Tour Divide, Chapter 6



I slept better with the bears.  At least they didn’t snore.  And the pine-needle covered ground was a feather-bed compared to the hardwood floor I slept on that night. Simon woke up and left at 6:30, so I took the bed and slept another 2 hours.  It was by far one of my best choices of the tour.

I had to get a new phone. I rode across town to locate an AT&T store and bought a shiny new phone.  Baby’s first touch screen, in fact. It had big flip-phone shoes to fill. After a meal of pancakes and a few calls, I was on the road again.

The sleepless night following a 130 mile ride had taken its toll, however, and no amount of pancakes could fix that.


…left Helena @ 11 AM, because I got a new phone, and limped my way to Basin, where I had terrible fajitas for dinner and now I am laying in a bed at a bed and breakfast owned by a sweet old lady and her adorable Belgium dog.


Yeah, there’s no such thing as Mexican food north of Lubbock for all I’m concerned.

Getting to Basin was more of an ordeal than it should have been.  In my exhausted state, the dirt road reroute was still painful, regardless of the few miles it knocked off of the original route. I stopped at almost every tiny town I came across to enjoy the shade and one of my numerous snacks. I refilled water at a local bar, where I sat outside and talked to a few friends on my fancy new phone.

It was there I overheard the following conversation:

“Hey girl! You look good, where you been?”
“****ing rehab, man, I’m still itching for a fix but it’s getting better”
“better than jail!”

The skinny old druggy man then invited the middle aged woman into the bar, along with her biker-looking friends, for a good time. It was two in the afternoon.

After this I went west, onto country roads through very beautiful ranch-land at the foot of a mountain range.  The trees were different here, more hardwoods than before. The sun was bright and gave everything a bronze look. Eventually, trees gave way to open spaces.  Pasture and grass and big hills dominated the scenery.

I’ve been describing beautiful landscapes a lot so far.  I told you, beauty is everywhere on this trip. It almost becomes mundane.

I was stopped by a police officer who asked if I was OK.  We talked for a bit about what I was doing way out in the country, since it was rare to ever see people out this far that weren’t locals. He was very interested in the race.  It was getting hot by the time we said goodbye.

I started out, then fell over.

It was that quick. I began to pedal, lost my balance somehow, and fell over to the side of the road.  I landed in a patch of wildflowers.  My new-found perspective had me staring straight up into beautiful blue skies with fluffy white clouds dancing around a happy little sun.

I really needed sleep.

After righting my bike and myself, I began pedaling again. Before a big mountain pass on an extremely loose, steep jeep road, I stopped to talk to some of the colorful locals of backwoods Montana. I rode between two dilapidated trailer houses.  A shirtless man was in an open doorway and asked how I was doing.  Being the cordial sort that I am, I answered him assuredly and in a friendly manner. We talked about the ride, and how he had seen others riding through for the past week. He spoke of a brutal uphill that I was about to hit.  To this day I’m uncertain what he does for a living, but if you had told me he made meth and smuggled it in the stomachs of goats across the mountains, I would not be surprised.

So onto the climb. I had the sun to my right and the only way to go was up.  Large rocks were so loose and the climb so steep I had to push my bike up the last mile.  I was slipping and barely gripping with my cycling shoes.  Rocks were rolling down the mountain far below.  I saw a skunk hanging out in the road, and threw a few smaller rocks near him to make him leave. The last thing I wanted was to be sprayed.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed the stench, honestly.  By that point I probably smelled pretty bad.

Up and up and up I climbed.  I pushed my bike straight into the sky it seemed. Finally I saw the ridge, straddled by huge power lines that buzzed in the air like a giant nest of bees angrily watching me with malice burning deeply in their exoskeletons.

It was all worth it, however. At the top of the climb was a ghost-town.  The skeleton of this old mining town was all that was left.  Huge wooden buildings built into the sides of hills made up the rim, while smaller residential dwellings sprung from the middle and worked their way up a hill to my right. I rolled past in awe. I had never really seen a true ghost town before. Sure, I had seen communities that LOOKED like they were abandoned, but this was a full fledged ancient ghost town. The darkened wood structures, with their boarded up windows and concave roofs held a certain romantic appeal.  I could see through the layers of dust and time to what this used to be; a bustling coal mining operation that employed hundreds of people.

My speculations were interrupted by a distinctive rumbling in my stomach.

Of course, the vista wasn’t the only great part about being at the top.  I got to ride down the pass now. I rode fast down the bumpy, rutted mountain road, rocks occasionally colliding with my frame, sending out a triumphant TING before sailing off to the sides of the road. But like all good times, it flew as fast as my bike down the mountain. I was on an access road to a large interstate highway very soon.  This highway slithered through a beautifully rocky canyon, criss-crossing a rambunctious river every few miles. Short trees grew stubbornly out of the rocks on each side of the canyon. I followed the alternating dirt/pavement access road until it ended in Basin, MT.

