Tour Divide: Montana Musings, Indifferent about Idaho

When studying for the Tour Divide (like a test!) I read books and blogs for as much information as I could get my hands on. I found there was a common saying about the North section: if you get through Montana, you’ll get through the Divide. Well Montana was tough, but I got through.

Day three started off with a nice climb up Whitefish Divide after Eureka. It was a bit frosty and cold but I was determined not to see a bear so I went about making my noise and playing my music loud. At the top I devoured some cold pizza for breakfast much to the delight of Brett Stepanik, who we met at the top.

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The three of us rode together for ages, enjoying the delightful forest and gradient towards Polebridge. As we turned up towards Red Meadow Pass I went to shift into my little chain ring: nothing. Stuck. I jumped off and felt the cable, it was loose. I couldn’t find anything snapped at the bottom end and guessed it had snapped in the shifter where I couldn’t see. Luckily it was a steady climb and I tapped away in my middle ring, only needing to walk once near the top. The boys didn’t wait but I hoped to catch up with them at the bike shop in Whitefish. A local highway patrol officer (and apparently a divide racer himself in previous years) stopped me to see if I knew where everything in town was and gave me impeccable directions to the bike shop. Glacier Cyclery was buzzing with TD riders when I arrived. Turned out that there was a huge rock jammed in my front derailleur and after some coercing it popped out and the problem was fixed. Silly!

With a sub in my belly from Columbia Falls, I headed off to see if I could catch the guys. As day three drew to a close, things started to go downhill. My feet were in agony and swelling incredibly. I undid all the buckles and straps but there was no relief. As I caught up to Doug we tried to decide where would be open for food. Why hadn’t we gone to the supermarket in Columbia Falls? It was an epic day tomorrow and nothing on route before then was open. Silly again. The promise of food and a proper bed beckoned me off-route and before I knew it I was munching on dinner in Bigfork. In the motel that night I spent a good hour with my legs in the air trying to reduce the swelling, while researching what had happened to Mary Metcalf-Collier from Ride the Divide movie to make her legs turn into sausages. Eventually I decided it was my poor decisions on day one which had led to dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes. My body was trying to hold onto as much fluid as it could and it was pooling in my legs. This was my google-dr-diagnosis anyway. I drank plenty of fluids and got a great night sleep, hoping tomorrow was a better day.

And tomorrow was a better day! In fact, day four ended up being my favourite day on the divide. My shoes slipped painfully on but they fitted at least! I had to ride with all the straps and buckles undone, a small price to pay. The Swan Valley was a beautiful place. The sun was shining and I felt fantastic. IMG_0714IMG_0711

We saw Alice a few times that day: in the valley after the first pass and then in Seeley Lake where we stopped off route for some food and then again in Ovando. Richmond Peak was incredible. I must have stopped for about 50 photos, as we slowly worked our way higher and higher we were able to see further and further into the distance. It must have been such a change for people to experience it in the heat, as opposed to hiking bikes across avalanche debris with snow up to the tree tops. IMG_0726

I never said farewell to Doug, we just agreed that I wanted to get up earlier than he did in Ovando and I thought he would catch me up. After a terrible sleep in the teepee, I was up and moving by 3am and Doug never caught up to me. So thanks for your company over those first few days mate. It was nice to ride with someone who knew the route and also how to scare away the bears! I rode the next day by myself. After breakfast in Lincoln, the three passes of the day could not have been more different. Stemple Pass was just plain hard. It was steep and required a fair bit of walking, the scenery was also quite uninspiring. As I was hiking my bike up the top of the second pass I was getting a bit grumpy but then the wildflowers started. Reds, purples, yellows, whites.

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Lush green trees, vivid green grass and thousands of wildflowers.  I took a few photos but they couldn’t do it justice, it was magnificent and made me smile again. IMG_0737

I stopped at the top to breathe it all in. A wheezing came from behind and Lael appeared! We chatted briefly but she was visibly struggling to breath. It was great to finally meet her but a shame not to be able to talk! She mentioned she was going to head to a hospital in Helena which sounded like a good idea to me.

