Helena-Park Lake-"Mile 174"-Butte


Sunday, July 27 (Day 14)


Helena (day off)


Helena Campground


Early morning temp = 54degF; hot and sunny til late afternoon; wind and dark clouds at dinner



Awake at 5:45 a.m. Whenever I am in Helena - this year, last year, 1993 - I am programed by the time of day and the weather to ooh and ahh at the pink clouds of dawn. I did.

[As I write, at 6:45 a.m., Canada geese squawk overhead...the first geese of the trip. The sun is just striking my tent. It portends a hot day.]

Bob and Sally, Al's tandem friends from the east coast, just finished the Adventure-Cycling-led trip of much of our route and had numerous comments to make about their trip (poorly designed itinerary) and suggestions for us (be wary of the directions to the meadow to "aim to the solitary fence on the right'). Plus a request to watch for their Therma-rests in that gear-eating-meadow. Bob and Sally also demonstrated their S&S Coupling on their tandem. I'm sold! My next steel touring bike will definitely have S&S coupling.

Anxious to again manipulate my tire set-up, Norm was kind enough to sell me his spare, more suited to the terrain than my Ritchey Speed Max. With a variety of Expert Opinions as to which tire should be on the front (the Z-Max or the "neutral" treaded tire)...the final verdict: The Z-max on the back (it had better "rear tire" tread) and the more neutral tire in the front. Again I was changing two tires...with considerable help from Bob and Paul. Maybe this combination would be the solution to my squirrely steering. [It helped enormously.]

A lazy Sunday around Helena. Everything downtown was closed! In the 90deg heat, Alan, Carl, and I wandered aimlessly through the historical area of Helena, looking for any place that was open. Our only success was the patio restaurant of a nearby hotel. We sat for a couple of hours, nibbling chips and downing rehydrating liquids.


Monday, July 28 (Day 15)


Helena to Park Lake


Park Lake (primitive) camping area (around the lake from the campground)


Sunny and hot



[As I write at 9 p.m. sitting among granite boulders along the waterline of Park Lake, the sun has slipped behind the ridge line, alabaster thunderheads tower in the eastern sky, and a fisherman floats serenely in his "fishing tube." Fish come to the surface around me, but I can't determine if the fishing is good for him. This is a beautiful place. It was worth the long hard day to get here, on a gravel road that wasn't so much steep as unrelentingly body and bike jarring. The sky is gold, pink and lavender. Oh - The fisherman just caught a fish.]

Leaving Helena at 9 a.m. - our usual late start, but after a stop at the grocery store for group meal provisions, and the bike store for spokes (Paul), and the camping goods store for campsuds (me), we weren't on the road until 11 a.m.

While parked outside of the bike shop (Great Divide Cyclery, an appropriate place for the Divide Ride Dogs to patronize), a woman walked by, followed by a medium sized dog with wheels for hind legs. She said the dog had been using this cart (with its legs strapped to it; they were not amputated) for nearly 8 years, and the dog could out-run her. There was something very special about this for me, an animal lover who had to have a most favorite German shepherd euthanized because of rear end paralysis - before these carts were available.

The route was a near constant uphill grind except for a short (all too short!) run through a rural housing area. Although the ambient temperature was comfortable, the sun beating on us on the dusty gravel road was desiccating. We went 27 miles, and it took all day long!

In the afternoon, it was a repeat pattern of pedal from one large shady spot to the next, stop, guzzle fluid, fight the slope to get going again, stop....

Tonight's dinner was my turn, with help from everyone. Teriyaki stir-fry veggies over rice. (Instant ride cooks quickly and is healthier than one might suspect.) And cookies.

Another duck has mysteriously appeared in front of Paul's tent. Stuck in the ground. A lawn duck. Noticed while Al, the perpetrator, was floating in the lake with Big Duck.


Tuesday, July 29 (Day 16)


Park Lake, through Basin to "Mile 174/Map Side B" along the Interstate


Informal camping (no services)


Early morning temp = 60degF; Drizzle and occasional rain for much of the day



Another day of riding for 7 hours to cover 30 miles! Each day I think I'll get into camp at a reasonable afternoon time - oh, say, maybe 3 p.m. or so, and each day there is some "interesting" road factor that prevents it. Today it was 4 1/2 miles of steep, slippery (it was drizzling) rough (rocky and invasive tree roots) single track following the Lava Mt. Trail where we mostly pushed our bikes up hill for 3 miles (at less than 2.5 mph) or held on to them for dear life so they wouldn't careen down hill with all of our worldly (touring) possessions. Probably for the best, it was cloudy and drizzly most of the day (until reaching Basin). Pushing the bike in the blazing sun of the past two days would have been unbearable. In spite of it all, we all were having a great time!

[As I write at 9:30 p.m., it's lightly raining and cars are zooming by on I-15 nearby. As Alan said, "We're at Hobo Jungle next to the Interstate."]

I wasn't able to really appreciate the scenery (again) as I was still working very hard to ride this bike. Each time I made a tire change I had to readjust myself to "Donkey" all over again. However, it was performing remarkably well, and I slowly gained confidence in what it can do, and what I could handle.

Many old mines were along Rte. 175. We could tell we were coming close to Basin (pop. = 200 people and 400 dogs, according to one town wag) when the houses were as close as every 1/2 mile.

Traveling into Basin along Cataract Creek was the high point of the day - it was very pleasant.

Basin is a small town, known for a small residential art colony and the medicinal aspects of the nearby radon health mines. Truly a case of making lemonade out of lemons. Who on earth conceived the idea that the dangerous radon mines could be marketed as health spas: a cure-all for arthritis, diabetes, heart problems, gout, thyroid disorders and anything else that might ail you? We wondered if Norm would agree that the effects were beneficial. We thought not.

