Day 86, to Bannack State Park: A long climb through wide-open Montana to a hopping ghost town: - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

July 17, 2022

Day 86, to Bannack State Park: A long climb through wide-open Montana to a hopping ghost town:

Dani and I smile for a selfie with Beaver Rock in the background.
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Sunday stats

Start: Bike Camp at the park in Twin Bridges, Mont.

End: Bannack State Park

The Daily Progress: 54.4 miles

Cumulative climb: 2614 feet

Cumulative descent: 1426 feet

Ice cream flavors: Huckleberry, chocolate and cookies 'n' cream

Lodging expenses: $16 for the state park's hiker/biker site

Food and sundries expenses: $54 spent by Chris at Safeway, $30 by Dani, $23 for lunch at the Bannack Days fair, $10 for ice cream, $3 for cookies and biscuits. $120 total.

A story from Friday night: An unexpected peril of having food in bear country

I have to share something that happened on Friday night after the day's blog entry was written (and I forgot to make note of it on Saturday). I'm usually not especially prone to self-inflicted accidental injury, but on Friday night, I really performed a doozy.

We were camping in Ennis, and the billboard at the campsite entrance had a big warning sign about being in bear country and the need to properly store your food. Most of the other campgrounds in the region where we had stayed had bear boxes for food storage, but that was not the case here. So we prepared to hang our food and other odorous items in a tree.

The tricky part about hanging food in a tree is getting one end of your rope over a tree branch that is sufficiently high — and getting that end of the rope to come back down low enough for you to grab. (Of course, you're also holding on to the other end.) Then it's just a matter of tying one end of the rope to your bag of food and pulling on the other end until your food is hoisted high in the air. Tie the loose end to something secure, and you're good to go.

But that tricky part is no joke. You can easily tie one end of the rope to a rock or something fairly light and it's easy to throw it over a branch, bringing that end of the rope with it. But if the rock or whatever you threw isn't heavy enough, the rope will inevitably get stuck somewhere on the branch and it won't hang down low enough for you to grab.

Dani and I settled on her bike lock as the best thing available to tie to the rope and hurl over a branch. It worked pretty painlessly once before. On Friday night, however, I just could not hurl that lock at simultaneously the proper height and angle. (Well, actually I think I may have done it, twice, but someone who was holding the rope was not holding the very end of the rope, and so the flying bike lock ran out of slack and was stopped short. Gah!)

In any case, after umpteen attempts to swing Dani's very heavy metal bike lock in an underhand motion and send it hurling upward toward a tree branch some 20 feet above the ground, I had started to get into what I thought was a rhythm, and I stopped being quite as calculating and careful … and I pulled back and swung forcefully underhand and upward — and smashed that lock firmly into the back of my own leg before it ricocheted off and up into the sky, dangerously directly above. The blow to my leg created enough pain that I could barely stand on the other leg — and Dani warned me to look out for the flying bike lock before it came crashing down just a few feet away. 

It was difficult to walk for the rest of the night, and that leg is still quite sore when I first start pedaling after a break, but I'm extremely lucky that I hit my calf muscle and not my knee. And I'm lucky not to hang gotten bonked on the head when that lock came crashing down.

Oh, and we did successfully hang the food that night, using that same process — just with a lower branch.

Dani's daily digest

The threat of headwinds got us on the road early, and we were rewarded with a beautiful morning. Rose-gold sunshine, lavender shadows, cool air, light traffic.

[Here's a short video view of our ride west from Twin Bridges, Mont., with the sun rising over the mountains, an open field, a small structure and the road ahead:]

There was a roadside point-of-interest at an ideal time for a break, and there were multiple interpretive signs there. We learned that the route we were on traced an ancient route used by Indians, Lewis and Clark, cattle drivers, and stage coaches. Sacajawea led Lewis and Clark to the valley we overlooked because she knew the Shoshone (her native tribe, before she was kidnapped) spent their summers there, and the expedition was desperate to meet with the Shoshone and trade for horses to get them over the Rockies before winter. The chief they met happened to be Sacajawea's brother. We also saw two notable birds: a peregrine falcon (we think) and a bald eagle (for sure).

We stopped for lunch (at 9 am) at the Safeway in Dillon. A big, corporate grocery store is a magical thing. You have endless options for food and toiletries, plus water and bathrooms and outdoor seating areas.

The next leg of our day was a slog, but at least the source of misery kept changing? The first segment was blazing sunshine, but at least the climb was gradual. The next segment was a steeper climb, but at least it was overcast and there was a gentle breeze to carry our body heat away. (In this segment, we reached a false summit where someone had painted the road to read "NOT THE TOP [BLARGH FACE]" and I appreciated that.) The third segment featured a gusty crosswind that made it hard to keep the bike on the road, but at least it was downhill. And the fourth segment gave us the headwind we had left early to avoid, but at least it was downhill and our final miles of the day. I arrived at our destination, Bannack State Park, pretty beat. 

Luckily for us, today was the last day of the annual Bannack Days festival, meaning we could score some grub from food vendors who otherwise wouldn't be here. Chris got a beef taco on fry bread; I got chicken street tacos. We bought a bowl of ice cream to share and then bought another one and shared that one, too.

The central attraction of Bannack State Park is the ghost town of Bannack. Bannack boomed in the 1860s when gold was found in the vicinity, and it briefly served as the Montana territorial capital. Today, the town of Bannack is remarkable well preserved (many buildings are still standing), but not especially well conserved (people are allowed to explore and touch the buildings extensively). It was an interesting place to look around. I wish I had bought the guide booklet from the visitor center so I could have learned a little more. Here's something I did learn: according to Montana's 1915 Rules for Teachers, teachers were not allowed to loiter downtown in ice cream stores. Bummmmmmmmmmerrrrrr! So that rule was kinda funny, but many of the rules were horrifically restrictive. Teachers were expected to be in their homes from 8 pm to 6 am and were not allowed to leave town without the school board's permission. 

Dani sits at one of about 20 old school desks, which appear to be made of iron and wood, and reads the rules for teachers on the chalkboard, which is out of view.
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We spent the rest of the afternoon bumming around the campground doing our best to be at peace with the mosquitos. I'm planning to go to bed by eight and I can't wait!

Today's ride: 54 miles (87 km)
Total: 3,213 miles (5,171 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 3
Scott AndersonI know it wasn’t funny at the time, but the bike lock story is the funniest thing I’ve read for awhile.
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2 weeks ago
Chris GeorgeTo Scott AndersonFunny follow-up story:
This past Friday night, Dani was trying to throw the lock (with the rope attached) over a tree branch, and on one attempt, the lock went almost straight up in the air and slightly behind her. "RUN!" she cried. Luckily, the lock did not hit anyone or anything but the ground.
Maybe we will try a different method next time.
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1 week ago
Scott AndersonTo Chris GeorgeOr maybe wear a helmet next time?
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1 week ago