The ride from Missoula to Butte is a long one - 134 miles - and I guess most folks were concerned about how long it would take, because the parking lot emptied out at 7AM like baseball bleachers in 9th inning of a home-game rout. When Paul and I moseyed onto our bikes to leave at 7:06, there were only two other riders present, and those were the fast guys who always zip by the rest of us.
Today was our chance to get more intimate with I-90; 17 miles outside of Missoula we were to ride 17 miles up the interstate, then ride it again at the end of the day when cresting the ridge into Butte. We started out on a lovely & chilly (54 degrees) side road & soon met up with Chip riding alone who joined us. He is sporting the PACTour jersey for this year's Northern Transcontinental:
Did I mention trains? This valley not only hosts a route for bicyclists, and the I-90 interstate, but also a major rail line where we saw and heard several trains over the course of a few hours.
When the train tracks moved to the other side of the freeway, the lovely side road became a less lovely frontage road,
then ended. The only route onward was on I-90 so we took the eastbound freeway entrance. Just before we got on the freeway, we passed the lunch truck&trailer with PACTour co-owner Susan Notorangelo leaning out the driver's side window wearing a bear hat cheering us on.
Even with that encouragement I was ready for a miserable experience - seems like the concept of riding on the interstate is one for the trash bin,
but was pleasantly surprised when there turned out to be no traffic, a wide clean shoulder, and as Paul observed the traffic that passed us tended to take the left lane.
With about 10 of the 17 miles accomplished we come upon the lunch truck & trailer with Debbie and Susan cheering us on with a kazoo and twirler. That made the rest of this segment pass even faster. With the support and consistent pulls by Chip and then Paul, riding I-90 turned out to be quite a bit better than the other major non-interstate highways we've ridden so far. Even scenic:
The first rest stop just off the exit from I-90 had an amusing collection of highway signs
After the rest stop we hit the road jackpot:
The Road Closed sign does not apply to cyclists! What followed was a 10+ mile stretch of road that had no intersections. That means nothing but local traffic and this is out in the middle of the least populated state in the continental U.S. Here is a perspective showing our "closed" road and I-90 winding up the Clark Fork River valley.
After this quiet stretch ended we turned south into a wide valley that was like the high alpine meadow often found at the head waters of a mountain creek, but the Clark Fork River is no creek and this was a meadow writ large.
Heading further south through the little populated town of Hall we climbed out of the bowl on a shallow but long climb. We crossed under a huge electrical transmission line with tower insulators shining greenish blue in the sunlight:
(This is what passes for entertainment when you are out there on the road for 9 or 10 hours!)
Turning the corner we caught the first stunning view of the Anaconda range.
In the valley at the foot of the range is historic mining town Philipsburg which is gussied up to distinguish itself from Hall down the road.
After lunch in the town park, overlooking a valley that could stand as the definition of pastoral, the route started over the Anaconda Range via the lowest pass. This was the most significant climb of a long day, about 5 miles at 5-7% grade. Toward the top a cataract was loudly gushing down a V canon. This movie shows a panorama starting with the road above me yet to climb, then the cataract and finally the road below already travelled.
Farther up the road you get to the Georgetown Lake dam, which isn't too tall but creates a large reservoir behind it. The spillway in the sunlight was captivating
As was the lake:
By now I-90 was crowded, much hotter and considerably less scenic. However with the skillful pacing of John S, a PACTour staff member, it didn't seem to last too long and soon we were bumping along a terribly paved frontage road which made that smooth interstate shoulder seem not so bad.
Like several of the towns we've been through, Butte has built bike paths and our route took John, Anni and I along one that delivered use to our lodgings in the motel section of town next to I-90.