Butte-Beaver Dam-Elkhorn Hot Springs


Thursday, July 31 (Day 18)


Butte to Beaver Dam Campground


Beaver Dam Campground


Early morning temp = 51degF; sunny, then partly cloudy; afternoon t- storm



We found out about the tent stake hammering. A very large home in the shape of a tent appeared at camp during dinner, with the residents seeming to have all of their worldly possessions with them, stashed in large plastic coolers - consuming most of the real estate of their sports utility vehicle. According to Al, who was pitched nearby, during the windstorm, their tent, with them inside, moved inexorably southward toward a large bbq grill-on-a-pole.

We got our usual 9:15 start. The raging wind and short lived storm of last night was long gone.

Wending our way out of town, my bike was ticking worse than yesterday. Very unnerving! And nothing that Paul or Alan did seemed to make a difference. In a way that was comforting - it wasn't a headset problem. Not a drive train problem, although it was too regular not to be related somehow to pedaling. Cranks were okay. Chain was fine. A puzzlement. Alan rode it briefly and commented that I was carrying far less weight than he was, and became even more convinced that he was enamored with the carbon frame.

We met a Scottish family along the road shortly out of Butte. They had begun on the east coast and were following the TransAmerica route to the west coast, with a diversion into Missoula to spend time with new cycling friends. Listening to Ann (who grew up in Scotland) and Paul (who has lived in England for the past 17 years) talk with them, it was if we had been "beam me up Scotty" transported to the UK. Old home week on a Montana highway.

[As I write at 9:30 p.m., it's only 53º in the tent. It will be a pretty chilly night. It's damp as a thunderstorm blew through about 4 p.m. Ann and Paul are yakking as they settle in. Everyone else is quiet. I'm pitched not-quite-far-enough-away from Snorer's Heaven. The creek rushes somewhere nearby.]

My pedaling strength was returning. This was a relatively easy day, except for the steep parts. Oh, it would be so nice to get into camp before 4-6 p.m. each day with time to just plop down and watch the world pass me by.

Ever-changing scenery today. Suburban Butte to deep forests, and after the crossing of the Divide, grand meadows of purple sage, and range cattle - which always look wary as I pass. Me too.

Lunch at Divide Crossing #4. I've learned to eat my lunch in a slightly different order than is usually promoted by the American Mothers' Association. My logic says "get the sugar fix in quickly so that when lunch is over, it's available while the rest of the meal digests and releases the longer acting carbos." So, first the Baby Ruth candy bar (most people wish they were eating dessert first anyway...), then the banana (or other fruit) and then the "healthy stuff."

Light showers, briefly. After much trouble shooting of bending, sliding around the ground on his back looking under my bike, and occasional forays of actual pedaling, Alan tracked down the solution to my creaky/squeaky bike . My Chain Watcher had migrated slightly toward the chain and was rubbing.

We were caught in the late afternoon thunderstorm just as we hit the I-15 underpass. Like trolls, we hunkered down and waited it out under the bridge as it moved through.

We've traveled uphill and moved out of the land of purple sage (perhaps we could do a recording and call ourselves [Bike]Riders of the Purple Sage) and into the elevation for Indian paintbrush. It was interesting how the foliage had changed over the past 30 miles from Butte (the long way) as we've passed in and out of forests and sage, ending again in a forest.

With a mile to go before I slept (with apologies to Frost), I was bonking. More sugar! The first agenda item in camp, even before pitching my tent, was to demolish my last Baby Ruth bar. This was a long slog up into camp.

Another day of arriving at camp about 6:30 p.m. after pedaling only 38 miles. A nice day of relatively gently uphills; a few steep "walkers"; not a "hard" day - just a long day.

Melissa cooked great couscous and stir-fried veggies, with Alan's assistance. In high spirits after dinner, with the end of the trip in sight, and no more "en camp" meals, with great silliness we ceremoniously lightened our panniers of decrepit group gear and unnecessary food. Into the trash can went the frying pan with the splitting handle. No one wants to carry the extra spices? Out they go! All these bajillion zip-locks? Keep some; dump the rest.\


Friday, August 1 (Day 19)


Beaver Dam Campground through The Meadow to Little Joe Campground (some went to Elkhorn Hot Springs)


Little Joe Campground


Early morning temp = 45degF; sunny until afternoon & evening thundershowers



Rufus garnered the red lantern, having arrived last into camp last night.

It was a grin up the meadow hill, full of wildflowers in blooming profusion. Ah the wildflowers! Purple daisy looking things (alpine asters); cow parsnip; dandelions; violet-y looking flowers; magenta something-else's, sego lilies. Although it seemed late in the year for such masses of flowers, Montana had a very late spring.

Not far along, we were off and pushing along the rutted cattle tracks, although this was a piece of cake compared to other uphill pushes. We didn't know whether to laugh or whine. So we did both. (Melissa and Tom were far ahead, probably biking rather than walking.) We were to "aim toward the solitary fence to the right, NEAR the top [not AT the top...an important distinction]" The view was beautiful. We were surrounded by grand vistas and mountains.

As five of us stood there by the solitary fence, who should we see in the distance, descending from the TOP of the hill line far away, but Tom and Melissa! Once again doing "...trail research..." for Adventure Cycling. There was great guffawing and unmerciful teasing when they arrived.

