129 miles - Total: 2455 miles
After another intense day in the dry heat of Montana. I am right where I wanted to be. I am within 40 miles of the Rocky Mountains. I can see the jagged silhouette of the solemn peaks. I can almost smell them. Tomorrow I will start the climb.
I take my time in the morning and at 9am I leave the surprisingly clean motel. The stretch of highway 2 I ride on today is by far the best bit of the highway. The traffic is light and there are fewer trucks in this part of the state. The biggest threat to my safety is posed by huge RVs that shoot by me in a blaze. The first 30 miles are almost perfect with no traffic at all so I can enjoy the beautiful scenery around me, the open land that seems to never end; the golden fields; the gentle wind; the road unfolding before my front wheel like a sea of gold. The pattern is that after 11am the traffic gets lively. A few cars and many SUVs pass me come, a few almost wipe me out coming within two feet of my left hand. One vehicle must have passed within one foot as I felt the air suck me in and then pull me out as the car sped ahead. There was no reason to do that, the opposite lane was empty. These idiotic drivers want to make a point, like they want you to know that they own the road or something like that. Ninety percent of the vehicles are kind enough to pass me with ample safety space taking a wide trajectory by driving in the opposite lane. When they do that I always put my hand up to thank them.
I stop for a bite in Chester where I have fruit and ice-cream to power me on for the rest of the day. I ride all day on highway 2; which is the only paved road that cuts Northen Montan across. After Shelby the traffic thins out even more and I totally immerse myself in the amazing landscape. I ride through several tiny towns with just a handful of houses; I see cows and horses, I see the railroad and the frequent trains that whistle at me when I wave my hand and we start a brief race that I always lose. The farther west I ride the hillier and rugged the landscape gets and towards the end of the day I stare ahead and I see the mountains for the very first time. The view takes my breath away for a second, I stop pedaling like I see an angel coming down from the sky. I can make out the faint line through the late afternoon haze: these are the Rocky Mountains. I start smiling, I start imagining what it will be like to ride there in the next few days, I think about the Glacier Park and I think about all the miles that I have cycled to be right at the foothills of the mountains. I try no to think about this too much as I need to focus on the job at hand: getting to my final destination for the day and finding a room. By mid afternoon I have to deal with a 10 mph crosswind, which is a joke compared to the headwinds of the previous days but given the tiny shoulder and the traffic of the highway getting to Cut Bank still requires some concentration on my part. I ride purposely through the Montana emptiness and I end my day after 9 hours on the bike in the welcoming little town of Cut Bank. I check in at the Super 8 which is located at the west end of town. I am extremely pleased with my progress and I am happy because my body feels fine. I take a quick walk after dinner and at an elevation of 3800 feet the air gets chilly rather quickly. It prickles my skin and the smell of mountain air fills my lungs.
I have to be honest, entering Chicago was fantastic; crossing the Mississippi was emotional; but I think that seeing the Rocky Mountains takes the cake. In terms of milestones it is by far the most rewarding of the trip. It means a lot to me not just for the distance traveled but for the significance that the mountain range has for a bike ride of this kind. I am here and nobody can deny me the pleasure of cycling solo in the mountains. This is the best medicine for me. I am feeling stronger already. It is going to be a drug with a lasting effect and when the body needs another round of medication all I have to do is dig up in my memories and remember what cycling in the Rockies was like.
The past is still very much exposed here in Montana. Not under a glass cabinet in a museum or in books but right there in front of my eyes. The land is an open scar that displays its wounds with no shame. Today I only saw the tip of the iceberg. I cycled through one town along highway 2 which was totally abandoned. There was an eerie atmosphere: the silent decaying buildings, the rusting roofs that shake in the wind; the boardwalks squeak, the wind-swept buildings bent to one side, the dusty dirt roads are filled with tumbleweeds which fly from one side to the other, a desolated world. If I didn't know the history I would think I were on a movie set. People have come and gone; gold has been taken. The earth has been scoured, gold, silver, copper, zinc. I wonder what life must have been like in those days when road agents and outlaw gangs would roam free looking for troubles and riches. These are towns that are almost frozen in time, if they could talk, they would reveal tragic things I assume. The past has not been substituted with the present here, let alone the future. The past has been eclipsed by...nothing. There is no new story. There is only a vestige of what the new could have been like; just an idea, just a possibility, only a cry of hope drown out by the wind and spurted out of the wounds of the hungry and the greedy and the hopeful and the bastards that came and went. I imagine how the arrival of the railroad must have changed everything. It brought people, it brought land plotting, properties, ownership, fences. Cattlemen must have been pretty pissed off when fences were put up and their cattle could not graze freely any longer. Today I saw horses resting in the open field and I did not see a ranch or a house for miles. It is great to see them free. Will the ghost town be a ghost town forever?
I am going to sleep.
Just west of Havre you can see the buffalo jump. It is just behind the slope. Here buffaloes were forced to jump to their death
Bear Paws Mountains along highway 2
A side road from highway 2
Early morning, highway 2 is all mine
A ranch in the distance
Always with me, the freight train
One of the very few well kept barns I have seen in Montana
A church in Gildford, pop: 179
Once upon a time..
Downtown Chester, pop: 800
This is my front view when I look down at my handlebar, the bag with the map neatly tucked in the straps
One of the many, many houses left behind
And a grain elevator that is no more
View from H2
Horses in the middle of the grassland
A bar/restaurant that has seen better days
Something tells me I am getting closer and closer to the mountains
Shelby, Mt downtown
Shelby, Main st
Breathtaking sweeping views from H2
Is it really?
Downtown Cut Bank, Mt
Railway bridge, Cut Bank
Can you see the mountains? Glacier National Park is tucked away in those mountains. I will be riding my bicycle right there tomorrow, I can't wait