Bike tour 1974 to See the West: Beartooth Pass to Billings

Dear Helene [1974: Helene was a coworker and friend. I gave her all the letters to follow and rewrote this one.]

I lost the letter for the next to last day of the trip and didn't write one for the last day. Since that gap really should be filled and since I have a small ledger from the trip and pictures, I decided to see how well I can piece the memories back together. So please put this at the bottom of the stack and wait and see how I do!


July 13th
odometer start: 3328.9
now ?

I managed to climb Colter Pass without any trouble so continued to the bottom of the hill and camped at the Crazy Creek campground. A person about my age invited me over to his parent's camp for dinner and invited me back for a big breakfast this morning. They come from Billings, making Montana the friendliest state I've been to!

Of the 3 or 4 I've passed, this Crazy Creek best deserves its name. By the campground it is more a cascade than a creek. Even though the "spring" melt peaked a week ago there is still enough water to cover the boulders and raise enough spray to make a rainbow.

Since our hike along it was after breakfast, I got off to a fairly late start around 1000 - 1100. The ride up to Beartooth Pass is in two parts. The first 2000 feet up got me to a "ledge" that was nearly flat for 5 - 10 miles. I stopped at a lonely house and store in the middle of nowhere for a Coke and found a book from the University of Montana describing a lot of the geology visible from highways in the northwest. Wish I had seen it earlier - probably would have bought it. The final 2000 feet are a series of switchbacks with larger snowbanks with each turn. Tiring work, but everytime I paused I was impressed with how much higher I was. When I finally got to the top and turned into the parking area someone rolled down his window and congratulated me. At least he didn't honk!

Clouds had been piling up all day but right after I borrowed a closeup lens from someone who nearly left it on the ground where he dropped it, they broke so I quickly shot pictures of all the flower species I could find. I returned it just as the clouds covered the sun again. He didn't even realize what he lost out on!

There was more snow on the east side and I thought that the snowbank the Red Lodge Racing camp uses might be nearby and soon after passing a 15 foot high wall of snow I saw a portable ski left on what looked more like a cliff than a ski hill. No one was there, but the waitress at Cooke City said they only ski in the morning to save the snow. She also said the camp was based in Cooke City now since the hills are easier for their bus.

Once past the pass the road heads downward. There are only 5 or 6 switchbacks but each leg is a mile or so long. The grade is only 6% according to a sign and is about what I expected since that's the maximum semis can handle. The pass is about 11,000 feet and Red Lodge is only 5 or 6000. That means 24 miles, all downhill. If it was a little steeper it would have been even more fun.

There isn't much to say about Red Lodge so I think I'll just move on and mail this if I see a mailbox.

One of the things the people at last night's campground said I fully agree with now. They think Yellowstone should also encompass the entire area I rode through today. The only real problem is what would happen to Silver Gate and Cooke City since they could not exist within the park.

July 14th
3413.2 (start)
now: ?

Putz. Looks like I still am losing things - I lost yesterday's letter sometime this morning. Too bad - there was some good stuff in it. I pushed on fairly late yesterday, partially because I want to get to Billings as early as possible but also because the only campground I passed looked like it was over a mile down a rocky road. I wound up sleeping behind some bushes in the town park in Joliet. The town cop discovered me before I fell asleep and asked if I was "wet". After I explained why I was there he left and I fell asleep.

I got up fairly early and rode to this restaurant about six miles down the road. Looks like I'll get to Billings around noon.

July 14th
odometer now: 3459.5

I'm now in Billings at a motel. The only train that heads east leaves at 1700 so I have a fair amount of time here. The sole reason I am here is because I need a shower. Being Sunday, the local YMCA is closed so I don't have much choice.

Believe it or not, Amtrak doesn't service Cleveland! The Chicago - Cleveland - Buffalo route was shut down from lack of patronage. So I'll go to Chicago and spend a day or so there and take a bus or plane to Cleveland.

I will be very interested in seeing how much I remember of the Museum of Science and Industry.

I don't have much to say about the trip in general. I would have liked to have spent some more time in several areas, but considering that the theme of the trip was "whirlwind tour" of the west to identify areas to return to it has worked out extremely well. Right now, I am very interested in getting home to see how all those pictures I took turned out since haven't seen any results of Kodachrome-64 film!

All in all, for my first longer than one day trip, I have no real complaints.


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