Stage 12

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Related Photos The Missoula, MT to Yellowstone Stage (via Highways 93, 203, 269, 43, 278, 41 and 287) Back


July 23, 2004

While setting up our bike and trailer outside our Missoula hotel room, we were approached by a couple from Canton, OH who was walking by. They had just spent a week biking the Lewis and Clark Tour independently and asked about our adventure. We spent some time talking about bikes and gear as touring cyclists learn a lot from each other. Departing our hotel, we weaved slowly through downtown as we headed out of town. Our two visits to this bicycle friendly city were a lot of fun and we hope to make another visit in the future.

As we started south, we noticed that Randall was not able to hear through our intercom system called Tandem-Talk. We continued to the outskirts of town as we thought it might be a low battery. At the south edge of Missoula, we stopped to change the battery. After the battery change, Randall could not hear Barb but Barb could hear Randall. One of the wires on Randall’s headset (or ear piece) must have had a short. We biked north to Radio Shack to get a cellular phone headset as that has worked for us in the past. We spent quite some time determining which headset would work best as the options at this Radio Shack were more limited. Once we selected a headset, we decided to get two as we would not be in another large town for awhile and Barb’s headset has seen a lot of wear, too. One problem we face with using the cellular phone headsets is that they are intended for indoor use. Wind noise can be very loud. To solve this problem, we transferred the foam cover from the microphone of the shorted headset. We headed back south to rejoin our route after this six mile detour. One can appreciate that we really get a lot of benefit from this Tandem-Talk to have biked three miles out of our way for a resolution. On our route again, it was already after 10 AM, so it was going to be a long day.

Our route followed the Bitterroot River Valley and was mostly flat. We had a wonderful tail wind. A four lane Highway 93 with a wide shoulder went south out of Missoula. We stopped at a convenience store in Lolo for a quick lunch as we had only a light breakfast to start the day. South of Lolo, we hopped onto a bike path that paralleled the busy Highway 93. Along this path, we met two touring cyclists headed north. The path had a smoother surface than the highway shoulder and had a couple of shaded, rest stops.

At Florence, we turned left onto Eastside Highway (CR 203) which parallels Highway 93. This back road took us through the beautiful valley setting. There was no shoulder but most of the motorists were giving us a wide berth when passing. We were cycling through mostly irrigated farmland with a view of the mountains beyond. Many new homes were being built in this area as it was quiet and peaceful, (at least until all the new people move in). One can now see why the neighboring highway is four lanes all the way to Florence.

Eastside Highway continued through Stevensville where we stopped for some large, icy drinks. The temperature was climbing into the mid 80s so we tried out our new Kool Ties. Worn around the neck, the Kool Tie is a cooling neck scarf which is full of water-absorbing crystals. We soaked the ties in water for 30 minutes and then tied them around our necks to help beat the heat. Leaving Stevensville, CR 203 became CR 269 but the highway was still called Eastside. We saw more of the farms and mountain views but we saw fewer dwellings along the way.

Arriving in Corvallis, the rear tandem tire blew out. Wow, our first bicycle tire flat on this tour after almost 3,000 miles (some of you may recall that we had a trailer tire flat on the Dalton Highway). We will never go that far again without a flat! We walked the tandem over to a driveway about 50 ft away so that we would not be so close to the highway. Upon inspection of the deflated tube, we found a small slit. We always check the tire for the source of the tube failure because if a piece of glass or a thorn is left in the tire, it will pop the new tube as well. We discovered that the tire itself had a slit on the side wall, just above where it fits into the rim. We checked to make sure the brake pads were not rubbing on the tire, but the pads were positioned properly. A tire failure of this type is usually a manufacturing defect and is rare. This tire was put on brand new in Coleman, Alberta about 400 miles earlier. We put on one of our two backup tires and a new tube and we were on our way. We discarded the bad tire as we opted not to give the manufacturer any failure feedback while on tour.

