It started with an escort to the State border by the very friendly Max, the Australian, who is cycling across the US in 33 days with his mom driving a SAG (support and gear) rental car. A downhill from Lolo Pass and the stretch into Missoula introduced me to what was to follow outside bigger cities: farmland and, more prominent, ranches.
In Missoula, a bike-friendly college town, I got a taste of Montana weather with a severe thunderstorm passing through just as I was grocery shopping down the street.
The lights went out briefly at the store a few times before the emergency generators kicked in to keep the freezers running. Checkout took a bit longer since things had to be handled manually. Luckily I had been staying at a motel there for my two rest days. A walk to downtown revealed that this wasn’t common even for Montana: lots of branches on the roadways, downed trees and car windows smashed by broken off branches.
There I also met up again with Jim and Peter, fellow cycle tourers on their own path across the country, who I had been bumping into a few times before, as well as the gang I met just before crossing into Idaho.
Some more highlights:
- Pitched tent on grounds of local junior high school in Darby, MT
- Slept in wooden shelter at campground in Wisdom, MT, maintained by veterans of the American Legion
- Rear tire disintegrating on the last stretch from Ennis to West Yellowstone, leading to 4 flats, 12 hours on the road and me having to walk the last 3 miles into town as the sun was about to set
- Kindness of strangers: Burt from the Yellowstone Inn giving me a ride to the Freeheel and Wheel, the bike shop/cafe where I got my tire replaced, in his truck
In general I felt, subjectively, a more liberal mindset in Montana, combined with, indeed, a big sky and the kind of ever changing weather that renders weather forecasts (almost) obsolete. Luckily I was spared, so far, from the worst.
As I enter Yellowstone National Park, with the confidence of a new rear tire, I look forward to switching into a bit of a lower gear, reducing the daily mileage a bit in order to really cherish traveling through the park at a pace that lets me soak in its beauty.
The “miles per day” value might drop a bit, but I can live with that. There is always Kansas to make up for lost time. Hopefully.