Along for the Ride , with Monica Tranel, candidate for the Public Service Commission, Day 7 and 8 , August 6 and 7 : The Skalkaho road to Hamilton and then to Darby and the Nez Perce Pass.

( pictures that follow are from Seeley Lake, Clearwater Junction, Ovando, Helmville, Drummond , Philipsburg, Skalkaho Road, Hamilton , Darby and Nez Perce Pass and Bitterroot Brewery, we learned that good WiFi is important too)

Up early again to hit the road before the heat sets in. I dropped Monica off at the Skalkaho road sign and went in to P Burg to get gas and coffee. “First The Coffee, Then The Adventure,” the sign says at Philipsburg Coffee. I did a modified stump speech for the barista, handed her a small card about Monica and I think I got her another vote in P Burg😉. Then , off to the Skalkaho road to meet up later with the candidate. I looked at the speedometer on the van and it was close to turning 1000 miles. Wouldn’t oughta been that much if I hadn’t taken some wrong turns, but I did get some great sign locations, and had some good conversations along the way (Rachel 😉).

Along the road, I passed Discovery ski area, minus the snow. It sure looks different without snow, but again, the scenery is sigh inducing. I had to pull over a few times to just take it in. The PSC has nothing to do with public lands in Montana, but I couldn’t help notice the whole trip, the brown markers with numbers indicating camp sites and fishing access and picnic grounds. So many campgrounds that were accessible to the public, one in Sanders county, the Cascade campground, was my favorite part of the whole trip! All the way through seven counties and all across this state, public access to public lands is so important and so affordable.

I came upon a wall of rocks and boulders and it reminded me of what it is like to run a campaign for any office in this Covid 19 time. Up until the middle of March the candidates could gather together and have fund raisers and meet and greets and shake hands and high five and laugh and talk to constituents. But that all came to a screeching halt when we had to stay home for 3 months. Then came the Zoom meetings and campaigns had a learning curve for all campaigns, not just ours. The huge rocks reminded me of the climb a down ballot race has just to get noticed on the ballot, as there are so many races on the 2020 ballot in November. Good thing the counties have been given the choice to have an all mail in general election and surely all 56 counties will be mail in like the primary election , and postage will be paid.

The three trees in the one picture I thought represented growth through the rocks and how democracy can win if we vote !

I met up with Monica at Skalkaho Falls. It is on the downward slope of Skalkaho road and so the ride got a bit easier. But not only is she riding the bike, she suggested we hike up to a spot for a photo opp. The woman bikes and then wants to hike up a steep hill……how could I say no🤷🏻‍♀️.

Skalkaho road is right on the route of the fires of 2000, and even though there are many traces of the fire, the forest is recovering. Fire is a good thing for forest health in the long term, but it sure can be devastating to homeowners in the area.

I arrived at Jo Gmazel’s lovely home, where she and Hillery Daily ( our hostess for the evening ) were setting up for a socially distanced meet and greet. Jo’s garden was the perfect setting for this Ravalli county event with folks from Hamilton . Hillery had campaign materials left over from the Hamilton farmers market, so I didn’t have to get too much from the van, which was nice. I put the banner up and we were set .

Monica arrived and promptly headed for the little creek next to Jo’s property, to cool off.

The turnout was very good and people had good questions for. As usual, she asked her audience to tell her what they loved about their community. Corrine Gant, a member of the Ravalli County Democrats brought me to tears when she said that she loved to go out on her back deck and have a cocktail at the end of a summer day and look out at her view and know that she lives in the most beautiful place on the planet!

Again, the common thread among them all was the connection to place and community. Many were members of boards related to land use or water concerns. These people really care about what’s happening in Hamilton, and so does this candidate running to be their representative on the Public Service Commission.

It was time to head down the road to Darby and a quick stop at the smallest brewery in Montana, Brigand Brewery. It used to be called Bandit Brewery but has changed ownership. Very good beer, by the way. So we were at the only woman owned brewery in Montana in Libby, the Cabinet Mountain brewery, and the smallest in Montana, the Brigand, where their logo is: “This beer is making me awesome!”

Then we loaded the bike onto the rack on the van and headed to Hillery and Charly Daily’s place outside of Darby. They live off the grid, so to speak. On the first part of the trip we stayed pretty close to the road, on the second half, after Missoula county, we stayed at places way up in the mountains . It was pretty cool, but on the downside; no internet. So I couldn’t do my blog, which is why this one is much longer and I couldn’t post the photos from Seeley lake to the end of the trip.

