74 miles (119 km) – Total so far: 3,238 miles (5,211 km)
The sober beginning of our trip today was a visit to Big Hole Battlefield. The battlefield is a memorial to the forced migration of several tribes to the Nez Perce reservation. Five tribes banded together to escape the US Army and push on towards the Big Hole Valley. A battle ensued and many native American civilians were killed. The monument celebrates heroism on both sides of the fight as well as mourns the terrible and needless loss for life.
In a somber mood each of us made our way up the Chief Joseph pass alone. I paused often to reflect on the beauty of the trees and the river. Our national forests are truly amazing treasures. They are much less crowded than the National Parks, and a chat with a ranger will reveal that the permissions on the land are extremely permissive in terms of camping.
The other side of the mountain was the biggest downhill yet. I covered 12 miles in just <b>under</b> 22 minutes, which is an average speed in the mid 30s. Woohoo! Near the end I stopped at a restaurant/gift shop/tacky disaster/grumpy employee depot. This facility was adjacent to a Lewis and Clark expedition historical point. As I sat there, several cyclists on day rides showed up and we chatted about our respective adventures for the day.
Wildlife has been scarce on this trip. I’m not sure if it is depopulation, or a cattle monoculture, or just the sheer amount of available land. For some reason known only to God above, I really really like seeing mountain goats. I found a whole pack of them. They didn’t like me too much, the males were pawing at the ground and generally looking tough, while the females and young legged it up the mountain. I was relatively safe behind a guardrail, so took some time to snap a couple of photos.
Further into the bitterroot valley, we saw several sings of Native American protest about the white man’s intrusion into their ancestral lands. One such expression is a vertical pile of wood surrounded by rocks with brighly colored flags attached. Another sign of protest was an eagle carved from the rock of a bluff overlooking the highway. Having ridden through a couple of reservations and read the local newspapers, I’m stunned at the continued discrimination these nations face in the modern age. I find these sings of protest to be powerful and hopefully they will be effective in changing the discourse between Native American nations and the rest of the US.
Paul, Terry and I chose to take an alternate path down a gravel road to get away from the busy US highway. The terrain was pretty challenging, limiting us to around 7-8 MPH. But, in the end the views of the Bitterroot valley were stunning in the late afternoon sun.