A semi-trailer packed with cattle thundered by, enveloping me in a brownish mist reeking of cow feces. Being passed by a livestock truck is bad enough when its dry- when it’s raining it’s an experience. There are plenty of other unpleasant realities of cycling through day after day of rain; panniers full of wet and musty nylon clothes, leather cycling gloves that are slimy when soaked, sleeping in a damp and clammy sleeping bag… the list goes on monotonously like a prairie highway.
It rained during eight of the ten days it took me to cycle from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta to Avon, Montana. Rain isn’t all bad though- the chronically cloudy weather helped me save money on sunscreen and reduced my susceptibility to skin cancer.
A few mornings ago I even found myself actually appreciating the rain. I’d miscalculated my water supply as I cycled south from Glacier National Park, ending up on a desolate stretch of highway with only half of a nalgene of water. Once it got dark I pulled off to a clearing next to the road and set up my tent. I poured two thirds of the valuable liquids into my pot to cook linguini, then wasted little time in knocking the pot off my stove and spilling the contents into the dirt. I salvaged most of the noodles but the water was gone. I couldn’t afford to use any more water to cook the pasta so I ate the noodles half raw, chewing carefully and spitting out the gravel that had stuck to the spilled pasta.
I was out of water by the morning- but thankfully it had rained overnight. For breakfast I ate handfuls of dry raisin bran, sipping water droplets off tree leaves to help the cereal go down. I cycled for thirty kilometers before finally reaching Seeley Lake, Montana: population 1,580. I searched for a grocery store where I could fill my water bottles and stomach, but I was out of luck. If however I wanted to go to church, I’d have four to choose from.
At the far end of town I found a gas station with a convenience store. I refilled my water bottles from the sink in their dingy bathroom, then searched the shelves of food for something edible. Chips? No. Cheesies? No. Little Debbie’s doughnuts? Not quite that desperate. “There’s more food over there,” said the woman behind the counter, pointing towards cases of hot dogs, hamburgers and beef burritos. I wasted a minute inspecting the cases for a meat-free option, but I should have known better. Finding vegetarian food in small-town Montana is as hard as to find as a mosque in Manhattan. In the corner I spied a tray of what appeared to be doughnuts, though it was hard to tell under all the icing. They looked disgusting. I bought three and sat at a picnic table outside to eat.
The flavour of the goodies gave no clues to their identities, so I dissected one. It was a cinnamon bun. I looked up at the stars and stripes flying against a backdrop of gray skies, then back at my cinnamon bun. Was today an unpleasant ordeal or part of the American experience?