Even though we have already received our visa for the United States, we remain a bit excited at the border. In theory, customs could still refuse us. The officer asks us what we are planning to do in the United States and what kind of work we have in the Netherlands. They are used to cyclists crossing the border at Roosville, as the Great Divide route crosses here, so that saves a lot of explanation. The officer says that we are rather ‘late’ in the season. We answer that we hope to be just south enough before the winter.. We are perhaps the last cyclists to cross the border this year. The man started out very serious, but he is getting nicer and is also very surprised to see our stamps in our passports. “You must love cycling!” The paperwork is filled in quickly and we can stay for up to 6 months 🙂 .
The first night we stay with Latimer and Kari, Warmshowers hosts in the village of Eureka. A typical American village, we felt like having entered a film set. Large and wide streets, shops with saloon-like facades. Large pick-ups drive through and people seem to have lingered in clothing from the 1970s.
Cycling and camping in the mountains of Montana
Nature seems endless. Every time we have a vantage point, the extent to which we can see is only trees. It’s wonderful. We feel in the wilderness. The only sound we occasionally hear is from an airplane far above the clouds. We have a good bike-rhythm and cycle on for days, without much happening. When we arrive to a campsite, we usually start gathering wood right away and when the sun is behind the mountains we immediately make a campfire. When the sun is gone, it’s cold fast. We cook over the fire and usually sit there for another hour. We hang our food in the tree or put it in the ‘bear box’ and then go into the tent around 9 o’clock. We often plan to sleep at a designated campsite. Usually there is another camper and we camp close to them, so we feel a bit safer in this area full of wild animals..
Just after the city of Helena we arrive at a campground where we meet a group of hunters. It is a large site, but it is very quiet this time of the year. We stay next to the hunters and they immediately offer us firewood. They hunt elk, which almost all hunters do this time of the year. They tell us that one is close by and they can hear it. They make a high sound through a large horn, echoing between the mountains. Usually he calls back or he comes to the sound. But now we don’t hear anything. “You’ll hear him tonight,” the hunters say. In the evening when we sit by the campfire and we only hear a group of coyotes (prairie wolves). They bark and shout loudly, not far from us.
Ovando, a small village, appears to be very hospitable to cyclists. There is a teepee, a small shepherd’s wagon and an old prison where passing cyclists can spend the night. We opt for the shepherd’s wagon. There is also a sign with a poster on it: free cabin for cyclists, with the location about 100 kilometers away. After our first experience in Butt’s Cabin in Canada, we had been looking for a while to see if we could rent a cabin somewhere in the forest. This seems perfect! But the route is still over 2 mountain passes, and we cannot make it in a day. On the map, Lynn sees that we can also cycle a bit through the valley and then reach the cabin via another mountain pass. “No idea if it will be difficult, but it is only for 10 kilometers, that must be possible!” The first 70 kilometers are on beautiful gravel roads between the farmlands. The road then stops and the trail begins. We first cycle 100 meters into a path and wonder whether this is correct. Slightly lower there is another one.. We go back and try. It’s a real hiking trail, but we decide that we should continue, otherwise we would definitely not reach the cabin today. We push and drag the bikes up mountain, lift them over many fallen trees and go through the river several times. Sometimes we cycle a short distance, but the plants and forests grow so close together that our legs are scratched everywhere. Almost halfway up the mountain pass we arrive at a junction, and the way up seems to me to be the right one. We have a hard time going up the steep hill. Then the path suddenly becomes less visible and stops at a load of fallen trees. We put down the bicycles and started searching the trail. Even the way back is hardly visible. After an hour of searching and thinking about emergency plans, we descend steeply down and finally find the path again. At 8 o’clock in the evening, around sunset, we arrive at the cabin, the Llama Lodge. Barbara and John treat us to a beer and a warm meal. We feel so lucky!
In Canada and America we have great experiences again with all Warmshowers hosts, and the Llama Lodge is a special one. With large flags ”GDMBR Cyclists Welcome” (Great Divide Cyclists) on the fence, Barbara and John make clear that cyclists can overnight at there place. They have three cabins in the garden, where a total of nine cyclists can sleep per night. The cabins are so well-equipped that you will not lack anything. John explains that this year they have hosted more than 350 cyclists. We also meet the first fellow cyclists. A group of Americans who cycle to Butte in Montana, three days away, and Shahsta, who cycles until mid-October, till the winter sports season in Canada.
Winter is coming soon
When we arrive in the old mining town of Butte, we see on the weather forecast that cold weather is coming. We decide to cycle as many kilometers as we can in the coming days, and arrange a place to sleep for the days when a lot of snow is expected. Just before a National Park Yellowstone a Warmshowers host accepted our request. The first day is not easy, we have a lot of headwind. But we arrive, a little late, at the campsite we had in mind. A retired American couple is camping there too and we stop by to have a chat. “There is a nice spot at the river, you can stay there with the tent!” Says the man. “We’ll come and stand next to you, it feels safer..!”, We say. As we gather wood, the man grabs his chainsaw and saws off some pieces of an old tree for us. He also comes with his road-atlas. He is very curious to where we are going. When we walk past their caravan after dinner, we are invited to come and taste some of their food! Even though we have already eaten, as cyclists we are still hungry and can use all calories. In the caravan it is nice and warm, and ‘deer stroganoff’ is served, his favorite dish. Self shot and processed. We also get a glass of red wine to go with it. What a luxury, something that we normally can’t afford at all. The next day we also get offered tasty sandwiches and a large piece of sausage to go!
The next few days we continue with extra energy. We also have the wind in our back, so we can cover a considerable distance. The surroundings change quickly and we are now a desert, no trees anymore and it all looks very dry. Along the way we meet another hunter who tells us that the worst storm since the 1920s is coming. He expects meters of snow! But that is more to the north, in the mountains, and we have already moved a bit further south. The next morning we get out of bed extra early and unfortunately we have to hit the wind again. After a long, hard day against the wind, 85 kilometers remain the next day and we arrive just in time at our Warmshowers host in Island Park.