2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 4: Whitehall to Dewey

When I woke up and got out of my tent just before before 5am, the moon was setting over Whitehall High School, looking peach-like, orange from the smoke of distant wildfires and fuzzed by thin clouds. The sunrise was lovely as well.

1 sunrise

As we rolled out of town, we passed some of the numerous murals for which Whitehall is known.

2 mural

Some Whitehall businesses have incorporated the mural theme into their signage as well. I like it!

4 business sign

Vintage small-town theater alert!

3 theater

My view from the back of the tandem. Not bad.

5 my view

We passed a tethered llama, which looked agitated at our presence. I wondered about llamas’ spitting range.

6 tethered llama

Recalling the hay bale roping dummies from the Sudan School on Day 1, here’s a more anatomically correct one:

7 roping dummy

Headed into the mountains.

8 into the mountains

Montana, where things are so fertile, the wood of your deck just might sprout back into a tree. 😉

9 pine growth

Had to take a picture of this old “prancing pony” gate for my mom.

10 prancing pony gate

I appreciated the message of the sign and acknowledged the fact that the number of characters was limited, but the grammatical incorrectness of the “BIKES ON ROAD / DRIVE CAREFUL” sign still irked me every time I saw it. #editorproblems

11 bikes caution

After we passed through a narrow-ish cut, I turned the camera behind us and took a picture. This looks like it would be a tough section of road for snow-clearing operations.

12 view behind

Our embedded photographers sent their camera-bearing aerial vehicle into the sky and captured cyclists streaming into this cut. There’s a video posted on the Cycle Greater Yellowstone Facebook page, but I can’t figure out how to share just the video link. Maybe it’ll wind up on the CGY Vimeo page. (It’s fun to watch the time lapse films of Tent Sherpas setting up camp and of previous rides’ routes and camps.)

13 drone pilots

I had plenty of time to look at the rocks as we slowly climbed upward. I kept seeing faces and fanciful beings in the rock forms. We also got scolded by a lot of rock-crevice-dwelling chipmunks. The morning light made the rocks glow with a warmth they did not yet contain. I was glad to be doing all this climbing in the cool of the morning.

14 morning light rock

Given that we had more than two hours of constant climbing, we needed to take periodic breaks to rest and eat. (We remembered lessons from prior rides and made sure to eat as we were climbing.) When we stopped at one driveway for a rest, a passing cyclist called, “Are you checking out the real estate?” I decided that would be a good euphemism. We’re not taking a break . . . we’re “checking out the real estate.” (See also: “checking out the view” and “reading the historical point signage.”)

15 checking out real estate

On this day, we generally experienced courteous driving. Then there was this person. Sigh. We heard a barking dog in the distance – a sound that always piques a cyclists’ attention due to the tendency of loose dogs to chase bikes. But the sound kept getting closer, unnaturally quickly. barkbarkbarkbarkbark – silence- barkbarkbarkbarkbark – silence- BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK – silence – BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK! I looked in my rear view mirror and figured it out – it was a dog riding in a vehicle, barking furiously every time the vehicle passed a cyclist. And the driver left the rear passenger-side window open so the dog could startle every single cyclist it passed. Not nice.

16 barking dog

Entering Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

17 beaverhead deerlodge NF

At a rest stop, I decided the peanut-butter-filled chocolate Clif bar was the BEST THING EVER! Ah, one of the benefits of prolonged exercise: eating becomes almost a transcendental experience. Please mentally add halo rays and a heavenly chorus soundtrack to this photo:

18 calories

There were a hojillion of these moths flying across the road in the forest. These little things can be crazy hard to key out. When I asked Bugman what it was, he grimaced and said, “A moth . . .”

19 moth

We summited Pipestone Pass and failed to recognize that a pullout on the opposite side of the road was the official marker of this Continental Divide crossing (6,418 feet), since it didn’t have the green elevation sign we were accustomed to seeing. So, we missed a photo opportunity, alas.

The descent was fun, despite the un-smartness of the highway crew that decided to repaint the center lines on that section of highway – on the same day that several hundred cyclists would be on that route. Actually, by the time we got to the descent, the painting crew was pulled over taking a break. The only thing we had to deal with was the cones along the centerline, which made it harder for motorized vehicles to pass us. I heard another cyclist express appreciation for the painting project, which she believed had slowed drivers down.

As we approached Butte – “The Richest Hill on Earth,” I was awed. That open pit copper mine looked as big as the town itself!

