Bike Moments

Cover photo courtesy of Justin Short

Remember when we were kids, and you’d meet another kid? It was as though, “Hey, I’m a kid. You’re a kid. Let’s go play!” And then you’d play all day until it was dark and your mom would yell out the door that it was time to come home. “But it’s not even dark,” you’d say, “it’s adult dark!” I think bikes give us permission to be in touch with our inner little kid like that. That might be why it’s so easy to make friends with other riders.

Recently, I was walking around Kalispell, Montana, and popped into the bike shop on a whim. I handed a guy some Gravel Braintrust stickers, and he said, “Hey, you’re Seth Truu’s buddy, aren’t you?” Seth had been touring through our region last year and stayed with us for a week before continuing on. Next thing you know, the guy at the bike shop was rummaging around in the back to find a shop bike for me to join them on that night’s group ride. Before I knew it, we were zooming around in the woods on bikes, had a fire by the river, saw a dead cow, one guy crashed and popped his finger like a ketchup packet, and we stayed out until we would have heard mom calling. That’s a bike moment right there.

Photo Courtesy Justin Short

Over post-ride burgers and fizzy beverages, I was invited to an annual invitational fat bike overnighter from Kalispell to the town of Hot Springs, Montana, that was coming up in a few weeks, called the Chili Cino. You can always count on at least one or two goofballs in our cycling community to join an adventure of this sort, so on the appointed day, Anthony and I found ourselves loading bikes on Sarah’s truck at an absurd hour for the 4-hour drive to Kalispell.

We arrived at the start of the ride, where 50 or so fat bikers were chomping at the bit to get rolling. I said hi to a few friends and they shoved off down the snowy trail a good half hour before we were ready to roll, but roll we soon did. I left my tires at a firm pressure for snow, but still rather soft for the bare pavement we found ourselves riding on when the bike lane ended a mile later. The road climbed gradually, meandering up a very picturesque and ever-narrowing valley. Our trio soon arrived at the top of the snowy pass, piling on layers and zipping zippers for a bone-chilling 9-mile descent to the valley floor 2,000 feet below. My hands froze solid up to my armpits, but there was a feed zone with chili and chicken soup just a few rolling miles ahead and we were all thawed out by the time we got there. We were last out of the feed zone, but I later got to ride with my new friend David who was riding with his teenage daughter. These multigenerational teams always warm the cockles of my heart.

The last hill came and went, and we found ourselves meandering around town. One of the riders was setting up his tent in a campground next to our hotel. “This nut job is camping in this weather,” I thought quietly. Little did I know this was the one and only Eric Deady, organizer of the Winter Bikepacking Seminar mentioned in the last issue’s EDC column.

Photo courtesy of Justin Short

Hot Springs is a bizarre place, to put it mildly. If you’ve never been there, imaging an entire town where everyone is so relaxed they’re almost completely non-functional. There used to be a woman who walked through the streets with a cordless phone shouting people’s names, because there’s no phone signal there and that’s how you reach people in Hot Springs. She tracked me down one night.

Syme’s Hotel was the destination for a good hot soak; stories of the weird legends of Hot Springs were shared in the “lobster pot,” the hottest of the soaking pools there. The revelry continued at a party house where bathrobe-bedecked bikers laughed with one another while enjoying more chili and fizzy beverages, and I got to watch my friends make new friends too. Tales were told about the year it was -40°f at the start, and 34 people showed up to ride in that stuff hoping it would warm up to zero by noon. It didn’t. And that’s the most memorable Chili Cino for those goofballs. Myself, I only considered this nonsense because of the relatively mild weather forecast. “The temperature usually hovers around 5° for this thing,” one of the regulars informed me.

Having soaked, socialized, and snoozed, the next order of business was breakfast. One of the gang from the lobster pot had said, “Syme’s Hotel has a great breakfast if you keep your metabolism high and your expectations low.” Once again, Syme’s was overrun with bikers, most of whom had already gone for a morning soak, and breakfast there was the final magical ingredient in my recovery from the 50-mile slog over the mountain the day before. I only had to do it one more time in the opposite direction, and I would feel strangely better than before. A colder, snowier mountain was waiting for us in the distance, making our return trip pleasantly winter wonderland’ier.

Photo courtesy of Justin Short

As one bike moment bleeds into the next, I was whirling around the mosh pit at the Dropkick Murphys show at Spokane Tribe Casino in February, when I bumped into Edwin, a dude I had met at the previously re-mentioned Winter Bikepacking Seminar, and plans were made to get lost in the woods on bikes until we hear mom calling. It never ends. 

OTO writer Justin Short formed the Gravel Braintrust to knit together the greater cycling community. If you encounter him somewhere OUT THERE, he’ll probably give you one of the aforementioned stickers. Hopefully the website will be up by the time you read this.

Share this Post

Scroll to Top