Refreshments

Keeping the engine fueled and lubricated is important when it comes to long term bike travel. Food and water is stocked on our handlebars to see us through the day. I recently discovered that a peanut butter jar (item of many uses) fits perfectly in my feed bag. I’m sure Revelate Designs meant for this to happen. 

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I’ve always been frustrated by the hard to reach peanuts in the bottom of the feed bag. Teasing me by their presence. The peanut butter jar solves this problem. Now I just dump the food in my mouth as we ride. It’s a faster more efficient way to fuel the engine.

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Love the Combos.

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Pile on those Mashed Potatoes

The open spaces of Wyoming unfold before me. In tune with the landscape, my emotions do the same. Happiness, laughter, anxiety, tears.

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I’ll blame a lack of appetite on the later two.

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My first long mountain bike ride was Resurrection Pass. On that ride, a friend told me that he wavers between loving the trail, and hating the trail – all within minutes. Years later, I  begin to see his point.

Grapes, two apples, a yogurt and a hug from Carmella in Atlantic City help to restore the balance in my little universe.

I think of Jill Homer’s mantra, Be Brave, Be Strong. I think of Lael. I give Tyndall a fistbump and drop in, heading for the Basin.

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We ride late, covering the miles between South Pass City and the A&M Reservoir in a day. The stars are out when we arrive at the reservoir.

In the night a noise wakes us. It’s a mouse, going for our candy bar wrappers. No bears here.

Another day, and we’re in Rawlins.

On Books

I have a weakness. It’s books. Real books, made from ink and paper.

I started this journey with a 1,000 page tomb, an old mass market copy of Atlas Shrugged. It took me awhile to read.

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When it was finished, I carried it around awhile longer for Tyndall. He wanted to read it. He finished Uhuru, so we swapped. I can’t say I would recommend that book, but finished it all the same. As I read, I ripped pages off and threw them away. Paper’s heavy, you know.

After that, I didn’t carry a book for awhile. I read ebooks on my phone. Without a book, my front bag had space. I didn’t have to fight with the zipper to close it. I told myself I would stick to ebooks and audio books from the Anchorage Library. It was nice to have extra space in my bag.

The trouble is, not all books are ebooks and not all books are audio books. Neither are made with paper and ink either, but I did ok for awhile.

Then we went to Missoula and I visited the Book Exchange. It’s one of the better used book stores I had ever been to. I came out with one book. No big deal. It would fit on in my bag.

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Later on, Tyndall says he needs a new book. We return to the Book Exchange. I come out with another book. But it’s a good book, and I tell myself I will find space.

I can do without many things, but it turns out a book isn’t one of them.

On to Wyoming

The heat follows us south from Butte. It helps to tackle big climbs in the morning, but I become anxious as I feel it closing in as the afternoon progresses.

The trail winds through southwest Montana. People say this is Big Sky Country. I think the Fortymile area near Chicken is Big Sky Country. This is different. I miss the trees. Only sage brush as far as the eye can see.

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We detour to the Calf-A in Dell. Someone told us they had good sticky buns. The rumor is true.

And then, like that, the heat relinquishes it’s hold. The air is cooler. We wake up to frost and frozen water bottles.

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Southwest Montana gives way to Idaho. The trees return. Quaking aspen and conifers.

It’s Sunday and we’re in Island Park. It turns out Sunday is a bad day to be in town in Idaho. Everything is closed. That’s ok. We roll on.

The trail follows an old railroad grade south. It’s soft and made up of volcanic ash. I deflate my tires a bit, and pedal on. It’s almost like snow biking, says Tyndall.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

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Roadsides are lined with grain (wheat?) and potato fields. Smokey haze obscures the views.

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Our old water filter kicked the bucket after seven years of service. We purchased a new one in Butte. Five days later, and the new one is just as bad as the old. A closer inspection reveals an already very dirty filter. Maybe we should have tried out a Steripen.

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Ashton – Flagg Ranch Road leads us from Idaho into Wyoming.

We decide to stretch some different muscles and hike for a day. We go to Union Falls and Scout Pool.

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The pool is warm enough for a short soak, and the falls are pretty enough to linger for a bit.

Ninemile Remount Depot

Liz and I have spent a good bit of time deviating from the main trail in Western Montana. This has led to a few surprises. One of them being the Ninemile Remount Depot.

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Established in 1930 by the Forest Service, the Remount Depot supplied horses and mules to help fight fires in the remote Northern Rockies. A Civilian Conservation Corps camp was established nearby and soon the ranch took shape. By the mid 30s, the ranch was supplying over 1500 horses and mules to fight fires.

