This post, written one year after day 72, is drawn from the daily journal I kept, and is written as if it just happened.
July 28-August 2
Madison Campground, Yellowstone National Park, WY >>> Missoula, MT
Every morning on this side of the Continental Divide has been chilly – I can’t believe a week ago we were overheating by 7AM.
We continued following the TransAm all the way to Missoula. I don’t know if the number of tourers dropped once we passed Yellowstone, or if I just wasn’t noticing the volume as much. Either way, it was an improvement. Also, since we moved at a consistent pace, we’re pretty much running into the same bikers, so the conversations have gotten less repetitive.
Leaving West Yellowstone, the three of us were feeling good, the sun was shining, the roads were smooth, Hebgen Lake was beautiful, we passed some fly fishermen at a dam. Life was good. Then we came upon Earthquake Lake.
There were signs along the road explaining what happened. It was really depressing. It used to be a canyon with lots of camping. In the summer of 1959 a 7.5 earthquake hit in the middle of the night. Boulders fell from the canyon walls crushing tents and cars – sometimes killing whole families, other times crushing one tent and leaving a second untouched. At the far end of the canyon, the mountain face fell in a massive landslide burying nearly 20 people (brown patch in above photo). The landslide was so sudden it actually displaced air within the canyon causing 100 mph winds – killing and severely injuring several more. The quake caused Hebgen Lake to tip, shifting one side up so much that the water crashed over the ridge and a 20 ft wave swept through the side opposite the landslide. The landslide created a natural dam, backing up the river and holding the water that crested the Hebgen lake dam, drowning those would couldn’t make it off the canyon floor. Those who could still walk managed to climb to higher ground. There was nothing they could do until rescue came the next day. Survivors said screams from the injured and trapped carried on all night long. Twenty eight people died, many were severely injured and many survivors suffer from PTSD. Incredibly, the Hebgen Lake dam held throughout the ordeal. Had it not, the death toll would have been much higher as nearly all of Hebgen Lake would have drained into the canyon.
After that unexpected depressing stop, it took a bit to get back in the, “it’s a beautiful day and we’re on a bike tour!” mood. Plus the rest of the day was filled with hot barren sage hills – I thought Montana would be sage-free!
I woke up the next morning to a birthday card, huckleberry taffy, Good ‘n’ Plenties, and trail mix from Rachel and Carl. Perfect biker presents!
My golden birthday (29 on the 29th – I’d just heard of this term last year) began with one hell of a climb – 2,000 ft elevation gain over 8 miles. I actually really like climbing – honestly. It’s not that hard on the right gear. It feels great and the views and downhill are such a tremendous reward. This particular descent felt like it’d never end. Eventually we hit Virginia City and I had to break as the streets were crowded and the speed limit was 25 – I coast at 35. We stopped to refill water at an ice cream place…so naturally we got ice cream. Huckleberry honey lavender and a scoop of black licorice in a home made waffle cone. Montana is way better at ice cream than Wyoming – though that’s not hard, Wyoming didn’t have any hard scoop anywhere. In Montana it’s everywhere and it’s delicious.
We continued down and down and down into Twin Bridges (40 miles of easy riding) for more delicious food. This time pulled pork served with great fries by a fine looking waiter. Twin Bridges is a neat town that has embraced bike touring. Watch this short video about the guy who started the Bike Camp. At first, the people of Twin Bridges weren’t so sure about all the funny looking people on bikes, now there are bike lanes and signs welcoming weary tourers.
Shortly after leaving Twin Bridges, Marius caught us – the German solo rider we met in Yellowstone. I like riding with Marius, and new blood is nice to have on occasion. He shared our campground that night in Dillon and came out to dinner with us.
I got to talk to Joel, call my parents, and Abby emailed – she and Mike wanted to meet up in Missoula! We had been emailing back and forth. They needed to split because they wanted to be done. I knew they were tired and homesick, but I don’t think I appreciated just how homesick. Abby said she just wants to keep moving – even if that means only getting 20 miles farther down the road some days. She didn’t want any more rest days or adventure days (what we call the days off the bike where we hike or sightsee). She just wants to be in Seattle where Sam and her family are meeting her. The split was just really terrible timing, and Mike didn’t like the way we parted, so they wanted to do lunch.
All and all it was a great birthday.
After nine intense days of non-stop movement with a couple centuries, we were due for a rest day. We said good-bye to Marius and wished him luck. He was planning to bang out some serious mileage in the next few days.
It was a good thing we took that day off because the ride from Dillon to Wisdom the following day was killer. The first pass, Badger Pass, was lovely. I felt strong and enjoyed it. At the top I waited for the others and for the watermelon – yup Carl carried a small watermelon in his pannier up a mountain!
