Category Archives: Montana

Back to South Dakota

We pulled out of the Broadus, Montana city park around 10am Sunday. Our route had us continue down US212 where we traversed the northeast corner of Wyoming before we reached South Dakota. We saw several antelope in the fields along the roadside this time – I expected to see them the day before but didn’t.

We drove through the town of Belle Fourche, South Dakota which has the distinction of being near the designated geographic center of the United States of America. This designation was  bestowed by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1959 – after Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union. The geographic center of the 48 contiguous states is Lebanon, Kansas.

We drove through town on US 85 next to a truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer which had a cargo trailer attached to it – you don’t see that very often! We turned southeast at SD34 while the trailer pulling a trailer went straight down US85. We hit I-90 at Whitewood west of Sturgis. A little while later, the trailer pulling a trailer passed us at about 70mph. He must have taken US85 due south and got on I-90 west of Spearfish. Ours was definitely the shorter, faster route.

We pulled into the Elks Lodge in Rapid City around 1:30pm. I parked in the front lot while we figured out how to set up. This is a very nice lodge – one of the largest and cleanest lodges we’ve visited. This is the first lodge we’ve been to where the bar is open to the public. This is due to the golf course on the lodge property which is also open to the public. The RV lot is for Elks members only.

We dropped the trailer in the main parking lot and backed the coach into site four. We have 50amp electric service and fresh water, no sewer hook up. We paid for four nights and shouldn’t have any worries about sewer. The 50 amp electric service was needed – we had to run the generator on the road to power the front roof air conditioner. Once hooked up, we ran both roof A/Cs – it was 100 degrees outside! The average high temperature in July for Rapid City is 85 degrees – we were in for a few days with highs above average.

We had a problem with one of the basement compartment doors over the last couple of days on the road. The door popped open a few times. I adjusted the plate the latch attaches to, but it still wasn’t very secure. On Monday, I found an Ace Hardware store and bought a flat brass bar one-inch wide. I had them cut a three-inch section. I glued this flat bar to the latch plate effectively extending the height of the plate. The door latches securely now and shouldn’t be a problem down the road. While I was out, I picked up a few groceries.

Meanwhile, Donna was out for a bike ride in the 90 degree heat. She planned a route looking at a map and headed out for a 24-mile ride. Little did she know her route included some steep climbs! She got through it though.

I went online Monday and found the local Department of Public Safety (DPS) licensing office. I found out they take appointments for driver’s license exams and renewals. Donna lost her driver’s license back in November in San Diego – she figures it must have slipped out of the slot in her purse when she pulled her cell phone out. I scheduled an appointment at the DPS office a few miles from the lodge for 10am Tuesday morning. They advise arriving 10 minutes prior to the appointment time.

We walked into the DPS office 12 minutes before 10am. They had a sign telling us to take a number after we completed the application paperwork. Donna had already completed the application so she took a number. Then I saw another sign telling us to notify a clerk if we had an appointment. Donna told a woman at the counter she had an appointment and gave her name. She was told that she would be next in line.

We sat down to wait and within two minutes Donna’s name was called. The woman at the counter entered Donna’s application in her computer terminal, took her photograph and printed her new driver’s license in less than ten minutes! I’ve never experienced such efficiency at a government agency.

We were back on the Spyder and on the road a couple of minutes past 10am. We headed up US16 and turned off at 16A. We were headed to Mount Rushmore. We visited the monument in 2013 when we first hit the road as full-timers (post).

Once we got through the tourist town of Keystone, we hit a traffic jam trying to enter the monument. There was a crew painting new road lettering and arrows and they had a lane closed. This confused the traffic as it was forced to converge into two lanes from three – the two lanes that are for entry to the monument. Through traffic had to go around the crew, then get out of the entry lane at the entrance and get back on the highway. We baked in the sun for 20 minutes trying to enter.

When we were here before, we paid the $10 fee to park and were planning to show our National Parks pass inside but there was no entrance fee. This time I showed my National Parks pass and was told the pass doesn’t do anything for me at the monument – everyone has to pay for a parking permit to enter the monument. So I paid $10 again. We walked through the monument viewing area. We both thought the famous sculptures looked like they had been cleaned since our last visit.

Donna in front of the state flags display

At the viewing pavillion

We didn’t stay long. We went back to Keystone for lunch at Peggy’s Cafe. We were disappointed in the food quality – not on our recommended list. I wanted to take the scenic drive down Needles Highway again but realized that would mean we had to fight our way through the traffic jam at the monument again.

I decided to ride the Spyder down 16A to SD87 and we could come up the Needles Highway from the bottom. This route took us through Custer State Park. At the park entrance there was a sign advising a fee for a park pass to use any of the parks facilities – through traffic on the highway didn’t need a pass. So I carried on without stopping.

At the turn-off to Needles Highway we were stopped and an agent told us we had to purchase a pass to enter the highway, even if we didn’t plan to stop. I didn’t recall paying anything four years ago when we drove down the highway. I paid $10 for a pass.

Needles Highway is very scenic – and it’s slow. The road is narrow and full of twists and turns. There are six tunnels – some a as narrow as eight feet seven inches. I don’t know how the tour buses which are eight feet six inches wide manage to get through, but they do.

