Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Planning to wing it.

Make a plan, stick to the plan.  Our plan is to wing it.  

We left Seeley Lake after a rest day and started the 4th page of the mapset. 

Our plan was to ride about 45 miles to Big Nelson Campground. There was a big climb that started right after that.  We'd be fresh in the morning.  Easy day. 

Big Nelson CG was misnamed.  About 5 campsites, all full. Lots of private land around it, so we rode on. Up the big climb. Not so easy day. 

Near the top were a couple of spots that would have been okay if rain wasn't threatening.  But it was, so up we go.  Over the top and down halfway was Reservoir Lake with primitive camping.  But when we got there, we could not find a clear space big enough for a tent. 

At a loss, we opted to set up at a trailhead parking lot.  None of the horse manure on the ground was fresh so that was okay.  Mosquitos  were pretty bad though.   61 miles with 4400 vertical feet gained.  Not so easy day.  

Tents up and I took a look at the map.  The town of Lincoln was just 11 miles away and almost all downhill.  11 more miles or horse poop and mosquitos?  It took us less than 50 minutes to get to town.  GPS tells me I hit 40 mph on the way.  On a 60 pound bike on a 1-lane gravel road.  72 miles total, not so easy day. 

In Lincoln we got a mosquito-free hotel and headed across the street to a saloon where we stayed late making new friends and promising to return one day.  Keep in touch Ducky!

From Lincoln we headed toward Helena, the state capital.  Three big climbs, the first one included about a mile of pushing the bike up a steep hill.  Mercifully, no snow.  

But the calorie demand was high and by the top of the first climb we were low on food.  Five miles off the trail was a store in a little town of Canyon Creek.  Strong tailwind and mostly downhill, it was an easy ride.  

Too bad the store was closed on Monday. By now we were even lower on food.  Two more big climbs were out of the question so we took paved roads twenty miles into Helena.  

Only two days since our last day off and we were both ready for another one.  And you could do much worse than Helena.  Feels like a small town.  No city buses but there is a shuttle that'll take you to the top of the mountain bike trails just on the edge of town. This place might be in my top-five favorite cities.   

Make sure to check out the pictures from this trip 
Also, see where we are on the map 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Time Traveling


Both of us have noted the effect during our trip. We've been on this trail for 14 days but it seems much longer.  We struggle to recall some event that occurred long ago... but no, it was two days ago. 

Speculation to the cause?  Our senses are on high alert in bear country.  Our slow speed of travel allows us to take in so many more details than a person normally gets in the same amount of time.  Every bit of it is new and wondrous and hard to ignore.  

We will call this "the trip of a lifetime" not because it can only happen once in a lifetime but because in the 6-8 weeks we expect it to take it will generate a lifetimes worth of memories.  

Time travel is real. We're doing it. 

Make sure to check out the pictures from this trip HERE. 
Also, see where we are on the map HERE.

Friday, May 27, 2016

This is gonna hurt.

A day of hard pedaling got us to the town of Columbia Falls. There we paid too much for an average hotel room (as is the local tradition) and were able to do a much needed "washing of the clothes" ceremony.  

The next morning we headed out and passing on some nice camp sites, we pressed on a couple extra miles to land at a place called Fatty Creek Campground although Fatty Creek Mud Puddle might have also been appropriate. 

The next day:  Low on food, we deviated from the official route onto a highway that parallels the dirt roads.  This would take us to a store were we could resupply.  

Despite riding fast, we arrived at the store too late. It was only 9 AM but they were closed, having burned to the ground a week prior. 

Down the road was a restaurant but it was closed (and for sale). Across the street from that was a small poorly stocked convenience store were we microwaved a couple of frozen food-like items.  

After filling our bags with assorted calorie sources, we headed on down the road.  A half mile later was a restaurant not indicated on the map and despite having just "eaten," we pulled in for a proper meal. 

Then back on the trail.  It was early but we planned for an easy day so a place to camp was the next order. We looked at a few places before deciding.  The first was a Forest Service campground.  Nearly every space was reserved and each site was $15 per night.  

The next spot was a horse camp, with special considerations to keep the horses comfy.  Still a decent option for us, no one else was there and there are always some sites not big enough for a horse trailer.  We looked at these but they were no where near smooth or level enough for sleeping on the ground.  

Our last chance was another 5 or 29 miles up the trail. Clearwater lake campground.  A local had told us of a gate to keep cars out.  Past the gate was little more than a foot trail down a steep hill that ended on the shore of one of the most picturesque lakes I have ever camped next to.  

Basically just one campsite (and unoccupied), we quickly set up, and after taking in the wonderful sight for about 3 seconds, I took a nap in my tent.  Our planned "easy" day ended up being 38 miles with a lot of uphill. 

Maybe a day off is in order.  

We talked about it the night before.  "An easy day" we thought.  24 miles to town and get a room.  Showers, bar.   Easy day.  

First half is uphill, that might be tough.  Showers, bar.  Easy day.  

Might be some snow at the top.  We've dealt with that before.  Showers, bar.  Easy day.  

