A couple of weeks ago family Valtenbergs ventured east to central Montana to catch up with Lisa’s uncle as he made his way on his bicycle from his home in Wendell, Idaho to the area where he grew up around Great Falls, Montana, a trek of over 500 miles (850 kilometers)! Lisa’s parents were caddying for Alan on his route, cycling with him along some sections of the journey. Lisa’s dad, two uncles and aunt all grew up in the area around Cascade, we’d been talking about taking a trip to Montana for years so jumped at the opportunity to visit with everyone out there for Alan’s ride.
We flew into Helena, the state’s capital, late on Friday afternoon and joined the rest of the cycling party for dinner at one of the campsites just outside of town. Lilia traveled like a champ as always, she slept for almost the entire two flights to Denver and Helena, the rest of the time keeping our adjacent travelers smiling with her antics. On Saturday I set out early with Alan for the 54 mile (87 kilometer) ride over the Big Belt Mountains between Helena and Lisa’s aunt and uncle’s house on the Missouri River just south of Cascade. It was a beautiful ride through the mountains, brilliant scenery and some nice climbs along the way. I didn’t crack Greg’s top speed but did have a hoot on some of the downhills through the mountains, peaking at 41.8MPH (67.3KPH) on one section before we entered the Missouri River canyon. Lisa joined Alan and I for the last 15-or-so miles through the canyon from Wolf Creek to our destination at the Quintero’s, lots of fun cruising alongside the river with Alan and Lisa. Great to hear Alan’s renditions of childhood memories as we cruised along the canyon toward the area where he grew up.
Lisa’s aunt and uncle – Cheryl and Nelson Quintero – have a little slice of paradise on the banks of the Missouri River just south of the small town of Cascade. They welcomed us all into their home for our few days in central Montana, we hadn’t seen them since Luke and Katrina’s wedding in October so there was lots of catching up to do. Their house looks out over the fast-flowing Missouri River and Big Belt Mountains beyond, we spent quite a few afternoons enjoying the view, watching the trout feed on the hatch and laughing at Lilia transfer bark in and out of one of the flower pots on the deck. A beautiful area of the world, we both enjoyed hearing stories from Alan and Greg about their time growing up along the river when they used to run dairy cows and tend crops back in the day before homes lined the banks.
A trip to Montana wouldn’t be complete without a rodeo, so we headed north one day to the small town of Belt to see some bucking broncs and seriously angry bulls. Belt was a bit of a drive so we stopped off at Gibson Park in Great Falls on the way, Lilia was in heaven being able to feed all the geese and ducks. I think she actually fed herself more bread than she did the birds! Belt is a quaint little spot, home to Harvest Moon Brewery and a main street straight out of yesteryear. It was one of Lisa’s grandfather’s favorite spots to spend his time when he was still with us. The rodeo was fantastic, definitely one of the best executed rodeos any of us had ever seen, it flowed like clockwork and kept us all enthralled from start to finish. The rodeo clown was absolutely hilarious, I’ll definitely never forget him “waterskiing” in his boots on the dirt from one end of the arena to the other behind a horse! There was even a cowboy from northern Queensland taking part in the bronc riding, amazing where you find a fellow countryman…
The Missouri River is a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream. To say that the fishing was awesome would be an understatement. Greg and Carol were kind enough to treat me to a half-day guided fly-fishing float down the Missouri for my birthday one morning with Greg, a beautiful journey with a very knowledgeable guide. Unfortunately neither Greg or I hauled in any fish during our float, but on other occasions when I was fishing with a spinning rod and lures I managed to haul in some amazing fish. I’ve never seen 18 inch wild trout in California, but they seemed to be everywhere in the Missouri. I hauled in a few from the banks in front of the Quintero’s house as well as one from a kayak while floating down the river. Greg schooled me on ‘how we do it in Montana’ at one of his favorite childhood fishing holes one afternoon, limiting with three good-sized trout while I went home empty handed! Amazing how much fight a fish the length of an adult’s forearm can give, so much power in those little guys.
On one of our days with the Quinteros we all took a trip north to Great Falls to meet up with some more of the Young Family who still live in the area. Greg’s uncle – Lilia’s great great uncle – is still going strong at 92 and was great to meet. Uncle Roy, as he’s known by the family, is hip to computers and email and enjoyed meeting Lilia, three generations down the family tree. It was a perfect afternoon for a picnic at Giant Springs State Park, which is home to a trout hatchery with the biggest trout I have ever seen in my life as well as its namesake Giant Springs. The water from the springs bubbles out of the earth after 2900 years flowing under the surface from snowmelt in the Little Belt Mountains. Giants Springs also forms the headwaters of the United States’ shortest river: the Roe River stretches a mere 200 feet (61 metres) between Giant Springs and where it joins the Missouri.
The Quinteros were such fantastic hosts for our few days with them. Nelson and Cheryl: you guys sure know how to cook! Everything was scrumptious, but I think a standout for me was Nelson’s arepas (a dish made of ground corn dough or cooked flour, popular in Colombia and Venezuela and similar in shape to the Mexican gordita). Thanks so much for your hospitality, I’m sure we’ll be back for some more of those trout! Great to finally get out to Montana to see where Lisa’s dad grew up, and Lilia sure enjoyed having so many adults around to give her attention. Next stop in Montana: Glacier National Park.