Lewis & Clark Trail - Montana
Denis Kertz, ©2003
It seemed like it drizzled quite a bit overnight although I couldn’t really tell because my tent was under a tree. So I was encouraged when I saw almost all blue sky on my way to the washroom. But by the time I got out some serious looking clouds were moving in.
I packed up and biked the short distance to a café in town. I was encouraged when I entered the café since the counter was filled. When my pancake order arrived, the 3 pancakes were all noticeably different sizes, as if the cook was trying to create a pyramid. The top pancake was about half the size of the bottom one and I complained to the waitress. She offered to have another one made and when it came back it was huge – almost 10 inches in diameter. So I ended up with the equivalent of about 4 large pancakes and I was happy.
I started out just after 8:00. My goal for the day was my sister’s house, about half way between Hamilton and Darby. My brother-in-law, Mike, was getting off work at 1:30 and set to go on a weekend elk bow hunt so I hoped to arrive before he left. It was about 50 miles and I didn’t expect that to be a problem.
There was a bike path parallel to US 93 between Lolo and Florence so I took that. Just before Florence I passed a hardware store so I stopped to pick up some Simple Green citrus cleaner for my chain and some ScotchGuard water repellant for my raincoat, which didn’t seem to have much repellency. At Florence I picked up the Eastside Highway that would take me all the way to Hamilton and avoid the busy 93. However, the Eastside Highway didn’t have any shoulder to speak of so I had to watch the modest, high-speed traffic.
The route today was through the Bitteroot Valley with a great view of the Bitteroot Mountains on the west side of the valley with a sprinkling of snow on the mountain tops. The east side was covered by the less imposing but still scenic Sapphire Range with farms and ranches filling in most of the east side valley.
Around 11:30 when I thought I was well on schedule I passed a time/temp sign and was surprised to see a time of 12:41. That’s when I realized I had neglected to switch to mountain time at the Montana border. So I was really about an hour behind schedule. When I pulled into Hamilton I grabbed a sandwich at a mini-mart and pressed on. I picked up a bike path out of town that paralleled 93 for a few miles and then I rode the wide shoulder.
After a little over 50 miles I turned on to the Old Darby Road for a half mile and then another mile on Harlan Creek Road, all gravel roads. When I turned on to Harlan Creek Road, I saw 2 deer, who ran across the road and turned around and stared at me. Then I saw another deer when I got close to Judy’s place. Not knowing what my sister’s house looked like, I went past it to the last house at the end of the road where the neighbors pointed me back one house. No one was home at 3:00 so I presumed I had missed Mike. Judy had left a door unlocked so I took the opportunity to clean up.
Mike and Judy had a dog, Joey, but he was somewhat shy. When I arrived he wouldn’t come close to me and stared at me from across the road when I was at the house. Later he got used to me and wouldn’t stay away.
About 40 minutes after I arrived, Mike pulled in, having been delayed due to some bow problems. In another 20 minutes Judy arrived too. So we surprisingly all ended up together at nearly the same time. But Mike was in a quandary since he discovered the string on his compound bow was cut. He decided to use his backup bow and spent some time practicing with it. As a result he didn’t leave until around 9:00.
A quiet rest day.
I cleaned my bike chain and lubricated the bike. I sprayed a couple coats of ScotchGuard on
my raincoat in an effort to make it more water repellant. According to the weather forecast I would
get an opportunity to test it in a couple of days. The neighbors at the end of the road were University of Montana
football fans so they dropped off their 2 dogs on their way to the football
game. Other than for the 3 dogs, it was a quiet,
When I got up I was surprised to see Mike eating breakfast at the kitchen counter. He said he didn’t see any elk yesterday and was discouraged by the number of hunters out so he came back late last night. Truth is I think he wanted to spend some quality time with me before I took off.
Judy made waffles for me just like yesterday. She made more than necessary but I ate them all, figuring I could use the energy. Over breakfast and afterwards we had some good discussions about Lewis & Clark and travel. Finally, close to 9:30 I decided it was time to get going. I took off down the heavily graveled driveway and managed to dump the bike at the bottom. The road down was a pretty good gravel road so I didn’t have any problem the rest of the way. Along the way I met the neighbors walking up the road with their 2 dogs after retrieving their newspaper. We exchanged parting comments and I continued on.
After 1.5 miles I rejoined US 93. Within a few miles I rode into Darby and stopped at a grocery store where I replenished my food supply. It was about 10:30 by the time I was really on my way on a nice crisp morning without any clouds. However, I did have a moderate head wind that I could have done without, as I would be climbing for about 40 miles to Lost Trail Pass.
