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)

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Great Divide - Small Town Stoke

No, I cannot forget from where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be

Small Town, John Mellencamp (1985)

Stray Bullet Cafe owner, cook & coffee re-filler Colleen starts our morning right in Ovando.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

I spend a night in the Ovando Jail and snag a shirt to commemorate it. But I'll remember most the people who make this a must-stop on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Leigh Ann at the Ovando Inn and Blackfoot Commercial Company, Kathy at the Blackfoot Angler, Colleen at the Stray Bullet Cafe, and Howard at the Ovando Museum. Small town America at its best.

Whatever your mode of travel, stop in Ovando for a treat. Better yet, treat yourself to a night in Ovando.

Dogs outnumber people in Ovando.

While researching the Great Divide route over the past two years, I identify a handful of places where I am determined to stop for some serious time, hopefully for a night. The Ovando Jail, Barb's Lost Llama Ranch, Kirsten's Brush Mountain Lodge, and Nita's Toaster House top my list of must-see places that cater to Great Divide cyclists. I suspect other hostel-like places will pop up over the course of the ride, and they do, but these four in particular I am determined to experience.

First up on the route, and first in my heart, is the Ovando Jail.

Paul turns himself in at the Ovando Hoosegow, an antiquated name for Jail.

Shortly before 6 pm on Day 6, we roll into Ovando, Montana and head straight into the Blackfoot Commercial Company general store. We're just in time, as it's about to close. While resupplying from their well stocked inventory of good stuff, I notice a handwritten note that the Ovando Jail t-shirts are sold out but that the cafe might have some. I ask about that note and Leigh Ann, the owner of the store, says that she hasn't had those t-shirts in awhile but that the cafe will open tomorrow at 7 am.

OK, so no t-shirt, but breakfast is set. What about the Jail itself? Is it available tonight? Before Leigh Ann can answer, a friendly voice behind me chirps, "Nobody's there now, so if you'd like it, you got it!" I turn to face Kathy, who watches over the refurbished town jail that is part of the Ovando Museum and is open for Great Divide cyclists to stay overnight. How's that for timing? She had just closed the Blackfoot Angler shop and happened to stop in the general store. I'm staying in Jail tonight!

Before booking in, we arrange with Leigh Ann to shower, launder and recharge devices at her Ovando Inn. Although it's only been three days since our last shower, that always feels good. We then stash our supplies in bear bins by the Jail and ride up the hill to Trixi's Antler Saloon for a feast of big burgers and fries. We're living large tonight!

One cell sleeps two in comfort and style.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

The Ovando Jail offers two bed frames hanging from the wall by chains. The thick rope webbing is not very comfortable by itself, but when we add an inflatable mattress, it sleeps like a hammock. This small building is solid and secure. No grizzly is breaking in here tonight.

All the town asks for a night's stay in Jail is a free will donation to the Museum and an entry in their journal. I jot a few notes and enjoy reading the earlier entries of many others. This Jail journal itself will likely be part of the Museum some day.

Officer Groseth logs his security rounds.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

After a safe night in Jail, we're ready to roll early, but not before breakfast at the Stray Bullet Cafe right across the street. This is an honest to goodness, authentic small town cafe serving a scrumptious, hearty breakfast and great coffee. Colleen, the owner and cook, brings smiles and good cheer all around as she greets everyone and refills coffee. Colleen's mother and daughter also help out with this family business.

By the way, Colleen says that the cafe's name comes from the building's history in the Old West as a rowdy saloon. Fights often broke out and shots fired. A stray bullet from the late 1800's is still embedded in the building's walls.

Kathy of The Blackfoot Angler also manages the Ovando Jail.

As we're leaving the Stray Bullet Cafe, I mention to Colleen that Leigh Ann at the general store noted that she may have Ovando Jail t-shirts for sale. Colleen says that they haven't had those in years. OK. Thanks.

Abruptly, a now familiar voice from behind pops into the conversation. "I don't have any Jail shirts left in my shop, either. But there may be some in the Museum. I'll call Howard." It's Kathy, again. She's opening the Blackfoot Angler shop right next to the Stray Bullet Cafe when she overhears my question. I tell Kathy not to have this Howard come in for me. With a ready smile, Cathy quips, "The Museum should be open by now. Howard needs to get to work!"

