Earlier this month I spent a long week in my favorite place, Montana. I brought my riding shoes, pedals, and clothes since my father-in-law is an avid cyclist and has a plethora of bikes in my size. The first weekend I was there, we went for a mellow mountain bike ride leaving from his house. The last time I did this loop with him was during a September visit. The temp dropped 30 degrees during the ride and it started snowing on us. The loop includes a 5 mile paved road section, then a 4 mile dirt road and singletrack climb, then a 4 mile descent from the mountain tops above his house down to the driveway. Yeah, mellow, right? The terrain was not particularly technical, which is good because I was riding his old rigid full suspension Schwinn with v-brakes, but it was a great way to welcome a relaxing week.
During the week, there is a Wednesday night mtb ride. They picked a route that included 9 miles of dirt road climbing and about 6 miles of singletrack descending. For this one, I secured a much more functional and modern full suspension Ventana 29er. The bigger wheels made the climbing a breeze. I never got comfortable on the bike on the descent, mostly because the suspension was tuned to be so stiff I think. At the end of the ride, a Weber Q grille covered in Elk steaks, homemade sausages, and steak tips was waiting for us, as were two or three coolers of ice cold beer. They do it right out there!
The real treat of the week though, came thanks to a flight cancellation on our return. We were seated, ready for takeoff when the pilot told us O'Hare was closing inbound flights for the next 3 hours. I went back to the in-law's house and dragged my father-in-law out on the road bikes to ride up to the local high point. Their house is at about 4,000ft and the high point, called Skalkaho Pass is 7,250ft. It's a simple out and back route, 26.5 miles each way.
I was given the old (like 1968) Schwinn Paramount with the 21mm tires, the downtube shifters, 36mm wide handlebars, and 53-42 gearing. A true 10 speed with Campy Super Record parts that would make an antique collector proud. I actually enjoy riding this bike when I am there. It is very humbling compared to my 16lb carbon race bike or even my more modern Zanconato. My father-in-law even rode this bike across the country when he was in his early 20s, so it holds a special place in his heart too.
Anyway, we set out for Skalkaho Pass, riding together on the paved road for about 12 miles. At that point my father-in-law turned around while I decided to charge on, past the waterfall, to the summit. It's an 11 mile climb to the summit. The road switches to gravel about 4 miles in and since it was recently graded, it was nice and soft (and dusty). About half way to the summit I realized, although I had a pump and spare tube, I did not have tire irons. Fingers crossed, I really didn't want to use his nice Campy Super Record skewers to pry an old 21mm tire off the rim.
My father-in-law had warned that since it was a Sunday, Skalkaho Highway (yeah, this road is actually called a highway!) might be busy with people coming back from the lake on the other side. Busy by Montana standards is ghost town by Boston standards. I might have seen a dozen cars the whole time.
I made the summit, enjoyed a brief rest, and some snow, before turning around for the descent. At first I took it kind of easy, not wanting to risk a flat, but eventually my hands got tired from clamping the um, less than effective, brakes so I let it rip for a while. I think the road is a pretty steady 3-5% grade so you don't get going out of control fast, just fast enough to enjoy it.
Once I made it back to the pavement, I completely let off the brakes and made quick work of the remaining 12 miles back to the house. I had been looking forward to the huckleberry pie that was left over from lunch but apparently my father-in-law was too because he had finished it already. That's alright, I'll trade huckleberry pie for Skalkaho summit any day!
In summary, if I ever disappear, come searching for me in Montana, on Skalkaho Pass because there is a good chance that's where I'll be.