After about 15 miles I saw evidence of the summer’s forest fires. For about a 6-7 mile stretch the hills on the west side were completely burned. After a little over 20 miles I stopped at Sula for a lunch break. From Sula the climbing really began and continued for about 13 miles. The last 8 miles were steep and I needed my 2nd lowest gear for those miles. The last miles seemed to drag on forever and I stopped for a couple of short rests. The road at the top was winding and you could never tell where the top was until the last short stretch.
I reached Lost Trail Pass at 6,990 feet and crossed into Idaho. After a 10-15 minute rest in a rest area, I took 43 east to Wisdom and was immediately back in Montana. But I had to climb another mile to Chief Joseph Pass at 7,241 feet at the Continental Divide.
15 more miles though some dense pine trees with an occasional meadow brought me to the Big Hole National Battlefield where I stopped. I didn’t spend much time since it was pushing 5:00 and I had been here in 1994. Then I rode the remaining 10 miles to Wisdom, taking in the beautiful Big Hole Valley, surrounded by hills and mountains.
When I reached Wisdom it was a little after 6:00. I stopped at a saloon that advertised home-made pizza. Unfortunately, it came in only one size, 12 inches and that was too much. So I ate 5/8 pieces and gave the rest to a guy at the bar rather than have it wrapped up and feel like I had to eat it later. I actually expected to want more food later but I didn’t want it to be pizza.
Then I rode the half-mile back to the American Legion campground just outside of town. It had a great price (free) but no showers and the stream nearby didn’t look inviting for a dunking. Later I walked back into town for a second beer and read a newspaper.
This was the hardest day of the trip so far with the most climbing and the moderate head wind didn’t help. Still the Big Hole Valley was worth the effort just as it was 9 years ago when I passed through.
When I got up around 6:30, it was overcast and a chilly 31 degrees. After a cup of cereal, I packed up and hightailed it into town for breakfast. My pancakes weren’t very good, thin and partly burnt, but the place was warm. So I lingered until about 9:00.
By the time I left it was almost 9:30 and 43 degrees. I debated breaking out my heavier clothes but I was too lazy so I just took off down the Big Hole Valley, land of 10,000 hay stacks, in my light tights and windbreaker jacket. Over the next half hour, the temps warmed up almost 10 degrees and it was quickly pleasant riding.
The scenery was great with the Beaverhead Mountains on the west side and hay fields and ranches in the big valley. At one stretch there was several miles of fields with round hay bales and some hay stacks. The road was quiet and all uphill though the grade was slight with some head wind.
After 19 miles I stopped at the small town of Jackson for a quick lunch break. Just after Jackson the road did a near 90-degree left turn, which turned the head wind into a tail wind. The road continued climbing but the last 2-3 miles were the real climb and I needed my 2nd lowest gear to reach Big Hole Pass at 7,360 feet, an overall climb of about 1,300 feet.
From the pass I descended into another scenic but smaller valley. I reached my peak speed of 45 mph on this descent that continued for a good 7 miles with almost no pedaling. The descent continued at a slight grade for another 6 miles before I started the ascent to Badger Pass at 6,760 feet. This climb was 5 miles but the last 2 miles were the real climb and I only needed my 3rd lowest gear.
From the pass, I descended into another scenic valley. The first 5 miles were no pedaling followed by another 9 miles of easy downhill. During this time the sun finally won its battle with the clouds and poked through. When I reached the interstate I took the frontage road a couple of miles into Dillon and worked my way through town. I found the library but it was closed on Mondays and didn’t open until 11:00 on other days so my hope of getting Internet access didn’t work out.
Next I rode out of town a little ways to the KOA campground but found they wanted over $20 for a tent site. I nixed that and would rather have given my money to a motel. But I rode a little further down the road and re-discovered a little park along the Beaverhead River where I had camped 9 years ago. Knowing where I was going to stay, I rode the mile back to town and ate at a small Mexican restaurant for a good meal. Then I rode back to the park and set up camp. Finally, needing a shower, I did a quick dip in the river and was set for the night.
When I got up it was a balmy 46 degrees. After a cup of cereal, I packed up and headed to town, thumbing my nose at the KOA when I rode by, reminding myself what KOA stands for – Kind of Awful. It started to sprinkle on the ride in so I got to town just in time. I headed to the logical place for breakfast – the Longhorn Saloon, the same place I ate breakfast 9 years ago. Surprisingly no one seemed to recognize me so I ate incognito. But the pancakes were still light and fluffy as I remembered.
I lingered to let the light rain pass and then headed out of town at 9:00. On the way out I saw a motel that advertised a $26 room, just $5 more than the KOA tent site.
