Medicine Wheel Bicycle Moible: Year 2

For the second summer in a row, Free Cycles Missoula teamed up with CSKT’s Department of Human Rsource Development to provide bicycles, bike help and general maintenance lessons to youth (and some adults) on the Flathead reservation.

In total we recorded fixing 55 bicycles throughout the summer at the different home sites. We recorded giving away 45 bicycles. We believe the actual numbers are a bit higher, as not all people being helped were recorded due to how busy things were at times.

The Numbers

Arlee Workshop (Trailer Park-Lil Chicago Homesites)

We fixed 1 bicycle (gender unknown). We gave away 8 bicycles (5 boys, 3 girls).

St. Ignatius Workshop (Mission Dam Homesites)

We fixed 6 bicycles (gender unknown). We gave away 3 bicycles (2 boys, 1 girl).

Ronan Workshop (Andrews Place Homesites)

We fixed 2 bicycles (1 boy, 1 girl). We gave away 3 bicycles (2 boys, 1 girl).

Ronan Workshop (Woodcock Homesites)

We fixed 8 bicycles. We gave away 6 bicycles (2 girls, 4 boys).

Hot Springs Workshop (Old Bowling Alley Parking Lot)

We did not fix any bikes. We gave away 3 bikes (gender not recorded).

Elmo Workshop (The Hall)

We recorded fix 15 bikes (gender unknown). We gave away 6 bikes (gender not recorded).

Polson Workshop (Westside Playground/Basketball Court)

5 bikes were fixed and 3 bikes (2 girls, 1 boy) were given away at our first home site.

Polson Workshop (Turtle Lake Homesites-Head Start Building)

13 bikes were fixed (gender unknown). We gave away 8 bikes (3 girls, 5 boys).

Pablo Workshop (SKC Campus, outside Fitness/Event Center)

We fixed 5 bikes (2 boys, 3 girls) at the SKC campus. We also held an impromptu workshop with Mission Valley In Motion, where 20 kids learned basic bike maintenance and repair skills, as well as safety tips and Montana bicycle laws.

Pablo Workshop (Homesites West Side of Main St.)

We fixed 3 bikes (3 girls). We gave away 6 bikes (3 girls, 3 boys).


Overall, we feel the outreach was very successful and had a positive impact on the communities. Having a person from the DHRD was helpful for recruiting kids to the home sites, handing out helmets, and answering questions.

One hurdle we encountered was finding a way to wrap-up our interactions with the kids once they had their bicycles fixed or had received a bicycle. In some instances, monitoring kids that did not have guardians became distracting from helping others with bicycles.

Another challenge is that some of the people we worked with reported that they had received a bicycle from the previous year’s workshop and that, unfortunately, the bike had been stolen. We think that it would be very valuable to provide locks with the bicycles in future years.

The project seems to be in a good position to reach more people in future years. We see potential in reaching out to schools and other organizations far in advance so that more people know where and when to come. Also, art work on the school bus-or making it more unique in some way-would help to let families know that the “bicycle bus” is in town and ready to help!

Bike Growers Summer Camp

Our first summer camp session of Bike Growers finished on Friday, June 22nd. Seven kids ages 6 to 10 spent five days and a total of ~25ish hours learning bicycle maintenance skills and most aspects of what it takes to build a bike. We spent another five hours riding around 🚴🏼‍ 🚴🏽‍ enjoying Missoula’s parks. These kiddos mastered flat tire repair, breaking chains, adjusting brakes, cleaning & re-greasing bearings, and more. Their problem solving skills, positive attitudes, and love for bikes left me super impressed. Despite the rainy week we had I never heard one complaint during our group rides. By the end of camp we refurbished five bikes to be donated to kids on the Flathead Reservation via the Medicine Wheel Bicycle Mobile project. We also did more minor repairs on at least five other bikes. Throughout the camp our group focused on topics of reusing and recycling, accessible bicycles, civic engagement, and environmental stewardship-as well as focusing on Missoula International Schools' values of cooperation, connection, and creativity. Thanks to MIS for helping organize the logistics of this camp. -Lead Instructor, Emily Jensen

Bicycle Delivery Day @ Heart Butte School

Delivering bikes to Heart Butte School on Monday, May 14th, was a success! We traveled approximately two hundred and fourteen miles to Heart Butte school with stands, tools, parts, and bikes on Monday, May 14th. A combination of Free Cycles staff and volunteers worked from 10-2pm teaching kids how to fix their bicycle and providing 64 free bicycles for kids in need.

There were also bikes that arrived from Bozeman and Helena. 124 bicycles later, there are many happy kids on the Blackfeet Nation now pedaling around. Because of this project, many youth received their first bicycle ever. Elementary students in grades K-4 all received a bicycle. The 6th grade class also received bicycles. For the graduating senior class, there were 12 adult size mountain bicycles.

Thank you to Heart Butte ❤️ 🗻 for welcoming us to their community and land, what a spectacular place.

A special shout out goes to Essential Eats Distributors for helping spearhead this project. We would like to give a huge thanks to everyone who was involved including: Bozeman Bike Kitchen, Queen City Wheel House, Missoula Bicycle Works, Providence Health & Services of Western Montana, Benefits Health Systems, Kalispell Regional Healthcare, and Montana Conservation Corps of Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula!

Thank you to all the volunteers who helped work on the bikes, deliver the bikes, and fit the kids to bikes on the day of delivery. We appreciate everyone who contributed financially to make this project happen as well. It is really beautiful to see Montana come together for an important and special cause.

Read more by clicking here.

Bikes for the Blackfeet


Free Cycles and Essential Eats are partnering to provide bicycle education and outreach to the isolated community of Heart Butte. On May 14th we will travel to Heart Butte school with stands, tools, parts, and bikes. A combination of staff and volunteers will work for an entire day teaching kids how to fix their bicycle and providing 60 free bicycles for kids in need.

The Need

Heart Butte, Montana is located in a remote area of the Blackfeet tribal land. Due to proximity and history, the community has limited resources and services. The life expectancy of a Native American in Montana is similar to that of someone in Sudan, Haiti, or Ethiopia. All of the students enrolled in public schools at Heart Butte are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Approximately 44% of Heart Butte’s population is 18 or younger. *Information from Essential Eats Distributors.

Some action shots of the Building Bikes for the Blackfeet project. 8 hours of fixing kids bikes from over 30 volunteers over two days. Such a good turnout, good teamwork, good food, and good times had by all. Thank you to all the volunteers who helped fix these bikes, despite any previous knowledge or mechanic experience. These bikes will provide freedom, joy, exercise and more to kids in need! Special shout out to Essential Eats for helping organize this project and to The Lewellyn Foundation and Scott Miles for funding this project.

Bicycle Outreach Project with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes


 Medicine Wheel Bicycle Project   


Sponsored by The Department of Human Resources of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Free Cycles Missoula

Free Cycles collaborated with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in the summer of 2017 to provide education and outreach to the Flathead reservation. An old school bus gutted outfitted with stands, tools, parts, and bikes served 11 different home sites in the area. A combination of staff and volunteers were available for 3 hour increments at different home sites, teaching people how to fix their bicycle and providing free bicycles for kids in need.

Included Total of 10 Home Site Visits


Most of the help for this project was given to youth, although some adults did show up to the home sites and we helped them as well. In total we helped approximately 135 people throughout the summer at the different home sites. We recorded giving away 35 bicycles, although we know we gave away at least 40 bikes. At some points it was hard to get the perfect count for people helped and bikes been given new homes because we were so busy, so it is likely that these numbers are low.

