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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Simon 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.
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.
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!