My alarm went off all too soon and I wriggled into my aromatic knicks (shorts for you North Americans) and jersey before emerging from my tent into the pale glow of another day. There was no sign of the other rider, they must have been up for an early start. I packed up as quickly as I could, wrinkling my nose at the wet-with-dew tent that I was stuffing into it's dry (wet) bag. "I do not want to camp in that tonight unless I can dry it out" I thought to myself.
I jumped on my bike and pedalled off up the hill toward Fleecer Ridge. It was nice and green up here at elevation and the road was very pleasant. I went to take a drink from my Camelbak and something didn't feel right in my mouth. Looking at the bite valve I could see that something had eaten half of it during the night! A little later I went to get a Sweet and Salty muesli bar out of a feed bag and found that it had been half gnawed away as well! Bloody rodents!
I was getting higher up now and the forest opened up to alpine meadow. I could see a snow crowned Mt Fleecer off to my left and was eagerly awaiting the ridge itself. Fleecer Ridge features in the movie "Ride The Divide", showing Mike Dion trying to unsuccessfully ride down it's face. Like all hills, they never look as steep on camera or in photos so I was intrigued to see what it was really like.
Coming up to the drop the view was fantastic.
Going down wasn't too bad, well nothing the brakes couldn't handle if I squeezed them really hard......
Then I got to the section where Mike falls off his bike and I had to exit stage left. I just managed to hold it together and not fall off but it was close. Yes, you could ride this descent - on the right bike- but not a 25kg (55lb) drop bar tourer with a tired pilot behind the controls. The trail became stupidly steep and consisted of sharp, loose shale for the lower section of the descent. I walked...
Once onto a sensible grade the next 20 kilometres or so to Wise River were pleasantly downhill. I was feeling good but hungry. I was going to eat Wise River out of everything! I pulled into the little convenience store to see two other riders tucking into breakfast out the front. It was Jill and Elanor.
Saying "hi" again and "when did you pass me"? Jill replied that she was the one that came into the Beaver Dam campground just as I was dozing off. I was impressed with how many hours and thus miles she was putting in each day. And she was riding flat pedals!
I was soon inside looking for something hot. They only had pre made egg and cheese or something muffins in a warmer. Slightly disappointed I grabbed one and a cold Starbucks Frappachino then joined the ladies on the ground out the front of the store. There wasn't even have a seat to sit in so I leant against the comfortable pole, swatting mozzies while trying not to gag on the greasy goodness that I was shoving down my pie-hole. Mmmmm...pie....if only!
A quick look at the map and my cue sheets told me that we had several hours of blacktop in front of us down to Polaris, then all the way to the infamous Bannack Road. I bought some more snacks, topped off my water then hit the road. Both ladies had rolled out just before me.
The ride here was pleasant enough but not super inspiring. I was just happy that it was mostly flat and smooth after yesterday's effort. We followed a river for a while but I didn't take many photos. Well, none worth posting.
I caught and passed Jill again about an hour later. I was keen for a chat as I had been riding alone for a few days now but she seemed lost in thought so I kept pedalling on.
The road began to climb again, even switch-backing up the mountain. This had me reduced to a crawl. In these situations I learnt that I could pedal at 5.5 km/h or get off and walk at 4.5 km/h, so I opted for some walking. This felt soo good for my legs just using different muscles and when I jumped back on the bike I always felt refreshed.
Breaking out of the forest I soon passed through huge open meadows and I noted that I was at 7800ft again passing Crystal Park. It was beautiful but I was hurting so when the wide, smooth, steep downhill came I was so relieved. It seemed to go on forever....until it crossed a creek. I knew what that meant. Another. Effing. Climb. This was getting old!
Cresting the next climb I saw an unusual but welcome sign.
Full TD support? In an unsupported race? But the meals and wifi had me interested. Montana High Country Lodge was a mythical place that I had read about where divide racers were looked after, even pampered. Having said that, I was still debating weather to go in or not as I approached their driveway. It was about 200 metres off the road - uphill.
I snapped the photo thinking I would ride right by but made a snap decision to pull in. That was possibly the best decision my whole race. I walked inside and there were Brett and Josh! They had only just arrived and were getting the grand tour for a full service. Food, drink, shower and washing! I was standing there, not quite sure how it worked as it wasn't a shop. Then a woman poked her head out of the kitchen and said "follow me". I followed her to the dining room where a plate of steaming hot food and bread rolls were awaiting me! Showing me where the fridge was she proclaimed "help yourself" then shot off to prepare food for the others.
I tucked into some chicken-something-stew with vegetables and rice. There is no before photo. It was an afterthought to get the one I did! I also scored a turkey and ham sambo to go, an apple and a slice of banana bread. With the distance I had still to ride to Lima I should have grabbed two to-go meals.
Fixing up Russ Kipp for the food he asked if he could get a photo of me and my bike. He did this with all the riders then posted it on Bikepacking.net. Sure, why not I said as long as I could get one in the lodge. As we were going out, Jill was coming in and Brett was getting around in a robe, his kit in the wash. This was a busy place!
