Today we left Montana. After 15 days and 900 miles crossing the state, I am both relieved to be moving on to our next state and sorry to say goodbye to this one.
Montana has surprised me with its beauty and friendliness. I had been concerned that we'd be hassled on the roads through the rural parts of the state. But mile after mile, we largely were given plenty of room, particularly by the big rigs. There was only one fella who was compelled to address us from his car as it sped by. As it turned out, the winds tossed his words away, so we really don't know if he was offering us props or cussing us out!
|Looks like all the dennil floss has been harvested already.|
I think the folk here see a lot of touring cyclists. Several Adventure Cycling routes cross the state, and their headquarters building in Missoula attracts a lot of cyclists. Each of the larger towns we've been through has had better than average bike infrastructure, and very good bike shops. Some of the little bitty towns had quirky spots to stay for cyclists - Ovando has a tipi, jail and some other structure where you can lodge for free.
The bike shops along the AC Great Divide route (mountain biking from Canada to Mexico) see a lot of bike tourists, many on mountain bikes. They are all just as friendly, helpful and knowledgeable as can be. None of the attitude that I have sometimes gotten from bike shop guys. Most of them were very interested in our tour (or pretended to be) and took some time to chat and ask us about our travels.
All these tourists drop a lot of dollars. Even the ones riding day-to-day with signs stating "accepting donations" have to eat, and we certainly ate a lot and ate well. In a car, we might have hit Glacier for two days, driven to Yellowstone, and been out of the state in three days. Instead, we stayed for two weeks. That's a big difference in terms of dollars for dinner, lodging and gear. So, even the small town folk were very friendly, and happy to see us.
I was also surprised by level of interest and emphasis that I saw on the environment and conservation. I didn't particularly know what to expect, but was very pleased to see how dedicated the Montanans are to preserving the open spaces they have, particularly in the western part of the state. They have a representative that is trying to push for the federal lands to be turned over for state control and management, and a large percentage of Montanans think that is a bad idea! Editorials in the newspapers spoke to the issue, and indicated that there is a greater awareness of the value of the national support of these places that I had expected to find.
The cities seemed pretty liberal-ish to me, which is to say I saw of lot of Teva sandals and beards and crunchy granola types hanging around the coffee shops and cafes. Way more people looked like they belonged in Berkeley than on a ranch. Our hosts generally confirmed this impression: blue in the cities, red in the country. The senators are split, the governor is a Democrat, and as one person said, "would you like our representative? We don't want him!"
On the flip side, there are plenty of "don't tell me what to do" types here, as well. Our last Warm Showers host in the state works with the census bureau, so she knows who's out there and what's going on. There are Freemen living out in the rural areas, who print their own money. And Montana is home to a number of colonies of Hutterites, who apparently farm better than anyone else, and as an ethno-religious group, have gained the right to school their own children and stop at grade eight. Perhaps a dozen of the counties are so small in population that they do not have a county seat - they share with another county. Golden Valley county, where we stayed in Ryegate, has 900 people. And I thought Alpine County in California was small!
So, along with the bigness, there is also this amazing smallness in Montana. It makes for a very interesting contrast, and I leave this state with much affection for the people that I have met and the places I have seen.
I'll close with a photo of our last hosts in the state, Bonnie and Mike, who were so very kind and interesting to talk with. Mike was another railroad man, having worked on the big diesel engines. Bonnie is the one with the census bureau, so she was a wealth of information about the state. And in another one of those small world things, their son is a firefighter stationed near Quincy, California - just north of Lake Tahoe. We did a quick check to see if he or his wife knew our daughter, but this time came up short. Oh, well!
What we rode today: Billings to Hardin, where we had some lunch and waited for our friends Gary and Joanne to come and get us. We will be traveling by car for the next few days, seeing some of the sights in eastern Wyoming and western South Dakota, camping, and doing some riding with them on their tandem.
The day's report: Billings to Hardin, 48.8 miles/3161 to date
By the way, this place had the best pizza I've had in a long time. And a great sense of humor - see signs.