LW ITT Update: Lima, MT

Nicholas Carman1 3961

Memories from Israel; and Macedonia, Arizona, France, California, and almost everywhere else we’ve been. 

8/12/15, 8:11PM

“Hi, Lael is stuck in the mud but she is doing great.  We saw her on Medicine Lodge Road and she wanted us to pass this message to you.”

I received this message from two local fishermen, on a day trip from Dillon, MT.  They described muddy roads.  From the point where they met Lael, it took them “about an hour” to reach the pavement.  I’m not sure if that was simply a measure of distance from the road, or the challenging muddy conditions.  Lael has reported some clouds and occasional drops of rain since Banff, and a thunderstorm between Helena and Butte.  The fishermen reported thunderstorms in the vicinity yesterday afternoon, although they expect the conditions in the area between Polaris and Lima are clearing.  Reportedly, they drove into the storm on their drive home to Dillon.

I’ll update when Lael reaches Lima, MT.  There may be some walking. 

Lael just called from Lima.  She was just north of a massive storm yesterday, sunny and windy where she was, with very dark skies in front of her.  She continued riding onto muddy roads, which forced her to a stop.  She camped for nine hours by the roadside waiting for the road to become passable.  She reports that the weather is warm and dry today, although it still took several hours this morning for the road to dry enough to make the effort of overland travel worthwhile.  She sounds good, slightly disappointed by the setback, mostly indifferent about the whole thing.  She told me, “if this happens again, I might call it.  It’s not worth beating myself up for no result.”  I agreed.  With impending storms in the forecast, she suggested that she may make a big push to reach the Basin, so as not to get stuck on Togwotee and Union Passes, the two highest points on the Divide north of Colorado. 

The 907 number which texted me belongs to a guy named Jessie.  I mentioned that to Lael and she said he was from Eagle River, AK and works with our friend Jordan.

A plan is in place to get a SPOT tracker to Lael in Idaho.  Tour Divide legend Jay Petervary will deposit a tracker to a rural business along the route, south of the rail-trail.  Thanks Jay!

Continuing limited updates on the Tour Divide 2015 page on Trackleaders.com.

Schofield Pass: Marble to Crested Butte

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From Carbondale, there are several ways to reach Crested Butte– none of them are paved the entire way.  Several routes from Aspen to CB are enticing, including the famed Pearl Pass route, but snow above 10,700 ft excludes them this time of year.  Pearl Pass is over 12,700 ft, and Star and Taylor passes are nearly as high, and include some singletrack.  McClure Pass is paved, but connecting Kebler Pass to Crested Butte is technically unpaved, although improved and in great condition.  The paved road from Carbondale to Marble connects to a dirt route through the town of Crystal and over Schofield Pass.  At 10,705 ft, Schofield was clear of snow.  On the other side of the pass awaits the famous Trailriders 401 trail down to the town of Gothic.  The ride over Schofield is the most direct, and holds the allure of the “401”.

The road from Marble begins with Daniel’s Climb, a lung-busting grade to Crystal.  Thereafter, the aspen are electric, and the road turns to a rough 4×4 track which is unrideable at times.  The Devil’s Punchbowl is a steep, narrow feature that is largely unrideable, but is a fun challenge on fat tires.  The Pugsley is a stellar slow speed rock crawler, but even a momentary loss of momentum is enough unseat me.  Cresting Schofield Pass, pockets of snow lurk in the shadows.

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The mill in Crystal is one of the most photographed sites in Colorado, drawing leaf-peepers from all over.

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Downtown Crystal.

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Turn left to complete the Lead King Loop back to Marble; stay right to Crested Butte.

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The road turns up, and degrades to a narrow 4×4 track.  Unimaginable, this was once a wagon route.  The other riders are friends of Joe Cruz.  In fact, Joe was Anna’s professor and they share a love of cycling.  She is now entrenched in a 6-year philosophy program, but has found time for some winter endurance racing including the Susitna 100 and the White Mountains 100.  That’s 100 miles, in the snow.  I’m working hard towards a PhD in bicycle touring.  Push.

