Saturday, July 4: Wise River, MT to Bannack State Park, 63 miles
After leaving Wise River, the day is spent on Montana HWY 73, also known as the Pioneer Scenic Hwy. It's a very pretty route with light traffic, a tough, but not grueling climb and an awesome descent into the small community around Polaris. The north side is bordered by National Forests and even has a few ghost towns that I didn't visit because they were too far off the route. The south side of the route is a valley with small communities.
I met Jeff, who's racing the Tour Divide northbound. Most of the southbound riders have already finished. Jeff was a really nice guy, we talked for a few minutes on the side of the road. He told me that he lost three days because he got hit by a falling tree in a windstorm. Hurt him but also broke his front wheel.
Had lunch with Dan and Elizabeth, who I passed on the climb. They are doing a loop from Jackson, MT and just having a good, easy time. They are only doing 30-40 miles a day. They were staying at the restaurant/inn that we dined in and I was going to bike another 17 more miles to Bannack State Park.
While stopped to check my map, this gentleman pulled over to say Hi. He owned one of the lodges that I passed and many Tour Divide racers stayed there or at least stopped in. He showed me the board that all the racers signed.
And I liked this little schoolhouse in Polaris, MT.
Bannack State Park is the home of Montana's territorial capital. It was bustling when gold was found in Grasshopper Creek. It was true Wild West, with fortune finders coming to try their luck, outlaws and bootleggers, vigilante justice and also good citizens trying to just make a living. Gold dwindled and the railroad went through nearby Dillon, so Bannack slowly faded. Today's it's a ghost town where you can walk through most of the buildings and see where dreams were made and died. And it also has a nice little campground where I watched a little girl ride a bike without training wheels for the first time.
Oh, no fireworks for me on Independence Day. Just early sleep.
Sunday, July 5: Bannack State Park to Lima, 84 miles
I was awaken early by roaring wind. It was blowing like a storm was coming in. I am assuming that was the front that is going to break the heat wave. I pack camp without losing anything. I don't even make coffee because the wind is going to make my stove so inefficient that I don't even bother. I'm riding by 7:15.
It's a long 40 miles of gradual uphill through ranch land to the Medicine Lodge-Sheep Creek Divide, which almost the halfway point of today's ride. Slow and steady and then a steep pitch before the top. Just before the top, I meet Alex and Chris. They are a father and son duo from Virginia riding for Nepal Relief. Great people and told me some things and people to look out for ahead. Check out their website.
Come down off the divide takes you through some ranches and then down into a canyon. I got rained on a little. I take a short detour off the route to a small town called Dell to have an early dinner at the Calf-A Cafe. It's a restaurant built into an old schoolhouse that the Adventure Cycling map calls "possibly Montana's most unusual restaurant". Specials are written on a chalk board in the back of the dining room. Food was home cooking and cheap.
In Lima, I camp at the RV Park/Motel for 5 bucks. Head over to the new restaurant/bar and have some corndogs and drinks. They are still renovating the restaurant that they think originally served as a brothel. When I ask how their town is pronounced, they say LI-ma. The young man tells me, "Lee-ma is in Peru". Of course...
Monday, July 6: Lima, MT to Macks Inn, ID, 85 miles
Up early again, have breakfast in the cafe across the street and talk to Ken who is 65 and riding northbound, and I'm off. Feeling great. My body is getting stronger and there are fewer huge passes to climb. I cruise the morning to Lima Reservoir, ride through the Red Rocks Lake National Wildlife Refuge and begin the climb to Red Rock Pass. Lots of grazing land. Scenic.
After the pass, I'm in Idaho! Drop down and stop for ice cream and soda at the Red Rock RV park. The park webmaster talks to me for a while. He loves Hulkbike. He tries to photograph the Tour Divide racers as they pass the park. For someone who doesn't bike, he is very knowledgeable about the Great Divide.
I had planned to camp there, but it was only 4:30 and I decided I could make more miles. I covered lots of ground and still felt great. Biked another 15 miles to Mack's Inn, a resort community for hunters, fishers and ATVers. Camped there and met Barry, a teacher from Bellingham doing the Great Divide solo and the threesome of Corey, Billy and Amy who were friends from college doing the Great Divide together. They were interesting characters. Everyone was having a good time doing the ride it seemed.
