Monday, July 25, 2011

Behind Bars in Montana

This past weekend was spent exploring the 2 closest scenic Montana drives in a scenic byways book I recently bought. I brought my bicycle along to further explore and I'm officially in love with the Montana landscape.

There's something that just puts a smile on my face being out in the vast open spaces of this land. The green and yellow and gold colors of the grasses are ever changing and fairly new to me, so that helps make it fresh and exciting. There's virtually no automobile (read: pick-'em-up truck) traffic so its terrific for biking.

Saturday I drove less than an hour west of Bozeman and drove a 110-mile loop along the Madison River (some of the world's best fly fishing) and the Tobacco Root mountains. This picture is on the 6-mile spur road from Harrison, MT to Pony, MT after an early lunch at a little diner that was just what you'd hope for out here(note to self: they stop serving breakfast at 11). The bike ride was gradually uphill the entire way to Pony, which made for a super fun 6-mile downhill coming back.

On a short, lunch time ride last Friday just on the outskirts of Bozeman. Those are the Bridger mountains.

Sunday I drove the amazing Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge, MT down toward Yellowstone Nat'l Park (but didn't go all the way to the park).  The Beartooth is one of those that's been called the most beautiful drive in America. It's full of switchbacks with dramatic views and southern tourists ogling at the still visible roadside snow pack. The bike ride I took was a hilly little number strewn with wildflowers between cattle pastures. If you expand this picture you should be able to see the cows hanging out in the grass straight ahead of me on the inside of the road's loop.

I hadn't been through Red Lodge since high school when we took a ski trip out there with the church youth group. I didn't go check out the mountain on Sunday, perhaps turned off by the overly touristy main drag through town.

But I did have a fun dirt road drive through Luther and Roscoe on the way home and ended up having a very nice filet mignon at the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe. My spontaneous detour was driven by seeing a sign for a town named Luther just down the road a piece. I had to check it out. The town turned out to be a zero, but the drive at sunset for 15 miles on dirt roads through Luther to Roscoe was amazingly beautiful, especially how the sun shimmering off the grasses causes about a hundred different shades of green and yellow beneath the backdrop of snowy mountain peaks.

It was my first weekend of exploration via car and bike. In the next couple days my new used touring bike should show up and then hopefully soon an upcoming dispatch like this will be an overnight on bicycle.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Vote 'em Out

The Minnesota legislature just ended a 20-day state government shutdown by agreeing to a collection of bills that none of the participating politicians like -- and they all admit it.

The people cannot stand for this and our ('re) only recourse is to vote 'em out of office.  All of 'em. How else will politicians get the message that it's not acceptable for them to not work together?

The problem is that, though an historically high percentage of Minnesotans may be out of work, most of the other 91% are too content with their big screen TV, their pets and their video games to get angry.  It was certainly interesting to see the surprising effects of the shutdown, like beer shortages and vandalizing of state parks.  But in the end, I'm not sure people care enough yet to take action.

One of the challenges of a democracy is that, to work as its supposed to, it requires the voting public to have a really good understanding of whats going on in their government. And as we know with all the political spin and personal facts out there these days, its nigh impossible for the people to achieve that. Instead we rely on politicians who have a personal conflict of interest because they're trying to get re-elected.

That's why I propose one-term limits everywhere. We can lengthen the term a bit, like maybe 6 years for a President and Governor. But you only get one term. There are plenty of qualified people to be in government so I won't buy the argument that "Strom Thurmond is doing such a fantastic job for the great state of South Carolina that nobody else could possibly replace his leadership", for instance.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Song of the Day by Built to Spill

This album, There Is No Enemy, came out a couple years ago and I purchased half of it and have tended to forget about it. But every time I listen to it I end up putting those 5 songs on repeat over and over again. Built to Spill has been around since the early '90s and has a great blend of indie rock and spacey psychadelia.

Built to Spill doesn't write radio-ready hit songs, but I think they're a tough band to not appreciate.

So check out Good ol' Boredom...

I just realized it's been 2 years since I've done one of these Song of the Day posts, which makes me also realize that this blog has been going for 4 years. Crazy.

