My first night as part of the trio is filled with just getting settled in at our campsite at Bannack State Park in southwest Montana, and catching up with Molly and Tammy. I want to hear all about their adventure so far. They’ve each already been traveling for nearly a month. Molly rode her bike, Ratty Pigeon, from Vancouver to here, having stopped at Vancouver Island on her own before traveling through B.C. and meeting up with Tammy. Tammy flew to Alberta to pick up her new ride, Jesus Christ Super Sherpa, and then rode with friends to B.C. to attend and present at a Horizons Unlimited meet in Nakusp. They traveled to Banff to start the Continental Divide ride. The pair has had some wonderful experiences and met some incredible people along the way to this point in their trip.
Molly welcomes me with a full liter of hot black tea, enough to keep me up until after 3:00am, as it turns out. After setting up my tent and tucking in my gear and bike for the night, I walk up the road to see the ghost town that was Bannack, Montana. History surrounds us.
Wandering through the beautifully preserved buildings sounds like the perfect way to spend the evening, except that it’s getting close to dark. As I grab my last few photos before returning to camp, a small grouse (or was she a ptarmigan?) grazes by my feet, not noticing the quiet giant snapping pics above her.
At camp, the girls have finished their dinner and are starting a fire while filling me in on our neighbors, the Vigilantes. A couple of chapters of Master Masons are here for their annual event at Bannack. An initiation of sorts took place the night before I arrived, resulting in Molly and Tammy being ceremoniously robbed by a new Vigilante. Sounds like a good time was had by all. The guys are here on their Harleys and no doubt got a huge kick out of the Maine-iac and Newfoundlander women riding in on small dual sport bikes.
Rumbling bikes signal the guys return from dinner, and shortly after a few faces pop up around our fire. I have the pleasure of meeting Two Bit and Ed Lover Boy, and the masked gunman, Groot. There’s Doc and Kojack, Skunk, and many more, all having earned their call signs from the brotherhood.
A small cold moon shining above and a babbling stream in front of our fire, complete the perfect scene for this cozy campsite. We hear the laughter of Vigilantes somewhere in the shadows, and coyotes singing in the distance.
After making one last outhouse run, I say my good-nights and crawl into my tent for the night, happy to snuggle in against the cool night air. I’m grateful for my down bag and thermal liner, as well as a pile of gear on top of me to keep me warm. Even still, my toes get cold during the night. It’s a few hours before I finally drift completely off to sleep. I blame Molly’s generosi-tea.
Dawn reveals a crystallized sheen covering our bikes and tents, and everything surrounding us. I can hear an elk bugling in the distance. It’s hard to work up the desire to crawl out of my sleeping bag.
Molly makes a magic brew of oatmeal for us all to share, and includes a banana and some mandarin oranges that I have hauled in from Dillon. Hot tea serves as both awakener and hot water bottle while I rub the sleep from my eyes. I take note of how careless I was with food last night, not having practiced any of my bear awareness education, having left everything out last night. Nevil would NOT be proud. The girls say that they were told there aren’t any bears in the area, but I know there are places ahead where we need to be more careful.
The Vigilantes start taking down camp, and report that it was 28 degrees F (-2 C) last night and isn’t much warmer now. They generously offer us their remaining firewood and some food. Tammy gathers them up for a group photo for an online magazine article she is writing.
We sort some gear and pack up, leaving camp just before 11:00. Apparently I have an initiation to go through too, I am appointed Navigator for the day and am handed Tammy’s Adventure Cycling Association map number two for today’s assignment. We have no timeline, no destination for the day, and no agenda. This should be fun.
We ride south from Bannack, over a meandering gravel road, my least favorite surface after having broken a leg on it a few years ago. Thankfully, my two compadres tolerate my putt-putt pace. The trail maps lead us through turns and corners, and gives fairly clear directions and landmarks.
We cross a small stretch of Highway 324 and then turn south on Medicine Lodge Road. This road will carry us another 60+ miles to our next fuel stop at Lima. Between the place we join the road and the other end is a variety of landscapes: grazing lands peppered with Angus cattle and Pronghorn Antelope, heavily laden golden wheat fields dancing lazily in the wind, cattle ranches with prairie mansions and collections of small homesteader cabins, bush-fringed creekbeds, pine-covered mountains, and great dry plateaus.
Bending our path from southeast toward northeast, we turn onto Big Sheep Creek Road and climb dry, grassy hills to a barren, windswept overlook on a hilltop. A sign marks this as the path of the Old Bannack Road, established in 1862 as the route from Corrine, Utah for supplies to be taken to Bannack, which was the capital of the Montana Territory for a short while after gold was discovered near there that same year. We pause long enough for a drink and a break and then carry on, having crossed this ridge to the next valley below.
Our road winds along creek sides and between shallow canyon walls, passing a few cabins along the way. Molly spots a swimming hole which she points out to us as we stop for photos and we double back a mile or so and park in a small flat spot next to some road equipment. We follow her through the scrub to the waters edge for an invigoratingly cold skinny dip followed by a creek side lunch.
Drying in the sun warms my bones and muscles after them having stiffened up a bit on the gravel road. It’s getting on in the day.
A long section of washboards and sand pits completes my first long-ish foray into the gravel roads of the CDT. We’ve hit I-15 and ride parallel to it as far as Lima.
My $5 fill ups make me smile. Tammy rides over to the cafe for a cup of coffee before the next stretch of road. We still haven’t discussed where we will land for the day, and it’s 3:30. As Molly and I pull up and park next to her, Tammy says she’d like to take a quick catnap before having any caffeine, so we all lay down in the shade of a spruce tree in the front yard of the cafe.
Fifteen minutes of relaxing ends abruptly when a red ant crawls up my shirt and bites me, this ending my nap. It’s caffeine and chili fries for the gang before we move on to the east.