Departing the small farming community of Corvallis (forever remembered as a deflating town), we continued to enjoy the views of the farms and mountains along the way. The terrain was still mostly flat and the wind continued to be our friend. Seven miles later, we reached Hamilton, a sizable town in the valley. Since, we were now down to one spare tire, we sought out the bike shop in town. Valley Bikes turned out to be a very well supplied bike shop. They had in stock our tire size and tubes so we were pleased to be able to purchase a new tire and two tubes. We also picked up their business card as we would not see another bike shop until West Yellowstone, MT. Rather drained from biking 60 plus miles in a warmer climate, we stopped at a Hamilton restaurant for a cool salad to eat. While at the restaurant, a lady asked if we were from San Luis Obispo. Confused, we then realized that she was reading the city name from our trailer flag (where our trailer was manufactured).

Leaving Hamilton, we rejoined the busy Highway 93. Fortunately, we had a shoulder and traffic was winding down for the day. We were now saying goodbye to the flat highway and beginning a series of hills. Not exactly the way you want to end your day of cycling. It was during this stretch that we saw a number of sheep farms. Reaching our final stop for the day, Darby, MT, we picked up some groceries as services were expected to be sparse down the road. As we entered Darby, we passed another milestone: 3000 miles on the tour! We assessed the best backdrop for our photo op. Since the sun was setting behind the mountains, a photo in that direction would not work. Darby was a quaint town with rustic storefronts so we set up for a background shot of Americana. Our tandem would temporarily block half of main street. As Randall positioned the bike, a woman stopped her car and offered to take the photo so that both of us could be in it.

While we unloaded our gear outside our motel room, a woman from San Diego stopped to talk. She was with a group of friends who created their own supported bike tour for two weeks every year. The next day, they would be biking over the same pass we would cross, but they would continue on to Salmon, ID while we would turn toward the Big Hole Valley and stay in Montana.

Miles cycled – 79.3

July 24, 2004

We started biking at 7 AM after having breakfast at a local cafe. Before leaving the parking lot, we chatted with a couple of bikers from the same group as the San Diego woman and with another gentleman from California who was scouting out retirement property. Leaving Darby, there was a moderate climb as we followed the river valley to Sula. Along the way, we saw a lot of irrigation and a number of ranches. We also saw some of the burnt timber from the 2000 Bitterroot forest fire. At Sula, we stopped at a small grocery store to get a bottle of Gatorade as we were about to start a long climb. Three miles later, the serious climbing began. At the roadside chain-up area, we stopped to shed our tights as we would quickly heat up with the climbing. The supported cyclists we chatted with earlier began passing us at this point.

As we typically do for difficult ascents, we dropped into our third lowest gear. Less than a minute later, we shifted to the second lowest gear. Ooh boy, this was going to be a workout. We would stay with this gear for the entire six miles of climbing. There were a number of switchbacks to take us to the top and we took a rest after each mile of climbing. Three fourths of the way up, two teenagers passed us. Later, at one of our rest breaks, their father caught up to us and stopped to chat. He had toured extensively in the late 1960s and this was his sons’ first century ride (100 miles). They had started from their home in Hamilton and would stop in Salmon, ID for some fishing before returning home by car the next evening.

We caught up to this cycling family at the rest area on top of Lost Trail Pass (6,990 feet). After more chatting, we learned that the father was the president of a log home construction company that built homes for the top 1% of the market. His company built all the Outdoor World Bass Pro shops across the country, including the one in Auburn Hills, MI, just ten miles from our previous home. His sons were impressed that two adults did something as radical as selling their home and quitting their jobs to go on “just a big adventure.” Also, while at the rest area, we read a posting about the Montana “White Crosses.” The America Legion Post builds, erects and maintains the signs which remind people to drive (and bike) carefully. We have noticed the signs on every highway we have traveled on in Montana. We have seen as many as five crosses lined up, next to the highway.

While these bikers and most of the traffic continued on into Idaho on Highway 93, we turned left (east) onto Highway 43. After yet another mile of climbing, we crossed Chief Joseph Pass (7,241 feet). Another pass completed! Earlier, the cycling father had told us that we would now be entering the prettiest area in Montana. Having already toured Glacier, the Swan River Valley and the Bitterroot River Valley, we were skeptical. However, judging from the high number of photos taken during this stage, he was probably accurate in his opinion.

