August 11, 2015 – Sun 90 degrees
Miles Today: 78
Miles to Date: 5,577
States to Date: 21
I rolled out of Helena by 8:30 a.m. for my climb over the Continental Divide – for my fifth time! Riding conditions were excellent, so MacDonald Pass, at 6200 feet, was not nearly so difficult as other assaults across the Divide. Still, the 3,000 feet rise over 16 miles was a good workout.
On the downside I stopped for two guys hunched over the open hood of their semi. They were Beevis and Butthead characters with goofy grins, one was tall and skinny, the other squat and fat. The short guy stood with a blown hose in his hands apparently baffled at what to do. I offered a bicycle tube to squeeze over the hole, but he declined. Further on, while on a cold drink break, they eased their massive truck into the station and filled the radiator with gallons of water. I headed north on Montana 141 so never saw them again, but I imagine they didn’t get as far as I did.
Highway 141 is a gorgeous road through a huge valley. Parts are lush with farms, other sections dramatically barren. At 52 miles I found a rare patch of shade along an unnamed reservoir and took a writing break. An empty pickup tied to a boat stood in the pull-off. As I was getting ready to leave, another pickup pulled in. Turns out a couple just starting their vacation broke down, returned to Helena, and borrowed another pickup. They transferred all their stuff, including the boat, to their new ride while waiting for the tow truck from Helena to retrieve the broken vehicle. They were remarkably cheerful given their difficult start. Ten miles later, they gave me a happy honk, beginning their vacation in a borrowed pickup. I was reminded how easy it is for me if Surly needs attention. She fits easy into any Samaritan’s vehicle.
The remainder of the ride was pleasant, though the scent of dead skunk and charred timber polluted the fresh mountain air. Smoke from active fires rose in the distance.
Ovando is the most unique town I’ve stayed in during my journey: population 75; one roadside restaurant; and a collection of eclectic shops at an irregular square that used to be the center of town. An enterprising woman has converted a sheep wagon, a tipi and the old jail into cyclist sleeping digs for $5 per night. I decided to enjoy a full dinner before turning into a nomad shepherd.
Trixi’s is a long, narrow building whose fake wood paneled walls are covered with real elk and moose heads. There are ten seats at the bar, eight slot machines, six tables, three video arcade games, a foosball table and one pool table. The waitress, Ovando born and bred, chatted me up as she shuffled three tables together. This region suffered a dry winter and spring, so the summer fires are severe. An extended family was evacuated from the blaze I saw, and was coming in for dinner. Turned out to be the woman who arranged my lodging; we met like old acquaintances. She and her family were in party spirits; confident the fire wasn’t a serious danger.
The world is immense, full of glories and dangers. Our machines fail us, our climate turns forests to tinder, but each mishap creates opportunities to meet interesting people.