A Teacher trying to Divide

Final thoughts and thanks…

I spent the next two or three days camping at Colter Bay where I confirmed all my details for flying home, worked out how to get a bike box, kindly gifted from the guys at Hoff’s Bikesmiths and importantly how to get it back to the campground – thanks David!  You are the kindest, funniest and coolest shuttle bus drivers I have ever met.  My buddy Brett from California didn’t make me feel bad at all about bailing after setting up the possibility of a bit of a reunion in New Mexico, that is the sign of a good friend.  Maybe third time lucky…

Neville and Bryan resumed their journey south which in the end took them a chilled 53 days.  Martin and Michelle were great company at the tents and picnic benches as well as the bar!  They were both starting another exciting adventure once back home in Washington State.  Along with Curtis and Rob we’ve all kept in touch since returning home to share our times and feelings as this mad, mad, mad World of ours only seems to get madder.

I had enough time to watch some very old, but informative Grand Teton National Park videos about fires and the history of the Park.  There was also a very interesting talk by a Ranger about bear awareness…  At the end I quietly told her about my experience on day 1 and she made it clear that I was extremely lucky with my getaway.  I also began to transition back from dirtbag bikepacker to a scruffy tourist.  One memorable moment was bumping into Marty in the campground restrooms whilst I was once again washing my feet in the hand basins.  He smiled but I realised at that point maybe I should do what everyone else was doing and have one of these things called a shower.

 

In the end I rode approximately 1200 miles and made 61,000 foot of ascent without a single flat, crash or navigation error.  I wanted to feel like a tiny speck in the wilderness – I did.  I wanted to see if I could ride my bike day after day and still enjoy it – I did.  I wanted to drink in the magnificent scenery of the Great Divide – I did.  How can a bike ride have such an impact?  How can people you haven’t even met or ridden with connect with you so strongly?  On my journey I was met with so much friendship from everyone, right down to 6 am when I was dragging my bike box to the campground exit and a woman  from Alaska offered to come back in her truck to help me.  I did expect this kindness but not to the extent that I experienced on the Great Divide.  Barbara & John, I am going to keep trying to Pay it Forward when I can.

Those who were quick to comment on ‘not making it’, or ‘yeah it was a bit much wasn’t it’ or even worse, not even asking about it – well it is always going to be easier to go for the certain outcome but where would be the adventure in that, eh?

I would like to thank all the friends who helped me and my bike get ready for this adventure, or – you know who you are.  Dunc and both Ians for hiding their boredom as I requested, or described yet another training ride.  Laura for the icy rides near the Moray Coast.  A huge thanks to Al for sewing that seed in my head all those years ago, helping me make it grow and now for keeping it alive.

 

Most of all I want to thank Rachel and family for letting me go!

A Teacher trying to Divide

Neville, Jim and Brian rigs of the Great Divide

Thursday 25th July

 

Today was to be my last day riding on the Great Divide.  Neville, Brian and I left the campground after a leisurely start but soon woke up with the first incline where Neville immediately stuck the boot in! 

Neville sticking the boot in

Between the three of us we had a variety of navigational plans, devices and apps on the go.  There was that familiar feeling of nobody wanting to ‘take charge’ but each of us was keeping a close eye on where we were heading.  I was riding today on minimal rations and pinned my hopes on resupply at Flagg Ranch after 46 miles.  My game plan was to have a quarter of each granola bar I had at any planned stops.

open fields and trail before loose gravel

We soon broke out into fields and farmland where the jagged ridges of the Teton Mountains could be seen in the distance.  For now we were on the north side of them, but by the end of the day we would be looking at them from the south across Jackson Lake.  The contrast in scenery was incredible, just the sort of thing that I enjoy about bikepacking.  Another great day to be alive and able to enjoy it to the full.

The Tetons

One of the most memorable parts of the morning was the 12 miles of loose gravel on FR 261 as the route traverses the Idaho/Wyoming state line.  The trail was so rough I almost went into some sort of shamanic trance which was getting quite enjoyable just before the guys decided to stop.  I didn’t even have to play the alphabet game.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would ride 12 miles of trail like that without too much fuss.  My advice to any aspirant Great Divide riders would be to completely embrace washboard or loose gravel – don’t fight it, get into it.  Also there is no point in changing what part of the trail you ride just because it looks easier, or your companions appear to be going faster it does not work.  Simply get your gravel-groove going.

The temperature climbed steadily and eventually Brian asked Neville if we could stop.  Neville was as hard as nails.  He rode a hardtail with big panniers at all four corners of his bike.  I knew they were big panniers going by the amount of food that came out of them last night and as I feared was about to come out at this stop in the shade of the trees.  I was offered some food but it just did not seem right to take it from them as Brian & Neville were in exactly the same boat as me – except they had planned ahead a bit better.  Whilst chips, dip and bars came out of Neville’s panier I made do with quarter of a granola bar.  The climb to the pass and snow pole(?) was a cracker and we only just managed to keep ahead of the big flies who stalked us.  In true Great Divide fashion we were once again rewarded with a whooping, swooping descent down towards Flagg Ranch Resort where I hoped to get some food.

The heat was blistering as we coasted into the parking lot towards the shop/cafe/visitor centre.  Brian, Neville and I really looked out of place as we rolled in dusty, sweaty and with thousand yard stares – remember the 12 miles of loose gravel.  I can still vividly remember the layout of the store: on the left friendly young desk staff, in the middle some counters with a microwave, to the right a wall of expensive Yellowstone National Park fridge magnets, round these shelves of food and through the back the foyer of the cafe and importantly…  the toilets.  I felt pretty feral at this point prowling round the shelves choosing sodas, bars, chips, chocolate and a cheeseburger to go into the microwave.  The pile of calories that I dropped at the checkout looked pretty good to me, then a voice behind me said ‘You can’t have all of that for your lunch, it is far too much.’  I turned around to see a father scold his ten year old son, just as I would have for ‘choosing rubbish to eat’.  The wee boy did what he was told and as the whole family filed past I also noted how clean they smelled, never a good sign.  The first round of food went down well except for a carbonised cheeseburger which I simply tossed in the bin and replaced with a new one.  Looking at the three of us brought a smile to my face as we had all normalised this sort of feeding as part of the daily route of ‘Ride, eat, sleep, repeat’.  After the third visit to the checkout I was replete and headed out into the furnace that was the Flagg Ranch Resort parking lot.  Even out there the other bikers looked like models out of an outdoor clothing website.  We got speaking to a South African couple who were doing about 20 to 40 miles a day and staying in hotels mostly.  Sure they were also having a great time but it just seemed a million miles away from our journey and we were not exactly burning it down the route.  A guy on a motorcycle asked how far we were going today and when we said 60 or 70 miles he said that was more than far enough, even on a Harley.

