Thursday, July 30, 2015

TD 2015 - A Week Later

I got to Banff on Sunday evening.  Made some travel arrangements the next day, got the bike shop to box my bike and caught a flight home on Wednesday, and Susan had a great little party for me on Saturday.  It was a pretty amazing trip.  When you are out there on the Divide, you really only have three things to worry about ... Eat, Sleep and Ride .. life back in the World is a lot more complicated !


Had to come back to this sign

This is what you see when you exit the trail

So, what can you say about a 2700 something mile bike ride ?  Iohan asked me that back at Butts Cabin, to summarize it in three words.  I think I said "beautiful, exhausing and inspiring"

The scenery is just magnificent.  You are out there on these back roads, riding through some pretty amazing country, from the Gila, to Brazos, to climbing out of Salida and seeing the Rockies, the Basin, Tetons and Wind Rivers and Canadian Rockies .. you find yourself in the middle of it all and it's stunning and then you ride along and there is more beautiful country, but it's not going by at 70 miles an hour on the Interstate but at the pace of you and your pedals.

It's tiring.  With the weight on the bike and being an old man, I probably did a lot of 6 or 7 mph average speeds for a day of 10 or 12 hours.  There is always a climb and a descent and another climb.  You get a climb every morning and every afternoon at least.  I think the GPS shows something like 180,000 feet of climbing and I think that's accurate.  And not knowing where food and water are going to be is sometimes a little stressful.

Every day I saw other riders out there touring or racing this route and exploring this beautiful country.  And I met a lot of really nice people along the way, from cowboys who stopped to ask me about my ride, folks on ATV's, waiters and waitresses who asked about what I was doing, two women on horseback wondering why I was pushing a bike up Fleecer Ridge ... there are a lot of amazingly good people in this country and on a bike you are a lot more approachable than you ever would be in a car.  So yes, I think I am inspired by all of this goodness.  I got honked at by one jerk and on the other hand I had many many drivers slow down ... way down .. to avoid covering me in dust on some back country road.

I had a goal of finishing and I did that.   I thought I could do it in 32 days and fell a little short of that, coming in at 37 1/2 days.  If I were to do this again, I would make a few changes on the bike, going with a full frame bag instead of the half one I had, for more storage.  My stuff sack in the front had too much weight on the front of the bike making it a little harder to handle, so the frame bag would help with that.  I did a lot better this year in New Mexico, knocking a day off last year's ride and most of that was just due to knowing more about what I was doing ... I think someone even mentioned this in one of the Cordillera volumes.

Maybe think about more gears on the bike ... perhaps a 1 X 11 isn't enough, but my bike performed flawlessly.  My tires lasted the entire ride, with one tire being low in Atlantic City and I pumped it up and that was it.  Not sure if I would go with a lighter tire.

I lost a big chunk of time by missing the alternate route in Wyoming where I wandered off course for a few hours and had to do a big morning climb, I stopped in Salida early, I lost time at Seeley Lake, I probably could have skipped the stay in Basin and gone straight to Helena, and from Sparwood to Eureka and saved 4 days right there by positioning myself better for the following days by going harder on those days.  But knowing where you are going really helps.

If anyone has read through all of this and is thinking about doing this Ride, my advice would be DO IT !  I am Blessed to have been able to hang in there and get it done.  Now ... time to think of what's next !

TD 2015 - Canada

I waited for the green light to come on and rolled up to the window and handed my Passport to the Canadian agent.  He wanted to know if I was carrying a gun ( No ), bear protection ( Yes ), knew anyone in Canada ( No )  how long staying ( week or so ) and that was about it.  I went inside and sat for a minute or two and he returned and handed my my Passport and we were good to go.
British Columbia - a long way from Mexico
Galton Pass was first up and that wasn't too bad, another climb and a descent.  Then I got closer to the Wigwam River and met up with the connector often called "The Wall".  I thought it was tough to go down, slipping around in mud and such while holding onto both brakes on my bike to keep it from running me over.  Glad I didn't have to push it up from the other side but that's what the southbound folks had to do.  After that, there was a little bit of single track and then a pretty good road that took me past the Wigwam Campground and then Cabin Pass.  I started down Cabin Pass in a light rain and started running into pretty good sized puddles as darkness started to fall.  Butts Cabin was my destination for the night, it's a first-come first-served cabin.  I got there and called out and another rider was there.  We talked for a bit and I found out that he was the fellow who produced a video about doing the Great Divide ride in the winter.  His name is Iohan Gueorguiev and he was going south after riding on some of the other roads in the area.  The cabin had a stove and we found some wood and started a fire and I got my socks dried that got wet when I did a foot down in some pretty large puddles coming down from Cabin Pass.