Overall, we believe the outreach was very successful and had a positive impact on the communities. The support from CSKT DHRD was fantastic. Both Sherry and Berta were a huge help to us in regards to recruiting kids to the home sites, handing out helmets, and offering their help. We are very grateful they were able to be a part of the work.

There are many things we learned from this project that we can take into account for next year. For example, location is critical in order for things to go smoothly. Parking lots can be tough to work on, whereas in grassy, shady areas it is much easier to spread out lots of projects at once and keep both helpers and learners comfortable. We were also able to observe that the morning sessions had lower turn-outs than the afternoons.

One hurdle we ran into was a way to follow-up with people who still needed our help. Sometimes people would arrive just as we were leaving and we would not be able to serve them. We would ask them to either meet us at the next home site or make a trip to Missoula. Occasionally this would work, but not everyone has this ability or freedom. This is why having some sort of more permanent facility in the future could be beneficial to the area.

We believe we can even further help with marketing or collaboration to reach more people. We see potential in reaching out to the schools or other organizations in advance so that more people know where and when to come.

The Exact Numbers

Arlee Workshop


We helped 1 boy fix 3 bicycles. We gave 1 bicycle away to a young girl.

St. Ignatius Workshop


We recorded helping 17 kids and 1 adult.

Ronan Workshop


There were 22 people helped in Ronan.

Hot Springs Workshop


We helped a total of 5 people.

Elmo Workshop


We recorded helping 23 people. 5 bikes were given away in Elmo.

Polson Workshop


There were 25 people helped throughout the day. We gave away 10 bikes in total in Polson.

Pablo Workshop


There were a total of 12 bikes given away at this workshop. In total we recorded helping 28 people throughout the day

Dixon Workshop


The morning workshop not a single person showed up. There were 13 people helped at the second location. A total of 7 bikes were given away there.

Cycles of Change Capital Campaign Comradery

A chronological overview of the largest fund-raising effort of Free Cycles' history.

Written by Emily Jensen.


"How Bob Giordano and Free Cycles made their dream home a reality.

Free Cycles raised 1.1 million last year through a combination of donations and loans during a grassroots capital campaign. The campaign was launched to the public in December of 2015 and was closed in December of 2016. Since obtaining property ownership, Free Cycles has expanded into occupying about 30,000 sq. ft. of land and 2,000 sq. ft. of office space in addition to the 4,000 sq. ft. we have rented for the past 12 years. Our monthly mortgage payment is $6,700. We currently rent to three other tenants and this income equates to half of the mortgage payment.

In order to make property ownership a reality we have sought and received:

$200,000 cash donations from grassroots fund-raising
$105,000 20 year loan from Missoula County @ 4% 
$895,000 25 year loan from a local social investor @ 6%


September & October, 2015.

It was quite interesting to see men and women in formal attire touring the space where you are constantly working with people and bikes all day, often covered in grease, dirt, and sweat. We knew the property was on the market, and it was no secret that the buildings Free Cycles has operated for the past 11 years would likely be lost to new development. In staff meetings we contemplated for over several months whether trying to buy the place would be the right decision for Free Cycles or Missoula. Upon the start of trickling conversation beyond our dedicated team, the general feedback was excitement and support. The pros outweighed the cons. We would have to make sacrifices both personally and professionally. But the opportunity came, many things lined up at just the right time, and so we decided to rise to the challenge.

An email I sent Bob the day after the Buy-Sell agreement had been signed said:

"I honestly think that this campaign, or whatever we want to call going to be some of the greatest personal development that both of us embark on. Ever."

November, 2015.

Our work started by formulating a "case statement", which easily summarized the premise of the campaign. Something that is always discussed among our core staff and volunteer members is the importance of language. We know how important each and every word is in conveying a story. However, we are also aware of how messaging can be misconstrued, words can be twisted, and people interpret things differently. The primary statement we used throughout the campaign went as follows:

"Cycles of Change: Raising 1.1 million dollars to grow a world class bicycle center." 

Cycles of Change is a campaign geared towards purchasing the property where Free Cycles Missoula has operated for the past 11 years. Stationed in the lovely Riverfront Neighborhood, the non-profit community bicycle shop has provided 200,000 people from diverse backgrounds with free bicycle repair skills. We further strive to inspire positive community change to all who enter through our doors.

An agreement has been made with the current property owners. Free Cycles has until July 1st of 2016 to accumulate enough funds to buy the two acres of land and historic wood buildings. Located in the heart of Missoula, at the union of two primary trails, the property is an ideal place to continue the work of Free Cycles and its umbrella organization, the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation. Preserving the existing buildings will honor Missoula’s heritage and create pathways to a livable future.

Free Cycles was formed in 1996 to reduce air pollution, improve congestion, and re-purpose unused bicycles for the community good. Over time, many social cycling services have developed, including Open Shop, Build A Bike, and BikeWell Education. Owning the land at 732 S. 1st St. will enable these vital community programs to be expanded to their full potential.

Such goals may seem ambitious, yet here at Free Cycles we feel the timing is impeccable. Let’s celebrate 20 years of people power, honor the passion of collective community spirit, heighten awareness, and unite for a cause in which we truly believe! Let's do this. Together."

Much of November was spent getting our ducks in a row. There were many planning meetings consisting of feedback, advice, and insight from members of the Missoula community. When we weren't meeting with people, we spent much of our time writing and editing. 

The first money officially raised for the Cycles of Change campaign was at the Cat vs. Griz game in Bozeman, MT. Myself and three volunteers took the trip, loading a truck with fun bikes and a trailer we crafted the evening before to draw attention to ourselves. We held a bucket drive, with UM's griz colors over one bucket and MSU's bobcat colors over the other. Our crew called ourselves the "change gang" and raised $200.00 in two hours. At certain points during the day it was difficult being in territory where most folks were unaware of Free Cycle's work or mission, but it was a good boost of energy for the campaign, knowing we had to start somewhere. 

The "Change Gang" campaigning via bucket drive and bicycle jousting in Bozeman. 

The "Change Gang" campaigning via bucket drive and bicycle jousting in Bozeman. 

December, 2015.

Missoulian media launch: "Missoula's Free Cycles starts $1.1M campaign to buy property"

Missoula Independent initial article: "Free Cycles: Room to Grow"

KPAX coverage: "Missoula's "Free Cycles" looks for help to buy building"

MCAT Wake Up Missoula: "Wake Up: Cycles of Change"

We went public with the campaign in early December, with a launch event from 10am-10pm. There was an activity every hour on the hour, ranging from a studded bike tire workshop to a bike polo game in the back of the shop. In full Free Cycles spirit, the event was free and open to anyone. The morning consisted of people enjoying coffee and bagels donated by local businesses. 

While the day generated good energy and was a fantastic way to kick off the campaign, we knew there was still so much work to be done. Operations continued as normal as we continued to configure and strategize the best plan to raise the money to secure the property, get as many people involved as possible, and still best serve the community. 

Free Cycles reindeer volunteers dragging the Cycles of Change trailer in the annual Parade of Lights. 

Free Cycles reindeer volunteers dragging the Cycles of Change trailer in the annual Parade of Lights. 

January, 2016.

Missoula Independent follow-up article: 

"Uphill climb: How exactly does Free Cycles plan to raise $1.1 million?"

