Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fun people, amazing scenery, and stupid cops in Montana.

West Yellowstone, MT was a pretty cool little town, despite it's obvious attempt at capitalizing on tourism. If you look past the cheesiness, there's a cool Westernness to the town and there are a lot of old, historical log buildings. The Madison Hostel I stayed at was one of those places; included on the National Register of Historical Places, the log construction and mounted head of game animals made it feel like I was staying in the Wild West. It was $30 for a bed in a 3-person dorm room. The sink was in the room but the shower was down the hall. I got lucky and didn't have to share with anyone so I had the room to myself. Here's a view of the hostel hallway:

The next morning I decided to sleep in a bit instead of meeting the Dutch group at their leaving time of 6:30 a.m. I got up, watched some of the Tour de France on the hostel TV, and then packed and hit the road. It was a gorgeous ride past Hebgen and Earthquake Lakes. Earthquake Lake, in fact, WAS created when a massive 7.3 magnitude quake rocked the Montana hillside at midnight one night, causing the hillside to collapse and immediately form a natural, earthen dam on the Madison River. Most people made it to safety because it was in a remote area, but there were something like 27 people killed when their nearby campground was submerged under hundreds of feet of water within only minutes. The first picture below is Hebgen and the second is Earthquake (you can see where the hillside slid down and created a huge dam).

A really crazy thing happened while I was riding past Hebgen Lake. In the distance I saw a pickup truck stopped at the side of the road and a man and a woman standing alongside it. As I approached, the man put up his hand to flag me down and yelled out, asking if I could stop. I did. He pointed to my panniers (the four bags that carry my stuff and are attached to my bike's racks) and asked where I'd gotten them. At that second, I recognized the guy's voice...I'd bought them from HIM! It turns out that in the middle of nowhere in Montana, I had run into Wayne, the owner of and the seller of all types of bicycle luggage. He said he'd driven by me, noticed my yellow Ortlieb brand bags, and known immediately that he'd likely sold them to me. Apparently, he is the only significant seller of the yellow-colored bags in the WORLD. Anyway, he took a bunch of photos of me with my bike and we swapped bike touring stories for a while by the side of the road. Then, as I was about to leave, he asked if I'd eaten breakfast. Upon hearing that I hadn't eaten much yet, he whipped out a $20 bill and said he was buying my breakfast. I argued, but he wouldn't hear me, and I graciously took the money. He said that there was an excellent breakfast place just about 2 miles up the road; he was RIGHT. The Campfire Lodge was a sweet little place, situated right on a river with flyfishermen fishing it...and while the food didn't come quickly, it was delicious. I had a HUGE cinnamon roll, and a raspberry pancake with 4 strips of thick, peppered bacon that I couldn't even finish. This is Wayne and his wife:

In Ennis, MT later that day, I met up with the Dutch again when we ended up in the same library doing blog/email stuff. We decided to camp together and there was a little fishing access area down by the river that had camping for $12 for a site that would fit all four of us. We headed down and were immediately swarmed by clouds of mosquitos (it is quickly becoming apparent that any Wyoming or Montana camping will involve the little bastards in huge quantities), but we tricked them by going swimming in the cool river for about 45 minutes. Of course they found us when we got out of the river, but with a little bug spray, a lot of handwaving, and a big, smoky campfire, we ended up being ok for the evening.

Nick and Robin later rolled into the camp, and had hooked up with two new dudes...Zack and Tony. Nick and Tony couldn't handle the mosquitos and headed into nearby Ennis to get a motel room. Robin and Zack ended up sharing our campsite. We all got up at the crack of dawn to leave...the boys and I headed to the coffee shop and then began the morning's big mountain climb (the Dutch folks were riding behind us after a long grocery store stop). I was feeling pretty powerful that morning, and I love to climb, so I stomped on it. Only Robin beat me up the hill, and he's just an animal (with a MUCH lighter bike and MUCH bigger quads than me) so I never figured to be able to keep up with him anyway. At the top, Robin and I waited for Zack and Tony and then we rolled down the 4-mile long and very steep and windy hill into Virginia City, MT for a nice, fat breakfast burrito at the tiny Outlaw Cafe.

