Day 47 - July 23rd
Total: 1933.5 miles
Moving Avg: 9.0 mph
Overall Avg: 6.0 mph
This morning we had the choice between a highway alternate for ten miles or the legendary Fleecer Ridge route. The ridge is legendary because of a section which is too steep and eroded to ride in either direction. We have heard stories of cyclists pushing bikes through plants and shrubs to gain traction on the way down, as well as cyclists whose shoes were destroyed by the sharp shale that covers the non trail "trail". Up until this point most of our climbs range in the 2-6% grade, with spurts up to ten percent. Fleecer Ridge carried a whopping 24% grade. In cycling terms that is pretty much a vertical climb.
We had no desire to push our bikes up a disgustingly steep and dangerous hill, so we opted for the alternate route. This path followed the Big Hole River downstream from Wise River, just before turning to parallel a rail line. The first ten miles were through the rugged rocky river canyon, with a wide shallow river peppered with early morning fishermen. The next ten miles was a giant climb, keeping to the grade of the nearby rail line.
After this, the alternate rejoined the main route, and we had a beast of a climb to deal with, arguably the third most difficult climb of the entire route (if judged by steepness alone). It was mighty tempting to continue following the freeway all the way to Butte, but we settled on the official route and made the 1500ft climb on hard packed dirt over 3.7 miles. Overall, the grade was an average of 7.2 percent, but there were definitely sections too steep to push a bike in a straight line. We better get used to this, as Montana tends to avoid switchbacks in favor of the straight climb.
The high desert landscape started to grown boulder outcroppings, and the sage was soon replaced by trees rich in their dry forest aromas. After the initial climb, the trail bobbed up and down, slowly gaining more elevation until we crested the divide and began our final descent to Butte.
Along the ride down we saw a person carrying their bike up the hill with the front wheel dragging and the back wheel lifted in the air. After some silly comments about the improper riding technique he was demonstrating, we checked if he needed any help. Apparently his music ear buds fell out of his control and got sucked up into his gears. Since he was not packing any gear, we offered up a knife and tweezers to perform an earbudectomy on his bike. Several minutes later his SAG wagon showed up (support and gear). With more tools available, he was able to give the gears a full cleaning job. Apricots and I were gifted some home made chocolate peanut butter bars for our services. Yum yum.
We continued our descent into Butte, swapping tips with southbound cyclists from Portland. Once down in Butte, we grabbed some danishes and rolled to our Warm Showers host.
Since we arrived around four, we opted to head out for dinner after showers. We gorged ourselves on pizza, and then watched a little bit of a spectacle at the Evil Kneivel Days.
Tomorrow, one of our last rest days before wrapping up this adventure.
Live life at a slower place.