Monday, May 31, 2010

Day 3 - Elliston to Toston

Went over the Pass into Helena today. Spectacular morning and views riding down the west slope. Moss reported many run-aways with the bicycles of the soldiers and it's easy to see why. The slope leading down into Helena is very steep and perhaps it was even steeper back in 1897. Thoughts of the wind, which is ever-present the mind of any cyclist, encouraged me to press on as quickly as I could to Townsend. The Corps staid at Fort Harrison (in Helena) for a day's rest.

My worries about the wind were justified. Near headwinds made my trip from Helena to Winston a slow grind. From Winston it's thirteen miles downhill to Townsend. Last year I was going 25 mph and not pedalling at all. I wondered if the Corps enjoyed something like this. Pavement is such an advantage over the dirt they must have travelled.

Twelve miles below Townsend is a tiny town called Toston. Just below that is a 20-mile-or-so canyon carved by the Missouri River. Back in the late 1890s railroad tracks, I believe, followed both sides of the river. The Bicycle Corps simply followed the railroad track (I'm guessing the set on the west side) all the way through to Logan on the other side. Today, this is probably illegal, and dangerous besides. Still, I wanted to try to find a way through. If you follow this blog you'll know I got lost last year and wound up walking five or six miles on the railroad tracks.

In the evening I rode down to Toston, MT and meet mom in the pickup. It's a 4-wheel drive and we tried to find a way through. (I doubt the drive we made could be done with a 2-wheel drive) On the way up the canyon we ran into a local, Warren Flynn, who verified that yes, one can drive through. He also informed us that Ted Turner owns much of the property the surrounds the way through so if we hit locked gates we've made a wrong turn.We found a way that through. It's heavily rutted dirt roads. Not the way the Corps rode but a spectacular and wild ride. I'll post pictures as soon as I can. There is so much information for me to put on this blog. I'm just putting down the basics so that I don't forget.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day 2 - Ovando to Elliston

Started early and made it to Helmville via a dirt road that I think the Corps might have been close to following. As I was riding I was thinking about how the Corps might react to my journey. I think the enlisted men would think I am crazy. Was thrilled to run into Mary Ann McKee and her husband Don who I met last year at Helmville. Mary Ann's is fourth generation in Helmville. Her great-grandmother came out to this wide-open country straight from Ireland. Being here makes me realize the courage of our pioneer ancestors who left family and country to start a new life. Pedaling on to Avon the wind-gods were smiling upon me. Or was it the good feelings I had from seeing the McKee's? In any case the tailwinds seemed to be pushing me up the long uphill. The last six miles into Avon is downhill which is always a nice way to finish a ride. After lunch I made the ride to Elliston that it took the Corps all day to make. They were fighting mud. Pavement makes an enormous difference. I will put more of my thoughts about the Corps when I have more time.

The day was capped off with a trip to the Last Chance Saloon. This time I tried the Bigfoot Burger. No help from Grandma on this one. Wifi connection is crawling. I'll try to add pictures when I find a better connection.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 1 - On to Ovando

