Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day 54

Bundy Bridge Fishing Access, Worden, MT → Laurel, MT
Net Elevation gain: 390 ft. (2838 ft. to 3228 ft.)
Average Speed: 8.2 mph
Top Speed: 26.8 mph
Time spent biking: 5 hours 50 minutes
Total time for the day's travels: 11 hours 40 minutes
Miles biked today: 47.6
Total for trip: 2588.9 miles

The bugs weren't quite as bad when we got up early today, but we still moved around quickly (as quickly as we can in the morning) packing up the bike and taking down the tent. Eating breakfast was the number one priority, but we wanted to be some place mosquito free, so we got on the bike and pedaled back out to the main road looking for a good spot to stop and eat.

About four miles down the road we parked ourselves at the corner of a little road that crossed the railroad tracks and sat down to cook some food. Jenny made beans, sausage, and cheese while Brett worked on some writing. A couple trains passed us and we waved.

All the food out of the bag and ready to cook breakfast.

After we were fed, pedaling felt a little easier and we soon reached the town of Worden where we found a gas station that had very nice restrooms. We bought a few treats and the man who rang us up said he saw us cooking earlier. Then we were back on our way west.

Much of the biking this morning wasn't very exciting. It was hot, but not unbearable and we were glad that we'd gotten an early start on the day. The part of the morning that WAS exciting was the moment we spotted the mountains! We had wondered when we'd see them, and Brett had guessed we would see them today. Beautiful! The roads we took became busier as we neared Billings. We stopped at a Walmart outside the city and bought extra fuel for the stove to make sure we don't run out, plus some chocolate milk to tide us over until lunch which we were hungry for.

One of our first shots of the mountains in the distance.

Posing with the bike.

Once we coasted down the hill into the large city of Billings it was afternoon, the temperature had risen considerably, and we were really hungry. After smaller towns where it can be hard to find a good restaurant that also had wifi, we had set our sights high for Billings. We had “Chinese buffet” on our minds, but the first few establishments we tried didn't have Internet at all. The traffic was a bit crazy, too, but eventually it calmed down as we entered the actual downtown area. We saw a sign for an independent sandwich shop called Rockets, and they had strong Internet. Done deal.

Rockets was great. Their fare was excellent, atmosphere happy and artsy, and it wasn't too noisy or distracting. We did a lot of work on the Internet, checking email, reading comments on the blog (so many nice ones), and other odds and ends. One big thing, too: we bought plane tickets home! We're flying home September 7th from San Francisco! Now we just have to get there. The timing should be about right, although Brett will have to jump right back into work the next day.

We had to leave Rockets at 4 o'clock when they closed, but we had pretty much done all we wanted to do. Next up was grocery shopping. We got directions to an Albertson's and headed there. We bought so much stuff!! Maybe most importantly we bought a large bag of ice, but also lots of stuff to cook and snack on. It took us a long time to pack and strap it all on the bike, but that was okay because we avoided a heavy rain and wind storm while at the store.

Brett shows off our groceries!

After that, all we had to do was find our way out of the city, hopefully on Frontage Road again. We had looked it up on line, and it took us a little while and a couple guesses, but we found it. We were really happy to be leaving the big city. Frontage Road paralleled the highway, and it was right next to its eastbound traffic. Brett enjoyed waving to folks on the highway for a while.

Just as we were leaving Billings, we spotted this cute rainbow.

We thought we might stay the night in Laurel, because our state map had it listed as having some sort of camping. We also knew there was an RV park a little before the town, but it hadn't gotten the best reviews. When we got to a truck stop (with the RV park behind it), we asked a cashier about camping and she had no idea. We had seen a sign for fresh pie at the diner attached, so we headed in there to ask, and maybe for some pie.

A piece of coconut cream pie later, we had found out there was camping in Laurel at a town park. We thanked them and left, but the sky looked really ominous and the wind was picking up. We decided to take a look at the RV park before leaving, and then we decided just to stay as the rain seemed ready to fall any minute. We raced to set up the tent before it poured, and we were in the tent by the time it hit!

Our camping spot for the night. (This was taken the next morning, when it wasn't raining.)

