Time to Change It Up

Rams Falls (July)

Riding the Great Divide is big adventure. Five thousand kilometers of mountains and plains and rocks and rivers, the scene changing with every pedal stroke. We’re over half way into it and most of it has been nothing short of incredible.

Rolling through the Canadian Rockies (July)

But a trip of this magnitude is not free of challenge. Not to say that challenge takes away from the value of the experience. Quite the opposite: an adventure without challenge is just a vacation. And if you know us at all, you know we don’t do vacations.

Meeting others who were ‘getting it done’ (August)

Two provinces and three states later we realized something peculiar about the Great divide Mountain Bike route: it is something you get done, not something you do. A lot of the riders we have met are racing toward Antelope Wells, New Mexico, counting days and measuring mileage while we decide to take another day off because the ice cream is just that good. 

What I’m slowly getting at is this: lessons have been learned and decisions have been made. 

Losing the good weather

We are leaving the Great Divide route and making our own way to Mexico through Utah. It is way warmer there at 4000 ft above sea level and I want to go to Moab. There, I said it. It’s a mountain biker’s right of passage, Leigh’s been, loved it, we have talked about going together, so it’s happening. The decision was also influenced by the weather. We are not confident about getting through Colorado at elevation without encountering snow. We’re heading to Mexico. We’re not prepared for snow. Other factors have come into play but the main reason for our change of plans is to get back to how we enjoy cyclotouring. 

If you’re still interested, a summary of the day-to-day of how we got to Moab follows.

More horse visiting

From Wyoming’s Great Divide Basin we battled rain and strong headwinds for days. Heading into Colorado, Wamsetter was a little wierd, Craig was a little red-necky and Meeker was a gem. We were forced to go out of our way to the KOA in Silt as Rifle had no where for us to put a tent so Rifle gets a bikepackers fail (still a nice city).

En route to Mesa, Colorado

Google got us to the RV park near Mesa and said we could make it through from Mesa to Grand Junction on back roads, noting that there might be some restricted travel. After going up and up and up, the road ended at a private ranch. An employee stopped us at the entrance, gently but firmly declaring “You can’t go through here”. That, Mr. Google, is a leniant employment of the term ‘restricted travel’. 

Janessa took us past the interstate

Back down we went. Options at this point?

1) take a very long and round-about alternate route with few to no amenities. 

2) head the short route and hitch-hike the portion of the interstate (with two fully loaded bikes) that connected us to a more reasonable way forward. Again, if you know us, you’re betting on option number one. To credit Leigh, not only did she agree to try the hitch-hiking option, miles away from her comfort zone, she was the one pleading our case to the wonderful woman who turned her half-ton around and came back to check on us. All I did was help load the bikes. 

Peach orchards in Palisade, Colorado

Once in Palisade it’s as if the whole trip started anew. FIrst of all, there were peaches everywhere. Pie, jam, shakes, wine, mustards, hats and shirts. After peach pie we rode along the canal past orchards of peaches. Notably, every vehicle slowed or full-on stopped for us if we even thought about crossing the road. Colorado rules.

On to meet Sage, our Warmshowers host in Grand Junction, Colorado and what an amazing stay that was. You think we’re experienced travelers? It’s what she lives for and continues to do even in her (early) retirement. She knows cyclotourists better than they know themselves (Sage: wise).

King Charles, our Warmshowers co-host!

And we got some kitty time with Charlie.

Colorado National Monument

We took yet another day off (we can, now that we’re back with good weather) to tour the Colorado Monument. While gazing out at unbelievable vistas we met Ann and Will on their bikes, a chance  encounter that has fruitioned into a natural friendship. More on that later.

Riding into Utah

Our arrival in Moab, Utah was, on paper, to be a challenging but quite do-able two-day ride. We rode to Gateway, the halway point with good weather and better spirits, restocked at the General Store and wild-camped in a spot with natural majesty I simply cannot describe. After a solid breakfast we pushed on to what would become our biggest daily effort yet in several measures. The distance was only fifty some-odd miles (our new norm) but we were on the route for almost twelve hours, climbed roughly fifty-five hundred feet, then had the descent of our lives as we headed down the other side of what we had climbed, through massive canyons of red rock towering up on either side of the Mighty Colorado River, finally showing up at our Warmshowers host’s house in the dark.

I am writing to you on day three of our Moab mini-vacay. After another wonderful Warmshowers experience we are camped between more canyon walls of red rock that guide the Colorado River. Mexico is about a month away and the route options are being discussed daily. We hope to find a Workaway placement in the Baja peninsula. That will determine where we enter Mexico, and what route we take to get there. 

 

We are back to what feels right for us as cyclotourists. 

Pinedale to Wamsetter, Wyoming

The Wyoming landscape is forgiving in that the views aren’t always spectacular but do end up impressing on a regular basis. It is also rolling and curving – to keep us interested in the ride –  but not overly challenging – to allow for longer days in the saddle.

Wyoming’s Atlantic City may not have the allure of its New Jersey namesake rival but the guy who was running the bar at the Atlantic City Mercantile was a character right out of an old western movie. We expected John Wayne to saunter in at any moment. The whole place was thick with an ambiance of grubby gold seekers and lawless gunslingers.