I got to sleep in their tear drop camper that night, and Charly and Hillery gave up their bed to Monica cause they knew she needed a good sleep. Monica was relieved as she did not want to climb the stairs to the other bedroom, hard on the knees. Hillery’s garden was beautiful and we were able to enjoy the bounty of it with our grilled veggie dinner with farrow and tofu and salmon and a lovely garden salad. Hillery froze her chocolate chip cookies so she wouldn’t eat them all and she brought them out for us to enjoy. I had three!

Because the Daily’s live so far from the main road, they don’t get many visitors, besides the wildlife. Tonight they had two, besides us. One of the visitors came to meet Monica at Hillery’s invitation. She just wasn’t sure she was going to come, so it was a pleasant surprise. We probably talked for an hour or so about all kind of things, from schools opening in a few weeks in Darby, (she has a high school aged son) to access to public lands and good books to read .

Then it was off to bed for a 7 a.m. rise and shine for the last day of the ride !

Day 8, August 7: Darby to the Nez Perce Pass 550 total bike miles.

Hillery made an amazing egg strata with fresh garden greens and tomatoes, oh my, so good. And we had goat milk in our coffee and it was great. Then , the three of them were off for the last part of the ride, to the Nez Perce Pass. Charly, Hillery and Monica were off. Monica had company for most of the ride which was great for her morale. It was particularly fun from Helmville to P Burg, with so many riders along the road.

The ride for me was easy in the van, but not so much for Monica . It was an up hill climb and it was tough. She was really glad to have Charly with her to give her a morale boost and good company she needed. Hillery drove part of the way to have a shuttle ride back for her and Charly. I probably waited for an hour. I passed the time by listening to a book I had downloaded, The Daughters of Erietown, by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Connie Schultz. It’s a great read about the middle class from the 40’s to the 80’s. It’s the author’s first work of fiction .

I explored the lookout as well over the Frank Church River of No Return wilderness in Idaho, and thought about the legislative battles for Wilderness in the past. Very grateful for Senator Church’s work on behalf of wilderness. We need wild untouched places.

A truck from Missoula pulled into the parking lot and I waved him down to ask if he had seen some bikers on the road, he had and I was relieved , as it had been awhile. Shortly after that, Hillery arrived in her truck and then Monica and Charly arrived. They headed to the Montana Idaho border sign at the Nez Perce Pass, air fives all around for the completion of the 550 mile bike ride through PSC district 4 starting at the Canadian border town of Roosville through Lincoln, Sanders, Mineral, Missoula, Powell,Granite and Ravalli counties, ending at the Montana/Idaho border, this is all of PSC District 4, and Monica Tranel did it on her bike.

We had one more event at another brewery, the Bitterroot Brewery in Hamilton . Both Monica and I were pretty beat, but we met up with two of the organizers of the ride, Frank and Maggie Allen and Charly and Hillery joined us as well as a woman running for HD87, Laura Merrill another gentleman whose name I did not get and an old friend of Monica’s who is a real estate agent in Hamilton who said things are hopping in real estate right now. Each time I thought we could maybe go…….some one would join us. The information for the time at the brewery was from 2–4, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned …. it is that the candidate stays till the end. So we did, and good thing. Some checks were written to the campaign and that’s what makes a campaign run, money and a really good candidate .

Some people have asked me why I would take 8 days out of my life to drive over 1000 miles across these seven counties? My answer is because I had the time , a very understanding husband and frankly I would rather talk to people than make phone calls. Conversations are the key to winning, and we met some of the most wonderful and kind people everywhere we went. And I believe in this candidate. I saw her in action. She never showed signs that she was toast, and I know she was tired after spending the first day in 100 degree heat for literally 102 miles from Roosville to Savage Lake, near Troy. We laugh about how she wanted to ride her bike directly into the lake, but did stop to put shorts on and then jumped in right off the dock. I joined her as well, and so did Pat our host. She jumped in jeans and all.

The Public Service Commission is a down ballot race that should not be partisan, but is. Monica has the experience and wants the job so much that she took this time out of her incredibly busy life; she’s a mother to three daughters, 4, 12 and 16, a very encouraging husband, he bought her the gravel bike she rode, and she has a law practice as well. She wanted to have conversations and meet people where they were.

I said before in this blog that she is tenacious and she is. But she is also kind hearted and is a good person and that’s what we need these days, so much . It was my honor to help her do this ride and now we all need to talk to our friends and family and people outside our bubble of comfort; those are the folks we need to reach.

To learn more about Monica Tranel, visit her website:


To read more about Monica Tranel's 550 mile bike ride through all 7 Counties, a day by day blog by Susie Orr:

Along For The Ride, by Susie Orr