Ovando Museum curator Howard opens up for us.

Within a couple of minutes, Howard pulls up to the Ovando Museum in an ATV.  "No trouble. No trouble at all," he says as he unlocks the front door. "I think I saw some of those shirts back here somewhere a while back."

He steps inside and motions me to follow. While rummaging through an assortment of dusty drawers and stacks of cardboard boxes, Howard describes the history of the building that is now the Museum and points to a variety of objects and photographs. This place is a real treasure. The Museum itself could be in a museum.

Howard found this shirt buried in a file cabinet in the town museum.

Burrowing into the depths of an old cabinet, Howard exclaims, "Ah! What size do you want?"

"Large, if you have it," I say.

"Large is what I have," he replies.

All that for a t-shirt. 

Space is limited and weight is avoided when bikepacking, but I'll gladly carry this t-shirt home. 

Thank you, Leigh Ann, Kathy, Colleen, and Howard for making my time in Ovando memorable.

A final word from the Stray Bullet Cafe in Ovando, Montana.

Gotta love small towns.

Small Town, John Mellencamp (1985)

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Great Divide - Hey, Bear!

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife

I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature's recipes
That bring the bare necessities of life

The Bare Necessities, Terry Gilkyson (1967)

Many ask if I encountered any grizzly bears during my ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. No, I did not face a growling grizzly. In fact, I did not see any bear anywhere. But I sure saw bear habitat, bear bins, warning signs of bear activity, bear scat, and an endless array of bear related souvenirs in most every store throughout all five states. Just no live bears.

Not encountering a fearsome bear doesn't mean that I don't have a grizzly tale to tell.

Fresh grizzly bear scat on the single track through Grizzly Basin.

The most likely day for us to encounter a grizzly bear was Day 6 from our remote campsite beside Clearwater Lake, in the heart of Montana grizzly bear country. That was our first night camping dispersed in a national forest and our first night hanging food and other items in bear bags. We see and hear plenty of wildlife there, but no bears.

The next morning, we hike-a-bike 20 minutes up single track and then ride about 8 miles steadily up a good forest service road. Locals confirm our research that this area supports the highest concentration of grizzly bears in Montana. And just ahead lies the aptly named Grizzly Basin, where wildlife authorities relocate problem bears from other areas. Time to get that Timber Bell dinging.

First bear bag hang on our 2021 GDMBR ride.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

We top a ridge and abruptly turn onto single track. Oh, my. It's about 4 miles of gentle downhill, smooth, flowing single track along the shoulders of Richmond Peak. Steep slopes reach upward right toward a  ridgeline and downward left toward a roaring river. Hugging the narrow path, lush vegetation gives way to towering pine trees framing both sides. The surrounding mountains soar above it all. Wow.

We so want to rip down this stretch, but we also don't want it to end. We ride fast for a bit, stop, look around, take pictures, go slow, stop, go fast again but not for long, stop again, and go a bit slower. The views are simply stunning.

Dropping down sweet single track through Grizzly Basin on the Great Divide.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Then Paul stops again. This time it's not for the big views, but for the big pile of grizzly bear scat plopped down in the middle of the trail. The pile is so big that I veer off the trail to get around it. That gets our attention.

Now, the nearly continuous Timber Bell just doesn't seem enough. We ride on, regularly yelling, "Hey, Bear! Hey, Bear!" and fully expect to see a mammoth grizzly rising up to greet us around every turn. Instead, we get a "Hey, Bear!" right back at us. It's northbound GDMBR rider Michael Himes who is 4 1/2 years into a world-wide cycling tour. He shares some stories for a spell and then quietly pedals on his way.

Paul and I stop to chat with Michael Himes as we pass through Grizzly Basin.

The sight of that grizzly scat did not vanish from our thoughts, however. It couldn't. Over the next mile or so, we saw at least 15 more piles of bear scat right on the trail, a few of which were still steaming. Now, we're on full alert to our immediate surroundings. Hey, Bear! Hey, Bear!

