38.2 mi / 10.7 mph / 1765 ft. climbing
Home: Molly Jo’s AirBNB
When the polite partiers departed from our park campsite last night, that was the last noise we heard. We did still have some light drops of rain in the morning, so being able to pack up dry, under shelter, was a big relief.
We had one more day of US-89 riding, with the same annoying shoulders balanced by the still-really-good drivers. We entered the lands of the Blackfoot Nation (Blackfeet? Both seem to be used, and if I was a hobbit I would probably be more-capable of discerning the difference). In terms of our riding there was also no discernable difference after crossing the invisible line into a pseudo-separate nation. I had read of a previous bike tourer running into a herd of bison on the highway in this area, and after the owner of the Depuyer Cache mentioned grizzlies yesterday I asked if it was common to see bison. She said not really, especially after the state(?) had been contributing money for the Blackfeet to build fences on their previously-unfenced lands. Good for cars and bison I guess, but I wonder if it’s also an imposition of white culture on people who don’t necessarily want it?
We stopped on a wide part of the shoulder with a good view of the mountains for lunch near the non-town of Piegan. A car with Idaho plates pulled to a quick stop in the same spot and the driver popped out and immediately started nursing her young son. We weren’t the only hungry ones thinking this was a good lunch spot, apparently! The stop may not have been entirely coincidental, as it turns out she and her husband also have significant (Thailand!) bike touring experience and we all chatted for a while after lunch was done. I don’t know if Rett telling them about Jayaram and Aparna touring Baja with their baby Dharma quite convinced them to ride there with their two young children, but mom got the same look in her eyes when hearing about kissing a whale, as Rett did when she heard the same from Jayaram and Aparna, so who knows! They also made the Steens Mountain loop they did (a place in Oregon I’d never heard of) sound really cool, so it was a good trade even before they gave us a bunch of advice about Glacier (which they were just leaving).
Traffic got a bit heavier in the afternoon, and the repeated 200-to-400 ft. up-and-down hills and headwinds got annoying and tiring. But at least we learned we could still ride into headwinds without immediately being vaporized, something that it feels like we haven’t tested in weeks. When we joined US-2 we were happy to gain a full-width shoulder (especially since traffic was much busier), but the chip seal surface was like riding on a paved road scattered with loose gravel (at first I thought there must be a gravel-pit nearby, and constant gravel-truck traffic left a thin layer of junk on the shoulder. But nope!)
Browning is a surprisingly tough town to find a place to stay in. It has two full-size grocery stores, making it the biggest place we’ve been since Missoula. It has two hotels (both with availability), but both are insanely priced ($200 for one and $350 for the other!) At the other extreme is a campground, but the town has a population of street dogs, and I’d seen at least one report of one tearing into a tent to get food inside. Even though that’s unlikely (especially since we’d be aware of the possibility), it sounds like barking and howling could keep us up at night.
So we’re at one of the few AirBNBs in town, at a still-insane $156, considering that it’s another 4-bedrooms-in-a-house, shared-bathroom, shared-kitchen operation, usually the lowest-priced AirBNB type. It’s pretty run-down on the outside, but the inside is clean and well-kept, they have a really nice washer and dryer, and a really good kitchen setup.
They’re very aware that they’re charging a lot for what they offer, but also aware that they’re one of the only options in the huge gap between the two extremes. The strange thing is that there aren’t a whole load of other entrepreneurs competing to fill that obvious hole in this gateway town to a National Park.
By all appearances, Browning is a very poor reservation town, with plenty of abandoned or burned-out houses, and the lived-in ones in a generally poor state of repair. So extracting dollars from tourists would seem to be an obvious economic opportunity. I wonder if there is an element of the native culture here that is simply less-capitalist than white colonist culture? If so, that’s cool, but I just don’t want you guys to miss a chance to take a tiny bit back from the white man!
When searching for a place to stay, many of the reviews mentioned feeling sketchy or unsafe in Browning. And that was a little bit our initial reaction too. Dogs roaming around, kids shooting off fireworks in the middle of the day, housing constructed in the cheapest way possible, it was a stark contrast to a place like Fairfield and its manicured parks, cute cafe, and well-tended houses. But every “bad” thing about Browning could be found in nearly every town in Baja that we passed through, and we absolutely loved our time in Baja. And everyone in Browning was unfailingly friendly, giving waves and smiles as we passed, or being amazed when hearing about our travels.
So it’s like an optical illusion, where our brain’s over-sensitivity to contrast obscures the reality. Visit Browning after Fairfield, and it feels sketchy. Visit Browning after Punta Prieta, and it feels like a warm welcoming place, especially since we can communicate more-easily! We need to constantly remind ourselves that “poor” doesn’t equal “dangerous”, because that’s a heuristic our brains are all too willing to take unless we consciously redirect them.