Seattle to Chicago Ė Idaho & Montana
Denis Kertz, ©1994
When I woke up it was nippy and there was heavy fog. So I rode up to the Pend Oreille Inn for breakfast where the cook was one of the guys at the saloon last night.† I had ham and 2 pancakes.† Since the pancakes were good and the fog hadnít burned off yet, I had 2 more pancakes and then headed back to camp to pack up.
It was about 9:15 before the fog finally burned off and I was ready to leave.† Shortly after leaving I noticed my front fender wobbling and I feared I had lost another bolt or something.† Fortunately, all I had to do was tighten the nut that attached the fender to the fork.
Highway 20 went along the west side of the Pend Oreille River.† My route took me to the east side of the river on a road with little traffic although there were several logging trucks heading North and a couple headed South.† The sky was cloudless and I was comfortable in my tights and windbreaker.† The view was nice as the road meandered through the river valley with conifers on the slopes of both side of the river valley.† About half way to Newport (25 miles) the valley widened considerably and became a little less scenic.
About 20 miles from Newport I came to a stop where I met two other women cyclists.† One was an older woman out for a ride and the other from Chico, California, and a recent Massachusetts college graduate who was riding cross country with a friend.† They had started July 26 and were going East to West.† She commented that was a mistake based on headwinds they had had.† She also noted that people were really friendly in Montana and North Dakota and that Logan Pass in Glacier was a breeze.† The conversation was enjoyable as we traded experiences.† The older woman was thrilled to meet us both, thinking that we (and other tourers) were really something special.
Reluctantly we continued our separate ways.† About 5 miles South, I met the companion of the Chico woman and we talked for a few minutes.† They had met in college in Massachusetts.† She had just quit her job and was hoping to get one in Toronto.† She was meeting her friend in Ione and was anxious to move on to catch up with her companion.
Near Newport, I crossed the river on US 2 and stopped for lunch at a foodmart.† I headed out shortly having decided to shoot for Sandpoint.† After being flat, the route now became a roller coaster.† For a good part, the route tracked the southern shore of the Pend Oreille River.† Eventually the route turned away from the river for about 6 miles and intersected 95 which I took north to Sandpoint.
I crossed the Pend Oreille Lake into Sandpoint on the bike path.† On the other side, I came out by the police station and asked a police officer about camping.† He referred me to the Springy Point Recreation Area which meant I had to retrace my way back across the lake and head West for 3 miles.† Before I did that, I ate at the Panhandler Pie place recommended by the police officer.† I had chili and cornbread for $5 that included a refill of both so it was a pretty good deal.
When I reached Springy Point, I found they charged $10 for a campsite which was more than I wanted to pay but I had little choice since it was virtually dark.† The camp sites were fairly nice but showers cost an additional 25 cents and mine didnít have any hot water.† The night was clear and I was comfortable writing my notes outside on the picnic table in my windbreaker.
Today marked my exit from the state of Washington after 10 days of riding.† After having spent that much time in one state, it was funny that I would spend only about a day in Idaho before I would exit it too.
I woke up to mostly clear skies and pleasant temperature - somewhere in the 50s.† I packed to go to breakfast and reviewed a dining guide I had picked up at the campground office.† I spotted a buffet cafe and headed for it which meant retracing my way back across the lake (for the third time) and a couple of blocks to reach downtown.† Unfortunately, the buffet place closed after Labor Day so I headed to the Pastime Cafe, my second choice, for pancakes.
After breakfast I checked out the bike shop but they really didnít have much.† They had synchilla underwear but it was too pricey at $32.† I found an Army/Navy surplus store that had $10 polypro but not in my size.† Nearby was a donut shop and I picked up a couple of banana muffins and a donut and ate the donut right away.
Heading out of town, I picked up the Kootnai Cut-off Road.† It went right past a Kmart so I stopped and found a Sony water resistant AM/FM digital radio which I bought.† It was now about 10:30 so I was late getting going.† In a few miles I picked up SR200 which had almost no shoulder but fortunately not much traffic.† Still I kept a close eye on traffic through my rear view mirror.† The clouds filled the sky and it looked as if rain was likely sometime during the day.† SR200 followed the north lake shore.† Initially, there was flat land to the North but shortly the mountains moved in next to the road.† Near Hope I picked up Business 200 that went by Hope (pop 99) and East Hope (pop 216) - quite a business loop.† Hope and East Hope were right next to each other and it seemed like they should have merged to form a metropolis of 315.† Eventually, the road merged back into SR200 and led me into Clark Fork where I stopped for lunch.† I also bought some Wheat Thins, oat bran muffins, and a pepperoni stick.† This was some non-cooking food (I had no stove) for later since I expected to stay at Bull Lake and figured it was likely food wouldnít be available there.† I also called VISA about my $600 to be sure I could pick it up when I stopped to see my sister in Hamilton.† I spent about 20 minutes on the phone as they did some tracking of $100 from a previous trip.† When they were satisfied that that was legitimate, I was told to call from any bank in Hamilton and I could get my $600 replaced.
Back on the road, my route took me across the river to catch a back road that paralleled SR200 but with less traffic.† The mountains to the North started getting hazy suggesting it was almost certainly raining in the distance.† I left Idaho about a day after entering the state and entered Montana.† As I neared rejoining SR200, I put on my rain gear in preparation for the rain that never really materialized other than for a few sprinkles.† Rejoining SR200, I continued until I reached SR56 that headed North.† The scenery started changing to rocky hills on both sides of the road.† The weather couldnít seem to make up its mind whether it wanted to clear up or rain.† At one point the sun broke through momentarily just as I came to a valley. The sun light on the valley floor contrasted with the hazy clouds up in the mountains making a spectacular view.† I also saw my first real wildlife - a white tailed doe along the road who headed back into the brush as soon as she saw me.
