Friday 12th of July
I had a long lie then prepared a strong coffee with my stove and GSI JavaDrip. Curtis was not awake yet so the coffee was quietly shared with the lonely guy we had got speaking to last night. He was staying at the campground whilst trying to find work in Whitefish. Poor guy couldn’t really afford much financially or emotionally and all he wanted to do was see his family. In between sips or sentences he just zoned out and I just let him. No judgements, no sympathy just listen. Lots of family and friends will agree that this is not how Jim usually operates but it was starting to feel like the Great Divide was changing how I thought…for now at least. Little did I know that by the end of today it would have done this a lot.
Time to ‘get down the road’! Weather forecasts were suggesting some storms coming in that would swell rivers, turn gravel to peanut butter and soak folk on bikes. As a Scot the last point did not bother me too much but the first two, in a big place like Montana, filled me with dread. The ACA map was carefully studied over another coffee and some of my remaining broken, squashed, re-solidified and crumbly trail food from the bottom of feed bags. Columbia Falls was chosen as my location for resupply then second breakfast. I was also looking forward to navigating the intricate series of seemingly perpendicular roads and trails that headed east to Columbia Falls and then south to Flathead Lake. Here I was going to take Highway 83 and simply push as far south as I could despite the weather, hence the phrase ‘ get down the road’.
Curtis appeared. He was in R & R mode with a plan to catch up with some friends in town that we missed last night. Curtis was then going to recce the area to see what it might be like to work in the area as an ER specialist. Even after only a day or so in his company I knew that he would be a calm, decisive and understanding person in that environment. We wished one another luck and agreed that we might meet up later on the Divide…
I got to Columbia Falls quickly but did not resupply very quickly. The sheer size and choice of products in the supermarket had me going round and round in circles. By the time I was finished the second breakfast could not come any sooner. But I had to wait and by now it was nearly 80 degrees. The Montana Coffee Traders cafe I chose near the river was absolutely rammed with people, probably because it was Friday. I placed my order then went back to my veranda seat to repack my bike and have a blether with a couple of locals.
Fuelled up I really enjoyed winding my way south on the gravel country roads that headed towards Swan River and Ferndale. What a joy to ride my bike, take in the views and not a lot else. By the time I got to Echo Lake I was starting to feel the heat and needed to cool off and get some more food inside me. I pulled in by the lake and found a wee path to put my bike before I headed down to the water for my first skinny dip in years. Maybe since my honeymoon on the island of Corsica in a mountain lake surrounded by snow. Once in the water and swimming about I realised that I might actually be right in front of someone’s garden so my eventual retreat from the water would have been hilarious for anyone to witness.
At Swan River I was able to speak to Rachel on the phone. That made me feel very happy. She said that most of her family were there which was nice to hear. On the way into Ferndale I stopped by some roadside, homemade lemonade from two week boys. It was cool to speak to them and their family and get an idea of what it’s like here. Just as I was leaving a Swiss rider came by. I shouted to him that he must stop and have some of their delicious lemonade. He shouted back that he needed to get cash first. I hope he turned back.
The run down to Swan Lake was pretty cruisey and then I looked at my GPS to see that it was still a long way to the State Park. Anyway it got done as you do. When I got there I was disappointed to find it absolutely packed out with RVs. The lady warden on her caddy wagon could not really have been any less helpful to me when I asked if there were any pitches left. She said there was no room. That’s because there were great big flipping RVs everywhere. As a parting shot she said that there was a place about a quarter mile away who sometimes let folk like you camp…
I headed to the gate, turned left and sure enough pretty soon came to The Laughing Horse Lodge. At the reception I asked if I could camp here over beside the one (small) campervan, the white canvas tent and the portaloo. The lady explained politely that the campervan was where some of the staff slept and that the canvas tent was for yoga sessions. She then asked me to wait here and she would go and ask Kathleen, the owner if she could help. At that some point I became a bit more aware of my surroundings, the guests coming in the door and my appearance. Right on queue the forecast storms appeared to be arriving and I started to prepare for the worst. I could not have been any more wrong! Kathleen dressed in cool chef uniform and headscarf greeted me with a lovely smile and told me of course I could stay. She went on to tell me that I can sue the yoga tent to save me the hassle of pitching in the rain. Kathleen then took me through to the dining area, already filling with well-dressed guests and pointed to the ‘Staff Only’ door. ‘You just head in there Jim. Help yourself to towels, have a shower do your laundry just make yourself at home.’ I was starting to fill up with emotion as within 20 minutes I had gone from being turned away for how I looked to being welcomed by a complete stranger. ‘I need to offer you something for all of this. Would $20 be alright?’ Kathleen’s reply was not to be silly come and have dinner if you want to.
In between showers I was treated to the sounds of mellow jazz from the dining room as I optimistically tried to dry my now clean riding gear. As my dinner time approached I gave up and reminded myself that my riding gear was soon going to get wet in the morning anyway.
A friendly waitress showed me to a table right in the middle of all the other guests. I had a perfect view of the jazz duo as they played chilled out tunes on a double bass and glockenspiel. I felt like a king as I alternated between mouthfuls of succulent local beef, sipping a local beer and writing my journal. As I walked past the musicians to go to the bathroom I whispered ‘I don’t suppose you are allowed to play any Miles’ are you?’ When I came back to my seat they announced ‘All Blues’ by special request!
What a day. What a place. What people. Thank you.
Whitefish to The Laughing Horse Lodge 61 miles, 1973 feet of ascent, 8 hours (6 hours riding + 2 hours stopped)