Redemption on the Lewis & Clark Trail

Make America Bike Again

Day 23 – The search for beauty continues. It didn’t take long to pack up and get on the road that morning. We left the pine covered hills behind in a long, easy downhill through pastures and farmland, and out into a wide expanse of brown prairie. That’s where the guys were waiting, their bikes lined up and leaning again the guardrail. Robert and I brought up the rear. He rode past them with a greeting, slowing and stopping on the shoulder, a little beyond the guardrail. He unfolded the clickstand, set the padded end against the earth, and let my weight balance at the crossbar into the braced open end. On any other day, it would have been ideal for me, a fully loaded touring bicycle, to stand upright. That day, however, was the beginning of the time warp.

Robert had been using that clickstand everyday since the start of the trip. But as he stepped away that morning, to lean against the guardrail and share a bite with the boys, a slight gust of wind hit me broadside. I started to rock, to lean toward the steep embankment. Robert rushed back, grabbing for the rear rack. The clickstand fell to the ground. Heads turned as I began to fall, rolling down the embankment in a perfect 360 spiral. Don roared with laughter. Frosty joined in. Good thing bicycle’s can’t feel embarrassment. Instead, I lean against the hillside, wheels slowing spinning as if they were searching for pavement.

It only took a few seconds for Robert and Gerry to reach me. By the handlebar and the rear frame, Robert pulled and Gerry pushed me back up onto the shoulder. We touring bicycles are a hardy bunch. Everything seemed to be working. Wanting very much to get going, Robert said goodbye, lifted one leg over the crossbar, and climbed onto my seat. He just wanted to get away and down the road, and leave the noise and laughter behind.

There were prairie fires ahead, a small town and at least one roadside cafe. Places to rest, refill water bottles, and wonder how far to the next city with a bicycle shop. The map indicated that there was camping at Mosby, a small place where the highway crossed the Musselshell River and few permanent residents.

 

This part of eastern Montana was one rolling hill after another. In our haste and near the top of one of them, my chain broke. We didn’t carry a chain tool or a replacement link. Robert put the pieces into a plastic bag, pushed me to the top of the hill, and put out his thumb…

It wasn’t long at all before a quintessential Montana rancher named Don stopped and picked us up. He had a pick up truck and a generous spirit and said that he would take us as far as Mosby that night. With a grin he said that in addition to being the mayor, he owned the whole town. A few miles later it was apparent that his town consisted of an asphalt pad, the RV that Don called his home, a well stocked tool shed, a warm shower, and a hardy patch of green grass. Don proudly asserted that his dream was to turn it into a bicycle hostel for passing cyclists. That’s where the boys caught up and camped. Don even loaned us his truck so that we could run to a MiniMart…down the road about 10 miles…for pizza and beer. It would be Robert’s goodbye party. Don was on his way to becoming an icon among trail angels.

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Closing on the Time Warp

Make America Bike Again

Day 22 – Eastern Montana awaits.

Followers of this trail diary know that the regular blogs began about half way into the journey, on day 24. Robert was taking pictures all along, making handwritten journal entries too. Creating a readable blog meant switching from laptop to smart phone and dealing with erratic cell phone service in Idaho and Montana.It was a steep learning curve for an aging cyclist, one who learned to write in an analog world. Since returning to Denver a few weeks ago, he has faithfully documented those early pages, starting from Pre-Launch and continuing to the present.ouroboros

The result is a trail journal that starts in the middle, reaches a possible ending, but comes back around to pick up what was left behind. An inefficient use of linear time? Definitely. Differing  perspectives aren’t necessarily in conflict. Not according to the wisdom of the Ouroboros; that ancient symbol for the fusion of opposites, continuous renewal, and the dual nature of life. It’s the way of the natural world. .

Day 22 was for traveling from Stanford, Montana to a wild camp just beyond Lewiston. Here are some pictures.

 

 

Pictured above is a 3d sculpture from the legend of Medusa in Greek Mythology. She was a Gorgon, a dreadful monster of the feminine persuasion, with the power to turn anyone into stone, if they looked into her eyes. Maybe that’s why Robert has his back turned to her in the picture above.

In any event, we were dealing with the Local Gods in this section of Montana. By the end of that day, they were definitely exerting their influence. At the end of the day and right at the top of a long hill, the place where we planned to camp in order to start the morning with a long downhill run, my front tire went flat.

 

 

 

 

 

How Safe Is It?

Make America Bike Again – Day 21

Rush hour on Friday afternoon was probably not the best time to be riding a bicycle down the main street in Great Falls. The city’s downtown commercial center hadn’t aged well. Population was on the decline. Parking spaces that once lined both sides of the road were gone. Gone to accommodate more lanes for cars and traffic. Today there were four lanes filled with cars and trucks, a couple feet of shoulder and a high curb. A motorist probably wouldn’t even notice that kind of detail. A bicyclist would.