Basin used to be a prosperous mining town.  However, the mines are all deserted. With the interstate crossing over the old town, the new trade was tourism.  I stopped outside the local  saloon and decided to round out a day of riding through old-west ghost towns with a steaming plate of fajitas. And a salad. And glasses of milk, water, and tea. The refurbished inn was quaint, had somewhat poor lighting, and colorful and friendly locals as well as weekend guests from the larger cities in the region.  After the fajita let-down of 2011, I asked around about a place to stay for the night.

I know.  Just 50 miles? I was tired.  And I’m a wimp.

And what a great place to stop. I found a little bed and breakfast operated by a sweet older woman. For a paltry sum, I got a huge room, incredibly comfortable bed, awesome breakfast, beautiful view of the tiny river, and an adorable tiny Belgium dog.  The dog and I got along very well.  It made me miss my own pooch. Late at night, instead of thinking about my family, friends, loved ones, people I met, other riders, etc, I found myself staring out and wondering how my dog was doing. There was no question he missed me. You see, I’m one of those sappy dog lovers that gets teared up watching an Iams commercial.


Five more riders arrived that night. I was well asleep when they came in.  That morning we all had breakfast together.  Two women from Texas, an older gentleman from some state in the northwest, a Scotsman, a German, and I all sat at the breakfast table sharing pancakes, sausage, milk, orange juice, and tales of our race.  It was good to see that others were having hellish times on occasion. It gave me comfort in a weird schadenfreude kind of way.


I ate my hummus-avocado pita dinner, called a few people, and passed out in my sleeping bag. got below freezing that night… after a few hours of climbing, I was finally at Fleecer Ridge…


It was a nice easy ride along gravel roads that skirted their way beside the highway. The road I was on climbed up and down the sides of the old canyon. Far below I watched cars fly by on the road. By that point I had forgotten what travel by car was like.


I eventually came across an old railroad tunnel.  It looked like something out of a movie, and not a very happy one. Build in 1911, ice cycles hung from the entrance ominously, and I could see a sheet of ice extended slightly outward of the tunnel.  It was like an angry worm monster waiting to eat an unsuspecting rider.


Naturally, riding through the old tunnel was thrilling.  My moving sounds echoed off the old stone walls of the tunnel. Ice crunched and cracked under my tires as I moved through the darkness.  Light poured into the tunnel from the other side, and as I rolled out of the tunnel I could feel the air become warmer. The road looked the exact same as what I had come from on the other side of the tunnel.  Straggly evergreens grew defiantly out of the canyon, reaching up to gather what light they could on this cloudy day.  There was sign of logging equipment being moved up and down the road I was on.


It was up and down the road until I finally met up with the highway again, passing over the small river that slinked its way through the canyon. I followed the highway to Butte, Montana. It was thirty miles from where I started, so to me that meant an early lunch.


One good thing to note about Butte was the bike shop there. The Great Divide bike shop. They are huge fans of Tour Divide and will help anyone out who is on that trail. The owner’s little brother is Levi Leipheimer, a rider for Trek and the 2011 Leadville 100 winner. The shop is featured in the documentary Ride the Divide.


However, I had no recollection of any of this.  I didn’t even look at the name of the shop. In fact, I was absolutely shocked when, upon entrance, my bike was stolen from me and wheeled quickly to the shop area, my packs were taken from me, I was given a hot drink and a place to sit.


My first real taste of the good life.  Is this what it was like to be a celebrity?


Tasted like Nestle hot chocolate.  I’ll take it.


Rob, the owner, asked me plenty of questions. I told him about my adventure so far. The leaders were 5 days ahead of me.


I’ll again segway into a detailed methodology of riding to win the Tour Divide.  There are a few things you must do if you want to win.  First on the list is to limit sleep to 5 hours a night.  Less is usually best. Also, never stop in town for more time than it takes to buy sticks of butter and powdered Gatorade. Your bike should be cleaned every morning with your only toothbrush and a bit of the butter you have for breakfast should be shared with your chain for lube. You should only carry one sleeping bag, a bivy sack, butter, sunglasses, the clothes on your back, and one water bottle. Eighteen hours of riding is an acceptable day, but be sure to keep the pace on average 10 mph. That extra hour or two in the day should be spent eating and refilling your water bottle. Hygiene should never be considered.  Ever.


I would have a long way to go if I were to ever dream of winning it.  But don’t let me get ahead of myself. I thought of Antelope Wells as much as I thought about quitting the race.


