August 4, 2006
I woke early today in the camping area behind Jackson Hot Springs, and helped myself to a nice hot shower. Then I packed up and went to the cafe across the street for pancakes. Sitting at a table on the front porch, I was the only patron until a local old guy showed up, just as I was leaving. The lady inside was playing a radio station with Coldplay/Counting Crows/Jewel type music, creating a nice fresh morning atmosphere.
The early riding was good as I cruised through the Big Hole Valley. The Montana countryside is probably exactly as you’d imagine it – open ranches bordered by scenic mountains. Occasionally a pickup truck speeds past, and they always go far into the other lane for me.
I came to Wisdom, a small town where I stopped and had some Coke, peanut butter, and snickers. Instead of that black roller belt that they always have in grocery stores, the cashier had this old-fashioned circular type of device.
Soon out of town I passed the Big Hole National Battlefield, the site of a significant battle involving the Nez Perce Indians, led by Chief Joseph. The other night Mala (With Packrat) was telling me about Chief Joseph, and how the Nez Perce were one of the very last native bands to go on fighting the white man, evading pursuit and putting up courageous stands when necessary. Chief Joseph is supposed to be a legendary Geronimo-type figure. That’s all the background I can recall.
Just beyond this site I came to some mountains… entering National Forest land, and ascending to Chief Joseph Pass. It was a long, steady climb, and the only mildly tough/annoying part for me was numerous false summits. Near the top it kept looking as though the pass would be around the next bend, but then it would just climb some more. As I cranked my way up, I kept seeing guys on motorcycles going the opposite way, and maybe half of them extended a leather-gloved thumbs up, like “Way to go, man.” That was pretty cool.
The descent was fast, winding, and steeper than the east side… and a whole lot of fun. I’m glad I went up the direction I did. Going east bound must be tough. There was a small place called Sula near the bottom, with a gas station where I had a liter of Sunkist and a container of BBQ Pringles. It was 5pm on a Friday and I was still 80-90 miles away from Missoula. I have a mail drop waiting for me there, so I have to be at the post office before noon tomorrow (Saturday), or get stuck waiting in Missoula until Monday.
I’ve been looking forward to Missoula for a number of reasons.
1) Ever since reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I thought it sounded like a cool place.
2) I have my mail drop there, with two letters I’m looking forward to receiving.
3) The Adventure Cycling Headquarters is located there, the publishers of the maps that I’ve been following.
4) Craig and Sherri, who you may have seen in the guestbook, offered me a place to stay. From a pay phone in Sula, I emailed them and told them my plans to get my mail drop.
The rest of the descent was along the Bitterroot River, and through these narrow gorges. The wind really whipped through there, straight in my face, but settled down once the valley opened up.
At Darby I stopped for some Mountain Dew at a gas station with an adjoining casino. It’s a funny little thing in Montana how most of the gas stations have small casinos – stocked with Keno machines, from what I understand.
It was getting dark now, and I could see smoke from a forest fire over the mountains to the west. I came to the next town, Hamilton, a good sized place with chain restaurants and motels, and pressed on without even stopping for anything. Just outside of town I met some east bound riders. They started from Oregon, and say they’re taking the Northern Tier to Bar Harbor, Maine. “That’s gonna get cold!” I said to them.
So I ended up riding after dark until almost 10pm, and it made me think of night-hiking. The other night with Packrat we discussed the cool things about it – like how your headlamp attracts bugs, which subsequently attracts the bats that swoop in to eat them at regular intervals like a pendulum.
I entered Stevensville, where they’re having some sort of a small festival, but it was wrapping up as I arrived. I finally reached a motel with an RV campground, and the office was closed up, reading no vacancy.
I found an out of the way spot nearby, threw down my rain fly as a ground tarp, and bedded under the stars to ensure an early start tomorrow. I’ve just covered over 300 miles in three days. I’m an animal. Roar. Life is good.