Day 1. Saturday, July 11 – Missoula to Ovando, Montana

Saturday 11 July 2015

Go West; they said, It will be warm and dry compared to last year’s ride. Well, not exactly.  We stepped out to a steady drizzle and 60°, but we were prepared from our UK experience. IMG_0012 It was actually a beautiful morning, the hills were covered in cloudsDSCN3116 and the rain and cool temps kept us from getting overheated, as we began our climb through Hell’s Gate.  DSCN3117We pedaled up the crystal clear Blackfoot River;IMG_0020where yesterday we had planned to take a dip to cool off, certainly not necessary today.  It was a continuous wet climb,IMG_0013 the clouds concealing the highest of the Rocky mountains from our view.  The scenery remained stellar,DSCN3135the luscious smell of the Tamarack pine (hemlock) filled the air and the cloudy mist added a mystery to the hills,DSCN3136 not often seen in the summer.  We rode along the Lewis and Clark Trail through the Potomac Valley,DSCN3151 steadily climbing.DSCN3158About 30 miles in, we had an unexpected and much appreciated downhill.  Not a mind-blowing down, but a couple miles of leg rest before the climb kicked in again.

Sage brush, reminiscent of the dessert, seemed out of place on this cold afternoon.DSCN3162Scenery continued to delightDSCN3164 and surpriseDSCN3181 as we slowly pedaled along; the trees became more sparse on the hills that rose beside us. DSCN3167

 At 40 miles, we found a rest and fuel stop.  It was what we needed to manage the climb of our remaining miles. DSCN3193 Just shy of 54 miles, we reached our stop for the night.DSCN3190It had been a very tough first day.  Though the grade was gradual, the climb had been continuous (with the exception of the two miles of down).  Never before have we had a single day of a 50+ mile solid climb.  We are looking forward to our legs springing back to shape before our long ride tomorrow.

Dinner was not remarkable, but on our (half mile) walk back to our lodging, the clouds were leaving and Montana gave us a taste of “the Big Sky country”.DSCN3197Still waiting for our legs to feel better!

Day 2. Sunday, July 12 – Ovando to Helena, Montana

Monday 13 July 2015

We swaggered (cowboy style) across the street for breakfast.DSCN3200  Ovanda’s population (71) must have doubled overnight with bicyclists taking cover from the rain; two joined us for breakfast.DSCN3202  In the middle is Mike (Touson, AZ), doing the Continental Divide race and Shawn (Sarasota, FL) is looping the U.S. on an electric bike!  Lots of chatter about our rides and experiences, but we had to hit the road.SAM_1262

The parched earth had soaked up the rain that fell overnight, but the clouds still hugged  the hilltops.DSCN3206  A breeze swirled through, chilling the temps that once again danced near 60°.  Eager to begin our long ride we pulled away, stopping only briefly to meet Aussie’s Lance and Mel.DSCN3203  Though we could not feel it, the roadside grass told us the breeze was at our backs……thank you!

The morning ride was mild ups and downs;DSCN3222 the clouds keeping the sun at bay and the temperature perfect for riding. DSCN3218 It was not difficult to imagine cowboys, indians and wild horses roaming the land.  Except when you found a mile marker showing Jerry’s age.DSCN3263

It was not until late morning that the clouds began to lift DSCN3227and the breeze became a wind, blessedly still at our backs. We continued to bike close to the Blackfoot River, but other than horsesDSCN3258and fishermanDSCN3239we saw no one. Shortly before 1:00 we stooped on the side of the road to eat a quick sandwich we’d made earlier, before our climb  It was here at mile 45, we hit our first hairpin turnDSCN3291 that would begin the steep climb over the continental divide.  The wind gusts swirling in the cove of the mountain severely compromised our upward stability.  Each stretch before the next turn was short, preventing us from seeing the top but offering a magnificent view of the road we had covered.DSCN3301Our flatland legs were screaming, but we were stoked to have climbed the 6131 foot Flesher Pass on the second day of our ride.DSCN3304  Though we were 50 miles into our ride, we still had a long day ahead.  The cold wind at the top defied the warm air of our long downhill; it was delicious.DSCN3313  With the wind at our back we continued to sail through the plains; the hills void of lush trees DSCN3319and further in the distance as we continued our descent.DSCN3320  The day was warming up and our enthusiasm and legs began to falter; thankfully the wind had our backs (pun intended) and the scenery……DSCN3324…..just gorgeous.DSCN3331 At 80 miles we took our turn into town.  The wind now assaulted us from the side and slowed our progress to a crawl.  Our oasis at the edge of town was a chocolate milkshake!  Duckies finally stopped paddling after almost 8 hours in the saddle.  Helena is the capital of Montana with probably much to see, but after 87 miles we found the closest place to eat (unremarkable pizza) and headed to bed.

