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Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the country. For decades, tourists have come from everywhere in the world (I’ve heard more foreign languages here, though many are European or east Asian) to see what has been called ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ by tour promoters. Yellowstone is kind of the park of all parks, so I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to see some of it. Much of the park is actually a caldera of an old volcano, and geothermal features provide the greatest draw of all the attractions. Yellowstone apparently has the largest collection of these in the world, and even though every site I visited swarmed with tourists, they are undeniably fun to see. Geysers, hot springs, big boiling lakes, thermophile bacteria mats looking like the mold that grows on your old, half-eaten tub of yogurt, roaring steam vents, and bubbling mud pots cluster in areas of the park with long, twisting boardwalks winding through them. At the entrance of each boardwalk is a large, hilarious sign with drawing of a kid, face contorted in pain, falling through the ground: Do not leave the path! Dozens have been scalded to death! The ground is a thin crust and easily breaks! There is definitely a subdued quality to the gurgling springs and geysers, fenced as they are by the boardwalks and warning signs, but for all that they’ve been civilized, it is exciting to see, hear, and smell evidence of the very active world under our feet.

Tree carcasses in the mineral buildup at Mammoth Hotsprings

The upper terrace of Mammoth Hotsprings at sunset.

Old Faithful.

Geothermal texturing.

Another draw to the park is wildlife. Bears, moose, elk, and bison are favorites it seems, as cars slow and crowd roadways, and cameras emerge like strange robotic faces from windows at every sighting. I have to say, it’s fun to see bears from a crushing throng of steel-framed automobiles and excitable humans rather than around a blind corner in a thick berry patch in the middle of nowhere and all alone. The elk are nice, and deer are always lovely. But especially thrilling are the bison, large and prehistoric looking with huge, bulging, unblinking, and unperturbable eyes. I’ve seen them walking, eating, drinking, only feet away from the car window, their lovely, scrunchable woolly heads dragging over the ground under all the great weight of their massive… brains? fur? eyeballs?, and propelled by their funny-looking, naked legs. Bison move ponderously slow, looking like big, mossy brown rocks in an ambling roll across the meadows.

Bison eating.

Bison drinking,

Bison crossing street.

I met my partner, who lives in Seattle, here several days ago, and lo and behold I’ve become a vehicle-constrained tourist. I have enjoyed every last minute of it, sitting in the car watching the rain roll right off the windshield as we effortlessly whiz up hills and through gusts of wind. We’ve gone through much of the park, taken some day hikes, seen the iconic attractions, and kicked around West Yellowstone. I’ve had a much needed rest from the bike, and during some rather foul weather which makes it all the more delicious to sit in a coffee shop over a steaming cup of tea. I have, for contrast, the car-tourist experience in the middle of the world’s premier car-tourist destination. Very few people leave the roads in Yellowstone, and the whole park is set up so that one may explore it’s most well-known and exciting features without hardly leaving the comfort of the vehicle. And the truth about Yellowstone is that much of that park isn’t all that extraordinary. For astonishing natural beauty, Glacier National Park has Yellowstone easily beat, as does much of Washington State. Even some of the National Forests, those unloved stepchildren of the protected wildlands, along this ride have been more beautiful. But the wildlife and the geothermal features of the park make it a singular place worth visiting, not to mention it’s history.

The history is what gets me. Dan and I toured the museum in West Yellowstone, where we were treated to some great exhibits about the crazy crazy and occasionally asinine manner of visitors to the park. Fairly quickly after it’s inception, hotels sprang up all over the park so that the wealthy could take a week-long stage coach tour of the park without too much discomfort. The ‘dudes’, as the wealthy visitors of the park were referred to, would throw objects into the hot pools, feed the bears, pet the bison, and generally assumed that a national park wasn’t all that different from Central Park: it’s existence was purely for the pleasure of the visitor. It was common entertainment to watch bears feeding on garbage dumps, and rangers would clean the hot pools and find large quantities of junk – nails, hair pins, coins, handkerchiefs (this last item was especially common in the so-called Handkerchief Pool, which was a famous stop on the tour of the park where the wealthy visitors would toss in their handkerchiefs only to have them spit out again in a few minutes by the currents, cleaned and ready for use). There were even officially designated bear feeding areas of the park until as recently as the 1970s. It almost seems like a century ago, people were most interested in seeing a dominated and docile natural world: Old Faithful was lit up like a city fountain by spotlights from the adjacent lodge, where visitors were serenaded by string quartets as they rocked in their rocking chairs and ogled the display. The park now is more hip to the fact that all these intrusions can have negative effects on the ecosystem of the park: visitors face steep fines for throwing things into the pools, for example, and feeding the bears is generally discouraged. Moreover, there seems to have been a change in how tourists wish to view the park, perhaps a resutl of the very modern and efficient world most of us now inhabit. The ethos with which most approach the park is now one of caution and of a desire to see the natural world as unpredictable, a little dangerous, and wild. We thrill at the hint of nature when we see bison shuffling across the road, but most stay in the safety of the their vehicles.