As I rolled into Helena I was instantly uneasy. Trucks, people, traffic and way too many food choices. I refueled at the last chance possible and, after much deliberation, decided that 3pm was too early to stop, even after such a big day. I rolled up another pass to Park Lake campground to stay in the toilet block. When I arrived there after a spectacular sunset climb I found Simon Cross set up with his tent next to the toilets. After me bragging how warm it was we ended up sharing the floor of the deluxe shitter and slept soundly knowing we were safe from mountain lions and bears.

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Eggs and french toast in Basin was divine after a cold morning slogging away over Lava Mountain. Unfortunately five minutes after leaving town my water bladder tube fell into my front wheel and I came to a grinding halt. Bewildered and lucky to have not had a crash, I had to cut the tube and take apart my front brake to prise out the melted plastic with my pocket knife. MacGyver Beth!

Until Wise River nothing really happened except spectacular scenery! I would love to go back one day and explore around Beaver Dam and Fleercer Ridge, just beautiful. I met Simon again in Wise River but he was staying the night and I wanted to push on. I ummed and ahhed in my usual fashion until Alice Drobna showed up. Her seat rail was broken and she ordered a new one to collect at Flagg Ranch, a long way to ride with a duct-taped seat! We had a hilarious and sneaky shower upstairs at the hotel and then continued up the road together to a first campground. It was a lovely evening and I didn’t want to stop but I definitely wanted the camping company. Had I only known that a few hours down the road was the High Country Lodge. After another night in the toilet block because I couldn’t get my tent pegs into the rock hard ground, I stopped in there at 7am the next morning to be greeted by Russ, who gave me a huge hug saying “’that was from Seb”! What an amazing place they have there. As I scoffed down breakfast he explained that Lael had just left and that the lunch sandwiches would be ready quick smart so I could get back on the road and chase her. Fantastic hospitality! Chase Lael I did, and we caught up again on and off all day as we headed towards Lima. She seemed in much better health and as I stopped in Lima for the night completely and utterly exhausted, she rode off into the distance and that was the last time we crossed paths.

In Lima it was great to have a private room for some stretching, naked lounging around and queen bed to myself. I slept like a baby. I was rooming next to the two NZ riders Greg Gallway and his friend Evan and Simon was also staying a few rooms down. We agreed that who ever was out the front of the motel at 3am would leave together, and at that horrid hour it was just Simon and I who rolled out under the cover of darkness.

IMG_0756Simon and I had such a blast riding together. We were similar speeds and just chatted and chatted, it was so easy to pass the hours. He had some great stories incredible adventures and also of his partner Solveiga’s TD ride the previous year. Before we knew it we were climbing the final miles of Montana, reaching Red Rock Pass with huge smiles. I MADE IT. I got through Montana! It had been a long hard slog and my knees had paid big time, but it was done and there were now only four states left.

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Idaho started in a beautiful way. A great downhill, a scenic cruise past Henry’s Lake and some fantastic single track taking us straight to the Subway at Sawtell. After that, Idaho had nothing much to offer except the promise of a visit to the Grand Tetons once we left the state. The rail-trail was an absolute mess. It was the weekend and the All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) were insane. They had turned the potentially awesome trail into gravel a foot deep and proceeded to whip around with little regard to poor cyclists attempting to ride through it. After 60km of unrelenting gravel and corrugations Simon and I were a bit delirious, joking about how the people in charge needed to go to Victoria in Australia and learn what a REAL rail-trail is. The worst part, even worse than the road surface of this section, was the fact that for most of it there was a perfectly good firetail running adjacent to the rail-trail. That was mean. Very mean.

