The first time I saw Matt Pendergast in 2016, he was wheeling a handsome cream-colored French bicycle through the crowd at Eroica California in Paso Robles. Tall and mustachioed, Matt makes an impression. He was wearing a baby blue wool Cino jersey. You could tell by looking at him–Matt was a rider. Of all the pretty bikes at Eroica that year, and there were many, Matt’s 1974 Alex Singer stood out as my favorite.
I got to spend more time with Matt at different bike rides. In the fall of 2016, Matt came down to Tucson for Bici Classicas, a vintage cycling event I helped organize. He brought his light blue Bruce Gordon. Just before Covid hit 2020, Matt brought a group of his Bike Forums buddies to Tucson for an early spring cycling retreat. I got to know Mark (Gugie), Neal, Hugh, and Brian as we climbed Mt. Lemmon, and rode dirt road passes in Cochise County, and sipped whiskey at Ken Wallace’s Bisbee Bicycle Brothel. After that trip, Mark had wool “Mitchell’s Morturary” jerseys made for us, modeled after those we saw at the Brothel.
Matt came down to Oregon later that summer, and a group of us ended up climbing Larch Mountain and riding some of the Columbia River Gorge. On the climb up the mountain, smaller groups naturally formed, and soon it was just Matt and I together at the front riding through the damp and ferny larch forest. We are close to the same height and weight. Even though Matt is almost 10 years my senior, we are well-matched as riders.
Almost every time I saw Matt, he was wearing a different version of a wool Cino Heroica jersey. He often talked about how great the Cino ride was. Matt was almost evangelical in recruiting riders for Cino–but he had a soft-sell delivery. He would draw close in a low voice say, “Hey Scott, you have to come out and ride the Cino in Montana–I think you’d really love it.”
The desire was there, but there were obstacles, both in staging the event and getting there. Over the years Cino Heroica organizer, Reed Gregerson, had gotten burned out and took a break from hosting the event. Fortunately, Kalispell local Dave Cummings resurrected the ride on a smaller scale in 2018. If Cummings had not stepped up after 2016, Cino Heroica would have surely died. Of course, holding an event during COVID in 2021 made a lot of advance planning impossible. Because of the uncertainties I would be experiencing a Cino “lite”–a smaller group (around 50 instead of the usual 150 riders), a little less elaborate food, and no wool jerseys available for purchase.
Kalispell is around 1500 miles from Tucson. Driving seemed ridiculous, and packing a vintage bike for air travel can be tedious and expensive. But in 2021, Matt made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Shortly after the registration opened up, Matt offered to pick me up at the airport, and lend me his prized Alex Singer to ride for the weekend. Matt had already booked a hotel room, and pretty much all I had to do was show up ready to ride.
And so, one a cloudy Friday in late August, I found myself standing curbside at the Spokane airport, my helmet dangling from my backpack, getting into Matt’s CRV already loaded up with two vintage bicycles. Matt handed me a Subway sandwich and tea, and we were on our way to Montana. We drove on I-90 across the Idaho panhandle along the Coeur d’Alene river, passing through the towns of Kellogg, and Wallace–towns I had ridden through with my friend John on a tour a couple of years back.
We talked about Matt’s son Philip and my daughter Zoe. Philip is the guitarist and vocalist for the doom metal band Khemmis. Matt plugged in a thumb drive and we were listening to the driving guitars and Philip’s voice as we passed through a stand of thick dark pines as we crested a mountain pass. Their song “A Conversation with Death” fit the landscape and moment.
Checking in at Cino HQ in Kalispell, the head organizer Dave Cummings was the only one there. He welcomed us with a warm smile as he inspected our bikes, got us to sign our waivers, and handed out our numbers and t-shirts. With thunder clapping, we helped him load a moving van full of tables and ice chests for the ride in the morning just before heavy rain began to fall. Already, I could sense that the Cino had a warm homegrown flavor that gets lost when events grow too large.
Hot Springs, is an anything-goes but nothing-much-happens hippy town at the end of the road between mountains. The town’s only reason for being might be the hot springs themselves. Deer wander freely through the town like lost dogs, and old cars, RVs and busses sit abandoned on vacant lots. Our Symes “resort” cabin was there, and the town would serve as the destination for the first day or riding. The only resort-like amenity offered at Symes are the hot springs. For instance, our cabin didn’t have a shower or tub and didn’t look like anything had been updated since around 1962. But, for all its shortcomings, the hot springs are probably a fair compensation. And for the Cino, the old rooms and cabins seemed like a perfect place for traveling cyclists to crash.
We planned to be up at 6:00am to drive back up to the start of the ride in Kila. I got up early but there was nothing for me to do. I’m not used to having a bike concierge. I’m more accustomed to being the person to get all the bikes ready for a family ride and to be prepared for any roadside repairs. Matt had already adjusted the saddle on his Singer to my preferred height, put tubes, tools in a saddle bag, and even provided me with bottles! As the oldest in a family of four, I never had an older brother. I often felt the responsibility of leading. Traveling with Matt, I got to be the younger brother for a weekend.
