Day 23 - Essex, MT to Cut Bank, MT 130km (1845) 811 alt. (16625) 28.07.2015
Goodbye to Rockies – Hello Plains
Fastest 130 km ride ever!
This day’s ride once again brought a significant change of landscape. I left Larry and Callie’s wonderful house in Essex at 7:30 in the morning. They were packing in order to leave around ten for a two week trip to Kansas for a historical convention and I was pretty sure they would pass me soon, since the first part of today’s ride was up to Marias Pass at 1566 meters altitude. I learned from Larry that – being the lowest Pass on the Continental Divide - this would definitely be the cheapest way to bring a Japanese car to New York by land! 😉
Well, I came by Cathy’s café and bar after about 15 km (I don’t think I’ll be able to use miles with comfort in the near future – so I ask all American readers to please forgive me) and stopped for a quick breakfast just as Larry had suggested the night before. It turned out that Cathy was very busy this morning so I needed 45 minutes to get on my bike again and struggled on with two extra pancakes in my pannier that I hadn’t been able to eat there and then! Well, not long after that these two wonderful people passed me in a flashy almost new “Oh-Lord-won’t-you-buy-me-a …..-car 😉
Once again on this ride another nice sign of solidarity and companionship among cycle touring people struck me: I was riding up the gentle slope to Marias pass in a state of complete relaxation about 2km from the pass when I saw two people on a tandem zooming down towards me. I could really see and feel their exhilaration in their posture and their eyes. The lady, sitting in front, shouted out to me while they were going past at maybe 45 km/h: “You’ve got it!!!” “Thanks, great!” I shouted back and off they were.
On top of the hill at the pass there was a memorial for Theodore Roosevelt and another smaller memorial to an old trapper who had donated this piece of land to be used as the memorial site and saw two bikes and their owners looking at the memorial. As usual among cyclists we immediately started a conversation – they had ridden from Maine and had endured a lot of headwinds. When I asked about the weather they said that no, they’d been lucky, at one place a tornado had “only” destroyed a house nearby and they had had thunderstorms but no hail or lightning hits – but no, the weather hadn’t been bad …
After going over the pass and on towards East Glacier and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation with the town of Browning as its center I once again noticed a significant change of atmosphere and vegetation. Whereas in the north and especially to the west of the Rocky Mountains trees dominated and the vegetation was based on moisture it now became arid: low brush dominated and gradually the plains with their low vegetation became visible. So when I turned around just before getting into Browning I had the feeling that the Rockies – which I had travelled through for over two weeks – were literally blowing me away with this strong westerly wind.
Browning as the center of the Blackfeet nation was a disappointment to me and a very visible confirmation of my expectations or prejudices. It is a poor community with so many mobile homes in sad condition, many of which had three to five broken down vehicles in their front yard. I did not stop to take pictures but looked at a couple of highway notice boards which summarized the history of the Blackfeet.
In any case it was a very fast ride with the descent and the tailwind and I believe I never went below 30 km/h except at the very few passages up a hill and therefore I was in Cut Bank after 130 km in about 6 and a half hours! Wow, I believe that is my personal best so far on this trip.
The town of Cut Bank is supposed to be one of the major places on the trip through Montana but my ride through main street and a tour around town just confirms my impression of many other places: Not many people seem to live here! Larry told me that Montana has an entire population of just over one million and that at its size!
The winter is long here in Montana but all people I’ve met so far seem to cope with the cold and snow well. In the Glacier Park I saw lots of signs for downhill skiing, cross country skiing or snow mobile access to the park and its vast trails. So people will never be bored! There seems so much to do. “Outside” seems to be the predominant lifestyle in Montana (in Canada I had definitely had the same impression!)
A curious detail occurred to me today. Only last night did Larry mention a real nuisance on the roads: “Dieseling” (or some other descriptive of this particular nonsense) is a word that describes what happened to me today on my climb up to the pass. I heard an extraordinarily loud car noise behind me and was next engulfed by a huge dark cloud of diesel exhaust and almost deafened by this small truck’s noise. The driver (probably with a girl on board he wanted to impress) had intentionally produced the cloud to have a laugh at this crazy cyclist …
But I still stick to my general impression that during my whole three weeks so far the absolute majority of drivers have been very careful to avoid dangers for me as a cyclist. Even if there is no necessity most drivers move over to their left in order to protect me. Here in Montana this is mostly the same as in Canada.
In any case this ride today was full of new impressions. I arrived at the Riverview Campground at 3:30 and wasn't too exhausted to have a look at the river and the place where supposedly Lewis and Clarke camped during their expedition in 1805 / 1806.