Adventure Cycle photo by Greg Siple

Rained, and sprinkled most of the day. I left Ft. Missoula at about 7:30 and got to Adventure Cycling's office at 8 am. Greg Siple took my picture--this is quite an honor. Greg takes portraits of riders who come through the AC office with incredible tales of the journeys they are making. Everyday I hope to make a friend so Greg started me off on a high note. I could listen to his stories all day long. Some time again he and his wife rode their bike's from Alaska to the tip of South America. I made the dumb mistake of asking if this was the longest trip he has ever made.... (it was something in the neighborhood of 18,000 miles). When I left Missoula the rain was coming down fairly good. I was thankful I wasn't on muddy roads like the Bicycle Corps was. I was riding easy and it felt like I had a tail wind all the way to Potomac where the rain let up momentarily. I did not see Ray, my Potomac buddy, this time but I was thinking about him. My mother, who is along for the trip, met me in Potomac and we shared a sandwich. I road on to Sunset, which today is a restored house called the Morris Place on the Paws Up ranch. I mentioned this in last years post. I nearly made it up Sunset Hill this time without having to dismount. It is a steep hill and the Corps mentioned having to walk their bicycles up it. From Sunset Hill the road drops down into a valley carved by the Blackfoot. The road is lined by tall pines and it's a very beautiful road. After crossing an old iron bridge it was on to Clearwater. I thought I had a tailwind so I didn't stop long, thinking I could easily cover the 13 miles on to Ovando in forty-five miles or so. Wrong. The wind was out of the north and I got real tired about 3 or 4 miles out of Ovando. The Cottonwood site, where the Corps camped the first night wasn't as pretty this year as last since it was overcast and drizzly. We are staying at the Blackfoot Mercantile a building "established" in 1897. The room is fantastic. Last year I camped 4 miles out of Ovando and got drilled by mosquitoes all night long. I'm really living in the lap of luxury! Tomorrow it's on to Helmville. I'm hoping to run into Mary Ann McKee, a fourth generation resident of Irish descent. I am amazed to think people came from Ireland all the way to a very isolated section of Montana. The setting reminds me of an Ivan Doig book. From Helmville it's another 26 miles to Avon and then the monster Law Dog at Elliston. The Law Dog is a massive polish dog smothered in about a can and a half of chile. It is so much even I couldn't finish it off. I hear they have a Bigfoot burger now that is probably equally as huge. This part of Montana is jaw-dropping beautiful. It's the "real" Montana. People still care about and help one another out -- a way of life that seems to be dying out in rural America. Sorry about the lack of pictures. I'll add them in as I find the time.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Got to Missoula

Drove up to Missoula today and it was raining nearly the whole way. Looks like I am in for more of the same for the next few days anyway. Hopefully the weather will warm up some tomorrow. The Corps also experience quite a bit of rain throughout their trip. Luckily I won't be battling mud like they did. And I don't imagine they had Gore-tex and rain ponchos either.

Had a real treat today when I got to meet Greg Siple from Adventure Cycling, an organization here in Missoula that promotes bicycle touring. Greg shares an interest in the 25th Bicycle Corps. After giving me a tour of the building and showing me an incredible collection of bicycles that, mostly, hang from the ceiling, Greg shared many fascinating stories about touring. Among other things, he was one of the main organizers of Bikecentennial, a tour across the U.S. in 1976. Then he shared with me a stack of files that he has collected with information about the Corps. It was a goldmine. I was thrilled to find many pictures I've never seen as well as newspaper articles that contained information that will help fill in gaps in an understanding about where the Corps rode on their trip from Missoula to St. Louis. I'll transcribe the newspaper articles he gave me and add them to the day-to-day accounts I've put on the main blog page. What a great start to the trip. Now, if only the rain will let up a little bit.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Getting Ready to Go

I'll be leaving from Missoula this coming Friday (May 28) to make my second shot at completing the Missoula to St. Louis trip. If I can I will blog as I ride. I now have a whopping four who confess to being followers of this blog.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

1974 Riders

I don't know if it's this blog or word of mouth but all of a sudden people from all over the country are e-mailing me about the 25th Bicycle Corps. I just received an e-mail from a woman who had some questions for me. She happened to have scanned photos from a group who rode the Missoula to St. Louis ride back in 1974. The women and men who made that trip were from the University of Montana African-American Studies department. Coincidentally, they had a reunion last summer. I have had the pleasure to visit with Pferron Doss, one of the trip organizers. If I can get permission from the group I will publish the pictures taken during their trip. They are fantastic.
May 25 - Talked to Mr. Doss today and he has given me permission to post the pictures. They are his. Thanks Pferron! Here is the first of several I have copies of. I will post more as time permits. .... I'm guessing this picture was taken in St. Louis.

