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.
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.
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.
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.
In preparation for our Great Divide Trip Brett and I decided to get out to the mountains near Fredrick Maryland for a two night 175 mile trek
As most adventures start, Brett had an immediate mechanical, a flat on his tubeless tire. Luckily we were only 2 miles into the ride and still in town. So we decided to head to a nearby shop to make sure all was well. We spent the next couple hours negotiating with his tire and decided that it was best to just put a tube in it.
With only a few hours of daylight left, we finally set out of Frederick and into Gambrill State Park. The roads were nice and smooth and the climbing was challenging. We soon ventured into the woods and followed some rocky singletrack. Unfortunately we were forced to hike-a-bike some sections that were too steep and rocky to ride up with our heavy fully loaded bikes.
As the sun was setting, and us nowhere near where we had planned to camp, we settled for plan B. This consisted of us riding a few miles off our planned route to Cunningham Falls State Park. After some nice gravel roads, and fields of lightning bugs in the beautiful dark twilight, we finished one last climb and finally saw the entrance.
After speaking with the rangers, we were told that the campsites have been completely booked a month ago. We asked if there was anything they could do, hoping not to get sent back out onto the now pitch dark mountain roads, and finally after a little wait, they found us a space.
In the morning, after eating some breakfast and getting things packed away, we took off and began our big day. Due to only riding 37 miles the day before, we had to reconfigure our route and put in some extra miles on this day. We headed north past Catoctin Mountain Park, towards the southern reaches Michaux State Forest. The riding was wonderful. The day was filled with beautiful views, gravel roads, long climbs and rewarding descents. After a full day of riding we came out of the mountains as the sky filled with the all the colors of a glorious sunset and headed back into Fredrick for a resupply. We then set out for our days final destination, Point of Rocks, on the C&O and made camp for the night after 85 miles and 8000 feet of elevation.
After a restless night sleep due to the proximity of a high traffic train tacks, we leisurely packed our gear up and rode down the C&O the remaining 55 miles home.
We had planned an overnight bike packing trip weeks in advance, there was nothing that was going to stop us. Not breaking spokes, losing spare parts, catching a flat, riding into the night, breaking a tent, packing far too little whiskey, or the realization that nothing is ever truly waterproof. Did we forget to mention that a major winter storm just dumped over 8 inches of snow the day prior? It made for a pretty demoralizing start to this trip. But once we finally had set up camp, using twine to mend the broken tent pole and helping ourselves to our limited whiskey, we finally felt as though the tides had turned on our luck. Sitting around the glowing campfire, with a clear night sky and the Potomac River as our backdrop, we enjoyed our bowlfuls of steaming hot rice and beans, and knew we made the right decision.