Jasper, AB to Denver, CO

 

Fall 2012

 

Denis Kertz, ©2012

 

Day 11 9/14/2012 – St Marys 52.26 6:43:39 7.76 39.54 4168 3927

I saw a place advertise a breakfast buffet yesterday so I packed up and headed there.  The maître d’ asked me if I was from Alaska since he had met a cyclist the other day from Alaska.  This waiter had ridden the Pacific Coast from Vancouver to San Diego so he was a knowledgeable cyclist and checked out my bike.  The buffet was good and cost $16.75.

It was windy when I left just after 8:30.  I stopped at the Prince of Wales Hotel on my way out of town because it was perched atop a peninsula with a view of the lake and the village.  The wind was strong enough to threaten to blow me over.  It concerned me that the wind might make the day's travel really difficult since I had a couple of steep climbs.

After exiting the park I took 6 south.  Fortunately, my wind fears didn't materialize.  There were trees and bushes that mostly block the wind and I only had to worry about climbing.  As I climbed I got some good views of the park and the lake to make the climbing effort worthwhile.

After the first climb I left the park behind and made my way after some descending to the next climb that took me to the Chief Mountain border checkpoint.  I reached the border just before 1pm and made it through the checkpoint without a problem.  Unlike the last time I re-entered the US from Canada in Minnesota, I didn’t take a photo so I didn’t get harassed for photographing a secure area.

After that it was a little more climbing and then some up and down before a long descent to Hwy 89.  After 4 miles on 89 I reached Babb but there was little there.  I was hoping I could exchange my Canadian money but no luck.  I was able to buy a cold drink with my Canadian money but was charged a 10% fee, which wasn't a great deal since the Canadian dollar was worth more than the US dollar.

It was mostly a mild downhill the rest of the way to St Mary with a little climbing.  When I reached St Mary I inquired about currency exchange and a guy suggested trying the Esso Station.  The guy there said he didn't know of any currency exchange in the area but as luck would have it a Canadian overheard and offered to exchange my $60 Canadian for $60 US.  This was very lucky for me and hopefully worked out for him as well.  At a currency exchange I would have gotten more than $60 US but would have had to pay a fee so a straight trade was about a wash for me.

Just after that I met Al, a local cafe worker, who was planning to tour down the Pacific Coast to San Francisco for his first tour.  He had quite a few questions and I passed on my best tips and advice.  Then I ate at the café where he worked before heading out to the campground just inside the park.

While checking into the park I learned that the Going-to-the-Sun road was closing on Sept 17.  The ranger told me this was so some maintenance work could be done before the snow set in.  She said there was the possibility that they might make some arrangements to let hikers and cyclists through on the weekend after the road closure.

The campground was just a short distance into the park but it was basically full except it had a hiker/biker site with one other tent already set up.  So I was able to get a site for $5 which was a deal.  However, I was really curious about the tent already set up.  It was much larger and heavier than I would have expected either a hiker or a cyclist to be carrying.

About an hour after my arrival my curiosity was answered.  A Columbian couple, Frederick and Aly, roared into camp on a motorcycle.  I don't really think this was the intent for a hiker/biker site but it was an interesting meeting.  Aly didn't stay up very long but Frederick and I talked for quite a bit over a campfire.  He had basically quit his job and was on a year sabbatical.  They had started in Albuquerque and were heading to Seattle.

Finally I turned in around 9pm so I could type my notes and get rested for tomorrow's big climb to Logan Pass.

Day 12 9/15/2012 – Apgar Campground 50.14 6:23:51 7.83 26.15 2417 3518

Despite Frederick's desire to leave early the Columbian couple never stirred before I left at 8am.  While I was packing a ranger came walking by collecting ticket stubs.  The hiker/biker site was formerly a regular site with a pull-through driveway.  Frederick's motorcycle was parked in the middle of the driveway and was partially hidden by a couple of trees.  The ranger didn't notice until he walked by the site and looked back and then noticed the motorcycle.  He walked into our camp and asked who had the motorcycle and I just pointed at the Columbian tent.  It looked like he was going to make an issue but then walked back towards the motorcycle.  I suspect he saw the Columbia license plate and decided to give them a pass.

The sun was just making its way over the mountains when I left.  I had 6 miles to a lodge where I expected to get breakfast.  I rode along the 9.9 mile long Saint Marry Lake.  It was a flat ride and easy to get to breakfast.  The dining room was almost full when I got there and I had a good breakfast of 7-grain pancakes and ham.  There was also a campground adjacent to the lodge and I had debated staying there last night but it was good I didn't because the campground was closed.

