Montana 2014 Part 1 – Day 48 – Big Timber – Livingston: Further into friendliness

Sunday July 6, 2014, 43 miles (68 km) – Total so far: 2,132 miles (3,431 km)

Shhh, be vwery, vwery quiet…. (Say it in your best Bugs Bunny voice). There are people sleeping. I pack up and roll out in the early dawn. My tires crunch through the gravel and past all of the massive RV trailers. No one stirs. No dogs yip, yap or bark. I’m climbing the gravel hill to the road just as the sky starts to take on an orange hue. The sun’s ascent over the hills begins as I head north on the road down the Boulder River.

Another early morning start. No wind, no traffic – my favourite time of day on the road. Riding down the valley of the Boulder River.

Downtown Big Timber is quiet at this time of day. The main street is still tucked in shadows and sleep. There’s not really even the hint of a yawn yet in the early morning dawn.

The first rays illuminate the Crazy Mountain Range, turning them pink and orange. They look almost like they grow from the bottom end of the street. Geologically, they really are a bit crazy. They are a mountain range that stands in the middle of a basin that warped up instead of down. All of the mountains we see from town are of the Big Timber stock – one big-ass igneous intrusion baked into the Fort Union formation (that same kind of rock we rode across on the prairie).

The Crazy Mountains seem to lie just at the end of Big Timber’s main street.

I keep looking over to the range as I head west on Old 10. There are a bunch of radial dikes that swarm out from Crazy Peak, and it’s fun to look over and imagine the ridges further eroded and the rocks poking out like a million vertebrae on a backbone. You have to squint really hard and think way forward, but it’s there, believe me 😉

Crazy Mountains from Old Hwy 10.

The wind flows through the area between Livingston and Big Timber in a big way. And it is nearly always from the southwest. In this area, the annual average windspeed is about 16 mph, the highest of any measuring station in America. Gusts up to 90 mph are not unknown. Reputedly, trains have been blown off the tracks through here. Given the consistent wind and high average speeds, they attempted to start a wind farm here in the 1970s. But it turned out it was TOO windy! Turbines can only take a certain windspeed.

My early start was to try to beat the wind. Fortunately, for me, it is only supposed to be 15 mph today. As I roll along through the wide valley, I think I’ve struck it lucky. Until I strike the wind, or rather it starts to strike me, near Exit 354. Holy crap – it just picked up out of nowhere and started rattling zippers on the bike.

The wind is a nuisance through the narrow canyon to the west of Exit 352. You have to get on the interstate here, because it runs over where Old 10 used to be. The canyon is narrow and you can look down to the river actively eroding into the cliffs to the right. Whew – it’s a push into that wind.

Between Big Timber and Livingston.

We can get off the interstate after the canyon again. For a long time in the valley ahead, I can see a billboard. A man appears to be sitting in the lower right-hand corner. In the upper left corner, a man has his arms stretched out like he’s aiming a gun. And it looks like he is aiming it at the other guy’s head. Surely not. But this is Montana. Ten minutes later, as I finally get close enough to see the detail, I see the man is holding a violin, not a gun. Livingston is advertising culture, not violence.

I could see this billboard from a long way off. From a far distance, I swore it looked like the old-timer was pointing a rifle at the other guy’s head.

After another short stretch on the interstate we get off at Exit 337 and take the old way into town. Livingston has really fixed up its downtown and there are plenty of businesses in the refurbished buildings. The train station dominates the main street, but the side streets are just as interesting. The town has a vibrant feel. I’m later told it’s become a haven for artists and people trying to escape the trendy, expensive place that Bozeman has become.

Downtown Livingston. There are several streets of refurbished old buildings like this one in downtown.

The other side of town, out by the interstate is beyond nuts. I did not know that the craziness of Yellowstone could extend so far. But it does. Nutso!! I meet a cyclist at McDonalds who is very curious about touring. He tells me that there’s a trailer park nearby that is cheap but okay. He’s staying there tonight before heading back tomorrow to the Methodist church camp south of Big Timber where he and his wife volunteer during the summers. He’s just dropped his daughter off at the airport in Bozeman. (We end up chatting for a long time later in the evening about bike touring. He knows about CGOAB and seems pretty inspired and likely to do a cross-country supported tour the following summer.)

When I head over to the RV/trailer park later, I find that it is all pretty much permanent residents and that you have to knock on the window of a very ratty trailer to get the manager to come out. A huge German Shepard appears in the window as I knock on it. He is just a bit aggressive. But the woman comes out and says it’s $13 a night. That’s good but all I’ve got is a $20 and she has no change. She says to go ahead and set up and bring her the money later. I realize as I’m setting up the tent that I have a ten dollar note and enough change. When I go back with the money, she just takes the ten and says to keep the rest. She says, “It’s fine. I can tell you’re a good lady.” Thanks!! I do believe we have finally entered the friendly part of the state!! Yippeeeeeeeeee!!!

Later in the afternoon, I head down to the city park to hang in the shade. It’s in the low 90s today. I spot some awesome-looking swings and have to give them a go. I pump as high as I can get and the chains go slack. Love it! Who could ever get tired of that feeling – even as an adult?

Oh yeah, old style swings with really long chains at the city park. Present-day swings always have short chains and you cannot go really high. I’m going to have to go check those out!

My swinging attracts the attention of some kiddos. Three boys between about 7 and 10-years-old come over and join me. So we have a contest to see who can swing the highest, then a contest to see who can jump past the wood chips and onto the grass. I discover jumping from swings hurts a lot more than the last time I did so! Then I teach the little guys how to really pump the swing when standing up in the seat. They are thrilled with this knowledge and really get going high… until one of their moms comes over and tells them to stop because it’s not safe. Ha! Ms Helicopter Parent can thank me later when her kids are resilient and not afraid to take risks 🙂

The swings remind me of going to parks with my cousins and trying to touch tree leaves with our feet when swinging, reaching skyward until the chains went slack. Or us flinging ourselves off the beams of 17-foot tall climbing structures into the sand below. Or using the grip bar at the top of a tall slide as a launch bar so that we landed with a thump a few feet down before sliding the rest of the way. Good times, good memories, and now I’m building even more on this tour. Luckiest chick on earth, I tell you.

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