A short while later, I encountered Mark from Buffalo who was riding from New York to Los Angeles and was now in his 44th day.† We traded notes (he had camped along the way and frequently on private land by just asking for permission) and then we continued on our separate ways.† A little farther and the Cabinet Mountains rising from the meadow came into view.† Then just a little farther Bull Lake came into view.† Bull Lake was a fairly long lake and I headed to the campsite at the north end, a mile off the road.† This was my best campsite yet.† No fee, no one else around, my own private beach on the lake, and a campsite surrounded 180 degrees by the lake.† I took a dip in the beach area for a shower and it wasnít even as cold as the 25 cent shower was last night.† This was truly a nice area and I had it all to myself.
I woke up in my private campground to some low overhanging clouds that were starting to clear up.† I ate a breakfast of granola and a banana muffin.† Then I packed and headed towards Troy.† At the intersection of 56 and US 2, there was a rest stop where I refilled my water bottles.
US 2 had a fair amount of traffic but a very wide shoulder.† It paralleled the Kootenai River into Libby, a town of about 2500.† I stopped in town to eat a sandwich and picked up food for the evening that I expected to be on Lake Koocanusa.† I also bought a newspaper and read it in the park next to City Hall.
From Libby I caught 37 heading North.† 37 followed the Kootenai River upstream as did a railroad track and I watched a couple of trains chug along on the other side of the river. †The Kootenai River was shallow and just kind of meandered its way south with forested mountains on both sides.† About 16 miles north, I climbed several hundred feet and stopped at the Libby Dam Visitor Center.† The Libby Dam on the Kootenai River forms Lake Koocanusa which was a narrow lake extending for many miles all the way up to Canada.† I asked the ranger about two campsites up the road and he thought neither would charge a fee at this time of the year.† He suggested checking the first campsite since the second one required a steep descent (and ascent the next day) to reach.
The road now roller coasted its way above the lake shore.† A coyote trotted across the road just in front of me with barely a glance.† After stopping to take in a view of the lake, I noticed my rear wheel going soft and I had my fourth flat.† I unloaded my rear panniers, found a piece of wire stuck in my tire, and located and fixed the flat.† However, the tire would not hold air so I took the tube out again and checked for a leak but couldnít find one.† In the interest of time, I installed a new tube and was on my way after almost an hour delay.
I skipped the first potential campsite I had asked about and headed 6 miles to the next one.† As advertised, it had a very steep exit to an open campground that jutted out into the lake.† The bulletin board said $6 but there was no attendant.† The campground had space for 75 RVs but there were only a couple present.† I picked a site that was furthest from everything and looking south across the lake.† I felt as if I almost had my own campground.
After another dip into a lake for a shower, I checked my bad tube in the water and it looked like my latest patch missed the hole.† I pulled the previous patch off and repatched.† The tube still didnít hold air and was leaking next to the new patch.† At that point I assumed this must have been a multiple puncture and decided not to waste any more patches at least for now.
Dinner was pepperoni sticks, wheat thins, and some sourdough muffins.† After dinner a three quarters moon rose in the southeast as darkness descended and I wrote my notes.
The morning was clear with just a couple of low hanging clouds over the lake to the South.† After my two cups of granola, I packed and oiled my chain and cleaned it as best I could.† Then I struggled up the steep hill back to the road and climbed a little more but at a more moderate grade.† In a short while I saw a couple of cars on the right side of the road and wondered what was happening.† Then I saw a couple upon the rocks along side the road and realized this was a climbing area.
The mountains flattened out as 37 curved to the East but a row of north-south mountains rose out of the valley in the distance.† Unfortunately, this mountain range gradually disappeared as I headed South on 93.† When I got to the intersection with 93, I took 93 South to Eureka.† This was a bad stretch of road with no shoulder and a lot of cracked asphalt at the edges.† This combined with a good deal of traffic made this a distasteful stretch of riding.† In Eureka, I stopped for a tuna sandwich, a pop, and a newspaper and read it in a small park along the road.† I had thought there was a bike shop in town but there wasnít.† I was interested in a bike shop because I considered looping through Canada and back to the States through Waterton/Glacier.† I asked a guy at a foodmart and he said he had heard there was a popular loop but he didnít have a map.† It was about 12 miles to the border but I didnít know if I could get in without any real identification, what the route was like, or whether the Waterton route to Glacier was really closed from mid-September as my Glacier/Waterton brochure stated.† Given all the uncertainty, I decided to head South to Whitefish 51 miles away.
Immediately out of town, the road went from bad to worse.† For about a 5 mile stretch, the road was under construction with a gravel base in preparation for repavement.† I had to take it slow to avoid more flat tires.† Finally, I reached pavement again with a wide shoulder.† The road stayed good for a long stretch then the shoulder narrowed but there wasnít much traffic.† The scenery was nothing special being flat† with only a couple of lakes along the way.† Near Whitefish, traffic picked up and the shoulder disappeared.† I pushed the pace as I saw a chance to make Whitefish before 5:00 and hoped to catch the Glacier Cyclery bike shop open.† The last few miles started† climbing as if determined to prevent my 5:00 arrival.† However, the bike shop was right along the route and it was open until 6:00.
