Friday, August 14, 2009

Day 23 Montana’s Big Sky Country & Crossing the Continental Divide

We're on the border of Montana and Idaho at Lost Trail Pass

We went to Big Hole National Battlefield this morning, Wisdom for lunch and stayed in a cabin at Jackson Hot Springs this evening.

First crossing of the Continental Divide

Sand Hill Cranes (they have the most wonderful call)

Jr. Ranger - Big Hole National Battlefield

Bad Hair Day! It was a windy one!

The below pictures show you why Montana is called Big Sky Country.

Waiting out the wind on the side of the highway

Rainbow after a mid-afternoon cloud burst

Gregory's roadside find of the day, a gold pan. This comes in handy at Bannack Ghost Town where he pans for gold but comes up with Garnets.

Only eyes for mom

Waiting out the wind

Steve gave us a ride to the top of Lost Trail Pass this morning. We then road over Chief Joseph pass and into the Big Hole Valley.

Date: Aug. 11, 2009

From: Sula, MT (Bitterroot Valley-The Banana Belt of Montana)

To: Jackson (Big Hole Valley-Home of 10,000 Haystacks)

Route: Hwy. 93 S. to Hwy. 43 E. to Hwy. 278 S.

Passes: Lost Trail Pass (7014’) on the border of Idaho and Montana; and

Chief Joseph Pass (7241’) our first crossing of the Continental Divide!

Miles: 46 (+ 13 in a truck from Sula up to Lost Trail Pass)

Weather: Varied. Sunny and glorious in the morning, tailwind from Big Hole Battlefield to Wisdom mid-day and crisp and cool with the wind in our face in the late afternoon.

This morning was restorative. The weather was ideal and the grandeur of the Big Hole Valley was something to behold. I felt a sense of calm that I have not felt in days. For a brief time the aches and pains we are feeling seemed to melt away as we soaked in the scenic beauty of this area. I commented to the boys that this was why we bicycle tour. I felt connected to the earth and I felt an admiration of her beauty.

After visiting Big Hole Battlefield and watching the video about the battle between the Nez Perce and the 7th Infantry I felt a deep sadness for the Native American people and their loss of their homeland and people. We spent a good hour here learning about Chief Joseph and Colonel Gibbon and Gregory became a Junior Ranger of this National Historic Site. He made some amazing drawings of his favorite artifacts.

We had an incredible westerly tailwind as we travelled east into Wisdom from the Battlefield and we made 10 miles in about 45 minutes. However, we know from experience that the weather in Montana can shift in an instant and this was the gift before the struggle to come. We had lunch and then turned south on Hwy 278 and our cycling was fairly strong though we had a cross wind still coming from the west. The trouble came when this turned into a headwind and we felt like we were almost standing still. It is so frustrating to be working so hard and feeling like you are going nowhere. You get exhausted really quick and everything starts to hurt. We agree that wind is worse than heat or rain for wearing on you mentally. We had to stop on the side of the road and just wait. We hoped the wind would shift or die down so we could go on. We finally mounted the bike and continued, though we still had the wind in our face, because it was around 6 P.M. and we still had about 8 miles to go. The sky looked ominous and we knew the inevitable shower was coming.

The moniker Big Sky Country is a fitting one. It is hard to put in words or project with a photograph but you feel so small out in these wide-open spaces. The sky is this never-ending expanse of blue and seems huge with these incredible clouds. You can see a storm coming as the streaks of gray reach down to the earth in the distance and I would urge Gregory to pedal harder to outrun the storm. We didn’t outrun the storm but fortunately it was just a sprinkling. It was just enough to give us this gift of an incredible rainbow.

We finally got into Jackson after 7 P.M. and checked with the Hot Springs there. It was the only game in town. The caretaker informed me they had no electric or water because a transformer had just blown. He wanted $65 for a cabin or $10 each to camp (which to us seemed ridiculous especially with no shower) so we just “bit the bullet” and stayed in a cabin. It worked out great because we had a huge cabin with 2 doubles and a twin bed, a fireplace and a bathroom with a shower. It worked no problem! This also included a swim in the hot springs! We had to hustle into our suits, take a short 20-minute dip and scoot back to our rooms for a quick shower so we could make it to the restaurant before they closed at 9:00 P.M. We got our salad bar using our headlamps. That was a first. The lights came on just as we got our food so unfortunately we had to ditch the headlamps. Back at the cabin Gregory built us a roaring fire. Mike was roasting but Gregory and I were toasty just like we like it.

At the end of the day we were very thankful for the truck ride that we got from our camp in Sula up to the top of Lost Trail Pass right at the beginning of our day. It really saved us from having a dreadfully windy morning of climbing and further injury to Mike’s knee. We met Steve (who was travelling from Washington on business selling food to hatcheries) at the Sula store. As we were just pulling out of camp I spotted him pulling in and approached him with, “Can I ask you a favor?” He responded, “Maybe.” “Well, my husband, son and I are biking on that triple over there and my husband has been having some trouble with his knee. I’d really rather he didn’t try to push it over this pass and I was wondering if you could give us a lift?” He instantly answered, “Sure. Just let me run in and get a Pepsi.” We felt a little guilty driving past our new friends Penny and Steve on their tandem but I was so grateful we got to enjoy our morning and the beautiful Big Hole Valley.

We did ride from Lost Trail Pass to Chief Joseph Pass (227 feet in a mile) and made our first crossing of the Continental Divide. If was still a momentous and memorable and we look forward to future crossings during our travels.

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