Also interesting is the regrowth of the park after the 1988 fires, which burned roughly half of the park acreage (some 1.3 million acres, I think). The forest was a late-stage Lodge Pole pine forest, which are almost built to burn anyway to clear the way for new growth. But the fire was intense and left many with the mistaken impression that Yellowstone had irreparably burned to cinder piles on the ground. In truth, it is in early stages of regeneration, though it has a post-clearcut quality, especially in the burnt areas.

Over all, it’s been nourishing to rest, to see a loved one, to shower to my heart’s content. Yellowstone has been an interesting experience, both to see the park and learn it’s history, and to spend some time being that car tourist that has occasionally annoyed me so greatly over the last month. I’m ready to ride again, though I’m also ready for some nice, balmy weather. In any case, the road beckons.

What a ride, what a ride.

I’m currently in West Yellowstone MT, which is not really on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, but it is near to it. Near enough that I decided to take four days off to see Yellowstone. Never having been here before, I couldn’t pass so close and yet not visit. And I finally have access to internet; I can hardly even remember the last time I posted. I believe it was from Butte MT. Let me catch you up then.

Butte Montana is home to the Berkeley Pit, a hole nearly as large as the city itself left behind from an open pit mine of the ‘Richest Hill On Earth’, as it once was called. It’s now filling in with toxic water, and has been ever since operations ceased there in the eighties. It’s hard to view Butte without the barren, scarred sides of the pit filling the entire background. I rolled into the city only minutes before a storm, and sitting outside of the Safeway, as I stuffed food into my bags, every single person who walked into the store would comment: There’s a storm coming. or This is no day for riding a bicycle. or You know it might snow, right? I could see, as I hunched down near my dirty bike tires, a great wall of black clouds, blotting out the landscape as it moved towards Butte, and me. I stayed in town that night, because I wanted to avoid such inclement weather when I crossed the Continental Divide just outside of Butte, after a climb of several thousand feet to reach an elevation of over 7,000′. However, if someone was meant to avoid foul weather, it certainly wasn’t me. The next day, it was cold, windy, and rainy. I huddled under the overhang of a pit toilet at the pass wearing every layer I had with me and watched the fat snowflakes blow through the air, the fat little flakes which weren’t visible until the trees or the the clumps of brown grass were behind them because they were the same color as the low-hanging, heavy clouds dragging along the ground. As I stood there, a few guys rolled by in a truck, then turned around and came back. They offered me a ride, saying they had come up from the city to see the spectacle of snow falling in August, and they were headed back down to Butte. No thanks, I tell them, I’m headed the other way. Well, one replies, I sure hope you have some chains for your bike tires. They go on to add, as I have been told so many times, that it’s usually not like this, snow this time of year. As they drive off, I try to warm myself with that thought. It doesn’t work.

Descending the pass after Butte.

Later that day, with frozen bricks on the end of my legs pushing my pedals in little circles, low thunderclouds came in and unleashed such a hail storm, I can’t even describe it. I had to run for the trees and cower from the painful stones, and I watched as the ground and even the flat places on my bike mounded with piles of glistening, hard-edged hail stones. I woke up the next morning and everything was frozen, but at least the rain had become less certain about what it was doing. Between gusts of rain, I made my way into Wise River, at the confluence of the Big Hole River and the Wisdom River, resupplied, and then traveled south into the Pioneer Mountains. More rain that night, more rain the next day. And wind, a strong wind blowing from the south-southwest, driving the rain from the west side of the Rockies to east side where I rode. Nonetheless, I made it out of the Pioneer mountains into a broad, grassy valley of ranch lands to Bannack State Park.

