We’ve now been on the road 21 days, crossed two state lines (Idaho and Montana), one international border (into Alberta, Canada and back), and one time zone. Over the days since I last wrote we’ve cut across the panhandle of Idaho and zigzagged through northwestern Montana. We left Sandpoint around noon on the 29th and stayed at Bull Lake, Lake Koocanusa (7/30), Eureka (7/31), Whitefish (8/1), Glacier (8/2-8/3), Belly River (8/4), Cardston (8/5), and Cut Bank (8/6).
Touring has been a jarring mix of crowded semi-urban areas and vast tracts of nothing. While traveling by car, I’ve always felt that the country is populated by a few big cities, many towns, and people who live between urban areas. Even Western Montana, where mountains render much of the land uninhabitable, it rarely takes more than an hour or two to drive between settled areas. But traveling by bike has given me a better sense of the vast amount of nothing and (especially as we head into the plains of Eastern Montana) that separates these places.
For me, transitioning between populated and unpopulated has been challenging. The coffee shops, breweries, and farmers markets of touristy towns like Sand Point or Whitefish feel like a throwback to non-touring life, but I haven’t figured out how to navigate the crowds of Glacier after spending quiet nights at Bull Lake and Lake Koocanusa. Conversely, the mostly empty mid-week campsites between towns can be ghostly after spending a night or two as adopted family in the homes of warm showers hosts.
All of this is to say that touring is an adventure, but that it can also be lonely. At times we live among strangers turned friends for an evening, while in between we see no one at all. While in previous travel experiences (e.g. Seattle, Chile, Chicago, and India) I’ve been able to settle, make new friends, and establish the routines of a normal life, as Rory and I make our way towards Chicago we will live entirely among strangers who we quickly leave. The non-permanence of touring means rarely repeating experiences, but it also means rarely revisiting friends.
So far, the lack of established friendships and relationships has been the hardest part of every day for the last three weeks; sometimes it makes this trans-am trip feel more like a challenge to complete than a dream vacation. But those lonely moments pass–more often than not turning into new (albeit brief) friendships–and on those long, desolate stretches of road I turn my brain off and pedal harder.