September 6-8 (Smoky Montana)

September 6: I wake up the day after the perfect zero ready to go. I have decided to stay on US 2 West instead of following the Northern Tier up to Eureka because of the wildfires in the area. Going off route has yet to be a positive experience for me. I eat another amazing breakfast at the campground’s Sunflower Cafe. Soon after departing, I discover there is a fairly new looking bike path along US 2. The air is very smoky; it is just bad enough to make me feel tired and irritable. I can tell that there are some beautiful sights to see but they are obscured. I connect with a warm showers host in Kila, Montana and learn that she is responsible for the bike path! Helen lobbied and raised the funds to get the 40 mile bike path put in from Glacier to Kila. Kila is a teeny town, adorable in its simplicity and Helen is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Helen earns a living making instrument cases and repairing camping gear. She lives on 40 acres on the side of a mountain, in an off-grid cabin that runs off of solar and propane. There is not toilet, only an outhouse. Helen built this cabin herself 30 years previously, and added onto it as her needs required. She has 2 children (around my age) who have in turn built their own cabins on the property, each choosing materials and locations that seemed to suit their personalities and preferences. Helen feeds me delicious food. She tolerates Dobby running all over her property, even jumping in her small pond and terrifying her fish. After we tour the property, which included walking up to the top of the mountain to look at the stars beginning to emerge, I look at Helen in awe. “How did you create all this?” I ask her. She just looks at me with the constant smile she wears and replies “I just did it.” I only met Helen for a night, but I still think about her sometimes. When I’m face with what I feel are insurmountable odds, or dealing with a challenge I’m not quite sure how to tackle, I think of Helen telling me to “just do it.” She’s right of course. Sure, you can sit and think about how best to handle a situation, but there are times when this pondering won’t do you any good, and you truly won’t know what needs to be done until you try something and see how it goes. I am no longer afraid to tackle things I’ve never done before. I hope one day to attempt to build a home for myself the way Helen did.

September 7: Helen serves up waffles with greek yogurt, maple syrup and peaches. It's amazing. Before I leave, Helen lubes up my chain and gives me cookies for the road. Did I mention how wonderful this woman is? I feel like I’m dragging today, the smoke is heavy and it seems to draw my strength out of my body. I stop for lunch at The Hilltop Hitching Post and then stop for the day around 3pm. I had planned to get further but I just don’t have the strength today. I think learning to listen to your body is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned on this trip. I stop at a campground at McGregor Lake. It’s a state campground, no showers or flushing toilets. I go for a swim with Dobby in the lake, situated just behind my tent. I clean the smoke off my body, and out of my hair and clothes. The smoke seems to sit on the water, and I can imagine it’s just fog creeping in. While making dinner on the picnic table, I spill 1/2 of a Mountain House meal. I realize what kind of person this trip has made me when I scoop the entree back into the bag and eat it.

September 8: It’s still smoky today, but the flatter ground makes for an easier ride. The air quality is so poor when I arrive in Libby, Montana, that a woman pulls her car over and offers me a mask. Everyone I see outside is wearing one. There are signs in front of all the businesses thanking the firefighters that have come from all over the country to help fight forest fires. I’m so sick of the smoke that I can’t imagine spending another night outside. I stay at the Caboose Motel, watching TV for a few hours and charging all my electronics. The smoky sky, while hazardous to my health, was also causing the death of my electronics. Without the sunny days to charge my solar batteries, I have no way to charge my phone, ipod, GPS, etc.

I realize how novel having four walls around me is becoming. I’m no longer used to having a solid room to hole up in, where I am insulated from Mother Nature and her whims. In the hotel room, I don’t know what the weather is outside. I don’t know how bright or dark the sky is. I can’t hear what animals are nearby. I’m not sure anymore whether or not I prefer the insulation of the hotel room or the immersion of nature.

We have traveled 2808.2 miles.