Just a bit more amazing beauty: Painter Outpost to Cooke City, MT
Saturday June 8, 2013, 20 miles (32 km) – Total so far: 1,972 miles (3,174 km)
The clouds that were around last night when I went to bed have shoved off. But the wind has not. My campsite along the Clarks Fork, with Heart Mountain Detachment blocks on full display across the valley, looks very inviting to me this morning. How lucky I am to be here!
The motorcycle guys ask me if the wind bothered me last night. Wind, what wind? They tell me that it got really gusty for awhile, then it rained and thundered. They were worried the wind would shake my tent and make me think it was a grizzly. I laugh and tell them I appreciate their concern, but I was so exhausted last night that nothing woke me between 7.45pm and 6.30am this morning. I don’t even think I moved all night!
I leave before the motorcyclists but they catch me about five miles up the road. They slow down, honk, wave and then take off… heading for Yellowstone and then Glacier National Park. I liked them. They reminded me a bit of Ernie and Bert – one straight guy, the other guy the prankster.
The Clarks Fork river is my companion for much of the first 10 miles, the road climbing away from it for short periods before meeting with it again. The roar of water cascading over rocks provides a soothing white noise to accompany yet more grand scenery unfolding before me today. Glacially-sculpted peaks tower above the treed slopes to the north. The valley walls here are close to start, opening wider as we get closer to the road junction. Streams bubble and gurgle down the walls and gullies, gaining momentum and rushing under the road in culverts to meet the river below. I ride in and out of shadow as the sun rises higher. Its rays strike me with little warmth when I ride through road sections just now seeing light, even though the sun has been above the distant horizon for a couple hours now. Drops of dew glisten on long blades of grass and drip from branches of willow and other riparian vegetation. I keep an eye out for moose but can’t detect any dark shapes moving and munching along in the river bottom below.
All too soon, my ride down the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway ends. Yesterday will end up being my favourite day of my whole tour. I am sad to leave this remote and incredible place. I take one last look down that long valley of the Clarks Fork from this high point. I look at the ancient Precambrian rock lifted on the east side in the Beartooth Plateau. I marvel at the younger rocks and the Heart Mountain detachment on the west. I envision the Nez Perce weaving in and out of the trees along the riverbank. The world and its chaotic busyness seem so far away this morning.
The grand scenery continues, however. I ride back downhill to the river again. The river valley is wide here. The river runs a braided course through banks and bars of gravel, edged by willows and very tall spruce and pine. We pass by several campgrounds not yet open for the season.
And then we begin climbing up out of the valley and to Colter Pass. Very few cars pass by, but I catch the face of one of the drivers. As he spots me moving out of the shade of a pine tree on the edge of the road, he corrects course, actually deciding to drive in his lane instead of the middle of the road. I laugh – his face is so contorted in surprise and confusion. He looks like the guy with the monocle in the Austin Powers movies. He obviously wasn’t expecting to see a cycle tourist at this spot on the road at this time of the day.
I reach the Montana border. I think I’ll be in Montana for about 6-8 miles. The border here is also the 45th parallel. All the riding I’ve done over the past couple months has seen me gain about 5 degrees of latitude. Interestingly, 45 degrees south passes well below the Australian continent. The island hanging off the bottom, Tasmania, is on the 40th parallel.
Geographical considerations pondered, it’s time to summit this pass. It is not marked, but you know when you are there. The road crests and then begins a descent in both directions. Pass number 3 for the trip. We’ve only just begun.
I pass by more campgrounds not yet open for the season. Most of them no longer allow tents after the maulings/killing in 2010. Hard-sided vehicles only. Banks of snow four feet tall still line the road in places. The landscape and roadside resorts look rough and unkempt. It is as though the human touch makes ‘rugged’ look ‘ugly’ instead of the natural ‘rugged’ that was so appealing back down the valley.
I roll into Cooke City mid-morning. It’s a one-street town that is solely focused on tourism. It’s all cafes, snowmobile rental shops, motels, a general store with exorbitant prices, and taverns. This is a very isolated place surrounded by towering peaks and forest. It is scenic but no doubt draws an interesting mix for its population base. I secure accommodation for the night, find an excellent cinnamon roll for lunch, then go down to the visitor info centre and find a bench out the back in the sun.
I take a two hour nap, basking in the sun’s rays just like Verne. The air temp is cool enough that baking out the last of my flu bug in the sun is just perfect. The bench I’m lying on is set amongst a bunch of mining equipment and displays.
Later in the afternoon, I go check in at the motel and spend the afternoon planning my ride through Yellowstone. I think I’m pretty much over the flu bug now. My throat wasn’t even sore this morning. The greatest fear of asthmatics when they catch a cold or flu bug is that it will settle in their lungs, or become a secondary infection, and they will cough and have considerable trouble breathing for weeks. I appear to have gotten off very lightly this time. I think the initial two days rest, then a whole bunch of fresh air have done very good things for me. So we’re off to see a super-volcano tomorrow!