It was a 12 mile climb to Logan Pass at 6,646 feet and there was a lot of great scenery along the way with mountains along the south side of the lake.  It was a weekend and there was a modest amount of traffic but most of the time there wasn't two-way traffic so folks didn't have trouble getting around me on the narrow road with no shoulder.

I stopped for numerous photographs.  A few miles before the pass the road did a sharp V turn which allowed me to see the road below and how much climbing I had done.  Near noon the sky started getting hazy from forest fire smoke from Idaho.

I made the pass just before 1pm and stopped at the small visitor center with a full parking lot.  I thought there might be food there but there wasn't so I had my second breakfast there.

From the pass it was all downhill.  As I started down I was surprised to see a long line of vehicles coming up to the pass.  I thought maybe the weekend traffic had finally really kicked in but shortly I had to wait behind a line of cars going downhill.  The backup was the result of a one-lane road due to road construction and that bunched all the traffic together.

When it was our turn to proceed we passed through sections of the road that was prepared for resurfacing.  That undoubtedly was the reason for the closure of the road after Sunday, to allow for the actual resurfacing.  There was some awesome scenery but there was practically no where to stop.  Normally it would have been possible to stop on the side away from the scenery and walk across the road but with nonstop traffic that was impractical.

Eventually the one lane road ended and it was much easier to stop at some vantage points.  For a good part of the way down you could look up and see the road etched in the side of the mountains as it stretched towards the pass.  Finally the descent was essentially done and the road passed through a pleasant stretch of evergreen forests.

Then Lake McDonald, another glacially formed lake like Saint Mary, came into view but there was quite a bit of smoke that made the view rather hazy.  Near the bottom of the descent I met a guy and his wife and young daughter cycling up to the pass.  He was from Bozeman and he noted that there was so much smoke when they drove up yesterday that he figured the visibility was maybe a mile.  I saw a number of other unloaded cyclists making their way up to the pass as well.

Since many of the campgrounds were closed after Labor Day my only camping option before West Glacier was the Apgar Campground.  It also had hiker/biker sites but a little different flavor.  Last night's site was one site with room for 3 tents.  This campground had individual sites each set up as a hiker/biker site.  Two were adjacent to each other and one was already taken by Andrew, who had cycled from south Florida to Maine to here and was headed to Seattle.  I picked the neighboring site for another great deal at $5.

After settling in I walked a little more than a half mile to the Apgar village for a buffalo burger which was fine.

Day 13 9/16/2012 – Swan Lake 70.09 7:18:27 9.58 30.2 2077 2087

Andrew got up while I was packing and he was doing some yoga stretching as I waved good-bye.  I rode the couple of miles to West Glacier for breakfast.  The restaurant there noted that they were closing today as of noon, which seemed a little strange.  Seems like they would have just closed at the normal closing hour.  Anyway I had a good breakfast with 2 surprising large pancakes and ham.

Leaving town I picked up US2 south.  My map showed a detour in a few miles using the back roads but I elected to stay on US2 because the other route had a number of turns and some gravel so US2 was just easier.  The price was the noisy traffic but it helped that most of the traffic was oncoming, presumably on the way to Glacier.  There was one stretch of 3-4 miles with little or no shoulder but the rest of the way the shoulder was okay although they would have been better still if the rumble strips had been right next to the white line.

I could have avoided Columbia Falls entirely but I stopped to first do some food shopping and then to check email at a cafe that had WiFi.  With all of that it was 12:30 by the time I left town.

I retraced my route slightly to just across the Flathead River and then took River Road east.  Shortly I picked up Columbia Falls Stage Road that took me through the Flathead Valley with a number of hay and wheat fields with the wheat fields bright yellow after harvesting.  It was a luxury to ride a flat road for a change.

The road ended at Hwy 35 which I then took to Creston, stopping at a store for a cold drink and ham sandwich.  By then it was 3:20 and this was turning out to be a longer day than I expected.

Creston Riverside Road allowed me to bypass part of busy 35 which I picked up again and followed to Bigfork.  I stopped for an ice cream in Bigfork and then took 209 to Ferndale.  At Ferndale I picked up Ferndale Drive which zigged zagged its way to Hwy 83 which took me the rest of the way to Swan Lake.

There was some climbing on 83 but it was fairly flat.  83 followed along the east side of the lake but trees hid most of the lake view until near the end where there were a couple of good views of the lake.

There was a USFS campground almost 2 miles outside Swan Lake that I checked out as I rode by.  There was also supposedly a campground in Swan Lake but I expected its price couldn't compete with the $7.50 for the USFS given my senior discount.

I rode on towards Swan Lake and in a half mile there was a lodging place with a restaurant.  So I stopped and ate there.  This was an up scale place that I could tell by reading the menu.  I could also tell because a salad came with my hamburger and I couldn't recognize half of the ingredients in the salad.  Nevertheless everything was fine and I was full by the end of the meal, something that doesn't happen often when I am touring.

