Wow. OK. So I know I have a lot of catching up to do. My last two posts were far from complete. I’ll see how much ground I can cover tonight before it gets too late. (This picture here is one of many I took on the side trip up to Glacier National Park, but more on that later).
As you may have gathered from the last post, I successfully survived my trip over the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass, despite some rather insane gravel roads. The gravel actually spoiled what would have otherwise been a really nice downhill, but alas, I had to ride the brakes hard not to lose it on the dirt road there. Silly skinny road tires. This would be an awesome pass for mountain biking I think. No worries, though. I came across many other wonderful downhills.
The next day even, when I went over Lost Trail Pass and came down a marvelous mountain into the Bitterroot Valley, making my way up US 93. Just in case you thought Montana might be running out of beauty with all that I’ve seen on this trip, the Bitterroots do not disappoint in supplying more. Fantastic, no?
I ended up crashing for several nights with a friend of mine near Lolo, MT. In that time, I was able to go on a couple of very nice hikes in the Bitterroot Mountains (among other things, but again, more on that later), including this hike up to Bass Lake on a very treacherous and stormy Friday.
The Beer Cyclist?
I was able to spend three very lovely days in Yellowstone National Park. I ended up purchasing an Interagency Annual Pass figuring I’ll probably also be hitting up Glacier, Olympic and who knows what else over the next twelve months. Well worth the cost.
My friend in West Yellowstone dropped me off Monday afternoon and I spent a couple days backpacking around the Fairy Falls area and camping out in the Yellowstone back country. This way I could stay away from most of the tourists during the peak season (though even getting back country camping spots was a challenge). Wednesday morning, I made my way over to the Old Faithful area and hiked up to Mallard Lake and back. I of course, watched the ever famous geyser as well (honestly, ho hum).
Yesterday morning, I set out from West Yellowstone headed back up the Madison River Valley. I ended up putting in 110 miles yesterday and made it all the way to Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park. This morning, I took the caverns tour, and that was quite a bit of fun as well.
Alas, I haven’t the time to upload those, or the many other pictures I’ve taken this week. I should have some more time as I get into the Missoula area. I’m about to head over Lemhi Pass and cross the Continental Divide tomorrow. I’ll be sure to check in again sometime next week with more details.
It was a two day ride from Great Falls down to Three Forks. Between Great Falls and Helena was some amazing scenery along the river. It was a hot couple of days of riding there, and I got trapped in a couple small storms. I also popped my first flat tire of the trip. Just before Three Forks, though, I did get to stop in at this cool place called Wheat Montana Farms Bakery & Deli. These guys have a great story.The Folkvord Family started farming wheat out here, but after a while of it, they were troubled by the vagaries of selling their wheat on the whole market, so they decided to go one step further and bake their wheat into finished product. They now have a very awesome deli and bakery right off of I-90 near Three Forks. I stopped in for a sandwich and to hide from the rain for a little while.
After exploring the headwaters near Three Forks, I took a detour off route from Lewis & Clark Trail to make my way down to Yellowstone. For the most part, I was following along the Madison River into the town of West Yellowstone, where I am today, before I set off into the park for a few days. I’m probably going to take a bit of a break from cycling and do some backpacking around Yellowstone. I’ll have to start keeping two mileage counts this trip: cycled miles and hiked miles.
There’s been some tough riding around western Montana, and I know it’s only going to get harder as I go over the mountains, but the beauty continues to amaze and makes the experience what it is. I’ve adapted more, I think, to the inherent solitude of bicycle touring — perhaps the amazing things I’m getting to see have helped. I’m looking forward to the change of pace backpacking will bring for a few days. I’ve made friends with a tour guide from Yellowstone here who is going to tell me which spots are awesome to go to and which spots to avoid. Already, he’s shown me hidden, tucked away, secret hot springs to soak in. But I’ll tell you more about it on the flip side of Yellowstone.
