Riding the Great Divide Trail. Day 1. Whitefish to Bigfork.
Jamies was waiting for me at the Glacier National Park Airport at Kalispell. We took a cab to Whitefish. Jamie had arranged to leave the bike boxes at a cyclery there. They also agreed to keep our travel bags.
At the cyclery he had an Old Man Mountain rack and some panniers fitted on my bike. All Jamie had me carrying, plus my own gear, were the Big Agnes tent and my sleeping bag and mat, all strapped on in a waterproof compression sack.
That, and the Camelbak Mule backpack, was my load.
My gear was two pairs of mountain bike shorts, a pair of lightweight shorts, two jerseys, two socks, two padded undershorts, mountain bike shoes and a waterproof jacket. For evenings, lightweight slacks, a teeshirt and a lightweight fleece, all from Craghoppers, and trainers.
We stayed the first night at a motel which also owned a campground. On arrival we pitched our tent in the campground to make sure everything was in good shape. The campground was full of giant RVs like travelling bungalows.
Jamie carried two bicycle panniers with food, water and tools and his clothing, and a bar bag, far more than me.
He showed me his bike. It was a steel touring bike made by Co-Motion, a company based in Oregon. Its unique feature was the coupler system allowing it to be disassembled, cased, and carried as standard baggage on most airlines.
We planned our morning routine. Jamie had asked me to plot the route of the Great Divide Trail and download it to my Garmin bike computer and print out waymarks which we could monitor by zeroing the odometer each day.
We set off at 8:30 the next morning after coffee and doughnuts in the breakfast bar.
Jamie said we should start earlier on other days while it was still cool, for the temperature would rise steadily throughout the day to lunchtime, and would peak in the mid 80’s in the late afternoon. In this part of Montana lightning storms are also common in the afternoon.
We angled south east along around the huge square fields. The farmhouses and barns were rust-coloured with white lintels and corner posts.
Our first climb was a long, shallow climb on a paved road through pine trees.
“You’re looking pretty good,” he said, standing up out of the saddle and scanning me. “You trained well.”
After we had stopped for lunch Jamie pushed the bikes into a brushy opening and cable-locked them together and pocketed his Garmin and we went looking for huckleberries on the forest floor. We found some low bushes with purple fruits which I said were similar to whortleberries or bilberries, which grow in the hills I roamed as a child.
In the evening I told him how I had been reading up about the history of the bike and how the technology had stopped and started through a mesh of coincidence and enthusiasm and inspiration and ambition and greed.
“ It’s a bit like our bodies that contain parts from thousands of species,” Jamie said.
We stopped at Bigfork and found the campground just south of the town, pitched our tent and cabled our bikes to a tree.
Then we walked in over the old harbour bridge and up the street called Electric Avenue, checking out what was there.
Jamie has a couple of high-tech bicycle security devices: a D-lock that alerts his iPhone if it’s tampered with and a hidden tracker that provides GPS co-ordinates of the bike’s position if it’s stolen.
It was Sunday evening but we found a good restaurant and also chose a cafe for our breakfast in the morning.
I had never shared a tent with Jamie before. I slept well but, as ever, with periods of wakefulness. Jamie groaned a few times in the night. I wondered what he was dreaming about.
At dinner Jamie said: “Think how many of our customary behaviours are just down to a single biological trait. Humans sleep after dark for six to eight hours. What if we slept in the day? Or dozed?”
As I lay awake I thought: yes, what if we were a nocturnal creature? Would we find sunlight dazzlng and threatening? Would we feel exposed in sunlight and need to hide? What would a perfect night look like to us? What would be its signature tones and features?
And I listened for sounds in the pinewoods around the campground.