[the next day]
Ten miles up hill.  The trail would appear to flatten but still climbed at 3-4% grade. All the while making a 60 pound bike dance between the potholes and puddles.  60 pound bikes climb like lead zeppelins. 

Around 6200 feet above sea level; snow.  The trail is lined with trees and the shade allows snow to stay longer.  And still it goes up.  Riding isn't possible, now 60 pound bikes become crutches.  

Around 6500 feet above sea level, the snow is about 3 feet deep on the shady trail.  Mercifully, we are able to walk on top of it at times.   Once in a while I post hole into it.  Once I stopped sinking when the snow was over my knee.  The bike leaned over me like it wanted to help but it couldn't.  

Over a mile of that before the trail wound to the south side of the slope and gave us a break. Just briefly.  Turning back was considered and dismissed:  there was nothing back there. We didn't have enough food to make it back to the last place. There is a motel and showers and a bar ahead (we think though we couldn't call ahead; no cell service and it's a holiday weekend, so bit of a crap shoot).  

We press on. My legs are bleeding from scraping the snow (I'm wearing shorts because of the climb). 

The trail splits.  With heavy snow it's impossible to say which is the main way.  GPS doesn't clarify so we take the high road.  Pretty soon it's apparent we choose wrong.  The GPS clarifies, the low trail is circling around in front of us.  Bush whacking will get us back to it.  

But there is a ledge.  Always a ledge.  It varies in steepness and depth. Picking a spot, Paul takes a plunge and I lower his bike on a rope, then mine, then I leap.  

Back on the trail, more snow.  Some riding, more snow.  Some snow, more riding.  Descending, temps rising.  By now our feet are soaked. 

Once we're confident the snow is behind us, on go the dry socks and tights.  Then begins 12 miles of flying down hill.  60 pound bikes descend Ike lead zeppelins.  

Soon, Paul and I are hurling down a winding one-lane dirt road, 28 mph side by side.  Neither of us speaks. Total concentration.  It's not a race but we both want to win.  Pot holes fly by.  Subtle changes in direction are mirrored by the other rider almost instantly.  Both of us are watching our own and each other's line through the puddles and holes to ensure the other guy has a smooth route.  The Zen of mountain biking, x2. 

We arrive in Seeley Lake.  There is one hotel in town and it's a holiday weekend.  But luck is on our side, bad weather has kept people home.  Really? This is bad weather?  We barely got snowed on for an hour.  We ate dinner at a picnic table outside the restaurant.  I expected Montana to be tougher.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tuchuck to Polebridge


We departed Polebridge mid-morning. Destination was the town of Whitefish via Red Meadow Gap.  An easy ten mile climb (easy for Paul) that got steeper near the top.  It also got snowy, which wasn't on the menu. 

We rode till we couldn't, then dragged our bikes through the snow till we couldn't (about a mile) then left out bikes and continued on foot till we couldn't (about a quarter mile).  At this point the snow was over our knees and the pass was still over a mile away. 

Feet frozen, the snow getting deeper, the amount of effort needed to get our loaded touring bikes over the pass was too much.  The obvious but unwanted option was to turn back.  Reluctantly we did.  Ten miles downhill sounds great.  Add in cold wet feet and hands, and air temp below 50. Not so great.  

Back at the hostel we convinced Oliver to light a fire in the living room and decorated the wire with our wet clothing.  Another try tomorrow but we'll take a different route.  

Check out pictures from our trip HERE.

Sparwood to Tuchuck

Leaving Sparwood, we had two choices for our route.  One was an easy 75 miles through 3 towns.  The other was 110 miles on a gravel road known as "the grizzly bear highway" by the locals due to its high bear population.  

To decide which route, we put it to a vote on Facebook. The majority wanted us to take the grizzly bear highway but like Berny Sanders voters, your votes didn't really count. Yeah, democracy!

The low road was a better choice since rain was in the forecast.  More options to get out of the lightening if it became necessary.  It didn't.  


We crossed the border into the USA excited and thirsty.  The campground we stayed at on the Canadian side had no running water and we had both run out shortly after arriving.  Rather than filter water, which we could have easily done, we opted to ride a couple miles to a nearby store. It was closed.  

But just two and a half miles from there was the last restaurant in Canada (first if you're heading north). It was closed and also had become a quilt shop. 

But just three and a half miles from there was the border and a restaurant next to the station. Closed. 

But the bar was open and they had coffee and water and they microwaved a couple of breakfast sandwiches for us.  So that was good.  

The bartender excitedly told us about a brewery and pizza place up the road on our route.  HA Brewing. Say no more (she did anyway) and off we went.  We got there at about 1:30 in the afternoon, hungry and thirsty.  It was closed till 3. Not deterred, we killed some time. Checked out a local campground we might stay at after spending too much time at the brewery (it was full of people who looked mean enough that grizzlies wouldn't bother them) and managed to get pizza and beer 20 min before opening!  

And then we went uphill, heading deep into the Montana wilderness with a bunch of new friends. A local bunch was having a small group ride and we ended up in the middle of it.  It made me feel good to be able to ride my 65 pound bike uphill and not get dropped (some of them were slow). Paul pedaled with just one leg to make it fair. 

