56.4 mi / 12.9 mph / 2752 ft. climbing
Home: Carol’s WarmShowers House
It was another cold night and morning, where the Great Falls official reading of 33F set a new record low for the summer solstice. We’ll take it, since we’re tik-tok-ing back to a long ride today, and this night we were warm under a roof (which had water dripping off it, presumably from the morning sun melting the frost!) And yes, we ran the heater in the room before heading out.
Since we had failed to acquire groceries last night, we walked out to a coffee shack down the road that served breakfast, and brought it back to our room to eat. By the time we finished up and rolled out, the grocery store had re-opened, so we finally were able to stock up for the 55-mile stretch of MT-200 with no services (surprisingly there was no sign informing travelers of this).
For what feels like the 100th day in a row, we had a healthy tailwind helping us out. Normally that’s a gift to revel in, but to me it’s really starting to feel like we inadvertently made a deal with the devil somewhere along the line, especially since on the very day we start heading more north than east, the wind starts coming more from the south than the west, perfectly matching our path through Montana. Extremely suspsicious, and I’m just frightened for the day when we’ll need to finally pay the devil his due. But Rett said that it’s not the devil, it’s her mom giving us a helping hand, just as she strove to always provide a tailwind to make her daughter’s path through life a little bit easier when she was alive. That’s a much more comforting thought for both of us, so I’m more than happy to run with it. Thank you Sue!
We had 15 more miles of gentle-grade riding up the Blackfoot River to do before it petered out into nothing, and then we were left to climb to the Continental Divide on our own. Once again, the good shoulder that had existed since Lincoln disappeared when we hit the steep and curvy climb. Most drivers remained good, but one idiot in a line passing us nearly took us out with his trailer when he realized there was oncoming traffic coming right at him.
Besides that, eastbound Rogers Pass must be the easiest road crossing of the Continental Divide in the whole country. We only had to climb about 500 feet at a not-even-that-steep 5% or so, which was pretty much a standard hill we’d need to climb any time we wanted to ride out from our neighborhood in Redmond, Washington. The downhill had quite a bit more elevation drop, but once we got through some business in the curves at the top, we nearly had the road to ourselves to fly down. Rett was having so much fun, she decided to show off her newly-acquired no-hand riding skills again. Going 25mph on a main highway coming down from a mountain pass. No biggie!
By the time the slope flattened out, the trees had all but disappeared. Which gave a great view backwards to the continent-dividing mountain range we had just crossed. And forwards to the still-mountainous landscape we would need to tackle for the next 35 miles. But with the bright blue skies accented with white puffy clouds, the endlessly changing views as the highway cut around and over the slopes, and the tailwind-fueled riding on the comfortable road, it turned into one of the most-perfect days of classic bike touring I’ve ever had. Montana, you are incredible.
Around mile 37 we crossed US-287, where the shoulders widened back out to their wonderful 8-foot width we’d started with days ago on MT-200 (though some miles later when we entered Cascade County their road department countered their usefulness by adding wide rumble strips). Originally I’d had us making a left turn and heading northwest on US-287 to a motel in Augusta, but now that we’re in a relatively-uncharted area for touring cyclists, I remembered that I’m more willing to inquire with WarmShowers hosts to see if they’d be interested in putting us up for a night. I found one in the tiny town of Simms (the only host anywhere in the region), but when Carol responded she said she would be busy working that night. Bummer. Hmm, except, she said no one had rented her VRBO house for the night, so we could show up and stay there (for free!); she’d leave the door unlocked. We haven’t always had perfect experiences with WarmShowers, but the generosity people have shown to us (based on the thinnest of connections; Carol isn’t even a touring cyclist herself!) is frequently mind-boggling. So we happily continued straight northeast on MT-200.
After cresting our hundredth hill for the day, we saw our first signs of civilization since leaving Lincoln, in the form of farmlands surrounding Simms down below. We stopped at the northwest corner of the curiously geometric town at an auto-repair shop; why? Because it was also the town’s only “grocery” store, stocked mostly with convenience items. But it’s very much an auto-repair shop first. We got snacks and a six-pack of beer to augment our steak that we’d carried from Lincoln with us (we knew the house had a grill, so we were excited to have grilled steak for the first time since leaving Seattle!) But waited in line behind someone checking on their muffler diagnosis, and paid at the parts counter next to a line of NAPA stools and in front of aisles filled with motor oil and antifreeze. If we hadn’t paid in cash, I feel they would have ran our credit card through one of those mechanical carbon paper things that seemed to have given their last gasps at auto shops.
On our way down to the southwest corner of square Simms where our house was (their other house is at the southeast corner), a classic green pickup with a dog riding in the back slowed and waved, and a guy in a cowboy hat introduced himself as Carol’s husband and told us to go on in. I thanked him, and he said something like “don’t thank me, this is her thing!” Which gave me the feeling that he’s not entirely on-board with his wife’s desire to help out strangers she’s never met by giving them full access to their house. And I think that makes him the normal one of the couple! But we’re so thankful to weirdos like Carol who don’t care what “normal” is. Because the old restored ranch house, and the land it sits on, are incredible, and the best possible place to stay after a long day of riding. We were able to do laundry, Rett soaked in the clawfoot tub while I once again took apart half my bike to fix the loosened kickstand (grr…), and then I cleaned up from that in the luxury modern walk-in shower. Relaxing after the last long day we’ll need to do for a while.