Evidence of the 1988 fire

As you leave Flagg Ranch Resort you soon ride into the remains of a huge fire that ripped through Yellowstone NP in 1988.  It wasn’t until a couple of days later, at Colter Bay visitor centre when I learned how massive it was.  The climb on the busy tarmac beside Jackson Lake was what it was.  After 1200 miles and 60,000 feet of ascent a few hundred feet of climbing in a couple of miles was not a big deal.  What did upset me was seeing two Park Rangers at the side of the road looking for an injured bear with a cub.  Some muppet had been driving too fast and hit her.  Why does someone visit somewhere like this which is full of beauty, space and wildlife yet drive so fast that they cannot avoid a fucking bear?  The Rangers were clearly upset as it was looking like the mother was distressed and was most likely going to have to be shot and goodness knows about the cub.

You are now entering Grand Teton National Park

Colter Bay Campground was absolutely mobbed as we rode up to the entrance gates.  However it appears to be policy at campgrounds here to keep space for ‘walk up’ tents such as us.  We were given a friendly welcome by the campground attendant and told how to get to some spaces.

Jackson Lake

Brian’s brother was on a road trip so came and met us at the nearby pizza restaurant near the lake where we all felt a wee bit less conspicuous after a wash and change of clothes.  Unfortunately the pizza place was downhill from our campground so the climb back after beer and pizza was a struggle.

In my tent I saw that my saddle sores were still red, weeping and not going down at all.  At least I had two days to chill out before spending a lot of time in a seat on the way back home to Scotland.

It had been a pleasure to finally ride with Brian & Neville after our paths had almost overlapped since Wise River, maybe earlier.

 

 

Warm River Campground to Colter Bay, 65 miles, 4397 foot of ascent, 9 hours (6 and a half riding & 2 and a half stopped)

A Teacher trying to Divide

Proud owner of The Soda Company, Island Park

Wednesday 24th of July

This morning I had to make the decision whether to continue or bail.  I knew that my saddle sores were starting to get infected and if they got worse in the Basin, or on the way to New Mexico I was in bother.  Rachel’s parting words at Inverness Airport were ‘Don’t bite off more than you can chew.’  Deep in my heart I knew that I had given it my best shot.  This did not make the decision any easier.  The effort to get physically and mentally strong enough for the Divide had taken its toll on Rachel too.  Part of me felt that I was letting her down as well as myself.  So it was with a lump in my throat I phoned Alba Travel in Inverness to tell them to confirm flights from Jackson, WY to Phoenix, AZ then home to Scotland next week.  I’m so grateful that I shopped locally and used a real travel agent who could help me out and not some on-line company who would have probably screwed me over for changing flights.  Once it was done I phoned Rachel to tell her.  She questioned why I did not want to stay and travel a bit.  Catch up with my buddies from Chicago and just chill, be a tourist.  The bottom line was I came to the States to ride the Great Divide and if that was no longer possible because of the saddle sores I wanted to be home with my family.  I also felt that I was letting down the close friends who had quietly supported me with advice, bike & gear preparation and encouragement.Al’s reply to my bailing message was ‘I wish I could buy you a meal and a beer.’

My neighbours with their Harley-Davidson and trailer tent

I wandered back to the campground to find my neighbours packing up their Harley-Davidson and trailer tent.  We spent some time chatting with one of the campground caretakers about the weather and other universal topics.  Then three of us put our shoulders against the trailer to help it get back onto the access road.  What a machine, I swear the trailer tent wasn’t much smaller than our family one that we towed by car!  Later in the grocery store at Sawtelle Resort I got talking to some hikers who were on the Continental Divide Trail.  These two guys described some of their 25, even 30 mile days which sounded epic.  They also talked about dry days where they would not have any fuel, or meals; just trail bars all day.  All relative I guess.  The whole place was absolutely jumping with folk by the time I left which was not a problem as I did not have a long way to ride to Warm River Campground.

Not that far down the road I came across a lovely little stall that was selling smoothies.  By that time the temperature was pretty high so I did not hesitate to stop.  The owner proudly told me that the Soda Co.Island Park had just recently opened that week.  The girls who worked there were super friendly and invited me to sit round the side on one of the sofas to enjoy my cool, fresh, healthy drink.  As we talked they were very interested in how someone could have ridden their bike to Island Park, Idaho from Banff, Canada.  I was given some free cookies and then the owner’s husband arrived to say hello as well.  As I write this I am delighted to see that The Soda Company, Island Park is still there looking as enticing as it did almost a year ago.  I’m not surprised as the kindness and enthusiasm about serving their customers came shining through that day.

Memories of early days at Island Park

The rest of the ride down to Warm River Campground went by pretty quickly and soon I was pitched up at one of the spots right by the river.  There was plenty of time to wash my riding clothes and hang them up on a line from the bear locker to my tent.  I took a dip in the river which was not actually all that warm!  More kindness and hospitality as a group who were leaving gave me their unused firewood, probably because I looked like I needed warming up after my swim.  I appreciated their kindness but did not really have any plans to light a fire so once they left I took the wood over to a family.  I thought that their kids might enjoy trying to get a fire going.  In the early evening I had to spend quite a bit of time looking at the food I had left for the 65 mile ride to Colter Bay the next day.  There was not a lot…  maybe three granola bars and that was it.  My dinner this evening was also pretty meagre with a packet of noodles and some cheesy/meat stick things.  Round about then Neville & Brian arrived and got set up just the other side of my pitch.  They asked me if I wanted to come over to their bench to make dinner but seeing the amount of food in Neville’s panniers I gave the visit a miss until they were finished otherwise ti would have been torture.  It was great to finally introduce ourselves after passing back and forth since Grant.  Brian was a pharmaceutical scientist from Massachusetts and Neville worked for the Department of Conservation back home in Tenau, New Zealand.  The guys had been sharing the trail for many days now and would eventually share the trail down to Antelope Wells but they were more than happy for me to join them on the run to Colter Bay in the morning.

Warm River Campground

Sawtelle Resort to Warm River Campground, 36 miles, 550 foot of ascent, 4 hours (3 hours riding + 1 hour stopped)

A Teacher trying to Divide

Tuesday 23rd July

Fire engine in Lima

I left late this morning after a shave and more application of clotrimazole, antibiotic cream and of course a dose of painkillers.  Lima was really straightforward to get out of and onto the Lima Dam Road.  The gradient was steady and by now felt pretty gentle.  I was able to soak in the view and get into a nice 50 mile stretch.  During the year and a half I had been preparing for the Divide I had read a lot of books about it.  Some of them described how riders dealt with long stretches of trail:  music, singing, messing with the GPS until your arrow was barely visible and of course…speaking to The Mountain Turtle if you were on a singlespeed.  By now I had developed my own game called ‘The Alphabet Game’.  I started at the letter ‘a’ and said in my head, or out loud it didn’t really matter, something that I have seen today that begins with the letter ‘a’, then ‘b’ and so on.  Place names were not allowed nor were things that were too easy like brakes or washboard.  Not that I ever got as far as ‘w’!  I think that the best I ever did was getting to ‘q’ which with my memory is pretty good going.  If things got tough I allowed myself to use feelings, eg. happy, hungry or hammered which I pretty much felt every day.  I loved playing the Alphabet Game and have taken it home for my longer rides here.  As I said earlier I wanted to experience the sights, sounds, smells and feelings on the Divide so for me plugging into headphones was never something I planned to do, or yearned for when on the trail.

