Whitefish-Bigfork-Cedar Creek-Holland Lake


Thursday, July 17 (Day 4)


Whitefish to Bigfork (modification of route)


Timbers Motel & RV (tenting)


Early a.m. temp = 56 degF; drizzly and cloudy



We breakfasted "en camp" at the All You Can Eat breakfast buffet. I think it was the first time ever that I absolutely needed a knife to cut through a pancake. "Crusty" would an understatement of description.

Naturally, to get out of camp I had to struggle up the steep hill that I so blithely descended yesterday. However with my new knobby Z-Max front tire, I didn't go sliding all over the gravel. A nice change.

The Coffee Traders of Montana caught my eye yesterday (espresso) and was my immediate out-of-camp destination for a latte, and everyone joined in. Coffee Traders were one of the early coffee roasters in the country, around 1981 when there were about five roaster, predating Starbuck's by years; now there are more than 500. We overwhelmed them with 10 orders all at once. It was a trendy coffee place with beer making supplies on the second floor, no less. Caffeine or alcohol - take your pick. The manager was convivial and offered us a tour of the plant, where we learned about "robusta" being the hybrid coffee bean and of lesser quality than "aruba" (?), and the various roasts, from (light to dark) Light, Vienna, French and Italian. The darkness of the color depends upon how burnt the caramel sugar in the bean becomes during the roasting process. By the time we were ready to leave, a light rain began (we suspected it might as we awoke to cloudy skies).

[As I write, country & western music wafts up the hill to our RV tent site from the cowboy bar way in town. Although it is past 10:30, light sky slinks along the western horizon beneath the layers of stratus clouds. The weather report suggests possible heavy rain overnight.]

Our immediate destination was a bike shop at Columbia Falls, the Shay railroad engine on display in town, and the A&W on the other side of town "off route" for rootbeer floats. Dogs need their ice cream.

Once we were established southbound, Al, Traveling Dog (Southbound) (appropriately named) led us through the stair step maze sequence of roads paralleling the highway (which was said to have considerable construction) toward Bigfork. We maintained a relatively cohesive group all day, except for our two scouts - Melissa and Tom - who were generally off the front.

Actually, our scouts were VERY strong riders usually arriving in camp at least 30-90 minutes before anyone else (and securing primo camping sites for us). Then a group of 3 or 4 strong riders. Then the rest of the pack (some of whom chose to ride "sweep" instead of being in the faster groups). No one rode unintentionally rode alone. Usually, no matter how fast you were (or weren't) going, there was always another rider easily in sight. (Safer that way in grizzly country.)

To the east, as we meandered south, the mountains rose up, hoarding gray clouds. On the hillside above Blackmoor Lane, a herd of llama sat, regal with their necks extended, heads alert, watching, backlit by the developing gray clouds.

We pedaled through the cherry orchards, indigenous to this area of Montana (with a bumper crop of cherries this year). I waved to an elderly gentlemen high up on his rickety wooden ladder, bucket in hand, as he picked at his cherry tree, simultaneously popping cherries in his mouth and into the dented galvanized bucket dangling from a rung.

Today's ride was flat, but my new knobbier tire added an extra challenge to my conditioning.

Afternoon rains cleared and we could see what seemed to be our route, marked in yellow arrows on the road. Was this the route of TOSRV (bike Tour of the Swan River Valley)? Did I plan this well or what? Even directional arrows on the road. Oddly enough,no one believed that I had arranged to have the road marked. I wonder why....

Coming into Bigfork, we traversed the old steel girder bridge across the Swan River. This bridge had history! And character. It was bumpy and narrow - a bridge of early Montana and was to be torn down within days of our crossing, making way for a New Improved Bridge.

The property owner behind our tenting area at the motel/rv park introduced us to his dogs (how could he have known that we were a bunch of dogs?) and began chatting. Immediately he wanted to know if anyone wanted to buy a B.O.B. trailer, as he had one on consignment - a cyclist was doing the GDMTR was disgusted with the B.O.B. [Later we were to meet a party of four, all of whom had shipped their B.O.B.s home because of the problems on steep single-track downhills.]

After pitching our tents and getting our laundry up, on a variety of lines strung between the lodgepole pines, we had all the flavor and appearance of an instant and wandering commune. We surely didn't look like a group that had gainful employment in our other lives.