The Wall ( steeper than it looks )
Butts Cabin
The next morning I set out for Flathead Pass and Sparwood.  The road took me along the Flathead River, the same river that I had ridden along back in Montana the day before yesterday.  It was supposed to be "bear Interstate" but I didn't see any, just a little scat.  The road up to Flathead Pass was pretty washed out, with a couple of bridges in total disrepair and lots of streams running across the road with big river rock and larger sized rocks.  Finally I got to the top of it and the rain began, but I had a pretty good descent to Corbin and then picked up pavement all the way to Sparwood with light rain.

Flathead and Flathead River
Flathead Road - not too bad
This is a mess
Obligatory picture with big green mining truck
Was wet enough that I didn't want to push on to Elkford that night and stayed in Sparwood and got up to a beautiful morning with green mountains and low clouds being pushed out by the sun.  Going to Elkford we got to take another of the TD alternates, a connector and some single track that would take us around the Elkford bridge washout from a couple of years ago.  It worked perfectly and I was in Elkford in no time.  Found a restaurant, got myself some lunch and two milkshakes !  Then on north with the goal of getting to the Tobermory cabin.

Beautiful water

Amazing country

Photos just don't do the scene justice
 After some time I was at Tobermory.  The cabin looked pretty nice and I got myself setup.  An hour or so later another rider came and he moved his stuff into the cabin and the sun went down and we began to hear noises.  Turned out that the place was infested with mice, was awakened several times with the sounds of mice running around all over the place.  Everything I didn't want a mouse running over was hanging from the middle of the room, so other than one or two running over my sleeping bag it was ok.  

Mouse Hotel

Spray River system

The morning had one more Continental Divide crossing, Elk Pass, the border between British Columbia and Alberta and I continued riding along the big power line that parallels the main road, and that was done, and then was at Boulton Creek's convenience store.  Had some breakfast and rode through some of the Provincial Park until I got on the Smith Dorien road.  It reminded me of a wider version of the rail trail .. lots of gravel, and dust all over the place with the dust being generated by cars doing 50 mph or so instead of ATV's..  I really hated that section of road and was glad to get off of it and onto a trail system.  The rest of the day was trail system along the Spray Lake Reservoir and a little horrible piece of the Smith Dorien Road again, and then Goat Creek Trail and Spray River Trail.

So a little after 7 pm I finally got that last piece done, saw the purple line on the GPS disappear and the deed was done.  My number one goal of finishing was done, and I rolled into Banff a happy rider.

TD 2015 - Montana

Wow, Montana. Up North, we're beginning to get someplace !

Left Idaho and rode through the Centennial Valley with the mountains to the south hidden under low lying clouds.  I had little bit of a tail wind, an easterly wind being rare, and I stopped at the Red Rock National Wildlife Refuge for a bit and looked for trumpeter swans.  Saw something swimming on the lake, but too far away to tell, and rode on towards Lima.  I saw lots of cattle corrals and rode through a couple of small groups of cows that stayed in the road until absolutely the last minute ... had to wave my arms at them and yell a time or two.  The last few miles into Lima just seemed to take forever, sometimes you make a mental calculation of how long it's going to take and then you find that was just seriously flawed and then getting to where you wanted to go just seems to take forever.

All setup in Lima at the cafe and got a room in the hotel across the street and then went for a second meal at the Peat Hotel.  They didn't have the grill your own steak on the menu, having changed hands, but the cheeseburger was great.  And it was chilly, so I stopped at the Exxon and scored myself a nice fleece and some mittens.  Another excellent choice, they came in handy in the following days.  And someplace in there I remembered to order flowers for our Anniversary !
Peat Hotel

Not the Hotel California !

Sheep Creek Byway

Window !

The next morning I got breakfast and started for Polaris.  Going north you ride along Sheep Creek, then cross Medicine Lodge - Sheep Creek Divide and roll along on Medicine Lodge road for miles and miles.  I ran across a rider from France who had an extra map with him ( the #1 map that I was missing because I messed up my mail drops ), and I gave him the #2 map that he was going into and it was a perfect trade.  Cranked up a bunch of western themes as I rode north on the Old Bannack Road with a thunderstorm building to the south.  I was lucky and only got sprinkled on .. that road has been known to be a mess when wet.   The afternoon progressed and I found myself on Hwy 278 riding along and a truck slowed and Russ from Montana High Country Lodge told me I only had 7 more miles to go.  Fought a little more headwind in the late afternoon and pretty soon got to Polaris and to the Lodge and was welcomed by Russ and his wife and mother-in-law.  I had a great supper, spent the night and had a great breakfast in the morning.  Russ has taken an interest in Tour Divide and he had been tracking my blue dot and knew I was coming.  He had a cool signboard with signatures of 95 of this year's riders, and I added my name to it.

