Northern Montana has a lot of WarmShowers hosts, and on top of that, they respond! Four days in a row, I had somewhere to stay and not far to go.
Almost as soon as I left my campground at Owl Creek, it started raining, but only just. Cold, though. Later, it began warming up, but I could see that the rain in front of me was thicker. Before it hit, I wisely put on my rain pants and hat. Made the day unpleasant, but bearable. Luckily, the road wasn't the type to turn to slop in the rain.
Late in the day, the rain stopped. I managed to get lost on my way to my host's house, due to a confusing map. The host told me what road to turn on, but not how to find it, and there were no signs. As a result, I wound up on a "road" that was probably never built by anything other than a truck driving the same path two or three times. I was essentially bushwhacking.
This might be wrong. I took another look at my map and concluded that the correct turn was probably farther north. I turned around and bushwhacked all over again.
By the time I arrived at the house, the sun was out and I was already feeling better. No one was home. I sat in a chair on the front deck and fell asleep.
After 30 minutes or so, my host arrived. Dan and his girlfriend had gone to the local airport to pick up their friends, another couple and their teenage son. They live in southern California, and the son is a competitive mountain biker. His high school even has a team! I didn't know that was a thing.
Dan promptly handed me a beer, which was followed by more throughout the afternoon and evening. At one point, the gang went to pick huckleberries (yes, that's a real berry!), and did some fly fishing later on. Then we ingested homemade pizzas and huckleberry cobbler. It was heavenly.
Dan pitched a big, roomy tent just for me, and helped me clean my chain and oil it. He didn't have chain cleaner or chain lube, but we made it work with WD-40 and motor oil. Jackie's chain had been the one piece of equipment that had always been a little off, and in the coming days, it felt the best it had the whole time.
I probably could've made it to Whitefish in one day, but WarmShowers hosts are too good to pass up, Bigfork was my destination. Also, maybe it's good that I was slowing down.
Bigfork and Whitefish are down in a valley, bringing me to the lowest elevation of the ride. It doesn't get as cold at night, but because Montana is much farther north, it doesn't warm up as much during the day either. It stays cool all the time. Sometimes I only had my jacket off for about an hour a day.
The last 20 minutes of the day involved a busy highway, and my hosts lived right on it...kind of. As soon as you get off the road and onto their unpaved driveway, the noise is cut in half by a thick garden surrounded by lush, leafy trees. It was like stepping into another world. Risa and her husband showed me my quarters, essentially a workshop with a few bikes in it, a bunkbed, and a greenhouse off to the side. But hey, a bed, running water, electricity, it even had a bookshelf full of good reading! I read a few chapters of one of their books, but didn't exchange. I still want to finish "The Tao of Willie."
I was invited inside for dinner, and I was surprised how eager their two-year-old twins are when it comes to eating real food, including meat, yogurt, and corn on the cob. Risa is more attached to bike touring than her husband and asked if it would be possible to do the Great Divide with her kids once they're older, with the idea that it would take them twice as long as the average rider. That means about 100 days, and I'd say yes. If a slow rider started in New Mexico in May, they still wouldn't get to Colorado too early, and would finish up towards the end of summer. Southbound, it might be possible to start around July 1 and finish up mid-October, but you'd have to put up with cold nights and short days by the end. And then there's the issue of getting 100 days off in a row. Your job might allow that, but the kids' school won't.
Risa's bikes had water bottle holders on them from Plano Cycling. I asked when she was in Plano, and she looked confused. Turned out she simply ordered some cheap water bottle holders online, and that's what she got. I guess Plano Cycling had a clearance going on.
On the way to Whitefish, I stopped in a grocery store and purchased an amount of food I immediately realized was way too much. Still, I had the idea that groceries would cost more in Canada, and I didn't want to bother changing currency, and I'd be charged for using my credit card in another country. The less I can spend in a foreign country, the better.
Yet another short day, I still made it to Whitefish in early afternoon, then waited until about 5:00 PM before Chuck got home. We sat on his back porch eating chips and drinking beer until his wife Rita got home as well. He mentioned that they were going out for dinner, but it wasn't until I told him it was my mom's birthday that he told me it was his as well. Happy birthday, Chuck!
After Rita arrived, they went to a Mexican restaurant, and I had the luxury of having warm granola, thanks to their microwave!
Originally, the plan was I would camp in the backyard, but then it started to sound like I'd get a bed.
"We haven't had a chance to change the sheets since someone stayed a night last week, if you're OK with that."
It took effort not to display an enormous are you kidding me look on my face. I graciously thanked them and took the incredibly comfortable bed.
Another day that was one long up, one long down. Since it was yet another short day, my mind told me that it would be quick and easy, so compared to that notion, the uphill seemed to go on forever.
At the top, there was a lake. I'm always confused by that. How is a body of water perched at the highest point? It was pretty there.
I've been seeing more and more Great Divide riders, heading south. It's much more common to start in the north, and at this time of year. For me to have seen southbound riders early on, they would have started in April. I don't meet many northbound riders, both because there aren't many, and also because it's harder to meet someone going the same direction as you.
At the end of the day, the road through the forest felt like being in a canyon.
I rode 9 km off-route to make it to a hostel where cyclists can camp for free. The place was run by Oliver, a kind German man who wears John Lennon glasses. There were a few cyclists, a few families, and a few hikers doing the Pacific Northwest Trail, a long-distance trail I've never heard of. I'd already guess that it's better than the much more famous Appalachian Trail. It probably rains a lot, but still can't rain much more than the AT. It's probably in better condition, and undoubtedly has better scenery.
Jessie (I might've gotten the name wrong, but I'm sure it was a J) was a southbound Great Divide rider who looked to be about my age. He was considering an alternate route south from here, possibly going into Glacier National Park. He was from Oregon and also Arizona I think, somewhere in the desert, not unlike Copperhead's Seattle-Phoenix duality. He was an experienced mountain biker and the road conditions didn't have the slightest effect on him, it seemed. He was riding a rigid bike with 3" tires. He had a habit of settling in his tent in early afternoon with a book, falling asleep, and waking up just as it gets dark.
Tim, who coincidentally was also about my dad's age as well, was from South Africa and had been traveling the entire planet by bicycle for years now. His bike was heavily loaded. He intended to keep going for several more years, and while he didn't have a concrete plan, he wasn't scatterbrained. He knew what he was doing. He also had a background in physics and engineering.
"When I can no longer do this, I've already picked the location, there's this cliff in California, over the sea, and there are loads of sharks in the water below. If I can't use my body any longer, then at least the sharks can."
I don't think he was entirely serious, but I did believe that he plans to do this as long as he can, and plans for not much after that.
I could've done this distance in two days, but I'm glad I took four. It's nice when you can start a tour at a breakneck pace and gradually slow down. Makes it feel better and better as you go.
from Great Divide