Under Gates and Over Mountains, but Never Around

I am, in fact, very famous in rural western Washington.

While western Washington is beautiful – very beautiful – it is also wet – very wet. Indeed, so wet that I found mold happily growing in my tankbag. The day I left Seattle was the day I rode through the North Cascades with wet feet, which, on the east side of the pass, became (nearly) frozen feet as the air temperature dropped drastically. I don’t know what’s worse – cool and wet, or cold and dry. In any case it was the perfect storm, as the Washington rains infiltrated my boots and then the chilly Cascades air provided a very efficient air-conditioning mechanism by which my lower extremities were reduced to tingly numbness. I did, in fact, glance down once to make sure my feet were still attached to my legs. But enough with the complaining; the Cascades themselves were lovely to behold, and the windy road was a thrill to ride. Before traveling into those high hills (while I was still riding in the eternal drizzle of western Washington) I pulled over for a roadside cuppa joe and called my next CouchSurfing host. While I had planned on camping out that night (the 3rd of July), I thought to myself with a whimper, “I don’t wanna!” This, of course, was a whimper of the most manly nature, brought about only by the ever-present damp and chill one feels while on two wheels in that country. I called up my host, and she graciously invited me to arrive at any time, any day, and stay as long as I wish. Huzzah, a dream come true!

The North Cascades

So, back to the Cascades. As I worked my way east through that range, the clouds began to recede and by extension the sun was out. Ah, and as I descended from the high passes, the air warmed, my feet (slowly) came back to life, and I could smell the fresh green pastures of the Methow (MEET-how) Valley. What a heavenly experience, coming into the warm, DRY air, seeing the sun for the first time in days, surrounded by pastures and high desert. Onward through Winthrop and into the town of Twisp. Well, my host had realized at the last minute that she’d be in Winthrop for a couple hours, so I could bum around town while I waited for her to get back. No problem; I took off my boots and lay them in the sun to dry, did a little TLC on the bike (this is when I found the mold), and wandered around this tiny little town. Two hours later I meet Alison and John at the Twisp River Pub, where she graciously insisted on buying me the beer sampler (this pub is also a brewery that makes wonderful ales and lagers) and a hefty meal of fish tacos, rice, and beans. Both Alison and John love to talk, and not the bore-you-to-death kind of talk. They chat, they laugh, they listen, and the time flies by as you enjoy their company and camaraderie. Halfway into the conversation the pub is closing, so we wander over to the other bar in town where Ross, the owner/bartender, remembers every name and every face (you see, the next day, as I was taking a walk downtown, I squeak out a little “hello” and Ross responds with “Hey Bryson, how’s it going). There we meet up with Elan, Alison’s housemate, and Elan’s friend Allison (yes, two Alison/Allisons; see the spelling difference). More chatting, some tequila and ale, and then we’re off to the bunkhouse (Alison and Elan are Americorps members and have an awesome, multi-bedroom facility all to themselves, so I get my own room with a queen-sized bed) for some R&R.
The 4th of July was a day to remember. The little town of Twisp, which has a very high per capita population of artists and craftspeople, did have its own 4th of July parade. Elan was in the parade with her theatre group (they’re performing The Music Man at the end of the month), so Allison and I watched and cheered her on. Afterward the town hosted the Arts Festival, with arts and crafts booths and live performances by very flexible persons able to bend themselves into the most painful-looking shapes. One girl even shot an arrow from a compound bow with her feet whilst hand-standing on a post. And she did hit her target.
After the afternoon festivities we began the evening festivities, with a party at a nearby friends’ home just up the hill, with a great view of the Cascades and the river below. We had Mexican food to celebrate the American independence from the British, and it became law that any time something un-American was mentioned the perpetrator had to take a drink of his or her beverage (i.e. beer). We played a championship game of Hippie Cricket, involving four fiberglass rods, two frisbees, teams of two, and one beer in each person’s hand. I’m sorry to say that I was not on the champion team, though we (Alison and I) were close (Team White People!). As this party wound down, we moved on to another one farther out in the countryside, with a bonfire and much dancing. And finally, around 1:00, to sleep!

John Hagan, Hiker and Fisher Extraordinaire
Me, trying to look like John Hagan

I found myself with a cold and a sore throat on the 5th of July, but there is no time for weakness here, for John and I had set up a man-date to do some epic hiking into the Cascades. With much grunting and wheezing (and talk of university life and the Lord of the Rings) we hiked with all manner of manliness to an alpine lake, where we dipped out feet in the water and ate some snacks. I caught a couple frogs, and soon we were on our way back down. By the end we were famished and decided on burgers and drinks at the Pub. Afterward a well-deserved nap, some time spent reading and wandering around town, then late to bed.
I was off the next morning, bound for Colville and my next CouchSurfing host, a family in the countryside with all manner of lovely farm animals. Ellie, Clarissa, Rachael, Luke, and their father are wonderful people and have a wonderful lifestyle. I got to milk goats, bottle-feed goats and a newborn bull calf, go bareback riding, hike bare-footed to the pond and explore a small rock cave, pet the pot-bellied pig, light fireworks, play with Jeepers, the pet magpie, and have an overall wonderful time. The farm residents include cows, horses, many goats, two emus, doves, two peacocks, chickens, dogs, guinea pigs, quail, ginny hens, geese, and probably many others that don’t come to mind at the moment. The girls make goat cheese every day and I had some wonderful homemade meals, made from many ingredients produced right there at home. Needless to say I didn’t really want to leave, but the road is a siren with an irresistible call (OOOHH so poetic). A late start the next day found me riding through the heat into the Idaho panhandle and into Troy (not much there) and Sandpoint (much more here). The local library was having a sale, so I bought a hardcover copy of Thomas Costain’s High Towers, published 1949, for $1. Yay for reading! Back on the road, and soon into Montana.