There were just a couple more blocks to go. Then Robert would turn right and be off the main drag. A horn sounded behind him. The engine accelerated and started to pass. Directly ahead a sewer grate lay embedded into the shoulder. The driver of the car wouldn’t even notice. Robert noticed. His hands gripped hard on the brake levers and the handlebars as my front tire, a Schwalbe Marathon, dropped from the pavement to the sewer grate with a thump. But that was nothing compared to the impact that rocked the bike when we hit several inches of asphalt ledge on the grate’s other side.

Coming into Great Falls that afternoon, Robert was several hours ahead of the boys. He went straight for the Missouri River and a grassy park on the eastern shore. There were Canadian geese, white pelicans, and cormorants on the water. Children played in a municipal swimming pool on the far side. I needed a bicycle shop. Robert wanted to find a sporting goods store. Great Falls had several of each to choose from. But first, we needed a place to camp. He tried texting the guys. No response.

It was getting late. Dick’s RV Campground had space for tent camping, and a laundry, showers, and internet connection. It would turn out that Bill and Ed and their Honda Goldwings were already there. Both men were traveling the country, including Alaska, from their homes in Florida. Ed was a gregarious man. He came over offering a can of beer as Robert set up the tent, proudly announcing that in his travels he had never met a stranger, just people he hadn’t yet met. When he wasn’t riding his motorcycle, he was a voracious reader, one who preferred hardbacks. It was alot of common ground. Robert had to introduce him to his latest book, Icarus and the Wing Builder.

While they talked, Gerry got in touch by cellphone. The boys minus Robert and Frank were downtown, having dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, a national chain restaurant with a recognized brand and mediocre food. The campground was out on the edge of town. But, the panniers were off the bike and inside the tent, holding it down. Without their weight, pedaling the few miles to the restaurant would feel like flying. That’s how Robert found himself on Central Street at rush hour in Great Falls, surrounded by strangers in their cars and trucks.

When the front tire impacted the edge of the pothole, my forward momentum just died and I dropped towards the asphalt. Robert landed on the sidewalk, taking the impact on his right side. It all happened so fast. He wore a helmet, a polyester long-sleeved bicycle shirt, and gloves. I could hear him angrily cursing at the driver, the one who continued down the road without stopping. Robert was already on his feet, road rash on his forearm and a torn bicycle shirt. Cars behind us were already stopping, asking if we needed help. He bent down to pick me up off the street and stand me upside down on the sidewalk.

We never made it to Buffalo Wild Wings that night. I had a broken spoke on the rear wheel and a tear on the sidewall of my front tire. It was so much easier just to ride back to the RV campsite, a shower, and a hot meal.

So: How safe is this bicycle touring?

Answer: For an older cyclist, if the rider is reasonably fit with sound heart and lungs, then bicycle touring is about as safe as recreational skiing.

Even the best skiers fall sometimes. Usually, they’re having fun. Skiers pick themselves up after a fall and keep right on skiing. It’s the same for bicyclists. Even the most experienced cyclists fall. On this journey, we’ve been making 40, 50, and even 60 miles per day. And, having fun. After a fall you pick yourself back up, fix whatever needs to be fixed, and return to the journey. That’s what Robert did. He skinned his elbow. Got a bruise and a good story to tell. Our six week journey would eventually cover more than 2,000 miles. The fall in Great Falls was the only serious one;-)

Be safe. Put away the car keys. Rediscover the bicycle.

MAKE AMERICA BIKE AGAIN!!!

 

 

What If?

Make America Bike Again – Day 20

Great Falls, Montana is a natural place to rest for a while and smell the roses. Lewis & Clark , Sacagawea, the 45 volunteers that accompanied them from St. Louis, and the three large boats carrying their gear, all stopped there. Geology and a series of waterfalls determined that the party would go no further up the Missouri River in their quest to reach the Pacific Ocean from St. Louis. They stopped to reflect on their choices, adapt, and change their mode of travel. The area became known as Great Falls, because of this piece of history.

 

That was two hundred years ago. The land was without roads or railroad tracks, and abundantly populated with Native Americans and buffalo…About one hundred years after that, a dam and power plant were constructed across one of these water falls by a business consortium to create electricity for a fledgling city, and in hopes of attracting a railroad into the area. Today, the City of Great Falls boasts an international airport, a railroad, and an interstate highway filled with air-conditioned RV’s and trucks. Today, the City of Great Falls is replete with bicycle paths lining both sides of the river. The Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail follows the route of these early explorers and passes through the heart of the city. According to Wikipedia and US census data, the human population of Great Falls peaked after World War II at about 60,000 residents. It has been declining ever since. Whether these points of historical interest are judged good or bad, I leave to each individual reader to decide.

