Holland Lake-Seeley Lake-Big Nelson Lake


Monday, July 21 (Day 8)


Holland Lake to Seeley Lake (some "off route")


Big Larch F.S. Campground at Seeley Lake


Early morning temp = 53degF; sunny; raging fast-moving thunderstorm late in the evening.



Up and out of my tent at 6:15 to take dawn pictures of the snowy peaks painted gold by the rising sun.

Holland Lake was so appealing that I was reticent to leave immediately. A trail to a waterfall was promoted as being quite beautiful as it wandered the edge of the lake. Rather than dash off on my bike, I modified my biking route to optimize time at the lake. Although Melissa and Tom left early to ride the off-road route (which included some very gnarly areas of single track and downed trees, a lake for swimming [Clearwater Lake], and some steep drop-offs) the rest of us went for a hike. Misjudging a turn in our trek along the path, as we never did see the glorious waterfall alluded to by the sounds of crashing water. The short cascade of water near the lake edge seemed, at first, to be the source of the sound. But as the trail turned into a mass of tangled shrubbery, we determined that we had missed a pivotal turn. The view across the lake was lovely and it was a nice hike.

Leaving Holland Lake, Al and Paul followed Melissa and Tom's off-road route while the rest of us followed the route onto Owl Creek Loop Road, where we pedaled through fields of butterflies - sulfurs, swallowtails (tiger and zebra), morning cloak look-alikes, and a number of varieties which I could not identify from my youthful collecting hobby. Unafraid, they rested on me, reticent to fly off. Colorful exclamation points above the wildflowers touched by the colors of a full crayon box.

Next thing we knew, the road looped us off-dirt at the highway toward Seeley Lake.

The Swan River Valley, which we were riding through, was simply beautiful. Mountains and forests were on each side. It would be difficult to create a more appealing route. It was obvious why the annual bike Tour of the Swan River Valley (TOSRV-west) is so popular.

This is an on-going Hatfield & McCoy war between Buck and Duck. Or perhaps between their owners. Paul thought Melissa wanted to drown Duck in Clearwater lake. I believe that Paul had "let's see if Buck swims" designs on Buck.

We've seen numerous cyclists touring the Adventure Cycling Association maps, quite a few doing the Great Divide, including a group from Florida. "How do you train for a trip like this," I wondered. "You don't. You just start doing it." Two older men with their grandsons toured with B.O.B. trailers.until they arrived at Seeley Lake. During one tricky down hill section, one of the B.O.Bs fishtailed or cartwheeled, tossing its young rider off his bike. I shuddered at the extent of his raw road-rash streaking along the length of his leg. These riders had had enough problems with the B.O.B.'s that all four of them were shipped home, the cyclists reverting to a less weighty continuation of their trip.

A fast moving thunder and wind storm raged across Seeley Lake about 10 p.m. One hell-roaring storm, it was awesome how fast these mountain storms build, move in, and move out. At 7 p.m., the sky was clear and blue. Later a number of us noticed lightning in the far northwest sky and settled in at the beach to watch nature's fireworks. Leaping finger flashes reaching cloud-to-cloud a la Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, bolts probing the ground, and horizon-encompassing winks of light. I was transfixed, sitting until the wind began to shoot rain drops at us.

I dove into my tent just as the storm moved overhead. My flashlight bulb decided that "enough was enough" and chose that moment to expire. With each flash of lightning, I managed to get myself organized in my tent; even taking care of my contact lenses. The concomitant thunder reassured me that the lightning hadn't used my aluminum tent poles as a quick way to ground. (Yes, I know, we were in a forest and a lightning strike on my tent was extremely unlikely. Nevertheless....)


Tuesday, July 22 (Day 9)


Seeley Lake (day off)


Big Larch FS Campground





Loons! I awoke very early (5 a.m. or so) to their call. Not the mournful mating call, but the alternate chatty call that I first heard at Summit Lake in Alaska. Seeley Lake is a prime (and protected) nesting area for the common loon, and although I didn't spot any, they were all about.