It was an overcast day and 48 degrees. The road up the valley lined by mountains was serious hay country and the fields were irrigated to produce the hay. There were a couple of Lewis & Clark historical sites including Beaverhead Rock, a distinctive hill that was a landmark for the Indians. Lewis & Clark passed through this valley on both their out and back trips.
Around 11:00 the sun broke through. After 28 miles I reached Twin Bridges, seeing lots of sheep just before entering town, and stopped at the Shack for a lunch break. They had a pizza lunch special and I finally got less pizza than I could eat – 2 slices.
When I left town and headed north, I was in new territory for the first time since Hamilton, having traveled this route in 1994. On that trip I headed to Virginia City and Yellowstone National Park. Nevertheless, even though this was a repeat trip it was just as scenic as before and well worth a return visit.
Heading north the day warmed up considerably, reaching the 60s, and followed the Jefferson River, one of 3 tributaries that form the Missouri River at Three Forks. In the morning I had a bit of head wind that counteracted the slight downgrade. In the afternoon the wind switched to a tail wind and combined with the slight downgrade I cruised in the upper teens and low twenties, using my big chainring for the first time, and rolled into Whitehall around 2:30.
Then I had a decision to make. Tomorrow’s weather was forecast for a low of 26 and high of 45 with rain and possible snow showers. So I planned for a motel with an option to layover if the weather was really bad. That left either Whitehall at 58 miles or Three Forks at 91 miles. Since I also wanted Internet access, I decided to make that the determining factor. When I found the library, it didn’t open until 3:30 and I couldn’t understand why these libraries couldn’t sync up with my schedule
Rather than wait 45 minutes for the library I headed out. However, it was clouding up just outside of town so I prepared to outrun the clouds. Initially I was flying but that only lasted a couple miles as the wind switched to the north. Fortunately the clouds moved slowly and the rain never materialized.
As I rode east parallel to and on the south side of I90 I got a honk from a motorist traveling west who managed to spot me. He obviously was a smart guy and was also a cyclist, which I deduced from the bike on top of his car. In 10 miles I passed through La Hood, another Lewis & Clark historical site. Then I entered a spectacular canyon that was just wide enough for the narrow Jefferson River, a railroad track, and the road, hemmed in by steep rocky hills on both sides.
In a few miles I came to the entrance of the Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park where I had originally thought I might camp until I saw the weather forecast. Camping was $15 regardless of camping vehicle. The campground was also wide open and that was not attractive with the strong wind. Even without the wind and predicted weather I don’t know that I could have stomached having to pay the same as some monstrous RV.
Moving on I climbed a bit out of the canyon and had a view of the Three Forks and the mountains in the distance. I thought I only had a few miles to go and was shocked to learn it was another 13 miles. That still would have been a pretty easy ride except for the strong wind that was both a head and cross wind. The cross wind was so strong I had to lean considerably to counteract it. It also didn’t help that it was gusting too. The only saving grace was it was blowing left to right and wouldn’t blow me into traffic.
The last miles were a real struggle, fighting the wind to maintain control and trying to beat the darkness. At one point I rode right next to a large hill and that helped considerably for a bit because the hill blocked the wind. Finally, I reached the turnoff to Three Forks on 2. Since this was a 90-degree turn I roared into town most of the way until the road bent left again. At the same time it had started to sprinkle and it was a race against time.
There was a motel just on my way into town and I got a room for $40, the cheapest in town according to the motel hostess. This place also had Internet access for patrons so I caught up on my email after cleaning up. Then I walked a couple blocks to downtown and ate pizza at a bar.
Despite the hard miles at the end this was an outstandingly scenic day.
When I peeked out the window in the morning I was surprised to see blue skies. It was chilly when I walked downtown to the Three Forks Café but I was optimistic this wouldn’t have to be a layover day. Then at the café I felt like I struck gold with a large bowl of oatmeal, a very large pancake (as listed on the menu), and coffee for less than $5. A very good breakfast and one I would like every morning when touring. And to top it off there were a couple of newspapers for reading, which I read since I was in no hurry to get started on a chilly morning.
I packed up leisurely at the motel and was off just after 9:30. My one concession to the chill was to wear a light long sleeve jersey between my normal short sleeve jersey and windbreaker jacket. I debated wearing socks with my sandals but decided Lewis & Clark wouldn’t have so I didn’t.
When I came to the stop sign at Main Street there were no directions so I guessed left and guessed “right.” Then after I passed over I90 there were no directions to the Missouri Headwaters State Park. I would have gotten upset but I realized Lewis & Clark didn’t have directions either although they did have an Indian guide. I wanted to turn right on CR205 but the road was marked closed. I turned any way, figuring my charm would get me through the construction, except the construction was rebuilding the bridge over the Madison River. No charm was going to get me over the bridge framework so I had no recourse but to backtrack and take the interstate.