We ate some food in the tent, and Jenny ventured out again later to take a shower, but it was a low-key evening, and we pretty much just went to bed.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 53

Hysham, MT → Bundy Bridge Fishing Access, Worden, MT
Net Elevation gain: 220 ft. (2618 ft. to 2838 ft.)
Average Speed: 9.1 mph
Top Speed: 37.5 mph
Time spent biking: 6 hours 24 minutes
Total time for the day's travels: 13 hours 14 minutes
Miles biked today: 58.0
Total for trip: 2541.3 miles

To recap: Sprinklers and noisy locals kept us from sleeping well, and we had planned to be up early. Brett's alarm went off at 5:00, and we got up shortly thereafter.

Once we made the push to get up and out of the tent, we were greeted by many very persistent mosquitoes. Rushing around packing up and taking down the tent was stressful and we both were sleepy still, but really wanted to get out of there as quickly as we could before we got eaten alive.

On the road by 5:36, our earliest start of the trip, we felt relieved, but exhausted. It was a wonderful thing to have the sun behind us for a little while when it came up! We enjoyed a few cool hours of biking before it started to get hot around 9:30. We were slow, but proud of ourselves for making our plan of starting earlier to avoid some of the heat actually happen.

Thanks to the information from locals we spoke to the night before, we knew our choice was obvious: avoid the Hysham Hills on the Interstate by taking the “old highway.” For the few miles before sunrise, we were mostly going between corn fields. We paused just long enough in our flight from the mosquitoes to grab a banana and a few prunes from the back bag. The sun rose and soon after we turned north to cross the Yellowstone River.

Our very first sunrise picture of the trip?

We paused on the bridge to take some pictures. Then, since there weren't any mosquitoes on the bridge, we stayed for a snack of Manna bread. Brett wasn't satisfied, so he poured himself a pan of cereal and rice milk. Right afterwards, we decided to stay and cook sausage and zucchini! After our lengthy stay on the bridge, we crossed to the other side and began riding through more pastures and a few crop fields.

Eating on the (mosquito-free) bridge.

It was neat to watch the crop duster fly so low over the fields, and a little scary to be so near the chemicals.

Both of us love birds of prey, so we stopped to take some pictures of a couple of red tailed hawks that were circling above, making their loud piercing cries. They kept landing in trees right near the top of the cliffs we were following along the north side of the road. So majestic!

Jenny captured this great shot of one of the birds we were watching in awe.

The cliffs were so cool to ride by!

Less than a mile later, we stopped again to take pictures of birds. This time, it was the swallows that make their mud nests under cliff overhangs. There were so many! It's amazing what sights you see when you don't take the expansive highways and stick to the little roads. We don't even have to go out of our way to see neat things and different scenery.

These birds were so much fun to watch.

A farmer that had gone by in the same direction in his pick-up earlier pulled to the side of the road and shut his truck off to talk to us. He was curious how far we had come and where we were headed. Unlike some people, he was so calm and easy to talk to; he was in no rush and not particularly excitable. The conversation only came to an end because someone else in a truck pulled up from the other direction.

This is a cattle guard. They keep the cattle from wandering where they shouldn't. They take the place of a fence across roads. Kind of annoying to ride over, but not too bad.

Continuing on, we climbed our one hill of the morning. There were some small ups and downs, but this was the only hill. We stopped one more time to take pictures beneath a beautiful cliff with amazing rock formations. Then we finally made it through some more fields and down to the bridge across the river into Custer.

Two of the pictures beneath the cliffs.

There wasn't much open in Custer, but we did find a cafe still alive. The owner said he gets by with only a few customers during the day since he gets a fair number in for breakfast. He does all the cooking, cleaning and serving, but he manages to rustle up a tasty lunch for a reasonable price.

The cafe was a break from the intense heat that was now upon us, but we were back out in it soon enough, and it was still warming up. We stopped at the gas station in Custer for ice before heading back to the Frontage Road to head west. A few miles down the road, Jenny mentioned that she REALLY wished we could go swimming. Just then, we came upon a sign for a fishing access!

Hoping it would be a good place to swim, we excitedly turned toward the river on the gravel road. Not far along, we found the river. After talking with two of the people there, we made our way to a spot where no one was fishing, out of sight of everything except the river. We parked the bike in the shade of some trees, shed our socks and shoes, and walked down to the bank of the Yellowstone River.


