfast of the trip and one of my best of the year. It was a choriso and pepper jack omelet with a side of huckleberry pancakes. Nobody needs this much food so I shared with the table and still left stuffed. This was a little slice of heaven and although the lodge was really nice I just never saw this one coming.
We left the lodge headed back toward the Lolo Motorway which suited me just fine. My riding wasn't as sharp today but mostly because I tried to rush back to the same pace as the day before. I soon waved others past and got myself together. From there my speed increased and my confidence returned. I came up behind Calhoun and he waved me by. I didn't want to just pass I wanted to put on a show! I came by on the gas and honestly the next left really snuck up on me. I pitched it in flat track style but it wasn't pretty. The next right hander I felt like I needed to put on a better show and pitch in a full lock slide into the face of the berm which caught me and spit me out down the next straight. I felt like a million bucks! Calhoun rolled into the next turn in the trail where we routinely wait for one another giving props and a fair amount of crap which I took as further compliments. I speak so much about this moment because it was the highlight of a day that got ugly then painful for me.
From there we had kind of a transitional path to another glorious section of forest road leading us into Montana. But at one of the turns in the trail Ryan waited for me, waved me down one fork of the trail, and then disappeared as I waited for the rider behind me. I waved Calhoun down the trail and then followed when I got done with a nature break. But the trail was really grown over and eventually came to a dead end. WTF!? I sat there with Calhoun and now Thor assuring them this is the way that Ryan waved me. We searched and searched but no Ryan. We backtracked and looked over every cliff for wayward tracks. We eventually got back to the fork in the road and still no Ryan. I was really worried. Calhoun and Thor became suspicious of my recollection and began performing checks on my story along with a surreptitious search for Ryan along the original trail. And sure enough they found Ryan. Now I was confused! Evidently I hallucinated the entire meeting with Ryan. That's scary. But he assured me he never saw me and never went down the trail I sent everyone else. My confidence was now shot. In my mind I saw Ryan (months later I still remember it) but it didn't happen and I couldn't deny that. I asked the guys to do what they already knew they were going to have to do: supervise me to the next hotel.
From my confusion we emerged into a very well groomed Forest Service road over the Lochsa mountains to Montana. It was just an amazing road in an amazing forest on an amazing trip and I really wish I'd been able to enjoy it in that context but I was really worried about whatever short circuit I had in my head. I was hot, had been hot due to overdressing in the morning, and was low on water from a few too many beers the night before. But what was I going to do about it now!? We still rode in a staggered group with Ryan waiting for me to stop with my bike pointed in the right direction before leaving me. Calhoun would follow behind me and I was really careful to use mental gymnastics to keep myself present and confident of my reality when I took off down the trail with him to follow. He wasn't naive either and told me to stop if I felt unsure and we'd figure it out. Can you put a value on these friendships? I spied a little wooden bridge in the trail with no fishermen and thought this was my chance to take a dip to cool off. By the time I clambered down the rock to the water I had Thor and Mark Cambron parked on the bridge above me probably wondering if I thought Ryan told me to go swimming. I told them I was going to take a dip and promptly flopped in the water. OH MY GOD that water was cold! It took a few moments for the water to get under all my gear and when it did my fight or flight instincts got triggered! I hopped up and sprinted up those rocks screaming like a little girl. I got on my bike and the air just made it worse. Holy Mother of Bad Ideas! But I had effectively taken a healthy dose of Mother Natures smelling salts which really woke me up. I rolled into Calhoun and Ryan waiting for me and I knew that I couldn't break ranks like that again so I just kept on rolling to the end of the road. What a ride.
We stopped for lunch at a full service truck stop near the end of the road. Now I was fully present. We had a nice lunch and I opted for the road route to Anaconda with Calhoun, Bob Shields, and Mark Cambron. At the end of that road we turned into the wind in a valley and the 250cc bikes that Mark, Bob, and I were riding really bogged down. The wind was 38 mph sustained with gusts to 50 mph according to the National Weather Service info we got at the end of the ride. It felt it. Full throttle was ~53 mph unless I tucked like I was road racing. Calhoun had it a little better on his 650 but not enough to leave us completely. Just brutal. Above us on the eastern ridge was a forest fire and I wondered how on earth man could harness nature under these conditions. Mercifully we finally got to an eastern turn and began a slow climb up the eastern ridge a few miles south of the forest fire. It was interesting to me how the homes went from modest at our turn to extravagant the closer we got to the forest. And let me tell you about this forest! We climbed from paved to groomed super-wide dirt along a stream to our right and mountain to our left. There were occasional waterfalls and occasional tourist but little else but us and the wild. Our stops became more frequent although always the helmet-on variety. But you couldn't deny the incredible beauty and the thought that we may never see this again. And the end of this ride came as subtly as you can imagine. One minute we're in the Forest and the next we exit onto paved roads with multi-thousand acre ranches that hardly obscured the natural beauty from the Forest. I think this area is for Montana tourists and I wouldn't mind being one of them.
Next up was a the homestretch into Anaconda, Montana past Georgetown Lake which was preceded by a dramatic waterfall which had us stopping for pictures before we'd arrived at the crown jewel. What a beautiful area! From our stop along the roadway I spied a parking lot with a boat ramp just below us and made a bee line there. I thought it would be a good picture spot. As I cut across the parking lot I reconsidered my course and stabbed the front brake for a quick change of direction. BANG! I'm on the ground with my left leg bent against my MCL as the wave of pain reaches my brain. I got my wits about me and I realized I just stabbed the front brake in the only sand sitting in this entire parking lot and have now sprained my left MCL. I've torn it before and I know this is less severe. Still, it hurts bad. And as an aside, I'm convinced that when somebody hurts their knee the first time they cry for the pain but the second time they cry for the road back to health having full knowledge of the journey. Bob came up to comfort me without a hint of mocking folly. In fact everyone did. Perhaps they could sense the seriousness of my mood through my body language. For a bunch of jester's this is rare and at the time validated my fear that this was pretty bad. Sure enough as I was trying to walk it off Bob pointed out a rainbow which became a double rainbow and that helped take my mind off my momentary pain and onto the lasting memory I'd have of this moment. What a crazy, crazy realization. Bob sent me pictures of myself months later at that moment and it was very emotional. I don't know if I really let on how worried I was that I was done but the pictures brought it all back.
I re-mounted the bike and we made our way into Anaconda. We found the hotel with no drama, had a great dinner, and I got a good night of sleep. This was the epic day of this trip because of the range of emotions. I'm so thankful that I had my friends with me to Shepard me through all that I went through. There are days when you wonder what you get from all your contributions and concessions to the group. Today I got it all back.
**Epilogue: As I write this in mid-January my knee is in a brace and surgery is not out of the question.