Eating our way north to Big Fork, MT

Wednesday July 22, 2009, 74 miles (119 km) – Total so far: 3,598 miles (5,790 km)

Don’t you just love it when a description of the day turns out to have a double entendre?  We started the day with gas station delights (cinnamon rolls, OJ, and a sausage and egg biscuit).  Got rolling by 7:00, climbing up the Clearwater valley, until the Clearwater turned east toward the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and we kept going north. It looked like a pretty small river by the time we crossed it again here.

Clearwater River climbing toward Bob Marshall Wilderness

Just outside Seeley Lake, we passed a deer crossing next 53 miles sign.  Standing right beside it was a doe, watching us ride past.  Wonder how she knew where she was supposed to cross the road?

We crossed into the Swan River valley, which drains later into the Flathead, and kept going.  The terrain was rolling; mostly downhill, since our ending elevation was lower than the south end of the valley.  There were still enough climbs to make this less easy than, say, the Madison Valley ride last week.  About the time we crossed over the top, we went from the Lolo National Forest to the Flathead NF, and I noticed something different; the Flathead had Ponderosa pines, big enough to make logging worthwhile.  I’d been wondering where all the big logs on the logging trucks came from, and it seems they either come from way back off the road in Lolo, or anywhere in Flathead.

Two kinds of pines!

Virginia meets a logging truck. (The trucker was well-informed, not to mention opinionated!)

Also at the top, we got a view of the Mission Mountains Wilderness to the west.  There’s some snow on the tops of these — are there glaciers at these low elevations this far north?

Mission Mountains Wilderness to our west

Although we were in the Swan River valley, we didn’t see much of the river itself.  There were a couple of lakes, but the river was half a mile west, through a bunch of trees, and so there wasn’t much to see for 30 miles or so.

In the meantime, we came upon a restaurant outside Condon that was supposedly closed.  We got the best bargain on food there we’ve seen in a long time; $7.50 for an egg each, pancakes, coffee and juice for Virginia.

Another 30 miles, and we came into Swan Lake.  It’s an oddball, in my experience, in that the lake is broadest at the top, where the river flows in, and narrowest at the downstream end.  Most lakes do that backward.  You can see some haze, which we’d been seeing all day.  As we at lunch at a local store, the liar’s club said it was due to fires west of Hamilton, 150 miles to the southwest (we went through there Sunday), or maybe, “Those fires up in Canada. Hmm.”  (The “Hmm” seems to be part of the description for those fires — it was always added!)  As we went down the lake, a man approached us as we were taking more pictures and offered us cherries, nectarines, and plums.  A very nice guy, from Montana, but he’s terrified of riding his bike on roads without shoulders.  We’re getting used to it, although I prefer the logging trucks to the big RVs.

Swan Lake

Us, at Swan Lake

Below the lake, we went through Ferndale, and found the Swan River.  With a boat ramp.  It was inviting, and we’d been riding over 60 miles by then, so we stopped and went wading.  The river bottom was rounded pebbles, and the water was cool and soothing to our feet.

Wading in the Swan River

We climbed a hill and then coasted down into Big Fork, on the Flathead Lake.  The Flathead is the largest (may need to add natural here) freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, about 14 by 28 miles, and up to 380 feet deep.  The town of Big Fork is an oddball.  It’s a touristy town, but it’s hidden.  You need directions to find it, else you’ll just see the state highways and a few gas stations.  When they built the new road, it bypassed “downtown.”  The old road goes over an ancient bridge (one lane, 3 ton weight limit) and into the tourist center.

On another topic, almost every gas station in Montana is also a casino, as are most of the bars and assorted other businesses.  I suspect this is part of the reason the U.S. can’t get a decent dollar coin, that’s readily distinguishable from other coins (think a British pound coin, if you need a comparison).  There’s this massive gambling infrastructure that will lobby fiercely against changing the dollar coin to something useful, because the owners would have to replace all those beeping machines.  I wonder how the numbers compare to the vending machine numbers in 1964, when silver was removed from dimes and quarters.

Back on topic, we’re shooting to make it to Glacier National Park tomorrow, and spend a couple of nights there.  Unless there’s a wireless access point there, I’ll have to save tomorrow’s post for Saturday night or later.

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