Day 17: Warm River to Colter Bay
Today was a little tough. Our legs were sore and the heat was on for most of the day. We rode by Idaho Potato fields on pavement, then entered Wyoming on the Ashton-Flagg Ranch road. The road became severely washboarded as we wound our way through the Targhee National Forest. We eventually made it to Flagg Ranch, after what felt like forever, and stocked up on food. We turned right onto US 89 and enjoyed a glorious golden hour descent down to Jackson Lake. We were told that there was a great pizza place nearby and we found it. Leeks Pizzaria and Marina was a most welcomed spot. We drank a couple beers and ate a couple pizzas. Our worries and soreness soon washed away. We then rode a few short miles down the road to Colter Bay, where we camped and met a great family. They invited us to use their campsite, as they had a nice RV, and we chatted and ate smores.
Day 16: Big Springs to Warm River
After a great night sleep on real beds, we cooked breakfast and set off. The day was pretty tame for GDMBR standards, until the ride dropped us on an old rail line that was washboarded with loose volcanic sand. We were forced to ride it for 2 miles, but eventually we made it to a section where a nice dirt road paralleled it. The up and down of the washboarding combined with the loose volcanic sand, made it the worst section imaginable. To us, it made absolutely zero sense to be forced to ride it another 15 or so miles, especially when there was a perfectly good dirt road that was 30 feet off the side. We both highly recommend you get off the lava sand as soon as you can, your insanity will thank you later on. We continued on and found a very nice camp a short while later at Warm River.
Day 15: Lima, MT to Island Park, ID
On the GDMBR, there is nothing quite as satisfying as starting your day off with a huge serving of bacon, eggs, hash browns and pancakes. After we ate, we took off on a roller coaster of a day. We set out from Lima and traveled a small dirt road with lots of little grinds. It was getting quite warm and dry, but we happened upon a small creek and splashed water on our faces and soaked our helmets. We had favorable winds for most of the day, until we took a turn and faced an 11 mile section of absolute agony. The 20-30 mph direct headwind had us traveling at a crawl. By this point, we had come to the conclusion that climbs are fine, because they are finite, but headwinds are ruthless, unpredictable and relentless. We eventually made it across the section of death and were greeted with ominous clouds across the valley. We took our chances and took a quick break for food, and then picked up the pace. A little while later and after a short climb, we made it to the border of Montana and Idaho! As we stopped to grab our arm warmers, Matt realized that his bag had been open and one of his had flown away. He was in terrible spirits because there was no way we would backtrack 30 plus miles to find it. So we pushed on and made it to our warm showers stay for the night.
Day 14: Grasshopper to Lima
After a good nights rest, we powered up in the morning with a hot breakfast of oats, nutella, and pb. We probably threw pop-tarts in the mix for good measure since we knew today was going to be a long one. We set off, continuing down the second half of the descent we had started the night before. It was fast and fun. After bottoming out, and sending off a package at the post office in Polaris, MT, we continued on paved roads. About 40 miles in, we turned onto a gravel road, The Big Sheep Creek Back Country Byway, where we almost immediately encountered a headwind. The road was decent, but it was a slog, slowly leading us through remote wilderness where we gained elevation for the next 25 miles. It didn’t help that this was the first hot day of the trip and there was no shade to be found. We pushed on, cursing the headwind and finally, after a short steep climb, we crested the Medicine Lodge – Big Sheep Creek Divide. We stopped for lunch and after talking to a hunter, began the descent. Having said some pretty awful things about the wind all day, we were forced to eat crow (in the best way possible) as the wind shifted and became a tailwind. We were now cruising, averaging well over 20mph for the next hour or so. The road followed down a narrow canyon with epic rock outcroppings. As the sun began to set, we could see the lights of Lima in the distance. We took a right turn onto a dirt frontage road and right into a slight headwind. The next hour was a slow grind and we eventually entered into town, found a cafe just before close, and chowed on delicious Bacon Cheeseburgers. We then rolled across the street and set up camp behind a motel. Sleep came pretty easy that night.
Day 13: Beaver Dam to Grasshopper Campground
As we packed our camp, Brett began to fill his water when a fellow camper warned us that the water was no good. He proceeded to fill both of our water bladders with fresh water from his supply and then his wife gave us each a stick of homemade elk salami. Needless to say we set off in good spirits, even though the ominous Fleecer Ridge was only a few miles away. We continued the same climb as we started last night and 6 miles later we arrived. Fleecer is a short but incredibly steep section of rough jeep track that averages nearly 20% grade. We made it to the top, legs burning, and navigated atop a ridge to the descent, which was much steeper, a little longer, and for the most part, completely unrideable with our fully loaded bikes. Finally, after a steep hike-a-bike, we made it to the bottom. Back on our bikes, we cruised the rest of the descent and turned onto a highway. After a short stop and some road beers from kind strangers, we continued on pavement into a headwind and up a road that just kept climbing. We had hopes to travel farther, but the light was fading halfway down a pretty glorious descent. We found ourselves a nice place to call it a day at Grasshopper Campground.
Day 12: Mormon Gulch to Beaver Dam Campground
The sound of rain pattering against the tent woke us. Since we were warm and dry, we decided to sleep a little longer until it stopped. After getting up, we made instant oatmeal and chatted with a couple from Minnesota about the GDMBR. They had already ridden from Alaska and were on their way down to Patagonia- such an epic journey! Shortly after setting off, we found a decent stream to filter water from, but as we were filling our second bladder, the pump broke. We carried on and made our way to Butte, where we resupplied and ate lunch. We found an outdoor store and began looking for replacement water filters. The employee who was helping us took a look at our pump and went off with it to the back of the shop where he epoxied the intake valve back into place. We crossed our fingers that it would work and headed out of Butte. We slowly climbed and climbed, up to 7300 feet and reached the summit at prime golden hour. The light was magical and we stopped to admire the views and take some photos. We pressed on and began to descend down a steep, rutted and sandy road. Mt. Fleecer was a menacing sight off in the distance. We made it to the bottom of the climb just past sunset, turned our lights on and made our way to Beaver Dam campground. The road began to climb steeper and steeper as the night sky darkened. The few miles seemed to go on far too long, but finally we made it, and found an empty campsite away from the crowds.
