Day 106: Choteau, MT to Dupuyer, MT - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

July 27, 2011

Day 106: Choteau, MT to Dupuyer, MT

The wind already blows at 8:00, but it seems like that's true every day of the year around here. Highway 89 takes me to the north and west for another day, past the same kinds of farms and tiny hills and scrubby roadside bushes I've been seeing off and on for months. But through gaps in the horizon I can tell that something different is coming: the Rocky Mountains are just a couple of days away.

Heart 0 Comment 0

I ride into Bynum, past the tourist trap that claims to have the world's largest dinosaur inside, and then stop near the post office, which seems to be the busiest place around. The post office is both newer and attractive, two words that can't be used to describe anything else in a town of boarded-up businesses and run-down mobile homes.

Heart 1 Comment 0

I sit in front of what used to be the grocery store and bus station and watch as an older black and tan dog that's a mix of half a dozen breeds eyeballs me from the other side of the street. After a few minutes he picks up a reddish-brown rock in his mouth, trots across the highway, drops the rock at my feet, stares up at me, and starts to whimper a little. I pick up the rock, give it a solid toss down the shoulder of the road, and watch him take off, throwing up gravel and leaving behind a dust cloud, hot in pursuit and thinking about absolutely nothing else. When he reaches the rock he grabs it with his mouth, walks back over with his tail wagging, and then drops it in front of me again.

Heart 0 Comment 0

It goes on like this for 15 minutes, but he could do it all day long. Each time the rock hits the ground and I pick it up he looks at me with the widest eyes, as if to say, "Oh my god you have to throw that rock right now or I will lose my damned mind here in front of you, and don't think for a second that I won't." I have to keep a close watch for traffic when I chuck the rock across the highway, because he's so laser-focused on the game of fetch that he wouldn't notice any car or truck until the split second before it ran him over.

Heart 1 Comment 0

Past Bynum the world explodes with color, as the sun causes the greens, yellows, browns, and reds of the subtly textured hills to glow brightly and stand out in stark contrast to the blue sky and pure white clouds. All around the grass ripples in waves and swishes loudly in the gusts of wind that continue to get stronger. The farther I go, the more elevation changes I run into, and the road starts to climb and fall and twist and turn in response. I celebrate when the wind shifts to the side and then curse a little every time it turns back against me. It turns back against me a lot.

Heart 1 Comment 0

Most of the motorcycles who pass me don't wave, but this morning I get a great one—one with some flair, one with some soul. The rider sees me coming, lifts his left arm off the handlebar, cocks his wrist back, and then lets loose with the index finger pointed toward me and the thumb angling up to the sky, as if to say, "Heyyyyy." Ten minutes later a minivan with four bikes attached to racks on the top of its pop-up trailer gives me two quick honks of support as it speeds past. I need all the encouragement I can get, because every gust of straight-on wind wears me down a little more.

Heart 1 Comment 0

Somewhere in between growling at the wind and looking down at the speedometer in shame I think about how the number of miles left to ride on this trip is no longer in the thousands. It's the first time that's been true since I left Florida. I still have somewhere in the high hundreds left to go, but the end of the line keeps getting closer and I think about it more every day. Half of me is excited to see the people I love, but the other half is bummed that this adventure's almost reached its expiration date.

Heart 0 Comment 0

As soon as I round a corner and start down the hill toward Dupuyer I know I'm done riding. The legs have enough juice to push on 30-plus miles into the wind to the next town, but the heart doesn't—and I know my reward for hours of effort would be the depressing and sometimes dangerous reservation town of Browning.

Heart 2 Comment 0

I ask the woman behind the counter at the town's only store how to pronounce its name. The locals all call it Duh-poo-yer, since the cowboys refused to make it sound French. Only about a hundred people live in town, she says. She also tells me to be careful at the park down by the creek because grizzlies have been seen around there. If I look near the banks of the creek I might spot paw prints.

When I get to the park I throw all of my smelly goods in the bear-proof canister, walk around a bit and only see raccoon tracks, and then zonk out in the tent for a few hours to get back the strength the wind took from me. If the bears come around they decide let me nap in peace.