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Arriving at Squirrel Ranch in the early evening, we convinced ourselves it was a good idea to continue on to Flagg Ranch. The owners at Squirrel obviously wanted us to stay, mentioning that there were bears on route to Flagg Ranch, which they believed was closed for good and didn’t know if we would find anyone there. After battling incessant swarms of mosquitos over the final pass, we rolled into Flagg Ranch about 10pm. It was a resort! It was insane! How could they not have know if this place was ‘open’. Hahaha we nearly fell for that one Squirrel Ranch! We grabbed a cabin and aimed to get some shut eye before the shop and breakfast opened at 7am.

Idaho lasted one afternoon and that was all I needed thank you very much. We were in Wyoming baby, time to go see the Grand Titties!

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Tour Divide: Alberta Adventures

How does a person sit down and write about a 2700 mile journey across America on a mountain bike, where the hours spent pedaling nearly equaled the total hours in each day? I always thought I understood the enormity of the adventure we were undertaking but it was always broken down into something smaller and easier to comprehend: two countries and six states, or the mountains and the desert, or even just the mileage between water and food resupply points.

The overwhelming number of memories which were created on the Divide are impossible for me to capture in words, or rather, it would be an incredibly long book of which I do not have the time to write. For me, racing the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route as part of Tour Divide was a very personal experience. It was both uplifting and grounding at the same time, with many highs and lows. At the finish I was certainly more mentally and emotionally fatigued than physically. It is amazing what our bodies can adapt to given enough time, but the mind is something different. Over and above all the physical abilities and challenges, the mind must be willing to press on.

Unlike all other adventures I have ever written about, at first I decided I was not going to write about Tour Divide. It felt private and I almost wanted to say that you need to get out there and try things like this for yourself. However, after returning home and sharing our adventure with family and friends, I realised that these great stories definitely need to be shared. I made some marvelous new friends on the Divide, discovered wild and wonderful places and persevered through to the end with a determination that I didn’t know I had. I am not usually a philosophical person but maybe it is true, maybe the Divide can change you? Maybe these next few blogs are more for me than you: unpacking memories and making sure I have notes for the future in case my memory fails me. I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures as much as I had making them!

Just as I did when preparing for Tour Divide, and as everyday and every hour passed on the route, I will need to break it down into more manageable chunks. Bite size pieces to enjoy!

Alberta

Having driven from Vancouver through places like Whistler, Lake Louise and the Icefield Parkway, by the time we got to Banff we were already blown away by the the majesty of the mountains. Compared to Australia… well you can’t really compare! I don’t think I could even name a ‘pass’ in Australia. Our mountains are more like hills that you drive over, not mountains that soar into the clouds which require a pass to sneak between a low point. More often than not, the pass was higher than even the highest point in our entire country. It was fair to say that by the time we got to Banff I thought we had seen it all. Oh how I was wrong!

Seb and I spent a few days exploring Banff, putting our bikes together and doing final preparations like confirming GPS routes and obtaining bear spray. There were dinners with newly made friends, test rides, nervous racers talking things out over pizza and eyeballing the bike setup of every rider which went past. After four days of what felt like a lifetime, slowly counting down to the grand depart, I couldn’t wait to get going. Seb and I said our goodbyes on the start line at the Banff YHA and after a fun group photo and a speech by Billy Rice, we were off! I was determined not to get caught up in the argy-bargy back of the pack but also not to blow myself apart in the first hour like Kiwi Brevet. I was soon at my own pace though, whizzing through lush and quiet forest and I was so happy. The sun was shining and I thought we couldn’t be luckier.