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Wet feet.

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Rocky road.

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Finally.  Another world awaits on the other side.  From the top of the pass, turn up onto the 401 Trail to climb above 11,000 ft.  An epic descent awaits.

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The 401.  With a light cover of wet snow, the Pugsley has come full circle.  From snow to snow, this bike has been everywhere between an Anchorage winter and high mountain passes in Colorado.  The tread on my Larry tires is worn, and doesn’t hold well in soft terrain.  I’m dreaming of the Nate tire at times.  Lael’s Maxxis Ardent holds the trail well.

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Before cresting the ridge, an alpine park has views in all directions.  In the distance, the backside of the Maroon Bells.

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Going down.  Bundle up.  The soil on the other side is rich with organic matter, making for a lot of mud.  A gorgeous, but not so epic descent.

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Walking, to reduce our impact on this heavily trafficked trail.  A fine coagulation of cow shit and mud temporarily clogs our wheels.  Cass would be in heaven.  Raised on English mud, he loves this stuff.  Grateful to have a fender, I came out looking a lot like a human, rather than the mud-encrusted primates seen in cyclocross and gravel races.  Platform pedals always do their job, even clogged in mud.

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Rideable.  Coated in mud, the chains operate smoothly and silently.  Deore: +1.

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As promised (finally), a rideable descent and some memorable trail at the end of the day.

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No need to filter this water.  It comes directly from the heavens.  At least, it comes from a cow-free wilderness above.

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Camp.  Awake to clear skies, the frozen morning rapidly thaws into a t-shirt day.  The spoils of a frozen night are ideal lighting and a heavy layer of frost.  If only Lael had a camera, she could document me running around the frosty meadow in my long underwear with my camera.

Breaking the seal of our small frosty tent, I’m always excited to see how the world has changed.

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One of the nicest campsites of the entire summer.  Heat some water for tea, and ride into town.  Crested Butte is one historic home of mountain biking, and claims the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Museum.

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Gothic, seemingly named for the gothic arches encased in the mountainside.

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And a bike path into town.  Mt. Crested Butte looms overhead.

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Missoula’s many hands

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FreeCycles is a Missoula institution, a community bike shop offering tools, parts and bikes, for free.  The operation runs on volunteers and donations and Bob Giordano has been the ringleader for about 15 years, extending a helping hand to the community even when his own are deep in another project.  When the Missoula Urban Demonstration (MUD) needed to transport their tool library to the Missoula Home ReSource project (building materials reuse center), a lightbulb flickered in Bob’s mind.  With a repurposed John Deer haywagon, a homemade three wheeled tandem “tractor”, and a couple of able bodies pushing from behind, several tons of tools could be transported across town entirely by human power.  The result was a jalopy of well-loved tools and sweaty bodies ambling and rambling through Missoula’s urban center at rush hour.  In a friendly mid-sized cycling city like Missoula, rush hour isn’t much to speak of, but pedestrians and motorists offer hurrahs and cyclists lay down their bikes to assist the effort, pushing for a block or two.  Actually, many skeptics turned down the offer to assist but several touring cyclists and locals jumped on the proverbial haywagon.

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Our route took us around the railroad tracks to avoid any topographic challenges.  With enough hands, anything is possible.

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This is Sean’s first day in town and I’ve signed him up for 5 miles of strenuous wagon-pushing.  He’s been following the blog for almost a year and when I put a call out for cyclists to join me this summer, he responded and bought a plane ticket.  He has optimized his 90’s Novara Aspen ATB with drop bars and 2.3″ Kenda K-Rad tires, which you’ll be seeing more of over the next few weeks.  A wide range of gears, platform pedals, homemade fenders, a Brooks saddle and some Swift Short Stack panniers round out the ride.  Leaving Missoula, we’re headed for the Divide.

I visited FreeCycles for the first time last fall, and was inspired by the experience.