Day 39: Circle, Montana to Glendive, Montana

 

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Standard restaurant fare for breakfast is eggs, ham or bacon, and hashbrowns. I’ve found that many gas stations have what I really crave for breakfast.

After packing up at the town park, I stopped at the local gas station/convenience store for some breakfast. I found some Cheerios and milk and was very happy. I picked up a blueberry muffin for later.

On the maps, the day didn’t look too challenging and it wasn’t too bad. The weather cooperated and I arrived in Glendive in mid-afternoon. The ride from Circle was one of the better rides of the trip. After an initial climb out of town, it was an, almost, thirty-mile downhill run into Glendive. That was a refreshing change.

I had made arrangements for a WarmShowers.org stay. The host couldn’t have me stay at her home because she had family staying for the weekend, but she was fixing up another home in another part of town and I could stay there.

A fellow I had met that morning, Marcus, from Switzerland, was also staying there and was ahead of me. The accommodations were Spartan. There was no furniture in the house at all, but the floor was carpeted and we had lots of room to set up camp and keep our bikes indoors.

The following story needs to be prefaced by an incident that happened a few days previously. At a gas station/convenience store, the school bus went by and dropped off a few students for pickup. They came into the store and all three students went and picked out an ice cream bar. The fellow at the counter said,”Okay guys, let’s see, that’s a dollar thirty, a dollar thirty and a dollar thirty. Sooooo, how much is that guys?”

The kids ranged from about 10 to 14 years old. There were stunned faces, all contorted, trying to do the math (arithmetic?). The youngest guessed, “Two dollars, ten cents.” The next oldest yelled, “No dummy, its Three-ten.” Finally, after an interminable amount of time the oldest guessed, “it might be Three ninety.” It might be, he wasn’t positive

I went down to a small, Glendive, restaurant. The place wasn’t too busy and I figured I’d get a quick lunch. The server seemed a bit distant, but I placed my order. The price came up to$9.18. This may seem trivial, but most hikers/bikers don’t like to carry pocket change. Coins are heavy, so we’re always taking every opportunity to get rid of change.

I gave my server a ten dollar bill and three pennies. I figured I could avoid picking up more pennies by getting a dime, a nickle and three quarters–instead of two pennies, a nickel and three quarters. Plus, dimes weigh less than pennies.

The look on the server’s face was priceless. I could see the shock all over her expression. Her mind was racing. It was obvious she had no clue how to deal with making this change. This moment took her back to all those years she spent in the third grade.

This problem took the server back to those days with Sister Mary Hang-em-high. The nun would throw problems out like this and challenge this poor girl constantly. She never got the answer correct. Questions, such as: “If a train leaves town at 10:23 in the morning, and arrives in Duluth at 14:52, now long did it take?” were just daunting. Our poor server would always answer, “Duh! We don’t have a train to Duluth.” The sister would just shake her head.

Now, here was this old bicyclist bringing back all these bad memories. All those years spent in the third grade, dreaming of one day working at WalMart until she got too big for those third-grade chairs. It never happened because Sister Mary Hang-em-High was always asking silly questions about how many pennies it would take to do something. Who cares? Who invented pennies anyway?

Now she was faced with a dilemma. What to do? She could take her best guess at this, but that might not be good enough. She was new to the job and didn’t want the manager to know she never had the correct answer to the penny question, so she had to think quickly.

As I stood there I could see the gears whirring, maybe “whirring” is too strong, how about “meshing?” Then, she hit upon the solution: “I’ll just give the guy enough money so he won’t complain he was short changed.” A complaining customer would be bad.

She reached into the cash drawer and whipped out a dollar bill, four pennies (might as well get rid of them!), two nickles and three dimes.

She handed all of this to me and I’m guessing the puzzled look on my face mortified her. I could tell she was wondering if it was enough. She looked ready to dump all the money in the drawer into my hands. She was thinking, “Will that be enough? Should I hit the ATM?”

Calmly, I started to explain to her how to deal with this. First, I had her put all the cash back. Then, I started, “Let’s pretend that I’m starting to pay for the order by just paying for part of it, just the three pennies. Take away the three pennies and now the bill is $9.15.” I got the same look that the nun, no doubt, received years before, a blank stare. I could see her thinking, “Yeah, Sister Mary Hang-em-High was always trying to trick me with those pennies too, and now I get this fruitcake.”

