Our 4th week on the GDMBR began at Holland Lake and brought us to Butte. As was the case with week 3, we had rest days on both ends of the week. We have been fortunate to take so many rest days in Montana with Rachel’s family. Although our riding began and ended in Holland Lake and Butte respectively, we technically began and ended the week in Lakeside and Bozeman, thanks to Sydney, Jack, Jim, and Jeanette once again for extracting us from the route to their rather posh accommodations.
To begin the week, we said goodbye to J&J. We had such a great time pedaling with them from Eureka to Holland Lake and then relaxing at Lakeside. It was a very sad goodbye for Rachel, and if it had not been for the heat and ravenous bugs at Owl Creek Packer Campground, we probably would have lingered with them longer before rolling out once again.
We found the climbing in this section to be much more rewarding than the prior week. Right out of the gate, the Swan Divide climb didn’t shy from elevation gain. Rather than slip through a deep valley between peaks, it passed near the top of the mountain, at our new high of 6,500′. It was 20 miles from bottom to top with fun singletrack over the crest. This climb was the most rewarding yet, with great views.
The next day, we ambitiously tackled two passes, Huckleberry and Marsh Creek (not sure of the actual name of the Marsh Creek pass; it was near Stemple Pass). The second climb we began around 6PM from Lincoln, MT after using the library, eating dinner, and making some phone calls. We had been warned that this climb is brutally steep towards the end by some northbound cyclists we crossed paths with the prior day; their description proved to be accurate. At nearly 10PM and 6,800′ elevation, we were delighted to see the sign for “Free cyclist cabin 7 miles downhill”. Since it was such a torturous climb, we were grateful to have opted to tackle it late in the day when the air was cool and the sun wasn’t beating down on us. This was only the second time we crossed the continental divide of the trip and the first time we crossed it in the US.
En route to Helena the next day, we crossed the divide twice more, on even more beautiful roads. These were fairly mellow climbs, as were the few between Helena and Butte. We were forced to detour around a climb south of Helena which would have taken us over 7,000′ for the first time (which Rachel described herein), which is described as “some of the most challenging riding of the route”. We were sad to miss that section, so we have told ourselves we will return to Helena to do so in a later visit to Montana 🙂
Once again, the people we have met along the way have been fantastic, riders and non-riders alike. Jen and John from Wilson, WY were riding northbound at a fast pace, taking only 39 days to get from Antelope Wells, NM to Lincoln, MT and were aiming for Banff 5 days later. They were the ones who warned us about Marsh Creek Pass. Jen described it as the one that, “looked like a Hershey’s Kiss on the map,” but also coined it as Ass-kicker Pass. They also provided great lodging recommendations, such as the jail cell in Ovando, the “Llama Lodge” past Lincoln, and Elkhorn Hotsprings near Polaris.
In Ovando, we met Brooke, who was blazing her own cross country path and stopped in Ovando hoping to meet other touring cyclists. She is the second person we’ve met who has worked in Antarctica!
Ron was the definition of a character, but also a great ambassador for Ovando. He showed us into the Hoosgow (jail cell), gifted us 4 Rainier (one of which we shared atop Huckleberry Pass the next day), bug spray, and Ovando long sleeve tee shirts; he also told lots of crude (but very funny) jokes. He converted an old van into a camper van, which he referred to as the “Ronnebago” and said that all of his friends back home in Cleveland, Ohio now refer to Montana as Rontana.
Barbara is a true trail angel, and the owner of the Lost Llama Lodge. We showed up very late after crossing Marsh Creek Pass. By that time, all of the lights in the house were off. We knew we were in the right place due to the large “GDMBR Riders Welcome” sign, but we didn’t want to wake her up, so we set up our tent then looked for place to hang food. I was pretty bummed to have missed the chance to stay in a cabin, but in the process of trying to hang food, I found the cabins and met Barbara. She saw me wandering around with my headlamp, then insisted that we take down our tent and stay in the cabin. Her generosity is mind blowing, and Rachel and I will certainly pay it forward as requested (in lieu of payment to Barbara for the accommodations).
Outside of Helena, we met a group of three dual-sport motorcycle riders and had a great time chatting and discussing our trips with each other. Then there was the other motorcyclist who suggested an alternate route into Boulder, MT, and Rhandi, who provided accommodations for us in Basin, MT (more details in Rachel’s post).
Rachel’s birthday fell on day 25 of this trip. I did my best to make it an enjoyable and memorable one for her. We started the day with a laid back morning, drinking coffee and tea on the porch of our cozy cabin at the Lost Llama Lodge. Jasper the llama, Buzz the dog, and the horses and donkeys all came by to say hello. It was a wonderful spot to begin the day. The ride into Helena was beautiful and fun, and then we relaxed at Sam (Rachel’s brother) and his fiancé, Kelsey’s, house. After cleaning ourselves up, we borrowed their truck and ventured out to paint the town red. Just kidding – we only went out to buy an 8″ ice cream cake and pick up Chinese takeout (thanks, Alli & Jim!). Back at the house, we melted into the couch with dinner and dessert, then watched a movie and hit the hay. It was a great day and one that I’m sure Rachel will remember for years to come. Not surprisingly, we managed to consume more than 3/4 of the 8″ ice cream cake between that night’s dessert and the next day’s breakfast and lunch. We figured the last ~1/4 could serve as a minor “thank you” to our absent but gracious hosts, Sam & Kelsey. Thanks, guys!!!
After weeks of wondering and giving rough approximations, we finally weighed our bikes upon leaving Helena. They were loaded to capacity with all the water and food we could carry, and they tipped the scale at 80 & 65lbs. I got a new Salsa Anything Bag to use on one side of my fork instead of holding my sandals there (they moved to the top of my underseat bag). This allows me to carry more or shift things from my fanny pack to the fork. Rachel got the upper hand with this deal, similar to last trip when we got rid of her rear panniers and I absorbed some of her stuff. This is despite comments that have been made, like when Markus said “She’s very strong, you should give her something heavier to carry,” as she raced ahead up a climb en route to Eureka.
After a late night push to make it to Basin at a decent hour for Rhandi, we got an early start towards Butte, where we would be picked up and driven to Bozeman for a rest day. My legs were tired from having ridden hard the prior night, even though the riding was somewhat mellow. In Butte, we discovered it was the Montana Folk Festival weekend, which appeared to be a great time. We didn’t get to see any concerts, but we supported a few vendors (kettle corn, corn dog, & huckleberry lemonade) in the short while we spent in town. In Bozeman, Jim & Jeanette prepared a fantastic dinner and dessert which we enjoyed on the back patio, then relaxed and watched one of our favorite shows together (Parks & Rec). The next day, we had blueberry pancakes on the front porch, then Wes & Meagan joined us for floating on the Jefferson river. Afterward, we did a minor amount of work on the bikes, then had another great meal before preparing ourselves to hit the road again tomorrow. Coincidentally, we didn’t use our tent at all this week. That simple fact goes to show how well we’ve been treated in Montana 🙂