I rode off feeling full and strong again. I got about 2 miles down the road and I was still thinking what great service and value the meal was when it struck me that I hadn't left a tip! In the excitement of riders coming and going, hellos being exchanged, in my tired state and being an Aussie it had completely slipped my mind! What a fopar! I resolved to message Russ via Bikepacking,net to get his mailing address so I could rectify my error.(which I did)
The next 22km (15mi) was sealed and downhill with a tailwind. I was king of the world as I soft pedalled yet still zipped along. Then, I came to the turn onto Bannack road. It has a reputation as a soul crusher when it is wet. Russ Kipp told me if it gets half an inch of rain on it you will have peanut butter mud for a few days and riders become walkers. I counted my lucky stars that it was hot and dry today but that didn't stop it being a slight climb into a headwind on a bumpy surface. I was back to what felt like grovelling along.
There was a lot of run off coming out of the hills and some paddocks were almost like swamps they were so wet. I passed a ranch and thought how lucky these farmers were to have all that water. The paddocks were lush with deep grass.
Coming to the end of Bannack road I turned left onto another sealed highway and rejoiced....until I plowed through the first swarm of insects that is. All that moisture was a great breeding ground for bugs and I had to keep my head down, mouth closed as you simply couldn't take an open mouth breath without inhaling a mouthful of protein. But at least the road was quiet and I had my ripping tailwind back.
Turning up Medicine Lodge road brought another reality check. I did have chicken legs after all and they were no match for the constant climb into a headwind.
I spent the rest of the afternoon wondering why I couldn't get any speed out of my legs despite pedalling hard on this flat section of road. By this stage of the divide it was difficult to determine flat road from climbing road. It looked flat to me but was in fact steadily climbing from 5800ft to just on 8000ft at the Medicine Lodge-Sheep Creek divide.
Thunderstorms dumped rain on the ranges either side of me as I crawled along the valley floor. It looked like I was going to get wet. I was looking to the west when a massive bolt of lightning flashed about 5km away, followed by the most ear shattering clap of thunder I have ever heard! I jumped! Thunder sounds so much more frightening at altitude, especially when you are the tallest thing around in a treeless landscape for about 10 kilometres!
I somehow managed to keep in front of the storm as it made it's way toward Bannack Road. I wondered if there would be a string of riders behind me, stuck, like flies on flypaper when they hit Bannack road? My inner competitor went "mmwwhoahahahaha" at the prospect of a buffer building behind me.
Toward the end of the valley the climb kicked up steeply to the divide crossing. I could see a little red dot climbing the road. Another rider! Someone to chase! It is amazing how much it lifts you by having someone to chase. I dug into the pedals, standing on the climbs until I had to get off and push. As I crested the divide there was Mitchell P having a bite to eat and donning his wind vest for the descent. I asked him if he wouldn't mind getting a photo and I reciprocated for him.
I was starting to run low on water and wanted to get into Lima to eat and sleep, so I bid Mitchell farewell for now (he would no doubt catch me again) and powered off down the descent. There was miles and miles of tailwind assisted descent and from the map profile it looked like it went downhill all the way to Lima - but it didn't of course!
The road entered a canyon along Sheep Creek where a sign proclaimed "15 miles winding road". It should have added "washboarded, winding, loose surface" to that.
I was out of water here but didn't want to fill my bottle from the creek as this was cow country and the effluent in the run off was a sure way for me to pick up a bug, right? "Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink. Water, water everywhere but Dave's head did shrink".....
It was still another 28 miles into Lima and it felt like it took forever. Once I hit the frontage road along the interstate I thought "not long to go now" but the road climbed gently. I started trying to take photos of the stunning sunset behind me by contorting around on the bike. This was more to divert my attention and it did soak up 5 minutes. I didn't get a photo that did it justice though.
Lima (pronounced Lime-a) finally hove into view.
It was 9:30pm and I pulled straight into the motel. The lights were out in the office but there was a guy waiting by the door. I explained that I was the guy the rang from Montana High Country Lodge to reserve a room and did they please, please, please have a room? They had one left and I quickly paid for it, asking what time the diner closed. "The diner and the truck stop both close at 10pm" he informed me. Nooo! It was 9:45 and I needed resupply but I needed hot food as well. I madly rushed across to the truck stop, snatching up food and drinks then raced across to the diner and pleaded for some hot food, anything they were willing to cook as it was now 9:55pm. They took pity on me and I ended up with a cowboy burger and fries to go. I thanked them profusely and tipped generously. As I left to go devour my catch Mitchell was storming in to try for the same. I don't know how he went but I hope my tip swayed them.
Back in the room, as usual, I was doing 3 things at once. On the divide if you aren't doing that you are being inefficient. I was eating my burger, unpacking my tent to dry it out, reading my map and cues for tomorrow, looking at Trackleaders to see where people were, checking the weather for tomorrow, eating my burger (still)........you get the idea. Whenever you were off the bike it was all systems GO, unless you were sleeping. Even when sleeping I did two things at one, namely sleep and sweat! My poor body was rebelling.
From Trackleaders I saw that Beth and Simon were in the same motel. I had finally caught them again but I also noted that they had arrived 4 hours earlier, meaning they would be off early. After the last few days I needed some rest and set my alarm for 6am, a time that would be hours after their departure but at least I was on the same page again.
Today was a big one again at 245km (152mi) and 2500m (8200ft) climbing but while tired I was in good spirits having secured the luxury of a room and caught up to my countrymen/woman. The room made a big difference to my outlook and subsequently how hard I could potentially go the next day.
I washed the last of my burger down with a Bud Light that someone had left in my fridge then d
rifted off plunged into sleep.