More Montana pictures…
So I’ve made it to Great Falls, MT. I think that puts me at about 1,650 miles of cycling. Not really having any idea what my final mileage count is going to be on this trip (who knows what detours will distract me), I’ve decided to call this the half-way point. Were I to shoot straight for the coast from here, I’d be well over half done, but I’m expecting my path through western Montana to resemble a drunkard’s walk. There’s just too much cool stuff I want to check out while I’m in the area.
From Winnett, I kept on rolling down SR 200, up and over the Judith Mountains and into Lewistown (which is, incidentally, not named after Capt. Lewis of the famed expidition, but another military officer, from a later period of history, who established Fort Lewis there. Lewistown also claims to be the geographic center of Montana). From Lewistown, I deviated from SR 200 to make my way up to Fort Benton.
It was on this road that I took my first dive of the trip. Riding down this 8% grade into a valley by Square Butte (every cyclist’s dream), and while distracted by the amazing scenary of the valley unfolding before me, the pavement ran out underneath me and suddenly I was hitting gravel road at thiry miles an hour. My skinny little road tires were not happy with the situation and down I went. Nothing major, just a minor scrape here and there, and the bike held up pretty well: dirty, but no damage. So keep on rolling I did.
Fort Benton is quite a nice town, and it’s on my list of places I’d like to return to someday (just look at that view of the Missouri River). There are a few companies that run multi-day canoe and camping tours of the river, which sounds like an excellent vacation for some future summer. The Upper Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center was quite fun as well. I happened to stumble into town on the evening of a talk about the geology of the region. Did you know bentonite was named for Fort Benton?
You may not even know what bentonite is. It has many uses, but true wine geeks should know it as a commonly used fining agent to remove cloudy proteins from wine. The other really nifty thing about this clay is that when it is wet, it expands to over twice its original volume. This can be very useful or very problematic, depending on the situation.
Last, but hardly least, I stopped in at a used bookstore and outdoor equipment store (handy combination). Picked up some new shorts and another book to read. This store was really quite something. Unfortunately, the name of it escapes me at the moment, but Fort Benton isn’t a big town, and I believe it was on 17th St right off from Front Ave. So, if you’re ever in Fort Benton, stop in and say hi to Tom, the owner, and perhaps pick up something fun to read.
It was not a long ride from Fort Benton into Great Falls. I arrived early in the afternoon on Tuesday and spent some time cycling along the River’s Edge Trail. The falls that named the town have long been dammed in the interest of hydroelectric power, but there are still some cool river views to be had. From here, I head south, continuing along the Missouri towards the headwaters at Three Forks. Until next time, enjoy some more scenic views of Montana.
I rolled on down SR 1804 from Williston almost to the border to check out the Fort Union Historic Site. Fort Union used to be a big, important trading post on the Missouri River. Today, a reconstruction of it sits mere yards from the Montana border (technically speaking, the parking lot is in Montana). It seems like a cool bit of history, so I explored for a while. The shot above is the view of the Missouri River from Fort Union. This is only a couple of miles from where the Yellowstone River and the Missouri River come together. I took some shots of Fort Union as well.
From there I hopped back up to US 2 to cross over into Montana. I had been bucking some pretty intense winds from the west all day, but just before crossing the border, the storm descended upon me. The rain started, and the winds picked up. I mean, seriously picked up. I spent the next 22 miles fighting headwinds gusting up to 40mph. Some of the gusts were bringing me to a standstill even on a downhill. A couple of east-bound cyclists I ran into at a rest stop in Bainville thought I was completely nuts for riding into this wind. What does it say about me when the other crazies think I’m the crazy one. The rain cleared by the time I made it into Culbertson. I found the city park and set up camp for the night.
Wednesday morning, a howling wind made me want to just crawl back into my sleeping bag and rest for the day, but I set out. In the end, I actually cleared my first century of the trip. I was fighting remnants of Tuesdays headwinds for about 55 miles, but then I turned south and things got nice and calm. I made it the full 100 miles from Culbertson to Circle, MT.
Thursday I rolled into Jordan, MT and tonight, I’m in Winnett, MT. Along the way, I’ve seen some amazing views of the Montana Badlands. Just breathtaking… The photos don’t really do justice to the vistas, but I’ll try to let them speak for themselves anyways.