As I rode down the interstate I saw the next exit was 4 miles, meaning I was going to have to ride to the next exit and backtrack, something no self-respecting cyclist would accept. So I started looking how I could play cyclocross and cut across to the parallel CR205. However, there was a parallel railroad track and a fence guarding it so it didn’t look good. After a mile I saw a road heading north and I guessed that was the road to the park, meaning I would have to ride an extra 6 miles by going to the next exit. Unacceptable but the railroad fence was an obstacle. And then just ahead I saw a truck go under the interstate so I knew I needed to get to that road and I could get across the railroad.
So I crossed 4 lanes of interstate, carefully rolled my bike down the steep bank, and pushed it ahead to the road. But the railroad fence curved along the road up to the interstate and I was fenced in. My bike was too heavy to lift over the fence so I removed my rear panniers, the easiest ones to remove, and carefully lifted my bike over the top barb wire, holding my breath that a barb wouldn’t puncture a tire and give me a flat. I reloaded my bike, rode across the railroad, turned left on to CR205, and picked up the side road that I had correctly guessed led to the park.
Not too surprising, the park was almost empty on a chilly morning. I stopped at the first turnoff and walked to the point where the Jefferson and Madison rivers joined to form the Missouri River. A little further the Gatlin River joined the party as the Missouri River cut its way through some limestone hills.
With that, I returned to CR205 and headed for Bozeman. CR205 was effectively a frontage road for the interstate and it was good, quiet riding. The temps warmed up to about mid-40s and only the modest north wind made it a little uncomfortable. It was easy riding and then there was a view of the Bridger Range in the distance.
20 miles from Three Forks I rode through Belgrade where I stopped at a mini-mart for a quick lunch. When I left there was quite a bit of traffic that I assumed was lunch hour traffic. However, it soon became obvious this was just another route people were using to get to Bozeman. So this frontage road became a dangerous road with some big trucks and virtually no shoulder. And there was no good bail out since the road fell off quickly towards a ditch. So the next 10 miles were a tense ride where I pulled off the road about 4 times and probably would have done twice that if bailing out had been easy. This section would turn out to be the most dangerous section of the trip and had I known that I would have taken the interstate for the last 10 miles.
Finally I reached the city limits and turned off through town. Along the way I passed right by the library and stopped around 2:30. The library had 8 Internet PCs that were all signed up but one PC was vacant so I managed to get about 20 minutes of time.
From the library I headed east on Main and found a couple motel possibilities. With time on my hands, I turned around and headed west to see what else might be available. Not much as it turned out so I reversed course. When I passed right by a Subway I had no option but to stop to eat. Then I stopped for a few groceries and finally picked a motel for $35, a double unit in a basement that I got for a single price.
After settling in I walked a few blocks to the Montana Ale Works and had an Organic Pale Ale that was pretty good at a happy hour price. When I walked back to the motel, the sun was shining and the weather forecast was good for the next several days with temps projected in the 60s.
Today marked the first 1,000 miles of the trip, nearly one third of the way to St. Louis.
It was a chilly but clear morning. I walked across the street to a diner and got there at 7:00 when it opened and was the first customer. I had pecan pancakes that were very good, only two pancakes but they were bigger than usual.
I packed up leisurely to give the weather a chance to warm up. I took off at 8:45 and headed down a frontage road for 4 miles and then picked up I90 when the frontage road ended. I90 squeezed between a couple of big hills and the usual wide interstate shoulder was reduced to 3-4 feet, still much better than yesterday’s last 10 miles on CR205. I90 climbed to Bozeman Pass at 5,760 feet but it was a modest climb and I never used my granny chainring. It was a scenic climb through rolling grassy hills. Bozeman Pass was named for John Bozeman, who established a trail from Laramie, Wyoming, to Virginia City, Montana, in the 1860s across this pass.
When I reached the pass, it opened up with a view of the Absaroka Range in the distance with some snow on top. When I saw a car pass on my right on the frontage road I realized I was supposed to have gotten off at the previous exit. Rather than backtrack I rolled my bike down the shoulder and lifted it across a low guardrail and was on the frontage road.
From the pass I coasted the 10 miles to Livingston, hardly needing to pedal, and admired the superb scenery. In town I stopped at an eatery and had the lunch special, a large pizza slice. As I was leaving town I noticed it was somewhat chilly. There was a brisk wind that seemed responsible for the chill.