Bannack is a very interesting place. It was the first territorial capitol of Montana, meaning it was capitol before Montana was fully the state that it is now. Bannack grew out the first major gold find in Montana in the 1860s, and the population quickly swelled to several thousand. As happened with many mining towns, as the resource declined, so did the population until eventually there was nobody left to dig, to run down the boardwalks, to pour drinks in the saloon or slam the doors. Bannack became a bona fide ghost town. Some people became interested in preserving it as such, and now you can tour the place, wander through some of the buildings, most from the 1860s, and learn all about the history behind the walls of the leaning, sagging homes and stores. The wind blew tumbleweed down the empty streets the day I was there, and the sun shown weakly through the leaded window panes. I read about betrayals, murders, and hangings, not to mention disease quarantines and hauntings. It was a great stop.

The ghost town of Bannack.

After Bannack, the route climbed up another pass to a high elevation desert in the rain shadow of the mountains:

Cresting a pass in a high altitude desert. This was over 8,000' in elevation.

From there, it descended through dry canyons to the town of Lima. And as ever, heading southward meant I had headwind. After Lima, the route turned directly east up through the Centennial Valley, past the Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge, and then practically to Yellowstone’s door.

Red Rocks Wildlife Refuge. This place was breathtaking.

I thought that the day I left Lima and headed east would be my day: I would finally, finally, get a good tail wind. What happens as soon as I start riding? If I am the protagonist, the plucky hero, who is the antagonist in my tale? The wind, that mover of all things. The wind, which was stiffly blowing from the east as soon as I left Lima. And it blew, and blew, and blew all day long. There is nowhere to escape, when the wind blows like that, rushing in your ears, stinging your face with dust, filling the crevices of your teeth with grit. I was so upset, I yelled. I screamed. I cried. I kicked a sage bush. And then I did the only thing I could, which was get back on Lolita, put my head down, and ride patiently, because I certainly wasn’t going anywhere fast. The next day, as I crossed into Idaho, the wind blew up so much dust from somewhere nearby, visibility was reduced to less than a quarter mile everywhere. This wind is a fierce thing to contend with.

Along the way I have met some very interesting people. In Wise River, a man struck up a conversation with me. He said he had been put in my path by God hisself to warn me that a mountain lion was going to try to kill me, and he very graphically described the manner with elaborate hand gestures. He then told me to get a knife, and held up his hands about eight inches apart. With a blade this big, he said, thrusting his hands towards my face, and with a really sharp point. He said the point need to be sharp and straight, so that I might stick the cat in the neck. Okay, I said, I’ll think about it. I smiled. He smiled. What more needed to be said?

In Bannack I met a couple who happened to be from Seattle. They gave me food, shared a fire with me, and even gave me a stick, a marshmallow, and all the accoutrement required for the finest of all foods, the s’more. What’s more, Jon kept a cup of Makers Mark in my hand for most of the evening. When I woke up early to the next frost-covered morning, my pee smelled like bourbon, but I slept better that night than I had in weeks.

The next night, as I was pitching my tent in the gathering dusk on a barren, windswept prairie, what should I here in the distance but a bear bell jingling on a bicycle. Diedrich, a guy from Amsterdam, came riding up and camped with me. He’s taking a year before starting college to ride all over the U.S. and part of Latin America. Starting in Seattle, he rode across Washington and had a great time, but Montana had become a little lonelier for him. We rode together the next day, and he talked of how lucky we in the U.S. are to have such beautiful land right out our doorsteps. Indeed, Diedrich. If only more of us knew it, but I’m out here trying to learn.

At Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge, as I was puttering around setting up camp in the setting sun, a couple from Bozeman Montana arrived with a canoe strapped to the top of their vehicle. They took me out on a sunset canoe ride on the lake, where we drank wine, listened to honking of Trumpeter swans, and watched the last of the oranges fade to inky blues on the western horizon. We listened in awe as hundreds of ducks from all over the lake took flight at once, a vibrating, splashing sound of water and air driving in all directions across the wetlands.

