Thursday, August 4, 2011

Witnessing a 'clash of cultures'

Having joined up with Daniel, we kicked back Wednesday at the KOA campground in Billings. The first night wasn't so great. We were in a campsite next to a pond where Canada geese and bullfrogs presented some challenges. By day, we had to try to avoid the goose poop and by night we tried to sleep despite the infernal croaking.

However, next day we moved to a nicer campsite away from the wildlife where, thanks to a 12-by-12 nylon awning and some handy trees, we soon had a shady oasis where I worked on my monthly online newsletter while Daniel and David got Dan's new Buell Ulysses ready to travel.

By Saturday morning, July 30, we were ready to ramble. Our first destination was the Little Bighorn Battlefield to the southeast. After that, we'd head northwest to Great Falls on our way to Glacier National Park. We left our gear at the KOA, planning to pick it up when we doubled back to Great Falls.

This simple monument marks where Lt. Col. George Custer and his Seventh Cavalry troopers met their end.

We learned a lesson on the way to the battlefield: Trust the GPS.

We wanted to take secondary roads and all of us studied the map before we left. But when the Garmin said go right, we agreed left was the correct direction. Then we confused I-90 with I-94 and managed to get totally off course.

Deciding the GPS was probably right after all, we ended up taking ten miles of gravel road across the rolling prairie. By the time we arrived, we'd had a pretty good taste of Montana countryside, largely unchanged since those fateful days in 1876.

The ranger who briefed us about the memorial, a member of the Crow tribe herself, explained that the European-Americans saw the wide-open spaces as desert, "while the Indians saw it as a Walmart. It had everything they needed: food, shelter, medicine ... everything."

Besides the tombstones in the cemetery and marble markers where Indian and U.S. Army warriors fell, there is a memorial to the cavalry horses that were killed during the battle, many by their riders who used them as bulwarks to protect them from enemy fire. Most of the soldiers had single-shot Springfield rifles and were out-gunned, as many of the Indians had Winchester and Henry repeaters.

A simple stone marks where George Custer fell. He made a name for himself as a dashing Civil War hero and most of his troops were seasoned veterans of that war. Custer's body was eventually interred at West Point. Unlike many others, his body wasn't mutilated or scalped. The legend is the Indian women who handled such post-battle chores thought he was too good looking to maim.

The quiet graveyard at Little Big Horn, where many of the dead are at rest.

After our sobering, but inspirational visit to the battlefield, we lit out for Great Falls, with a stop at Billings for our tents and luggage. Along the way, we passed through Judith Gap, where I counted more than 80 giant wind generators and where we fought a tiring cross wind.

A thunderstorm threated us a few dozen miles before we arrived and we stopped to put on rain gear and button up. Luckily, we didn't get more than a splatter and arrived at the Great Falls KOA dry and tired. Sunday morning, we set out for Glacier.

In Indian Country, we came across these realistic metal sculptures of mounted warriors made up of car parts and scrap iron at a rest stop.

Between Browning and St. Mary, the eastern gate to Glacier National Park, we found herds of horses enjoying the scenery and sunshine.

St. Mary Lake is the first amazing sight for those entering Glacier National park from the east.

Jackson is the seventh largest of the 25 glaciers in the national park.

Melting snow tumbles in a series of waterfalls thousands of feet into the river feeding St. Mary Lake.

The river runs out of St. Mary Lake up into Canada and into St. Mary reservoir, south of Calgary, Alberta.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road from East to West Glacier is being repaired and repaved. Hence, it wasn't as exciting a ride as Bear Tooth Pass. Still, the scenery was astounding. We crossed the pass on Monday morning.

In West Glacier, we met Marion and Aurel, a young French couple travelling around the world on a motorcycle, on which they wrote the names of countries visited in Magic Marker.

David, Daniel and Aurel discuss the advantages of the KTM Adventure 990. The couple toured Europe, then went to Africa, crossed to South America and rode north to Colombia. After hearing horror stories about Mexico, they opted to fly to Miami and were working their way northwest with the hope of crossing from Alaska to Siberia and then back to France.

I asked Marion if Aurel ever let her drive. "Pfft!" she said. "My feet don't even touch the ground."

Marion and Aurel have posted their adventures at

From Glacier we went south around beautiful Flathead Lake, which we agreed would be a perfect place to live, if only the winters weren't so long, and stopped at Missola in the afternoon to spend Monday night.

We pitched camp at another KOA and David took off to find some electrical parts at the local BMW dealership, whilc Daniel and I checked out the REI and Ross stores at the mall next to the campground. When we got back to camp, another rider zipped in on a Buell and parked in the next campsite. Naturally, we stopped by to talk about his bike and Daniel's and eventually we all went to dinner together.

Steve, the Buell rider, had ridden from Seattle to Missoula that day. He's a yoga instructor when he's home in Indiana, but he was headed for the Sturgis rally, which was to begin on Aug. 5. Meanwhile, he planned to have his bike serviced at the Missoula Harley dealership. Best of all, he had a lot of good suggestions about where we could go next.

Steve and his Buell.

The human-powered vehicle riders made camp right next door.

After dinner, we went back to camp to find a throng of streamlined "human-powered-vehicles" had descended on the KOA. They were travelling coast to coast and had just done 125 miles up and over the Lolo Pass.

The streamliners were mostly tricycles, driven like recumbent bicycles. Because of their weight and the recumbent rider position, they don't climb as well as conventional bikes, but they kick butt on the flat and downhill. The majority of the riders were from Europe -- mostly Germany.

There was one woman, whom I asked if this transcontinental, human-power thing was a gender-specific form of insanity. "Oh, no," she said. "Women do it, too. We had two women, but the other one had to drop out."

Daniel decided to take off on his own from Missoula.

Unfortunately for David and I, Daniel decided to take off on his own from Missoula. Our pace was too frenetic for him and he decided he wanted to take it easy and go it alone. Based on Steve's recommendations, therefore, David and I struck out Tuesday morning over the Lolo Pass toward Idaho and Washington.

The road through Lolo Pass follows one river up to the Continental Divide and another river down the other side to Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkson, Wash.

I wrote a friend: "Awesome ride today over the Lolo Pass from Missoula to Lewiston, Idaho. Take the best scenic shot from “A River Runs through It” and multiply it by 150 miles and that’s the Lolo. It was like eating a bowl of sugar. First 10 miles was delicious, next ten miles cloyingly wonderful, next ten miles amazingly, stick-in-the-throat over-the-top gorgeous.

"Lewis and Clark’s crew practically died of starvation going through the pass, but we had a nice lunch in Orofino, Idaho. Paved roads and internal combustion engines do make a difference."

Tuesday night we camped at Hellsgate State Park in Lewiston on the Snake River. The woman who checked us in sold me a bag of Ranier cherries for $2. They were delicious. She said she'd just returned from a two week vacation in Yellowstone. "You know," she said, "it was a lot like Idaho."

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