Monday, August 31, Lima Montana, Mile 640

P1030469.JPGTHE CAMP AT PLUM CREEK

When we left Butte on Friday morning the sky was smoky and rumors of road closure ahead were hanging over our heads as well. We encountered no road closure but neither did we see the panoramic vistas of the Butte Valley when we climbed into the hills. Smoke from several forest fires obscured any sights more than a half mile away.

We reached our destination for the night, Wise River, in late afternoon, only to discover that the fire near there had blown out of control and our next day’s itinerary might be shut down.

We were up at dawn and on the road as soon as possible so as not to be caught by any road closure. We passed a large fire camp and rode into dense smoke as we climbed along National Scenic Byway 73. The smoke turned out to be a blessing in disguise. This being Labor Day weekend, the highway almost certainly would have been clogged with RVs had not the fire closed down all the campgrounds. As it was, the only traffic we had to contend with was fire trucks. By the time we reached the summit, most of the smoke had been blown north and the skies cleared up somewhat.

P1030448.JPGSMOKY VISTAS

That same wind that blew the smoke away slammed into our faces and nearly canceled our forward momentum. Our speed on flat ground was reduced to three or four mph. As we turned east, the former headwind became a violent, unpredictable side wind that several times nearly blew us off the road. We were relieved to finally arrive at Bannack State Park which had a pleasant campground and a terrifically preserved ghost town.

It rained in the night and we awoke to a gloriously blue sky. The morning ride was utter heaven. Leaving the park we turned on to a dirt road and had the road to ourselves. The smell of sage and rain-freshened grass was in the air. Flocks of bluebirds lead the way up the valley, flying from fence post to fence post. We were making respectable progress of about seven mph as we climbed – not a bad speed for loaded mountain bikes on a dirt road. We stopped for lunch at a vacant corral and dried our wet tent. Tortillas smeared with peanut butter – peanut butter tacos – was on the menu.

I was a little uneasy about the route we were taking because it is described as eighty miles of “exceedingly remote” countryside. What if we had bike trouble? An accident? I was somewhat relieved to see that in those eighty miles there were actually several widely scattered cattle ranches. At least we wouldn’t have to travel forty miles to get help.

P1030465.JPGREMOTE CATTLE RANCH

As the afternoon wore on, our legs tired, the grade steepened, and a ferocious head wind grew in strength. The last mile of the climb was so steep we had to dismount and push our bikes. The pass was over 8000 ft – a new high for us. I somehow had the impression that we would be camping at the summit but discovered that we had another four miles to go. After a couple of downhill miles the road climbed again. By this time, the fifty miles we had covered, the grade, and the wind had worn me down pretty near to the bone. Mary wasn’t fairing any better. When we limped into a primitive camp that was up a side canyon, my legs were quivering with fatigue. And then a funny thing happened: I looked around and noticed a clear, narrow creek in the nearby brush. The wind quieted somewhat. The countryside that had nearly beat me into submission a short time ago took on a tranquil ambiance in the golden late afternoon light. With new eyes I realized we had arrived at a truly beautiful spot.

Mary was somewhat slower to appreciate our surroundings. As we set up camp I could feel her glumness. She said something about the trip not being what she expected. Mary has a habit of not being able to see past temporary hard times (like the afternoon climb) and see the big picture. The wonderful morning ride had apparently faded completely from her memory. It seemed to me that the only thing she was considering was her fatigue at that moment.

I set up the tent and cooked some supper while Mary bathed in the crystal clear water of the creek. Knowing that Mary hates feeling the day’s grit and that she always feels better after bathing, I cracked a trial joke or two. Mary chuckled. The bath, the meal, and a little rest had done the trick. Mary was back in the game.

We zipped ourselves into our little tent as the evening chill descended. The soothing sound of Plum Creek rushing over its stone bed rocked us to sleep.

P1030470.JPGTHE CAMP BY PLUM CREEK IN MORNING LIGHT

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