Townsend to Ennis, MT

A slight change of pace today as I joined up with Keith London, one of two staff members known as “routers.” The job of the router is to drive the planned cycling route one day in advance, making notes, checking for unexpected hazards, and leaving directional arrow markers at key spots on the road with spray paint. The two routers usually do this alone on alternating days, so Keith was glad to have the help, as well as the company.

We started out by driving the route from Townsend to Ennis pretty quickly, then proceeded to scout the router for tomorrow from Ennis to West Yellowstone. This route was easier to plan than usual, as it followed the route used last year without any changes, and was relatively short. One main difference, though, was that this day was the first time that the riders had a choice of routes. Route A was a shorter route to camp (63 miles) that took them briefly back into Idaho for a few miles, then back into Montana. There were two mountain passes to cross on this route, but the grades were gradual and the elevation changes were small compared to some of the previous passes we have tackled.

Keith and I drove on Route B first, which made for a total route of 79 miles for the cyclists. The beginning of this loop went through the Earthquake Area of the Targhee National Forest. Here, in 1959, an earthquake caused the collapse of one side of a large mountain. Several people were killed, and others were trapped for some time as the slide covered part of the roadway and created a new lake. You can see the dead trunks of still-standing pine trees coming out of the surface of the lake.

The route then took us past Hebgen Dam and Hebgen Lake. The dam has a historical marker noting how it survived the earthquake. The lake is a popular recreation area. We saw a bald eagle perched atop a dead tree on the edge of the lake. By the time we got stopped and ready to take a picture, it flew away, but then swooped down along the lake surface, caught a fish, then soared back up in the air, directly over our heads. Later, we saw four deer crossing the road on the way into the town of West Yellowstone.

We found the route to our destination, which was the Red Lion Resort and Campground, where we checked in with the gruff but lovable manager. Keith mentioned to him how I had broken my collar bone, and he gave me probably the most unsympathetic look that I have ever seen. He didn’t say a word, but his eyes seemed to be saying “You stupid son of a bitch.” Keith asked him if he knew what kind of weather we could expect for the ride tomorrow; he just glanced out the window, then said, “It might be nice, or it might rain, or it might even snow.” Leaving the campground behind for now, we backtracked to West Yellowstone to grab a buffalo burger for lunch. I also got a delicious chocolate milk shake.

We followed the road past the campground again in order to follow Route A in reverse, and make our way back to Ennis. We stopped at an ice cream shop in Ennis to sit and write out the route sheet for the riders, based on what we had just driven. Then we found a drug store up the street to make the photocopies of the route sheet. As we went over to the Ennis High School to bring in our bags and set up our sleeping gear in the gym, the first few cyclists were just starting to make their way in.

We still had some time to kill before dinner, so Robert and I took a walk through town. I bought an inexpensive air mattress and foot pump at a sporting goods store; it has improved my sleep quite a bit.

After dinner, since I helped plan the route and wrote out the route sheet, the staff let me give the route overview during Tour Talk. Later, I joined a large group for a walk back into town for a few refreshments. We sat at a place with a nice outside patio; it started raining for a bit, but we were situated under a tree, so were able to stay out there in the pleasant evening air.

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