Oh how delightful it was to swim around in the water! The cool, refreshing water was such a welcome break from our hot day. We were in the sun, but not burning up! Amazing! We played in the river for quite a while, making our way upstream on the back current, then jumping in the forceful downstream current. We found a few cool stones, lost them, and found a couple more. After almost an hour, we reluctantly climbed out and relished our wetness as we put our shoes and helmets back on for an afternoon of riding.

Looking for a break and maybe some food and water, we found the town of Pompey's Pillar to be only a bar so we headed back to Frontage Road and continued on. We found a tiny spot that looked like it could be camping, but it would have been really noisy wedged between train tracks and the road, with the highway not far off. So, we opted to check out what Pompey's Pillar was all about.

It turns out that Pompey's Pillar is pretty neat. Besides being a cool rock that sticks straight up in a very flat landscape, it's a national monument best known now as the only place left where you can see physical evidence of Lewis & Clark's exploratory expedition (1803-1806). We went into the air conditioned visitor center. We didn't feel like reading the exhibits, but were pleased to learn we could climb the Pillar for free since we came by bicycle.

Pompey's Pillar.

Walking up stairs is not as easy when you've been biking all day, every day, but we climbed up to the signature, snapped a few pictures, and then climbed to the top. It's only about 200 feet high in total from the flat land below, but it offers quite a view since it's the only high thing on that side of the river for miles around.

Lots of people have made their mark on this large sandstone formation over the years.

William Clark's signature from just over 204 years ago.

We were tired, but we made it all the way to the top!

Back at the bottom, Brett wasn't feeling well at all, but we had asked about camping in the area and were told there was a fishing access we could camp at less than a mile away. Brett rallied after a few more minutes in the air conditioning, and we pedaled up the road to Bundy Bridge Fishing Access.

It smelled a little funny, and there wasn't much flat ground for pitching the tent, but there was a vault toilet, and we managed to find a decent little spot. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes found us, and we headed inside as quickly as possible. We were tired and hungry, and not feeling great, but we had made our goal of starting early and ending early happen! It was only about 7:00, and we had covered 58 miles. We ate in the tent, and then fell asleep exhausted.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Day 52

Forsyth, MT → Hysham, MT
Net Elevation gain: 20 ft. (2598 ft. to2618 ft.)
Average Speed: 7.0 mph
Top Speed: 33.6 mph
Time spent biking: 4 hours 30 minutes
Total time for the day's travels: 10 hours
Miles biked today: 31.4
Total for trip: 2483.3 miles

The tent got hot as soon as the sun came up this morning. We had both slept fairly well, and felt much more rested than the day before, but would gladly have slept a bit longer. We were disappointed that it looked like it was going to be another scorching hot day. We spoke to our friendly neighbor in the next campsite, and traded her 120V electricity for the news that there was free Internet to be had at the campground.

We had some food with us, but weren't excited about eating it, or staying around for a while, so we packed up and left by 9:30, even after we installed the new bike computer. We had wanted to leave earlier to avoid the heat as much as possible and get a bunch of miles done before it got too hot, but when it was already hot when we got up, that slowed us down. We biked into Forsyth again, and stopped at the IGA supermarket there. We ended up hanging out there for an hour or more, drinking fluids, listening to Brett's whining and distributing ice into water bottles and zip lock bags in the cool sack.

Brett finally gets tired of complaining and decides to be happy.

Finally leaving the grocery store around 11:00, we decided to take our chances with Frontage Road which parallels the big highway, rather than get on Route 94. We had seen parts of Frontage Road the day before while we were riding the highway, and it often looked nicer. The map wasn't helpful, but we figured it was worth taking a chance on. Hopefully it would be paved the whole way to the next town.

We are so glad we took Frontage Road! It was SO much quieter and more pleasant than the noisy highway. There was hardly any traffic, and even though there was no shoulder to speak of, traffic moved around us because there was nothing coming the other way! Unfortunately, the wind was against us and this was no light breeze. It was pretty strong, so the going was very slow. We weren't sure how we were going to make it through. Every pedal stroke seemed to be a huge effort. There wasn't a whole lot of talking going on, and it was too hot to sing.

Two trees growing out of a cliff.

Today was the first day that we passed fields being harvested. Pretty amazing.

