Can you say heat wave? It’s been 90+ every day and here in the land of sagebrush and cow pastures, there isn’t much shade! When we do find shade beside an old farm building or under a large bush we grab it and take a brief respite from the hot sun. The roads are so dusty that it’s hard to breathe after a car goes by, and sometimes it’s hard to even follow each other too closely! Each day we bathe in a creek or lake, but within hours we are once again caked in crusty dust!
In Butte I stayed up too late drinking wine, eating Ben and Jerry’s and swapping stories with a motorcycle traveler. So it was lucky that Butte to Beaver Dam Campground wasn’t too big of a day.
On our way out of town we swung by the Safeway to stock up and ducked our heads into a bike shop to donate a bottle of chain lube we didn’t need (some types of lube are better not used on dirty chains, and boy are our chains dirty)! In the shop we met a group of 4 divide cyclists also headed for Beaver Dam campground. It turned out they were a mix of folks from England and New Zealand, plus one American. One if them did the race 2 years ago and had all kinds of fun stories. They are generally faster than us but we still seem to keep bumping into them!
The first part of the day was paved and gradually gaining in elevation. Once we turned onto gravel we continued climbing slowly. There was one short but insanely steep hill that Roger and Leslie walked up but I pedaled hard and just barely made it to the top, huffing and puffing all the way! I’m no stranger to pushing my bike (I do it almost every day) but sometimes it’s fun to see just what my bike can do! Good thing it was only a couple hundred feet long.
We climbed for a few hours then sailed down a long amazing downhill with gorgeous views of the big bald Mount Fleecer and surrounding areas. The last six miles was a grueling climb to end the day but it was getting us up on the side of Fleecer, so I knew it would only make the next morning that much easier.
Beaver Dam Campground was officially closed due to a recent spraying of pesticides but a ranger on site said it was reopening the following day and safe to stay in the outlying sites. The group of 4 we’d met earlier rolled in just before dark.
Day 20 led us over Fleecer Pass, a legendary part of this trail. There are many shots of it in the Ride the Divide movie, and it’s mentioned in any blog. There is an alternate route to bypass it but we decided it’s why we’re here so we don’t want to miss any of the excitement.
All 8 of us left camp around the same time and ground our way up the side of the mountain. Through forest and then sage brush pasture we followed a very rough 4 wheeler track up up up. At some points it was too steep to ride, and you could see cyclists spread out along several miles of the trail as we all kept our own paces winding up the grade. I was feeling sick to my stomach all morning and at times thought I might lose my breakfast, that made for a rough climb! All you can do is push on though, slowly but surely.
We reconnected at the top where our route left the main trail and we were to “head west across the deep grass towards an old wooden fence.” Over the fence the trail became discernible once again and dropped suddenly. It was so steep it literally felt like falling off the side of the mountain. Many years racers try to ride this section, and are often injured doing so. Even the most famous of racers have been caught on film walking this section! We followed the map’s directions which indicated that the trail was too dangerous to even walk down and that it was safer to walk our bikes in a switchback fashion through the sage brush. It made for quite a scene!
The next ten plus miles was steep down on rough roads. By the time we rolled into Wise River my hands were numb, I still felt ill, and my whole body felt like it had been shaken hard for hours – it had! A leisurely lunch in town followed by an easier afternoon of riding on pavement and I was feeling better by late afternoon.
I chose not to have any suspension on my bike which I don’t regret per se, but there are times when we ride hours and hours of very rough roads that I wish I at least had invested in a thud buster seat post suspension.
We learned that one of the campgrounds this week we were counting on was closed due to a flash flood, and because this area is so remote we didn’t have too many options. So we opted to turn 4 days into 3 slightly longer ones. This meant our Mt. Fleecer climb day got extended to 50 miles and ended with another long climb. We figured our total elevation gain for that one day was 4,650 vertical feet, probably our biggest day yet.
We ended in a cute little town of Elkhorn Hot Springs but since the pool was 110 degrees and it was nearly 100 outside, we opted for milkshakes and onion rings instead of a hot soak. After a relaxing dinner we rode the last few miles to the Grasshopper campground.
From Grasshopper campground we rode a whopping 60 miles to Medicine Lodge Creek where we “wild camped.” We said goodbye to the campground hosts and checked out their funky homemade RV built on the frame of a 1851 military truck. On their suggestion we rode 3 miles and stopped for a great breakfast at the Grasshopper Inn.
The day was really fun with lots of rolling hills through hundreds of acres of sage brush. We are really into Montana desert-type terrain where you can see nothing but sage and cows for miles in every direction. The road was like a roller coaster where you could get most of the way up each climb just with your momentum. Even so, I don’t think I’ve ever gone from high to low gears so frequently on a ride!
We overlapped with the TransAm route for the first time, but it was a fairly uneventful 15 miles, so I didn’t actually remember anything of it from my 2010 cross country trip. I’ll overlap it several times in the next month, so I’m sure I’ll recognize something soon!
Mid-afternoon we passed the campground we were originally going to stay at and entered a 50 mile stretch described as “extremely remote.” Leslie has eyes like an eagle and keeps seeing wildlife. Today we saw a momma moose with a baby, several heron, a coyote, and a rare rocky mountain blue bird.
Halfway through this very remote stretch we found a cute spot in the side of a creek to camp. Most smaller creeks in the area were dry, but this one had enough flow to bathe and get drinking water. The wind was wild and Leslie’s tent blew off, I’m not sure I’ve ever run so fast! Luckily I got to it just before it plowed into a barbed wire fence.
Today was day 22 and we officially hit 1000 miles! I woke up to a flat tire, caused by the boot we put in after my last flat. A boot is a thick rubber pad put between tire and tube to protect the tube on a spot where there is a hole in the tire. We put a dollar bill over the boot so its sharp edge wouldn’t pop my new tube. Ten miles in we were enjoying a bit of shade by an abandoned farm building and I was flat again. I pumped it full and decided to see how far I’d get. Ten miles later I was flat again. We took the tire off and all four of us put our heads together. We decided the boot was more trouble than it was worth and replaced it with duct tape! So far, so good.
All together today we rode 49 miles into the town of Lima. The ride was mostly downhill and gorgeous. Lots of headwinds but riding through deep canyon lands with nothing but sage covered mountainsides all around. All together fabulous day.
Thanks to Mom, Josie, Georgia, and Becky, I had a fabulous package awaiting my arrival in Lima. So excited for my new (old) bike seat which is way more padded than my current one. All three others on the ride have had replacement seats sent to them already. It’s amazing how much harder a rough road is on your bottom than a paved road!
Also got a beautiful card from G whom I miss terribly, and lots of dehydrated veggies for my dinners! Yum yum!
No idea when I’ll be online next, but it may be a week or so, we are entering a very remote section of the ride.
Here are some pictures.
After descending Fleecer we were on a long bumpy trail going steeply downhill. There was a pretty good size stream crossing which we all decided to ride over. I made it safely across but Leslie’s bike opted to take a dip. She abandoned ship and ran through a little marsh to reduce her speed! Her bike got a bath but she never even fell to the ground! A very impressive feat!
John attempts a downhill at Elkhorn Hotsprings.
Moooove it cows! In addition to lots of cattle today we saw a coyote and a herd of 60 plus Elk. We startled them and watched them run through the sage, jump a fence, and head for the hills
Gorgeous ride through amazing mountains. Loving every minute!