In the descending twilight, tiny Saratoga, Wyoming stuck out of the sagebrush and impending nothingness of much of the state like a tall cowboy astride an even taller horse. It was Sunday, March 6 and Tyler and I saddled up the Audi and set off for Missoula — with an overnight in Saratoga. The main draw? The town’s free community hot springs, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. After tying up the Audi at the hitching post of the clean, no frills Riviera Lodge (where the excessively large fish on the hotel’s sign dwarfed the adjacent man holding a fishing pole), we grabbed our robes and headed five blocks down for a much-needed soak.
A quick visit to the spartan but clean changing rooms (boasting toilets sans doors) and we headed into the main pool. The waters — turbid with floating algae and bubbling quietly from the gravel floor — were very hot. The closer in towards the building one got, the hotter the water. A semi-circle of rocks directly below the changing rooms was what one bearded local called “The Lobster Pot.” He seemed to be the only one who could stand the volcanic temperatures — perhaps because he did regular laps through the Lobster Pot, up out of the pool entirely, diving into the more soakable pool over a low wall to the left, popping out the other side, sliding down the banister of the larger pool and arriving near the Lobster Pot with a large cannonball-fueled splash.
After a leisurely soak, our bed called and we answered quickly, slipping into a relaxed slumber. In the morning, we saddled up again for the long haul to Missoula, MT where our friends Steve and Amanda (former Coloradoans) now called home.
Missoula, MT Day One:
In the a.m., we pulled our folding “circus bikes” (clownish things with 20″ wheels designed for travel) out of the Audi under a cool, cloudy sky. After a short ride to Caffe Dolce, we re-energized over an unhurried breakfast of fresh baguettes and lox, eggs and cappuccini.
As the clouds parted for the infamous blue sky, we met up with Steve on his lunch break at his new government job: the Montana Conservation Seedling Nursery. Steve gave us the dime tour, the loamy soil squishing beneath our feet. Then it was time to hike and bike!
I dropped the boys off up chilly, forested Pattee Canyon and hiked (straight) up Mt. Sentinel for a sunset view of Missoula.
And before I knew it, it was 7 p.m. (the agreed upon meet up time at Steve and Amanda’s house), I was farther up the mountain than I planned and starving. Typical Sylva.
In the end, we all made it back and headed downtown to one of Steve and Amanda’s favorite haunts: Tamarack Brewing Company. We gorged ourselves on giant burgers and sandwiches and then headed back for very strong Tyler-crafted Moscow Mules and cribbage.
Missoula, MT Day Two:
Another cool and cloudy day — but decidedly less wintry than our snowy abode at 9280 feet. The boys were more than happy to mountain bike and I set out on another solo hike, this time on the opposite side of Missoula at Blue Mountain trailhead. Old roads turned trail stretched in every direction, but I decided to hike straight up the first hill I saw. I marched up to the top, my calves burning for once — at 3205′ — before my lungs.
After rallying back to Steve and Amanda’s on my circus bike, I did a quick clothing swap and headed to Caffe Dolce for some book editing. Once there, I realized I forgot my computer, raced back (starving), then raced out again for another round of strong espresso and an almond croissant. As the afternoon stretched to evening, the boys met me at the Caffe and gave me a lift home. Back at the ranch, we whittled away the evening with frozen pizza and a loaded salad, cribbage tournaments and very strong Moscow Mules.
On the fourth morning (Thursday, March 10), we saddled up the ol’ Audi and hit the dusty trail at the morale-busting hour of 5 a.m. Tyler took the first shift through dumpy trailer and truck-infested western Montana, allowing me — for the sake of both of us — to get a bit more shuteye. We took the scenic route south of Casper, Wyoming, finding ourselves up a creek with no paddle — the creek being a European-style steep, muddy, slushy road and the paddle being the snow tires which our Audi was lacking.
The somewhat hair-raising detour — while shorter in distance but longer in time, especially with the paddle-creek situation — shaved a couple of years off our lives but allowed us a beautiful view at the top. And we made a mental note for a possible future bike tour…
Somewhere in the doldrums of Wyoming a strong sensation of back-to-work-blues besieged me. But another soak in the free, scorching waters of Saratoga, Wyoming’s hot springs was just what the doctor ordered.
This time around, the same bearded local emerged in the cooler pool, pausing briefly before resuming his normal laps. Also in attendance: an inebriated group of college spring breakers from Laramie, a large, loud group of male snowmobilers who stuck largely to the hot pool and a friendly but eccentric masculine woman who described herself as neither masculine nor woman but something in between that hadn’t been come up with yet. She (?) touted a boombox with early 90s tunes which she (?) sang to after running it by us first.
And a couple of days later, we drove our snowpant-clad butts up Loveland Pass to visit two of our favorite ski haunts in that part of the zone…
Speaking of snow… our mountain home now boasts over two feet more of the cold, white stuff since last I wrote jacket-less on the porch. Ahhhhh, spring.
On the next Cold Season Catch Up, Sylva and Tyler trade bath robes for skis. Our next destination: Eiseman Hut in the Vail Valley, located at 11,180 feet. Stay tuned!