Day 12: Fish Creek Campground – Whitefish

When I left the campground today I had two choices: Camas Road northwest to North Fork Rd to Columbia Falls, or ride a little ways on Highway 2 out of the park and take Belton Stage / Blankenship roads to North Fork Rd. The first alternative is about 10 miles longer but avoid Hwy 2 entirely, so I chose it.

Camas Rd is a very nice paved road that climbs very gradually away from Lake McDonald. There are some great views up there.
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Unfortunately, the first ~10 miles of North Fork Rd are unpaved and very dusty. Choking, can’t even see down the road clouds of dust every time a car passed.  And the surface was very loose gravel that was pushed into washboards by the traffic. It was horrible to ride on; the only compensation is that I did get to enjoy quite a bit of the NF of the Flathead.
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I passed this spectacular rock waterfall on the side of the road. The temperature was noticeably cooler in the spray and so I sat there having a snack and then replenished my water supply.

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Eventually the gravel gave way to pavement, and I passed the other end of Blankenship Rd. So if I had taken the other route, I could have avoided all of the dusty section of North Fork Rd.

There was a bit of climbing along the road and then a very long (miles), gradual downhill to Columbia Falls. I went back to the same grocery store to get lunch. Then I called Avis to see if there was any chance that I could pick up my car today instead of tomorrow — because if so, I’d go straight to the airport instead of to Whitefish. They said they hadn’t gotten back any cars yet today, so I headed out for Whitefish. I knew this route because I’d already done it a few days ago and it went by quickly.

A few miles from Whitefish I passed a Hertz rental location that I had mentally bookmarked the last time I went by. This time, I figured what the heck, I walked in and said, “This is completely out of the blue, but do you have any cars that can go to Butte today?” They told me that they own their own cars and don’t sent them out of town, but Hertz at the airport might have something. Amazingly, they did, and even more amazingly, they told me they’d drive it over from the airport because it would be cheaper for me to rent it at the in-town location than at the airport! They said it would be a bit, and I replied “a bit is good, because I’m going to the beach!”. And I boogied down the road as fast as I could to the Whitefish Beach, where I jumped in in my bike shorts and got cooled off in a hurry. About 1/2 hour later I was on my way back to the rental car place and I got there about 2 minutes before the car did. The car was a Dodge Grand Caravan and I was able to load the entire bike without even taking off the front wheel!

So I managed to make it back to Butte tonight and staying at the Super 8 where my own car is parked. In the morning I’ll return the van to the airport and then be on my way back home to Boulder. My vacation is over! 😦

Day 11: Polebridge – Fish Creek Campground

Had a very good night’s sleep at the hostel. Here are the “cabins” behind the hostel, which are really just a bunch of old trailers that have been parked there. To say that this place is funky is an understatement!

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First thing this morning, after using the lovely outdoor plumbing, was a ride down to the Merc to get breakfast. Polebridge, it turns out, is the gateway to the northwest corner of the park, and the bakery is packed with hikers and other park visitors.

Then back to the hostel to clean and lube my chain. The road here are incredibly dusty, and by yesterday my chain was so dirty it was making grinding noises and sometimes skipping. Luckily Oliver, the hostel owner, had some chain lube.  When I left it looked and sounds like new again.

Since today’s ride is a short 30 miles, I took a detour to see Bowman Lake. It was a steep climb of about 800 feet on a bumpy road with a lot of traffic. But it is pretty :

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The creature from Bowman Lake

On the way back I stopped at the Polebridge ranger station again to ask about the road closure sign I had seen. No problem for a bike, I was told. Ha!

Here’s the historic Polebridge ranger station built in 1922.

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It survived the fire in the late 90s but the namesake bridge was not so lucky and had to be rebuilt. BTW the bathrooms in that ranger station are the finest in Polebridge. 🙂

After riding along for awhile I finally got some nice views of the north fork of the Flathead River. That’s one enormous river!

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Look at how clear that water is!

But alas the road doesn’t follow the river liked I hoped it would, and I spent most of the time riding in heavy forest.  Traffic dropped to zero once I passed the quartz creek Campground and finally I came to the closure.

