Friday, September 25, 2015

from Helena...

In the mornings, I have to sit up in my sleeping bag, cross my legs, rest my head in my hands, close my eyes tight and trace our steps to where we are currently camped. Sometimes I skip towns that we’ve stopped at, wondering how we made it so many miles in that one day before I remember my yearning for ice cream in Lincoln two nights before and I’ll add that in as a waypoint. The trails all pass as one, all the gravel, all the rocks barring our way from a smooth ride, but it becomes hypnotic the way you ease your tires around the softball sized stones, up the washouts, around roots and bushes, rubbing against the barbed wire to keep from the tire sucking mud on the edges of the puddles. I sat down yesterday on a bank leading into a creek, rubbing the grease and dirt from my calf, finally noticing all the bruises running from ankle to thigh, how I thought it was only muscle soreness I was feeling.
For hours we climb, next to the sage and cow tracks. We break the miles down by making it to the next shaded spot, the next wooded area where the wind might finally die off, the next crest of the hill. My dad watches the Garmin, the elevation screen ticking up the numbers. He’ll look over at me after ten miles, “We’re now at 7,600ft.” The breath I’ve been regulating for the past couple hours always whooshes out of me at that point, exasperated as I try and calculate how many vertical feet we are supposed to be climbing for the day and I know we’ve only just passed halfway. At our highest points, we always look higher, wondering why they wouldn’t just take us to the very top if they’re going to take us that high at all. At the end of the days, we message my mom telling her where we’ll be and where we should meet and there she’ll be with the truck, whisking us off to the campground she’s found us for the night, our tents set up with dinner and new local beer in the coolers.
The day before yesterday we started in Helena, MT and made our way to Butte. At the beginning of our ride, we hit construction on the road we were on, and being an extremely large project with three bridges being built, the pilot truck put our bikes in the back and ushered us inside, giving us a ride through the flat four miles of our ride. After saying our goodbyes, we started climbing some of the roughest trail of the ride. On the map, it reads, “a rough four-wheel-drive track, next two miles-plus are steep and rough.” This is where the infamous Lava Mountain Trail tries to tear you as a rider from your bike as much as possible. Two feet deep water ditches run down the middle of the trail, roots sticking up half a foot bump your front wheel up, threatening to overturn you on the already steepening trail. My dad and I seem to have a terrible habit of taking pictures at the false summit, leaving another half mile of climbing, me usually whimpering at the sight of it and my dad cheerfully riding on, his pedals rotating at an annoyingly steadfast pace. The rides down are always short and acrobatic in nature. A steep drop on one side, rock face on the other, the gravel awash under our front tires, where most descents I find myself in what I like to refer to as my “Tour de France-speed-crouch” where I tuck my knees into my frame, feeling the water move around inside my camelback that’s zipped inside my frame bag, my fingers fluttering on the brakes, my torso parallel to the ground.
In Helena, we stayed at the lovely Super 8, relishing in the washed out flickering light of the TV, the sitcom Modern Family on a marathon run through the episodes.  That night, my dad and I visited the Lewis & Clark Brewing Company and Blackfoot River Brewery. We are both religiously unvaried when it comes to choosing the type of beer we want at each brewery. My dad ordering scotch ales if available, and if not then a red ale usually being in order.  I however will always order the IPA. At the Lewis & Clark Brewery, I tried their Double Dry Hopped IPA which was good, but much preferred the unfiltered citrusy zing of the IPA at Blackfoot River Brewery where the popcorn was buttery and the dry air wafted through the open garage door of the upstairs deck.
Yesterday, after our climb up Fleecer Ridge, we began our steep, rocky descent where the map highly recommends walking. My dad and I had to try to ride it down just to be able to say we gave it a go. About two hundred feet down, our brakes failing us miserably, I toppled down over a rough patch of sage held down by chunks of slate, the rest of the trail littered with loose pieces of the thin rock. A hundred feet from where I fell, I looked down where my dad was positioned amidst the branches of a lone spruce tree along the trail, his bike turned on its side. We laughed, shook our heads and barely made the way down on foot without wiping out again. At the bottom of the hill, there was a short, steep dip and then a pass over a creek where I took another digger and ended up with the bike on top of me, my legs every which way, my headphones wrapped around me, connecting me to the iPod latched to my handlebars.
On our way from Butte to Wise River, our main backdrop was barren fields dotted with black and brown cows. Every few miles, we would pass an outcropping of rock, where I would always look up, checking for any perched felines, or lumbering bears. Yesterday, I came around a turn, looked up to my left and there beside me was a large black animal. I yelped, almost leaping sideways on my bike, figuring out moments afterward the large animal was only a relaxed cow, staring at me with large brown eyes, unceremoniously chewing on its grass as I settled my heartbeat. 
In the Canada section, before the snowstorm, we met a hiker from Toronto, on his way from Canmore, Alberta to Banff. He had asked if we had encountered any bears along the way and we shook our heads, and asked him in return, noticing the bear mace looped around his wrist. He smiled, said no bears and no mountain lions. He went on, “You know, my buddy said to me before I left that if I encountered a mountain lion on the trail, if I saw him in a tree, or whatnot then I shouldn’t turn around and keep walking, I should keep my eyes on it.” He laughed. “Like if I saw a mountain lion lurking above me in a tree, I would just nod to it and be on my way! I’d be walking backwards for the next mile and a half with my eyes on the thing.”