So, what happened here? I conjure an image of one sociable grizzly finding a juicy huckleberry patch, calling all his friends, and throwing a big huckleberry party all night. Staggering home, the bears marked their trail on the only flat ground around. We're just riding through downtown after the parade.

Negotiating a slide area through Grizzly Basin.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Too soon, we pop out of the single track and fly down a hard gravel road toward Seeley Lake. We find no bear scat on this wide, relatively well developed gravel road. With bear spray at hand, we refill water bottles and eat lunch along Blind Canyon Creek. Then we roll another 26 miles on good forest service and county roads to Ovando for the night. 

Of course, we're not out of grizzly country. Not for over 700 more miles. But we're through the steaming bear scat of Grizzly Basin. And that's something.

Enjoy those roadside wild raspberries, Paul.
Just know that you're raiding a grizzly's pantry.

Addendum. Others have encountered bears on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, including two cyclists that I met in Montana. While filtering water from a stream in Montana, John watched a young grizzly eat beef jerky right off his bike before sauntering away. And Ron Kennedy scared off a black bear at night in a campground in southern Colorado. He wrote about it here. Ron's Black Bear Encounter. So, there you go. You have something besides poop for your effort in reading this.

The Bare Necessities, The Jungle Book (1967)

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Great Divide - Trail Angels Marlene & Paul

In ways I can't explain and can't deny
The little that I have He multiples
Just when I feel He won't show up on time
God provides
God Provides, Kirk Franklin (2016) 

 From Left to Right:  Our hostess Marlene Fifield, Marlene's sister Roberta,
Marlene's husband Paul Fifield, and Roberta's husband George. (photo by Paul Brasby)

Filet mignon grilled to order, sautéed fresh mushrooms, baked potatoes with sour cream and chives, fresh corn on the cob, huckleberry coleslaw, fresh picked cherries, bottomless glasses of ice water (declining the red wine), and then vanilla ice cream topped with homemade huckleberry sauce.

Does that sound like your typical dinner on a bikepacking trip? Not mine, either. Well, that was our dinner on the evening of Day 4 of our ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, thanks to Trail Angels Marlene and Paul Fifield of Montana. And that gourmet meal was just part of the story.

Paul documents the scene where Paul Fifield, California Ken, Marlene Fifield, Paul and I
sort out just where we are and where we need to be. (photo by Paul Brasby)

Day 4 of our Great Divide ride starts from Wayfarer's State Park near Big Fork, Montana with the relatively ambitious thought of riding about 75 miles to the Owl Creek Packer USFS campground near Holland Lake. If short of that, we'll disperse camp somewhere along the way.

After warming up on some pavement, we climb steadily on two-track logging roads into the remote backcountry of Flathead National Forest. Always on the lookout for bear and other wildlife, we catch occasional glimpses of big mountains on the horizon and of Swan Lake through the dense vegetation. Stands of Western Larch tower 150-200 feet above the lush forest floor and hug the road to frame our narrow path. Always above is the big, blue Montana sky. I lose track of how many times Paul joyfully exclaims, "Now, THIS is what I came out here for!"

So we don't miss another turn, Paul Fifield positioned tree branches to point the way to his house.
I say we go that way, while California Ken stows his map. (photo by Paul Brasby)

Paul chases down another southbound GDMBR rider, California Ken, and the two of them immediately talk themselves off the route by missing a turn and plunging down a steep hill. Despite my screaming from behind, they quickly drop out of sight. Glancing at the map, I see that their road soon ends at a campground, where they would probably recognize their mistake. So, I find some shade atop that hill, grab a snack, and wait for them to return. Within about 15 minutes, they come charging up that hill.

Back on route, we roll up, up and down, and through big time logging country, with countless tantalizing rough roads veering into the forest. In the mid-afternoon heat, we're over two miles up a steady climb when we realize that something's wrong. Paul rides ahead to look for a sign, while I pull out my map, cue sheets and book. Eventually, we both conclude that we somehow missed a turn at the bottom of that climb and turn back toward an intersection down there.

