Bozeman to East Glacier, Montana
This post is a bit late, but better than not putting it up at all!
Our visit to Bozeman flew by, but not before we added the city to our short list of places to possibly live at some point. A small-ish university town, Bozeman has great food and art and easy access to fishing and country roads for cycling. We had a great stay with new friends and then headed out again. Because we had a looming deadline to be back in Oregon for my brother’s wedding, we decided to hop a bus to Great Falls and pedal our way to Glacier.
After a less-than-stellar arrival in Great Falls (including a thunderstorm, two flat tires, an oddly hard time finding food or any sign of life, a fight with a motel owner because we couldn’t take our bikes in the room, and eventually giving up and camping FEMA-style at an RV park), we wound up nicknaming the city ‘Great Fail.’ And, yet, we knew we would only encounter small towns as we headed north, so we stayed two nights to wrap up some work and re-supply. Eventually, we encountered a great bike-ped bridge and pathway along the river, and a super cute coffee shop with delicious cupcakes – so the city partially redeemed itself, but the nickname has remained in our minds.
From Great Falls, we hopped on a series of small backroads out of town, before eventually following Hwy 89. The ride was pretty un-extraordinary until we passed through Fairfield. After a coffee stop and lunch break in the park, we wound our way past an enormous and gorgeous waterfowl sanctuary. Marshland and birds and hills on the horizon and very little traffic – it was a lovely stretch of road! We pulled into Choteau (pronounced Sho-to) that afternoon and went in search of camping. There are two main options – the RV park at the edge of town with absurdly expensive tent sites, or the small (and cheap) campground by a creek in the city park. We chose the latter and enjoyed a quiet evening in the shade. At about 4am, we were bolted awake by an insanely loud and terrifying siren. It sounded like an air raid siren, like the sort of thing you would hear before the world ended – but nobody in the neighboring tents seemed to be fleeing, so we just shrugged it off and went back to sleep. The next morning, we learned that it was the alarm for the volunteer fire department (instead of the more modern, and expensive, custom of issuing pagers).
On our way out of Choteau, we stopped at the small museum at the edge of town. Because it wasn’t open yet, we peered in the windows and wondered why there were dinosaur statues outside. And then we heard, “Have you ever seen a Grizzly? Do you want to?” Bob fished out the right key and opened the door to the Grizzly exhibit, where two large stuffed bears (from several dozen years ago) stood behind glass. After hearing some great stories, we headed out of town – rambling through wide-open farmland, over lots of hills, to Conrad. The right was beautiful, although lacking in much scenery, and hot. And Conrad was not nearly as cute as Choteau. We have learned that small towns, even if they’re physically close to each other, can vary so drastically – and we should never assume that a town will offer certain facilities, and should fully enjoy the cute ones when we find them! We camped FEMA-style in the RV park in Conrad and got an endless amount of amusement from the woman who ran the park (and who seemed to be averse to walking, because she drove her golf cart all over the very small property).
The next day was a short one, and we headed an easy distance to Valier and the park/campground at Lake Frances. We were now squarely in rural farmland, which meant that the traffic was light, the services were sparse, and the scenery was unchanging. We were in a completely different Montana than we had previously experienced and we were enjoying the opportunity to see this non-touristy corner of the state. Our lazy day was exacerbated by the sweltering heat, and we hunted down some smoothies and then cowered in the shade by the lake.
We woke up the next morning to a howling wind. We were loathe to ride in it, but we also really wanted a shower (which are not available at the lake), so we headed the short distance north to Cut Bank. Despite the exhausting wind, the ride was quite peaceful, and we passed nothing more than a handful of small farms. Arriving in Cut Bank, we found food and the RV park (where, for just a few dollars more, we got their delightfully funky tipi cabin). And then George and Elsie found us! The parents of a reader, they live nearby and had been tipped off to our arrival in the area. They scooped us up and took us to lunch and we had a great visit with them, swapping stories and hearing about Northern Montana’s heyday many years prior. Before they dropped us back at our plywood tipi, they introduced us to the giant penguin that proclaims Cut Bank as the coldest part of the US. Nobody seems to know how the nickname and penguin came to be, but we got a good chuckle from the silliness of it all!
From Cut Bank, we hopped on Hwy 2 and headed west to East Glacier. We were up early to beat the headwind, and did pretty well until a few miles outside of Browning. We knocked off the first 35 miles in 3 hours, then slogged the last 12 miles over a grueling 2 hours! But we were glad to have pushed through and to be in the cute small village of East Glacier. We found our way to the Backpacker Inn, behind Serrano’s Mexican Restaurant (and managed out of the restaurant also), and lucked our way into a private room (just a few dollars more than two bunks).
Our visit to Glacier was short and we never made it the Going to the Sun Road (because it was crawling with traffic and tourists!), but we were still happy to have actually made it to the park. We rode out to Two Medicine Lake, where were were able to take in some of the area’s magnificence. We were hoping to see some moose or bears (from a bit of a distance, of course), but only happened upon a few prairie dogs and cows. We know we’ll head back there at some point, although we’ll make sure that it’s during the shoulder season, when Going to the Sun is closed to cars. From East Glacier, we hopped aboard a very late Amtrak train back to Oregon, to celebrate my brother’s wedding and get ready for InterBike.