I didn’t stop to take photos at the Cathedral Spires which are granite columns – needle like – towering along a section of road. I thought we would come back down the highway and I would get pictures then. We went all the way to Sylvan Lake before stopping to stretch our legs.

Sylvan Lake

We were hot and the route was longer than I anticipated. We didn’t have enough fuel to back-track down the highway. We cooled off in the shade and Donna even put her feet in the lake.

Donna cooling off in Sylvan Lake

We exited the highway at the top end and rode back to Rapid City. We had put in about 110 miles and spent four hours on the Spyder. We had enough sightseeing for one day – we were getting saddle sore.

We ended the day with grilled green chile turkey burgers cooked on the Weber Q for dinner and some leftover red potato salad.

Green chile turkey burger

I opened an IPA called Total Domination from Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene, Oregon.

Ninkasi Total Domination

We’re thinking about going to a barbeque and rodeo later today – it depends on the weather. For the last three days, a thunder shower developed in the late afternoon. Usually it blows through quickly but we had a considerable amount of rain along with high winds, thunder and lightning last night.

Tomorrow we’ll head east and probably make an overnight stop near Chamberlain before we check in for a week in Sioux Falls.

Custer’s Last Stand

We pulled out of Deer Lodge, Montana a little before 10am Friday morning.  Our stay there was uneventful – our aim was to get a good night’s sleep and dump and flush our holding tanks. We only stayed three nights at Coeur d’Alene Elks Lodge, but we expected to have some dry camping nights ahead – full fresh water tank and empty holding tanks are the best policy on the road.

We headed east on I-90 and climbed steadily. At times we climbed steep grades and soon found the Continental Divide which we crossed at an elevation of 6,393 feet above sea level. The Continental Divide is a drainage divide – in North America, watersheds west of the divide drain into the Pacific Ocean while those east of the divide eventually drain into the Atlantic or Carribean Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.

We hit a couple of areas of road construction which slowed us down but the traffic kept moving. Driving through Montana, the term traffic is relative – at times we seemed to be the only vehicle on the road. We hit Billings, Montana a little after 3pm, only stopping once at a rest area.

At Billings, we pulled into the Cabela’s parking lot and set up for the night. There were signs that said “No Overnight Parking” so we went inside and asked at the customer service desk. The friendly girl at the counter said we were fine for one night, but no extended stays. Perfect.

We shopped and I found some creek shoes on clearance for $8.99 and a couple of T-shirts – two shirts and a pair of shoes for a total of $25! It was hot outside – around 90 degrees so we had to run the generator to power the air conditioners. We shut the generator down around 9pm and went to bed by 10pm. Next door a couple had a gasoline powered generator in the bed of their pick-up truck to run the A/C in their fifth-wheel trailer. They ran it all night and it was a noisy unit.

Donna researched some stopping points for us on the road ahead. Our goal is to take care of business at the Department of Motor Vehicles in South Dakota and also find an area where Donna can do some final training rides before she hits the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). Originally we planned to stop in Gillette, Wyoming but the National High School Rodeo Championship is going on this week and we couldn’t find a place to stay – so we changed the plan. Flexibility is key when you’re on the road.

We left Billings around 10am after Donna took an early morning run of four miles. We headed southeast on I-90 toward Wyoming. The terrain changed considerably from western Montana. We were in rolling hills – some quite steep – and more open terrain. The day before we saw nine antelope in a field by the interstate and I expected to see many more in this part of Montana, but we didn’t see any! Maybe it’s the heat of the day that has them bedded down in a cool area instead roaming around in the open meadows.

After driving 510 miles on I-90 through Montana, we exited at the Little Bighorn Monument and hit US212 east. The Little Bighorn Monument is the battlefield where General George Armstrong Custer led the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the US Army into a disastrous battle. The cavalry was routed by an overwhelming force of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.

The native American tribes call it the Battle of Greasy Grass but most people know it as Custer’s Last Stand. Although books have been written and movies made of the battle, historians don’t agree on the actual events of the battle. The cavalry was demolished and no one could give a true account. The Indian leaders gave conflicting accounts of the battle and their strategy. At the end of the day, everyone agrees that the 7th Cavalry had bad information and didn’t realize the size of the force they were up against. Based on flawed intelligence, Custer lead them into a trap. Nearly 300 soldiers lost their lives.

US212 is a two-lane highway that runs through the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and Custer National Forest. We hit road construction on this route, including two areas where we were on dirt road. The second stretch of temporary dirt road was a couple miles long with no construction workers present. As we were near the end of the dirt, a tractor-trailer rig approached from the opposite direction. It appeared as though the driver didn’t realize the pavement ended and he hit the dirt too fast. He swerved toward the shoulder and cranked back to the center – his trailer whipped behind the truck. Luckily he gained control before we passed each other.

Around 1:30pm, we pulled into the town of Broadus, Montana. This is a small town with about 400 residents. There’s a city park on the south side of town right on US212 which is called Park Avenue. US212 enters town from the west on Holt Street then makes a 90-degree right turn on Park.

