Tag Archives: Montana
16 April, 2014

Montana’s Cold Shoulder (Season)

The blue skies and unseasonably warm weather that greeted us in East Glacier when we rolled onto the Great Plains didn’t last. Not even twelve hours. We awoke the next morning to a driving snowstorm that only intensified as we headed north towards Browning, capital of the Blackfeet Nation. The snow plastered our clothes, panniers, and even my rapidly growing beard. The Plains Indians Museum in Browning was closed for the season, a disappointment, so we warmed up at a taco joint and whiled away the time chatting with several Blackfeet and being introduced to the mangy collection of rez dogs that followed them around.

We hit some heavy snow leaving East Glacier. It eventually covered the highway before we reached Browning.

We hit some heavy snow leaving East Glacier. It eventually covered the highway before we reached Browning.

Gorgeous views greeted us as the snow stopped and we rolled out of Browning.

Two days of blue skies, warmer temperatures and much-welcomed tailwinds made us quickly forget the snowy start to our crossing of the Great Plains. We smiled, laughed, and whooped it up as we effortlessly spun the cranks in our tallest gearing along US 2 in far northern Montana, oftentimes hitting 30 mph on flat stretches of lightly-traveled highway. We steamrolled alongside the tracks of the Hi-Line, counting the train cars and wondering about the names given to the former depot-towns: Inverness, Devon, Kremlin, and Havre to list but a few of this Benetton collection of names. We’ll camp in Glasgow tomorrow night.

Our first glance of wild horses on the plains. We'd later spot a pair of Pronghorn.

Our first glance of wild horses on the plains. We’d later spot a pair of Pronghorn.

Nearly a week into our crossing of Montana’s boundless wheat fields and rangeland, the enormity of Big Sky Country has so far provided more than enough visual stimuli to hold at bay any regrets of not bringing our iPods. The one sight we could, however, do without is the steady stream of “Closed for the season” signs that adorn every museum we encounter, as well as many of the cafes and markets we hope to refuel in. Though we’ve yet to go hungry, and Wikipedia will surely fill in the gaps between historic markers, the closed establishments rob us of a place to warm up. And never was this more important than these past few days.

The landscape is dotted with abandoned, ruined and very photogenic farms.

The landscape is dotted with abandoned, ruined and very photogenic farms.

The mighty tailwinds we came to enjoy turned on us, delivering a clenched-fist jab to our left jaw, blowing us sideways, chilling us to the bone, and slowing our progress. Our days of casually rolling across 65 miles were over, at least for now. Instead, we had to make finding a warm place to stay the night a priority as temperatures dipped into the low 20s at night and, with wind chill factored in, seldom rising above freezing during the day.

Conveniently, the coldness of the early spring in Montana is no match for the warmth of its residents. Setting up our tent in the Chester community park, we were approached by a neighbor before we had even a single tent stake in the ground. She wanted us to know she’d be leaving her backdoor open all night in case we needed to go to the bathroom (the park’s restrooms were still closed for the winter). We ended up trading life’s stories until late at night over a six pack of beer. We then received tremendous hospitality from two Warm Showers hosts as we made our way from Chester to Havre and onward to Harlem, helping us avoid having to go to sleep clad in our rain gear and winter coats for extra warmth. Drinks and laughs with our hosts on Friday night, Lindsay and Mike, left us in great spirits and ready for a relaxing night with our Harlem host and her adorable little girl the next night. Genevieve cooked us the most delicious meal we’ve had since leaving Seattle then took us on a tour of the Fort Belknap Indian Agency, where she works.

Kristin and Ann, a lady who saw us setting up our tent in the park and invited us in to use her bathroom and hang out.

Kristin and Ann, a lady who saw us setting up our tent in the park and invited us in to use her bathroom and hang out.

Montana’s climate and season-based tourism industry has done its best to make us wish we delayed our departure — we’re told how crazy we are each day for riding in this weather — but we have no regrets. Thanks in large part to the hospitality and generosity of the people we’ve met these past few days.

Genevieve, our host in Harlem, made us a wonderful chicken and pasta dinner.

Genevieve, our host in Harlem, made us a wonderful chicken and pasta dinner.

Kristin and Genevieve's daughter Chloe matching up some Monopoly-themed coupons.

Kristin and Genevieve’s daughter Chloe matching up some Monopoly-themed coupons.

8 April, 2014

Conquering Sherman Pass and a Goat Udder

We have officially been out longer than ever before and are safe and sound in Eureka, MT. Over the past week, we have ridden in three states (WA, ID, and MT), cycled over our tallest mountain pass yet, and experienced 18 hours on a farm, helping out with both evening and early morning chores.