In the shop I talked to a woman and got advice about camping and eating in town.† She thought the Canada route would have added 2-3 days but wasnít sure about the Waterton route status.† Since I planned to ride through Glacier and then circle back to visit my sister in Hamilton, I asked about Glacier.† She advised going through Glacier from the West and then swinging back along the southern route.† Her rationale was that she believed climbing Logan Pass in Glacier was more scenic coming from the West so climbing in that direction would be slower and give more time to enjoy the view.† She also suggested how to go from Hamilton to Yellowstone based on a tour she had done.† She predicted that this route would be the most scenic of my trip.† Grateful for all the advice, I bought a spare tube for $4.25, a small price to pay for all the advice plus it was better to have a new tube than the one I had with its four patches.
Heading South on 93, I stopped at the Chinese restaurant that had been recommended and had Szechwan Chicken and a Bud Light and charged it ($11.95) to preserve my cash.† The food was very good and plentiful which was just what I needed.† Next I headed a couple of blocks South to the RV Park.† It was more expensive ($11) than my advisee suggested but I wasnít too surprised and charged it.
After setting up camp and cleaning up, I headed across the street for ice cream.† I stopped at a grocery store and bought two pumpkin muffins for tomorrow.† Then I chose a vanilla shake at McDonaldís since I couldnít find a real ice cream store.
Tomorrow† looked like about 25 miles to West Glacier and then a decision on whether to tackle Logan Pass the same day and I expected I would.† Then it looked like at least 3 days to Hamilton - at least a day to take the southern loop around Glacier and then† 196 miles to Hamilton.† So three days looked like the best possible and that would be really pushing it.
I got up just a little after 6:00 figuring I should get an early start.† After packing, I headed South on 93 to catch 40 going East and stopped at Jackís Diamond Back (a casino) for breakfast.† I asked the waitress for 3 pancakes and she warned me that they were huge and she had never seen anyone eat all 3.† I said ďgood - bring them on.Ē† They were indeed large, about 9Ē in diameter and thick and good but I had no problem putting them away.† I probably could have even eaten another one but I was pretty full.† Better yet, they only cost $2.25 plus $0.25 coffee for a total of $2.50 and I was almost embarrassed to pay that little.
After breakfast, a short distance on 93 brought me to 40 which ran into US 2 to take me to West Glacier. †40 had a nice shoulder and US 2 did too for a while and then disappeared for a while but traffic was light on a nice Saturday morning.† The ride to West Glacier was fairly pleasant but I wondered what it was like in the summer.† The area around West Glacier was very commercial with many tourist traps and RV parks including one park that was nothing but paved asphalt.
At West Glacier I turned left into the Park and paid my $3 entry fee.† It was 26 miles to West Glacier and an additional 33 miles to Logan Pass but the next 21 miles were flat.† The road along Lake McDonald was very nice with views of the lake and passage through the trees with a hint of fall and a pleasant temperature of near 70.† The Lake view was a bit hazy and I later confirmed with a ranger that this was due to smoke from a forest fire that settled over the area.† After Lake McDonald, I had expected to start climbing but it continued flat until 12 miles from the Pass.† As I pedaled I noticed my right front pannier wobbling so I stopped to check and discovered the pannier hook was loose.† Fortunately, the bolt attaching the hook hadnít fallen out so I collected the loose washer and nut inside the pannier and reattached the hook.† I noticed the other hook on this pannier was the one I had lost on my second day out and hoped this quality defect was not contagious.
Finally I began climbing and the view was spectacular.† I had already traveled 47 miles and my legs were doing fine.† Must have been the 3 pancakes fueling them since I hadnít eaten since breakfast.† I stopped periodically to take a picture and hoped my pictures would do some justice to the scenery.† The road was narrow and several times a car had to wait behind me for opposing traffic to pass.† Up through Labor Day, bikes are not allowed on the road between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and I can understand why - there is almost no place to pass along the climb.† On my ascent, a guy passed me on his racing bike and I debated offering part of my load.† Later I saw him coming back down the road as well as a couple of other tourers.
Along the road I talked to a woman from Chicago and a guy who was presumably her husband.† She lived in Montana now and we both agreed that Montana was an improvement over Chicago.† Near the top of the Pass, I saw a couple with a young teenage daughter viewing the other side with binoculars.† They pointed out a mountain goat across the valley and I stopped to view with my 9X binoculars that were barely strong enough to make out the goat.
Finally I reached the Pass.† It was a spectacular ride that started at 8:30 and ended at 3:30 covering 59 miles.† Shortly after I arrived a couple arrived on their Burley tandem having come from Whitefish as well.† They were out on their first day of a tour headed to Jasper.† At the Visitor Center, I talked to several folks who thought doing this ride was a superhuman task.† I tried to convince them that it wasnít that superhuman and that they could possibly do it some day but I donít think I convinced them.
After eating a pumpkin muffin, I headed down the descent to St. Maryís.† I actually hoped the view wouldnít be nice so I could just enjoy an exhilarating descent but there were a couple of times when I just had to stop.† Iím sure I would have stopped more but the sun was out of the West and it was hard to look back in that direction, much less take a picture.† However, the real descent didnít last very long and soon the descent was modest with some pedaling required.† Near the St. Maryís campground, the tandem couple who started descending just before me but stopped to take in the view caught me and beat me to camp.
The St. Maryís campground was a primitive one (no showers) and today it was even more primitive with the water turned off and the restrooms locked for the season.† At least the price was right - no charge.† The best campsites were already chosen and I picked out an OK one.† But after setting up my tent I suddenly noticed a brown grocery bag over a post to mark the campsite as taken.† Fortunately, the adjacent site was available and it was easy to move my tent.