On the south and west sides of the city park there’s ample parking on fairly level dirt surfaces for RVs. We read accounts of people dry camping overnight here, but found signs posted that were ambiguous.

How do you interpret this sign?

Since there were cars and RVs parked around the park where these signs were posted, we took it to mean “No parking of livestock and livestock trailers.” There’s a rodeo ground across the street so that makes sense.

We found a spot and set up for an overnight stay. It was hot out – the high reached 96 degrees. I had the generator running all afternoon and into the evening to keep the A/Cs running. Donna walked to the IGA in town and picked up a few groceries. Around 9pm, some people came into the park and set up a white sheet and projector. I asked them what they were up to. It was the community movie night – they were going to show Beauty and the Beast. Families with young kids came to the park to watch the movie. This is small town America – I love it.

Putting up the screen

We watched a few episodes of Homeland in the evening, then shut down the generator around 10:30pm and went to bed. We’ll head out this morning and continue on US212 southeast to Rapid City, South Dakota. We plan to spend a few nights at the Elks Lodge there.

Clark Fork

In my last post, I mentioned a rig that pulled in at the Coeur d’Alene Elks lodge that caught my eye. I should explain why I took interest. First of all, Donna told me I should see the stacker trailer that someone dropped next to our trailer. I had to retrieve her bike from the trailer so I walked down and took a look and a photo.

Our trailer in the foreground – and people think WE have a big trailer!

That’s a tall stacker – our lengths are about the same

Walking down to the trailer, I saw an unusual looking coach. The rear cap had the words “Motor Coach Industries” (MCI). MCI is a well-known brand among tour bus companies and transportation companies. The only MCI motorhomes I’ve seen were conversions of seated buses that had the interior gutted and reconfigured as a motorhome.

This one was different. It appeared to be a purpose-built motorhome with two slide outs. The slides had radiused corners like you would find on high-end coaches such as Newell, Foretravel or Prevost based coaches. It looked to be about 40′ long and had two axles – no tag axle. I’d never seen anything like it.

Custom coach with an MCI chassis and shell

Two sides with radiused corners and pneumatic seals

Eventually I met the owners – first Lisa then her husband Tom. They are from the San Francisco Bay area of California. Tom was an entrepreneur with a business that built entry doors and security doors for hospitals and commercial buildings. He still owns the company but is no longer involved in the day-to-day operation. I’ve heard similar career stories from most of the folks I meet with these super high-end coaches.

This particular coach came from Florida where a dealer – I think the name was Amadas – acquired several MCI chassis and shells back in 2004. They planned to convert three or four per year into custom motorhomes. The financial crisis put their plan on hold from about 2006 to 2010 – that’s when this one was built, in 2010. It checked off most of the boxes on Tom’s wish list – 40′ long so he could stay under California’s 65′ overall length requirement which was a biggie for him. I was surprised to find it powered by a Cummins ISL – like ours – but this one is chipped to produce 500 horsepower – we have 400 horsepower. The challenge with chipping to this power level is keeping the engine operating temperature within a safe range. This bus chassis has a large radiator with a huge belt-driven fan. It also has super access to the engine – something often found on bus type conversions and an area where many motorhomes are lacking.

MCI engine compartment with super access

The bus shell is all aluminum – no fiberglass. The trailer holds their boat on the upper rails and their Cadillac SVR below. The front six feet are a workshop with power tools and a generator on the tongue. I really enjoyed talking to Tom and Lisa and learning about their unique coach.

Thursday morning we packed up and got ready to travel. Donna had ridden over 50 miles on the Centennial Trail to Spokane Valley and back on Wednesday and oddly had a hard time sleeping Wednesday night. I thought she would be out like a light after that endeavor, especially since she put in 35 miles the day before.

Donna snapped this photo of the Spokane River along the Centennial Trail

Tom and Lisa hooked up their trailer and pulled out just ahead of us, leaving us with plenty of room to maneuver and hook up our trailer.

Maybe we’ll see them down the road

We headed east on I-90 and enjoyed several great views of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Then we climbed Fourth of July Pass – a little over 3,000 feet above sea level and crossed the Idaho panhandle into Montana.

We entered Montana at the Lookout Pass summit in the Bitterroot mountain range a little over 4,700 feet above sea level – and lost an hour as we entered the Mountain Time Zone. From there we had a steep down grade to St. Regis. At St. Regis, I-90 follows the Clark Fork River. The river meanders through a long valley that took us roughly south east toward Missoula. The interesting thing is although it often felt like we were descending, we were actually gaining elevation. The Clark Fork runs to the northwest and of course it’s always going downhill.

The way the river meanders through the valley means I-90 crosses it several times. From St. Regis to Deer Lodge – a distance of about 150 miles – it crosses the Clark Fork 16 times. It’s hard for me to imagine, but the Clark Fork flows northwest through a series of valleys and eventually reaches Lake Pend Oreille, a watershed that empties into the Columbia River!