Storm brewing to the south on Medicine Lodge Road

Bannack Road sign

It's official - I really am in Tour Divide

A lot of strong riders have their names on this list

Montana High Country Lodge looking at the Pioneer Mountains
The ride out of Polaris was pavement, on to Wise River.  I looked at some storm clouds and decided why not, just go ahead a see what Fleecer Ridge had to offer.  Well, it was a lot.  Fleecer was one of the physically hardest parts of the entire 2750 something miles.  When you get to it, it more or less goes straight up ... maybe not straight, but the grade is very very steep, and the surface is beat up and loose, or covered with loose scree that slides out from under your feet.  On the sides is sagebrush and flowers.  Riding it is out of the question ( some people make it on dirt bikes .. but not bicycles ).  It was amazing hard to push the bike and I ended up standing in the middle of the so called road, lifting holding the bike sideways and lifting the rear, then the front up a foot or two, then moving me up, then repeating to get up the first steep portion of it.  Later and higher you could just push and it was a relief to get to the top.

Still have a lot of climbing and this is almost to the top

Fleecer Ridge from many miles to the east
My goal was Butte and I had enough daylight, so started the section from I-15 to Butte in late daylight and finished rolling into Butte around 10:30 at night in light rain.  It was a very rewarding day, as I got a hard thing and a lot of miles done.

But it tired me out more than I thought and the next day, I only got as far as Basin and had enough for the day, so only about 40 miles.  I stayed at an RV campground near a river, got invited to a pot luck dinner, got up early the next morning and rode to Helena.  In Helena I got my front brake bled and it worked better than it ever has.

The next day I set out for Lincoln with 3 Continental Divide crossings to get done, and got them all and then found out all hotels in Lincoln were full of motorcyclists.  But another RV park was close and I stayed there ...  $8 for the campsite, $4 for a shower and $1 for a towel ... excellent deal.  The next morning I had breakfast with Charlton and Lynn who took care of a bunch of us on the Big Ride Across America three years ago.  Charlton and Lynn are touring from Banff going south and having a great time of it.  It was really fun to see them, talk about the ride we were doing and the Big Ride.  They did such an awesome job of supporting all of us back then, a great couple !

Charlton and Lynn

These guys galloped over to meet me 

Ovando teepee
It rained most of the night in Lincoln, and I was glad I had a tent vs a bivvy.  I rode in rain most of the way to Ovando that morning and when I got there I found Trixie's up on the hill and ate, then went into the town square and setup myself in the teepee for the night.  Ovando has been catering to bicyclists for a few years now, and you have your choice of the jail, the teepee or the shepards wagon for a contribution of $5 for the night.  Not bad !   It rained during the night and I heard the sound of rain on teepee canvas, but was nice and dry inside.  In the morning I had breakfast at the Stray Bullet Cafe with Jerry and Lori.  I went to pay my bill and found out that they had picked up the tab ... Thank You !

I left Ovando with all my rain stuff on, but the sun came out pretty soon afterwards and that got put away and got to Wise River for lunch.  After eating I was ready to go up to Richmond Peak, but the clouds above the mountains were dark, dark and disturbing looking.  So I stopped early with my shortest mileage for any day of the whole ride.  I got a room, took a shower, played with Facebook and then went outside and the sun was out and the darkness was completely gone.  But I stayed and spent the afternoon drying my tent and sewing up a rip in my back seat bag.

Doubletrack turning into singletrack on the way up Richmond Peak

Not that narrow at all ( but wouldn't be eager to do it in snow )

I had some worries about Richmond Peak .. reported to be narrow with a big drop off, inhabited by bears, sketchy descents, etc, etc.  It was beautiful and the narrow spot wasn't anything like as narrow as I thought it would be and was only a very very short piece.  Met some folks from Phoenix who live in  Montana in the summer up there and talked with them for a while.

I stopped at the Hungry Bear for lunch, and then on northward and ran into a touring couple, Susan and Paul, who said they had a cabin at Swan Lake Campground that they weren't going to use.  So I said I could use it and agreed to send an email to Susan's mom telling her they were OK.  I took a little detour to get to Swan Lake, but it wasn't too far.  The cabin was nice, no electricity, but nice.  Had a great little breakfast sandwich the next morning and then it was on to Whitefish.