After I was settled, I headed into St. Maryís about a mile away for food.† There was very little available in St. Maryís so I had a hamburger meal (fries and Pepsi) for $5.70 and quickly downed it.† Next door at the grocery store I bought two ice cream sandwiches for desert.† Back in camp I ate a couple of English Wheat muffins and honey and downed my last pumpkin muffin.† Then since every table had a stapled note warning about bears, I hung a food bag.† After I retired to my tent, I† broke out my radio and picked up an AM station in Casper, Wyoming, and listened until going to sleep at 9:45.†
I woke up about 6:15 and packed up and ate two cups of granola.† At the St. Maryís Lodge I had the sourdough pancakes which were not filling and expensive - over $6 including coffee.† I decided I might have to eat another breakfast somewhere along the way.
Today marked the end of my Bikecentennial route as I looped back on US 2 south of Glacier to make a beeline to Hamilton.† The ranger yesterday said it was 90 miles to West Glacier from St. Maryís with initially climbing and descending with the last 40 miles after the Continental Divide all downhill.† Then it was 195 miles from West Glacier to Hamilton so I figured I had at least three good days of riding to make Hamilton by Tuesday evening and perhaps not until Wednesday morning.
The ride started climbing out of St. Maryís for over 5 miles.† My legs were tired but they seemed to warm up quickly.† There was a great view of the St. Maryís Lake and surrounding mountains on the climb.† I was dressed out in my standard tights and windbreaker.† I started to heat up and debated removing my windbreaker but decided not to and was shortly glad that I hadnít.† Then began an exhilarating descent and I was quickly over 30 mph as the road started gentle S turns.† Up ahead were 2 cows, one on each side of the road.† I watched them carefully hoping I wouldnít have to slow down after having worked for over an hour to enjoy this descent.† Then just as I was almost even with the cows and started to relax now that I was sure it was too late for either of them to make a move, the cow on the right spooked and bolted across the road.† Since I didnít know exactly which direction she would go, I figured I had to hold my line.† Then at the last moment when I thought she would continue across the road and I would just miss her on the right, she stopped in the middle of the road as if to challenge my right of way and stared at me.† At this moment when I was maybe 20 feet away and moving at about 30 mph, I realized with a sinking feeling that a crash was unavoidable.† I think if I had been on an unloaded bike I could have swerved and missed the cow but on my loaded projectile I slammed into the cowís hindquarters.
My bike stopped instantly and I, without a seatbelt or airbag, went flying forward.† I think I flew over the cow and landed on my right side, sliding, and then ended up on my back.† I was stunned for a few moments and then tried to get up but I could barely raise my head.† I tried again to get up and managed to get part of my back off the road but was still unable to get up.† I vaguely recall seeing the cow join her companion and they headed off in to the woods.† I couldnít tell whether she was hurt but I certainly hoped so.† I was almost certain that I was injured in some way, mostly likely a broken bone of some sort, and that my tour was over.† After another try or two I finally managed to struggle to my feet.† My bike laid in the middle of the road and I actually seemed to be OK except for a pain in my right side which I assumed was either a cracked rib or something pulled/torn in my ribcage.† I was wearing a helmet and I checked it for damage although I had no recollection of hitting my head.† At first I could find no evidence of a crash but then I noticed a crack in the left rear part of the thin shell that covered the Styrofoam.† Later I noticed a small dent in the right rear as if my helmet had hit a small rock.
After I steadied myself on my feet, I retrieved my bike and noticed the front wheel looked hopelessly pretzled.† My sunglasses were on the road broken with the lens popped out of the frame and scratched from the asphalt.† Fortunately, during this time no other traffic had come through on this Sunday morning.†† After getting my bike off the road, I took off the front wheel and jumped on it, hoping that a miracle would unpretzel it.† I got it in a little better shape and put it back on to see if it was possible to ride with the front brake open but no way.† Not only was the front wheel trashed but it looked like, not surprising, that my front fork or something was bent sideways.† In any event my bike was not rideable.
It took about 20 minutes of thumbing before I was able to get a ride.† I think I would have been more successful but Iím sure my bike and I looked in good shape to a casual driver.† In any event, a guy on his way to Browning came along in a pickup (fortunately, a large percentage of the Montana vehicles were pickups which made hitching a ride with a loaded bike easier) and he guessed something was wrong (why else would a cyclist be hitchhiking on a downhill).† He had three kids up front so I rode in the back with my wounded bike.† Browning was a town of about 1,000 people and I hoped either for a bike shop or a bus depot to take me to a larger town but it had neither.† So I pushed my bike from the center of town where I was dropped off until I reached the junction of US 2 heading to East Glacier and thumbed some more.† After a short wait a Blackfoot Indian in a pickup gave me a ride to East Glacier, going partly the back way through the reservation.† He pointed out some of the local landscape, talking about fishing and his golf game.† He told me there was no bus depot in East Glacier but someone would be able to fix my bike and dropped me at a hostel.
At the hostel a woman confirmed there was no bus depot and said there also was no bike shop but gave me the phone number of a bike repair outfit. †She said I could catch either an evening or morning Amtrak train to Whitefish.† I also asked her about reporting my accident to someone.† She noted that where I was riding at the time of the accident was open range and anyone who hit a cow on open range was liable for any damages.† So her advice was to lay low.† Since it was early afternoon, I figured I might as well try my luck hitchhiking again.† I also wasnít sure I could just load my bike on the train without packing it up.† So I pushed my bike from the hostel to the main road (US 2).† Just after I positioned myself along the road, a man came out of a store to his pickup which was parked right next to me.† So I approached him for a ride.† He thought I was just a tired cyclist so I showed him my front wheel.† I was in luck and he agreed to give me a ride all the way to Kalispell where he was headed which was more than I could have hoped for.
