Lincoln Montana is where Ted ‘Unabomber’ Kascinzki took refuge for a couple decades before being discovered. It is where I will take refuge for one night, especially so for Lincoln MT has a laundromat! I cannot tell you how precious this is, to a traveler such as myself, to be able to wash clothes. Everyday I wash one pair of socks and one pair of underwear to keep my meager few in rotation, but that is a far cry from a stuff sack full of clean clothes, free of the salt stains left by laboring up one pass after another. My clothes become rank, as is unavoidable, and I have a rather unkempt and disheveled appearance these days. At least I think so, though I haven’t properly looked at myself in a mirror in a while, but I can tell by the feel of my stiff and wiry hair that is dirty, and I assume by the dust all over my body and my bike that it covers my face as well. So think of me, dear friends, next time you feed your clothes into the great gaping orrifice of the fat-bellied washing machine and remember the miracle of our modern age. Indeed.

In Whitefish, Lolita got a new headset, a new front wheel (the old one was going to take constant maintenance over the next several months to keep the old hub running), and a lubricant bath in the shifters. She runs true as can be now. The ride from Whitefish has been a mix of excellent and lame, depending on location. About 20 miles south of Whitefish, I stopped at the home of one Tom Arnone, a man of a dying sort of breed. He offers his home to touring cyclists in a commendable act of generosity, allowing us showers or to use his computer for internet. Upon rolling up to the lawn, I found he had set out a small cooler stocked with beers, sodas, and juice boxes nestled in mounds of ice. On his big green lawn converged myself and six other cyclists, all doing this route:

Cyclists on the lawn of Tom Arnone's home

We enjoyed seeing the bike frames Tom builds with his very own hands, labelled along their tubes with letters ARNONE. And his collection of old motorcycles, for which he hand-casts new fiberglass side panels. And his house of hand-built furniture. Tom Arnone is one of those few people around who seem to just know how to do everything by hand, and he has the patience to do it well. I was very impressed, as is probably clear.

Shortly after Tom Arnone’s place, I split from the group I had been travelling with for a week or so. Tom and Sarah wanted to head for Big Fork on the banks of the Flathead river, and I decided to keep heading south. I haven’t seen them since, some number of days ago. From there I climbed through foothills of the Mission Mountains, on the west side of the Swan Valley, and then through the foothillls of the Swan Mountains on the east side of Swan Valley, along the western edge of the Bob Marshall wilderness. I’ve been in the middle of a vast array of protected wildlands here, between the Bob (as the Bob Marshall wilderness is affectionately known), the Missions, Glacier, and the Scapegoat Wilderness. I myself, however, cannot travel through any of those areas, where bicycles are not permitted to sully the unbridled wildness. Luckily I have been to the Chinese Wall in the Bob some number of years ago, otherwise I would have been compelled to go now that I am so close (it was amazing). I made a brief detour to Seeley Lake, MT, to resupply: seeley Lake, town of scowling and unfriendly people, home of the man driving the truck bearing the big sticker in the back window that reads ‘$100 per wolf, $1000 per environmentalist’,  who sneered in my general direction. I suppose bikes convey a sense of environmentalism, seeing as we do ride them through the environment in a way that suggests a kind of harmony and respect, rather than dominance and aggression. But if the bike wasn’t clear, my unshaved legs and dirty face ought to have convinced him he wasn’t wasting a sneer on me. However, in Seeley Lake I did have an excellent dish at a roadside food stand, a mound of deep fried tater tots smothered in proceessed nacho cheese and sour cream squeezed from a tube, served in a paper boat, and called Seeley Spuds.  From Seeley Lake, I travelled along the southern boundary of the Bob and the Scapegoat wildernesses, through open, arid pin forests and valleys of wheat, horses, and lots and lots of cows.

The days are composed of moments. The other night, at camp, I opened a bag of what I thought had been snap peas when I bought them only to find they were shelling peas, after I tried to eat one and was defeated by the masticated, fibrous wad it left in my mouth. I had never actually shelled a bunch of peas so I sat at the picnic table as evening slid from shadow to shadow and I shelled the whole bag, watching the last of the sun on the mountain peaks across Holland Lake fade from rose to grey to dark. It took around and hour, but I got a nice pile of fat, round little peas, waxy and hard. I boiled them for a bit until they were a vibrant, thrumming green, and I drained off the water. I ate them. They were delicious, even more so because of their lovely compelling green, stuffed into lilttle wrinkly globes. Sweet, a little on the al dente side, slippery across the teeth. Delicious. This, I thought, is how to live. Moment to moment, from riding winding, dusty back roads through rich forests, to sitting at a table with a pile a peas. Moments arise, and then they pass. The peas arise, mounded delicately onto the slender tines of my fork, and then the peas pass, usually the next day. Moment to moment is how one lives out here.

I had a wonderful moment the next day of seeing a black bear’s beautiful face as it came onto the road not ten feet from where I stood over my bike. It’s sweet ears, stout legs, and barrel body, it’s dark eyes over the lighter muzzle. We regarded eachother momentarily before I roared at it, for safety, and it ran, or fell, back down the hill, crashing through the underbrush the way a large boulder might. I feel sad now for startling the bear, because spring lingered long here in Montana just as it did in Washington, and summer has been to abbreviated to yeild a berry crop. The huckleberry bushes have only hard little green balls, if anything at all, and the bears may face a difficult winter. I am reminded of the story of Buddha hurling himself into the pit to feed the starving tigers, which I am not proposing to do, but the less I make them exert energy, the more the bears have to survive the coming seasons.

I am travelling alone again, and it is both wonderful, and sometimes frightening. But I have my own trail to ride, and there is a way things are bolder, bigger, when I’m alone. I feel happier at the sun, and more concerned at the gathering clouds. I feel thrilled at a successful bear bag, and scared by strange noises in the night. I hear the sound of rain on my tarp as I sleep and I feel so warm, ensconced in my sleeping bag and cradled on Big Fluffy, that I could ask for no more perfect moment. Life is good here, in Montana. Next up is Helena MT, or if I decide to skip the sprawling metropolis that is Helena, then next up is Butte MT. Til then, I leave you with some pictures from the last stretch.

The Mission Mountains from across Swan Valley

Withered farm house in the valley south of the Bob Marshall Wilderness

Myself and my bicycle, in front of Sunday Mountain along the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness

Cascading stream comimg from the Scapegoat Wilderness

Advertisements