Day 3. Monday, July 13 – Helena to Townsend, Montana

Monday 13 July 2015

A good night’s rest and later start did wonders for the soul and hopefully the legs.  The cool night air still lingered, though the sun was bright and warm.  Rain clouds gathered in the western hills behind us, DSCN3351  as we headed out of town on a busy road.DSCN3344An occasional breeze blew through as the energy of the clouds behind us struggled to build.IMG_0035  We were enjoying our relatively flat and occasionally downhill road through the Helena Valley.DSCN3362Fifteen miles into our ride, the rainclouds caught up to us.DSCN3368  We had a few miles of very scattered sprinkles and overcast skies, dropping the temperature down to 73°, cooler than our morning start.DSCN3370  The play of sun, clouds and hills made for beautiful scenery.  DSCN3372With a short ride today, we enjoyed the luxury of relaxing lunch and a beer, DSCN3384while the Duckies relaxed in the shade. IMG_0042 Like an oasis, a huge lake appeared to our left. DSCN3398 As we shortly realized, this had just been a very wide portion of the Missouri River. DSCN3412 At the edge of town on the side of the road, we stopped for fresh cherries; grown in the micro-climate of Flathead Lake (largest natural fresh water lake west of the Mississippi) just outside of Missoula.IMG_0046  Not sure why we had to pedal close to 200 miles to taste them, but it was worth it.  One might think we are getting soft in our old age, biking only 33 miles, but we like to think of it as just getting wiser.

Once again, dinner was not spectacular and we felt a bit guilty for the pasta after such a short ride,DSCN3415 but in a town of 1900 people, we were happy the restaurant was within walking distance.  We will need the extra carbs for tomorrow when we cross the mountains we admired from afar, today!

Day 4. Tuesday, July 14 – Townsend to White Sulphur Springs, Montana

Tuesday 14 July 2015

After a delicious breakfast,DSCN3419 we pedaled out in the crisp, clear and cool (60°) morning. DSCN3426A wicked wind (think Dorothy & Oz) and rain blew through in the evening, washing away the haze that hung in the sky the day before.DSCN3424  Well kept cottages lined the street as we headed out of town on our (only) flat two mile warm up before we started our straight and steady climb on wonderfully quiet roads.  The increasing elevation gave us a beautiful view of the clouds that still hung in the hillsDSCN3432 and a straight shot back on the town we’d come from.DSCN3436  We continued our climb,IMG_0052 throughly enjoying the scenery.DSCN3448  About 15 miles in, we came across the road construction we’d be warned about.DSCN3466  For our safety, the crew would not let us pass on our bikes.  So we quickly threw our bags and bikes in the back of the lead truck and were carried through a mile and a half of the roughest area.DSCN3467  As quickly as we’d unloaded, we loaded back up and headed on. DSCN3491 With most vehicles avoiding the 12 mile stretch of on/off construction,DSCN3484 we had the road almost to ourselves.IMG_0061  The quiet was filled with singing birds and the soothing music of the creek we followed up the mountain.DSCN3475Words and photosDSCN3497 do not do the area justice.  Nor do they describe the climb that would not end.DSCN3486  As we came close to the top and hills faded away,DSCN3494 we could feel the breeze that previously had rustled only the very tops of the trees.  It was nearly a 24 mile continuous climb and though there was no elevation sign, the GPS said we’d reached 5873 feet.  DSCN3505We were excited to see our town from this vantage point, it just took forever to get there.  The straight road down was fun, but short lived;DSCN3512 we soon were pedaling again.  We took a short break along the roadDSCN3519 to eat the lunch we didn’t pack;IMG_0073a few cherries, small bag of potato chips and one chocolate muffin.  Looking back we caught a glimpse of snowIMG_0076 on the 9500 foot Mt. Edith.  Everywhere we turned was stunning.DSCN3520  On our Long road into town,DSCN3526 we saw our first Antelope (ever) playing in the field. DSCN3536 Tired and parched on arrival, we quickly dropped our bags and pedaled another half a mile for a refreshment, Jerry “bearly” made it.DSCN3540We’ll skip the photo of the best pulled pork sandwich either of us have ever had and defer instead to dinner Montana style!DSCN3545It was a tough 43 miles, but a nice finish to the day.