The morning we left Condon, we met John Denver, a fellow Divide rider, going the opposite way, about a week from his ending point. As he asked us pointed questions, pursing his lips and raising his eyebrows, he shifted his weight on his bike, slowly crunching the stones under his tires. We shared trail conditions, places to stay, wishing each other well and went on our way with a slight, yet convinced notion of the type of person willing to take on the trail by themselves.
                                                                    past Helena, above the reservoir
                                                              the "rough four-wheel-drive track"

   abandoned Merry Widow Mine- near Butte


                                                             top of Fleecer Ridge
                            dirt lines from splashing through creeks and then wiping out
                                                                    John F. Denver

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Polebridge to Whitefish

    The start from Polebridge was quite similar to that of the day before where we climbed the other side of Whitefish Pass up to Red Meadow Lake. About a half mile from the top of the pass, we heard a truck start sounding incredibly like my father's truck that my mom was supposed to meet us with in Whitefish. Riding around the corner, we saw the red of the truck bed, noticed the lime green handlebars of my mother's bike latched on the back. We stopped, knocked on the window, her head flying up, her eyes widened innocently. "Mom, what're you doing up here?" She looked around, "Oh, I was just doing a little bit of reading." We found out that as she drove along the road ahead of us, she became more and more distressed that our backwoods trail was harboring something quite sinister, so she wanted to make sure we would be okay. As we came around the lake, followed by the pursuant truck, we saw two women and a small dog carrying a paddle boat across the road and into the lake, both women armed with revolvers belted to their hips and off we went, seemingly oblivious along the densely forested track with our bear mace and knives.
      Returning to civilization meant reaching Whitefish, MT, home of a treasured ski resort and for us, a brewery! On our jump from Canada to the U.S., we had decided we would make it a little more fun for us by stopping at the local breweries along the way and being as the brewery in Eureka was only open four days a week, our first was located in Whitefish. The Great Northern Brewing Company is a large glass paned industrial type building right in the heart of downtown. The beer, we found, satisfied our need for microbrew draft wholesomeness and left us mellowed out as we dealt with the older woman on guard at the local campground.
      In the morning, my mother and I shuffled over to the three dollar/ six minute showers. I put in the coins, the shower starting immediately, reached my hand in, shrieked and pulled it out, colder than it was in my 36 degree tent. Three minutes later, the water was tepid. My mom calling over to me, this shower is great! Somehow her water was twenty degrees warmer than mine just three feet away. Afterwards, as she regaled me with the story of the night, looking across at the woman with three wandering cats, her hands flying wildly, "At three am, there was this cat shrieking in the woods and then just like that it was right there, right next to our tent and the next thing I knew, there was the bear mace in my hand and the knife in your father's, him crouching just outside his sleeping bag waiting for this wild animal to pounce." Even now, they tell me it had to have been a mountain lion, there being no way that a house cat could make such a sound, and me sleeping so soundly having no idea what they were talking about.
 red meadow lake
 towards whitefish 

 eighteen miles until whitefish
finally there, beer'd up and getting the fire started. 

love my sister.

