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.
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.
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 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.
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.