Majority of the month of January was spent in meetings. Free Cycles began to host bi-monthly potlucks in which volunteers gathered on Friday evenings to discuss the campaign. These potlucks were often brainstorming sessions, incorporating ways to plug people into the grassroots movement. Folks would eat and socialize for about an hour before the whole group came together as one to discuss current affairs. Afterwards, people would break into different groups or committees such as focused on essential topics such as events, grants, canvassing, and more. The amount of volunteers to attend the potlucks ranged from about 12 to 40 people. 

February, 2016.

A Free Cycles outreach trailer used on National Winter Bike to Work Day, with a Valentine's Day touch. This gigantic heart was woven by the help of volunteers and interns.

A Free Cycles outreach trailer used on National Winter Bike to Work Day, with a Valentine's Day touch. This gigantic heart was woven by the help of volunteers and interns.

Our first Cycles of Change event could be described in one word: cozy. The evening was mainly focused on bringing people into the beloved space. Lights were dangling across the ceilings, strung in and out of bicycle wheels. People enjoyed music, dancing, and in many of my conversations there were compliments on how brave of a plunge we had taken by attempting to buy the property. Note cards were posted throughout the inside of the shop with blurbs of what people loved about the neighborhood they reside in, to fit the theme we had chosen a month or so earlier.

It was the first event of several to follow and although we still weren't exactly sure how exactly we were going to meet the fundraising goal, it was reassuring to know that our hearts were in the right place.

March, 2016.

Missoulian article: "Free Cycles launches online fundraiser to secure property"

"Free Cycles Missoula fundraising effort hits the road"

It was the month of March when we decided it was time to launch our campaign transparently online via a crowdfunding site called Crowdrise. We complimented the launch with a "Pop-Up Shop", which meant closing the physical location of Free Cycles for the day and offering all maintenance help within Caras Park in downtown Missoula.

We also took it upon ourselves to bring back to life an idea that had cultivated the summer before-constructing a geometrical dome out of old bicycle wheels. We loaded up our giant motorcycle trailer with wheels deemed out of bike-building commission and pedaled them to the grassy knoll which overlooks the infamous Brennan's Wave. With many hands and sporadic help throughout the day, before the sun set we had placed the last wheel on the sculpture, exchanged high-fives, and spent time meditating together under rims, hubs, and spokes that had been awaiting their purpose.

The energy that came from this beautiful sculpture as well as the continuous support from the people in the community provided us with the hope we needed as we proceeded forward on the fundraising pursuit.

The Free Cycles float decorated for Missoula's St. Patrick's Day parade.

The Free Cycles float decorated for Missoula's St. Patrick's Day parade.

The "Pop-Up Shop" event included a wheel dome construction in the iconic Caras Park in downtown Missoula.

The "Pop-Up Shop" event included a wheel dome construction in the iconic Caras Park in downtown Missoula.

The wheel dome was completed after a solid day of work from Free Cycles staff & volunteers. 

The wheel dome was completed after a solid day of work from Free Cycles staff & volunteers. 

April, 2016.

April was certainly a highlight of the campaign as it consisted of one of our favorite things to do: group rides! An intern organized and coordinated the "Sustainability Superhero Ride", in which people would dress up as super heroes and receive pledges to raise funds for Free Cycles. There were several categories for riders of different skills levels.

The longest ride was a 75-miler, a loop in which six cyclists toured through Western Montana over Petty Creek Road. A group of about twenty people did a twenty mile loop around Missoula on Big Flat Road. For the young ones, there was a loop around the Free Cycles property, including a fancy finish line over a ramp into the back area of the shop. At the end of the day we all feasted upon burgers and salads while listening to Sam Waldorf perform outside in the piazza. It was a pleasant day filled with sunshine and it truly demonstrated how powerful the bicycle is in bringing people together.

For the featured event of the month, there were short presentations or acts in a group setting. One man shared a poem about peanut butter while upside down walking around the wooden floors on his bare hands. People talked about topics they were passionate about: including ending car crashes and saving the bees. Songs were sung. Laughter filled the air. I shared a prayer in the Blackfoot language and almost started crying when looking around the room, overwhelmed by the diversity of faces that had joined us on that night to support Free Cycles.

After the demonstrations, UM Circus Club put on a fascinating act filled with juggling, ribbon dancing, and more. Their team spirit shone through obstacles that unexpectedly arose, sending folks into the night with nothing but positive vibrations. 

The 25 mile loop Super Hero group photo.

The 25 mile loop Super Hero group photo.

$138.00 dollars were raised through raffling off a custom-designed compost bin kit made from reclaimed lumber over a couple of weeks in April at the Earth Day Celebration in Caras Park, at the Home ReSource store, and at the EcoExpo Sustainability Fair at the UC. Mayor Engen drew the winning ticket prior to the Zero Waste panel discussion at the EcoExpo. 55 tickets sold in total.

$138.00 dollars were raised through raffling off a custom-designed compost bin kit made from reclaimed lumber over a couple of weeks in April at the Earth Day Celebration in Caras Park, at the Home ReSource store, and at the EcoExpo Sustainability Fair at the UC. Mayor Engen drew the winning ticket prior to the Zero Waste panel discussion at the EcoExpo. 55 tickets sold in total.

Video by Bryan Nickerson.

Mayor John Engen supporting the bike during Bike Month.

Mayor John Engen supporting the bike during Bike Month.

Volunteers moving a wheel dome by bike power. This sculpture was built by Free Cycles to be placed outside the Missoula Art Museum.

Volunteers moving a wheel dome by bike power. This sculpture was built by Free Cycles to be placed outside the Missoula Art Museum.

Original music by Wartime Blues. Video created by Andrew Barnard.

July, 2016.

Meeting after meeting, idea after idea, relationship after relationship, research after research, email after email, phone call after phone call, edit after edit. Bob and I had a running joke: new campaign title: PLEASE just get Bob and Emily back in the shop. But seriously, that is part of the long-term goal and the face to face work is truly the work we are most passionate about.

It takes a certain type of person to stay invested in an organization such as Free Cycles. Believe it or not, while we make sure we mix our work with fun, creativity, learning, etc., the organization's mission statement can make for an extremely difficult job at many times. We work with such a wide range of people at all times, which makes us social workers who just love bicycles and seeing the joy it provides people who are in need, whatever that level of need is.

The Fruiting Nobodies playing at the shop on the final day before our deadline.

The Fruiting Nobodies playing at the shop on the final day before our deadline.

Volunteers continuing to "Support The Bike."

Volunteers continuing to "Support The Bike."

Campaigning online in the core of the shop.

Campaigning online in the core of the shop.

This chalkboard acted as a meter for fund-raising progress.

This chalkboard acted as a meter for fund-raising progress.

Just before the July 1st funding deadline, Free Cycles reached 385,000, sufficient to enable a down payment on the 1.1 million dollar property. Current tenant rental incomes more than equal the projected mortgage payments and a sustained fundraising effort could pay down the note. The Buy-Sell agreement allowed ten extra days to finalize the transaction.

During this time, an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the property was released. The EA had been commissioned by Free Cycles and the City of Missoula back in January and was paid for by the EPA Brownsfields program. The report showed that a small, unused section of the property had environmental contamination, the result of Missoula Gas Plant operations (now NorthWestern Energy) from 1909 from 1957. A gas was made by burning goal, with residue disposed of in a deep trench. Incidentally, this coal gas was used to power the street lights of Missoula. 

