Helena, MT to Townsend, MT

33.4 mi / 14.8 mph / 659 ft. climbing
Home: Mustang Motel

Rested and relaxed after five nights of city living, it’s time to start another chunk of bike riding. We were lucky to even be able to dawdle to our preferred checkout-time (11am) departure, something we haven’t been able to achieve too often this summer. But the weather had conveniently cooled off just in time, so we didn’t need to beat the heat, or winds, or traffic, and didn’t have a load of miles to get in. Though we wished we could have had a few more miles, because tonight’s stop makes for an unbalanced start to the 2 days from Helena to Bozeman.

We left Helena going east on US-287, and its gentle arc towards the south was the only directional change we made all day. It was a busy highway, but had a wide shoulder for comfortable riding.

“JEE-sus!” Rett exclaimed as we rode, and I quickly looked to around to see what idiot driver she was talking about, or disgusting roadkill, or…ah, I get it. Just reading billboards! Helena had a landmark Catholic cathedral that can be seen from many parts of town, but besides that, signs (literal or figurative) of religion are much rarer in Montana than they are in many other parts of the country.

Once we were out into the open unpopulated valley and ready for lunch, Rett made an excellent call to turn down an unnamed gravel road, over the railroad tracks that parallel the highway, and down onto a dirt path on the other side of the tracks. The embankment isolated us from the road and its traffic, so we had a perfect private spot to set up our chairs under the cloud-spattered blue skies. It’s an exploration I wouldn’t have even thought to make, so to have Rett unilaterally decide to make the turn on her own was really cool, and a sign of her continually-growing bike-touring talents.

And hey, without it, I would have ended up with very few photos from the day!

Lunch spot; can’t even see the highway in this wide-angle shot, even though it’s not much further on the other side of the tracks than we are.
My view when eating lunch was pretty, so I took a photo!
Trains, planes, and no automobiles (just bikes!)
Trains are loud.
Trains are cool.

After lunch the shoulder unfortunately narrowed, with Montana’s well-off-the-white-line rumble strips leaving only a foot-and-a-half of clear asphalt to ride in before the grass came in on the right. But Rett again must have been determined to show off her bike-touring confidence and kept cruising comfortably along the tightrope. Thankfully though the wide shoulder returned by the time we hit a perfect 1-2% 9-mile downhill with a tailwind, because even I wouldn’t have felt comfortable cranking along at the 25mph that the other conditions allowed, if we’d still had such little room for error. We were cruising too fast for me to get a photo of Canyon Ferry Lake (a dammed section of the Missouri River) that first appeared an improbably 600 feet below us. The rest must have done us well (or the tailwind!) since 14.8mph set a record for the fastest average speed of our nomadacy.

Look at those horses standing proudly out…wait; those aren’t real horses! I’m not sure why someone out here would have a couple of life-sized horse sculptures far out in their horse-friendly pasture instead of (in addition to?) the real thing, but they’re pretty cool!

I had done a bunch of research into a couple of limited-services campgrounds on either side of Townsend, but we had a long ride tomorrow, and with a decent chance of evening rain, reviews commenting on mosquitos, and the need to carry in water and carry out garbage, it wouldn’t have been a very relaxing night. So a few miles out of town I made the call (which I think surprised Rett) to just take a motel in town and make our lives easy. It helped that the Mustang Motel is the first under-$100 ($90.72 after tax!) roof we’ve been under in over a month. The first campground we passed (Indian Road) actually looked nicer than I expected, and the forecasted rain never really came to fruition, but the motel was still worth it! Apparently our brains got switched sometime in Helena, with Rett suddenly becoming the hardcore bike-tourer and me the comfort-seeking money-spender!



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