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The first day turned out to be incredibly hard but I can’t complain too much because we didn’t have to hike over snowy passes or have five days of rain like previous grand departs are famous for. It was hard in it’s own way though. Not too long after we left Banff the sun disappeared and was replaced my menacing clouds. They threatened for a while and then got on with it, dumping cold rain which soon turned to sleet and then snow over the top of the first pass. The rain soaked through the first few inches of the road and created mud that stuck to everything. I tried very hard to limit my shifting but eventually I could not even shift into the little chain ring without chainsuck that ground me to a halt every time. I stopped to empty 6L of water onto my bike from my water bladder each time I reached a stream and this seemed to make it possible to keep moving forwards at least. Riders stopped talking to each other as the rain set in and everything seemed a bit more miserable. I found myself walking a lot of hills which I couldn’t ride in my middle ring, to save my knees. On most of these occasions Alice Drobna and I exchanged conversation as she passed me. She kept reminding me that I wouldn’t be walking if I only had one gear and no derailleur to fail. I kept thinking “Yes I would, how do your knees survive on that single speed?!”

Eventually I rolled into Elkford and met up with a bunch of guys at the supermarket. I was ready to stop but Simon Cross confidently declared he was continuing and everyone kind of followed his lead. A group of six of us started off towards Sparwood together. It was great to have a few people to look for and navigate the new Josephine Falls ‘singletrack’ section in the disappearing daylight. Doug Wenger and I rode into Sparwood together and decided a motel was a good option to get dry. We pressure washed out bikes at the service station and devoured subway for dinner. After de-mudding clothes and body, at around midnight I crawled into bed and tried to come to terms with the enormity of the day. I remember thinking “wow, if the whole Divide is this tough, maybe I need to back off already!”

I had been bitterly cold for most of the day and my ¾ rain pants had left my feet sodden and frozen. I had given my booties and puff jacket to a friend the night before the start, telling myself this was going to be a warm year! I had envisaged my Sealskinz socks being enough but they were not in this weather. I knew in two days I would have the worst and most painful chilblains from today’s suffering. I had also not drunk enough water at all. I did not pee all day until I got to Sparwood. I was so cold that there was no way I was stopping to take off ALL my layers to get off my stupid bib knicks to pee. Unfortunately I wasn’t aware then but my actions on day one made the next few days very hard on my poor body.

But day two brought sunshine and spectacular scenery and we never looked back. From such a horrid day one, day two could not have been more opposite. In the morning my knees took a while to warm up but as I got into the swing of things I began smiling and enjoying the climb up Flathead Pass. I felt really great and passed a few riders who were obviously not yet as warmed up or chirpy as me yet. I bumped into Jill Homer as we approached the ‘river road’ coming down the other side of the pass. I met up again with Doug and we ended up riding together for the entire day through to Eureka. We laughed our way through the crazy hike-a-bike wall and were awestruck by the Flathead wilderness. I felt so little and insignificant in that enormous and untouched place. Starting up Galton Pass I never saw more fresh bear poo than that day. We saw one black bear up the road who quickly disappeared into the trees as we yelled “Hey BEAR BEAR”. I had seen my first and last bear for the trip!

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After laughing at the camera crew at the bottom of the Galton descent, saying I was the first chick (hadn’t they heard of Lael??), we zoomed through the US border control to enjoy pizza in Eureka and set up camp for the night in the town campground. I went to sleep listening to a strange mix of sounds including a gurgling river, obnoxious cars revving in and out of the 24hr service station and young drunk kids enjoying their Saturday night.

Goodbye Canada, hello Montana USA!

Tour Divide final update

Hullo! We are about to jump on a plane home tomorrow so thought I’d post a quick update since I realised that all the final updates are only on Facebook!

Seb and I managed to find each other after he got his bike fixed and I gave the OK for him to tag along (he didn’t want to ruin my headspace or anything of the likes). It was great to have company and after some of the highs and lows that the Gila threw at us it was really special to be able to cross the finish line together!

We finished in 19 days 2 hours and 37 mins… Or something like that! That meant I snuck in about an hour under the women’s record but that was neither here nor there, considering the amazing ride Lael Wilcox put in to finish in just over 17 days!!

