Glacier National Park to Aspen
Denis Kertz, ©2017
Usually I fly to the start of my cycling destination but this year I wanted to start in East Glacier, MT, and there was no easy way to get there by flying. However, Amtrakís Empire Builder Train has a baggage stop in East Glacier so I elected to ride Amtrak to my East Glacier.† Taking the train also was easier since I didnít need to get to an airport and I didnít need to box up my bicycle.† I was able to take the Metra commuter train to Chicago Union Station to catch the Amtrak.
My Amtrak ticket cost $167 including $20 to take my bicycle.† It left at 2:15 pm on a Sunday.† I had the option of taking the commuter train at either 8:33 or 10:33.† 10:33 would have been perfect but I elected to take the 8:33 in case there was any problem getting on the commuter train.† I had a momentary panic because I had to lift my loaded bicycle up several steps to get on the train.† These were steep steps and the first step from the platform to the first step was the biggest step.† I barely managed to get my front wheel on top of the top step and then I was able to work my bicycle up to the train floor.
It took an hour to get to Union Station but then I had a long wait from 9:30 until my 2:15 pm departure.† First, I stopped at the Amtrak baggage service to get a baggage tag for my bicycle.† This year I didnít have to box up the bike.† It was just a matter of handing the bike to the baggage compartment guy and he took it.
A good thing about having the bicycle was getting on the train first.† I met Phil, a retired physical science high school teacher, who was completing the ACA Northern Tier Route this year by riding from Seattle to Havre, MT.† We were asked to wheel our bicycles to the baggage car so they could get them taken care of.† As a result, we were allowed to get on the train before anybody else.
I was a little worried about getting my four panniers and duffel bag (with my tent and sleeping bag) in carryon.† Normally you are allowed to stow two carry-ons and arguably I had 5 with plans to put one under my seat.† However, since there was no one around when we boarded I was able to stash 3 panniers and my duffel bag in the carryon baggage area.
Phil and I picked adjacent seats across the aisle from each other, hoping that we would have no seat mates.† The train left on time and headed north to Milwaukee and then northwest to Minneapolis-St Paul and then west across Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.
As is my usual style, I quickly moved to the observation car where I spent most of the trip aside from sleeping.† Phil was less enthusiastic about the observation car and chose to move back to his seat.† He later informed me that someone had chosen my seat row, which was likely because I wasnít in my seat.† In fact, Phil told me that two people had chosen my seat row but both had gotten off along the way.† So in the end I had my two seats to myself which made sleeping easier.
As usual, I didnít sleep particularly well and I was up early around 6:00 am.† By that time, we were just in North Dakota.† I went back to the observation car where there also was a cafť in the lower level with some basic food options.† When I started to descend to the lower level cafe, I met Jeff who warned me that the agent had already yelled at him for heading down to the cafe which didnít officially open until 6:30 am and we were a little early.† Meeting Jeff turned out to be a good thing because he was a member of the Atlanta Outdoor Club who had a group of 12 heading to Glacier National Park for several days of hiking.† I also met a couple other members of the group when they sat next to me in the observation car.† So it was interesting conversation to hear about their travel plans and they were interested in mine as well.
The big excitement of this trip was the fires in northwest Montana.† Specifically, there was a fire on the west side of Glacier that was going to impact their plans.† This was also likely to impact Philís touring plans as he planned to ride the Going-to-the-Sun Road through the park and this road was now closed due to the fire and smoke.† I was thankful that I had ridden this road twice before and wasnít tempted to get off the train on the west side of Glacier.† That would have been an immediate bummer.† As it was, it looked like my plan to ride south from East Glacier was going to be okay.
It was a pretty long day since the train was scheduled to stop at East Glacier at 6:45 pm.† At one point in early afternoon the train got about 40 minutes behind schedule because it had to stop and wait for a couple of other trains to pass.† Thatís one risk of using Amtrak Ė it doesnít own the tracks, the freight trains do, and freight trains have the right-of-way.
But the train quickly made up the time difference as it zipped along at 80 mph.† The train was right on time at East Glacier.† I dumped my panniers and duffel bag off the train and then carried them to the front of the train where the baggage car folks had already unloaded my bicycle and it was leaning against a post at the station.† It took just a couple minutes to attach my panniers and strap my duffel bag on top of my rear rack and I was ready to go.
I had a reservation at a Backpackerís Inn that turned out to have a couple of cheap cabins and I got one for $51, much less expensive that I was expecting.† There was one motel that I might have been able to get a room for $75 but all the other motels were $100+.† Better yet, the cabin was just across the street from the train station.† It was a little further to get there because the train station was on a ledge so I had to ride around the back of the station in a roundabout fashion but it was trivial to find the place.
This place was also part of a Mexican restaurant.† I had thought I would probably eat there but then I saw the line of people waiting to get in and I knew that wasnít going to work.† I checked in at the restaurant and got my cabin key.† Then I set out to find somewhere else to eat since it was probably going to be a couple of hours to get into this restaurant and I needed some food before then.
