Well, I made it to Montana. And I made it in a fashion slightly elevated above ‘just barely’, even. So this is good news. Let me tell you about the last section.

Wow.

I very much doubt that I will see anything as beautiful on the rest of this trip. The trail leaves from Sparwood, home of the world’s biggest truck, a giant earth mover that burns 80 gallons of gas an hour that it is in use.

The Big Truck. It's Big.

It’s used for mining, a very popular activity in the areas around Sparwood and Elkford (both still in Canada). There are numerous mountain-top removal mining operations, and if you are unfamiliar with this type of mining, look it up here. Regardless of how one feels about the importance of mining for energy, for jobs, for fun, it simply takes the breath away to see a mountain taken down by the shovelful. From Sparwood, the route travels up a little-used paved road headed for Corbin, the site of another, vast coal mining site. It was still the day we went through, however, because the coal miners are all on strike. Now, the road to Corbin is beautiful, following and repeatedly crossing a lovely river, each bridge with it’s own fly fisherman in waders peacefully casting in the water. However, it started raining shortly after we turned onto this road, and continued raining as we climbed higher and higher into the mountains. Rain on the paved road is annoying but ultimately non-threatening. Just wait, though.

From Corbin, we turned off rode along a dirt road, a very very rough dirt road, that climbed up and over Flathead pass before dropping down along the fledgling Flathead river. It was still raining. And now it was somewhat more than annoying: the road turned to a bog of gritty paste that stuck to everything. We climbed for hours in the rain, to cold to stop and rest for any part of the climb, fighting our bikes up the mud and through puddles.

Oh, we, you ask? Yes, in Elkford I met another pair of through-riders, Sara and Tom, a lovely couple from Australia and England, respectively.

Sara and Tom, in sun hats.

Through a fortunate error in communication, they were able to abandon plans they had to meet a friend along the civilized Fernie alternate and join me for four days of wild backcountry riding. It was excellent to share their company over those days, and it allayed much of my concern about bears. They will be riding the entire route, all the way to Mexico, as well, so I anticipate crossing paths with them again. They also, most excitingly, plan to keep on riding once they get to Mexico, riding for the year they’ve taken off from work. We had a great time comparing the differences of our bike set-ups over the last few days, since we each have a different rig. I’m doing the classic panniers and rear-rack set-up, Sara has no racks and is pulling a trailer, and Tom is riding Surly’s Big Dummy (it’s basically like an Xtra Cylce, for those who know). All three of the bikes are hardtails with front suspension, though theirs have newer, arguably better components than mine.

Which brings me to the inevitable problems that cropped up while we were in the middle of nowhere. We rode down from the pass, fast and wet and very cold, passing an RV mired in mud and surrounded by men armed with shovels. Really, I have no clue how they even got it up there, but they were determined to dig it out and make their way down to the Flathead river. We sopped into a campsite and had a respite from the rain during which we were able to erect camp, eat dinner, and bear bag our comestibles and likewise scented items.

The double rainbow over our camp in the break from the rain

The next day, Lolita was sick with a bad case of the-handlebars-won’t-turn-itis. With a bit of help from Tom for my first foray ever into a threadless headset (I’ve only ever worked on threaded before, iconoclast that I am), I took apart the headset and cleaned out all the grit from the day before, but the headset definitely needed to be replaced. So I had three days ahead of me with a bum headset. This is not the end of the world, but it is mighty stressful, since we had more mountain passes to climb, which means fast, rocky, muddy, pot-holed descents on the other side. It is nicer to be able to steer through those sections. And Lolita’s front hub needs help. And her brakes were pretty trashed by the grit. But after a good scrubbing daily, she rides right enough the next day. After all, it isn’t grease that’ll keep her on the road when she’s keening, it’s love. Pure, hot, sweaty, grinding up one hill after the next love. Apparently I’ve got enough of it, since she got through, but it was bleak there for a minute.

From the Flathead river, we climbed over another rocky, steep pass:

The road to Cabin Pass

From there, we dropped down to the Wigwam river, home to some world-class fly fishing, or so I was told by a young, soft-faced french-canadian who had driven hours to get some time in on the river. I believe him about the fishing,as the river was wide, shallow, and gurgling, and otherwise rather appealing. We rode alongside it for a while, through hot and unseemly clearcuts when we came upon a bear cub. Damn. This is, let me tell you, the last thing you want to ‘come upon’ when you are in the middle of nowhere, on a mountain bike, and carrying nothing but aerosolized bits of a vegetable in a can to protect yourself. The cub was in the road, and Sara, Tom, and I stopped three abreast and waited. The cub was very cute, in a way that  made you want to chew on it’s ear or something. It ran off up the hill, and we never saw it’s mother, thankfully. But the next few miles felt like we were about to be ambushed at any moment by a gang of armed bears.

The last fun bit of the section was the brief bit that we had to hike since we couldn’t ride it. It was really a mud-filled trench, unbelievably steep, and thick with flies. We had to shoulder the bikes, take the bags and trailers up separately, and it took us several hours to go just one measly quarter of mile.

Hauling my bike up the un-rideable rut they call a trail

I am having fun out here, let me tell you. It is beautiful, and wild, and full of life. I have pictures to post, but it will have to wait for Whitefish, several days from now. Until then, my lovely friends, here is a map of my future route:

The first part of Montana

Advertisements