Day Eight - Seeley Lake to Lincoln - 53 miles - 522 miles total
After a disturbingly short sleep, the alarm sounded and was promptly silenced. I was exhausted and felt like I’d only just crawled into my sleeping bag. Fortunately, Ollie and Marco both seemed to be a bit on the slow side this morning, but wandered into town to get some breakfast, leaving me in the tent to get myself together.
I managed to drag myself up and out and walked into Seeley Lake to try
and join the others for some breakfast. The place we’d agreed to meet
only served coffee, but the lady there was very friendly and told me
that she’d given Ollie and Marco a lift (a lift!!!) up the road to
somewhere serving a good breakfast. With her good turn for the day
already done, I received no offer of a ride and so had to slowly make my
way up the road to the diner.
As if things weren’t bad enough, I arrived to discover that Michael Jackson had died. I look forward to telling the tale of remembering where I was when I learned of his death…..or maybe not.
Anyway, a good breakfast cheered us all up a bit and we got the tents packed away and set off on the way to Lincoln
I was feeling very tired and soon dropped back behind the others, but decided to try to keep on going, but at the same time wondering how I was going to cope with the rest of the ride. Here I was, just one week in and feeling like death
Thanks to our very late start that morning, the sun was already beating down, and I was really feeling the heat and I was doing possibly the worst thing I could do - watching the computer on my handlebars as it slowly crept along
After 26 miles, we arrived in the town of Ovando where we were treated to the best sandwiches on the whole route. If ever you find yourself near Ovando, then you simply must stop at The Stray Bullet and sample one (or two) of their fantastic sarnies.
Refreshed, I took quite a difficult decision. I would skip the rest of the trail to Lincoln and take the road instead. This would give me an easier afternoon, meaning that I would arrive a little earlier and be able to get a bit more sleep. It was a tough decision as I wanted to complete the whole route, but I also knew that the ride up Huckleberry Pass would most likely exhaust me, and I would be slowing the others down too.
After a brief moment where Ollie was considering both taking the road and going on further than Lincoln, I set off down the road and Ollie and Marco headed out on the trail, agreeing to meet up at the campground in Lincoln later that afternoon.
My ride along the road was unsurprisingly dull and had a few big long hills to get up and down along the way. I stopped a couple of times to get out of the sun for a while, and to make sure I was completely hydrated (I think this had added to my problems the day before).
I arrived in Lincoln in the middle of the afternoon, got the tent pitched and took a great shower before falling asleep for an hour or so. I had just woken up when Marco and Ollie arrived with tales of a quite easy climb and great views that I had missed. Still, I was happy that I’d managed to get an extra bit of sleeping done.
That evening, we got our laundry done, did some grocery shopping, ate pizza and drank beer. I was even starting to look forward to getting back on the road in the morning.
Day Nine - Lincoln to Helena - 65 miles - 587 miles total
Today was going to be a tough day and so we were up pretty early and after a large breakfast we were on the road. Although our destination Helena was at a lower altitude than Lincoln, today was going to be an uphill day, with three Continental Divide crossings and a profile that looked pretty challenging to say the least.
Somewhere on the first climb of the day, I remember looking down and thinking “I don’t recognise my own legs”. Quite an odd thought to have, but it did make me feel a bit better about feeling tired the previous couple of days - my body was changing shape, I was obviously working hard.
We stopped for an early first lunch at the bottom of the second climb and got the tents dried out in the sun, before setting off again. Marco went on ahead and we agreed to meet him over the top at Dog Creek.
The last part of the climb was very steep and had both Ollie and I pushing and wondering when it was going to end - “it must be just around this bend….”
A bumpy downhill took us down to Dog Creek and we met back up with Marco for a second lunch, before we set off again, heading towards the third Continental Divide crossing of the day, Priest Pass. On the map, the climb looked pretty steep, but in reality it was pretty easy. Two miles, along a really good gravel road in some wonderful surroundings - perfect for the third and final big climb of the day.
A steep downhill followed and then about ten miles along the highway took us into the town of Helena where we hoped to find a bike shop to get some supplies. The first shop we tried was closed and so we rode across town to another shop which was also closed. The owner was still inside however and saw us arrive and so came to help us out.