After a long day on the road with several construction slow downs on I-90, we found Indian Creek Campground in Deer Lodge, Montana at the headwaters of the Clark Fork. I didn’t bother to dump our tanks before we left Coeur d’Alene knowing we would have full hook-ups here. We’ll stay one night and push on toward South Dakota. We’re thinking we’ll be in Billings, Montana tomorrow, Then Gillette, Wyoming. We’ll leave here with a full fresh water tank and empty holding tanks – I see a couple of dry  camping nights ahead.

Say No to Missoula

We got an early start and pulled out of Dick’s RV Park in Great Falls around 9am. Our plan for the day was to head over to the WalMart in Missoula. We could resupply there and spend the night.

We stayed on MT200, which took us west, then southwest to Missoula. We drove through the plains which became rolling hills with spacious cattle ranches. Donna snapped picture after picture, but it’s hard to capture the scenic beauty as you’re rolling along.

Windshield view as we head toward the Helena National Forest

Windshield view as we headed toward the Helena National Forest

The terrain changed when we entered the Helena National Forest. The hills became mountains and the open pasture became Lodgepole pine forest. We crossed the Continental Divide at Rogers Pass. The elevation was 5,610 feet above sea level. From the little town of Vaughn all the way over the pass, we saw very few cars on the road. We would drive for 15 minutes or so without seeing a car before one would pass by. This was an easier route than going down I-15 to Helena, then crossing MacDonald and Mullan Passes on US12.

MT200 followed the Blackfoot River as we descended. We stopped in a town called Lincoln to stretch our legs and grab a snack. Donna bought a huckleberry milkshake and declared it delicious.

From Lincoln, the road continued along the Blackfoot River. We saw bicyclists heading uphill toward Lincoln. It appeared to be some kind of bicycle tour group. We saw a couple of stations with water and whatnot on tables for the riders.

We hit I-90 and Nally (our Rand McNally RVND7720 GPS) directed us to the WalMart on Mullan Road. The store was very busy and the parking lot was nearly full. We had a problem. As we entered the parking lot, Donna saw a sign that read “No Overnight Parking Per City Ordinance.”

I have to vent. WalMart made a corporate decision to encourage business from RVers on the road. Their policy is to allow overnight RV parking in their parking lots. I don’t understand why a city government has to interfere with a marketing decision that doesn’t harm the community. I’m guessing that an RV park owner convinced someone on the city council to create such an ordinance. This is the last time I’ll spend any money in Missoula. End of rant.

This stymied our plans. Donna went into WalMart to stock up on groceries while I looked for an alternative place for the night and bought two six-inch Subway sandwiches for our lunch. It took over an hour for Donna to complete her shopping. We rolled west on I-90 around 2:30pm.

Montana allows overnight parking in rest areas. I thought we could stay at a rest area near St. Regis. We came to a rest area about 30 miles west of Missoula. This rest area had a campground alongside. It was posted “No Overnight Camping” in the parking area and the campground was not for big rigs. We pulled on through and continued west on I-90.

We saw several billboards for a tourist trap called Lincoln’s 50,000 Silver $ Bar and Gift Shop. Donna happened to notice that one of the billboards also stated “Free RV Park.” It sounded interesting. We pulled off I-90 at exit 16 (16 miles east of the Idaho border). When we entered their large, open paved lot, there was a sign for RV parking behind the bar-restaurant.

It looked a little sketchy back there. It was unpaved and wooded. I parked on the pavement by a couple of semi tractor-trailer rigs to scope it out. Donna and I walked past the dirt lot behind the bar-restaurant and saw a small campground.

Free campsites

Free campsites

While we were walking back to the free campsite area, we saw a truck pull a fifth-wheel trailer into the site. The driver obviously had camped here before. He knew exactly where he wanted to park and pulled into a site from a dirt road at the back of the area. We were happy to discover that there were primitive pull-through sites that would easily fit our rig.

Donna picked out a fairly level site and claimed it. I walked back to our rig and drove around the back, following the route the fifth-wheel took and pulled into the site. While I was leveling the coach and putting the slides out, a guy from a site a few hundred feet away came over. He told Donna that some sites have 30-amp electrical service and we were in one of them! A free site with electrical service. This is what you call serendipity.

Free site!

Free site!

I was glad I had our Progressive Industries Portable Electrical Management System. I hooked up the 30-amp adapter and plugged it in. It cut off the power twice and threw a code for high voltage. I saw 127 volts on the display, but it must have surged even higher to cause the unit to interrupt power. Without the high voltage protection, it could have damaged the microwave oven, the TV or air conditioners. The voltage settled down to 122 volts and was fine for the rest of the stay. We were able to run the air conditioner and watch TV without burning fuel in the generator. Sweet!

The sites are intended for overnight use by customers of the bar-restaurant (which also has a casino – I think every bar in Montana is a casino). We walked to the bar and had a cold one shortly after arriving.

Lincoln’s 50,000 Silver $ Bar originally opened in Alberton, Montana in 1951. Gerry and Marie Lincoln built a bar and named it Cherry Springs after the small creek on their property. At that time, silver dollars were common. In October of 1952, Gerry cut a hole in the bar top, hammered a silver dollar in the hole and inscribed his and Marie’s name below it.

