Day 24: The day of the cow

Day 24, St. Mary Campground to Shelby, MT: 91.8 miles, 4,139 ft. elevation gain, 13 mph average speed.
Trip Totals: 1,004 miles (55.8 daily average), 60,076 ft. elevation gain, 11.2 mph overall average speed

Five days behind schedule.

Yay! We’re back on the road!

We woke up to a light drizzle and packed up camp in 40 minutes. We’re getting much better at packing up quickly. It was pretty chilly this morning and we both had a hard time warming up our muscles, despite the fact that we started out with a 6-mile climb. I think we forgot what climbing is like. It’s hard. We stopped after 3 miles to stretch and eat breakfast and decided that our lofty 120 mile plans were, indeed, lofty and perhaps impossible.

We pushed on and Ted did some mental math about how many miles we’d actually need to average to make it home by August 15th. Perhaps he was a little too engrossed in his math because we missed our turn and ended up climbing an additional mile and a half. Luckily, a very nice guy driving to his job at a road work site ahead stopped us (at the top of the hill; important detail) and told us to turn around to avoid a muddy stretch of road (that was, by his estimation, impassable by bike), many more hills, and an extra 10 miles. Thank goodness for that guy! We turned around and sped downhill to our turn, and were pleased to find flats / downhill through the Blackfeet Reservation until Browning. We officially left the mountains and entered the plains and encountered many cows, many of which just hang out in the road. For some reason, cows are somehow threatened by us, but respond calmly to cars. When we roll up, there’s lots of mooing and stomping and standing their ground, then running away.

We got to Browning quickly and were happy that, even with big hills and a detour, we had finished 35 miles before 9:30a. Browning appeared to be the hub of the Blackfeet Nation and it had far and away the largest non-white population we’ve seen since Seattle. It was nice to see people who looked a little more like me for a change. Not for long, though; we were on a mission to complete 65 miles by lunch in Cut Bank so we sped through. Lots of dogs. Lots and lots of dogs. Luckily none of them chased us for too long.

We rode against a stupid sometimes headwind, sometimes crosswind until Cut Bank, where we plopped down at McDonald’s (stop judging us! Fast wifi, clean bathrooms, and unlimited refills are a touring cyclist’s best friend), ordered quarter pounder with cheese meals, and abused the free refill policy on flavored high fructose corn syrup (Dr. Pepper flavor for Ted, Orange Lavaburst Hi-C for me). We planned to rehydrate with water before soft drinks, but they didn’t even have water on tap! Just corn sugar! It was a fun indulgence, but we both felt really gross and sat in a corn sugar / grease coma for about 30 more minutes.

While we sat with free WiFi, we called around for campsites in Shelby and they were all sort of pricy (though still cheaper than the Montana Bike Hostel when including free showers, not that we’re dwelling on that experience or anything) so we called motels out of curiosity, found one for under $50, and decided to splurge. This seemed like a reasonable decision given the state of our tent and Ted’s sleeping pad (replacements will come to Havre tomorrow!) and the possible thunderstorms in the forecast.

We stocked up on Snickers bars, jerky, and fruit at Alberson’s, then headed out for our last 24 miles, which were easy downhill with no wind. We were both surprised by how much we enjoyed the scenery. All of the green and yellow grass tones, gentle rolling hills, and an overcast sky made for a different, unexpected type of pretty. I’m sure it will get old, but I’m glad we enjoyed our first day in plains, at least. Ted’s knee hurt all day, though, so we need to be careful not to push it too hard as we try to make up time.

Our motel is much nicer than we expected for the price. AC, fast wifi, ice, comfy bed, hot shower, clean and recently refurbished, has a fridge. What more could we ask for? Stay at the O’Haire Manor Motel next time you’re in Shelby.

So here we are, catching up on our blog, eating a salad as penance for lunch, and watching TV. And we are clean.

Heading to Havre tomorrow. 103-mile day and we’ve got to get there before the post office closes, so we’re planning for an early start.

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