At 7:30 a.m. sunny Seeley Lake was swiftly becoming clothed in a Brigadoon mist, gently cloaking the fishing boat sliding away from its mooring. Within minutes the lake was invisible under the morning fog.

A lazy day hanging around. Eight of us lounged through breakfast at the local cafe until 9:30 am. Alan, as was his custom, skipped breakfast.

The local laundry/shower became our social center, along with the other bikers and campers coming through town. Like peoples in other places who gather at the river to beat their clothes clean on rocks, we gathered to feed quarters into the modern rock and washboard equivalents. Al and I developed an arrangement of sharing the cost and effort for this chore. Together our dirty clothes make for a full load.

A calorie/fat laden lunch at the Ice Cream Parlor. My, I've downed a great deal of ice cream on this trip! Town consisted of a two mile stretch along Route 83, and I rode back and forth a number of times, succumbing to my ice cream desires nearly each time I passed that beckoning parlor. Fortunately my exercise level was as high as my will power was low.

There was a squashed turtle on the road today. Many of us saw it and commented about it. For some reason, it seemed sadder than the average flattened chipmunk. Perhaps because turtles move so slowly. I could identify with it.

[As I write, it's 85degF and I'm sitting along the shore of Seeley Lake at 4:45 p.m. The west wind is picking up. The sky is cloud free, and the squeals of delight of the children playing in the water hang on the wind, joined by raucous laughter of the adult group to my left. A few motorboats are dragging skiers. Paul strides purposefully into the water, joining Melissa. I'm still land-bound because of my wound.)

After we rotated through for our late afternoon showers (ANOTHER trip to the laundromat where there was one men's shower and one women's), we converged on the Woodland Rose for dinner. Ooops. They were out of enough food for all of us. Then on to Lindy's Steak House. We're mostly vegetarian types. So what's wrong with this picture? After seeing the large wooden plank menu consisting of only steaks, and getting our water set-ups, we mumbled and fumbled and generated the courage to slink out (after leaving a few dollars on the table for their trouble). All of us out the door and giggling, Alan commented, "Band of homeless marauding middle-aged cycling ne'er-do-wells terrorize town." Dinner was back at The Filing Station, a repeat of last night. At least we knew what the menu offered.

Carl and I bought Paul a large yellow inflatable duck to substitute for Duck. Paul commented earlier that "Duck gets bigger with altitude gain," and we've certainly gained some altitude. Duck should grow. Simple. Didn't know when we would pull this off...Paul has become very protective of Duck.


Wednesday, July 23 (Day 10)


Seeley Lake to Big Nelson FS Campground


Big Nelson Campground


Early morning temp = 44degF (cold clear night last night); sunny


48.7 (total trip mileage to date [not including any walking of bike] - 418)

Up early for breakfast in anticipation of a predicted hot day (90degF).

Elkhorn Cafe got us again - all nine this time. I was there by 7:15, and Alan and Carl shortly thereafter. We had "work" to do - setting up Paul's new duck. We arranged with our waitress to store it in the kitchen until time for the deceptive deed of swapping the big blow up duck for Duck (aka Duckie). We even planned so far as coercing Ann into a particular seat in the booth so Paul would sit facing away from the window that would have allowed him to keep an eye on his bike. Ever careful in our work, we crawled around the outside of the restaurant lowering an awning-type shade to further hide our antics. We garnered a few peculiar glances from diners watching us cavort just beyond their window.

When Paul first got to his bike, he didn't even notice! But when he did, he was pleased and allowed as to how he had considered buying it himself. The new duck (Big Duck) was stowed in a place of honor on "Binkey" (Paul's bike), along with Duck. As Al pointed out, "Paul is developing a flotilla of ducks." (Three so far: Duck, Emergency Back-up Duck which hangs from a tie off the handlebar bag, and Big Duck.)

We're on Cottonwood Lakes Road. Again, swarms of butterflies. Shanley Creek was along side of me, looking more like a big river or long narrow lake. The fireweed was half bloomed out as it danced in the breeze along the sides of the road.