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Note the smaller sign in front that says Ok for hikers and bikers. The fine print says, basically,  “don’t even think of going in here alone. ” oops! It was pretty freaky riding through the heavy forest and I was ringing my bell like a streetcar! Lol
So it turns out there are lots of downed trees on the closed road, which are a real pain in the butt when your bike weighs 60 pounds!

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Also the road kept crossing large creeks, which means big downhills to the bridge and then big up hills on the other side of each creek.

The weather forecast was 90% chance of a thunderstorm and sure enough it started to rain on me. It felt good because it was such a hot day.

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However, as it got heavier I decided to stop and put on my rain jacket. No sooner had I done so, the sun came out and I was roasting.
Here I am crossing Dutch Creek.  See how sunny it is again? .

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You can see the evidence of the forest fire all around.

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Finally I made it to the other end of the road closure!

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Within a mile I was at the fish Creek Campground. $8 for a hiker or biker including a shower! Fish Creek runs right into Lake McDonald.

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Day 10: Whitefish – Polebridge

Got a very late start today because I was having intestinal problems and so I was very reluctant to leave my hotel room. I finally rolled out of the hotel at 11. I  figured it would take about 5 hours to get to Polebridge but as usual I underestimated the difficulty.

The route starts out on a busy paved road in the east side of the lake but there is a bike path as far as the ski area and traffic dies quickly after that. There are lots of multi million dollar homes along the lake shore. Eventually the road turns to dirt and climbs gradually.

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There is tons of surface water up here – to the extent that I actually dumped out the hotel water that I brought with me. In some places there was a creek running down the hillside every few hundred yards!

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That is one big culvert!

I ran into a section of the road that was being graded and there were first – sized rocks all over the road. Luckily the graders blade wasn’t quite the full width of the road so there was a narrow strip that I could ride on.

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Upper Whitefish Lake was too beautiful for words. And it was practically deserted! If I had known about this place I would have planned to camp here.

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There was a very tough (and unexpected) climb up to red meadow Lake, then lots of downhill. I began to see my first tantalizing views of glacier np.

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I pulled into Polebridge at about 6:40.

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I grabbed a quick shower at the hostel.

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Then I headed over to the only restaurant in town for a glass of chocolate milk and a steak. Don’t judge me until you’ve cycled a mile in my shoes! 🙂

This town is pretty interesting. It’s all off the power grid. Every building generates its own power and they all have satellite Internet and phone.

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The hostel has a mixture of electric lights and propane lamps. But it does have an Internet connection which I’m using right now!

Tomorrow I intend to ride the inside north fork road down to the Apgar campground. Since this is a pretty short and flat ride, I also plan to make a detour to see Bowman Lake as long as I am this close. It is supposed to be extremely beautiful.

Day 9: Whitefish

Rest day today. Kicked off my day with a massage at The Wave health club. Excellent! The therapist recommended that I spend the afternoon at the city beach on Whitefish Lake so I think I shall.

While eating some fish tacos at an outdoor table at the shopping mall I saw another bikepacker riding by. “Hey, divide rider” I yelled. He could not believe I had pegged him so fast. Then I told him I was also riding, but my packs were in my hotel room. He is from NH. He started in Banff and said he had been riding 100 miles a day on pavement because of the flooding in Alberta. Said he hadn’t seen any other riders till now. He was at the mall to buy bear spray at the sporting goods store.

There’s a bike path along the river that goes right to the beach. The lake is very nice. It’s weird to be swimming and see the ski area right there.
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And the beach is very popular.
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After spending the afternoon at the beach, I went to the library and used a computer there to reserve a spot at the north fork hostel for tomorrow night. Also researched where to go for dinner and found a BBQ joint. Here is the 3-meat platter at Piggyback BBQ:
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What a great deal for only fifteen bucks!