Today Melissa, after her shower, found Buck noosed by his neck hanging high in a tree, Jim grinning in self-satisfaction. Later, Melissa's Revenge! With a mighty swing of the rope, George was dangling by his ankle, 15 ft. above ground.

During the day, Alan carried the red lantern (last into camp, no matter what the reason), but after the ride today, passed it to Carl, although I was off the back most of the day. It was nice back there.

We had a sumptuous dinner at an Italian restaurant - all ten of us. The birthplace of Corky, Carl's mascot.


Friday, July 18 (Day 5)


Wandering around Bigfork


Timbers Motel/RV (tenting)


Early a.m. temp = 58F; pleasant weather


A couple

[As I write at 4 p.m., Al and I are sharing a picnic table along the lake shore (Flathead Lake) as we each write and watch boaters launch their crafts. Motorboats whine in the background, ruining the rhythmic lapping of the waves. It's a sunny 80ºF day. Sitting here by the lake is most relaxing. ]

A lazy arising - I needed this day off. I crawled out of my tent - Jim was up and sitting at a picnic table, maps and food in front of him. I joined him for a few minutes prior to heading off to the shower. We chatted, and for some reason, after last night's hanging of mascots(Rufus was never noosed, but remained in his tent-guarding stance) I glanced up at the diagonal rope angling from The Hanging Tree to see what might be up there this morning. Just a casual glance. A non-thinking glance. A "probably nothing there" glance. Wrong! Swaying in the slight breeze was my newly washed, formerly hanging on the clothesline, black bra. I just started to giggle, and chortle, and belly laugh, and at 7:30 a.m. awoke everyone who wasn't already awake primed for my reaction. In attempting to extract it from its roost, the rope came down and the bra stayed, swinging at the end of a short dead limb, 12 ft. up. Everyone watching was in convultions, me most of all. Melissa and I were laughing so hard we couldn't move. Alan mentioned later that he didn't know I could laugh so hard and long. I was ready to consign the bra to future generations at the campsite, but Jim managed to retrieve it by throwing a small "log" up, breaking the branch and bringing down the whole works.

Corky, Carl's mascot (of sorts...Corky's previous life was guarding a bottle of fine red wine) was also in on the fun and he (it) spent some time dangling also.

Bigfork, with all of its the artsy shoppes, is a cutesy town that would fit well in California. Also, it is in the heart of huckleberry country - perfect! A local confectionery had the good sense to give free samples of their candies and sauces and purchased a jar of chocolate/huckleberry dessert sauce. I knew I would find a good use for it.

At 6:30 Al and I queued up at the summer playhouse to try to obtain 10 tickets to a sold-out performance of "Big River." Successful. Tickets were $18, and 1/2 price for "SRO" seating on the stairs. (I wonder what the fire marshal said about that.)


Saturday, July 19 (Day 6)


Bigfork to near Cedar Creek (some "off route")


Behind the fire crew quarters


Rain at sunrise; cloudy and threatening much of the day with occasional light showers until 5 p.m.



Jim left the trip this morning. A family emergency. What a bummer! Our group had jelled nicely. With Jim leaving, there was the usual re-sorting of the dynamics. He was missed! Al took over the group food/group gear responsibilities, and Paul became the group money handler.

After rain through breakfast, it became an acceptable riding day. Melissa and Tom rode the "as printed" route for the whole day, while the rest of us gave the early "gratuitous hill" a miss. I was stressed yesterday about today's steep climb out of Ferndale, and yet it was Alan who astutely pointed out that there was an "off-dirt" (Al's phrase) alternative. Duh. What a concept! We didn't have to follow the published route exactly.

Seven of us took Hwy. 83 down to the 10229 cut-off south of Swan Lake, putting us back on route.

FS road 10229 was significantly more "technical" than I have done - sloshing through puddles the width of the road, slippery rocks, and landscape rises. I was still far down on the mt. biking learning curve. But learning, nonetheless. Al began giving me advice after watching me careen all over the road. As he said, he was "protecting the group's interest as you are the only leader left." (Since Jim had left.)

What with doing my singsong monologue for grizzly bear avoidance (when there is no one else in "rescue me" range) and watching every inch of the road (which was wet and often double track) I didn't get much sightseeing in.

