Big Sky …and Big Wind: Eastern Montana

I have discovered a new appreciation for the word VAST.  It describes Eastern  Montana, both the land and the sky. And the distances: I have spent more than a week of extended mileage heading east, yet the state goes on and on!  This is one BIG place.

As I descended from Marias Pass over the Rockies, it was as if a switch was turned: no more trees, wide-open landscape, a whole new, open world out in front of me.  What an awesome place!  I feel like a land mariner on a huge open sea:  the gentle swells of land rise and fall, with views left, right, center and behind as far as the eye can see.image

(Note how straight Highway 2 is in what is called the “North Line” acr0ss E. Montana)

 

The difference from the mountains and trees of my first three weeks is stark.  The high plains are rolling and remote.  Yet populated by resilient and friendly folk.  My first campsite in East Glacier MT was a result of a recommendation from the woman running a tiny cafe west of Marias Pass; she made coffee for me in the morning before I continued east.  When I pulled into Hinsdale MT, a local suggested we (me and two other cyclists) stay in the basement of the Lutheran church in order to avoid the mosquitoes and gnats; she insisted on cooking breakfast for us the next morning.  Road Angels are everywhere!  The kindness of strangers is wonderful.

First, I put the Rockies in the rear-view mirror and focused on heading east.image

This is Indian country, in a big way, with many large reservations.  First I crossed the Blackfeet Indian Rez, on the east side of the Rockies, including a stop at the neat little Museum of the Plains Indians in Browning.  Later I’ve crossed and/or stayed in the Fort Belknap and Fort Peck reservations.  These areas are home to the Blackfeet, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre and Siouxe tribes.  Just this morning I was talking with a local in Wolf Point; when I told him I started in the Macah reservation at Neah Bay, WA, he was instantly more friendly, and assured me that now that I was in “Siouxe country,” all would be fine.image

(A diorama from the Museum of the Plains Indians in Browning MT)

 

In the tiny town of Hingham MT (population 118), I stayed in the town park, on a Friday night.  As luck would have it, a local grain company was hosting a burgers-and-beers night at the park for the area farmers.  They invited me in: free burgers and beer, and a chance to chat with the locals.  Nice people, all.image  They were incredulous of my trip, and talked reverently of the local land and its history, since to a person they had been born in the town or grew up within 50 miles.  Weather is always a big  conversation item among farmers, and here was no exception.  When I mentioned that the Two Medicine area near where I camped in East Glacier got an inch of hail the night before, it was clear that I had used a four-letter word:  to a person, conversation ceased momentarily as all the farmers thumbed their cell phones checking their weather radar apps as we hunkered under the picnic shelter with the latest thunderstorm raging outside.  They told stories of losing more than $100K of crops just last Fourth of July because of hail.  Definitely a concern among these folks.

The locals lamented the slow demise of these small farming towns along the “North Line” (the towns spread east-to-west along the old Great Northern railroad line as well as U.S. 2 highway).image

(My campsite in the park at Hingham, MT, which used to be ringed by vibrant businesses.)

Locals my age talked about being part of graduating classes of 50 in the town’s high school; today there is one high school for four towns, and this year’s class has 13 students.  The farmers acknowledged that the the trend is driven by economic factors:  they now farm three- and four-times the acreage per family, and require fewer workers to do so because of increases in technology, thus there are fewer jobs to hold onto the kids who grow up here.  The community is still close, and the hometown values clear.  It was really fun to spend an evening with them — it renewed my sense that we Americans are far more similar than different.

In Havre MT (pronounced “Have ‘er”), I came across a “Buffalo Jump” — an incredible archeological site where Native Americans for thousands of years lured buffalo over the bluffs to their death within a small area.  The ground is full of millions of buffalo bones in layers feet thick.image.jpeg

(Buffalo bones feet thick in the area of a “jump” where natives lured the animals over a steep bluff by the Milk River, Havre, MT.)

In the tiny town of Dodson MT (population 124), I met Al Minugh in the only “cafe” there.  He started some coffee for me, then we spent two hours talking about his life, including many years in Seattle working on radio towers.  He set up the high towers on Queen Anne Hill and fixed lights on the spike atop the Space Needle.  He was locally famous in 1962 when he helped the University of Washington take down a prank flag from UBC by shinnying up the 90-foot tall flag pole on campus; his photo was on the  front page of the Seattle P.I., which he proudly showed me a copy of.  What a treat to find this guy out in the middle of the wheat fields with stories to tell about Seattle in the 1960s.image.jpeg

(Al Minugh in Dodson MT — famous as a flag-pole climber in Seattle in the 1960s.)

 

The wide open farmland of Eastern Montana continues relentlessly as I peddle east: high plains dry-land wheat, then peas and lentils, and lots of range land.image.jpeg

As well as lots off straight-as-an-arrow roads to ride down the middle of.  Amazing country that seems to go on-and-on without end!

I met a great couple from Salem, Oregon, who are cycling the same route: Sherry Therens and Cindy Flugum.  It has been fun to get to know them as we cycle together off and on over the past few days.  They hope to finish in Maine sometime in the fall.image

(Sherry and Cindy, my cycling mates for a few days in Eastern Montana.)

