Riding to Rest & Relaxation – Wednesday 8th to Thursday 9th June
Wednesday 8th June – Dillon to Whitehall (Stage 32)
We woke to overcast skies which threatened rain at some point in the morning. After a continental breakfast from the hotel, we took our time packing & set off just before 10am. We left town with a thank you for visiting message & a reminder that Dillon has an Army National Guard Recruitment office!
Route 41 is advertised at regular intervals along the road as the Auto Tourist Route & it was clearly designed by a non-cyclist! While it took us through stunning scenery, there was nowhere for cyclists to ride. Unlike every other road so far, there was no hard shoulder for large parts of the route & a couple of locals enjoyed driving closer than was necessary.
We had glorious views of the towering mountains on either side of us as we cycled towards our first Historical Point of the day – Beaverhead Rock State Park. If you look at the 3rd photo, you may be able to picture a beaver’s head as if gliding across water. Lewis & Clark passed through here on their adventures & learned that the local Indian name for the rock translated as Beaverhead.
Leaving Beaverhead Rock behind us, we found our next Historic Marker around the corner – the National Sandhill Crane Nesting Site, which had a lifelike sculpture of two cranes. We could just make out a flock of birds in the distance, although we couldn’t tell what they were. This wetland site has been rescued by Montana Department of Transportation & now boasts a diverse range of wildlife.
As we continued towards Twin Bridges, we were also fortunate enough to spot an eagle perched in a tree, as well as a couple of herons / cranes that were feeding in a nearby field. The photos aren’t great, but they’re a great reminder of seeing them.
We also passed a couple of fishing lakes along the way, with majestic mountains behind them providing a glorious backdrop. In addition to today’s ride gradually descending the Beaverhead valley, we also picked up a slight tailwind just before we entered Twin Bridges – this boded well as the remainder of our ride was due to follow the same direction. But before that, we had important business in town…..
For the first time in 4 days, we found a coffee & cake stop. The Blue Anchor Cafe delivered with a delicious piece of lemon meringue pie! As we left town, we passed the volunteer fire department & they had a tender on display & a bit further on in Silver Star there was a huge display of Rope Drive Compressor Wheels. Lloyd Harkins has been collecting all types of pre-1900 mining gear over the years & these take pride of place.
The tailwind out of town had raised our spirits & we fairly flew along the valley floor, stopping every now & then to take in the towering views all around us.
We were still in eagle country & we spotted a couple of telegraph poles where wooden pallets had been placed on the stanchion so that the eagles could build their own nests. There were plenty of creeks & rivers available so the eagles could go fishing.
The gentle descent & tailwind resulted in our ride fairly flying by – we were on the road for a little under 3 & a half hours. We made sure that we took in the huge views wherever possible as we closed in on Whitehall.
We arrived in town early, so found an espresso hut where we enjoyed a fresh coffee & cookie, before passing a Welcome sign on the way to our hotel. It was a short day in the saddle, but it still delivered on scenery, wildlife, history & lemon meringue pie!!!
Stage Stats – 56 miles, 643 feet of climbing. Gradually descending all day with a friendly tailwind!
Thursday 9th June – Whitehall to Helena (Stage 33)
The is the final day in a block of 6, as we ride from Lincoln to Helena – we then have 2 days of rest & relaxation planned! We woke up to blue skies & for the first time on our adventure we didn’t need our gilets or wind jackets as we left the hotel – woohoo.
We left Whitehall by tracking the railroad, with big views of the mountains ahead of us & beyond the Jefferson Slough to our right. We then followed the I-15 for a short time on a frontage road before our first climb of the day.
As we summited, a secret valley was laid out before us, with huge views spread out before us. As we descended, the Conrow Creek meandered backwards & forwards on the valley floor below. We both remarked that it reminded us of physical geography classes 40 plus years ago when we were taught how rivers like this formed oxbow lakes as the river finds a shorter route through soft landscape. Oh to be 16 again!!!
After about 5 miles we finally saw a little house on the prairie – although there would be more habitation further up the valley, this was the first sign of civilisation that we’d seen!
