Day 111: Marion, MT to Libby, MT - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

August 1, 2011

Day 111: Marion, MT to Libby, MT

The signs above the bathroom doors don't read Men and Women, but Bulls and Cows. Clever. I can hear the cars and trucks flying past on the highway as I pack up, and I head back to the road anxious, trying to pound out the 31 miles to the turnoff as quickly as I can. Traffic turns out not to be completely terrible, but Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" still plays over and over in my head for the first hour.

Western Montana, where coyotes are pets.
Heart 3 Comment 0

I ride in the middle of a 70-mile stretch between town and the world around me is as empty as that kind of distance would suggest. I pass a few small lakes, but mostly I look up at mountainsides with big bald patches where the trees have been clear cut, and where roads for the logging trucks snake carefully back and forth up the sides of the hills.

On the other side of this sign, ducks are doin' it.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Later in the morning I look down at the screen of my phone and notice it's the first day of August. August! When I started riding from Florida it was April. These last three-and-a-half months have been the fastest of my life.

Heart 2 Comment 0

The more miles that pass, the better the day becomes. Highway 2 picks up a wide shoulder, the sun takes away the morning chill, and the road trends mostly down. Past a little outpost called Happy's Inn I hang a right and head north on McKillop Road, a one-lane strip of smooth blacktop that twists and turns its way between the mountains that close in steeply all around it. I don't see cars or trucks for miles, just chirping birds and squirrels who let out angry squeals and charge off into the brush when I pass quickly by and scare the bejeezus out of them.

Heart 0 Comment 0

The road gradually heads lower and lower and at times I hit 25 miles per hour, but then I let off and coast and soak in the experience. There are very few places out West where I can ride on pavement, without traffic screaming by, deep in the heart of the hills. It's similar to the rural roads back in Virginia and Kentucky that I love so much, and I know that I won't see many sections like it the rest of the way. Eventually McKillop Creek appears off to my right, and at almost the same moment the wind picks up from behind and gives me a solid push. It's all so awesome.

Heart 2 Comment 0

I give two-fingered waves to each of the six cars that pass me over the next 23 miles, using the index and middle fingers of my left hand as it sits on the black rubber hood over the brake lever. When the road comes to an end I'm able to avoid the highway and ride on another one-lane back road for the last 14 miles into Libby. I sing songs and talk to myself and let my mind wander, which I can finally do without worrying about being run over by a semi transporting a giant load of Pringles or skinny jeans.

Heart 1 Comment 0

I've been building up a plastic bag full of change since Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Not on purpose; I just never remember to buy anything using the hundreds of coins stuffed inside. A few days ago I decided that the next crappy campground that charged too much was getting their fee entirely in pennies, nickels, dimes, and a few quarters in protest. At the campground attached to the city park in Libby I find the winner and spend five minutes contorting and squeezing and mashing two envelopes full of jingling metal through a narrow slit in the collection box. Somehow it feels like a victory.

Death, even in the middle of nowhere.
Heart 0 Comment 0

In the evening a small gray Honda pulls up to my campsite and out pop Andrea and Bruce. They're a couple of journal followers and have been keeping up with my trip for months. Andrea grew up in Libby and she and Bruce just happened to be in town for three days for both a family reunion and a wedding. Following only a journal comment, a few emails, and one phone call I jump into a car with a couple of near-strangers and head out into the woods north of Libby, winding through pine forests, past ranches, and speeding by a few place that Andrea swears must be meth labs.

The eight-mile drive brings us to the Red Dog Saloon, a place where every table gets a metal dog dish full of peanuts and then tosses the shells on the rough and dark hardwood floors. We share a pitcher of Moose Drool, a dark and flavorful beer that seems to be the official fancy beer of Western Montana, and then follow it up with a pizza that's as wide as a truck tire. We talk for hours about traveling—on the bike and off—in America, in Europe, and mostly what it's like to experience Asia.

Heart 0 Comment 0

It's a great time because Andrea and Bruce are genuinely good people, but also because they're off-the-path travelers like me. When they go to Thailand or Laos or Burma they don't spend their time at a beach resort or buying souvenirs for people back home, but instead squeeze themselves into a packed bus or the back of a crowded truck and bounce toward a small town where they'll stay in modest lodging, eat the food of the region, and spend time with local people who don't often see Westerners. They're also picture takers and writers who like to capture stories from the places they travel. There's so much good conversation.

But they both admit that their motives aren't completely pure. They do their best to convince me to make my next trip an international one, to max out the 28-day tourist visa and experience the warmth and color and joy of Burma. They're humble and kind and not the type to make a hard sell, but the more we talk about the people and places and character of the country, the more interesting and realistic the possibility becomes.

Back at the campground we all take a few pictures, talk a bit more travel, and then they present me with the greatest gift ever:

Heart 0 Comment 0

With the light fading from the sky we say goodbye, but not forever. I made two new friends tonight and I know I'll see them again some day soon.

Heart 1 Comment 0

The 88-degree heat and strong winds of the day give way to a cool and still night that promises a deep and comfortable sleep. As flies buzz and crash into the space between the tent mesh and the rain fly I find myself not thinking of Montana or rushing streams or Town Pump gas stations, but instead trying to wrap my head around the idea of biking through a country I know nothing about, where I have no friends or family, and where none of the applications on my magic phone would work. It sounds unpredictable and challenging and I'm not sure I'm ready for it.

I'd like to find out anyway.

And then I crack a little smile. I never have to wish for this trip across America to become more rewarding or enjoyable or thought-provoking. Every day I go new places, see new things, meet new people, and it just happens.

Today's ride: 71 miles (114 km)
Total: 5,711 miles (9,191 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 3
Comment on this entry Comment 0