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Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Happy Wanderer

Sunday, July 19
Whitefish, MT to Eureka, MT

"Not all those who wander are lost," observed J.R.R. Tolkien. On the other hand, some are. Lost. Take Bill, for example. One of his self-proclaimed talents is missing a turn on a route that has only a few to start with. And, wanting to establish his position in this category early in the tour, he rode right past the turn that would have brought him to the picnic stop at Ant Flat. He locked up the beige Boston M.T.A. jersey on the third day of the ride by missing one of only two turns on the route. A true champion.

Unless otherwise noted, the following applies to each day of the ride: It was a grand morning, cool and clear, when we headed out early after a quick breakfast. The plan is to ride in the cool of the day and arrive at our destination early in the afternoon. This provides an opportunity for refreshment and a tour of the sights unique to this day's stop before getting back together with the group for dinner and the evening meeting. Remember, this is the first paragraph for all of the remaining posts. I'll only call attention to exceptions.

We leave Whitefish on highway 93. I have some concerns about this. On my first tour, we rode into Missoula on 93 and it was a decidedly bicycle-hostile route. Rumble strips, the remaining shoulder a veritable debris field of tire-threatening detritus, all this made more uncomfortable by the constant stream of little cars pushing big RV's at high speeds in both directions. But not here. Not today. It is early Sunday and we are north of the west entrance to Glacier National Park, making for a much improved riding experience.

The Long White Line, Northwestern Montana Style

Nonetheless, we were on 93 for only about 5 miles when the route swung off onto quieter roads - the first of three loops off of the highway we would be provided today. This part of the ride is described on our route sheet with the following notations:

Left on Twin Bridges Road
Rolling country road, no shoulder
Right on Farm-to-Market Road

Along the Rolling Country Road

Then, at the 19.4 mile point, we are back on 93 where we enter Stillwater State Forest. A 1.4 mile climb at mile 26 is followed by a stretch of "rolling uphill," leading eventually to the Tobacco Valley. Here, the second loop off of 93 starts with a left turn onto the road to Trego. We are to go 1.7 miles then "bear right" on an unmarked road, riding another mile to the picnic stop. This is the turn that Bill missed. He'd been far ahead of everyone so I was surprised that he was not at the Ant Flat stop. First, I assumed he'd come and gone already, but when I signed in I saw he had not yet come in. He finally arrived and told the story of how he had missed the last turn and had made it into Trego. At that point, he knew he'd gone too far so he backtracked towards 93. When he got to where he could see the highway, he knew he'd missed the turn. Again. As I said, a real pro. But, third time's charm and he finally got back on track.

At the Ant Flat Picnic Stop

After "lunch" (it was only about 10:00 a.m.), I headed out and was soon back on 93. About 8 miles along this stretch, I go by a sign: Eureka 5 miles. According to Mapquest, it is 51 miles from Whitefish to Eureka. At this point, I'd ridden about 55 miles. So, considering our extra loops away from the highway, this all added up. BUT. Our route today required us to go a total of 76 miles. No sooner had I gone by the sign than I was turning off onto the last of the extra loops.

There had been a lot of ups and downs on the route so far, mostly of the the "rolling country road" ilk. But here the road looked a lot more like rides at home. The climbs were steeper and, being towards the end of the day, all the more difficult. Yet the views were spectacular and it was probably the most enjoyable 20 miles of the day. The pictures below are from this part of the ride:

On 93 Before the Loop East of Eureka

Climbing on the Scenic Side Roads

Changing Landscape as We Ride On

One of the Many Ranches We Encounter on the Ride

As was to be the pattern for the almost the entire ride, the cool morning had given way to warming temperatures, soon to reach the mid-90's. As enjoyable as the ride was, it was good to get back onto highway 93 - north of Eureka now - and finish off the ride into town where we checked in to the Ksanka Motel.

Riding in to Eureka

I've camped on the two previous Cycle America rides and really enjoyed the experience. But I've chosen the hotel option for this ride, partly to avoid the heavy lifting associated with dragging big duffels of tent, sleeping bag, etc. (my non-union collarbone being the consideration). And, because the ride in Switzerland showed me just how nice having a room with a real bed and attached bath / shower could be after a long day. The Ksanka was tastefully done in early garage sale. The pink tub and sink set off the white toilet nicely. The tub area featured gray tiles with the odd black highlight here and there, all against off-white walls over a brown faux-stone linoleum floor. But the room was comfortable, quiet and cool and did not require any assembly to use. Yes, this is a good way to go.

Bill had been there a while and had already acquired our post-ride refreshment, although I had to go into the convenience store to get an opener so we could actually enjoy said well-earned palliatives. While sitting at a table in a small grassy area under the only two trees on the motel grounds, two self-supporting riders wheeled in, their bikes laden with every sort of pack and pannier. They had been riding from up near Banf in British Columbia, negotiating the Continental Divide Trail. This is NOT a paved road and the men and their rugged bikes reflected this. One of the riders was, by plan, ending his ride in Eureka and as we talked, his wife drove in to meet him. His friend, however, was not quite through with his ride. He would continue on, by himself, TO MEXICO! The OLD one. We are talking months. Our ride today had covered 75 miles; I was on the bike for about 5 hours. These guys said that 40 miles in 8 hours was a really good day for them. My goodness!

Anyway, I was truly impressed and told them so.

Later, we walk down into town - this is a feature of nearly all of the hotels at which we stayed: they are NOT in the center of town. Even the small towns.

On the Walk in to Town in Eureka

There was an establishment claiming the best burgers in the country. Clearly something needing independent verification. We enter the rather contemporary-trying-to-look-frontier establishment to find they stopped serving food about an hour before our arrival. Well, they were reputed to have good milkshakes too, so we say we'll try one of those. Huckleberry of course. "Uh, we are out of our Huckleberry ice cream," our young server tells us, backing away a little, fearing maybe she's pushed us too far. We eventually settle on vanilla shakes. They were OK, but could not cut through the disappointment of the unmet need for northwestern Montana beef and a huckleberry shake. Life on the road is tough.

Today's Ride:
75.1 miles
3008 feet

If you do NOT understand the Boston M.T.A. reference, leave me a comment.


Anonymous said...

One must also be non-union to do these rides? Beautiful photos, by the way.

Spiffer said...

I am inspired to do a tour ride by your posts. Thinking of Cycle Oregon next September. Thanks for the motivation!