“The Way Around is Under” (Wise advise from Yours Truly)

At some point I decided it was a good idea to do some more Forest Service Road riding. For the most part it is, unless its already been a long day and you just want to pitch camp. One thing GPS doesn’t tell you is if a road has a locked gate barring it. Yes, I did come to one. No, I did not turn around and go back. As a wiseguy once told me, “‘Impassable’ is merely a word; it means nothing to those who choose their own path” (-Me). So I did the epic thing and dragged my bike under the gate. This time there literally was much grunting, and even a wimpy roar as I tried (and barely succeeded) in picking the bike back up. I should’ve signed up for a gym membership before starting this trip…

How beautiful things are when you’re unaware of the nearby presence of a bull

I finally made it back to pavement, just in time to watch a thunderstorm roll out of the east and blow north, just missing me and my chosen campsite. While looking for a campsite, I rode into some muddy cattle tracks and ended up tipping the bike in a tight spot. Just what I needed after a long day. Well, at least I got to play in the mud. I got out and found a nice flat area for camp. Canned food and a cold creek bath were in order, followed by leisurely reading while lounging in my tent as the resident cattle watched with curiosity. The calves were especially intrigued, and several approached to within a foot or two before I tapped the tent walls, which they perceived as a possible threat and scattered like the wind. I am typically unafraid of members of the bovine persuasion, but this evening was an exception. After about an hour in my tent, I heard a distinct rumble. Not quite a “Moo,” but more of a “MMMBLBLBLBM” or something of the sort. I’m no linguist, don’t judge. A peek out the tent door revealed a very large, very well-endowed bull. I believe I quietly swore with an expletive, and there was nothing for it but to lay down and wish for the best. To my great relief he didn’t see my tent as a threat, so I stayed inside the rest of the evening with my copy of The Voyage of Argo.


Outside the town of Whitefish

The next morning began my great adventure into Glacier National Park. A stop in Whitefish, and a little break at a whiskey distillery, and then another pit stop for a huckleberry milkshake precluded my expedition into the park. Glacier is an incredibly beautiful place. Riding the Going-to-the-Sun Highway is a must and provides stunning vistas of a glacier-cut valley and majestic peaks. Upon reaching the summit one is rewarded with a sign informing them that they have now crossed the Continental Divide, that wonderful little thing that determines the fate of so much water.
The ride down the east side of Glacier was uneventful and dumped me into the wide open spaces and rolling grasslands of eastern Montana. After leaving the town of St. Mary, I entered the Blackfeet Indian reservation and headed south. In the town of Browning, I considered getting gas; but no, I had enough to go a good distance, and I could always fuel up at one of the other towns to the south. Only a mile or so outside of Browning, my low fuel light comes on. No problem, I’ll be in Dupuyer shortly. Hmm, no gas in Dupuyer… just some houses and a bar. No problem, I’ll be in Bynum shortly. Hmm, no gas in Bynum… just some houses and a bar. I’m beginning to see a trend here. Well, Choteau is the next town down, and that DEFINITELY has gas. I should be able to make it.
It’s a good lesson to learn now rather than later, I suppose, but three miles outside of Choteau the bike sputtered and spat, and I found myself on the shoulder of the highway pushing the beast to the nearest driveway. Fortunately there were several country homes, as I was quite near Choteau. After pushing the bike about fifty yards or so to a driveway I approached the house and was greeted by a sweet woman and her husband. “Oh, the same thing happened to a motorcyclist last year, and he told us we saved his life – his wife was NOT about to stand on the side of the highway asking for a ride into town!” I guess I’m not the only schmuck this side of the Divide. The kind couple gladly gave me a half gallon of gas and would take nothing in return. After a few minutes of hearing the man’s life story and talking about motorcycles, he sent me on my way and I high-tailed it to Bozeman (I did remember to fuel up in Choteau, in case you are wondering). After 406 miles and all the excitement, I showed up at my little sister’s place, a little after 9:00 p.m. After settling in I headed downtown for some grub, but of course the first pub I enter closed its kitchens a half-hour ago. I’m sent down to Plonk, the wine bar, where the kitchen is most assuredly open – and pricey. Oh well, I deserve a good gourmet meal! There I sat in all my glory, dirty jeans and smelly T-shirt, dining on fine olives and feta cheese and whatnot all by myself while chatting couples enjoyed each others’ company. Well, as luck would have it, my good buddy Jonathan sensed my solitary discomfort all the way from Sutter, CA, and decided to call me up. That’s what I call radar love.
The past few days in Bozeman have been really great. Although Allison’s not actually in town, she hooked me up with lots of her friends, who have been buying me meals and drinks and have taken me hiking – twice – and exploring around town. You meet the coolest people while on the road. Soon I’ll be off to Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Wind Caves, Badlands, and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks, as well as a stop to see the pearly whites – or lack of them – of the presidents of Mt. Rushmore (why are none of them smiling?).

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3 responses to “Under Gates and Over Mountains, but Never Around

  1. You are up to some crazy adventures!! milking livestock, dragging bikes, placating bulls, getting stranded w/ no gas, seeing all these beautiful places, meeting all these amazing people! Bryson 🙂 we miss you much and we hope you're having the best time. You definitely look like you are! I just wish Austin and I could have gone with you!

  2. Wow, I can not stop reading your entries and living the adventure vicariously . Absolutely fascinating! The world is indeed filled with friends you have not yet met.

    Keep the updates coming!

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