Helena to Bozeman (or, The Hills of Methtana)

Helena proved to be a fun little town. There was definitely a more rural feel to it than Missoula, but it still had some great breweries and bars, and our Couchsurfing host was amazing. She showed us around town a bit (took us to Blackfoot River brewery as well as Lewis and Clark brewery), and she graciously let us take over her backyard and house for a few days. I feel like Helena has a lot more for us to find if we had time to explore and dive in a bit. Maybe someday we will be back for an extended stay.

Higgs. Chillin'.

On Wednesday (5/20) we hit the road again. Our next major stop was Bozeman, Montana…another city we knew nothing about but shows up on a map. The day started out a little late for us, it is always tough to gather up and get moving after a few days off, but by 11 AM or so we were back on the road. It wasn’t long before we were greeted by our old friend, Headwind. Headwind sucks and I want to punch him in his cocky throat. The first hour or so was a little rough with Headwind plus a slight uphill, but eventually the wind settled down and things got a bit easier. The time passed quickly as we wound through the mountains, and we even saw some antelope (antelopes?) in a field!

The last ten miles or so of the day were pretty easy, it was mostly downhill. We are now coasting along the Missouri River which eventually finds its way to St. Louis (thank you informative sign at the campsite for that info). Also, Lewis and Clark hung out around here a couple hundred years ago, which I find kind of cool.

Home is where the tent is.

Our place of rest for the night was a little campground along the Missouri (Indian Road Campground). It was free, which is always a bonus. Also, someone left a full can of Coke on the table near our spot so we mixed that with some rum we happened to have. I don’t remember where the hell we got a small bottle of rum but I’m glad we had it. It was nice getting into the campground a bit early, I was able to plug in the solar system, get some work done, and even do a little reading. This camping thing is pretty cool when you have some daylight to enjoy it.

The night was fairly uneventful and our morning was calm and relaxed. We eventually hit the road around 10:30 AM and made a quick stop at a gas station in Townsend to get some water. The campground we stayed at was wonderful in many ways (including being free) but it didn’t have any potable water available. But, nothing a stop at a gas station couldn’t fix!

The route for the day was similar to yesterday, a gradual uphill for about two-thirds of the ride and then a downhill into our planned camping spot near Three Rivers. Despite an early appearance by Headwind (blast him), things went smoothly until about 10 miles into the ride. Then, we hit some construction. This wasn’t just normal construction with flaggers or a detour of a few hundred yards, this was serious construction. The entire road had been torn up and was basically gravel-covered mud for about five miles. Hardly ideal for a car, much less a bicycle. We didn’t really have a choice, as no alternative routes showed up on any maps, so we just continued through the construction zone cautiously as semis blazed past us at alarming speed. (It seems they really don’t care if there are no road markings or actual pavement to drive on.) About halfway through the construction, one of the workers stopped us and said we could ride in an area that was sectioned off from the main road. Apparently they weren’t doing any work in that area today so it was all ours. It was still gravel, but at least we didn’t have vehicles flying past us spraying us with mud and flying rocks.

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line. Engines pumping and thumping in time. The green light flashes, the flag goes up.

We eventually made it through the construction, got back on solid road, and were finally able to take a much-needed break. We saw a hitchhiker who waved to us, but that was about it. Then, a few minutes later, we spotted a bicycle chained to a piece of farm equipment. Sitting nearby was a bedroll, a backpack, and some other belongings. One of the tires on the bike was flat and we realized the hitchhiker may have actually been a cyclist who needed assistance. If that was the case, we wished he would have asked for our help! Regardless, Anna and I both promised to start explicitly asking any travelers we pass, especially those on foot, if they need help instead of just smiling and waving. One benefit of riding so heavy is that we generally have plenty of water, food, and electricity to share with anyone who might need it.

