129 miles - Total: 2726 miles
Today's ride was awesome in every sense of the word. This is one piece of the American West that did not turn into a tourist attraction. I fill up my water bottles in Rexford and then it is 'good luck' for 60 miles. 60 miles of untouched nature, 60 miles of 'Grizzly Bears habitat' as the warning signs read and 60 miles of blissful desolation, where with no human beings in sight angels from high above watch me and smile with me, if you believe in angels that is.
An old pickup speeds across the Montana backroad. The driver is an old man and he lives around here. He looks old from the deep wrinkles in his face and his hands and his eyes. He knows more about Montana than any book can ever tell. Maybe a hard life or maybe an unrelinquished love or uncompromising judgments made him a cold hard man. Would he relive the same doubts if he had a second chance? Would he hold the blame or would it unleash onto others? Would he wait too long again to live a life that rings true? When would he stop running away? The road is empty, he is the only human being around for miles. Where does he go now? Where has he been? Are his angels taking pity on his choices? He's been overseas when he was young, he loved a woman, maybe he has kids that are somewhere in the world and have forgotten him. We come from totally different existences and yet today in the silent Montana landscape our paths cross. Was this a dream?
Today's ride was the best surprise of my tour. I did not know what to expect and if someone had told me beforehand how beautiful the ride would have been their warnings would have still not lived up to it. Thank you angels.
The world around me is as empty as it gets. I spent most of the day on Highway 37, a scenic road which meanders through valleys and woodland and bends around the shape of beautiful Lake Koocanusa. I should have gone for a swim in that big blue water! Rule number one: when you like the water, go for a swim.
I see just a handful of vehicles for about 50 miles on this stretch of road and I highly recommend it to whoever wants out of civilization for a while. After the challenge of doing the Logan Pass yesterday which brought enormous joy but required total focus, today was an opportunity to just enjoy the ride and the scenery. It wasn't as smooth as I make it sound because...surprise surprise...I had a strong headwind to contend with all the way through. Whatever direction the road went the wind kept blowing from the same side: the front.
I was planning to sleep in but the alarm in my brain wakes me up at 7 but I don't mind departing from the downtown Inn. It smells vaguely of old and damp and last night there was a huge spider hanging from the web right above the bed. Luckily I saw it before I turned the lights off and promptly killed it. It must have been the size of my thumb nail. So I don't have any qualms about leaving this forgettable inn. If the hotel offers breakfast then I indulge and have a quick bite, usually cereals or bread or oatmeal, if not I hit the road and stop at the first place. This is a well established routine by now and today is no execption. I eat something, I pack the small backpack, I apply sunscreen and I am out of the door. It takes me about 30 minutes.
As I step outside I am greeted by a chilly mountain air, nothing like yesterday but still it is a crispy air which fills a wonderfully clear, blue sky. I ride for 30 miles on highway 93 which does not have a shoulder. When I ride on a shoulderless road I am obviously more concerned about the ride as vehicles do not have much space to pass me safely with. Despite the unsafe road, it is still a wonderful setting to ride in, H93 goes through the Kootenai Forest which covers a huge amount of land with lots of opportunities for camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, horse riding. At Eureka, I am the closet I have ever been on the journey to the Canadian border, only 7 miles. I turn Southwest on highway 37 and I still have 67 miles before I am home free in Libby.
Between Eureka and Libby there is nothing. Not even a convenience store. No sign of commercialization whatsoever. Only two camping facilities. The road is amazing, it provides the type of ride that I like: lots of scenery, lots of desolation, lots of solitude and lots of weather! The best of the very best I can ask for, I am happy in spite of the wind. I am riding in the far northwestern section of Montana, no cell signal, no cars, no towns, just me and my bicycle. And grizzly bears, supposedly. This is the land of the bears so when I see the sign 'watch out for grizzly bears' the child that is in me, which is about 90% of the whole of me, comes alive. I get all excited and while I ride all I can think of is grizzly bears crossing the road. The encounter does not materialize of course and I have to content myself with deers and eagles. The road makes it a very scenic ride when it meanders around the lake under walls of rock which rise vertically from the hillside. Several warnings of falling rocks pepper the road and huge boulders rest at the base of the cliffs. The sides are jagged and rocky. The more distant hills are like huge green hedgehogs, their green pines standing upright tight and anonymous. The mountains behind and all around provide a sense of nature that is hard to define. Sometimes the hedgehogs show signs of balding, for the higher part of the dome is often sparser and show brown earth. I pass over many creeks that rapidly plunge into the lake feeding it with water and water until its abundance is so noticeable that you just want to swimin its crystal clear, blue waters. The wind hits the crest of the water and creates small but sturdy waves that travel in my direction, south. I look up at mountainsides with big bald patches where the trees have been clear cut, and where roads for the logging trucks snake carefully back and forth up the sides of the hills.
If I don't have the usual silly song stuck in my head I think about big things, small things, life, death, illness, my friends, my life, how good it is to be here on the bike completely alone and sometimes I just think about absolutely nothing. I have been on the road long enough that even my thoughts follow a certain pattern which always depends on the type of road, the time of the day, the scenery and most importantly the weather. A journey of this kind teaches you how to listen and learn from the outside world and its elements. It is a sort of re-birth, like I am learning to live again but with new reference points, whithin a new dimension. The wind, the sun, the clouds, the density of the clouds, the scenery, the color of the grass, the trees. Anything that exists has significance, nothing I see goes unnoticed. This is the beauty of it. The surprise that is contained in any element, like a secret box bursting with objects. All I have to do is to lift the lid. This elementary journal captures maybe 5% of what I experience on the road. I wish I had the ability to convey more. I try to write down a few lines and hopefully when you read this you can close your eyes and just see me here. Alone on my bike, in a place so beautiful and silent that in order to appreciate it you must unlearn what you know and start again without judgment. The bicycle is individuality, is movement. A life in constant movement is the only life worth living.
I fight an increasingly strong headwind but finally I enter Libby, a little mountain town nestled in a green valley, around 6pm with heavy legs and a hungry stomach. It's been a long day and a tough hilly and windy ride but the untouched and pristine beauty of the scenery made it all worth it. I am going to pass out now.
My motel in Whitefish
Highway 93, no shoulder and uneven surface, not ideal for cycling
Scenery from H93: ideal for cycling
Entering the Kootenai Forest
Some of these trees are 30 mts tall
Lake Koocanusa. A bit of trivia for you: the name combines the first three letters of KOOtenai Forest, CANada and USA.
The spectacular H37
The Lake from the road
No bears in sight, only deers
The 422-foot tall Libby Dam on Lake Koocanusa
The flags go crazy in the wind. And I go crazy in the headwind
One of the many creeks that fall into the lake