Or is it a new salad dressing? Oh, wait. I see. Never mind. My bad.
I wake an hour before dawn and use the remaining charge in my battery to make coffee because my stove is out of fuel. There is only enough charge left to heat the water to 185°F (85°C). It’s not quite hot enough for a proper extraction but it will have to do. I am now a rough and tumble frontiersman and this is how we roll.
Next door, my loud-splaining neighbor expounds on the difference between “the good black people” and “the regular black people” to someone on the other end of a Zoom call.
I linger for a while to get some charge into my battery before heading out. Local store patrons walk past me, studiously avoiding eye contact. I haven’t even had a chance to tell them I’m from California yet. Are they prejudiced against filthy bikers? Outsider! Unclean!
I pop into the store to say goodbye to my host. “Would you happen to have any bananas?”
“No, but I have some at home,” she says, picking up her keys. I thank her profusely and convince her my need for bananas is not that urgent. I’m filled with admiration for this woman who has created an oasis for bikers in this desert. The contrast in attitude gives me whiplash.
In Jordan, I stock up on fruit and muffins. I see my first cowboy with actual spurs on his boots. Is it an affectation? Based on the amount of dust covering him, I decide he is the real deal.
“Busch Beer: Welcome Hunters” signs are everywhere. I pull over to the side of the road for another charging break and there is a small fortune in scrap aluminum on the ground around me. Hey hunters, I understand that drinking cheap beer is an essential part of the tradition but how about starting a new tradition of not tossing cans out the window? Seriously, aluminum recycling is one of the most effective recycling programs we have. The energy requirements for extracting new aluminum from ore are insane.
Oops. There I go trying to infect the local culture with my “California” ideas. I’m starting to see why my kind is so unpopular around here.
The landscape begins to change and interesting land forms appear – weathered rocks and miniature canyons. Out of habit, I start looking for camping opportunities. Then again, with all these beers-swilling hunters around maybe wild camping isn’t such a brilliant idea. I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a ten point buck.
In Circle, Montana, the city park allows tent camping as long as you check in with the sheriff’s office by phone. I have the place all to myself. As it gets dark, the yipping of coyotes fills the air. Good hunting, fellas, and remember to pack out your cans.
On my way out of town, a youth in a rusty pick up truck offers the perfect send off, “Nice helmet, asshole!”
“Thank you, asshole!” I reply cheerfully. Stay classy, Great Falls.
I start the day with a full battery and wall-to-wall sunshine. The first two hours are WOT (wide-open throttle) all the way, averaging 21 mph (34 km/h). Weee!
Stanford, Montana. Population 400. I park the bike outside the grocery store and start collecting attaboys right away. Inevitably, a local man asks, “Where are you from?”
Not this again, “You don’t want to know… California?”
“The way I see it, there are idiots everywhere.”
“Truth. Just this morning, a young man in Great Falls…”
He directs me to the “hydrant“ so I can fill up my water bladder and I manage to walk through some dog shit hiding in the grass. I wash it off as best as I can and walk into the grocery store still smelling a bit off. I want to explain, “I didn’t smell this way before I came into your town,” but this doesn’t seem likely to win hearts and minds.
The barbershop across the street has an “open” sign in the window. I still have 24 miles to go and two hours until sunset but this feels like an opportunity. As I walk in, Andy the Barber is finishing up with one of his regulars and they’re talking shit about people from Helena, Montana’s capital. I join in on the patter.
Andy is a delightful human being who clearly enjoys his work. He has been cutting hair for 60 years. He shares anecdotes about touring bikers who have come through town in years past and refuses to accept payment for his services. “You have enough expenses on your trip.”
Ackley Lake Campground is empty except for three fishermen who are packing up their trucks and heading home. As the sun sets, I have the place all to myself. Self registration is $0 for Montana residents who have “elected to pay their DMV fees” and $24 for non-residents. Andy he was right. I do have expenses.
Tomorrow, I’ll try to break the 100 mile mark if the sunshine holds.
I wake up in Wauconda to cloudy skies, 1% battery and not enough stove fuel to make coffee. The next town with services is 16 miles and 1000’ climbing away. Also, it looks like it may rain. Also, there’s no internet.
I don’t much care for these rumble strips in the middle of the road on route 20. I’m sure they save sleepy and distracted drivers from drifting into the oncoming lane but one out of seven cars passing me comes too close because they don’t want to drive over it. I counted.
I make it to Republic, Washington just as it is beginning to rain. I decide it is time for a hot meal, shower, laundry and errands so I check into the last remaining room at the local inn.
Next up is Sherman Pass with 4000’ (1200 m) of climbing. Weather outlook is mostly rainy so I’m not looking forward to that climb. Next sunny day is two days away and I can’t wait that long.