After a half hour or so of troubleshooting his pedals, Travis threw in the towel and opted to buy new cleats. On the way back to the Spoke Shop, we went by Albertson's to pick up the beer we had promised to the bike techs. So Travis was riding down the streets of Billings at 9 am, full pannier packs and a case of Fat Tire.
The shop hooked us up with bagels and a sweet discount on the cleats before we hit the road 1.5 hours later than we had wanted to. We thought that it was 115 miles to Sheridan, WY but the first sign we saw 10 miles outside of town said 124. Crap. That meant we would need favorable winds since the route was hilly, as Susan had warned us. We were making slow progress to Hardin, and by the time we stopped for lunch it was clear we weren't going to make it to Sheridan. Once again we felt a few drops of rain, and even stopped to put on our rain garb, but the storm stayed ahead of us.
We slowly ground out the afternoon, with me getting two flats on a patched tube. Travis had warned me that patching tubes was unreliable, but I'd never had a problem with glue on patches before. So not wanting to spend $5 and waste a lot of rubber by buying a new tube for every flat, I decided to patch. The stick on patches that we brought turned out to be worthless and I made it less than 20 miles before the patched tube failed. We did, however, turn the odometer over to 1,000 miles, meaning that we're close to 1/3 of the way to the finish line!
The Wyoming state line was our big goal, but a few miles before where we expected it, there was the dreaded "Chain-up area ahead" sign. Bad news: hills. We'd spent 6 days and 5 nights in Montana and were eager for the mental boost of making it across our 3rd state line. The sun's quickening fall from the sky made us even more desperate to make it to Wyoming, but behind every curve and hill lie more curves and hills with the signage telling us we'd finally cleared Montana nowhere to be seen.
Then finally, just as the sun set, I spotted something glorious around the bend. There was a cluster of signs and a change in the pavement color, that could possibly be the state line. We livened up our pace anxiously hoping that we'd made it. And we had. Hasta la vista Montana!
Crossing the border gave us energy, but it was still 9 miles to the nearest town of Ranchester, and by now it was pretty dark. We hurriedly dug out our lights and rode our fastest miles of the day the remaining miles into Ranchester. My headlight is more of a "be seen" than "see" feature, so I had to stick close behind Travis to have a chance to spot potholes. As we trudged through the darkness we were looking forward to pulling into the first bar we saw and enjoying a much needed beer. Then disaster struck. I flatted for the third time today on the outskirts of town. I had half a mind to just ride the flat into town, but wisely opted to walk the rest of the way, laughing the whole time with Travis about my misfortune.
As promised, we parked our bikes at the first bar we saw. I walked in the door with a look of exasperation from the 10.5 hour day with three flats, the final hour of which was in the dark. I hadn't even had time to take off my helmet before a man at the pool table called out "get that man a beer!" The bartender, Helen, then asked if I had a tent and before I could think about asking her where we could pitch it, she was showing me to the yard around the side of the bar. She cooked Travis and me two delicious pizzas, refilled our water bottles without being asked, gave us free granola bars and fruit snacks for the road that she claimed to not want, and offered to let us crawl into her car if it started to rain during the night. To top it all off, when we got our checks, there was no place to add the tip. We tried in vain to persuade her to let us tip her, but she flat out refused. What a delightful end to our hardest day of the trip. If you're ever near Ranchester, WY, definitely stop by the Silver Spur Bar there and say hi to Helen. If you don't have time to stop, you can even grab a six-pack from the drive-thru!