Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Good folk of Montana

8/12/11 Day 34: Choteau, MT to Craig, MT: 78.4 miles

Yesterday was a great day! Choteau, a small, quaint, cute little down just a few miles from the Rocky Mountain Front has charm and friendly locals. My host, Morgen, set up a day very nice day for us. While she worked for a few hours in the morning, I posted pictures and updated my blog, did laundry, ate breakfast, and generally got things in order. She came home around noon, with her boss/co-worker in tow, and we all jumped in the car to head up to Teton Pass, the local ski area. Morgen worked there as a bartender for a short time in the winter and her boss Jody's boyfriend was working there over the summer clearing trees from the ski trails. Since Jody and Morgen had been working hard to meet a deadline that they just finished, they had decided that the day I was there was a good day to take a half-day retreat in the mountains, have a barbeque, and relax. My timing was excellent!

The ski hill is about a 45 minute drive from town, through towering gray cliffs, past beaver dams and evergreens. When we arrived, Nate, Jody's boyfriend, and Chuck, Nate's coworker, had the barbeque going already. We ate a big meal of kebabs and hot dogs, with a nice pasta salad, fresh fruit and ginger cookies to finish. Then someone got the idea of firing up the ski lift (there's only 1 real lift, it is a small ski area) so that we could ride it up and get some views from the top of the mountain, so we did! Nate & Jody's golden lab, Lambo, chased us all the way up, tongue hanging to the ground when we all got to the top. The view was quite fantastic. Morgen & I decided to hike down, while Jody and Nate took the lift back. Wildflowers bloomed everywhere, the smell of pine trees filled the air, and we slowly made our way back down the steep slope, chatting and enjoying the scenery.

Later that evening, we made our way to the Wagon Wheel, a local bar, to play some horse shoes and billiards. Morgen and I teamed up against Matt & Jeff, whom I had met the previous night at the Wildlife Sanctuary (another bar). We had the most edge-of-your-seat game of horseshoes I've ever played, with every player getting at least one ringer, and we ended up losing by 1 point after having a substantial lead to start. It was great fun.

Today was a long, hot ride through more Montana hills. There were some interesting geological features along the way, along with great views of the Rocky Mountain Front. The best part of the ride was the end, as I wound my way down the Missouri River canyon toward a cabin owned by Morgen's parents, which I was invited to this evening because it is halfway between Choteau and Helena, and makes a perfect stop on my way.

The cabin is right on the shore of the Missouri River, just a few miles after it starts (and it goes east from here all the way to the Mississippi!). I arrived just before 7 pm, and immediately jumped in the perfectly cool, refreshing water. Morgen and I cooked up some dinner, atE on the deck overlooking the river, and enjoyed the peaceful night.

8/14/11 Day 36: Craig, MT to Helena, MT: 51 miles

Yesterday, after a bit of internal conflict, I decided to stay at the cabin on the Missouri river for one more night. Morgen and her family are wonderful, welcoming people, and made me feel very at home. In addition to this, Morgen invited me to float the river with several of her friends who were driving up from Helena that day, so that's what we did. Five of us jumped into an oar-raft and spent 3+ hours drifting down the slow-moving waters of the Missouri, chatting, swimming and and making a day of it. The water was cool, the air was hot, and the jumping rock was fun. I had a chance to sit in the driver's seat for a while, and paddle with oars, which I don't get to do very often. That evening, Morgen's brother cooked up a gourmet meal, and we had a big fire to end the night. Some friends of the family had kids who roasted marshmallows. It felt like summer.

Today was HOT. I departed the cabin on the Missouri feeling as though I was leaving good friends, and headed south through a fairly mild mountain pass (comparatively) to the capital city of Montana.  Along the way, red cliffs covered in lichen lined the sides of the canyon and the sun beat down.  I did not see much of the down-town up close, but rode through some neighborhoods to the home of Kelly, my couch-surfing host here. 

Kelly works for the forest service in the summer, and was called in to work dispatch for wild-land fire-fighting, so he was not home when I arrived, but had made his home open and available to me. I parked my bike in the garage, took a shower, and met his parrot before he came home, and we went out for a beer and an excellent dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant. Afterward, we stopped by the bar next door and said hi to Kim, one of Morgen's friends with whom I had floated yesterday, who works as a bartender here in Helena. It was a fun and social evening.

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