FLESHER PASS — It’s coming up on 8 a.m. when the cyclists appear from the valley below. Their bikes shine bright in the morning sun and their cheeks are as red as the fabric in their polyester jerseys.
At the crest of the Continental Divide, they dismount their bikes to catch their breath. Just 10 days ago, they were peering out across the Pacific Ocean with the bulk of North America stretching to the east.
Now, they’re seeing the world from the top of the Continental Divide.
The Cycle America literature makes their journey sound epic, which is the experience many here are seeking. Those riding from Seattle to Boston — there are 46 of them doing so — will cross 13 states, spend 64 days on the road, peddle 75 miles per day, if not more, and cross a distance of 4,200 miles.
Others looking for a shorter but equally scenic ride can chose from nine smaller segments. They include the Northwest Sampler, the History Maker (New England) or Mission: Montana, which is the leg today’s riders are smack in the middle of completing.
“Look for elk and golden eagles in Lincoln, gateway to vast timbered wilderness areas, and pass through the capitol, Helena, the ‘Queen City of the Rockies,’ ” boasts the company’s brochure.
“Pedal past expansive working ranches to the restored mining town of Ennis,” it continues. “After a final climb to Teton Pass at 8,429 feet, your reward is a thrilling descent into Wyoming and the world-famous resort destination, Jackson. Unforgettable!”
Many will continue on from Jackson Hole, crossing Wyoming into South Dakota, where they’ll set a course through Minnesota and Wisconsin, part of the “Heartland Patchwork” tour.
They’ll tackle Michigan and Ontario, Canada, before dipping south through New York and arriving in New England by late August.
While it sounds like a daunting ride, smiles prevail here at Flesher Pass where the riders laugh while posing beside the marker announcing the summit. At 6,135 feet, the prominence represents the highest point in their ride thus far.
It is, they know, the crown of the continent.
“We’ve got a bunch of repeat offenders who have ridden with Cycle America before,” said Michael Neuser, a German native who currently lives in California. “You can make this as tough as you want or as easy as you want.”
As Neuser caught his breath, other riders gathered around, eager to tell their story. There was Terry Wiechert, from Calgary, who said it wasn’t easy keeping track of the passing days and mounting miles.
At 17, Chris Dordal, of Pennsylvania, was the ride’s youngest participant. Charles Swaney, of Columbia, Mo., marveled at the northern views, where the snowcapped peaks of the Bob Marshall Wilderness stood above the Blackfoot Valley below.
“We have a variety of people here,” said Jennifer Sallis, a Wisconsin resident who now lives in Princeton, N.J. “We’ve got a gentleman who’s 81. We’ve got a family — a mother, father and son. We’ve got high school graduates. It’s great.”
The rides are fully supported, and within 20 minutes the chase vehicle reaches the pass. But it’s from their bikes, not the van, that the riders get a rare and real glimpse of America.
It was somewhere outside Spokane, Wash., where they encountered what they described as a family nudist colony. Near Thompson Falls, they came across a family garage sale, which, among the wares, included an array of guns.
The stories pass the time until the attention shifts to the strong, lanky rider cresting the divide.
“She’s ridiculous,” Swaney grinned.
“She’d be worth waiting to talk to,” added Sallis.
The rider of interest is Josephine Allen, a 33-year-old cyclist known as “Joe” among her riding peers. Allen’s arrival at Flesher Pass marked her third trip of the morning. She rode up, then down, then up again, then back down, arriving at the peak for her third and final time.
“Why?” was the first question that came to mind?
“I fancy doing something epic,” said Allen, speaking with her British accent, which makes sense given that she hails from the U.K. and lives in London. “I’m having so much fun that I almost feel guilty raising funds.”
Dressed in riding gear promoting her sponsors, Allen is raising money for Cyclists Fighting Cancer, the CHASE hospice care for children and the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
A two-time national gold-medal winner in rowing and twice a champion in the Henley Women’s Regatta, Allen retired from rowing and took up cycling in 2008. She’s an elite member of the Club des Cingles du Mont-Ventoux, an exclusive group of riders who have climbed Mont Ventoux by all three routes.
But here, now, Allen is working on a 10,000-kilometer ride that began in California, where she completed all eight stages of the Tour of California.
With that behind her, she’s now riding from Seattle to Boston. When that’s done, she’ll head to France to complete the Cent Cols Alpine Challenge.
“This coast-to-coast ride is the second part,” she said, still possessing a surprising amount of enthusiasm. “The third part is the French Alps. I’m going to squeeze in the Burning Man Festival in between.”
Reporter Martin Kidston: 447-4086 or email@example.com