This started something that quickly caught on. By December of 1953, more than 2,000 people had placed a silver dollar in the bar top and had their name inscribed. They changed the name of the bar to Lincoln’s 2,000 Silver $ Bar. The name changed many times as the collection grew. The bar relocated a couple of times over the years as interstate construction began. The present location at exit 16 was built in 1976. It has a gas station, motel, restaurant, gift shop, bar and casino on several acres of land.

Today, the are more than 64,000 silver dollars mounted in the bar – 10,623 of which are real silver dollars. The rest are Eisenhower “sandwich” dollars that have copper cores.

I took a couple of photos, but the lighting was poor and the shots aren’t clear. The entire bar top is filled with silver dollars. The walls are full of boards with silver dollars mounted in them.

Silver dollars mounted on boards

Silver dollars mounted on boards

Silver dollars through out the bar

Silver dollars throughout the bar

I don’t need fuel, but I think I’ll top up the tank at their station as a thank you for the free campsite. We’ll continue on to Coeur d’Alene this morning.


Up Early

Maybe it’s a case of wanderlust. I don’t know. I woke up at 4:30am. An hour and a half later, I got out of bed. This isn’t my usual routine. Lately I’ve been sleeping in. Donna is usually the first one up while I linger in bed.

Yesterday, while Donna went for a bike ride, I finished my clean-up job on the coach. I polished the wheels, replaced the lug nut covers and treated the tire sidewalls with 303 Aerospace. It’s looking good!

Looking good!

Looking good!

Later, I scootered Donna over to Barnes and Noble. She worked on her book project again at the Starbucks there, utilizing the free wifi and enjoying a latte. I intended to go to a self-serve car wash to wash the scooter. I forgot to bring microfiber cloths along to dry the scooter though, so I scrapped that plan.

I came back to the RV park and organized the trailer and loaded the scooter. The trailer is set to go. When Donna returned, I grilled a pork tenderloin that she had marinated earlier. Paired with a Lagunitas IPA, it was scrumptious.

Pork tenderloin with sweet potato and broccoli

Pork tenderloin with sweet potato and broccoli

This morning, I’ll dump and flush the tanks, then it will be time to kick the tires and light the fires. We’ll head west on MT200 to Missoula. I know there’s some road construction on MT200, but I think it’s the best route for us.

The alternative is I-15 to Helena, then I-90. I think MT200 will be more scenic and we won’t have to climb Mullan Pass and McDonald Pass. I’m ready to say goodbye to the ubiquitous prairie dogs and cottontail rabbits in Great Falls. It’s time to move on!

Summer Solstice

Yesterday was the summer solstice. It marks the day with the longest period of sunlight. It would be more correct to call it the northern solstice, as it’s the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. The southern hemisphere enjoys a summer solstice between December 20-23, depending on how the calendar falls in a given year.

We enjoyed a beautiful midsummer day. There were few clouds in the sky and the temperature reached a comfortable high of 74 degrees. More of the same is forecast for today and tomorrow.

Donna took advantage of the agreeable weather with a bike bike. She rode south on Fox Farm Road, along the Missouri River. She found a route she really enjoyed and put in 23 miles.

While Donna was out riding, I went to the office and paid $10 for the privilege of washing our rig. I started on the roof and then did the cargo trailer. I used Rain-X car wash with carnauba on the roof and trailer. I used NAPA (Mac’s) car wash on the rest of the coach. The Rain-X car wash left fewer water spots than the NAPA product. Next time I’ll use Rain-X on the entire coach. I spent over three hours washing the coach and cleaning all of the glass. It was 3pm by the time I finished and had some lunch. I was too whipped to do the wheels.

I scootered Donna over to Barnes and Noble, which is a mile from here. After being cooped up in our coach all week, she wanted to get some work done in fresh surroundings. She took advantage of the free wifi at the Starbucks inside Barnes and Noble. I came home and kicked back inside with the Formula One qualifying I recorded for Sunday’s race in Austria. It was great to see Filipe Massa take the pole position. Later, Donna walked home.

Last evening, a couple from Australia, Dave and Meredith, pulled into the site next to us. They flew from Australia to Washington State and bought a Ford truck and fifth wheel trailer. They plan to tour the USA and Canada over the next 12 months. What an adventuresome couple. This is their first RV experience and they’ve jumped into the deep end!

We chatted with them for a while. Dave wanted to buy beer, so I rode with him in his truck and showed him where the store was. I picked up a six-pack of IPA as well. Donna and I enjoyed happy hour snacks and drinks outdoors.

Donna enjoying happy hour

Donna enjoying happy hour

Today, after I watch the Formula One race, I’ll polish the wheels, put on the new lug nut covers and treat the rubber with 303 Aerospace Protectant. This is a great product to protect against UV degradation. I use it on the tire sidewalls and the lens covers on our coach. Some headlight lens covers can be damaged by UV rays and turn yellow.

New lug nut covers go on today

New lug nut covers go on today

I also need to organize the cargo trailer and prepare for travel. Tomorrow morning, we’ll pull out of Great Falls. We’re heading for Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which is nearly 400 miles away. We’ll break the trip into two days, stopping in Missoula, Montana. We’ll probably stay overnight at the WalMart there.