So off we went.† I enjoyed some of the scenery but noted with disappointment the downhill descent I was missing.† My driver was from near Great Falls but worked for an asphalt contractor and was on his way to a job near Kalispell.† We talked about various topics along the way including his pickup with over 400,000 miles and two new engines that he had replaced himself along with myriad other parts.
Just outside Kalispell, he dropped me off by his A-1 asphalt plant. I started pushing my bike again towards Kalispell, hoping to get to a phone to find out if there was a Hamilton bus yet today.† However, what I thought would be a mile push turned into 2-3 miles and I was getting real tired of pushing a bike with a damaged front wheel that didnít want to roll.† While I was pushing and wondering if I would ever get to Kalispell, a couple approached on a tandem bicycle.† The guy made some remark about my being tired until I pointed out my predicament (and front wheel) and asked about a bus depot in town.† It turned out that Rick and Lori, the couple, were just finishing a ride for the day. Rick graciously offered to pick me up in his pickup as soon as they made it back to his place in town a few miles away.† I gratefully accepted his offer and it wasnít too long before Rick was back and carted me off to his RV repair shop (Rickís RV).† We phoned the bus depot but got no answer and they both warned me that there was some question about the dependability of the bus company.† Since they didnít answer the phone, we rode across town to the bus depot and learned they were closed on Sunday afternoon but open at 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Rick and Lori were leaving that same evening for a vacation in Hawaii so I had to decide where to stay for the night.† There were motels nearby but I opted for a nearby park where I hoped to camp for the night and Rick dropped me off there.† By this time my side was really hurting and I wondered if it would be better or worse tomorrow.† Even riding in the pickup was painful as I felt every little bump.† I just hoped that I wouldnít sneeze because I knew that would cause excruciating pain.† Once I was on my own in the park, I chose to wait until dark to set up camp in order to not call attention to myself and possibly get booted.† There was a foodmart within a short distance and I managed to scrape together a reasonable meal.
After lunch, I stopped at a motel to call my friend Dave who was keeping an eye on my house.† I had been gone for two weeks and I thought it would be wise to make sure my house was still standing which it was.† I also passed on my misadventures consisting of my lost wallet/money and todayís cow bashing incident.† Dave let me know that my friend Howie was interested in contacting me so I gave him my pay phone number to pass on to Howie and I promised to wait around for about 15 minutes in the event that Howie was around and could call me back.† Within 5-10 minutes I got my return call.
Interestingly, I had recently worked on a software package to manage a golf tournament, keeping track of players and teams and golf bets on the same.† This had started as a means to learn Microsoft Access and now a local country club was interested in using this package to run a tournament in a couple of weeks.† Since this software was a prototype and I was the only one really familiar with it, the question was whether we could possibly support this tournament while I was still on the road.† After a fair amount of discussion, we finally came to the conclusion that we might be able to manage if I was near a phone and available on call during the tournament.† We agreed to give this some more thought and check back with each other later in the week.† This unexpected development would eventually have some impact on my planned riding schedule.
After my phone conversations, I returned to the park and set up my tent.† Then I stopped in a nearby casino for a beer and talked to a couple of women (who were employees of the casino) at the bar.† One of the women told me how she and her friends got a ride to the top of Logan Pass and rode their bikes down in the moonlight.† After I mentioned where I was staying for the night, the other woman told me about some camping folks getting ripped off in town.† This made me somewhat nervous so I had only one beer and retired to defend my campsite.
I got up around 6:00 and packed in darkness, partially to keep a low profile in the park.† I pushed my bike to the bus depot and found a bus schedule inside the casino that the bus depot was part of and learned the Missoula bus left at 10:30 a.m.† Since I had plenty of time until then, I headed across the street for breakfast.
After breakfast, I headed back to the bus depot that opened at 8:30.† I quickly learned that I had to box my bike to get it on the bus.† In addition, the bus only went to Missoula where I would have to catch another bus to get to Hamilton.† The ticket agent gave me the address of a bike shop that she said was 6 blocks away.† I figured I could walk there and drag a box back (assuming they had one) and have time to pack.† However, I quickly learned the current address was 1100 S and the bike shop was at 100 N which translated into 12 blocks, not 6.† I walked a little ways to verify that there were no address gaps and decided to bag the bus and hitchhike since I didnít know if there was a bike box available, if I could drag it 12 blocks, not to mention that I wasnít at all thrilled with the idea of having to unload my bike and pack it up.
So I fashioned a hitchhiking sign from the side of a card board box from the bus depot.† Learning from my experience yesterday that it wasnít obvious to the casual observer that there was a good reason for my needing a ride, I put ďBike BrokeĒ on my sign along with my destination of Hamilton.† My initial attempt at a sign was less than perfect so I redid the sign again on the other side of the cardboard.
After about 20 minutes of thumbing along the road outside the bus depot that fortunately was Highway 93, I got a ride from a guy named Ted in another pickup.† Ted was a construction architect and on his way halfway down along the shore of Flathead Lake.† He dropped me off at a service station/restaurant along 93 in Rollins.† I didnít expect much trouble getting a ride from there to at least Missoula but it was almost two hours until I got my next ride.† A couple of folks did stop but one wasnít headed my way and the other had a van that didnít have enough room for my bike.† Finally, Mitchell, a kind soul from Bozeman, took pity on me and gave me a ride in his van.† I had to unload my panniers to make room and Mitchell had to move some of his things around but we managed to get packed.
