Day 112: Libby, MT - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

August 2, 2011

Day 112: Libby, MT

I don't get up until 10:00, when the sun fights its way through the tree branches, warms the tent, and causes a single drop of sweat to run down the side of my face and onto the blue towel-pillow. The rest day is off to a winning start.

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I've been on the road long enough that I have a sixth sense for finding electrical outlets and unsecured wifi. The tingle brings me to Subway, where I hang out for hours, work on the journal, and learn a bit about what it's like to live in Libby. The young women working behind the counter talk about boyfriends who drink too much and don't care about them, buying trucks for $1,700, taking drugs, friends who died in car crashes, and how they convinced a couple of random guys to drive them to the airport in Spokane. Half of the customers are girls in their early 20s, all of whom have a trashy tattoo on their lower back, a baby or two, and at least 25 extra pounds around their middle. They shuffle in and out in a fury of clanking doors, cursing, strollers, bottles, and complicated sandwich orders.

The three 20-something guys next to me talk about saws for a lot longer than it seems possible to talk about saws.

"He needs a nice Stihl," the younger of the guys says. "That's a powerful saw. That's the way it should be."

He pauses.

"Now for me, I want a Husqvarna. That's gonna be my next saw. That's the plan, anyway."

The conversation soon turns to rifles, back to saws a little more, and then to the drama that goes on between guys who cut wood for a living—the bad attitudes, not showing up for work, owing money for a pickup truck, and that one lazy asshole who won't pick up the bucket of rocks and move it to the other side of the camper.

"I got all kinds of people that would love to go out and make 60 dollars a day splittin' wood," the younger guy says. "Jim and Josh and Derek, all of 'em. But that guy, man, he doesn't do shit, just sits there and tries to boss people around. He doesn't even know how to use a saw! He almost cut his toe off the other day with that little 290. Woulda had to call him Stubby."

The other two guys give quiet, stuttered laughs.

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I sit in the corner, listening to Bon Iver and working on a laptop, thinking about how fortunate I am that I grew up near Seattle, went to college, make money building things on a computer, and will never know what it's like to grow up, live, work, and then die in the same small town along the Kootenai River in Western Montana. It's not a bad life for some people, but I'm not one of them.

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My dad and his two motorcycle riding buddies roll into town in the afternoon. It's the first time I've seen him in a few months and we catch up at a bar on the outskirts of town, where half a dozen deer and elk heads hang from the walls above the tables, along with an entire stuffed wolf, a rowboat, and a red neon sign reading "Cashier." Back at his motel room we watch and argue about a Mariners baseball game on TV, just like we've done for more than 20 years. It's a great reminder that even though bike touring and traveling are such wonderful and amazing and satisfying things, I have so many reasons to look forward to returning home, leaning the bike against a wall in a spare bedroom, and staying in one place for awhile.

That's my dad smiling on the left.
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I take a walk through the empty streets of Libby just before night falls. Teenagers drive past, all in beat-up trucks, and every bike I see leaned up against a house is unlocked because no one around here would ever think to steal it. I dodge water from sprinklers that over-spray onto the sidewalks, which eventually lead me to the highway, where I spot at least five casinos, each one a little more depressing than the one that came before.

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Taxidermied animals seem to be the town's biggest industry, because I see them everywhere. Even the Ford dealership has stuffed deer and elk heads mounted in the showroom, where their shiny, motionless black eyes look down on new Mustangs and Tauruses. It's all a bit weird, which is the perfect way to sum up Libby.

Today's ride: 3 miles (5 km)
Total: 5,714 miles (9,196 km)

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