Finding my rhythm
Most people say you have to, "train into the ride" on the Tour Divide, which makes sense. Who really have 8 to 10 hours a day to ride their bike during normal life? You can certainly do a bit each day, but nothing really prepares you for what's to come until you actually get there. However, after a week of humping up mountains in Northern Montana, my body is starting to adapt to the rigors of riding in the wilderness. The mind, on the other hand, takes a little more work.
Day 8 - Holland Lake, CG to Seeley Lake
I'm not just riding for myself, but also for a worthy charity. The Wounded Warrior Project helps those that risk everything to preserve our way of life. Please give if you can at my WWP page here.
Coming out of a picturesque family campground at Holland Lake, I was in for a very long climb over the mountain pass into Seeley Lake. This day ended up being one of the most dramatic on the entire route, both physically and mentally. It started raining as I started out, so it was gearing up to be a wet one.
Here is where the road ends and the fun begins. Just around this bend is lots of single track climbing through the badlands of bear country. I read in the guide book that the 'misbehaved' grizzlies in Yellowstone get dumped here. So, yeah, if being 600 lbs with claws the size of steak knives wasn't enough, the 'locals' have a little attitude problem as well.
One reason why your bike+pack weight shouldn't be more than you can lift. Many of these trails cannot be maintained regularly, so be advised you'll need to heave and hike from time to time.
Moments before hypothermia was knocking at my door. I gained of ton of altitude on this climb, along with a constant shower. All of which, conspired to put me into a deep chill. My so-called waterproof gloves were next to useless adding to the misery, so rather than pass quietly away at 8,000 feet, I decided to heat up some coffee and warm my bones before making the even colder decent down the back side of the mountain.
The ride down the backside of the mountain was almost as challenging as the ride up. Much of the trail was littered with fallen tree husks, (logging), and large swaths of burned forest.
However, "life finds a way" as the new growth starts to encroach making for a nice vista break here near the valley floor where the temps bumped back up to the 60's!
I lucked out and found an available cabin at the Double Arrow Lodge. A bit of a splurge, but after that climb and decent, I needed to 'regroup' and have a hot meal.
The never ending reorganizing of your gear. It's also not a bad idea to unpack an let things air out after a good downpour. Keeps things from getting too stanky. By the way, those two camo shammy towels were a life save. 101 uses!
Heaven in a box.
Me in a mirror. I know, real original.
Day 9 - Zero Day
I took advantage of today to stock up on calories, answer a ton of email, do laundry and indulge in an amazing milkshake at the aptly named, The Ice Cream Place in down town Seeley Lake. Knowing I had a big climb the next day, I rested as much as I could.
Day 10 - Seeley Lake to Big Nelson CG
Up and Adam
So very hard to leave a room like this behind knowing you'll be camping in a cold ten for the next few days. But, hey. That's part of the adventure! Right?
Passing the local Iwo Jima memorial.
A nice stretch of open prairie on my way into the next mountain climb. I love these vistas that go on for miles.
Washboard Wonderland! This is one reason why I have a suspension seat post.
Here I felt like I was about to ride into a Gary Larsen cartoon.
A famous and very welcome stop on the route. Here I stocked up on supplies, had a fat lunch and continued on my way.
Another wildfire. I have to hand it to the Forest Service, they had these maps and warnings posted all along the route keeping folks informed. I also had my nifty fire incident app on my iPhone, (Firespot), to keep me up to date as well.
After a pretty hefty, end of the day climb, I managed to roll into this spot. Wow, was it worth it!
Breathtaking. Had the place all to myself. Hung out at the water's edge for a while, sipping hot coffee. Magical.
Back at my site, I pitched my tent
and readied for the the night. So peaceful and certainly one of the most memorable sites I had on the route.
Don't forget to hang your bear bag!
You don't need much to be happy. I does help to have one of the most picturesque lakes in Montana to dip your toes into, but hey.
