Missoula to Bozeman, Montana
We spent a fantastic week in Missoula – hanging out at the Adventure Cycling office, interviewing some of the ACA staff, meeting lots of other cycle tourists, learning a bit about Missoula’s bike advocacy, sampling some great local beers, shopping at the fantastic Saturday farmers’ market, chatting on a local radio show!, and figuring out what the next leg of our adventures would look like.
We decided to do a bit of a Grand Montana Loop, so we headed south out of Missoula to a campground just south of Hamilton. In Hamiilton, we found a bike shop full of friendly, helpful people, and a fantastic brewery (Bitter Root Brewing). On the way there, we found delicious raspberry pie and a huckleberry milkshake. Crews are finishing work on a bike-ped path that will follow Hwy 93 from Lolo to Hamilton. It’s finished and lovely, except for a 4-mile stretch after Victor, where we got to test out the dirt-riding capabilities of the Bromptons (they performed admirably!).
From Hamilton, we headed deeper and deeper into world-class fly-fishing territory. There were many fishing breaks, plenty of camping decisions based on where the good water is, and several days off (so that Russ could make the most of his annual fishing license). From Hamilton, we also headed into beautifully rural areas that felt like what we had envisioned as Montana – small wild west towns with gravel secondary roads, cowboys in Wranglers and boots, skies that seem to stretch on forever, and nothing on the horizon except the next set of mountains. This is a part of the country that has to be seen to be believed, and meandering slowly through it on a bicycle is a humbling experience.
From Hamilton, we continued south on Hwy 93, still following the ACA TransAm route. We stopped for lunch and coffee in Darby, and met two tourists nearing the end of their east-west adventure. Russ got the first two of what would be a string of flat tires (Montana has a lot of crap on their road shoulders!). We decided to camp that night at the Sula Store, just down the road from our Continental Divide crossing, and experienced our first Montana storm (which are amazing to behold). Russ patched his tire again and headed down the road to fish the river. A few hours later, I looked up to see him walking back to camp with a beautiful rainbow trout in his hands. Dinner! We lit a wood fire and grilled it up (strangely enough, I even had a lemon in my bag!). As the evening wound down, we crawled in the tent and watched the Mosquitos descend, waiting to attack if we ventured outside again.
From Sula, we had a 3000 foot climb ahead of us. The first 1000 feet were fairly gradual, through a bucolic ranch-filled landscape, and then the road tipped upward and the wind kicked up. Normally, you don’t have a headwind when you’re climbing a mountain, because the mountain blocks the wind, but that wasn’t the case for us, and we trudged upward, trying to stay zen about the stop-you-in-your-tracks gusts. Eventually, we got to pull over to the side of the road for awhile… to patch Russ’ third flat in 24 hours (did we mention there’s a lot of crap on the road shoulders?!). Tire fixed, we continued on and finally made it to the top of the first pass. At the top, there’s a nice rest stop with visitor info, and we took a long break and mused about how motorcycles have become quite hip with the baby boomer generation. From there, we turned onto Hwy 43 and climbed another mile to the crest of the Continental Divide! After the requisite photos, we soared down into the Big Hole valley. It was a perfectly enjoyable, steady downhill, at an easy 20mph, and then… pop! hissssssssssss… my back tire rapidly deflated itself and I steered off the road. Thank goodness we carry spare tires, because my tire was toast! By the time we rolled into the small town of Wisdom, we had battled headwinds, climbed 3000 feet, and lost our momentum twice from flat tires… so we called it a day and checked in to the Nez Perce Motel, a really lovely and recently remodeled small motel (at a very reasonable price!). And it turned out that Wisdom was a perfectly delightful random stop. We found a phenomenal restaurant with local beers on tap, cowboys wandering the dusty streets, and the annual Gun Show and Craft Fair.
