Biologist on a Bike

Day 20: Wisdom, MT to Dillon, MT

Distance: 66:71
Average Speed: 12.7 mph; Max Speed: 44.4 mph
Elevation gain: 2599
Average Temp: 49.6 F: Temp Range: 32.0-66.2 F


I think I fell asleep around 8:30 last night, after pitching my tent inside the shelter at the American Legion Park. Yes, I pitched my tent inside a building, and I don’t regret it one bit. Two walls were mostly solid while the other two had big screen windows and doors. It was breezy inside the shelter and, as if that weren’t enough, I wasn’t entirely certain that I would stay dry if it rained hard enough. Solution? Tent. The body of the tent would keep me dry and the rain fly would stop the breeze and trap some of the heat. My own little cocoon of warmth.

Where I woke up, Day 20

Just before 10PM I woke up when the door opened. “Somebody’s already here,” a voice said. Two TransAm racers, Mark and James, had been caught in some of the rain passing through and decided not to continue on through the cold, wet night to get to the hostel in the next town, 18 miles further along. They rode into Wisdom but nothing was open because the power was out. Ah, well that explained why the WiFi and electrical outlets in the shelter weren’t working. I had just assumed somebody had blown the fuse.

I climbed out of my tent to move some of my stuff out of the way, since I had spread out on the assumption that I was going to be the only one there for the night. James ended up sleeping on top of the picnic table and Mark on the bench.

When I woke up a little after 6AM, I had one single word to greet the dawn when I looked outside and saw that it was snowing. It had only four letters. The snow didn’t accumulate, but it did seal the deal on my going to breakfast in town for a hot meal to start the day.

The view from the shelter

The power had come on during the night, so I was able to check the hours and see that the restaurant opened at 7AM. Mark and James, both having significantly less stuff to pack and load on their bikes, beat me there, and there was at least one other bike parked out front as well. One of the best features of The Crossings was the fire burning in the stove. I stood in front of it for a minute, then hung up my rain booties and socks (I wasn’t going around barefoot, I promise) to dry and warm while I ate. And such good food. Plentiful coffee, huevos rancheros (two tortillas, two eggs, homemade salsa, and slightly smashed black beans—they were not refried, whatever the menu said, but they were still excellent), and two huge buttermilk pancakes. I’m picky about my pancakes and rare is the restaurant that makes ones that aren’t disappointing. These were excellent.

Mark, meanwhile, went into the store attached to the restaurant to find more layers. He added a sweatshirt and a hat to his gear, but no gloves were to be found. The market had some, but wouldn’t be open for a few hours. He was contemplating wearing socks on his hands as mittens instead.

I left before Mark and James did and as I was rolling out of town I spotted a store with a stand of postcards. Perfect! I ducked in and saw that they also had all kinds of outdoor gear, including gloves, so when I was finished with my purchase I went back up the street to the restaurant and told Mark where he could find some gloves. I hate being cold and it wasn’t like I was part of the race and strapped for time, so the choice to go back was an easy one to make.

Then it was onward to Jackson, the next town on the path which was followed by a 48 mile gap before my destination for the night. The ride was chilly but pleasant, with a number of birds singing at me as I went. There was a yellow-headed blackbird with a vocalization that sounds a bit like a cat with laryngitis, and a snipe that sounds a bit like a dog’s squeezy toy, the kind that makes noise when it’s squeezed and when it’s released.

Yellow-headed blackbird

Common Snipe

I also was pleasantly surprised by the spotting of a pair of sandhill cranes in a field of flowers

Sandhill Cranes

I pulled up in front of the hostel that several people had told me about. There was a cyclist out front talking to a man. The man, it turns out, was Uwe, a German who Mark had met and ridden with for a few days on a bike tour in Scotland. Mark had mentioned that they were going to meet for lunch, so I told Uwe that he was hunting down some gloves and shouldn’t be far behind me. The hostel, as it turns out, was closing for the morning so the owner could attend church, but he directed me to a hose where I could fill up my water bottles. I then sat at a table outside the now closed hostel to have a snack before tackling the two mountain passes that lay ahead.

The Big Hole Valley is lovely

Uwe and his wife joined me. Two years ago, Uwe rode the TransAmerica Trail East to West. He was now driving it with his wife. When Mark arrived, Uwe invited me to join them for lunch. Two hot meals in a warm, comfortable location, neither of which I had to cook? I’m getting quite spoiled.

