Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
I froze my butt off all night in Grants. Maybe I should've used my tent instead of sleeping in a lawn chair. At least I didn't have to take down my tent in the morning.
As a southbound rider had mentioned, right around Polaris, trees appeared. A short climb later, I was rewarded with a long downhill, along with pavement and a rare tailwind! The holy Trinity of bike riding. I made killer time all the way down and realized I was only 45 km from Butte. It wasn't even 1:00 PM yet.
After a strong afternoon push, further aided by mor tailwind, I got into Butte just before 4:00 PM. I found some cyclists just outside of town and explained my situation, asking if they knew of a church, school, or fire station where I could use the floor and ceiling for the night. They were hesitant to give any kind of response, and then told me several details about the KOA, including what they serve for dinner.
Butte reminded me a lot of Latin America: run-down buildings, loose dogs, and unnecessarily loud trucks. I went ahead and visited about a dozen churches myself. No one was at any of them. It was now about 5:00 PM. I checked into a dumpy motel for $65. The Super 8 in town cost $81. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding the correlation between hotel prices and the quality of their surroundings. But then again, I'm floored it can possibly cost more than $10 for the luxury of lying still for a few hours. I have similar questions about rent.
Maybe it cost too much, but it was my first hotel room since I started, and it was nice to sit around in my underwear all night and watch Futurama reruns. There was a Safeway across the street, so I also took care of Montana's float requirement. I was hoping for Big Red, but Safeway didn't have any, nor strawberry soda. I settled for Cherry Dr. Pepper. Not bad! I have a hunch it'll be hard to find Big Red in Canada, and I've wanted to try that since the beginning. Now I don't know what my last one will be.
Helena isn't that far from Butte, especially if you take the alternate route, which I did. This part of the Great Divide is famous for the most technically challenging ridges and climbs, to the point that you're told not only to push your bike, but to get off the trail to do it, because the grass is a much better surface than the loose rocks that make up the trail. I failed to see the point of doing that. Either way, I'm not biking the route. I'd rather bike some other route than walk somewhere near the official route.
Upon arrival in Helena, I visited the state capitol building. Nice place! I've seen some state capitols that had little effort put into them. This one had a dome and rotunda, less massive in scale than the Texas or US capitols, but with a warmer, country feel. I felt like it represents Montana well.
I was also excited to pick up my tent in Helena. Until now, I'd been using only the rainfly of my tent, which is comfortable enough, keeps me dry, and weighs half as much. Only problem is mosquitoes, and they keep getting worse. So I asked my parents to send me the netting part of my tent.
When I opened the box, I found that it was my entire two-man tent, rather than the netting only of my one-man tent. To be fair, they're made by the same company and are the exact same color. I considered keeping that and sending my one-man rainfly home, but that would quadruple the weight of my tent. Probably not worth it. Since I opened the box, it was treated as an entirely new package, rather than a forward or return. But at least I got a new shirt also! My old one, previously stretchy, was becoming baggier by the day and now comically draped off me.
I had a WarmShowers host in Helena, my first since three states ago, and only my third overall. She wasn't getting home from work until 10:00 PM, so she left her door unlocked and told me to go ahead and help myself to whatever. That meant a shower, a chance to put everything in the laundry, and plenty of snacks and ice cream. Nice!
Normally I go to bed at 9:00 PM or so, no later than 9:30. I figured I should at least stay awake until my host got home and introduce myself after I'd eaten her food and used he shower. And I'd get a chance to ask about all the race trophies lying around.
10:00 came and went. So did 11:00. Around midnight, I was having trouble keeping my eyes open. At 12:30, I sent my host a text and went to bed. Just as I was crawling in, I heard the door open. Turns out she's an ER nurse, and sometimes a few extra hours at work just happens. In the morning, she had to leave by 8:00, and once again left me alone with the place.
I only had 65 km to do that day, which meant about four hours of riding, so I waited until it warmed up and left around 11:00 AM. Like many days in Colorado, most of the day was one big climb and one big descent. But this was packed into half the distance. Needless to say, it was steep. On the downside, lots of loose rocks. But I'm getting better at handling them.
The Adventure Cycling maps mentioned someone's cabin in the middle of nowhere as a spot you can camp. On the way, I met a British couple who'd stayed there the night before, and went on the gush about it. They hadn't planned on stopping for the night, since that would be an unusually short day for them, but stayed once they got to know the place.
Upon arrival, I understood why. The cabin was more of a tiny house, with a loft upstairs for sleeping with two beds. Downstairs was a stove, a sink, two bottles of wine, pancake mix, and a ton of M&Ms. The place even had WiFi! Three llamas were walking around outside. One in particular was rather social.
I arrived not long after a father-in-law and daughter team (I'm pretty sure) and we headed into the cabin together. Anna and I split one of the bottles of wine. Shortly thereafter, the owners came by, introduced themselves, and left us with four beers. I had one. In the morning, I cooked pancakes for everyone and skedaddled with a pack of M&Ms.
I can't remember the father-in-law's name, but I remember his trail name, "Mosey." I think I do better remembering trail names than I do real names. He had hiked the Appalachian Trail the year before I did, and we shared similar opinions about some of its downsides.
I was supposed to do two medium-long days in a row before I wound up with yet another WarmShowers host, but after checking the weather, I decided to go as far as I could and make the next day as short as possible. The weather was supposed to be perfect one day, then rain for several days straight.
Leaving the cabin, I immediately had to climb one of the steepest hills in recent memory, then hold the brakes all the way down the other side. That put me in Lincoln, where I was lucky enough to find a half-decent grocery store. No whole wheat bagels, English muffins, or tortillas, so I had to go with white. Pretty much everything else I wanted though, including cheap fruit.
I continued through Ovando, which I'd been told was a cool town, but it didn't look like much to me. Then I bypassed Seely Lake, where I was told I didn't miss anything. One last huge hill at the end of a long day, including some singletrack on the side of a cliff. Having no mountain bike experience, I was nervous.
I wanted to make it to Holland Lake, where it looked like there were free campsites with running water. At about 8:30 PM, and only one km away, I found two touring cyclists going the other way. Why hadn't they stopped at Holland Lake? We stopped to talk to each other.
"Where are you headed tonight?"
"I was headed down to Holland Lake; I heard there's good camping there."
"Oh, you don't wanna go there. Place is packed. There's a wedding going on or something, and every campsite is full. Tons of people, noisy. Did you check out this place?" They pointed to the turnoff right behind me. I'd barely noticed it, focused on getting to Holland Lake before dark, hadn't noticed you can camp there, and certainly hadn't paid attention to the crowd level.
We rode into the site together, where half the campsites were empty. Each of them had a water spigot and a picnic table. It was free. Good enough for me! We talked to the friendly neighbors who had horses, and received a slice of watermelon.
As it turned out, the male rider had done the Tour Divide Race a few years back, and came in fourth! It's still incredible to me that it's possible to finish in only a couple weeks. If I get only six hours of sleep two nights in a row, I can clearly see a difference in my behavior and how I physically feel. Surviving on three hours/night for a few weeks is something I will never voluntarily do.
from Great Divide