Sunset at Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge

And not everybody is so gracious. In Butte, for example, I was honked at, swerved at, and called a faggot from a passing car window. In general, people respond to me in funny ways. Usually women say ‘Are you doing this alone? You must be very brave.’ In contrast, I’ve had more than enough men say ‘Are you doing this alone? You are way too pretty to be out here by yourself.’ Wow, is that creepy. This, I assure you, is absolutely the last thing I want to hear from a man who is leering at me and my bicycle. Yes, I say to the women, I am brave, because there are some weird people in the world, and I seem to run into most of them.

I’ve been having mediocre luck with food. Before West Yellowstone, Butte was the last time I found a well-stocked grocery. Lately it’s all been gas station food, though in Wise River I bought a frozen package of pre-cooked spinach and microwaved it at the store. It was gloopy and generally unappetizing, but it was vegetables, which I am in such desperate need of. It’s good to remember that most of the world does not live in the richness that we in Seattle do, with fresh produce coming from farmer’s markets in practically every neighborhood of the city. In both rural and inner city areas of the U.S., people often eat out of convenience stores, where everything comes in at least two layers of packaging. I thought about this as I dipped my Keebler Eleve’s Fudge Sticks cookies into my Frito Lay Spicy Bean Dip in camp a couple nights ago, the life lived on entirely processed foods. How can a good life balance on mountain dew and pork rinds?

The ride has so far been beautiful at times, devastating at others, even occasionally dull. It has largely been on roads, of which I can say there are far too many in the woods. They go everywhere, these roads, and even though I am using them, I have to wonder what we’ve done, filling the back country with so many roads we don’t even know them all. And cows. My goodness, there are cows everywhere.

Cows in the road. Oh my.

Every last scrap of land is being ranched, presumably to fill the insatiable need of our people for beef. I have seen the travesty that wild lands are becoming under the tender ministrations of these simple creatures, so I have to ask all of you out there: must you really eat that much beef? I pass hundreds of cows every day on this trip, and they have destroyed most of the water the sources I filter from. Sadly, they haven’t a clue what is in store for them. Run!, I yelled to a group of shiny black ones the other day. Run! Organize! Revolt! Do something for god’s sake! But alas, they just stared. And pooed. And stared more.

The nights are starting to get colder, and I feel winter coming on in my bones. I hope I can get through the high country in Colorado before snow starts accumulating, but I have the entire state of Wyoming, including the Great Basin Desert, before I can even begin to discover Colorado’s high country. The undeniably good news is that when I crossed the Continental Divide heading east from Red Rocks Wildlife Refuge, I crossed from Montana into Idaho and from the east side of the Rockies to the west side (in a little geographical brain twister). West Yellowstone does happen to be in Montana, but it sits perched right on the edge. Other than this little detour, I am done with Montana. I have ridden over 1,000 miles in 27 days so far, and have well over a thousand left to go, but Montana, this beautiful state of treasures, is now behind me. Yay.

I have a rhythm under me now, a kind of beating of the blood in my body that moves me along, over hill and under freeway. Some days, it is true that I am tired or frustrated, but many days I feel I am doing no less than saving my own soul out here. There is a magic kind of medicine when you go out into the world and meet it on it’s terms. I rise in the morning and I sleep at night, just like at home, but out here, there is a steady sort of continuity, a line of miles and sweat and breath that unfolds behind me, and I feel tethered and yet free.

Here is the map of where I go next:

Island Park, ID to around South Pass City, WY

I left Lincoln smiling and smelling of laundry detergent. I was well-fed, well-rested, it was sunny, and even though a strong wind was blowin and I had an extremely steep climb of several thousand feet to cross the Continental Divide near Stemple Pass, I felt good. Little did I know Stemple Pass was on fire.  I noticed as I climbed into the hills that a column of smoke billowed in roughly the direction I was headed, but I assumed it didn’t affect my route, as there were no road closure signs posted. At one point early on, I was passed by a truck full of USFS personnel, all of whom waved, but they didn’t suggest I halt my progress on account of any activity in the pass. So up I climb, and not too long after turning onto an unruly jeep track, I crashed my bike and got my freshly laundered clothes covered in mud.

Muddy tragedy.

 One of my saddle bags was slightly open at the top to accomodate a crown of broccoli I had stashed for later, and the bag filled up with muddy water. I had to stop and dry all my things before I could move on, significantly dirtier than I had been before. I was aware of the need to hurry, in case the wind changed or the fire was near my road, but the muddy water couldn’t wait to be dealt with. I even soaked the granola bar I was planning to eat on the pass. As I climbed I noted the smoke was to the north of where I was intending to cross the mountains, but I couldn’t be sure how far to the north.

