July 01, 2010 – 80 miles
We ate another filling breakfast at Jan’s before leaving. On our mind was the road ahead. Our maps warned that the route was impassible when wet. Yesterday’s mud fiasco was still fresh on our minds. We studied the weather channel and decided not to detour along the highway.
The first 10 miles were slightly downhill and with the wind along the highway’s frontage road. They flew by! Then we came to where the route turned off-road. Last chance to stay on pavement. The next 50 miles are very remote and impassible when wet. We continued anyways and I’m glad we did.
We rode through a narrow canyon right along a river. I loved it and stopped often for pictures.
Throughout the canyon there were loads of amazing dispersed campsites. We met a geologist who explained why volcanic clay was so sticky and advised at what point along our route the roads were safe when wet. So now we had a destination to reach before rain fell…or else.
We reached open area and rode northwest toward the Medicine Lodge-Sheep Creek Divide. Along the Continental Divide we saw storm clouds brewing. We weren’t past the volcanic clay yet and couldn’t afford to get caught in the rain. We pushed hard for 12 miles while slowly climbing. Mathieu and I rode parallel in silence. I struggled and struggled and craved a few minutes to rest but I didn’t give in.
The last half mile to the divide was the worst. As much as I wanted to reach the top without putting my foot down, I couldn’t. The rocks were too loose and the slope too steep.
At the top the geology guy drove up and reminded us where the safe zone was. I wasn’t concerned since we had a nice downhill for the next 20 miles. The first mile was terrible, though. Extremely steep and loose – more than the road up. I had to dismount during some sections when I couldn’t keep my speed under control.
Then, as the grade lessened, I let myself go faster. I wasn’t paying attention to much beyond the next few feet in front of me. The rocks were still dangerously loose. I was nearly swallowed by huge 3-foot deep potholes in the road on several occasions. Usually I swerved just in time and avoided the worst of them. There was one that I hit that left me surprised my fork was still attached to my bike. It was that rough.
The roads finally improved and we let the downhill and helping wind take us away. It started raining on and off and we decided to stop for lunch. Tortillas and tuna suppressed my hunger.
A few miles after lunch, my tire went flat again. I changed the tube, but since it was raining and muddy it was nearly impossible to keep the sand and gravel out of my tire. The tire boot was failing badly now.
Five miles later – another flat. As I changed this one, a fellow on a motorcycle drove next to me. I was in no mood to talk, but he didn’t notice. He pulled out a microphone recorder and documented his meeting me. He thought my flat was caused by the tread being very worn.
Before he left, I asked him to let Mathieu know I had another flat if they met ahead. I pumped my tire in silence and rode onward, nervous about how long it would be until my next flat.
Luckily, I caught up to Mathieu without incident. He was stopped outside the guest ranch we set as today’s destination. No one was home, though. We couldn’t do anything but ride further. 10 miles ahead was Bannack State Park.
I was exhaused from 70 long miles, anxious about my flat tire, and frustrated about having to ride further. I didn’t know it at the time, but between us and Bannack SP was the “Bannack Bench” – a watershed divide. 5 miles up and 5 miles down.
The roads were horrible – unevenly dried mud. There were two relatively smooth tire ruts to ride in. It got late in the evening and the bugs came out. I wasn’t fast enough to escape the mosquitoes. Then, along came a car head on. There was the tire tracks were the only place I could ride, yet the oncoming car didn’t move out of the way. We played chicken before I was forced out of my rut and onto the unrideable portion of the road. That pissed me off. I had to dismount my bike to get out of the car’s way…
A few minutes later I crested the watershed divide and enjoyed the descent to Bannack State Park. We set up camp, ate a quick meal while under mosquito attack, then hid in the tents the rest of the night.
What a day it was – the threat of impassible roads, anxiety of flat tires, and unexpected extra mileage.