 

I’ll close with a perspective shot.  I’ve been posting daily map updates on the “Where’s Dave?” page, focused as much as I can on the states involved.  Here is my first post of the progress to date for the whole continent.  I’ve traveled just over 1500 miles as of today, and the experience so far has been fantastic.  I have a long way left to go!image

 

Thanks for all your continued interest and support for my trip.  I love hearing from you.  Onward I go into North Dakota within a few days, and ever eastward.

— Dave (posted June 14, 2016)

 

20 thoughts on “Big Sky …and Big Wind: Eastern Montana

  1. Dave…you are making terrific progress! Great North line photo…really captures the vastness. Bianca used https://www.warmshowers.org/ once in awhile for a place to stay/camp and take a shower. It’s a community site for long distance cyclists. Check it out sometime! Hope the body is holding up for you…sounds like you’re very strong. Best, John

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    1. John — Thanks for the note and the Warm Showers recommendation. I am a member, so I hold out that option as I progress, but have been camping so far without a hitch, so will wait to try out the Warm Showers’ hosts. My body is doing better than expected, although I do get tired on the head-wind days and my butt is still sore on the long ones! — Dave

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  2. Your blog is so wonderful to read. It gives us a such a detailed vignette of the western states and the northern plains. We’re glad all is going well with you, and hopefully with no major mishaps. Gerry and Tanya Seligman

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  3. I didn’t know you were such a great writer. I’m loving following your journey and all the fantastic people you’ve met. It gives me hope in this challenging time.
    Love and safe travels,
    Jeanne Spurlock

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  4. Dave, I love your blogs. You are quite the writer, and really keep my interest. Did you make it to Glasgow? That’s where Matt is from, and he still has several relatives there. Also, besides buffalo bones, how about some dinosaur bones. Did you know that Tom Hopp and Ian went on more than one digs back there?

    Matt was on duty for the Evo rental, and Nick came up to measure. That’s so neat that he wants to get married up there where he grew up. Isaac and Adrianne called off their wedding. Needless to say, I was upset, but better now than afterwards.

    Take care, stay safe, Cheryl

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    1. I did pass through Glasgow just two days ago! I didn’t know Matt was from there., or had forgotten. Big town along the North LIne compared to many of the other tiny ones I’ve been staying in. Yes, I’ve seen lots of dinosaur bones and small museums, too, in this part of the country, as well as dinosaur sculptures in the local towns. I’m really enjoying this part of the country. Have a great summer, Cheryl. — Dave

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  5. So fun to follow your local reflections as you pass through the various regions of our fabulous country – you are a wonderful story teller! Your photos are great too. Continue to have a wonderful trip and staying safe. Loving that you are sharing the journey…

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  6. Always great to read your commentary as you peddle Eastward! Nice too as this will make a fabulous memory book as the days and miles pile up, to remember each place. Amazing the true vastness of the Northern plains! This is such a huge country. And always, the kindness of strangers is really awesome to be on the receiving end..
    Always thinking of you, it will,be pretty impressive to have you ride into our driveway after so many miles!

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  7. Dave

    Jan and I are probably the people furthest away who are reading your blog.

    Today, we are in Agra in India and will visit the Taj Mahal tomorrow.

    Yesterday, we went into wilderness preserve to find some tigers!! and saw two of them. and so many birds: but my favorite was the Kingfisher that is also on the beer bottle of same name.

    I think Chris and I will come with you next year!! the pictures look very flat which I can do!!

    keep pedaling.

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  8. That’s a sobering image at the close of your post. Glad you’re enjoying the Great Plains. Living out here it’s almost inconceivable that there could be so much rolling flatness in the center of our amazing continent.
    Thanks for conveying the human side of your journey. Amidst the bombardment of sensationalism and ghoulish news coverage, it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of folks are just trying to do right by their neighbors and families and not do unnecessary harm to the environment. Happy trails!

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  9. The photographer in me appreciates your ‘rear view mirror’ shot.

    Continue to enjoy your journey. You’re an intrepid soul! (But I already knew that!)

    Henry

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  10. Hi Dave, Great to watch your progress. It’s awesome to hear about people taking you in as you travel. I see the dog attacks increased a bit. Those Chihuahua’s can be nasty on the ankles. :)

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  11. Dave, thanks again for posting and talking. I am thrilled for you. It is a great way to see our country and live the trip through you!

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  12. Dear dave;
    your accomplishments are awesome – sometimes 50 to 90miles in a headwind. you are awesome and inspirational.

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  13. You’re making great progress, and I continue to love your progress reports. It turns out that Jim and I missed you by two days in Havre MT – we stopped there to look at the train depot on the 9th. We knew you must be somewhere close, so we were watching for you on the road! We headed north shortly thereafter and so left your route – it sure would have been fun to see you. We’ve been working our way through Saskatchewan and Alberta – tomorrow we arrive Jasper!

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    1. Dev and Jean — Small world, however not quite small enough. My route has me south of I-94, so I am a few hundred miles south of you, unfortunately. I should be in Fargo by Thursday if you happen to be continuing east toward Minnesota! I wish we could have connected at Jean’s parents – will have to be another time. Enjoy your stay up there. — Dave (in Napoleon, ND)

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