I found a cafe just a couple doors down and had a basic hamburger for $18, about what to expect in a tourist town.† The good news was I had my cabin and my food just an hour after I got off the train.† That gave me time to get set up for leaving in the morning.
I was surprised I slept until 7am which was really 8am my time.† The Two Medicine Grill was open at 6:30am so I walked the short distance there only to find it wasnít open yet although I could see folks getting ready inside.† I guessed that maybe they had changed time which many places do after Labor Day but it would have been nice to put up a change notice.
So I went back and took care of some packing things then walked back and found the breakfast place open.† I like this place since it had a rustic charm and I sat at the counter.† I had 3 whole wheat pancakes which cost only $8 with coffee, not bad for a tourist town.
I wanted to stop for a few groceries at the place next door which opened at 8am but it wasnít open on time either.† I was getting exasperated that folks couldnít open on time but then later in the day I learned my watch was still set on central time even though I thought I had set it to mountain time on the train when we entered Montana.
I went back to my room and packed up.† I considered riding about a mile out of the way to a grocery store north of town but was afraid it wouldnít be open on time either.† However, the nearby place was now open so I picked up some cereal, some jerky, and a couple of bananas.† I would have picked up more things but they had a limited selection.† I consoled myself with the thought that I would be carrying less weight.
I rode west out of town on US2 to pick up the Heart Butte Cutoff.† I wasnít sure whether it was paved or not.† There was no road sign but there was a road about a mile out of town that I figured had to be it.† I confirmed it with my GPS.
It was unpaved and of mixed quality.† In places it was fine but in other places it was fairly rough and other places it was washboarded.† But I was pretty well committed and made do the best I could.† There were a couple of significant descents and climbs that were harder because of the gravel road.† Descents had to be very controlled because it was too rough to turn the bike loose.† On one climb I stopped for a photo and then couldnít get enough traction to get started again so I pushed a short distance to get to a little more level area.
It was a scenic route but a bit marred by the smoke from the Montana fires.† I could smell a bit of smoke and there was some smoky haze.† If I looked back towards the park it was really smoky and I could see very little.† I did see a couple of deer including one who silhouetted herself on a ridge for a photo before disappearing on the other side.† There was a big lake Ė Big Spring Lake Ė and some mountains to the south.† There was virtually no traffic Ė probably too difficult for motorized vehiclesÖ
After 14 miles the unpaved road ended and I picked up Heart Butte Road, which was paved to Heart Butte. ††This was Blackfeet Territory and there were some historical markers along the way.† When I arrived in Heart Butte I found a place billed as a mini store and that was accurate.† There was very little to be found but I did get a cold drink and had a muffin and banana on about a 20-minute break.
There was a fairly big climb leaving town and then up and down.† After 33 miles I was surprised to see that the pavement ended.† I thought I had pavement the rest of the way.† Later I learned there was a paved road to 89.† Iím pretty sure I saw it just north of town but I didnít know where it went so I passed it up.
I rode another 13 miles on the unpaved road before joining US89.† This unpaved section was pretty good with hard pack and just a little loose gravel and little washboarding.† However, my elevation profile showed the last 10 miles as downhill to Dupuyer but it wasnít all downhill, although there was about a 400 feet decrease in elevation.† When I picked up 89 it was only 2 miles to the town of Dupuyer.
Dupuyer was a small town with a population of less than 100 with a small store, a mote, a restaurant, and a B&B.† I stopped at the general store and had a cold drink.† Then I checked out accommodations.† I knew there was a B&B that looked reasonable and there was a city park for camping.† I also was surprised to find a motel that didnít show up on Google Maps.
I stopped at the B&B and learned the owner wasnít currently taking in customers due to a medical issue but she was very helpful.† She warned there was a bear in the area and that made the camping dubious since it was outside of town.† I wasnít sure the motel was open but she assured me it was but I lost interest when she said they charged $91.† However, she said they let folks camp behind the motel and called someone to let them know I would be camping behind the motel.
The one eatery in town was closed on Tuesdays so I hightailed it back to the general store to get something to eat before it closed.† Thatís where I learned my watch was not set on mountain time.† I microwaved 2 party pizzas that were about 8x10 square.† It wasnít great pizza but I was hungry so it didnít matter Ė they were edible.† The prices here were very reasonable.† My pizzas plus drink plus a couple of snacks cost $14.
Then I rode the short distance to the motel and set up my tent behind the motel.† Since it was approaching 5pm, the general store closing time, I walked back and cleaned up in the restroom and bought a beer.† I probably was the woman proprietorís big customer for the day.
Then I retired back to my camp and completed setting up while nursing my beer.
A reasonable first day but I wasnít expecting that 27 of the 48 miles would be on unpaved roads.