After a photo stop at the pass (our seventh Continental Divide crossing), we quickly descended into a valley with elaborate, roadside fences and dense forests along the mountainsides. We met a touring couple heading north. A few miles into our descent, the valley widened and the landscape became more pasture-like with cattle seen grazing. After reaching the top of a large plateau, we passed by the Big Hole Battlefield National Monument. For miles and miles, we rode across this vast plateau. It was a remarkable change for us as the surrounding mountains became quite distant and we could see for miles around. The enormous pastures along the road were populated with cattle, antelope and sage brush. We had never seen so much sage brush!

Descending from this large plateau, we entered the town of Wisdom where we ate an early dinner at a restaurant. As we left Wisdom, we stopped to get groceries. Our route plan now had us leaving Highway 43 and heading south on Highway 278. Having earlier traveled for miles by grazing cattle, the agricultural setting changed to crops as we passed by miles of alfalfa. Some of the fields had very tall ramps which must have been used for elevating and stacking the hay bales.

A couple of miles south of Wisdom, our camera chip became full. We were really taking in the sights. When we stopped to change out to another memory card, we were immediately swarmed by mosquitoes. We could not get that card changed fast enough! The irrigated hay must have provided a nice habitat for these pesky insects. On our next rest stop, we quickly put on repellant so we could enjoy our break. After 18 miles with a gradual climb, we reached Jackson, MT. We had reservations for a basic cabin (plumbing located in a neighboring building). Realizing that we did not have enough food for a hearty breakfast, we bought some cinnamon rolls at the local store.

Miles cycled – 75.2

July 25, 2004

We left Jackson at 6:30 AM, a bit earlier than usual. We had two passes to climb today and we did not want to be caught climbing them in the heat of the day. The first eight miles from Jackson consisted of slight rolling hills with a gradual climb. Having cycled through a wide open expanse the day before, the mountains were now closing in on us. A number of ranches and cattle herds could be seen between the highway and the mountains. To get to the top of Big Hole Pass (7,360 feet), we had three miles of five to six percent grade to climb. Beyond the pass, there was a long, fun descent that took us into another vast expanse. These expansive views with pastures extending as far as the eye can see were just a wonderful thing to bike through. Photography just could not capture the full experience. As we raced down the highway, cattle of all colors dotted the landscape. Even some longhorn cattle were seen. Black angus appeared to be the dominant breed of cattle. The grass available for grazing was somewhat green looking, much greener than expected for an area getting an average of 12 to 20 inches of rain a year.

Our next climb, Badger Pass (6,760 feet) was not as high but our prior, fun descent took us down 1,400 ft in elevation. So, back up we went. The ascent of this pass was going smoothly until we were within one quarter mile of the summit. At that point, we discovered a slow leak in the rear tandem tire. Yikes, another flat! That’s two flats in three days after going two months without a flat. We pulled off the road as far as possible and changed the tube. The one positive with this stop was that we had a nice view to enjoy. The tube had a single hole that entered in at an angle. This odd type of puncture did not appear to be the result of a pinched tube. However, no hole or foreign object could be found in the tire. Who knows what happened to the tube?

With the deflated tire re-inflated, we finally conquered the pass. Once beyond the pass, we could see a cyclist’s dream. Our highway was fairly straight and it went down and down and down. Reaching speeds up to 35 mph, we descended for over ten miles. What a blast! Going fast for ten miles downhill can be very tiring to the rider doing the steering so we took a brief rest and shot a photo of an entrance gate. On the gate post, a mailbox was fastened up at a height that no one could reach was marked for airmail.

After going under Interstate 15 and over a railroad overpass, we soon found ourselves in Dillon. We weaved through town for a couple of miles before finding the Longhorn Cafe for a lunch stop. A couple who saw our Habitat for Humanity banner on our trailer asked us about our travels. A second couple from California with a vacation home north of Yellowstone gave us some insight about the accommodations for the next couple of days. A third couple, who sat quietly listening to us talking, asked for our card before they left. When we went to pay for our meal, the waitress said that the third couple had already taken care of our tab. How generous and sneaky!