Afterwards I went back to my hotel to wash my clothes because I smelled like a smoked piggie. Not good for bear country! 🙂

Day 8: Bigfork – Whitefish

As I left the campground I took this picture of Flathead Lake. This is as close as I got to it. I think it’s a shame that this is off route. I’m sure many riders go by without ever seeing the lake or the path along the Swan river.
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Almost all pavement today. This is just a very well settled (and well-to-do) corner of Montana. It was a very pretty day with clear skies and not too hot. It’s horse country. And look, an actual bike path!
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About 5 miles from Columbia falls I caught up with John again! We rode into town together where he wanted a sit down meal but I preferred a sandwich and a quart of chocolate milk from the grocery store. Funny how cheap that guy is but he loves to eat in restaurants. We said goodbye for the third time but this time it will probably be the last as he is heading east into Glacier tomorrow and I’m heading west to Whitefish today. BTW his blog is fenby.zxq.net. Check it out.

The last 10 miles into whitish were hard for me because I was just so ready for a rest! Got into town around 5pm and discovered that all of the nice hotels – even midrange hotels – were well over $100 per night! Since I was going to be here for two nights I did feel the need to economize so I ended up at the Cheap Sleep motel about a mile south of downtown. At first I was pretty depressed by the yellow cinder block walls and the icky green carpet, but the people here are very nice and I can see they are doing their best with what they’ve got. Plus in my room I met my new best friend :
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That’s real leather, bay-bee! I spend every moment that I’m not actually sleeping (like right now for example) in that chair!

Day 7: Condon – Big Fork

Today was a very easy day. I was feeling good, too, possibly due to the fantastic breakfast at the B&B.

I headed north up the highway to cold creek rd so that I wouldn’t have to backtrack 7 miles down the highway. I crossed the Swan river.
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I then noticed that my inReach was complaining about low battery. Poop, I had just passed a grocery store about a mile back up the highway. I but the bullet and went back. Unfortunately they did not have lithium batteries so I had to buy regular alkaline. The lithium lasted for 5 days ; the alkaline didn’t even last 1!

Today’s ride was on easy dirt road on the west side of the Swan river. There were lots of trees on either side of the road so no views. It got rather monotonous.

BTW, when there’s a sign that says road closed ahead you’d better believe it! Apparently they decided to put in a new bridge over this creek.
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To get an idea of how high that bank is, notice the man standing on the other side! I decided to bushwhack upstream a few yards to where the bank was more manageable.
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Lots of nice creeks to get water from again today.
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In the only real climb of the day, Crane Mountain, I unexpectedly caught up with John. He started that morning at Peck Lake, where he had wild camped the night before. That was a few miles further up the route than where I got on. We were both impressed that I had caught him – after all, he’s got 20 years on me and he’s much stronger. Must have been my fantastic breakfast.

We were both going to Bigfork, which is slightly off the route, for different reasons. I wanted to see if I could contact some folks I know who live there and John needed to visit the bike shop. A couple of days ago, John was extolling the virtues of rim brakes for touring in that they don’t overheat like discs can. Of course, he admitted, they do wear down your rims eventually. Sure enough, within 24 hours of making that comment, his rear brake started making a thumping noise and it turned out that his rim was splitting! The guys in the shop couldn’t help him because they don’t stock rim brake compatible rims. Everybody uses disc brakes nowadays.

The ride into Bigfork is on a bike path along the Swan river. That’s one big river!
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We had dinner at Grille 459 and I had their eponymously-named 459 burger. This was a cardiac bomb consisting of a bacon cheeseburger with a fried egg and a slice of ham on top! It was absurd ; even for a hungry biker it was almost too much.

After dinner I went in search of a hotel but it was Saturday night in Bigfork and everything for under $200 was sold out. So I ended up camping at Wayfarer State Park which was quite nice actually. The campground was full but they have one site saved for cyclists to share. John refused to stay there on principle because they charge per person for the shared site and it would have cost more for the two of us (15@) than a single regular site would have cost. I thought he was nuts.

Day 6: Seeley Lake – Holland Lake

Was planning to stay at the Holland Lake Lodge tonight that everyone raves about, but I called ahead and they are booked with a wedding this weekend! Bummer – I’ve heard so many good things about it. But there is also a campground at Holland Lake so I’ll probably stay there.

