August 13, 2015 – Haze 100 degrees
Miles Today: 73
Miles to Date: 5,610
States to Date: 21
Fire Danger: Extreme! I had heard there is often August snow in the mountainous Montana, so I wasn’t expecting the hottest day of my trip here. Then again, ‘unseasonal’ is the only consistent adjective we can apply to weather anywhere these days. Yesterday’s heat hung over early morning, the mercury was already passed 90 when I stopped for a break at 10:30, and the air was brittle and dry all afternoon.
Surly didn’t like the day very much either. First I had a blowout on the decline into Arlee which proved challenging to fix. The air was so hot I never got the tire pressure right, both bike and rider were lethargic. Then I got a wire caught in the same tire. Thankfully, I disengaged it before a second flat.
I have been thinking about the John Steinbeck line that people here love to quote: “I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.” I am not in love with Montana, but I am confounded by it. The four cities I’ve visited have each been more interesting and vibrant than I expected. The landscape is breathtaking. But beyond the cities, I have met too many jaundiced people.
Today I got a toxic diatribe about our President in response to my question, from an ice cream vendor no less. As I pedaled away, unsatisfied by a stingy scoop of huckleberry, I realized that nature’s majesty could not counteract the meanness of that man. Why, I wondered, does such an expansive place create such narrow people? The kind of question worth spinning for a good twenty miles. Perhaps narrow people seek out the place? Ultimately I realized that Montana is expansive, but it’s not generous. Life is difficult here, for animals and for people. Resources are scattered far and so populations are spread thin. It is a large pie, but not an expanding one, and not a very nourishing one. People truly believe that they must protect what they have – water, land, livestock – by themselves and with extreme measures if necessary. I can appreciate Montana’s beauty, but I just can’t love a place with so many guns and so little goodwill.
My downcast perspective lingered through the long hot afternoon. Five miles from Plains my warmshowers hosts pulled up in their truck. They’d been in Missoula for the day, were looking for me, and insisted on sagging me to their house. The sky was mixed with scattered thunderstorms and fire smoke. They’d already picked up Peter, another cyclist I met during the day. They thought he was me, and invited him for the night. So we were four for a tasty dinner that lifted my spirits but sparked my fatigue. I was in bed before nine, before dark.