After eating I rode the half mile back to the USFS campground and picked out a site.  My biggest concern was how to store my food since there were no food lockers.  Since there was no other camper in my loop I chose to stash my food pannier in the outhouse.

Day 14 9/17/2012 – Seeley Lake 63.61 7:03:39 9.0 28.64 2237 1451

I got up at 7am, packed up, and rode the almost 2 miles to town hoping to find breakfast.  I wasn't too optimistic to find something open at 8am on a Monday morning but the Trading Post was.  You could have anything for breakfast as long as it was a McSwan – ham, eggs, and cheese on toasted bread.  This was actually very good, just not quite as filling as I would have liked.

It was obvious this was the town hangout, but then there really wasn't anything else.  The proprietors said they saw me riding yesterday afternoon.  This place also had a campground and probably would have been a good place to camp with the store accessibility.  With my campground price break I felt like I got a free breakfast so I was happy.

As I was leaving the proprietor tried to tell me it was all downhill to Seeley Lake but I told him it was actually a 1,000 foot climb but over 40 miles, an average climb of 25 feet per mile, which probably wasn't noticeable in a car.

The first 20 miles of the ride on 83 weren't that great because the trees lining the side of the road blocked most of the scenery.  Once I neared Condon the trees thinned out and there were some good views, particularly places where there were some meadows along the road.

In Condon I stopped at 12:15 for my second breakfast at a store where I got milk, a banana, and a cinnamon roll.  Along with my cereal stash this was a filling breakfast.

At 2:30 I reached the crest of the road and the remaining 20 miles to Seeley Lake were modestly descending with some ups and downs.  At one point I stopped to take a photo of 3 deer bounding across the road into the field on the other side with 2 horses watching me watch the deer.

At 4:30 I neared Seeley Lake and stopped to check out the Big Larch Campground a mile north of town.  I wanted to be sure there were no surprises if I decided to camp there.  But there was a big surprise.  A sign noted no fees and no garbage pickup.  It was surprising that just no garbage pickup would result in no fees so it wasn't a surprise later to find out the water was turned off.

With the thought that I probably wasn't going to beat a no fee campground I rode into town looking for food and Internet access.  I found it at a service station/hardware store/grocery store that had small pizzas and subs.  I got a small pizza and drink and ice cream and after fiddling some I got the WiFi working and checked my email.

It was a luxury to be able to do this and still have plenty of time to get to the campground and set up.  I picked a site close to an outhouse for storing my food with no one around until a camper trailer showed up a little later.  This place had a small beach with a swimming area so I used it to clean up by dunking myself in the lake and rinsing out my riding clothes which had gone several days without any cleaning.

This was actually a day where I could have gone on another 10-15 miles but there just weren't any good facilities any further than Seeley Lake.

I continued to see forest fire smoke during the day.  One field along the road was used as a fire station with a couple of helicopters, one on the ground and one in the air.

Day 15 9/18/2012 – Lolo 70.71 7:36:48 9.28 27.08 1876 2578

It was around freezing when I rode back into town for breakfast so it was good to have breakfast and some time for things to warm up.  I rode to the other end of town before I finally found a place serving breakfast.  They didn't have pancakes so I opted for a regular breakfast that was a good value for $7.

My goal was to make at least Missoula and maybe Lolo.  It was downhill most of the way except for one fairly steep climb.  There was a nice Salmon Lake stretched along the road that offered some good views.  Just after the lake there was road construction for the final 4-5 miles to the intersection of 200.  At the intersection I stopped for my second breakfast which was way early but there wasn't anything for a while after that so I took advantage to get milk and a great maple muffin.

Once I reached this intersection it seemed someone turned on a switch and the smoke became a real issue.  I had seen and smelled the smoke before but the smoke was just a touch.  Now it was in my face.  It affected visibility and smell but mostly it irritated my eyes.  I had some eye drops for dry eyes but that just seemed to make things worse.

200 was a busy road but it had a wide shoulder so it was just very noisy.  After the one big climb of about 600' I descended for a bit and then stopped at a convenience store in Potomac for a burrito and drink.  It became fairly windy after that and that offset the modest downhill.  There were some nice views of the Blackfoot River most of the way to Missoula but it seemed to help my eyes to keep them focused down so viewing wasn't real practical.

At Milltown I stopped for a quick break for a small pizza and a drink.  Then I picked up a road along the Interstate that took me into Missoula and became Broadway.  My map directed me to Pattee and Pine, just off of Broadway that was the Adventure Cycling headquarters, the company that creates some touring routes and maps including the route and maps for this tour.  I got there a little before 5pm when they close but they took my photo, as they do for all touring cyclists passing through, and I got a free ice cream out of my short stop.

