Day 87, to Wisdom: Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea, a cloud of wildfire smoke and the 'beaver slide' - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

July 18, 2022

Day 87, to Wisdom: Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea, a cloud of wildfire smoke and the 'beaver slide'

Monday stats

Start: Bannack State Park, Mont.

End: American Legion campsite, Wisdom, Mont.

The Daily Progress: 48.2 miles

Cumulative climb: 2352 feet 

Cumulative descent: 2005

Elevation at endpoint: 6032

Ice cream flavors: A Klondike bar for Chris, a Blue Bunny chocolate eclair for Dani

Lodging expenses: $20 donation

Food expenses: $28 for snacks and water at the grocery store at Wisdom

Dani's daily digest

I had to pee in the middle of the night, which is usually very annoying when camping, but on this occasion it netted me two benefits. First, I got to appreciate the beauty of the night. We usually wake up at dawn and go to sleep at dusk, so I haven't seen much of night. It was so quiet, and the bright light of the gibbous moon made the shadows seem even darker. It was beautiful. The second benefit of waking in the middle of the night was enjoying a coyote chorus in a fully conscious state before drifting off to sleep. 

The National Weather Service announced a wind advisory for the day, so wind was definitely going to be a defining element of the day. We woke up at five to get as far as we could before the winds picked up. We enjoyed 12 miles in the still morning air before stopping to snack in the shade of a roadside interpretive sign. As we were about to leave our snack site, Chris noticed he had a flat, so we fixed it.

By then, the winds were starting to pick up and so was the grade of the climb. We ground our way up to the Big Hole Pass. 

Just beyond Big Hole Pass was a grove of interpretive signs. The first one told us that we could see 400 square miles in the valley before us. Whoa! For reference, DC is only 69 square miles. 

Here is a portion of the view Dani just mentioned, which includes a thin light line from the bottom right diagonally upward and to the left — that's the edge of the road we're following. A distant line of snow-capped mountain makes for a striking horizon.
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Another interpretive sign told us we were following an ancient road that had been used by Indians, Lewis & Clark, cattle ranchers, stage coaches etc. Ok, so we've heard that before, but THIS time you could actually see the old road as a depression in the sage brush, which was cool. Another sign explained that the grass in Big Hole (the name of the valley we were looking over) is some of the best forage to be found anywhere. Another sign identified a contraption as Beaver Slide; its purpose is to make a very big pile of hay because, apparently, the bigger the pile the more nutritional the hay. Finally, there was an interpretive sign showcasing an excerpt from Meriwether Lewis's journal written in his 31st birthday in which he was bemoaning how little he had accomplished in life and berating himself for his laziness, which was both relatable and, of course, absurd. 

From there, we descended into a stiff cross/headwind, but the landscape was beautiful. Lush pasture, black cattle, snow-capped mountains, rocky outcrops. At one point we biked past a tractor that was mowing the grass on the side of the road and it smelled SO good. Sweet and herbal, like chamomile tea with honey. Or Herbal Essence shampoo. The interpretive sign was not lying about the quality of the grass.

We passed through the town of Jackson. We refilled our water bottles, but we didn't linger because our weather app said we had one hour before the wind switched from SSW to WSW, and after Jackson we would be heading north. After struggling with the wind all day, we were eager to use it to our advantage.

With the wind at our backs, we flew down the road for 10 miles. The funny thing about a tailwind is that it beckons you to sprint, and so minute-for-minute, you are putting in just as much physical effort as before (though way less psychological effort because each unit of effort gets you much further). In this stretch, we also spotted two sandhill cranes, a peregrine falcon (maybe -- Chris is convinced, I am not), and a yellow-headed blackbird. 

Along the way, the wind began to shift, so the day's riding ended much the same way it had gone for most of the miles, with a stiff crosswind. At some point we noticed a cloud of dust or something on the horizon, but as we biked through it, we realized that it was smoke. 

A huge smoke cloud fills the sky, floating from right (east) to left (west). A driveway leads ahead to the American Legion campground, which is funded by donations and available for anyone to use. It includes a small shelter, a vault toilet, WiFi (wow!), and an American flag with 48 stars flying in on a flagpole in the yard.
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The destination for the day was the town of Wisdom. We had heard of Wisdom all the way back in Jeffrey City, where an eastbound cyclist told us about how bad the mosquitos were here. We took this information to heart; more than once on this trip mosquitos have sucked all the fun out of camping for us. Now that we are here in Wisdom the wind is gusting 30 miles per hour and we haven't encountered a single mosquito. It just goes to show that a person's experience of any place depends on the conditions specific to the time of visit.

The smoke plume we biked through was the dominant feature of the southern horizon throughout the afternoon, so I read up on wildfire evacuation protocols. It doesn't look like it will come to that, but I wanted to be prepares (Chris pointed out it was a good thing for us that the wind switched direction, otherwise the smoke would be blowing toward our campsite.)

We are camping at the American Legion Park. The park is simple grass plot with picnic tables, some fire pits, vault toilets, one functioning bear box, and an enclosed shelter with a shady porch. There is no potable water, but there is WiFi. 

Today's ride: 48 miles (77 km)
Total: 3,261 miles (5,248 km)

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