Week five of our GDMBR adventure started somewhat lazily in Bozeman. We had grand plans of getting back to the route and making tracks early, but we were overly ambitious with our to-do list. That being said, we knew we could cover miles late in the day as the temperature dropped and shade grew, so we joined Jim & Jeanette at church then got some amazing donuts from Granny’s Gourmet Donuts . Back at the house, we took our time eating lunch, packing, and using the computer, then left Bozeman at 3PM. J&J took us back to the top of the hill in Butte, and we said goodbye for our 3rd (and final) time of the trip. The rest of the week took us from Butte through southern Montana, over the corner of Idaho, into Northwest Wyoming. We had a daily mileage to maintain in order to arrive in Wyoming in time for our friend Shannon’s wedding at Grand Targhee Resort. Once we had a few good days of riding under our belts, though, we decided we would continue to push a little further every day in order to have extra rest days in Jackson and the Tetons. We also reached a new high of 7,900′ in this section.
As always, a large highlight of this week was the people we met along the way. On the evening that we departed Butte, we met Kirby, a Catholic priest who was training for the Butte 50 mountain bike race (held on July 28). He was staging water atop the Continental Divide pass in preparation for a practice ride of the whole route the next day. He was a super nice guy with lots of great things to say about Butte, and he graciously offered us water after talking with us for a while.
Bill, a Northbound rider from Kansas City that we met near Wise Rive, rattled off highlights of his trip so that we would know what to look for on the road ahead. I was impressed with his memory; I’m not sure I’d recall so many details, so we appreciated it greatly.
Keith, a musician from Los Angeles, plays the viola for movie soundtracks in Hollywood. He is riding southbound but planning to finish in Douglas, AZ, a location he thinks will be more appealing than Antelope Wells. We briefly rode together then shared a campsite and several meals together with lots of great conversation about bikes, touring, and life before parting ways in Lima, MT.
Peter and Anna, a couple from Bozeman, were out mountain biking near Warm River in Idaho. Peter used to work for Adventure Cycling; he and Anna met when he lead her Northern Tier tour years ago. Now, he works for Yellowstone, and he advised us to travel with caution due to numerous grizzly bear sightings in the corridor between Yellowstone and Teton National Parks. He said he is especially wary of bears, because he works with lots of people who have been attacked. They were both very interested in our bikes and had dreams of riding the GDMBR after retiring, so we let them try out our bikes. This produced big smiles and laughter; Peter even exclaimed, “See you in Antelope Wells!” Afterwards, they so kindly encouraged us to let ourselves into their camper at the Warm River Campground for ice cream and delicious homemade cookies, while they continued on their ride towards the Warm River Headwaters. How could we turn down an offer like that!?
On Ashton-Flagg Ranch road, we met the most northbound riders in a single day: 9 in total. One solo rider was from Flagstaff, and his wife plans to meet him in Whitefish, MT to finish the route together. There was also a young couple from Bozeman, and another from the UK whose ukulele we all signed while having a large pow-wow on the side of the dirt road. Lots of good information was shared, including that the Colter Bay CG was very nice and we’d have no problem getting a site, because they have hiker/biker spots (which was a great relief). We also met a father and son group from Arkansas and Miami, respectively. The next day was the son’s 21st birthday so we suggested some places they could celebrate. At the Colter Bay CG, we met Trenton, a cyclist from Utah, whose kids were named Lila and Ezra. Trenton was cruising around on his road bike just beyond the entrance gate to the campground. He had a group site through the weekend, with extra space which he graciously offered us to use for free (rather than $12/day). He was very happy to help fellow cyclists, and otherwise the sites would go unused. When we explained our trip to him, he turned to his son Ezra and said, “That’s so cool! We need to do that some day.” Also at Colter Bay, another cyclist gifted us wood for a campfire, because he was leaving and didn’t want to carry it on the Burley trailer he towed behind his bike.
The people who we got to know the best this week were Gillian and Grant from Glasgow, Scotland. We first met them at Elkhorn Hot Springs, where we made introductions and shared several conversations. We talked again briefly in Lima, MT, and then finished our day’s ride to Mack’s Inn, ID together. Rachel was feeling sore, and we were ready to stop when we caught up to them on the trail, but the new conversation was an enormous boost and enticed us to push on with them into Idaho. They had been traveling since the beginning of the year, starting with bikepacking the Baja Divide, Carretera Austral & Patagonia, then backpacking in Peru before embarking upon the GDMBR in Jasper. They were the first group we had ever joined up with along the route, so it was a fun learning experience for us. We found the best tactic to be to ride at our own pace, and, if all went according to plan, meet up at the end of the day, rather than trying to adopt one-another’s routine and/or pace. We continued with them to Colter Bay, where we shared a campsite and took a rest day together before parting ways. It was a sad goodbye, but we were so happy to have met them and to have had so much fun riding together. Hopefully we will meet again; we would certainly be happy to make a return trip to Scotland 🙂
The places we visited were also a major highlight of the week. John & Jen, the northbound couple from Jackson, WY, recommended we visit Elkhorn Hot Springs, and we are happy that we listened. It turned out to be a major crossroads for touring cyclists; we met TransAm and GDMBR riders going in all directions, and we shared dinner with Keith and Pierre (from Belgium) in the lodge after soaking in the hot springs. We splurged on a small cabin, which only cost $80, including a breakfast buffet. It was described to us as rustic, but we found it to be very nice.
Just down the road, we ducked out of thunderstorms in Bannack, MT, an old ghost town with a history of gunslingers and other classic wild west shenanigans, which is now a state park. We were on the fence about visiting, but it was nearly lunch time, it was less than a mile off-route, and Rachel wanted shelter from the thunderheads moving towards us. We had a great time exploring and imagining what it had been like back in its heyday.
Later in the week, we passed through Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, a vast plot of land situated in the beautiful Centennial Valley which is bustling with wildlife and great scenery. One of the most unexpected parts of crossing the refuge was riding through a cattle drive. Our week ended in Colter Bay, which we decided would be a great place for a rest day. The general store provided all the food and drink we could imagine at a reasonable price, and it was only a short bike ride away from our campsite. The beach along Jackson Lake was pristine, but got very busy during the day. Despite the hoards of people, though, we felt very fortunate to arrive at such a beautiful place late in the day without a reservation, and not be turned away.
While riding to Beaverdam CG under a dramatic sunset, we saw our first moose of trip. A large bull darted across the road and into a thicket a mile or so before arriving at the campsite. The sighting made us feel like our late day riding habit had been worthwhile.
We were skeptical about the steepness of the legendary Fleecer Ridge, as described in our maps, but the description proved to be accurate. After cresting the top of the ridge, we began the descent, but the road quickly became steep and slippery. After sliding off the side of the trail and bouncing over sagebrush, we both decided it wasn’t worth the risk, and we walked down the worst of it. Coincidentally, I wiped out later that day, minutes before arriving at Elkhorn Hot Springs. I was avoiding cow patties by hugging the downhill side of a road traversing a steep hillside when my tire got sucked off the edge of the road by unexpected deep sand. Fortunately, I was able to put the bike down quickly to avoid falling over the edge. In the process, I lost a small piece of my shift lever, but otherwise there was no damage aside from some small scrapes on my elbow and knee.
We finally made it through Montana, and we’re nearly half way through the trip mileage-wise! The trip has been an absolute blast, and we’re still looking forward to the road ahead 🙂