I can't believe it's been two weeks already since I got back from my trip to Montana. I am a failure as a blogger. Ah, well, better late than never.
I can guarantee that Montana is not flat. Now, I didn't really head there thinking it was, but now I have definite proof: bigger, stronger quads.
Thane and I drove through Montana once nearly 20 years ago, but my memory is short. I really had no idea where I was headed when I agreed to do Adventure Cycling's Intro to Dirt Touring excursion with Mandy. I missed Mandy, the tour was free - I was in, no questions asked. About three days before I left I dug out an old road atlas thinking that perhaps I should at least figure out where in the state Missoula is since it's Mandy's new hometown and the headquarters of Adventure Cycling. I also located Whitefish on the map since I vaguely recalled that it was the starting point of our ride. Turns out I'd be spending a week in the northwestern corner of the state, right in the vicinity of Glacier National Park. Cool!
After a day spent putting Pali, my Kona Nunu mountain bike, together and exploring the art galleries and nifty shops in Missoula (I could definitely live there for a while), Mandy and I drove north three hours or so to Whitefish, and adventure capitol in this lovely state. Our goal was to meet up with our group at the Whitefish Bike Retreat just outside of town.
I have to put a plug in here for the Whitefish Bike Retreat. Cricket Butler opened this wonderful oasis for bicyclists in 2013. Cricket was an award-winning mountain biker who turned her talents toward providing everything a traveling cyclist could need. She has a bunkhouse with six rooms (our room had four beds), showers, a communal kitchen and living room, and a fabulous patio, as well as camping sites. Campers can have access to the bunkhouse amenities, too. She also has a little shop that sells gift items, snacks, and other cycling necessities. Even better, there's a work/storeroom fully stocked with every tool a bicycle mechanic could want, and a bicycle wash station. Still even better are the miles of purpose-build single track trails that start right from of the parking area, as well as easy access to gravel Forest Service roads. My favorite part, though, was the little details Cricket incorporated into the whole works. I can't resist sharing just a few of the creative ways she used bicycle parts and pieces in the bunkhouse.
The Whitefish Bike Retreat is definitely on my list of places to go back to someday.
Confession time. Although I rode nearly 1,000 miles this summer before I headed to Montana, only 7 of those miles was with Pali, and none of them was loaded down with gear. The seven miles was on Archangel Road in Hatcher Pass, and was not a good experience (see here for why). Needless to say, I approached this trip with more than a bit of trepidation. I didn't know what to expect of the terrain (although I had heard it was all Forest Service roads, not single track), I wasn't sure of my abilities to ride a mountain bike well enough to not hurt myself, and I knew riding a loaded bike was a lot harder than an unloaded one. Eek!
Well, in some regards I was right, but in most I was so, so wrong.
Intro to Dirt Touring was presented as an opportunity for beginners to learn how to manage a mountain bike tour. Our group was 11 guests (six women and five men - my worry that Mandy and I would be the only women was for naught) and two guides (both men). All but two of us had toured with road bikes before, and most had at least some miles on mountain bikes. We talked about why you'd want to tour on dirt roads rather than paved (traffic volumes, solitude, scenery), what equipment you can use to pack your stuff and what stuff that should be, and how to manage meals and shared gear for a group. One flaw in the whole scheme was that we had to come prepared for touring, so we had to have already made a committment to panniers or a trailer rather than having an opportunity to try the different options out. Since I already had them, I opted to put a rear rack on Pali and use panniers (I wasn't willing to splurge on a new front rack, so I had to make do with what I had).
Thankfully, on our first full day we had the opportunity to load up and take a short shakedown ride. I loaded Pali up and started down the hill from the bunkhouse.
Within feet, I stopped. Something definitely wasn't right. I could hear a god-awful rubbing sound. I peered at the rack and quickly spotted the problem. In order to clear the disc-brake assembly on the left side, the rack was pushed too far that way and was rubbing against the rear tire on the right. That's what I get for not testing out my gear before leaving home. Sid, our main guide, hadn't left yet, so I explained the situation to him. He thought he might be able to bend the rack enough to clear the tire, but his first attempts weren't very successful. I left my gear at the bunkhouse and enjoyed an unencumbered shakedown ride while he gave the situation more thought during the ride.
We rode about six miles - to and around Murray Lake on a couple of gravel roads. My favorite part was the short section of daisy-filled double track around the end of the lake. It was easy off-road riding, with just enough squeezes through boulders to make it interesting, and an emergency stop for wild strawberries to sweeten the day. Since we were riding in a group, I wasn't able to stop like I normally might to take pictures, but I did capture one of our guide John at the end of the trail. I'm not sure if you can tell, but all that white in the grassy area beside John was daisies in full bloom. Idyllic.
I was shocked when we got back to the bike retreat and John told us that the roads we'd just ridden were rougher than anything we'd see on the rest of the trip. My comment when asked how things had gone? "The road to my house is often rougher than that road." George said to remind him never to visit Alaska. Perhaps one of my worries, the one about not being able to handle riding the upcoming roads, was unfounded.
The best part of the day was Sid's solution to my rack problem. He arranged for me to borrow BOB, a Yak Beast of Burden one-wheeled trailer, from a someone who was just finishing guiding a trip on the Great Divide Route. Yipee! I'd been really wanting the opportunity to try one out, and now I could. That's me with my new best buddy in the photo at the top of this post. Below is Pali and BOB after I learned how to properly park them - much better than laying them on their sides, although it did take some practice to un-jacknife them with aplomb. Oh, by the way, notice the bike tracks running under Pali. That's another of Cricket's clever decorating touches - just a few tracks in paint to liven up the concrete patio.
Whew, I just realized how wordy I'm being. I was thinking I'd write about the whole trip in one post, but I'll take pity on you and split it up. Next time, I'll be on the road with BOB... and Mandy.