I finally gave up and just told her to give me eight-five cents and it will all be fine. I’m sure that one day she will finally land that dream job at WalMart and they will have the cash registers that tell the server how much change to give back, but it won’t tell her how long the train took to get to Duluth.

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.

Day 37: Winnett, Montana to Jordan, Montana

77 Miles (124 km) for the day, for 1498 (2411 km) total trip miles. I like the metric system, it sounds more impressive.

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Montana is one of the premier locations for finding all sorts of fossils. Here is a sign, at a rest stop, describing some of the local finds.

The morning started with a fierce thunderstorm about 06:00 am. I rolled over and went back to sleep. I don’t ride in lightning. Period.

Finally, the storm blew away and then I stopped at the diner for a light breakfast and headed east. There were two choices for destinations for the day, Sand Springs, or Jordan, Montana. I figured, with the late start at 10:00 am, I would certainly end up at Sand Springs, 44 miles (71 km), Jordan in 77 miles.

I’m noticing an improvement in the terrain. I’m still struggling with roller-coaster plains, but the climbs are getting more gentle. I’m downshifting less and using higher gears to climb. I’m also getting some tailwinds, once in a while.

The day was cool and mostly cloudy. I could see a rain storm following me about 30 miles (50 km) behind. When I reached Sand Springs it was little more than a gas station with a few food items. I quickly grabbed a frozen cheeseburger and cooked it in the microwave and downed a Pepsi and hit the road. I really didn’t want to spend the night at a gas station with no real food to be had. I will say, the folks working there were really nice and I enjoyed my short stay with them.

I had about three and a half hours until sunset and had 32 miles (53 km) to cover. I hustled. I rode into Jordan about a half-hour before sunset. Not too shabby a performance for a 69-year-old codger with an 85-pound bike.

The cafe coming into town was the first place I stopped, I was starved. I had a fish sandwich and salad and tried to connect to the WiFi there, but nobody knew the password. Of course, there was no T-Mobile service, so I had no way to let Jane know I had made it. The gal waiting on me offered her phone (AT&T of course) so I called Jane on it. I helped her out with a technical issue she was solving and then returned the phone to its owner.

The world's longest plunger handle?
The world’s longest plunger handle?

Next, I headed down the hill, grabbed a motel room and called it a night.

Day 36: Lewistown, Montana to Winnett, Montana

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Those items on the left are snowplows that mount on the front of locomotives. They’re about 12 feet (4 m) tall. I can’t imagine how much snow it takes for a plow like that.

I wimped out again today, only 57 miles(92 km), for a trip total of 1420 miles (2285 km). I left my Warmshowers.org host, “Brian,” at an early hour, around 07:00 to a sunshine filled morning. I rode down the hill into town and stopped at a coffee shop. The shop had a bunch of fans running in the door, trying to cool the dining room down as much as possible…their air-conditioning was on the blink and wouldn’t be repaired soon.

I had a fine cup of hot tea and a raisin bagel. I’ve found that I’d rather go light on breakfast, the “hearty” breakfast of eggs, bacon, homefries, and all the other things that they throw in, really kill any desire to get out and pedal. I just want to take a nap.

Further down the road, I stopped at a convenience store to pick up my daily ration of Gatorade; I’m using about two quarts a day. The owner was outside having a smoke and we talked for a while. He was complaining about the government, a popular theme in this area of the world. His complaint was that he was going to have to pay $300,000 in capital gains taxes this year. A few weeks back, in Lolo, MT, I talked with a casino owner and he was complaining about the government and how he had to pay $500,000 this year. I didn’t say anything to burst their bubble, but they should be thankful that they live in a country that they have to pay that much tax. Imagine how much money they are making! Poor people don’t pay those sorts of taxes, I wish I had to pay taxes like that. Then again, maybe I would just be a whiner too.

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For over 1400 miles now the cattle have been keeping a wary eye on me.They look ready to stampede at any second.

After an initial 9 mile (14 km) climb out of Lewistown, there was a glorious 20 mile (32 km) downhill ride. I was making really good time and then the sun came out in full force. I wilted and my forward progress became a struggle.

