Montana 2014 Part 1 – Day 59 – Grasshopper CG – Clark Canyon Reservoir: A ‘typical’ day in the life of a touring cyclist

Thursday July 17, 2014, 73 miles (117 km) – Total so far: 2,775 miles (4,467 km)

What is a typical day on the road? Is it a day of eat, drink, ride and sleep where each of those is done in some varying amount? Is a typical day one where you ride an average distance and are carried there by your normal riding routines? Is there ever a typical day? Is every day a typical day?

I’ve been trying to think of a way to explain a typical bike touring day to my non-riding friends. They understand that I’m riding my bike all over the place, but they struggle with the details of what that actually entails. Later in the day, today, I begin to think I may be able to explain a ‘typical’ day through photos. So I take some extra photos in the afternoon, attach an explanation and an approximate time of day it occurred and then post these on facebook a few days later. It is well-received.

To start the day, however, I need to remove the bear that is sitting on my chest. Luckily, it’s just a figurative bear, I heard no real bears around last night. But my lungs are tight and heavy this morning, as if a large animal is sitting on me. I’m not wheezy though, so I just take the preventer inhaler as usual and will use the reliever inhaler at the first sign of wheeziness.

The downhill out of the campground is short. We cruise down to the creek, cross it, and then have a short, steep climb where the new road follows a different course. Shortly after, we get a long downhill. It is like a good sledding hill. It is really steep at the top to get you going really fast, then there a few sharper downhills among the lesser gradients to keep the flow and momentum going.

7am – short uphill before a nice long downhill.

The Eastern Pioneers off to the east are impressive. The ragged range cuts a jigsaw pattern into the hazy early morning sky. There is more settlement here than I had expected. On the eastern side of the road, residences dot the dry grassy hills all the way to the mountain flanks. On the western side, there are fewer homes, but still a fair number of ranches. As we proceed down the valley, though, the settlement thins out.

7.30 am – cruising downhill with the Eastern Pioneers in view with accompanying smoke haze.
Eastern Pioneers with residences close to the ‘town’ of Polaris.

I join the main road and ride across the wide valley. It is all dry grass, sagebrush and low hills draped in muted colours. Higher mountains are in the background to the southwest, but it is too hazy to see them well this morning.

We climb to a bench and then descend back to Grasshopper Creek on our way to Bannack State Park. I get there just as the visitor centre opens. I pick up the excellent brochure and then go to explore. The brochure not only gives a thorough history of the many remaining buildings, but it also gives a detailed explanation of the social context and what life would have been like in this frontier town.

9-10am – Check out Bannack State Park – ghost town and MT’s first territorial capital. Totally worth the few miles each way off the ACA Transamerica Route if you’re doing that one.

Bannack got its start in July 1862 when gold was discovered in the creek. By the next spring, the population had grown to more than 4,000 people. Mining occurred in boom and bust periods with the development of new technologies that allowed more difficult deposits to be extracted. But all mining was prohibited at the start of World War II, and Bannack never recovered, though some mining still goes on today downstream. In the early days, Bannack even served as the territorial capital for a period.

Gold was discovered in the nearby creek in July 1862. By fall, the population had grown to 400. By spring, it had grown to 3,000. It is so quiet now, it is hard to imagine all of the hustle and bustle, noise and people when the town was at its peak.

As I walk along the main street, I try to imagine all the noise and people that would have been on this street in the town’s heyday. I try to listen for spirits whispering in the wind, but it is just quiet and still. I try to imagine the dashed dreams and abandoned hopes, the trials and the triumphs, the courage and the cowardly acts. I try to get my head into the mind of a miner or a hurdy gurdy girl when they first arrived in town. I try to imagine the harshness of the weather (it is quite cold this morning in mid-July; I can’t imagine winter!).

Another view of main street Bannack.

This was a rough and tumble town like most frontier mining towns. It was rife with corruption and vigilante justice. One man who had been imprisoned for murder in California and then released on medical pardon found his way here in 1863. Shortly after, he was tried and acquitted for murder here. That did not stop him from being elected sheriff! His gang of road agents were alleged to have committed a considerable number of crimes.

Hotel Meade – plush hotel and center of Bannack’s social scene. The hotel operated on and off until the 1940s.

I wander around for awhile looking at the buildings as I try to imagine frenzy and fervor and greed and good deeds. But it is hard. It is just so quiet and peaceful. Bannack Days is this weekend; perhaps that would be a better time to get your head around 4,000 people wandering these silent streets. This town is isolated even today, so I can’t imagine what it was like when everything had to be transported here by horse from supply points 300 miles away. Blows my little brain.

10am – Have a final glance around the ghost town, then go ride a couple passes back into Dillon. In Dillon, eat a bunch of food and stock up supplies. From 1862 to the early 1900s, all transportation to Bannock relied on horses, mules or oxen. Everything but lumber and meat had to be freighted in from Ft Benton or Salt Lake City (both 300 miles away) in the beginning.

You could spend many hours here. The brochure has heaps of information. It is well worth the stop. On my way out, I ask the maintenance guy about the gravel road that leads south. On my way in, it looked like it had pretty big gravel and might be soft. He confirms that it will be a similar condition all the way south – he thinks the guys on the mountain bikes don’t have too much trouble since it isn’t too wash-boarded, but 37mm tires might have issues with the bigger-sized gravel pieces. He does say the water in the campground is potable and good.

