The Tour Divide
It all started during Covid lockdown. I was going stir crazy at home so I decided to get back into biking, being that it was inherently 'socially distanced' and relatively painless. That was until I discovered the GDMBR, (Great Divide Mountain Bike Route).
After weeks of research, I finally bit the bullet and bought a hard tail, front suspension, Priority 600x based off the recommendation of bike-packing guru Ryan Van Duzer. Priority, out of NY, are famous for their low maintenance, sealed, Pinion gearbox, as well as the Gates belt drive which is smooth as silk.
After assembly it was time to do a deep dive into what kind of bike packing gear I would need. I've been an recreational camper for years, so I had a working knowledge of backwoods preparations, but seeing how that EVERYTHING had to travel on your two wheeled steed, (being that I was going solo and unsupported), my standard packing list required a complete rethink.
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.
This is a great way to 'stress test' your set up. Do a few complete run throughs as if you are really out in the wild, camping with only what you have on your rig. You quickly find out what little items you're missing and possibly fine tuning others.
I started off with way too much stuff, which is pretty common , even after a few shake down rides. Once you're on the Tour, it's amazing how much less you actually need compared to what you thought you'd need when starting out.
Pick and choose
Some of my early incarnations of my pack. Needless to say, what you see here was WAY to heavy once I got to climbing up mountain passes, (the camp cot was the first to go).
Early shake down ride. I eventually changed out the rear panniers with Ortlieb, Bike-Packer pluses, (see above), for their waterproofyness, (yes, that's a word), and legendary durability. I recommend doing a couple of weeks of day riding with your full set up just to get used to the added weight. Handling and balance is a whole different world when riding fully loaded.
Everyone has their own preferred pack arrangement, but I like keeping my front end lighter with more of the weight towards the rear. I find it easier to navigate those rocky climbs when I'm better able to see what my front tire is doing with more nimble steering response.
Hitting the road
Here I am with my wife, Julia, on our way from our home in Seattle to the start point at the Canadian border. Due to Covid restrictions, I wasn't able to start in Canada. Rooseville, MT was going to be the kicking off point for many of us Tour Divider riders this year.
We're talking a 106F and forest fire smoke, both making for a less than hospitable environment to begin humping your bike through the mountains. Nevertheless, I was very excited to get underway. Fortunately, the actual temperature outside was a few degree less once we arrived, but still a clear reminder to bring plenty of water while on the ride.
Zero Uno Zero
How can you not stop at a robot gallery? Unfortunately, they weren't open when we were passing by. Doesn't matter, we got a peek inside and nabbed a great selfie with the 'mechanical man' out front. A completely random joint in the Montana backcountry and we loved it.
Not sure if this guy is happy or angry, but it doesn't matter. Once they take over the world they can be whatever they want.
The last comfy bed...
...at least for awhile. Here Julia smiles sympathetically at her crazy husband as he makes his final gear check, knowing she'll be heading back to first world comforts tomorrow and the hubby be doing just the opposite.
DAY 1- Rooseville to Tuchuck CG
Departure Day was finally here! After months of preparation, research and YouTube video marathons I was finally ready to set off on this crazy adventure. Thanks to the wife for being so supportive as she kissed me goodbye at the Canadian border, not knowing really when she's see me again. Good news was the weather was good and ironically, temps were being kept fairly low due to all the fire/smoke in the air. Always a silver lining...or at least a hazy brown one in this case.
This is what it looks like from the start of a multi-state, bike packing journey. A visual metaphor for really not knowing what lies ahead or how long it will actually take to get there. All you can do is hop on your saddle and start pedaling. Enjoy the scenery along the way and be thankful that you get an opportunity to live outside your comfort zone every once and awhile.
Oh, yeah, and it was still pretty hot.
Lovely small town at the top of the trip with a wide variety of transportation options. This lifted 'Subaru' was of particular interest as I was passing by.
Now if they could only combine that 4x4 with that camper, then you might have something!
Oh, wait. Maybe they are combined. I'm new here.
My cockpit view. Bear spray at the ready just incase that Subaru gets any ideas. Did you know that "Subaru" is Japanese for "Man eating grizzly"?
My first roadside break. This was about the time things were starting to sink in. I was less than halfway through the first day, feeling pretty confident, then the "Eight miles of Hell" quickly changed all that.
I had to leave a little 'souvenir' behind for the next rider. I'm awaiting a call from Lion's Gate's attorneys.
The harder the climb, the better the view. It was very tough going for awhile, but I managed to keep my legs from completely locking up on me. Lots of water and a fair amount of pushing was my trial by fire on my first day.
Also picked up a "hitcher" along the way.
My daughter gave me this good luck talisman for the ride. I was hoping it would keep the bears away and somehow, magically, turn all the climbs into downhill runs.
A water stop. My Katadyn filtration system worked like a champ for the whole ride.
Pro tip: The Yeti 26oz insulated water bottle is a life saver! It keeps your liquid cool all day long, which helps keep your core temp under control.
Lunch time on the way to Big Creek Campground. Broke out the Packet Gourmet and wolfed it down. I eventually switched over to Mountain House meals since they were more ubiquitous along the route and a lot cheaper. And they have the word "Mountain" in them, so they have to be good.
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 first 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?
Due 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.
Rest 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 continued 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.
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 rejoin 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 my bike, which so far has been issue free.
Shortly after setting up camp, I jumped 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 improving now that I'm getting my pack better organized. It takes time and usage to get things dialed in.
Um, yeah. Had to leave another one of these for the next innocent 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. Everything must go!
A sign of irony.
A radio control plane club out flying in a field. I stopped to to watch and say hello. My bike wasn't radio controlled, nor could it fly. I moved on.
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 pea 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.
I 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 with a guard rail. 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.
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 might have been rude.
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 at capacity, he offered the wooded area across from his site to all 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!