Sub-24 hour, overnight (S240) bicycle tours around Missoula, Montana.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

S240: Schwartz Creek, Hollowman Saddle, Miller Creek.

I clocked off work at five and scurried to pack what I thought I'd need for a spring evening and morning on the bike and for camping in the hills above town. The weather was cool and cloudy with a bit of wind, but by the time I was cycling east of Bonner, it's all sunshine.

A paved local commuter road takes you to Clinton, being just after six, traffic tapers with distance and time. The Clinton Cougars are having there graduation, half proud, half terrified elementary school graduates with parents at each shoulder make their way to the gymnasium where the mic is already echoing through the small town streets.

Heading up Schwartz Creek.
Heading south out of Clinton, the sounds of the interstate fades, as do the long rays of light illuminating cobwebs floating from weeds and grasses in the pastures. The road turns to dirt just about the time it crosses the Clark Fork River. High schoolers fling jigs from spinning reels, it's still too cold to swim. My quiet tires seem to sneak upon them and I startle their social wrangling.
At the head of Schwartz Creek, nearly to Hollowman Saddle

It's ten miles and a few thousand feet to Hollowman Saddle, the sun is mostly out of reach and cool air begins moving down drainage. Larch forests and varied thrushes brings on night. Around a corner, I bump a ferrel horse in the road, part of the Mount Baldy herd, or so I am told. The mountain is too steep on either side, so I bump him and bump him, a half mile or so, until he finds one of his trails and darts towards the flat ridge above.

I fill my bottles from what I think is the last stream and head over the saddle, cold and almost dark now. I'm sure I will bump a black bear as I sail around a dark wooded corner. Instead I find a wide spot near a brook and set up camp.
At camp.

At five its already light. Wearing all my layers, I make tea and eat banana bread, listening to the birdsongs rise. An hour ride down Miller creek delivers me to human habitation, old cabins glow from the timbered edges of well kempt pastures. A half-dozen elk scatter from a salt lick and into the timber shortly before I hit pavement. It's a quiet, sunny morning until sagebrush gives way to box stores and I'm battling Walmart traffic toward the safety and comfort of the southern spur bike trail, and home.
Elk on a salt lick.

Google maps says the whole ride should take about six hours by bike. It took me closer to eight comfortable hours. I rolled up to the garage at eight and was in my desk chair, satisfied and ready for a long day of work at nine in the morning.
Preparing the morning sheng puerh tea. 
This was my first S240 (sub 24 hour, overnight) route out of the Missoula area, I'm considering it an unqualified success. I'll be out next week, on a new route.
Crossing the California Street Bridge, back to my home on the Westside.
There were a few logistical considerations that arose once the rubber hit the road. At camp, I pulled the top of my handlebars slightly above my saddle to help relieve some shoulder pain and to give me a better view of my surroundings. I do not want these tours to be a pain in the neck, or to be about pounding out mileage. These tours should be explorations of the local landscape, like a jaunt by Ralph Waldo Emerson, I want to be the big eyeball, absorbing all that surrounds me. Also, I'm going to need a kickstand and an easy access camera bag, for quick pull-overs without having to lay the bike down and rummage around in the saddlebag. For camp, I'm gonna need a water bag so that I camp were the views are spectacular, not simply where there is water. I'm wondering if a sprung saddle would be helpful for more pedaling on bumpy descents of fire roads. I'll probably switch to my wider tires (50mm, as opposed to 40mm) once the roads are dry and dusty, and I don't need my fenders anymore. 

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