Peter admiring that world famous "Big Sky"

Eventually we got back on the road after our break, climbed to the top of our hill, and found ourselves staring at dark storm clouds right in our path. It was tough to judge distance but we guessed they were a couple miles away, coming our direction. There wasn’t much we could do so we just pressed on and hoped for the best. Luckily, we somehow missed the storm and made it to our campground without really encountering anything more than a few random raindrops.

Hmm, that doesn't look good.

The campsite (Missouri Headwaters State Park) was a bit of a disappointment. First off, it is expensive as fuck. It is $28 for a tent spot (despite saying $10 online). Normally a campground will offer you some amenities for that price, like running water, electricity, possibly a shower and/or laundry facility on site, maybe a pavilion, or even just beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, this campground did not get the memo. It is miles away from any actual rivers or trails or anything you would come to the state park to see. There is no electricity, showers, laundry, or even trash removal on site. The bathroom is an outhouse. And the only place to refill water is about three miles away from the campsites…which meant we had to bike an extra six miles to fill our water bottles. We essentially paid nearly $30 for worse amenities than we had at the free campground the night before. Kind of disappointing, but not much could be done. (We were pretty beat at the end of the day and biking an unknown number of extra miles to avoid this campsite didn’t sound fun.) We set up our tent, ate some food, charged the solar battery for a bit, and went to bed. Soon, we would be in Bozeman.

Rainbow!

The road to Bozeman was fairly straightforward – we had some rolling hills with small towns and farms along the way. We met some friendly horses who ran up to their fence and eagerly snatched up a few baby carrots out of Anna’s hands. This might have been some sort of farming taboo, feeding horses that aren’t yours, but everything seemed to turn out okay.

Anna feeding some carrots to our biggest fans.

And, of course, we were surrounded by meth. Anti-meth signs were everywhere. The hand-drawn “not even once” posters dotted the landscape and every city advertised (bragged? warned?) that they were a “Meth Watch” community. I really never knew Montana had a meth problem and part of me seriously wonders why. Is it just impossible to get good drugs? I guess Montana is pretty far from the traditional drug pipelines of Seattle, Chicago, New York, Miami, San Diego, etc… but man, this is the age of the Internet. I know for a fact you can order incredibly clean MDMA online and have it delivered by the postal service, and all you need is an Internet connection, Google, a few hours of spare time, and a ninth grade level reading comprehension. Oh well, I guess out here meth is king, which is really kind of sad because MDMA is such a better experience. I’ve never actually done meth unless it was mixed with Molly to make it a bit speedier. Much like heroin it really doesn’t appeal to me, but I do know people who use meth recreationally and are functional parts of society.

I’m torn on these scare tactics. I could see them being effective in a limited way if only applied to certain drugs. If we had a comprehensive education program about drugs and ended the tyrannical war on drugs, then it could be effective to have a couple drugs (like meth) that are advertised as too dangerous to try even once. But clearly that requires us to stop putting weed, MDMA, cocaine, ketamine, 2C-B, LSD, shrooms, and everything else into the same category. If you tell students that all drugs are really bad (mmm-kay) and they end up smoking some weed and see that it isn’t that bad, then you undermine the entire program. If the government is willing to lie about weed, why should I trust them about meth?

Of course, the best thing to do is to legalize everything and put more money into health services like Portugal did. Further research into addiction is showing that the environment is a major factor, and people (or rats) don’t sink their whole lives into a drug if they have a community to be a part of. The research and work done by Dr. Carl Hart is really changing how we look at drugs and policy, but sadly not many politicians are listening because power is gained by blaming drugs.

Anyway…that was an unexpected tangent.

About halfway into Bozeman, we started getting some ominous clouds forming over us. I thought we were going to be luck out again, Anna wasn’t so sure. Anna was right. I should listen to her more. After lunch we ended up getting soaked for about 20 minutes. To be honest, sometimes that sucks more than it raining all day. Getting pissed on for just 20 minutes feels like a prank. Like Zeus and Poseidon are on Mount Olympus laughing at our happiness and thinking it would be funny if we had dripping wet socks, but not wanting the farmers in the area to actually get their crops watered. Fuck you Zeus and Poseidon.