Mitchell was returning to Bozeman from a square dance call assignment over the weekend.† He was an independent software contractor working out of Bozeman who was originally from New York and had gone to Colorado State majoring in forestry with a minor in Computer Science.† He had been in Bozeman for about 12 years but was finding the software business increasingly competitive and wasnít sure how much longer he would be able to stay in Bozeman.† Mitchellís route to Bozeman took him right by Missoula on I-90 but he went out of his way to drop me off in south Missoula to make it easy for me to catch my next ride.
After about 15 minutes, I caught a short ride from a guy heading to Lolo.† I had expected my next ride would take me all the way to Hamilton so I was surprised this guy even bothered to take me the few miles to Lolo.† After getting dropped off by a side road near the Lolo fire station, I once again flashed my ride sign.† While I was facing the southbound traffic, two guys, Craig and Matt, in a pickup (what else) got my attention from the side road behind me.† They apparently saw the backside of my ride sign and were on their way towards Hamilton.† I had to unload my panniers again to fit in the back of the pickup but I was getting pretty good at that and we were loaded in short order.
Craig and Matt were building a barn near Hamiton but had decided to play hooky for the day and were just bumming around on this beautiful fall day with bright sunshine and temperature in the 70s.† They lived in Missoula but had grown up in Hamilton.† Matt knew where Trautman Taxidermy, my brother-in-lawís shop, was just south of Hamilton and remembered that my sister used to work for General Surplus, a sporting goods store, in Hamilton.†† Craig used to work in the only real bike shop in Hamilton (the other 2 bike shops were part of sporting goods stores) but warned these shops were mountain bike oriented and I might have to go to Missoula to get my bike fixed.
Since they were headed south of Hamilton, they dropped me off at the taxidermy shop right along the highway.† Mike, my brother-in-law, was in the shop and saw me get dropped off.† He thought I had gotten a ride because I was tired of cycling so I had to show him my front wheel.† Since it was late afternoon and the bike shops would close shortly, he finished salting an elk carcass and we headed into Hamilton to see what we could learn before the shops closed.† The ďrealĒ bike shop was closed until October 4 so we went to General Surplus.† The bike guy there looked at my bike and confirmed that the front wheel was trashed and the front fork bent.† He didnít have the equipment to fix the bike and suggested a bike shop in Missoula.
Around 6:00, Judy, my sister, returned home from her 4th grade teaching job along with my nephew and niece,† Danny (15) and Krissy (13).† I filled everyone in on my adventures including the wallet and cow incidents.† After dinner, we took a drive south to Darby where they own 30 acres of land and had hoped to sell their home and build a new house this summer.† We saw deer all over the place and a porcupine.† They showed me their great view of the mountains looking southwest out of what would have been their living room.
My side continued to hurt today.† It was much better in the morning but had gotten progressively worse through the day.† Tomorrow, I planned to call the bike shops in Missoula to see if and when they can repair my bike.† It was good to be in Hamilton and have a place to stay while my bike and I recuperated.† Missoula was about 45 miles away and probably one of the best places for repairing a touring bike.† In retrospect, I will decide that my cow incident was good timing.† I had planned to rest a couple of days once I reached Hamilton but now I was already rested since I had just spent the last two days hitchhiking.† Tomorrow would be another day of rest for my legs and then I could be on my way again by Wednesday.† This may sound like I was not interested in spending much time with my sister and family but the reality was that it was nearing the end of September which increased the chance of snow at the higher elevations and I still had to pass through Yellowstone and the Big Horns.† Consequently, I was anxious to get on the road again as soon as possible and, strange as it may seem, my cow accident actually got me ahead of my previous schedule by a couple of days.† While Iím thankful for that, I still hope that cow is hurting somewhere near St. Maryís.
I had a restful night sleeping in my sleeping bag but on a mattress.† My sister and kids headed off to school and I read the paper and ate a couple of bagels.† I called Adventure Cycling (formerly Bikecentennial) in Missoula to see if they would recommend a bike shop in Missoula and they mentioned Braxtonís and On The Road.† I asked about New Era and got a noncommittal response.† I called New Era first and explained the problem.† The guy figured they had a fork to replace mine but wasnít sure they could rebuild the front wheel today but said they could do it at least by tomorrow.† I tried calling Braxtonís but got no answer so I figured they were not open yet.
So I† borrowed the pickup and headed to Missoula with the plan of stopping at Braxtonís first since it was on the way and see what they say.† After a couple of false starts, I located Braxtonís.† The guy looked at my bike, checked his rims and forks, and said he could do the job using an MA2 rim to replace my MA3D rim along with a new fork.† He said he could be done by 3-4 p.m. so I left the bike and headed downtown to kill some time.
I enjoyed a late breakfast of whole wheat pancakes at the Old Tom Cafe after stopping by the Adventure Cycling office.† These were the best pancakes Iíd had so far.† After breakfast I stopped by 1st Interstate Bank to get my remaining $600 in travelerís cheques but discovered at the last minute they only handled American Express.† So I was directed to another nearby bank that handled VISA and got my $600.† The only hassle was I had to fill out another claim form which was identical to the one I filled out in Port Townsend.
Next I checked on polypro at a camping store and bought a Thermax top for $10 at an Army Surplus store.† Then I called Braxtonís around 2:00 and learned my bike was ready.† After a quick stop at a bakery to pick up some wheat bagels, I picked up my bike that looked good in its new chrome fork in place of the old blue fork.† Taking a test ride I noticed my mirror was lopsided and discovered the mirror strap was torn in several places.† Braxtonís didnít have a replacement strap so I paid for my bike and headed back downtown to New Era where a guy found an Avenir pump strap that filled the bill.† Overall, I was happy with my repaired bike which cost $90 because I had thought it might cost twice as much.