The Echo Lake Restaurant was a stop for Breakfast #2, then I ate again in Columbia Falls and on the way into Whitefish I was putting on my rain gear when a truck pulls up behind me and the driver calls my name.  It was Tim Hinderman, who did the ride northbound last year !  He had been tracking my dot.  We talked for a minute or two as I petted his dog, and then the rain started and I beat feet for Whitefish a couple of miles away.  Later that evening I had pizza with Lisa and Paul Austin, and talked about the ride and how it was going and how they are faring after moving from Tucson to Glacier.  And then I chatted with Tim a bit about what was in Canada, before heading back to the hotel and going to bed.

Whitefish Lake

Top of Whitefish Divide - all downhill to Eureka

From Whitefish to Eureka has two big climbs, Red Meadow and then Whitefish Divide.  It made for a longish day, and interesting as when you are riding along the eastern portion you are getting pretty close to Canada.  One sign said 8 miles ... it pointed to an old border crossing no longer used, then I turned westward and over Whitefish Divide.  Getting close to Whitefish Divide, I heard the strangest more eerie noise of the whole trip ... the wind was blowing through the sticks of trees from old forest fires on the hillside way above me. .. it was audible over the music on my iPod, and really rattled me for a little bit before I realized what it was.  Wish I would have had a decent recording of it.

When you get to Eureka, you're about 10 miles from Canada.  Supper and breakfast at the Subway and a quick ride north and pretty soon you are looking at a little barbed wire fence in a pasture and Canada is on the other side.

Montana was a beautiful state, such a contrast of biomes.  I took probably two or three days longer than was reasonable to cross it, with the short day at Seeley, and two short days from Butte to Basin and Basin to Helena.  But it was done and Canada and the end of the ride await.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

TD 2015 - Idaho

No sign announced the entry into Idaho, at some point I looked at the GPS and it was already done.  A forest road turned a bit wider and dustier and I finally got to a place where I could look back at a view of the Grand Tetons to the east and the Snake River Valley to the west.  I kept going and got to the Squirrel Creek Lodge and spent the night there.

Leaving the Tetons Behind

The next morning was the 4th of July.  Had some breakfast and then rode through farmland and to the beginning of the Rail Trail.
Squirrel Creek Lodge

Mustard ??
 The rail trail is about 30 some miles of old railroad bed that now is used as a hiking, cycling and ATV trail.  Most of the traffic I saw on the trail on this 4th of July was ATV traffic.  The beginning of the trail was beautiful, starting at a great fishing area with lots of anglers in the water.  As the ride progressed the trail climbed above the river and you could hear the rapids down in the distance below.

Beginning of Rail Trail

Looking down at the Warm River

Old Rail Tunnel
I thought I was going to get to go through the old tunnel, but it was closed off and there was a path around it.  Probably a very good idea, on closer inspection the tunnel didn't look safe at all !  Then the rail trail got flat and sandy but I was still making progress.  Once I got closer to the Island Park/Macks Inn area, the number of ATV's rose dramatically.  There were dozens of them, and groups of three and four at a time, one right behind the other, eating all of the dust of the guy in front.  They were pretty polite, but all of the dust was starting to give me a fit.  And as the trail got closer to Big Springs, that soft volcanic soil that had been mentioned really became a problem.  I think I walked a good portion of the last mile, just so much deep loose sand and ATV dust that it was one of the more frustrating pieces of the whole TD ride.

But, it did pass, I got to some pavement and crossed highway 20.  Found a nice restaurant called Connie's, had an excellent prime rib sandwich and then started on the way to Montana.  I got as far as the Red Rock RV park, where I got a campsite on nice grass with a shower for $15.  The next morning, it was a short ride up Red Rock Pass.  I took a picture of the sign for the pass.  Then I rode for a few miles wondering where the Montana border was .... before I remembered that I took a picture of it !  Old timers setting in.

Red Rock Pass

TD 2015 - Wyoming

Wyoming. The windy place, the place of the Great Basin, and here we are, crossing from Colorado to the little town of Savery who had a museum with a water supply for cyclists and then right into the Basin on our way to Wamsutter.  It would be about 80 miles to Wamsutter, starting with some of the biggest rollers I've seen .. steep climbs and crazy steep descents, and then Jeff and I were on a high plain riding along as the day grew warmer.

Jeff in front of the only store in Savery, and it's closed ( for a long time )

Billy and Liana !!