T-junction

As the Lima Dam Road reached the west end of the reservoir the trail turned more to the north which revealed even more open space and even one or two NOBO riders.  At the east end of the Lima Reservoir I approached one of the best T-junctions I have ever seen.  I am not sure what was so impressive about it.  Maybe by then I was needing to have a break, or I might have been looking for something beginning with ‘j’!  Shortly afterwards the route headed due south to drop down to the end of the man made lake before heading towards the distant clouds of dirt kicked up by a pickup truck.  The clouds were mesmerising as were the flashes of sunlight reflected off of the distant I-15 traffic near Humphrey to the south.

dust from distant pickup trucks

Junctions were starting to arrive quickly in succession and I really was having to ‘be on it’ with my navigation.  The black arrow representing me on the pink line or my Garmin screen was comforting but there was no way that I was going to blindly follow it and not refer to my ACA map and a compass bearing.  Before I left home I had downloaded ten or so sections of the route onto two SD cards that fitted into my GPS device.  The files had come from quite an old web page. I also had a backup Ridewith GPS route file on my phone ready to use if my Garmin ran out of batteries, or I lost it.  My phone was in Airplane mode, or off for most of the time.  Finally I had my paper maps.  My decision to navigate in this way meant that I was not worrying too much about charging devices or having 4G – all I needed to do was keep a supply of AA batteries.

Red Rock wildlife

I stopped at a bridge over the Red Rock River to have a drink and some food.  There were birds, swallows I think, swooping around and it was pretty enjoyable to just chill and watch the wildlife.  After ten minutes or so I set off south again.Perhaps my own internal navigation system had reset but I remember having it in my head that I should have taken a left turn to Lakeview a lot earlier.  I felt that I was going too far south.  My backstop was the dotted red/black line on my ACA map.  It just did not feel right.  So I backtracked all the way to the bridge where I had been watching the birds.  I thought that maybe the trail to Lakeview went due east from there?  Of course one of the boards said Lakeview.  However on the map I had to go south for maybe 3 miles.  So I stuck to the cues and rode back up the trail for a second time and kept going south until sure enough I met the correct junction which directed me to Lakeview.  It also directed me to some of the lumpiest gravel that I had experienced so far.  The ‘gravel’ was more like rock and it was just draggy enough to be on the wrong side of flat.  So this was going to be how the pain was ratcheted up a notch today.  I used the Alphabet game and only looking a few yards ahead at a time to wind down the miles towards Lakeviw as all the time the ‘gravel’ jostled me up and down on the saddle.  Funny how what looked like a fairly innocuous ten miles or so would turn out to be one of the hardest sections of trail for me.

the nasty gravel before Lakeview

Eventually I arrived at the quiet Lakeview and the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge HQ.  There I used their toilet and refilled my 3 water bottles with some beautiful, clean and clear water from a faucet.  My planned campsite was at Upper Red Rock Lake but when I saw where it was and took in how calm a day it was I declined.  It would have been hellish camping down there in the damp grass beside the reeds and rushes.  I quickly decided to fuel up on food that was meant for evening and push on over the Red Rock Pass into Idaho and aim for a camp somewhere near Highway 20.  This was only an extra 30 miles which would make for a 90 mile day.  My head, legs and lungs were all in good shape for this, all I had to do was get myself ‘comfortably numb’ with some painkillers first.

roadworks near Lakeview

The route took a bit of a right angled bend to the north just past the lake and then another one to head east again.  I now found myself riding parallel to the spectacular Centennial Mountains where every now and then I could make out tracks and roads heading up to what I can only guess were very remote cabins on this, the Montana/Idaho border.  The climb to Red Rock Pass was clearly visible and went past a farm to the right before heading into the trees for the last few hundred feet.  I enjoyed it and absolutely horsed it up to the Forest Service noticeboard in time to ask a couple if they would mind taking a photo of me.  This was one of the few times I had my photo taken and it did feel a bit weird as I did not really know what to do! 

Red Rock Pass

The ride down from this pass was exhilarating, especially as I knew that I had now made it through Montana.  Sawtelle Peak with its TV & radio masts looked a bit out of place as I continued my descent to the Red Rock RV and Camping Ground.  This was still too early a place to stop so I kept going with a wee detour to a summer camp(?) where I was able to get some water but no food.  I didn’t hang around there as it was full of clean, respectable looking parents and their children about to have a party.  They did not need a hungry, feral biker spoiling things.

Clouds, lots of clouds

I sensed more than knew that I was heading parallel to Highway 20 and would soon reach Sawtelle Resort.  As soon as I hit the pavement I realised that this place was jumping!  I was going to be very, very lucky to find somewhere quiet to camp.  I started asking at places round about the gas station with no luck at all.  One RV owner was keen to point out to me that the area I had come into was not for campers and if I went any further I was going to get into trouble.

He then lightened up and suggested that I try at the Chinese Restaurant but when I asked they had just sold their last bed.  There was one big complex with a line of cars at the entrance so I biked past them.  The girl at reception gave me a lovely welcome and soon had me sorted out with a camp pitch, including full use of the resort for $20.  By this time I was so relieved it took me a lot of effort not to want to give her a big hug, I don’t think she would have appreciated it.

So I pitched my tent next to a nice couple from Arizona who were touring on the coolest Harley-Davidson hog + trailer I have ever seen.  That night I had beers and a massive three course dinner in the Sawtelle Resort bar whilst watching…  The Tour de France.  Made me realise that I’d had an easy day.

 

Lima to Sawtelle Resort, 90 miles, 3223 foot of ascent, 10 hours (8 riding + 2 hours stopped)

A Teacher trying to Divide

Monday 22nd July

sunrise as I leave Grant, thanks Mike & Barbara

I left in the cool of morning around 6am after a very comfortable night and pedalled with some trepidation towards Medicine Lodge Road and the Tendoy & Beaverhead Mountain Ranges – the view was intimidating.  Although not a local to this part of Montana I have been around mountains and their weather long enough to know that a storm was coming today.  The clouds, the wind, the light and the fact that my ACA map told me ‘Next 47 miles are very remote.’ all pointed to this.  In actual fact the approach to Medicine Lodge-Sheep Creek Divide at 8000 feet went quite well except for the steady build up of storm clouds throughout the morning.  

on Medicine Lodge Road
Bannack Road in good conditions

Bannack Road is an infamous section of the Divide that I was going to traverse today.   Al later told me that he got quite ‘emotional’ for about 4 miles where he had to pretty much drag his bike through the peanut butter mud.  I was in no doubt how fortunate I was to be riding it in pretty much perfect conditions.  The trail went on and on until near the summit I had no choice but to get off and push.  By this point in my ride I had a good idea that once my climbing speed dropped to below 4mph it was more efficient to get off and push anyway.  Getting off and pushing gives the muscles a chance to rest, or change movement as well as the important pressure off my butt.