By the time I came to the road that turns off to Winnett, Montana, I was done. I went and looked at the George Ore Memorial Park, as shown on Google Maps and it was very uninviting. It was just an empty field. I opted for the only motel in town, it was just too hot to set up a tent in that open field. I found out later that the Google Map tool is incorrect, the park is at the other end of town (which is only about a third of a mile away).

It was so hot that I was thrilled to have a room and air conditioning. Later, I went to the Kozy Korner Cafe for lemonade and food. It was a simple menu, but the food was good and the lemonade exceptional. The owner’s daughter, Shelby, (12 years old?) waited on me and did a fine job. It was only mid-afternoon, so I went back to the room and took a rare nap.

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The Winnett courthouse suffered severe damage in the June 2016 hailstorm.

In early June of this year, a huge hailstorm tore through Montana. Winnett suffered lots of crop damage and building damage. They’re still putting things back together. I stopped and took a photo of the new courthouse and police station. The windows on the second floor are boarded over and the first floor still has broken glass. They had winds of 99 mph (159 km/h).

 

Later, after having cooled off, I returned to the cafe for a proper meal and met some local folks. We talked for far too long, so long that I didn’t go back to the room and put up a wire and operate my ham radio. My ham friends will be in revolt if I don’t show up on the air again soon. Besides, carrying all that equipment is difficult, I need to justify carrying it.

As usual, I drifted off to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Day 35: Denton, Montana to Lewistown, Montana

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It is hard to beat the scenery here in Montana. Square Butte followed me for miles.

At every turn, I’m seeing things that, well, I’ll never see in Florida. Real eye candy.

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Hay, or alfalfa, rolled up and ready to go. This keeps reminding me that winter is coming and I need to beat it to New England.

Today’s ride is about 45 miles and there is just one major climb. As usual, I’m optimistic that I should make it to town (Lewistown) in plenty of time and, for a change, I do. I enjoy the scenery along the way and snap lots of photos.

I’m disappointed in the camera in the phone I’m using. For reasons unexplained, it will store the photo upside down, or mirror image. Had I known this before the trip, I would have gotten something else. It is an LG LK7 and leaves me frustrated with photos that I cannot load up to the blog, for some other reason, they just won’t load. This means that you folks are missing out on some interesting photos that I just can’t post.

Even though the ride was short today, it was hot. I arrived in Lewistown with just a few drops of water left and all of my Gatorade consumed. Even for this Floridian of fourteen years, it is hot.

I arranged with a WarmShowers.org member to stay at their place, but that wouldn’t be in until late in the day; some people have jobs, a concept I have pretty much forgotten about. I needed to do a few things while in town, so after filling up on cold drinks, I went looking for things. First on the list was another soldering iron, I needed to fix my ham radio antenna tuner again. The local True Value store had one for $20, so I decided to wait and see if my WarmShowers.org host might have one. We’ll call my host “Brian.”

I then hunted around for a bike shop. My shifting was getting bad and I don’t have the tools I have at home, so I figured, let the experts do it. More importantly, I discovered this morning, in my daily inspection of the bike, that I was missing a very important bolt that holds the handlebars to the front wheel. There are two, and if loose, the wheel could turn in any direction on its own. I imagined flying down a hill at speed and hitting a small rock and the wheel turning!

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This bolt in the center of the photo had gone missing.

I found High Plains Bike and Ski on 10th Street. (406)538-2902 He is only open a few hours a day, and on specific days. I was lucky, he was going to open at 4 pm, so I parked in front of his place, laid on some shady grass and went to sleep. A vehicle pulled up 20 minutes later and Mark, the owner, invited me in. He did some quick adjustments, replaced the bolt and did it all so quickly I didn’t realize he was already done. For a few bucks, I was ready to go.

The best part is Mark really knows his machines. He looked at the paint on my top tube of the bike, the one that runs from the seat to the handlebars and warned me to keep an eye on it. The machine has about 54000 miles on it and all that sweating over the years has etched off the paint and is causing corrosion on the tube. He instructed me to get a razor blade and peel off the paint and take a closer look to be certain the tube isn’t forming cracks. I will. For the moment, it does seem okay.

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Corrosion on the top tube.

One more thing to think about as I ride along.

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Mark isn’t looking for more business, he seems to have enough customers, but if you’re in town and in trouble, look for his shop.