Day 5. Wednesday, July 15 – White Sulphur Springs to Harlowton, Montana

Wednesday 15 July 2015

At 7:30 a.m. it was overcast, biting and a damp 55° IMG_0083as we left the warmth of our hotel room.  First order of business was to stock up for lunch as there would be nothing between here and there and our continental breakfast was not going to take us very far.  From our doorstep we began our climb through the Castle Mountains,DSCN3556 aptly named for the rock outcroppings that look like castle walls on the mountainside.  Once again we had the road to ourselves.DSCN3574  It was supremely quite except for the chirping of the ground squirrels as they scurried for cover or the screech of the eagle hunting in the sky.  The clouds made for striking contrast DSCN3562against the fields painted in soft hues.DSCN3654  We pedaled past Lake SutherlinDSCN3601 and the Bair Reservoir (note the rain on the horizon).DSCN3626  After miles and miles of almost treeless hillsDSCN3611 and fields,DSCN3616 we turned a corner into a beautiful green enclaveDSCN3631 that lastedDSCN3645 for a few miles;DSCN3636 then we were once again in the treeless high plainsDSCN3649surrounded by the Castle, Belt and Crazy Mountains on the horizon. DSCN3657 At mile 40, we stopped for our stale peanut butter and jelly picnic,IMG_0112 but with the entire sky getting darker by the minute, we did not linger.IMG_0111  Ten miles out, the wind decided to challenge our trek into town.  Though it was not a strong wind, it was enough to slow us down and make us earn every mile.  On the edge of town, we met Connor and AmalaIMG_0115 on their way to the town we’d left 60 miles ago; final destination Portland, Oregon.

On the other side of town we found our “accommodations” for the night, a tiny bit better than a tent; but became immensely better than a tent when it poured an hour later.  Pretty sure the farmers don’t want us to leave, but that the Montana tourist department may escort us out.

Thankfully, the rain stopped in time for us to bike the mile back into town for a ‘Jail House Pizza’ dinner.  Just about as fancy as our room (note the bars on the windows), DSCN3679 but much more appealing. DSCN3681 “We” left just enough pizza for lunch, as well as, room for real homemade banana cream pie.DSCN3683Unlike the fries from a few days ago, there was no guilt after our 63 tough miles.  See you tomorrow!

Day 6. Thursday, July 16 – Harlowton to Roundup, Montana

Thursday 16 July 2015

Mother Nature smiled sunshine on us today and gifted us with a little tailwind.  IMG_0119We sailed on the flat, straight road east, paralleling the defunct Diamond R Freighting Company (railroad).  We would occasionally catch a glimpse of an old bridge, IMG_0156now grown over with grass and often used by the farmers that now reigned.  Trees were few and far between and you could see for miles.IMG_0136  We took an occasionally look back at the mountains becoming mere silhouettes on the western horizon.IMG_0121  By ten o’clock, we had already logged 30 miles, so stopped for a little break and cold water, but Not at this bar.IMG_0132After our short break the flat ride became mild rolling hills, some rolling longer than we would have liked.  But on several of the rises we would catch a glimpse of the Musselshell RiverIMG_0160 weaving it’s way through the countryside.