I woke up around 7am and before I could begin packing I heard the sprinkler system turn on.† I should have guessed there was a sprinkler system Ė the grass was too lush and green.† This didnít bother me except that it meant my tent would be packed wet.
After 10-15 minutes the sprinklers stopped and I started packing.† Just when I had everything packed and was ready to take down the tent the sprinklers started up again.† I dove into the tent and waited for the sprinklers to shut off again.† Then I pulled up the stakes and moved the self-supporting tent to the concrete patio of Buffalo Joeís.† I wiped it down with my shower chamois and packed it away.
I rolled my packed bicycle around to the front of Buffalo Joeís expecting it to be open for breakfast since it was after 8 am.† However, there was no one around and no sign of life.† Then I remembered yesterday morning and checked my watch.† Sure enough it was set back to Chicago time.† Thatís when I remembered my watch synced with the Colorado Time Signal each night.† Since my watchís timezone was set to Chicago, it reset the time each night to Chicago time.† So I went into my time setting mode and set the timezone to Denver and then the right time showed up.
I killed some time waiting for the real 8 am time to roll around.† I was uneasy since there was still no sign of life.† I was encouraged when I heard some music inside around 8 but nothing happened.† When I knocked on the front door, it seemed that the music stopped.
I finally gave up, ate a banana, and hit the road around 8:15, having wasted nearly an hour waiting for breakfast.† It was a drab looking morning and I think that was because smoke was mostly hiding the sun.† The first 10 miles were up and down with one big climb in my lowest gear.
It was 20 miles to Byrum.† I didnít really expect to find anything there and I wasnít disappointed.† However, there was a small park with concrete picnic tables so I stopped for my cereal breakfast.
Before Byrum there was virtually no traffic, just an occasional vehicle, but upon leaving town there was a fair amount of traffic by comparison.† Of course, thatís when the shoulder completed disappeared.
It was 15 miles to Choteau, a real town of almost 2,000 people with services.† The road ascended a little to about the half way point and descended the rest of the way to Choteau although these were modest ascents/descents.
I arrived in Choteau a little after 11 am and stopped at a foodmart and had a small pizza, which I needed at that point.† After about a 20 minute break I headed out the final 17 miles to Fairfield, my destination for the day.† It was mostly flat and then the final 4 miles were slightly ascending. †At about the half way point the shoulder came back.† For the day drivers were very courteous.† Most pulled at least half into the next lane and many pulled completely in the other lane.† I could tell when someone was approaching because there were rumble strips down the center line and the rumble noise announced the presence of approaching traffic.
I arrived in Fairfield, population 708, about 3 pm and didnít find all that much.† I thought there were 2 motels in town but when I inquired I was told there was only one place Ė Fairfield Park Inn, a B&B, that had rooms upstairs in a house.† I didnít have any option unless I wanted to find some place to camp so I took a room for $65.† This included a continental breakfast.† They let me park my bike in the breakfast room which was a reasonable arrangement under the circumstances.
There were only two places for dinner and I didnít notice either on my ride through town but the inn folks clued me in.† One was on the main street and it wasnít obvious that it was a food place.† The other was DJís Pizzeria on a side street that didnít jump out either.† I ate at DJís and it turned out to be a good choice.† I had their special Ė BBQ pork sandwich with beans and French fries.† I was stuffed when I was done for a total of $12 including drink and tip.
I picked up a few things at the grocery store on my way back to the ranch and then did my usual evening things.
I had a good continental breakfast of granola, muffin, and banana but the cereal bowl was so small I had to fill it 3 times to make a reasonable bowl of cereal.† The coffee machine was a single shot deal and it took a bit to figure it out but I ended up with coffee.
When I left my bicycle downstairs in the breakfast room as was suggested, I decided to leave the panniers on the bike and carry what I needed up to my room.† I figured that would be the easiest but I kept finding more things that I needed.† In the end Iím pretty sure I would have been better off carrying my panniers up to the room and having everything with me and then carrying them down in the morning.
I ended up leaving around 8 am.† This figured to be an easy day since my destination was Great Falls and it was only 34 miles.† On top of that it was mostly downhill.† The route was mostly through ranching territory with hay and grazing fields and cattle.
After an easy 23 miles I reached Vaughn which was at the intersection of I15 and 87/200.† I would have had a second breakfast but there wasnít a breakfast place so I stopped at a foodmart for a drink and a snack.
Then it was confusing how to get to Great Falls.† There was no sign for 87/200, just a sign for a frontage road.† I eventually figured out the frontage road was what I needed.† It had a surprising amount of traffic the rest of the way to Great Falls.
I had decided ahead of time that an Econo Lodge was well located and I got a room there for $63 with a senior rate.† I thought I was going to have to wait for a room to become available but one became available at the last minute and I checked in.