We started down, ready for our long cost, but it never came. We were descending into a valley with such strong winds that I couldn’t move faster than 8 mph despite peddling down a steep hill. The valley snaked around, but the headwind snaked with it – no matter which way the road turned there was never any relief…all the way to the top of Big Hole pass. The wicked cramps didn’t help much either. Fortunately, the descent into Jackson was easier as a rock wall blocked some of the wind. We ducked into a restaurant for lunch and to get out of the sun. Lunch was quite entertaining as Sharknado 2 was on TV – I’ve never seen any of the Sharknado movies and Rachel hadn’t heard of them, so her reaction was pretty amusing.
In Wisdom there were rumors of our road to Hamilton being closed due to fire. No one seemed know if it was or not, and the mixed info continued the next morning. People in town said it was closed – but it was 70 miles away, and none had been there recently. MTDOT didn’t say it was closed – MTDOT didn’t really say it was open either. Finally someone told us that even if it was closed there was a back road that would likely get us around it. With that, we headed out and finally left the never ending land of sage bush that had begun in western South Dakota.
Our relatively easy climb up the small Chief Joseph Pass was rewarded with 10 miles of pure breakless coasting! We just wound down the side of a mountain dropping 3,000 ft. The road was wide, well paved, and only one car passed us during the half hour descent.
We stayed in Hamilton with Peggy and Warren – another set of wonderful warm showers hosts. Carl quickly figured out there was a bee keeper in the house which made it difficult to tear him away and get dinner – I was suddenly starving and trying to keep Hangry Jenn from emerging in front of our lovely hosts. Peggy was very apologetic – she wanted to cook for us, but they had a dinner party. We assured her we were happy checking out the Bitterroot Brewery. The brewery did not disappoint. Great beer and great food. We closed the place down at…8:30. So odd. As a brewery, they aren’t allowed to serve beer passed 8 or serve anyone more than four, 12oz beers. Personally, I can’t really drink more than two or three, but it has to kill their business. I get the feeling that’s the point of the restrictions. When we walked in, we were given a card which was stamped after each beer was served. On the back was the phone number of the state representative to call if you wanted a fifth beer.
On the way back, we walked passed a large group of firemen – Carl accused me of strutting. I deny this accusation.
One good night’s sleep later, some steel cut oats, and great coffee for the coffee drinkers, we booked it to Missoula. Abby and Mike met us for lunch at 12:30. They’ve been in Missoula for 48 hours, and despite the desire to just keep moving, they wanted to swap stories over lunch and say a proper farewell. We had, after all, shared 3,000 miles and nearly two months on the road together. It would have been a shame to not see them again after such a low note. It is difficult to express how much it means to me that they sat tight for two days. I’m so glad they joined the tour and hope we’ll get to ride together again one day. I feel so light – definitely left that parking lot with a renewed spring in my step (renewed rotation in my pedals? That saying doesn’t translate well to bikes).
Of course, the whole reason the TransAm goes through Missoula, MT is to visit Adventure Cycling Association’s headquarters! It’s a pilgrimage spot for many long distance tourers.
We walked in the front door, and Marius was there! It sounds like he put in a few solid days, but didn’t want to leave Missoula once he arrived. We got a tour of the place, and our picture on the wall. My bike is 76lbs – the same as it was in Maine. Huzzah for not over or under packing in the beginning! Rachel’s is 80 and Carl’s is 85! I can’t believe we’re at ACA – now our trip is eternally documented in their archives.
We had dinner with Juliette – one of my students when I was a TA at the Biostation. We (stupidly) didn’t take a picture! We were probably too busy giving her an earful of trip stories.
Juliette sent us to a great ice cream place – the Big Dipper. We’re really making up for the lack of ice cream in SD and WY. This time I had dirty chai and salted caramel. While standing in line for ice cream, I took the plunge and I ordered my wedding dress. I’ve only seen pictures of it online, but as I’m getting married in seven weeks, I sort of need to make a move. For months, every time I’ve thought about it, I’ve come back to this one dress (Chotronette’s Ivory Sorbet – in case anyone is perusing bike blogs looking for a short wedding dress). I’ve never bought any clothes online before, and I’ve never purchased anything from Romania. It totally makes sense that my first stab at it should be my wedding dress, right? It says it’ll take six weeks for them to make it and ship it, so it should arrive one week before the wedding. Fingers crossed!
Follow up notes: Craig, Abby and Mike took some secret direct ACA route up to the Northern Tier from Missoula, so they were able to cut off a bunch of miles and still finish in Anacortes. Craig left Missoula a few hours before we arrived. Abby and Mike rode together a while longer, but eventually split up as well. Abby’s mom joined Abby and drove to meet her each night. She picked a good spot to do this – the end of the Northern Tier route was gorgeous. She reached Anacortes about a week before we did and a day or two after Craig. Mike took things slow, riding shorter days. He reached Anacortes the day before we did. His wife joined him at the ferry dock and they took a trip to Orca islands. We kept getting little previews of the beautiful mountains to come by following their blog/facebook feeds.
The wedding dress was perfect! It arrived a week and a half before the big day – no alterations needed. After wearing nothing but spandex and t-shirts for so long, I felt like a ridiculous frosted cupcake when I first put it on.