From Dillon, we headed northwest on Highway 41. The lunch stop was refreshing which was good because we immediately were greeted by three miles of road construction. We biked (and sometimes walked) through gravel packed with large rocks. It was not a pretty sight and we feared that we might break a rim or spoke. In addition, we had to dodge traffic barrels and vehicles.

Once through the construction zone, we met a chap from London traveling the TransAmerica route from east to west. He had covered 3,200 miles since May and now, was just three weeks from finishing. The TransAmerica route goes from Oregon to Virginia. Most people travel it in that direction to get the benefit of the prevailing winds. We joined the route in Missoula and would stay with it until Kentucky (except for some planned deviations in Kansas to visit our hometowns). We were now crossing paths with cyclists who chose to go west. This cyclist from London had been enjoying his journey but was ready to end it soon. We wondered if we would have similar feelings towards the end of our trip. Our feelings at that moment were “we could not imagine having it end and having to get real jobs!” He told us that we would soon see a couple on a recumbent tandem as they had been traveling together since Kansas. Sure enough, we saw them ten miles later but heavy traffic did not allow us to stop.

Outside of Dillon, we biked by several farms, some of which had sheep grazing. Irrigation was very prevalent as both crops and pastures were being watered down. Later, we came upon a historical marker for Beaverhead Rock. This large rock was an important landmark for the frontier travelers. We did not use the rock to guide us on our way but we very much enjoyed its beauty.

Going past Beaverhead Rock, the thundershowers that we had been able to avoid were catching up to us. Without warning, a huge gust of wind hit us from the southwest as we were headed mostly north. Instead of subsiding, the wind increased to a sustained 40 to 50 mph. Since we weren’t exactly in the direction of the wind, Randall battled to keep the tandem from blowing off the right side of the road. After a quarter mile of this, we encountered a most unbelievable combination. As we passed a gravel road to our left, a semi-truck from the north met us. Just as we got sandblasted alive by the blowing dirt, the truck’s opposing wind current made it feel like we were inside a twister. Whew! As we regrouped, the road then turned, to the northeast. Now, with the wind directly behind us, we rode (or flew) the final ten miles to Twin Bridges, MT in just 25 minutes! While showers drenched the areas behind us, we only felt a few drops of moisture.

By the time we reached Twin Bridges, the wind had subsided to 10 to 15 mph. We would now turn right onto Highway 287. Riding through the small town, we stopped at a convenience store for some refreshments. Feeling somewhat refreshed, we decided to take on the next ten miles to Sheridan, MT. As it turned out, this was no easy ten miles. We were now headed southeast so we had no tailwind and we had a constant, gradual climb. After earlier “flying” to Twin Bridges, we now felt like we were riding through quicksand!

When we arrived in Sheridan, we looked back to the northwest and the sky was a deep blue. An overnight rain appeared likely so we checked into a motel for the night. The grocery store in town was already closed so we stopped at the convenience store to get some sandwiches and some breakfast snacks for in the morning.

Miles cycled – 85.8

July 26, 2004

With the days getting warmer, we were getting motivated to do earlier starts. We left Sheridan at 6:30 AM as we anticipated a lot of climbing in the morning. Although rain was threatening last night, this morning had mostly clear skies. As we headed to the mountain pass, we passed through the small towns of Lauren and Alder. Both towns appeared to support a thriving agricultural community with a mixture of crops (mostly hay) and pastures. We could see the lush green fields span up to the mountain foothills. There was a lot of irrigation and rustic barns. After Alder, the crops and pasture gave way to sagebrush. Lots of sagebrush. We met two men in their fifties on recumbent bicycles heading west. They had been traveling with the three cyclists we saw the day before but stayed an extra day in Yellowstone. They too were looking forward to ending their trip soon and returning home.