Last week I neglected to post a photo of a great meal Donna prepared. She has the convection oven down and is getting the induction cooking down as well.

Cornish hen and roasted potatoes

Cornish hen and roasted potatoes

I don’t know if I’ll post again before we reach Couer d’Alene.

Blow Out

Thursday’s weather was running behind schedule. The forecast called for clearing around midday. It rained all morning and well into the afternoon. The RV lifestyle isn’t all fun and games and sightseeing. We’ve been cooped up in roughly 300 square feet of living space for five days. We finally had a break around 3pm and rode the scooter over to the Holiday Inn to pick up Donna’s race packet.

A beak from the rain

A break from the rain

When we returned, I changed the inner tube in her rear tire, removed the aerobars (they’re not allowed in mass start races), and then I cleaned and lubed the chain. Everything looked good – she was all set for the Friday morning start.

On Friday morning, we were up at 7am. Donna had her pre-race meal while I had a cup of yogurt and coffee. I checked her tire pressures and set the front tire at 115psi and the rear at 120psi. We rode our bikes three miles to the Broadwater Bay Park to check in for the race. We arrived at the park at 8:30am, half an hour before the scheduled start.

We learned that the actual start/finish line was another mile upriver on Lower River Road. After a short riders’ briefing in the parking lot, everyone rode to the start/finish area. I was a feeling a little out of place, tagging along on my mountain bike. I wanted to see the start and see Donna off. The field for the 40k bicycle race was small – only eight riders. Three were women and Donna was the only woman in her age category. All she had to do was finish the race to win her age group and qualify for the National Senior Olympics next summer.

It was shaping up to be a beautiful day with plenty of sunshine and just a light wind though the race director warned of high winds up on top of the Eden climb. Right at the start of the race, the wind picked up along the river. I rode back to our coach, battling fierce wind across the Central Avenue Bridge and back up the trail to the RV park. I could only imagine how tough the wind would be on top of the hill.

Once I reached our coach, I locked up my bike in the trailer and got on the scooter. I was about a mile out of the park when I realized that I left the bike lock back at our site. Donna and I planned to have lunch after the race and I would need to lock up her bike. I turned around and retrieved the lock.

When I reached the start/finish line, it was already after 10am. I rode up the race course, expecting to find Donna riding back toward the finish line. After I made the climb up the first big hill on Eden Road, an oncoming pickup truck slowed and the driver frantically waved at me out the window. He stopped in the road. I turned around to see what he needed.

He said, “Do you have a tire pump?” I thought, why would you stop me and ask a question like that? I told him I didn’t have a pump. He said, “Your wife has a flat tire and no pump.” I told him we didn’t need a pump and asked how far away she was. He told me she was about four miles down the road.

I blasted off on the scooter, riding 70mph. Another oncoming pickup truck was waving at me as it approached. I blew on by without stopping. A few minutes later, I saw Donna on the side of the road. She said, “Did you get my message? My tire blew. I don’t know if it’s fixable.” I didn’t get the messages because I was riding the scooter.

Her front tire was flat and I could see part of the tire had come off the rim. I pulled the wheel off the bike and removed the inner tube. I installed a new tube and reseated the tire. I didn’t need a tire pump because we had an Innovations air chuck with CO2 cartridges to fill the tire in a situation like this. I filled the tire with a 16 gram CO2 cartridge. The tire inflated and then, after a few seconds, the tire bead blew off the rim. It blew off in the same place as before. I looked at the bead. It was damaged and wouldn’t seat in the groove of the rim. We were out of options. If I had received Donna’s message while I was still back at the coach, I could have brought the entire front wheel from my road bike.

That was it, race over. Donna was an official DNF (did not finish). One of the race staff volunteers put Donna’s bike in his truck – it was the same guy who flagged me down and asked if I had a pump. He gave her a ride back to the RV park.

Her race was over, but her goal of qualifying for the National Senior Olympics may still be attainable. We’re looking at a couple of options. Since our home state of South Dakota doesn’t offer a qualifying bicycle road race event, there are two ways for Donna to qualify. The Montana event would have qualified her without question. Now it seems we have to find another qualifier in another state (Washington is a possibility) or she has to complete two races and petition for inclusion. She’s already completed one of the two required by racing in the Tour de Mesa back in April.

After Donna returned to the park, we rode the scooter over to MacKenzie River Pizza for lunch. I think I was more bummed about the tire failure than Donna was. I should have changed her tires. They were old, but the modern tire compounds wear like iron. They looked decent, until the bead failed. I guess I need to treat them like RV tires – replace them based on age, not visual cues.

After lunch, we rode over to the Big Horn Outdoor store, which was recommended to us for high-end road bike gear. I bought new tires for Donna – Continental GP4000 S tires to be specific. These tires are hand-made in Germany and it’s reflected in the pricing!

New hand-made tires

New hand-made tires

We stopped back at the park and dropped off her tires. Then we went to the grocery store to stock up. Did I mention the weather? It was a partly cloudy, but dry day. We had a load of groceries to scooter back to the park. I think it was the biggest load ever.

