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Interlude: “Skip a bit, Brother”

And the Lord did grin. And the people did feast upon the lamb, and sloth, and carp, and anchovies, and orangutans, and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats…

After yesterday’s ordeal, I decided I really just needed to skip over the prairie portion of Montana. I had already biked 210+ miles across the state but still had about 400 to go to reach the North Dakota border. On top of that, I was chatting with a local couple at Mighty Mo last night, and they told me my planned route across the rest of Montana was going to be mostly tiny towns with large gaps between them.

They actually suggested that I bike up to Havre and hop a train. Problem with that idea was I’d have to take the train too far. It’s not safe to bike around Williston, ND because of the large number of trucks on the road due to the fracking boom. So I wouldn’t be able to get off the train before Minot, at which point I’d already be halfway across North Dakota.

My own preferred solution was to take a Greyhound to Glendive, MT, which is the last town before North Dakota big enough to have a bus station. This was also a no go though, because Greyhound won’t accept loose bicycles, and I certainly wasn’t getting my bike boxed again.

So in desperation I looked for a one-way car rental from Great Falls to Glendive. That also failed because the only car rental agency in Glendive is Avis, and their Great Falls location was sold out for today.

Running out of options, I looked at where other car rental agencies had locations where I could return a car. My choices were basically Billings, MT or Dickinson, ND. Billings wouldn’t get me nearly far enough, so I booked a one-way rental with Hertz from Great Falls to Dickinson. (Pro tip: Hertz may be expensive, but they’ve always come through for me in a pinch.) The cost of the one-way rental was actually in the same ballpark as the bus or train ticket would have been, but that’s more a testament to how expensive Greyhound and Amtrak are than to me getting a good deal on the rental.

All of the car rental agencies in Great Falls are at the airport, which sits on a hill 350′ above the city. Just biking up that hill this morning convinced me I’d made the right call; my legs still felt really sore going uphill. The airport is also home to the Montana National Air Guard, so it has some cool planes on display.

Hertz was nice enough to give me a Kia Sorrento (the benefits of having status), which easily fit my bike without having to take the front wheel off. And with that I was on my way on a cold, drizzly morning.

20 miles out of Great Falls is the town of Belt, home to Harvest Moon Brewing. It was late enough in the morning that they were open. However, they were doing bottling today (which requires more hands on deck at once than brewing does), so no one had remembered to unlock the taproom. I had to go in through the loading dock to get someone’s attention so they’d open the taproom.

Harvest Moon produces a good variety of beers. Their flagship is an English porter called Pig’s Ass Porter. The theme of pigs’ asses is therefore pretty prominent around the place, like here:

That said, I didn’t find the porter to be that distinguished. What I did find to be particularly good were their chocolate stout on nitro and their “Wuttamelon” watermelon wheat ale.

Btw, this is an appropriate time for a PSA: If you are going to drive after consuming alcohol, KNOW YOUR LIMITS. I had two 12-oz pours of 5% beer, which I drank over the course of an hour, so that put my BAC around 0.04%, so I was good to go. But again, be very aware.

The rest of the day was mostly driving in cold, dreary, and frequently rainy weather. The scenery was interesting, but there were relatively few pull-outs, so I only got this one photo.

Speaking of places to pull over, there was a solid 30 miles or so where the road had no shoulder whatsoever. (And this was the road I would have otherwise been biking over the next few days.) Also, the whole length of my drive I didn’t see a single cyclist, despite the fact that it’s a designated bike route. This again made me feel like I’d made the right call.

Late in the afternoon I got to the town of Wibaux, which had the only other open brewery I encountered today. (Lewistown’s brewery doesn’t open until 4 on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Glendive’s brewery is only open Th-Su.) So I got to stop at Beaver Creek Brewery and sample some of their beers.

Their flagship is the Rusty Beaver strong wheat ale. It was a bit too strong for my taste, but I appreciate the creativity. I did like their Paddlefish Stout, which is a dry stout with espresso. Also worth mentioning is the Rough Rider wheat ale, which is a much lighter wheat ale containing lemongrass.

While I was there, a couple from Minnesota came in and mentioned they were doing a beer tour of North Dakota and Montana and were working their way west. So we exchanged some notes; I told them about breweries I particularly liked in Montana and they pointed me to the brewery in Dickinson, which I hope to check out tomorrow.

The one downer in my day was that the weather was so rotten when I crossed into North Dakota that it wasn’t worth stopping at any of the scenic vistas or going into Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which I had really been hoping to do. Tomorrow’s weather is supposed to be much better though, and I now have a couple of extra days to play with, so I plan to backtrack to the park in the morning after I return the rental car and check it out at least briefly.

So, sorry for the lack of a big “Welcome to North Dakota” sign, but I am in fact here and out of Montana. I fully intend to bike the rest of the way home.

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