roadside attractions, the last room in whitefish, and the plumber.... - Seattle towards Minnesota - CycleBlaze

August 4, 2007

roadside attractions, the last room in whitefish, and the plumber....

I woke up confused about the time. The dispatcher's laugh and warning about the sprinklers had been neurally stamped into my brain, and in the back of my mind I was afraid I'd oversleep.

It was 51 degrees outside; inside my sleeping bag it was warm and cozy.

Time to go. I was packed and rolling by 7:59, just in case the sprinkler’s automatic timers were off by an hour. You know, accidentally.

Throughout the day, most of the cars had their headlights turned on because of the smoke. Montana was burning and the sun was orange.

As I pedaled toward Whitefish, I could see exactly where the smoke was. It lay across my path like a river of white. The white layer you see in the picture below isn’t fog, it’s smoke.

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Lunch was a burger and a Pepsi at a bar on the Lower Stillwater Lake. I paid for it with a credit card, left the tip on the table, then went outside to get away from the cigarette smoke. I was sitting at a picnic table when the waitress/cook/bartender came outside to speak to me. She's one of those people you think of when someone says, "It's not the number of years, it's the number of miles." She looked tired.

"Excuse me, but I just wanted to thank you for leaving the tip on the table. Most people don't realize that we get taxed on the tips we get from a credit card. That's why I always leave cash when I tip."

I wasn't sure what to say, so I just said, "You're welcome." That was nice of her.

I'm going the same speed downhill today as I was uphill yesterday. That's the difference a headwind can make.

The smoke got closer and closer, until I finally entered it. There was a distinct difference after that. I couldn't see any mountains, and only the closest hills were visible. My main concern was Glacier National Park, and whether I'd be able to see anything. As you can see in the picture of the nearby hill below, there's not much to look at when you're inside the smoke.

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To me, it's interesting to see the variety of lost and discarded items on the side of the road. Before I enter a town I can get a general idea of the socioeconomic level simply by the things I see along the road.... beer cans (and what kind of beer) versus Starbucks cans, a Playboy bunny baseball cap versus a Greenpeace cap. I see T-shirts, furniture, diapers, bandanas, bananas, shoes, you name it. Seeing nothing on the roadside is also an indicator. Sometimes I note that the clothing is actually better the stuff in my panniers. On occasion, I've been known to pick something up and give it as a "gift."

The most memorable gift was years ago when I visited Lee, my college roommate. He was out of town, but let me use his house overnight while I was training.

When he returned the following day it didn't take him long to find the cap with the words, ''Old Fishermen Never Die..." on the hat rack, nor to find the T-shirt I left hanging in his closet.

The last item he didn't find until bedtime. He told me later that he and his girlfriend were having one of those where-is-this-relationship-going discussions. Nothing was resolved, and it was time to go to bed. Only after they pulled the covers back did they find the book of gay porn stories. Lee just looked at his girlfriend and shrugged.

Once in Whitefish I went straight to the bike shop. It was late Saturday, and many bike shops are closed on Sundays and Mondays. In addition to adjusting my shifters, I needed new handlebar tape.

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Mike, whom I shall hereafter refer to as Mike the God of All Bicycle Mechanics, went to work immediately on my bike.

He also gave me a phone book and marked all of the motels in Whitefish. I didn't get my motel last night but was determined to get one tonight.

First on my list, The Chalet... booked.  A fine film of perspiration formed on my forehead. I called the Cheap Sleep Inn... also booked up.  I called the Holiday Inn... no vacancies….

One hotel left....

I called the Downtowner and talked to Sarah, who very politely informed me, "I'm sorry, but we don't have any vacancies tonight."

"What's going on?" I asked. "Is there an Elvis convention?"

She giggled. "No, just summer in Whitefish."


"Any luck?" Mike the God of All Bicycle Mechanics asked. I let him know about my futile attempts. 

"You know, there's one more that's not in the phone book. It's kind of.... well, I think they rent rooms by the week."
"You mean by the hour," one of the other mechanics clarified.
A third: "It's not so bad. I stayed there for a couple of weeks waiting for my new place to open up. A little dark, is all."

I called out a list of all of my minimum requirements:
"Does it have a bed?   (yes)
Does it have a shower?"   (yes) and
"Will my stuff get ripped off?"   (probably not)

He found the number and I called. "Do you have any rooms available?"


"Can you hold it?"   


Mike the God of All Bicycle Mechanics took my bike off the stand and I left all of my gear on the floor by the work area (I had to take the gear off so the bike stand could hold my bike). After getting some quick directions, I sprinted as fast as I could pedal toward the last remaining room in Whitefish.

Unfortunately, in my haste, I pedaled past it and didn't see it. I called Mike The God Of All Bicycle Mechanics and asked him again.... turn around, it's by the car wash.