In a place so devoid of human habitation, we expected to see some wildlife & we weren’t disappointed. In addition to the eagles soaring overhead (always too far away to photograph), we also spotted two different types of deer. First up, we saw a herd of prong-horned deer & one of them took an interest in us when we stopped, as he checked us out. He soon got bored & bounded off to join his friends / family. Second up we saw a herd of white-tailed deer without prongs. Two of the 3 made eye contact, but the 3rd one quickly grew bored & walked away. A familiar experience for me!!!
In addition to the wildlife, I’m always on the lookout for interesting scenery & today it came in an unexpected form – the clouds. At times they took the form of a burrito, a caterpillar & a pair of sunglasses lenses. I probably have too much time on my hands & you probably don’t see anything but clouds……!
Being surrounded by big mountains, we also had stunning views to enjoy too. Sometimes it was the views along the arrow straight roads to the mountains in the far distance & other times it was simply enjoying the different colours on view & the way they complemented each other.
After 37 miles of gradual climbing, we reached Boulder, where we hoped to find somewhere that would serve coffee. We hit the jackpot in a huge way when we found the Elkhorn Bistro, run by Jennifer. We were welcomed with a huge smile as soon as we walked in the door & Jennifer took the time to talk to us about our adventure. She also shared a story about a few Italian long distance cyclists who were raising money for Diabetes, in recognition of a friend of theirs who had passed away – they had left her a poster of their cause, which she planned to frame & put on display in her bistro.
Jennifer recommended the homemade lemon cake with huckleberry frosted icing, then melted my heart by also offering to add some ice cream & whipped cream!!! Cake shop nirvana – Jennifer loves doing what she does as much as my friends Phily & Yas at The Old Stables in Castle Combe & the passion shines through.
Jennifer also shared a story about the tavern next door – Patrick Duffy’s (he of The Man From Atlantis & Dallas fame) parents owned The Lodge & were both murdered on 18th November 1986, when two teenagers committed an armed robbery. Kenneth Miller & Sean Wentz were both convicted of the murders & sentenced to 75 years in jail.
Leaving our new friend behind, we again tracked the I-15 for a couple of miles – as we were riding along we saw a small hawk like bird attack a far larger eagle. The hawk had 4 or 5 attempts the harry & harass the eagle, who didn’t seem to know what to do. I wish I could have got some video or stills, but it all happened too quick.
As we turned away from the I-15, we realised that the steep gravel road we’d been admiring from afar was our way out of the valley!
The video below probably articulates how difficult I was finding the climb (this was my 4th attempt, as the other 3 resulted in me having to abort the video so I could concentrate on staying upright!!! The climb maxed out at 13% & the gravel alternated between hard-packed (easy to get purchase & stay upright) & sandy (almost impossible to get grip & stay upright). It was a great little adventure, but not one I’m in a hurry to repeat.
At the summit of the climb we stopped, admired the view & talked about the importance of giving each other plenty of room for the gravel descent – there was a casualty, but not the one either of us was expecting! As I descended, my trail mix pack bounced out of my rucksack pocket, hit the gravel & split open. Luckily most of it remained in the pack, but some was left behind as a treat for the wildlife – it had M&M’s in it too 😦
Sean overtook me while I sorted out my trail mix fiasco, but once we reached the tarmac I was able to catch up again & enjoy the remainder of the descent into Clancy.
Clancy was a mere 10 miles from Helena, but it was by far the toughest section, as we hit a stiff headwind that required us to pedal on the downhill sections! We stopped very briefly to talk to a couple of cyclists who were following the Great Divide mountain bike route. They had a schedule to reach somewhere 40 miles past Helena, so we wished each other safe travels & went our separate ways.
We arrived at the Budget Inn Express (our home for the next 3 nights) at about 3.30. We headed off to get our laundry done & also buy breakfast for the next 3 mornings – by this point we were both almost falling asleep on our feet, so did what any self respecting person would do, we found The Rialto Bar where we had a couple of liveners as we chatted about the last 6 days of riding. Thirsty Thursday beer club lives on!
Stage Stats – 69 miles, 2,562 feet of climbing. Gradually climbing for the first 45 miles, then a slow descent into Helena. Glorious sunshine all day!