Tuesday, July 7: Macks Inn, ID to Colter Bay Village, 104 miles
It stormed over night, nice lighting display. I was up early, saw my friends at the convenience store where we were eating and stocking up. The Warm River trail is an old railroad route that was now a trail and everyone talked about how Hulk would be great in the soft volcanic sand that makes up some parts of the trail. The sand wasn't bad, it was the ATV wear that killed me. They rut the trails and create grooves where the tires leave marks. It was like riding on rumble strips. No fun fully loaded. I end up just being frustrated and taking a road to the paved road. It was about 6 additional miles to my trip but worth it to get off the trail.
There is a road called the Ashton-Flagg Ranch Rd that takes me from near Warm River across into Wyoming, skirts Yellowstone's southern border and drops me onto the main highway that connects Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. It's about 40 miles long. The first part was hard. A guy on the BMW motorcycle passes me and says hi. He recognizes the bike at Colter Bay and couldn't believe I had made it that far.
I was pushing for Colter Bay because it has a lot of conveniences right there: cheap camping ($11), grocery and restaurant (National Park pricey at both), laundry, great views of the Tetons. Also, lots of TransAmerica cyclist would be here. I camped here on my cross country ride and enjoyed it a lot. Talked to a guy, Ben, biking from Portland, OR to Portland, ME. Met a group of Boy Scouts from Chapel Hill riding coast to coast and a guy riding from Toronto to San Diego.
Wednesday, July 8: Colter Bay to Lava Mountain Lodge, 46 miles
Woke up to rain this morning. It stopped and I packed up a wet tent, one of my least favorite things to do. I rode the 11 miles to Moran where there was a care package waiting for me. Thanks Lori, John, Sydney and Katie Hart for sending the toiletries, food and letters.
Hailee and Dan, North Henderson alumni working in Yellowstone, picked me up there in Moran and we had breakfast. It was great talking and catching up.
Then begins the assault on Togwotee Pass. I stop at a convenience store and RV park where I meet Mike. From Alaska, Mike and family- there's eight of them, many adopted- are riding the Great Divide. I asked him why and he said he made the mistake of watching "Wild". He wanted for his kids to experience a bonding and soul searching experience. Mike's in his 60s and the youngest is 11, doing the Great Divide together. That's pretty neat. Mike also gave me his cell number since they have a support car and told me to call if I get stranded.
Met Ben, from Charleston, who had a Ducati in his truck bed and a custom painted Cannodale mountain bike on the hitch mount, so of course we were going to talk. I loved his toys and he loved Hulk. He even took Hulk for a ride around the parking lot.
I was having a great day. Saw some great friends, met some neat people, I was feeling good on the climb. Then it got cold. I felt raindrops. I was lucky to get to an overlook that had a bench and information board under a small roof. I was going to put on rain jacket there. Then the skies opened. And thunder boomed seemingly right on top of me. It was not the cool you off sort of rain, it was the chill you to your bones kind of rain. I was only four miles from the top.
I stood there and shivered. Mike's family was able to get rescued since they had a SAG car. I saw them drive by. I was worried about the kids in this miserable weather and was glad to see them get ahead. I stood there for 2 hours waiting for the rain to let up. By the time it did, I was cold and miserable. I finished the climb and started the descent. Froze on the way down, temperatures were in the 40s. Found Lava Mountain Lodge. There was no way I was camping tonight. I was cold and wet and the tent I rolled this morning was also wet. I got a cabin for $25. It's got no bathroom or water, but it has electricity and heat. Perfect.
Talked to Allison, from Sparwood (same town in British Columbia I camped in on the second night), who might be the most interesting person I've met. She works at one of the coal mines around Sparwood and decided to bike the Great Divide this summer. She's biking solo northbound and averaging close to 80 miles a day. She and I had the same problem in that the rain shorted our days. We were both under 50 miles, average for a lot of the riders I've talked to but way under what Allison and I were averaging.
Thursday, July 9: Lava Mountain Lodge to Pinedale, WY, 93 miles
I got a little bit of a late start this morning. It rained overnight and I didn't care because I was sleeping in my cozy little cabin. I even ran the heater. But I forced myself up and was packed and rolling by 8:30.
Just a few miles after leaving the lodge, I run into two older ladies riding the TransAmerica westbound. They were from Pennsylvania and just taking their time across the country. As soon as I turn off the highway, the climbing commences. It's okay, I like getting the climbing done early. But then there's more. You have to climb back up to the Continental Divide at Union Pass. The first 5 miles took me over an hour!