The EA caused enough of an uncertainty that the guarantor (a required condition of the bank loan) withdrew their offer to co-sign the loan. Further, 80,000 of a pledged down payment donations were withdrawn from the project. Subsequently, the Free Cycles team ramped up its efforts even more, meeting with expert environmental attorneys, scientists, and health officials. The goal was to understand the mitigation necessary to address the contamination and any potential liabilities. 

Just two days before the deadline to close, a well-respected environmental attorney issued a statement..."remediation of the site would be relatively straightforward and liability for the remediation is the responsibility of NorthWestern Energy." While this information was welcome news, the guarantor and pledged donations had already been committed to other non-profit organizations.

A last-minute meeting occurred and a solution emerged. Free Cycles would leveraged 200,000 to "Cool Corner," a new company formed by a local business person specifically to gain short term ownership of the property. Cool Corner's priority is to transfer ownership to Free Cycles. Free Cycles now needs to replace the lost 80,000 in donations and find a new guarantor as soon as possible, or another route to finance the property. With the continued support and help of community, Free Cycles Missoula hopes to succeed.

Free Cycles has raised $305,000 through a grassroots campaign to buy a permanent home as told below in words and pictures. The campaign was launched to the public in December of 2015. We are currently in the final push to secure the property, and have until November 30th to finalize all financing.

November 2016.

Missoulian article summarizes the state of affairs in November below:

"Missoula community bike shop needs 80k, guarantor to secure property"

As a piece to finish off the financing of the property, we are extremely close to offering promissory notes to the community. These are essentially loans that will be paid back by Free Cycles over time through a combination of tenant rental income, continued fundraising, and growth in program revenue. The future is bright! Please be patient as we work through the specific details of these notes.

Although the final stage of our campaign is not actively canvassing, phone-banking, or asking for donations, we sure welcome and appreciate them. We are also extremely grateful for volunteer help, please contact us with any interest you may have in getting involved.

Empowering Kids with Bikers Against Bullies USA & Dixon School District

By: Emily Jensen

*The names of the kids in this post have been changed for purposes of confidentiality.

On Monday, May 23rd, Bob and I took a trip to Dixon Elementary to do what we love best: working with kids. Kids are the future, and the future is important. Due to time constraints, weather, and a dangerous highway, the decision was made to burn 15 gallons of gas. So, we reluctantly hopped in a car lent to us by a generous volunteer and made the hour drive up North.

It was peculiar being in a car with Bob Giordano. I have spent thousands of hours working in the trenches with him, but this is the first time we had ever rode in what he calls "bike butlers." It wasn't nearly as fun as biking would have been, and we were both in agreement with that. However, he is a safe and attentive driver, so I felt fine and at ease.

This day was one filled with high energy, passion, and bikes of course. Several weeks before, a one of a kind character named Flash contacted us about helping kids in Dixon get bicycles. Flash leads a non-profit organization called Bikers Against Bullies USA , focused on empowering kids to stand up and be heard. They tour schools around Montana, while using their skills and passions with motorcycles to energize the kids and spread their message to prevent bullying.

Flash found out the kids at this school were all on assisted meal plans, 7 days a week, 3 meal days. Over 50% of the kid's parents were incarcerated. So, his crew asked how they could further help. The staff at the school told them it would be life-changing to get these kids all bicycles, giving them a way to get to school, stay healthy, and have more freedom.

This is where Free Cycles comes in!

Spread thin with campaign work and keeping the shop running smoothly, this was something we could not put energy into going out of our way to set-up, but for anyone who came to us with a direct ask it was an immediate yes. So, with the help of Flash, friends, volunteers, and Dixon School District #9  we ended up providing the 49 students at the school with working bicycles to get ready for the summer. Many students got a fresh bike from Free Cycles, some learned to repair their own bikes and still others swapped tuned-up bikes for a better fit.

While the entire school was involved and a pleasure to work with, there are always several kids that stick out because their lives are impacted a bit more by the bicycle on the particular day.

First, there was Josh. Josh was a determined soul. He picked out a bike from the Free Cycles stock that seemed to be a perfect fit for him. A sweet BMX! The handle bars turned independent of the fork however. With Bob's instruction, Josh preceded to spend most of the day getting the bike just right, swapped out the stripped stem bolt and tuned up the brakes. He then began helping several of his classmates get their bikes ready.

Then there was Suzie, reminding me of all the reasons why kids are the most energizing population of people to work with. She was a pure ball of joy, laughing and smiling at the most simple things. She almost lost control just from pumping up her tires. This type of playfulness and giddiness is so contagious, and although these moments are often some of the shortest interactions in contrast to the countless people we serve, they are still the ones I cherish most.

Ah, and I could never forget a boy who Flash nick-named "Action Jackson". This boy will most likely lead the upkeep of the school's new shop. Bob gave him a small box with extra parts: nuts, bolts, screws, etc. He will cater to the rest of the kid's needs as their bikes receive the normal wear and tear from lots of use! Action Jackson was so excited to help and just wanted to keep working on and building bikes that he nearly forgot school was already over by the time we wrapped up.

Our last project was fixing up an old bike that had a velvet banana seat. It nearly needed replacements on all of the parts with the exception of the seat, one wheel, and of course the beautiful frame! The kids were motivated to fix it up for their teacher, as it had been sitting in her yard hidden in the tall grass for nearly the past 20 years. The final touch included some makeshift bending of the fenders, and then we called it a day and cleaned up.

After saying goodbye and thanking everyone, I was tired. We were ready for some food and a hike. Bob and I found a road off the beaten path, went for a walk, recapped and reflected on the day, and to our surprise stumbled upon a section of morel mushrooms.

We are so happy to know that now the Dixon School has their very own space dedicated to fixing bikes with the proper tools. Projects like these are so important to spread across Montana, and their impact is easy to measure from the immense amount of smiles in one day.

For the past 20 years, Free Cycles has facilitated over 160 school outreach events. However, this one sticks out in the sense that it has been more in-depth than the others. The potential to continue these amazing projects is far beyond what our organization even realizes at the moment.

Loading up the 30 kids bikes we tuned up into Flash's (of Bikers Against Bullies USA) trailer.

Loading up the 30 kids bikes we tuned up into Flash's (of Bikers Against Bullies USA) trailer.

Jefe, a volunteer who works closely with Flash, with two of the kids holding up one of the biggest projects of the day! This bike was built up from scrap by these three stellar folks, and their enthusiasm was contagious.

Jefe, a volunteer who works closely with Flash, with two of the kids holding up one of the biggest projects of the day! This bike was built up from scrap by these three stellar folks, and their enthusiasm was contagious.

A shot of all of the tune-up action. This storage space that Dixon elementary had worked out very well for spreading out people, bikes, and tools. We provided the school with all the proper tools and a bike stand and from now on the kids can come in and maintain their bikes in this space.

A shot of all of the tune-up action. This storage space that Dixon elementary had worked out very well for spreading out people, bikes, and tools. We provided the school with all the proper tools and a bike stand and from now on the kids can come in and maintain their bikes in this space.

Thanks to Flash and the Bikers Against Bullies USA team for making this video to help support our capital campaign. When we work together and support one another we build a stronger community!

Potomac School Bike-a-Thon Tour

A blog post by Sandra Broadus.

October 7, 2015.


We left Free Cycles at around 4:30 in the afternoon, wearing our rain gear and with our panniers loaded full of tools, food, and camping gear. A quick stop for beer, and we were on our way - heading east on HWY 200. It didn’t feel like a Wednesday.


