26.5 mi / 13.0 mph / 907 ft. climbing
Home: Blue Sky Motel
With one day until the summer solstice, the temperature got down to within one degree of freezing in the early morning. Wild. But much better than the opposite. Our sleeping bag (plus new two-person sleeping pad) keep us reasonably comfortable at those temperatures, whereas it’s much tougher to handle a hot (and especially humid) night (and day). And after yesterday’s long-ish day, I’d scheduled an easy ride for today to keep us comfortably tik-tok-ing along, so that meant we didn’t need to wake up and get out of the tent until the sun started warming things up. Our Welsh friend had of course packed up and moved on (in admirable silence) long before we woke. The other mountain bikers finally moved on too (some had stayed in the cute shelters for multiple days, and I guess I can’t really blame them), so we got a chance to check out those shelters. The hoosegow (aka, jail) was pretty sweet (our two-person sleeping pad wouldn’t work on the two bunks hung from the walls, but would fit on the floor, and there was even a desk and power!), but the teepee and sheep wagon were a bit cramped and cyclist-smelly, so the last bits of Rett’s disappointment from yesterday finally vanished.
We walked 50 yards across the town square to The Stray Bullet for breakfast, happy to close the loop on the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy of Ovando’s cycle-friendliness, and “pay” for our free night by pumping our money into their local economy.
We set out east back on MT-200, and we both continued to love the open mountain-and-valley landscapes of this part of Montana. From the hilltops, you can see for miles, but there are always mountains out there at the edge, not just the earth curving away into the horizon. It’s a video game that wants you to think it’s open-world, but memory limitations means that boundaries must always exist to keep you hemmed in. Unless you’re us and can climb right over those mountains when we reach them!
And all that continued love of Montana came even before Rett spotted the bear! At first we thought it was fake, a carved statue, because it was standing perfectly upright on its hind legs, with one forepaw extended like it would be holding a lantern in someone’s driveway. But then it moved! It was maybe 100 yards away on a hillside on the opposite side of the road, happily munching on some purple flowers. We watched it for a few minutes, until it trundled off into the trees. It was a perfect “this is why we bike tour!” moment: it’s very unlikely that anyone in a vehicle flying by at 70mph would have even noticed the bear (thanks Rett, Expert Animal Spotter!), and even less of a chance that they would have been able to stop on the shoulder and observe. That north side of the highway marks the southern edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the fifth-largest wilderness in the Lower 48 (the next road north of here is US-2, some 100 miles away), so it makes perfect sense that there would be a bear hanging out there to greet us!
Shoulders on MT-200 remained decent for the first half of the ride (though still not ideal in relation to the traffic volume and speed), but then disappeared at the junction with MT-141, right when the road became much curvier with steep hilly bits as it attempted to follow the Blackfoot River without being swallowed by it. Ugh. Luckily MT-141 is also the road to Helena, so traffic volumes dropped significantly on MT-200. Also luckily, the many oversized trucks going the other direction (carrying huge equipment of some sort) that we seemed to encounter at the top of every blind-curved steep hill, somehow knew to come roaring by only when there were no vehicles trying to pass us from behind. Otherwise you might not be reading this!
Some of the mountain bikers were also coming to Lincoln, but their route was 10 miles longer than ours, and probably thousands of feet more climbing. In the morning one had asked how we deal mentally with the traffic (since that’s something that’s not part of their world), and we said it’s not too bad, especially if the road gets us to our destination hours before your trail does. Well, I could certainly could see the attraction of the trail during those shoulderless hill-curves, but when we made it through safely to the long straight road dropping into Lincoln (whereupon the oversized loads (and nearly all other traffic) disappeared, of course!), I was back to appreciating the efficiency of the paved road. Our gravel days in Washington definitely gave us a tempting taste of his truck-free world though.
Our noon arrival made us a bit early for check-in at one of the surprising number of motels in relatively-small Lincoln, but since they’re all old-school offline operations (ugh!), Rett actually called one of them (while I talked to the manager at the first one we rolled by) to price-shop. $78 beat $100, so it was the Blue Sky Motel, where the smoke-filled office was also filled with Trump memorabilia. The manager (and her son) were perfectly friendly to us cyclists though, and while the small-talk could have veered in a risky direction, luckily we could certainly agree on the scourge of drug addiction! I also noted a post on the wall giving a number to call for Continental Divide Trail through-hikers (yep, both the mountain bike and hiking long-distance trails come through here) to call for a free ride back up to the trail at Rogers Pass. Another town kindly catering to stupid motorless adventurers like us; we sure appreciate it!
We ate dinner in the room, and then made a rare post-dinner excursion from the safety of our motel. We walked through town (absolutely filled with deer) and saw a mountain-town mix of disheveled housing (due to the limited economic activity here) and rich-people mountain getaways (drawn here due to the limited economic activity). It reminded me a bit of Nederland, Colorado, above Boulder.
Our destination was Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild, an outdoor sculpture park, but one very tied to this land. The large-scale artworks are made mostly from natural materials, and are set within a beautiful open ponderosa pine forest. It reminded us very much of a forest version of our beloved Fermentation Fest DTour in the rolling farmlands of west-central Wisconsin: both public displays manage to somehow bring world-class landscape-related art into nearly-unpopulated places. I’d imagine that, like the DTour, Blackfoot Pathways is also a labor of love from a driven individual or small group. I particularly loved the subtle darkness that so many of the artists are allowed to present to the public in this forest.
There were so many works, and it seems more get added every year (and after seeing a few that were so affecting we had to see them all), that the grocery store we planned to stop at on the walk home was closed. Whoops! Guess we’ll need to figure out some other way to get breakfast in us before tomorrow’s “tik” back to a long ride!