Great Falls is a city of nearly 60,000 people.† Until 1970 it was the largest city in Montana and then was overtaken by Billings.† Then in 2000 it was overtaken by Missoula and is now the third largest city in Montana.† It gets its name from a series of 5 waterfalls as the Missouri River passes through the town.† These falls, although small in height, were a major impediment to Lewis & Clark as they passed through this area.† They had to portage around this 10-mile stretch of these falls.† Now these waterfalls are dammed and provide hydroelectric power.
It was early afternoon when I checked into the motel so I had some time to explore.† There was a bike path along the river so I rode that out for about 7 miles and saw a couple falls. ††This ride nearly turned into a disaster.† At one point I was about to turn left onto a side path when a guy came barreling from the right side through a tunnel.† I decided to abort my left turn but the guy saw me start to turn and took evasive action, which means he turned into my lane.† In the end we collided head on.† Amazingly, neither bicycle or either person was injured when this could have been a rather serious accident.† He was apologetic but it wasnít really anybodyís fault, just an accident.
When I got back I headed down Central Avenue looking for a bicycle shop, a grocery store, and some food and I found all three within about 5 blocks.† Unfortunately, the bike shop didnít have what I wanted but the grocery store did and I ate at a decent Mexican restaurant.
I dropped my groceries off in my room and walked a couple blocks to another bike shop and was surprised to find what I was looking for.† My front wheel had a wobble and I assumed it was due to a wobble in the tire, a Continental 700x37 Top Contact, and I was looking for a replacement, something like 700x37 which isnít carried by many bike shops.† This one had a Specialized Infinity 700x35 which was close enough.† So I went back to my room and retrieved my front wheel and had the shop mount the new tire.† This cost me $50.† Last year I had a similar problem with my front tire so I replaced it this year even though it had plenty of tread life remaining.† Iím guessing this tire I started with this year came from the same batch as last yearís tire.
Interestingly, the guy in the bike shop cautioned to beware of the wildlife for the next two days as I rode US89 through the Little Belt Mountains.† He was of the opinion that I needed either bear spray or a handgun and I had neither.† He also suggested staying in a motel rather than camping.
The Econo Lodge had a surprisingly good continental breakfast.† There were scrambled eggs and biscuits and gravy.† That along with the cereal, toast, banana, and pastry made for a sufficient breakfast.
I headed east on Central to 32nd Street and then south to 10th Ave which was 87/89/200.† Heading out of town there was a nice shoulder.† Once outside of town there were wheat fields as far as you could see in the distance.† As usual it seemed that the sun was partially blocked by the smoky haze.
The route was mostly ascending for the day, but the first 30 miles were very gradual and the real climbing didnít start until after 30 miles when there was a fairly steep climb.† I thought I might get something to eat at Belt after 22 miles but I didnít realize it was off the road.† Worse, it was down a hill into what looked like a canyon.† Not knowing what I might find, I wasnít interested in paying the price to find out and have to climb back out.
Just a little further was Armington Junction, where US87 and US89 split.† This was a descent down a fairly steep hill.† I noticed my front wheel with my new tire seemed to work better but there was still some wobble so the new tire was at best a partial solution.† There was a nice rest stop at the junction but the water fountains were turned off for some reason.† I had my cereal breakfast but was disappointed I couldnít fill my water bottles.
I took the route less traveled Ė the Kings Hill Scenic Byway along US89 through the Lewis & Clark National Forest which climbs Kings Hill Pass at 7393 feet on the way White Sulphur Springs, a 2-day trip for me.
This was a scenic route up the Belt Creek Valley.† This area has a mining history with the mining at Neihart and the rest of the route supporting that activity.† There was a scenic overlook of the Belt Creek Canyon that is part of the Sluice Boxes State Park.
What was not so nice was the warmth.† At the rest stop I geared down to just shorts and a long sleeve shirt for sun protection.† I felt I had to ration my water, particularly since I wasnít able to fill up at the rest stop.† My mouth continually felt like cotton mouth.
The first 10 miles up the valley was a very gradual climb and the next 10 miles was pretty significant climbing.† However, I was looking forward to the 3-4 mile big descent to Monarch.† That was not to be.† There was road construction underway and I was given a ride down the hill to Monarch.† Iím sure I could have ridden behind the pilot car but it wouldnít have been all that much fun.
Monarch had a motel/restaurant and I made a bee line for the restaurant, particularly for cold refreshment.† I had both a glass of water and glass of 7-Up that were refilled several times.† I got bloated trying to catch up on my hydration.† The hamburger and fries were okay.† I also got my 3 water bottles filled.
I thought I would still be bloated when I left around 3:30 pm but my body quickly absorbed the hydration.† In a short time, I was experiencing cotton mouth again.
There was a motel in both Monarch and Neihart and a campground about halfway along the 13-mile stretch between them.† I figured I would stay in the campground if it looked okay.† It was okay with a water pump so I paid my half price $5 for a site in the very small campground, looking like I might be the only occupant of the 5 sites.
This was bear country so I packed up all my food and stashed it in the toilet, since there didnít seem to be a good place to hang my food.