Previously (and still) recommended songs:

Monday, July 18, 2011

House Tour

Three weeks after picking my stuff up in St. Paul, the moving truck showed up in Bozeman on Sunday morning. The whole moving truck experience probably merits an entire blog post on its own, but lets just say that my clairvoyant (some might say pessimistic) anticipation of challenges and zen-like ability to face them made it not nearly as bad as it could have been. Moving is a stressful enough experience without being slapped with hidden costs, long (yet small print contractually legal) delays and a truck driver on the back end who insisted on playing for me his cliched solo acoustic guitar songs of despair.

The truck just unloaded yesterday morning and I'm about 90% organized, so that feels pretty good. Here's a video tour:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

New Bikes

From prior posts such as this one, you may recall that I'm in need of new bicycles. When I say "new", of course I mean "new to me" because I've discovered that I really don't appreciate shiny, fancy, brand new bicycles with their high-modulus aero carbon frames and flashy color schemes that may or may not match the rider's display of spandex.

Yesterday I went for a mtn bike ride on my new (to me) Rocky Mountain along the shores of lovely Bozeman Creek. Here's a picture to prove it if you don't believe me:


And here's the new (to me) touring road bike I just purchased on eBay. It's a Trek 720 circa 1982 and appears to be in fantastic shape.

The great thing about a touring bike is that you can cruise around town on it like normal and also load it up with front and rear panniers for lengthy multi-day rides. The frame dimensions are a little elongated to make it more comfortable on long rides and it's built to allow for front and rear racks. I've never done an overnight bike trip before, but am looking forward to the experience. Not sure I need to be one of those folks who bikes across the nation or anything, but I think it'd be great to take some week-long treks around the great American West.

I did a lot of research over the past few months before making this purchase. It's very important that a bike's frame is the right size and I've found that here. The frame is steel which, while not as light as aluminum, makes for a softer ride on the road and is far cheaper than newfangled carbon fiber. The frame is the most important part because the component parts can be swapped out piecemeal if they are no longer up to snuff. It's the timeless, vintage steel frame that really attracted me.

It should be here in a week and I can't wait to give it a go.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Next Chapter

I've now been an official resident of Montana for less than 48 hours. The drive out went pretty smoothly, except for the massive thunderstorm just east of Moorhead that caused traffic to pull over to the side of the interstate for about 20 minutes. It was raining and blowing as hard as you ever see, dropping visibility to dangerously low levels. It also allowed me to be witness to one of the greatest and most prolonged displays of lightning I can recall. For a good 30 minutes (and while driving 30 miles westbound into a presumably eastbound storm) the sky was aflutter with constant flashes, both within the clouds and classic strikes.

On the way out I also stopped in Medora, ND, the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a park I've been fascinated by ever since I learned that North Dakota actually had a national park. Later this summer after friend Jay's wedding I hope to mountain bike the Maah Daah Hey trail for a few days near there, so I was looking into that.

My first impressions of Bozeman are every bit as good as I'd remembered -- my house is a little more spacious than I recall and the mountains are even more beautiful when not hidden by springtime clouds and rain. The local food co-op doesn't have quite the selection I was used to at Mississippi Market, but it is within walking distance so it'll be a lot easier to make frequent healthy trips for fresh food.

Here's the house I'm renting. It's a three-bedroom with a small front porch and a two-car garage.
I'll do a little video tour and post it on here, too. The only bummer about the video tour is that the moving truck with all my furniture might not show up for another week, so it's empty for now.

Yesterday I went on two great hikes, one of them being up Sypes Canyon in the Bridger mountains on the north side of town. In this picture you can make out Bozeman in the background if you know what you're looking at.

I also drove up to Bridger Bowl ski area to check it out in summertime. I think it looks pretty imposing with the huge wall of granite staring down at you. And yes, all that terrain is skiable. Ski the cold smoke, as they say.

So yesterday I became a member of the co-op and today I got my library card -- I'm feeling like a true BozeMan. I've officially turned the page on the next chapter and so far it feels pretty damn good.