The Journey from Silver Bay, MN to Bozeman, MT
04/09/2010 53 °F
I began my Alaskan trip on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I was happy to finally start the big trip, a 3 week journey that would lead me eventually to Alaska. First, I would have to travel over 3000 miles to get there, crossing the western U.S. once again, and driving through 800 miles of “Beautiful British Columbia.“ In Prince Rupert, B.C. I’ll be driving my van onto the good ship “Taku” taking it easy for a couple days before I return to the long hours of working at an Alaskan Fishing Lodge. I like taking the ferry. It’s a good way to get a feel for the land, watching the gorgeous scenery and wildlife of Alaska’s Inside Passage. More on that later. On this trip, I’m traveling with a friend of mine, a good traveling companion and world traveler who will be working at the same fishing lodge in Sitka for the summer. The following are some thoughts and photographs of the first days of the journey. From Silver Bay, Minnesota to Bozeman, Montana.
Driving through northeastern Minnesota in the late afternoon, I began to notice that my favorite clouds had begun to form off to the south. Cumulus clouds are a gift from the sky for photographers and loafers. Two activities I take great pride in. I admired the variety of shapes and sizes as I drove. The late afternoon sun lit them beautifully in the blue sky. I decided that at the next place that I could stop, that I would, as I wanted to get out and enjoy the scene. Almost as soon as I thought it, a wayside sign appeared and I pulled off the highway and parked at a little rest area next to a lake. Northern Minnesota has some beautiful lakes, and Embarrass Lake near Biwabik is no exception. Those beautiful clouds I had admired so much were now perfectly reflected off of the surface of the glassy lake. Simply gorgeous. I was enthralled. What a send off, a parting gift, a reminder to come back and visit the northland when I finish my summer travels.
One of the gifts I’ve been blessed with, is the ability to find a comfortable seat almost anywhere, using anything. Now I know this doesn’t sound like a great gift, but for a guy who likes to sit as much as I do, it’s a wonderful talent to have. I was watching the sunset, comfortably perched in my “rocker,” a perfect limb shaped into a seat from a low hanging Cottonwood tree on the banks of the scenic Little Missouri River. I watched the river turn to silver, the buttes and bluffs to the south turn gold from the low sun. I watched the far banks turn dark in shadow, and felt the cold the instant the sun slipped beyond the western hills. I heard the robins cheerily call as they finished their evening forage, I felt the wind die down, and heard it’s last caresses on the dried leaves trapped in the crotches of the Cottonwood branches. I was in Teddy Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota, a beautiful park, and usually my first stop on my trips out west. Sitting in my wooden seat, I reflected upon my morning.
That morning, I had biked 10 miles through the badlands. I enjoyed the ride, relishing the tough climbs up the long hills, and speeding down the other side of the rugged and eroded buttes along the main park road. The rising sun was warm, offsetting the coolness of the morning, making perfect riding conditions. I saw a lot of wildlife, including: White Tailed Deer, Prairie Dogs, Robins and Buffalo. Seeing a buffalo calmly munching grass on the side of the road from a car is an awesome experience. Seeing one from the seat of a pedal bike is downright intimidating. There is something magical about Buffalo. These magnificent animals have an aura of wildness and raw power to them. A reminder that the western plains were once wild and free. A symbol of the American west: The grandeur, the wildness, and the brutality of the settling pioneers and their army. The buffalo was almost needlessly slaughtered to extinction in the 1800’s by hunters, settlers, and the army. The buffalo can run over 35 miles and hour. It can weigh upwards of 1000 pounds. I’m fairly certain that I can’t peddle that fast on my bike, unless I had a huge hill to help me. A couple of times on my ride, I saw a couple of buffalo eating grass on the shoulder of the road. I stopped and watched them, giving them a wide berth as I knew I had little chance of escape if they decided I was a threat. I watched them for awhile, then turned my bike around and headed back the way I came. I’ve seen their athletic ability first hand (see High Plains Drifting), and wanted no part of another demonstration while I was on a bike.
I woke suddenly out of a peaceful sleep mildly disoriented, and wondering what time it was. I laid there for a moment, trying to guess if the sky was overcast, or was it just really early morning blue sky. I did a sit up and looked outside through the window of the van. To the east, a beautiful sunrise was already in full swing, almost to the horizon. The wind was blowing hard, but it was surprisingly mild out. I watched for a minute and contemplated if I wanted to get up and go outside to take it all in or slump back down into my comfortable down sleeping bag, snoozing in the glory of an early morning. Something inside me urged me to get up, so I did. I put in my contact lenses, threw on some sweats, a hooded sweatshirt, slipped on my sandals, grabbed my camera and headed down to the river. I slept the night at the After Bay campground on the banks of the Big Horn River in south central Montana. It’s located in part of the Big Horn River National Recreation Area, way up on the north part of the park.
The night before I had watched a lot of Canadian geese take refuge on a slim, gravel bar close to the south bank of the river near the campground. I considered the situation, and decided to try to get a picture of a goose on the gravel bar. The geese heard me coming and began their warning honks, good news, as I would have a chance to photograph them. Geese are relatively easy to photograph, they aren’t as skittish as a lot of other birds, and I hoped I wouldn’t scare them off. I didn’t, and I was able to silhouette them using the intense golden sunlight of dawn as my back drop. The brilliantly golden light didn’t last long, but I was able to get the photograph I wanted. It was a perfect start to my day, and I was glad I got up.
Bozeman, Montana must be one of my favorite towns to visit. It’s a marbleized western city with pockets of old Montana, trendy, upscale galleries and shops, with touches of college town funkiness. A hub for outdoor activity as several sets of mountains and two ski hills are within an hours drive. A cross roads of where old meets new, an environmentally conscious town, a forward looking city with roots deep in western culture.
I love going out to eat in Bozeman. There are many awesome restaurants, many trying to use locally grown organic products in their menu. Over the years, I’ve eaten at a lot of the restaurants, found many I’ve liked and keep going back to. For Breakfast, I like Main Street Over Easy and the Nova Café. My favorite restaurant of them all is the Montana Ale Works, serving great food, in a cool atmosphere. Plus they offer full size pool tables. Bozeman takes it’s coffee seriously. There are quite a few great coffee shops in town serving terrific coffee. I love the fact that Starbucks can’t even get there foot in the door, because of the plethora of coffee shops serving that wonderful black gold (no offense to SB, I don’t mind their coffee). My two favorites are the Sola Café (where I’m actually writing this), and the Daily Coffee Bar.
I like to do my shopping in Bozeman. Yesterday, I bought my latest pair of Danner hiking boots (my favorite boot). Over the years, I’ve bought camera lenses, film, groceries, binoculars, Frisbee golf disks, banjo strings, and a ukelele. I usually need to get an oil change while in town, and do my banking. In short, Bozeman has a lot to offer, and I like their laid back, friendly people. I’ll keep coming back as long as I am able to.
So the trip is off to an excellent start. We’ve had good weather so far, with the exception of yesterday when a hell of a cold front blasted in, dropping the temperatures 30 degrees and shaking 4 inches of snow on us. We got a few errands done, and met up with some friends of ours. They pulled some strings, with some of their friends and got us free lodging for the night. I love the power of networking, especially when it happens along the road, opening up doors you’d never expect, meeting awesome people along the way.