Miles Ridden: 39.1
Elevation gained: 3,169 feet
Segment: Butte, MT to Divide Bridge Campground
After spending three days off in Butte, it felt slow getting back on the route today. I’m glad to get out of the city with its exhaust fumes, traffic and business. We were up early, and riding out by 6:45. My bike felt extra heavy with our resupply for the next stretch. Towns and services will be sparse between Butte and Island Park, ID. There are a couple tiny grocery/convenience stores on the map, but not knowing what they will have or if they will be open when we ride by, we are carrying extra food to be prepared. My bike felt heavier than it’s been the entire trip. I’m not sure if it was the three days in town, the extra supplies or both. Either way, the 3,000 feet of climbing today felt long, hard and exhausting.
There are several fires burning around us, and smoky hazy air has become ever present. The landscape has also changed drastically from the lush, verdant forests thick with shade and coursing with streams and alpine lakes. Now we are riding through dry, open hills covered in sage brush, some junipers and pine here and there, and tamarisk wherever there’s a bit of moisture. There is little shade and plenty of hot sun, which makes early starts even more important.
At the top of the first climb we intersected highland trailhead and the CDT. Though there weren’t any hikers, we did encounter a thrubiker from Michigan who’s ridden from Mexico. He was keen to chat with us for a bit, and we exchanged the most useful bits in information for our respective bits trails ahead. We learned that the Alder Creek fire, the one near Wise River and closest to the route, is still burning strong and though our route is still open, there’s talk of closing it. The man also told us he decided to do the alternate route to avoid Fleecer Ridge.
We’ve been hearing about the Fleecer ridge section of trail from every north bounder since Ovando. It’s an extremely steep single track section of trail that is difficult if not impossible to ride - going up or down. It is also very close to the Alder creek fire and I’d heard pretty smoky. At around mile 28 today, we had to decide whether to take the normal route which was 1,000 more feet of climbing, and Fleecer ridge tomorrow; or the alternate route which though 4 miles longer only had 187 feet of climbing. As we ate our lunch in the shade of the highway overpass - the only shade in miles -we took a vote. Andrew was up for Fleecer, but Sara and I just couldn’t bear the extra climb today and miles of hikabike tomorrow. The girls took the vote, and we took the alternate.
I know that was a tough choice for Tom. I think for him, taking an alternate, even if it’s an official one, is like what we called blue blazing when we hiked the AT. Blue blazing referred to taking an off trail alternate route that’s either easier or shorter - a big no no for purists as we were in those days. Then, we oy followed the trail marked with white blazes- the color designating the Appalachian Trail. The GDMBR is different though, at least in my opinion. To me it’s plenty hard even if you choose official alternates here and there, but I think Tom is still a purist.
At the turn off onto the route we’d chosen, Tom stayed behind to filter water from a stream. The kids were feeling strong and Andrew set the pace rather fast. We all leaned into the last 10 miles and made it to the campground in about 45 minutes. Usually Tom catches us pretty easily, but today we made it all the way to the campground before he caught up with us. This gave him an enormous scare because he couldn’t imagine he wouldn’t have caught us, and was concerned we went the wrong way. I think it was both baffling and a relief when he found us settling in to a shady camp site by the river When he finally caught up with us, even going all out.
After a river bath and snack, I feel refreshed and a little less conquered by the day’s climbs and heat. We had the 39 miles behind us by 2. I’m thoroughly enjoying laying on the picnic table bench, resting in the shade, watching the breeze swaying the branches and rustling the leaves overhead. It’s hard to believe we are 3 weeks in, and looking at the last half of this journey. I’m amazed every day what the kids have been able to do, and how much they are enjoying the adventure- even though it can be difficult and exhausting. Pulling into camp, feeling pride and a happy weariness in the body, then the delicious indulgence of napping and reading in the shade listening to the river rush by knowing we’ve earned it actually feels pretty great, and they seem to think so too. Crys