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back to Days 59 - 64

Finding Wisdom in Wisdom - Coast To Coast 1999 by Eric K. Andersen

It was the 63rd day of my cross country bicycle trip. I had pedalled over 3400 miles from my hometown on the banks of the Hudson River across from New York City before I had my first breakdown in Jackson in the heart of the Big Hole Valley of Montana. I spent the previous day soaking in the hot spring pool, reading, talking to the locals and watching farm equipment get lifted off a flatbed truck while I waited for a part to be delivered. That was the excitement for the day in this town of less than 100 people in one of the last true cowboy regions left in Montana. It was a great place to be holed up.

At 1:30pm the mail came with the part for my bicycle trailer hitch. I needed to drill a hole in it so I took it to the garage. I borrowed some tools, fixed the trailer and bought the guys at the garage a six pack. Then I began the 18 mile ride to Wisdom into a strong headwind. The valley was beautiful. The mountains still had snow on them and the valley stretched on as far as the eye could see. Herds of cows munched on the tall grass and jumped to their feet as I surprised them when I passed.

The mosquitoes were quick to find me when I got to Wisdom so I went into a cafe to have an early dinner and decide what to do. I could stay in town for the night or start the 26 mile 1000 ft. climb up to the Continental Divide. I could hear my mother saying "stay here, I'll pay for a motel room," but I was on the Lewis & Clark Trail and they wouldn't stop at 4:30.

The grassland was flooded (the source of the mosquitoes) and the wind continued to blow as I crossed the valley towards the mountains. The gusts had me going as slow as 5 mph. At this slow pace I would never make it to the pass before sundown. I might have to find a place to camp along the way. After a short climb, sage brush appeared which later gave way to meadows of wildflowers. The wind continued to be strong as I made my way towards the trees ahead. I hoped once I reached trees the winds would be diminished by the tall pines. After 10 miles I reached the trees and the start of the climb. I rewarded myself with a short rest and a candy bar. The road ascended gradually through the thick lodgepole forest that made the mountains appear as if they were covered with thick, green, velvet. There were few cars and trucks on the road and the wind had disappeared.

After another 8 miles I had to make another decision. I could stay on the main road that climbed to over 7200 ft. before dropping sharply into the next valley or take a dirt road to Gibbons Pass that was 3 miles closer and only climbed to 6900 ft. I could hear my Mom saying "stay on the main road, I'll buy you dinner," so naturally I chose the dirt road. The chances of finding wildlife (or it finding me) would be greater and there would be no traffic. Besides, I was on an adventure.

The road twisted and turned along the edge of the valley. Thick, dark, seemingly impenetrable woods were on my right. A beautiful, wide, flower covered meadow was on my left. Later the road met a swift flowing stream. It's waters beginning the long journey to the Atlantic watershed. I passed through a large, bleak, fire damaged area. There was a stark beauty in the devastation with new green growth taking hold in the charred, dark ground.

It was 8:30 and the sun was still out as I reached the divide. It would be all downhill from here to the town of Sula, my resting place for the night. This would be the ninth and last time I crossed the divide on my journey to the Pacific Ocean. From now on, rivers would be moving towards the Pacific Ocean just as I was.

I started carefully down the steep road never going more than 10 mph on the rocky grade. The road clung to the side of the mountain and at times was cut out of the side of the steep slope. The trees gave way to grass and suddenly there were cows on the road. I whooped and hollered at them as I came towards them. As I approached, their "moos" broke the quiet and mother cows scrambled to round up their stray calves, herding them out of the way up the steep mountain side. Now I had to dodge cow pies as well as rocks with my bicycle. I rounded another bend only to find another wall of beef on the road. They too scattered as I noisily approached.

I could see the main highway far below as the road rounded another bend. I heard a howl come from the valley and suddenly the air filled with the sound of coyotes yipping as the sun hid behind a mountain. Just as I reached the end of the dirt road I saw the white rump of a deer as it crossed the road and leapt up the mountain. I reached pavement and after a mile or so of riding in the dark I found a campground and got a cabin for the night. It was 10pm.


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