John and I met for breakfast and rode together today. It was a good day to have a riding partner as we were entering “Grizzly Alley” :
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This area is a valley sandwiched between highway 83 on the west and the Bob Marshall Wilderness (“the Bob”) on the east. It is basically the closest you can get a mountain bike to the Bob. Here is a view down valley looking south. Look closely and you can see the dirt road we rode up:
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After a few miles of climbing the road ends at a group of boulders, which you ride around to get onto the Most Awesome Singletrack EVER
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One drawback was that in some places the trees were so close on either side that you got scratched as you rode. John got a really nasty one on one leg.
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We make for the Gap of Rohan! 🙂
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We saw one biker coming the other way. He was a local so he didn’t have packs, but I did notice that he had bear spray strapped to him!

We stopped for lunch as we crested the top and had a tremendous view to the north. (At this point the roadbed had washed out and was only as wide as the trail for a few yards. We surmised that this is why the road was closed.) That small body of water might be Holland Lake ; the snow capped peaks are the Mission Mountains, which are on the west side of the Swan Valley.
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After a while we came to the end of the singletrack and resumed on a dirt road. Then there ensued a ridiculously fast and long downhill. A road change or two and suddenly John looked at his gps and announced that we had gotten off the route. Backtracked about a mile; how could we have missed this? 🙂
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Eventually we ended up at Holland Lake.
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Not only was the Lodge full, so was the campground! So we rode up the highway a bit looking for the town of Condon. We passed a restaurant that john wanted to eat at, but I was determined to find lodging first so I pressed onward. Well, the hotel that was supposed to be there no longer exists. At the town center “, which is really just a convenience store with showers and a few ridiculously overpriced, crappy cabins, I was told of a B&B that was “a mile and a half, if that” further up the road. The guy let me use the phone to call them and they had room, so I decided to go for it. At this point I realized that I was not going to return to the restaurant that john was at so I grabbed a Costco chicken bake before I left. 🙂 Good thing too, because the B&B was actually TWO and a half miles. Doesn’t sound like a big difference but when you’re on a bike and you’re not sure where you’re going, it’s quite aggravating. I didn’t see John until the next day because when he left the restaurant, he became dejected at not finding stuff where it was supposed to be, so he turned back to the official route. As it turns out, there was another road about 2 miles beyond the B&B that cut over to the official route so I did not have to backtrack the next day.

The B&B was fantastic. It’s called “Standing Rock” because the grounds are littered with giant rocks that the owner has collected from nearby logging roads and stood on end. Very bizarre. A beautiful pond has a huge pile of large boulders that a fountain spills from. The rooms were very nice, price was reasonable, and breakfast was incredible. Also, the owner is a pro b&w film photographer, and the walls are covered with his work.

Day 5: Lincoln -Seeley Lake

Today’s ride was long but not difficult. At least the weather was better : 15 degrees cooler than yesterday!

When I left my hotel at 10,everyone told me I had to visit the beef jerky factory on the edge of town. So I didn’t really roll out of town until 10:30. When what, to my wondering eyes, should appear, but two other cyclists! They were stopped, talking to each other, so I caught up to them. One guy, John, from Wales, was heading north, and the other guy, Thane, was heading south. Coincidentally, Thane was from Boulder! When I told him that I was as well, he said he was pretty sure that he had seen me on the bike oath. Thane said he was heading for Butte today, and here it was 11am in Lincoln. John thought this was not possible, but I pointed out to him later that there are lots of riders in Boulder who probably are capable of feats like that.

Anyway, John and I decided to ride together. We were pretty well matched, but that is only because he is carrying at least 20 lbs more than I am. He has been touring for 8 months! He toured for a few months in New Zealand, then flew to Mexico City and rode up here from there! He’s heading to the north end of the trail, then he’s riding to Victoria, and then heading home.

So we ride along for maybe a half hour, and we run into 2 more cyclists. And these two were from England as well.
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Later in the day we ran into 2 MORE cyclists, but they were heading downhill and they didn’t stop to talk to us. John said this is a phenomenon that he has seen a lot : he thinks that people are so obsessed with doing the route as fast as they can, they don’t stop for anything. Anyway, saw 6 other riders in one day, that’s pretty amazing.