Eureka to Polebridge

     My dad called it the Lake Tear of the Clouds Maneuver, our bypass from Canmore, Alberta to Eureka, Montana. The weather being what it was, we all decided that Canada would be a bad idea, especially since the freezing temperatures was in the forecast for longer than we planned to be there for. Our pass back into the states was uneventful, our bear mace strapped to our bikes right in plain sight, the border patrolman noticing only that we were ready to be back in the country, our eager/ exhausted faces all turned towards him, giving him grateful smiles.
      As we made our way into Eureka, unable to submit ourselves to the multiple seedy hotels along Hwy 93, we headed west six miles towards a town called Rexford. After driving past the turn off for it multiple times, mistaking it for an RV park entrance, we drove down in, scoffing at the idea of finding a place to stay in a town so small. My dad hauled himself out of the truck, into the mercantile to inquire about nearby accommodations, my mom and I shaking our heads at his aimless attempt. After a few minutes, my dad and a stout, burly man walk out of the store, passing in front of the truck and into the building next door. After outbursts of, "There's no way!" and "It can't be!" my dad and the man walk out of the building, both pleased with themselves. As they got the room ready, we went to the neighboring restaurant, feasting on homemade fried chicken and chargrilled ribeyes. Once we sauntered over to the room, fishing our overnight bags from the back of the truck, the burly man renting us the room came out of the store, stood behind my parents with their heads still in the cabin of the truck and waited. I watched as he stood there awkwardly, waiting for my parents to notice his presence and most likely would have until I couldn't take it anymore and called to them, "Uhm, guys," nodding my head to the man. He smiled, scratched his cheek and said, "Hey, I just wanted to thank you guys for coming in the store." We all grinned at him, our eyes wide at the surprise of the hospitality of this man and the hidden gem that what we at first thought was only an RV park. 
Our second day on the trail started in Eureka. That morning, we climbed a few miles out of town, flattened out around mile ten and started climbing again up towards Whitefish Pass. As we wove our way along the gravelly, craggy road, we crested the top of the pass and found ourselves in the middle of the beastly mountains, a portion of the trees on our right side leveled where an avalanche had come through the previous winter. The ride down the pass gave us the speed we lost on the climb up and in no time we found ourselves in the small town of Polebridge. A cabin with two double beds and a roaring fire waited for us, all our bags and food deposited within, my mother proudly displaying our home for the night.
                                             view from canmore, alberta motel after day one. 

rock scaling along the highway
 rexford, mt
 eureka, mt before the start of the climb
 avalanche aftermath
 whitefish divide

Monday, September 14, 2015

Day One.