Sally and Bob, Al's friends, had warned us about the impending downhill through the meadow. They had asked us to watch for their Therma-rests which they had lost on their way down. The map advised, "extremely steep downhill...easier to negotiate and better footing if you push off trail and meander back and forth through the sage." It reminded me of trying to traverse a very mogul-y hill on skis...I can find myself higher up the hill on the traverse than when I started across! Keeping my bike upright was difficult as I hauled it back against the force of gravity through the knee-high stocky sage trunks (pannier grabbers) and rocks hidden with the flowers. Twice it fell, and twice I wasn't sure that I could get it both upright and pointed the correct direction. We were headed nearly straight down the fall line of the hill, toward Parker Creek. There was a perverse temptation to just let go of the bike (Al's constant admonition came to mind, "Don't fight the bike") and let it find its own way down the hill, and meet it at the bottom.

No amount of insect repellent seemed to deter the persistent flies. Slap slap slap.

On our way down, Alan, The Retriever of Lost Goods, found the innards of a pump (it turned out to be Tom's), and a Cool Tool. We didn't find Bob & Sally's Therma-rests, and Tom lost his on this same stretch. Al, near the bottom at the creek, had his Terry men's saddle break. As he said, the rest of the trip flashed disappointingly in front of his eyes - a bike without a saddle. Fortunately he was able to snap it back onto its frame.

Naturally, there were the requisite stream crossings that we'd come to expect. Parker Creek was more than just slosh across; we waded through it for a short bit. This day was Over the Woods and Through the River.

From the meadows we pedaled into forested ranch areas - we were pedaling through "A River Runs Through It" territory and one expected to see Robert Redford step out from the river bank, fly rod in hand.

At LaDucet Creek a friendly rancher, out sweeping gravel from his portion of the secondary road, gave us advice about places in Wise River to grab lunch. He allowed as to how the Wise River Club was the "least objectionable." Not a very strong recommendation, but better than nothing. I was amused at his efforts at being a human street-sweeper. We certainly appreciated it, but it must be an unending chore. He had just returned from a Hawaiian vacation and was catching up on the work. Across the road, a monstrosity of a "Montana Ranch House" on 40 acres was for sale - $795,000. Our street-sweeper friend said that the relatively new construction was lousy and therefore cost a small fortune to heat. None of us seemed inclined to race over and write a check, although the scenery in that small valley was captivating.

In Wise River, a small group of people living at the junction of a few roads, I mailed a final package home, including my handlebar bag crammed with everything that I could fit into it - things I neither wanted to bother with on the airplane nor was allowed to carry, like the bear spray - it had to be mailed. The Wise River post office closed for lunch. You knew you were in a small town when the post office closed at noon!

Melissa, Tom, Ann and Paul were anxious to experience Elkhorn Hot Springs and with their head start out of Wise River, preferring to pedal in the middle of the thunderstorm that was slowly crawling through, they got there and we didn't.

Instead, Al, Alan and I spent more than an hour in the Wise River Club (cafe/bar) chatting with each other, with patrons at the bar - us eyeing each newly arriving vehicle for a possible ride down the road. It turned out that the storm we had experienced at Seeley Lake last week left huge hail damage here.

An observation: our waitress here was wearing a Santa Catalina Island (CA) t-shirt, while I, from California, was wearing a Whitefish (MT) shirt.

I didn't want to leave until I could see a silhouette of the mountains toward which we were headed. It was socked in. But by the time we left, the t-storm was within minutes of passing us by. We pedaled off in nearly dry weather.

When Ann and Paul left, we could only guess at their riding experience into Elkhorn. (As it turned out, they were drenched, one of them had a flat tire along the way; once at Elkhorn the storm wiped out the power and they had to eat by flashlight. As I suspected at the time, they all didn't camp but got rooms at the Elkhorn Lodge. That's what I would have done too. An indoor camping experience.)

Range cattle roamed the roads as we rode. Not particularly bright, nor predictable, bolting from one side of the road to the other with apparently no thought at all., a lone bull with impressive horns eyed me as I tried to sneak by, giving him a very wide berth. Although his four legs remained firmly planted in one spot, his head swiveled menacingly as I went by.

At 7 p.m., we opted to stop and pitch camp before the next cloudburst which was imminent. We assumed the others would understand that we had the sense to "get in out of the rain" and would catch up the next day in Dillon, our final destination.

We cooked up our emergency meal (thanks to Jim for strongly suggesting that we each carry something) since among the three of us we had a stove, a pot, and food. By combining our larders, we nourished ourselves with au gratin potatoes and honey lime chicken (note for next time: take something that doesn't have to be cooked...just rehydrated in its own bag).

Seeking refuge from the rain, I retreated into my tent at 8:45 p.m. The rest of us were probably at Elkhorn Hot Springs, the first time we'd changed the itinerary of the trip. Elkhorn was 12 miles away, up a significant hill, and a transition from asphalt to gravel. We didn't think we could do it in the remaining daylight, even without factoring in the rain.

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Copyright Judith J. Colwell, 1997. All rights reserved.
Last Updated: May 14, 1998

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