Montana 2014 Part 2 – Day 76 – Condon – Swan Lake CG: The non-existent cyclist campsite

Sunday August 3, 2014, 34 miles (55 km) – Total so far: 3,590 miles (5,777 km)

The wildfire smoke has returned. It gets thicker as the day progresses. Nancy takes me for a hike up to Smith Creek Pass near Condon in the morning. We return to the car around 1.30pm. She heads home and after a lunch break next to the rushing creek, I head back down the dirt road to the main highway around 3pm. Another hot and smoky day – I didn’t really think it would get into the low 90s for such long periods up here.

View across a glacial basin at Smith Creek Pass.
View to the north from Smith Creek Pass.
The smoke haze is starting to get thicker.

Condon has a well-stocked store attached to its gas station. I stop here for an ice cream and then resume my ride. The road very occasionally has a shoulder, but most of the time it does not. As the afternoon progresses, the traffic increases, and it is not pleasant when long strings of traffic, with many RVs pulling boat trailers, pass me fairly closely. Another Sunday afternoon full of people heading back home after a weekend of recreation.

In the afternoon, I ride from the trailhead near Condon down to Swan Lake. This is a beautiful area, but the traffic increases as the afternoon wears on. There are lots of vehicles towing both an RV trailer and a boat trailer. There is a very infrequent shoulder, so it is actually not very pleasant riding.

To make the riding even more frustrating, besides heat, traffic and smoke, there are few views. Through this section, the trees line the road and there is not much to see except the road in front and behind you. I do see a fellow touring cyclist heading toward me from the opposite direction at one point. When he sees me, he crosses over and pulls to a stop at a road intersection. He is an older English guy out doing his own thing, but currently riding parts of the Great Divide Route. He’s done a bazillion miles already this summer, but is desperate for rubber cement. He went most of the bazillion miles with no flats, but has had several in a row the past couple of days and is out of rubber cement. I tell him I do actually have some spare, but I’m not convinced it’s any good. I don’t know if I had bad patches or bad cement in the kit I was trying to use back in Idaho. I tell him he’s welcome to it since I’ve bought a new patch kit, but should it not work, there is a bike shop just up the road in Seeley Lake next to the ice cream shop. He seems like a really nice guy – we wish each other well.

On down the road, I make it to Swan Lake Trading Post and stop for drinks. It is hot and I’d like a chocolate milk – all I’ve had today is water. The store is busy with tourists buying ice creams, floatation devices and other treats. One woman cuts right in front of me in line and makes no attempt to apologise or acknowledge me. The woman running the cash register opens her eyes wide and turns to me, but I just shake my head and shrug my shoulders. The rude lady then has a million questions about the things she’s buying, but the register attendant curtly says, “I really don’t know. Do you want these items or not? There are other people patiently waiting to buy cold drinks”. The lady then hands over a credit card but has no I.D. to match the signature. When the register attendant insists on this, the lady gets very huffy, saying no one ever asks for such things. The register lady says, “Really, you should want people to check this, to make sure no one is using your card.” Rude woman then says, “well, just give it back to me. I’m not going to buy things from you, if you are going to be that way.” The register woman apologizes to me as the woman storms off, but I say, “No, it’s fine. It’s not your fault. We can just be glad that we are not her.”

Outside, a woman comes up to me. She says, “Did I see you back toward Condon? Oh, yes I did. I know it’s you. I recognize your helmet! How did you go with the traffic?”

I reply, “Okay. I’ve been in Montana for a while now, so I’m used to a fair bit of traffic and no shoulder. Maybe it’s not so bad on other days or at other times.”

She says, “Oh, I know! I can’t believe they haven’t put a shoulder on that road. It needs one so badly. They have that race and we have so many riders come through with that. Then for the rest of the summer, I see at least a couple along the road most days. It is so dangerous! I feel so badly for you cyclists.”

“Thanks. I think most people who ride this road are probably pretty experienced and used to traffic, but a shoulder would be nice.”

So there you go. When members of the general public have concerns about cyclist safety, you know some action is probably needed. Based on the “” website and the Montana tourism website, I think that the nearby Forest Service campground is cyclist-friendly, however. The websites both state, “Swan Lake campground is a great place for bicyclists to stop and spend the night. The campground features bike lanes and a first-come, first-serve fully featured campsite for bicyclists”.

So I head over there and ask the camphost about the bike campsite. He looks at me and frowns. He says, “There isn’t one. There used to be a bike drop-off spot here, but it’s been gone for several years. There is more demand for general campsites that can accommodate RVs.”

I frown. “Really, more than one website says there is a bike site here.”

“No, I’m sorry. I do have one regular site left though. You are lucky. They generally fill as soon as someone leaves. Funnily enough, it’s the only pull-through site. And I can see that that is a little bit humorous in your situation. But if you pitch your tent in the middle of it, you’ll have plenty of shade”.

I thank him and head down to the site. It will work – but I’m a wee bit pissed off that more than one website lists facilities which no longer exist but would certainly be used, based on the number of cyclists I’ve seen on the highway. I’m probably a bit pissy, too, just because it’s hot and smoky. I need to put myself and my bad attitude to bed.

But first I need to hang my food and toiletries. There are no bear boxes at this campground but multiple signs reminding you of fines if you don’t adhere to the food storage order. There aren’t any good trees around, so I spend at least 30 minutes working to get the rope set up between two smaller trees. There are heaps of other little branches I keep getting the rope caught on, so it’s a pain. I can usually get a rope and rock over a branch on a first throw, but I SUCK at hanging between two trees – my brain is not mechanically-minded enough for me to improvise when the main method I’ve been taught for two-tree hanging isn’t quite working. Blecch!

Two little girls have been circling the campground loop on their bikes. They stop to watch me, but from a distance. I hear the one girl say to the other, “That lady doesn’t travel with a car.” The other girl replies, “So”? The first girl then says, “Well, it means she’s very healthy and can ride her bicycle very long distances.”

Ah, maybe there is a future touring cyclist in that little girl. I don’t know, but I do know this big girl needs to go to bed and let sleep readjust her attitude!

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