So, let me start this next part by saying this: I ride with a rearview mirror, I am constantly looking behind me and am always aware of traffic, I obey traffic rules, and I always make sure to get out of the way of passing vehicles and give them as much room to pass as possible. Ok, so while we were in the cafe eating, someone noticed that there was a police car parked outside with its lights flashing. I walked outside to check it out and unknowingly walked into a lovely encounter with Sheriff's Deputy Chris T. He said he'd had a motorist complain of a group of bicyclists riding two abreast all the way down the four-mile hill from the summit and preventing four vehicles from passing. Then he said that there was further complaint specifically about ME, the guy in the khaki shorts with the black bike. Knowing that I had only ridden single file, except when passing another cyclist at 42-44 mph, and was constantly looking back behind me to make sure I wasn't in anyone's way, I politely and calmly tried to tell him my recollection of the descent - but he wasn't hearing it at all. He immediately shut me down, interrupted me in a raised voice, and stuck out his chest and somewhat threateningly said "oh, so you wanna argue, do you?! You wanna go to court here over this, do you?! You really want to do this, huh?" I was surprised at his immediately intimidating response to my calm words, so I again tried to explain my version of how we had descended the hill, this time using different words. He again wasn't having it, and he seemed intent on making the discussion a confrontation so I felt that the best thing to do so I didn't end up with a citation or a ride to jail was just to kiss his ass and let him get the submission he was demanding, saying things like: "wow, I never intended to block traffic or ride two abreast any longer than to pass", and "no sir, I didn't know that it is a crime to have four vehicles waiting behind you at any time", and "yes, I absolutely should have slowed down to a complete stop on the side of the road so that those vehicles could pass." Of course, it really wasn't practical to stop on the middle of a steep downhill on a road that had only about three inches of shoulder while riding at 44 mph, but I was smart enough to not say that. Officer Chris took down my name and address, went to the car to do what cops do in their cars with peoples' names and addresses, and then came back and let me go after making me kiss his ass one more time.

Earlier I had noticed there had been a woman standing nearby the whole time, about 5-6 feet away from Officer Chris and I. She had been nervously twiddling her thumbs and jangling her keys, standing with her legs crossed and her eyes glued to the ground. When I walked away from Chris, I had to walk past the woman so I addressed her and politely said "if it was you we were bothering, I apologize. It wasn't our intent to get in your way." All of a sudden she came to life and went OFF about how ALL the bicyclists always are going so slow and getting in everyone's way, and how finally THIS time she decided to call the police about it, and how our riding caused her trip from Bozeman to take an extra FIFTEEN minutes, yadda yadda yadda. I just smiled, apologized again, letting her have her rant, and then shook her hand and walked away. As I left, I heard her saying to the Officer "thank you so much for coming down, Chris....." Then it hit me that Officer Chris had probably just been trying to impress the girl. To rescue the damsel in distress. Whatever, dude.

After we left the cafe, I half expected Officer Chris to be waiting a few miles outside town to check up on us to make sure we weren't out being bad bike lawbreakers. To my surprise I didn't see him so I forgot about him. Then, about 2 hours later, after splitting off from the other guys, Tony and I had stopped off for a rest and something to drink in a different town, we saw Officer Chris again. He was sitting in his car on the other side of the road on the outskirts of town...and he gave us a friendly wave as we rolled by. Instinctively I waved back, but I immediately wished I hadn't. Jerk.

That night, we all rendezvoused after an easy 40 mile day in Twin Bridges, MT. That was a really cool little town; the people were hospitable, there were a couple of good restaurants, and best of all, there was a FREE cyclists' camp that consisted of a screened in shelter with picnic tables, a clean shower, a clean bathroom, a sink, and filtered drinking water. We had a great time in Twin Bridges, both at the camp and in town. The people that ran the restaurant and the grocery store were really friendly to us; in fact, the grocery store owner gave me some salsa for free because the expiration date was two days past, and I later found out that he will keep the store open past normal business hours if someone reports to him that there are cyclists coming into town at a late hour!

Someone in Twin Bridges had gone to a lot of trouble to make sure that passing cyclists felt welcome and cared for, and I soon found out who that person was. The next morning, after Nick and I went to breakfast, we came back to the shelter and found the boys talking to some guy we'd never seen. The boys turned to me and said, "hey, tell this guy the story about the cop." I was now talking to Bill White, the man who had singlehandedly convinced the county powers-that-be that cycling tourism is quite valuable to the small towns in this remote MT county. Not only had he been able to get funds appropriated to build the cyclists' shelter (and had built it himself), but he has the ear of the county commissioner and other people that make important county decisions. He really wanted to hear my version of what had happened with Officer Chris the day before. When I told him, he just kept shaking his head in disgust and he actually got a little angry. Apparently, there have been multiple complaints from tourists and locals alike about this particular officer using intimidating and threatening behavior in situations that don't call for it. Mr. White strongly encouraged me to write him a letter, which he plans to hand-deliver to the county commissioner, and which he feels will carry a lot of weight in what is shaping up to be a decision on the future employment of the officer.