Fortunately, I was headed northeast and the wind became a tail wind and less chilly. Just outside of town I crossed the Yellowstone River and roughly followed it the rest of the day although most of the time I could not see the river.
The scenery continued unabated with a view of the Crazy Mountains to the north and then the Beartooth Range to the south. All along the way were ranches and grassy fields and it was clear I was leaving the mountains behind and coming to the plains. Along the way I saw 3 deer in a field along the road but they bounded away when I pulled out my camera.
Cycling was embarrassingly easy. Not only did I have a good tail wind but also the road was a slight downgrade. The two combined to make it half pedaling and half coasting. I decided I could learn to like this and the good news was I might get the chance. Since I was following the Yellowstone River to the confluence with the Missouri River and a river doesn’t flow uphill, the rest of my ride would be mostly level or downhill. I did have to cycle a few miles on the interstate when the frontage road disappeared but that was OK. Interestingly, one of the interstate exits was for a lone ranch. The ranch was boxed in by hills to the south and the interstate so an exit was required just for ranch access.
It was 3:00 when I rode into Big Timber, my intended destination. I checked out the city park where camping was apparently allowed. But it was not very exciting and there was a campground just down the road at Greycliff that was on the river. I decided that’s where Lewis & Clark would have camped so I would too. Before I left I stopped at a mini-mart that had some small pizzas and had that again. Then I cycled an easy 8 miles to Greycliff. About a mile beyond town, I took a side road that led to a fishing access point with a primitive camping area. But that was fine as I had the place to myself right on the river.
After setting up camp, I found a spot in the river that was deep enough to dunk myself. As usual the dunking was quickly replaced by a refreshed feeling. Later as I was writing my notes a pickup came roaring into the campground. I was sure my privacy was gone but they just stopped and used the outhouse and left. After dark, someone else came but also left.
It was 37 degrees when I got up so I took it slow. I ate a cup of cereal and packed up. While I was packing, a couple fishermen showed up with a boat and prepared to go fishing. I left about 8:30 and noticed my cyclometer was not recording distance. I jiggled the main unit since the problem was usually poor contact with the contacts of the receiving unit but that didn’t do the trick. So I guessed the transmitter battery was just weak enough that the cold reduced the power output and I replaced the battery but that didn’t work either. I didn’t know what else to do so I took off and shortly the cyclometer started working again. Another unsolved mystery of life.
I headed to Reed Point, 13 miles away, where I hoped to get breakfast. When I got there I found a rather dilapidated looking town of 96 with no breakfast place but it did have a new post office that looked out of place. I stopped at a grocery/gas station and augmented my breakfast with some milk and pastries.
Columbus was another 18 miles with a 9-mile stretch on I90 as I continued riding through the Yellowstone River Valley with infrequent views of the river. In Columbus I looked for a breakfast place but it was after 11:00 and had no luck. So I stopped at a mini-mart and nuked a burrito.
At noon I continued on and climbed a fair hill just outside town and stopped to take in the view of the Yellowstone River with the Beartooth Range in the distance. As I started again I immediately noticed the thump in my rear tire seemed more pronounced. As I was trying to decide if it was my imagination I heard a loud gunshot sound. I looked around to see if any cowboys/Indians were having a shootout. With no one in sight, I glanced down and saw that my rear tire was flat. A closer inspection showed the tire with about a 5-inch tear in the sidewall along the wire bead. This would have been a disaster except I carry a folding spare tire that I had never used. It had been folded for some 3-4 years so it took some massaging to get it back into shape when I unfolded it. I had to install it carefully to make sure it seated correctly on the rim. In the end this cost me about 30 minutes. However, I did notice 2 anglers in the river below had moved on. No doubt the gunshot sound scared the fish away.
There was a bright side to all of this. I no longer had an annoying thump. I had debated replacing the tire for that reason alone but was loath to toss a $35 tire. Now that decision was made for me and I was less than a day from the largest city in Montana where I expected to be able to get a replacement.
I rode on to Park City thump free where I stopped for a short break. When I continued on to Laurel, I passed a number of hay fields and enjoyed the smell of freshly mowed hay. When I rode into Laurel I found some info at the Chamber of Commerce office in the center of town. I discovered the library, which is usually centrally located, was at the west end of town so I rode back. I was sure the library would be open at 3:00, which was neither too early nor too late, but I found the library was closed on Fridays for some strange reason.
So I rode back into town again, stopping to pick up a sandwich. I rode south out of town a little more than a mile to the city park that was just across the river where he showers/restrooms were closed for the season. A confusing sign said the camping cost was $10 for water and electricity but I didn’t need either so I was unsure if/what I needed to pay and the host was out. So I just picked a campsite and dunked myself in the Yellowstone River again and felt refreshed.