(as with all the pictures on this blog, click on them to get a bigger view)

I'm thinking about making a separate link that would chronicle this group. Hopefully, I can make contact with other '74 Riders and, along with Pferron, talk them into sharing their memories of that trip.

In my mind, a huge debt of gratitude is owed to this group for resurrecting the long forgotten story of the Bicycle Corps.

Riding into St. Louis. Crossing over Bozeman Pass in Montana.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lombard, Montana

Lombard, Montana, which no longer exists lies between Toston, MT and Logan, MT. It is one of the trickier stretches on my ride as no direct through-road exists (which aren't locked-up) between the two towns. It is also a metaphor for all the literal and figurative tangents one could skitter off to while following the story of the bicycle corps and their trek across the West.

While preparing for my journey last winter I did much Googling and research trying to find a way through the canyon. I could not find any conclusive way through. I decided I would just have to plunge forward and hope for the best. When I got to Toston, MT which is at the northern exit of the canyon, residents expressed confidence I could get through the canyon and on to Headwaters State Park, the southern exit to the canyon. There directions were vague and they confessed they hadn't actually driven the road in some years but I felt confident of success. How could I get lost, I thought. All I need to do is follow the river and railroad tracks. About four or five miles into the canyon I climbed a winding road that would have tested a mule. It was incredibly steep and took me to the top of the western rim of the canyon. As I looked down I could see railroad tracks looping southward out of site. They were so crowded, on one side,by a steep canyon wall and river on the other, that there was no room for a road. Looking eastward I could see a multitude of possible paths that lead to some incredibly remote country. I decided on a brake-burning path that quickly disappeared but offered the most promise of moving me in a southward direction. Rumbling down the very steep and heavily rutted, rock-strewn dirt road I headed eastward, but then slowly arced back to the west. Rounding a hill, I was back to the bottom of the canyon and the Missouri. Ahead, to the west, was a small grassy patch and the site that I now know was Lombard, Montana. I could see foundations of long-gone buildings. A section of the bridge which crossed the Missouri had been removed, leaving it impossible to cross to the western side. Likewise, a road which lead southward, through an adjacent canyon, was paddle locked shut. A sign with ominous warnings was strapped to gate that blocked that exit. I felt trapped. The only way south, and out of the canyon, was to follow the Northern Pacific tracks. I didn't want to backtrack, and I didn't want to camp. I wanted to get to Headwaters State Park and a safe camping spot that night. It was about 9:30 PM and I had little idea how far I would have to go. I wound up walking my bicycle along the railroad tracks that hug the Missouri River. I knew this route had to eventually lead me out of the canyon. It was a long walk, late at night, but I finally hit the ranching community of Clarkston. Looking back I think the whole episode was rather fortuitous. This is exactly how the Bicycle Corps must have traveled through the canyon and Boos tells us it wasn't easy (see below). Walking my loaded bicycle gave me an appreciation of what it was like to endure the wearisome bump, bump, bump of my tires as my bicycle jounced along on the railroad ties.

While Lombard had to have been on the path the Corps followed neither Boos or Moss mention it. My certainty that they passed it lies in the fact that there is no way to avoid it--the steep walls of the canyon and the river hem the tracks in from both sides. Even when it had switching yards, a general store and the Lombard Hotel back at the turn of the century, it could only be reached by railroad. [Today it can be reached by the rough dirt road I followed but I imagine it would be a difficult trip by car] Lombard lies at the intersection of two rail lines. One line, the "Jawbone Railroad" arrived at this town from the north and east winding through Sixteen Mile Canyon. A man named Harlow, and his Montana Railroad Company, laid the tracks in 1895, just two years ahead of the Bicycle Corps. The other end of these tracks terminated at the other end at Lewistown, MT. The other, much longer, rail line, the Northern Pacific passed by Lombard, running north and south, as it followed the winding Missouri. These tracks are still being used--a fact I was highly aware of during my walk. I kept thinking about being arrested, flattened by an unseen 100-car train coming around the corner, and/or having to jump into the river. Additionally, the canyon wall side had a electrified fence, built to keep animals off the tracks, that threatened to fry me.

