Saturday, July 12, 2008

Big Hole Valley

Back in Virginia and Kentucky, good biking weather was often warm air, but overcast skies, so it wasn't too hot. Since I hit the Rockies in Colorado, I've had the reverse weather combination, brisk air but full sun to keep me warm. Yesterday the balance shifted and I had my first cold day of riding since early May. The sky was clear and the sun was blazing, but it wasn't enough to warm the cold wind blowing from the northwest.

I intended to arrive in Jackson, MT, on Thursday, but was slowed by the winds. After an even slower ride yesterday, Jackson became my destination last night. Several eastbound riders recommended that I stop at the Jackson Hot Springs Lodge, where for $10 I could camp and use the springs.

Jackson, which is in the Big Hole Valley, is the only town that I hit on my forty-nine mile ride from Dillon. The uphill ride took me over two passes and through quiet terrain. Occasionally, I passed herds of grazing cattle.

The Jackson Lodge has a bar, restaurant and a number of cabins. I overheard the bartender tell a couple sitting at the bar that the lodge employs half the town's residents. It's not much of an exaggeration. Thirty-eight people live in Jackson and the lodge has fifteen employees. After setting up camp, I soaked in the hot springs, which I had all to myself. The water was considerably cooler than the Saratoga springs, so I could comfortably swim around the large pool.

I spent the evening at the bar talking with the lodge's chef and two ranch hands, who worked nearby. The ranchers had spent the afternoon shooting beaver that were building dams in creeks and flooding grazing lands. Greg, the chef, told me that the valley only has fourteen non-frost days a year and yesterday wasn't one of them. A group of women arrived at the bar in puffy, winter coats -- a strange sight for July 11.

Despite a late start (even by my standards), I still managed to travel a good distance today, riding until 8:30pm. Western Montana has long summer days, as it doesn't get completely dark until after 10pm. After today's ride, Montana is quickly ascending on my list of favorite states on the route. I continued my ride through the Big Hole Valley -- "the Land of 10,000 Haystacks." A guy, standing next to his truck and holding a pair of binoculars, asked if I was ready for a cold beer as I rode by. On any other day I would have taken him up on his offer, but not today. I stopped to chat. I assumed he was out counting cattle as I have seen other ranchers doing, but he was on a bird-watching tour. An avid kayaker, he had four kayaks on the top of his truck.

I also stopped at the Big Hole National Battlefield, where in August 1877, the U.S. Army conducted a dawn raid on five bands of Nez Perce Indians, who refused to be forced onto a reservation. After losing about sixty tribe members, many woman and children, the Nez Perce warriors rallied and held off the army, allowing the tribe to escape. But by September of that year, after a few more battles in Idaho and Montana, the remaining Nez Perce surrendered. At the battlefield visitor center, a quote on the wall from one U.S. soldier struck me. While asserting that the Indians had to conform to the will of the white man, he said, "But power is not justice and force is not law."

After leaving the battlefield, I had to climb to Chief Joseph pass at 7240 feet. I then had an exhilarating descent into the Bitterroot Valley. One six-mile stretch of narrow, winding road was particularly stunning. The road ran alongside the east fork of the Bitterroot River and grass-covered hills rose to the east and west. I passed a group of big horned sheep many of which were calves. The evening light kept me from ending my ride earlier.


Anonymous said...

You are movin... you don't even need 3 months to finish that skimpy ride... Seth

abrandt said...

Almost there... Please watch out for wolves, bears, and mountain lions.

Anonymous said...

Are those big horn sheep or antelope? They look like antelope to me, but I could be wrong.

The Rider said...

I wasn't sure at first, but due to the look of their horns I didn't think they were antelope. After searching the web, I found a few pics like the one linked below that made me think they were a type of big horn sheep.

Ryan said...

yeah, it looks like your right. I better edit my journal. I saw the same animals when I rode the transam last year and I thought they were antelope. I saw them in the same area as you did.

Goook luck with the rest of your trip. If it fits into your schedule, then I recommend you stop at the church listed in Dayville, OR. They have showers, a kitchen, and a 56k internet connection.