August 18 - Across the Great Divide: Helena to Lincoln, MT

There are only two things which must be encountered to get across the country: the Mississippi River, and the Continental Divide. Today, we passed the second test.

Flesher Pass rises 6,131 feet above sea level, and divides the Missouri headwaters from the Blackfoot drainage. The first leg of the pass goes through high plains above Helena. The morning was cool, cloudy, with a touch of drizzle. We entered the Canyon Creek valley, and stopped at the requisite general store/ post office/gas station, the sort of place where, when you go in to buy gas, you get the key to turn on the pumps from the postmistress.

The shelves in the store were bare of nearly everything, but we did find a pack of playing cards for Annie and Dani and Shaine, so they could continue their Fish tournament. The postmistress, on learning we're from Washington, said, "Oh, I came from Federal Way four years ago."

"What do you think of Montana, then, " I asked.

"Well, it's a lot like Washington, but more space and colder in the winter, I guess."

"Why did you come here?"

She gave the standard, subdued Montana postmistress sigh and answered, "My husband's from here."

We shifted riders (to move the extra car further up the hill), and entered the fir-pine mountains. The morning's smell of wet sage gave way to warming alpine fir, as the sun burned through the clouds and vaporized the resins under the bark. As mountain passes go, this one was pretty easy. A gentle middle-ring rise for the first ten miles, then 1200' up in four miles through several switch backs.

I felt pretty good up on top, realizing for the first time the inevitability of crossing the Divide when going from the Atlantic to the Pacific (Du-uh!). I tried to get the family together for a required photograph.

Cody noted, "See, there's only four places where we get everybody in the family together for a picture: Plymouth Rock, the Mississippi, the Divide, and Home. Come on, we've got to do it!"

Annie wailed, "NO-NO-NO-NO! I'm not going out there. There's bees out there!!" Annie has never been stung by a bee. This time of year, at least in the Northwest, scouting bees are out looking for a new home. They're attracted by bright colors, like the neon yellows and pinks in our biking clothes. They're usually harmless, and go away when shooed. But Annie doesn't understand this yet, so I had to bribe her with a $100 guarantee she wouldn't get stung. I didn't have to pay.

I didn't tell her that I'd gotten stung on the way up. While trying to flick off what I though was a grasshopper from my thigh, I caught a stinger on my right index finger. Luckily, I din't have to brake or shift on those last three miles!

At the top, we re-arranged ourselves for the ride down. Cody stunned us by saying he wanted to ride. All went well for the first 4 miles, then, "I can't breathe, the saddle's to close to the handlebar. The tires wriggle all over the place. And I want to go home!" Maybe we'll see him again on a two-wheeler, but I don't know.

At the bottom, Rod, Joan, and I stepped under some trees to wait for the RV and the 2:30 PM chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. It came right on schedule, as did Bikrutz, right after the sun came out again.

Turning onto Montana State Route 200, we settled in for the roll down to Missoula along the Blackfoot. First stop was Lincoln, which seems to live for hunting season. Bow hunters go first, late August to Fall, then deer, elk, bear, pheasant - the town is filled with RV hook-up sites for those months before Christmas. But no showers must say something about what hunters want: electricity and body odor, I guess.

The Sleepy Hollow RV Park, where we stayed, had four hook-ups for transients like ourselves. The proprietor had a trading post, specializing in guns and bows, as well as machine tools. When asked about showers, he said, "This is mostly set up for hunters, for self-contained units." Hmm, hunters as self-contained units: interesting thought.

We enjoyed the piercing mountain sun, especially after three days of cold, clouds, and rain. But the discovery of a terminally dead computer (cable to screen severed by broken hinge) returned the dampness a bit. No more email or instant journalism; the last nine days will be hand written, pictures rationed to five a day, and uploads done after we get home.

No matter. It feels great to be deep inside the mountains, a land of extremes. Cold at night, hot in the day. Vertical, not horizontal land forms. Cascading rivers, with fly fishermen transforming wrist flicks into insect mimicry. Logging trucks playing leapfrog along the highway. Blue sky rapidly losing to thunderstorms, then clearing just as fast. Entering here, the corrugated West, I wonder, after having seen so many people in MA and OH, and IL, why they don't come here?

**Next Day's Journal**


-Al Bikrutz

Miles: Al (Tandem&single) 54; Cheryl (single) 33; Ann (Tandem) 5; Cody 5; Rod, 38; Joan, 34.

Total Miles: 2919