I left Mark’s shop and met with my WarmShowers.org host, “Brian.” Brian had been working on a car that he just got a good deal on. A few days ago, a friend collided with a deer. The hood was damaged, and the deer flew over the top of the car and crashed through the rear window and into the back seat. The owner considered the car totaled and sold it to “Brian” for a very reasonable price. “Brian,” and a friend replaced the rear window with an opaque material and duct tape and he is hunting for a good hood. Otherwise, the car is in great shape, the deer, not so much.

“Brian,” and I met at the local Chinese restaurant and ate to our heart’s content. We then went to his father-in-law’s and borrowed a soldering iron. My day was coming together.

We went to “Brian’s” place and he showed me to a couch in the basement which would be my “room” for the night. He introduced me to “Cricket,” a young cat that he has. I told him I like cats and he didn’t have to keep her upstairs, she would be fine in the basement overnight.

I settled in, had a hot shower and soldered my antenna tuner. The WiFi connection in the basement was hopeless, so I hit the hay. The couch is in a bicycle storage area so there are bikes everywhere, including a few hanging directly over the couch. When standing I had to avoid hitting my head.

When I went to sleep, “Cricket,” decided to go to sleep at my feet. All was well. I was warm, dry, comfortable, and had a cat sleeping at my feet.

At about 03:05 am I recall that the cat had moved up and was now sleeping on my butt. She isn’t fully grown and wasn’t very heavy. All that Chinese food was having a reaction and suddenly my butt felt like Mt. St. Helens. In the pitch dark, there was a mighty blast of hot air. Cats can be very reactionary and this one was no exception. The sudden loud noise scared the living daylights out of her and she launched…straight up. With a terrified scream, she crashed into the bikes hanging overhead. I then heard her clattering around and scrambling to escape. I was laughing so hard I thought I peed myself.

I got up, came back to bed and went back to sleep, the cat was nowhere to be seen. In the pitch dark, about a half-hour later, she quietly returned and went to sleep by my feet. She is a quick study.

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Cricket

In the morning I packed up, said goodbye to Cricket and “Brian,” and headed off out of town. I was still chuckling about the cat. “Brian” is one of those folks that likes to be prepared should anarchy ensue and the world as we know it ends. He stockpiles water, rice and beans, lots of dried beans. Should the world devolve into anarchy I might warn Cricket that with all those beans, she might want to carefully consider where she sleeps.

Day 34: Fort Benton to Denton, Montana

Today I was facing two big climbs, one early in the day and one  towards the later part of the day. I stopped at the Wake Cup cafe and it was a wonderful place. Their brews—both coffee and tea—are top notch as was the breakfast. With a name like “Wake Cup,” they could cater funerals as well.

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If in Ft. Benton, do check out the Wake Cup.

While having my breakfast, I started chatting with two gents in there from Alberta Canada. They were about my age and their hobby was collecting old tractors and the like. They drive around the countryside looking for old, rusting, tractors and farm implements and add them to their collections. Outside, their very large truck and trailer had an assortment of rusty iron already collected.

I could just see me calling Jane to tell her that, “Hey, Honey, I’ve found a new hobby! I want to collect old tractors and maybe some steam engines. Wouldn’t that be cool? What’s that honey, something about filing papers in the morning?”

Before I could get in any trouble, we parted ways.

I headed out from Fort Benton to an immediate climb and within three miles had removed all of my warm clothes. It was going to be a hot day.

I worked my way to Geraldine, Montana. In the cafe there, I sucked down three large lemonades in record time and hardly noticed. The heat here on these plains can be so oppressive and you just evaporate your liquids. I went outside to make a WiFi call to Jane and then talked with an older fellow on the porch for a while. He is a farrier, a fellow that does horseshoes. He had been kicked that morning and decided he would wait a few hours before going back to work on the horse again. I can’t blame him. The horse was probably just upset about the heat too.

Late in the day, I rode into Denton. My map information listed the town park as a possible place to camp. After some chow, I found the park. It was nearing sunset. There was nobody around and the restrooms were locked up and the swimming pool was being rebuilt, so all the water there was turned off. I saw a church behind the park and found a water tap on the side of the building, filled my water bottles and went back.