This was a small tour, both in length and in attendees (at least compared to the only other overnight tour I’d ever been on): just Bob, Emily, Locke, Cameron, and myself. The elementary school in Potomac was hosting a bike-a-thon the following day, and Free Cycles was coming to offer assistance. They even fixed up four children’s bikes to donate to the kids at the school who didn’t have one. There was discussion for a while about the logistics of how we would be strapping the kid’s bikes to our own bicycles on the way over – thankfully a rockstar volunteer named Silas loaded them up in his car and drove them to Potomac for us.


We were accompanied by a light drizzle for most of our ride that first day. But rather than being a deterrent, it felt cool and refreshing. I was inspired by the realization that this was probably my last big bicycling adventure for the year, as soon it was going to be too cold to want to stay out overnight.


Before long, the others pulled ahead of me, but I wasn’t worried. I was enjoying the feeling of getting out of the city, like a weight lifting off of my shoulders with each pedal stroke.


Upon cresting a hill, I saw the guys hanging out at a pull off. We regrouped and took a few moments to enjoy the view of the Blackfoot River. It was overcast, but the wetness seemed to be bringing out the saturation of the fall colors, making everything seem more vivid and alive. It would’ve been nice to stay longer, but it was going to be getting dark soon, and we needed to get to a campsite.


Coasting down the hill, my mind was at peace. The wind created by my motion whips past, and I felt cool drops of water on my skin. If I was thinking anything at all, it was just about the beauty of my surroundings and a thankfulness for roads with wide shoulders.


The first stretch of the journey goes by much too quickly. Just 19 miles from Missoula, we pulled off the highway at Johnsrud Park Road. Just a couple miles in, the pavement stopped but we didn’t. The road turned to dirt and rock, and I was reminded for a moment of my last bicycling trip over Jocko Pass. Dusk has settled in, but we kept pushing on. I didn’t know what the others were looking for in a campsite, but I just pedaled along, happy to not be in charge of anything and enjoying the ride.


Finally we found an area that seemed to satisfy everyone, and we pedaled off the road and into the woods (which quickly meant dismounting and walking, as dusk became dark). I then relied on my dim bike light to tell me where the rocks and logs are as we continued down a steep hill, and I tried to remember the twists and turns so we could find our way back to the road in the morning. We kept going until we found a pleasantly flat spot just above the river.


I wandered around with my detached bike light as my guide while I gathered firewood, and there was ample discussion of where our sleeping spot should be relative to the fire; I don’t have much of an opinion on such matters - Growing up in Kentucky, the mosquitos are so thick that the only camping you can do is inside the safety of a tent, for fear of being eaten alive as you sleep. So I was happy to throw my sleeping bag anywhere so long as I got to enjoy the night.


Finally, a fire got going, and before long, dinner is on, with Bob cooking in his wok. I honestly don’t remember what we ate that night, other than that it was warm, delicious, and exactly what we all needed (washed down with a cold beer and some cookies).  When dinner was over there was a crust of cooked food stuck to the inside of the wok, and Locke took it down to the river and set it underwater with a large rock to hold it in place so as to not attract any wayward critters.


The drizzle continued, as it had all afternoon, and Locke and I decided it was time to string up a tarp between some trees to provide us a bit of sleeping shelter. The tarp was oddly shaped, and the trees were unevenly spaced, so it was a harder proposition than expected. Cameron came to help eventually, and after many struggles (not enough rope, mainly) we finally had a shelter that would suffice. It wasn’t pretty, but hey, we weren’t boy scouts.


Sitting back around the fire to warm up, we talked for several hours. Bob proposed that we build a sort of bicycle with train wheels that could ride on the railroad, and how great it would be to see America that way, with no cars to worry about. We talked about politics, college, transportation, and the world, laughing and trading stories for what seemed a long time and no time at all.


After a while Emily, Locke, and Cam disappeared into the woods to protect our food via a bear-hang (another foreign concept to me as a Kentuckian). Bob and I continued chatting around the fire until we heard a large “CRACK” and then an outburst of laughter – after which we got up to investigate. With no rope to work with, the industrious trio had tied together a series of bicycle inner tubes, which had been slung precariously over a branch. Brilliant.


Soon it was time for sleep. I had no idea what time it actually was, but it seemed late, and we were getting up early the next day to make it to the elementary school by 8:30. I set an alarm for 6am. Locke, Cameron and I rolled out our bags under the tarp/shelter, but Bob and Emily insisted on sleeping out in the open forest, rain or no rain. I listened to the soothing pitter-patter of water droplets hitting our tarp as I drifted off to sleep.


Morning came far too soon. Our sleep had felt much more like a power nap. Slowly and groggily, camp started moving. Bob swore that was one of the best nights of sleep he’s ever had, and I just laughed. I wake up to a flat tire, and set to work getting it fixed, using my own patch and a borrowed pump.  It must’ve happened while we were walking through the woods in the dark last night. But no worries, I’ve fixed lots of flats already this summer, and I feel like a pro at it now.


My trunk bag and panniers are pretty well soaked through at this point, so I decide to continue wearing the shirt I had on yesterday, since it’s drier than the damp one in my pack. It took us a little longer than I expected to find our way back to the road. I guess we went further into the woods that I had thought the night before. But soon we’re back at it, pedaling down Johnsrud on our way to the highway. I stop just for a moment to snap this picture before moving on.


At HWY 200, Cameron turned right to head back to Missoula (he had class to attend that morning), and the rest of us turned left toward Potomac. It’s only five miles to the elementary school from that turnout, and it seemed like I was just starting to get to get into the groove when I saw Locke turn down Potomac Road, and we reached our destination. The school is nestled in a beautiful rural setting, surrounded by farmland on all sides. It reminds me of the school I went to back home – only this school was established in 1885, and it has that old world charm.


The kids were still inside the school, but we saw an army of bikes waiting out back, and got to work. I don’t think I had ever seen so many underinflated tires. Not being a mechanic myself, I grabbed an air pump and left the bigger issues to the Free Cycles professionals. After 15 minutes or so a teacher came out to greet us. Potomac Elementary has had this annual Bike-a-thon for years now, using it as a wildly successful fundraiser to bring the Missoula Children’s Theater to the school for an intensive week long play production – open to all youth in the Potomac Valley. The kids look forward to this day every year, but they’ve never had bike mechanics on hand to help out before.

Before long, the kids started pouring out of the school, racing over to grab their bicycles. They were asked to seek sponsorships or donations for each lap around the school that they completed for the fundraiser, which went from 9am-3pm that day, with an hour break for lunch in the middle. The loop around the school is about 0.4 miles, and they take off, excited to be “out of school” and doing something fun and competitive for the day.

As the kids mount the bicycles, we instantly saw tons of issues. A lot of the kids are riding bikes that they’ve already outgrown, or haven’t grown into yet. Chains needed oil, brakes needed adjustment, seats needed to be raised, or in some cases, the bike practically needed a total overhaul. When the kids realized we were there to help, they got excited to share stories with us, and tell us about their bicycles.