I decided to continue another 13 miles to Lolo before calling it a day.  It was pretty easy getting out of Missoula.  My map directed me to Higgins Ave a block away and that eventually became 39th Street which took me to 93/12.  There was a lot of traffic as people rushed home, particularly on 93/12 where the traffic was the noisiest of the trip.

At Lolo I stopped at the intersection where 12 heads to the Lolo Pass.  There was an RV Campground at this intersection but it was a little difficult finding the campground part.  However, I followed a road to the RV area and then I saw a large field with a couple of large trees and realized this was where I camped on my Lewis & Clark trip.  No one was at the house that was the office but eventually a woman who was helping out saw me from the RV area and waved me over.

I paid $15 and was allowed to set up any place in the field.  The only problem was there were automatic sprinklers and the woman had to find the nearby sprinkler to turn it off, which was done by setting a weighted bucket over the sprinkler.  However, she couldn't find the sprinkler where I had chose to set up.  After continual failure we found another sprinkler and I moved my planned tent site nearby.

After a shower I walked across the street to a foodmart that had a sit down area and had another small pizza and typed my notes.

Day 16 9/19/2012 – Hamilton 65.02 6:21:41 10.22 26.15 1665 1240

The excitement of the night was the sprinkler system.  The woman who collected my tent fee had put a bucket with a concrete block on top of the nearest sprinkler.  This was supposed to keep it from popping up and keep it off.  It failed.  About 1:30am I heard a roar as the sprinkler kicked off.  It tipped the bucket over on its side and when the water spray hit the bucket it made a roar.  I ended up turning the bucket upside down with the concrete block on top which contained the spray inside the bucket.  I also have a Brooks leather saddle on my bike and I always put a plastic bag over the saddle to protect it from water, except I forgot last night so I put the plastic bag over the saddle.  I was still worried that the sprinkler was going to create a puddle around the bucket and it might eventually make its way to my tent.  However, the sprinkler only stayed on for about 30 minutes and there was no further disaster although another sprinkler occasionally swept over my tent.

I had hoped my tent would dry out from the sprinkler but it was still a little wet in the morning.  The only thing that looked like a regular breakfast in town was a casino across the street so I went there.  They had a $5 special for ham, eggs, and French toast that was a good deal.  They also had WiFi so I was able to check my email.

It was an easy ride to Hamilton, 34 miles away, with a paved bike path the entire way.  It was close to the highway but being about 50 feet away helped mute the traffic noise somewhat.  Compared to the highway it was more hilly because the path followed the natural ups and downs in contrast to the highway which was graded to be as level as possible but that was a small price to pay for the reduced noise and distance from traffic.

The big story was the smoke.  It seemed somewhat better than yesterday but the road went through the Bitterroot Valley with the Bitterroot Mountains on the west and the Sapphire Mountains on the east.  I knew that from past experience having ridden this route on my Lewis & Clark trip.  Otherwise I could have been entirely oblivious to the mountains.  Knowing they were there I could see a faint outline of the mountains against the sky but just barely.

I passed up Stevensville for my second breakfast because Victor was just a short distance away and it was on my side of the road.  However, when I got to Victor I found the service station shut down.  I thought I was out of luck until I found a grocery store just on the edge of town and had my second breakfast.

It was another 10 miles to Hamilton where I stopped for a small pizza and drink at a foodmart.  Then I rode through town and noted where the bicycle shop was.  My sister Judy was teaching 4th grade at an elementary school and had an appointment after school and figured she would be busy until 5pm.  She had offered to transport me to her home up Skalkaho Road to avoid the smoke but I wanted to ride to make everything official.

It was a modest climb on the Skalkaho Road that started 2 miles south of town.  It would have been pretty scenic if it hadn't been for the smoke.  When I got to Judy's house I faced an obstacle – a steep uphill climb on a gravel road.  I made it most of the way but the loose gravel forced me to push the last 30 feet or so.  Never having been to this house or seen a picture I wasn't totally sure I was in the right place although the address was correct.  However, Judy's husband had been a taxidermist at one time and I found their old taxidermist sign and was convinced I was in the right place.

I tried calling Judy but there was no cell phone service in the area.  It was near 4pm and I figured it would make sense to get something to eat in Hamilton since Judy was already there.  I also had a little concern about my bike.  It was shimmying some on high speed descents and I hoped I could get the bike shop in town to look at it.  Earlier at Victor I checked my front wheel and found a loose spoke.  I could have taken care of that myself but I figured it was an opportunity to have someone else look at the bike to see if that was the only problem.

