Day 40 Big Sandy to Havre, Montana: Winner! - Grampies on the Go - CycleBlaze

June 9, 2011

Day 40 Big Sandy to Havre, Montana: Winner!

Big Sandy is a study in contrasts. There is the immaculate Wells Fargo building mentioned yesterday, and there is the Bear Paw Cafe, which also would be at home in the finest large city. Then there is the contrasting semi-dirt main street, the three sleazy bars, and the not too much of anything else (except the Museum, which we missed).

We stopped in to the Bear Paw and found a large space in a renovated 100 year old building. The cooking area was open to the dining area, and featured a wealth of mostly brand new stainless equipment. The menu favoured breakfast sandwiches (e.g. "McMuffins" for close to half the price that McDonald's charges. The wonderful part, though, (and especially after Ma's in Loma) was that the owner, Steve, is a wizard in making them. I'm not sure just what he did, and how much scope does a McMuffin really give for culinary mastery, but they were light, crispy i the right places, and flavourful. We ordered another two, for the road, and had a brief but fun discussion about stainless equipment, renovations, and flooded basements. Steve said the renovations to the building took 1 1/2 years, and my hat (helmet) goes off to him and his wife for creating an elegant space and a home for quality food in the middle of the prairie. This is a similar story to that of the Wake Cup in Fort Benton, and it sure is nice to find skilled and entrepreneurial people creating little treasures in small towns.

The Bear Paw is clearly finding a place in the local culture. A small group of farmers gathered there to discuss the weather, and the group soon grew to a dozen or more. What to us is the "headwind" is also well known to these folks, but their concern is when they can get onto their land. One farmer was checking the wind forecast and handed me his Android phone to read the bad news for myself. The wind forecast also came with a 90% chance of rain.

We learned from a historical plaque that the three bars of Big Sandy are down from seven a hundred years ago. No problem, I'll take the coffee shop any time.

What the wind did to our BoB flag
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Semi-dirt main street of Big Sandy
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The Wells Fargo building.
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The Bear Paw Cafe
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All the surrounding communities have flooding concerns.
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Farmers congregate at the Bear Paw.
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One of several bars
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The Bear Paw's building
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Not really a hotel anymore.
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Big Sandy main street.
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Dodie leaves parents' ashes at a park memorial site.
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The Big Sandy story.
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We will follow this route into Canada.
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Out on the road, the wind had already reported for duty. And the rain showed up about ten minutes later. Their heart was not really in it, though, and they both more or less gave up in an hour or two.

Even without a strong headwind, cycling along the flat prairie has some challenges. It's more like being on an exercise bike than a mode of transport. The gear you choose is pretty much what you stick in, and you can peddle an hour without seeing much change in your surroundings.

Jitter Bugs, on the Rocky Boy's Reserve at Box Elder.
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Credit and character rating system, Box Elder. Note Indian, French, and Hispanic names.
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Under these conditions, anything new coming up on the horizon is a source of interest. So we were pleased and intrigued when a sign, the first of a series, hove into view.

Tell me more...
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Now this was really interesting. The white crosses had raised all sorts of questions for us since they began to appear in quantity on this road. We wondered:

What is the date range of all the crosses? That is, how many years of carnage do they represent?

Is every death covered, or is it only a sample?

When there are two or three crosses on a special bracket, is it a multiple death crash or is it independent ones vying for space?

What were the accident causes? What were the ages of the victims?

And so on. Clearly the mind has time to waste while sitting on a bike.

But now, here were some possible answers, coming up.

The remaining signs were:

Burmashave 2
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Burmasshave 3
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Confusing conclusion.
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Well zut! This just left us with more questions:

What regional boundaries were used for tracking the smoking deaths, for comparison to vehicular deaths along the highway corridor?

Did the smoking time frame match the (unknown) vehicular timeframe?

Did the authors mean to condone vehicular homicide, while focusing on smoking?

Can it be assumed that all the vehicular victims actually went to heaven?

How are Jewish, Muslim, and atheistic victims handled?

Like I say, being on the bike on the prairie gives your mind just too much time!

With the sign series done, we scanned the horizon for something else to watch. Way in the distance was what looked like a building. Dodie suggested we wait until we reached that to eat our spare McMuffins. As we edged closer I egan to speculate on whether we would be able to pull out at the building and maybe find some shelter. It seems there was a driveway and soon, some sort of sign in front. The thought that this could be a commercial establishment of some sort open to the public seemed unlikely. Who would build something like that out here in the middle of absolutely nothing (apologies to the farmers to whom I suppose these fields are very much something)?

Finally it was clear, the building was a moderately large Casino, built by the Indians of the Rocky Boy's Reservation. At first Dodie just pulled over on the shoulder for our lunch, but I wanted to go see the "thing". I was curious if the customers would be Indian or White, I said.