One young boy told me he looks forward to the bike-a-thon because his parents won’t let him ride his bike at home – the road they live on is just too dangerous. One kid tells me his parents have taken him to Free Cycles before – that’s where he got his bike! Yet another young boy tells us that he’s embarrassed to still have training wheels on his bike – all his friends can ride around so easy without them. We remove his training wheels and try to help him learn how to ride without them. He was excited to try, but scared every time his bike wobbled. We encouraged him as much as we could, and let him know that it’s okay to fall over, because you get better every time. He seemed unconvinced. A young girl told me she liked being faster than the boys. Another boy said he prefers riding his four-wheeler ATV.


I put oil on a boy’s bike chain and explained to him how it makes his bike easier to pedal and ride. He then keeps asking for more oil on his next few laps, and I laughed and explained it doesn’t work like that.


We helped as many of them as we could. I adjusted their helmets and made sure they fit properly. There’s such a vast array of skill levels and interest among these youngsters. I’m filled with hope for the future that they all seem to have so much fun when they’re riding. Some of them even wanted to learn about how to fix the bikes, and help their friends.


After a few hours, it seemed like we’d tackled all the problems we could with the tools and time we had. The rush of initial problems had slowed to a trickle. A teacher came over and thanked us profusely, telling us she’d love for us to come back next year. This Bike-a-thon has been so successful because of our assistance. Then, to express the school’s gratitude, she says they called ahead to Cully’s, the gas station/restaurant across the highway and paid for our lunch.


With a round of goodbyes to all the kids, we packed up our tools and pedaled the short jaunt to Cully’s Bar & Grill. We seemed to be getting some odd looks, pulling up to a gas station on bicycles so far out in the country, but everyone was friendly. We sat out on the porch to the side of the restaurant and the waitress brought us some menus. We all ordered burgers, and I had a tall glass of lemonade. When the food finally arrived, I took the time to savor it even though I was famished. It was delicious, and I could hardly finish it. Easily one of the best burgers I’ve had since I moved to Montana. And it was free!


I found out later that this Bike-a-thon really was their most successful one ever – they raised over $5000. A 3rd grader named Corbin raised the most money - $595.20 on his own! And a 5th grader rode the farthest – 40.3 miles, 100 laps! These kids are the future.


After finishing our meal at Cully’s, we each rode our own pace on the way home. Emily and Locke disappeared ahead of me, while Bob slowly faded behind. For a while on the road, I felt like the only person in the world. Just me, the trees, the river, and an occasional field full of cows or an eagle flying overhead. It was so serene, and the autumn colors were in full display.

As I coasted up to my apartment building, my heart sank. It’s always good to be home, but sometimes it’s better to be out on the road


The Corner of Walnut and First

By Eileen MacGairdener

There’s a party at Free Cycles tonight, I'm going. They always have nice parties at Free Cycles. This one is to support four local non-profits. Entrance is free, local beer and local food, 5 bucks each, all you can eat or drink.  You should come! Free Cycles is tucked away down on 1st and Walnut, just this side of the River. There's a corner there with lovely old warehouse buildings. Oh, ‘free-cycles’, yes, they give away free bikes. Well, not exactly, (unless you’re a child) they have some ready-to-ride for sale, they have some almost-ready-to-ride for sale and they’ll help you finish fixing it up, they have lots and lots of bike parts and you can build one for free if you take their bike safety class and volunteer for a few hours. There’s always sorting and tidying to do. (I’ll tell you later how I’m paying for mine) The folks there, paid and volunteers, are all willing to give you whatever help you need and they have nearly all the tools any bike-fixer could dream of. So, yes, you can have a bike for free, not during the parties though, for that you have to come in during working hours, 10 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday.

The building feels warm and inviting, even in the bitterness of Winter here. Old, dark-honey coloured wood floors contribute as does the mismatched furniture, rustic tables, counters, bookshelves and work stations. Painted peg boards hold tools, sorted by size with matching duct tape. Bike stands, to hold vehicles stable off the floor for repair, are made from chopped, clamped and welded bike parts. Shelves and cabinets, bins and drawers are filled with neatly sorted parts and pieces of bicycles. Posters of local events and bicycle memes and tidbits adorn a corkboard by the door. Local art, reminders to put your tools away and tidy your work space, and more bicycle thoughts adorn the walls. The big, welcoming, open room is busy with people and bicycles in various states of repair. Heading into the back, on the left is the Wheel-Truing Spinney Things and the tiny little Spoke Wrenches, then on the right is the Fix-a-Flat table with Air Pumps, a tub of water for testing Inner Tubes, Tire Pullers and possible Patches. Further to the left is the "kitchen" and restroom and the other wing of bike repair.  Out the back door now and here is the courtyard, the piazza. Here's where the parties happen, and the Fix-a-Flat station in decent weather. Immediately clockwise is a roofed over section, good for serving food and drinks. Continuing around, the West wall has a small stage/platform, in back of this is a loading door that opens into the other wing of the building. Bands look good framed in the opening. The North wall of the courtyard is formed by a sticking-out-bit of the building which houses the People's Projects Storage, this is where bicycles-in-the-works are kept with name tags for those who don’t get finished in one day. The Eastern side of the piazza is open and to the fence there are row upon row of small bicycles, waiting for small riders. Unusable Rims decorate the chain link and are even being used to build structures- a Quiet Place is being designed to be something like a yurt-ish/ teepee-ish thing. Climby vines will be added in the Spring, Scarlet Runner Beans maybe or Sugar Snap Peas. Back on the outside of the building, there are racks to lock bikes to made from, can you believe?  bike frames! There are frequently people testing their handiwork in the street in front of Freecycles. It's a quiet neighborhood, the cars all know to watch for pedaling people. A few doors down, there's a large warehouse that's also part of Freecycles. This is the realm of Sorcerers and Mad Scientists who are designing and building anything to do with Pedal Power and/or Sustainability. The previous theme is reenacted here in force! There are literally bicycles everywhere, stacked, lined up in rows, hanging from the walls and the Mezzanine.There's also a big metal table and a mysterious piece of equipment known as a MIG Welder. They do unimaginable things here with hacked up bicycles, retorts, vials, grinders and hot metal.

The most recent addition to the property is a Berry Garden with Nanking Cherries, Currants, Strawberries and Grapevines. More will be added in the Spring, herbs and flowers and Raspberries. This is the beginning of the next level of community here, a Food Forest. Apples, Plums, Cherries, Hazelnuts and Chinese Chestnuts will grow among the rows of bicycles, offering glimpses of future community Pie Contests and pedal-powered Cider Pressings.

Back to the party this evening though; it is mostly younger folks tonight, well under thirty. Drinking and hugging, eating and washing dishes- sustainability is a theme, we wash bowls and spoons and cups instead of throwing them away, this is done quietly and competently in rotation by those hosting. The music isn’t too loud and white light-strings swoop around the edges of the courtyard. There are tables for eating, two bean-bag toss games going and a line for the restroom. As the evening dims, lights are turned on in the corners, but angled away from the crowd. The people at my table include one of the Sorcerers from the Wizard Tower/Warehouse down the street, a friend of his and his friend’s wife and a slightly older couple not-from-here. He went to school here in Missoula and now their daughter is, and she’s involved with one of the beneficiary organizations so that’s why they’re here. The friend and his wife, they are traveling through from Tennessee to Washington and dropped in to say hi. This is Missoula after all. Oh, me? I’m the Garden Faerie. That Berry Garden? I’m building that. And the Compost Piles...