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Logging roads, planes, and smokejumpers eventually reduced the need for the depot and it was closed in 1953. The Depot was incorporated into the local ranger district shortly thereafter. Today they handle over 200 horses and mules used by the Forest Service to maintain our most remote and wild lands.

Divide by Four

We fill our bellies with baked goods and bike bags with veggies at the Missoula Market, then leave town. We aim for Ovando, where we reconnect with the Divide.

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It feels good to be back on the trail.

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A day later, and we’re in Lincoln, eating
burgers. A man is hollerin’ about bears, hills and fast cars on our route ahead. I nod politely but really would like to just eat in peace.

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Thunder clouds chase us out of town and we camp in the woods, before Huckleberry Pass. No bears or fast cars is sight, only a gurgling stream and hooting owls.

We cross the Divide three times in one day, zig zagging back and forth from the Pacific to the Atlantic drainage.

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At the top of the second, a man is there on his 4×4 checking cell phone messages. He says there are big cinnamon rolls in Basin.

Montana is covered with all kinds of roads. I’m constantly amazed at the access. Alaska can’t compare.

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We come across a logging operation, and talk with a forester. He tells us they are clearing out old beetle kill on Forest Service land. These trees were killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle. I learn this is a native species, and part of the natural cycle. With climate change, the trees are under more pressure and can’t use their usual defense against the beetles.

I always thought the beetle killed trees were the result of an invasive species. I guess not, in this case.

We climb some more, guzzling water and scarfing fig newtons.

Soon, it’s down down down into Basin.

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After thunderstorms pass, we go on to Butte, crossing the Divide one more time. There’s a bike trail in town that winds through all the old mines.

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Tyndall’s as happy as a clam. I’m happy with pizza for lunch.

Metric or Imperial

Confusion ensued upon arrival in British Columbia from Alaska. Liz and I were traveling up the Skeena River when it began. It was the weekend and all the locals were out in campers and trucks scattered along the river. Fishing rods were set into gravel banks, tips bent from the weight of the lures. Folding chairs were placed together under shade with coolers of refreshments. Of course, I had to know what was going on. So I asked.

“Springs” was the reply.

“You mean King Salmon?” I responded.

“What’s that?” He said.

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We both looked at each other scratching our heads. The fellow called over his father which lead to more discussion at which point we both concluded that Springs are Chinook and Chinook are Kings. We kept talking for a bit and I asked what size was average for the area. “Oh, 15 to 20” was the reply. I converted that number from kilograms to pounds in my head. 35 to 45 pounds or so. That’s a really nice size Spring.

We continued to talk and at some point it dawned on me that he was telling me the weight in pounds not kilograms. Huh.

Further up the road we were drawn off the road again by a sign for Cherries. It was a private residence with a few trees out front. They were loaded with beautiful fruit. An older gentleman in a step ladder waved us under the cover of the trees. A pile of green grass was smoldering under the trees to create smoke. “It keeps the bears away” he said. “You should see em. They are good Canadian bears. They all queue up in line to eat my fruit.” We laughed and listened to a few more of his stories as he handed us fruit straight from the tree.  They were his “girls” each with a different personality. We agreed to buy some cherries for $5 a pound. Wait. What?

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I confronted him about this. Why per pound and not per kilogram? “Oh, I’ll never learn that. I learned pounds and gallons as a kid and that’s how it will stay til the day I die.” We thanked him for the fresh cherries and listened to a few more stories before saying good bye.

I’m struggling with this now. I thought Canada used the metric system. Canada used the imperial system until the 1970s. At that time the country underwent metrication, however, several items impeeded their progress.  I learned about a few of these on a train from Smithers to Prince George.

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While on the train we got to know the conductor quite well because of some severe delays. While stuck on a siding we started talking about distances between stations and the conductor responded in miles. Apparently all the markers on the railroad are in miles while all the markers on the road are in kilometers. The story goes, as told by the conductor, that during metrication a new passenger aircraft was delivered to Canada with metric gauges. The pilot who received the new plane made a mistake when loading the plane with fuel and took off with too little fuel, running out while at altitude.  Luckily, he was able to glide down safely and everyone walked off the plane alive. This came to be known as the Gimli Glidder.

Railroads had filed a lawsuit around the same time. The lawsuit essentially said the engineers on the trains needed their markers in miles as that is how they knew where the dangers were. In the end, they were allowed to keep the mile markers as the railroad was not a public system and only the engineers used the markers. Canadian railroads still use miles. Old timers still use the imperial system. Children are learning metric in school and think a yard is where you play, not a means of measure.

All photos by Elizabeth Ellis.