Cedar Creek campground, our intended stop was a mud hole. Melissa and Tom weren't around, but we all converged, fortuitiously, at the highway as they returned from a camping area north, looking for us.

We were in the midst of a "cycling adventure" (e.g. things don't go as planned). Carl, who could probably talk us into, or out of, anything we needed, was sent to acquire permission to camp on the lush green grounds of the forest fire crew quarters, across the street from where we pondered our "where will we camp?" situation. Carl was able to procure us space on the grounds, behind the buildings. The old wooden pit toilet structure was adequate (the yellow triangle placed nearby indicated "in use"), water was available from a hose bib, and we hung food because of squirrels and other small mammals, not bears (although black bears had wandered through earlier in the summer).

Dinner - pasta primavera cooked by Alan, with me as Chef's Minion, pumpernickel bread, and for dessert (my contribution), pound cake covered with thawed strawberries and drizzled with the chocolate/huckleberry sauce - slightly warmed. We provided a pretty good group dinner if I do say so myself.

The dogs in the nearby residences joined the howling of the coyotes as I drifted off to sleep to the drips of light rain on the tent.


Sunday, July 20 (Day 7)


Cedar Creek area to Holland Lake (some "off route")


Holland Lake campground


Early a.m. temp. = 56ºF; generally sunny until afternoon



Early morning in my tent: the sounds a woodpecker intent on felling a telephone pole; the pervasive buzzing of mosquitoes; crisp cadence calls from the youth work camp 1/2 mile up the road; the crisp smell of rain scrubbed air.

Butterflies surrounded me and teased me along the road as they flitted just ahead. My butterfly experience paled in comparison to Alan's "large dark animal in the road" experience. He "laid rubber in a hurry since I didn't know what it was," other than big and dark. Hand ready to pull the safety from the bear spray can, elk wasn't his primary assumption. Following the "large dark object" across the road was an elk calf.

More technical mt. biking experience today. Double track with puddles, downed saplings, more gravel and unimproved roads. The grades were tough, but do-able. At mid-afternoon at a fire road junction, Alan, Carl and I opted for the off-dirt alternative to minimize slippery riding as we eyed the weather coming over the mountains. The views along our route of the snow-capped Mission Mt. Range to the west were breathtaking. Had we been "on-dirt" instead of "on-road," we would have been in the middle of it instead of viewing it. The late Montana spring had left deep unmelted snow on the mountains.

At Condon, 27 feet of snow accumulated this winter from daily snowstorms from October through May 1st, explaining the deep drifts still blanketing the mountain peaks and the high water in the creeks. I grabbed food and a long hot shower ($3). And sat at the small market lunch counter for quite some time. Heavy rain never materialized at our level and we mused as to how our companions were doing up on the gravel tracks.

At Holland Lake, Melissa and Tom had already procured a wonderful campsite right along the Lake, beautifully set off by those Mission Mountains to the west.

Lo and behold! As I was sitting at the table, musing on whether I had paid the proper fee for our double group campsite, and patching a tube - again - a vehicle drove up. I thought, "Uh oh, the ranger wants more money from us." A smiling man got out of his van waving some kind of chain and tag around his neck and asked "Are you Judy?" "Er, well, yes," I said, thinking, "Who on earth are YOU?" Nothing clicked. He mentioned something about "Hang Dog" and still I was still focused on "ranger and money." But the brain finally kicked into high gear and I gathered my wits together (some of them apparently scattered through the tent last night and were lost) and realized who this man and woman with him were. Dave and Lou Ann Gay from Eureka, our internet friends and information source! Incredible! Based on our itinerary they had driven 2.5 hours from Eureka on the off-chance that they might run into us at Holland Lake, Bearing gifts, no less. (A cooler of iced bottles of beer - which we well appreciated.) They had time enough to join us for dinner (at the lodge...another meal "out"). This was particularly special inasmuch as Lou Ann was recuperating from a near-death bicycling accident; she was hit from behind by a car while they were cycling across Iowa toward their North Carolina destination. Her helmet, which she had with her, was impressively shredded, held together by the internal plastic frame.

Ethereal, the full moon over the lake shined blazing white into my tent during the middle of the night.

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

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