Montana 2014 Part 1 – Day 41 – Custer – Hardin: Fame precedes me

Sunday June 29, 2014, 36 miles (57 km) – Total so far: 1,859 miles (2,991 km)

I roll out of Custer early – a steep-ish climb back out of the river valley awaits me first thing. Good morning, legs.

I’m concerned Highway 47 might be busy as a cut-through between I-94 and I-90, so I want to get a few miles in on that shoulderless road before the traffic picks up.

The road sits high in the landscape. It rolls along through sagebrush and grassy fields. A ridge populated with pines and rock outcrops keeps us company off to the right. Way down off to the left is the cleft of the Bighorn River. Where gullies or draws erode into the surface and cross the road heading toward the Bighorn, the road drops and climbs to negotiate them. The pines grow down the gullies, and the scent of woody vanilla envelopes us in the early morning humidity as we climb in and out of the gentle folds.

We drop down to the river through the bluffs for a short period but climb back out again as we get closer to Hardin. The stream of traffic coming from the south is picking up as tourists begin to leave Hardin after the weekend’s Little Bighorn Days. I’ve purposely avoided being here during that.

The town has a serious hang-over. The vendor booths downtown are packing up, and the line at McDonalds is angry and impatient. I don’t usually eat there, and think getting food might be impossible since the poor little place is absolutely overrun with tourists wanting food before they hit the road. So I get a large drink, take it outside and check out possible accommodations and the weather report. There was a KOA a couple miles out of town, but the tent sites were next to the road. No thanks, unless I have to.

I head down to the supermarket and get food. Then I head over to the Family Dollar to get degreaser and some rags. For $2, I can get all the needed materials I don’t carry on-board to give the bike a good clean. As I roll up to the Family Dollar, a Crow woman sitting in the passenger seat of an old car calls out to me.

“Hey, are you with the guy that was just here”?

I look at her confused.”No, I’m travelling alone.”

“Oh, there was a guy that just left a second ago that had a bike just like yours with all the packs and stuff”.

“No. Don’t know him, sorry.”

She then asks the standard six and places great emphasis on the fact that I’m travelling alone. She thinks I should carry a gun. She also advises me that there are still reenactments of the Little Bighorn Battle today, but I would be much better off going to the one the Crow put on because it’s done within sight of the actual battlefield, has been going on much longer than the other reenactment west of town, and the Crow make sure that both sides of the story are accurate.

I thank her for the info and head in the store. I then head down to a park and go for broke cleaning the cassette, chain and derailleurs. I give the rest of the bike a good clean, too.

In the afternoon, I head to the RV park in town. The reception/gift shop is a hoarder’s heaven and stinks like pets and kitty litter. A cat definitely has the run of the counter and cash register. There is a man in there, too, that pries himself out of a lounge chair to help me. He isn’t the owner, but he can register me. Maybe. We get to chatting as he tries very hard to not screw up the forms and the cash register. He is incredibly knowledgeable about computers and hot springs, and wants to know if I’ll be visiting certain springs on my trip. He knows all about the different mineral contents of various springs in Montana. It’s interesting and he is nice but just a bit odd.

Then, the woman owner comes in. She has seen my bike laying outside and proclaims, “There you are!! You are the solo woman cyclist”!

I look at her confused. “Well, yeah, I guess”.

She replies, “You just missed him! Have you seen the other cyclist? He just left not long ago”!

I’m thinking it’s the same guy that I narrowly missed at the Family Dollar. The woman is nearly ecstatic. “You really do exist! There you are! The cyclist that was here last night has been looking for you. He’s been trying to catch you”.

This actually doesn’t excite me nearly as much as it excites her. I really don’t like the idea that I’m being pursued. But never mind.

She continues, “He’s been hearing about you for weeks, so he was trying to catch up to you. He first heard about you crossing Nebraska – that there was this biker like him but it was a solo girl. Then he heard about you again in Belle Fourche and Alzada. But somehow he got ahead of you.”

“Oh, that’s because I didn’t come straight here from Alzada. I went north instead and have come around via Baker, Miles City and Custer”.

The woman replies, “Oh, that makes sense. But you’ll be behind him now and might not catch him.”

Of course, it’s always nice to meet other touring cyclists when you aren’t on an ACA route, but I’m fine with random. I would never alter my riding schedule to try to meet up with someone.

The man then says he’ll tell me all about the attractions in town. I’m waiting for a long list, but it ends up being extremely short. After telling me where the fast food outlets are located, he moves on to stress the main highlight: there is a gym at the community centre. It even has brand new spin bikes!

I look at the guy, hoping my face doesn’t betray my suppressed amusement, and say, “Oh, I think those may be surplus to my requirements. Is there a hot tub”?

Turns out there is a hot tub at the gym, but I don’t go check it out. I do try to hide out of the wind in the laundry room and try to plan out the next few days. There are a bunch of old books in there, some with hilarious titles, including: “Your child or the dog: An introduction to animal rights” and “Italy – a difficult democracy”.

And to the touring cyclist who followed me through Nebraska, South Dakota and eastern Montana…. sorry, I missed you by mere minutes at the Family Dollar in Hardin. Hope you had a great tour 🙂

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