Not too long after we left the town and choose Frontage Road over the highway, we remembered we had a new bike computer! Brett looked down and we didn't believe that we'd really gone 6 miles already. That boosted our spirits a little, and it was a good distraction for a little while.

We were looking for signs for a recreation area that was listed on the map. We were desperately hoping it would have swimming, because the heat was really getting to us. We scoured the sides of the road, searching for the elusive sign, but we never did see one. Onward we went, battling sinking morale and the brutal heat. At last, we found something worth finding: a pair of trees that shaded a patch of high grass underneath them! We didn't have to ask each other to know we were stopping there. For two hours we lay in the shade of those magnificent trees (and they were big), eating, drinking water, and resting. We actually had fun in the shade, taking pictures and lounging about on our tarp. The temperature difference was remarkable.

Sometimes resting in the shade is the place to be.

When we would have had to move the tarp for the second time to follow the shade, we instead opted to brave the sun's heat once more. We pushed on at 3:15, and a few miles down the road were excited to see prairie dogs! We were sad to have left North Dakota before seeing any, but here in a Montana cow pasture there were so many! We were amused by their chittering. They would stand up near their holes into the ground, and every so often dash for a different hole. Usually several would dash all at once, essentially trading spots. It was really fun to watch.

Prairie dogs!

Before we forget to mention it, there are so many trains here! Every little while, there is another freight train rolling by in one direction or the other, hauling coal or oil or who knows what else. We love seeing them still, just like we love seeing birds of prey even when we see them all the time out here. Sometimes we even wave to them, bracing ourselves for what usually yields a very loud toot of the horn.

We have enjoyed reading about the history from these signs along the road. (Don't forget, you can click on the photo to make it larger so that you can read it better.)

Still, we wanted to go swimming. We wanted to just jump in the Yellowstone River that we were following the valley of, but it just wasn't the right spot ever. A few miles east of Hysham, we spotted their water tower, and saw their little airport that probably only exists for the crop dusting planes. The last few miles into Hysham were still slow, but at least we knew we were approaching something.

We thought of a new plan: quit early today in Hysham, get a good night's sleep, and get up really early to beat the heat. If we followed this pattern every day, we should be able to get just as many miles done, but not be so hot!

In town we found a gas station at which we got some ice and directions to a park to camp at, as well as a recommendation for a good place to eat at in town. The restaurant didn't have an Internet signal, but there was one from the bar next door. We went in and asked for the password and the bartender willingly punched it into our computer for us. Then we went back to the restaurant to eat. The food was good and it was fun to listen to the large group of red hat ladies in for dinner.

The locals were friendly at this place, just like the sign says.

Our accommodations for the night.

When we found the park the sun hadn't quite gone down yet but the mosquitoes were starting to come out already. There were bathrooms that were unlocked and a large undercover pavilion with a switch that cost a quarter for an hour of electricity. But the mosquitoes were pretty bad, and after a few minutes of tag team writing, we headed into our tent for the night. Just when we were settling down though, a very annoying thing happened: the sprinklers popped up out of the ground and started their nightly ritual, including one right next to the tent.

The automatic rotating sprinklers make a very loud sound when the water hits the outside of your tent in rhythmic spurts that are reminiscent of gunfire. We were under attack! Tck-a-tck-a-tck-a-tck, pht pht pht, pht, pht, tck-a-tck-a-tck-a-tck! Yeesh. So much for a restful night. We weren't sure what to do. We considered moving the tent under the pavilion, but we'd have to move tables around and it might not be easy. Plus, we were tired. Jenny valiantly went out and stepped on the sprinkler attacking us, which stopped it temporarily, but it didn't stay off. Brett tried next, but he also failed to disarm the sprinkler, because it only stopped if you put a lot of weight on it constantly. We didn't have anything that was heavy enough to put on top of it, so he just put a gallon water jug between the sprinkler and the tent. It was just about as loud, but at least the tent fly wasn't getting quite as pummeled.

The tent wasn't actually getting wet, but weren't actually getting much sleep. After the sprinklers stopped around 10:30 P.M., we tried to get some sleep, but we couldn't relax. The sounds of trains seemed nearly constant. A motorcyclist pulled into the park to camp, too. A few local boys walked into the park yelling, “Wake up!” but they were just passing through and weren't really interested in us. Finally, we did get to sleep, only to be awakened by sprinklers going on again around 3 or 4 for another round.

