Saturday, July 5, 2014

Conquering the Big Sky - Part 1

After seven years I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel in my quest to log a geocache by motorcycle (motocache) in each Idaho county and all of the six surrounding states.  All that remained were the counties in the southern third of Montana.  Montana covers a lot of territory.  It’s the third largest lower 48 state in area and has 56 counties, the most of any I’ve done.  This would be my third trip to the Big Sky state.

As usual I spent a lot of winter time planning my trips.  It’s a good way to pass the time when it’s nasty outside.  For this trip I had planned five days.  As the time neared I decided I would depart Monday, June 23rd.  However, at the last moment I decided to make a leisurely departure on Sunday instead which could cut a couple of my 400+ mile days a little shorter.  As it turned out that was a good decision.  So instead of my usual 6:00 a.m. departure I left at 10:00 a.m. which was a lot nicer.  Kathy and the dogs left for the farm at the same time as she has mentioned in a previous posting.

My plan was to make a fun trip up Highway 12 over the Lolo Pass and spend the night in Missoula.  Sunday was a warm and sunny day.  As Missoula is about 250 miles I made a stop in Kamiah (about 65 miles out) to top off my gas tank.  There were some Idaho caches along the way that I wanted to try which would also give me some breaks from riding.  The first one was “Split Creek Sneak” located on the south side of the Lochsa River.  The highway follows the north side of the river so you have to cross a horse/hiker bridge to get to the other side.  To get the cache required about a mile round trip hike up the river on a trail.  It was a pleasant hike and I not only found the cache but retrieved a Travel Bug from it.  By now it was getting really hot so I peeled off all my extra layers and stashed them in my tail bag.  The next cache also required a hike across a bridge but it was hidden under the bridge on the other side of the river so it wasn’t much of a hike.  I didn’t stop again until I was about half way up the ascent to the Lolo Pass.  It was a micro hidden at an information sign on the roadside.  Just as I was leaving I felt a sprinkle of rain.  Nothing much developed until I was all the way down on the Montana side when it began raining in earnest.  I found a spot to pull over under some trees and donned my rain gear.  I proceeded toward Lolo in hard rain but by the time I got there (no more than 15 or 20 minutes) it had slacked off to just a sprinkle.

I stayed at a Motel 6 in Missoula and after I checked in went after some nearby caches.  I already had this county done in previous trips so these were just for fun.  As with most urban caches these were all micros which can give me fits.  I had a tough time finding the first one which was on a walking bridge near the motel.  The next two I attempted I did not find at all.  However, one was very interesting in that near the coordinates where the cache was supposed to be I spied a mountain bike tied about 15 or 20 feet up in a tree.  It was hanging upside down with its seat missing but otherwise in good shape.  It was in a fairly heavily wooded area in a little park. That was a real head scratcher.  I’m sure it had nothing to do with the geocache.  I had dinner at the Taco Bell across the street from the motel and gave Kathy a call before turning in.

Monday morning around 6:30 I headed east on Interstate 90.  It didn’t seem too cold when I got up so I didn’t use my jacket liner or warmer gloves.  That was a big mistake.  I got really cold but I had left before breakfast so I had a good reason to stop before 9:00 at a McDonalds in Whitehall.  After some warm oatmeal I added my jacket liner and warmer gloves which was a big improvement comfort-wise.  

I picked up a Jefferson County cache that was in the fork of a tree behind a rest area.  By far the most outstanding cache of this day was one called “Wild Blue Horses” located in Broadwater County on Highway 287 which displayed the work of master sculptor Jim Dolan.  There must be about 30 of these very life like blue horses on the hillside. 

Geocaching must be a new concept to some of the more remote parts of Montana.  Caches are very meager in Meagher County.  I could only find two and I had to choose which route to take because they weren’t very close together.  I chose one to the south called “Quite a View Cache” and fortunately found it.  Golden Valley County was just as bad with only two and only one anywhere near my intended route.  I rarely ask for help on a cache but a lot was at stake in this case.  I noticed in the logs that a local friend had logged this Golden Valley County cache a couple of months before so I consulted him to help my chances of finding it.  It was called “Chief Joseph on the Musselshell” and it wasn’t quite as easy as he said (at least for me) so I’m glad I consulted him.

I enjoy staying in small towns when I can which isn’t difficult to do in Montana.  This night I stayed in Autumn’s Inn Motel in Roundup after having traveled 358 miles.  I had a nice visit with some construction workers staying there and I lubed my chain in a lot next door.  I couldn’t find a place to eat so I got a tasty deli sandwich from the local IGA.

Just before bedtime I noticed the cord showing through on my rear tire.  I had put on a new front tire for the trip and thought my rear one would make it but the Interstate can really eat up a rear tire.  I located four motorcycle places by internet on my iPhone but they were all in Billings 50 miles south.  As luck would have it (I tell Kathy I’m always lucky) it was on my route.  Of course, they didn’t open until 9:00 a.m. and I had planned to be beyond Billings by then.  The next morning I had a cinnamon roll for breakfast and headed south toward Billings.  Instead of traveling at my usual 75 mph I rode a leisurely 60 mph with a considerable amount of apprehension.  Of course, I’d been through similar experiences on previous trips (Idaho and Nevada) and survived.  I stopped along the way and picked up a couple of caches.  I arrived at Reiter’s Kawasaki around 8:00 a.m. and just waited around until someone showed up about 8:45.  They had two tires in the size I needed and I chose a Shinko which was fairly reasonably priced.  They agreed to loan me some tools to remove and replace the wheel myself which would save me some money.  It took only a minute to get the wheel off but getting it back on was another matter.  I struggled and struggled before finally asking for some help.  The mechanic and I both struggled some more before finally getting it mounted.  I think they had not pressed the sprocket into the wheel all the way which could be why he wouldn’t take any money for the help he gave me.  This delay cost me about two hours which made me more thankful for the Sunday start. [To be continued] Pictures 1-Blue Horses, 2-the one cache in Golden Valley County, 3&4- Roundup, 5- Reiter's Kawasaki.


Hallie said...

Those horses are statues, right?

M/W said...

Right - they aren't real horses.