Today Highway 287 skirts around and away from the canyon. This would have been the easy path for me but I was determined to follow the route that the Corps rode. Lt. Moss reports that the Corps "lunched at New Bedford, and seven hours later went into camp at Recap (aka Rekap- about 3.5 miles below modern Clarkston--and about in the middle of the canyon). Boos gives us quite a bit more. "We reached Toston in good time, and as the rain had not commenced to fall so we concluded to push on a little further for the day. A number of citizens volunteered information and after listening to a number of stories about the poor conditions of the road by the way of Three Forks, we determined to take the railroad track, which cut off a few miles. We marched on this track which was just being renewed and was without ballast for 20 miles pushing our tires over the ties, which were from six inches to two feet apart, subjecting them to the most severe test. In the worst part we carried our heavily loaded machines on our shoulder. The mosquitoes were very bad [they were right next to the Missouri River] and we had a hard time. The hour was getting late and the men tired and hungry so we pitched camp at a temporary station called Recap."

So, the Corps almost certainly passed by Lombard. They probably saw the Lombard Hotel which was built by the towns mayor--a Chinese immigrant Billy Kee. Kee also owned the general store and ran the post office.

"The career of Billy Kee, another widely known Chinaman who lived in Montana for many years, was much different. Billy Kee ran the hotel at Lombard, where the old "jawbone" railroad built by Richard Harlow, after who the city of Harlowtown was named, touched the Northern Pacific. Billy Kee was especially well known to the commercial travelers of that day. His hotel was a favorite stopping place, and robbed the trip into Lewistown country over the "jawbone" of much of its hardship. His beds were clean and good and his table was excellent.
Wives Accumulate
After accumulating a fortune in the hotel business he went back to China and is now a successful merchant in the Chinese city of Hongkong. But Billy's American divorce was not recognized by the Chinese authorities, according to word received by some of his Chinese friends here, and after his return to Hongkong, he had two wives, the one he left behind, and the one he annexed in this country. And by the law and customs of the country the first wife, the one whom he married in China, was boss of the household, and the second wife whom he married in this country became her slave. He had several children by the wife he married in America, and when he returned to China, took all with him."
- The Mineral Independent, The Mineral County Historical Society

The two story building in the backround of the picture to the left is Kee's hotel, The High Point Inn. According to the Ultimate Montana website, "the hotel served good meals and featured a bathroom with hot and cold running water. Kee was known as a "flexible" proprietor. When he retired at night, he would leave the light on for any latecomers and the cash register open. The guests would scrawl their name in the register, put their money in the till, and take a key to a room."

Since biking last summer, I think I've discovered a way to get from Toston to Logan. It will lead me away from the Missouri, the railroad tracks, Lombard and the path the Corps followed but it's the closest route I can find. I'm glad I went the route the Corps did last year....but this time I think I'll avoid the tracks.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Did the Corps Go through Hannibal, MO?

As the Bicycle Corps got closer to St. Louis, the details Eddie Boos and Lt. Moss provided diminished to a trickle and then, nothing at all. What happened? Did Boos stop sending articles to his employer once the Corps hit the Nebraska-Kansas border? Or did the Missoulian decide to quit covering the story for a time? Neither seem likely and yet I can find very little in the way of first person accounts of the Corps trip across Missouri. There are only very short snippets of information. Determining the last part of the route through Missouri, therefore, has been difficult. The map posted here comes from a set of illustrations that accompanied a lengthy article in the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat of July 25, 1897. This map indicates that Hannibal, Missouri was on the Corps route. However, I have yet to find any other source which confirms the Corps went through this town. Working out the mileage figures Moss provided in his report hint that the Corps would have had to swung northward, up through Palmyra, MO. If they rode the more direct route, from Monroe to Louisiana, two towns specifically mentioned by Moss, the mileage figures fall short of what Moss reported.