Without a doubt the Tour Divide was the hardest but most rewarding and memorable challenge I have tackled yet. Upon finishing I swore NEVER EVER again… But today is a week after finishing and the day dreaming has already begun. Let’s forget about that for now :)

Will post up plenty of stories and pictures upon our return home. 

Thanks so much for following and for all your kind words and support. We had a blast! 
  
     

   

Day 9 TD Update

Seb and Beth are still riding strong and having a great time by all accounts!
Beth is sitting in 2nd place she is currently in Atlantic City and has ridden 1375 miles, 2212km, so she is roughly at the halfway point!! Found this photo on www.mountainflyermagazine.com

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Seb is sitting in 4th place and has ridden 2900km so past the halfway point. He is only about 50k behind the leader Jay Petervary, the top 6 men are in well in front of the current record.

EClark_150618_4278www.mountainflyermagazine.com

keep on pedallin guys you are doing awesomely!!!!!!!!!!

Tour Divide Update 4 days 20 hours in!!

Just some links and updates regarding Beth and Seb’s Tour Divide Epic Adventure!! Posting this at about 8pm 17/6 AUS Time.

Beth’s SPOT last updated 6hr ago (about 2pm AUS Time) so not sure if she is still in this spot for the night or if she’s gone forward but at that stage she had ridden 1100kms!!! That was about 30 miles behind Leal Wilcox the current leader but her SPOT updated only 5 mins, so Beth could well have past her. Hoping Beth gets to ride with her cos she seems like a cool chick that would be interesting to meet!  Another women Alice Drobna is riding very close if not, with Beth, don’t know much about her background.
Some photos from the start:
The-Tour-Divide-Race-Grand-Depart-in-Banff-36-1335x890 The-Tour-Divide-Race-Grand-Depart-in-Banff-37-1335x890

MTB CAST from Beth:
http://mtbcast.com/site2/category/td15/page/2/

Seb’s SPOT last updated 3 hr 46mins ago (about 4pm AUS Time)
He has ridden 944.03 miles, which is 1519.2km. That is epic! He is in 4th position and is at a town called Lima. Here are some posts from his facebook page over the last few days:

“Bit of bad news from my end….apart from general soreness you’d expect given the volume we’ve been doing, my right knee has become pretty painful today. Have been going backwards and struggling especially this afternoon but am hoping its just some referral pain from tight hammies and foot pain I’ve had last 2 days. Anyway am having a burger in Basin and hopefully soft pedal to Butte tonight and have more sensible day tomorrow. Go Beth!”

And then:
“Knee fortunately seems bit better after some r&r at a motel in butte last night. Made Lima tonight after a big of a long push. Idaho tomorrow!”
Seb Dunne Jun 14 02 Seb Dunne Jun 14 03 SEB1The two of them are riding strong and in good spirits. They have loads of people addicted checking their blue dots and wishing them a tonne of good vibes and support!!! GO BETH AND SEB!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tour Divide is here

Hi all, 

A quick hello from Banff, Canada before we start the race on Friday 8am! Seb and I have had a fantastic time road tripping from Vancouver to Banff. We have seen some incredible scenery and ridden some awesome trails including Vancouver, Whistler and Banff! 

Bikes are all set and both Seb and I went on a bit of a solo test ride today. Both saw bears and mountain goats, and I saw elk too! 

Here are all the links so you can follow us and the race as we ride North to South across America! 

Race tracking:

http://trackleaders.com/tourdivide15

Race chatter:

http://www.bikepacking.net/forum/ultra-racing/tour-divide-2015-race-discussion-thread/ 

Racer call ins: http://mtbcast.com

We’ll be posting to or FB page along the way:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Beth-and-Seb-Tour-Divide-2015

Cheer us on and leave plenty encouragement, we’ll need it! We have passed over blogging rights to our bikepacking buddies Courtney Shinn and Al Gribble from Rolling Adventures to keep you updated with where we are at! So watch this space!

