Near there, maybe across from it, I can’t remember now, was a shooting range. I remember thinking “that would’ve been a good spot to bivy”. About 100 yards later I changed my mind. BEAR SIGHTING!!!
Not to far off the road was a black bear eating some grubs. He looked at me as I rode by. I kept an eye on him and he didn’t seem to bothered. As I pedaled away, some adrenaline pumping no doubt, I thought, “hmm, not that big a deal. Just a bear on the side of the road”. It was like a huge fear was lifted. I was alone and I encountered a bear and nothing happened. I just kept riding my bike, and he/she (sorry, but I didn’t check) just kept eating.
I moved on and the climb up to the Cottonwood Lakes was mellow. The scenery was amazing up there. I wish I would’ve stopped to take more pics, but I was thinking about food. Ovando was my goal for breakfast. After the summit you could see the valley down below and the descent began. Then another bear!! Wow! This time though the bear was in the road. One of my biggest fears was coming around a corner and seeing a bear in the road. Even worse if it was a Sow with cubs. There was situation similar to this in Yellowstone just this week! I grabbed the brakes and made some noise with my bell. The bear stopped and looked at me and then ran off the road. Now I had to ride past where the bear was. Let’s just say I booked it past that area. I didn’t want the bear to come back and tail me.
What a morning! No bears in five days, then two bears within an hour or so! I had been bummed to not see a bear up until this point. This was a case of be careful what you wish for.
I rolled into Ovando and went straight to the General Store. I needed lip balm bad. Let me back up. I never use lip balm. A couple days earlier though I realized that something was going on with my lips. It hurt when I ate. They had become dry and cracked. Every time I took a bite of food I was reminded of it and it was painful. The day before I meant to get some and kept forgetting. I couldn’t take it anymore and needed to take care of it. Imagine being hungry all the time and a gnarly pain every time you tried to eat. It sucked!
So I roll up to the General Store and I see a re-route note on the door. The re-route was flooded out so there was a re-route to the re-route. The race directors had made phone calls to some locals and they posted hand written signs for us about the new route. I thought that was pretty cool. It was like we were alone out there, but we weren’t. People were looking out for us somewhere. So as I’m reading the note the owner opens the door and I ask “are you open?”. The owner laughed at me because there was a big OPEN sign right above the note! He said something about all of us racers being a little out of it. I couldn’t argue with him.
I strolled over the the Stray Bullet Cafe and had an amazing breakfast burrito. The people were so friendly there. I wanted to spend more time there. The area is popular for fly fishing, which I enjoy as well. However, with all the flooding that was going on, the guides aren’t able to take any clients out. It’s putting a huge hurt on this small community, which is a bummer. Some day though, I’m going to take Serbrina back there. I really liked Ovando.
The re-route dropped down towards the river and you could see that the water was high. I heard later that the route ended up being passable, but I rode the re-route based on the info that I had at the time. The dirt road climbed up to the highway and then it was about 40 miles of pavement to Lincoln.
This day was nice in that I had a climb, then breakfast in Ovando. Then a pavement slog to lunch in Lincoln. Then a couple big climbs and dinner in Helena. This was the only day were things lined up like that. Helena was a big town, so I knew that no matter how long it took, I’d get a hot meal there. So I pushed on at a comfortable pace.
For the previous couple of days I had been starting to have a lot of discomfort down in my nether regions. It had been getting progressively worse and this day was bad. It was painful to sit. Spinning slowly up the climbs, rocking back and forth on the saddle with the weight of the backpack was doing some damage. In Lincoln I looked for a pharmacy in the hopes of finding some bandages to add some padding or something. Anything! No luck, so I went to get food. Hopefully I’d have better luck in Helena.
I had what was advertised as the “best pizza in town”. It was not that great. I ate most of it, packed a couple slices to go and started the climb out of town. There were signs everywhere about flooding again. The creek that came down from the pass was overflowing here too. I enjoyed this climb, well, most of it anyways. There were a bunch of seasonal homes up the canyon, each one had flooding in the yard due to the creek. It seemed like such a great place to live. Aside from the flooding of course.
I passed the turn off for the original route, which was snowed in, and continued on towards the new pass. I hoped that the road would soon point downwards, but it didn’t. It seemed to mellow out though and for awhile I thought it was going downhill. In fact, I was sure I was going downhill, but the stream on the side of the road was flowing the wrong way! WTF! The route is always going up or down. I think I had become so used to a certain grade, let’s say 3-4% or more, that anything less felt like a downhill! I felt like I wasn’t climbing, but clearly I was! It was like the Haunted Shack at Knott’s Berry Farm. This didn’t last for long though. The final push up to Stemple Pass was steep. I ran out of gears and knew I just had to grind it out. I didn’t want to walk the final section. So I looked for things not to far ahead and just climbed until I got to them. Then repeated it over and over. “Just pedal to that tree. Ok, now pedal to that tree. Ok, now pedal to that log”. It felt like I was clawing my way to top, one pedal revolution at a time. Before long though I was there! Stemple Pass!
It was a classic pass. The road climbed up on one side, and went straight down the other side. I paused for only a minute or two and then started down. It was a fast descent and I had to keep my speed in check. I stood up and for the first time I had a new sensation. Intense pain in my knees. Now I couldn’t sit without pain, nor could I stand without pain. I had to stand though. The road was long and bumpy. There was no way to do with sitting down without getting beat up. At the end of the dirt I had to pop some pain pills. I was a true racer now. Pain was everywhere.
A short pavement connector took me to some dirt and the climb up to Marysville. The sun was out , but so was the wind. It was brutal. I had to turn right into it and it felt like I was climbing. In fact, climbing would’ve been easier. I finally turned out of the wind and got some shelter on the climb, but then my legs gave out. I just couldn’t make it up the steep climb. It was hot with no shade. I had no choice, but to hike a bike up the climb. 1.5 miles later it mellowed out enough to ride. Phew! I was tired of pushing anyways.
The re-route took us into the town of Marysville. It was a really cool little mining town. I guess it’s a ghost town, but they are still mining in the area. From here it was a crazy fast descent to Helena. Only one short climb was towards the end. It was nice to have a tailwind rolling into town and feel like I was making progress.
I got onto the main drag and started wondering where I was going to stay, and what was I going to eat. There were so many choices. It was a huge town compared to what we were used to. Up ahead on the side of the road I saw someone standing there. Then they started to wave. I was thinking “what is this about?”. Once I got close enough I was shocked to see Erik! I thought he was at least a day ahead of me! He had a room just a block away and was tracking my progress.
Man it was great to see him. Unfortunately though he had pulled the plug there in Helena. I was blown away. I felt like, if he can’t do it, how can I possibly do it? Erik is a beast of a rider, someone I look up to. I had such a tough day that I wanted to quit too, but I didn’t want to show it. I didn’t want to let him down. I didn’t want to let Serbrina down. I didn’t want to let anybody down. I tried to put on a tough face, but it was hard.
We walked across the street and had mexican food. For the record, mexican food in Montana is not good. Sorry Montanans, but it’s not. We are really spoiled here in LA. Then we walked over to the market, where I found some bandages, and grabbed some supplies for the next day. Erik spotted a newspaper that had a picture of Mike Hall on the cover and a story about the Tour Divide. I didn’t feel like I was part of that. I think I had given up already. I was bummed.