Well, we finished the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route yesterday, Monday, July 29, 2019. 2,770 miles, 69 days, over 200,000 feet of climbing. Two broken derailleurs, one broken seatpost, several new friends, more muscle and less fat, countless bowls of oatmeal and granola, and memories filled with the freedom, beauty, challenge, and peacefulness of our GDMBR tour.
Our ride from Eureka to Banff was fairly uneventful other than it was filled with riding in beautiful Canadian provincial parks. Peaks here aren’t as high as the US Rocky Mountains but they are more rocky and jagged. And what looked like a flat trail in the profile turned out to be more of a roller coaster with steep ascents and descents. My mind was already at the finish line so I wasn’t particularly happy about having to push my bike. But honestly, I’m already missing the riding. Good thing we’re heading out tomorrow to tour Yellowstone for ten days!
We stopped off in a few towns along the way. It only takes us about an hour (the amount of time to drink some good coffe) before we tire of the tourism. I believe the more a town relies on tourist money, the more unpleasant the town. I really am not a fan of Fernie or Banff. Banff doesn’t even seem to be a real town, more like a giant strip mall for people with money. Thankfully these towns also have great public libraries—our refuge. You can always find the true heart of a town at their public library.
My thoughts on completing the ride... I never would have attempted or completed the ride without John. It was his dream and I came along, somewhat hesitant. I feared that it would be too monotonous and that I would not be able to face the physical and mental challenge. But seeing him enjoy himself so much, appreciating the ever-changing landscapes, one mile at a time, staying in the moment, allowed my mind to decide that I was enjoying myself. Not that I didn’t grumble. But grumbling is okay. I found a kindred spirit in Jill Homer. Her book, Be Brave, Be Strong, recounts her sometime attitude of the GDMBR, “... the rutted gravel road dipped into a narrow canyon and wound playfully back to the highway that I had spent all morning bypassing on the primitive, and therefore preferable, forest road. That’s the big one catch of the Great divide Mountain Bike Route—it never takes the easy way. It takes the most scenic, most challenging, most remote way... especially as the days wore on, it often seemed ridiculous to climb many thousand of feet over and down three difficult passes on flooded, rock-strewn roads, just to get around the perfectly good pavement of a smooth, flat highway.” And because it is the most scenic, most challenging, and most remote—that is why finishing this is so very special to me.
But my next tour just may be in France, with boulangeries, chateaus, and good paved, smooth, and flat highways. Just saying.
Next up—Yellowstone tour, visit with Emma in Chelan, trips to Lawrence to visit our family and (hopefully) start creating a homestead, hanging out with Ian and Jessica in Raleigh, granddaughter arriving in December, and NYC next January-May. A profound sense of gratitude about my life and excited about the future! Xxoo
Another ten days has passed since our last zero-mile day. Today we are resting in Eureka, Montana. Not a terribly exciting town but a town with affordable hotel rooms, good coffee, a big grocery store, and only ten miles from the Canadian border. That’s right! Tomorrow we pass over to Canada. Only 225 miles to Banff! And we have seven days to ride, so at least three zero-mile days before we finish. Don’t want to arrive in Banff too early because we can’t afford it! 😛
Quick updates... after leaving Helena, we rode to Barbara Nye’s Lost Llama Home for Wayward Cyclists. She and her beau, John, offer GDMBR cyclists a place to stay, food, and showers. Upon arrival you are offered sandwiches, soda, and beer. Then escorted to your cabin with full kitchen, stocked with food, wine, and candy; beds are upstairs, in the loft. There is an AUTOMATIC M&M CANDY DISPENSER in your living room. Other cyclists arrive and come hang out with you. That evening, Barbara and John build a fire and treat everyone to s’mores. And this is all free. They just request you pay-it-forward to someone down the road. Oh, and add llamas, alpacas, and baby bunnies to the scene. One of the highlights of my GDMBR journey.
Next night we reached Ovando, Montana. Steffie and Quentin had already arrived but passed on the opportunity to sleep in the shepherd’s wagon due to the fact that they were both too tall for the bed! In Ovando, cyclists can choose to sleep in a teepee, old jail, or shepherd’s wagon. A small town but they really cater to GDMBR cyclists, even providing free coffee at the general store.
Other highlights of the past week include spending a half-day in Seeley Lake drinking espresso, eating ice cream, and relaxing. Amazing single-track riding in Flathead National Forest and taking a day off-route to ride into Glacier National Park. A very worthwhile 40 extra miles. We rode the shuttle bus up the Going-to-the-Sun Highway, perhaps the most scenic of all mountain roads in the United States.
We’ve been riding more miles per day. At the beginning of the trip, we averaged maybe 30-40 miles a day. Lately we’ve been riding 50-70 miles. Feeling a bit sore and tired but I’m enjoying the riding and it is worth cycling the extra miles in order to stop and rest in the few towns along the route. It is also nice to camp in a campground with bear boxes since hanging our food in a tree is a bit of a pain (although John is very good at it!).
We’ve still not seen a bear, moose, or mountain lion. Personally, I’m quite relieved but John is disappointed. I have gotten in the habit of playing music, podcasts, and audio books loudly on my speaker. I don’t want to surprise any big critters. Most days we only see a few other cyclists and maybe a couple of trucks. Still enjoying the opportunity to wild camp in the national forests and tackle the mountain passes... up, up, up and down, down, down.
I hope you enjoy the photos! I think they tell a good story.
So many things have happened since my last blog post on July 2! And since I am a born list-maker, here are some bullet points of our adventures since our last post....
