Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Great Divide - Small Town Stoke

No, I cannot forget from where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be

Small Town, John Mellencamp (1985)


Stray Bullet Cafe owner, cook & coffee re-filler Colleen starts our morning right in Ovando.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

I spend a night in the Ovando Jail and snag a shirt to commemorate it. But I'll remember most the people who make this a must-stop on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Leigh Ann at the Ovando Inn and Blackfoot Commercial Company, Kathy at the Blackfoot Angler, Colleen at the Stray Bullet Cafe, and Howard at the Ovando Museum. Small town America at its best.

Whatever your mode of travel, stop in Ovando for a treat. Better yet, treat yourself to a night in Ovando.

Dogs outnumber people in Ovando.


While researching the Great Divide route over the past two years, I identify a handful of places where I am determined to stop for some serious time, hopefully for a night. The Ovando Jail, Barb's Lost Llama Ranch, Kirsten's Brush Mountain Lodge, and Nita's Toaster House top my list of must-see places that cater to Great Divide cyclists. I suspect other hostel-like places will pop up over the course of the ride, and they do, but these four in particular I am determined to experience.

First up on the route, and first in my heart, is the Ovando Jail.

Paul turns himself in at the Ovando Hoosegow, an antiquated name for Jail.

Shortly before 6 pm on Day 6, we roll into Ovando, Montana and head straight into the Blackfoot Commercial Company general store. We're just in time, as it's about to close. While resupplying from their well stocked inventory of good stuff, I notice a handwritten note that the Ovando Jail t-shirts are sold out but that the cafe might have some. I ask about that note and Leigh Ann, the owner of the store, says that she hasn't had those t-shirts in awhile but that the cafe will open tomorrow at 7 am.

OK, so no t-shirt, but breakfast is set. What about the Jail itself? Is it available tonight? Before Leigh Ann can answer, a friendly voice behind me chirps, "Nobody's there now, so if you'd like it, you got it!" I turn to face Kathy, who watches over the refurbished town jail that is part of the Ovando Museum and is open for Great Divide cyclists to stay overnight. How's that for timing? She had just closed the Blackfoot Angler shop and happened to stop in the general store. I'm staying in Jail tonight!

Before booking in, we arrange with Leigh Ann to shower, launder and recharge devices at her Ovando Inn. Although it's only been three days since our last shower, that always feels good. We then stash our supplies in bear bins by the Jail and ride up the hill to Trixi's Antler Saloon for a feast of big burgers and fries. We're living large tonight!

One cell sleeps two in comfort and style.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

The Ovando Jail offers two bed frames hanging from the wall by chains. The thick rope webbing is not very comfortable by itself, but when we add an inflatable mattress, it sleeps like a hammock. This small building is solid and secure. No grizzly is breaking in here tonight.

All the town asks for a night's stay in Jail is a free will donation to the Museum and an entry in their journal. I jot a few notes and enjoy reading the earlier entries of many others. This Jail journal itself will likely be part of the Museum some day.

Officer Groseth logs his security rounds.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

After a safe night in Jail, we're ready to roll early, but not before breakfast at the Stray Bullet Cafe right across the street. This is an honest to goodness, authentic small town cafe serving a scrumptious, hearty breakfast and great coffee. Colleen, the owner and cook, brings smiles and good cheer all around as she greets everyone and refills coffee. Colleen's mother and daughter also help out with this family business.

By the way, Colleen says that the cafe's name comes from the building's history in the Old West as a rowdy saloon. Fights often broke out and shots fired. A stray bullet from the late 1800's is still embedded in the building's walls.

Kathy of The Blackfoot Angler also manages the Ovando Jail.


As we're leaving the Stray Bullet Cafe, I mention to Colleen that Leigh Ann at the general store noted that she may have Ovando Jail t-shirts for sale. Colleen says that they haven't had those in years. OK. Thanks.

Abruptly, a now familiar voice from behind pops into the conversation. "I don't have any Jail shirts left in my shop, either. But there may be some in the Museum. I'll call Howard." It's Kathy, again. She's opening the Blackfoot Angler shop right next to the Stray Bullet Cafe when she overhears my question. I tell Kathy not to have this Howard come in for me. With a ready smile, Cathy quips, "The Museum should be open by now. Howard needs to get to work!"

Ovando Museum curator Howard opens up for us.

Within a couple of minutes, Howard pulls up to the Ovando Museum in an ATV.  "No trouble. No trouble at all," he says as he unlocks the front door. "I think I saw some of those shirts back here somewhere a while back."

He steps inside and motions me to follow. While rummaging through an assortment of dusty drawers and stacks of cardboard boxes, Howard describes the history of the building that is now the Museum and points to a variety of objects and photographs. This place is a real treasure. The Museum itself could be in a museum.


Howard found this shirt buried in a file cabinet in the town museum.


Burrowing into the depths of an old cabinet, Howard exclaims, "Ah! What size do you want?"

"Large, if you have it," I say.

"Large is what I have," he replies.

All that for a t-shirt. 

Space is limited and weight is avoided when bikepacking, but I'll gladly carry this t-shirt home. 

Thank you, Leigh Ann, Kathy, Colleen, and Howard for making my time in Ovando memorable.


A final word from the Stray Bullet Cafe in Ovando, Montana.


Gotta love small towns.


Small Town, John Mellencamp (1985)


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