And now we are camped at Tuchuck Campground in some national forest.  There is no one else here and for the second night, rain started just after we turned in.  I'm sore from the riding but I feel good in the morning so that is something.  Tomorrow we hope to make it to the town of Whitefish, 60 miles away on dirt and gravel roads. 


It's happened to all of us at one time or another.  You go to sleep with a light rain on your tent, worried just a little about bears.  And you wake up with an inch of snow on your tent, mud puddles, steady drizzle, 40 degrees, and 60 miles to ride your bicycle.  Don't you hate that?

We detoured to the "town" of Polebridge (population 484) and found space at a hostel.  They have cabins for rent too but $80 per night with no indoor plumbing... Pass.  

The hostel was very nice.  The owner was a laugh a minute and baking cookies as fast as he could in a wood stove. 

The place has running water inside but the toilet is still an outhouse.  Kind of a clientele-filter perhaps.  

The owner encouraged us to hang our wet clothes around the fireplace in the main room so they would dry.  Very nice.  

Us: "Could we maybe build a fire in the fireplace?"  

Him: "No, the kitchen fireplace is already burning and the house will get too hot."  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Typos may exist. Fair warning.

Day 2: more driving. 300+ miles to Banff where our ride starts and we start pedaling. We are both anxious to get started after so many months of preparation.  

Riding started on the first day at about 3 pm.  Distances are large up here, expect it to take longer. 

The first day riding was nothing special. One highlight was when a young guy pulled up next to me on a bridge over a river:
Him, noting all my gear, "where are you headed?"
Me, expecting him to be impressed: "Mexico."
Him, not impressed: "Oh, the great divide.  I've done that race a couple times.  Finished 2nd in 2012."

Things got better when we stopped for the night.  The camp ground was "closed" although we could have just walked in.  There was no fence or gate.   But neither of us was interested in pissing off the Mounties this early in the trip so we set up camp across the road next to a blue porta-john with a padlock on it.  Why was it locked? Why was it even there?

Riding day 2:  The day began with a long ride along
 side Spring Lakes reservoir. No bears, no moose, but still amazing things to see.  Mountains topping out close to 10,000 feet while we pedaled next to them 5000 feet lower.  

We ended the day at the Boulton Creek Trading Post campground. It was the closest thing to civilization that we'd seen since the start. Something to remembe when you do this ride: start with as much food as you'll need for the first two days. And don't expect too much at the Boulton Trading Post. 

Day 3:  Leaving the trading post we headed up.  A quarter of a mile at 22% grade.  So steep walking was tough. Walking while pushing 50 pound bicycles was even tougher.  

Once on top though, we began a long descent with occasional little ups.  Near the end of the day, the pilot who dropped us at the start met us again, this time with an oatmeal raisin cookie for each of us.  Just a couple miles to town and we'd completed the first 109 miles and arrived at our first town. Real food. Real beds (except we camped, so no beds). 

Day 4:  A short, easy day.  That was the plan.  A half mile from camp, the road turned up. The next 2.3 miles was a steady 8% grade, which doesn't sound like much and for a little ways, isn't too bad.  But for 2.3 miles?  No more easy day.  If only we'd known. 

At the 13 mile mark, the road was washed away for about 100 yards. 100 feet up to the top, about 60 feet down to the river.  After evaluating our options (turning back was out of the question, we'd done a lot of descending on 9 miles), we choose to scramble down to the river bank, cross the 100 yards of loose rocks, then climb the very steep bank while wrestling our 50 pound bikes.  

After that it was simply 16 miles of headwinds to get here, the town of Sparwood, where we're taking a day off.  The next leg is 110 miles of pretty remote mountain roads. We're hoping to do it in two days but maybe three and that will get us to Montana. 

Check out pictures from Paul's tumblr account.  http://paulrytlewski.tumblr.com

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Canada to Mexico by bicycle

And we're off!  Stage one of this adventure is 1 and a half days of driving from Tacoma to Banff, Canada.    More to follow, obviously.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

It may seem as though I’m ignoring this blog but that was never my intent.  I have been spending a lot of time riding my bicycle, trying to develop some fitness, and in the off time… not much at all.  But that’s about to change.

10k miles on the Ducati.

Still looks only a couple years old.

In a few days I’ll be leaving New Mexico behind, leaving the van and motorcycles behind, and flying to Tacoma.  There I’ll meet my friend Paul and after a couple days of sorting gear, we’ll hire a pilot to deliver us deep into the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  Then begins the Great Divide Mountain Bike Tour.  2,700 miles, 90% unpaved, almost 150,000 feet of elevation gain…  

Eating these once every two years is not often enough!

Temporary mustache and employment.

New Mexico rummage sale.
Should be fun.  Should be an adventure.  About 2 months of riding, sleeping in a tent, and trying to blog from my phone.   Which is possible to a limited degree.  My updates will be limited to text during the ride, unless I am able to figure out how to upload pictures from my phone.  Updates will hopefully be frequent but probably sporadic.    

Flat tire 9 miles from base camp, and no tube....

Long rides need calories for fuel.

Baby rattlesnake/pancake.

This is your RV on meth.