Day 3 - Near Ovando MT to Lolo Hot Springs MT (90.5 miles)
Another early start to the day and another empty road. No towns, and only a few isolated farms. This much be a sportsman's delight with the streams and fishing.
There was a sign near Ovando describing how many million board feet of timber had been removed from the area. They built a railway to move the wood to market, but did not use any permanent ballast. This meant that when an area was logged out they picked up the tracks and moved them elsewhere. Today, the area has been largely deforested. It's a pity that they weren't required to replant.
Approaching Missoula there was an obvious increase in the prosperity. There were many well kept farms next to the roads, and with the mountains in the background they were very beautiful.
Just east of Missoula in Milltown I came across a memorial to the L&C expedition. There was the wood carving below which was obviously Merriweather Lewis because he was accompanied by the Newfoundland dog 'Seaman'. The information display near the carving told how near Milltown the explorers had camped, and been helped by local indians. There was no sign of the indians now. In fact, they were soon pushed out due to 'progress' in the form of trapping, the timber industry, and mining. I often wondered if things wouldn't have been better for the indians had they killed the expedition instead of continually saving their lives by providing supplies and horses.
Just outside of Missoula I had a puncture, my first (and last) of the trip. My chain was slipping so I decided to continue into town and get them both fixed at a bike shop. I'm definitely becoming idle in my old age.
After all the solitude of the open road it was a shock to be in a busy town. Missoula was much to my liking, with cafes, book stores, etc. I dropped my bike off at the 'Bike Doctor' (what a great name!) and wandered around town. I went by the 'Adventure Cycling Organization', which was just around the corner from the shop, and bought a shirt commemorating last year's Continental Divide trip. I also chatted with their PR lady who was interested that I had done a web site on last year's trip. They are very friendly towards cyclists, offering free ice cream (which I declined) and water (which I gladly filled up on).
I picked up my bike and headed out of town. There was a nice trail next to the railway but that soon ended and the ride to Lolo was on the shoulder of a very multi-lane highway with traffic travelling way too fast for comfort. I was pleased to turn off and get onto Highway 12 towards Lolo Hot springs, having bought some supplies in Lolo at a market.
The cycle was an absolute delight. I was heading into the 'Bitterroot Mountains' and the road ran parallel to Lolo Creek. There were two choices for crossing the mountains; the one that I was taking or one on forest roads which closely followed the original route taken by L&C. They followed the ridgetops along an indian trail since the valleys were full of debris which made it impossible to forge through. It was hard to picture the problems that they had since the trail today is so pleasant, but the terrain is so rugged that it was only about 50 years that they were actually able to build the road.
The climb to Lolo Springs was gradual and I passed alpine meadows, one of which had a sign that L&C had actually camped there. Early on I stopped at 'Fort Fizzle' which commemorates one of the most disgraceful episodes in American history: the story of the Nez Perce indians.
This tribe was critical in saving the L&C expedition from starvation. About 70 years later, after having been assigned a large reservation area, the US decided to reduce the area by 75%. When some of the tribe objected they were attacked and fought back. This led to them becoming renegades and they were chased by the US army in an attempt to subjugate them. They defeated the Americans in one battle and fled along the Lolo River, trying to get to the plains indians who they thought might help them.
The call for support went out and the locals, supported by the US army, built For Fizzle. The indians told the fort that if they were allowed to pass they would do so peacefully. The civilians decided that was a fair deal so they went home, much to the chagrin of the army commander. Hence the name 'Fort Fizzle' since the fight fizzled out.
Lolo Hot Springs was a place where L&C rested and I decided to do the same. Having cycled just under 100 miles (160 km) I figure I had earned it. I got a room at one of the hotels, which was grossly overpriced, and then sat in the hot spring at the hotel. Pretty amazing that 200 years on the spring was still producing hot water. The hotel had a museum attached to it and I wandered through. I was amazed at the range of goods associated with L&C that are available. Everything from T-shirts to books to tea towels to guns.
I had a very nice meal in the restaurant, another vegetarian hamburger and I treated myself to some ice cream. As I went back to my room there was fully grown moose in the pond by the side of the road, munching on the weeds. One of the locals commented that given what eat it's not surprising how they taste. Since I'm in the land of hunters I didn't mention that I am a vegetarian so I quietly retired to my room where I had another of those delighfully deep sleeps induced by lots of fresh air and exercise.
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