Brett's alarm helped get us up at 5:00, but it took a few minutes to get any enthusiasm going. After that, we got up, threw the wet stuff on the back of the bike, ran around dodging the incredible hordes of mosquitoes, ran out of the park, and jumped into our seats.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 51

Miles City, MT → Forsyth, MT
Net Elevation gain: 210 ft. (2388 ft. to 2598 ft.)
Average Speed: 8.6 mph
Top Speed: 37 mph
Time spent biking: 6 hours 30 minutes
Total time for the day's travels: 16 hours 30 minutes
Miles biked today: 55.3
Total for trip: 2451.9 miles

Jenny just couldn't get to sleep last night. She lay in the tent trying to fall asleep for hours. Not wanting to disturb Brett with her restlessness, and giving up hope that she would fall asleep, she eventually decided to get up at 3:30 and see what the world looked like in the middle of the night. Discovery: It's really dark outside.

It's frustrating not to be able to fall asleep. This is the first time this trip that Jenny hasn't slept well. Every once and a while at home she will struggle with restlessness at night, but for whatever reason, be it the extra exercise from biking, or the comfortable sleeping pads and pillows we brought with us, she has slept great on this trip up until tonight. We both hope that it won't become a pattern.

By about 6am, she couldn't take it anymore and giddily woke Brett up. “Let's go! Let's go!” she said. Brett took a little coaxing, but was eager to make an early start, so we were gone before long, looking for a good breakfast place. It took us a while and then actually asking someone to find the true downtown of Miles City. We found a diner right on Main St. We were disappointed to learn the wifi was for the owner only, but we ate our breakfast and thought about the day to come.

The plan was to find the bike shop in town and buy a new tire and a spare tube for the rear, since we were now riding on the spare. We were thinking about possibly getting the bike tuned up again also, but we thought we'd just wait and see how the bike shop seemed and how busy they were. After breakfast, a few minutes more down main street we found the shop. Not open until 10:00, the sign on the door said. Sometimes getting up so early has it's drawbacks. We decided to wait the hour and a half because as tempting as it was to bike on, we knew we might not see another bike shop for a while and not having a spare tire made us nervous. We found a little park close to the shop and settled in to rest and do some writing while we waited for 10:00 to roll around.

Jenny sits in the gazebo and tries to write on the blog.

Jenny was understandably tired. She tried to rest some in the park, but it's hard to rest sometimes, especially in public places when you are overtired. We ended up writing a little and working on the blog in general. Mostly, we were waiting. As 10:00 approached, we checked back at the bike shop, but no one was in early, so we spent our time looking for free wifi signals. We found one just barely strong enough, sat on the curb where it seemed to work, and checked a couple comments. The rest of the time before 10:00, and for about twenty minutes after the hour, we just waited for the shop owner to arrive.

We weren't the only ones waiting. Another touring cyclist was there as well, and the shopkeeper's assistant was also there. There was a local bicyclist there for a while with a tight tire that he couldn't get off his rim, so Brett used his tools and did it for him. There was even a bike sitting in line, waiting without an apparent owner. When Miles did arrive, we all trooped in behind him. Miles is a loud man, with a friendly but slightly cynical outlook on life, and he bustled around the shop helping others while we picked out what we wanted: another spare tube for the back, a new bike computer (wired, not wireless), and a new tire for the back. He was so busy we skipped the possible tune-up.

By the time we finally left the bike shop, we were hungry for lunch. On our way back to the main highway, we passed a health food store and pulled in to see what they had. We found Mana Bread! We also got some dried fruit, but they didn't have enough to do full shopping for the day. After some time with their wifi, we made it to an Albertson's (supermarket) on the main drag near the highway. Now we were getting pretty silly, possibly from the tiredness and the heat, but maybe just in mimicry of the crazy day we were having.

At last, Mana Bread! Victory!

What's so funny? No idea, really...

Did we mention it was hot? HOT. Today would be our first on the big highway, Route 94. Underpasses were our saviors today. Jenny was so tired and sleepy from the heat that it was tough for her to stay awake. Brett was just hot, but that was enough. At one of the underpasses we parked the bike and climbed up into the shade to rest for a while. It wasn't that comfortable though, so we didn't stay very long and we left feeling only marginally better.