That is, not at all.  Never.  Zilch. They were both toxic topics in my mind.  Things that, if allowed to permeate into my frontal lobe, would cause repulsion and disgust to writhe through my mind and extremities. I could never quit, because I had too much  riding on this. And I could never think of the end, because it was too far away to think of.  I could only think of my next destination.


And with that in mind, I didn’t spend too long in Butte. I was happy to let the friendly mechanic service my steed. We talked at length of particular items of interest such as brake pads, tires, tubes, cables, wheels, etc. In the end I got a free clean, lube, and labor on new brake pads.  This was done while I went and had a five portion meal at a local diner dive. The old waitress seemed like she was always looking out for someone to join me, but must have just missed them, because most of the food was gone by the time I had my third refill of lemonade.


I bid Rob and the mechanics a friendly farewell.  The rest of the riders from the night before were staying in a nice hotel in Butte, but I couldn’t do that. Yesterday was only a 50 mile day, and I had plenty of daylight left to get hopelessly lost in the mountains.


So off I went! My bike was clean, my pack was full (Yet not as full as my stomach) and the wind was to my back. If there was a better time to set off, I didn’t know of it.


My plan was to find a nice place devoid of bears to settle down for the night. I had roughly  6 hours of good daylight left, and according to my map, I went uphill for a while.


After ten miles of pavement, I was able to swing off-road onto a logging/mining/parks road that took a turn straight up. It was a very fast climb, and by that I mean fast for the elevation profile.  It was a very slow climb for me, the novice tour divide rider. I passed forest service towers and logging stations while climbing. Up and up I went through this winding road.  It was dark for the time of day, due to heavy cloud cover.


Evergreen pines grew thick here. The road was grayish dirt, packed down from years of logging. I would occasionally check my GPS to track my vertical progress.


That act is repeated plenty of times on this trip, and I can assure you it only gets worse as you progress on a hard climb. Imagine you are working at a dead-end job and you get off work in a few hours.  You want to not think about your watch, but with dilutions of time flight in your head you steal a peak at your watch.  Your bubble of hope is popped by the minute hand traveling only 15 minutes since last you checked.


This happened many times. “Ok, I’ve definitely climbed at least 100 feet. It has to be. No question about it.  Maybe even more.”, look at my GPS, and see my elevation has only changed by about 60 or 70 feet. A painful reminder that patience is and would always be my best friend during this race.


But the best thing about climbs is that they can’t go on forever. The apex of the climb surprised me in its abruptness, for it had me throwing my bike down the other side of the mountain pass in a very timely manner.  To say it in other words, my investment in new brake pads was already beginning to pay returns. In other words, I was on both brakes descending a very twisty, rutted, banked road down  the mountain.  The scenery, from what details I could make from the blurred-from-speed images that happened to burn their way into my retinas as my rear tire played slip-and-slide on the gravel turns, was different from the other side of the pass.  The evergreens were much less dense, the road was corralled with barbed wire fence, and hardwoods began to be more prevalent. The late evening light began to shine through a break in the clouds on this side of the mountains, and towards the end (and fastest) section of the downhill road I chanced a glance at the vast green valley that lay between the mountain ranges. I could see a freeway cutting across the verdant fields, looking little more than a tiny black line with lights making their way down to some unknown horizon.


Sliding rear tires tend to shake one’s mind away from the horizon and back to the here and now.  And right now I had to finish the downhill. Rain had eaten away the road in places, leaving large ruts and grooves that could be tricky even if I wasn’t barreling down the road at close to 25 miles an hour. But in the end the brake pads held and I made it to a more gentle slope down into the valley. The interstate I saw was I-15, and my path went right under it. I passed under the giant road and took an immediate right, following the dirt road that ran right next to the highway a bit before I decided to take a break.  The sun was now set completely behind a mountain to the west. The grass next to the road was soft and sloped upwards toward the interstate.  There were very few cars traveling, and I couldn’t imagine a vehicle moving down the tiny dirt road next to the interstate.  I felt like this was a good place to stop and camp. The road noise was a pleasant drone to lull me to sleep, and it was relatively bear-free.


I made dinner, called home, looked at my map, and counted stars that night. I think I got to “four” before I passed out.



2 comments on “Tour Divide, Chapter 6

  1. Yukon says:

    Hurrah for your adventure. I will try to find out what gps you used and if if
    Rig rammed it with top fusion. Also which Marmot rain jacket did you buy and do you still recommend it highly?

    • Nicholas says:

      Hey Yukon,

      I used an Oregon 450 from Garmin. It worked great and I still have it today. Absolutely bombproof design.

      I actually don’t recall the name of the jacket. I will look when I get home, but I was extremely pleased with it. I would buy five more at the drop of the hat if I could.

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