     Today was our first official day on the trail. We woke up this morning, thawing from the cold of the night. Once we got packed, stomachs racked by nerves, but still empty, we got to the trailhead. We got all our gear hooked to our bikes: tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pad, shoes and clothes all packed, we heated up our soup we would eat for lunch, boiled water for oatmeal and stood at the back of the truck shoveling the gooey goodness in as fast as possible. As we started off, the rain pattered down on our helmets, freezing the tips of our toes, our fingers. After we split from my mom so that she could go back to the truck and meet us at the campground further down the trail, the rain started falling a bit harder, the trail a washout of softball sized rocks and gritty gravel.
     After a few more miles of climbing, the rain changed from a soft chill hitting my cheeks to pellet-like snowflakes. I laughed thinking of the sixty mile target we had set for ourselves the night before. Sixty miles on paved road, we found, is a different thing altogether than sixty miles would be on a winding backwoods trail: 31 degrees, unceasing snow, elevation of 5300ft. So utterly different. Yet, we rode on, calling out to the bears that were always just on the other side of the curve. When the trail would arch back on itself, my father ahead of me, I would hear a barking. Thinking it was wolves, or some kind of animal I was unfamiliar with, I would whip my head up, my eyes scanning the woods close on my left side. After awhile I found that my dad had taken up yelling, "AYE! AYOBEARS!" sounding very much like the sound I heard a few miles before.
     At mile ten, my father stopped, the tip of his nose red and spattered with the mud coming up from the front tire. "So. There's the ranger's station in a mile and a half. Once we get there, we can eat a snack and get warmed up little." I was ecstatic, especially since my last full thought before stopping was, well if a grizzly does come try and eat me, all I have to do is polish it off, skin it and then I could wear its fur for warmth. Thinking of it now, I realize my mind turns a bit dark when I'm cold, but as we got to the so called "ranger's station," we saw a building consisting of two doors. One for the men's room, one to the ladies'. I stopped, my dad already under the cover of the overhang, my face sinking into itself as I stumbled off my bike. I looked at him incredulous, "This?!" Pointing a wobbling finger at the door. "Does it smell?" He nodded. "Oh yes." I staggered over to the other side of the shed, pulling the door open, rushing inside and hunching over, squeezing my iced toes as hard as I could. As we sat inside this women's room, miles from any type of warmth, we chuckled, which came out as a disbelieving, uneasy sound. We sipped our soup, warmed our toes and used the satellite phone to message my mother that we wouldn't be making it sixty miles in this weather.
     Instead, peeling ourselves from the shelter of the bathroom, we rode south five more miles leading us to the first campground of the Divide trail. Once there, guiding our bikes in front of a sign directing new campers to the manager's office, we looked around, saw that the office was in a top-of-the-line RV, hiding under a skin of snow. After knocking on the door multiple times, we huddled under their garage/lean-to, messaging my mother again telling her exactly where we were. Ten minutes later, we were setting up the tent with shaking hands and jerky, insect-like movements. We warmed ourselves by the Windburner stove we use to boil water in and waited. And waited.
     An hour and a half of speculation whether she actually received our messages at all, excited moments spent checking the sporadic cars that would drive past along the mountain road that would release all the heat we had created from our chilly little shelter, and outlining what we were going to do if she didn't find us, the truck pulled up. My dad unzipped the tent, the both of us already submitting to the idea that it was most likely not her at all when he said, "It's her! It's her!" He unzipped the tent the rest of the way so I could see. "REALLY!?" I squealed, surprising even myself in the small space. We clambered out of the sopping tent, rushed to the truck, her smile taking over the lower half of her face. She got out and said, "I can't believe I found you guys! I totally wouldn't have if I hadn't completely Forrest Gumped my way here!" She walked around to the back of the truck, pulling items off the tail gate. I walked around to the passenger side and there, on the ground she had two cases of beer and she stood there behind them, that same smile plastered on her face, "Well, I tried finding an IPA for you because I know how you are, but I couldn't find one, so I got this kind instead, I hope it's okay." I looked at her, nodded, spluttered something like, "Yes, yes. Beer. Good. Cool," and pulled the rear door open, climbed in and shut the door. As we all got in, turned the heat up high, we laughed and talked over each other's accounts of the day.
     It turned out my mom found us by accident. She asked a local how to get to the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (which really wasn't where we were at all, by my misdirection) and he told her to just go up over the mountain. At the time, she nodded and smiled, all the while scoffing at his recommendation of just traversing over this mountainside dirt road in the middle of a snowstorm, but there she was, climbing along, next to the steepest drop I've ever seen alongside a road, up and over the mountain. When we pulled up into the motel, my mom and I were giddy at the thought of sleeping in an actual bed, being able to shower without worrying about your wet hair freezing into long blond icicles, my dad commenting towards the end of our pizza dinner that it felt incredible to be able to fall asleep without the worry of something crashing through your tent in the middle of the night.
 mile five, before snow. 
 mile ten, during snow.

 ranger's station.
 our home away from home...

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Looking at the mountains in Banff.  So ready to start

Lesson Learned.