Preparing to sleep in a luxurious man-cave garage.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Then huckleberry hunters Paul and Marlene Fifield pull up on a side-by-side ATV.  Marlene says, "You fellows look lost." Grateful for help from locals, I ask if they'd look at my map to confirm where we are and where we should be. They do so and follow us back to that intersection to make sure we don't miss the turn again. Then they insist that we sample from their buckets of freshly picked huckleberries. Sweet.

With the time and energy lost climbing those errant miles, on a hot day already a bit ambitious, we conclude that it's unlikely we'll reach Holland Lake that night. That's OK, we'll ride for awhile and find a nice place to disperse camp. California Ken thought he'd do the same. Overhearing that discussion, Paul Fifield says, "There's a lot of bear out here. Why don't you stay at our place? We're just a few miles away."

Our host Paul Fifield works his magic.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

We're not about to turn down that offer and neither is California Ken. Early on, Paul and I agreed to prioritize secure sleeping arrangements in grizzly country where possible, even if it meant riding a bit less, or a bit more, than circumstances might otherwise indicate. That is, where possible, we seek to sleep indoors or in a developed campground with bear bins. In our final tally after 20 nights in grizzly country, we slept indoors 7 times, in developed campgrounds 11 times, and at a dispersed campsite just twice.

We soon learn that we would not be sleeping just anyplace, but inside Paul's enormous, luxurious man-cave garage. Nice. We set up, clean up, and charge devices. Then Paul returns to invite us to dinner. Wow. Yeah, that would be great. He then asks, "How would you like your steak?" Are you kidding? Steak?

Marlene Fifield serves her gourmet dinner.

Yeah. Steak. And all the other delicacies noted above. Amazing dinner. Amazing company. Paul, Marlene, Marlene's sister Roberta and Roberta's husband George want to hear all about our ride. Paul, California Ken and I want to hear all about living in the beautiful Montana backcountry. Time flies by.

Near the end of the meal, Marlene quietly shares her experience from earlier that day. She had invited Roberta and George to dinner and, before leaving to huckleberry hunt, she removed steaks from their freezer for dinner for four. Then her husband invited these three cyclists to stay the night. What to do? Invite them for dinner, too? Driving back to their house, Marlene wonders if there's any way to stretch those four steaks to feed seven, now with the addition of three hungry cyclists.

Returning to the steaks she removed from the freezer, Marlene discovers that, somehow, there are seven steaks thawed. How did that happen? She does not remember removing seven steaks, but reasons that she must have. She cannot fathom why, since she only planned four people for dinner, but here they are. Seven thawed steaks. How can that be?

Marlene simply says that God provided steak for seven.

Then she realizes that there's so much more. God brought these seven people together for that night through a sequence of events unplanned by any of us. He provided guidance to three wandering cyclists to find their way back on route, a secure place to rest for the night, and a home cooked meal. He provided an opportunity for two huckleberry hunters to serve some weary, wayward travelers. And He provided company for everyone to share a special evening together. We listen in awe and give thanks. Amazing.

In the morning, Paul Fifield leads the way back to the Great Divide route.

Reluctantly, we retire for the night and sleep comfortably in our spacious accommodations. In the morning, Paul Fifield brings hot coffee and cinnamon rolls for everyone. To top it off, he hops on his bike to lead us to our route. A few miles later, we're back on the Great Divide, with hearts full of gratitude.

Trail angels, indeed.

God provides.

God Provides, Tamela Mann (2016)

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Great Divide - Living A Dream

The bells were ringing
Our souls were singing
Do you remember, never a cloudy day

There was a 
Ba de ya, say do you remember?
Ba de ya, dancing in September
Ba de ya, golden dreams were shiny days

September, Maurice White & Allee Willis (1978)

Emotions and thoughts run wild after I reach Antelope Wells.
This photograph is about 3 hours after I finished and I'm still giddy. 
(photo by Cyler Groseth)

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. A 2,500 mile cross country journey over primarily remote, rough gravel/dirt roads tracking the Continental Divide from Roosville, Montana at the Canadian border to Antelope Wells, New Mexico at the Mexican border. It's the longest off-pavement route in the world.