Because we got going so late, we didn’t get to Ovando until 4:30. This is mainly because we left so late. There is really nothing there except a restaurant. We decided to eat dinner there because otherwise we figured we wouldn’t get a meal until 7pm or so at Seeley Lake. It was a good idea, because it made the rest of the ride a lot easier.

The route after Ovando was really beautiful and it was early evening so the light was very beautiful as well.
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We didn’t get to Seeley Lake until 8:30, but that was okay because we’d already had dinner. None of the ride was hard, but it was long at 70 miles. I am staying in a motel, but john is camping to save money. You can’t afford to stay in a motel every night when you’re on a yearlong vacation! And tomorrow night we are both planning to stay at the Holland Lake Lodge because everybody raves about it.

We are on the western edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and tomorrow’s ride is when we are most likely to see bears on the entire route. So it will be a good day to have a traveling companion.

Today I forgot to turn on satellite tracking again, which is why there are no positional updates between Lincoln and Ovando. But tomorrow I will make sure to turn on tracking.

Day 4: Helena – Lincoln

Hard day. Really hard. Did I mention how hard it was? No really, I mean it was hard.

Managed to leave Helena at 8am,which for me is pretty good. I figured that if I rode my usual pace it would take 9 hours, so done by 5,no problem. What I didn’t count on was how ridiculously hot it was going to be today!

I made it to priest pass road, the first 10 miles, by 9am. Not bad, I thought, now I only have to ride 50 miles in 8 hours, that should be no problem! Ha!

But this area was very reminiscent of boulder, very dry, little shade, and when it starts heating up, it’s like an oven. Still I made it to the top, the first 2k of 5, in the first 2.5 hours.

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As you might have read in yesterday’s entry, I decided I didn’t need to take as much water from now on because there’s surface water everywhere. Well, not on the Helena side of the divide. I was getting very worried about running out.  The route indicated that the road was going to cross something called “Dog Creek”, so I figured I could filter water there. Well, when I got there it was surrounded by cattle. Yecch! Nevertheless, I had to get water so I did. But I kept aside the last half bottle of water I had brought with me, hoping that I’d find something better before I had to drink dog creek.

The ride got a lot prettier now, and I passed through a meadow that was outrageously full of wildflowers.

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I was heading up my second climb of the day, getting near the divide,  and suddenly I heard water! There was a small, fast running creek next to the road. Thankfully, I was able to ditch the dog creek water before I had to drink any of it.

On the other side of the divide, I got some big views and a really fun downhill.

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I  met some BLM workers at the bottom of the hill and they said I would have good roads all the way to Lincoln. I had one more 2k climb and then it was all downhill. Even though it was already 3pm, I figured I could easily be done by 6.

Unfortunately, as I descended to the bottom of the next climb, it started to get hot again. Marsh creek road was the final climb and it was much like priest pass in that there was very little shade. As however I climbed, however, the landscape abruptly changed to this sylvan paradise:

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Still, it was hot and I was dying out there. I made up my mind that if the creek got close enough to the road, I was going to jump in. Soon I had my chance, but the creek barely covered my toes. But I did soak my shirt and put it back on, and that was refreshing if you enjoy screaming.  🙂

Soon I started to notice that every time I would try to predict when I’d get to the top, I was not making any progress. When I had 3 miles to go, I was doing 6mph, and I figured I had another 1/2 hour. By the time I had 2 miles to go,  I was down to 4mph –  still 1/2 hour. Then I had 1-3/4 miles to go, and I was doing 3.5mph. It was like some twilight zone version of Zeno’s Paradox. Eventually I had to get off and walk. I came to this spot where clearcutting had taken place and they didn’t clean up the road. Those pine cones are just like big ball bearings and the bike slid right out from under me.

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So I’m walking past this mess, and just as I’m about to get on and ride again, I hear running water. I look around for the source and I see an old bathtub that is overflowing!

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If you look carefully you can see that there is a pipe filling the tub. Probably an old cattle watering trough, though I hadn’t seen any evidence of cattle this high up. No matter, I filtered the water coming out of the pipe just to be safe, and it was cold and delicious.
So I ride a bit, but I have to keep getting off to walk because the equipment they used to move the logs around – either a bulldozer or a track loaders has churned up the road surface so badly that it’s impossible to ride – heck it was hard to even walk through this stuff. (picture the sandbox at Valmont bike park. Now put it on a 10% grade. Finally, add 25lb of baggage to your bike!) I began calling it “bulldozer excrement”.

