With the best of intentions I planned to ride the entire 300k on the 4th July. However, I encountered a little problem-the Ennis 4th of July parade and rodeo-one of the biggest such events in the state. As I got close to Norris I noticed the traffic was picking up, but at the junction of MT 84 and US 287, the line of cars coming from Bozeman and heading to Ennis was miles long and unbroken. Riding over Norris Hill with a steady stream of (possibly not-so-sober) rodeo fans was not my idea of a good time. Even if they were sober, by the time I started the bigger climb to Virginia City plenty of their counterparts would be pretty lubed up. Thus I decided to turn around and live to fight another day.
Despite my shorted ride (200k instead of 300k), I did preview the most critical parts of the route. A bridge over the railroad tracks just east of Manhattan (8 miles into the ride) is being replaced. As of now, the old bridge and pavement is still in place, but a sign warns motorcycles of loose gravel and to choose another route. That tells me they're getting ready to tear things up. If that's the case we might have to do a little cyclo-cross, but the distance should be short. Worst case-there is a detour on Dry Creek road available, but it would add 5 miles to the route (each way).
The biggest obstacle is just outside of Three Forks at mile 19. The I-90 overpass bridge is being replaced. There is a business loop detour available, but it's about a mile of hard packed gravel. It's a viable option if it's dry. If it's raining or has just rained-it's a muddy mess. However, another alternative is to take I-90 for 4 miles from Three Forks to the junction with US 287 (exit 274). On the return trip, the same gravel detour is available, or we can take I-90 to Logan (five miles). Other than a 100 feet of bridge over the Madison River, the shoulder is nice and wide. Montana does not restrict cyclists from riding on interstate highways. It's noisy and not so tranquil, but with a big shoulder and rumble strip it's safer than a lot of secondary roads. I'll review the situation Friday night and we'll talk about it before departure on Saturday morning.