The next morning, we hemmed and hawed about where we would go. Would we just go the 18 miles to Jackson, so that we could soak in the hot springs? Or push all the way to Dillon (66 miles)? We ended up going for Dillon, although we did stop in Jackson and check out the hot springs (which are lovely, FYI). Between Jackson and Dillon, there’s basically nothing but ranches. No towns, no services. Just endless rolling fields and a few gradual climbs to get over the passes out of Big Hole valley. It was on the downhill after the first pass that Russ let his Brompton fly and hit 42mph! Just as we were tumbling into the edge of Dillon, I noticed that the horizon behind us was getting darker and darker. By the time we got into town, the darkness had become the edge of a seriously epic storm that looked a bit terrifying. We sprinted the rest of the way into town and found a coffee shop where we could hide. As we watched the trash cans roll down the street outside, we decided that a place indoors was definitely called for. And that’s how we came to discover the best KOA ever! The folks that run the Dillon KOA were so impressed with all the cycle tourists that came through that they began offering a 25% discount! The regular price of their cabins was already better than the Motel 6, and with the discount we could afford to stay inside for two nights (and take a rest day in Dillon). We have had every manner of experiences with KOAs across the country. Because they are all independently run, there are slight price and operational differences between properties. Some KOAs have great tent prices, others not so much. The Dillon KOA is the most bike friendly one we’ve ever come across (or heard about) and we highly recommend it!
After a rest day in Dillon, exploring the town and doing some work, we headed up Hwy 41 to Twin Bridges. We had been hearing about the Bike Camp in Twin Bridges for awhile, and wanted to check it out for ourselves. There’s not much to the small town, but there’s a very smart man who started a discussion about building a facility to entice cyclists to stay and spend money in the community. Most of the town was extremely skeptical, but he and the other believers persevered, and today there is a gorgeous dedicated space for cyclists to stop and camp. There’s a shower and restroom, a cooler, outdoor grill, information about local businesses, and a lovely screened shelter with tables. As we wandered through town, we stumbled into the Weaver’s Studio and, in the course of small talk, Russ asked if the two men in the shop knew anything about the Bike Camp… and lo and behold, Bill was sitting right in front of us (the man who pulled it all together), and he graciously told us lots of stories about the process of putting in the Bike Camp and the reception from the town. One of our favorite bits of information… they’ve discovered (after starting to ask folks to fill out a short survey) that cyclists staying at the Bike Camp spend an average of approximately $25 per person per day in the town. (Video coming shortly.)
From Twin Bridges, we headed east through a string of small western towns. In Sheridan, we stopped for coffee. In Alder, we stopped for lunch at Chick’s Bar (the food was surprisingly great!). In Nevada City, we stopped to look at the collection of old west buildings and drink a cold drink in the shade. In Virginia City, we marveled at the sheer number of tourists and shared a huckleberry milkshake. And then we climbed up and over the hill to Ennis. Just over the crest of the hill, there’s a small pull-out with an astounding view of the Madison River Valley. We stopped to admire it and chatted for awhile with a couple who had also stopped to enjoy the view. As we were talking, we noticed that a huge storm was encroaching from the side of the hill we had just climbed. We high-tailed it down the incredible descent, but the storm got hung up by the hill and never pummeled us the way we thought it might. In Ennis, we found the Taco Bus and devoured some of their yummy tacos (real Mexican food!), before riding through downtown and setting up camp at a small Fish & Game campground beside the river (only $7 with Russ’ fishing license!).
The next day, we hung around Ennis. We poked around the shops in downtown, ate at the Taco Bus again, and met several other cycle tourists. Oh, and Russ got to fish the mighty Madison River for many, many hours.
From Ennis, we climbed out of the Madison River Valley and slowly made our way to Bozeman. The ride is a series of rolling hills, winding beside the Madison River for part of the way (and a beautiful BLM campground that we wished we’d known about!). After awhile, we climbed one last big hill before descending into the Four Corners area (basically, a really big intersection with truck stops, casinos, mini marts, a Subway, a few fly shops, and a lone coffee cart). We enjoyed the randomness of the intersection and hung out for a bit before rolling into town to find our friends that we’re staying with here.