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Wheels and Wranglers

Each of us builds a future in our own way. Some are the caretakers of an established family legacy. Others roll up their sleeves, lay new brick and create a fresh start. Today, I experienced both.

A bicycle built by two

This morning, I rode a freshly painted rehabbed biodiesel school bus, towing a trailer, up the five hairpin switchbacks of Montana's Beartooth Highway.  The driver was a petite woman just barely beginning to show with her first pregnancy. Beside her, in his signature Utilikilt, her husband looked over the back of his seat and grinned widely as he talked.

Welcome to Beartooth Bike Tours.

The couple, Doug and Suzanna Bailey, are the creative energy and enthusiasm behind the business. Their year-old enterprise carts passengers and bicycles up the winding highway to an elevation of more than 10,000 feet. After taking photos at the Wyoming state line sign (we drove right into a late-summer snow storm) and strapping on helmets and getting a few safety tips,  everyone hops on comfortable Cruiser-style bicycles and, as Doug likes to say, “It's all downhill after that.” Riders simply coast down the next 14 miles, tapping the brakes now and then. Stopping frequntly at turn-outs, there are plenty of opportunities for taking photos and asking questions.  No pedaling. No struggling in the thin mountain air. Just the feel of the wind in your face and a wide horizon filled with breathaking scenery. The business, Doug told me, was conceived as a way to stay in a place they loved. And, as he looked over at Suzanna behind the wheel, “to provide for my family.”

Maintaining a Montana Dynasty

After lunch, we pulled into the Lazy E-L Ranch in Roscoe. The 12,000-acre spread was homesteaded in 1901 by Malcom Mackay, who was just 19 at the time. Today, the ranch is still intact and now managed by great-grandaughter Jael Kampfe.

Kampfe is a pefect blend of cowgirl, business woman and hostess. She runs the summer grazing program, feeding and fattening more than 2,000 head of cattle each year, while operating a successful guest ranch. Kampfe, the first woman to head the ranch, has taken an established, successful and respected legacy and brought it into the 21st Century. Surrounded by cabins rich in Montana and Western history, she guards the old while looking for ways to stay relevant and contemporary. It is no easy task.

As we drove back to Red Lodge, in the deep Montana twilight, they were all on my mind. The young family breaking rocky soil to put down roots and the smiling, determined, woman who calls the shots at a beloved family ranch.

Going forward isn't necessarily easy. But it's still the only way to get where you want to be.

(To see photos of Doug Bailey and Jael Kampfe click Continue Reading)

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 


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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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