Day 47 - Friday, July 20
Butte, Montana, day 6
6:45 a.m. 76 degrees & rising
Overcast, Storm clouds in North
Tire should arrive today
It's warmer in the morning than last night. With the clouds, this is not a good sign. I dress and head over to my local early morning breakfast haunt, McDonalds. I'm becoming a regular or more like this week's interesting diversion for the regulars: "The guy on a scooter, waiting for a tire." And there are regulars, about 20 of them. It's a universal group.
The tire arrives and is installed. I decide to ride out of town and not wait another night. I say goodbye to Matt at his shop and turn left onto Interstate-90. It's the only way to Anaconda and my route to Lolo Hot Springs.
As soon as I get on the interstate and have a view to the northwest I doubt my decision to go. A line of black clouds covers the mountain tops. Heavy black veils of rain pour down in the distant valleys. Bright flashes of lightening mix in with the rain, but it is so far away there is no thunder. There is blue sky in some sections. I decide to push on and see if I can break through the storm to better weather on the other side.
The new tire is rolling beautifully. I can feel the difference immediately. However, there is a problem. The engine is not producing much power. It is nearly dying on hills.
My goal, although I do not think I can make it before 7 p.m. my typical cutoff time for riding, is Lolo Hot Springs, Montana. It is on Route 12, the road I will take through the Idaho wilderness. Matt gave me a great route off the interstate at Anaconda. It's a large backwards S that will take me through Missoula and then onto Lolo. I assume I will stealth camp tonight.
Under a bridge on the interstate I put my full rain suit on. I drive mostly on the shoulder. Everyone is doing 80. It's posted for 70. Anaconda is 25 miles north of Butte. I arrive a little frazzled, but not too wet. I luckily threaded between storms.
I then follow Montana Route 1 west and north. Green and brown satin hills framed the broad farm valleys I motor through. I drive through the little western town of Philipsburg. Finally I arrive back at the interstate in Drummond. Given how poorly the engine is running, I decide to fill up on gas again. Sure enough, it was low. I am going through gas much faster than normal. I'll wait until tomorrow to do the numbers.
In Drummond I can rejoin the interstate for a 55 mile drive to Missoula or take a much more roundabout way. No way I'm getting back on the interstate. Montana hills and pastures, here I come. I ride north through a canyon that comes out into high plains, more farms. The canyon hill was murder on the bike, but up in the plain I have a tail wind and am making good time. The temperature is perfect. In time I connect with Route 141 and then a left onto Route 200 west that will take me into Missoula and then onto Lolo. On 200 I am buffeted by the winds that helped me earlier. I begin looking for a camp ground or a place to pull over and hide away for the night.
Route 200 parallels the Blackfoot River. Fishing is very popular and there is sign after sign for river access points. As I go up one long hill I see an access sign and in the distance, colorful tents. Fishermen have to sleep somewhere. I pull into a camp ground with only three tenters. I pick a spot off to the side and set up pretty quickly.
When I'm done, I walk over to the family closest to me. They are cyclists and have a young daughter named Sarah. We chitchat for a bit and I get directions down to the river. It looks and sounds very inviting.
There is a road I walk from our campground down into what becomes a campground for RVs. There are a bunch there. I assume these are the real fishing people. I walk around looking for access to the river. I can't find any, all the RVs are packed tightly together. I round a curve and see some people sitting in a large circle. I wave and walk toward them. As I get closer I see they are all women in their 30s & 40s, some younger & some older. There are about 25 of them.
Half have something to say as I walk up. It's a cacophony of voices. I scramble for something funny to say that is neither sexist or embarrassing. "A dream come true. I walk into the wilderness and come across a pasture of women." Okay, it was awkward. I almost said "herd of women" which would have been terrible.
The leader of the group took over and quizzed me. I went along with what she wanted and then she approached me from across the circle with a large aluminum tray. "Eat," she commanded. She was playing the role of Alice B. Toklas. Let me just say I spent a lot of time writing in my tent that night and woke up refreshed.