January 14, 2016
Montana offers a palette of travel opportunities for the adventurous among us, and, while the mountainous regions of the western part of the Treasure State hog most of the limelight (and there are myriad reasons why it should), if you just scratch the surface of the fourth largest state in the Union, countless other less prominent opportunities abound. Yes, Glacier National Park in the northwest is without a doubt spectacular, Yellowstone to the southwest exhalted, and the wilderness areas in between, including the renowned Bob Marshall, invitingly untamed, but the central portion of the state seems to be without a main attraction. But, as stated on the region's Tourism website (centralmontana.com): "Central Montana bridges the gap between mountains and rolling prairies — with orb-stretching big sky in-between." And it's what's in between that we who visit this place so often find sublime.
The first time I rode a portion of the Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail, I napped undisturbed for 45 minutes by the side of Highway 80 under the watchful gaze of Square Butte and within striking distance of the Highwood Mountains (By the side of the highway — undisturbed! Can you imagine?) The Highwoods are in island range, one of several in central Montana, including the Crazy and Big Snowy mountains. These mountain ranges are entirely surrounded by a "sea" of prairie and, because of their isolation from other ranges and sub-ranges, harbor species and sub-species of flora and fauna found nowhere else.
It’s in the midst of this hybrid environment that Adventure Cycling Association's Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail meanders. For this two-day tour, I took along Jenna Lyons, an extremely strong rider and mountain bike racer. She was excited to begin her first tour and I couldn't think of a better place to introduce her to traveling by bicycle, so we headed to our starting point of Winnett, Montana, a small town that teeters between the true prairie of the eastern part of the state and the bread basket where spring wheat and cattle reign supreme.
We hit the road bright and early, not my favorite thing to do when traveling by bike, but a must stop at the Square Butte Bar and Country Club for lunch was a must and Geraldine, a stop on the old Milwaukee Road railroad line named after William Rockefeller's wife Almira Geraldine, would also require a visit, particularly to the old Geraldine Depot. By the time we reached Fort Benton, it was dusk and the skies were ablaze, casting shadows that made even the ever-present monolithic haystacks seem interesting.
The Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery paused their canoes here and an impressive statue of the two intrepid captains along with Sacagawea and her infant son is perched overlooking the Missouri River. The place is dense with history of the American West and placards that line the mighty river's public walk lead the reader through that mythic period of time that many of us still think we long for.
The geography of this part of America hasn't changed all that much since the Corps of Discovery passed through. If you haven't visited a place such as this before, you should consider seeing it from the saddle of your bicycle. Unlike Lewis and Clark, you'll have the benefit of using Adventure Cycling's maps, so there’s no excuse not to load up and hit the Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail.
We hope you enjoy this latest video from our Adventure Cycling Montana Film Series. Follow this link to find inspiring videos featuring two other routes in the Adventure Cycling Route Network: the TransAmerica Trail and the Northern Tier.
We'll be giving away two complete Lewis & Clark Trail map sets this week. For a chance to win a mapset, simply comment on this blog post and tell us why you are excited about the Lewis and Clark Trail or share with us any adventures you've already had on this historic path. We'll draw two winners at random on Friday, January 29. The winners will be contacted via email.
Photos by Mick Faherty
This post was written by Michael Deme, Producer of the Adventure Cycling Montana series.