I found it, finally, and went in. Somewhat to my surprise, there was no one at the desk. I rang the bell and waited.

No response.... I waited some more. Every five minutes or so, I rang the bell and called out. Twenty minutes later I was still waiting. There is nothing in the world that could've removed me from that tiny room.... a call from the President, or even Ed McMahon, a nuclear holocaust.... If all it would have taken to find Jimmy Hoffa's body is to take one single step outside that room, well, I guess I'd never know because the city could've burned down around me while I watched through the window. I'm not leaving.

Finally, three people walked in at once. Two of them had just pulled up on a Harley. The third person walked behind the counter.

Apparently, the guy behind the counter thought we were all together.

"Need a room?" he asked.

"We sure do," the six-and-a-half foot tattooed man said.

"Well, I can take your name, but I'm only the plumber."

"Yeah," he said with a knowing, friendly laugh, "that's what you said last year."

OH, NO! NO!  They were probably on a first name basis.

He will NOT get the last room in Whitefish. He may be riding a Harley, but I smell worse than him.

So I said, timidly but with a distinct odor about me, "I'm the guy who called about the room." That was a brilliant maneuver on my part and should clear things up nicely.

They all looked at me like I had just grown leprous sores all over my body and was asking for a big hug.

"I didn't get a call like that…."

Now I KNEW they were chums. Probably old biking buddies.

"…but I'm just the plumber."

Harley turned out to be a nice guy. He summed up the situation and said, "Thank you for your time," then left.

The plumber pulled out a registration card for me to fill out and gave me a key. When I tried to pay, he smiled, showing a total of 3.5 teeth, and said, "Oh, I can't take your money.... I'm just the plumber."

It was at that point that I finally realized he really WASN'T the manager. He was, indeed, "just the plumber." 

Regardless, it didn’t matter to me because… The last room in Whitefish was mine.

I went to my room, which was actually a lot nicer than I had expected and not even particularly dark. I turned on the AC and rode back to the bike shop. Mike the God of All Bicycle Mechanics was probably wondering where I was so I couldn't linger.

He finished working on my bike, and when he was done I had gears that shifted smoothly and new gel-padded handlebars.

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When you're on a bike trip, you're going to have minor aches and pains... small cuts here and there (especially shins), minor joint pain, things like that. I haven't been telling you about them for two main reasons:

1) they're going to happen (my hands are sore, my right index finger is still going numb after fifteen minutes or so of climbing, my thighs are sore...)
2) telling you about the minor aches is one step removed from talking about my bowel movements.

But I am going to tell you this: my butt is sore. I'm telling you because I'm absolutely positive you want to know about the status of the area around my rectum. Also, I'm telling you because if you take a bike trip you should know that you're going to get sore, too.

A guy I met along the way told me about "butt balm." This is not to be confused with "butt bomb," the inevitable malodorous and toxic results of eating certain power bars. I wondered if this saddle sore salve might be just the thing I needed. Two straight weeks of riding is hard on everything.

The thing is, how do you ask the guy at the bike shop for it? What if the guy who told me about it was setting me up?

"Excuse me.... Do you have any butt balm? No? Never heard of it? oh. How about feminine hygiene products?"

I decided I wasn't quite THAT sore yet.

Mary and Larry had told me about an excellent place to eat in town, Tupelo's, and I enjoyed my meal there very much (a variation of "It was good."). I had the special (salmon), and ate everything on my plate. When shown the dessert menu, I was really too full to eat anything else.

So I got the key lime mousse pie to go.

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I stopped by the office to pay for my two nights and met Jim, the manager, and learned that the plumber has a name, too:  Glenn.

Back in my room, I tried writing a while but was so sleepy that the stuff I wrote didn't make much sense (assuming anything I write does) and fell into the kind of deep, satisfying sleep you can only get when you just got the last room in town.

Miles 56.05
Maximum speed 30.6 mph
Average speed 10.7 mph
Time 5:15:45
Cumulative mileage 655.1

Today's ride: 56 miles (90 km)
Total: 655 miles (1,054 km)

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Gregory GarceauHi there Mark. I've been reading your journal and recognized so many common experiences from my tour through this area a few years after your tour. Like you, I rode on the west side of Lake Koocanusa, unlike most Northern Tier riders. It is hillier but, as you noted, quieter, almost traffic free and full of deer. (I had the great bonus of seeing a mountain lion on that road.) I even stayed at the MacGillivray Campground.

I stopped at Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish for a new tube. I think that might be the one in which you met "The God of All Bike Mechanics." It's a fine bike shop and it was surprisingly busy. As busy as they were, I watched as they took on the repair of a tandem from a couple of hippie-type bike tourists on the spot.

I'll be watching to see if you get to see Glacier N.P. through the smoke. When I road up to, and over Logan Pass, my views were obstructed by rain and fog.
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