So I dumped my panniers outside the house and headed downhill back to town.  I called Judy from the bike shop so she could meet me there and then I left my bike at the shop for pickup tomorrow.

We ate at a Mexican restaurant in town and then headed home.  Judy also drove me past their home to show me where their property ended.  Then we continued on Skalkaho Road since I was planning to follow it to Skalkaho Pass when I left on Friday.  The big issue was that this road was gravel for maybe 15 miles and we decided to see what the gravel looked like.  The pavement continued for another 8 miles and then we hit gravel which didn't seem too bad although it was rutted in places.  It obviously would have been much better if it was paved all the way but the gravel looked doable and no bad weather was in the forecast that could make the road messy.

Then we turned around and returned home where Judy has been batching it since the spring.  Judy's husband, Mike, had formerly been involved in construction but that went away with the housing bust.  Now he was flying tours over Lake Powell in southern Utah and wouldn't be back until November.  It was good to get caught up on Judy/Mike's family and to see their rustic home.

Day 17 9/20/2012 – Hamilton – rest day

With my bike in the shop, I rode with Judy to school and then commandeered her vehicle.  I drove downtown and hung out at a coffee shop for most of the morning.  Around 11:30 I walked to the bike shop and found my bike was already done.  While my front wheel needed to be trued because of a loose spoke the real culprit for my shimmying was apparently a stem bolt with stripped threads in my threadless stem.  So the shop installed a longer bolt and that appeared to take care of the problem, all for $20.

With my bike in hand I drove home where I had mailed a partially worn rear tire ahead of time.  Usually I use my rear tire for only a single tour and them I'm reluctant to use it on a second tour for fear that the tread will wear out.  This time I started with a previously used rear tire.  It still had some tread left and could well have handled the rest of the trip but I switched it out in favor of the other used rear tire I had sent ahead of time because it clearly had enough tread left.

After taking care of a few other odds and ends I returned to town and hung out at the library.  Today was open house at Judy's school so she had to be there from 5:30-6:30 so I met her at the school at 6:30 and then we ate at a Subway.

Back at home we got caught up more on family talk and then I packed up my panniers for leaving in the morning.

Day 18 9/21/2012 – Georgetown Lake 51.55 7:59:22 6.44 27.71 3879 2266

Judy made pancakes for me in the morning, enough that would hopefully power me over Skalkaho Pass.  Judy left at 7:30 for school and I left about 15 minutes later.  This was earlier than usual but I was concerned it might get warm too soon and I preferred cool while climbing the pass.  As it was it stayed cool for a while, in the uppers 30s or lower 40s, because it took the sun a while to get high enough to sneak in over the trees.

My Adventure Cycling route actually had me going south and climbing the Lost Trail Pass.  However, I had done that route twice already.  It was very scenic but I wanted to do something different this time.  Plus with the smoke in the valley it looked like it would actually be a better choice to get out of the valley via the Skalkaho Pass and hope the smoke was better riding east.

The real question today was how bad the gravel would be for climbing to the pass and how bad would it be for descending from the pass, since the pass wasn't especially steep.  The first 5 miles were regular pavement and then the road narrowed considerably but the pavement remained for another 3.5 miles.  It was narrow enough the vehicles would have to be careful when passing and there were some logging trucks to make it more interesting.

Once the gravel started it was 8 miles of gravel to the pass.  The gravel was hard-packed and the loose gravel was small pebbles so that was okay.  The main problem was the washboarding.  It took extra energy to wander across the road to pick out the level spots which wasn't easy to do when also trying to balance the bike while traveling at 3-4 mph.  The combination of less traction and weaving around made it a difficult climb.

The highlight of the climb to the pass was Skalkaho Falls where the water cascaded down the rocks and under the road and then downstream.  When I reached the falls I thought about my second breakfast but then decided to wait and reward myself when I reached the pass.  Then wasn't much traffic although there was a burst of 4 vehicles near the top.

It was noon when I reached the top and stopped for my second breakfast.  When I was setting up two retired guys stopped and asked if I needed anything but I assured them I was okay.  Later I leapfrogged them a couple times as they stopped along the way.

While it was nice to have the climb behind me the descent was no picnic.  Because of the washboarding I had to keep the bicycle well under control or pay the price with jarring.  There was 5 miles of gravel and then 4 miles of asphalt but then the gravel returned for another 3 miles or so before the gravel was history.

Once the road was back to regular pavement the road left the trees behind to pass through wide open ranch land on rolling land.  This was nice scenery except for the smoke that could still be seen in the distance.  With the wide open spaces it became fairly warm.  As luck would have it, my retired friends passed me again and again asked me if I would like any water.  This time I conceded that some cold water would be welcome.  So they stopped and handed me a cold water bottle from their stash and left me behind.  It didn't take long for that cold water to disappear.

