Not One of My Favourite Places

Powell, WY to Red Lodge, MT

After spending two nights with Jan and Lucinda, it was time to load up the bike again and make some progress towards the Grand Canyon. So, as one would expect, today’s course would take me northwest. The goal for the day was about 93 km away in the town of Red Lodge and, if successful, it would be a somewhat big day in terms of generally arbitrary milestones. More on that later.

I emerged from my bedroom once again donning, as Jan called it, my uniform of black shorts and red shirt, ready to take on the road again. But first there was breakfast and more banter. Jan and Lucinda were so easy and fun to talk with – I’m SO glad I got to spend an extra day with them. Hopefully the feeling was mutual! All that was left to do was get a quick photo with my hosts and then I would be on my way.

In terms of navigation, today was very easy. Actually, it WOULD’VE started on a gravel road had Google had its way but I opted to follow Jan and Lucinda’s directions and, as such, navigation was a non-factor. There would only be a handful of turns required.

As the distance between me and Powell, WY increased, it was interesting to see the landscape change. And suddenly. It was like you could see a line where irrigation ended and desert and rock formations began. And it was pretty spectacular. As I approached a curve and what appeared to be an upcoming descent amid stunning views, I was tempted to bring out the drone for what I hoped could be an incredible aerial shot of me hurtling my way through these incredible landscapes. And while I still think it could’ve been a great shot, I’m glad I didn’t make the attempt.

Long and FUN descent ahead

The descent in question was much longer and steeper than expected which I only discovered as I rounded the curve. Plus, after said curve, it was straight so there was no need for braking which made for great cycling. However, there’s no way the drone would’ve been able to keep up so it was best that I left it in my pannier. There would surely be other opportunities.

The terrain very much worked in my favour for the bulk of the day and my average speed was over 25 km/h for first 70 km. That would change after lunch. I knew I had a sizeable 2,000′ climb before I would reach Red Lodge. I also knew that the further I went with minimal elevation gains the steeper was the climb I would be facing… eventually.

Lunch was a leisurely stop at the town of Belfry. I suspected that somewhere in town there would be a covered picnic table or two. There was. One upside to really small towns is it makes finding such things pretty easy when there’s really only one main road.

With lunch over, I only had about 30 km left to go. That was the good news. The bad (or perhaps more accurately “challenging”) news was that there was still the 2,000′ climb in front of me. It turns out, said climb started about 8 km from my destination. And it was certainly not to be taken lightly.

I don’t know what time I started the climb or what time I finished but it was on par with my previous 1,000′ per hour pace. Probably more like 1,000′ per 45-50 minutes. Either way, it kept me busy for a while. Perhaps the happiest moment came when I rounded a corner and off in the distance I could see a cell tower. No, I wasn’t concerned about having cell service. But I do know that they don’t put those things at the BOTTOM of big hills. The top was clearly in sight. And not long after, the top was officially behind me.

Ask for Andy

My arrival in Red Lodge didn’t quite mark the end of my day as I still had to figure out my accommodations. I was unsuccessful at making arrangements with any of the three Warm Showers hosts in town so I was going to have to fend for myself. One of the hosts suggested I talk with Andy at the The Spoke Wrench (i.e, local bike shop) so that became my first stop. Initially, this seemed to go well as he told me of the Alpine Motel down the road that allowed cyclists to camp for $10 … plus it included breakfast. It almost seemed too good to be true. Except for the “almost” part.

Further investigation at the Alpine revealed that the camping offer I had heard about was a one-time thing for a special event. There would be no camping at the Alpine tonight. Not that the guy I was talking to didn’t WANT to let me camp but apparently the city was pretty strict about such things. One might argue TOO strict.

I ended up speaking with numerous people in town about camping options including the woman at the Visitor Center, two clerks at City Hall and the Police Chief. All were very nice. But none were about to let me camp in town. It was actually pretty remarkable. It’s like I was in the town from Footloose except dancing was camping. As the one clerk said, it’s a very conservative town and “people like to complain”. I can only imagine.

Bureaucratic silliness in full force

It was actually kind of amusing listening to the clerks and Police Chief essentially say, “You can camp anywhere you want so long as it isn’t in our town.” Strange for a tourist town. Seriously, they were making suggestions of places I could go that were 10-12 miles out of town. I could go on and on about the ridiculousness of the situation but there would be no point.

Ok, maybe a bit more … the funny thing is that any of the people that I talked to all seemed to agree that it was all very ridiculous. And also futile to resist. It almost seems like the laws of the town are greatly influenced by a vocal minority. But I digress. Maybe it’s a great town … I mean, as I initially pedalled through town it did seem like a cool, fun spot to visit. Apparently, so long as you don’t want to camp.

So, instead of spending money at local vendors in town, I pedalled my way 2.5 km out of town to be violated at Perry’s RV Park and Campground for $25 for a tent site. Personally, I think Red Lodge could learn a LOT from Wenona, IL and their approach to encouraging cyclists. Yes, I realize I’m a bit biased. That said, I actually seriously considered continuing on to the next town but said town was about 80 km away and it was already after 4:00 PM.

Brief delay while heading to my campsite

In hindsight I should’ve gone with one of the other rougher camping options but, well … I didn’t. Live and learn. I’ve already spent too much time writing about it. Bottom line, Red Lodge seems to be a nice little town but a very conservative little town. VERY. And I’ll be happy to leave it behind. I hope the rest of Montana isn’t like this … that would be more than a little disappointing. And surprising.

On a more positive note, I got settled into my campsite and was able to make and consume supper before the nightly thunderstorms rolled in. It’s been pretty remarkable how consistent the weather has been in that regard. It’s one of the reasons I’m trying to get started (and finished) riding earlier in the day. By mid-afternoon the dark clouds start forming after which a downpour is inevitable.

Tonight’s downpour started around 7:00 PM with some fantastic rolling thunder and big lightning flashes. But the actual rain portion of the storm only lasted about 15 minutes. While I wasn’t thrilled about paying $25 for the campsite, the fact that I was well sheltered among the trees wasn’t such a bad thing. Did I mention the howling wind? Fortunately, the wind moved on with the rain and left significantly cooler temperatures behind. I noticed (but forgot to mention) that about my morning at Prune Creek. The elevation really has a noticeable effect on the temperature. My morning at Prune Creek began at a mere 9°C. It was mid-teens for most of the ride to the summit but it was high-20s at the bottom of the descent.

As for the aforementioned arbitrary milestones of the day … today I passed both the 4,000 km and 2,500 mile thresholds and entered State #11 (aka. Montana) in the process. I was pleased with all of those achievements.

As I sit in my tent attempting to write, I can’t help but notice that my legs are really tight tonight. Well, not really tight but I had numerous muscle cramps/grabs when I was in various sitting positions in the tent. When I straightened my legs they felt MUCH better. Sitting cross-legged in a tent was much easier a few years ago. Sigh.

Today’s totals:
Distance: 102.04 km
Ride time: 4:49:27
Average speed: 21.15 km/h
Maximum speed: 53.84 km/h

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