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M O N T A N A

September 14, 2007

August 24th we arrived at Eureka, MT and Ralph toasted Montana in with a shot of Tequila!  We have been in Montana now for almost 3 weeks and can’t seem to find the exit point!  We love this state and everywhere we go we find people just like when we left here 20 years ago, (friendly, down-to-earth and enjoying life without a lot of extravagance and luxury).  And just good home cooking too!!!! 

One cowboy stopped us along the trail.  He was in his old 1970’s pickup truck stacked high with wood he had just cut for the winter to heat his home.  He had 5 friends with him and a few cases of beer, he told us, it’s great, the firewood is still “FREE” to cut here, it only takes a few cases of beer for your friends and the gas for 2 trucks and 2 four-wheelers for the day!  Anyway, they were having fun and couldn’t believe all the effort we were putting into climbing the same 4-wheel roads they only drive on, so he had to take our picture to show this wife the crazy bikers from Colorado he just met!

Our last blog ended in Whitefish, Montana on August 29th.  We arrived on a full moon late in the day and they were having a Farmer’s market in the park with fresh produce and a band playing Van Morrison’s song, “Moondance”  — how appropriate!!!  The first person we met has in-laws that live in Carbondale up Thomas Road!  (We didn’t recognize the name tho!)  The first night in Whitefish we stayed at a state park conveniently located on the beautiful lake, but with one slight glitch –  the park host handed us earplugs for sleeping because the train tracks were about 30 yards away from the campsites and ran every 30 minutes all night long.  The next morning we moved camp into town, did some shopping, some repairs on the bikes and even enjoyed a movie that evening. 

The next day we left the congestion of Whitefish, something we hadn’t expected, and biked to Bigfork on Flathead Lake where we set up camp 20′ from the water at a secluded cove. The spot was very relaxing.  We spent several kicked back days there, then biked toward Holland Lake via paved and forest service backroads.  We stopped at a river to filter water and after answering questions about our trip from curious fly fishermen, we got offered wonderful, cold beers.  It’s amazing what a delicacy cold beer can be on a hot dusty day! ( Just so Ralphs’ friends don’t think its a typo or a temporary lapse of sanity — most folks don’t have tequila to offer – so he makes do!).  Holland Lake was crystal clear, shallow on one end with an incredible Swan Mountain Range backdrop on the opposite side.  It was cold enough that it took lots of courage to swim, but the refreshment after a hot day’s ride made it all worthwhile.  We got a campsite right on the lake, with ex-bicyclist neighbors that offered us their extremely comfortable camp chairs for the evening.  They knew what it’s like not to be able to pack a camp chair on a bike trip.  The next morning we left before the sun cleared the ridge, biking on a gravel road.  We saw a wolf on the road in front of us, he stayed about 1/8 mile ahead of us for a half mile.  He was about 3′ tall at the shoulder and skinny.  We took gravel roads, 2 track and single track over a pass into a high alpine bowl at the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, before dropping like a rock into Seeley Lake.

We got a campsite on the lake and had another courageous swim in the cold lake water.  We were the only people in the campgraound – man, I love travelling after Labor Day!  We did shopping for supplies and tried to connect via phone with our friend, Mark, from Carbondale who was planning on meeting up with us for a leg of the trip.  Since we were both moving targets, neither of us knew exactly where in Montana we would rondevous.   Amazingly, not knowing our exact location, late that night, Mark rode his motorcycle into town with camper and bike in tow, came to the EXACT town and   campground we were staying in.  He couldn’t get into the campground because they locked the gate at dark, so he camped at a campground several miles away.  How amazing is that?  Mark was able to sense not only the town, but even the exact campground we were in!  We connected with him the next morning, packed up, and rode south to a beautiful spot on the Blackfoot river.  We had an extravagant dinner and breakfast (Mark’s with us now!), then off to Garnet Ghost town via an unrelentingly steep road.  Garnet has been well-preserved as far as ghost towns go because several old codgers lived there into the 1960’s so very little vandalism occurred.  After a steep plunge from Garnet, we camped at Rattler Gulch, a tight canyon where a series of really vertical limestone fins tower a hundred feet above on both sides, some making the canyon less than 20 feet wide in spots.  WOW – what a campsite!  We met some climbers there that were nice enough to give us enough water for the night, since the creek was dried up and we were out of water!

We hopped on scenic backroads the next day, heading toward Phillipsburg, a cool town with a beautifully restored old turn-of-the-century main street.  Along the way, we stopped at a farm where a retired farmer had made a gallery of his incredible metal sculptures of animals, (our favorite being the mastadon) and he also did thought-provoking paintings depicting the great Montana landscape with a message about the environment and man’s impact upon it.  We talked to Bill and his wife about his work and our travels – what a pleasant and unexpected stop.  After Phillipsburg, it was on to Georgetown Lake, Oh, and UP yet another unrelenting pass, to a campsite on the lake. 

The next day was a breeze on the scenic hiway into Anaconda,  then on to Fairmont Hot Springs where we met Ralph’s sister and brother-in-law on their cross country camping trip.  We had a great time visiting, eating Bernie’s great cooking, enjoying the comforts of their 5th wheeler (actual chairs to dine in!) and soaking in the hot springs. 

The next 2 days we biked up and over the nearby mountains on gravel and ATV trails, some rolling, some whickedly steep, thru incredible high country to finally drop down to the tiny town of Wise River, arriving there at what Ralph calls deep dusk (others would call it pitch dark!) had an incredible steak dinner and a great night’s sleep at the Wise River Club!  We decided a night indoors would be good after waking up to ice on our water bottles that morning and a frozen Snikers bar in Pat’s pack!

We are now at Elkhorn Hot Springs, a funky old log lodge and hot springs in the Pioneer Mountains 35 miles south of Wise River.  We are taking a day or 2 off soaking in the hot springs, trying to loosen up those sore muscles.  Mark has endured his first week of Ralph’s boot camp and is relishing the down time! 

While here, we will be deciding the next leg of our journey, whether to do a tour of Montana hot springs, or head toward the Colorado high country before the snow flies – tough choices!                                                                                                      We’ll keep you posted ————–Ride On! ————– Ralph and Pat

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