The Adventure Cycling Association first published this route way back in 1998 and it immediately caught my attention back then. Wow. The imagination to dream up such a route! The dedication to map it! The audacity to even consider riding it! Is that even possible? How? Boy, if I could, well, that would be something special. But it's way out there. Way beyond reality. Well into the realm of dreams. But, maybe. Someday. Maybe. Yeah, maybe someday.

Twenty-three years later, I lived that dream. I rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Unreal.

Big sky, big mountains, big trees, big views and another big day on the Great Divide.
Montana two track skirting the western edge of Glacier National Park.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Now weeks later, the magnitude of that experience still boggles my mind and unleashes a cascade of emotions. I still struggle to comprehend even the most basic aspects of the experience. Talking with family and friends helps, but my words are inadequate.

Here's one way I've described my Great Divide ride. Take any one day from my seven weeks of riding and disregard all the rest as if they never happened. Plug that one day into a normal cycling year filled with other rides, events, and races. That one day would be my best cycling day of the year. Hands down. Now, go back and string together 48 more days just like it. Unreal.

Slugging my way up Lava Mountain in Montana.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Part of my difficulty in expressing this experience probably lies in the amount of thought and time that I invested to prepare for it. This was years in the making and many months of detailed planning. Then, suddenly it's right there, staring me in the face. Are you sure that you're ready for this kid?

Over breakfast in Eureka, Montana on the day of the start, Colleen notes that I am unusually quiet. After months of patiently listening to every excited utterance of my plans for this ride, she recognizes that I'm sorting through a lot internally and asks if I'm alright. I am, although I'm not excited and I'm not nervous. I'm in that big pre-ride mental place where I'm thinking of what I'm about to do and how I can do it.

But this one is fundamentally different. This one is just so big. It's not a one day, weekend, or even week long ride. It's just so big. So many miles. So much time. So many variables. It's just so big. I cannot see a clear path to Antelope Wells. I cannot see a way to do this.

Yellowstone Branch Line Trail along the Warm River in Idaho.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

Colleen's concern sparks a memory. Months before, while I'm ruminating yet again on something about the Great Divide, she simply says, "Craig, every morning, you get to wake up and ride your bike, as long as you want, as far as you want, and stop when you want, on roads you've never ridden. And then the next day, you get to do it again. You get to do what you love to do."

Of course, she's right. Stop over-thinking and just ride.

My friend Mark Steele, an endurance motorcyclist planning his own Continental Divide ride, texted me before the start and somehow recognized my unsettled mind. He responded, "You've prepared for this. You've trained for this. You're ready for this. All that's left is for you to do it."

Of course, he's right. Believe in yourself and just ride.

Blown like a speck of dust across the Great Basin of Wyoming.
Yes, that's me, just a dot riding up that distant hill.
(photo by Paul Brasby)

To stay grounded over the course of this ride, I realize that I need to maintain a mindset to simply stay in the moment and trust myself. 

Here's what I came up with and stuck with every day for the entire seven weeks of this ride. Each morning I resolve to enjoy that day with everything that comes with it, while giving myself a chance to ride again the next day. Each evening, I give thanks for the opportunity and ability to do so. I do not allow myself to even think about the next road, the next mountain pass, or the next state, let alone Antelope Wells. Stay in the moment and simply enjoy it. All of it. And ride to ride another day.

Dispersed campsite in an aspen grove deep in the Rocky Mountains of Northern Colorado.
(photo by Raymond Bleesz)

To enjoy the day, with everything that comes with it, is not always easy. In fact, every day on my Great Divide ride included a stretch of some difficulty, often lasting for hours and sometimes all day. A few examples include a 4 mile heft-a-bike pitch over Lava Mountain in Montana after climbing virtually all day, a day of 20+ mph headwinds in the treeless Great Basin of Wyoming, a 27 mile climb up rocky, rutted Polvadera Mesa in northern New Mexico, and a monsoon with hail that turned my dirt road into a raging river in central New Mexico. There are no easy days on the Great Divide.

