30.1 mi / 13.3 mph / 814 ft. climbing
Home: Mountain View RV Campground
We confined ourselves to the first floor of the expansive WarmShowers house (that we had entirely to ourselves) in order to minimize any disturbance. That might be one reason that the bedroom we slept in really reminded me of my grandparents’ bedroom in their Wisconsin farmhouse. Theirs was also the lone first-floor bedroom, in a house likely of a similar age, with a nearly-identical dresser, and a steel bedframe probably of the same age as the house. I think that all helped to give a comfortable and restorative rest, and Carol even improved on that by telling us to stay as long as we liked in the morning. Since we were back to a short, easy day, we definitely took advantage of that generosity.
We took the long way out of town, partly because Rett was just following the moo-cows, and partly because I wanted to see more of the square-with-diagonals layout of Simms. Right when we were passing through the nexus (also the location of the school), my front wheel suddenly gave a loud ping followed by a regular dinging. When I pulled up to a stop, I was shocked to see a broken spoke! I carry spares, and luckily we were still in the middle of this quiet town, so we were able to just pull onto the school grounds and get to work in the shade of its big trees. I don’t think we’ve had a broken spoke since I started building our wheels myself, and I’ve never had a broken spoke on the front wheel (whose spokes are under much less stress than the rears). More oddly (or less, I suppose…a freak occurrence should have a freak cause, no?), the break wasn’t at one of the strain points near the ends, but right in the middle. The position of the break aligned with the brake disc, so my best guess is that a perfectly-sized bit of gravel that we had just been riding through got kicked up and somehow wedged itself between the spoke and the disc, cutting through the spoke. But I couldn’t find any mark on the disc or bend to it, so I’m not super-confident in that explanation. The two broken ends didn’t really mesh together anymore, and there even appeared to be a bit of metal peeled backwards from one of the broken ends, like a curl of wood-shaving.
Anyway, since it was a front wheel, the replacement was relatively easy (I didn’t even need to deflate the tire, I could just screw the existing nipple onto the new spoke externally), but I did still need to remove the six bolts of the six-bolt disc mount so that I could thread the new spoke into the hub. So it took maybe 20 minutes, but luckily we had that short day planned.
We were finally done with MT-200, which had its faults in sections, but ended up being a totally-doable bike route across the Continental Divide. We started on a local highway heading north from Simms to Fairfield (the closest town with more than auto-shop services). The speed limit was still a Montana-insane 70mph, but incredibly, all of the drivers treated it as that, an upper limit, not a minimum speed requirement! Many were likely driving 40mph or less, even though the road could have supported higher speeds, and traffic volume was extremely low. Apparently it’s just the culture of the area to not drive dangerously fast, and we sure appreciated it!
And more than that passive friendliness, we encountered much active friendliess too. From regular waves and encouragement from drivers, to the chatty workers at the construction zone, it just increased our love for this part of Montana. What didn’t increase our love was the exponential hill we had to climb (my name for a hill that gets steeper the closer you get to the top), but that wasn’t the fault of anyone here. And in fact the construction workers treated us great (since of course the steepest bit was under one-way traffic control) and just sent us through on the “closed” lane, so we didn’t have any stress of bringing traffic behind us to 4mph as the grade hit 10%(!!) (though it felt like no one here would have minded the slightest bit being slowed to 4mph).
Once over the top we had an easy roll into Fairfield, which could have been a small Midwestern farm town. The small grocery store that we stopped in didn’t have a bathroom, but they said just go across the street to the Cozy Corner Cafe and use theirs. We felt a bit bad going into just to use their bathrooms, but no one gave any sign that their feathers were even considering getting ruffled. Bladder-stress relieved, we went back to get groceries for lunch and brought them over to a nearby park. While we sat there at noon on the second day of summer, Rett was wrapped in her down jacket, and I laid myself out in the direct sun to keep from getting too chilled. We watched the cutest group of 6-year-olds do some sort of LARPing, with some dressed up as princesses, others as knights with cardboard swords and shields. It sure felt like a wonderful town in which to live and raise a family.
We took a long slow downhill out of Fairfield that brought us improbably to Freezeout Lake, a place so unexpected in this landscape that I’d been wondering what all the local kids had been talking about when they said in their lifeguard bios on the town’s swimming pool Facebook page that they “like to spend time at the lake” (going camping was another popular one, so presumably these kids also make good use of the world-class National Park in their back yard). Rett had been a bit annoyed upon leaving our lunch at how late we’d arrive into camp, but then she proceeded to burn through the last 16 miles in an hour, an hour made easy by the yet-another-tailwind and the relatively-flat route through this lake-and-butte country.
Choteau is the county seat, so while it’s still a small town, that means it’s big enough (for better or worse) to have a Family Dollar, where I did good by discovering that they sell drink packets flavored like Sonic’s Cherry-Limeaid, one of Rett’s favorites. After another stop at the town’s real grocery store we rode to the east and Mountain View RV Campground, where, despite the name, they have one of the best tent-camping setups I’ve ever seen (thanks for the recommendation, Crazyguyonabike journal writer!): it’s a sort of a large gazebo, with six spokes emanating from the center if seen from above. The “spokes” that extend beyond the roof are wooden fences, separating the lawns of each wedge-shaped site. Under the roof they rise to near-walls, with plenty of room for the picnic table to be under shelter. And at the vertex there is a triangular counter-top covering a food-storage box below. There are even wooden pegs in the walls to use as hooks! At $23 (vs. $20 for a “normal” tent site) it’s a total no-brainer. Rett liked it so much she declared that she wanted to stay two nights!