Brett takes a rest beneath an overpass.

It was brutally hot, but we still took note of some of the beautiful scenery.

There were also hills to climb today. Just when we were starting to give up hope for the day, Jenny started a game of “guess the word.” We took turns saying things like, “Okay, four letters and it starts with 't' and ends with 'e''' and the other person would try to guess the word. After we warmed up, we started giving each other harder and longer words. We must have played this game for at least 2 hours (or what felt like it). It really got our minds working and distracted, it woke us up, and the miles passed faster without us noticing.

Rugged beauty.

A bunch of miles before Forsyth, we found a rest area where we took a break in the shade and filled up our water bottles. We spoke with a nice couple who are in the Scottish weaving business and drive around the country to festivals to sell their tartans and such. We also met Ben, who was driving back home to Washington from Chicago. He was very friendly and easy to talk to and he took our picture. He said he might camp at the same place as us tonight. We were all tempted to camp at the rest stop, but we decided to abide by the “no camping” regulations.

Thanks to Ben, here's a nice shot of us with the Yellowstone River Valley in the background.

Such big ears.

Such pretty sunsets out here.

It was dark by the time we reached Foryth. We found an all-night diner in town (probably only in business because of the large train yard literally across the street) and decided to get some food before looking for the campground. We got directions to two different campgrounds, and set out, filled with cheeseburgers. We checked out the public one first, but it was kind of creepy because no one else was there, and we couldn't see well where things were. We backtracked some and ended up at the WagonWheel Campsite.

We pulled in, it was dark, and we couldn't make out much, but figured we'd pull into one of the empty spaces, set up for the night and go to sleep. We had just picked a spot, when out of the darkness (well, there may have been a streetlight around somewhere) we heard a real old-timer's voice: “Ken I hep yew?” He wasn't shy, so his voice was loud. Brett talked with the nice old man who ran the campground, and he decided he could take a check and we could pay in the morning. We won't forget his laugh, or some of the things funny ways he said things for a long time. We then walked around looking for a different spot, but ended up back where we started. Setting up the tent in the dark is not really a problem since we know it so well, and we have our routines down pat, so little is said once we set to work. Then, we made sure the bags were closed against any rain that might fall, and went to sleep.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 50

Plevna, MT → Miles City, MT
Net Elevation gain: -368 ft. (2756 ft. to 2388 ft.)
Average Speed: 10 mph
Top Speed: 41 mph
Time spent biking: 6 hours 30 minutes
Total time for the day's travels: 9 hours 30 minutes
Miles biked today: 63.9
Total for trip: 2396.6 miles

We woke up to the sound of light rain falling on the tent. Once we got up, we moved ourselves and all of our gear into the shelter to eat some breakfast. Oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, avocado and chips made a delicious meal and we were ready to leave by 9:30. Nice cloudy skies surrounded us as we set out, a welcome change from the past few days of heat.

A rainy morning. After the heat, that was okay with us!

We were both feeling better than we had last night, having gotten some good rest, despite the very loud trains passing in the night. We woke up whenever they passed, of course, because they blew their whistle for the crossing and it seemed like they were headed right for our sleepy heads, but they always stayed on the tracks. As fun as trains are, we're tired of camping near them at night.

As we were setting out, Brett was worried about his knee. After days of good feeling there, yesterday it had given him pain. This morning, before we left it popped disconcertingly. After riding a little ways today, both knees felt much better, thankfully. By the time the knees felt better, we were leaving behind the few houses that we saw for the first ten miles or so. Then it was clear we really were on our own out in the middle of nowhere.

Okay, so that's not a horse, or a cow. Did you know they had zebras in Montana? Neither did we.

Turns out, “nowhere” is BEAUTIFUL! We took a lot of pictures today. There were lots of picturesque pastures, marked by barbed wire fences. Sometimes we'd see cows inside, but usually we were alone even from the cows.

The sun did come out, as much as we wished for it to stay hidden behind clouds all day. Today at least we did get some relief from scattered clouds. We kept rooting for the clouds to come rolling in and stay, but they always passed by after a little break. Blocking the sun must be hard work.

Lunch/snack of chips with beans and cheese.

Look at all the different colors!

