July 06, 2010 – 68 miles
Rain didn’t come through overnight. Better yet, no trees fell on us while we slept. We started on the Rimini Alternate, bypassing Helena. It was downhill 10 miles all the way to US 12.
Beyond that, we started climbing and it started raining. Rain gear was put on and taken off, again and again. I couldn’t get into a rhythm and struggled up Priest Pass (1500 ft up over 6 miles). Mathieu was waiting at the top…waiting for a long time. It was cold up there and more rain was threatening. I ate a quick snack before we continued.
During a short descent, cold rain fell from the sky. After getting soaked, I decided to stop to put on my rain pants. As usual, soon after, it stopped raining and I started to overheat but I didn’t want to stop because I was still slowing Mathieu down.
We later came to a messy unsigned junction or dirt paths. While we stood there, we realized the map directions could be interpreted in multiple ways, adding to our uncertainty. Right then, two southbound riders appeared from around a corner. That simplified the route finding.
Afterwards, we pushed to the top of another Continental Divide crossing. After a full meal at the top, we descended 2,000 feet over 10 miles. At the bottom, we met a group of three more southbound Great Divide riders. We told them of our plans to make it to Lincoln tonight, to which they said we were nuts. They suggested a few primitive campsites they thought looked nice as they passed.
After a few more miles of flat, we reached the base of our last climb before Lincoln – 2,000 feet over seven miles. It would be our last Continental Divide crossing in the United States portion of the route. Mathieu & I decided it would be best not to wait at the top in case more bad weather came through. He rode ahead while I stayed behind to fill my camelback.
Because time was an issue, I decided just to dunk my bladder in the nearby river and add purification tablets. I made sure to remember that I couldn’t drink for 30 minutes. I certainly didn’t want another night of puking like back in Steamboat Springs.
I started at a slow but steady pace. I developed a nice rhythm of breathing through my nose and looking only a few feet ahead. After 30 minutes, I would occasionally glance at my watch when I thought five-minute increments had elapsed. Each five minutes I’d drink a sip of water. My number one rule was not to look at my odometer. I knew it would read 53.2 miles when I was at the top.
Some steeper sections threatened to force a dismount, but I pushed through them. Finally, after six miles, I reached a very steep section where I could no longer ride. I saw that I had nearly caught up with Mathieu – he was off his bike as well (walking or resting, I do not know). I was quite proud to have caught up. I swallowed that pride when I ended up alternating between riding and pushing up the last mile.
No one was waiting at the top, as I expected. The backside of the mountain started with four miles of very rocky/technical riding – certainly a hike-a-bike section going up it. There were several fun stream crossings that I nearly stalled in. Luckily, my feet and gear stayed dry.
The trail spilled into a gently sloped gravel road which took me all the way to Lincoln. In town, I found Mathieu outside of a restaurant. The server inside greeted me with, “We’re here to feed you.” Cool. “I’m here to eat.” Spaghetti and a chocolate milkshake did the trick. The radio in the restaurant played a familiar song: King of the Road. I recognized it from one of my favorite movies: Into the Wild. That’s exactly what I felt like.
We spent the night in the Historic Lincoln Hotel, which also was for sale.
Looking back on the day, I was amazed. We climbed over 6,000 feet (but descended 8,000+ feet). The largest climb of the day (the last one) turned out to be easier than the shorter one (the first one of the day). Getting into that elusive, magical rhythm makes all the difference.