(Written Friday, October 11th at 8pm)
Total Days: 8
Total Mileage: 3,200
Well I definitely cannot allow another 5 day lapse between posts because way too much happens and the task of writing it all in one blog is daunting. I’ll do my best, but keep in mind that there is likely more to all of these stories. Also, this is a long post. Now you have fair warning.
For our third night on the road we stayed at the KOA campground and tried again to sleep in our tent. It was a much warmer experience than the previous attempt, but still a little uncomfortably cold. We got up in the morning and eagerly headed north to the town of Whitefish. Our first stop in what I’m calling “America’s best little mountain town” was City Beach where we took in views of the beautiful Whitefish Lake and a nice, clean beach lined with aspens and benches. Next we parked downtown, enjoyed coffee at a cozy coffee joint, and walked the streets imagining our lives if we were to someday move into town. The first local we met was Tim, from a great little bike/Nordic skiing shop, who was full of helpful information about the local bike trails; the Whitefish Trail is something like 30-ish miles of single-track! Our goal for the day was to experience as much of Whitefish as we could and meet a number of locals who could fill us in with info about the area. Next we checked out the local hostel, the local brewery (where the bartender Brandt poured us a sample and answered tons of our questions), and then the local Buffalo Café where we ate lunch. From there we hopped in our car and drove northwest into the woods in search of “Montana’s First Bike Retreat.”
What we found when we showed up at Cricket’s bike retreat center was nothing short of inspiring. This woman just recently moved to the area from North Carolina, bought a ton of land and some old farmhouses, and proceeded to construct a mountain biker’s dream resort. She only opened in June but has already seen a ton of action and is now gearing up for a winter season full of nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and fat-tire biking. Everything from the impressive welded entrance sign to the heated bathroom floors cries ideal mountain adventure. The fact that her property backs up to the Whitefish Trail and also crosses paths with the Great Divide route and the Northern Tier Adventure Cycling Association route is perfectly fitting. Don and I didn’t want to leave, but we assured Cricket that her place would be our first stop if and when we were ever back in the area. Check out this great establishment at www.whitefishbikeretreat.com. From the bike hostel we drove up to Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort and then, after a quick tour of some of the neighborhoods, sadly took leave of Whitefish. It is definitely a place we could someday call home. Cricket had recommended that we check out the nearby Hungry Horse reservoir, so we decided we would find somewhere there to camp for the night.
I can say with certainty that the campsite we found at Hungry Horse reservoir ranks somewhere in my top 5. The Hungry Horse dam is gorgeous, the drive around the reservoir is breathtaking, especially with fall colors and a stormy sky, but the little beach at the bottom of the open, yet empty and free, Lid Creek campground is absolutely perfect. We backed our car up to the edge of a small bluff over-looking the lake and then car camped in paradise. Don skipped rocks while I took way too many pictures of the ever-changing sky. We went to bed vowing to return to the area as soon as we were able.
The next day was somewhat less momentous, as we had hundreds of miles to cover in order to see Bozeman the following morning. We drove along HWY 2 just south of Glacier National Park and marveled at the Flathead River and the peaks that ended up in our rear-view mirror as we entered the vast plains of Montana. We drove south through the Blackfoot Indian Reservation, grabbed a quick cup of joe in Great Falls, had our car surrounded by hundreds of cows during a cattle drive, and then stopped for a relaxing soak (and shower) in White Sulpher Springs’ Spa Hot Springs. It was just what we needed after a long day of driving, and it gave us enough
energy to search out a campsite along a dirt road somewhere between Livingston and Bozeman, where we slept with cows and the occasional passing truck.
We drove into Bozeman in the morning mostly just to quell my curiosity about the town (I’ve met lots of cool people from there) and to pick up a map of the Black Hills in South Dakota, our next destination. Bozeman reminded me a lot of Boulder, Colorado and was definitely a town I could have gone to college in if I’d known it existed. After another local coffee shop stop, we settled into a long drive east. We chose Spearfish, South Dakota as a nice stopping point and gateway into the Black Hills; mostly because of an article I read in Backpacker magazine where one local had recommended the I.P.A. at Spearfish’s Crow Peak Brewery. We made it to our destination by 6 so we grabbed a beer and tried to plot out some hiking and backpacking. Only one problem presented itself upon our arrival…the ground was covered in multiple feet of snow. After conferring with our bartender Nate, we decided that our only option was to once again put off backpacking (hoping that we’d be more lucky in Michigan) and instead spend the next day driving through many of the popular towns and sites. If we had come one week earlier, or even one week later, it would have been a different story, but we’ll take what we can get. After I got to writing on my laptop and Don had another beer we decided to just sleep in our car in the brewery parking lot…South Dakota is very cool like that.
Yesterday we spent a full day acting like total tourists. We drove along the picturesque Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, walked through the streets of historic Deadwood (yes, the same town the show was based on), and gazed upon the massive presidents’ heads carved in stone at Mount Rushmore. We also jumped in the freezing cold Pactola Reservoir, wine tasted at South Dakota’s first and oldest winery, and drove along Iron Mountain Road. The latter is said by some to be America’s most beautiful highway and we could see why. In addition to some very cool bridges, you go through three one-lane tunnels that perfectly frame Mount Rushmore. So very American. We stopped on the road to hike into a small lake where we found total solitude and lots of animal tracks. We finished the day with a stop at a taffy shop in Keystone and then a long drive past Rapid City and off into the middle of nowhere. We chose a random rest area where we slept in our car and watched a full-blown lightning storm flash across the sky.
Today we drove all day from somewhere east of Rapid City in South Dakota to Wisconsin. The part of the drive in South Dakota was some of the most windy and stormy driving I’ve ever done. In fact, I guess there was a tornado just north of us in the morning. We’re glad to have escaped that one. We’re planning on stopping in Rhinelander and again sleeping in the car. Because this blog is already way too long, and because today was quite uneventful, I’ll leave it at that. Tomorrow we reach the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and begin what we consider to be the second section of our road trip. We can’t wait to see what Michigan and Chicago have in store.