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I Love Riding in the City

I (Used to) Love Riding in the City

By Jason Mills

Sometimes I miss those $5 alleycats, bombing hills brakeless and blowing lights, riding like a reckless idiot for bragging rights and the “grand” prize, a messenger bag, a growler from the East End Brewery, $50 in crumpled cash. I miss those hung-over, yet happy-as-hell, summer messenger mornings outside PPG Plaza, Downtown, sipping coffee, anxiously waiting for that next “money-making,” east rush to the Cathedral or Iroquois. I was riding hard and hardly making $200 a week. I loved every minute of it. Sometimes I miss those bitterly cold, late January nights when we stuffed Steve’s panniers full of whatever food we could scavenge from Strip District dumpsters. I miss those fast, sober rides to the bar and the drunk ones home I don’t really remember or don’t remember at all.

Everything that’s lead up to now, though, all that, has been worth it. I did that for four years; that city-living, urban-riding. I used to love riding in the city. Now it’s St. Mary, Montana, population less than one hundred year-round; mountain-slash-country living, just outside Glacier National Park on the Blackfeet Native American Indian Reservation.

Today is June 12, 2008: six inches of snow fell yesterday. It melted today—it is June, after all, summer, even here in the mountains—and I took advantage: thirty miles, with gears, with brakes, into the park. My destination: Jackson Glacier, fifteen miles into the park, one of less than ten remaining glaciers in the Lower Forty-Eight. The first fifteen were uphill, into a twenty-mile-per-hour wind, a doesn’t-even-let-up-a-little gust. It’s like that all the time here. Past Jackson, the road goes on for forty more miles to the next town, West Glacier, but thirty-foot-tall snowdrifts still cover portions of the road. The Park Service dynamites, plows, and repaves every day to get it open; they’re hoping for the Fourth of July, as long as it doesn’t snow again. And it can.

There are no conventional destinations here, just lakes and peaks, X’s that mark spots. There is no bar with a half-off happy hour, no dumpster filled with just-expired cashews, no double-supers to Highmark, Fifth at Stanwix. The nearest year-round, fully-stocked grocery store is thirty miles away. Here, there are just countless miles to ride; really, there are only three places, there-and-back, in a hundred mile radius: thirty-one miles south on Highway 89 to Browning, the “capital” of the Reservation, by far the hardest thirty-one miles I’ve ever done; fifteen miles north on the same highway to the America-into-Canada border crossing; and Going-to-the-Sun Road, the mountainous, fifty-four-mile, government-certified “National Historic Landmark” that took fourteen years to complete, a testament to how hard it is to ride. I love riding in the country.

Sometimes I miss that city life: I put thousands of brakeless miles on my ‘92 Cannondale “Track” and never rode even one lap on a velodrome. Once I got hit by a car and three police cars, an ambulance, and two fire trucks showed up to the scene. All they would send here is a helicopter; the nearest hospital is more than two hours away. I like it better here, though, Nowhere, Montana, because it’s harder, it’s less convenient, its hills are infinite and knee-numbing, the air thin and unpolluted. This place wasn’t nicknamed “Big Sky Country” and “The Last Best Place” for nothing. No matter what, though, city or mountain-slash-country, gridlocked streets or an empty highway that stretches to the horizon and beyond, biking is still my everything. And now I don’t have to worry about being doored.