There were going to be hills. We knew that from looking at the elevations on line ahead of time, two nights ago at the motel. They weren't as bad as we feared, being mostly rolling hills. There were some nice descents, and of course a few decent hills, too. On the hills and other times, too, we did a lot of singing. We've probably mentioned it a bunch already, but we really enjoy singing together. Maybe we'll carry this habit home with us, and do it more than we used to.

They don't call it Big Sky Country for nothing.

The Powder River.

Around mile 40 or 45, the bigger hills started. They were long suckers, and fairly steep, but we climbed them fast enough. And of course it would figure that the sun would out and really pour on the heat just as we were climbing the big hills. We started taking more frequent breaks, both just for breathers, but also for food (a carrot, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chocolate).

Climbing up and looking back. Amazing layers!

Brett with peanut butter and jelly.

During a break in the middle of a long climb up a hill, Jenny found some shiny rocks on the sandy cliffs near the road. She brought them back for Brett to hold.

Also from looking at the elevations on line beforehand, we knew there was a big downhill awaiting us at the end of the wilderness, so we had that to look forward to all day, and it kept us going. We did one last big climb, and then suddenly felt ourselves headed down. It was two miles before we caught our breath from the awesome steep downhill, but it was another two miles of mild downhill before the ride was over!

The signs of a downhill to come.

At the bottom of the mountain, leaning the bike against the Junction 94 sign, we took a short break. Hundreds of grasshoppers jumped away as we stepped into the short grass alongside the road. There are LOTS of grasshoppers around here. Sometimes they jump onto us from the side of the road while we're biking. It's startling.

Less than a mile past the overpass for 94, we found a private campground and decided that we were ready to be done for the night. Big Sky Campground had laundry facilities, showers , Internet, and nice grassy spots for our tent. After we got settled in and cooked up some dinner, we took turns taking showers and switching the laundry, while the other did some writing inside on a couch away form the mosquitoes. The owners of the park even gave us some chicken for a second dinner while we were inside the lounge area!

Our first dinner: Pasta, broccoli, carrots, garlic, cheese, curry powder and a touch of cayenne.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 49

Bowman, ND → Plevna, MT
Net Elevation gain: -223 ft. (2979 ft. to 2756 ft.)
Average Speed: 9.7 mph
Top Speed: 36 mph
Time spent biking: 6 hours
Total time for the day's travels: 9 hours
Miles biked today: 58.4
Total for trip: 2332.7 miles

Another very hot day awaited us when we woke up this morning in a very large bed. Torn between riding and taking some time to work on line was hard for us this morning. We were overwhelmed with all that we wanted to accomplish, decisions to be made about things back home, and how WE were getting home, so we stayed in the motel room until close to 11:00 working on things.

With bags of ice to keep the food cool, we crossed the street to buy some supplies for the day. Bread, chocolate, beans, water, cheese, chips, and some sandwiches for later all got purchased and then put in our bags, and we also got some food to eat right then. There were so many things strapped to the top of the bike today!

Leaving wasn't easy in the heat. It was wicked hot. Much like yesterday, we wondered if we should really be riding at all. In the parking lot, we found a bouncy ball. Jenny took it along and after we got going, she bravely dropped it as we were rolling along, and it came right back to her hand! She caught it, and we kept going, much amused. Sometimes it's the little things in life...

The temperatures were high, but the country was beautiful. The scenery changed gradually to more large sandy hills. We stopped for pictures several times, each time thinking it couldn't get much more pretty. We did keep hoping for some shade or a cool breeze, but in 97 degree heat, in North Dakota, there isn't much you can do but drink water and keep riding.

Our day started off looking like this.

Then it started to look more like this. There were so many pictures to take today.

Jenny admires the view.


This set of wind turbines looked newly installed.

This is a boingy deer. When it runs, it resembles a kangaroo. It's just standing there right now, but maybe you can imagine it.

Hay. Doesn't it look like it's going to fall over?

We were excited to make it to the last town in North Dakota along Route 12, Marmarth. Coming into town we saw signs for road construction, and indeed the road was dirt through the very small “town.” We sought out juice and ice cream sandwiches at the little store/cafe there, and spoke with a few locals. With our cash supply dwindling, we bought a big bag of ice. It was bigger than we needed, so besides filling bags with it to keep food cool, we also filled our water bottles with it! This turned out to be a great thing, and we didn't let any of that ice go to waste (unless you call a few ice cubes down a couple shirts a waste).