The Bannack Road shot

At the top of this Divide crossing the view freaked me out and I felt very, very small and exposed.  To my left electricity lines stretched away into the distance as far as I could see and in my opinion there was no way the route went that way.  To my right the trail looped downwards and then around to a flat where I appeared to be surrounded by mountains and the growing menace of a storm.  Everywhere I looked was the same:open, exposed, gravel and no shelter.  So on the descent and traverse across this flat I made stuff up like stopping at a cattle guard to spice things up a little!  The distances were such that I was unable to discern whether the tiny slivers of trail heading into the distance were going up, down or level.  All I knew was that I needed to go the right way and go now.  This feeling of being an insignificant speck on the canvas of the wilderness was another aspect of riding the Great Divide that I had looked forward to.

summit of Medicine Lodge- Sheep Creek Divide

Eventually the canyon started to descend towards Big Sheep Creek Road.  Unfortunately the electrical storm had kicked off and there was a really strong wind blowing back up it.  This meant that I suffered the headwind when I should have been cruising downhill.  Each time the thunder roared and the lightning flashed I thought ‘Thank fuck I kept moving today.’  The rock walls reverberated and it all felt exciting but not too serious.  An extra hour in bed and things would have felt a bit more exciting up there in the thunder, lightning, cloud and most likely hailstones.

the canyon where I had to pedal downhill into a headwind

Soon I started to see traffic ahead in the distance which meant that the frontage road was coming up.  I thoroughly enjoyed the 7 mile ride into Lima as it allowed me to push the pedals but look around enough to see the storm as it clattered around where I had been a couple of hours ago.  I pulled into the motel, booked a room, dumped my stuff and headed across to the Gas Station to resupply for the next two days.  The store was very well stocked with trail food, ingredients for dinner, some more diaper cream and painkillers.  I did however pass on the rifles, pistols and ammunition that was also on sale.

the storm nears Lima

After a shower I headed across to Jan’s Cafe for dinner where I again bumped into Brian and Neville who had also decided to stay in Lima at the motel but camping.  The coffee, burger & chips and the cake at Jan’s were delicious and went a long way towards replenishing the lost calories.  In the matter of two weeks my food choice was no longer based on taste or price but more on calorific value.  

Another early night.  The sores by now were open and raw.  Time to shut off and make peace with the trail before the morning.

Grant to Lima, 70 miles, 3484 foot of ascent, 9 hours (7 hours riding + 2 hours stopped)

A Teacher trying to Divide

A frosty start out from the WRC

Friday 19th July

I had a long lie and went across to the ‘Club for breakfast.  Breakfast was served in a small room between the bar and the hotel part.  I shared a booth with the young rider I met near I-15 yesterday.  He told me that he had been given the phone number of some people in Clark who let riders camp on their lawn.  Multiple refills of coffee got me woken up and ready for a long day or R & R.

Later that morning Susan, one of the women who works at the ‘Club sat down with me and listened to my story.  She passed no judgement about my reasons for stopping here for a couple of days.  I would imagine over the years she has seen it all from riders on the Tour Divide and the GDMBR.  In June this place must be absolutely jumping with racers from dawn till dusk and beyond!  Susan listened carefully to what sort of daily distances I had been doing then she helped me put together a five day plan to get me to Yellowstone National Park where I would have to make a final decision.  If I left on Sunday I could ride 68, 68, 50, 69 and 62 mile days which was a more modest target that should in theory mean less time in the high temperatures on my Brooks saddle.  It was so cool to be sitting with this unassuming lady with so much knowledge of the riding ahead of me as well as the roads, trails, ranches and towns.  Everyone looked after me well during my stay here but Susan treated me with extra calm patience.

In the mid morning I took a walk up to the grocery store to get some food for lunch and for something to do.  The store had the usual spread of carbs/sugar/fat for riders and plenty of fishing and hunting tackle.  The woman at the counter insisted that I signed the book for riders on the Divide.  This was another way to keep up with loose acquaintances on their way South.

After lunch I met Tom, the owner of The Wise River Club.  He was from Balloch, near Glasgow originally and as a young man had trained as a baker.  Tom proudly told me that this had allowed him to come across to the States and travel all over whilst working.  I didn’t pry too much but judging by looks and accents there were a couple of generations of extended family here too.  He told me that he was hosting some War Veterans this weekend.  These men who had given way too much serving their country were spending a few days fishing and the week was going to be finished off at the ‘Club with a big meal and party tonight.  The way that Tom spoke about all of this showed how much he loved his new home and also how much he had become part of it.

In the afternoon the realisation that my ride might be over came tumbling back.  I simply had to speak to Rachel as I knew that would help.  Again and again and again her phone rang out with no answer.  Wrapped up in my old little, self-indulgent world I couldn’t visualize why this might be the case so I pinged Al a text to ask her to phone me.  Al knew something was up too.  As his reply went something along lines of ‘If you need to rant, or download just get in touch again.’  Al was able to empathise because he has been here twice: once on a successful run in 2012 and another attempt in 2015.  I still remember the first time I heard him talk about the Divide a few years back.  He was explaining the different ways to behave if you were being mauled by a brown bear or a grizzly bear!  Al then casually mentioned some of the distances that he had been covering.  I think I asked him about what kind of road bike he was on.  Then Al explained that these 100, 120 mile days were on a mountain bike.  By the time 2015 had come around I was fully focused on his dot on Trackleaders.  Me and my family made a special care package of some bars, gels and a bear talisman  for Al and mailed it to a US Post Office en route.  I did not have a clue about the route and I think Al had ridden through the town before the package even arrived! 

When Rachel phoned she was pretty pissed off.  She thought that there was something wrong.  The SPOT hadn’t gone off so I wasn’t badly injured or in an emergency situation.  Her phone had shown loads of missed calls.  Then a text from Al asking her to contact me.  Over the years we have been together Rachel has put up with me being away doing my own thing a lot.  Personal trips to the mountains, guiding clients in the mountains, training & assessments in the mountains…  you get the picture?  She deals with it in her own way whilst caring for our family and trying to have a life of her own.  When I am away Rachel works on the principle of ‘No news, is good news.’  By the time I did speak to her I was not feeling sorry for myself and simply told her how hard it was, how hot it was and how much my arse hurt – Aw, didums.

