A few years ago in the alley, my buddy Mike, who is a big skier and biker, confided that he had been feeling like he wanted to do some great bicycle adventure. He knew I had ridden across the U.S. in 1976, and had been thinking of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR). I said “Well let’s make that happen!” Fast forward to 2021, and Mike and I were bikepacking on the Great Divide, finishing one day at the Horse Prairie Stage Stop, a small café in Grant, Montana (population 19 per the 2020 census) for a well-deserved night of burgers and beers. We were hot and tired and grimy, and it felt marvelous to be in an air-conditioned space, using actual utensils to eat food off a plate instead of out of a pouch, an ice-cold brew within arm’s reach, none of it covered in dust.
A very pretty young woman was serving us and wanted to hear about our trek. Her name was Amelia and throughout the evening, she learned a bit about us and we learned a bit about her. The manager had introduced Amelia as the future Miss Montana, which Amelia quickly corrected, specifying that she had applied, but there was a lot of competition. How many Miss Montanas have you met? To us, she was something special, even if she hadn’t yet claimed the crown. As the night wore down and we prepared to leave, she made a generous offer. “The road you’re taking tomorrow will be through this ranch where I do some work,” she said. “When you see a bunk house, go to the door and knock. Tell them Amelia sent you and that you want to take a shower. They’ll take care of you.” We thanked her for her kindness and left to roll out our sleeping bags for the night out back under the stars.
The next day, we hit the road again, Amelia’s offer far from our consciousness, our feet making endless rotations on the pedals, the smell of alfalfa in our noses. Before we knew it, we found ourselves riding through the massive cattle ranch she’d mentioned. Maybe she was a cook there? Or a server. Or the rancher’s daughter? The size of the ranch was so massive, I wondered how the ranchers knew that they’d have enough hay for the coming winter. When I saw one of the ranchers with his dog checking on an irrigation ditch, I stopped riding to ask him about it. I mentioned that it seemed like he had a lot of hay piled up, and asked how did he know if he had enough. “Well , you know, we have 1,000 head of cattle, and cattle will eat about 35 pounds of hay a day. We know how many months we’ll have to feed them during the winter, so then it’s just math. Right now, we’re a little behind on our haying, but we’ll get there. You can see we’re cutting the field down here.”
I was fascinated by all this, but I could tell that Mike, though he had stopped when I had approached the rancher, was now getting a bit bored. Mike fidgeted and soon started riding on ahead. I should get moving, too. As I was about to take off, the rancher added a final detail. “In fact, we’re bringing some cattle down from the high pasture today. They’ll be coming down the road you’re riding. When you see them, just pull over and they’ll pass you by, no harm.” “Good to know,” I called out as I pedeled to catch up with Mike. “Thank you.”
I told Mike what the rancher had said and we biked on. We made it no more than a few miles further before the most amazing thing happened. It felt like we had ridden onto a movie set for an epic Western. Sure enough, here came the cowboys with their dogs, herding what looked to be hundreds of cattle, ropes flying, dogs barking, horses whinnying, cattle lowing, and cowboys and -girls calling out commands. We pulled to one side as this tidal wave of life, like one huge moving organism, shifted around us. We felt as if, for these few minutes, we’d joined their movie and watched, rapt, filming what we could on our phones.
Soon, though, most of the herd had passed us and Mike started to cycle on. I stayed behind to get some final pictures when a cowgirl rode up. “Hey, Glen. Y’all get those showers?” It was Amelia! After slinging burgers and beers last night, she’d changed into chaps and was now out here rustling up steers on the high plains with these other cowpokes. Could life be any more amazing? If I hadn’t stopped to speak to the rancher, might we have missed this spectacle?
After we returned from our adventure, I dug around on the internet and located the date of the Miss Montana competition. I paid a few bucks to stream the competition so we could root for Amelia. We learned even more about her, from the beautiful evening gown she had sewn herself, to her volunteer efforts to end the epidemic of endangered and missing Indigenous women and girls. After watching the entire competition, we both agreed that she’d been totally robbed. Not only was she beautiful, talented, but a professional cowgirl to boot!
Man, she cleaned up nice, but I gotta say, her facility on that horse was what won us over. Mike and I were quite sure the lovely young woman who won the crown that night couldn’t hold a candle to Amelia on a horse. But that’s the beauty of life and the people we meet each day. Who knows when Miss Montana—okay, Miss Montana Runner-Up, but for me and Mike, she’ll always be Miss Montana— is going to ride up on a horse in the middle of a cattle drive. You never know who you’re going to meet unless you say “yes” when opportunity comes along. What are some times you’ve said “yes” that led to amazing experiences?