After we returned, I installed the new tires on Donna’s bike. No issues, the bead seated with no problem. I still can’t get my head around the tire failure. I put a new tube in that tire last Sunday. Donna rode over 40 miles since then. How does the bead suddenly fail and the tire blow off the rim? I’ve changed hundreds if not thousands of bicycle tires and tubes over the last 35 years. I don’t recall ever seeing a failure like this.

Last night, I grilled Jamaican jerk chicken. Donna served it over brown rice with mango salsa and broccoli on the side. We were able to dine al fresco at the picnic table. Hurray!

Jamaican jerk chicken with mango salsa

Jamaican jerk chicken with mango salsa

Today, we have blue skies and a fair weather forecast for the coming days. Donna is planning to go out for a bike ride. I want to wash the coach and polish the wheels. We’ll pull out of Great Falls on Monday.


Tamale Tuesday

This morning I awoke to the sound of raindrops drumming on the roof of our coach – the same sound I heard yesterday and the day before that. The north and east ends of Dick’s RV Park are giant mud puddles. I’m happy to be in the drier southwest corner, even though we’re closer to the road noise.

On Tuesday afternoon, we had a break in the rain. The forecast called for about an hour lull in the rain showers. Donna went for a walk while it was dry out. I checked our batteries and puttered around. We had about 60 or 70 gallons of fresh water on board. I dumped the tank and refilled it with 100 gallons of the city water here in the park. Great Falls has great water! Much better than the water we’ve been carrying from the desert. When Donna returned, she told me she saw a tamale vendor on the street corner across the 6th Street bridge.

The next bout of rain showers hadn’t arrived yet, so I hustled over to check out the tamales. There was a trailer set up as a kitchen in the church parking lot at 6th Street and 10th Avenue. It had a sign that said “Electric City Concessions” on the side. Electric City is the nickname given to Great Falls, due to having the first hydroelectric generating plant on the Missouri River here.

They offered homemade tamales wrapped in corn husks. Two dollars each, six for $8.50 or $16.00 for a dozen. Tamales are a traditional Mesoamerican dish made from masa ( a corn based starchy dough). In  Mexico, tamales are made with different fillings and can be eaten for breakfast (usually with a sweet filling) or dinner. The masa is wrapped with corn husks or leaves and steamed.

I bought half a dozen tamales. These were savory with a ground pork filling. I brought them back to the coach and split them with Donna. They were fairly small, so three each was about right for lunch. Electric City Concessions sets up every Tuesday at the church (Tamale Tuesday). We won’t have another opportunity to buy them as we’ll be leaving Great Falls next Monday.

Yesterday, it  rained all day with only a brief break in the evening. Donna and I took a short walk through the park during the break. We avoided the muddy north side. Last night, Donna prepared fish tacos for dinner – one of my favorites.

I’m trying to use the RV park’s wifi as much as possible. With the rain and the park fairly full, their wifi is unreliable. Being inside all day means we are burning through our data allotment. Eight days into our cycle, we’ve used 59% of our current plan. I can raise our allotment and probably will before the cycle ends.

The rain is supposed clear up around noon today. I need to change the rear inner tube on Donna’s bike. I’ll also clean and lube the chain in preparation for tomorrow’s race. At some point, we need to scooter over to the Holiday Inn to pick up her race packet. We may have a shower or two this evening, but we should have clear, blue skies for tomorrow’s race.

Giant Springs

Yesterday’s weather forecast called for a six-hour dry spell between 9am and 3pm. I took advantage of the break in the rainfall and got on my mountain bike at 11am.

After I crossed the Central Avenue bridge, I followed the River’s Edge Trail north, then east as the Missouri bends that direction. I rode at a steady pace until I passed under the 15th Street bridge and stopped at the Black Eagle Dam.

Black Eagle Dam and Falls

Black Eagle Dam and Falls

Below the dam are the Black Eagle Falls, the first of five falls that make up the Great Falls of the Missouri in Montana. The Black Eagle Dam was first constructed of wood in 1890. It was a timber and rock crib dam, the first to supply hydroelectric power on the Missouri River. In 1926, it was rebuilt with concrete, which still stands today. The original structure is still there, submerged behind the current dam.

The dam is 782 feet long and 34.5 feet high. It houses three turbines that can generate up to 18 megawatts of power. The dam can generate power from the flow of the river, without creating a storage reservoir behind it. Thus it’s called a “run of the river” dam.

The falls downriver from the dam drop over 26 feet. Meriweather Lewis was the first white man to see these falls. The name “Black Eagle” came from an eagle that Lewis saw nesting on a island below the falls.

A few hundred yards downstream, there’s an iron sculpture next to the path. It depicts Lewis and Clark with their guide, Sacajawea, looking at the falls.

Lewis and Clark with Sacajawea

Lewis and Clark with Sacajawea

View of Black Eagle Falls from the sculpture

View of Black Eagle Falls from the sculpture

There are many interpretive placards along the River’s Edge Trail, giving short history lessons. I photographed a couple of examples. Click on the placard photos to enlarge and read them if you’re interested.

