Day 8: Alberton to Missoula, Montana

Today was a relatively short day of pedaling, slightly more than 40 miles.  One problem that I have biking in Montana is that there are relatively few towns and motels.  The choice today was 40 miles to Missoula or 130 miles to Lincoln, Montana.

The last time I biked across the country I had the same problem in Montana; finding places to stop at reasonable distances.  Once on the last trip we just couldn’t make it to the next town because the distance was too far.  We saw a clearing just off the road.  It was besides some train tracks, but the tracks did not look very used.  We set up our tents, had some food and went to sleep.  In the middle of the night the ground started to shake.  It felt like an earthquake was happening.  Then a huge roaring noise filled the air as a giant train screamed by on the tracks.  I was too petrified to even open my tent flap.

The motel in Alberton was a bit like this story.  All the rooms looked at the Clark Fork River.  Just on the other bank of the river were train tracks.  These tracks were used more than the tracks I camped beside years earlier, but the result was the same.  I didn’t get a lot of sleep even though the surroundings were quite beautiful, and the motel’s restaurant served a great steak dinner.

My wife talked to me on the phone and tried to convince me of the need for a day off.  I wasn’t sure in the morning when I set off.  The ride towards Missoula was not much different than previous days of riding through Western Montana.  Today, luckily there were no missing or closed roads!  However, there were places were the road surface switched to loose gravel and hard packed dirt.   I was also chased by a dog, but it was early enough in the day that I could pedal faster than that dog could run.

I then hit a section of road construction.  The crew was spraying the dirt with water, so I got to pedal through sticky mud.  The bike and I were a total mess.  After making it through the mud the bike was not working well.  I was in a small town and found a man mowing his lawn.  I asked if he had a hose.  I was able to get the heaviest parts of the mud off the wheels, chain and brakes.  The bike worked much better after its bath, but I was still covered with dirt.

On the way into Missoula I picked up a bike path just ahead of a slightly overweight teenage girl wearing sandals.  I beat her on the downhill since I had the better bike.  On the flat she blew me away.  At that point I realized I needed a rest day, soon.

I made it by 2 PM to the local REI store.  I wanted a spare tire.  I had brought spare tubes and patches but the experience outside of Spokane convinced me that I needed a spare tire too.  They were out of my size (700 X 32 cm) but they did have lubricant so that I could reoil the bike after the mud bath.  The cashier chatted with me about my ride and felt that the next 200 miles would not be a problem.  He said the first 100 miles were a slow but steady uphill.  The next 100 miles were rolling hills that he didn’t think would give me a problem.  That was good news.

There was another bike store near my motel.  They had the same tire which REI was out of stock.  It was $10 more but I wasn’t going to take a chance of slicing a tire in Eastern Montana and not having a spare.  The salesman told me the same information about the next 200 miles.  I asked him if I should stop in Missoula or take a rest day in Great Falls, which is the town 200 miles from here.  He was unequivocal, “don’t go to Great Falls, stay here.”

It looks like I am spending two nights in Missoula.  I took a rest day here decades ago on my last bike trip.  None of the town looks familiar but I am doing familiar things.  Last time in Missoula I cleaned my clothes in a laundromat.  Tonight, I went to a laundromat to get the mud out of my bike clothes.  Last time we had a small party in the laundromat.  I bought wine, cheese and crackers.  This time was more subdued.  I talked on my cell phone and read email.  The result in both cases was the same; clean clothes.

Economist Advocating for Using Cash