There are better questions, such as: Where does the City of Great Falls and the State of Montana go from here?

The jobs once created by the copper industry in Great Falls are gone. Most of the remaining ones are supplied by the military, government, and the railroad. These employers are fully staffed and budgeted. Where can the young people of Great Falls look in order to feel hope for the future? Here are my ideas and suggestions:

  1. Although the dam and its electrical power were once essential for Great Falls to grow and thrive, that is no longer the case. The dam are its technology are old. They have aged in place while other sources of renewable power have become available and cost effective. The dam across the Missouri River at Great Falls is no longer essential. Nor is it the highest and best use of the river.

2. The highest and best use of the site is to remove the dam and restore the falls to their original condition. These steps, properly marketed, could bring national and even worldwide attention to the city, the state, and the upper reaches of the Missouri River as tourist destinations.

3. Montanans should recognize the importance of bicycle tourism to their state, particularly along the Lewis & Clark and TransAmericaTrails with bicycle friendly shoulders and improved state park facilities.

Forest Fires

Make America Bike Again – Day 19

Those aren’t clouds on the horizon. That’s smoke from last July’s forest fire in the Flathead National Forest of western Montana. Fire crews are already on the seen. And how do two local entrepreneurs respond? Did they get all caught up in the drama of having a forest fire in the neighborhood?

I think that they coped with the situation quite well. Here, are a couple of committed merchants making the best of the situation and set up just off the highway. The sign says, “Lemonade for Sale.” When we first met them they were waiting for the next car to come along. They had no difficulty focusing their attention on a passing tourist riding a bicycle. To add some zest to the story, while Robert was talking with the girls a passing motorist pulled up and bought two lemonades; one for the driver and one for Robert. Another trail angel gets its wings.

As you can see, the fires are visible from the highway and burning right behind these houses near Lincoln, Montana.

We are approaching the continental divide. Decker Pass is just a few miles down the highway. Those are the last mountains that we will see on this trip. From there it will be high plains and eastward flowing rivers. Tomorrow, we reach Great Falls, Montana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bicyclist Friendly

Make America Bike Again – Day 18

Context is important. The “Bicyclist Friendly” sign is posted on the wooden post of stop sign that marks the turnoff onto a dirt road on a remote stretch of Montana State Highway 200, somewhere in between Helena, Missoula, and Great Falls. It’s rather small and has to compete with other, more imposing ones highlighting the dirt road that leads to the town of Ovanda, Montana, population about 50.

The town itself is barely visible from the road. The passing traveler needs some motivation, a reason, to make that turn and come in off the highway. The signs do the job and the town’s engaging merchants do the rest. One informed us that over 1,000 cyclists come into town every summer. It’s right on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail. Over the last several decades this bicycle route has gained notoriety as the classic route across this continent. For touring cyclists it can be a summer odyssey.

IMG_1411The signage by the roadside was more than enough to lure the boys off the highway for a second breakfast at the “Stray Bullet Cafe.” Good food, lots of coffee, and charm. The hostess boasted that three generations of family were at work that day. And, the place was packed.

 

 

 

Grateful in Montana

Make America Bike Again – Day 17

Lolo Pass was behind us. The land began to change. We were losing elevation, moving from mountains into high plains. IMG_1400We lost an hour, moving from the Pacific Time Zone into Mountain. We regained cell phone service. And, caught up with Frank! He was staying at a motel in Missoula, and close to all amenities a city has to offer. It was a great place for a wandering band of gypsies to reconnect. A good place to catch up on laundry, bicycle maintenance, and resupply.  It was also the right place for the sadness of our last dinner together as five.

Next morning we met up at the Adventure Cycling office space in downtown Missoula. This is a must see and do for the touring cyclist and bicycle. The office staff is professional, welcoming, and knowledgeable. There’s a scale out back to weigh the fully loaded bicycle. I topped out at 98 lbs. There are tools and a secure work space for the do-it-yourself bicycle mechanic. A large bulletin board to record this year’s catch of touring cyclists that pass through their doors. And, a business office for cyclists wanting to catch up with the outside world.

Robert rotated my tires and bought a set of maps for the rest of the journey. Frank was there boxing up his bicycle. He was shipping it back to his home in California, all except for the broken front rack. There were tearful farewells and Frank was gone, returning to the motel and his flight back home. The band of gypsies, now four, would pedal north toward Great Falls.

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We camped that night, next to Montana’s Clearwater River. Here’s a picture of the early morning mist rising on Day 18.