Day 26 – Helena, MT to Basin, MT
I knew that it was going to be a good day when I found the heads up penny. The copper coin sat in the parking lot, glinting in the late morning sun, an omen of good luck. I picked it up, and Chris and I climbed into the blue pickup truck that we had driven there. As we pulled onto the road, I pried open the cardboard box in my hands, revealing two dry meals and a Salsa Anything Bag. I had left my fanny pack with my parents, and this third Anything Bag that we had shipped to Helena would serve as a replacement, providing space for overflow food. The dried meals were a bonus, added to our order so that we could get free shipping from REI.
After purchasing a new seat from Great Divide Cyclery (I’ve had a few more saddle sores than on our cross country trip), we headed back to my younger brother, Sam’s, house. The truck we drove is his. He and his fiance, Kelsey, were out of town, but they let us crash at their house.
We lingered there until 4:00PM, reading our maps, tweaking our bikes, and eating leftover Chinese food and ice cream cake from my birthday meal the previous night. Finally, we climbed back onto our bicycles.
We hit our first hiccup only a few miles into the ride. Due to construction, West Main Street was closed. We observed two cyclists on full suspension mountain bikes emerging from behind the Road Closed signs, so we deduced that we could get through. Chris rolled up to talk to one of the workers. He was informed that even bicycles could not get through, and that the detour was quite roundabout.
I turned around to see the two cyclists that we had seen before riding back towards us. “We’ll show you the way around,” one of them offered. We expected a short ride with some pointing in the right direction, but Buck and Julie rode with us for about five miles, and with some serious climbing no less!
Buck knew every little trail and turn, it seemed. He told Chris that many of the paths that they led us on weren’t even shown on maps. We had a ton of fun hearing about their life in Helena. In addition to cycling, Julie does ultra running! They were both in tiptop shape and had us breathing hard while we fought to keep pace and a conversation with them. Thank you so much, Julie and Buck! We owe you a drink the next time we are in Helena!
We had received an email from Adventure Cycling Association informing us that a road 26 miles south of Helena is closed due to “harmful tree mitigation”. With such a vague description, we were tempted to see if the road was still bike-able. However, after considering the possibility of backtracking 26 miles over some of the most challenging terrain on the route, we opted for the recommended Boulder alternate. We later learned that this was a wise decision; another cyclist, Keith, had spoken to a Forestry Service agent, who explained that trees that posed a risk of falling were preemptively cut down and lay where they fell across the road; the road wasn’t even walk-able, let alone bike-able. Someday, we will return to try this section that we missed!
As we made our way along the alternate, we reached a point where it led us onto I-15, up a steep climb to a continental divide pass, with construction, to boot. Fortuitously, a local rolled up on a dual sport bike. He recommended that we take the parallel Frontage Road, instead: “It says ‘Road Closed 6 Miles Ahead’, but really, it just turns to dirt. There are almost no cars on it.”
One of the reasons that I have loved this ride so much is the lack of cars, so I was thrilled. The ride was easy and cool in the evening air. When the road turned to dirt, there was a Dead End sign, but we pushed on. The road snaked up over the pass and then down into Boulder. We rolled through town and turned west towards Basin as our shadows grew longer.
When we finally reached Basin, we easily found the brick building that housed the cyclists only lodging listed on our map. Chris had called the host, Rhandi, earlier that day from Helena, and she had become worried as evening turned to night and we had not shown up. She had even driven up the route a little ways looking for us! Thanks for caring, Rhandi, and the accommodations were fantastic!