Ollie bought some new bike shoes as his had fallen apart and we picked up a few other bits and pieces before heading along to a hotel just down the road. A good cheap room, a good feed and a couple of beers rounded off the day very nicely indeed. Things were looking up.
Day Ten - Helena to Butte - 72 miles - 659 miles total
Breakfast in the hotel was followed by a long steady climb out of town before we stopped for photos next to the only Great Divide Mountain Bike Route signs on the whole trip.
We spent the rest of the morning riding uphill and then ate first lunch before starting on the roughest toughest section we’d faced so far - Lava Mountain. The guide book promised two miles of tough singletrack riding and that was an understatement.
The first section was basically a vertical wall which then became a rocky slope. Ollie and I pushed for what seemed like hours, but Marco was having a great time and managed to ride the whole thing, although he looked a bit tired when we eventually rejoined him at the top. I really didn’t enjoy that section at all, even the downhill sections were too steep for me to ride - I did try a couple of times, but without making any real progress.
Over the top, we began the descent to the settlement of Basin - not so much a town as a collection of houses. They did have a pub and cafe though, so we stopped for a drink and a bite to eat - much needed after the miles of pushing.
Out of Basin, we took a “Non-maintained Cattle Trail”, which was nowhere near as bad as it sounds and we followed this track alongside the highway before joining the highway for the final few very fast very downhill miles into Butte.
We got a room in the first motel we found, and after a shower headed out for some food, which disappointingly turned out to be burgers again…
Day Eleven - Butte to Elkhorn Hot Springs - 86 miles - 745 miles total
Ollie and I left Marco in bed and headed down for some breakfast before hitting the road out of Butte. Today was going to be our “Top Gear” style challenge day….
The challenge? Could Marco (aka Jeremy Clarkson) beat Ollie and I (James May and Richard Hammond), riding on his Ferrari-like carbon bike over the longer and harder section of the course, whilst we took our Volvos on the easier section. To even things up a little bit, Marco would have to wait until 10am when the Butte bike shop opened, whilst Ollie and I hit the road nice and early.
The road from Butte was not too bad, although it was paved for quite a while. When the climbing started, it was fairly gentle and the trail was in good condition. It was however, quite a long steady climb, but the view from the top was well worth the effort expended to get there - simply spectacular views over to the Pioneer mountain range in the distance - we would be heading towards them all day.
We stayed up quite high for a while before a steep descent took us down to the main highway. The road was in the middle of being repaired and large amounts of sand covered the road. About a third of the way down, my front wheel got stuck in some deep sand and got stuck. The rest of the bike and the trailer wanted to carry on though, resulting in me being catapulted off the bike. Fortunately, the landing was relatively soft and I wasn’t travelling too quickly, so I just picked up some scratches, bumps and bruises. I also managed to hurt my ribs again, but nowhere near as badly as I did in Calgary.
We ate lunch at the bottom and discussed which route to take. After the long section of pushing yesterday, neither of us was keen to have to do the same again, and so we opted to take the paved alternative route to Wise River.
After a drinks stop in Divide we rode along the road and into Wise River for a bite to eat and to await Marco’s arrival. Ollie managed to get wifi access on his phone and we had a quick check of the live tracking page on bikingthegreatdivide.com, to see where Marco was. He seemed to be making good progress but Ollie was keen to keep going so we waited until we could see he was out of the tough section, then left a note at the cafe and set off again.
The first section of the road was fairly dull, but soon became really special. We followed the path of the Wise River through some spectacular scenery. It would have been perfect if it hadn’t been for the mosquitoes that were everywhere. As soon as we stopped to take a photo or to check the map, we would be surrounded by a swarm of biting mosquitoes (I’m itching now, just thinking about it!).
When we started to climb, things just got worse; at speed, the mossies couldn’t really keep up, but going slowly, they had an absolute feast on us. At one point I just gave up, stopped and ripped open my BOB bag to get my DEET spray out. Although I got bitten quite badly whilst I was stopped, the bug spray seemed to do the trick and the mossies were a little less aggressive.