On Sunday morning, after a full day off in Republic, WA, doing laundry, route planning, and relaxing, we were off to conquer Sherman Pass at 5500 feet. The weather looked great with blue skies, even if the temperature was only in the upper 30s as we started. As we pedaled up the west slope of Sherman Pass, we both thought that the gradient wasn’t horrible and maybe this wouldn’t be the grueling day we dreaded. While the sunny spots were dry and awesome, the shaded spots were wet at best and icy at worst. There was one particular spot with a thick layer of ice across the road which was banked, sloping downward into oncoming traffic. Doug saw this section just as a large truck was coming the other way. Fortunately, he hopped off and was able to get traction to stand still while the truck passed. He had signaled me to get off and walk really carefully after the truck crossed. As we progressed upward, the slush got thicker and the snow started. Maybe this would be the epic day we dreaded if the road conditions worsened for the descent. Fortunately, the descent was on the east facing slope and the slush and ice had melted by the time we crested and were headed down. Phew, safe road conditions. Unfortunately, it was snowing/sleeting/raining as we descended which felt like needles in our eyes and cheeks but we made it down safely and rolled into the driveway of our much anticipated Warm Showers’ hosts around 4 p.m. to sunshine again.

We crested the pass into a snowstorm that quickly turned to sleet as we descended.

We crested the pass into a snowstorm that quickly turned to sleet as we descended. Not fun at 30mph!

Late last week, when we knew for sure that we were staying at a farm Sunday night I was giddy with excitement. I had high hopes and was not disappointed. After arriving, showering, and getting settled, one of the daughters, Ellie, asked if we wanted a tour of the farm. Doug and I were eager and an hour and a half later, we had “helped” milk a goat, fed horses, sheep, cows, calves, hogs, pot-bellied pigs, a Shetland pony, a donkey, more goats, and bottle fed six goat kids that were all less than a week old. I was in heaven.

Kristin with one of the baby sheep at the farm we stayed at in Colville, WA.

Kristin with one of the baby sheep at the farm we stayed at in Colville, WA.

This farm is certified to sell raw milk, so we were also able to see the process required to milk the cows according to this standard. Disinfecting the udder and using sterile containers are just a few of the steps that we were able to watch Claire, Ellie’s twin, take care of as we continued our tour. Another thing we saw and talked a lot about after dinner was that nothing goes to waste on the farm. The cow milk that wasn’t committed to customers was used to feed the goat kids as there is an enzyme in goat milk that can cause arthritis in goats. Future buyers of the goats prefer cow milk fed goats to prevent the possibility of them getting this enzyme and there is plenty of cow milk on the farm, approximately 7-8 gallons per day. The goat milk is used to make cheese. The hogs and bulls are slaughtered for food. The chicken eggs are eaten and sold. And many of the other animals are eventually purchased by other farms. This farm is known for the friendliness of their animals. All the animals we saw we could pet and be close to without fear of injury, as the family bottle-feeds every animal they get. That was great for us.

Kristin milking Taffy the goat (not pictured: Doug also milking Taffy)

Kristin milking Taffy the goat (not pictured: Doug also milking Taffy)

Ewe looking at me?

Ewe looking at me?

Beyond the mammals, we also saw their collection of birds, including an emu, peacock, peahen, guinea fowl, geese, chickens, and many others I can’t remember. We talked with Rachael, the third daughter, a lot about the birds, and got to see a collection of emu eggs, which are a dark green, large (about 4 inches long), thick walled eggs that is sat on by the male emu. We had so much fun Sunday evening with the animals that we got up early on Monday morning so we could help with the feedings in the morning. When we were done, Angie had breakfast waiting for her girls and us produced solely from the farm, including bacon, eggs, and potatoes. We continued talking and Angie offered for us to stay another day and we were so tempted, but the sun was shining and there was a dry spell in the forecast. This time of year we had to take advantage of that weather streak.

Ellie, Kristin, Angie, and Rachael. Half of the Barton family who hosted us in Colville.

Ellie, Kristin, Angie, and Rachael. Half of the Barton family who hosted us in Colville, WA.

Morning mist rising off the pasture.

Morning mist rising off the pasture.

Monday morning we rolled away somewhat sad that we didn’t stay, but so happy to have helped out and learned a ton about the various animals and activities on the farm. Be sure to click any of the photos to see the other photos we’ve added to our Pacific Northwest gallery on Flickr.

Doug rolling over the final few hills in Tobacco Valley to Eureka, MT.

Doug rolling over the final few hills in Tobacco Valley to Eureka, MT.