GDMBR day 22 7/23/21
The burning in my throat and nostrils combined with the acrid smell of smoke permeated my consciousness hours before Tom’s 5 am alarm signaled the start of the day. It was dark, and felt far too early to wake up, so I rolled over and tried to ignore the inevitability of getting up. I’m not a morning person, at least not a person who is ready to start the day before the birds. Today, the smell of smoke and uncertainty about what might happen given the proximity of the Alder Creek fire to our route today made it especially hard to get out of my warm sleeping bag to start the day.
Tom does what he can to entice us all to get up early. Though we all know the day simply goes so much better when we start early, he and Andrew are much more motivated by that logic at the dawn hour than Sara and I. It helps that Tom ritually makes me a warm cup of coffee and entices me to wake up with the smell. This morning the smell of coffee was overpowered by that of smoke. As the sun began to light the sky, the increased smoke hanging in the air was impossible to ignore. The sun rose orange against a hazy sky, and the mountains around us were hidden as if in a mist.
We were riding out at 7:15 - what had become the typical hour. We planned a shorter day today because there was a possibility of filling in food and supplies in the tiny town of Wise river. The morning was a relatively flat and fast ride on paved road with no shoulder. Fortunately it was early enough to have little traffic. Still, the big rigs and construction vehicles that passed us make my hairs stand on end. I just stared ahead, gripped my handle bars tight, and focused on pedaling straight.
The smoke became thicker the closer to town we got. We purchased buffs in Butte in anticipation of the smoke, and I certainly used mine. It helps filter out some, and make breathing feel a bit less noxious. Soon we arrived at the lone gas station/ convenience store and met three other bike backers who’d been riding a ways ahead of us much of the morning. After getting snacks and drinks from the store, we chatted with them a little. Andrew and Sara both got pastys - a unique savory treat of Irish heritage that originates from Butte, MT. A pasty is a meat and potatoes pie surrounded by a buttery crust. They were quite delicious.
There was rumor of a burrito truck up the road, so Tom and I saved ourselves for that. The cashier at the store told us to just pedal down the road, and we couldn’t miss the truck across from town hall. Sure enough, we saw the flags and old red fire truck turned food truck with the three other bikers waiting out front we’d met at the store. Turns out it was also the start of the fire fighting effort there, and the food truck guy was also a firefighter. Another firefighter the guys called “chief” was there too. We sat in chairs and chatted with the firefighters and bikers while waiting for and eating the delicious home made breakfast burritos.
After an unexpectedly long break, we headed back out on our way. Chief told us the route we planned to ride was still open, so off we headed into the smoke. It was a somber ride. I’ve never seen a fire fighting outpost before. First we passed the heavy equipment. Later we rode past the massive firefighter tent city. As we rode on we passed active fire fighting operations including the lumber cut down along the road set up for back burning. I felt like we were in one of those apocalypse movies, but instead of riding away from the disaster, we were riding right in to it. The smoke smell mixed with the piney Christmas tree scent of fresh cut lumber was eerie.
Fortunately we made it to our site - Pattengail, early. The smoke wasn’t as thick here, and we settled in for a relaxing afternoon. We soaked in the river, napped and played cards. I feel congested and fatigued from breathing so much smoke. I’m hoping air quality starts to improve as we ride farther south.
The sun is going down earlier now, closer to 9, and the evening is cool and crisp. It will be good sleeping tonight in the cool temperatures. Tomorrow we head to the Grasshopper Inn.