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.