The smoke over the trees, somewhere up above me.

As I came up close to the top, it became clear the fire was very near indeed to my road. The road up to the pass was so steep, much of it I couldn’t ride, so I half-ran, half-walked my bike for several extremely arduous miles to try to outrun the fire over the pass. The wind was blowing from the south, so the fire in general was moving away from me, but by the time I reached the top, a full fleet of helicopters and planes were fighting the conflagration, which burned on the ridge just to my left and above me. I reached the top, got a few pictures, and then rode as fast as I could down the other side.

The fire in the pass.

I’ve since heard that the pass was closed only shortly after I went through, and it probably should have been closed before I went through. This means that for the people travelling behind me (Tom and Sarah!), a detour has to be found, I think.

I descended from the pass in a great hurry, so I didn’t take time to stop and fill up on water. By the time I reached the valley floor on the other side, it was hot and windy, I was out of water, and I was exhausted from racing up the pass to outrun the fire. I can ride all day at a moderate pace, but working my edge of exertion for hours in a stressful situation takes everything I’ve got. Feeling a mild kind of heat-exhaustion, I teetered along until I could access a stream, though all the streams in the area are like a weakly-steeped cow-pile tea. Nonethelss, I filtered some water, then rode along until I found a campsite several miles up the next pass. This campsite had the distinguishment of the most moths I have ever seen in one place. They covered my removed shoes and socks until you could barely see the fabric anymore; it was grotesque and beautiful and bug-like. The wind was still gusting strongly, and then, the storms started. Some of the most violent electrical storms I have ever been in. The lightning would come in low, right over head in my little valley, and I couldn’t help but think of the eight rams that just died on Wildhorse Island in Flathead Lake when lightning struck the tree they were congregated under. And every brilliant, blinding flash illuminated the hundreds  of moths clinging tenaciously all over the outside of my tarp. The wind blew fiercely, and the rain, which only fell sometimes during the storm, soaked the ground and my tarp stakes loosened, then would be torn free in violent gusts of wind. I slept very little that night. And I so desperately needed the sleep after my run over Stemple Pass.

In summary: crash in mudpuddle, outrun fire over steep hill, heat exhaustion, attack of the moths, violent thunderstorms, wind, no sleep. A banner day in Montana.

The next day, I got up very early and started riding, intending to head for Helena. I had two more passes to cross before I could get there, though, and I was tired. I rode slowly, blown about the wind. The terrain through the area wasn’t especially inspiring; the mountains around Helena show evidence of resource extraction everywhere, from clearcuts to mine after mine after mine, both very old shafts and new, active mines. The mountains are criscrossed with a complex web of roads of every sort, and it takes a bit of attention to keep from getting lost, as nothing is signed. I made it to Helena that day, but Helena had nowhere to stay. I got a burrito then headed back out to the trail, riding a few more miles before stopping in a campground that was closed, so it was quiet and peaceful (no barking dogs, no generators running on RVs) and I slept very well.

The campground was closed because of pine beetle-infested trees. This is probably why Stemple Pass burned so wildly also. I talked with a Butte resident who told me that pine beetles have a natural kind of anti-freeze in their little bug bodies, and so can live through short, minor freezes in the winter. But Montana used to have long, several-week long, deep freezes every winter which would kill off the majority of the beetles and essentially clear away the clutter for the next season, a sort of winter cleaning if you will. In recent years, though, Montana hasn’t had freezes like that. In recent years, Montana has been warming up. So the forests are infested with beetles and the trees are dying in mass numbers. Standing on a ridge, looking out across vast forests, there is more red than green; more dead trees than live ones.

Look for red trees.

Dead tree on hillside.

As far as one can see in the forests, this is true. I think the state is starting to undertake removal in some forests, but I wonder how effective it will be. If they don’t so something, all of Montana will burn and there won’t be any forests left- just clearcut scars and endless stands of burned sticks.

The ride from Helena to Butte has been much much better than from Lincoln to Helena. The trail went through what was described on the map as the hardest section on the entire route. The Lava Mountain Trail is sort of a single track trail that is more rock and tree root than dirt. I enjoyed it, but I had to walk much of it because it was impossible to ride a loaded bike over.

The boulder-strewn Lava Mountain Trail.

