Montana’s a Big One 4
There are a few things I have learned thus far:
Yelling at the wind is futile
Rain comes when it wants too, and only then
Any meal can be made with a base of instant mashed potatoes
Yelling at the wind does not make it stop
We have been dealing with a lot of wind, winds that would make a grown man cry. Headwinds, crosswinds, and then the ever welcome but ever evasive tail winds. Riding a loaded bike in the wind is like riding a boulder. Well, maybe it’s not that bad, but panniers do catch wind like a sail. It takes a lot of arm strength to keep on the road, and a lot of care to read the wind gusts around corners, and anticipate the gusts of traffic, especially as trucks pass. (Every driver thus far has passed us with care)Yesterday we headed south and got pushed 40 miles by the wind, but then we turned to the east/northeast and got blasted by some of the most gnarly cross winds I have ever faced.
But back to Missoula–after a glorious morning at Jack and Cindi Babon’s, we rode back to Adventure Cycling Headquarters because it is a great place. We also took some time to walk around downtown Missoula, where Beefy was mistaken for a ferret by a ragamuffin fellow.
Leaving Missoula by bicycle is a tricky affair if you are trying to avoid freeway but we were able to do so with the help of a kindly gas station attendant and some brain power (and a little harmonica). We were trying to make it out to Nimrod Warm Springs, but were unable to find it. I wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic about hitting the road again but was quickly encouraged by the corns on the cobs that Lizzy had somehow acquired.
We were trying to make it out to Helena, then to Bozeman, Livingston, and Northgate Yellowstone, but traffic was weird and there were so many people telling us so many different ways to get from A to B that I got a teensy bit overwhelmed. To top it off, most people told us that we would be safer on the freeway here in Montana, which was a big bummer to me and, as it turns out, a falsehood. We did take hwy 12 to Drummond (America’s bull shipping Capitol) but when we got there I took another look at the map and found a new way using hwy 1.
The man who ran the store at Drummond was extremely nice and kept trying to give us grapefruit and coffee. There was also a home spun Frosty Freeze where I bought the most fabulous ice cream sandwich I have ever eaten, and to which all future ice cream sandwiches will be compared, I even let Lizzy watch me eat it (she can’t eat dairy).
When we left town, we ran into a lovely little art exhibit. A rancher named Bill Ohrman had become a local celebrity for his insanely detailed and accurate metal sculptures, and his paintings and poems all symbolizing the need to care for animals in a respectful and compassionate way.
We left there in a rainstorm which persisted throughout the evening. We ended up in a little town called Phillipsburg. After debating whether to push on or stop for a quick loiter, we were approached by a man named Jim. He was an Easterner who moved to Helena, and was building a ski home in Phillipsburg. He had just put the roof on his home and offered the cover to us for the night, we couldn’t resist. He also told us to stop in the town Brewery, which closed at 8. I went into the Food Farm grocery store and found a delicious looking pizza in a bag which I barely had the strength to pass by. Lizzy suggested that we ask a local to see if there was a real pizza place. After a quick investigation, we learned that the best pizza was at “Friday Night Pizza at the Laundromat, right at the four way, almost out of town,” which was confusing for us out-of-towers. It turned out to be a pizza order window at the town laundromat building, and it was called Friday Night Pizza, which was open even on Thursdays, lucky us. The woman who ran the business was a former tourist herself and offered to drive our pizza to us at the brewery free of charge.
The Brewery was the only happening place in town, since I don’t drink I can’t comment on their brew, but I was given a delightful handful of caramel corn which I shared with Beef. We did stay at Jim’s that night, and in the morning he showed up with steaming cups of coffee for us. He too was a cyclist and had toured all through Ireland and some parts of Bolivia. We accepted his coffee and took off to climb the steep pass out of town. During that climb, we met a Corvette Club. It was kind of comical, them with their Vetts all lighted up on the side of a mountain in ranch-hand no-where, and us, two dusty ladies and a rat. They took a picture of us so that they could prove to their friends back home that we were real.
That afternoon turned blustery and I got a good taste of some hail. Funny stuff, painful. We rode into some serious mining country and headwind, eventually making it to Butte, which we promptly named “Butt,” and for good reason. We did however meet some good folks at the McDonalds who were wearing Bible Quizzing shirts. They were driving through the area from Minnesota, and gave us $ 20 for healthcare!