In the morning I found there were 2 RVs in the campground besides myself.† I met 2 Polish guys who were renting an RV and on the way south to Yellowstone and on to the Grand Canyon and all the national parks in Utah.
I just packed up and left since I expected to get breakfast in Neihart.† It was 5 uphill miles to Neihart but my breakfast expectations were dashed when I saw the restaurant attached to the motel wasnít open.†† It didnít look like the motel business was booming either so it probably didnít make sense to be open for breakfast.† Fortunately, there was a small general store nearby.† I was able to grab a couple of egg sandwiches, a cinnamon roll, and coffee and make a serviceable breakfast.
After that it was a grind uphill to the pass at 7,393 feet.† The first 5 miles werenít too bad, in the 5-6 mph range, but the last 4 miles were a struggle at 3-4 mph.† Fortunately, the distance was a couple miles less than I thought and I made the pass shortly after 11 am.
I had been looking for a place for my second breakfast when I unexpectedly reached the pass sooner than expected.† There was a campground at the top that I thought would be a perfect place.† It was closed but I thought I could sneak in but a sign warned about danger from clearing out trees.† Instead I found a log to sit on and enjoy both my cereal breakfast and reaching the pass.
From the pass it was an easy 32 downhill miles with just one climb later.† The first 4 miles were a steep 30+ mph descent and then the rest was easy pedaling.† There was a campground along the way a little off the road but I stopped hoping I could find water.† I eventually found the water pump and filled my two water bottles I carried on the bicycle frame.† That was just perfect for the rest of the way.
The scenery after the pass was much nicer.† In the morning there was the usual smoky haze.† In addition, the road passed mostly through a forest of pines so there wasnít much scenery.† Descending from the pass the views opened up to sun scorched hills and pines.† A few miles before White Sulphur Springs there was a fairly steep 1-2 mile climb and then descending the rest of the way.
There wasnít a whole lot in White Sulphur Springs with a population just under 1,000 but it was a weekend.† Two of the motels were full.† One motel owner said she filled up almost every weekend due to the hot springs part of the motel.† Unfortunately, the only motel with a vacancy was the expensive one at $93.† I really wanted Internet access or I probably could have found something suitable for camping.† Worse, the manager of the motel wouldnít let me put my bicycle in my room.† I argued that Iíve had it in Marriott places with no problem but that didnít sway him.† I ended up having to put it in a storage room which was just a couple doors away.† Still it was much less convenient than being in the room.
To top this all off, the Internet access was awful.† I couldnít connect from the desk in the room Ė the signal was too weak.† So I went into the lobby and connected there and then walked to my room.† Still the desk was too far and I had to move my laptop to the wash basin which was close to the door.† Then I could keep a connection for a while but I got dropped several times.† This was a very disappointing room for $93.
The motel was also not well situated.† It was a ľ mile from the main street at the south end of town and most of the services were towards the north end.† Thatís where I walked to get a bite to eat, a pretty good buffalo chicken sandwich in a bar.
An interesting day where the first 14 miles were difficult but because the remaining miles were easy this felt like an easy day.
The continental breakfast was pretty mediocre for an upscale place Ė just some cereal, oatmeal, and toast with coffee.† Packing up wasnít all that bad because the bicycle was in a room next to my room.† I loaded up, rode off, and hoped to never be back.
On my way out of town I saw another motel that the guy at my motel mentioned if I couldnít live without my bicycle in my room.† He said he had heard some negative comments about the motel.† I wondered why the woman at the sold out motel didnít mention this one.
I had to backtrack 3 miles to the junction of US12 and US89 and then headed east on US12 on my way to Billings.† Billings was 150 miles away.† Normally this would have been a 2-day trip but there were no services around the mid-point.† So I resigned myself into making this a 3-day ride with roughly equal segments to match up with services.
For the first 15 miles there was some climbing but nothing too difficult.† Then it was a gradual downhill the rest of the way on US 12 until the turnoff on MT3.† Then there was a tailwind and I remembered seeing the forecast for a west wind.† Once I started on the gradual downhill riding was a breeze with almost effortless pedaling.† Thatís when I realized the setup was for a long distance day.† I was going to stay at Harlowton and then Lavina and then Billings.† I realized that I could likely pass through Harlowton and ride all the way to Lavina.
Pedaling was so easy I was cruising in the upper teens and sometimes in the 20s.† I knew then I had to take advantage of this day because these days donít come along very often.
Scenery was pretty nice too, especially in the early part.† There were rolling hills yellow grassy hillsides sometimes peppered with sagebrush.† The only down side was the smoky haze obscured the longer distance views.
At one point I noticed a pronghorn on the other side of the road watching me approach. ††I stopped and was sure he would bolt.† Then I reached for my camera and that usually provokes a response.† Then he posed for a photo before taking off to join his companion in the field.† I couldnít have been more than about 60 feet from him.† Itís rare to get this close and rare that he didnít spook immediately.† A highlight of the day.