Welcome to Bozeman?

Despite the downpour (and another one soon after that, which we escaped by hiding under a Safeway awning), we made it to our wonderful Couchsurfing host’s home in Bozeman around 6 PM. We chatted for a couple hours, despite all of us being pretty tired (she had early work in the morning). Our host is going to start a European bike tour later this year and it was fun to exchange experiences, talk about equipment, and hear each other’s plans. Sadly, we are only staying here one night and the rest of our time in Bozeman will be with someone we met off Warm Showers. She seems pretty awesome too so I am sure things will continue to be great. In some ways this bike ride is more about the people than anything. We meet such awesome fucking people. Hell, we even had a stranger offer to let us crash in his living room when we were buying supplies at REI. The world really is filled with beautiful, amazing souls who genuinely want to help others reach their potential and experience all this world has to offer. It is an inspiring thing.

**If you are interested in more photos of our journey we have a Facebook page you can follow (www.facebook.com/shiftsandhiggles).**

Helena to Bozeman - Map

Helena to Bozeman - Elevation

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Missoula to Helena (or, The Camels Were Gone from Montana by 1867)

Well, my partner and I are back on our multi-year bicycle tour around the country. I will try my best to bring my posts from our travel blog (www.BarelyFunctionalAdults.wordpress.com) over here. If you are interested in more photos of our journey we have a Facebook page you can follow (www.facebook.com/shiftsandgiggles). I will try to post other personal stuff that comes to mind on this page as well but writing time is limited.

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Saying goodbye is never easy.

As excited as we were to hit the trail again, it was hard leaving Missoula behind. We met so many wonderful new friends and strengthened old friendships as well. Missoula is a home to us now, a place where we feel loved and accepted. It isn’t easy leaving that, but, like most things in life, the easy way is not the way of growth or adventure… and we had an adventure to restart.

There are moments in life when language rings hollow. Trying to express how much we will miss this friend is one of those moments. Part of our hearts stay here in Missoula with her.

Our first day of travel was the perfect way to begin – exactly what we needed day 1 to be. We stopped at Black Coffee Roasters one last time for some world-class coffee and their batshit amazing avocado toast. Then, around 11 AM, we got on the road and headed east towards the mountains with wide shoulders to ride on and beautiful weather to boot. The terrain was uphill, but only slightly. This was a great opportunity for us to test out our new bike and trailer set-ups – prior to leaving we never got a chance to ride around with our trailers fully packed. (Smart, we know.) Turns out they are heavy, but not overly so, similar to our previous leg of the bike ride. The new bikes and trailers are incredibly stable and provide a much smoother ride than our old gear did. Higgins loves his new set-up as well. He doesn’t hesitate or resist getting into the trailer anymore and loves being able to stick his nose out the front to smell all the things. (Don’t worry, we have two leashes attached to his collar and the inside of the trailer to make sure he can’t lean too far or jump out and hurt himself.)

Higgs is ready to roll!

As our first day continued, we passed all the usual Montana things like a distillery, a bunch of farm animals, deer, a skunk, ghost towns, etc. We were lunching along the Blackfoot River when Anna’s front tube mysteriously went flat while her bike was just sitting there. I’m not sure why, the puncture was on the inner ring of the tube and this was the same tube that came with the bike to begin with. Oh well, it was an easy fix, and hopefully the flat was a fluke! The late afternoon brought some clouds and the threat of rain, but as we climbed to the top of our final hill the weather was still on our side. The original plan was to just camp on the side of the road but we found a campground in Lubrecht Experimental Forest that had unlocked cabins (which were furnished and even had electricity!) We weren’t sure if the campground was actually open…there were no signs to help us, and the only people we encountered just waved at us from a distance. We waited for someone to approach us so we could ask whether it was okay to sleep there, but no one ever did, so we just had a nice dinner, set up our stuff in one of the cabins, and went to sleep.

