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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Great Divide - Five Acres Of Kindness

You got to try a little kindness 
Yes show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see

And if you try a little kindness
Then you'll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Try A Little Kindness, Curt Sapaugh & Bobby Austin (1970)

The welcoming entrance to the iconic Lost Llama Ranch on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Sprawled out on the porch couch at the Lost Llama Ranch, I jot a few notes in my journal by the narrow beam of my headlight. It's near midnight, many hours past any reasonable bedtime on this Great Divide ride, but I'm determined to write a bit about today. 

It's a day to remember.

Paul steams out of Ovando toward the heights of Huckleberry Pass.

Fueled by a scrumptious breakfast at the Stray Bullet Cafe and stoked by the friendly Ovando vibe, we briskly roll on hard packed gravel toward the Continental Divide. see The Great Divide - Small Town Stoke. Starting Day 7, we feel comfortably sore and tired. We're not breaking down. We're breaking in.

Like every day, my map reveals a steady, day long dose of up and down. From Ovando, it's about 100 miles over 4 mountain passes to reach Helena, which perhaps is a single day ride for some. Not for me. Even if I thought I could, I would not. The iconic Lost Llama Ranch rests in between.

Paul works his way up Stemple Pass Road.

We cruise along a warmup valley, jazzed by the good vibes behind and anticipated ahead. Hard gravel roads and gentle grades deliver us to the steeper final miles up Huckleberry Pass. But it's early and we feel good, so before long we're coasting down to the town of Lincoln.

After a quick convenience store lunch, we spin up Stemple Pass Road in the heat of mid-afternoon. Once again, the grades steepen significantly as we approach the pass and I frequently stop, just to stop. It's getting late and I'm ready to call it a day.

But, no. More through miscommunication between us than anything else, we take the wrong road and plunge downhill in the wrong direction. By the time we discover our mistake and work our way back on route, we extend an already hard 62 mile day into an even harder 74 miles. So, it's after 8:00 pm when I top a final crest to spot the Lost Llama Ranch in a meadow along a forested valley. What a relief.

John Keller opens the way into the Lost Llama Ranch.

A bit ahead on Marsh Creek Road, Paul rides up to another cyclist. It's Barb Nye herself, the owner of the Lost Llama Ranch, out for an evening ride. Shortly after they roll into the ranch together, I ride up to find John Keller, Barb's partner, who directs me up to their porch.

Barb and John ask everyone riding into the Lost Llama Ranch to first sit down with them on their porch. They offer cold drinks, sandwiches and fruit in a comfortable, shaded place to relax and chat. They genuinely wish to meet each person and hear their story. 

The welcoming porch of the Lost Llama Ranch.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Barb's and John's story is one of hospitality, generosity, and kindness. Barb had been living on the ranch for many years when the Adventure Cycling Association first published the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 1998. Living right on the route, Barb started seeing Great Divide cyclists ride by. Soon, she was offering water, food, and even her ranch as a place to camp. In about 2005, Barb bought a neighbor's old cabin and moved it onto her property just for cyclists. Over the years, she continued to make it more and more bike packer friendly.

In 2015, John stopped by the Lost Llama Ranch on his Great Divide ride and met Barb. They kept in contact and eventually John moved out there. Together they continue to build this special place for Great Divide cyclists to rest, recover, and share their experience.

Welcoming note on the porch refrigerator at the Lost Llama Ranch.

After a delightful time over cold drinks, John shows us around. There's the original cabin Barb moved onto the property years ago and the nearby bathroom. Next are a line of various small shelters added more recently, each furnished with beds, lights, a way to cook, some food and other things a bikepacker might need. The barn housing their llama and alpacas has power for charging devices and an outdoor shower out back. The surrounding pasture provides plenty of space for those wishing to pitch a tent.

A large van and trailer sit at the end of the pasture, which John identifies as a van-supported guided tour by the Adventure Cycling Association, the group that created the Great Divide route. A number of other bikepackers mill around the shelters and a smattering of tents.  John gathers the group and joyfully announces that, with my arrival tonight, the Lost Llama Ranch now has a new record of 21 bikepackers staying the night. 21 in one night!

A look inside the "Alpaca Inn" hut that I slept in at the Lost Llama Ranch.

John completes his tour with a reminder to everyone to help themselves anytime to the cold drinks, sandwiches, and fruit on the porch. Paul then bee-lines to a spot to set up his camp, attend to his bike, and change clothes, while I soak in the ambiance and meet our fellow bikepackers.

As Paul finishes, I haven't even started with my tent, but it turns out that I don't have to. One of the other bikepackers, Franz from Virginia, decides to sleep in his tent rather than the "Alpaca Inn" shelter and offers it to me. Well, alright! Last night I slept in the historic Ovando Jail and tonight in the Alpaca Inn at the Lost Llama Ranch! Splash Two!

This shelter houses the ranch's llama and alpacas, while out back is the outdoor shower.

The environment created and nurtured by Barb and John is one of hospitality, generosity, and kindness. They welcome everyone, offer provisions and accommodations to rest, and accept no payment or donation. They live a life of service deep in the Montana wilderness.

Barb notes that all they ask is that you pay it forward in kindness. John adds that they think of the Lost Llama Ranch as 5 acres of love and kindness that they hope will spread all over the country and around the world. They are certainly doing their part.

Thank you, Barb and John.

Try A Little Kindness, Glen Campbell (1970)


  1. Ha! I also stayed in the Alpaca Inn. I saw that Jay Petervary did as well during the race.