July 05, 2010 – 50 miles
We rode to the Outdoorsman to make our appointment with Rob Leipheimer before packing or eating. We’ve heard from many southbound riders that this is the place to go for any bike shop needs.
Rob and a mechanic threw our bikes on the stand and cleaned their drive trains. I picked out a Specialized tire to replace my failed WTB NanoRaptor. The Raptor was a great tire – my front hasn’t had a flat in weeks. The problems originated north of Cuba, New Mexico after I tore through the rear tire. Since then, the tear has grown wide enough to let gravel rub through the tubes. Moral of the story: replace torn tires instead of trying to patch it with tire boots.
We rode back to the hotel to enjoy the complimentary breakfast. The new tire really kicks a lot of sand in my shoes. A low price to pay for peace of mind.
We weren’t as lucky as yesterday at breakfast. Only one menu item was permitted per person. Our server yesterday could have been in “serious trouble” we were informed.
As we ate our singular breakfasts, Mathieu read Scott Morris’s blog entry for the sections we’d be tackling today. It sounded very hard, so we hurried to leave.
We started riding on I-90 and merged onto I-15 up to a Continental Divide. It was strange to ride next to fast traffic after being used to solitary roads. The shoulder’s were wide, so it wasn’t too unnerving.
My legs felt strangely dead. The highway grade wasn’t steep, so the only explanation was the ascent of Fleecer Ridge the day before last. It worked and stretched some muscles I wasn’t used to.
A few miles after the crossing, we exited the highway and rode on a downhill frontage road. The miles were going by quite fast. Next, we rode on a fun railroad grade unmaintained cattle access trail above I-15.
We paralleled the highway until we reached Basin, where we decided to stop for lunch. The Silver Saddle provided us the nourishments necessary for the upcoming climb. Our destination was 20 miles ahead which included ascending 2,000 feet over 10 miles, then a few miles of technical descent (possibly hike-a-bike).
Straight out of town, I got into a rhythm and made to the peak only having stopped once. After an initial steep section, it was easy going through beautiful pine forest. The road seemed smoother than pavement, being covered in soft pine needles.
As I was riding I saw a puddle of mud crossing the entire path, but Mathieu’s tracks weren’t in it. I was pretty sure I was going the right direction, but stopped to make sure. Not a minute later, Mathieu rode up from behind. He took a wrong turn, but luckily reached a dead end before going too far.
From then on, it was navigation-intense riding. We were looking for a non-obvious snowmobile trail among a twisty road with many forks and turnoffs. We had to track our mileage down to the tenth of a mile to figure out where to go. The trail, when we reached it, turned out not to be anything more than two tracks spilling out of the forest and onto the road. It would have been super easy to miss it if we hadn’t been so vigilant.
It started with a short bike-a-bike up a boulder-strewn grassy ridge. Then a few flat miles through thick forest, followed by a long, very steep, muddy, rocky, twisty descent. Mathieu and I couldn’t go faster than 5 mph. The slick boulders and drop-offs wouldn’t forgive anything but the best planned alignments.
Suddenly, thick, young pine trees that looked like they were planted engulfed the trail. The temperature was dropping, but we were very close. We reached the Park Lake Campground and saw that it was closed. The pine trees were all dead from the Pine Beetle and a windstorm left half of them ready to fall at any point.
The place looked desolate in the cold, cloudy sky. The wind was picking up, lowing the temperature and bringing the threat of rain. We cooked away from camp and looked at the next day’s mileage. Mathieu, whose general itinerary we were following, had a mileage error I noticed. The planned destination of Lincoln, MT was 68 miles away instead of the 37 we had anticipated. Not only that, but to make it to Lincoln, we’d have to take a 16-mile shorter alternate avoiding Helena.
We secured our food packs in the unused toilet structures and bedded down for the night. Before falling asleep, I reviewed the day. I managed the climb out of Basin better than expected, but that good feeling was dampened by the prospect of tomorrow’s huge mileage.