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The night went smoothly, except for when we were woken up at 4:30 AM by a tow truck backing up near our cabin (we never figured out what it was doing there – there were really no cars there to tow). Morning came soon after that and we hit the road after donating a few dollars to the camp as a thank-you for such nice accommodations. The day started with a steady downhill along the highway. The shoulder started getting a little narrower and had more and more sand and gravel on it. It was still nice but the conditions were deteriorating slowly. We also had a lot of hills… and a lot of hill optical illusions (when you look ahead and it looks like a downhill but turns out to be an uphill, AKA why are we pedaling as hard as we can to go downhill?? Pretty frustrating). We took our time though and had breaks whenever we needed them. Everything was pretty much going according to plan until we hit the intersection of Highway 200 (the road we’d been traveling on) and Highway 141. The plan was to continue up 200 to Lincoln but the shoulder basically disappeared, traffic was zooming past at or above the speed limit of 70 MPH, and the road started winding up a mountain with a cliff on one side. It just wasn’t safe. So, we decided to have a change of plans, turn onto 141, and head directly south towards Helena instead of going through Lincoln.

Doesn't the

Highway 141 was probably the safest and best option we had, but it turned out to be a pretty miserable option. We quickly found ourselves in farmland facing a terrible headwind and crosswind. Apparently, when you destroy all of the trees in an area, it becomes incredibly windy. The climbs also continued with fairly steep rolling hills the whole way. I am beginning to think staying in Missoula for 8 months and storing lots of calories in our bodies for future use was not the wisest thing to do.

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Anyway, the temperature started to drop and any time we stopped biking to take a break, the cold made us pretty uncomfortable. We were trying to make it to a lake in the hopes there would be camping options there, but as the hours passed and we got more and more exhausted, we realized we weren’t going to get to the lake in time. There weren’t a lot of other options for camping, but we eventually found a spot on the side of the road with some bushes where we set up our tent. We fell asleep quickly and slept hard, despite the cold and the occasional sound of passing cars or deer sniffing our tent.

WHY?!?!

The next day started cold and a bit damp. Since we had changed routes unexpectedly, we really had no idea what the day had in store for us, but we did know we had two days to go (about 60 miles) until we reached Helena. We started riding with the gloomy, overcast sky hanging above us, threatening to pour rain on us at any moment but rarely doing anything more than drizzling. The road was pretty decent with very little traffic and the usual hazards that come with rural bike riding… loose dogs running across the highway at us (luckily they turned out to be friendly), skunks hanging on mile marker signs, etc. By early afternoon we’d made it to the “town” of Avon where we stopped to rest on the porch of a building next to the local fire station.

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While we were resting and eating lunch, a truck pulled up next to us. It was Old Bill. (Name changed to protect Old Bill’s privacy, and also because we don’t know Old Bill’s real name.) Old Bill asked us what we were doing and made general small talk. When he found out we were going through The Pass he let out a friendly laugh and told us to watch out for the snow. We chuckled along with him. Old Bill was always joking about snow. We were sure the weather wasn’t going to be THAT cold up on the mountain. Old Bill continued on his way and we continued resting. A few minutes later Old Bill came back, and told us about a great restaurant down the road where we could stop in to get some coffee and warm up. Then he laughed again and pulled away.

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We hit the road soon after that and started heading east on Highway 12. The traffic was heavier but we had a wide shoulder to use as we crept upwards towards The Pass. The first 9 miles or so were pretty easy and we arrived at a gas station/convenience store in Elliston at around 6 PM. We stopped to get some coffee, use the bathroom, and convince our muscles they were ready to climb The Pass directly ahead of us. The next five miles or so were going to be hell already, so of course the clouds above us decided it was time to dump their load. We knew that waiting wasn’t going to get the job done, so we got back on the road despite the rain, quickly finding ourselves at the foot of the mountain where the following historic marker sat.