I went across to the ‘Club for dinner.  The bar was absolutely rammed with folk.  The Vets were back from their last day of fishing.  Tom was on the mic telling them how proud he was to be hosting them.  When this Scotsman led ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ the atmosphere was electric.  From 1988 to 1989 I lived in the States so I understood how important this evening was.  I enjoyed being there to experience it and have this insight to how war veterans were treated here at The Wise River Club.

Nowhere, 0 miles, 0 feet of ascent, All day

Saturday 20th July

After a slightly more restless night I have woken feeling a lot more positive about my plans.  This morning I will get a few things done to prepare the next part of the ride.  Susan had already phoned ahead to the Siebert’s and got me sorted with somewhere to stay in Clark.  The weather forecast looks as if the wind was to be variable over the next few days, but perhaps not as strong.  If I can get everything done by early afternoon.  That will mean an early dinner and early to bed.

After breakfast I spoke with Trish who lived in a cabin behind the ‘Club where she worked.  As a younger woman Trish was a cowgirl/guide packer and was ready to tell me all sorts of stories about trails and cabins in the Pioneer Mountains.  The rest of the day blurred into the routine of hanging out under the porch out of the sun with my phone on charge, looking at the ACA maps, planning ahead and regularly applying clotrimazole, diaper cream and taking pain killers.  Living the Dream!

Nowhere, 0 miles, 0 feet of ascent, All day

Sunday 21st July

Susan warned me that one would be enough!

Not too early a start because I wanted to say goodbye and thank you to the great folks at The Wise River Club who had looked after me so well since Thursday.

Leaving the ‘Club

A beautiful ride today with a real sense of beauty, space and commitment.  The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway was a perfect way to get back into it all again after two days off.  At one point on the pavement climb I did start to sweat a bit and of course that started the pain all over again.  Sitting did not really seem to be the problem.  The issue was once I started to get hot and sweaty the sores got aggravated.  A couple of wee stops to enjoy the view and read the interpretation boards describing the geology helped a lot.  I remember looking at one section of forest that had been devastated by beetles which unfortunately are thriving in the higher average temperatures. 

Signs of having been on the road a while!

The section around Crystal Park was lovely as the road snaked up to 7900 feet and of course the long descent which was according to my journal ‘big, swooping and downhill!’  It was also pretty cool to see the Maverick Ski Field as I passed.  I then had to work a bit into a headwind.  This is where the stubby aero bars I fitted really came into their own as I could comfortably hold a low position and spin a good gear.  Importantly it also let me lift my rear end off the seat a bit.

Maverick Ski Field

Shortly after Polaris the GDMBR route meets and shares the line of the TransAmerica for a short while.  The heat was blistering by now and all round all I could see was space, heat haze, gravel tracks and sagebrush, a lot of sagebrush.  There was a lot of traffic coming out of Bannack State Park.  Trish had told me yesterday that there was an annual fair at the Park where people dressed up in authentic clothing, sold produce and put on a show.  The detour and fact that it was 3pm convinced me not to head east to the Fair.

Fire station near Polaris

Heading south again I was out of the wind but now I had to calmly deal with the pure, straight line of FR 1827 as it headed south over Bannack Bench and down to Clark.  I knew there was some remote riding coming up in the next day or so and the next 12 miles gave me a little preview.  Clark shimmered in the distance like some oasis as I kept a steady rhythm on the cranks.  Two pickup trucks passed me on the way.  The drivers were careful not to kick up too much dust which I appreciated.

after Bannack State Park

Grant is one really quiet, deserted and run down place.  I met up with two riders at the school, beside the little Wendy House where Mary Collier slept in ‘Ride the Divide’.  Little did I know that further down the trail I would get to know Neville & Brian a lot better.  For now we exchanged a few words and they showed me where the water facet was round the back.  They then headed south for a few more miles to camp on Medicine Lodge Road.

Grant shimmers in the distance

It took me a couple of attempts to find Mike & Barbara’s place and I really should have gone with my gut reaction that it would be the nice red house that I first saw.  They were true ‘Trail Angels’ who ask for nothing but give their lawn space, water and their toilet if needed.  Writing this in the middle of the COVID pandemic when every day I read about people in the UK trashing the countryside as LockDown eases makes me wonder about such humbling kindness being shown to complete strangers as much in the future…  Barbara treated me to two huge pieces of cake and showed me a comfy recliner chair where I could enjoy it in the early evening sun.  They reminded me a lot of my own parents with their kindness.

Camping at Barbara & Mike’s place

My air bed is now just a thin sheet.  Tonight I will wear some extra clothes and just sleep directly on the floor of my tent as Mike & Barbara’s lawn seems soft enough.  I asked for some hot water to prepare my noodles with cheese & meat so that I would have enough gas for a coffee early in the morning before what looks to be a super-remote ride to Lima.

Wise River to Grant, 70 miles, 3663 foot of ascent, 8 hours (6 hours riding + 2 hours stopped)

A Teacher trying to Divide

A welcome ice-cream or three!

Thursday 18th July

I spent ages trying to ride out of Butte.  On the way I stumbled past the KOA campground that I couldn’t find last night!  I passed a strip mall so I was able to go to Walmart to get sleeping shorts and replace the sandals I lost a million miles ago on the descent from Red Meadow Lake.

My saddle sores were pretty bad last night and despite an early start the pain was rising in time with the sun.

I can’t deny that I felt pretty down about this unplanned injury.  All the months and months of training rides, planning & preparation and excitement was being slowly destroyed.  Each side was red, raw, inflamed and there were signs of infection too…  I started chugging Ibuprofen every three hours or so.

In my haste to make good time I pushed on too far on Highway 2 before the railroad trestle and had to lose all the height I had gained!  But I reckon it is always better to make uphill mistakes as you fix them by riding downhill.  Back in the groove I enjoyed the steady climb on FR 85 up to a 7200 foot Divide crossing where I was rewarded with views across to the Pioneer Mountains to the west of the Scenic Byway.  

Looking towards The Pioneer Mountains

Then the wheels fell off my bogey.  Within the space of less than 4 miles I had to push 4 times.  I just couldn’t bear the pain of seated climbing in the heat anymore.  This was ‘My Time’…  This was what I had signed up for.  Time to take a look at the map.  I had planned to ride through Wise River, picking up supplies on the way and then choose from one of the many campgrounds on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway.  It was devastating to realise that was not going to be the case.  I was gutted to be let down in this way.  Not my strength, or endurance, or navigation, or bike-wrangling skills but the cumulative effect of the heat, the pressure and I suspect a slightly raised saddle just outside of Fernie.  A short stop for cinnamon bar, a drink and some more Ibuprofen.  It was so peaceful except for the birds who sang for me up there in the mountains whilst my emotions were bursting.