Of course, all the time this was going on, we were looking over our shoulders, expecting to hear the roar of the Ferrari engine coming after us. The longer we went without hearing or seeing Marco, the more confident we were that we could beat him.
Finally, Ollie and I arrived at the top of the hill and began a fast, steep descent to Elkhorn Hot Springs. We had originally planned to go on a bit further, but were just discussing how to let Marco know where we were when he came speeding round the corner. The BBC couldn’t have scripted it any better! The only bad news is that the bike shop had almost none of the stuff we needed, as it had been cleared out by the racers who had passed through a week or two earlier.
We had an excellent meal in the pub and then pitched our tents in the local campsite before setting our alarms for early the next morning - tomorrow was going to be a long hard day.
Day Twelve - Elkhorn Hot Springs to Lima - 107 miles - 852 miles total
We got up in the dark and set off as it was getting light. It was still pretty cold and we wore all the clothes we could for the downhill section. We hadn’t gone very far before we were stopped by a huge number of cows coming up the road towards us, herded along by cowboys and cowgirls. We stopped, hoping that the cows would just pass us by, but this seemed to be the wrong thing to do, so after a while we just saddled up and rode through them.
It was just as well we did, as there were thousands of cows and it was a good few miles before we got to the back of the pack, and more cowboys bringing up the rear.
We passed through the settlement of Polaris, notable only because it marked the end of our second map. The road continued slowly downhill, but the scenery had really changed from the previous few days of riding. We were out of the forests and into the wide plains of Montana.
We turned onto a gravel road and into Bannack State Park where we got a first taste of what the ‘flat’ sections on the map were going to be like. Lots of small roller-coaster-type ups and downs, without a hint of a flat section.
We had a good long downhill and took a small diversion off the road to the town of Grant, where we were looking for a big breakfast. Unfortunately, the hotel / restaurant there looks like it has been closed for a good long while and so we were out of luck. With 40 miles to the next town, there was no hope of a good cooked breakfast, so we had to make do with oatmeal cooked up on Marco’s stove. We were all so dejected, especially after riding over 30 miles that morning with the expectation of a good feed here.
Still feeling hungry, we set off again and it was back to the uphill for us. Just a steady climb, but one that lasted for over thirty miles. At the bottom of the steepest part, I was really struggling and we all stopped for a rest. Worryingly, a storm was passing very close to us and the sky was soon pretty black. We learned later on that had we been on top of the climb, we would have been in big big trouble as huge hail stones were raining down up there - the ranger said he was worried about his pickup being dented, they were so large.
Not wanting to get caught in the bad weather, we pushed on, stopping only long enough for me to eat a huge amount of trail mix. This wasn’t such a good idea as I threw up part the way up the steep section - not a good way to go. At the top, we got caught in another, thankfully less violent, storm before starting a long downhill ride to our planned destination for the night, Lima, still some 35 miles away.
We met a couple of motorcyclists who were following the route, weighed down with their heavy bikes and kit. We would meet many more bikers over the coming weeks, but few so friendly as these two.
The downhill section was great and took us through some amazing canyons, before the road turned a little bit sandy and sticky towards the end. We hit the highway and we all knew that it was just seven miles to Lima. We all thought it would be downhill, but the road was slightly uphill and into the wind - not what we needed.
I was exhausted and even the sight of Lima in the distance didn’t help - it just didn’t seem to be getting any closer, no matter how hard I tried to pedal. Finally, we turned under the interstate highway and into Lima.
We must have looked awful as we arrived into the restaurant. I was so tired that I couldn’t even get my gloves off and couldn’t be bothered to look at the menu - I just ordered the same as Marco!
After a bite to eat and drink though, our achievement began to sink in. We had covered 107 miles that day - our first century of the trip. We got the tents up and then went back to eat more food before crawling into our sleeping bags looking forward to a good sleep.
Day Thirteen - Lima, Montana to Sawtelle Resort, Idaho - 88 miles - 940 miles total
The infamous Day 13 had arrived. Little did we know how much this day would affect the whole trip. I don’t know why or how I realised that it was day 13 at the time, but sitting down for breakfast, it seemed somehow significant that both Ollie and I chose breakfast number 13 from the menu - maybe I knew something was going to happen…..
