Aug 14: 23.2 miles to Park Lake USFS campground
Got a late start from Helena after grocery shopping, picking up some bike parts and internetting. High in the 90's again. 15 miles of climbing on gravel roads. Pretty mountain lake with nice campground.
Aug 15: 21 miles to Basin (private campground)
Today was not a ride. It was not a walk. It was a push. The trail was a 4WD trail, but I doubt that even a 4 wheeler could easily get through. It was huge boulders up and down steep slopes. For over 5 hours and 7 miles we pushed and pulled our heavy bikes up over and around the things. There were times I couldn't even get my bike to budge and Jon had to help. Sometimes it even took two of us on one bike. The maps occasionally give an alternate route. Yesterday, we could have taken one, but it would have meant 2 days of Interstate/frontage road riding and it was so hot that we thought the off road trails would be shadier. Now we know there is a reason for an alternate route. ALWAYS TAKE THE ALTERNATE ROUTE. That's our new policy. Back on normal roads, we were on a very narrow road with a steep drop-off when we were passed by 8 HUGE road grading trucks. We clung to the shoulder as they passed. One wheel was as large as us and our bikes and our trailers.
That night, we camped at the "Merry Widow Health Mine", which offers trips into a radon mine to cure all kinds of ailments. (Maybe it will cure my sore muscles!). We were camped next to a Mennonite family from Missouri. I guess they were more modern Mennonites, as they had a motor home, a car and a cell phone. Although they still had the traditional dress and family values. They have been coming here for 7 years to treat their son who has Muscular Dystrophy and they swear by it. Jon talked to them for quite a while. They promised to check out our website.
Aug 16: 30 miles to Butte (Motel)
Was a much better day than yesterday. Started out on a "non-motorized cattle access trail" and then only an old railroad grade that rose high above the interstate and paralleled it for about 10 miles. At one narrow part, we were met by 4 cows that didn't want to let us pass. We kept riding and "chased" them about 1/2 mile until they had the brains to get off the road. We went through and old RR tunnel built in 1909. The last few miles into Butte were on the Interstate. Don't think that's a problem-we've ridden interstates before and they're really not too bad. Wide shoulders and everyone going the same direction and shouldn't be passing in your lane. We had another CD crossing on the interstate and even stopped to take a picture.
Went to a bike store hoping to get a 20 tooth chain ring for Jon. That's what I have and I can gear down much lower for the hills than he can. Sometimes he has to walk while I'm still riding. Of course, he walks faster than I can ride! Unfortunately they didn't have one that would fit his bike. A storm was brewing so we got a motel.
Aug 17: 39.24 miles to Wise River
Boy, are we getting soft! Just because it took us 3 hours to ride 12 miles into a cold headwind, we got a cabin and went out to dinner. But a cheap little cabin in the mountains and a big greasy hamburger are really living. Wise River seems to have 2 businesses-a mercantile and a bar/motel/restaurant/cabin/campground, all run by Chester, who is also the cook.
The day wasn't too bad until the last 12 miles into the wind. We took a paved alternative (our rule!), which was gentle up and down. Had another CD crossing (our 5th). Stopped at a Post Office and mailed some stuff home that we decided we don't need. Had our first flat-Jon's rear tire from a tiny piece of metal he picked up somewhere.
Aug 18: 32.56 miles to Grasshopper Valley (Private Campground).
Long gradual climb up paved Pioneer Mountains National Scenic Byway. About 8000 ft elevation at the top, our highest yet. Unfortunately, there was construction on the down side. Out here, they have pilot cars that guide a whole sting of traffic through the construction zone. I've never seen them in MI, but we've dealt with them on out other bike trip. This on insisted on carrying our bikes through the area in his little pickup that already had stuff in the bed. There was no way that 2 loaded bikes, trailers, dogs and people were going to fit. By chance, 2 day riders came along at the same time as well. There was another pickup waiting to go down who took them. We really just wanted to ride down. After much consternation, some not so pleasant comments, and much effort, we got all the stuff in the pickup. But our bikes were sitting on top of the trailers and the dogs were in the trailers and we were kind of balanced on top holding everything in. It was a 4 mile, bumpy ride down. If we'd have hit much of a bump, Jon would have gone out on his head. It was not safe, and furthermore, it was illegal to ride in the back of a pickup. It would have been much safer for us to just ride down. But that's company policy for you.
Aug 19: 45.5 miles to Clark Canyon Reservoir
New record in distance. The day started out easy-mostly downhill on the rest of the National Scenic Byway. Joined with the TransAm Trail, the one we did in 1998 for about 9 miles (Jodie and Todd, that would have been between Wisdom and Dillon). Met 3 gentlemen (and there was another in a van) who were riding the Lewis and Clark trail-3 weeks a year. Each takes a turn driving the support van. Stopped in Grant at a very cool restaurant called the Canvas Cafe. It's actually a canvas hunting tent, with cute tables and decorations. The proprietor was great-bringing ice water for us and our dogs. Had wonderful apple pie ala mode and lemonade. When we got back to the dogs, there was a cat sitting just halfway between them, just out of reach-tormenting them.
Aug 20: 26 miles to Lima (motel).
Went off route again to avoid a nasty hill. Road a very pleasant frontage road all day. Saw a fox and what I think are sandhill cranes. Another note: the vegetation has changed dramatically in the 3 weeks we've been riding. Northern MT was wooded with tall, narrow pine and spruce, with abundant water coming out the rocks in streams and springs. The feel was not unlike Michigan, except for the hills, of course. Now we are into drier southern MT. Sagebrush and dry grass are the norm. The roadsides are lined with foxtail weeks and spurge type plants with small burrs that get into the dogs fur.
A thought: Last week, I think it was Sunday, I was standing in a cow paddy field and looked up to the adjoining mountain, which was gold with dry grass at the top, and ringed with green conifers lower down. The Sun was just coming over the top for the morning. Cows were grazing on the golden grass and occasionally let out a low moo. Suddenly, the following verse popped into my head "I lift mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help”. Heaven knows I have plenty of hills and need plenty of help.