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Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The Great Divide - Shelter In Grizzly Country

Oh, a storm is threat'ning
My very life today
If I don't get some shelter
Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away

Gimme Shelter, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards (1969)

Inside the Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter looking over maps for tomorrow's ride.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

I like bears, including grizzlies. I just prefer not to sleep in their pantry.

For the 20 nights in grizzly country on my Great Divide ride, I slept inside a hard structure 7 times, a tent at a developed site 12 times, and a tent dispersed in the forest just once. In contrast, my next 30 nights, I camped at a dispersed site 12 times.

Those numbers directly result from our approach to overnight shelter in grizzly country. Where possible, we are determined to sleep inside a structure or at a developed campground, even if it requires a shorter or a longer day than we might otherwise prefer. It works for us.

We slept inside in variety of structures, including a private man-cave garage, the Ovando Jail, the Alpaca Inn at the Lost Llama Ranch, the Basin Community Hall, the Big Hole Community Church in Wise River, the Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter near Union Pass, and one motel, Jan's Cafe & Cabins in Lima. In addition to bear bins, many of the developed sites for tent camping offered other nice features like potable water, power, and picnic tables. As an unexpected bonus, the people we meet while staying at these places add greatly to our Great Divide experience. That alone is worth it to us and it keeps me looking for similar opportunities later.

Here's a summary of all seven of our nights inside a structure in grizzly country.

4. The garage is pure Trail Magic. I had to post about that experience. see Trail Angels Marlene & Paul

6/7. The Ovando Jail and Lost Llama Ranch are scheduled in ink on my pre-ride plans and we just make those happen. I had to post about two of my must-stop overnights. see Small Town Stoke and Five Acres Of Kindness

9. I know in advance of the Basin Community Hall, which we hit at the end of a long, hot day of climbing that culminated with infamous Lava Mountain. Exhausted, we burst into the Silver Saddle Bar & Cafe just 10 minutes before their grill closed at 8:00 pm and they happily prepare some big burgers and fries for us. They also manage the Community Hall, which they open for us with a $5 donation. We follow their recommendation to sleep on the padded benches lining the long walls of the Hall. 

11. We learn of the Big Hole Community Church from a remarkable group of three young North Bound Great Divide riders that Paul calls Boyz-to-Men. I did not write down their names, but their ages were 23, 22, and 16. Notwithstanding their youth, here they are in the middle of Montana, nearing the completion of their Great Divide ride. Based on the Boyz-to-Men intel, Paul knocks on the door of the parsonage next to the church and the pastor's husband simply tells him to let yourself in and make yourself at home. It's great to be indoors that night, screened from the heavy smoke from large forest fires raging nearby.

14. Cold, driving rain dogs us to Jan's Cafe & Cabins in Lima, although it takes some persistence and patience from Paul to get that room. Like many small businesses along the way, Jan's is operating very short staffed, is scrambling to close the cafe and prepare for breakfast, and had told others they had no vacancies. In reality, they had not cleaned the one room that's unoccupied and they aren't really wanting to. Paul somehow discovers that and offers to wait. Then Paul plays Trail Angel by offering our extra bed to Tobias, a young solo South Bound rider we met earlier in the day who was huddled in his tent nearby in the rain. Paying it forward.

20. Paul spots the Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter right off Union Pass Road, talks with a few passing locals about it, and just can not pass it up, especially with reports of recent grizzly activity in the area. We must ride an extra half a mile down to a creek to filter water, but it's more than worth it. The dispersed sites identified further down the route that we were planning to hit turn out to poor campsites, with water difficult to access or non-existent. And there's a reason for the name Mosquito Lakes, which is temptingly marked on the ACA maps. For our last night in grizzly county high up a mountain pass, the Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter is warm, dry, and secure. Perfect.

Setting up camp in Paul Fifield's luxurious garage.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Getting booked into the Ovando Jail.

The Lost Llama Ranch with its row of shelters and llama/alpaca shed.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Basin Community Hall offers padded benches for beds.

Carpeted sanctuary of the Big Hole Community Church in Wise River.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Jan's Cafe & Cabins in Lima. Heavy rain and wind drove us there the night before.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter near Union Pass, our last night in grizzly country.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Here's a list of our nightly accommodations in grizzly country. Bold = indoors. Italics = dispersed.
Note that the mileage is NOT the ACA map mileage, but rather is my actual mileage from my cyclocomputer, which includes off-route excursions such as re-supply stops and missed turns.

1.  USFS Tuchuck Campground - Whitefish Divide (mile 43.6)
2.  Whitefish Lake State Park Hiker/Biker Campground - Whitefish (mile 108.3)
3.  Wayfarer's State Park Hiker/Biker Campground - Big Fork (mile 163.7)
4.  Marlene & Paul Fifield garage - near Condon (mile 218.3)
5.  Dispersed Site - Clearwater Lake (mile 257.1)
6.  Ovando Jail - Ovando (mile 308.8)
7.  Alpaca Inn - Lost Llama Ranch (mile 383.0)
8.  MTB City Bike Hostel - Helena (mile 430.4)
9.  Basin Community Hall - Basin (mile 473.0)
10. USFS Thompson Park Day Use Area - South of Butte (mile 523.3) 
11. Big Hole Community Church - Wise River (mile 568.5)
12. Elk Horn Springs Resort - near Polaris (mile 602.5)
13. Hansen Livestock Ranch - near nothing (mile 649.6)
14. Jan's Cafe & Cabins - Lima (mile 712.8)
15. Upper Red Rock Lakes Campground - Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (mile 772.0)
16. USFS Warm River Campground - south of Island Park (mile 843.4)
17. Grand Teton National Park Hiker/Biker Campground (mile 909.5)
18. Grand Teton National Park Hiker/Biker Campground (mile 909.5)
19. Lava Mountain Lodge - downhill side of Togwotee Pass (mile 962.1)
20. Strawberry Creek Safety Shelter - downhill side of Union Pass (mile 1,000.3)

Gimme Shelter, Rolling Stones (1969)

Gimme Shelter, Rolling Stones (2003)
Live, 30+ years after releasing the original.
They just keep on rocking.

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