Yes, I know that summer technically doesn’t start until June 20th. Sure, sure, but our summer starts by the beginning of May way down in Alabama. So for me, June 12th feels like the middle of summer. If you go far enough north and high enough into the mountains, though, you start to appreciate that June 12th is still very much NOT summer. Also, the “Winter storm watch” from previous day was upgraded to “Winter storm warning” today … on June 12th, repeat JUNE 12th.
Snow scenes in summer
I had intended to leave by midnight, but didn’t get started riding until almost 1:30AM. After a little bit more descending through town, I started a long 25 mile climb from 2500′ up to 5200′. This climb started out paved, but eventually it turned to dirt. Also, this was the first US National Forest since crossing the border from Canada so it was good to see all the familiar road signs.
Not too long after it turned to dirt, I had to hike-a-bike across snow and trees from an avalanche (pictured above) that had left deep enough snow that it hadn’t melted even low on the mountain. Shortly after the next avalanche, I ran into Tim Tait, who was waiting for a grizzly bear to move out of the trail. We decided it was probably better to ride together for the rest of the climb.
We ended up riding that whole climb together and the descent on the other side and part of the Red Meadow climb together or at least near each other with us stopping at different times to take off / put on rain gear. It was pouring by the bottom of the Red Meadow climb, which I had forgotten about until I went to look through pics for this post. By the top of the Red Meadow climb it was sunny!
Once we hit the snow hike-a-bike on Red Meadow, Tim with his shoes was able to hike much faster through the snow, and if I remember correctly, I would see and ride with Tim again the next day before he eventually went on to finish a very strong eighth place almost two days faster than me!
I was in awe at all the snow, but the hike-a-bike across the top after what I thought was the summit (it wasn’t) took forever. Then it was very steep, very tricky hike-a-slide-a-bike down the other side for another couple miles until finally hitting dirt again.
Burritos and Bears
Having started so early, it was still fairly early in the day and there were a lot of people out biking on the gravel road approaching Whitefish. Eventually I ran into a local rider heading my same way and we biked together for a bit when he asked if I was with the race. Our route turned left to head over to Columbia Falls outside the downtown Whitefish area so I said good-bye and headed left.
On the outskirts of Columbia Falls, I saw what I thought was a very large dog in the road ahead until I realized it wasn’t moving like a dog and in fact was a medium sized black bear. After hearing so many other people seeing grizzlies everywhere, this was my first bear to see with my own eyes, and I thought it was ironic that it was in such a populated area instead of all the rural places I had just biked through.
There was a dark storm approaching Columbia Falls, but looking at my radar and the sky itself, it looked like I could outrun it if I got far enough south quick enough, but I did need to resupply so I dashed into a gas station off course quickly and loaded up with supplies to make it the nearly 100 miles to Seeley Lake not sure what I would find before then. I did indeed make it far enough south ahead of the storm to stay dry and non struck by lightning (it looked bad), and this section was very fun with lots and lots of rolling pavement eventually hitting a main highway even before hitting dirt on the climb up into Flathead National Forest far, far away from civilization again.
Before, that, I detoured off course to get caffeine at a gas station b/c I had planned to ride through the night and realized I forgot to get any red bull or 5 hour energy. Once again having carried three liters of water I was still maybe only a liter into for many miles before arriving at another gas station where I could have instead bought that water. That’s the challenge with not knowing for sure what you are going to find. And as it turns out, I did indeed have to filter water about four hours later, as I simply refused to carry same amount of water up the big climb I knew was coming. And it was totally quick and easy to find water to filter with so much water in the area. All of this is to say, that gas station had AWESOME burritos, and it was well worth the detour.
After this gas station, I had a great surprise as my long-time friend and 2017 Race Across America crew member, Ed Merritt, had been following me on trackleaders and decided to pop over from Glacier National Park where he was vacationing with family! It was great to chat for a bit on the climb. It was the other side of this climb that I saw the remaining three bears of the entire trip. I was bombing down the descent and rounded a corner when I saw a large grizzly and her cub. I was reaching for the brakes when the mama turned around and dashed back into the woods immediately followed by cub. I still had a ton of speed and thought based on the rapidness they had entered the woods that I was ok to go ahead and fly on by without braking. No sign of them as I passed by. On the next rise after a few more switchbacks, a black bear wandered out into the trail. I stopped for this one and was deciding whether to get the camera or bear spray when it moved on into the woods. So four bears total on this day (five if you count the one Tim saw just ahead of me) and zero bear pics.
By this point I was getting low on water and after climbing and then descending again I was pretty much out of water and decided to filter water at a creek I crossed. This whole section was driven a lot by ATVs and 4WD vehicles so it had quite a few mud puddles you had to negotiate your way around. Eventually, it started to climb a bit more and it also started to rain again pretty good. Somewhere through here, single speeder Andrew Strempke caught back up to me (I thought he was ahead of me, but I must have passed him overnight). By the time we reached the Swan Lake campground area, it was 2AM and I was getting pretty sleepy. We both wanted to stop, but Andrew opted to hit the campground area close to the route. I had no choice in the steady rain but to find legit shelter so I went about 1.5 miles off course deep to look for a Montana Hilton (vault toilet) in a large campground. I also knew there was an EXPENSIVE lodge back there, which I knew would be closed but I thought if I couldn’t find a good bathroom, I could nap on their porch.
The first Montana Hilton I found (see pic above) was unoccupied and awesome with electricity and running water! It was a group of four vault toilets – and I would find out later that at least one of the other ones was occupied by another TD racer. With it still being fairly early in the season and the shortness of my stay, I rationalized that it was unlikely that anybody would need to use the bathroom and if they did, there were three other ones there. Nobody (that I know of) knocked for the 2 hours I was there sleeping from roughly 2:30am to 4:30am. One has to wonder, though, with the race growing how much longer TD racers can use these Montana Hiltons in campgrounds without causing trouble or major inconvenience to someone who actually needs to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Two hours of sleep was all I needed, especially since the next day was going to be a shorter one, but more on that tomorrow…
Maps and Data
Pickuta photo album
See even more pics from the entire race along with the exact time/location where each was taken on the tracking website I created called pickuta.com. If you are on a phone or small screen web browser, click the “hamburger” triple bar icon in the upper left to slide out the photos and turn on/off the tracking markers: https://pickuta.com/album/258