According to Nate, one of the friendly fellows knocking back a couple of tasty-looking pints of ale at the Idle Spur, our mid-day stop today in Dayton, Highway 93, which runs up the west side of Flathead Lake, is Montana’s most deadly road – so much so that there are bumper stickers making the plea quoted in the title of this post.
Highway 93 is pretty scary alright (and I’ll return to that), but earlier in the day we found ourselves in a worse place along a 10 mile or so newly paved stretch of Highway 28 out of Hot Springs:
Looks like a nice stretch of road, right? Well it is except for the fact that there are no shoulders and we were going slowly uphill into the wind while the crazy Montanan drivers were all doing something like 80 mph.
Now most all of the drivers are really good about getting over into the oncoming traffic lane in order to pass us. They really are, and kudos to them. But over the course of 10 tough, slow miles with nowhere to hide and nowhere to go, you cannot but toggle endlessly back and forth in your mind from confident assurance that things will be fine to the nervous sucking in of a breath as a potential doom wagon blows by and buffets you with its slip stream.
One of the cliches about war is that you never hear the bullet that has your name on it. Probably the scariest part about biking that newly paved stretch of road, always feeling vulnerable, always dependent upon the attention of others and always trying to be vigilant, was being overtaken by the vehicle out of nowhere. When last you looked the road was clear and now without warning your possible destiny is right alongside.
So that just sucked. I hated that road. I hated how hard the ride was. And I hated how vulnerable I felt.
But then we were done and we made it to the Idle Spur, and I found a new dog friend.
Heading north out of Dayton, we got some really nice views of Flathead Lake.
But there was still time for one final scare of the day on Highway 93.
Mostly, the shoulders are pretty good, but there are places where the guardrails run right up along the road and take the shoulder away.
The stretch of road I was on was pretty hilly – alternating steep uphills and downhills. I was cruising downhill onto the little bit of the flats before heading back uphill. I was checking the mirror to see what was behind me and looking down to see what gear I was in, calculating my shift pattern for the ascent.
As the road curved upward, I looked up to see the most enormous super king cab deluxe behemoth of a white pick-up barreling down the hill passing someone and heading straight for me just as I reached the guardrail and the shoulder disappeared.
George H.W. Bush famously and implausibly claimed that when he had to bail out of his plane after being shot down in WWII – genuinely heroic service on his part – that he thought about the separation of church and state and everything that made this country great.
I had nothing; jack shit. I would have barely gotten out a “whu?” before it was all over.
So is this dangerous? surely. It’s not so dangerous that the enterprise is foolish, but in addition to caution and prudence, we ride with the hope for luck.