Shortly before noon, we came to our last food outpost and the crossroads we would need to decide the direction on.  Heading south would take us to Billings (where we ultimately wanted to be), but it was another 45 miles.   Continuing east was only another 24 miles and a stop for the night.  Knowing we couldn’t make such a decision without food, we went in for a bite,IMG_0148after all, they said Bikers Welcome. IMG_0147 The gentlemen at the bar told us the south route from this point was much easier than the route from Roundup.  But we’d already clocked 50 miles and though the thought of not having a big climb to get to the city was appealing, we were a bit tired.  So after lunch, we continued our easterly trek; Billings would have to wait until tomorrow.  Though biking through these parts is gorgeous, the population is sparse and towns are really spread out, creating a challenge to our route each day; and as you may have noticed, we both prefer the comforts not afforded by a tent, even though we carry it with us, for emergencies.

 The road became a ribbon of continuous ups and downs,IMG_0151 slowing us to half the pace we enjoyed earlier.  The breeze did nothing to cool us and in the full sun, our ODO’s were reading 104°; it was Hot (a far cry from our 59° start)!  An hour down the road of struggling to get up and over, only to climb again, the hills became a little more spaced and occasional clouds made the temperatures tolerable.IMG_0159  We finally came upon our cowboy townIMG_0162 and a break from the heat of the sun.  For dinner we opted for the roasted chicken in the grocery store across the street, instead of biking back into town.  It had been a tough 70 miles and we were done for the day.

You were spared too many pictures today, as somewhere during the day, one of the camera’s decided it had had enough.  Unfortunately, many photos were lost, but our memories still remain.


Day 7. Friday, July 17 – Roundup to Billings, Montana

Friday 17 July 2015

Another overcast, yet refreshing 55° after yesterday’s draining heat.  Unfortunately, the weatherman’s last minute wind direction change, was not in our favor; guess we were due.  We had to backtrack two miles to get back on course, which allowed us to read the historic markerIMG_0169 and catch a few of the road signs; Arrowhead Rd, Horsethief Road and even Ponderosa Drive….this is Cowboy Country, still. IMG_0175 We crossed the Musselshell RiverIMG_0173 and began our long slow Bull Mountain climb into the wind.  The morning was almost hypnotic, as if we’d travel back in time;IMG_0192 wild open spacesIMG_0186 and horses roaming free.IMG_0181  Inevitably, a car would break the trance and bring us back to the slow crawl up and into the wind.  IMG_0191

We were delighted to see a few of the Highland Cattle IMG_0187we had first fallen in love with in Scotland.  It took us well over two hours to climb the 17 miles to 4010 feet, we could not wait for the downhill.  Unfortunately, we were lucky to break 20 mph pedaling hard against the wind; a far cry from the 40 mph we enjoyed a couple of days ago on a downhill.

The other side of this mountain was barren of most treesIMG_0199and we could see forever.IMG_0200You could almost here the music from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly movie playing in the background.IMG_0207

As we crested one of our many climbs, a chirping sound was everywhere.  The sky was void of birds and there were no trees in sight for birds to hide.  We soon realized the prairie dogs were calling back and forth to each other from across the road.  This long road into the windIMG_0221 was as difficult as it was beautiful.IMG_0224The sky even screamed, “This is Montana!”IMG_0230

But the wind was working on us, hard.  Around every bend and atop every hill we searched for some glimpse of this city of 100,000, though we could see for ever, all we saw were the plainsIMG_0244and antelope (sorry MaryEllen).IMG_0242At mile 40, we finally saw a speckling of civilization that breathed necessary life into our tired legs.  It was another five miles before we found a place to eat lunch and rest.  It took us another hour for a couple necessary stops (camera) before we checked into the luxury of a Real hotel.  By design, dinner was across the street and delicious. DSCN3779

DSCN3778 The hard fought 50 miles and almost six hours in the saddle was going to feel good against the pillow tonight.