We've been riding through Montana for the past 2 weeks and I realize I've somewhat neglected our blog, so as I'm sitting here in a picnic shelter waiting out a storm, I'll try to catch up. Here's a blurb on some of the observations and experiences we've had so far in this state.
View from one of our campsites.
Western Montanans love hunting and taxidermy. From the time we crossed the border into Montana until we reached Glacier, I could have easily been convinced that as we rode down the highway we were riding through a war zone. Although we never actually saw anyone hunting, there was a continuous sound of gun shots coming from the forests. I have to admit I was a little concerned that we, being the big, slow moving masses that we are, might have easily been mistaken for a couple of moose or elk and ended up as someones prized kill, but thankfully we made it through alive. With my mind on dodging bullets, I couldn't help but notice the abundance of taxidermy shops and schools we passed and was reminded of my friend, Nancy, who's biology teacher made his class stuff his kill. What a great way to turn kids away from biology! I don't like preserved animals – it grosses me out! Fortunately, as we've moved east, the number of gun shots and taxidermy shops have dwindled.
This is the state of roadkill and beer. The ditches along the highways are littered with both decaying animals (mostly deer) and so many beer cans that if you can go 10 feet without spotting one you feel the need to stop and take a picture. It's disgusting and sad.
Glacier National Park. This is one of my favorite parks – the scenery is spectacular, the potential of running into wildlife is high and the hiking is phenomenal. We spent several days in the park to give our rear ends a rest and enjoyed a day of rafting on the Flathead River as well as hikes out to Hidden Lake and the Granite Park Chalet. Although we didn't sight any bears, which we were bummed about, we saw plenty of big horn sheep, mountain goats and marmots to keep us entertained. We met many fun and interesting people which made for social evenings around the campfire, something we haven't had a ton of on this trip because we're usually camped outside of designated campgrounds.
Granite Park Chalet hike
St. Mary Lake
Good-bye mountains....hello plains! Once we made it over the continental divide and descended out of the park, I was amazed at how quickly we got out of the mountains. We didn't have several days of rolling hills as we made our way out; it was more like a few miles of substantial rollers and then BAM, from the top of the last hill we could see forever. No more hills, no more trees, just fields of wheat and the ability to see where we'd be riding 3 days in advance. I'm sad to be out of the mountains for many reasons – I love their scenery, their ruggedness, their cold, clean rivers and lakes. I love not knowing what's hiding around the next bend, the challenge of the long, grueling climbs and the exhilaration of the steep descents. But I'm also excited about being on the plains. They are beautiful in an entirely different way – the fields of golden wheat are brilliant against the bright blue sky, the weather is exciting and extreme and we've enjoyed watching the storms roll in and have to try to find cover at the last minute. Life generally appears rough, depressing and dull I the small towns we ride through, yet the people seem to be some of the nicest we've met. We have a long haul across the plains and I hope I continue to be enthralled rather than get bored.
Last glances at the mountains.
Grasshoppers. They're everywhere and why they think it's a good idea to hang out on the roads rather than in the lovely tall grass next to the roads is beyond me. I do my best to dodge them, but it's inevitable that I occasionally (accidentally) hit one. This is horrible to admit, but they make a strangely satisfying crunch when we run over them, so I kind of like it.
Comfortable accommodations. We had a nice string of people who have taken us in for a night as we've crossed Montana. A huge thank you to Phil and Christina who each generously gave us a shelter without ever meeting us. Then Mike's mom, Ruth, and his aunt and uncle, Mary and Lans, met us in the middle of nowhere while they were on a road trip, treated us to dinner, a hotel and breakfast – what a wonderful chance meeting! It was great seeing you all and spending a day together. THANK YOU! Finally we rode into Great Falls and spent 2 days with Mike's cousin, John and his girlfriend, Deidre. Again, it was fantastic visiting with you both and we thank you for your hospitality! I think we've spent almost an equal number of nights in beds as we have in our tent over the past 2 weeks – and I'm not unhappy about that at all!
Lans, Mary, Ruth, Cari, Mike
Motorcycles. I have never been a huge fan, but there are an awful lot of them...and they're growing on me. They have proven to be the most friendly and bicycle-tolerant motorists on the roads. Unlike the impatient logging trucks, tractor trailers and campers pulling boats pulling cars who seem to enjoy scaring the crap out of us by flying by at high speeds without moving over an inch, the motorcycles slow down and almost always give a wave. They have also picked us up when we were hitching a ride and although there were no helmets and the driver revved his engine while speeding through a tunnel (both of which drive me crazy), I was thankful for the ride. I guess motorcycles aren't so bad after all.
hitching a ride.
Weather. We've been pretty lucky in terms of weather so far. There has been a lot of wind and heat, which are 2 elements that are tolerable, though we wish for once it would be a tail wind! The first major storm we encountered happened to be on the night we had our first house to stay at. It was a wicked storm and we were extremely grateful to have a roof over our heads. We weren't so lucky with storm #2. Just as we began a big descent down from Kings Hill Summit in the Little Belt Mountains, the rain began to fall. It felt nice at first when the drops were light and small, but as our speeds approached 40mph, the drops got bigger and bigger and then the hail hit. The sting from the rain and hail hitting our arms, legs and faces was unbearable and caused us to go numb, but there was nowhere to hide. I half screamed and half laughed the entire way down the mountain. It was ridiculously painful, but fortunately short-lived. Perhaps the worst part of it all, though, was having to put on cold, soaking wet socks and shoes early the next morning. Number 3 hit with a vengeance right as we came into a town. We found a picnic shelter to take cover in, showered and washed our cycling shorts at the local public pool and after 3 consecutive storms passed through we decided to call it home for the night. Mike has built a lovely fort, or “super fortress” as he just declared, so we're camping tonight on main street in Harlowton, MT – pretty comical.
Descending into the storm.
Our super fortress for tonight.