The Boy Scouts had, as a project, built a covered picnic area, so I put my bike in there, spread my sleeping bag out on a concrete picnic table and went off to sleep. Believe it or not, I slept well.

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My concrete sleeping pad.

 

Day 33: Great Falls, Montana to Fort Benton, Montana

59,07 Miles for the day, 1255 miles total. One of the aspects of being on such an adventure is seeing things that one would not normally see. Parked outside of the breakfast restaurant was a 1977 Cutlass Electric Transformer automobile. They only made a very limited number of them and to see on the road is a very rare event indeed. It only had something like an 80 mile range and the owner doesn’t take it very far, mostly outings on a nice day.

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A rare seventies American made electric car.

 

The ride out of Great Falls, MT, was eye candy. The route followed a bike trail that parallels the Missouri River. There are supposed to be five falls along the river, but my route only took me by one dam.

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Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea were all trying to tell me I was going the wrong way.

There was one point where the trail went under an underpass tunnel and I missed a turn and rode on for another mile. Once I realized my error, I doubled back. I then missed another turn and started down the road that runs in front of the Malmstrom Air Force Base. I decided to follow it as it meets up with the intended route. Along the way I stopped to use my bank card at an ATM and it was declined.

The lamination on the card was coming apart, so I begged some adhesive tape at another ATM and was able to get it to work. Now I await a new card.

The terrain is changing dramatically. Gone are the green mountain forests that I have been riding through. They have been replaced with fields of wheat and oats that go off to the horizon. The roads are straighter and the climbs and descents are less dramatic. The heat is also increasing, gone are the cool nights. I’m entering the high plains of the mid-west.

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I have been seeing these rather lethal looking plants along the way, I certainly wouldn’t want to fall on them.

The day’s ride was long, hot and when I arrived at Fort Denton, I called it a day. I was just spent with the heat on the prairie.

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In Fort Denton, Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea were still trying to help me find my way. Now Sacagawea has her son along.

I roamed around the town for a while, found food and talked to a few nice ladies in front of the hotel. They advised me on accommodations and I went to check out the town park. I couldn’t figure out the sprinkler schedule they had posted, so I went to the private campground, the Benton RV Park in town and set up there. The showers and the WiFi were excellent. The town park was free, but had neither. After setting up my tent a fierce wind storm blew up, so I ran for cover in the bathrooms and worked on the WiFi connection from there until it ended. The tent survived undamaged.

The campground was loaded with rabbits and I was fearful they would try to chew their way into the tent to see if I had any interesting food. Some of the other campers complained that the rabbits would come right into their tent if they left them open. Later, a cat showed up and the rabbits all magically disappeared.

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Monty Python warned us about rabbits.

The air got dramatically cooler and I went to bed.

Day 32: Zero day in Great Falls, Montana

Day 2 in Great Falls:

I awoke to another morning of sunshine. I did get up during the night to take a look at the Perseid meteor shower, but it seemed about average, so I went right back to sleep. My body demanded rest.

After going out for breakfast, it was time to go look for a new sleeping bag. My current one has a lot of use and the stuffing, down, is getting pretty flimsy. Jane suggested that I replace it with something that we can share body heat with when we hike together. She likes things warm and I like them cool, so I should share my heat. Makes sense to me.

I went to the local outfitters in Great Falls but was sadly disappointed. They didn’t even have sleeping bags or much for camping at that. They had every conceivable type of ammunition and weapon that you could imagine, but no real “outfitter” equipment. I have fallen into this trap before. There are two views of what an outfitter is:

  1. An outfitter for outdoor life, such as camping, cooking, and in general, living with what you can carry on your back or bicycle.
  2. An outfitter for hunting, which means weapons, ammunition, knives, scents to attract game and maybe fishing gear. Most of this equipment is hauled around in a big pickup truck, all much too heavy to carry around, even for Lewis and Clark. Some of the stoves weigh more than my bike and gear.

It would be really helpful if they had two different names to describe the business model. How about “Gearfitter,” vs. “Outfitter.” Or maybe “Huntfitter?”

Failing to solve that problem, I suggested to Jane that she go to our local outfitter for hiking gear in Sarasota and find what she likes and then purchase the one that will fit me and send it to me. We’re planning a hike in Italy at some point and that should solve that problem as well.