     Hide your kids, hide your wife's bear mace. Nine inch hunting knives: fine. Three cans of bear mace in grizzly country: bad. Driving across the border, the patrolwoman eyed our bikes and camping gear, looked back to my dad, asking if we had anything to declare. My mom, nervous and excited sat in the passenger seat blurting out random items in the truck. "Clothes! Stove! Tents...and beer!" The woman looked at my mother, her face blank. "And self defense weapons?" Both my parents this time, "You know, a couple hunting knives...bear mace." I could almost see the sigh come out of the woman's mouth. "Well the bear mace will not be coming through. Just pull ahead to the building where those two patrol people are standing." As we got out of the truck, the woman asked us all the questions. Where we were going and how long, but when she asked why we chose here to come through and why Canada, we looked at each other, my mom spouting off something about going through Buffalo and how it worked out to be longer and it took all my self restraint not to say, "Oh! Well to see your beautiful country of course!" *impish grin*
      We found out very quickly that driving through Canada is not exactly fun. All of the signs in Quebec are in French, our phones' service came to a halt right on the border, and the navigation system in the truck was as baffled as we were to the change. After some pantomiming with two older women at a side-of-the-road fruit stand, we bought ourselves a map and got on our way. Quebec was confusing, us getting lost in every city we passed through. Ontario was better, signs every 100km that exclaimed Ontario! like you forgot where you were as you passed through 885km of the province.    
     The first night of camping in Webbwood, Ontario, at the Black Bear Campground. The campground was deserted, all the seasonal campers gone, giving the woods a much eerier feeling than it would have originally had. It rained continuously, and on every bathroom door, bear resistant trash can, and bulletin board, there were warnings of bear activity in the area and I suppose if you're staying at a campground named Black Bear, you shouldn't be surprised to see warnings about the camp's namesake, yet we found ourselves with headlamps in hand, shining them into the woods at any rustle in the brush surrounding us.
     Manitoba and Saskatchewan we found, were flat farmland where you could drive for an hour without seeing any type of gas station or motel, passing mile upon mile of barbed wire fence that held only large round bales of hay, but no cows. On several occasions, my mom and I would find ourselves debating whether the people outside the truck could hear us talking about them, or not. At one pump, as I claimed that I knew the man across from us was not from the area based on the cleanliness of his truck (it was't caked with mud) and the wide-eyed look he had on his face, my mom growled, "Skyler! Hush! He can hear you." We decided to test our theory by faintly calling to my dad as he was pumping our gas. Our calls to him grew progressively louder and louder, "! Dad!! DAD!" Looking at each other as we tried to prove the other wrong, shouting for my father outside the truck, we laughed, thinking our antics ridiculous, but such was the life on the Trans Canada Highway. On the fifth morning of travel, we stopped in at a gas station just pass Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan that boasted a gas station, campground and restaurant! (The restaurant situation throughout Manitoba and Saskatchewan was sparse at best) After pumping gas, we walked into the gas station looking for this restaurant, our heads swinging left and right. Weathered old men sat in the far left of the gas station sipping on their coffees and with confusion on our faces, we walked up to the counter, asked the older woman behind the cash register if there was a restaurant in the building. She shook her head, looked at us with that same blank stare we received throughout the country. After a minute, my parents looked at each other, looked back at the woman and asked whether there were any breakfast restaurants nearby. The woman paused, laughed, and directed us to the hotel right across the street and said, "But they're closed."
     Once we passed into Alberta, however, my dad started pointing out the front window of the truck, I squinted, looking into the sky thinking there was an eagle or a plane he thought was cool. "Mountains!" he yelled over the rush of the air coming through the open windows. I squinted a little more and there they were, their form hushed from the fog surrounding them. Driving away from Calgary, we saw their outline getting larger, and then in a backwards way, it wasn't us moving into the center of them, instead it seemed as though they were the mobile ones shifting around us.
      We are now in Banff, Alberta after five days of travel. We decided to camp here for two nights and leave Monday morning even though the forecast shows rain and then snow. Right now it's 45 degrees and drizzling and the only spot I can get any type of service is hunkering down in one of the hotel restaurants, ordering food out of guilt for taking this poor kid's table as I drone on about the ride across Canada.
*note the man in the background with the bentley, his head buried in his hands. 
bathing in lake superior
view from our second campsite on lake superior

second day camping
third day camping
railway following trans-canada highway
driving from calgary to banff

Where We Are! -Mapshare