Harder than it looks! Eureka, MT

Sunday July 26, 2009, 58 miles (93 km) – Total so far: 3,743 miles (6,024 km)

I guess I already used the Eureka joke back in Kansas.  Pfui!

“West” on the Northern Tier route, north by northwest on a map or on the ground. On paper, this was an easy ride; just 58 miles, no significant climbs, just get on the bike and start rolling.

It started out that way; we came out of Whitefish fairly early (7:30 start), which is an hour after sunrise, but this close to Pacific time, there’s not much open before 7:00.  A little climb to leave the Whitefish valley, but not much traffic, so it was a nice ride.  Up at the top was a small lake, with a couple of loons yodeling back and forth to each other.

Those two specks are loons in the middle of the pond

The tough part started when we stopped at Olney.  It was an act of blind faith, following a narrow road half a mile off U.S. 93, looking for a gas station and convenience store.  Just about the time I was ready to turn around, we found the railroad and the store.  Choco-milk, the breakfast of champions, and a muffin I scarfed from the motel — a quick 1,000 calories!  I figure it’d take 30 miles of normal riding to burn that off. But when we got back to the road, we found a 10 mph north wind — a fairly stiff headwind — had come up, so it was time to go to work. Interesting wildlife “observation” — on the way back up to the main road, I heard something rustling in a bush next to the road. Right as I passed it, a yellow-orange ball of fur, just about the size and shape of a bobcat, jumped out of the bush and disappeared into the grass and trees. “Observation” in quotes, since it was gone inside a second.

Pretty riding, but you can't see the headwind

20 miles of chipseal and headwind — hard on the butt and the legs.  There’s not much shock absorption on a road bike; just a couple of 90 psi tires, stiff leather seat, and your feet, legs, hands, arms, and shoulders.  In other words, rough roads tire you out.  But we turned off 93 past Stryker at Fortine, and the trees and hills lined up to block the wind for a while.  Of course, I think the last time the road was paved was when this was a supply road for building the Alaska Highway back during WWII, so the road surface wasn’t much improved.  A bit of a climb again to leave the Stillwater Valley, which feeds down to the Whitefish, Flathead, and ultimately Clark Fork rivers. But what’s this?

In Montana??

And thus we came to Tobacco River, and Tobacco Road.  Now I’d have thought that was U.S. 15-501 between Chapel Hill and Durham, NC, or NC 54 from Chapel Hill to Raleigh, or even somewhere in Virginia, Kentucky, or Tennessee.  Well, it turns out the Indians used to grow tobacco just north of the Canadian border, in Tobacco Flats, and the name bled over to the river that’s flowing north towards those flats, and the Kootenai River valley.

Great view from Tobacco Road, looking east across the valley, though.

Looking across Tobacco Valley

Shortly after, we took some back roads that went up, and down, and up, and down. I didn’t quite see the point in getting off a good road, with little traffic, but like good tourists we followed the route. Down the hill, and we’re out of the occasional ranch or farm house, and the sporadic vacation house, and into Eureka, MT.  Across the railroad (they build a new route a while back that goes west from Stryker, but the line still looks well-maintained), across the river, and into town.  We’re about seven miles from the Canadian border, and the 24-hour port of Roosville.  If we had our passports, we might make a dash up there just to get another country into this ride.  But we don’t have them, and it’s raining.

Tobacco River

On the rain and fire thing, the fire status was at medium when we came out of Whitefish (it rained there overnight).  Fire status is high up here in the Kootenai National Forest at Eureka; maybe the rain will knock it down a level.

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