35.1 mi / 10.1 mph / 1584 ft. climbing
Home: Red Ranch HipCamp
Yesterday’s record-long day allowed us to do a relatively-short day into Livingston. Which is good, because we had some tough hills to climb. I-90 is the direct route east to Livingston, but it has some shoulderless and shoulder-lite sections as it ascends to Bozeman Pass, so it makes sense that Adventure Cycling’s Lewis & Clark route does a roundabout loop to the north up through Bridger Canyon, and every other source (including our WarmShowers host) seemed to agree.
Well, Bridger Canyon Drive is also shoulderless, but Bozeman is outdoor-civilized enough to provide a bike path for a few miles. Unfortunately it’s totally not a rail-trail, and the up-and-down hills exceeded those of the road, making us wish we had just chosen to wrestle with the relatively-light traffic instead. Once the trail dumped us into the road anyway on this summer Sunday, we barely saw a single car without bikes, a boat, an ATV, or other outdoor recreation equipment attached. You’d think that means they’d all respect their fellow outdoor recreators riding the road, and I’m sure it helps on average, but the bad side of that average still allows plenty of space for jerks. And Rett was feeling pretty worn out (presumably from yesterday’s ride), so it was far from a stress-free Sunday for us.
Eventually we had proceeded far enough north up Bridger Canyon that we could turn on to Jackson Creek Rd. and have it return us back south to the I-90 corridor. At that point traffic dropped to nearly nothing, and it was basically just us, the beautiful mountains, the big-horned cattle, excited horses, and sandhill cranes.
After turning east onto the I-90 frontage road we had one final hill to take us to the top of Bozeman Pass, and then we had a wonderful 14-mile downhill all the way to Livingston.
We had a McDonald’s craving so bad (and we were in by lunchtime) that we actually went off-route to eat there. It turns out it was right across from the Albertsons grocery store though, so we did some shopping. Upon exit, the clouds that had been keeping the temperature down all day had suddenly all disappeared, making it brutally hot in the parking lot. I got in touch with our HipCamp host, and she confirmed that their tenting area was an open field with no shade (and that the small creek on their property was more of an irrigation ditch, so no good for swimming), so it made no sense to head out there to the edge of town just to bake.
So we headed to Sacagawea Park in hope of some shade, and maybe a dip in the Yellowstone River. But Rett was steaming emotionally as well as physically, and nothing I suggested would make her comfortable with the idea that she would not be able to declare her day done until we spent hours waiting out the heat. I walked to check out the river, and while I could see people in it (some body-surfing the rapids), they were 20 feet down a near-vertical bank, so cooling in the water would not be a thing. At least shade from large, mature trees was a thing, and that shade must have eventually cooled Rett enough that she was willing to settle in (and snack on some carrots and hummus.
An hour or two later, we faced a near-opposite problem: radar (and then our own eyes and ears) showed a storm heading for us. We gathered our strewn-about stuff (including our sleeping pad I’d been laying on) and took cover under a picnic shelter. By the time the rain actually hit, the park had nearly cleared out. And then a woman going by on a bike offered us a place to stay if we needed one! I don’t think that’s ever happened to us (at least not so easily), which probably says both how rarely we look forlorn, and how forlorn we looked in this moment. No, we’ll be ok, but thank you!!
We never got a ton of water, which was lucky because the wind was delivering it nearly-sideways, and the high roof of the shelter didn’t do much to live up to its name. And that wind blasted hard enough that we needed to hold onto our bikes to keep them from tipping over. Once it cleared out, we took that as our signal that it was safe to move to our final destination.
Livingston is an oddly-arranged town. It’s laid out linearly along railroad tracks, but in the whole 2+ mile length, there are only three connections between the south (main) side of town and the north side. The isolation is greater than most towns that are divided by rivers! Our first attempt to get to our campsite on the north side was foiled by a stopped train, so we moved on to the second crossing that turned out to be a tight switch-backing underpass, presumably wedged in as a solution to frequent crossing blockages due to what seems to be a pretty active freight yard in the middle of town.
We had one more delay to suffer before reaching out destination, because my front tire suddenly went flat. It was still to far to go to push the bike on its rim, so we had to stop and replace the tube (it was a rare case of glass successfully getting through the tire). At least it gave us a chance to notice the incredible view of the town now below us and the huge mountain range in spitting distance on the other side.
Finally up some more steep hills, then a bit of gravel driveway, and we found our spot between two permanent canvas tents that was comfortable now but definitely would have melted us earlier. We still huddled in the small triangle of shade now being cast by one of the (unoccupied) canvas tents to make dinner though. Well, “make” is even a stretch, but at least we’d been wise enough earlier to get a no-cook dinner. We’d each gotten a bagged salad, and then a protein (seasoned chicken chunks for me, flavored tuna for Rett) to mix in. Damn, we need to remember to do that more often!
This HipCamp was pretty new, but already the cat was famous. “He’ll sleep in the tent with you!” the reviews crowed. Well, all those guests must have been in the (more expensive) canvas tents. Because sure, friendly cats are awesome, except when they’re so friendly that they won’t get off your tissue-thin tent fabric when you’re trying to set it up! Even when it was up he would stand and put his front claws on the fabric, and he was constantly trying to get inside. It was super-annoying, made worse by the fact that it actually would have been super-cool if our $600 shelter wasn’t constantly at risk.
But the points our hosts lost due to poor cat management were regained by the recommendation to do a sunset hike up the hill on their land. Not only did we get the promised views in every direction, it partially answered a question I frequently ask myself when we pass a hillside spread with cattle: when is the last time a human has been up on that hill? Well, here we were in exactly one of those places. Coming down, I got cleaned up in the outdoor shower (that in a few years of careful tending could come close to the vine-wrapped shower we used in Baja), and used the camper-bathroom (each site has its own designated 5-gallon bucket with toilet seat inside the small camper). Definitely a unique stay.