Waking up in Sparwood was hard. All my stuff was unpacked, and I had a very, very hard time getting rolling again: packed and rolling by noon was as good as it was going to get, with a Subway sandwich to tide me over.
My new tire worked great. I rode alone for the day. In the evening, I came across Butt’s cabin which was occupied by an angry Canadian with an Axe. I decided not to argue. He mentioned that there was a Planters Camp up the road giving out water.
The planters (Tree planters, hired by the forest service) was huge. A large tent (50 feet long 25 feet wide), smaller buildings and many, many tents and trailers. I spotted a tiny, 1 person tent and knew that another rider (Ralph) was camped. As I setup my spot, Mim the camp cook introduced herself and told us we were welcome and offered bean stew. YAY MIM! Ralph and I ate well, slept well, and had a great breakfast w/ the planters.
The next morning Ralph and I rode together for a while but ultimately parted ways. Riding alone turned out to be not nearly the problem I’d thought it might be, and I made good time. In the afternoon I ran into Stephen, a 15 year old who was riding 3 or 4 days of the divide on his own. He and I navigated the infamous Connector together and rode a stupendous downhill in the hail, then onwards to the highway leading to the US border. He met his Dad there, and I proceeded South.
Crossing into the US was a snap. Only 10 more miles to Eureka. Huge storm clouds loomed as I got closer, and there was a little squall of rain but I was so used to getting rained on by now it didn’t matter much. Eureka was smaller than I expected, only 2 hotels in town. The nice people at the Pizza place reccomended one to me and I stayed there. Later that night Ralph made it through the connector (on his own!) and I saw him briefly at breakfast.
One Minor mishap after riding out of Eureka – got off on the wrong road and headed up the highway for a mile or two, but I figured it out and got back on the back roads. Nice, mostly solitary day of riding to Red Meadow Lake campground. I ended up running into The Boys from Florida (TJ, Thomas, Kyle and Matt) on and off all day: they weren’t on the race but were riding the route for a couple months. After teaching Tuchuck campground earlier than expected, I decided to push on to Red Meadow Lake, which I expected would be a big campground with people. On the way my new pedals started to squeak – it took several hours for me to diagnose what was causing the problem and decide it wasn’t really a big deal (very annoying though). This was the day where I decided it was better to meet people than make massive mileage, and I ended up talking with a family at a park service cabin and a kooky old guy hunting gophers.
The road up to Red Meadow was a bit creepy as the evening wore on, and I saw lots of bear scat.
Once at the camp ground, I discovered it had all the amenities (vault toilet, bear boxes), but none of the people I’d imagined. I was really worried about a bear coming into camp, but put all my food away in a bear box and got to a fitful sleep. Around 1:00 AM Nick Wagers rode into camp. I was happy he wasn’t a bear. I woke up to cold and a bit of wet snow – packed up and got going.
The route out of camp was a long, solitary descent – I got off on the wrong track again but figured it out after a while. I stopped in Whitefish (big town) for some Bike Repair and electronics ( new cables so phones would recharge). The nice mechanic ended up breaking my Derailleur Hanger because it was cracked (probably from all the huffing and puffing on the Connector), but I had a spare in my kit so I was able to keep riding. I also met Kathy and Richard (?) of ItTakesTwoToTandem that say, lovely folks on a cross country tandem ride. On the way out of town I found Ralph again, and we made our way to Columbia Falls where we had a lovely Mexican meal in a strangely well decorated restaurant.
The ride to Swan Lake was great, particularly the descent – one of the best of the whole trip. Not too difficult, and it just kept on going! So much so that I kept right on going past the turn off to Swan Lake. The mosquitos were so intense when I stopped that I had to apply Deet just to get my map out. Really. Swan Lake was my first major experience with Trail Magic – that thing that happens when strangers help you for no good reason. I rolled into the Swan Lake Guard station to see if the cabin was avaliable, and the people who were staying there invited me to eat some food before they even found out my name. They had an extra bed in the cabin, and so they fed me and housed me for the night. It was a lot of fun, and I really appreciate meeting the Mengs!
In the morning, the Meng’s saw me off with some coffee and I headed down to the Swan Lake general store for provisions.
After 2nd breakfast and restocking, I headed to Holland Lake. The trail was fairly rough and unused in some locations. My bear spray bounced off my bike, and I had to walk up and down the trail 4 times before I found it laying very close to the route I rode but hidden in the tall grass of the trail. I wasn’t leaving without it. After chatting with a couple of hikers, I knew I was about 20 minutes behind several other riders, so I rode hard to catch up and finally found the at a casino (common in Montana) near Holland Lake. The lake has a lovely resort (for >$200 a night) and a camp ground, so I resigned myself to camping.
But… on the way in I saw some kids playing at what looked like a large lodge, so I decided to say hi. Lucky me – the lodge was huge and the people invited me to stay and have dinner with them (I think the wife was impressed by my Ibex clothing 🙂 ). Amazingly good luck as they were lovely to talk with and the accommodations were amazing. I did laundry for the first time on the trip.
Seely Lake and Ovando were up next. Another long solitary ride to Seely Lake, but once I arrived I found John and 2 other riders just leaving the BBQ place I wanted to stop at. I ate quickly and bolted out of town, trying to catch them. I didn’t catch them until Ovando where we stopped for the night. It was at this point that I realized I’d lost my wallet and couldn’t pay for the Pie I’d just eaten. Gregor (one of the 3 riders I saw earlier) paid for my pie, and I snuck my sleep setup onto the lawn in back of the Hotel and huddled up for the night to the pleasent sound of drunken fishermen on a friday night.
Thus begins the story of the Lost Wallet – one of the more amazing strokes of luck during my trip. It’s worth a read if you haven’t read it already.