After 46 miles the Skalkaho Road ended at Hwy 1 which I took towards Anaconda.  Then the big question was whether to try to make Anaconda or camp somewhat along Georgetown Lake.  It was 4pm and 23 miles to Anaconda with a big climb ahead.  I passed up a USFS campground and tackled the 1,000 foot climb.  It had some great views and some places where there was virtually no shoulder.  I was also pretty tired after an already hard day.

So when I reached the end of the climb and Georgetown Lake I decided it would be foolish to kill myself to make Anaconda.  I took the first turn that pointed out campgrounds but a sign showed the closest was 1.5 miles away.  So I rode up the road just a short distance where there was a USFS campground along the side of the road across from the lake.

I picked a campsite that was next to a restroom and water and paid $6, half-price with my senior discount.  As I passed by the campground host with a couple of other folks I commented that it looked like a quiet evening.  Of course, two vehicles with what looked like about 10 college age people promptly arrived and claimed the two sites right next to me.

So I resigned myself to having to share the restroom which only concerned me because I planned to store my food pannier there overnight.

Day 19 9/22/2012 – Whitehall 77.33 7:39:43 10.09 32.37 2390 4017

I expected the two young groups next door to be noisy and they were but not in the way I expected.  They didn't bother me at all last night but starting around 6am I started hearing slamming doors.  When I got up around 7am they were just finishing up packing and they left a few minutes later.

I packed up and left around 8am.  Georgetown Lake looked to be a favorite of ducks since there were a lot of them on the lake.  It was flat around the lake and a little further on with a few more, smaller, lakes and then it descended to Anaconda.  The air quality was much better than in Hamilton but there was still smoke-induced haze and the sun had a hard time breaking through.

It was a relatively easy 18 miles to Anaconda where I expected to find breakfast.  First, I wanted to get some more cash.  The first place, a Wells Fargo bank was closed because of an attempted robbery.  The next place had an out-of-service ATM.  Finally, the third try was the charm and I got my cash.

I rode a ways through town looking for breakfast so I stopped at the first place I found, a family restaurant.  It was an okay breakfast with pancakes, eggs, and bacon but the pancakes were no match for Judy's.

When I left Anaconda, an old mining town, there was some more descent then the start of a gradual climb out of the valley.  Along the way I saw 4 pronghorns who bounded away when I stopped for a photo.  After 5 miles the road ended and I had to take about 18 miles of I90 to get to Butte.  Not long after I was on I90 some bonehead driver in one of those monstrous RVs blared his horn at me just before he passed.  This was when I was riding well in the shoulder that was wide enough for him to park his monstrosity.  Motorists are usually pretty good when I am touring but there always seems to be one or two jerks and this was the first jerk of the trip.

Riding the Interstate is usually not fun but I made it to Butte okay and exited at Harrison Ave where I stopped at a foodmart for a sandwich, a bear claw, and a quart of chocolate milk.  I really wanted to stop in Butte after almost 50 miles and make this a short, easy day but continuing on another 30 miles to Whitehall set up the next couple of days much better so I moved on near 2:30pm.

I had the option of either continuing on I90 or continuing south on Harrison Ave and picking up MT2 to Whitehall.  There was a pass to climb either way and I figured the Interstate was both a little shorter and the climbing would be more gradual at the expense of noisy traffic.  Eventually I decided against the noisy traffic and took MT2.

I rode Harrison Ave a little south and then headed east on MT2.  After a few more miles I was out of the Butte area and then it became more obvious why this was preferable to the Interstate.  First, the scenery was much better with the road passing close in brush and surrounding forests.  Next, the climb was steeper but a lot more interesting than the Interstate would have been as the road twisted and turned its way along the side of the mountains and offered scenic outlooks.  The interstate scenery would have just been bland by comparison.

But there was a price to pay.  First, a group of 4 vehicles passed and the last guy in a pickup truck gunned his vehicle just after he passed, belching out some foul smoke.  There was no need for acceleration since he was pinned behind the other vehicles so I think he did it on purpose.  I noticed right after he passed that he glanced in his rear view mirror.  Charitably I could say he was making sure he was past me before moving over but I tend to think he was deliberately trying to hit me with his junk.

Then just shortly another guy in a pickup pulled onto the road from a side road and coming from the other direction leaned out and yelled something.  I didn't catch what he said but I doubt he was offering words of encouragement.  So that looked like a score of 3 jerks in one day.  These would be the only jerks of the trip so I guess it was just as well to consolidate them in one day.