Next, I loaded up my ham radio equipment and went down the road to the local park. I found an empty plastic water bottle, partially filled it and tossed my antenna wire almost fifty feet (fifteen meters) up into a tree. It managed to get partially tangled and I figured I might have trouble getting it down, but I’d worry about that later.

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Radio station on a park concrete picnic table. The pink device is a roller I keep the antenna wire and string on. The white thing on the left is headphones. The black thing in the box is a Yaesu FT-817ND ham radio. The computer is a Samsung Chromebook, running Linux. The yellow box on the right is a heavy duty carrying case for delicate things.

With everything hooked up and ready to go, I tried to tune the antenna system to the band I wanted to operate on, twenty meters. The antenna wouldn’t tune. Back in Missoula, I had help making a cable that I had lost and the new cable appeared to not work. It turns out the cable was fine, but the jack that it plugs into was slightly damaged when I Jerry-rigged something to make it work. The new cable wouldn’t contact the old jack, it was as if the antenna wasn’t attached.

I took the tuner apart and with an alligator clip, I bypassed the connector and made things work.

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The tuner all apart with an alligator clip to connect the antenna. Life in the field.

After wasting all that time I finally communicated with stations in Indiana, California, Michigan and Illinois. I like to chat once I connect with someone and I had some fine chats. I was using a digital mode that is much like a chat room on the Internet, but instead of over cables, the communications is point-to-point, via the computer and radio. Thanks to radio stations W9SMR/9, NO8R, N6YFM, K9DEB and KC9UR for bearing with me.

After about four hours it was time to put it away and go eat. I tugged on the antenna wire to get it down from the tree. It was firmly caught. Tugging on it attracted a squirrel and it came over to see what was going on. I waited until it was really close and then gave a strong tug. I thought the squirrel was going to jump out of its skin. It did a perfect ten-point back-flip and then landed on the limb and scampered away. I couldn’t help laughing. Amazingly, the bottle pulled free and dropped to the ground. Usually, I lose a piece of wire and some string in these circumstances.

I brought everything back to the motel, put the batteries on charge, and went out for pizza. Now it is time to pre-pack for morning and head east once again. I’m hoping to ride to either Fort Benton or Geraldine, Montana, tomorrow. In about a week or less, I hope to be in North Dakota. Here’s hoping.

 

Day 31: Augusta, Montana to Great Falls, Montana

After a bagel at Mel’s Diner, I was ready to head for Great Falls. I really try to avoid a heavy breakfast, it leaves me wanting to just take a nap after a few miles. I stopped at the general store and picked up a package of doughnuts and a large container of Gatorade.

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The countryside is looking desolate and forbidding.

Everything is looking brown and dry. The mountains had streams flowing everywhere and lots of green forests. I have a feeling that from here on it will be much different. I’m leaving the Rockies behind.

Numerous deer ran out in front of me on the road leading out of Augusta. Here is why so many of them get killed in traffic (I’ll shorten this video a bit, once I have access to video tools, it is 1:19 min):

I made it to Simms and was ready for a snack. Simms was where I would have ended up had I taken the shortcut I considered yesterday. The folks at the gas station also wondered why the maps took me to Augusta. They said the SR200 was better road and wider and would have saved 25 miles (42 km) of riding. The station didn’t have much for food, so I just had an orange juice and continued on.

The road from Simms to Great Falls is a straight shot and was reasonably flat. The map showed several very small towns along the way that had food opportunities, but when I arrived in them, the cafes were shut down and out of business.

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More and more I was seeing places out of business and closed. Potential ghost towns?

Hungry, I continued on. Finally, near Vaughn, MT, I found a deli and had some lunch.

I had been trying, via email, to find some of the radio amateurs in Great Falls, but hadn’t been having much luck. I was hopeful I could find someone to let me use their antenna for my little station to give it some extra “umpf,” since my little wire in a tree isn’t that great. I was also hoping that one of them would do like a Warmshowers.org host and give me some bedroll space, but it wasn’t to be.

As I rolled into Great Falls, storm clouds were gathering in the west. I decided to find something quickly. I stopped at the first motel I spotted and for $40 got a very nice room. The motel is the Alberta, in Great Falls, Montana, and I highly recommend it for bicycle travelers. The room is nice, the staff is very friendly (as are their dogs) and the motel is well situated on the main drag.