As we left Butte, we met a cyclist who gave us directions to a campspot, and then further down the road, a man stopped his car, jumped out, and forced cookies and beverages upon us. Ok, maybe it wasn’t forced. . . He said he was a baker/chef originally from Seattle, and after trying 830 times he created a pie called the, the-I don’t remember but it was a really long name and it sounded really delicious.
The next day we crossed the Continental Divide without knowing it. Lizzy is a quicker hill climber than I, so she generally passes me and meets me at the summit of long grades. But for some reason, when I got to the top of this hill, I didn’t see her. I figured that she had ridden on without me because the road was nice and we were both listening to our music and such. I don’t know why I thought that. Anyway, I took chase after her for miles and miles, not realizing that she was behind me trying to catch up to me. It was a comedy of errors, but we got a lot of quick miles out of it.
We headed south toward Twin Bridges and got about 40 miles of tail wind. Fantastic! I can’t get over how big and beautiful Montana is. I don’t even have a metaphor for it. It kind of just is. We kept riding through Twin Bridges instead of stopping for lunch because the wind was so obliging, but right as we left town, the road swung east and we were blasted by obnoxious cross winds.
We knew that there was a town coming up called Virginia City, and that it was merely 23 miles away, so we went for it. But 23 miles in a cross/headwind is really not 23 miles. It felt like we were riding forever and we might have been. At one point, I simply gave up on the side of the road. Well, actually the wind blew me off the road and I just didn’t get back on it.
We had been riding through some country that had been heavily mined in the early 1800s, and then for copper in the 1920s if I got the story correctly. Either way, the side of the road was inundated with heaps upon heaps of rock. It made for an erie waste scenery, but sure enough a little creek was trying to cut its way through, and slowly but surely there were birds and other living things creeping around. When we stopped, we couldn’t get out of the wind and it was a very cold wind, so we decided to go one more mile and see if the town was around the next bend. Lo and behold, there was–but it was not the town on the map! We were crushed to find that we had wheeled right into an 1840s living history gold miner’s town with no wifi, gas station, or anyplace warm for windswept, weary, road beat cyclists and a rat. We tracked down a man who told us that the real town was only another half mile away, so with dreams of gas stations in our minds we hopped back on the bikes. A windy mile up the hill later, we found ourselves in yet ANOTHER touristy gold mine town, but at least this one had a pizza shop.
Grumpiness aside, it might have been fun if we had kids with us, we’re driving an RV, and had loads of cash to spend on tootsie rolls and lemon drops cherry picked from a fishbowl in “Ye ‘Ol Sweets Shoppe,” but we are cheap and were freezing off our own tootsies. We did buy a slice of pizza from a pizza place, but more for the sake of being in a warm, not windy building.
We did find a place to free camp by a lake outside of town, where we soon discovered during the cooking of our dinner, that many Ye Olde Dogges had been using as a bathroom. It was at the very least wind blocked.
We left in the morning knowing that we had a steep 3-4 mile climb out of there, and into Ennis, which we knew had a gas station at the very least. We’ve been categorizing towns from small to big as: 1) post office, 2) gas station, 3) McDonald’s, and 4)Walmart. Ennis is a larger scale gas station town, it even has a library. Anyways, right as we rolled down the mountain into town, about 14 miles from our start, I realized I had left my wallet at Virginia City. Don’t ask, and don’t say it. I asked a lady running the drug store if she knew the phone number for any churches around because I figured I could ask someone to drive me there and back again if I paid gas. She instead called up her son, who drove me there and back, and delighted me with conversation about Montana beauty, and the politics of fracking. Thanks Ken and Esther sooooooooooo much! Without them, I’d probably still be climbing out of that terrible phony town–and on a break day too!
Meanwhile, Lizzy was entertaining some small children in the park, who had been left there by their mom. They were quite taken with Beefy, and thought it was hilarious to pretend to sleep. Not sure where they came from, not sure where they went, but at least we don’t look too crazy homeless scary or I’m sure they wouldn’t have been allowed to hang with us. Some locals did ask if they were ours, and looked questioningly at our bikes–no, we aren’t traveling with kiddos.
We also met some fellow bike tourists who gave me a great map of Yellowstone. I think we might have scared them a bit because we were full of energy and they had just rolled into town against a horrific headwind. Of course, I told them all about Ian Hibbel’s bike since they were planning on stopping at Adventure Cycling Headquarters. I’m pretty sure they had no idea who I was talking about. Poor people.
We are now preparing to take on Yellowstone, it should be cold, windy, miserable, but beautiful. And most of all, worth every stroke. Thanks to everyone for your support!
PS we are experiencing technical difficulties, and that is why we have few pics posted.