It was another day of beautiful scenery with warm sunny weather. And relatively easy riding - unless you were Norm, Carl, and Alan.

Ovando is a small Montana town that came to importance during gold mining days, and has reverted back to a very small community. We spent some tourist dollars at the Blackfoot Commercial Store and B&B (a very nicely appointed and refurbished B&B; it would be a wonderful place to stay for a week). When we arrived, Al and I, we wondered, when we saw Melissa and Tom (who had left all of us in the dust quite some time previously) why Alan, Carl and Norm hadn't stopped in town, or waited for us anywhere along the way. It was a puzzlement, as they had been in front of us, and today we regrouped at rest stops. I pedaled up the hill east out of town to "Trixie's" (not what you think...it is a restaurant, mostly) to see if they might there instead of in "town." Nope.

After an hour or so for lunch and conversation with the managers of the Blackfoot Commercial Store, Al, Paul, Ann and I cycled back to the main road to pick up the route. Who should appear but the wayward threesome who, through strange navigational shenanigans, had worked hard to make a wrong turn to do "trail research" up a very long, very steep look-out road. One wonders who was following whom on that sheep-like venture.

I shouldn't laugh too long and hard, nor cast many aspersions, as I bypassed the Big Nelson Lake turnoff from the main road not once, but TWICE. First Al had to chase me a ways downhill, as I was rather far off the front enjoying my new (and short term) position with the pack. As I was pedaling my return route up the rise, Al stopped to rectify a chain problem. A few morning's previously his chain broke, and in mending it, he removed a link. At the time he admonished himself, out loud, to remember "to stay out of the big/big combination." He forgot. Paul continued down the hill to help him. (Ann was already well established on the correct road.) On my way past the turnoff the second time, Al told Paul, "It's YOUR turn to go get her." And Paul did - and in good spirits. Eventually I was shown the correct route, not without well-deserved aspersions regarding my own navigational abilities.

Big Nelson Lake is a small scenic and secluded lake. There is also a rather steep hill into the campground. Not really how you want to end a long hot day of cycling. Perhaps it was more difficult due to the flat tire that I was developing on the way up the hill. The campground had only six sites, none of which had enough flat real estate for more than one or two tents. We needed three sites to get ourselves situated, and even then, Carl and Norm were up on the flat parking area away from the lake, and Tom was way off in the trees - with Alan's tent as "guardian of the neighborhood." They didn't want riff-raff like our kind trespassing.

Not only did the lake give us water (filtered), it was here that Al instructed us in the fine art of floating, quite successfully, using two inflated bike tubes. From past experience he had determined that one wasn't enough.

It was here, that Carl again demonstrated his gift of gab. His mission: Get the folks in the next campsite (with their vehicle) to pack out our garbage (a big issue for nine people on bikes). Should he just go over an say, "Hey, folks, wanna pack out the garbage that we just created in making dinner?" No, that would be crass. Not Carl's style. Instead, he began chatting and chatting and chatting and more chatting. Back at our cooking table we began to whisper, "Has he asked them yet? What's he talking about? What's taking him so long?" Carl was making friends. Yes, they would be pleased (pleased??? did he bribe them or what?) to take our garbage the next morning. And additionally, would we like to watch as they and their children shot off fireworks over the lake this evening? Fireworks? In a campground? That's highly illegal in my area, but perhaps Montana is different.

Chefs Melissa and Tom prepared spaghetti, with a healthful appetizer of carrots. They had the forethought to stop at Trixie's and buy loaves of bread and the makings for garlic bread. (Mix butter, basil, oregano and garlic in a frying pan. "Sauté" the top of each slice.) For dessert, we reverted back to our childhood and ate s'mores, marshmallows lovingly toasted, or charred with pyromaniacal abandon (me), over the Peak One stove.

Our wildlife list was still skimpy. Plenty of deer. Merganser ducks on Big Nelson Lake, and a slew of chipmunks stealing food from the tables.

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

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