Our morning view from Atlantic City RV park

We found camping at a local RV park. $10 per tent, showers, laundry and a vending machine but the highlight was the action coming from the owner’s garage: karaoke night. Not only was everyone really bad, and I mean really bad, the speaker was flooding the park with the twangy lyrics of songs I had never heard of and am happy not to hear ever again, no matter who is singing.

Note to self: get some ear plugs.

The Diagnus Well

Planning for the ride through the Great Divide Basin was taken seriously, as it should be. We were equipped with extra food and based our expected camping stops around the two sources for decent water over the 250 kilometres to Rawlins, Wyoming. Truth be told, our expectations for enjoying this stretch were low, ‘Just get it done’ was my thinking. In hindsight we agree that it was worth doing…once. 

Tailwind, 20 degrees, cloud cover. Perfect.

The ride started with perfect weather: high of about 20 degrees, mostly cloudy with a NW wind. In cycling language that means we’re not riding all day long in the blistering sun, in fact we had a lot of shade, so minimal dehydration with a strong wind mostly at our backs.

Peanut Butter Mud

Then the gods of the Great Basin were bored and in need of some entertainment. “Oh look, some tourists on bicycles! This could be fun.” First, the clouds gathered together and the rain found us, bringing the temperature down significantly. It also muddied the dirt road which clung firm to our tires like a baby to a breast, a very hungry baby. Then the electronic map we were using took us off course (again). The trail became rocky and chunky with some climbs that had to be pushed. A combination of mud, bumps, and speed removed one of my fork bags so a quick alteration was performed on a windy hilltop while the rain pelted us. We struggled through the afternoon until the gods had had their fun. The rain stopped, the sun came out, we were back on a ridable dirt road. The gods appeared in the form of four wild horses to apologize for their sick sense of humour. A beautiful sight in such a raw and empty place. Apology accepted, more or less.

Waiting out the hail in a tent in a field near the interstate in Wamsetter, Wyoming

Our challenges continued. With storm clouds forming in the evening to the east and west we had little time to find accommodations. The local fire hall was not keen on having us on their property and no one was home at the church beside. We set up in a field next to the interstate in time to stay protected from the hail.

Can’t believe we’re here!

Our campsite was just the spot where we decided to stop. No field off to the side, no abandoned barn, not even a hill to break the incessant wind. The gods let us set up camp and have dinner before drenching the entire area overnight. We woke to a day of more mud as we clawed and scratched our way forward. Our intended destination for today was the A&M reservoir to replenish our water supply but as we were off-route, Wamsetter, Wyoming, due south was now our closest option for water (and a Subway).

Goodbye Basin!

Cycle through the Great Divide Basin: check.

Signs of colder temps to come (frozen)

The difference between an adventure and a vacation is the element of challenge. Hardships make for thicker skin and better stories. We are certainly getting our fill, now sleeping through sub-zero nights. Although we have the gear to stay comfortable (but just) options are being considered.

Colter Bay to Pinedale, Wyoming

Comforts at Colter Bay

We pushed hard to get to Colter Bay. We had options to stop earlier and enough supplies to wild camp for another night but the comforts of a tourist destination called to us, fairly loudly in fact. All amenities offered were thoroughly enjoyed. We even took a second day to rest up as the hiker-biker area all but emptied out and we were left with a quiet campground.

So wrong in so many ways

As you may have figured out by now, we are in no rush, willing to divert if something catches our attention. Buffalo Valley Café was en route and looked promising for a mid-day coffee and muffin. This stop was interesting in the fact that it is one of the worst restaurant experiences either of us have ever had. Service, food, cost, ambiance: 4 flat tires. A very expensive waste of time.

Wyoming Beauty

Now, the ride away from the Ripoff-The-Tourist Café was quite different, a redeeming experience to say the least. The scenery was constantly changing as the road curved and swayed while we pedaled leisurely with a determined tailwind helping us along.

Cooking in the wind

Preparing dinner required a little creativity as the same wind would not let up – like a dog fetching a stick. I cooked up another one pot wonder inside of the bear box on our site. It was awkward but I got it done. 

5 layers

The next day was one of the hardest. Every day starts out ‘fresh’ but today never warmed up. I had five layers on for most of the day.

So tough

We knew we were climbing a lot today but there was no indication from the maps, from north bounders we had met earlier, or from social media that we were about to hike-a-bike most of Mount ThisCan’tBeForReal. That’s because about half-way into the ride we went off course, ending up on a remote ATV trail that was NOT meant for biking. Hell, an ATV would have a hard time getting up that climb. Maybe that’s why we didn’t see a soul for hours. At times we were both pushing one bike at a time, and barely making it up. Eventually (after some verbal venting) we were back on course, exhausted with a long, cold day only getting colder, looking for a campsite. A few wild camping options were considered before we rounded a corner to find the Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter. I’m not a religious man but the gods were so very with us then. Within the hour I had dinner cooking on the wood stove and Leigh had the Hobson Hilton set up inside this bear-proof, weather-proof, spacious, warm, dry, flat and level structure.

Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter

We slept so good.

Nothing to do but pedal

On our way into Pinedale the spectacular landscape of earlier Wyoming was replaced with views similar to those of southern Montana; a barren landscape of rolling hills and sagebrush. By this time we were out of food. Arriving in Pinedale was our only option, the one variable factor being time. At the eleventh hour, Warmshowers came through and we were made welcome at the home of Camille, Clayton and Kristi. 

Time to recoup and refresh before a return to the trail toward the Great Basin, an area virtually void of amenities.

Lima, Montana to Colter Bay, Wyoming

Lima disappeared from view in all of two minutes as we outran the smoke from forest fires across the range in Idaho. Once again we were rolling through the sagebrush emptiness of southern Montana that is just begging for some moisture. It hasn’t rained significantly since July and the land around here is showing it. The nights are refreshingly chilly but the sun blasts down all day and there are no trees, no shade, no escape.

They look so soft.

We are still travelling through the Rockies but, unlike in Canada, they aren’t towering over us on all sides and they seem to have been covered with a tan-coloured blanky. Leigh remarked “you just want to reach out and pet them!”. That said, we expected another long day of scenery that changed ever so slightly as the miles were made but today was not to be that kind of day. This was our own mini National Geographic edition.

Hello, my name is Nasty
Pelicans, not Flamingos

It’s actually not another cow, it’s a moose!

Within the hour of leaving Lima we came across a moose and a calf. Soon after, I nearly ran over this magnificent bug (locust?) poking holes in the middle of the road. What I thought might be flamingos turned out to be pelicans wading in the shallows of the Lima reservoir. Finally, the muskrat and a hundred barn swallows welcomed us to our lunch spot.

A side note: there is only so much plain water a person can drink day after day. After entertaining a variety of additives we have landed on fresh-squeezed limes (for me) and lemons (for Leigh). Heavy, yes, but ‘worth the weight’.

Black sand of Idaho backcountry

The route took us out of Montana, through seventy five miles of Idaho, uneventful except for the cowboy we met with two guns hanging from his belt, hands casually resting on the holsters as we chatted (sorry no photo). The back-roads of Idaho are primarily loose lava sand which made for some tricky maneuvering and no less dust from ATVers passing by. Low on suppl;ies and eager to find a decent place for a rest day, we put some serious mileage in to get us to Colter Bay, Wyoming, home of the Grand Tetons.

Grand Tetons

We’ll recoup here before heading out to tackle our highest continental divide yet.

Butte to Lima, Montana

Warmshowers John, Butte Montana

Our warmshowers host John is a wealth of information and generous with his hospitality. He roasted, ground and brewed up one of the best cups of coffee either of us has ever had, served with 35% cream! Thanks again, John.

Sparkling sunrise

As we rode from Butte to Divide we were stopped several times by people offering us a place to stay, making sure we had enough water and asking about our trip. The guys at Great Divide Outfitters let us know that the trading post we were looking for is closed but they had some leftover sandwiches and we could have’em (we did, they were awesome). That was just after Fay came out from her house to give us a couple of Cokes. Just cuz. Thank you Southern Montana.

Three pools, one inside called ‘the sauna’ (106 F)

Our route planning from Butte centred on our arrival at the Elkhorn Hotsprings. Leigh was set on it and my knees needed a good hot soak.

The Dangle

Rustic is one way to describe the property – might be a tad generous, truth be told, but the folks running it were all fun and the breakfast was AYCE breakfast sandwiches and omelettes.

Ghost graves at Bannack ghost town

From there we stopped into Bannack, a mining ghost town now abandoned except for the state park staff. Cool, but not cool enough for the entrance fee nor did we have extra time for touristy things today. Pushing on to Grant, Montana for ther night. There is no sign that says you have arrived in Grant. When we entered the saloon/hotel/camping office I met who I thought might be the only person living there. Was his name Grant? that would have been funny. Turns out Eric is working long days running the whole show along with Mark who tends bar. We upgraded from camping ($30) to a room ($50) and had a fabulous meal cooked by… Eric. Talented man.

Barren lands heading south from Grant

Next day was serious business. There was no indication we would find a water source for the next 24 hours. The views as we rode were stunning as we could see for miles all around but that made for a scenery that changed ever so slowly. Not exactly stimulating. We pushed on to an area marked for disperded camping and eventually found ourselves at Morrison Lake, 2506 m above sea level (our highest yet) about to stealth-camp for the frist time this trip, like for real, with no one anywhere near. Leaving the next morning we found out from a nice local guy driving up that we are in prime grizzly territory, along with two wolf packs.
“Ya got somethin’ ta protect yerself?”
“Bear spray and a multitool?” to which he flinched before mentioning that “archery season starts Saturday.”! Noted.
All but 10 of the next 50 km into Lima were a casual downhill ride with incredible scenes on all sides. A ride that was as soul-soothing as a hug from Mother Theresa.

We made it to Lima, the only proper stop to resupply before continuing on. We’ll take a rest day here, do some laundry, recharge everything and catch you up.