If I had a time machine I would go back 150 years just to see camels in Montana

The climb was terrible. It really wasn’t a ride, it was a walk. We pushed our bikes nearly the whole 5 miles. The 8% grade was just too much with the gear we were carrying and the days of travel behind us. It didn’t help matters that we had a very narrow shoulder and lots of wind, plus visibility had decreased dramatically because of the rain and clouds. We often found ourselves pressed against the guardrails when cars passed by too closely (GET INTO THE LEFT LANE, YOU FOOLS!) But, after hours of pushing our bikes, ignoring our numbed hands and feet, being blasted by strong winds and rain that turned to sleet, we managed to get to top of The Pass just before sunset. (Although the sun was nowhere in sight behind the thick clouds, we assumed it was setting somewhere). We set up our tent quickly, put the tarp over our equipment, ate some glorious baked beans out of a can with nutritional yeast and Frank’s hot sauce, and then fell asleep. Sleep didn’t last very long. The tent collapsed on us in the middle of the night because of the heavy winds (mental note #1: always stake the tent down, don’t be a lazy asshole) and I ran out into the cold sleet to fix it, breaking our food bin in the process (mental note #2: plastic food bins cannot support the weight of a full grown human being). After fixing the tent I fell back asleep quickly, but the morning came soon and with the morning came snow. Old Bill was right.

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There’s something you need to understand about Old Bill: he is always joking but always serious. There are innumerable rumors about his origins. Some say that his Granny was a settler named Helen and the city of Helena is named after her. Others say that his great-grandpa was Sammy MacDonald who came over as a settler after the Civil War, and that the MacDonald Pass was named after him. Some others say it goes further back than that –  that Old Bill is the last direct descendant of the ancient Montanan Native American tribes and the state is named after his ancestors. Finally, some claim he has Elven blood in him, that his ancestors chose not to travel across the sea with the rest of his kind to the Undying Lands before the Dawn of Man.

Regardless, Old Bill was right. We got snowed on. A lot.

Due to the snow and our general tiredness we didn’t really get moving until about 1 PM. Luckily(?) our day started with a 7ish mile downhill. Normally, that would be awesome. But this wasn’t a normal day. It was bitterly cold out and we couldn’t ride for more than a couple miles before needing to pull over and stick our hands in our crotches to warm them back up, lest we lose any of our fingers to frostbite. The combination of strong winds, cold temperature, and wet conditions had taken its toll on us. There was an unexpected bright spot though when we pulled over at a scenic outlook. A nice elderly couple in a car had pulled over there as well and they were very excited about our adventure. They chatted with us a bit and kind of brightened our morning. We also met another cyclist who was traveling from Phoenix to Minnesota…he looked pretty rough. He was missing most of his teeth, had some pretty intense sun damage to his skin, was wearing shorts in 35 degree weather, and he didn’t have front brakes. The three of us took off down the hill at about the same time but he quickly passed us while yelling “Ho ho ho!” to Anna. It was weird.

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Eventually we got to the bottom of the mountain and pushed on into Helena, where we found a Starbucks to sit down and warm our bodies. While we sat there a man named Fred Cowie approached us. It turns out Fred is a Professor of History at Carroll College in Helena, but his true passion is art. He chatted with us a bit about our lives and the adventures he has had. Just before he left the Starbucks, he gave us a beautiful small watercolor he painted and his business card. It was an amazing meet-up.

After we got a bit of work done at the Starbucks, we ran some last minute errands and then headed over to the home of our host for three nights. Nicolle found us on Couchsurfing and offered to let us stay at her place while in Helena. She has a beautiful house on a big plot of land with dogs and chickens. Overall it has been a great ride so far but we are looking forward to resting a bit, exploring what Helena has to offer us, and prepping for the next round of travel.

Missoula to Helena - Map

Missoula to Helena - Elevation