Pedaling was so easy I only stopped to remove some clothing and for a couple photos.† Otherwise, I basically rode non-stop from 8 am to almost 1 pm when I stopped in Harlowton.† I had a Hot Stuff Pizza and a cold drink at a food mart in town.
Then it was off to the races again.† Since I was moving along at about 17 mph it looked like I might only have another 3 hours of pedaling to reach Lavina.† Before I did I entered Ryegate.† I didnít know there was anything there but noted a road sign listed it so I guessed there might be something there.† Turns out there was a bar/cafe, a grocery store, and a town park.† I stopped at the grocery store for a cold drink and was advised there would be no problem camping in the town park.
Everything looked set up for the place to stay after 90 miles since I didnít know what was at Lavina.† Then I was smart enough to ask and was told Lavina was just a smaller version of Ryegate.† With that info, I pushed on with the advantageous cycling conditions.† This would make tomorrow 16 miles shorter.
It was slower going on the last section, about 14 mph rather than 17 mph but still not difficult.† At the intersection of US12 and MT3 there was a bar and what looked like a foodmart with gas.† I stopped at the bar and had a hamburger and got my water bottles filled.† Unfortunately, by the time I was done at the bar the food mart was closed at 5 pm so I didnít get to check it out.† I didnít think about it closing that early or I would have checked it out first.† There were two confusing signs on the door, one saying it opened at 8 am on Mondays and another saying it would be open in the morning at 7 am.
The town of Lavina, population close to 200, was about a half mile down the road and the town park was right along the road. There was no one around to ask permission for camping so I just set up.† It was just a nice grassy area with an overhang with two picnic tables.† I was really hoping it would have water but it didnít nor did it have a restroom.† I guess you get what you pay for.
A surprising day and one of the easiest centuries Iíve ever done.
I knew there would be sprinklers.† I just didnít know when.† I found out at 2 am when I heard a loud WOOSH hitting my tent.† Aside from the noise the problem was that the sprinkler was too close to the tent and was shooting upward.† That caused some spray to come through the small ventilation area at the top of my tent.† I had to move my belongings to the other end of the tent and shift my sleeping bag as well.† After an hour the sprinkler shut off and I used my shower chamois to dry the minor amount of spray that made its way into the tent.
Other than for that excitement it was an uneventful night in the Lavina town park.† After packing up I left shortly after 7:30 and headed north to the food mart, almost a mile away.† I had hoped it would open at 7 am as one sign said it would be it wasnít open when I got there.
However, I noticed the barís Open sign was lit up so I stopped by and found they were indeed open.† Yesterday, the bartender said they wouldnít be open until 9 am so I was pleasantly surprised.† They only had microwaveable breakfast items but I didnít figure the food mart was going to have anything better.† So I had a bowl of sausage, eggs, and potatoes and then followed that up with a sausage and egg biscuit sandwich.† This along with coffee made for a serviceable breakfast.† On top of that I got my water bottles filled too.
I left around 8:30 am on the 42 mile trip to Billings.† I wasnít in a great hurry since my plan was to take a rest day tomorrow.† I didnít feel tired after a week of riding but I figured a rest day was warranted.
The first 15 miles was mostly moderate climbing with one downhill. ††Then it was 15 miles of flat and rather boring riding.† The last dozen miles or so was a series of up and down and then a fairly long, steep climb, passing by a prairie dog town, and then a descent to Billings.† Along the way a guy and his wife coming from the other direction stopped to chat with me about my trip.† They were on their way to Whitefish where they lived.
As usual there was smoke in the area.† This was particularly unfortunate approaching Billings since the road passed along the edge of the Rimrocks, a 600-foot cliff of sandstone, and the view would have been much nicer without the smoky haze.
Once in town I stopped for a cold drink and then tried to figure out the best place to stay for two nights.† I stopped in a Starbucks for Internet access and found a Rodeway Inn that was fairly reasonable at $62 with my AARP discount.† Later, I realized this wasnít the best location and I couldnít get a ground floor room.† On the other hand, if I had a stroke, or heart attack, or other medical issue I was in good hands Ė I was in the midst of the medical facilities in town.
The motel wasnít well located for restaurants but there was one restaurant that was next door that had good reviews.† I had a pulled pork sandwich that was recommended and it was good.† However, the gold standard for pulled pork sandwich is now the one I had in Fairfield and this one couldnít match that either in taste or in price but this one was perfectly fine.
I also realized I blew it in White Sulphur Springs.† There was a washer/dryer right across the aisle from my motel room.† I should have taken advantage of that to do a load of laundry.† Instead, I had to walk about 10 blocks to a Laundromat for a load of laundry.
