Missoula July 19, 2015
We had a nice, relaxing evening at our campground. We enjoyed a leisurely dinner prepared by Nate, probably the last meal, this trip. We met a couple of fellow travelers at the campground. These guys were riding mountain bikes and had started out riding the Continental Divide Trail. Their aim was to ride and fish at every decent body of water that they had found. They had discovered that the Continental Divide Trail took them beside a lot of water, but the water was generally inaccessible from the trail. The trail was generally hundreds of feet above the water. They had decided to leave the Continental Divide Trail and pick up the Trans-America Trail and fish along it. They were going to really slow down and spend a good deal of time in Montana and fish there. When we broke camp this morning it appeared they were making good on this change, since they were still tightly buttoned up in their tents and not out on the river yet…
The first thing I heard when I opened my eyes this morning was the wind blowing through the trees. I had hoped for a calm morning, but it seemed Montana was going to give us one last dose of wind. I crawled out of the tent and could not believe my eyes. Yes, the wind was blowing, but this was going to be a tailwind. We scurried around breaking camp and packing the trailer. We had eaten the last of our cereal and were going to eat breakfast at a cafe this morning. We piled into the car and headed out to The Coffee Cup restaurant. The Coffee Cup had been recommended to us by the clerk at the campground. As a last hurrah and indulgence I ordered a huge caramel and nut cinnamon roll. It was delicious and I am proud to say I cleaned my plate as I had been taught.
Our ride this morning takes place mostly on a bike path. Traffic has steadily been picking up the closer we have come to Missoula. The bike path runs for about 35 of the 45 miles to Missoula. The only problem is that we had to wander around town for about 10 minutes before we found the path. Once we were on the path, we made great time. The early morning tailwind was gone by the time we hit the road, but with a slight downward trend, a good surface and little to no traffic we made very good time. Riding like this is a pleasure to me. I can ride relatively quickly and still have time to look around and see the scenery around me.
The scene on both sides of the bike path consisted of what passes for urban sprawl in Montana. We rode through 3 little towns before we ran into Missoula, but the towns have kind of grown together. We saw at least 3 log home factories in this stretch of road. It seems this is a big business in this part of Montana.
As we passed through Lolo, MT we were taken off of the bike path and put back onto the highway. As I rode through town I was picked up by radar by a traffic sign. I am happy to report that I was not speeding. i was doing a mere 19 mph in a 35 mph zone.
The final 10 miles into Missoula was unpleasant. We were taken back out onto the shoulder of the highway. Traffic was extremely heavy (especially for a Sunday morning-I don’t think they were all headed for church either…). Cars blew past us, one after the other. We had a nice wide shoulder, but the cacophony from the highway made the ride less than pleasant.
Soon we were in the town of Missoula. We found a “Welcome to Missoula” sign, took a picture and called our ride finished. We loaded the bikes and began the ride home. I am so glad that we did not have to ride our bikes through Missoula. The city is a “bike friendly” city, but there was traffic everywhere. Riding a bike and trying to read a map to navigate this city is not something that I am interested in doing.
I really enjoyed this leg of our journey. I love the Rocky Mountain West. The mountains are beautiful, but what I really love is the wide open spaces it provides. This is huge country that is sparsely populated. The people who live out here are by and large tough, self reliant, industrious and incredibly capable. They are willing to help a neighbor in need and rely upon each other to survive in this beautiful, but oftentimes harsh and unforgiving environment.
I have also developed a deeper admiration for those cyclists who ride the Trans-Am unsupported. Riding it the way that we have been is hard enough. Riding the entire 4300 mile length of the route at one time (45-60 days) without the ability to jump in a car or haul enough emergency repair supplies is an admirable undertaking. We have ridden some hills that were quite challenging. I can’t imagine climbing that same hill on a bike loaded with 30-50 pounds of gear. These travelers deserve our admiration and respect.
And know for something completely different… Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I love cars. I find them to be beautiful and admire the mechanical workings of these machines. With that said, I am appalled at how insulated from the travel experience modern cars can make us. A passenger can travel across this great country of ours and never experience any sensation of the open road. We are surrounded by comfort in our cars. The plush leather seats, climate controlled environment allows the passenger to focus fully on his electronic devices and never be bothered with the beauty that surrounds him on every side.
Traveling by bicycle has given me a true understanding of the size of our country. I can’t imagine how daunting the task of crossing the country in a wagon, without any roads, and with hazards all around it must have been. The pioneers, our ancestors, were a strong, resourceful and optimistic bunch.
Next year we take on the final leg of our journey. We will ride Missoula to Astoria, Oregon (or vice versa). This last leg of our journey is right around 1000 miles. See you next year!
BTW, if you want to ride along let me know.