Notice: My bear spray is never far from my side.
Day 11 - Big Nelson CG to Lincoln
The routine. Coffee, meal pack and, of course, bear spray. After having seen a 'teenage' grizzly AND a mountain lion the day before I was on heightened alert today.
Ice cold snow melt made for some spectacular scenery, not to mention, wonderful sources of fresh water.
The start of the 8mi, Hell climb.
Made it to Tuchuck in the nick of time. With a ball busting, Whitefish Pass climb behind me, my 'trial by fire' day is behind me. Now, cue, the rain. It's always fun setting up camp in the rain. However, after 8 hours of riding in that constant heat it actually felt pretty good.
DAY 2 - Tuchuck CG to Big Creek CG
Although it rained a good part of the night, the morning was decent. My legs were definitely reminding me of the day before, but overall, I was in pretty good shape. Knowing the worst was still ahead.
You see many of these isolated cabins along the route. This one in particular was a vacation rental. Not bad if you want to get away for civilization for a while.
Definitely a mixed message here. Do I exercise caution or do I indulge?
Do to the Hay Creek fire I had to reroute through Polebridge. It was actually a blessing in disguise since I got to stop by the famous Polebridge Mercantile, stock up and meets some nice folks while I was there.
What's a ride in the wilderness without a Sasquatch sighting?
Sporting my Washinton colors.
A glimpse of the Hay Creek fire smoke all along this part of the route. There's a mountain range in there somewhere.
Break time on the road. Best advice I got was 'listen to your body'. Don't push too hard, take frequent breaks, hydrate and rest when needed. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Big Creek Campground. Slightly off the route, but a nice spot. As a matter of fact it was the last camp spot of the day. Weather was good, legs, well not so good. But that's what an air matress is for. Another 30 or so miles in the book and looking forward to getting into Columbia Falls tomorrow for a real meal.
DAY 3 - Big Creek CG to Kalispell
Don't let 'Mr. Happy Face' fool you. My legs are screaming at me right now. Good news is that I'm not too far to Columbia Falls, then on to Kalispell for a zero day. Talk about motivation!!
Mr. Alien is still in good spirits. No rain today and ironically, the smoke cover overhead is keeping temps under control. You just have to not breath.
My trusty Garmin inReach, GPS/Satellite, SOS beacon. Don't leave home without it, especially traveling solo in the backcountry. Friends and family can keep track of your progress along the route in near real time. It's also capable of allowing for text messages, (albeit with a charge per text), when you're out of cell range.
One of the many, 'amber waves of grain' photo ops along the route.
The Montana Veteran's Home Cemetery in Columbia Falls.
I grabbed lunch at the local grocery store soon afterwards, but there was no place to stay in town, so I continue on to Kalispell.
After three days of riding and climbing, my legs were shot. Yeah, they say you need to 'train into the ride', which is why you probably shouldn't start at one of the most mountainous parts of the route. But I was a newbie, so what did I know?
Washing your riding clothes the old fashioned way...in a hotel bathroom.
Yet another revision of the pack with keen eye on what to send home. After three days of riding, every pound you can shed is an angel born somewhere else.
What 'Cup-O-Heaven' looks like after a long, hot day.
What someone looks like when looking at a 'Cup-O-Heaven' after a long, hot day.
DAY 3 - Zero Day in Kalispell
Basically, a 'Zero Day' is a recovery day for both mind and body. It also allows for any maintenance, resupply and catching up on emails and any worthy news you may have since you're mostly off-the-grid when in the back country. I took full advantage of this one knowing I had some tougher days ahead.
DAY 4 - Kalispell to Big Fork CG
After a long and restful sleep in an actual bed, I was feeling somewhat 'human' again. I'm trying to pace myself, knowing I'm just starting out on this crazy adventure, but after having been on the bike so much over the last few days, it felt a little odd to be just lounging around the day before. First stop today, the post office where I'll bid adieu to about 10lbs of 'comfort items'.