I-15 came into view as I started my descent.  So did Fleecer Ridge – another Great Divide landmark.  One that I was not going to get near in this weakened state.  Instead I went into robot-mode and took the 18 miles of frontage and highway to rejoin the main route before Wise River.  The ride alongside the river was beautiful and I soon pulled into the famous Wise River Club.  I organised my camping fee at the bar and headed out back to find a sheltered spot from the wind that had picked up.  The young guy who passed me on the descent to I-15 arrived and set up next to me in the shelter of the barn.  When I asked him how Fleecer was in that wind he replied – ‘It sucked’.  We shared a table for our dinner and beer.  Then Michelle & Marty arrived.  Even Steve who I had not seen since Fernie.  He could tell by my reaction that I was surprised to see him.  I couldn’t bear to tell any of them how I was doing, not right there in the buzzing welcome atmosphere of the bar, it could wait.

Camping at The Wise River Club

Butte to Wise River, 56 miles, 3600 foot of ascent, 9 hours (6 hours riding + 3 hours stopped)

A Teacher trying to Divide

Old Fire Station, Butte, MT

Wednesday 17th July

I woke at 6:00am, quietly said goodbye to Doug and headed out into the early morning heat.  A few yards up the street there was a cool cafe where I treated myself to coffee, granola and some pancakes to takeaway for the road.  Yesterday the navigation had been pretty involved once we hit Helena.  I knew that once I was established on Park Avenue, then West Main Street it would be fine.  A careful combination of the pink line on my Garmin and the cues on my ACA map soon had me along Grizzly Gulch then cresting the rise at the junction of FR 4000 and FR 137.  This was my ninth day on the trail so I was finding it straightforward to spin the pedals, disengage my brain and look around at the forest, wildlife, mountains or rural settlements.  By now I also had a set up on my handlebars that worked: a packable backpack for resupply was stuffed in the hoop of my bars along with a windproof gilet and a spare 29er tube in a plastic bag so it didn’t get abraded.  My arm warmers never stayed on for long once I had warmed up and they were secured under an elastic which stretched from one brake lever mount to the other.  The elastic also held my ACA map, folded to show the morning’s route.  In my little yellow stem bag were quick to access LaraBars or other snacks.  Last but not least I had my bear spray on the right hand side of my bars  where I thought that I would reach it quickly…

cockpit set up on my BigBro29er

I hadn’t really read up too much on the section from FR 4009 down to Basin but started to see comments like ‘steep and rough’, or the alternate avoids some of the most challenging terrain along the route.  Lava Mountain Trail #244.  TBH I thought that was in New Mexico!  So I climbed, then climbed and climbed some more up to above Park Lake Campground.  At the cattle guard I met a couple who stopped to speak with me and give me some water.  Everyday I met folk who lived here who were proud of the nature, the history and were keen to share it and their hospitality – thanks.  The advice they gave me was that the route the GDMBR was taking was going to be pretty damn tough – I was excited by this.  So after a snack I took at right and began a fast descent on dry, rocky and loose terrain which I absolutely loved.  After all this is what I had signed up for wasn’t it?  The half dozen or so books I had read about the Great Divide all told how tough and unforgiving the route was but they also mentioned the rewards of the downhills.  Soon I started to encounter signs and cues for snowmobile tracks.  These orange diamonds were familiar from my traverse of Richmond Peak so I knew times were going to get interesting soon.  

The Lava Mountain Trail

For the next two or three, maybe I felt like I was trying to ride up The Coir Lair in Torridon except it had been pumped up on steroids and then forested before becoming home to grizzly bears.  Ok, nothing like Scotland at all then.  Anyway I hate that sort of comparison, best to live in the moment, where you are but I am just trying to paint my picture that day to any of my friends from Scotland who can actually be arsed reading this..  The trail was gouged out of the mountain into a gully filled with rocks and tree branches.  I could see tire tracks and could only imagine racing up here in the dark on the TD.  There were some sections I could not ride up no matter how hard I tried and I can try pretty hard!  My senses were on a razor’s edge as this was clearly grizzly territory and there was not another rider around.  The route was undulating at the 7000 feet mark and no matter how closely I looked at the contours on my Garmin I couldn’t see how it could keep doing this for so long.  Further down the Divide when I spoke to other riders about The Lava Mountain Trail they told me they had either avoided it, or hated it.  For me this was one of the most exciting, enjoyable and challenging sections of trail that I have ridden on my bike so far.  Absolutely amazing!  All too soon the descent burst into a clearing where I caught sounds and movement of what was most likely a startled animal.  Should we be here doing that?  I tried in my preparation for the ride to understand the terrain I was going into and where I would be on the food/remoteness chain.  Some might argue we shouldn’t be tearing around the trails on mountain bikes, ATVs or even running.  However I believe that if we show the right respect, preparation and behaviour it is a rewarding experience which causes little harm.

after Lava Mountain Trail, approaching Basin

The trail now approached FR 175 and started to look a bit more like what I was used to in the run down to a town.  The surface was smoother.  The bends were more open and there was more and more evidence of mining work with fabulous names such as Morning Glory Mine.

I made it into Basin for lunch at about 1:30pm.  There was nobody on the street and the whole place seemed deserted until I spotted two loaded bikes outside The Silver Saddle Bar & Cafe.  When I walked in the couple were eating at a booth and seemed comfortable so I did not disturb them but took a seat over to the side on my own.  The soup was excellent.  I was left in peace and quiet to get out my map and start looking at the afternoon’s ride.  When I got my check I went over to pay and had the chance to speak to the couple of riders.  They were also heading south but perhaps not as far as Butte.  Little did I know that further down the trail I was to share beers, stories, food and good company with Marty and Michelle but for now we just wished one another all the best.

The trail went under Interstate 15 and then ran parallel for a wee bit.  Early afternoon the traffic was quiet so I found a nice spot and phoned my parents back home in Inverness, Scotland.  Apart from the encounter with the grizzly cub on day 1 I told them about the magnificent scenery, how tough it was and the cool people that I met.  Their main concern seemed to be me riding all on my own – which was actually one of the attractions for me!  Some draggy pavement took me west for a while before I began the gradual climb up Kit Carson Road heading south to my next Continental Divide crossing.  The disused mine workings and the silence let my mind go free to imagine cowboys on horses roaming around here on Kit Carson Road over a hundred years ago.

on Kit Carson Road

The crossing was pretty chilled and to be honest I do not remember too much about the descent but I do remember meeting Marty & Michelle near to Lowland Campground having a discussion about whether to stop there, or push onto Butte.  I didn’t hang about for long as I was starting to get conscious of the time, must have been nearly 5pm or something.

dusk approaches and some cool cloud formations

I am glad that it has taken me nearly a year to write about my ride on the Great Divide because I have had time to reflect on many of the experiences.  Every now and then I am truly grateful for the seamless, effortless ease of a supermarket home delivery to our house compared to pulling into a campsite tired, wet and not feeling like cooking up some instant mashed potato on my stove.  Or to realise that arriving in a biggish town at dusk in Montana is no different to riding into an Easter Ross town in Scotland as the morlocks emerge!  I saw syringes by the road, people off their faces on the street or locals who could barely string two words together to tell me where the campsite was.  You can work out for yourselves what I saw where!