Ice is nice.

While the ice was being stored, we also ate our sandwiches bought at the start of the day. We also drank lots of water. We drank a ton of fluids today in general, and perhaps that explains the better success we seemed to be having in the heat, though it was still tough.

Once the ice was all packed or melted and our hunger was satiated, we got back on the bike and back on the road. We weren't more than a mile outside of town when we hit the real construction. There was a line of traffic, waiting for the okay to go through the work zone. After a while, the traffic in the other direction started coming through. We were offered a ride by some of the workers, and one of them, Wendy, seemed particularly impressed with our trip. We asked them how bad the road really was up there and Wendy said it wasn't too bad, so we thanked them kindly but said we'd ride it.

We didn't know exactly what to expect, but the road was pretty much completely gone. We were shunted off to the side onto dirt that looked like it had only been packed down by one day's traffic (or less). We were nervous, but pretty confident that we could ride it, and we did! We didn't quite keep up with the speed of the other traffic, but when we got done and our kind escort behind us pulled alongside to turn around, he said we made it through better than some cars. Heh. We're good. It was fun!

Um, where is the road?

Marmarth was only 5 miles from the Montana line, so once we were through the construction zone, we knew we were close! We made it over the line, and then found a fun sign awaiting us. We read it, and then Jenny decided it would be fun to climb up on top of it for a picture. Once spoken, an idea like that is hard to shake, even though getting up there proved a bit more difficult that originally thought.

Welcome to Montana!

With a little help from Brett, Jenny managed to get herself up on top of the sign, and sat there long enough for a few pictures in a few different positions, before it became a little scary and it was time to come down. Still, we were having such a good time today!

We named this Turtle Rock because it reminded us of Turtle Rock on Bustins Island in Maine.

Off in the distance, we saw clouds that looked like they might make a storm, and we had been told by one of the construction workers that we'd hit rain before too long. The storm never got near us, and we never really even got much shade from the clouds, which was annoying. We were really rooting for that storm to come over us and drop some nice cool rain!

Onward we pushed, seeing something we hadn't seen before on this trip: oil derricks. We might have seen one or two on the North Dakota side of the line, but after we crossed into Montana, it seemed almost as though we were surrounded by them. Suddenly, we thought of one more song we could sing that we knew most of the words to! “Grandad worked the derricks, way back in '23; I swear the oil got in his veins and he passed it on to me. Work-over riggin' and wildcat diggin' were the things I knew there, and the smell of crude on the oh my dusty Oklahoma air.” Bill Staines again, this time “Prudhoe Bay”. We were very excited to have another song to add to our rotation. We still aren't sure of a verse or two, but that doesn't stop it from being fun to sing!

We passed so many of these today.

Such interesting patterns in the sandy cliffs!

Finally, we made it into Plevna, our destination for the night. We had passed through Baker, MT trying to get as close to the long stretch without any services as possible. There may not have been services in Plevna either, but there was a playground/park right next to the train tracks. It had vault toilets, and a water spigot, but not much else. It turned out to be extremely mosquitoey, too.

As soon as we got to the park and knew we were done, Jenny began feeling quite ill. We suspect it was a little bit of heat stroke. She was in charge of setting up the sleeping arrangements inside the tent, and it took her a long time, but she managed. Brett was in charge of cooking a meal to get some food in us. He was really tired, too. We both had gotten too much sun, and we were a little sunburned in places.

We enjoyed a meal of pasta, red sauce, broccoli and garlic in the tent. Jenny was feeling a little bit better after having rested some while Brett was cooking. After dinner, Brett started too feel way too hot, so he went back outside and washed the dishes, and himself, in the cool water from the spigot. As we lay in the tent tonight, we worried about ourselves and our bodies holding up in the heat. Jenny was nervous that she would still feel bad in the morning. We really wanted to make it to the big highway and the big city tomorrow, more than 70 miles away. We decided to just get some sleep and try not to worry. We would see how we felt in the morning. Of course, the multiple trains that rumbled through in the night, blowing their loud whistles literally about twenty feet from our heads didn't help much.

One of our favorite shots of the day. We're a sucker for sunflowers.