Day 11: Helena to Mormon Gulch Campsite
Today was tough. Much tougher than we expected. As soon as we began, it was all uphill. Our elevation began at 4200 feet and we didn’t stop climbing until 28 miles and 3100 feet later. By far, this was one of the hardest climbs we encountered up to this point on the route. The riding was bearable, the grade wasn’t too bad and there was even the first ever GDMBR Pinecone Homerun Derby. It wasn’t until the last 2 miles where things got tough. We turned off the main road and onto an atv section that was super rocky, rough and steep. We had to walk/push our bikes through most of it. It was very slow going and we lost a lot of time. Finally, we made it over the top and were met with an equally steep and rocky descent. Once we navigated our way down and made it to better roads, we chased the fading sun, just barely making it to a campsite before nightfall. We ate our food, drank whiskey, and crashed.
Day 10: Lost Llama Lodge to Helena
We woke up and ate a helping of warm oatmeal with PB/Nutella and drank coffee. Afterwards, we slowly gathered our things and said goodbye to the other riders, and to our new llama friends. We took one last look at the beautiful cabin and its surrounding landscape, and set off towards Helena. The sky was bright blue and the sun was hot. Our first climb of the day was long and intense. We stopped in Lincoln, a small ‘town’, grabbed some supplies at the grocery store, and ate sandwiches. As we continued onward, we began another long grind and finally descended towards Helena. The last 7 miles of pavement into Helena, on paper, looked like a nice gentle descent. Instead, we were greeted with an intense headwind that slowed our pace to a crawl. When we finally made it into town, we stopped and ate bacon cheeseburgers. We had to run a couple of errands which, per usual, took much longer than excepted. With it being late in the day, we decided it was best to take it stay the night in town. We enjoyed our first hotel room in a long while, ate pizza, drank beer, and soaked our aching bodies in the hot tub.
For this trip, we put a lot of thought into our gear. Taking into account the lack of resources available along the route, we needed our equipment to be bullet proof, lightweight, and if possible, serve more than one duty. This is what led us to the Solo Stove.
The Solo Stove is a compact, wood burning stove. We knew that this would be a good choice for our ride as we would be camping in forests throughout the entire route, where sticks and twigs we would be plentiful. Since we could pull up to any camp and quickly find enough sticks to cook with, we were able to forgo packing fuel canisters, saving precious space and weight. The stove itself was very easy to use, and we quickly discovered a few techniques to help get the fire started in various conditions. In good conditions a small piece of toilet paper, balled up and placed at the bottom, was all that was needed to get smalls sticks going. When it was raining or wet, we would use solid fuel cubes to help aid this process. We also traveled with a small bag of dry twigs just in case.
Another great feature was that it came with a .9 L cook pot, which doubled as our eating vessels. The two pieces nest together making it compact and easy to pack. There was virtually nothing that mechanically could go wrong, since the stove has zero moving parts. That combined, with the abundant source of fuel, made us confident in choosing this piece of gear.
However unlike gas stoves, the Solo Stove did need to be tended. While this may seem like a hassle on paper, there was something soothing and meditative about feeding the fire. It was not only fun, but also something to look forward to doing after a long day on the trail. We were also able to use the embers from the stove to help start a larger campfire after dinner, which was clutch on many cold and damp nights.
In the end, the Stove ended up working perfectly throughout the trip. There was never a worry that we wouldn’t be eating a hot and delicious meal after riding our bikes all day. The Solo Stove is awesome and will always be in our bike-camping bags.
Day 9: Ovanado to Lost Llama Lodge
We woke up to a crisp and sunny morning. After packing up our things, we stopped by the cafe to grab coffee and use the wifi, but ended up ordering pancakes too, even though we had already eaten breakfast. Leaving Ovando on a full stomach, we set off for the day. It was going to be a relatively short day, just 65 miles or so with a couple climbs thrown in. The weather was great, bright blue skies, warm, and not too much wind. The first climb of the day was up Huckleberry Pass a nice 7 mile climb that switch-backed through dense, and sometimes sparse clearcut, forests. We took a break in Lincoln for lunch and stopped at the grocer to stock up for the next couple days. Leaving Lincoln, the road gradually began to climb, a couple miles in, the real climb started. The next 4.4 miles were extremely steep. It then kicked up even more during the last 1.5 miles and got intense; it had to have topped out at 25% grade. By this point we were both hot and exhausted. We finally got to the top and began our descent down to the cabin, where we were to stay at for the night. The decent was fast and fun, but marred by frustration for both of us. Just before the decent, our directions became pretty unclear. We had been far enough apart during this short stretch, that we each took a different turn, interpreting the guides differently. The sun had vanished behind the mountains as we finally met back up at our destination for the night. We were relieved to have figured it out, as the thought of backtracking was far from ideal. As we entered the property, we were greeted by three curious Llamas. The owner, Barbara, who offers passing cyclists a very small one room homestead style cabin complete with loft and two beds, was not home. However, she left us beers in the nearby creek. We cooked dinner, washed our clothes, enjoyed the creek-cooled beers, and had a great time sharing stories around the fire with a couple other riders we bumped into. One thing we all agreed on was that this property and cabin was a piece of heaven.