The first wave of starving college students has eaten and as dusk is starting to settle, they begin dancing. The band is fabulous! Bluegrass-type setup, they are playing lovely older folk and some silly stuff (5 Pounds of Possum in My Headlights). One sticks in my memory though. The banjoist is very cute and a very serious musician. An intense vocalist, she lets passion flow in her voice, the words are the timeless ache of the downtrodden, working to fill others’ pockets. Here tonight at Free Cycles, we are supporting groups that reach to lift up the downtrodden, lift up each other, to help and to share and to fix our community.

A gorgeous, clear and warm October evening settles down into Missoula, making black silhouettes of the trees against sapphire skies. There is music and people are happy. There is a party at Free Cycles.

Crown of the Continent: A weekend bike tour of a place and its people.

“Come to the shop, yo.” was the message that I received at 1pm from Emily on Saturday. After the overwhelming homecoming parade (parades are just odd), I went home, packed my final few things, and headed to the shop. Emily was repairing her rear wheel, and after trying to bring it back into true desperately, eventually a new wheel was used. While Bob and Emily fiddled with the new wheel and their panniers, I moseyed around the shop, occasionally answering questions and feeling an anxious excitement build up inside of me. We were about to leave for a tour from Missoula, MT to Glacier National Park with the intention of riding over Going to the Sun Road under the light of the Harvest Moon. We had questions to ask each other and ourselves along the way, and the desire to find answers was as strong as our desire to pedal and breathe.

After a brief shopping run at the local health food store, we fueled up on picnic tables outside. Swedish meatballs and roasted brussels sprouts. Emily giggled at the sheer amount of food that sat before her. This would not be the only time that would happen.

We began to head out of town, and as per the nature of any good adventure, the beginning wasn’t easy. A strong headwind and an unattractive stretch of  road battled our ambitions to leave town, and lost. As we crested the hill that would drop us out of view of the mountains of our home valley, the feeling set in. Time would be different for the next few days. 

Climbing Evaro hill on bikes is a mildly arduous process, but honestly seems to take nearly as long as it does by car. Emily passed me as I added a few PSI to my rear tire, and Bob stopped near me to relieve the side effects of his ambitious hydration. When he returned to our shoulder, our tiny patch of solace and safety just to the right of whiz and bustle, he noticed a reminder of the relativity of that safety; a dead raptor. Sharp, strong and delicate talons clasped air in rigor mortis, and even in this frozen state displayed their power and precision. The bird's head was gone. We sat in silence for a moment, took three feathers as a reminder of mortality and an inspiration to move swiftly, and moved the bird into the trees to decompose in peace. I placed a feather on my saddlebag, Bob into his derailleur clamp, and Emily into her hair.

That evening brought dark roads, bright headlights and small shoulders. Roughly 5 miles outside of Arlee, we decided to call it a night and avoid the risk of becoming closer to the raptor. Bob instinctively turned down a gravel road, and as we discussed our options, he flagged down a vehicle headed towards a group of small farmhouses tucked near the cottonwoods that sprung up along the Jocko river. The driver told us of a fishing access site that would be a great place to camp, and warned us of bears.

The Jocko is a quiet, humble river, with a welcoming air about it. As we set up camp near a few large Ponderosa pines, I watched the bright, waxing moon play off of its mild surface. After some snacks and a beer, we took on the task of a bear hang. Without rope, we would have to get creative. We loaded all of the food into a pannier and attempted to simply toss it into an overhanging cottonwood snag. The bag arced up, and then promptly down, bringing a few broken branches with it. We would have to be gentle. After some trial and error, we settled on a leverage system using a large log with the pannier on one end and my body as a fulcrum on the other, and hoisted it into the snag, leaving the log there. In the morning, we would just shake it and have our food. Hopefully the bears wouldn't figure it out first.

We awoke at 5 am and hit the road feeling motivated and potentially intimidated by the day to come. In our minds, what lay ahead was going to be a massive day; 150 miles including Logan Pass, a 3200’ climb over roughly 14 miles on Going to the Sun Road. As we crested the first hill of the day, we watched the sun rise behind the Mission mountains.


On this side of their wildness, they rise thousands of feet above the tranquil valley in which St. Ignatius rests, shadowed by their grandeur. The sheer face of Grey Wolf and the false summit and plateau of McDonald became apparent as the light changed, reminding us that there are always bigger hills. We stopped for a quick diner breakfast. Emily ordered the “Hash #2” which was explained by our teenage waitress as “literally just a huge pile of hashbrowns and veggies and cheese.” She was right.  Bob and I got an espresso from a small stand, and the girl didn’t charge me.

From here we would push on through the Mission valley to the south shore of Flathead Lake, and the town of Polson. We used the smaller roads and paths where we could, and were pleasantly surprised at the pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in these small reservation towns.

Riding the narrow Highway 35 on the east side of Flathead lake would be the smallest shoulder of most of this trip, and we were all nervous of that. Roughly 26 miles along the shore to Bigfork, we wanted to get through it. We also needed lunch. After about 5 miles, we pulled down an unmaintained driveway overgrown with wild chamomile and bunchgrass down to an empty cabin with a for sale sign. We followed a game trail for another hundred yards to the shore and sat down to snack, swim and rest the legs. I made coffee for us, and after 2 cups shared, we motivated and hit the road.

Taking turns drafting on this road went smoothly, and though I set the pace for much of it due to my unfortunate gearing (lowest being 42x28) we all found a rhythm with each other, and hardly had to communicate the desire to pull down a small driveway with a sign that proclaimed apple cider. The farmer, whose name shall remain untold, was a short man with a grand white beard and wild crows feet alluding to decades of laughter in sunshine. He moved deliberately through the orchard to greet us. He spoke with the same deliberation of his movements, seeming to not waste a word but not sparing the details either. After completing the task at hand, which appeared to be sorting apples recently picked, he offered us a half gallon of freshly made cider. We gladly filled our bottles. Crisp and sweet, but not overly spiced or cloying, this would be the perfect fuel to get us through highway 35.

The East side of Flathead Lake is dotted with fruit orchards, and not 10 minutes after leaving the first stop, another man of the land ran out too the highway with three apples outstretched for us. The empathy people have towards cyclists will never cease to amaze me.

Another hour or so of lake vistas and laughter brought us to Bigfork, where we found good beer and an abundance of food to fuel the next leg of our journey. We had put in 70 miles already, and still had 70 to go to the top of the pass.


From Bigfork we rode straight to Hungry Horse with one stop to buy food and gloves. It was going to be a cold night. The sunset over the plains of the northern Flathead valley played off of the west aspect of the Swan range bordering Jewel Basin. The roads were straight and the tailwind strong.

Just before pulling into the small town of Hungry Horse, a large semi passed us. Close. We felt the air hit our backs before the beast was upon us, and as it hurled within a foot of our bikes, it’s air horn roared and we swerved into the sand off the side of the highway. We paused after it passed and contemplated what had just happened. A brush with mortality. Though it left us physically unscathed, hearts and minds were rattled and pounding. I saw some of the last bit of sunlight glow through the raptor’s feather still in Emily’s hair, and was reminded further of the fragility of life and how organisms’ interactions with a place affect each other so intricately.

We regrouped in Hungry Horse and noticed that the sun was gone, but the Moon had begun to rise, and was already beginning to glow orange and become eclipsed by the shadow of the Earth. We stood for some time and watched this display. We stretched our backs and shoulders using each other’s hands as support, and sat in silence for some time like this. When the moon began to wax from our shadow, we decided to keep moving as it revealed itself.

