Lewis, Clark, and Transamerica a/k/a "Mom's Fiftieth Birthday I-don't-want-to-grow-up Bicycle Ride Across America"

Montana (Missoula & east)
This is one segment chronicling my family's 2003 bicycle tour through the northwest, and Paula's continuation beyond Montana. If you came here via a Web search, you might want to back up to the index page to start with the overview.

Aug 12th
Wow - today is really smoky, there are several fires burning around Missoula and it looks like an inversion is capping things pretty well. Despite a stage II air quality alert (kids and people with asthma should stay indoors and idle) we head out of town and hope to run into cleaner air. No such luck, as one of the places we pass through, Potomac, has its own fire. We go by Rt. 83 which goes to the west side of Glacier Natl. Park, there are fires up there and also at Seeley Lake near us. We do make it to the small town Ovando (51 residents) and camp on their museum's lawn and use the antique outhouse. They used to have a porta-potty, but all available ones have been relocated to fire camps. We also run into a couple cyclists from Maine on a short visit trying to do a loop that includes Glacier. Bad week for that! They stayed at the B&B, part of the general store.

Aug 13th
Things aren't any more clear today, we ride through Lincoln (the town where Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, lived in a small cottage. Gosh - he was on the news yesterday asking for various papers and the last bomb he was building be returned to him! We have lunch at the Rainbow Cafe, a sleepy little place that will change in a few days when they are tapped to help feed fire fighters. With all the area caterers busy, apparently Rainbow will be tapped to " prepare 225 breakfasts to deliver to firefighters working the two fires near Lincoln," according to the August 19th Great Falls Tribune.

We camp a little ways out of Lincoln at a National Forest campground named Aspen Grove along the Blackfoot River. The folks from Maine are here too and mention that some RVs have wandered through, displaced by a campground closure at Seeley Lake. Eventually one pulls in and stays next to us. The driver (not sure there are more people) pulls out the satellite TV dish, fires up the generator to run TV and air conditioning, and goes back inside to watch the Seattle Mariners. Later he does ask if the generator is too annoying and says it won't run long. Not sure what he left Seattle for....

In a couple days we will hear that the fires force this campground to be closed too and that visibility in Lincoln is reduced to 1/4 mile. While we missed the "Big Sky" experience, and leaving Missoula a day or two earlier would have been much better, leaving a day or two later would have been much worse!

Aug 14th
We press on to the Continental Divide at Roger's Pass (5610'), passing Alice Creek that goes to Lewis & Clark Pass that Clark never reached. (The expedition split up for a while on the return leg and Clark was busy elsewhere. However, Seaman, Lewis's Newfoundland dog was here and is in a few sculptures between Missoula and Great Falls.) The climb up to the pass is not too hard. In fact, a couple valley crossings and other hills east of the pass are harder, one with a 7.5% grade for a couple thousand feet. Not very welcome! There's less smoke, but the weather is hotter, back in the mid 90s, also not very welcome!

The Adventure Cycling route takes us off Rt 200, the main drag between Missoula and Great Falls, to send us to Augusta for no apparent reason. I figure it will put us on very lightly traveled roads, and that bears out. The first part is US 287 and goes through some rolling farmland and one very big farm. In Augusta, we meet up with the folks from Maine yet again and stay in the Bunkhouse Inn, a pleasant but un-air conditioned building. That night we are woken by three drunks in the parking lot. After some carousing, they come inside to the room next to us and keep on carousing. The innkeeper makes two trips up to try to put them to bed and warns that the next visit will be by the state police. Soon after one of them exclaims something about being back in jail for another six months, some pickup starts up and drives off, running over something along the way. After that things settle down pretty well.

Aug 15th
Today we head out on Rt 21 sort of along the Sun River. We never do pass a rolled over pickup, probably just as well. After a couple hills, we settle down in a broad, flat valley. We've passed several farms with rotary irrigation systems. These have a well in the center of the field and a long arm that makes the radius of a large circle of irrigated field. These are quite visible from the air and it's a little interesting to see them close. When we pass a couple that have the well by the road (and hence only irrigate a semicircle), I finally have a good chance to measure them with my GPS receiver. About 0.4 miles long, so the circles are nearly a mile across.

Rt. 21 rejoins Rt. 200 and we get back into the busy road. When US Rt 89 joins us, the road opens up to a five lane road which isn't too bad as most of the traffic passes us in the left lane. Near Vaughn Paula finally gets a flat tire. I'm on the other side of a hill waiting for her, but reluctant to go back because Hannah is well ahead. I finally see a bicyclist coming back, and correctly figure it's Hannah, but she turns around and I have to go chase her down. Fortunately she stops at a convenience store and I tell her to stay put. Then I go back and find that Paula has deduced the inner tube failed near the valve stem, but her patching attempt doesn't hold air. I put in a Presta tube, one of the junky ones that came with the Bianchi bikes, but that fails at the stem a few miles after collecting Hannah. I have another, and put that in with a patch around the stem to support that better, but it doesn't work well either and it goes flat in another few miles.

Eventually I leave Paula at the Midway Bar, dash the final seven miles into Great Falls with Hannah, check her into the La Quinta hotel, call Paula who doesn't answer the phone, then go to the mall and the only open sporting goods store in town. The only tubes they have are Presta, but they also have little plugs to make them fit better. Coming back, I check on Hannah, don't call Paula because I forget the credit card, and head back. It's getting close to sunset, and I stop at a truck stop to call from there, but someone who has just pulled up with a pickup asks me how it's going. So I tell him, and ask if he's willing to drive out to Paula. He is, and we head out only to find no trace of her. Back at the truck stop, I do call. This time she does answer, she was walking her bike and was picked up by people in a van. She got the message I left and is at the hotel.

Eventually, we find that the problem was a typical puncture and that Paula hadn't found it when she first replaced the tube.... Ah well, a good learning experience that all bicyclists learn one way or another. I wound up riding some 70 miles in some pretty hot weather today, the longest distance of the whole tour!

Aug 16th-18th
We can relax for a while in Great Falls, as Hannah's and my flight home isn't until the 19th. We spend Saturday, the 16th, dealing with post office, more innertube shopping and sharp pointy thing in the tire finding, shipping some panniers home, updating WWW pages at the library, etc. On Sunday, we go to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center via a nice bicycle path along the Missouri River. We pass the center to visit some of the waterfalls further downstream. The trail isn't paved all the way to the actual Great Falls, but the other falls are nice even though the water is limited by drought and power dams just above them. The paved part ends above Crooked Falls, where a raptor took wing below us and began a climb above the valley. I tried to track it with my camera, but it got too close to follow or focus. I did get a decent shot after it got above us. Had I known it would get close, I might have skipped the camera altogether as it turned out to be an adult Bald Eagle! On Monday Paula takes a cab to a bike store to pick up used bike boxes to bring to a UPS store while Hannah and I bike there to pack our bikes and more panniers. Then on foot for the rest of the day.

August 19th
Paula heads out for Ft. Benton after breakfast, and Hannah and I check out later and take the hotel shuttle to the airport and our flight home. I've been the main author for these pages up to now, we haven't talked about how things will be updated in the future. Her saga will continue on the next page one way or another.

Other links:

index page and overview

Paula's page

Ric's page

Hannah's page