We ran into Billy Rice and Liana on their tandem doing a father daughter ride, chatted for a bit as well as with a lot of other southbound riders.  Being northbounders, we would see just about everyone doing TD.  That water bottle that I left in Clark the previous day was starting to become a problem and I found myself rationing my water more that I would have wished.  Finally we could see the water tower of Wamsutter showing after riding on a slight climb through a large oil field south of the town.

Wamsutter is a new addition to TD, put in this year to avoid some serious construction south of Rawlins and it worked well.  I got to the Subway and ordered a sandwich and drank about 5 large Cokes and promptly had a overload of sugar in my system and felt like hell.  Jeff on the other hand was feeling pretty good and he wanted to head out at sundown, but I wasn't ready and elected to get a hotel room and maybe leave early in the morning.  But when morning came I was still feeling bad so I ate again at a Mexican restaurant which was pretty good, got some pie to go and ate more and left at sundown.
On the Basin north of Wamsutter

Connector and a wild horse 

I rode into wind and thunderstorms all around me, and saw a nice group of wild horses as I rode north, kept going, the sun went down and rode into the night.  The rain finally caught up with me and I pulled over into the sage, setup my tent and slept soundly.  The next morning I packed up at sunrise and found the connector trail between the road we had been on and another road that would take me into the oil field and connect with a road going to Atlantic City.

A lot of empty out there in the Middle !

Easy Street 

Atlantic City Bar

Wasn't a bad day, I passed the markers for the Landers cutoff for the Oregon trail, and finally the Sweetwater River and was in Atlantic City, and to my surprise, the bar was open !  Normally closed on Mondays, they were getting ready for 4th of July so I got to eat, and then come back and eat again, and got pointed to a cabin owned by a cowboy named Mark.  It was a great deal, a beautiful little place he had build himself.

I woke up the next morning to a very low rear tire.  Pumped it up, turned it so the Stans would settle in that area, and hoped for the best.  It held !   Started riding towards Boulder and Pinedale and encountered the strongest winds of the trip.  A sign said 42 miles to Boulder and I thought I would never, never get there.  Met the last of the southbound TD riders and got to Pinedale, where I ate, shopped for bear spray and got a hotel room.

Empty Country

Cora, WY

In the morning out again in my routine, find breakfast, buy something at a convenience store and roll.  A little place called Cora with a kitty in the window of the Post Office, up into the forest along the Green River.  Climbing and riding and making pretty good progress until my GPS show the track going to the left where I thought it should be on the road in front of me.  Am sitting on the side of the road looking at where the GPS says to go and looking at the ACA map that shows something completely different, talking to the ATV guy who stopped and later to the Deputy Sheriff who stopped with both of them saying "there's nothing over there - you want to go where it shows on your map - that's Cripple Creek ranch - you want to go there"  So there I go, as friends in Tucson are watching my track get further and further from the course.  I commit to a steep downhill to get to Cripple Creek and once in the restaurant, eating and using the WiFi, I figure out that I completely missed one of the reroutes that Matthew had emailed us.  I had no clue it was there, thinking they were referring to something over in Idaho !  So, I am like 8 miles off route and at least 1000 feet down in a hole from where I should be.  But I am well fed and sleeping in a bunkhouse, so to bed and up in the morning and back up the hill.  The GPS was right after all and the alternate course was pretty passing along part of the CDT and then taking me back down Lava Mountain.

Pup at Cripple Creek making sure I am set in my bunkhouse 

I was supposed to take this trail

At the Lava Mountain store I met some road tourers on their way to Oregon.  They were headed up to Togwotee Pass.  I would get to the pass also, but had to use a forest road vs US 26.  I had a couple of burritos and several drinks and then got to my forest road and right at the top of the pass I come around a corner and there are the four road cyclists ( they seem pretty surprised that I caught up to them even using that forest road ).

Coming up to Togwotee Pass on Forest Road

Took a fast downhill and got to Togwotee Lodge and decided to stay there for the night, even though it was seriously overpriced.  The morning would find me entering Grand Teton National Park and riding along Jackson Lake.
Jackson Lake and the Tetons

I met more cyclists doing the TD route at Cotter Bay and then stopped at Headquarters for some lunch.  At this point I started going west on another forest road and someplace out there crossed into Idaho.  One of the fellows I met at Cotter said to checkout the Squirrel Lodge near Ashton and I did and it was a good stop.  Larry the owner fixed me up with supper and a cabin to stay in, and breakfast the next morning.

So Wyoming was done, and I'm in the Snake River valley of Idaho, with the Rail Trail to come next.