Eddy’s Motel

I never found the KOA campsite and stayed at Eddy’s Motel right across from Safeway.  That night I gorged on armfuls of carbohydrates, fat and sugar washed down with a well deserved beer.

Helena to Butte, 77 miles, 7661 foot of ascent, 13 hours (10 hours riding + 3 hours stopped)

A Teacher trying to Divide

Heading out from Barbara & John’s place

Tuesday 16th July

Doug and I had a leisurely start to the day as John had promised to deliver his pancake mix to Joe & Liliana at the big cabin so they could make pancakes for everyone.  I brewed some fresh coffee and took it down for the four of us to enjoy together.  Late last night a couple of big Dutch riders with lots of kit had arrived and pitched their tent so we had to dodge around them a little bit.  After saying goodbye to Joe & Liliana, Doug and I headed back up to clean our wee cabin.  We swung our legs over the top tube of our bikes and headed down to the T-junction.  There we were greeted by Barbara and John walking the dog.  I was so pleased to meet this amazing lady and to thank her for what she had started here.  Barbara played it down low and simply reminded me that the best way to thank her and John was to ‘Pay it forward’.  

‘Paying it forward’

This morning was the first morning where I purposefully left with another rider to ride together for the whole day.  The Great Divide made me feel tiny, alone and at the same time empowered.  I enjoyed the time and space to ride on my own, in my own way.  At the same time it was cool to share the trail with another like minded rider, such as Curtis down into Whitefish five days ago.  Doug and I spent the day talking about our families, music, our student days and our love of the great outdoors.  Doug was six or seven years olders than me and although his family were ‘grown up’ we had a lot in common.  The conversations were fun and easy.

Passing the Empire Mine

We passed the disused Empire Mine then made the long, steady climb up to Continental Divide crossing #3.  The navigation at the top towards Ophir Creek Road & Hope Creek was intricate and kept me on my toes using the compass function on my Garmin to make sure we were heading south and not west.  Doug was perfectly happy using the ACA app but I needed to see that virtual magnetic needle!  

Doug very happy on his Salsa, Spearfish

Every climb is rewarded with a descent on the Great Divide and once we released the brakes from the top it was clear that I was not going to catch Doug on his Salsa Spearfish.  An amazing bike which morphed from a solid bikepacking rig for the ups into a slick, bouncy machine for the downs!  He also used to race…

The next section seemed to be downhill all the way to Blossburg and the railroad tracks.  We kept pushing.  The plan was to stop over in Helena.  Take a motel.  Chill.  Laundry.  Beers.  Dinner.  The heat was incredible and that familiar ‘ring sting’ started by 2pm.  Hey ho.  

Having a blast!

When Doug and I hit Hwy 12 there were some major roadworks for the final 8 miles into town.  We pretty much seemed to be on the wrong side of the road, sheltered by traffic cones whilst all the cars going the same way as us were on the other side of the trucks, loaders and tar machines.

Once we got into town we found Great Divide Cyclery where the guys where were super friendly.  They helped me get a rounded out SPD cleat replaced and some new bottles with cages to load up on fluids even more.  They also recommended a motel just along the road and a couple of places to eat and have beer – Lewis & Clarks Tap Rooms.  At the motel Doug and I took time to unpack what needed washed then bundle it all into one machine.  Doug took time for a phone call home whilst waiting for it to finish off I took a bath to try and ease my seating arrangements.

The bikes at motel shot

Later that evening it felt weird to walk to get some dinner and find a rammed brewery.  We had a couple of beers there, I am sure Doug would have liked to have stayed (he was not riding the next day) but I had an early start in order to reach Butte.

 

Lost Llama Lodge to Helena 42 miles, 3434 feet of ascent, 6 hours (5 hours riding + 1 hour stopped)

A Teacher trying to Divide

Leaving Ovando

Monday 15th July

 

What was the Jedi-mind trick that was played on me yesterday afternoon?  

There I sat on the porch of the Ovando Inn with cans of Coke, candy bars, sandwiches and potato chips strewn around about me.  The owner came out and asked me if I was feeling better now. Where are you headed tomorrow? I did not know. She had a nice room left at a good price.  The lady left me there for a while, alone with the earworm that had started burrowing into my head. The idea of stopping here and not having to endure the heat anymore was appealing.  Even more appealing was to sleep in a proper bed! I think it must have been the food buzz that finally did it. I got up, walked up to the counter and said I’ll take the room please. Just like Obi-Wan’s trick with the Star Troopers I didn’t even know it had happened!  She had a friend with a place up on the Divide south of Stemple Pass.  She could phone ahead. I was then told that Rob was already heading there after a night in Lincoln.  This did all mean that the next two days were mapped out quite nicely.  

Realisation…last night I wrote in my journal ‘…if that isn’t kept at bay then my Ride is over.’  I was referring to a saddle sore on my left butt that was now looking to be infected. Paracetamol and ibuprofen only seemed to work until after lunch.  Once the heat of the day was at its’ peak the last two or three hours were getting pretty nasty.

sunrise as I leave Ovando

After a cold breakfast I made an early start at 0608.  The silence was incredible, nothing was moving at that time except for the cattle at the side of the road.  I could see the sun slowly rising over the hills and had some fun catching my silhouette in a photo. Just like every morning on the route my legs felt strong, my head was hungry for the miles and the bike just did its thing.  Each night I checked, cleaned and lubed my bike.  In return each morning it let me confidently set off.  The bike I was riding was a Brother Cycles BigBro29er. I had bought this rigid frame from Will & James two and a half years ago with a mind to slowly build it up ready for a ride like this.  Al had recommended to go with 2 by 11 as well as keeping it simple with mechanical disk brakes and straight bars. He knew well what I was up to and I remember him saying to get 2.2’ tires as you will need them sometime won’t you..?  Me and the bike then put in hundreds and hundreds of miles riding on the trails, tracks and roads of the Scottish Highlands in preparation.

washboard

Three weeks before I left for Banff I had the bike completely serviced by Nash from RideCairngorm in Boat of Garten.  His expertise and knowledge of North America was incredible, he even suggested not to get some components at too high a spec as that might make them difficult to source, replace or make in some remote workshop in British Columbia. These training rides had been punishing on the bike and Nash, Al and I laughed when we saw the old free hub – it looked like a shark had taken a chunk out of it!  The body of my rear Avid BB7 had disintegrated too so it had to be replaced too. The bill was big but my confidence in the bike as I wheeled it out was worth every pound. Not once did the bike let me down on the trip, or since.

Lindsay from BaseCampBikes here in Grantown on Spey also helped me with spares, tools and clothing for the trip. In the lead up to my trip I was in his shop every other day.  Lindsay went to a lot of bother ordering in Giro clipless shoes, a favourite multitool of his and a synthetic insulated riding jacket. The shoes were perfect, perhaps a little cool in the morning but they were supportive, comfortable and dried quickly whenever they got wet.