I had thought about heading south from here toward Lemhi Pass, but this would mean at least 60 miles, most on dirt, before I reached the next supply point. I really don’t have much food on me at all, so it seems stupid to take a chance and get out there, have some sort of mechanical problem, get stuck, and then have no food. If the gravel road didn’t have such big rocks, I would give it more consideration. But I think the safe thing to do is go into Dillon, eat a bunch, get food for a couple days, and ride back out on paved roads via Clark Canyon Reservoir. My asthma isn’t too bad, but I don’t want to stack the potential problems too high.

So I head back out to the Transamerica route to climb Badger Pass and cruise into Dillon – making my ‘loop-de-loop’ complete. A tailwind develops as I’m heading up through the dry, rounded hills to the pass. It is not really a hard climb, and there is only a short push right at the top. Then the road heads down, down, down. Once over the range, the downhill becomes quite gentle, but the wind is giving me a great push. That is nice now, but it means it’ll be a headwind out of Dillon!

I eat a bunch of food at Dairy Queen. A Malaysian Airlines flight has been shot down over Ukraine. It is so far removed from riding a bike in Dillon, Montana that it is hard to comprehend. Wow – the number of Australians on the flight is quite high. That is going to affect a lot of lives back home.

We grunt into the wind and use the old highway down to a talc processing plant. Then we get on the freeway, since the old highway is not continuous and I don’t know which exits to use to get on and off the old highway. There isn’t much traffic, so the interstate isn’t stressful anyway. The road passes through shorts hills that are dry and rocky. Down below, in the river flats, there is plenty of greenery and fisherman. Push, push into the wind. Sweat, sweat – it’s in the low 90s.

12 pm – stocked up on food and water, we head down I-15 to Clark Canyon Reservoir.

I eventually make it to the reservoir. Camp Fortunate, where Lewis and Clark camped 17-23 August, 1805, lies under the waters of the reservoir. They stayed here while they prepared themselves to cross the mountains on foot and horseback. Okay, the logistics were considerably more complicated than that, but that’s the gist. My needs are more basic. I really need to pee!

1.15pm – ahhhh… pee break at the first campground out at the reservoir. That same wind that catches this door has been in our face since Dillon.

Basics taken care of, I head back out into the moderate wind and spin my way over the dam and up into the hills. I pass a campground or two, then slip and slide my way down a loose gravel road to a camping area that has shelters large enough to set up a tent underneath. There is no one else out here, so I’ve got my pick of spots.

2pm – set up camp. There are shelters with a picnic table and room for a tent. It is wonderful to get out of the wind.

After erecting the tent and tossing in my gear, I head down for a swim. I’m very hot and sweaty. Unfortunately, the water is fairly warm, shallow and mucky. But I make do.

Setting up the tent – nice not to need to put on the fly for a change.
3pm – Go for a swim – it is hot today!

Later, I head up to the water pump (it’s closer than the reservoir shore) to wet down my shirt. The pump is hard to push down, and it takes forever to get it primed. I get a great upper body workout to complement all the riding today. When I finally get the water to come out, I discover it is incredibly foul-smelling. Now my jersey smells like that, too. The smell is sort of a combination of greasewood, swamp, crushed concrete and hot springs, plus an unknown extra whiffy component that makes you wince. Great, because I need to drink a bunch of that to rehydrate AND this is my water source for tomorrow’s ride. I only have a 16 oz Gatorade in the water bottle holder and the town water in my Camelback. I have two empty 1-litre Gatorade bottles to fill with this water for tomorrow. Yuck!

4 pm – Wet down the jersey to stay cool. The water is incredibly foul-smelling. The pump is hard to push down – somebody needs to give it some lube.

Storms blow through as I eat my dinner – some cheesy bread rolls, a bit of beef jerky, some sugary bars and Vitamin C gummy bullets. I enjoy watching from the shelter as the clouds gather, grow dark and dump rain. It doesn’t do much to cool things down, though.

5pm – Enjoy dinner in the shelter while watching storms pass.
6pm – to the water pump to fill water bottles and fill bucket so we can have a little splash bath. This is hilarious because I have to do a dance to reach the water stream with the bottle while I pump. I really need two hands for that pump, but it’s too windy to just set the bottle below where the water should land. The water here is soooo hard and tastes sooo awful. I have to use single-serve drink mixes in it to make it palatable. It is a good detox drink, though….

Later, I go fill my little bucket with water so I can take a bird bath, and go fill my water bottles for tomorrow. I’ve already drunk two litres of the stuff – but it still tasted awful even when using sugar-free drink sachets (which I carry just for the purpose of disguising bad water tastes). How much can I ration the city water that is in my Camelback tomorrow? I’m sure this water is going to give me the runs if I drink too much of it!

Water worries aside, the evening is quiet, peaceful and pleasant. I’m all alone and the sky is clearing. My lungs have not been too bad today considering the smoke haze levels. I cannot think of anything else I’d rather be doing right now. I wish this bike touring gig could last forever. I’m in the groove now, and I enjoy letting the days roll forth however they may. I lay down and settle in for the night. I listen to some music to relax and get primed for tomorrow. Songs high on rotation at the moment include: Trampled by Turtles “Alone”; The National “Slow Show”; Xavier Rudd “Spirit Bird”; Tool “Sober”; The Joker and the Thief “Drive”; Janes Addiction “Chip Away”; and, Bodeans “Closer to Free”. Goodnight 🙂

8.30pm – time to get comfy on our makeshift pillow, listen to some music then go to sleep. Early start for Lemhi Pass tomorrow.

Leave a Reply