By closely tracking the Continental Divide and crossing it 30-some times, the Great Divide repeatedly takes you up and down, up and down, up and down. To keep thoughts positive during long climbs, I started thinking that if I'm climbing, I'm gaining elevation. If I'm descending, I'm gaining mileage. At the end of the day, I need both. So, celebrate whatever you're doing at the moment. You're riding the Great Divide.

Occasionally, when a stretch turned particularly nasty, I turned it around and asked myself, "What would you rather be doing?" The answer was always the same. Nothing. No matter what was happening that moment, that's where I wanted to be. Out riding the Great Divide.

The very first climb after crossing into New Mexico.
It's a little rougher down there.

So, that's how I rode 2,648 miles with 171,937 feet of elevation gain over 51 days (49 riding days + 2 rest days). Stay in the moment, ride one day at a time, and give myself a chance to ride again the next day.

That mindset may help explain why the finish was so surreal. I had never allowed myself to even think about the finish until the night before in the tiny town of Hachita, just 45 flat, paved miles from the border. No, I didn't sleep much that night, as that reality finally and quickly took shape. 

The next morning, I cruised those easy miles like one sweet victory lap, hooting and hollering just to hoot and holler. I even startled a couple of javelinas and woke up a few rattlesnakes. Then I rounded a corner and the finish bludgeoned me with the brute force of a New Mexican monsoon, flash flooding my senses. I stood alone, stunned, at a closed U.S Border Station under a blazing sun, not quite believing that I had just finished riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Unreal.

Locals say the New Mexican monsoons came a month late this year.
I rode right into them, but one reward was the desert in full bloom.
Yes, this is southern New Mexico in the first week of September.

Addendum. I finished my Great Divide ride on September 8, 2021. While waiting for my brother Cyler to pick me up at Antelope Wells, the song "September" by Earth, Wind & Fire and the cover by Kirk Franklin played through my head many times. Pure joy. Some singing and dancing may also have been involved.

The bells were ringing
Our souls were singing
Do you remember, never a cloudy day
Ba de ya, say do you remember?
Ba de ya, dancing in September
Ba de ya, golden dreams were shiny days
September, Maurice White & Allee Willis (1978)

September, Earth, Wind & Fire (1978)

Everybody has a September in their life
You know that first time you heard God's voice
So you felt His love
So no matter what season you're in right now
After winter comes spring
So, if you love my Jesus, help me sing

Ba de ya, tell me you remember
Ba de ya, when your heart felt like September
You still had the joy and God was just a prayer away

September, Kirk Franklin (2007)

September, Kirk Franklin (2007)

Sunday, July 18, 2021

GDMBR Anticipation

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I'm really with you now
Or just chasin' after some finer day
Is makin' me wait
Is keepin' me waiting

Anticipation, Carly Simon (1971)

My loaded Jones 29+ ready to roll on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
I love M-Hill in the heart of Rapid City, but can't wait to explore some new trails and roads.

Oh, the anticipation.

Years in the making. Many months in detailed preparation. It's time.

Over 20 years ago, I learned that the Adventure Cycling Association completed mapping the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR), a 2,500 mile bicycle route on gravel and dirt roads along the Continental Divide across the country from Canada to Mexico. It immediately captured my imagination.

Over the years, I've dreamt of riding the GDMBR someday, while wistfully following the exploits of others. Two years ago, with all the silliness from La-Z-Boy internet warriors arguing arbitrary "racing" rules, I expressed my personal approach to riding it. Bikepacking The GDMBR. Then, last month, I finally announced my own planned start date of July 22, 2021. My GDMBR Date Is Set. As a bonus, cycling buddy Paul Brasby stomped on the pedals by committing to start with me. Hit It! Other friends and family may also join me somewhere along the way. With A Little Help From My Friends. It's time.

I've been up, down, and sideways through my bike, packs, gear, food, water, communications, navigation, and everything else I can think of. My numerous GDMBR posts sprinkled throughout this blog merely hint at what's been happening here. And it's not just armchair planning. This calendar year alone, I've ridden over 1,000 miles on my 70 pound, fully loaded Jones 29+ bike and another 500 miles on that bike unloaded, let alone the miles on my other bikes. It's time.

One final check and I'm bound for the U.S. Border Station at Roosville, Montana. It's time.

