June 13, 2014
Harlem, MT to Saco, MT
Day: 76 miles; Total: 1,100 miles
Early morning in our tent brought booming thunder, lightning and rain. We packed up and the rain quit as we headed east, with the forecasted west wind unfortunately actually coming from the side. Our route took us off Hwy 2 for a while and we cruised on empty BIA back roads before rejoining 2. We had planned to stop for the night in Malta ( some of these towns have been named by the spin the globe and point approach- really!) but instead, fueled by lattes from the Crossroads Coffee shop, we decided to press on to little Saco, reputed to have a small motel and/ or camping. As we pushed thru the side wind, we enjoyed to truly wide open spaces that surround you as you go along.
The towns are generally far apart ( from a biker’s perspective ) and they often do not have services, so you have to think about how far you are planning to go each day ( and where the wind is coming from!) We arrived in Saco, pooped and ready to stop. Our friend John, a fellow cyclist going to Maine, was also there. We learned that the tiny motel in town was full, so we set up camp at the little grassy area across the highway from the few businesses in town. The mosquitoes were wild, and our camp sites were about 30 ft from the railroad tracks. ( there was a “rustic” bathroom for us to use, so Hey, who’s complaining?) We had put our tents up and were swatting at the bugs, when the driver of the very long train waiting on the track came by and said that we were camped in a horrible place. Since it was our only option, all we could do is ask why. Turns out that the town’s only perpendicular gravel road made it a “crossing”that required the trains to blow their horns, very loud and very long. Oh, well. Not much we could do about that, but we did have fun talking with the driver about all the stuff we’ve seen these long trains hauling across the plains.
Dinner was at the only game in town, the local bar, whose owner seemed to own most of the town’s old buildings. Local natural gas wells actually make the town well funded but most of the old buildings have seen better times. Anyway, we ate what it turns out the only meal that the health dept lets him serve at the bar ( we didn’t inquire too much about that) and then we retired to our cold water bathroom to clean up and hopped into our tent to escape the bugs. It’s hard to describe the effect of sleeping in a tent so close to the train tracks. I lost count of how many trains came by last night but over and over, we’d hear the long blast of the whistle, the ground underneath our tent would shake and the cars would clatter by for long minutes. Then, oddly, we’d go back to sleep and then it would happen all over again. When I finally looked at my watch it was 5:30, I felt amazingly ready to get up and John came out of his tent, we crawled out of ours and all we could do was laugh about how we probably never got to the REM sleep part of the night. Quite a camping experience. However odd this was, I must say that it is wonderful how many of these towns, big and tiny, make arrangements for cyclists to camp, often for free, in the park or patch of grass. Also, we later learned that Chet Huntley lived in Saco when he was a boy!
Biking on the BIA road on the Fort Belknap Reservation
Another “Crossroads” this time for coffee, in Malta. This town was also named by the spin the globe approach
Big big sky and big prairie!
Historic old gas station, turned camping bathroom and the tents were behind, near the tracks
Traveler is wondering why in the heck he’s so close to the tracks!
Our new friend, the train driver , finally got the go ahead to pull out and off east they went, waving from the engine cab at us
Joe, local businessman and our host/ chef at the bar
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