Posts made in June, 2012

“Pray for me, I’m [biking] highway 93

According to Nate, one of the friendly fellows knocking back a couple of tasty-looking pints of ale at the Idle Spur, our mid-day stop today in Dayton, Highway 93, which runs up the west side of Flathead Lake, is Montana’s most deadly road – so much so that there are bumper stickers making the plea quoted in the title of this post.

Highway 93 is pretty scary alright (and I’ll return to that), but earlier in the day we found ourselves in a worse place along a 10 mile or so newly paved stretch of Highway 28 out of Hot Springs:

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Looks like a nice stretch of road, right? Well it is except for the fact that there are no shoulders and we were going slowly uphill into the wind while the crazy Montanan drivers were all doing something like 80 mph.

Now most all of the drivers are really good about getting over into the oncoming traffic lane in order to pass us. They really are, and kudos to them. But over the course of 10 tough, slow miles with nowhere to hide and nowhere to go, you cannot but toggle endlessly back and forth in your mind from confident assurance that things will be fine to the nervous sucking in of a breath as a potential doom wagon blows by and buffets you with its slip stream.

One of the cliches about war is that you never hear the bullet that has your name on it. Probably the scariest part about biking that newly paved stretch of road, always feeling vulnerable, always dependent upon the attention of others and always trying to be vigilant, was being overtaken by the vehicle out of nowhere. When last you looked the road was clear and now without warning your possible destiny is right alongside.

So that just sucked. I hated that road. I hated how hard the ride was. And I hated how vulnerable I felt.

But then we were done and we made it to the Idle Spur, and I found a new dog friend.

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Heading north out of Dayton, we got some really nice views of Flathead Lake.

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But there was still time for one final scare of the day on Highway 93.

Mostly, the shoulders are pretty good, but there are places where the guardrails run right up along the road and take the shoulder away.

The stretch of road I was on was pretty hilly – alternating steep uphills and downhills. I was cruising downhill onto the little bit of the flats before heading back uphill. I was checking the mirror to see what was behind me and looking down to see what gear I was in, calculating my shift pattern for the ascent.

As the road curved upward, I looked up to see the most enormous super king cab deluxe behemoth of a white pick-up barreling down the hill passing someone and heading straight for me just as I reached the guardrail and the shoulder disappeared.

George H.W. Bush famously and implausibly claimed that when he had to bail out of his plane after being shot down in WWII – genuinely heroic service on his part – that he thought about the separation of church and state and everything that made this country great.

I had nothing; jack shit. I would have barely gotten out a “whu?” before it was all over.

So is this dangerous? surely. It’s not so dangerous that the enterprise is foolish, but in addition to caution and prudence, we ride with the hope for luck.

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Still scratchin’ on the eight ball: tales of an afternoon in Hot Springs, MT

Hot Springs, MT, is a tiny community tucked up against a ridge to the west and back a mile or so off the highway leading up to Kalispell, which is some 60-odd miles to the north. The county put the hospital in Hot Springs some years back, but it did not work out and now the hospital is in Plains, which is no great shakes either but it is by the river on state route 200 which goes to Paradise so there’s that.

Anyway, Hot Springs comes by its name honestly and that’s pretty much why anyone comes here. It’s a town of deep poverty – our hotelier, who is on the town council, told me the poverty rate is 40%; the countywide unemployment rate, I am told, is 22% (a small business owner in Plains said the economic decline began under Clinton when most of the sawmills were closed, and according to him things have gotten worse with Obama – team blue is a little scarce on the ground around here).

There are four places in town to have a nice soak in the natural hot springs. Two are on Native American land and two are at motels. Our motel is one of them and it has a couple of claw foot tubs you can soak in, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

So after yet another beautiful ride through the countryside:

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I got into Alameda’s Hot Springs Retreat

whereupon I got the lay of the land from Paul, our innkeeper, and went “uptown” to have a beer at Fergie’s.

Which turns out to be eponymously named, as the eldest scion of the Ferguson clan took over an existing bar and turned it into the town’s only place to eat. After a tasty brown ale (Cold Smoke), I decided to see if the woman playing pool by herself wanted to have a friendly game.

Welll, turns out taciturn Stacey, whose thumb almost got cut off (and which she allowed she probably should have gotten stitches for), is a biker chick who was passing through town with her man, who was sitting over at the nearby table.

She was a decent pool player, and as I said didn’t say a whole lot, but we had a good game and I wish I could say it was her biker dude that threw me off at the end but it was really just me scratchin’ on the eight ball again.

After that I went down to Rose’s, one of the non-motel soaking pools. It’s a simple affair with an honor system payment arrangement, and it’s absolutely delightful,

 

I intruded on the solitude of a local organic beef rancher named Colleen who was a friendly and forthcoming interlocutor about a wide range of topics from local Montana politics to different trends nationally. It’s hard to do justice to our conversation in a short post, but Colleen had a measured optimistic outlook about the future even as she acknowledged she didn’t see a clear path ahead. Part of her optimism was simply based on the prospects of generational change but mostly it had to with a sense that in different ways and for different reasons people feel like the status quo does not and cannot work anymore.

She says people are looking for change and are making small changes in their lives (the increasing concern about food safety and the embrace of small-scale local suppliers and organic producers being one example), but it hasn’t yet added up to a coherent push for a new direction. Right now, it’s more of a mood (always a tricky thing to generalize about; cf. Brooks, David and Friedman, Thomas) and a receptivity to a new approach. But it seems like we are still too stuck in existing patterns for this election to tap into or mobilize this amorphous sensibility.

Refreshed from my long hot soak in the mineral waters, I collected Roger and we went up to Fergie’s for a pizza. At Rachel’s suggestion


we opted for the cardiologist full-employment special: the BBQ chicken wing with Alfredo sauce and garlic butter

 

Besides being a bartender, Rachel is an EMT and had some amusing-horrifying tales about the “frequent fliers” she and her colleagues deal with.

We ended the night sharing a bottle of wine with Paul and his friend Becky and her daughter Geneva. Great company in a truly remarkable little place off by its own.

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Bonus new feature

Those of you who have seen anything of my FB posts may have been wondering if I might start posting pictures of food. Well wonder no more – after the shot of the awesome chicken-fried steak the other day, I’m thinking I might start keeping a pictorial record of some of the more memorable meals on this trip.

First off, at the something or other Grill in T Falls, I had a grilled chicken Greek salad that was quite tasty but which lacked tomatoes, olives and cucumbers.

Remember kids, in Montana the tzatziki makes it Greek!

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Truss bridge

Any bridge aficionados out there? If so, here are a few shots of a one-of-its-kind truss bridge over part of the Clark Fork river at Thompson Falls.

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About Me

Born in Baltimore and raised in Cincinnati, I have lived on both coasts and driven back and forth across the country a number of times. I now have the "midlife opportunity" to do so on two wheels.