As we continued to climb through the Alder Gulch, we saw antelope and some cabins along the way. We soon entered Nevada City and Virginia City, two towns designed for tourists with old buildings to tour and gold panning experiences for the kids. Nevada City, in our opinion, had more of an old west look to it. The store fronts were fairly aged and weathered as they faced the main street. Just a short distance later, we pedaled up the main street in Virginia City. The main street is on a steep incline, which along with the western style buildings, gave the small town some character. We saw no convenience store or gas station in the area so they must have been off the beaten path. Two points in town caught our eye with one being the courthouse building and the other being a large white tent which served as the “Cowboy Church.”

Climbing out of Virginia City, we noticed piles upon piles of rocks like the ones we had seen near Sacramento, CA on a previous trip. The rocks were apparently left over from the river dredging of the gold rush days. Our map showed that the pass beyond Virginia City was a pretty serious climb as we go over 7,000 ft in elevation to reach the top. The map was not exaggerating. There were four miles of climbing and the first mile was particularly strenuously. Thankfully, the climb was a little less severe for the last three miles. Since this pass was not a Continental Divide, it was not marked.

Having conquered another pass, we started the glorious downhill descent. The view was just incredible as you could see the highway winding down the mountain. Part way into the descent, we scorched the brakes to stop at a scenic overlook. Photo opportunity! A couple from New York took an interest in our adventure and asked lots of questions. They had flown into Billings, MT and were touring the west. The New Yorkers happily took our photo. We continued downhill into Ennis, MT for lunch. Boy, we were hungry, having climbed up that difficult pass. As we biked through town, the couple from California that we met in Dillon the day before shouted hello to us from the sidewalk.

Leaving Ennis, we continued on Highway 287 towards Cameron, MT and into a south headwind. Traffic was getting heavier so we stayed on the shoulder. The shoulder was wide enough but very rough with lots of gravel chips. In addition, we were climbing with our speed now at a sluggish 7 to 9 mph. Our hopes of getting a cold drink in Cameron disappeared as the listed facilities were closed. As we stopped to rest, a SUV pulled up beside us. It was the couple from California. Their vacation home was about five miles ahead and they invited us over for a cold soda. This was an offer we could not refuse!

The house was located about a mile off the highway on a dirt road. About a third of the road was parallel to the highway before heading toward the Madison River. Some of the road was a bit rough for our bike so we walked those sections. As we got near the house, we could suddenly see the river, two hundred feet below. Wow, what a startling view! Getting off the beaten path has its rewards. The cabin was on the ridge with a wonderful view of the river below and the mountains beyond. Dave and Sue built the cabin 10 years ago with two other couples who also enjoyed fly-fishing on the Madison River. More homes have since been built, but the peaceful feeling of solitude remained. The river meandered and looked so beautiful, we had to remind ourselves it was not a painting, but was real!

As we enjoyed the view, the company and the refreshments, the sky began to darken and a thunderstorm threatened. The wind rushed strongly by the cabin at 30 to 40 mph. We had parked our bike in their garage so it was spared from the wind and intermittent rain. With the weather not looking good, we accepted Dave and Sue’s earlier offer of a bed for the night. We cleaned up while they prepared grill chicken for dinner. We learned a lot about the area and thoroughly enjoyed our time together. It was nice to visit with someone else who had found their passion and worked to make it a priority in their lives. What a splendid way to end the day!

Miles cycled – 54.5

July 27, 2004

After a very restful night in the “Cabin Grande,” we gathered up our gear and loaded up our tandem for riding. Sue served us a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. While eating breakfast, there was a spectacle of wildlife – antelope, osprey, badger, etc. seen along the river. What a exceptional location for a cabin!

We traversed the dirt road to get back on Highway 287. Heading south, we continued along the Madison River basin where we saw more antelope and log cabins. Occasionally, you could see white spots on the high river banks. The spots were mineral deposits from former hot springs. The springs were sealed off after the earth shifted from earthquakes. There was a row of mountains of each side of us. We would continue on Highway 287 all the way to West Yellowstone. The shoulder was not the best surface to ride on because of pea size rocks. It was almost like riding on gravel. We rode on the much smoother highway when lighter traffic allowed.