Two 40oz 'monster' cans adorn my front forks. Be sure to get the single wall variety, because you can always cook in them if you lose your cooking pot.
Had to go a couple of miles off route to reach the UPS store, but on my way, I caught a glimpse of this nifty hot air balloon just hanging out over town.
Eleven pounds 4 ounces gone! I was like, 'what was I thinking carrying all that extra weight?'
Still smoky, but not as bad today. In a few miles I'll finally be coming off the detour and rejoining the main GDMBR route.
Clearly, hay bails are in season.
Here's to hoping this guy had a spare bike chain.
My first indication that I was back on the main route, albeit a humbling one.
Made it to Big Fork, safe and sound. All in all it was a fairly easy ride. Not a lot of climbing today, which my legs thanked me for. I met some other tour riders along the way, (since I'm back on route), at a local burger stop. They were admiring the Pinion/Gates drive set up on the bike, which so far has been issue free.
Shortly after setting up camp, I dived into the nearby lake and took a much needed 'de-sweatification bath'. Heavenly.
Love, love, love this nifty, highly packable camp chair by Helinox. You can sit anywhere and stretch out your legs which is particularly nice when riding all day.
DAY 5 - Big Fork CG to Cedar Creek CG
Up and Adam! Today is a pretty big climb day. After heating up my food pouch and a mug of coffee, I was back on the road. My 'wrap out' times are getting better now that I'm getting my pack better organized. It takes time and usage to get thing dialed I just right.
Um, yeah. Had to leave another one of these for the next family that will be using this spot after me. Sorry.
Another post office stop. More pounds shed. Bike lock, part of my sleeping bag, extra water bottle, etc.
A sign of irony.
A radio control plane club out flying in a field. I stopped to to watch and say hello.
Another reroute due to fires. Sadly, this is become more the norm than the exception any more.
I call these kinds of roads 'crapple'. Loose gravel mixed with ash sucks your forward momentum like nothing else.
These little, yellow beauties were growing all along the route in upper Montana. Figured I'd brighten up the bike with a few.
Looks like someone is trying to tell me something.
Finally made it to Cedar Creek Campground. Although, calling it a 'campground' is a bit generous. At least it was free. Thanks to Chuck, my very generous camp neighbor, I was able to share his spot right on the river.
Where I promptly took another full body plunge.
Another nice thing about bikes, they make great drying racks.
DAY 7 - Cedar Creek CG to Holland Lake CG
Coffee with Chuck. The next morning I was invited for some hot java with my camp neighbor. Come to find out Chuck is a Viet Nam Vet that travels the country in his fifth wheeler. I can't tell you how gracious he was to me and honored I was to hear some of his amazing stories of his time in the service. Wherever you are, Chuck, I hope you're well.
A biker's worst nightmare. High speed highway, no shoulder, guard railing. You're literally taking your life in your hands running the gauntlet on this baby. Due to the fire re-route, this lovely little run when on for several miles. Give me a 9% climb on a 'crapple' road over this any day of the week.
Nice scenic shot of the Mission Mountain Range on the way to Holland Lake.
A bike tour favorite. Hungry Bear right off the highway will fill you chock full of necessary calories.
When the food and brew arrived, I wolfed it all down while relaxing in a sun drenched patio area. I wanted to take a nap right then and there, but figured that was probably not a good idea.
Holland Lake was one of the most beautiful campgrounds on the entire route. Only drawback was that it was a bit crowded, no doubt due to its popularity.
Those mountains in the background are my next day's challenge.
The camp host was super nice. Even with the campground a capacity, he offered the wooded area across from his site to us road weary bikers, (one of the benefits of having a small footprint). He even offered a power cord to charge up my batteries.
Here you can see my 'kitchen' set up. One 40oz bottle is perfect for heating up a standard sized meal bag, cup of coffee with a little left over for bruising the teeth and washing out the mug. Perfect!