After filling the truckís gas tank, I headed back to Hamilton and re-installed my front rack on my new fork.† One thing I didnít bother repairing on my bike was my Scott clipon aero bars which were broken at the bridge which joins the two bars.† I donít use the aero bars for touring since the bike requires more control but I found the bars were useful as a map holder.† However, after Mike commented about my broken aero bar, it got me thinking that it would be nice to have a solid support for the map.† So Mike fashioned a Plexiglas rectangle that I could lay across the aero bars.† With this in place, a map laid on top of the Plexiglas remained nice and flat.
After supper, I packed my panniers and left some unneeded clothes behind in my duffel bag to be shipped back to me in mid-October after I returned home.† Now I just hoped my ribcage would hold up tomorrow since it was still causing me considerable discomfort.† I would have liked to rest my ribcage another day or two but I every day just increased the chance of hitting snow in the mountains so I felt the need to press on.††
After another good nightís sleep, I completed the remainder of my packing and ate a bowl of granola and a wheat bagel.† I said good-bye to Judy and Danny and Krissy when they left for school.† I completed my packing and said good-bye to Mike and was on the road again.† I expected to make the next few days easy as I expect that my ribcage would not miraculously recover in a couple of days.
After 14 miles of easy peddling South on 93, I stopped at the Montana Cafe in Darby for more breakfast - 2 pancakes and coffee.† I continued on until Sula Store and bought a muffin and Pepsi and some Oat Thins that I left for later.† A few miles farther, I stopped at the Sula Ranger Station where they had a nice relief map of southwestern Montana and I could see the terrain I would be covering the next few days.† Basically, I had to climb Chief Joseph Pass and then it was downhill to Wisdom.† From Wisdom to Dillon there were two modest passes and then the section from Ennis to Yellowstone was a gradual climb.† So it looked like today was going to be the hardest since I wasnít ready to quit after 50 miles and that meant climbing Chief Joseph Pass.
So I first climbed Lost Trail Pass and then turned East on to 43 and climb another mile to Chief Joseph Pass at 7,264í.† These passes were nothing special after my 5 previous passes but I had been somewhat concerned about how well my side would hold up.† However, the difficulty with my side turned out to be getting on and off the bike when I had to lift my leg over the bike which pulled on my side.† Otherwise cycling was no problem.† The descent from the Pass was steep for only about 4 miles where I maxed out at 40 mph.† Then it was a gradual downhill to Wisdom at 6,000í.
On my descent I saw several Range Cattle signs and kept a close look out for any cattle.† Later I saw two mule deer in a meadow along side the road.† I stopped and we stared at each other for about 5 minutes.† One of the deer finally lost interest and went back to eating but the other continued to watch and then bounded away and was shortly followed by her companion.
Ten miles from Wisdom, I stopped at the Big Hole National Battlefield National that was a monument to a key battle of the 1877 Nez Perce Indian War.† I managed to see a video and get a picture of the battlefield but I made my visit short since it was after 5:00.† As I headed into Wisdom, I noted an American Legion Park on the outskirts.† In town I had a cup of beef barley soup and a burrito plate for $6 and a† yogurt cone dessert afterwards.† I confirmed that the American Legion Park was OK for camping and learned I could expect the temperature to drop to about 20 overnight.† I headed back to the Park and set up residence for the night with my side feeling pretty good.† I just hoped it felt as well in the morning.††
In the morning it was very cold so I gathered a few things including my contacts and hustled into town on my bike, a half mile away for breakfast.† Later I was told the temperature hit 14 and that this wasnít uncommon even in July.† I also learned that Wisdom often made the national news for having the lowest temperature in the continental US.† After a breakfast of pancakes/eggs/bacon, I stopped at the grocery/general store where I bought a birthday card for my youngest brother, fig newtons, and some mini-donuts.
Across the street at the post office, I filled out the birthday card with some information abut my trip and mailed it.† Back at camp, I packed and ate my mini-donuts.† It was almost 10:00 when I left and the temperature felt like high 40s with the sun doing a good job of warming the frigid air.† Just outside town I headed South on 278 and a sign said 18 miles to Jackson and 61 to Dillon, my destination for the day.† 278 ran South through the Big Hole Valley, the land of 10,000 haystacks, with the Bitteroot Mountains to the West.† There were haystacks everywhere surrounded by a fence (to keep the cattle out) and the landscape was dotted with ranches.† It was easy to see where the name Big Hole came from - the mountains surrounded the valley.†
When I got to Jackson, I bought a couple of maple bran muffins and a Pepsi for a late morning snack.† As I left Jackson a sign now said Dillon was 48 miles.† This was inconsistent with the first sign that said Dillon should have been 43 miles.† Somehow 5 more miles snuck into the road.† I noticed a similar discrepancy in the distance between Big Hole Battlefield and Wisdom yesterday and I would notice other discrepancies over the next few days.
From Jackson the route changed from flat to rolling with gradual climbing as it headed East after having skirted the mountains East of Wisdom.† From 6700í I began the climb to Big Hole Pass at 7360í.† Normally this would have been a major climb but starting at 6700í meant it only climbed 600í over a couple of miles.† The descent was steeper than I though and I broke 40 mph quickly and maxed out at 46.† I couldnít help but think how much it would hurt to crash at this speed.