Finally I upgraded some of my bike luggage at BackCountryScot with Andy.  His knowledge of bikepacking is second to none and he gave me all the time and space I needed in order to decide whether I did need a new Revelate seatpost bag or not.  Andy was right. Along with an 8 litre Terrapin drybag this gave me a system that was effective and simple to use.

approaching Huckleberry Pass

Although the sun was coming up I still crunched through one or two frozen puddles on Dry Gulch Road on the way to Highway 200.  After the Blackfoot River there is a section of trail that is arrow straight, heading due east. At one point I looked around and realised that this view used to be a desktop image on my computer!  The climb up to and over Huckleberry Pass was pretty mellow, one of my favourites. Forest Road 4106 then stayed in the shade for most of the time all the way to Highway 200 before Lincoln. As I approached town I took care to not pass any of the three places I needed to visit : Post Office, grocery store and diner.

I pulled up at Lincoln US Mail, parked my bike and proceeded to strip off some of my dusty clothes with no inhibitions at all.  Leg warmers went home to Scotland, as did my Patagonia windstopper gilet and some extra gloves along with some other dusty and smelly pieces.  I can’t imagine the reaction from the family when it arrived!  Next the grocery store where due to hunger I was wasting an awful lot of time going round in circles.  My resupply strategy was to put my purchases in a neat, 10 litre packable backpack and wear this. I tended to buy potato chips, Idahoan instant potato mash, tomatoes (lots of juice) and fruit.  Mosquitos were starting to be a bit of a pain when camping at night and I did not seem to have a lot of clothes with long sleeves.  What I needed was a shirt. What I did not expect was to find ‘the shirt’ in a Vintage Clothing Shop in Montana. For US $5 I got myself a comfy and cool shirt that must have been fashionable in the ‘70s.  Now the best bit…the diner.  The time was only around 1100 so I wanted this meal to fill me up and sustain me for the climb up and over Stemple.  I ordered a strawberry milkshake. A huge salad with chicken, a burger and some fruit dessert pie. Then I carefully balanced it all on the bars of my bike and headed across the road to the town park.  There were benches and tables so it was a very comfortable lunch too.

 

So with typical bad-timing I was about to set off on a 16 mile climb of 2000ft at the hottest part of the day.  I told myself it was only half of the Burma Road route I did from the house in May. The first half was pretty dusty but still enjoyable.  As the road started to get steeper I caught up with Florian, from Switzerland. I had met him earlier in Ferndale where I bought some delicious lemonade from two wee boys who had a stall by the road.  He told me that yes, he had circled back after getting some cash and had some of their lemonade. We both agreed that as well as the big sweeping vistas, it was the unexpected interactions that also make the ride.  Florian had a fancy belt-driven bike with two of the biggest water bottles I have ever seen on the handlebars of a bike. He told me he was dropping down off of the Great Divide route to interview folk for a documentary he had been commissioned to make. 

These boys made great lemonade!

My witching hour arrived.  Despite an open, strong mind and skinny, strong legs the pain in my butt started to ramp up.  I could usually do a wee dance on my Brooks C-17 saddle to relocate my rear into a more comfortable position for a while.  When that didn’t work if the grade was steep enough I just got off and walked. It was reassuring that despite this necessary tactic I was never that far from Florian on the climb.

at Stemple Pass

When we got to Stemple there were one or two 4x4s and another two riders.  Florian and I took a couple of photos of one another and said our goodbyes as he was dropping into Helena on Highway 279 for food and beers.  Another storm was on the way as I headed across to Marsh Creek Road.  I knew that I had to execute good navigation from now on in order to make it to Barbara Nye’s place without any fuss.  As I climbed back up to another saddle I rode past two hikers. This really put my bear phobia into perspective. The girls gave me a wave and we then carried on our ways.  I sensed the thunder before I heard it. There was nothing else for it but to keep moving and stay focused on the correct road over the pass and south west. Finally my exciting descent through the canyon started at precisely the same time as the rain.  There was no way I was stopping I knew that if I kept pedalling I could outrun the storm and not get caught in it, up here at 7000ft. Marsh Creek Canyon was a blur. As was the gust of wind that nearly took me out on the cattle guard at mile 84.7 on the map!  I could see banner flags and a wooden building up in the distance, this had to be the Lost Llama Lodge. The final blur of the day was Doug jumping out in front of me to say ‘You made it man, now leave your bike, it’s time for dinner.’

lower section of Canyon Creek

John came to the door and gave me a friendly smile as he shook my hand.  Barbara and John have opened their home and their hearts to riders on the Great Divide.  Originally Barbara started as an engineer then moved to Canyon Creek. She started off by giving passing riders and hikers water.  Then let them overnight in the plot by the barn. Slowly a lodge, then cabins were built and made available. .They ask for no payment, or even barter (I brought some biscuits so as not to arrive empty handed), what they want guests to do is ‘Pay Forward’.  Maybe do something a bit like this at home. Perhaps just give some food to someone who has none. Or maybe just be nice to someone who is not having a good time right now. The feeling of calm kindness with no expectation from me was incredible, something I still feel even almost a year later.  

Lost Llama Lodge resident

I was told to go and help myself to a beer from the porch before I took a seat in the dining room.  I was introduced to Aunt Barbara(?) and another two NOBO riders from Denver : Joe & Liliana. Before we started John told me there was only one rule – Empty Plates!  That was not going to be difficult. The six of us had a wonderful meal of pasta and a tomato/vegetable sauce. John’s quiet and strong way made sure that each of us felt welcome and listened to around the table.  His knowledge of the Divide route sounded encyclopedic as he described particular rocks and fences to look out for in The Basin for Diagnus Well. The Basin seemed a million miles away right now. Doug and I hesitantly mentioned that there still seemed to be a lot of ‘up trail’ before Helena.  John’s advice was simple ‘Stay on the Route!’ Barbara herself was not around as she was attending a Fire Service Meeting ‘in town’.

After dinner we all headed out to retrieve the big tent that the storm had flipped and then thrown across the stock fence before I arrived.  This was supposed to be Doug’s place for the night, with Joe & Liliana in the larger cabin at the bottom of the field. The tent was heavy. The inch and a half struts had taken a pounding.  Each of them had to be carefully released from a ratchet system which required a lot of teamwork. Once that job was done it was getting near time to turn in for the evening. There was a little bunk bed in my cabin so I said to Doug that he should just sleep in there with me.  The cabin had electricity, a wee hob, lights, a radio and cupboards bursting with more food and beer or wine. All for us to take if we needed. We didn’t need anything so we didn’t.

Doug at our cabin at Barbara & John’s place

Another day ending with hospitality and satisfaction of riding a great route in good style.

Ovando Inn to Lost Llama Lodge 67 miles, 5842 feet of ascent, 12 hours (8 hours riding + 4 hours stopped)