In the evening I ride over to Pierre's, the only restaurant and bar in town. It's got spackled ceilings, a few booths that don't quite sit level, some folding plastic tables surrounded by cheap metal chairs, and a half-dozen old bar stools covered with fake black leather. Montana State University banners and pennants and license plates hang on the walls, there are a pair of giant longhorns on a post near the bathroom, and dollar bills with messages scrawled in black permanent marker are tacked onto the beams and ceiling around the bar. I order a ridiculous burger called the Augare, which comes with two patties, six strips of bacon, cheddar and swiss cheese, and a skinny piece of lettuce just for shits and giggles.

Heart 1 Comment 0

Three guys sit at the bar, all in hats. John's in his early 50s and wears a thick salt-and-pepper mustache and goatee combination, with an orange sleeveless shirt, dirty light blue jeans, and thoroughly worn cowboy boots with frayed gold laces. After a divorce he moved to Montana from the Northwest because he needed to get away from everything and always wanted to be a cowboy. Now he lives and works on a ranch ten miles up the road. Next to him is Mack, who's somewhere in his 70s. He's heavyset, wears thick glasses and a plaid-patterned green shirt, and has his gray pants held up with suspenders. He's from Dupuyer and there's a decent chance he's never lived anywhere else. Near the end of the bar is Pat, who's in his late 40s or early 50s and has the makings of a handlebar mustache. He wears a yellow and brown checkered shirt paired with blue jeans and talks slow—less in a way that sounds like he was born with mental problems, more like he took a solid whack to the head somewhere along the way as an adult. He's also an in-town local.

I answer a few questions about my trip, but mostly I listen to the guys talk about the things that make news in Dupuyer: the state of the crops and how it's a good year for the farmers around here, selling farm equipment, angry wives, refusing to buy pickup trucks without four-wheel-drive, runoff from the mountains causing flooding, the wolverine spotted north of here on the stretch of highway I'll travel tomorrow, and how John will soon be getting a new dog from a guy who lives up near Heart Butte after a buddy ran over his old dog with a truck.

They also mention the self-sufficient and devoutly religious colonies of Hutterites (pronounced Hooooterites by Pat) that live and tend to farms around here. One of the guys explains that are a few dozen colonies in the area, some with as many as 150 members. Not two minutes later, Matt walks through the door. He's a Hutterite, in his 50s, tall and broad-shouldered, wears the traditional closed-trimmed beard with no mustache, and has an accent that sounds like a strange mix of Canadian and German. He's grabbing dinner after a long day of baling hay.

A friend of his, a younger guy in this early 30s, comes in a few minutes later.

"Oh yah," the second guy says in an even thicker accent, "I been oot balin' da hay. Mebbe tree tousand bales, ya know? All day way up on de udder side a da ridge up dere."

It's my favorite accent of the trip, hands down.

At one point Pat leans back in his chair and looks over at me.

"Yer gunna have nigh-mares about us, huh?" he says very slowly.

"Nah, I've been through Georgia and Kentucky," I tell him with a smile as everybody at the bar laughs. "You guys are nothing."

Heart 0 Comment 0

Hours later I return to the park. My tent sits under a large pavilion framed with logs and covered by a rusted metal roof. Long hand-built picnic tables take up much of the space inside and a row of old, wooden, folding movie theater chairs runs along three of the four walls. There's a bit of Guffey in it, which makes me feel better about the place.

Heart 0 Comment 0

When the wind gusts, the metal roof creaks in a hundred different places in a way that sounds like falling rain. After the gust passes it's quiet again, except for the creek that rushes nearby. I head to sleep early, with light still in the sky, because I hope to get back to the road early to beat the wind, if only for an hour or two. I also go to sleep anxious, because I'm in bear territory without the benefit of a few hundred goofball campers to distract a passing Grizzly. For the first time I feel very exposed.

Today's ride: 37 miles (60 km)
Total: 5,437 miles (8,750 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 2
Comment on this entry Comment 0