The road gradually curved to the east. Mountain sheep were seen up on the side of the road which made for an easy photo. We passed Three Dollar Bridge, so named because the owner kept a box at the bridge with a sign that said, $3 for parking all day. Fishing was very prevalent in this area. One service stop listed on our map was a fly shop bustling with fishermen. The only items they had which interested us were their Gatorade and a limited selection of snacks. They sold far more beer for sure.

With Quake Lake just ahead of us, we had a steady climb before we could actually see the lake. In 1959, an earthquake caused a huge rock slide which created Quake Lake. An extraordinary pile of rock dammed the Madison River. The Corp of Engineers had to dig a deep trench to allow the water to flow through and to reduce the effects of flooding. Near the lake’s shore, there were many dead trees as a result of the higher water level. On the side of the mountain where the slide occurred, cedar trees had established themselves and looked pretty big for only 45 years of growth.

After riding past Quake Lake, we stopped for lunch at a cafe 100 feet from the Madison River. The cafe operator asked if we were trying to be like Lance (Armstrong). When she learned the details of our trip, she told us about a woman who sold all of her belongings except for eight boxes that she stored with her sister. She then bought a small pick-up truck and camping gear and traveled the US. She then planned to sell the truck when she reached Florida and work on a freighter headed for Europe. She would continue until she went around the world or the money ran out, which ever came first.

Leaving the cafe, we soon arrived at the Hebgen Lake dam. Below the dam, a number of fishermen could be seen, wading in the Madison River. Hebgen Lake, a very large recreational lake, was created to provide water for irrigation. We followed the lake’s shoreline for at least 10 miles before turning south for the final 8 miles to West Yellowstone, MT. The town provided services for those visiting the park and it was very active. We stopped at the bike shop for new bike gloves as our old ones were wearing out. Barb went to the neighboring visitor center to buy an annual national parks pass for $50. As we stood on the sidewalk outside the shop, a Japanese tourist dressed in a flashy red, white and blue shirt walked by. He was excitedly talking to his wife about everything he was seeing. He pointed to our bike and said “Booed-dee-ful” and kept right on walking. We also stopped at the grocery store for supplies. Since it was windy, Barb stayed with the bike while Randall went into the store. Several people approached to ask about our trip. They had seen us bike into town and wanted to know more.

We headed into the park with the goal of reaching the Madison Campground 14 miles in. The wind was in our favor and the route was mostly flat. Soon, it clouded over and began to rain with some lightning and thunder. We think the rain helped to reduce the heavy flow of motorists heading into the park. There was almost a constant flow of vehicles exiting the park. So, our entrance timing into the park was great. The rain began to stop when we reached the campground. There was no availability for cars and RVs at the campground as it was full. However, they had a hiker/biker section to hold as many as needed. Eileen checked us in and showed us the food storage boxes. There were tarps over community picnic tables and a few lawn chairs. She offered to heat some water for tea. We were rushing to set up the tent in case the rain started again when she returned with the hot water. What service! They seemed to cover every need except warm showers.

We could tell we were back in the USA and in the land of lawyers as we were given several fliers. One warned “Many visitors have been gored by Buffalo. Buffalo can weigh 2000 pounds and can sprint at 30 mph, three times faster than you can run. DO NOT APPROACH BUFFALO.” Another flier listed no less than eighteen guidelines for a safe and enjoyable stay in Yellowstone Park.

There was one other touring cyclist camping that night. Wim, a 32 year old web developer from Denmark was taking a year to bike from Edmonton, Alberta to Buenos Aries, Argentina. He also had a website and he used a Palm (hand sized computer} to record his stories and photos. He updated his website by stopping at the local libraries. We suspect internet access and libraries will be hard to find in Latin America. He carried a solar panel to charge his Palm and camera batteries. His website is in the Dutch language (we think), but the photos are very readable. Check it out at

Miles cycled – 66.5

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