Along Highway 287
Day 63. Just about everyone recommended leaving early. Partly to get over the pass to Virginia City before the weekend traffic or heat kicked in, and secondly to avoid what Philip called near certain afternoons headwinds coming into the final stretch into Dillon.
I think the wind spooks us more than anything because of what happened coming into Fairplay and Rawlins. A bad headwind can turn an hour into three and it just drains you.
Leaving in the morning before 7AM has its advantages because we beat the heat and most of the traffic.
We are turning West this morning but it's only so we can hop into the next north-south valley and continue our northwest arch up to Missoula. After that we turn West like we mean it.
In the meantime we are in cattle country although we are told the famed Blue Sky Ski Resort is close by. It is, one of the folks at the Distillery told me, where the rich send their kids who are too naughty to be in Aspen.
No matter. We are climbing out of the Madison River Valley and Montana 's moniker as Big Sky Country doesn't fail to disappoint or take your breath away.
Virginia City, Montana
The ascent up the pass took a while, but more important, it was doable. I would be curious about how well I would handle the Appalachians now, after 63 days on the road and with a bike with a third front gear. They were so grueling and draining at times.
In the west there are gradual inclines up and up but you throw it into a comfortable gear, pop in some good music in one ear and bike away.
After the pass there was a thrilling, laugh out loud descent into Virginia City. The terrain and history is all mining now and for a while Virginia City was a bustling mining town. Many of the buildings are preserved and it has taken to mining the pockets of tourists now. The downtown screams old west without being tacky.
Still we were so early that most stores were closed. However the cafe and adjacent bar were open. The bar or saloon boast an incredible wood backbar from the 1800s.
Good breakfast with Jim, Bill, and Barry.
With few exceptions people leave to bike in one order, or group, or by themselves and end up with a completely different group. There are exceptions of course. Norm and Christine start out together and typically pull in together. Tom, who not only tends to leave incredibly early, but recently has stopped camping with the group or even coming to the dinner, he is almost a ghost to us. It's as if he has become a rare bird, and we look to see if there are any Tom-sightings.
Today I left with Bill and Lew but both of them took the hill much quicker. Then I met up with Jim and Bill in Virginia City for breakfast. Then Barry joined us. During breakfast I saw John and Tom pass through without stopping.
After breakfast I went first letting gravity and my size work in pleasant tandem. Immediately after Virginia City, there is Nevada City. That has a bakery but since we had just ate, I coasted past. Down the Ruby River Valley and I found myself alone again.
The Ruby River Valley is called that because of all the garnets that have been found here. We are firmly in mining country now. Down hill from Virginia City and Nevada City is the town of Alders Gulch which also was a big mining boom town. The area around the town is filled with mounds of rock and debris, dredging remains from gold mining the river - the proceeds of which went to fund Harvard University.
I caught up with Lew and John in Sheridan. We bought some Gatorade and I got a chicken salad sandwich. We then kept going as a group going 20 to 26 MPH between Sheridan and Twin Bridges. Beautiful ride. It was almost as nice, but no tailwind on the last leg to Dillon but it was getting hot.
We pulled into town - it's a large place with a massive white old style railroad hotel downtown and I-15 also comes by here. The Western University of Montana is here too so there is a cool young vibe. Lew, John and I looked for ice cream but couldn't find any. I stumbled upon the Patagonia Outlet, Factory Store and next to that was a lovely coffee place serving fresh squeezed lemonade. A real refresher. John said he needed it because he was getting too hot. The young lady behind the counter had a book for cyclists to sign and I noticed that John had written it was his 71st Birthday. I called him on it, and congratulated him, and characteristically he said, "Let's leave it at that."
Tonight we're staying in Dillon at the KOA Kampground. Our site has too many mosquitoes and the camp pool has been taken over by kids here on a Basketball Tournament. There is also ten our so free range chickens that come over from next door, clucking, and searching, but Bob - who runs this KOA campground - gives out the unprovable statistic that the chickens eat 68% of the mosquitoes in our area.
Bob also loved talking about the area.
In the late 1800s the area was terrorized by a band of robbers calling themselves "The Innocents." I'm not sure how the name played out. In court you could say I'm innocent and maybe it would be an admission.
The Sheriff and law enforcement seemed powerless to stop these highwaymen who preyed on miners and travelers, until the locals banded together, calling themselves the Vigilantes. They must have been successful, because the Innocents fled but most were captured and hanged, including the Sheriff who cried and asked for "a good drop" but instead was just slowly pulled up on the noose, asphyxiating him.