The vista was beautiful with a mountain range rising out of the valley to the East.† In the valley were golden fields dotted with cattle.† The route headed East then swung southeast around the southern tip of the mountain range and descended to 6200í for a runout of a little over 1100í.† Then began the climb to Badger Pass at 6760í.
From the top of the Pass, the descent was steep only for a couple of miles then leveled off to a long gradual descent into the valley.† There were more mountains to the East and I-15 ran through the valley.† Near the turnoff to Dillon, there were 7 deer in the wheat field along the road about 200 yards away.† I stopped to observe and retrieve my zoom lens but by the time I was ready with the camera they had scurried farther away, almost out of camera range.
The side road to Dillon was closed so I had to take I-15 for a couple of miles to the next exit.† Just before the exit, I picked up my fifth flat and I was decidedly unhappy with my bad luck as I wondered if Iím going to set some kind of record for flat tires.† I found a small wire stuck in my tire so it was easy to find the hole in the tube.† After 15-20 minutes, I was on my way again.† I was definitely getting better at fixing flats.
Pulling into Dillon, I quickly spotted 3 RV camping signs and I hoped to avoid those places.† I decided I should replace my chain sometime so I stopped to ask about a bike shop and was directed to a Coast-to-Coast which didnít have the chain for which I was looking.† However, I got directions to a Kiwanis campground along the river outside town and the Western Wok where I ate Kung Pao chicken (so-so).† After an ice cream treat, I headed to the campground where I dipped in the river for a shower and camped for the night.†
The weather prediction was for a low of 36 and thatís about what it felt like when I got up at 6:30.† It was warm enough that I packed and headed into town.† I stopped at a grocery store to pick up some lip balm, a postcard, and saline solution for my contacts.† I asked about breakfast and was directed to a place a couple of blocks away on a side street which I couldnít find.† Around the corner I saw the Longhorn Saloon that advertised breakfast so I somewhat reluctantly entered and sat at the bar, not believing this was a real breakfast place.
I ordered the short stack of 2 pancakes which was all you could get.† The pancakes were large and fluffy and very good but not quite filling so I ordered 2 more.† Meanwhile the TV was on CMTV showing country music videos.† This was definitely my kind of place - great pancakes and country music.† The bartender must have been impressed with my downing two short stacks since he didnít charge me for coffee even though I pointed that out.† All in all, I had to rate the Longhorn Saloon as one of my top 5 breakfast places for the trip.
Heading down the street I eventually merged into 41 that took me North to Twin Bridges, 28 miles away.† The road looked flat but I was pedaling easy and maintaining 18 mph with no tailwind.† At first I thought it was the pancakes but I later checked my altimeter in Twin Bridges and learned there was a gradual decline of† 300-400í.† Along the road through the valley I saw every type of haying - haystacks, large rectangular bales, round bales, and the small rectangular bales that I was used to from my farming youth.
There wasnít much in Twin Bridges so I turned southeast towards Alder.† All of a sudden the way was† much slower and I began to gradually regain altitude.† I stopped at a grocery store in Sheridan for a turkey sandwich, chips, and pop.† I continued another 10 miles to Alder and turned left to Virginia City and Ennis.† Now the terrain changed from a valley of farmland to rolling desert-like hills, similar to what you might expect to see in Nevada.† It looked like I was going to have to climb a pass but there was nothing on the map and the road snaked its way through the hills with only gradual climbing.
This was now the gold rush territory of Montana lore.† I skipped Nevada City but stopped in Virginia City.† I browsed a little bit, bought a diet 7UP, and found the ice cream store was closed for the season.† The grocery store hostess told me that the route climbed for 3 miles then downhill all the way to Ennis and she was right.† It was a good 3 mile climb to the top in my low gear, as I climbed from 4800í to 7080í.† Interestingly, this wasnít considered a pass but it was probably the hardest climb on my way to Yellowstone.† Then it was another great view at the top of yet another valley flanked by mountains to the East.† I wanted to sail all the way to Ennis but I had to stop several times to savor the view.† I had no difficulty breaking 40 mph and my average hovered near 40 much of the way.
Pulling into Ennis, I stopped at the ranger station and asked about camping and the terrain to West Yellowstone.† I got the same story I got a few days earlier that it was a gradual climb to West Yellowstone.† Then I made the mistake of drinking from one of the two side-by-side water fountains.† One had a sign that I ignored (because I couldnít quite make out the sign without my reading glasses) and I drank from the other.† Unfortunately, I should have read the sign because there was something awfully wrong with the water and my throat was scarred by the water.† They should have covered the fountains or at least put a sign on both.
I headed into town and stopped at a Dairy Queen for a large Blizzard that was good and helped salve my throat.† Next I stopped at a pay phone to phone my friend Howie to discuss support for the upcoming golf tournament.† At first I couldnít use my credit card and I eventually learned that they had changed my PIN.† Fortunately, I was able to get my new PIN from the VISA 800 number and reached Howie at work.† We discussed the tournament software package for about 45 minutes while I almost fried in the afternoon sun outside by the pay phone.
After the phone call, I stopped at a pizza/sub place and ordered a 12Ē pepperoni pizza with thick crust and diet Coke.† I wasnít sure I could eat the whole thing but once again my stomach was up to the task.† I talked with another guy from Michigan in the small place who was hoping for bad weather to improve the elk hunting.† Then I cycled just outside of town past the river to a campground along the river.† I saw a deer as I turned off to the campground, paid $3.50 instead of the $5 charge because of lack of change, and camped at a spot near the river.† I showered in the river with a wash cloth since the river was too shallow for a dunk.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 1994. All rights reserved.