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Finally I re reached the top at about 6:30 pm. There was a road grader parked there. Great, they’re probably planning to grade the road tomorrow.

Now according to the route description, I have 4.4miles of “extremely steep” downhill. Well, they were not kidding! I had to stop a few times to let my brakes cool down! And just to keep things interesting, apparently this same tracked vehicle had been up and down this road and torn it up real good. There were long sections of clearcut – probably beetle kill. At one point it looked like War of the Worlds, except that the aliens assumed that trees were the dominant species on earth and attacked them instead of people.

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It was ugg-ly and not fun at all.

I finally hit the main road into town at 7, and still had about 9 miles to ride, so I just cranked it out and got it done in about 40 minutes. Whew!

I checked into the first hotel I saw. The Lincoln hotel Is this very cool old log building. I’ll post pics tomorrow when I have better light for pictures.

Door to door, the ride took 11:45. Yikes! But what’s even crazier is that, according to my bike computer, I was only pedaling for 7:15. That means that for every 2 minutes I spent riding, I spent one minute panting in the shade of a tree, or filtering water, or a trying to cool off some other way.  That’s  crazy!

Here are some pictures of the Lincoln Hotel :
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Day 3: Helena

Well, I was sitting in my hotel room last night on the bed with 3 pillows propped up behind me and an ice bag on my shin, watching nick at night, thinking gee, what a shame I can’t do this again tomorrow, when I thought, “wait a minute – why can’t I do this again tomorrow?” I looked over the maps and concluded that even if I don’t ride today, I have more than enough days to get where I want to go. And there’s seriously nothing to do in any of the towns I’ll be going through for the next few days. So I decided to kick back in Helena today. Going to hit the grocery store, go to the library and try to upload the pics from my camera, walk the historic district, maybe visit the Capitol building.

And watch more TV!

Update : I was using Google maps to navigate a route to radio shack by bike, and when the biking layer appeared, lo and behold, there are miles of singletrack just west of downtown in Mt Helena park. Well, I couldn’t be this close to the famous Helena trail system with an entire day to kill and not try them! So I googled em up and decided to go up the Prairie trail and down the Backside trail. Prairie Trail was nice:DSC01317

Backside Trail was a BIG mistake! The trail descriptions use words like “meadow” when they mean “rockpile”. I kid you not, this is actually part of the trail:DSC01319

The trail descriptions were obviously written by hikers, not bikers. When I got back, I zipped down to the bike shop to see if I could replace a bent fork cage (yesterday’s crash apparently), and the guy said I picked the loosest, rockiest trail in Helena! He then proceeded to show me where I should have gone riding. I was tempted to go back out there – it was only about 11am after all – but this is supposed to be a rest day.

Went to radio shack to look for an eye-fi card for my camera but those doofuses didn’t even know what I was talking about. The people at the Verizon store at least knew what it was but all they could do was suggest that I go to Walmart. I didn’t want to ride all over Helena so I just went grocery shopping. Then I rode over to the state Capitol and ate my lunch at a picnic table across the street. The Capitol is an incredibly beautiful building. I’d been there years ago but I was impressed all over again.
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I’m at the library right now uploading all the pics that I took with my camera. From now on I guess I’ll take every picture twice, once with my phone (for uploading here) and once with my camera for a better image to look at when I’m in my golden years. 🙂 Go back and look at the previous posts to see these pics.

Tomorrow: Lincoln!  I pinky swear it! I’m going to be completely packed and ready to go tonight and in the morning I’m going to eat breakfast and go. Hopefully I’ll be on the road by 7:30am.

In retrospect, I made several mistakes yesterday that I won’t repeat. I didn’t eat enough, I left too late, and I brought too much water. I have a 4 liter water bladder (thats 9 pounds) that I nearly filled. At the end of the ride I still had 2 liters in it. Thing is, there’s a creek alongside every mountain road, and I have two kinds of water purification with me. So carrying that much water is just plain dumb!