But these yahoos were easy to ignore with great scenery on the climb.  Some climbs are just monotonous but this one was interesting because of the twist and turns and the occasional views of what was left below on the climb.  When I reached the Pipestone Pass at 6453', the descent continued all the way to Whitehall with only a couple of short climbs.  It was a fun descent with modest speeds reaching the low 30s and great scenery on the way down.  I was glad I had continued on from Butte and glad I made the right decision to stay off the Interstate.

I rode into Whitehall about 5:30, somewhat sooner than the 6:00 or 6:30 I expected.  I only found one motel at the other end of town and it cost $70.  This was more than I expected given the looks from the outside but the room was fairly nice.  As a bonus there was a bar attached to the office and there was free chicken chili as part of a dart tournament on this Saturday night.  So after cleaning up I had homemade chili.  They had these small plastic bowls and a bowl of chili wasn’t very much.  So I had 4 bowls of the chili which was fairly filling although I could have had more if I wasn't worried about finishing the chili before the dart tournament started.

Then I retired to my room and used the WiFi to check on email.

Day 20 9/23/2012 – Ennis 55.33 6:07:46 9.02 42.65 2213 1731

I took my time getting ready to leave since I wasn't sure how early something would be open for breakfast and I didn't expect a long day.  There were two breakfast places that I knew were closed on Sundays so it was no given something was available but BB's just down the street was.  I had a good breakfast of 2 pancakes, eggs, and bacon.  By the time I was finishing up the place was getting pretty full.

Next I rode to the west side of town for some grocery shopping.  When I was done a guy was waiting outside by my bike.  He had ridden across the country in 1976 as part of the bicentennial celebration and was naturally interested in my trip.  He had some recent misfortune where he lost his cabin in a forest fire so talking about cycling was probably a welcome diversion for him.

By the time I left town it was 9:45.  It was a mile to the east side of town and I found there was a motel/RV park not far past my motel which I hadn’t ridden far enough yesterday to notice.  It looked like it would have been cheaper but there was a No Vacancy sign up so it might have already been full when I rode into town...

My goal for the day was Ennis which was a little over 50 miles away with one major climb.  I rode east on MT2 and just before the road went under the Interstate I turned right onto Tebay Ln.  After a several miles I turned left onto McKeown Ln which took me to 359.  This was all flat and through some small farms and houses.

When I turned south on 359 the real ride began, through a sprawling landscape of rolling fields, hills, and mountains.  There were a lot of irrigated fields and some cattle grazing.  It was great riding with panoramic views in every direction.  The only down side was the smoke that obscured the mountains in the distance.  I saw a few more pronghorns but as soon as I stopped they took off so I got a photo of running pronghorns.

After 14 miles 359 ended and I picked up 287 south towards Ennis and West Yellowstone.  Shortly after, I came to the small town of Harrison.  I had hoped to have my second breakfast there but it looked like there might not be anything around until a small bend in the road revealed a restaurant and a small store.  So I got milk for my cereal and a bear claw.  Life was good.

Riding on 287 was similar to 359 except there was a little more traffic.  There were also rumble strips that made the shoulder unattractive so I did most of my riding just left of the white line.  Scenery continued to be very nice with huge rolling fields and some irrigated ones.

After 10 miles I came to Norris where I stopped at a foodmart for a cold drink.  There a guy told me about the upcoming climb which he said was 5 miles long and 2 miles of steep climbing.  Usually non-cyclists don't have a clue about distances but this guy was pretty accurate.  It was a steep 2-mile climb with great views, especially looking back from near the top.  The shoulder was also better.  It still had the rumble strips but the shoulder was wider and rideable.  That was good because traffic picked up noticeably after Norris.

It was a fast 3 mile descent from the top where I hit 40 mph but spent most of the time in the 30s.  Then it was another flat 7 miles to Ennis.  It was 5pm and I rode through town looking for a place to eat and for breakfast as well.  I ended up at a sports grill because there were other cars there so I figured the place must be reasonable.  I had a decent chicken sandwich.

Then I rode south and crossed the Madison River just outside of town where there was a fishing access point that also allowed camping.  I got a campsite for $12 which was okay but also somewhat disappointing since it didn't have a water tap.  Actually, it had a water pump but the handle was removed which made it a useless water pump.  Under that condition the $12 was somewhat overpriced.

There was one other camper already on location and a camper pulling a vehicle behind showed up later.  Otherwise it looked to be a quiet Sunday night.

Day 21 9/24/2012 – West Yellowstone 75.07 9:16:29 8.08 28.64 3209 1632

It was a short ride back into town for breakfast.  I stopped at a cafe and ran into sticker shock - $7 for 2 pancakes.  Their pancakes+eggs+bacon was more expensive than the same meal at Whitehall and it only included a single pancake and a single egg.  I opted for a skillet meal that I figured was more meal for the money.

