33.8 mi / 11.8 mph / 1350 ft. climbing
Home: Jones Memorial Park
As good as our deluxe tent site was, one downside presented itself overnight: despite not being able to see your neighbors, they’re in actuality quite close to you, and I could hear the woman on the opposite side of the wheel snoring all night.
We got back on US-89 heading northwest, and Montana drivers (and an increasing mix of National Park visitors sporting non-Montana plates) continued to be excellent. US-89 doesn’t particularly connect anything in this area besides providing eastern access to Glacier, so traffic was light. There was a decent shoulder, but it was frequently populated with an unneccesarily-far-into-the-shoulder rumble strip leaving only a foot or two of smooth pavement for us to ride in, so we were frequently out in the travel lane (again, not a big deal given the chill attitude of the drivers, but still a dumb setup that makes travel more annoying for everyone).
Rett was playing the Star Wars score on her phone, and while I don’t recall open ranchland appearing anywhere in the movies, the heroic scope of the music felt surprisingly suitable for the epic landscape we were riding through.
Depuyer is another very small town, where the grocery store is combined with the owner’s woolen goods shop (knitted from wool from the Merino sheep they raise). But it has a (single) restaurant/motel combo, and I had been planning on staying there, because chances of rain were pretty high this afternoon/evening. The “hardcore” option was camping in the town park, but there was no water, and only a porta-potty. I clearly don’t give Rett enough credit for being the badass adventurer she has become, because I was surprised that she was leaning towards camping.
We checked in at the store for any info, and to see if they had sufficient groceries to make a dinner; they did, despite food occupying only a couple shelves in a medium-sized room where groceries is clearly not the main business, so that was impressive! More importantly we got good info and advice from the owner, and are thankful to her six-generations-ago ancestors (and her!) who came West, endured terrible hardships in this unforgiving land, and were “too ignorant or stubborn” to give up and move onward like most settlers (and other branches of her family) did. Without people like them establishing these small towns and keeping them alive, it wouldn’t be possible for us to travel the way we do.
When we inquired about camping at the park, she matter-of-factly informed us that this was grizzly bear country. Not to say that we shouldn’t camp, or would be in any particular danger, but just as a way to inform traveling Americans, 99% of whom would never think that a grizzly bear might wander through a town park. Given the outsized fear attached to bear attacks, and my preference for data over fear-driven emotion, I inquired when the last time she saw a grizzly was. “A week and a half ago, walking through our land”. Oh. Gulp. I already knew the park had food storage boxes, so I knew about the possibility, but this certainly makes it a lot more real.
Nonetheless, we rode over to check out the park, and Rett gave it the ok. There currently weren’t any signs of rain, but more-importantly, there was a covered shelter which would make life a lot easier for us if rain came. It didn’t feel like a park that saw a lot of use, so we went ahead and wheeled our bikes inside a corner of the shelter, since the picnic tables inside were much more usable than the ones at the campsites, which had thick tall grass filling their undersides. There was easy access to the creek near the shelter too, so we each took turns doing a creek sponge-bath.
In exchange for not spending $100 on a motel room, we went back into town to eat a 4pm dinner at the restaurant, where like in Ovando, we “paid” for our free campsite by putting our money into the economy. When I asked our server, he informed us that the town name isn’t pronounced in a particularly French way, and neither is the nearby Valier (where he lives), but I forgot to ask about Choteau, or even why there are all these French-named towns in this part of Montana.
Back at camp the skies became threateningly dark overhead and to the east, while the sun remained shining from the west. The evening’s entertainment was watching the menace grow, but the threat never materialized into anything more than a few stray drops. Still, the forecast showed continued risk, and given the lack of activity in the park (only a couple vehicles had driven through, and one van set up at a site down the way), we decided to just set the tent up inside the shelter and sleep there.
Around 9:30pm, as Rett was settling in and I was working on the computer, some light rain finally started, but we were well-sheltered, so Rett’s adventurous choice felt like it had totally been the right one.
But then at 10pm: blinding headlights blasting through the unchinked log walls of the shelter into our darkened space. Two menacing pickup trucks, one with a couple of dirtbikes in the back. Oh shit. It’s something I had been nervous about the whole afternoon, more than I was nervous about grizzly bears: the possibility of locals coming out to the park to party. Especially since it’s Friday night. And here they are. Not good. They park directly in front of the shelter. Ugh, why didn’t we just set up in a proper site!? In the glare of their headlights I see a couple of amped-up young men hop out and bounce excitedly down towards the creek. Definiely not good at all. And then right into the shelter came five or six…elderly women? Huh? I stand up in our dark shadowed corner and try to make our presence known without surprising them. One of them notices me without jumping, and says in a German-accented voice far too youthful for the wire spectacles, long-dress, and bonnet that she and all the other women shared: “Oh, is this your space?” “Yes, for the time-being”, I reply somewhat non-sensically, perhaps reflecting a bit of guilt that we’re occupying a space that we probably technically shouldn’t, but also my befuddlement at what the fuck is happening. It suddenly clicks that this must be a group of young Amish friends. Well, probably not Amish, but I’m too ignorant to know which particular branch of those cultures endorses Friday night frolics to the park via giant pickup trucks and dirtbikes.
After a quick conversation amongst themselves, the women exit the shelter, the guys come back over, they load back into the trucks, and…leave. Never to return again for the night. Whoa. I’ve read a lot of bike-touring blogs where people camp in town parks (and similarly pseudo-legal locations) and end up dealing with late-night harrassment that doesn’t resolve itself anywhere near as easily as this just did. Thank you so much young friends, and we’re so sorry if we put a damper on your plans for a fun night! I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that you even unknowingly scared away a grizzly that had been sneaking in for us!