I’m in Helena now, a day early due to a bizarre mechanical failure. I set off from Lincoln yesterday, feeling pretty good about tackling the next two big passes between there and Helena, the capital city of Montana (but really just a big town with a population of around 25,000). The biggest and toughest, Stemple Pass is first. and boy was it tough, with a beautiful but excruciatingly steep 10km rough track to the top. I had to push for some sections. it started raining at the top so I took my time on the very steep downhill as it was pretty muddy and rocky.

When I hit the bottom of the valley separating the main passes, at Little Prickly Pear Road, I noticed a strange vibration. I checked my front wheel to find my front skewer was gone! Just a few bits of metal were visible. I’ve no idea what happened. Did it disintegrate? maybe I didn’t tighten it correctly and it worked its way part out and then sheered off? Did a rock strike the quick release or bolt and break it? I have no idea – the one disadvantage of the handlebar bag set up is that I can’t just visually check the front wheel as would be normal when riding and something feels unusual.

Anyway, I had a decision to make. Riding over the next pass would be impossibly dangerous with a skewer less front wheel. I could try hitching a lift to Helena, the only place for many miles with a bike shop. Or, consulting the map, I could follow Prickly Pear road to join the main road to Helena, nursing the bike along the way. So that’s what I did, arriving in the dark at 10pm, hungry and wet (fortunately Motel owners along the route are well used to muddy cyclists).

This morning the rain is bucketing down, so in one way I’m quite relieved I’m not tackling the Mullen Pass as planned. Off now to find a bike shop.

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