NR13: NW Montana

Wow – sure is cold this morning. Might even be pushing into the 30s! I’d hoped we were all done with that. The condensation on my tent walls turns my hands into frozen blocks rolling it up.

Around 7AM we roll out to a nearby general store. The wind chill on our hands made it all the more wicked. In chatting with the proprietor, we applaud the great bike lane in this section of US2, and he indicates that area businesses have ponied up the money for it over many years.

Jack and I have been discussing today’s route. Our ACA maps tell us to “avoid a dangerous narrow, curvy, shoulderless section of U.S. 2 east of Columbia Falls.” I’m in favor of that, but it’ll cost us something like 8 or 9 miles from here. Jack is much more accustomed to sharing narrow roads with heavier traffic and is in favor of taking the shorter route. We ask the proprietor about it, and he advises that US2E is indeed dangerous for bicycles.

For breakfast, he directs us south another mile towards Coram to the Glacier Grill & Pizza Restaurant, where we enjoy a big eats and thaw out our frigid hands and feet. We discuss splitting up to satisfy the divergence in route preference, but Jack reluctantly decides to take the bypass, settling the issue.

Glacier Grill & Pizza Restaurant in Corum MT

By the way, I’m very happy to have some big heavy riding gloves to wear. They’re full fingered Performance “waterproof” gloves with black outers and fleecy insides. Absolutely no good at all for rain riding – they are not waterproof at all. Absolutely no good for anything warmer than 45F – you’ll sweat like crazy in them. But they sure are nice when it’s really cold.

From the restaurant, we backtrack about 4 miles to Lake Five and Blankenship Roads. It immediately evokes memories of 2011 – we’d ridden this short section back then. Parts of it are well maintained gravel, and we pass by the Blankenship Fire Department (termed “the mother of all stops” in 2011). Phil really enjoys this section. It is pastoral, wooded, nearly untrafficked.

Blankenship Road
Blankenship Fire Department
Blankenship Road

Into Columbia Falls. It’s still pretty early in the day so we don’t need anything, but I hit up a Smith’s for chips – always good camp food. Our route then takes us south out of town onto Columbia Stage Falls Road, and a 10 mile slog into a modest headwind. The wheat fields here are pretty against the backdrop of the mountains.

Columbia Stage Falls Road
Columbia Stage Falls Road
Creston MT

Onto MT35, loud with traffic. Stop at c-store, through tiny Creston, then another 12 miles to Big Fork, where we stopped for lunch. With a bit of meandering we find tourists row and the Garden Bar & Grill. There are 4 or 5 big Harleys out front, and we kid around about how it’s us who have the “real” bikes. Phil and I decide we should park our own magnificent machines alongside these hogs and show them up. Well maybe.

Near Big Fork MT
Adding our hogs to the line
Our hogs outside the Garden Bar & Grill
Chowing down at the Garden Bar & Grill

It’s order-at-the-kitchen here, and we’re informed they are out of ingredients for the steak sandwich. In the process, the fiesty proprietor states their friendly #1 rule: “We don’t take any shit from anyone.” I forget what everyone had, but my burger was real tasty and Phil and I enjoyed some good local craft beer.

Afterwards outside, we talk for a while with a cyclist and a support friend who’d cycled Logan Pass yesterday from Apgar to Saint Mary (the he-man way but then he wasn’t loaded). We finally had to depart when we realize it’s 4pm already and we still have 18 miles to go.

From Big Fork, it’s a combination of wide highway shoulders and backroads to Swan Lake. The lake is simply gorgeous. Our campsite at Swan Lake Campground (USFS) is the typical setup for RVs, but we manage to cram our tents in like usual. I even consider setting up on the asphalt, but finally found a marginal lumpy patch of dirt.

Near Swan Lake
Swan Lake
Home for the night

Snack dinner and chat. Jack seems unusually tired today – I hope he’s OK. I’m thinking that perhaps the trip is growing long for him. There have been the house maintenance issues so that could be it. Or perhaps it’s simply that there are no more national parks ahead to dazzle us. When I ask him about it, he’s a good sport and says everything is OK.

On the asphalt, we set up a 4′ diameter ring out of branches, then challenge each other to toss a pine cone from the picnic table so that it lands inside. You know, when I think about it, it is another form of golf, so maybe I am missing the game after all.

Pine cone challenge

Phil and Jack are both bushed and hit the tent, so I head to the lake shoreline for a half hour stroll. It’s tranquil and beautiful, save for one unnecessarily loud boat out pulling skiers. Nevertheless, it’s a great place to meditate and catch up on blog notes.

Swan Lake at dusk
Swan Lake at dusk
Waning evening light

Seems warmer tonight, maybe around 63F at the moment. How cold will it go tonight?

Today’s Ride: 69.0 miles
Today’s Climbing: 1,519 feet
More Stats:
Tour Total So Far:  689.4 miles