We set off and immediately I was feeling pretty strong on the undulating road. On the map, today was going to be a fairly flat day, with just one small steep climb, but with some longer sections of gradual incline, and that’s how it started out.
I think we were all feeling tired but encouraged by the fact that we’d completed our first 100 mile day the day before. Ollie stopped for a call of nature and then just didn’t catch us up. I stopped to wait and got news from a passing farmer that he had stopped to fix a flat tyre and would soon be on his way. I waited and waited and waited and finally decided that I should ride back and check all was OK.
I unhitched the trailer (can’t do that with panniers) and rode back, eventually finding that he was riding back to join us. The tyre was badly damaged and the makeshift solution of a strip of gaffa tape wasn’t going to last too long.
We stopped again and swapped the damaged tyre to the front wheel, where it would carry less weight, hopefully making it last longer. By the time we’d started again, we’d lost about an hour - our good start had been wiped out.
From then on, we stopped every half an hour or so to get Ollie’s tyre pumped up again as it was leaking air slowly. After lunch we stopped a passing pickup truck and got Ollie in the back with the plan that he would get to a bike shop to get his bike fixed and pick up spare parts for Marco and I. We would then meet up as soon as possible and carry on to Mexico.
Passing through the settlement of Lakeview - a wonderful setting, with the continental divide behind and views over the Red Rock Lakes - I began to feel unwell and the surface deteriorated into a sandy rocky mess of a road. Before too long, I had to stop at the side of the road and was violently ill, but worse than I had been the day before.
I got back on and made my way slowly along the track to join up with Marco, who was fighting with the mosquitoes as he waited for me. We could see the clouds coming in and we still had one pass to get over. We rode the bottom section together - I just wanted to get the day over and done with. Marco went ahead up the climb, but it was shorter than we both thought it would be, and before too long I passed over the top and into the state of Idaho.
I was ill again going down from the pass and by the time we got to Henrys Lake, I was exhausted. Luckily, we passed a farm where there seemed to be a barbecue going on. We cheekily went and asked if we could have a drink and we were told to take as much (water) as we wanted.
It turned out that we had come across the local night out - a big barbecue attracting up to 150 locals each week. We chatted to a couple of the early arrivals before getting back on our way.
A few more miles took us to our spot for the night; the Sawtelle Resort. We went to the pub and ordered food, but I couldn’t eat any of mine, so Marco got a second helping before we checked in to a nearby motel and crashed for the night.
Day 13 had turned out to be an unlucky day for us all.
Day Fourteen - Sawtelle Resort to Squirrel Creek - 67 miles - 1,007 miles total
I woke up late and felt immediately hungry, which I took to be a good sign. I felt like I could do with a rest day, but wanted to keep the team together and catch up with Ollie, who we learned was heading towards Jackson. Marco and I put a plan together and then got ready and headed out for some breakfast.
Mine wasn’t a complete success as I didn’t manage to eat too much. Once again, Marco got a second helping!
We got back onto the trail and almost immediately I fell off. The trail was on an old railway line and was very bumpy (where the sleepers had been) and covered in a deep, soft sand which seemed to grab hold of my front tyre repeatedly. I picked myself up time and time again, but after about an hour and a half I realised that I was never going to make it for another 20 miles of this surface. I lost count of how many times I fell off - it was around 8 times though…
Marco was going pretty well on the surface, although even he admitted it was pretty hard going. I decided to take the road and meet up with Marco in Ashton, about 30 miles away.
The road was pretty dull and I had a huge long climb to get up, but was rewarded at the top by seeing the sign that told me that the next five miles would be steep downhill!
I met up with Marco in Ashton and we had a bite to eat, which fortunately I managed to keep down this time and then we set off again, ending our day at the Squirrel Creek campground. What a perfect place this was.
We were given a warm welcome by the owners and after we got changed and put the tent up, we were treated to a wonderful chicken dinner. I was very glad I had my appetite back, I would have hated to miss out on such a home-made treat. We chatted away to the owners whilst stuffing our faces with rhubarb crumble and custard - what a delicious treat! After an exhausting day, it was a perfect way to crash and relax. I was so tired that I didn’t even notice that we passed the 1,000 mile mark…..