Anticipation. It's making me wait.

Anticipation, Carly Simon (1971)

NOTE:  I do not plan to post again on this blog until returning from the GDMBR. If all goes well, that should be some time.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

2021 Black Hills Bounty (Wrap + Map Links) - A Ride With Friends

You've got a friend in me, You've got a friend in me,
When the road looks rough ahead,
And you're miles and miles from your nice warm bed,
You just remember what your old pal said,
Boy, you've got a friend in me,
Yeah, you've got a friend in me.

You've Got A Friend In Me, Randy Newman (1995)

Out for a friendly little ride on the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.
Paul Brasby, Lane Bergen, Craig Groseth, Mark Hoffman, Ben Cooper, Jeff Bloom

The concept of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty formed over many conversations with Paul Brasby during a week of long days pedaling the Cloud Peak 500 bikepacking route last summer. In general, Paul sought a multi-day bikepacking ride on remote, rough roads through the best of the Black Hills of South Dakota. But he also wanted a bucket list ride up iconic Iron Mountain Road to Mount Rushmore, which would be primarily paved and full of tourist traffic. And he wanted to invite cycling friends with various levels of bikepacking experience. Oh, and some of the families might vacation in the Black Hills at the same time.

Over the winter, we bounced around many ideas in the process of developing a plan, which eventually landed on 5 days of riding based out of the centrally located tourist town of Custer. We then decided on a remote start from a dispersed campsite, a Day 1 ride to second dispersed campsite, a Day 2 ride ending in a campground in Custer, a layover Day 3 where our gear stayed in Custer while we rode a Mount Rushmore paved road loop, a Day 4 ride to a third dispersed campsite, and a short Day 5 ride back to Custer. So, basically an Overnighter, a Layover, and a second Overnighter with a short ride home. That plan seemed to fit most everything in.

The days were hot and dry, despite the occasional ornery cloud.
Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Each day we adapted to changing circumstances, but I believe we stayed true to our objectives. We rode every bit of the miles planned for Days 1-4 and experienced all of our anticipated highlights, and then some. Ben, Paul and Lane even added a Day 0 ride to get up to that remote, dispersed campsite. Take a look at the ride reports for each day. Day 0 - Come TogetherDay 1 - Start Of Something GoodDay 2 - Trust, Day 3 - All American, and Day 4 - End Of The Line.

At the end of Day 4, we did cut out the third dispersed campsite, but we enjoyed camping together in Custer that night. We did not ride at all on Day 5, which I had planned to be relatively short anyhow so folks could drive home that night. I'll just squirrel away for another day some of those great back roads planned for Day 5.

Not all the roads were gravel or dirt, but most all were pretty skinny.
Day 3 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

I admit to having some apprehension when Paul invited seemingly all of Nebraska and half of Kansas to this ride. I always envisioned the Black Hills Bounty as an outline for a week of backcountry riding and camping with friends. Not a race, not an event, not a destination, and not even a fixed route over a set number of days. Most of all, I emphatically did not want to manage a large gathering of strangers.

It turned out great, because the guys that rode it were great. Ben Cooper and Paul Brasby of North Platte, Nebraska. Jeff Bloom of Lincoln, Nebraska. Lane Bergen of Fort Collins, Colorado. Mark Hoffman of Marysville, Kansas. They each spent precious personal time and traveled hundreds of miles just to ride together on unknown roads in the Black Hills. Thanks, guys, for coming together for the week.

Strong, experienced cyclists all, they pedaled four hard, hot days on rough roads through remote backcountry with nothing but smiles, good cheer, laughter, enthusiasm, and cooperation. And they trusted me to show them great back roads, as well as the way home, notwithstanding plenty of reason to doubt.

I'll ride with you guys anytime.

Lane Bergen chills while Jeff Bloom, Mark Hoffman & Ben Cooper set up camp.
End of Day 1 of the 2021 Black Hills Bounty.

Here's a link to the collection for our 2021 Black Hills Bounty, as ridden. 2021 Black Hills Bounty Collection. That page links to digital maps for each day.

You've Got A Friend In Me, Toy Story Theme Song, Randy Newman (1995)