Location: Stevensville, Montana (Arrow Inn & Park)
Last night we had a funny wildlife experience. Before bed, Brian and I had been talking about bear attacks and what we would do if we encountered a bear. Soon, we will be in high risk bear areas in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. The flyers around the campground suggested that campers lock their food in their vehicles. Well, we certainly don’t have that option. Instead, against the advice of the flyer, I bagged mine in Ziploc bags and left them on the picnic table. Brian decided he would take his food into his tent with him. He was mainly concerned that the squirrels and gophers we had seen in the area might pillage his food reserves. I was more concerned about bigger animals that night coming to my tent looking for food, so I chose to leave mine out. As for the squirrels and other small mammals, if they want my food, there is little stopping them while I sleep. I figure it best to leave the food accessible than stored in my panniers. A squirrel or mouse would have no trouble at all chewing through the fabric to get to the food. This lesson I learned in the Shenandoah mountain range in 2006 when one night mice quietly chewed into a man’s backpack and gnawed his tent to ribbons.
So as we drifted to sleep after our long conversation about bears and other animals, we both heard footsteps cracking branches in the woods behind us. I was nearly asleep, and I heard the dozen or so steps in a dream state. I wasn’t sure at first if I really heard the noises or imagined them, but soon the noises of leaves rustling and branches breaking became the unmistakably real sound of an animal in the woods.
I called out, “Brian”. He quickly but briefly replied, “Yes”. And then we heard the telltale blows of a deer. A loud snort and a few hoof beats on the ground. The blow was violent enough to startle me, but I clapped a few times and the deer bound into the woods in near silence. The instance reminded me of my hiking trip with Katie in NC when we camped atop Round Bald. A deer had snuck up behind us, pawed the ground curiously as he tried to figure out what we were. When the deer found out, he was gone quickly and silently, leaving us a bit on edge.
I asked Brian how he was doing after the wildlife encounter. He said he was on High Alert. He had heard clearly the noises in the woods, and he knew that noises from that direction meant that whatever was moving out there was not human and coming from the dark woods. For a minute, Brian said, he heard the animal walk close. He was sitting up in his tent, peering through the screen to see what approached. He had armed himself with his light and his knife. He looked to identify the animal before taking action. He heard every noise in every direction, wondering what might be lurking in the moonlight shadows.
Eventually, we settled down, but soon we were roused again by the long, slow creaking of a falling tree. The tree broke through the branches of the trees in its path and crashed to the ground, somewhere towards the other side of the campground where we were staying. The tree fall unnerved me, and we added it to the list of things to keep us from getting a peaceful, calm sleep.
We left the campsite early this morning without anymore mishaps or encounters. We left a bit early because we wanted to summit Lolo Pass before the heat set in. We were at the summit in no time and with little sweat, putting sixteen miles behind us. At the summit of the pass was the Idaho-Montana border, so we also completed another state by completing the climb. At the border sign, other cyclists were starting to gather. On the previous day, we had some people in a car pull us over to the side of the road to ask us about our ride. They were starting in Lolo today and biking west to Astoria, following the Lewis and Clark Trail. Their group of seven was coming up the eastern side of the pass as we climbed the western. We briefly said hello, took a picture, and coasted down the other side of the mountain. The morning was a couple hours climbing followed by a couple minutes coasting.
On our way down the steep and winding slope, Brian saw a moose run across the road. I did not see it. Apparently, it ran about ten yards behind me after I passed it, so it must have been standing just on the edge of the road. Brian called for me to look, but I was long gone. He snapped a photo and we pushed forward. On a gentle downhill and against a slight headwind, we pushed thirty miles without a break to Lolo, a small town in Montana.
I was tired after the long ride, so we stopped at a truck gas station for food, water, and a rest in the shade. Today certainly wasn’t our hottest day, but 104 degrees is nothing to scoff at when you’re pedaling into a headwind. Brian and I split a pepperoni pizza and moved on down the road. We decided to bypass Missoula, though it’s the headquarters for Adventure Cycling and, from what I hear, a pretty cool town. We decided miles to the south and east were more important. We biked about ten miles on a bike path adjacent to Highway 93 from Lolo to Stevensville. We had to bike a couple miles on dirt because of road construction. That was miserable and aggravating. But in time, we reached the Arrow Inn and RV Park, a rundown little motel on the side of the highway.
Our maps indicated that the motel catered to tent campers, but the proprietor there said that they didn’t, and that for years he had been trying to get his name off the map. Despite the mix-up, he offered a patch of bare dirt to pitch our tents. He didn’t charge us, as there are no amenities. There is no water, no toilet, and no shower, which we desperately wanted. We have gotten our water and used the toilet at the supermarket across the highway where we shopped for groceries.
Brian and I skipped dinner tonight because we were still full from pizza. I topped my belly with a plum, a banana, and a box of Red Hots. We also split a six pack of beer, which was certainly a nice treat. I bought a bag of ice and we dumped the ice and the beers in the shade to keep them cold. We have made our modest camp on the back corner of the motel property, adjacent to the parking lot. Most of the tenants at the one story motel rent month to month. Every unit has a window that faces us. I wonder what they think we are doing, camping in the parking lot. We take what we can get out here. The next campsite down the road is twenty miles. So, this little patch of dirt and gravel will do. Tomorrow, we head to the library to update the website. A half day there and a half day on the road will take us to the foot of our next mountain ascent, a climb to over 7,000 feet, by far our highest yet.