From there, the trail dropped through a creek canyon to the small town of Basin, home to the Merry Widow Health Mine (an old mine that people now use for helath purposes; they bask in the ambient radon gas, believing it to stimulate the pituitary gland). Shortly after Basin, I was overtaken by three men riding motorocycles along as much of the route as they can. I’d heard that people sometimes ride motorcycles on the Great Divide Route, and now I’d finally met a few. We ended up camping together, and it was lovely to have company again. They are only riding to Colorado, but they go so much faster than me it’s kind of weird to contemplate. I plan to get to Yellowstone a week from tomorrow. They plan to get there tonight. It almost feels like getting left behind, when they are doing what I’m doing but much much faster. But then, I can ride parts they can’t (The Lava Mountain Trail, for example), and becasue I go so much slower, I soak in my surroundings in a more complete way.  The internet-user in me has an appetite for the quick processing of information, the fast experience. I could drive the whole route on a motorcycle in two weeks, be done with it, and get on with my life. But here I am, slowing way way down, travelling 35 or 40 miles a day (on dirt, this is a respectable number, as opposed to pavement, where 60 or 70 or 80 miles is more typical in a day). The land rolls by almost sleepily. It is my respite from the fast-moving world we all normally inhabit.

I’m in Butte now, and headed back out soon. It’s another one of those really cold, rainy August days in Montana. The rain has been good in keeping the dust down on the roads, keeping them from gettting too washboarded, and keeping wild fires at bay, but it has made my trip, obviously, colder and wetter. And it looks like Wise River, my next resupply stop, may have some snow. Here is my route for the next stretch:

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

I took a rest day in Eureka Montana because I’m having an ankle problem. Well, really more of an achilles tendon problem; specifically, the little sac that secretes synovial fluid where the tendon attaches into the muscles on the calf became aggravated from the extremely steep hills in the terrain through the Flathead valley. I’ve figured out how to cycle so that it doesn’t hurt, but it requires quite a bit of mindfulness to be sure I am not dropping my heel on the downstroke, which can be more difficult when the hills get steep again. On the restful day in Eureka, I went to two grocery stores, an auto parts store, a laundromat, a hardware store, a restaurant, the library, and the post office in search of the supplies I needed for the next section, and this is how rest days in town go, running mindless errands for hours. Though it’s more fun to do this when most of the time I’m out in the sticks, wrestling with bears and rebuilding Lolita out of leaves and twigs.

The ride from Eureka to Whitefish is lovely, climbing back into the Rockies over the Whitefish divide, dropping down beside the Flathead river from days earlier and riding along the western flank of Glacier national Park, and then climbing back up to the Whitefish divide before dropping into Whitefish. Cyclists on this kind of trip tend to accumulate, the way unique and beautiful snowflakes stick together when they get soggy. By the time I had made  the first Whitefish divide crossing, there were six of us, which made a nice mass of bikes heading down hill.

Little dots representing cyclists whizzing down the hill, Glacier in the distance

When I said I wouldn’t see anything as beautiful as the wild valleys around the flathead river in Canada, I was clearly very mistaken. Some of the sections on this last stretch out of Eureka were astonishing: sharp-edged mountains in saturated greens backed by huge blue skies, little turquoise-green lakes nestled into the folds of rock.

Red Meadow Lake on the Whitefish Divide

Dropping down from the first crossing of the Whitefish divide, the mountains of Glacier National Park came into view, filling the horizon, all broken, hard, and jagged bits thrusting skyward like teeth. I’m still in the heavily-forested regions of northwestern Montana, and as such, the route passed through the remains of multiple fires, one which burned over 40,000 acres the summer of the big fires in Yellowstone (that was in 1988, I believe). As a result, the state began a very proactive version of forest management on it’s state lands, which is clearly evidenced as one transitions from the Flathead national Forest to the Stillwater State forest. The latter, by comparison to the former, has somewhat of an over-managed look to it: over-thinned, over-logged, over-roaded. But it wasn’t too long before I rolled into Whitefish and to Glacier Cyclery, where they are taking care of Lolita for me. She’s getting all her achey bits replaced, which will make both of us happier. As long as there isn’t any more gritty paste to ride through, which it looks like there won’ be since it’s a heat wave around here (and everywhere from the sound of it) with temperatures in the 90s.

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