James joined us a little while later, and we had a good time sharing tales of the road and talking about gear and so on.

Just as we were wrapping up and I was thinking of moving on, it started snowing. It wasn’t a lot of snow, and it wasn’t sticking…much…but the wind blowing it almost on the horizontal, and it seemed a good idea to wait and see what would happen.

What happened was that a few minutes later it cleared up, and the weather radar didn’t show anything right on its heels. Perfect. I was going to take the window of clear weather and go.

Result: I got snowed on as I rode to the pass. It wasn’t bad so much as it was annoying. It didn’t stick, it didn’t make any significant impact on visibility. It was just cold, windy, and SNOWING. To be fair, though, I preferred the snow to rain. It was in the upper 30s on the ground so it could have rained, which would have resulted in a much wetter and colder me. The snow mostly landed on my jacket and then blew off in the wind.

Mark passed me on the climb, and we exchanged a few words on the weather and the grade before he rode out of reasonable shouting range.

Big Hole Pass

Did I mention the wind? It was actually a tailwind again. While the snow had stopped by the time I was climbing the pass, the wind had not, and it was helping me along. And it continued to help on the descent. That top speed I mentioned above in my stats looks crazy, right? It is! I almost never allow my bike to pick up that kind of speed, generally applying the breaks if I get much over 35 for the sake of safety. But the pavement was good, the road was straight, visibility was clear, and I just let it fly. Apparently, I flew so fast that I caught up with the snowstorm that had passed me by. At the top of a small rise with a cell tower, I pulled off intending to check the weather. There was a metal structure shaped like a domed longhouse, and Mark was inside sheltering from the wind. I joined him and we waited out the snow, yet again. A nice place to stay out of the wind and the snow was enough, which was good because that cell tower either wasn’t in operation or it wasn’t owned by any company friendly with either Verizon or AT&T. Neither Mark nor I had any signal.

A few minutes after the snow passed, we set out again, parting ways for the last time.

The lunch I had eaten, grilled cheese and fries, was sitting heavy in my stomach at this point. I don’t normally eat a lot of greasy food and even less so on this trip. The fats were taking their typical long time to digest and my body was screaming for some carbs. I stopped about 100 feet of climbing into the second pass, grabbed some fruit-heavy trail mix and mixed up some Gatorade. After a few minutes, I was feeling better, and I continued up the mountain.

The view from just a bit past the summit of Badger Pass

The descent from this second pass wasn’t as thrilling, but it was nice and steady, with a long stretch where I was able to stay between 20 and 30 mph with minimal pedaling. It wasn’t long before I reached Dillon and found the KOA RV park where I planned on camping for the night.

This Osprey was a few miles outside Dillon, sitting on its dinner.

Female Hairy Woodpecker (?) who came to visit my campsite as I was setting up.

It’s a bit more expensive than my usual campsites, but it is an impressive facility. There is a park, a laundry room (coin-operated, of course), and clean bathrooms/showers. The tent sites have no electricity, though, and I had wanted to catch up on my posting and charge some things. Well, there’s a table and chair in the laundry room, so after dinner I set up camp in here. One of the owners (a husband and wife couple) just came in and said “It’s warm, that’s why you’re here?” I said yes, because that was part of it. I’m warm and comfortable, and likely to stay here until it’s time to curl up in my down quilt, which is also warm and comfortable.

Roadkill count: none

I had a Garmin hiccup, so today’s map is split into two.

Map day 20a

Map day 20b

5 thoughts on “Day 20: Wisdom, MT to Dillon, MT

  1. Uwe Stahmer

    Was great to meet you in the winter of Jackson. It also was a pleasure to invite you for lunch and give you a bit of support for your long journey. I know from my tour two years ago that you cannot have enough food on the way. Stay safe. Uwe and Sylvia

    1. Spin Doctor Post author

      The views and the challenge are spectacular, but it’s the people I’ve met along the way that truly are making this experience special. Thank you so much, it was a pleasure meeting and talking with you both.

  2. Linda Schmelzer

    Love your photos, especially the birds. I can visualize everything that you write. What a fantastic experience you are having!!

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