*Instead of hitching a ride with Heaven to Jackson to fix my bike seat, Cowboy Jim, who works maintenance at Lava Lodge, fixed my seat with a simple bolt. He is the great-great grandson of John Wesley Hardin, gunfighter that killed 22 men. Read more in the book, Life and Times of John Wesley Hardin.
* For the second time in two years, we got to cycle around the Tetons. Same area as the photo on our website. Downhill and gorgeous!
* Spent the Fourth in the town of Ashton, Idaho. Great parade—went down mainstreet, turned around paraded back! Lots of kids, no tanks.
* Arrived early in the day at the hotel in Lima, Montana, and watched marble-size hail fall outside of our room. Jack and Dink show up in the hotel room next door! Next morning, rode ten miles to eat at the historic Yesterday’s Calf-A, a cafe with home cooked food, housed in a former one-room schoolhouse. Started the day with cherry pie.
* Camped at the Bannack State Park campground. Bannack, Montana, is a well-preserved ghost town. I love abandoned buildings and really enjoyed walking through the houses, hotel, and Masonic Lodge.
*Next day, a short ride (26 miles) to the Elkhorn Hot Springs. We stayed at the lodge, with complimentary entrance to the hot springs and breakfast buffet the next day. The hot springs was basically a big concrete pool and we loved it. And guess what! Steff and Quentin showed up in the room next to us. Funny how you can stay with the same lovely people throughout a tour.
* After next morning’s great breakfast buffet at Elkhorn, we tackled Fleecer Ridge on the GDMBR. Someone said a 38% incline. As Adventure Cycling says on the map, a ridiculously steep hill. John and I had to throw off our panniers to get our bikes up. I was literally moving my bike four inches at a time. Process: plant feet firmly in sandy soil; use arm strength to push bike four inches uphill; continue. Don’t look up to gauge progress too often. Cuss frequently and well. At times I couldn’t push hard enough to get my front tire over an inch-high rock. Steff and Quentin were also going uphill and as true Trail Angels, helped us with our panniers. Quent even pushed my bike a bit. Ridiculously steep, indeed.
*And now we have a day off in Helena, Montana. I really like this town. Beautiful buildings with stonework; good bakery; cheap hotel with bathtub, fridge, and microwave.
* And things have changed a bit for me, mentally. Really enjoying the trip and will be sad for it to finish in 600 miles. I really believe I could live this cycling life for years as long as I had the opportunity to see family and friends. Missing loved ones.
Looking forward to getting back on the bike tomorrow to ride to Barbara Nye’s Llama Farm! We have the cabin reserved and everything! Xxoo
Starting with a positive spin: we’re getting stronger. And with strength, the riding is even more fun. Staying completely in the moment, not planning for the future or mulling over the past, as is my habit. The scenery is amazing, especially as we near the Tetons. The wild camping is so convenient and I love our evening ritual of setting up camp, cooking dinner, talking about our day, and snuggling in our cozy tent.
We’ve met other cyclists along the route. I appreciate getting to talk with other people that share our interests in cycle touring and traveling. We’ve been leap-frogging with four other cyclists, Steff and Quent from France, and Dink and Jack from the Netherlands. Fun group of people with different attitudes about the ride. I love Steff and Quent’s manner of touring. Quent describes themselves as “tourists,” off to experience the people, activities, and towns along the way.
We also met two Appalachian State students riding the GDMBR. Sam is a big fan of the university library where we work and it was actually at the library that Bryson talked Sam into riding the GDMBR. But not surprising as cool people and libraries go together. They are very strong riders and have the minimal race bike setups. Will probably complete the route in under 40 days.
And now... the story arch goes to the two main characters and how they resolved conflict along the way. Remember how, in the last blog posting, John’s derailleur blew up due to mud? And how we learned a lesson about NOT riding in the mud? Well, Beth blew up her derailleur the second morning out of Steamboat. Same exact situation. While wise cyclists were staying dry inside hotel rooms, we went for it. Luckily the incident happened near the Ladder Ranch and they were so very helpful. We stayed in one of their small cabins for a couple of nights, borrowed a Jeep BACK to Steamboat and Orange Peel. And here I’m gonna go all fan girl—at the Orange Peel I saw fricking Lael Wilcox! And she smiled at me! (She smiles at everyone).
As always, the disaster turned out to be a high-point of the trip, with the stay at Ladder Ranch, hanging out with the other cyclists that arrived after the sun came out, and eating breakfast with the O’Toole family.
Another evening we were wild camping and began to slowly notice our scalps were becoming itchy. It got more intense, soon it felt like my scalp was on fire. Couldn’t concentrate. Could it be lice, chemicals? Would we need to go to an emergency room? But we are in the middle of nowhere. When I couldn’t take it much longer, I heated up water and washed my hair. Temporary relief but itch returned after my hair dried. John looked at my scalp and my hair was full of gnats/horsefly critters! Super ick, ugh, yuck. I shook out my hair best I could and dove into the tent. Relief. Feels so good when the irritation stops.
We hope to make it to Tetons National Park today. Yesterday the bolt that attaches my saddle broke in half so I finished the last nine miles standing up on my bike. Again, a kind person is offering us a ride to Jackson (66 miles) to get my bike fixed. I do get frustrated when my bike breaks. A mix of sad and disheartened. But always aware that this is the most memorable part of the trip, overcoming obstacles and difficulties to reach the goal.
Hoping to take a rest day on the Fourth in a small town along the way. Nothing beats celebrating Independence Day in a small western town. Xxoo