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.

Western Montana Tour with an Engine

We spend five days with my parents touring in and around Missoula by car. We cover lots of ground quickly.

We camp.

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We hike.

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We pick berries.

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We learn about trees.

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We soak in hot springs.

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We swim in lakes.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

We eat and drink good food.

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We have long conversations.

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It was great. Thanks for visiting, Mom and Dad.

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Hot days and hot nights

We said we’d be in Missoula by August 1. To make good on that promise, we need to leave Marion. The forecast predicts temperatures in the 90s, so we give ourselves four days to get there.

Our local expert recommends Thompson River Road. We deviate from the Divide (again) and connect a series of paved and dirt roads from Marion to Missoula.

A lazy morning means a late start, and the sun is already high in the sky. My legs are sluggish and I feel directionless today. We only have 30ish miles to go. What’s the hurry?

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The ponderosa pines whisper to me in the wind, luring me in for a nap in their shade.

Huckleberries line the creekside and supplement lunch.

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We pedal on, but I’m distracted, constantly looking for a good swimming hole.

Around a bend, we find camping with picnic tables and a swimming hole. This will do. Everyone is happy.

The morning sun is slow to reach the valley floor. I drink tea in my down coat.

Thompson River Road spits us out onto Highway 200. We arrive in Plains and search out burgers and ice cream. After digesting, we swim in the river. Someone fishes from the bridge. The heat is opressive, but I could get used to this, I think.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

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Down the road, train cars sit idle in Paradise, waiting for a crew.

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Back in the ponderosas, we camp for the night.

Morning brings a big climb. At the top, I stretch and eat huckleberries before zipping down.

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Soon, we’re cruising through ranchland. There’s not much shade and the sun is climbing. Just when I think we’ll be riding through the afternoon on pavement into Missoula, the Nine Mile Ranger Station appears. There’s big shady trees and green grass.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

Coyotes yip in the night as I gaze at the Blue Moon from the tent.

Back in the US of A

Country roads lead us south from Fernie. We find a shady river bank and rest for awhile. Trains pass and people fish.

We camp on conservation land near Elko. A sign says to use at your own risk. Noted. The valley is narrow here and is shared by our road, the railroad and the highway. I wake up in the night, confused, as the trains echo through on their way to some place else.

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It’s early afternoon and we’re waiting in line at the border. I’m hoping this border guard is friendlier than the last in Skagway. He asks what we’re bringing in from Canada. Tyndall says groceries. He asks about veggies and citrus. Tyndall says kale. He makes a face and says we can keep that.

The land is high and dry and I’m baking.

From Eureka, the trail goes toward the Flathead. I’m spinning in my granny gear, up Whitefish Divide. A stream provides an opportunity to cool off, and then it’s down the other side.

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Another up and we are at Red Meadow Lakes, pitching our tent for the night.

In the morning it’s “all down hill” into Whitefish. There’s something wrong with my camera battery, so I’ve not taken many photos.

We detour to Kalispell and get lost in a maze of box stores.

Later, we ride a bike trail out of town and head for Marion to visit Danielle and her family.

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