Montana mining history

Montana mining history

Smelting operation

Smelting operation

Along this section, the bike trail is high above the river. I could see dirt trails below, near the banks of the river.

Dirt trails by the river

Dirt trails by the river

I came to a fork in the path. To the right, it passed under Giant Springs Road. To the left, it continued along the river. I stayed left. A short distance later, the trail forked again. To the right, it ended at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center parking lot. On the left, the trail made a rough descent to the river.

I took the left fork and rode down to the river. There was a mixture of dirt and paved trails along this section. I rode into the Giant Springs State Park. The Giant Springs are an amazing sight. Fresh water flows up to the surface into a large pool. It reminded me of Yellowstone in a way, but this water was cool, clear and pure.

The water temperature is 54 degrees Fahrenheit. It originates from snow melt in the Little Belt Mountains (where the Mumbro Park cabin is located). Giant Springs is formed by an opening in the Madison aquifer. The water comes to the surface and forms a pool, which drains 150 million gallons of pure, fresh water into the Missouri River daily. Some of the spring water is diverted and bottled for human consumption. It’s also used to supply fresh, cold water to Montana’s largest trout hatchery.

Placard at Giant Springs

Placard at Giant Springs

Look closely and you'll see three streams of water shooting to the surface

Look closely and you’ll see where streams of water shoot to the surface

Water shooting to the surface of the pool and flowing over the rocks to the Missouri

Water shooting to the surface of the pool and flowing over the rocks into the Missouri

The pool of water rushing over the rocks into the river is an amazing sight. I tried to capture the beauty of it.

Giant Springs

Giant Springs

A guy walking by asked if I wanted my picture taken at the springs. Why not? It didn’t add anything to the beauty factor though.


On the way back I stopped at the Knicker Biker bike shop downtown. I bought spare inner tubes for our road bikes and a few energy bars.

I came back to the RV park at 1pm. It was an enjoyable two-hour ride. Donna and I had our lunch outside at the picnic table while the sun was shining. Donna went out for a walk and I walked a couple of laps around the park. I chatted with some folks. I found out both tour groups currently in the park are bound for Alaska. I think they will be pulling out this morning. Once the tour groups leave, the park wifi should become usable again. In the meantime, we’re burning through our Verizon data plan.

Donna walked for about 45 minutes, then went back to work on her laptop. The rain returned around 4pm and hasn’t let up since then. We may have a small window – maybe an hour – of sunshine this afternoon. The weather guessers have been right so far and they say the weather should start clearing up and warming up tomorrow.



Rain Falls in Great Falls

We were shut-ins for most of the weekend. Thundershowers and rain damped our enthusiasm. During a few of the breaks in the precipitation on Saturday, we walked laps of the park.

Adventure Caravans assembled another tour group here at Dick’s RV park. They’re joined by another tour group called Fantasy Adventures. This filled the RV park again. We had a couple of quiet days in between the groups. While the park was fairly empty, the wifi worked great. Now that it’s full, the wifi service is spotty. I don’t know the details of these tours.

Yesterday, we had a break in the rain showers. It looked like we would have dry conditions for a couple of hours before the next bout of thundershowers. I pulled Donna’s bicycle out of the trailer and pumped up her tires. While I was filling the tires, I found the front Presta valve was broken. I replaced the inner tube. After I pumped up the rear tire, the thumbscrew on the Presta valve broke off! I put a cap over it and Donna was able to ride. The valve will fail the next time I pump up the tire though.

Inner tube with Presta valve - Google Image

Inner tube with Presta valve – Google Image

Donna rode 3 miles out to Broadwater Bay Park where her bicycle race starts. She rode the race course which is 25 miles. The climb up Eden Road was tougher than she anticipated with several steep climbs and long uphill pulls. After the turnaround, though, coming back on Eden Road was faster than she thought it would be. It’s a grueling course, but her elapsed time overall was close to what she expects to do in the race.

The rain showers returned before Donna made it home. She rode in the rain from the Central Avenue bridge. While she was out, I caught the Moto GP race on Dish Network and squandered my chance for a bike ride.

Later, we had another break in the weather. I  rode the scooter to pick up a few groceries. While I was at it, I bought a six-pack of beer. It’s a beer from Bayern Brewing in Missoula, Montana, called Dump Truck Extra Pale Summer Bock. There are so many craft breweries nowadays and countless styles being brewed. It’s fun to try something new, but I would prefer to experiment at a brew pub where you can order a sampler flight. I had no idea what an extra pale summer bock would be like. It turned out to be a fairly strong (6% ABV) lager with the yeast contributing to a bitter finish.

Last night, I was able to fire up the grill and grill fajita-spiced chicken thighs before the rain started up again.

Today’s forecast calls for about a six-hour window of sunshine before we hunker down for another 48 hours of thunderstorms and rain. When we looked into Donna doing the race here, I remember reading that the average rainfall for Great Falls in June is two inches. It’s their rainiest month of the year. So it’s not like we didn’t expect to have some rain. But it looks like this rainy weather will clear up later in the week.

After I dump and flush our holding tanks this morning, I want to ride my bike east on the River’s Edge Trail. While I’m out, I’ll buy spare inner tubes for our road bikes.