Montana 2014 Part 1 – Day 39 – Miles City – Forsyth: Paying it forward

Friday June 27, 2014, 48 miles (77 km) – Total so far: 1,767 miles (2,843 km)

The old station wagon creaks and groans as it bounces into the parking lot on old shocks. It’s got a fan-belt problem, too. If I were knowledgeable about vehicles, I might be able to diagnose more issues. It’s pretty sad if a poor car has problems even I can detect.

A small U-Haul truck pulls in next to the station wagon. Two young boys of similar age roll out of the car. They’ve got skinny limbs and big heads with blonde hair. A mom gets out and pulls a baby carrier out of the front seat. A scrappy-looking man wearing sweatpants and a black Iron Maiden t-shirt gets out of the U-Haul and joins them, as they come over and sit down near me at the tables outside of McDonalds.

The man tells the boys to sit down and behave and not to wake their younger brother (who looks about 8-months-old). He gives the woman a 16 ounce bottle of Sunkist that’s half gone. She lights up a cigarette and the boys ask the man if they can get some food. He says, “No. I’ve got to go call your Grandma to have her send some money. Now sit down and behave.” He disappears across the parking lot to a gas station to find a pay phone.

The kids try hard to sit still, but they have the attention span of gnats. They sit for about a minute before they start sliding around on the chairs, then picking the heads off marigolds in the planter, then chasing each other around the table. The mom keeps smoking and yelling at them. They stay still about a minute each time.

I quickly finish my orange juice and my analysis of what the NWS forecast means for me today. As I’m throwing my cup away the woman asks where I’m from and where I’m going. After this she asks if I had somewhere to stay last night. I swear this woman looks like she walked straight out of a ‘faces of meth’ poster. She asks if I’m moving to Montana. I say, “No, just travelling. You guys moving”? She says yes. They lost their home here and can’t find anyone else that will rent to them. So they are moving to a new town to start over. I say, “yeah, sometimes a fresh start is what you need. Would you mind watching my bike for a second while I go inside”? She agrees.

You know what I have to do. For all the people who have helped me on the road, for all the strangers that were so gracious to a stinky, dirty cyclist, I’ve got to pay it forward. I go in and buy four sausage and egg biscuits, a couple breakfast burritos and a large orange juice, then take them out to the family. I won’t give money to people like this, because I’m afraid they’ll use it on cigarettes or drugs, but I’ve bought a few meals for disadvantaged folks in the past. Those kiddos with super skinny legs and big heads deserve a feed.

I hand the bag and drink to the woman and say, “I thought you might need some breakfast to get you a ways down the road.”

The woman looks sort of shocked. Then she gets up and gives me a hug. “Bless you. Bless you. May God bless you. No one is ever nice to us. Do you want some, too?”, she asks, as the boys start pulling the stuff out of the bag.

“No, thanks, it’s for you. Travel safe and good luck in your new town”, I say, then mount the bike and head off. For a good long while this morning, I think about how fortunate I was to strike it lucky with both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ and to have been brought up to make good choices and to have the support to do so. There’s nothing like seeing things that break your heart to start the day. Those poor kids don’t stand a chance.

I head out of town on the interstate. There is one back road that connects up at the next exit, but I don’t know if it is paved. Google Maps makes it look like Old 10 is discontinuous, so I just take the certain route.

We climb up to the old High Plains surface. We’ll be riding across the Fort Union formation again today, but we’ll be riding through the Lebo and Tullock members instead of the Tongue River member today. That means we will be riding across fairly level plains instead of clinker hills.

We’ll be following the Yellowstone River for a week or so.

It’s not all flat riding, though. The interstate dips into each of creek drainages that flow into the river. Sometimes when the river is on the other side of the valley, the interstate dips down into the river floodplain, too, before climbing back up onto the sandstones.

We stop at the rest area to eat, drink, rest and refill water. From here there are good views down into the river valley, and you can see just how the river has carved its way down into the rather flat plains. It’s a wide flat valley set down below the wide, flat plains. There’s not a whole lot of topographical relief here. The railroad weaves its way along the river down below.

You can see the wide, flat valley eroded down into the wide, flat plains in this photo. Oh, and there’s a cyclist, a frog and a turtle, too, to muck up the view.

About 30 miles into it, I hear honking vehicles coming up behind me. I look in my mirror. No one is going to hit me. As the vehicles go by, I recognize the sound of the station wagon rasping up the hill with that wonky fan belt before I can identify it in my mirror. The mom and the boys are waving out the window as they go. The U-Haul keeps honking until it disappears over the next rise. Good luck to them – I’m sure they’ll need it.

Downtown Forsyth. It’s actually a nice little town with all the services you need (grocery store, DQ, museum, library, bank, nice spot to camp).

Forsyth is a railroad town. It has one main street facing the tracks and another row of businesses on the other side of them. It was a division point in times past and is now a staff change-over point. There’s more than a few young guys with overnight bags walking to and from the yard. Several of the old hotels have been converted to housing for them.

The businesses and buildings actually are a couple streets deep, and everything looks well-cared for and maintained. There are many murals painted all over downtown. It also has an ornate courthouse that looks like it belongs back east somewhere. I like the place – for a tiny eastern Montana town, anyway.

Forsyth has a bunch of murals all over downtown.


I hit up the DQ for a Smores Blizzard – I’m running out of days to get them!! Then I hit up the quite well-stocked supermarket for some food and drink. Then its out to the Fishing Access site to camp for the night. The mozzies are phenomenally bad. I have to put on all of my raingear to survive, even though I’m pitching in an open area in the sun!

I hang out in the tent, just listening to music while the mozzies line the tent screen waiting for me to emerge. I count 22 at one point. It rains for a bit in the afternoon. There is thunder in the distance.

I never hear the other touring cyclist come and set up a small bivy because I’ve got my headphones in. I just see his bike, BOB trailer and tiny tent when I get out to go pee before falling asleep. He won’t be awake when I head out in the morning, so I never meet the mysterious rider. Another day done.

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