Now when Laurie sent us off from Missoula with our promise that we would look both ways and generally be safe, she was not just dealing with parents on some sort of second childhood. In fact there are some areas where we are so naive that we really have not even run though a first childhood. This would include all areas of drinking, smoking, or gambling. So for example, we have never been inside a Casino.

Imagine the scene then as the two fluorescent and lycra clad grampies enter the subdued light and neon glowing environment of hundreds of gambling machines. They stand in front of the first one and puzzle over it. "How do you make it go?" "What are all these numbers and stuff on the screen?" "Where does it take your money?".

A large and pleasant Indian man approached (the manager) and asked if he could help us. "Yes" we replied "How do you make it go?" and etc. He ran through a bunch of stuff that we absolutely could not understand, but he did say two things that really resonated with us: "There is free pop and coffee over there" and "The restaurant has $5 burgers"

We set ourselves up in the restaurant and made a number of trips to the pop bar. They also had free salty snacks and matchbooks. A matchbook had become a valuable item we were thinking about ever since we could not make a campfire for lack of any matches at Central Ferry.

Suitably fed and watered, and ready to start a campfire on short notice, we whipped out a $1 bill and did a circuit of the machines to see where we would do our gambling. We honestly could not make heads or tails (ha ha) of any of them. Some were "poker" machines. None were "cribbage" machines. We understand cribbage!

Why would a building like this suddenly appear on the Prairie?
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Northern Winz
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Neon lit inside
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What are these machines about?
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How do you figure this out?
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...or this?
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Fire water on sale too.
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Dodie gets ready to gamble!
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Machine grabs her money.
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Not sure what happened next.
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Now what?
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Back on the road after being high rollers.
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Finally Dodie sat down at one and put her dollar in it. She pressed the "Play" button and something happened, not sure what. One more press and it seemed she had won something! The machine printed out a voucher for 20 cents! We had no idea of what to do with this. Dodie thought that maybe you could put it into another machine, but somehow we failed to figure out where. So we went off and found the manager guy. He had us take the voucher to the cashier, and Dodie received two shiny dimes. A winner!

Dodie is tough, and she refused to pump her winnings back into any machines. We exited the building clutching our dimes. It had a been a wonderful hour. Now that we are experts maybe next time we will head for Vegas!

By the way, the customers such as they were were white. It's an Indian revenge, taking advantage of the thing against which the whites have no natural immunity: greed. Of course, covering all bases, they are also selling fire water and tobacco.

Not much further of interest appeared on our horizon until we reached the junction with Highway 2 - the Hiline Route. So here we were, after a detour of some 1000 km, back on the highway we had intended to follow from the beginning. See the blog for Day 4, in which we reluctantly turn South and abandon Highway 2 to avoid snow in the Cascades.

Many photos like this no doubt coming in the next 1000 km
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We rejoin 2
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3 km on Highway 2 brings us to the Walmart at Havre. We buy a 5x7 lightweight tarp - the same one that we abandoned two of in Missoula. The idea is to be able to rig a shade or shelter using the bikes, in the shadeless/picnic tableless 1000 km of prairie we are entering.

Over a hill from Walmart is the town of Havre. We had decided on a motel, for our last night in America (for a while). The Hiline Motel proves scuzzy, but the El Toro Inn is clean, comfortable, and reasonably priced. Plus, they have a free breakfast buffet!

Following up on the party thinking, we head out to tour the town's historic buildings and also to find a steakhouse. The first passerby recommends a place that turns out to be a "Lounge" and has a battered entrance with no window. We just can not wrap our heads around this apparent cultural institution of calling a bar a restaurant.

In a gas station we ask after "Joes" for which we had seen a billboard a few towns back. A customer overhears and recommends "Andy's", so that's where we head. Andy's, too, is styled a lounge and Casino (Casino!), ut thge sign also says "Supper Club". Inside is a room with dark paneling and white table cloths. The menu is a bit of a shock, because the price of a steak is about $26, or twice what we are used to. We say what the hell, and anyway the price is for a complete meal.

The complete meal includes a most unusual lineup of items. It starts with shrimp cocktail. The tomato sauce quite heavy on horseradish. Not bad. Next, an "antipasto" plate, with some olives, pickled peppers, a green onion, crinkle cut cheese sticks, pickle slices, all offered with a cheese whiz type sauce. A salad of plain lettuce, and we are ready for our steaks. Thud! Two or three pounds of serious lands in front of us. We eat our grampies/old folks sized amounts and Dodie slices up the rest. We will live on this for the next two days!

We walk back through the town and look at the selection of historic buildings. They are widely spaced - no coherent "downtown" - but several would be great to buy, renovate, and live in with ooodles of space. This is my new criterion for evaluating historic buildings.

It's back to the El Toto to sleep off Andy's and prepare for the assault on Canada!

Condo candidate? Havre.
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For Evan I
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The Story I
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The Story II
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Historic Building, Havre
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Non-historic strip - Havre
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Andy's - maybe worth it.
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Today's ride: 60 km (37 miles)
Total: 2,154 km (1,338 miles)

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