The third week of our journey down the GDMBR was book-ended by rest days. One end was our day off in Eureka before Rachel’s parents came to join us for 6 days on the trail, and on the other end we were extracted from the trail for 2 days off in Lakeside, MT at Sydney and Jack’s beautiful home on Flathead Lake. We pedaled from Eureka to Holland Lake in Condon, MT before being whisked away in Jim’s truck. Between Whitefish and Big Fork, the route was mostly pavement and flat, but the rest was forestry roads with daily climbs.
Energy and excitement were plentiful for the road ahead as our group of four set out from the Silverado Motel in Eureka. Our bikes were probably the heaviest yet due to Rachel and my shopping trip the previous night as well as Jim and Jeanette (J&J) bringing a very generous supply of their own food. Regardless, we cruised on pavement over rolling hills for the first dozen miles, with lots of conversation and then rejoiced in the opportunity to taste the beers from HA Brewery before transitioning to dirt and steeper grades.
Rain clouds threatened us all of the first day, but didn’t produce any rain until we arrived at Tuchuck Campground. Days 2 & 3 followed suit, with a particularly cold rain at the top of Red Meadow Pass. Fortunately, a very kind family from Whitefish had just set up camp near the pass and invited us to share their tarp shelter while we ate lunch. I was especially excited to meet Banjo, their energetic Brittany Spaniel. The sky finally cleared on our 4th day, and the rest of the week was clear and sunny. Without much cloud cover, though, we suffered through the afternoon heat and day-dreamed of rain and clouds returning as we sweated our way up each mountain pass. It’s funny how quickly the tides can turn, and it reminded me of the song Lucky Man by Montgomery Gentry. “I have moments when I curse the rain, then complain when the sun’s too hot…”
We had heard lots of praise regarding the pastries at the Polebridge Mercantile, so we made a short detour off-route to decide for ourselves. The pastries were plentiful and didn’t disappoint one bit. We were delighted to discover the hiker/biker special, which meant each of us got a free fruit fritter. Later, the 4 of us squeezed into a tiny cabin (only meant for 2) at the North Fork Hostel. That night we cooked mushrooms gifted to us by a generous fellow we met at the Eureka laundromat. Initially we suspected they might be funny mushrooms, but we found out they were actually just Morels. It has been a bountiful year for them in Montana, as they tend to thrive in recently burned areas.
It was a lot of fun to see Jim & Jeanette develop a deeper-understanding of the physical challenge and emotions of bike touring. First example: food. It didn’t take long for them to understand why we have such large appetites and strong cravings while pedaling gear-laden bikes through the mountains. “I just ate and I’m already hungry again! Now I understand.” Jeanette.
J&J discovered another perk of cycling at Wayfarer State Park. It was 6pm on the 4th of July and there was a line of cars and boat-toting trucks trying to get through the gate. The guards let us 4 bypass the line and let us know they have designated biker/hiker camp spots and a “no turn away policy” for bikers/hikers so they would find a spot for us even if those spots are full. Later that night we all took a dip in the icy waters of Flathead Lake and watched a thunderous fireworks display just outside the campground.
The range of emotions throughout the week varied quite a bit. Excitement fueled our first day, but I was slightly worried about how well the rear rack would hold up on Jim’s bike. Fortunately it held solid all week. After the first day, the touring newbies were on a high and loving the adventure and scenery, even thinking they may want to join us for a later section. “When will you guys get to Dillon?” At the end of the week, though, the sentiment changed a bit. “Nevermind, I don’t need to know when you’ll be in Dillon.”
On our second-to-last day, after completing a big climb and most of a fun downhill, Jim’s front tire washed out on lose gravel. The crash resulted in broken rib(s) and road rash, which extinguished some of the growing optimism. The next day was even more difficult mentally and physically, and we were looking forward to an end-of-day meal at Holland Lake Lodge. We did a dangerous thing: day-dreaming of a nice meal ahead. It didn’t materialize because of a wedding at the Lodge, so they weren’t serving any guests which was a serious emotional blow. Instead, we had rice with beef jerky and a campfire-toasted salted nut roll wrap.
At the end of the week, J&J were happy to be done, but also happy to have joined. In the process they gained respect for what we’ve done/are doing and better understand the associated feelings. Six days on the trail was ambitious but they handled it very well. Just about the time they started feeling stronger and able to more-easily enjoy pedal-powered traveling to the fullest, our time together was over. I am confident they will look back on their week on the trail with us fondly, though, and be happy they joined us, broken rib(s) and all. They should be very proud of what they accomplished, and I hope that they would consider bicycle touring again in the future 🙂 It was a privilege to share part of our trip with them.
We met a new group of cyclists this week, and coincidentally all rode at similar speeds, ending at the same campsites each night. Tom & Tim from the UK, Jeff from Spokane, and Dave from Atlanta. I had a long talk with Dave the morning after sleeping at Wayfarer State Park. He has ridden the RAAM (Race Across America) as part of a relay team twice, the first time crashing and breaking his collar bone. He returned the following year, though, and his team finished in 6 days. He also had a rough start to the GDMBR. He started in Banff without an operational GPS or the correct map, and accidentally sprayed himself with his bear spray. It was great fun meeting these 4 and hopefully we’ll cross paths with them all again. We also met Lori and Jeff who had recently started riding northbound from Butte. They rode the TransAm a couple of years ago but also rode from Mexico to Butte last year on the GDMBR, stopping there because of the raging Montana wildfires. We’re a bit concerned about the fires in CO and NM and what they might do to our trip, but that’s out of our control, so we try not to worry about it.
I’m afraid to put this in writing and potentially jinx us, but our bikes are holding up very well so far. In Lakeside, I tuned Rachel’s bike. The derailleur hanger was very bent from when she slid off of the bridge on the Elk Valley Trail, so I bent that back into shape and re-adjusted the cable tension and derailleur limits. Otherwise, I cleaned our bikes, replaced the chain on my bike, and checked for loose bolts.
We’ve stopped worrying much about what we carry up big climbs. For the climb before Jim’s spill, we carried 2 leftover beers and a 6 pack of donuts to the top of the pass. Those items made our big group meal at the shaded edge of the road complete. And just as we finished our 2 beers, Ryan and Reesa drove up with their baby in the backseat. Reesa is from nearby Swan Lake; they are currently in San Francisco but moving to Bozeman. They gave their apologies to J&J for increasing the population of Bozeman, and we had a nice conversation. Then they insisted on loading us back up with 4 more beers.
Closing out the week with time spent relaxing at Sydney & Jack’s in Lakeside was wonderful. We spent time cleaning, doing laundry, catching up with tasks while we had internet (blog work, loading remainder of gps sections, paying bills), but also lots of amazing time spent on the dock/in the lake, eating gourmet meals compliments of the Muirs, resting our weary bodies and even had an early birthday celebration for Rachel.