20 butte

Confirmed! See Google maps image:

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 2.56.51 PM

I found it somewhat creepy that the tailings pond had such a lighthearted name. Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond? Sounds like a recreation area rather than a hazardous waste management area.

I really got sucked into an internet rabbit hole reading about Butte and its mining history. I overheard a fellow cyclist shuddering about Butte and its status as a Superfund toxic waste cleanup site. She had known people who worked in and around other contaminated sites who were dying of cancer in their 20s and 30s. It just absolutely irks me that companies have been allowed to profit from a business that then sticks the government with a huge cleanup bill from the aftermath. For economics nerds, this is considered a market failure. Negative externalities galore! Fingers crossed that things are changing for the better. Attitudes towards our environment are a lot different now than they were in the 1950s.

While the warren of mining tunnels under Butte were begun in the 1800s, that gigantic open pit was created since 1955. See this blog post for a historic photo overlaying the current extent of the mining pit, which ate up the communities of Meaderville and McQueen and the Columbia Gardens. Another part of Butte that struck me was the ramparts of copper slag was saw. I neglected to take a picture, but here’s one from another blogger’s post.

Berkeley Pit, which filled with acidic water after mine pumps were shut down, has become a tourist attraction, despite things like the need to employ hazers to chase off migratory waterfowl lest they be poisoned by the water.

Still, there’s a lot of recreation opportunities around Butte, and some interesting museums as well. I would have liked to explore Butte a bit rather than just passing through.

Ah, the innovative smaller-city multitasking business: heating stove and brewing/winemaking supplies sold alongside recreational vehicles:

21 butte multitasking

At announcements the day before, we’d been warned about the traffic we’d face heading through Butte. Perhaps it’s because we hit the city before the lunch rush, and perhaps it’s because we were lucky with traffic lights and courteous drivers, but I didn’t find it that bad.

And look! Sharrows! Butte acknowledges the existence of bicyclists!

22 butte sharrows

A few of the auto towing/wrecking/repair business slogans we saw on our journey through the western outskirts of the city cracked me up.

See you in the ditch!

You meet the nicest people by accident!

A great place to take a leak!

After lunch, we wound up on several miles of a really nice bike path. Bummer we had to dismount to get over a berm put in place to protect the path from heavy equipment.

23 blocked path

This “gritty Duke” billboard would come to mind later in the ride: “Don’t much like quitters, son.”

24 duke sign

A man walking his dogs stepped off the path to let us and another cyclist pass. Turned out the other cyclist was a local, not a CGY rider, which confused a course monitor stationed to direct CGY traffic around a confusing bit of construction at the end of the bike path.

We were routed through an industrial area with one of the bumpiest railroad crossings I’ve ever encountered. Did we heed the course monitor’s admonition to dismount and walk over the tracks? Oh yes, we did!

25 bumpy tracks

And now we get to the part of the route where I feel a little sheepish. In the Day 0 post, I described encountering some event cyclists on the shoulder of I-90, and said I would never want to ride on the interstate.

Well . . . due to a lack of other road options, we wound up riding 3 miles on I-15.

26 onto interstate

I was nervous. More nervous than I was about riding through Butte traffic. But I needn’t have been. With the nice, wide shoulder, the two lanes for traffic, and the patrol car stationed at the on ramp . . .

27 state trooper

I felt way more comfortable riding on the interstate than I did on Highway 287. Ugh, here we are with the “DRIVE CAREFUL” issue again, despite having enough room for the more correct “CAREFULLY.” Oh well. They’re consistent, I guess.

28 bikes on road

It was getting hot out, and the day was starting to wear on me. When I saw the wisp coming out of the top of this cloud, I imagined it as the buried undead stretching a withered arm up out of the grave. Brains . . .

29 cloud

116 – here’s our exit!

30 exit

So long, I-15. We’re headed for a frontage road.

31 I-15

Another 5 miles, and we hit a much-needed rest area. Time to wet down the arm coolers again! Aaaaahhhh! A female bikepacker happened by the rest area and was really excited by the prospect of actual toilets. She hesitated, asking if she would be allowed to use one. We heartily invited her over. Bicyclists supporting bicyclists! I hadn’t realized that the reason I was seeing so many bikepackers is that western Montana is crisscrossed by several cross-continental “adventure cycling routes.”

32 bikepacker bike

A bummer about this rest area – there had been a road surfacing project there recently, and there were blobs of road tar lying around disguised in sheaths of pebbles. The bike mechanics warned me about it, and I told Bugman, too, but it was too late. We went to try to take off, and he couldn’t get his left shoe clicked into the pedal. It was like a board game: tar ball cleat clog – move back two spaces!

