I can’t believe how quickly our trip is passing! We’re only two days ride from West Yellowstone! Here’s what happened as we pedaled from Missoula south through the Bitterroot Valley.
Rest Day in Missoula
At dinner in Missoula, we were joined by two runner friends. I came to know and admire Pam and Michelle on social media and it was a delight to spend time with them face to face. Pam is well known to Missoula runners as she helps coordinate programs for new runners, and helps people get ready for the Missoula half and full marathons. She created a group to cheer the back of the pack runners at the marathon, assuring that every person who crosses the finish line in Missoula has a team of people to cheer them on! She is setting the path for Fitter after 70. Michelle just finished getting her graduate degree (yes, after age 50 – she is Fitter after 50 in every way) and is a nurse practitioner specializing in breast health.
We started our rest day with a latte and avocado toast before heading to the Adventure Cycling Association office – the group that created the routes for tours like ours. I picked up the route map for the 500 plus mile Idaho Hot Springs tour – a mountain bike route on Forest Service roads through some of the most beautiful part of the US, including the Sawtooths. It has been on my radar for a couple of years. (And now I know at least two people who also want to ride it!)
On to Big Sky Bikes, where James checked out my bike and explained the benefits of gravel bikes for forest service and other dirt roads. (Like Idaho Hot Springs, for example. You know the old cyclist joke. How many bikes do you need? N+1, where N=the number of bikes you currently own.)
Then three of us, Susan, Mary and Mike, hiked the M, a steep 620 feet elevation climb of less than a mile above the University of Montana, with great views of the valley west. Lunch, a little down time, dinner and a wander along the Clark Fork river. While the weather didn’t give me a glowing sunset, the clouds reflected over the river were still beautiful. And with that, rest day was a wrap!
Over the next two days, we rode south through the Bitterroot Valley. Mountains on both sides, and the Bitterroot river winding its way back and forth along our path. We gradually ascended to Sula, at 5,000 feet, as the valley narrowed and the mountains closed in.
St. Mary’s Mission
I stopped in Stevensville to visit the St. Mary’s Mission. It was the first Jesuit mission to the Northwest, established after the local Salish sent four delegations to St. Louis to ask for emissaries to come to the Valley. Well worth a visit to learn the history! And Ann and I were the first people to use their new bike racks (before the official dedication to boot!) I was awarded a magnet as the very first user, and they took our picture for the newsletter. It is such fun to meet people in the towns along our route.
Houston Space Center
I was looking for a landmark I had seen riding the Bitterroot bike trail last year – the Houston Space Center! I loved the idea of running across the famous “space” center in such an unlikely location. When I saw the building with no sign on it, I was perplexed.
An older lady was out feeding her horses in the adjacent property so I asked her what the backstory was to the Houston Space Center. Her response: Have you got a couple of hours?
She explained her long running battle with the property owners – whose last name was Houston. Parts of her story were perhaps implausible. Mr. Houston tried to kill her husband. By driving a front end loader through the fence and hitting him in the head with it. (Seems to me there are easier ways to hit someone in the head, but I guess you use what you have.)
She sued Mr. Houston and won a $600k judgment, Mr. Houston tried to kill his wife. His wife divorced him and wanted her share of the property. The Houston Space Center had been an auction house. (And yes, she checked to see if the real Space Center trademarked the name, and found they had not. She was most disappointed.) Due to the judgment and the divorce, the auction business is defunct, the name removed and the property is for sale. Boy, howdy! Did I get the story or what?
Beautiful Weather and Scenery
It was a lovely two days of riding through small towns in a beautiful valley. Cold, crisp mornings, warm afternoons, bright sunny sky and changing colors of fall! Magical!
Next post: over Chief Joseph Pass into the Big Hole Valley!