Monday, June 23, 2008

Big Sky Country

Desolate? Forbidding? There was never a country that in its good moments was more beautiful...Even in drought, or dust storm or blizzard it is the reverse of monotonous, once you have submitted to it with all the senses. You don't get out of the wind, but learn to lean and squint against it. You don't escape sky and sun, but wear them in your eyeballs and on your back. You become acutely aware of yourself. The world is very large, the sky even larger, and you are very small.
~ Wallace Stegner,
Wolf Willow

Riding day after day in Montana east of Glacier National Park has given me an appreciation of what Stegner means by submission to the senses. As we rode toward Glacier the eyes and mind were overwhelmed with the tall landscape; the mountains and snow, the rushing streams and cold mountain air. Crossing Marias Pass there was an immediate change in terrain (in a car it must seem almost instantaneous; on a bike it took a bit longer to notice, but no more than a few miles). Peaks and craggy mountain rock gave way to the broad expanses of the Montana plains. Oceans of green lay before us, our small bicycle-boats cast upon and ocean that once was thick with buffalo and native grasses. It is here that the mind starts to notice small, almost imperceptible beauty (certainly unseen from any passing car). Today a pair of bright orange butterflies flew in perfect synchronicity across the path of the bike Gus and I were riding. A dusty brown bird with a long bill and an uncanny human sounding laugh flew along with us for a half mile or so. Was it mocking us and our journey? Was it warning us to not tilt against windmills? Or was it rejoicing in our exploration? Or was it just a bird trying to warn us away?

Big Sky Country indeed. We have leaned against the occasional headwinds...we have worn the sun on our backs (and our arms, and legs, and noses). I am acutely aware of my place in this landscape, and I realize, as Stegner says, just how small I am. But there is no place I would rather be than with my family on this adventure.

The Ride

Today was our longest ride yet with loaded bikes. We rode 74 miles from Malta to Glasgow, MT. At this point I would like to pay my respects to some nameless bureaucrat, somewhere in the Montana Department of Transportation, who decided to place a rest stop in the middle of nowhere but just precisely where we needed it today at about 55 miles for much needed respite and cold water. The concrete picnic tables, probably thought only to be functional to withstand the Montana winters, were cool resting places for our hot, weary bodies (laying down on a cold concrete slab might be the last thing most people would find pleasant and refreshing, but trust me, it was!).

Yesterday we visited a dinosaur museum in Malta (back in the day, way back!) Malta was near the beach of a giant inland ocean. This has resulted in many dinosaur fossils being found here. The woman at the museum took a lot of time with us (since we were the only ones there). We learned that to tell a rock from a fossil you need to put your tongue to it. If your tongue sticks, it is a fossil (due to the porous nature of the fossilized bone). We must have looked very funny licking rocks. So far the kids have not applied this skill to any other rocks on the road...but there is always tomorrow.

Sorry, no pictures today. The hotel computer won't let us upload any.

Thanks for all the comments!



Anonymous said...

... and that's when I fell in love with ... IRONY.

... and if your tongue sticks, it wasn't a fossil, it was a cow patty. (local Montanan tourist trick)

Anonymous said...

I loved the last comment about the local Montanan tourist trick. Hey, it may keep the kids from licking any more 'rocks' tomorrow. But, what the heck, half the fun of adventure is trying new things, be they fossil bones or cow patties. (Do the kids know what a cow patty is?) It sure is nice having Jim home. He mowed the 3 acres around the house today and you have to have mowed them yourself to really appreciate that. I do now!! And, yes, he is ingenious and resourceful Love, Elaine