The next day's even shorter 30 mile ride to Dillon, MT was for a specific reason - Dillon is the only town of any size out in this area, and the only town that would have a sports bar. That day, The Netherlands was playing Spain for the soccer World Cup championship and we all wanted to watch the game. We did find a bar showing the soccer match (not an easy feat in MT, let me assure you), but sadly our Dutch friends were bitterly disappointed when the Spanish team scored a goal with two minutes left in overtime to break a 0-0 tie and win the title. Here's a pic taken on the ride to Dillon and a pic of the Dillon sky at sunset taken from my tent as I went to bed:

The next day's ride from Dillon to Jackson, MT was 50 miles, but it felt like a hundred. There was a nearly constant 15-25 mph headwind to battle, as well as two big climbs. I love to climb, as you know, but it's demoralizing to climb AND face such a strong wind. On the second climb of the day, I literally was riding at 3-4 mph for much of the climb, and standing up on the pedals much more than I normally do. Here's a pic of one climb, as well as of the wind blowing so hard that the weedtops were horizontal!

 The reward came that afternoon/evening at Jackson Lodge, which pipes in 140 degree water from the local Jackson Hot Springs, cools it to 102 degrees, and pumps it into a nearly Olympic-sized swimming pool. At first it was weird swimming in such a large pool of HOT water...I'd just never experienced SWIMMING in hot water. But it quickly became a really neat thing and it really helped soothe the sore muscles after a long day. The Jackson Lodge was made of logs and had animal heads mounted all over the inside...bison, bear, pronghorn, elk, moose, and even various animals from other countries that don't live here. But, for all the animals, the most prominent living creature was again the mosquito. We'd paid $10 to camp on the lawn at the lodge (that included swimming in the pool) and felt very fortunate that they let us hang out inside the lodge away from the fact, we even got to have a beer and watch the Tour de France. That day I'd ridden with Tony (who happens to be from Portland as well), though the rest of the same gang of eight of us was also riding to Jackson and we all met there that night so everyone got to enjoy the pool, the lodge, and dinner together.

The descent toward Jackson, the last rolling hill before dropping into Jackson, and the Jackson Lodge:

See you soon!


Anonymous said...

So glad to hear from you again, Dennis! I've been following you on Lattitude (Droid) - and there was one day that your phone was in the same place for what seemed like way too many hours. Looked like your location was out in the woods - so thought maybe you had lost your phone! Please send that letter about the cop!!! Love, Aunt Sheryll and Uncle Al

Meggan Kehrli said...

Hey Dennis! You might have been close to the place my family and I stayed at back when I was like, 11. I think it was Jackson Lake Lodge, and I had my first buffalo burger there :) Hope you got some nice photos of the mountains!

Sharon said...

Oh yeah, (along with AS & UA) we were speculating a lot more than just 'lost your phone' ... . (We just spent 6 days together in Vegas, checking our Droids.)

Can't believe you're in Oregon already ... we'd all be there to watch you dip that front tire in the Pacific, if we only knew 'where and when'.

And DON'T you DARE not report Officer Chris T. ... your cousin, your Uncle John - who's from Montana - and (I'm sure) your dad will be counting on you!

So what are we going to do with our time when we don't have your blog to follow?? AS

Dale Young said...


I met you at dinner in Sebree, then briefly again in Carbondale. My Raleigh died and I had to abandon the trip in Carbondale. Shortly afterward I bought a LHT and a new set of panniers. I'm planning to start over in Yorktown in 2012. 2012, because I now have 3 others who want to come's only fair to them to restart. If all three cannot make it, I'll go again from Carbondale next May. Anyway, I just found your blog. I was impressed with your LHT when you pulled into Sebree, so I bought my own...have you had any issues with yours?

Congrats on your ride man!!


Dennis Howe said...

Dale, I love my LHT. You can email me at and we can talk specifics. Nice to hear from you and it's great to hear you're gonna get back out there! Dennis