I left town a little after 8:30 and crossed the Madison River which I would be following upstream most of the day to West Yellowstone.  It was 71 miles to West Yellowstone with the first 50 miles climbing a gradual 1600' and the last 20 miles basically flat.  However, the day also started with a fairly brisk headwind so I was only riding 7-8 mph, meaning it was going to be a long day in the saddle.

Shortly after I passed Cameroon which had no services I noticed something creeping up on me.  In a little while a touring cyclist caught up with me and we chatted for 10-15 minutes.  He was riding from Portland to Florida.  He had a Surly LHT frame which he put together with his own components, took a test ride around the block, and then started riding the next morning.

Our conversation was interesting as we rode side-by-side.  Like yesterday the rumble strip made it difficult to ride on the shoulder unless you were willing to focus on the foot of space and not check out the scenery.  I wasn't willing to do that so I rode just left of the white line whereas this guy was riding on the shoulder.  Every once in a while he drifted into the rumbles.

This guy was much faster (and younger) than me so he eventually took off.  Shortly after, the shoulder widened considerably and I was able to ride the shoulder without concern.  Not too much later the headwind pretty much abated although it would come back for short periods.  That was a major relief as I had visions of the headwind increasing throughout the day which, for the most part, was cloudy with a blocked sun and a reasonably cool day which was good.

The scenery was again very nice with mountains lining the valley on both sides.  It became obvious starting with Ennis that this was fly fishing country.  There were several fly fishing stores in town and a couple along the road and some lodges catering to fly fishing.  In a couple areas there were boats floating down the Madison River with a rower to guide the boat and two fishermen trying their luck.

One concern I had was there really wasn't a good place to stop and have my second breakfast so when I saw a rectangular box next to a gate along side the road I stopped around noon.  I don't know what the box was for but it was a great place for me to sit while I had my second breakfast.

This was one of those days where you just pedaled along and hoped you got where you wanted before darkness set in.  I did find a store just before the road entered the Madison Canyon and was able to get a cold drink.  This store was a fly fishing store with just some cold drinks and a few food items like candy bars and chips.

As I climbed up into the canyon I rode along Quake Lake which was formed on August 17, 1959 when a 7.5 earthquake caused a rock slide that dammed the Madison River and created the lake.  Formerly the Madison River ran through the canyon but the Quake Lake replaced the river and wiped out several campgrounds that were along the river and some loss of lives where campers weren’t able to scramble to higher ground.  Despite the tragedy that formed the lake this was a very scenic area and I spent some time checking a couple exhibits along the road and taking photos.

Just after passing the east end of the lake there was a campground on one side and a cafe on the other.  At that point I realized it was 5pm and I still had 20 miles to West Yellowstone.  I made the decision to push on and knew I would be pushing daylight.

Next up was Hebgen Lake, formed by a dam on the Madison River, and 65 miles around the lake.  During the 1959 earthquake there was a real fear that the dam would fail but it held and repairs were required afterwards.  After an initial short climb the climbing finally quit for the day and I started being able to achieve some reasonable speeds.  Earlier I had seen 3 guys who were kayaking the Madison River from the dammed section of the Quake Lake down to the entry to the canyon.  They were hauling their kayaks out of the river and they piled them onto their pickup and passed me up to do another run.  Here along Hebgen Lake they passed me again, waving as they flew by.

When I reached the intersection of 287 and 191 it was 6:30pm and I had 8 miles to town.  I could also see what looked like some rain to the northeast that didn't look like it would affect me.  However, as soon as I turned south on 287/191 I was hit again with some headwind.  It wasn't that strong but I didn't need this as I was racing darkness.  Then I started feeling some occasional drops of water.  Over time the drops increased and eventually I had to put on my rain gear since it seemed to be steadily increasing although it never rained very hard.  I also turned on my rear blinkie light which along with the reflective stripes on my rear panniers made me very visible to traffic coming from behind.

I never stopped to put on my front headlight because it would have required some digging around in my pannier and I didn't want to take the time and I could see well enough to ride.  However, it was pretty dark riding the last 4 miles into town so it was a relief to make it finally around 7:30pm.

With the light rain the first priority was to get out of the rain.  There was supposed to be a hostel in town that I was considering but I gave up on it since I didn't know exactly where it was and conditions weren't conducive to riding around searching.  So I stopped at the Ho Hum Motel that looked like it had to be on the inexpensive end for the town.  I got a room for $70 for a satisfactory room but not for that price but it was the price for being in a very touristy town.

After cleaning up I went out in search of food in my rain gear.  There was a pizza and pasta place very close by and I had a good pizza.

A long and tiring day that I hoped wouldn't be repeated very soon.


 

Copyright Denis Kertz, 2012. All rights reserved.