Fires in the Great Northwest have spread a blanket of smoke from Oregon's west coast to the eastern plains of Montana.
Our ride was only 120 miles south from Helena, Montana's Capital City to Historic Virginia City.
Despite the smoke the ride was pleasant. Warm, very little wind, clear skies overhead, but with the fabled Rocky Mountains shrouded with a dense gray smoke.
The environmental folks at the state offices were warning elderly people of the dangers of exertion combined with the particulates in the air.
We rode anyway, Grace and I, down I-15 to Boulder and than through the back roads of Montana to Cardwell.
This was much the same ride daughter Linda and I had taken to Wheat Montana Farms Deli in Three Forks only a week and a half earlier.
This time we turned south at Cardwell and traveled through the lush fields along the Jefferson River, passing the cut off to the Lewis and Clark Caverns Jefferson Island and the small communities of Harrison, Norris, McAllister and Elois.
The old gold mining town of Virginia City combines many century old buildings left over from the boom town of the gold mining era with splendid new houses and buildings of more recent vintage.
The center of the city has become a tourist mecca where visitors can dine in old style restaurants, visit old time saloons, and of course have their picture taken in period costumes of a century ago.
From the shop where huge churns were in the act of making fresh ice cream, to the candy store where the candy maker was pulling Taffy in to long strings Virginia City lives up to it's fame as a place where tourists can join in the fun of living in the atmosphere of the Old West.
We turned away from the city and headed for Quake Lake, the lake that was created when a mountain disturbed by an earthquake, collapsed into the river creating a huge dam and a new lake.
IN all of my years living in Big Sky Country I have never seen forest fire smoke so dense and covering such huge areas.
From the coasts of Oregon, through Washington and Idaho lightening storms had triggered so many fires that forestry officials had called in support from neighboring states and even from Canada.
As a last resort they were now calling for volunteer fire fighters
from residents of these same states.
The smoke which clouded the mountains caused breathing problems for many and gave tourists a view of Montana very few had ever seen.
With the sun shining through a thin cloud cover the mountains were bathed in a strange ethereal glow of light filtered through the dense smoke.
As we moved closer to Earthquake
Lake the two lane highway began to twist and turn following the path of the Madison river.
The earthquake and massive mountain slide which formed the lake took place on August 17, 1959.
28 people lost their lives in the earthquake and resulting landslide in which an entire mountain side broke free and slid into the river.
The result was the formation of Earthquake Lake which is commonly called by it's shorter name, Quake Lake.
The night was filled with terror and death as campers along the shores of Hebgen Lake tried to flee the rising waters and falling rock.
Within a month the new lake was nearly full and the Corps of Engineers in an unprecedented emergency quickly built a spillway in the rock which had formed the natural dam.
The spillway kept the new dam safe from erosion of water going over the top and gave the new lake a tool with which to control the lake water level.
The river shoreline ride was great as the road wound it's way between the mountain and the river.
This is a great ride and many bikers were making use of it.
Among the bikers we visited with along the way was vintage bike builder Ken Matz from K & M Vintage Motorcycles.
His Email address could only belong to a dedicated classic biker.
Ken will buy, sell, or trade for American Classic bikes and can bring an old bike back into near new condition.
Fun folks to visit as we journey through the back roads of Montana.
We met two Iron Butt riders, a lady masseuse from California who carried her small dog on a piece of padded leather fastened on to the gas tank of her Boulevard 800, and several other riders passing through the state.
Everyone commented on the thick smoke but none of the bikers seemed to care too much, having learned long ago that The Ride Is The Thing!
As one of them put it, "Anytime you're pounding out miles on a long ride is a good time."
Have to agree with them on that one.
It was getting on toward 6PM as we pulled in to the parking lot at Wheat Montana Deli in Three Forks.
The Pulled Pork sandwich made the stop more than worthwhile.
As we talked about the ride and being an Iron Butt Association member a biker sitting on a nearby bench looked up and said, "Hey I'm Iron Butt too. Made my ride in Florida."
The ensuing conversation was of course about the IBA and that first Saddlesore 1000 mile ride.
No matter how many more Iron Butt rides you do, the first one is the one we remember and talk about most.
The sandwich, pickle and potato chips were filling, the conversation was good and the highway home didn't seem nearly as long now.
It was a good day.
Planning is underway for my September 30th SS1000 mile ride to San Jose, California, the October 50cc Quest ride from San Diego, CA to Jacksonville, FL.
Can this soon to be 81 year old biker also complete a Bun Burner Gold from Las Cruces, NM to Jacksonville as part of that coast to coast ride?
Maybe, maybe not.
The only sure thing is that we will try it on for size.
More about that later.
In the meantime, watch for me.
I'll be in the Right Lane America.
Del "Lonnie" Lonnquist