The push to Glacier was a dream, but a lucid one. We had a path for a considerable portion of this ride, and after that the highway had multiple lanes and a decent shoulder. We used our lights only to alert others of our presence, and rode under the abundance of stars and the glimpses of white moonlight on the pavement. We coasted down a final hill into West Glacier, and continued to ride towards Lake McDonald.

As we cruised along the beginnings of Going to the Sun, things became more and more dreamlike, and less lucid. The moon was bright enough to trick our eyes into seeing headlights on the trees ahead, when in reality it was simply beams of reflection being focused by the glacial carvings in the mountains around us.

We stopped somewhere on the shore of Lake McDonald and took in the grandeur of where we were. Everything was illuminated in crisp, white light, and the reflections of the mountains coalesced with circumstance on the perfect mirror of the lake. After a few minutes and an addition of layers, we pushed onward.

Before approaching Lake McDonald lodge, we had commented on all having slight visual hallucinations, and Emily noted that her eyes had become tough to keep open. We stopped at the lodge hoping for hot chocolate. We were greeted by a bellman and security guard who were skeptical of our very existence, yet still sympathetic. We used the bathroom and gathered around a table to discuss our current state, and the bellman brought us a plate of saltines and peanut butter. We were tired. Emily needed a power nap, and I needed a hot cup of coffee. I inquired about this need at the front desk, and after chatting with the sympathetic cracker bearing man about what we had done and a bike tour of his, he made a pot of coffee for all of us. We drank it while Emily napped. Bob and I took a walk and discussed our options.

It was still roughly 20 miles to the top of the pass, and the last 14 would be climbing. It was roughly 35 degrees, and I expected it to be down into the low 20’s up top. It would take us roughly 3 or 4 hours to reach the pass in our current state, and it was midnight. Though I wasn’t skeptical of our mental ambition and physical ability, safety was becoming a concern in my mind. We would expend a significant amount of energy climbing and most likely sweat, then descend in cold air for roughly 45 minutes to a lake where we would have to set up a bear hang. Hypothermia and exhaustion induced crashes were our primary concern. After thinking about it for some time, we decided to look for other options. Bob worked his magic while inquiring about a place to camp nearby and we were offered a floor to sleep on in the reading room of the lodge. We would be able to catch 4 hours of sleep, and we accepted.

At 545, we left the lodge. As we flowed with fresh minds through the lingering moonlight, a collective smile began to rise as the sun did, illuminating the fall colors and sheer cliffs with golden morning alpenglow. We stopped at a tunnel with a large overlook away from the road and watched the sun rise on Heavens Peak as we made our coffee.

The next few hours are difficult to describe in words. We climbed the final 16 miles to the top of Logan Pass. Surrounded by timescales, dwarfed by the ancient and slow cataclysm that carved these U shaped valleys and moraine fields, the knife edge ridges and cirque born waterfalls. The succession of forests and their fires was evident from this vantage, and across the valley there was a single Larch that differentiated itself only by shape from the golden Aspens.

I reached the top of Logan Pass about 20 minutes before my partners, inspired by the sun to keep my cadence high and fast. I inquired about water and found that the running water was down at the visitors center. I sat down near the road, but away from the parking lot and began to boil water to rehydrate some black beans, and diced fresh garlic with my pocket knife on a piece of granite.

I listened to the water boil and watched the parking lot. I felt then, stronger than ever before, a massive dichotomy between that lot, these cars, and even my bike towards the surroundings. A place to visit, but not to stay. To facilitate this, we have carved an asphalt road through one of the most sacred and wild places in North America. The Crown of the Continent, stained by tarmac. Native peoples and early settlers alike were displaced for this, and so was their way of life and communion with this place. Yet without it, this ride wouldn't have been possible. At least not with this bike. There is the question that I began to ask myself the most. What does a place mean to be wild? At what point do human interactions with their environment rob it of its wildness or even chase it away? Or can it be chased off? People have been in these mountains for thousands of years. Was it any more wild then? Is it any less now?

We ate the beans and gathered our things. Before leaving, I had a brief interaction with a man taking a photo of the Logan Pass sign.

“This place sure has changed a lot. Especially that side” he said, pointing East over his shoulder.

“It has” I said, “But it will continue too. The glaciers will come back eventually, there might just not be people here to see them. Maybe that’s for the better”.

He paused and looked me in the eyes.

“Maybe so."

We had a big descent ahead of us, and we had been anticipating this flight for some time. We began to coast, the sound of the pawls in our freewheels becoming a constant buzz, no longer individual clicks. I passed one car after it pulled off, and didn’t have to let any pass me until the road leveled out and became less exposed. We rode through the recent burn of St. Mary and saw tiny bunches of beargrass returning from the ashes. Things will go on. Timescales prevail.

Arriving in St. Mary, we ate a mess of assorted salty and protein filled oddities. Oysters, jerkey, chips and rolos to name a few. We still had roughly 30 miles to go. It was 4pm. I recounted Bob saying the night before in the lodge something about the ambition of that day.

“It’s a long ride. 89 miles from here. The first 18 are uphill. The train leaves at 645. And we have to be there an hour early, because we have bicycles. 89 miles from 5 to 545. That's a good day.”

The reality of this began to sink in as we realized that to make the train on time to get to Whitefish that night in hopes of hitching back to Missoula by 3pm the next day for Emily’s class. We rode for a bit, and halfway up a large hill, bellies full of nonsense and legs tired, we decided to hitch.

We arrived just on time to box up our bikes and catch the 2 hour train that chugs along the southeast end of the Park. We sipped scotch in the observation deck and watched the sun fall behind the mountains as we laughed and recounted the little things.

We found solace that night in the living room of an old friend, Katie Williams,  and left early the next morning. We ate some Amazing Crepes and headed towards Kalispell. We were picked up promptly by a gruff man in an old blue pickup who brought us to Kalispell.

We pulled up to a gas station to set up our hitching corner, and were all taken aback. On the corner rested the still warm body of a beautiful black and white border collie. Bob had placed flowers on it, and after some time he went to tell the folks in the station about it. While we waited, we saw a woman across the highway calling for her dog. Our hearts sank. As we began to cross to talk to her, we saw Bob run across the highway and talk to her. He walked her across the crosswalk, stopping traffic, and she began to wail. Emily was heavily impacted by this outpour of emotion, met it with an outpour of empathy. Bob and Emily carried the dog, Piper, to an open field near some horses. I walked the woman across and picked some flowers to place on Piper. She called her partner and soon it was all over, but the shock was still in all of us.

I took a short walk around the field, and when I came back, Emily was sitting with a bottle of cheap champagne, a corn dog, and a box of malted milk balls. We sat and talked and comforted each other.

The rest of the day was a blur. One ride brought us to the town of Big Arm, where we snacked and swam, and another to Missoula.

As we parted ways at the end of a pedestrian bridge in town, I truly felt that the tour was over. Though our original intentions to ride over the pass at night were not met, I believe that we all felt that everything worked in a way that allowed us to truly explore the questions we held. It was reaffirmed in us that it wasn’t the mileage or the goals, not the set expectations that we framed the experience in,  but the moments that comprised the entire experience. Only 72 hours had passed, but each hour was full of expression and the necessitation of wildness. I suppose timescales prevail.

We sought out to push our bodies, sooth our souls, and explore the world with our minds and lungs. We had questions to answer, and people to talk to. We had mountains and plains, planets and their satellites to remind us of our place.

We found some answers to questions, but so many more were raised. And that, is much more meaningful.