‘The track between Butte and Helena towards Park Lake is the most challenging part of the whole Great Divide Mountain Bike Route’, I read on the Adventure Cycling map. So, we give ourselves a day off in the mining town of Butte to prepare for this challenge. Stuffed with even more burgers (what else is there to eat in the US??) we hit the road to Basin on a paved climb to another continental divide crossing.
Right after Basin the fun starts with a steep offroad climb, still doable. But, as soon as we turn onto Lava Mountain Trail we have no choice but to jump off our bikes and we start to push our heavy loaded bikes up the hill, one by one. It’s steep, it’s rocky, it’s just not ridable… I guess this is what the ACA meant with ‘the most challenging part’… The downhill is just as bad and to avoid eating dust and rocks we walk down the worst parts. After more than 80 tough kilometers we pitch our tent at Park Lake Campground where we get to see the milky way as a reward for our hard labour.
When we pass Lincoln we get to see a forest fire up close and personal; it’s the beginning of a smoky ride through Montana. It’s been such a dry summer that Montana is just on fire and the air is filled with smoke. Near Seeley Lake the single track of the GDMBR is even closed due to a fire and we have to detour on the highway to be able to reach Holland Lake. We share a campsite with friendly Dutch couple Joos and Sanne and the next couple of days we ride together. Even with the smoke, Holland Lake is beautiful and while Joos and Sanne hit the water in a kayak, Elmar and I sit in the sun and enjoy the view.
Going to the Smoke.. uhh Sun Road
Almost a year ago in Cusco, Peru we said goodbye to Paul and Jan and today we cycle into Whitefish to meet them at the Montana Coffee Company. We are reunited and will be cycling together for the next two weeks. We have great memories of our cycling adventures together in Bolivia and Peru and it’s great to be on the road together again! Their very friendly friends Cathy and Walt let us camp in their yard next to their beautiful log cabin in the woods. Walt takes us on a tour on Whitefish Lake on their boat and we all share a beer and Paul cooks us a great steak on the BBQ; good food to ride into the smoke towards Glacier National Park. The GDMBR actually bypasses the park, but apart from the heavy fires near Eureka we’d prefer to visit the park and ride up to Logan Pass, an additional continental divide crossing.
Glacier National Park is very busy and cyclists are not allowed to ride up to Logan Pass between 11AM and 4PM. We plan it well as we enter the park at 3:50PM which is no problem for the ranger on duty. We pitch our tent at Lake McDonald while the smoke is getting thicker and thicker…
We have to ride about 38 kilometers and climb more than a 1000 vertical meters to Logan Pass, all before 11AM. Our alarm clocks are set at 5:30 to be on the road by 7 AM. The first 20 kilometers are a rollercoaster ride and we don’t gain a lot of altitude. Then the climb starts, it’s a gentle one and we aim te reach the top before 11 or else a park bus will scoop you off the road and that’s not gonna happen to us! In the thick stinky smoke we breath and pump our way up to the pass, which we reach just before 11! And as we go up, the temperature drops dramatically and we need a few extra layers to ride down into the freezing wind to St. Mary Lake and campground. On the way down we pass the recent forest fires, it’s a sad sight…
As we set up camp it starts to rain which changes to hail and snow not long after. We cook our delicious pesto pasta meal under the tarp while we are deeply tucked away into our down jackets. The good news is, that it clears the sky from smoke! Well, at least for half a day! And we get to see the fresh white peaks at St. Mary Lake and the rugged mountains near Many Glacier Campground, before the smoke takes over again as we leave the United States with one day left on our 90-day visa. The smoke doesn’t need borders and follows us into Canada… our last country in the Americas! New adventures await!