Day 110: Hungry Horse, MT to Marion, MT - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

July 31, 2011

Day 110: Hungry Horse, MT to Marion, MT

One day from now I reach Libby, where I get to see my dad for the first time in two months, possibly hang out with a couple of journal followers, and also take a day off, something I haven't done in two weeks but really need. I think about all of it when I wake up in the early morning to flashes of lightning, rain crackling on the fly, and the sound of thunder breaking across the sky in a line from my left to my right. It gives me an excuse to sleep and rest and I'm happy to take it.

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Even on a Sunday morning Highway 2 is a death zone, but within a few miles it drops onto a quieter rural highway that runs between the mountains all around and takes me past small homes, simple farms, buzzing crickets, and signs that read "Pasture for rent." The road goes straight and flat for the better part of an hour, the first time that's happened in longer than I can remember. On a morning where I could really use an easy ride that's exactly what I get.

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A cheap motel, a Mexican restaurant, and a combination liquor store and casino welcome me to the outskirts of Kalispell. They're soon followed by office supply stores, a K-Mart, and car dealerships that aren't open anymore as I zig-zag my way toward a downtown and Main Street that are almost completely dead at mid-day on a weekend. I spend the next five hours either in a coffee shop or eating pizza because that's almost all that cities have to offer me now. Mostly I catch up on writing and editing pictures and look forward to returning to the country.

So much more exciting than Glacier National Park.
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There are two ways to get to Libby from Kalispell: the busy and dangerous Highway 93 or the busy and dangerous Highway 2. I know less about Highway 2, so that's the direction I pick. Google Maps helps me find a way to hack off ten miles of highway riding and replace them with back roads, so when I head out of town in the early evening I ride past housing developments with fancy names like Creekside and Eagle Ridge Estates. Eventually the pavement gives way to gravel and I cruise to the west slowly but all alone, swapping the noise of Harleys and lifted trucks for chirping birds, swishing blades of grass, and the crunch of small rocks beneath the tires.

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When I run out of side roads it's back to the highway. It sucks. Of course it does. But it turns out that most of the traffic speeds east toward Kalispell, so the nightmare I expected only plays back at half speed. There are still a few blind corners and spots where long lines of cars and trucks and motorhomes pass in opposite directions at the same time, so every couple of minutes I have to pull off into the gravel and let the crowds speed past. Some bike riders are big on taking the lane, exercising the same rights as cars, and talking about how they're just as equal as cars. (There used to be more people like that, but tattooed guys in huge Ford pickup trucks towing 24-foot ski boats have been steadily picking them off over the years.) I understand where they're coming from, but I decide to save the righteousness and make it to nightfall alive instead.

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Soon the highway starts a winding, thousand-foot climb. The heat and the headwind and my tired legs make it a bitch from the start, and within a few minutes I remember a relevant fact: pizza makes me so, so, so thirsty. I left Kalispell with four full bottles of water, but halfway through the climb I'm down to just over two—and the two in my bags are off limits because I still have almost 80 miles to ride before I reach Libby and I don't expect to find any services along the way. I also think about how it's getting dark, how I don't know where I'll sleep, and how riding in the near-dark on Highway 2 wouldn't be the best plan I've ever come up with. Then I go back to swearing at the hill staring me down and trying to not to think about my dry and sticky mouth.

At the top of the hill I find an open gas station and almost soil myself out of relief and happiness. It's an orgy of cold water and other liquid goodness. I know I must look haggard and a little insane to the drivers filling up their gas tanks 20 feet away, but screw them and their fresh-smelling clothes and divot-free hair.

Just down the road I come across a campground. I figure it'll be another overpriced RV place like last night, but I stop and walk into the office to find out anyway. When I explain that I'm just a guy on a bike looking for a place to crash for 12 hours I get half off the normal rate and the promise of a warm shower. I know that I could set up the tent for nothing in the National Forest 20 miles farther on, but when a transgendered woman in her 50s with an awful haircut and an even worse set of yellow-green teeth offers me cheap camping I'm taking it every time.

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Almost a dozen men and women hang out in a semi-circle around a fire behind the office, where they drink beer, shoot the shit, and watch five dogs chase and bite and dry hump one another. The campground is clean and attractive, but I'm the only one around who doesn't live there at least semi-permanently. Trucks rumble by on the highway but I can still hear John Fogerty singing "Doot doot doo, lookin' out my back door" from the cheap black boombox that's just beyond the fire. I look out around me through the skinny pine trees, with the air cool but comfortable as the sun starts to set, and lay back on the air mattress with a tallboy and a smile. As the trip winds down I think more and more about how this is the kind of offbeat place I'm going to miss when the riding stops.

The bike touring living room.
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The fire pops and snaps for hours and soon the blue skies of the day give way to black. Kids chase each other around and scream and scream and scream, the adults' words and laughter sound drunker and drunker, and a couple of them sneak away to a small camper wedged into the bed of a tan-colored Ford truck to get a little stoned. At that moment, Bachman Turner Overdrive's "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" starts to echo out around the campground. I laugh because it's just so perfect. I've been riding for almost four months and have covered more than 5,600 miles and I still believe that's true. I head to sleep feeling great and looking forward to whatever's headed my way tomorrow.

Today's ride: 53 miles (85 km)
Total: 5,640 miles (9,077 km)

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