Day 82: Leaving Bozeman and feeling the beginning of the end of the tour

Bozeman was a great town but I woke up in the hostel ready to go. I had a nice, day-long descent to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park that would put me in a perfect position to climb the Continental Divide for the last time into Butte, and I was still riding high from abandoning the TransAm Trail and pedaling into the unknown. So off I went, cruising through the suburbs outside Bozeman in Belgrade:

It seemed like quite the family-friendly place. 

Further down the road I stopped for Gatorade in Manhattan, MT, where I saw some ladies riding horses:

A few seconds before they were on the sidewalk. I was just too slow pulling out the phone to grab it.

I couldn’t help but think about the last time I was in a Manhattan a million years ago when this whole thing started and how much I’ve been through since then. I feel like I’m in the home stretch. I feel like the end is near, but whether or not that’s the case is all perspective. I still have weeks ahead of me, but there are months behind me. 

And I also thought about how I feel about this endeavor going forward. I want to be done. I want to finish this. When I started I had romantic notions of stopping on the coast, working for a few months, then riding on, probably down the Pacific Coast. I’m not there anymore. I love what I’m doing out here and I think it’s probably the best life decision I’ve made, but I’m tired. I may roll through the continent at 14mph every day but I want to slow down even more. I may have never been all that great at the daily grind but there is a very particular daily grind when on tour and slowly but surely it’s wearing on me. I’ve all but forgotten what it’s like to have a home, or the feeling of familiarity of daily life. The longest I’ve been in any one place in almost three months is 2.5 days. I don’t even know what it’d feel like to wake up in the same place for a week. I can’t imagine the feeling of waking up without immediately considering what calories I’m starting the day with, where I’m sleeping that night, the milage ahead of me, how far services are spaced apart on the road, the elevation changes in my day, and perhaps above all, the wind. I want to be in one place for a while. This is definitely not my last bicycle adventure but I can’t shake the thought that I need some breathing room.
But even more than that I want to finish what I started. The Pacific Ocean is waiting for me and I already know that rolling into it will be the most overwhelming feeling of my life. My best way of fighting the mental strain of the beginning of the end is to think about it as a macro version of my experience every day on the bike: my strongest hours are the the first, and my weakest are the last, almost without fail. But I just keep riding through the mental fatigue and it takes me to new, exciting places. Making the coast is no different. Onward. 

Western Montana is such an incredible place, and an incredible place to ride. Between Bozeman and Lewis and Clark, it felt like a mishmash of all three last physical landscapes I rolled through:

I felt the plains, I felt the mountains, and I felt the desert. Plenty of surprises out here. 

I was still feeling the Montanan indifference to cyclists though, which is why coming across this hike/bike trail outside Three Forks was a breath of fresh air:

I stopped at a bench on one of the rivers in town and had lunch, which felt notable because it was under a tree. So little shade on the road in such a long time. 
I was on the Yellowstone Trail coming out of town, with beautiful mountains I’d have to ride over in the distance…with a familiar haze:

I didn’t need town chatter or a weather service warning to know what was causing it: wildfires. It wasn’t hard to imagine why either. It’s very, very dry out here. 

Even though the beauty of the mountains were in the distance compared to weeks past, I still got awe-inspiring views of a new portion of the Rockies:

I made it to Willow Creek and saw a sign that has become so familiar throughout this country:

Small towns are dead. Storefronts are dilapidated and front gutted interiors, there are a gaggle of households, and the only cars you see parked are generally outside auto garages or post offices. 

I took a turn down a gravel road for the first time in a while to get me back to the state highway:

With a quite memorable bridge to ride over:

The wood boards were a lot more dramatically uneven than the picture suggests. 

Back to pavement:

With a curiousity on the road:

A lone, rundown cabin and a plaque out front… My curiousity got the best of me and I wanted to know what it was, but the entrance was closed off with barbed wire and a “no trespassing” sign. This just made it all the more bizarre. WHAT WAS THIS PLACE NOT KNOWING IS KILLING ME ARRGHH. 

But it was soon forgotten when I saw some deer on the road in front of me:

Of the countless deer I’ve seen on this journey, seeing them take the highway for themselves was a first. 

I’ve developed quite the relationship with the paved landscape over the last few months, if for no other reason than necessity. By far my favorite kind of roads are like this:

Rolling, winding, and with a long view of where I’ll be going into vast beauty. It’s epic and soothing at the same time. 

Before long the end was near, Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park Campground, right off to the left outside of view below:

I saw a welcome center and went in to get something cold to drink (temps in the mid 90s) and ask where the campgrounds were. They didn’t have anything cold, so then the camping discussion. Keep in mind I had no idea where the campground was in relation to the visitor center and I was exhausted from over 50 miles riding through the excessive, dry heat. A dialogue:

Jeff: Could you tell me where the campground is?

Rep (clearly irritated): Wait. Back up. Do you have a reservation?

Jeff: No ma’am. Coming here was a last-minute decision and I was under the impression that you had campsites for hikers and bikers. 

Rep (supremely indignant): Well you still have to pay!

Jeff (pulling out my bank card): Ma’am, I didn’t say one word about not paying. I said I don’t have a reservation. Please just tell me how much my site is for the night, where it is, and I’ll go set up my tent, get some sleep, and leave in the morning and you’ll never have to see me again.

She feigned friendliness after that but I wasn’t biting. I swear, there must be a universal prerequisite to being a campground attendant that states one must have a permanent chip on their shoulder in order to get the job. It’s been like this for over three thousand miles, and it doesn’t matter whether the campground is on public or private land. 

I did just what I told her I would, sleeping like a baby on my new sleeping pad in the cool night air. The next morning I had to climb a mountain…


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