Day 49 - July 25th
Total: 1989.4 miles
Moving Avg: 6.6 mph
Overall Avg: 4.9 mph
Ooph, today was a beast. The maps had an alternate route which could be used to bypass some of the "routes most difficult miles." Since Apricots and I are not planning on going to Helena, the alternate route was out of the way for us. Besides, we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
This morning we woke up and had more cheesecake with our hosts before saying goodbye. We had a big day ahead with two major climbs, not to mention the climb out of Butte.
We hit the road at 8am, and made the initial climb out of Butte, exiting through the backdoor of the town, meandering through a bit of ranchland before beginning the first climb which took us over a pass to the small town of Basin. Along the way we all commented on the quietness of the road, as if it were the calm before the storm. The road was packed dirt with decomposed granite, the forest was pine with hints of aspen, and the sky was blue. Overall the forest felt more like a hunting forest than a camping and admiring nature forest.
Ville caught up with us at the summit while we talked with a group of five or six cyclists who were southbound with a support vehicle. After passing the Continental Divide Trail at the summit, we rolled down to Basin taking lunch before deciding our plan from there. Ville is heading in to Helena, and we are not. Ultimately we have different time tables and can no longer cycle together. He had to decide whether to say goodbye to us at lunch or roll the next 25 miles with us before our paths parted ways.
He opted for 20 more miles with us, which we had heard glorified/horrified stories of its difficulty. We hit the trail, and made a beautiful but steep climb up a canyon with the stream at our side. The blue sky, however, had been replaced with a daunting gray cloud looming over us. It was hard to ignore, as our climb was so steep our bikes were practically pointed at the cloud as we ascended.
Suddenly the steep climb turned mild. The good thing about steep climbs is that you gain the elevation much quicker. We commented that maybe all the horror stories were exaggerated from southbounders who had hit their first true challenge, and that maybe we had built up the challenge too much in our heads.
Then fourteen miles after lunch, as per map directions and gps route, I turned a sharp right into the woods. Ville said, "You're joking, right?" Apricots scanned her narrative closely and questioned whether I made a mistake.
I had not, we were about to "enjoy" the difficult stretch we had heard so much about. The next three miles were rough but rideable, even enjoyable. Then I made a right turn up what can only be described as cycling up a water free cascading waterfall. The steepness was too great for any of us to ride, and pushing was also difficult, but we managed. Then the route became rideable for another short jaunt before encountering the steepness that even a skilled rider with a full suspension would likely opt out of on the downhill.
Fortunately, that only lasted half a mile. We crested the climb, and suddenly thunder boomed in the proximity of our route. We had one mile to the high point and then five downhill miles. Well, it turned out that the next three miles were equally difficult for the novices that Apricots and I are. While Ville moved along fairly steadily, the two of us were constantly stepping off bike to push around the boulders and tree roots which obstructed the steep trail.
I fell after hitting a batch of sand, and fell a little later on when I misjudged gear combination and route choice. Apricots fell a little further down the trail when she couldn't unclip her foot fast enough at a precarious maneuver. When we finally emerged from the difficult terrain Ville shouted joy at finding a real gravel road. He started pedaling fast and joyously swerving happy turns until he hit a sandy turn at full speed and completely whiped out on his bike. Apricots and I were going three miles per hour or less when we fell, Ville fifteen to twenty. He shredded his leg with some serious road rash.
Then the rain started. We pedaled fast as lightening started striking within a mile of us. Then the rain turned to hail. We had one mile to the campsite. A woman drove past us giving us the "are you crazy" eyes. Finally, near the campsite we saw an outhouse. The three of us huddled under its small shelter waiting out the brunt of the storm.
After the rain passed, we pushed the final quarter mile to the lake where we found a campsite, and a nearby camper with fire. Shortly thereafter we had a fire built with the assistance of the two boys at the neighboring site. They happily ran around gathering the best wood for us, giving us tips on how to build a fire.
Ooph, what a day.
Live life at a slower place.