June 20-22nd are somewhat lost days. My phones were on the fritz (refushing to charge), so I have only a few photos. Also, this was the time of the Lost Wallet, so I really made pretty limited forward progress (I blew a whole day going from Ovando, Mt back to Seely Lake to try and find my wallet). But the 20th was also one of the best days of the whole trip – a whole raft of completely unrelated people were incredibly kind to me during the process of wallet retrieval. It really restores my faith in humanity, and impressed the kindness of Montana people on me.
On the 21st I rode with Bonnie Gagnon and Grant from Ovando to Lincoln Montana. Along the way we ran into the Florida Boys, a group of 4 who were touring the Tour Divide route at a more relaxed pace than we were.
I got to ride with Matt Bort for an hour or so – a more bicycle Buddha I’ve never met. He works, then tours, works, then tours, works then… well you get the picture. When I asked him where he was from, he said “the campground 15 miles back” – not exactly the answer I was looking for but it was just so Buddha perfect I decided it was as good an answer as I’d ever need.
Bonnie’s amazing – she was riding with a torn minuscis and using 130mm cranks to try and minimize the pain. I could pull ahead of her and Grant on the uphills, but man they blew past me on the downs. I wish I’d kept up Bonnie and Grant’s discipline, as I would have made it quite a bit farther down the road.
Lincoln is a tiny tiny town. When I rolled in I was a good half an hour ahead of Bonnie and Grant and I decided to stop at the first building I saw to wait up. Turns out it was a Drs office, and I walked in to say hi to the folks could see from the window. I told the Dr. that I had locked up last place, and he looked at me a bit incredulously:
“You’re not in last place, you’re ahead of 330 million people who haven’t even thought of starting this”.
Quote of the trip for sure.
The trip out of Lincoln to Helena was pretty straight forward, but I managed to take a fairly significant detour up a pass. This happened to me a lot – part of it was that I was ‘in the zone’, but I also blame the wind. Wind on passes has 2 modes: cooling you down (if it’s blowing down hill on to you), or pushing you up. The wind was so strong behind me on this pass that it was just obvious that up was the way to go. I had a lovely lunch on the pass before discovering I’d ridden 2 miles (and 4oo feet or so) off route.
Coming down off the pass I’d lost Bonnie and Grant, and when I pulled into Helena I stopped at a convenience store for some Ice cream to wait for them. I wasn’t there more than 10 minutes before Eric and Johnanna pulled up. They’re avid adventurers and intention trail angels, not to mention related to some of my Seattle friends. They offered to put me up for the night, and gave me a great dinner and breakfast send off. More examples of Montana goodness right there!
I left Helena on my own pretty early the next morning, but I wasn’t 5 miles out of town before I ran into the next Montana Friendly – Kathy M. She was just getting ready for a mountian bike ride, and gave me a bit of chain oil. Kathy sent me several encouraging emails in the next couple weeks, pretty amazing given that we only chatted for 3 or 4 minutes.
About 10 miles later, Nolan and Mykela caught up with me. A couple of 20 somethings out fast-touring the divide. Great company, nice to ride with and fun to talk to. They rode away from me pretty quickly on the technical session over the top of this pass (I walked almost all of it), but I caught them about 20 minutes later on the other side and we rode the rest of the way into Butte together. They rescued me from yet another off-route diversion after I descended 200 feet into an amazingly nice looking down hill. Ooops – only my pride was injured.
Butte is a weird place – I stayed in uptown, which is the older part of the city that thrived on mining back in the early part of the 20th century. To my eye, the thriving stopped quite some time ago. I stayed at the Hotel Finlen, and spent most of my time their sneaking around in a bath towel after the laundry was supposedly closed. Ahh what we won’t do for clean clothing.
In the morning I had more financial difficulty – I got breakfast at a Cafe that didn’t take credit cards. My ATM card was eaten by a machine in Helena, and I was cash free. Another 4 hours wasted trying to get a cash advance, and I missed my chance to ride on with Nolan and Mikela.
June 26th was Fleecer Ridge day – a long ride up to a harrowing down hill that had me nervous from the start. Riders talk about Fleecer Ridge in hushed, urgent tones. For good reason – it’s steep. Really steep. I’ve been on steeper glaciers, but I’m not sure I’ve been on a steeper hill. To make matters worse, the trail was basically Scree – loose rough gravel that afforded no traction. I walked the worst of it, and fell even though I was careful.
After the infamous ridge, I was looking forward to 20 or so miles of easy downhill to Wise River. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, a bit more rolling than down hill. I didn’t make it to Wise River until almost 9:30. Little did I know it was Friday night and a harley club had rolled into town. The place I was trying to get dinner was a disaster – my food took an hour to get, it came without napkins, and the accommodation was ‘someplace on the grass outback’. In the middle of the night, the harley gang stopped out and asked what I was doing. ‘Sleeping’.
Wise River to Polaris was mostly exciting because I was right in the middle of RATPOD. I spent a lot of time with people wearing plastic clothing and on plastic bikes, but they were lovely none the less. Late in the day I pulled into one of their rest stops and bought some Watermellon. Asking how far it was to the High Country Lodge, one of the riders said “You’re there now!”. It was early, but I decided to pull in there rather than push on to Bannak or Grant. Good thing too – Jo and Terry pulled in an hour later and we split a room.
Jo’s a fellow Seattleite a lovely and very determined person but perhaps slightly over packed by my standards. Terry was out from England after spending many years doing auto parts distribution, and was working his way up to bail out of the race.
We rode together through Bannak and Grant, but I pulled pretty far ahead as we were headed into Lima and they stopped a bit earlier than me. Lima is tiny and the cabin I stayed in I was sure would burn to the ground with me in it. Fire trap for sure.
In the morning I saw Jo and Terry as I was getting ready to go, but Gary Macfarland was the guy who was ready, so we rode out together. Gary’s an engineer down in Antartica for the New Zealand government. Great fun to ride with super nice. We came across one of the multitude of run down log buildings out on the prairie and stopped there for lunch. Dead wolf inside. We ate outside. Later that night a lovely couple drank beers with us at Island Park, the wife even brought us sandwiches since the kitchen was closed by the time we go there.
June 28th was one of the hardest days of the trip, but in terms of elevation, one of the smallest. The Rail Trail ride was about 36 miles long (only 25 or so on the actual trail), but brutal. Bead sized gravel, fairly deep, with mini-washboard from the ATVs that drive this. 2 rutted lanes with an island in the middle. Relentless washboard, with constant switching from side to side. If you think you know the kind of washboard I’m talking about… you don’t. Because of the tiny wheels of ATVS, the washboarding is closer together and seemingly deeper. It was horrible. Boring road at it’s boringest, more ATVs than I could shake a stick at, and horribly bouncy. Near the end I had my worst spill of the race, really banged up my hands. I limped into the Squirrel Creek ranch and had dinner with Candyce before heading to bed. Maybe the 29th would be better.