Tomorrow, I planned to ride the less than 20 miles into Billings for a rest day and to find a replacement rear tire. Later as I was sitting at my picnic table writing my notes, the host came by and said I would have to pay $10, the same as any RV. This was irritating since he seemed to take delight in collecting my money when I paid so I wasn’t a happy camper.
It was much warmer, about mid-40s when I got up so I packed up quickly and got underway. On the east edge of town I stopped at a small diner for a couple of pancakes. It wasn’t’ that much but I didn’t figure I needed a lot with only about 20 miles to Billings, my destination. I planned to replace my rear tire and make it an easy day.
There was no direct way to Billings other than the interstate so my route took me to town in stair step fashion. When I reached the edge of town, I stopped at a Wal-mart. I was hoping to get a second backup of my photos by having my SD memory cards copied to CD. However, the copying was reasonable for the first 100 photos on a CD and then became too expensive to be reasonable for a 256M card with about 160 photos. So I ditched the idea of a second backup.
When I reached Broadwater Street, I stopped at The Spoke Shop. The biggest tire they had was 700x28 rather than the 700x32 I was replacing. However, the only other bike shop didn’t have 700x32 either. This shop claimed their Armadillo Turbo 7000x28 was a large 28. Since I really didn’t have any other option we tried it and it was virtually the same size as the Continental Top Touring 2000 700x32 on my front wheel, which tended to confirm what I had heard – that Continental overstated their tire size and their 700x32 was really a 700x28.
Since I was in a bike shop, I had the mechanic clean my chain. Then I had him check my rear shifting, which wasn’t shifting right in a couple middle cogs. He adjusted the derailleur and oiled the cable because it was sticking. He also noted that the rear bar-end shifter was not working quite right, which I had noticed and thought was the cause of the shifting problem. After some lubrication, he got it to work OK but suggested I would have to replace the bar-end shifter eventually. All in all I was very happy with the work by an obviously competent mechanic. The bill came to $61 including $30 for the tire and $25 for labor for probably about an hour of work. I don’t know if that was a typical rate but it’s hard to complain about competent and thorough work.
Next I rode downtown and eventually found the library after a couple of queries. I was able to get Internet access right away and spent about 30 minutes on email and other areas. Then I rode Montana Avenue east to 1st Avenue and found the Lewis & Clark Inn with a room for $30. I figured that was the best I was going to do and took a room that was a little small but OK. And it had a Laundromat as a bonus and I took care of my laundry.
Later I walked downtown, a half-mile or so, looking for food. A BBQ place that I spied when hunting for the library was closed on the weekend so I ended up at the Montana Brewing Company for a good beer and a buffalo burger. Then I returned to my motel for some college football action on a Saturday afternoon.
In the evening, since it was such a hike to downtown, I tried walking east searching for food. There was nothing except a pizza place that was really a pizza delivery service. So without any other food prospects I ordered a 12-inch pizza and delivered it myself. Back at the room I was surprised I was able to handle this pizza non-stop but it was not as thick as the previous pizzas of the same size.
I packed up quickly when I got up, hoping to get an early start and was off before 7:30. Rather than go back downtown I headed up through Billings Heights where there was supposed to be shops and restaurants. There was a couple mile strip with lots of things but nothing open for breakfast. So I stopped at a grocery store for food supplies and asked about breakfast and was referred to the casino next door.
The casino was now open since it was after 8:00. I got 4 pancakes but they were small ones and I would have liked to say ‘supersize it’ but that wasn’t an option.
It was after 9:00 by the time I left. When I woke up the first thing I did was tune in The Weather Channel. The weather looked fine except the westerly wind was supposed to shift to northerly, which was why I wanted an early start – to take advantage of the early tail wind.
The first 25 miles to Worden were rather boring with houses strung out all along the route along with hay fields and a surprising amount of traffic for a Sunday morning. Then the traffic dropped off considerably and it was much more rural.
After another 10 miles I stopped at Pompeys Pillar, a large rock where Clark had inscribed his name in 1806. It was the only remaining physical evidence of the Lewis & Clark passage along their route. There also was a good view of the Yellowstone River in both directions. And there was a mock up of two dugout canoes lashed together like Clark used to get down the river. All free because I was on a bicycle.
Sometime after 11:00, the wind shifted to northerly while I was traveling northeast. I continued on another 22 miles to Custer alongside hay fields and a railroad. I saw three trains with 112, 113, and 118 cars with two of these headed east and all cars filled with coal. I guess somebody thought winter was on the way.