Driving out of Hot Springs, the heavy rain overnight produced a thick layer of ground fog. The fog began to dissipate as we got on our bikes and began riding out of Kila. It was cool enough for arm warmers and a light jacket. I climbed most of the long first grades with Bob Freeman, who was riding a striking 1955 Condor, which might have been the oldest bike in the event. Bob and I chatted and rode at a leisurely pace with most of our friends up the road. In the past, I’ve wanted to be with the lead group out of the gate.
Because I was on a bike that I had never ridden, I wanted to adapt to the handling before going hard. As it turned out, I got more and more comfortable up that first climb and as we reached the top of the first climb, where the “bacon lady” waited serving thick local bacon. Carrying a napkin with a hot strip of bacon, I re-grouped with my pals: Matt, Mark Guglielmana, Neal Learner, and John Siemsen and John Jones from Salem, Oregon. We moved out down the fast winding climb avoiding puddles and muddy spots for the previous night’s storm.
The weather was perfect and I was enjoying how well the Alex Singer handled with its cream-colored Panaracer gravelking 32mm file-tread tires. The bike seemed ideal for the route. We may have enjoyed the descent too much because we missed a critical turn off and rode clear to the paved road leading back to Hot Springs. John Siemsen and I were chatting away like we were on a long Sunday ride of the sort we used to do when he lived in Tucson. Some say we got lost, I prefer to think that we were in a spontaneous breakaway. Unfortunately, being in the breakaway meant that our little group had missed the turnoff toward our lunch stop. To be honest, I don’t regret a minute of our being lost. We were friends riding under big blue Montana skies on a route with almost no cars. We had enough water, and food wasn’t too far away.
However, none of us wanted to miss lunch, so Cino veteran Matt led us along a sketchy rutted road along the powerlines, and then up a long sweeping switchback climb on gravel so loose you had to sit down and really finesse how you climbed in order for your tires to maintain traction. We muscled up it riding through grasslands where a herd of cattle, grass fed and organically raised, grazed on the hillside.
After a few more rollers, we turned off the main road and passed through a cattle gate. The lunch stop offered an intimate view of a big waterfall on a private ranch. John’s wife Virginia was volunteering at the lunch stop, and greeted us with a smile. We enjoyed sandwiches, apples and beer, topped off with a can of Coca-Cola. The rest of the ride back into Hot Springs was mostly downhill with fast rollers through picturesque valleys.
Back at the Symes resort, we changed into our swimsuits and slipped into the 110 degree hot springs. The sulfur and minerals seemed to work some kind of magic on skin and muscles and we luxuriated for a long time and were the last ones to make it to dinner. As the sign for Hot Springs said, “Limp in, Leap out.” I checked our mileage, and our “breakaway” group had done 70 miles with 4800’ of climbing on day one.
At dinner on the lawn, we drank sangria and ate pulled pork, beans, and slaw. It was all delicious. The storied framebuilder David Kirk was all dressed up in his sport coat. I never found a good time to talk to him, but I did get to admire his Reynolds 753 Legnano green Kirk which was sitting up on a porch at the motel.
On day two, Matt and I started the morning with a breakfast burrito and morning soak in the Hot Springs. It felt so good relaxing in the hot springs that everyone else left for the return ride, and we were last to start. Luckly, our muscles feel good, and we “lept out” to a nice fast pace with a group of deer running alongside us before darting into the woods. We passed groups of riders and then re-grouped at the lunch stop before climbing the much-talked-about 9 mile hill. As Mark Guglielmana says, “Cino is about riding inappropriate bikes on gravel for 100 miles.”
At the top of the climb, a blue bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin glimmered in the distance. I thought I was hallucinating, but our injured reserve rider, Doc Mertes, had set up a table and was mixing tiny martinis, which went down a treat. From the top of 9 mile hill, it’s a fast dirt road descent back toward Kalispell.
The after party was at the Kila Pub, which had opened just for our group. We sat out on the deck next to the bike path with beer and burgers. With fewer than 60 riders, we had become an intimate group and after completing two solid days of gravel riding, the mood was celebratory. Riding old bikes through the woods on bad dirt roads had rejuvenated us.
I had a lot of fun on Matt’s Singer. I have actually owned two, (one of which I went to the trouble of importing from France) but neither of those fit me quite right, and I ended up passing them along. I liked Matt’s enough that even asked him if I could have the first right of refusal if he ever decided to sell. But Matt told me that Gugie already had the first right of refusal!
For me, bicycle riding has been key to staying healthy both physically and mentally; there is something about the combination of spending time with friends, being outdoors, and exercising that produces a feeling of calm and contentment. I’ll never forget the first time I rode my bike up an alpine pass where the road cut through a snow field, or riding up a canyon to a mining town 100 miles from my home in a rainstorm.
I’ll also never forget riding dirt roads in Montana with a bunch of dudes who love riding old bikes. On paper, we seem pretty average: most of us have been married to the same woman for 20 or 30 years, all of us have some boring adult responsibilities. But at the end of the ride, we felt a little less ordinary, a little lighter in spirit, and maybe even a bit more heroic.