A few minutes after arriving, I had a Skype call scheduled with some friends at my Toastmasters Club in Sarasota, FL, Positively Speaking Toastmasters. They asked me to participate remotely in our weekly meeting. The connection wasn’t great, but we did manage to meet and have a few laughs and I updated them on my progress.

I rode to downtown and stopped at Bert and Ernie’s Tavern and Grill and Grill and had a BLT. The server/bartender is a young man that is going off to the Marines in a few weeks. We had a nice chat and I wished him well.

I returned to the room and intended to update this blog, but laid my head on the pillow for a few minutes, just to rest, and before I knew it, I was asleep.

Day 30: Lincoln, Montana to Augusta, Montana

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A few miles east of Lincoln, Montana. No wonder I was cold this morning!

When I awoke this morning, it was 39° F (3.9° C). What the heck? Isn’t it 11 August? When I finally rode out of town, after delaying with an extended breakfast and wearing everything I have, it was still only 44° F (6.7° C). Then, a few miles east of town, I found the sign that explained everything. One would really have to like the cold to live in this area.

Climbing out of town I had Rogers Pass to go over. As passes go, it wasn’t that bad, it is 5611 feet high (1710 m) and I was starting from around 4500 feet (1371 m). Of course, my Florida lungs were screaming for oxygen, but after doing this for a month I didn’t have to get off and walk at all, I rode all the way to the top.

At the top, which is, coincidentally, where the Continental Divide Trail crosses, I met up with two motorcyclists from Alberta, Canada, Ken and Mike. They were riding a big Harley Davidson and a big BMW. We talked at length about riding and motorcycles and a bit about hiking. It was a great excuse for me to catch my breath. We said our goodbyes and then I took a few photos.

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The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is one of the three major trails that run north to south across the US. It goes from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. The other two are the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Appalachian Trail (AT).

A number of hiking friends have hiked the CDT and some have even ridden it on mountain bikes. As I was taking photos, I talked to a hiker that had just been dropped off there, “Knotts,” and he told me he only had three hundred more miles to walk to finish the CDT. Only a true hiker would claim to have “only” three hundred more miles. We are out of our minds. Looking at “Knotts,” I think I figured out why the name; he had a head full of dreadlocks that would have made Bob Marley jealous.

The good news about reaching a pass is that there is usually a good downhill afterwards, and this was no exception. This downhill was actually a bit scary. Some of the turns were quite tight. Missing the turn meant a thousand feet of flight before hitting anything. I kept thinking about a blown tire and what a disaster that could be. Then again, I was grinning all the way down at 45 MPH.

The pass is a demarcation line for the forest, the terrain now becomes more like the upper mid-west. As far as the eye could see was open prairie and rolling hills, brown vs. green, and wide open space. I was officially leaving the Rocky Mountains.

The rest of the day was spent climbing up and down rolling hills. At one point the Adventure Cycling maps take the rider to Augusta, Montana. There is clearly a more direct route to Great Falls, my goal, but the map routed me to Augusta first. I was tempted to just take SR200 directly to Simms, but I figured they must have a good reason.

The twenty miles up to Augusta was hot and hilly. The scenery was nice and that was some redemption, but I can’t say it was worth the extra miles.

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When I arrived in Augusta, my first chore was to find a place to stay. There is a place called the “Bunkhouse Inn,” but it had a “No Vacancy” sign, a “For Sale” sign, and looked abandoned. The only other choice was a place just down the road that was both motel and campground.

The campground was a wide-open space in the hot sun, no shade to be found at all. When tent camping, shade is needed, otherwise the tent becomes a portable oven. Even though the room was expensive, I opted for it. WiFi and air conditioning were definite draws. The room was nothing to write home about, so I won’t.

I went down the road to Mel’s diner and had dinner and desert (hot fudge sundae). I walked around the town a bit. It seems so many of these small towns in this area of the world are just hanging on. Most of the businesses, whether operating or not, have For Sale signs. I talked to one of the patrons in Mel’s and she told me that the businesses that are still open are actually doing very well but the owners are getting old and just want to retire. The younger folks head off to the bigger cities and there just isn’t anyone around that wants to pick things up.

After a brew at the local cowboy bar, it was back to the room and a good night’s rest. Tomorrow: Great Falls, Montana.