When I reached Custer I had to decide whether to stay or continue another almost 20 miles to Hysham. I really wanted to continue since it wasn’t 3:00 yet and getting to Hysham would get me over half way to Miles City, tomorrow’s ideal destination. On the other hand, continuing meant I would have to head more northerly and I figured the wind would punish me.
As it turned out, the wind wasn’t too bad but I was surprised by the amount of climbing of 4-5 miles. Still climbing is better than wind because climbing guarantees a descent eventually. After the fairly hard climbing I enjoyed a reasonable descent, probably less so because of the wind but still pretty good.
When I pulled into Hysham after 5:00, I had trouble finding anything resembling a place to eat. I eventually discovered the “downtown” with a bar and adjacent café. The café was closed but the bar had frozen pizza and I ordered one. It certainly wasn’t gourmet pizza but I was hungry enough that it didn’t matter. Then I retraced my way back to the city park that I saw on my way in and set up camp for the night. The park had everything I needed except a shower. I was tempted to jump in the park swimming pool but the scum on the water surface would have discouraged that even if it hadn’t been locked.
One of the hardest days so far, mostly due to the wind.
Around 2 am I heard a noise and wasn’t sure what it was. Then I realized the tent was making the noise and figured it was the wind. Finally, I realized the lawn sprinklers were on and each revolution of the sprinkler was hitting the tent from two different sprinklers. Not much I could do so I went back to sleep. Of course, when I got up my tent was all wet and that delayed my leaving as I set my tent out in the rising sun to dry it off some. I wasn’t going to wait until it completely dried so I finally packed up and left around 7:45.
There was no breakfast available in town so I had to ride to Forsyth, another reason to get an early start. Almost immediately I noticed my cyclometer was not working again so I decided to change the main unit battery as soon as possible. After about 3 miles it started working again and I guessed the battery might be weak enough to need to warm up a little. In any event I could wait until the evening to replace the battery.
When I arrived in Forsyth it was just after 10:00 and I
had a choice between a motel café and The Big Sky café next door that didn’t
look like much. Despite the appearance, I picked The Big Sky
café, figuring it probably had some character and I was right. When I ordered the 3 pancakes the cook
raised her eyebrows and said they were big.
That’s when I knew I had picked the right place. The pancakes were very large, good, and
filling. There was a newspaper to read
and a couple locals to chat with. Then
another local dropped by who was a regular cyclist so we had a good time
talking about cycling. In the end I
gave the breakfast 5 stars with the combination of great pancakes, interesting
locals, and the ambience, all for $3.75 including coffee. I told the cook my rating and took a photo
of her and the local cyclist at the counter and told her she would end up on
the Internet. I think that flustered
her a little. She also said only two
others had ever eaten a stack of 3 pancakes.
Properly fueled, I left after about an hour. I rode on past Rosebud and then at Hathaway I had to take the interstate the final 20 miles to Miles City. The day’s scenery was the best of the plains so far with quite a variety. There were a lot of hay fields and occasional glimpses of the river. There were some long, flat stretches as you expect on the plains, often with bright yellow wheat fields or golden grassy fields. And just before Miles City was a stretch of hills that looked like badlands and were spectacular. In all of this there was a fair amount of up and down riding, the first real mixture of the trip. Most of the significant previous climbing was to get over passes. So this was a memorable day of riding with temps initially in the high 30s and reaching the mid-70s.
When I took the Miles City exit, I passed right by the Range Riders Museum so I stopped and paid $5 to get in. It was a huge museum, largest in the state, with gun collections, an old western town set up, and a variety of other artifacts from the 1800s. I spent about 45 minutes and then pushed on through town. I missed a turn and passed by a Subway so I stopped to eat. I had the misfortune of ending behind a couple and a family of 3 kids. The couple was no problem but the kids had to be asked what they wanted on their sandwich for each possible ingredient. By the time they were done ordering the first couple had eaten and left.
After eating I had to find camp. The choice was a KOA and The Big Sky Camp and RV Park so there really was no option. However, my Adventure Cycling map really did a poor job of identifying where the campground place was, just saying US 12. So I presumed it was where US 12 intersected with my route but there was nothing there when I reached that point. So I turned on to US 12 and rode for about a mile and seeing nothing. Just as I was getting worried with the fading daylight and looking for a place to ask directions, I found it. I got a tent site for $10.70 and negotiated a free beer from the cheerful, outgoing hostess, a pretty good deal.
After cleaning up I had quite a search through my panniers before I found my spare cyclometer battery. I replaced the battery and hoped that would do the trick. Then I collected my beer and wrote my notes in the lounge in the office, a satisfying end to a good day at work.