Thanks for all your support everyone. You know who you are and what you have done to help us get to the start line. 

Happy dot watching!

  

Seb’s TD gear list and bike setup

For anyone who hasn’t been lucky enough to hear us talking about what this actually is (i.e. the whole time)……it’s a wee spin down the Rocky Mountains from Banff in Alberta down to the Mexican border in New Mexico. A bit under 4500km – no stages or mandatory stops, sleep when/if you want. Sounds fun hey!?

Preps have been lots of fun. Training has gone well with steady big base kms January through to the end of March then some easier weeks and short stuffy the last month or so. Lots of spreadsheets (an Actuary’s favourite) planning gear, the route, resupply logistics etc. Now we’re ready to get this show on the road.

Here is a quick gear list of what I’ll be carrying for Tour Divide. The short answer is less than you’d think! Apart from a basic sleep system we’re not carrying a lot more than you would on a long day ride. We’re heavily reliant on resupplying food & water in the many towns along route. Always moving forward is the name of the game as we simply can’t carry enough for multiple days at a time.

I will be taking basically what I took to NZ for the Kiwi Brevet end of January, less the half-frame bag I’ve decided to go without. I don’t carry a backpack as I find having no weight on my back makes things a lot more comfortable for the backside.

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Bike – Waltly Titanium 29er

  • Rigid
  • 3 x 10 XT Groupset
  • TT bars (helps ease pressure on hands/upper body over long distances)
  • Brand spanking new wheels! Carbon rims with the front laced to SP dynamo hub, rear DT Swiss 240s
  • Ikon 3C EXO TR 2.2 tyres (never missed a beat and I’ve used the sh!t out of some of these puppies)

Shiny SP dynamo

Handlebar bag – sleep system

  • Western Mountaineering SummerLite bag (rated to 0 deg C)
  • Thermorest NeoAir Xlite mat
  • Integral Designs Bugaboo eVent bivy bag
  • Lightweight down jacket for extra warmth

Saddle bag – clothes

  • Showers Pass Elite eVent jacket with hood
  • Ground Effect Helter Skelter ¾ length waterproof pants
  • Mid weight soft shell jacket
  • Merino skull cap
  • Neoprene gloves for wet weather

Feedbags

  • Mainly for food
  • Some spares

General clothing

  • Rapha classic bibs (soooo comfy…better be since I’m only taking 1 pair)
  • Craft mesh undershirt
  • Merino jersey
  • Fleecy arm/knee warmers
  • Whistle for the bears
  • Merino socks
  • Defeet merino gloves
  • Shimano XC50 shoes
  • Sunnies
  • Helmet
photo 2

Gotta remember to KEEP TO THE RIGHT –>

Gadgets

  • Garmin eTrex 30 (to follow the purple line)
  • SPOT tracker (so you all can follow along at home!)
  • Wireless cateye computer (for backup navigation if Garmin fails)
  • 6000 mAh cache battery (Charged through dynamo and used to power garmin, iphone, headlamp)
  • Exposure revo dynamo lamp for bars
  • Exposure Axis headlight (USB rechargeable – extra oomph for descents and around camp etc.)
  • iPhone (so I can call mum)

Extras

  • 2L foldable water bottle. V lightweight and gives extra capacity for dry sections
  • Sea to Summit sil-nylon backpack – packs down to nothing and again helps if overflow required for some long sections
  • 3 x 3L sis drink bottles
  • Basic spares & lots of chain lube
  • Basic first aid kit, ibuprofen, multi-vitamins, electrolytes, sunblock, chamois cream, chapstick, toothbrush/paste
  • Passport, cash, credit card, phone
  • Bear spray….

Not the lightest setup but enough to make me comfortable I’ll be able to handle the conditions I might face out there without being overly luxurious. Ultimately, everyone has to decide on their gear based on their own aspirations and risk appetite.

 

Bring it on!