Day 38: Jordan, Montana to Circle, Montana

After packing up, I stopped at the local gas station/convenience store for breakfast. I picked up a turkey sandwich and blueberry muffin for later. The women at the cash register warned me that I had road construction coming up.

Sure enough, ten miles of construction.

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When traveling by bicycle that are two approaches to take under these circumstances. First, if it doesn’t look too tough, ride into it and hope for the best. Unfortunately, the first mile or two can be decent and then deteriorate into a living hell of mud and sand or rocks.

Secondly, if it looks bad from the start, one can avoid getting into it at all and just put out your thumb and hope to hitch a ride with some kind person with a pickup truck or car with a bike rack.

The road looked challenging, but not too bad, so I charged in. It was tiring, riding on soft dirt takes the fight out of a bicyclist, but I made it. I was just happy it wasn’t too wet or muddy.

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There is absolutely nothing between Jordan and Circle, Montana. It is wide open spaces in all directions. There is a state road rest stop at about 35 miles (56 km). I stopped, I needed to rest a bit. While I munched on a snack, my blueberry muffin, a couple pulled in on a big Indian motorcycle, much like the one I had seen at the border entering Montana. They were traveling all over the western states and seemed to be having a great time.

I warned them to be careful, just two days before and about a 100 miles (161 km) west of the rest stop, two people from Illinois died when they collided with a deer while riding their motorcycle. There seem to be a rather large number of vehicle/animal collisions in Montana. Everybody seems to be traveling at 80/90 mph (130/145 km/hr) so there isn’t much room for error.

After I left the couple, I rode along for a few miles and then the Indian couple flew by and waved. I find that even though I am on a bicycle there is a certain camaraderie among those that travel by two wheels. We all face the same dangers and vulnerabilities: animals, slippery oil, pot holes, very little protection in a crash, weather and so on. Most of the motorcyclists that pass wave.

After about ten more miles, my bottom was getting tired and it was time for lunch. I spied a tree with shade, near a bridge. It was hot and I needed a well-deserved break. I leaned the bicycle against the barrier on the bridge and went down by the tree, took out my turkey sandwich I had purchased that morning and had a fine picnic lunch. I had to carry something because for that 67-mile (108-km) stretch there are no stores of any sort.

After eating, I laid on my yellow foam sleeping mat and took a nap. I was rudely awakened about twenty minutes later by a drenching rain. It came up so quickly it caught me off guard. The sun was still shining. I grabbed my glasses, mat, helmet, gloves and trash and ran up the embankment and rolled the bike down the embankment and under the bridge. This bridge, unlike most, didn’t have any barbed wire fence in the way. Many have a fence to keep cattle from go under the bridge.

I leaned the bike against an abutment and took stock of my situation. I was soaked to the skin, even though I had only been in the storm for maybe a minute or two. The water was frigid and I was shivering, hypothermia was not out of the question.

I quickly put up the tent and crawled into it. The wind was getting fierce and I could hear cattle for miles around complaining about the storm with their bellows. I covered myself with my dry rain jacket that had been folded up on the bike and went to sleep for a while. I warmed and dried quickly. The sun came out again and I had placed the tent so it would capture the sun when it returned.

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My tent under the bridge to hide from the storm. The sun came out and the storm blew away as quickly as it arrived.

After about an hour, there was no sign of the storm. Cattle were grazing, I was dry and warm and the world was right again. How quickly things can change on the prairie.

I looked around under the bridge as I was putting the tent away. There were strange animal droppings, it wasn’t from cattle or deer. Upon close inspection, I realized it was very large cat droppings. Then, I looked around on a sandy shelf that was above where the tent was and it was covered in tracks, cat tracks, big cat tracks! I couldn’t get out of there quickly enough. I imagined the “cat” coming in to get out of the storm. There would have been a disagreement over turf. It would have been interesting.

When I arrived in Circle I was really hungry. The family diner was open, so I had a hamburger steak and a ton of lemonade. I asked about accommodations and was told the motel was down the road. I was ready to go indoors after my day. It wasn’t to be. There was a county fair going on and everything was taken.

I drifted around town looking at campgrounds and none looked inviting. While I was stopped in front of the VFW Hall a woman came out and I asked her where the town park was. She pointed down the hill and told me I could camp there, even though there was a sign that said “No overnight camping.” She said, “You’re a veteran, you go camp there, nobody will bother you.” That was good to know.

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My Circle, Montana campsite, the next morning.

There was no need to put up a tent, there were covered picnic areas and they even had power outlets. After a few minutes of setup, I was out. As I drifted off to sleep, there was a beautiful moon rise.

Author: Dennis Blanchard

Dennis Blanchard was born in Bristol, Connecticut. He and his wife Jane moved to New Hampshire in 1980 where he has climbed thirty 4000-foot mountains, biked the trails and enjoyed the wilderness. Never living very far from the Appalachian Trail, Dennis was always aware of the seductive siren’s call to hike it. Dennis is an electronics engineer who has freelanced for amateur radio, technical and motorcycle adventure magazines. He now lives in Sarasota, Florida.

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