It was in the low 40s when I got up. There was no restaurant nearby so I had to ride back into town. Right off I noticed the cyclometer was not working but it started up after about a quarter mile. I rode 2 miles back to town and ate at the 600 Café, having oatmeal and 2 pancakes. It was OK but not the greatest, especially compared to The Big Sky Café in Forsyth.
It was 8:45 by the time I left. I took the Valley Access Road for 10 miles, riding through mostly hay fields. When the road ended I had to get on the interstate for 10 miles. At the same time the scenery changed to mostly yellow grassy hills with some green, irrigated fields in the distance near the river.
When I left the interstate, it seemed like someone turned on a switch and the winder started blowing fairly hard. It was a NW wind and I was traveling NNE so it was mostly a cross wind. When I got closer to Terry, the road bent a little and I was traveling NE and the wind was all cross wind.
When I entered Terry I couldn’t find any kind of fast food so I stopped at a grocery store for a lunch break. The wind was strong when I left. If it had been a head wind I would have simply stayed in Terry. After Terry there was no place to stay, short of just pulling over some place, until Glendive, another 40 miles. So taking off was a real commitment. I continued another 10 miles to Fallon and then I had to get on the interstate the rest of the way to Glendive, except for the last couple of miles. The wind was not quite so bad because I was traveling ENE for a while and then NE.
Just a few miles outside Fallon I crossed the Yellowstone River and the scenery flip flopped around the interstate. What I had been seeing on my left was now on my right and vice versa. A then there was more up and down. With the wind partially a head wind it seemed like everything was a climb. At that point it became a ride where you just put your head down and grind out the miles. And it got worse about 15 miles outside Fallon when the road bent a little more north, giving more head wind, and I was usually in single digit speed.
After what seemed like forever, I took the first exit to Glendive, the business loop. I rode into the downtown after crossing the Yellowstone River. And then I saw a motel sign for a $22 room and I immediately lost all interest in camping after a hard day. I got my room, cleaned up, and walked a couple blocks for pizza. Back at the motel I checked The Weather Channel and was dismayed to learn that the forecast was for the same wind tomorrow. At least tomorrow I would have a few more options for stopping if the wind persisted.
The hardest day of the trip so far.
It was 35 degrees according to The Weather Channel when I got up. I was thinking about making this a short day after yesterday’s hard day. This would be a short mileage day with the prediction of 10-20 mph NW winds. But it would not be an easy day as I envisioned.
I left about 7:30 and retraced my way a little over a mile to Highway 16 for breakfast at a truck stop, after already having some cereal and a banana. I ordered the right meal of oatmeal and 2 pancakes but they were just OK.
Leaving at 8:30 I met the full force of the wind as I was traveling NNE. I had trouble maintaining 8 mph for the first 5 miles or so until the road bent right a little. After about 12 miles the road bent some more so I was traveling ENE and the wind was primarily a cross wind but it was so strong I had to lean significantly to counteract the wind. Fortunately, the shoulder was very wide and not dangerous. Occasionally a big truck would roar by, blocking the wind momentarily, causing my bike to lurch left with a forward boost and then lurch right when the wind re-asserted itself. These momentary respites were savored. Yesterday, most trucks on the interstate would move over into the next lane and they offered no respite from the wind but today trucks didn’t have that option.
The scenery was very similar to yesterday, mostly yellow grassy, rolling hills with some occasional wheat fields and irrigated fields to the east where fields were closer to the Yellowstone River. Most of the time the Yellowstone River was not visible except for a couple times when it wandered close to the road.
After a little over 30 miles I stopped in Savage for a lunch break at a mini-mart. People quickly commented on the wind and the obvious affect on riding. When I resumed riding, the road turned north for 2-3 miles and I was hammered once again, after earlier thinking the wind had abated somewhat. Then the road bent back again to its NNE heading and the wind wasn’t as bad. At that point it was just a matter of putting my head down and grinding out the miles.
Around 2:30 I limped into Sidney and rode through town, checking it out. With help I found the library and got an hour’s worth of Internet access. There was a grocery store nearby so I replenished my food supply. There was an RV park nearby and I checked it out but it wasn’t conducive to camping. So I retraced my way back into town and found the other RV park. It wasn’t great but there was a spot to throw up a tent for $10 so I settled in. Then I walked to the next-door Pizza Hut for pizza and wrote my notes. I also started checking out the North Dakota route and discovered that it looked fairly hilly. On the other hand the cyclist I met at breakfast in Forsyth said I would have NW winds in the Dakotas that would blow me through. I could only hope the NW winds of the last two days were indicative of that.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2003. All rights reserved.