Montana 2014 Part 1 – Day 47 – Columbus – Big Timber: Friendly folks

Saturday July 5, 2014, 52 miles (83 km) – Total so far: 2,089 miles (3,363 km)

Yesterday I broke my ‘worst day ever’ record. This morning I break my ‘fastest pack up’ record. Normally, it takes me about 40 minutes to go from sleeping bag to pedalling. This morning I’m on the road in 24 minutes flat. I pack in the dark, brush my teeth in the dark, and hit the road just as first light appears. I’ll be 10 miles down the road before the sun rises.

I want to put as many miles as possible between me and Columbus before anyone wakes up. I am absolutely certain that those rednecks would not hesitate to hit, nudge or force me off the road if they saw me out on one. So goodbye, Columbus, I’m outta here.

The road follows the Yellowstone River deep in the river valley. Hills of late Cretaceous sandstone are topped with thick pine forests. In one spot just west of Columbus, a fire has burnt most of the trees, and the hillsides look naked. Their rocks cliffs are exposed that were once hidden by forest cover. In the valley bottom, lush pasture edges the river. Cottonwoods form groves in patches here and there. There isn’t enough room for the interstate down here, so it’s just Hwy 10, the river and the rail.

Still following the Yellowstone River.

Further along the valley opens up, and we have to join the interstate. They are replacing bridges and there are lots of traffic cones and two-way traffic, but none of it is in the shoulder so it is not stressful. Just before Reed Point, the interstate climbs the wall of the valley, providing distant views over the entire river and floodplain. Crops, pasture and trees fill the valley floor. The river is wide and full. Occasionally, bits of Old Hwy 10 are evident just below.

We hop off the interstate at Reed Point and rejoin Old 10. The river valley is wide here, though the river is quite close to the road. Trains rumble by every 30 minutes or so.

The story on the board is really interesting. I also find the contrast between the time of the incident and the present-day really striking. These people were killed when they were on a very remote part of an emigrant trail. Today this site is squished between Old Hwy 10 and I-90 (you can see the side of a semi behind the sign).

We roll into Big Timber mid-morning and head to the park. After an inspection of the playground equipment and a toilet break, the guys and I find a soft spot in the lush grass in the shade. I roll out my sleeping pad and sleep for a couple of hours to catch up on what I lost last night and this morning.

City park in Big Timber. The guys go command a ship for a bit instead of the bike.

When I wake around noon, I call the RV park south of town to see if they have tent sites. I haven’t seen anywhere that suitable in town and want to have a back-up plan in case the fishing access site is undesirable. They do have tent sites – I tell them I’m on a bicycle and may be by later.

Then I call my mom to tell her where I am and that I’m safe. I tell her that I really enjoyed the prairie, but the people and the roads have been a challenge so far. I tell her that last year I’d expected the people of Wyoming to be unfriendly but found that they were quite friendly, or if they weren’t, that they at least respected what I was doing. I wasn’t getting that feeling at all in eastern Montana. In fact, a few of the days hadn’t really been that much fun at all. And everyday I keep getting stormed on – so it always feels like I’m racing somewhere.

There, I got it all out and immediately feel better. My mom says she’s sorry I keep running into unfriendly people and says she’s very sorry she can’t come meet me this year and give me a break from the shoulder-less roads. She can’t imagine why anyone would be unfriendly to me because I’m such a nice person. Awwww, thanks Mom.

Lewis and Clark mural on the side of the supermarket in Big Timber.

I head down to the supermarket, then head south out of town down the Boulder River valley. The fishing access site has a whole bunch of people, the smell of rotting animal and no shade. No thanks. I head back to the RV park. It stretches out along the river, so I have a fast and slightly sketchy ride down the rutted, gravel entrance road. I nearly wipe out in the thick gravel by the office. There are tons of people about – fishing in a little pond, engaging in some sort of social activity in a covered picnic area and smoking and drinking in chairs by the office. They all look up as I swoosh to a near wipe-out halt in the pea gravel. Hello, tourists, I have arrived!

One of the women looks up, stubs out her cigarette and says, “You must be my cyclist. Come in, let’s get you registered”. She is gruff but kind, forward but polite. She is one of those country women that’s lived a lot of life but still wants to look after those people she likes or respects. She tells me all about the facilities and where I can camp. She doesn’t know which sites are taken – but I’m welcome to any of the open sites. She’s curious about the bike touring gig, what it involves and whether I have any issues riding solo. She doesn’t really understand the ‘why’ of it, but she respects what I’m doing. She’s very friendly and helpful.

If you ever tent camp at the RV park south of Big Timber, ask for the North Pole site. It’s up the end of the park, away from all of the RVs, and quite secluded. Best spot in the park.

When I head out to pick up my bike, the woman’s husband walks up and asks if I’ve been given a tent site. I say yes. He asks which one. I tell him I don’t have a specific site, I’m just to take any of the open ones. He then says, “Oh no, I’ve got a really good spot for you. Follow me.” He starts to get in the golf cart. His wife comes out and says, “Where are you taking her”? He says, “The North Pole.” She frowns. Then she says to me, “you’ll just be really far away from the shower and laundry down there. You will have to come back up here to get wifi”. Okay. And with that, I’m following the gentleman through all of the RVs, whose owners all stare at me like I’m an exotic animal. The RV area is absolutely chockers. Then we leave the gravel behind and follow the river north through the trimmed grass. At the very end, the guy circles around the fire pit and stops. “This is what your type are after. I know this is just what you need”. I smile and say, “Ah, thanks so much. This is absolutely perfect.” He says, “yeah, I thought this is what you’d like. There are a lot of families down the other end, but you are welcome to be down there if you want. I can also bring you firewood if you want.” I tell him I don’t do fires, but wonder if there is a good place to dangle my legs in the river. He shows me some rocks just on the edge but warns me to be very careful. “The river is so high and so cold, if you slip in, you’re done. They’ll pick you up miles from here frozen and dead. But enjoy”! I thank him again, then get down to relaxing in my absolutely primo riverfront site. I call my mom back and say, “Oh, mom, it’s okay. I finally found some friendly people! The RV park owners were really kind to me and gave me a great spot! Don’t worry about me, I may have finally gotten to the friendly part of the state”!

I spend the late afternoon alternating between numbing my legs in the river, doing laundry and consuming calories in the shade on the grass. The guys loll about in the habitat. The past week has not been overly fun – either weather, road conditions, traffic or unfriendly people. Or all of those in one day. But I think we’ve turned it around now. I think our fortunes may be turning for the better 🙂

There is no place to camp in Big Timber. There is a fishing access site about 7 miles south of town, but it is over-crowded because it’s a holiday weekend. However, about 4 miles south of town is an RV park, where they have tent sites available. They are super-nice to me even though they don’t really understand bicycle touring. They even give me the “North Pole” site which is right on the river and totally away from any other site in the park. It is nice and quiet and just perfect. It’s also nice to get a shower and do some laundry.


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