Although the motel wasnít a great location for me it turned out to be a great value.† It had a continental breakfast with a waffle maker and it had an Internet PC with a printer.† This turned out to be useful for a couple of reason.† First, I was able to print out a couple of google maps.† Next, I did some rethinking about my proposed route from Bridger to Cody and decided a better route would be from Bridger to Lovell since there were more services.† I was able to define a route using RideWithGPS.com and print the elevation profile on the motelís printer.
After breakfast I had to wait until 10 am when The Bike Shop opened.† I needed to get replacement brake pads for my front low profile V-brakes since the brake pad was down to metal.† I also had an adjustable noodle for the front brake where the threads were stripped.† I was able to get the identical adjustable noodle and a brake cable along with 2 brake pads.† I figure the rear brake pads were likely to need replacing soon as well.† This turned out to be the same bike shop I used in 2003 on my Lewis & Clark trip.† I got good service then and again today.
It was a bit of hike to the bike shop at almost 4 miles so I rode to it.† When I got back I immediately replaced the front brake pads and the new ones appeared to work fine.† I also took the opportunity to clean my bike chain.† I didnít replace the stripped adjustable noodle since it was working okay but it was nice to have the replacement if I needed it.
After that I walked to a food mart for a burrito and then continued walking down 27th avenue when I saw the library a block to the west.† So I stopped at the library for a while.† After that on my way back to the motel I stopped at a grocery store and picked up a few items.
Then I tried to clear up my Wide Open West email account.† My password didnít work and I called WOW service only to be told it would be about 20 minutes before I would get help.† I gave up at that point.† I had a similar issue last fall on my trip and I set up a gmail account and I had told people to use both just in case.† Later I tried WOW again and the wait time was up to 30 minutes.† Just inexcusable.† If I had been home, I could have put WOW on the speaker phone and worked on something else.
The big issue now is the weather.† Montana has been in a drought and very warm.† Now a cold front was expected to move in.† Tomorrow looked okay at about 10 degrees cooler at a high of 83F.† However, there was the potential for rain the next 3 days.† Worse, Friday and Saturday were predicted to be a high in the 40s/low 50s. †Thatís not a good combination with rain.† Iím hoping I can ride Wednesday and Thursday and then having to lay low for Friday and Saturday wouldnít be so awful.
I took advantage of the continental breakfast again with a waffle, cereal, banana, and some mini-donuts.† Some of these places make you work for your breakfast.† It was almost impossible to get cereal out of the container which had a twist knob at the bottom of the vertical container.† I should have just removed the top and poured out what I wanted.† Then with the mini-donuts you have to grab a handful to get something resembling a real donut.
Packing up was a bit of a chore.† It took 3 trips down the long and steep stairs to get everything outside to load up the bicycle.† But, all-in-all, the motel served me well.
Yesterday, I queried the guy at the bike shop about getting to Laurel, where I would head south to Bridger, without getting on I90.† He said I would have to get on for a short while before I would be able to catch a frontage road.† As it turned out, I was able to avoid the Interstate entirely.† First, I used Virginia St like I did yesterday to get to the bike shop but I took it all the way to Montana Ave or Business 90.† Then I expected to be able to pick up the frontage road when Montana Ave ended.† I was able to do that but I did it in a roundabout way.† I went under I90 but that wasnít the right way.† I could see the frontage road and thought I could hop over to it on a bicycle but there was a fence.† When I turned around to retrace my route I saw I could exit to the street I needed and a right and a right put me on the frontage road.
The frontage road went a pretty good distance until it ended after about 15 miles.† Then I passed under I90 and took a left on Shannon Road which was effectively a frontage road on the north side of the Interstate.† That turned into Railroad Ave that took me into Laurel.† It passed along a Wal-Mart so I stopped and got some more Shoe Goo in case I had more trouble with my sandal.
Then I got on the road south to Bridger but stopped at a foodmart for a bite to eat since I wasnít sure if there was anything again until Bridger.† I had a bagel egg sandwich.† While I was eating it a group of 5 Canadian cyclists from Alberta stopped by.† They were on a 4-day ride to Lovell, then climbing over the Big Horn Mountains to Sheridan and then back to Billings.† They were impressed with my load and I was impressed with their unloaded bikes since they had a SAG.† They were riding all the way to Lovell today, twice my distance, but with bikes weighing about a quarter of mine.
The weather was interesting.† It started out cool and overcast and then the sun started to peek through.† Then it went back to overcast and it looked like it could drizzle and I felt a couple light drops.† Then the sun peeked out again and it became warm.
I was surprised how much traffic there was on the 212/310 road south from Laurel.† Then I realized this was the route to the Bear Tooth Highway into Yellowstone.† This road had a funky shoulder.† Usually the rumble strips are next to the white line and you have to ride to the right of the rumble strips.† Here the rumble strips were on the right edge of the shoulder and you had to ride between the white line and the rumble strips.† Occasionally this was a little dicey when big trucks, which were fairly frequent, came along.
As usual the smoke marred the longer distance views.† Otherwise this would have been pretty scenic.† Where 212 and 310 parted ways was a foodmart and I stopped for a cold drink.† Then I took the left turn to Bridger and the shoulder became very wide the rest of the way.