33 tarball in shoe

The rock Bugman was using for a tool to clean his cleat just wasn’t cutting it. A kindly bike mechanic came to his rescue, using a screwdriver to scrape out the bulk of the offending tar.

34 tarball in shoe

The next couple of times we stopped, we had to re-clean his shoe cleat with whatever rock or stick was at hand, because the remaining tar would glom onto significant quantities of debris. Nasty stuff!

The next 10 miles were hot, hilly, and deserted. It’s the kind of place where you start to wonder if you’ve taken a wrong turn because you’re seeing no one and nothing except circling vultures.

35 vultures

Finally, finally! A turn, and a sign! We’re headed for . . . the Big Hole? I had no idea what the Big Hole was, and, coming after our journey through open-pit mine territory, I was a tad apprehensive.

36 divide and big hole

But Wisdom was near!

37 wisdom

The Big Hole is not a mining scar but a river. A rather lovely river!

38 big hole view 1

I was rather glad to have this gorgeous scenery to distract me from the pain my bike saddle was causing me.

39 big hole view 2

I was ever so glad to arrive at our campsite in tiny Dewey, where a colorful beetle landed on Bugman. We contemplated it along with CGY volunteer Bruce. Bugman thinks it’s a spruce zebra beetle.

40 spruce zebra beetle

I bypassed the Sno Kone booth in camp, thinking I could get some later. (I was wrong, alas – the booth was abandoned by the time I came back.)

44 sno cones

The ride had been hard on me today, and all I wanted was to get out of my bike clothes and rest. It turned out that our campsite was adjacent to the Big Hole River, and cyclists were finding their way down there to soak in the cold, clear water. We joined them forthwith!

41 big hole river play

The water was gaspingly cold at first. It was probably a good balm for sore muscles and a sore bum. We had to keep an eye out for trout-fishing boats floating downstream, though.

42 fly fishers

This was excellent trout habitat. Another CGY rider had brought along swim goggles, and he could see a number of trout darting around near where we were swimming. Bugman scoped out the shallows and found numerous invertebrates that are a part of the trouts’ food chain, including mayfly niads:

42 mayfly niad

I showered right away after leaving the coolness of the river. That was probably a good move. My swim shorts had collected rock algae and a few invertebrates!

We did some more pod laundry and hung it to dry in nearby trees. Laundry ornaments! Note: it’s acceptable to hang laundry on a cedar tree. Not so much a pine tree, which may ooze sap all over your clean laundry. #learningfromexperience

43 laundry tree

The campsite where we stayed (I’m still not sure what kind of property it was, or who it belonged to) was dotted with numerous “varmint holes” – for lack of a better word.

45 varmint hole

Some problem-solving campers piled sticks into a particularly large hole that just happened to be in a main travel path.

46 blocked varmint hole

Dinner that night just didn’t seem to appeal to me. Beef stroganoff. Bleh. I choked down some buttered noodles topped with steamed broccoli and cheese from the salad bar. I knew it didn’t bode well if my appetite wasn’t raging after a 64-mile ride with plenty of climbing. I was going to need to fuel up for the extended climbing I would face the next day. My body just wanted to rest. Other things were starting to break down, too. My air pillow sprung a leak, and a strap on one of my sandals broke.

After announcements that night, a short documentary about the struggle to prevent a dam being built on the Clark Fork River was shown in the dining tent. (I imagine it was no small feat to get a screen and projector out there in rural Dewey.) I thought maybe the film would be available online (alas, only the trailer is), so I skipped the film in favor of hurriedly setting up our tent as rumbling storm clouds drew near.

We did get a little rain. Thankfully not enough to turn the campsite into an utter mudpit. The sound of thunder crashing through the mountain valleys was most impressive, as was the sight of the rain-drenched sunset.

49 rainy sunset

The moonlight of that sleepless night blended softly into the dawn. At least I probably got more rest in the tent than I would have in the old cabin in the adjoining field.

48 accommodation

day 4 stats
daily mileage and climb unknown, since Strava doesn’t work in areas with no cell signal
low temp 45
hi temp 87
precip 0.03 inches
wind 5-24 g 32 SE

Copyright 2016 by Katie Bradshaw

One thought on “2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone Day 4: Whitehall to Dewey

  1. Pingback: 2016 Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 0 Bozeman Base Camp – Wyobraska Tandem

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