Rosie's Cafe was our late lunch respite. All 7 of us wolfed down quite a bit of food (bold understatement). When Paul's chocolate shake arrived, it looked so good 3 more of us ordered them. Never mind that we all had other drinks ordered in addition to the shake. This to accompany burgers, soup, another type of drink, fries. Nothing especially healthy, but plates and glasses full of caloric energy! And post-chocolate-shake, I was cold, so topped off my meal with hot tea.

Except for another push of bikes uphill along I-15, the route from Basin to our "guerrilla camping area" was uneventful. Shortly out of Basin we were directed to a "non-maintained cattle access road." Well, if this were a non-maintained road, I'd like to see what a "maintained" road was. This road, for being an access road was in A-1 secondary road condition. A pleasure to ride.

A new batch of thundershowers moved through. At the short tunnel, it was so dark and difficult to ascertain the road surface, I (and others) walked through rather than try to ride. A walking adventure. Fortunately the light at the end wasn't a vehicle coming the other way.

We've been lucky with our weather - in 2-1/2 weeks of riding, only a couple of drizzly days, and not during critical riding times. Maybe I'm no longer the Rain Goddess.


Wednesday, July 30 (Day 17)


Mile 174 to Butte


Butte KOA


Early morning temp = 48degF; sunny and pleasant; evening windstorm with some rain.



Seemed drizzly when I awoke, but it was only foggy with drippy trees. We are well settled into the role of a commune of 7, migrating through Montana. No doubt seen by others as itinerant vagrants, what with each of us looking like a tinker's wagon of old, all of our possessions packed in, or strapped on, our bikes. No one would believe that we all have Real Jobs.

Right out of camp a map narrative of "pop up to better road" had us pushing our bikes. We have determined the subtle nuances of language used by Adventure Cycling in their descriptions. Phrases such as: pop-up; extremely steep; very steep all translate to: "walk your bike." The comment "walk your bike" would better translate: "walking will be a challenge. Beware."

Our goal today - Butte, only 20 miles away. Most of us wanted to stop in Butte as a semi-rest day and to sightsee. Alan had suggested it originally, I believe. A good idea. I was bone weary and thrilled to see an asphalt road! And even complacent about pedaling the interstate.

The head wind prior to reaching the freeway, and general downhill into Butte against it seemed daunting. My legs were mush. I desperately needed a few days off the bike for muscle recovery. Rather than getting better and better over the past 2 1/2 weeks of cycling, I seemed to be getting worse and worse. My injury and time off the bike extracted a greater toll than I expected.

[As I write, here in the Butte KOA - a rather nice place, our spot on the grass under the willow grove - cars continue to arrive at 10:30p.m. This place is packed full with RV's and tents. Getting our spot prior to noon was fortunate. Tom and Melissa, were again successful in their site selection process.]

At the scenic overlook prior to the drop into Butte, we began a conversation with a woman who was there enjoying the view, "for stress relief" ("to keep from killing my secretary," she commented). She (Cathy) gave us a rapid oral history of Butte, pointing out the Berkeley Pit, the sequence of ores taken from the mines in the area (ending with the highly profitable copper), the Lady of the Rockies statue on the mountain overlooking Butte, and a bit of her own history.

Prior to pushing off down the hill, I asked if the java carts of Seattle had migrated east to Butte, and she indicated that the KOA had an on-site espresso cart . Yes! (Unlike some tourers of my acquaintance, while I enjoy a morning cafe latte ("go juice" as a friend calls it), I don't carry a small espresso maker, nor is a latte critical to my life...it's just nice to have.)

After pitching my tent (the sky had an ominous look to it - and in situations like that, I don't do ANYTHING prior to getting my mobile home in order), I walked over to the Java Cart. Imagine my surprise and delight (I nearly squealed...) when the proprietress said that all of our coffee drinks were free. "Huh?" Cathy had called ahead and said "the lattes for the colorful cyclists are on me" and "put them on a tab," she would pick it up. What an incredibly thoughtful thing to do! Prior to leaving Butte, I found a postcard of a scenic view with the accompanying appriopirate phrase, "Stress Relief," which we all signed and mailed off.

I was on a mission to get my bike washed. It was layers deep in mud, sand, and dirt. The KOA was accommodating - getting me a hose, hauling it off to an unused hose-bid, and giving us space to create The Great Divide Bike Wash. I think every bike received a Wednesday afternoon bath.

With the brand new Butte Visitor Center co-located with the KOA, we were close to the start point of the Trolley Car Tour of Butte. For a mere $4, we received a grand 1.5 hr. tour, complete with visits to the Berkeley Pit, the World Mining Museum, Montana School of Mines (all Montana universities have a large white rock "M" on a hill nearby), and many turns through the older downtown area, complete with Victorian homes in various states of (dis)repair and livability. The admission fee to the Museum alone was greater than our $4 trolley ticket. It was a bargain even at twice the price!

I hadn't realized that Butte was the original Superfund environmental cleanup site. Nor did I understand, then, the degree of pollution rampant throughout the county.

A friendly local camped at the KOA gave us dining information for the evening (he recommended two Mexican restaurants) and advice as to where to eat for our final trip meal upon our return to Butte. Mexican food was definitely on our minds for this dinner.

[I think I've been somewhat dehydrated the past few days, in spite of my Camelbak guzzling. Perhaps this could account for my mushy legs. Or perhaps I'm just looking for excuses.]

The small rain shower around noon returned in the evening - with avengeance. It was preceded by very strong winds whipping through the campground. After 20-30 min. the winds stopped, and a light rain continued. Out of my tent I heard the hammering of stakes. I thought it sounded like Paul's mallet. Odd. I thought he had staked out his tent. I fell asleep to the tap tap tapping of pegs being firmly whomped into the ground.

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

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