It turned out to be an easy ride to Bridger, not quite 50 miles and almost no climbing, just a slight upgrade.
I stopped at a Maverik foodmart just outside Bridger.† I wasnít really hungry but I couldnít pass up a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin.† While I was munching on it, a guy rode up on a bicycle and parked it on the side of the building next to mine.† I didnít notice right away but then I saw he had a motor on his bicycle. ††When he left he started pedaling and then the motor kicked in and he took off.
I rode through the small town to see what it offered.† It had one motel and it had a town park where camping cost $20.† This $20 was probably only for hookups and I might have been able to camp for free but I elected to go for a motel because it was most likely going to rain overnight.
There was no one at the empty motel but there was a number to call.† The person who answered lived 3 miles outside of town so I had to wait a few minutes for her to show up.† I got a room for $50 but I had to pay in cash since they didnít take credit cards.† The motel also didnít have WiFi which was disappointing but I kind of expected that.† The room itself was nice and roomy.
After cleaning up I walked a couple of blocks to a pizza place for a 12Ē pepperoni pizza which was good.† I took 2 pieces back to the motel for desert later.
Then I walked a block to the library to use their WiFi.† When I asked the librarian for the password she said ďwhere do you liveĒ?† I thought that was a strange password until she explained she needed to know whether I lived in Montana or not.† If I lived in Montana I would have had to apply for a library card but since I was out-of-state she simply gave me the real password, one that made sense.
I spent maybe 30 minutes at the library, mainly checking the weather forecast.† I was hoping to be able to travel to Lovell tomorrow and then holing up there for two days if Friday and Saturday turn out as bad as forecast.† When I left the library the sidewalk was wet.† Obviously, a quick shower had taken place while I was in the library.
Then I retired to my room for the night.† A little later it rained a little with some thunder.
In the morning I was torn.† It wasnít raining so I was anxious to get on the road since there was a likelihood of rain sometime.† On the other hand, I wanted a real breakfast and the cafe across the street didnít open until 8 am.† It also had WiFi and I wanted to check the weather reports.† I checked the Weather Channel on TV but it was almost useless.† Itís Local on the Eights was anything but local.
I ended up waiting until 8 am and had a good pancake breakfast with eggs and bacon.† I hadnít had a regular breakfast since the first morning in East Glacier.
When I left town around 8:45 it was 54F and cloudy but it didnít look threatening.† It was 48 miles to Lovell with the first 20 miles a gradual uphill gaining 900 feet over 20 miles.† Then it was a gradual descent of 700 feet over 27 miles.
It was a scenic, easy uphill ride at 8-9 mph. ††There was a fair amount of traffic with about a quarter of the traffic large trucks including some tankers and logging trucks with trailers.† However, the shoulder was fine most of the way so the traffic wasnít an issue.
Looking ahead I could see the sky was lightening up which was encouraging.† After 12 miles I looked in my helmetís rear view mirror towards Bridger and could see only what looked like must be rain.† Then the sky clouded up.† This cycle repeated a couple times with the sun shining a couple of times then clouding over.† But it never looked threatening.
Near 11 am I stopped at a guard rail for my cereal breakfast since this was the only place to sit down.
After 20 miles I reached the crest and started the modest descent.† The Wyoming side of the descent was less scenic than the Montana side.† There were a couple of small towns along the descent but it wasnít until Cowley that I found a foodmart where I stopped for a cold drink and slice of pizza.
Just outside Lovell there was road construction and I had to stop for a short time.† There a flag guy told me yesterday that a cyclist passed through with his side scraped up pretty badly.† This must have been the group I met in the morning at Laurel.
In town I scouted out services and motels in particular.† I managed to catch someone just leaving at the Chamber of Commerce and she recommend the Cattlemanís Motel which was just off the main street.† I got a room for $63 with the idea that I might be laying over tomorrow since the weather forecast didnít look good.
I had a heck of a time getting connected to the Internet at the motel.† At first I thought it was a weak signal in my room so I walked to the front desk and still couldnít connect.† Finally, the registrar took over and tried several things and finally got me connected.† The Cattlemen network didnít have a password while the registrar insisted a password was needed.† She eventually selected the Cattlemen network as the preferred network and then went to yahoo.com where she got prompted for a login and password.† So this wasnít the normal network connection setup but I was impressed that this woman was able to get me connected.† This was probably the first time in my travels where the motel person was actually helpful for Internet access.
After cleaning up I walked a block to the Branding Iron restaurant where I had a 10% off coupon.† I had fish and chips although the menu didnít call it that.† It was fine.† This restaurant also was the only place open for breakfast although the motel had a continental breakfast.
Shortly after getting back to my room it started some light raining so a motel was a good choice as I expected it would be.
Another easy day where the rain held off just long enough.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2016. All rights reserved.