Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Missoula to Boulder

Heading out of Missoula, we rode along the Bitterroot mountains for about 40 miles.

There is a dedicated bike path for 40 miles or so heading out of Missoula. A real treat to be separated from traffic for such a long time.

 We left Darby, Montana in the morning with a nice light tailwind and good weather. It did not last. Pretty soon, we had ugly headwinds and rain. We had to climb Chief Joseph Pass that day, and it was raining most of the way up the pass until it started snowing. At the top, it was windy and sleeting. About 5 bicyclists were huddled in the men's room at the summit rest area, hitting the hand dryers to warm up the place. I made and ate chicken noodle soup on the floor of the men's room. After that, I put on every piece of clothing and rain gear that I had and started the descent. The next morning in Wisdom, Montana, we bought hats and gloves.

 Every restaurant and bar in the west has stuffed heads in it. This one is in Wisdom, Montana.

Wisdom is located in the "Big Hole" area of Montana. A very large plain surrounded by mountains. The morning ride was lovely until the weather and winds moved in. Big Hole Pass nearly killed me. I was still pretty sick, and we had about 15 miles of strong headwinds coming up to the pass, and the winds were blowing straight at us from the pass. It was only about an 800 foot climb, but I had to walk several times.

Fresh snow on the mountain tops today. The past two days have been gruelling with rain, snow, fierce headwinds and lots of hills. Today, though, has been awesome. Warmer weather, 27 miles of strong tailwinds to get rolling this morning and even the occasional ray of sunshine.

Aquavit Gimlets by the teepee. Glamping in style. Pat bought a bottle of local aquavit at the distillery in Missoula, so we got limes and added sugar and/or maple syrup to make the gimlets. Most campgrounds had ice available for a few dollars a bag, so we could keep our beer cold and have ice for cocktail hour. 

Typical denuded hills in Montana. Most of the hills we rode past were stripped of trees around 1900 and then overgrazed, leaving them barren 100 years later.

Halfway down a lovely downhill leading into Ennis, Montana. The sign is sponsored by the cattle association, and they talk about how the ranchers and the grazing cattle keep the land "open for wildlife". What we mostly saw were birds and panicked pronghorn running along the barbed wire fences. We had to wait to get into un-fenced Yellowstone to see any actual wildlife.

More mountains in Montana.

Barbed wire fences and mountains are the two defining features of Montana. Miles and miles of both have been our companions for days.

Typical riding conditions on the larger roads in Montana and Wyoming. A large shoulder with rumble strips.

Typical riding conditions for the smaller roads. Just a shoulder that is 2-3 feet wide. Safe enough for lightly traveled roads. We each had a highly visible rear flasher that we would run during the days.

We went past "Quake Lake" which was formed in 1959 when an earthquake caused a landslide that blocked a river.  About 30 people died because the area was a popular camping destination.

In West Yellowstone, getting ready to enter the park. West Yellowstone is a tourist hell, but they did have a place to buy the propane cannister that we needed, and had a beer store and, of course, the Taco Bus. An old bus with the kitchen in the back. We ordered two burritos because they would survive a 20-mile ride to the campsite in our handlebar bags.

This is the lodge at Old Faithful. A huge and historic wooden building.

One of our many crossings of the Continental Divide.

It seemed like we were crossing the Continental Divide over and over again. The map below shows our route in yellow and the divide in red.

One day in Yellowstone, we crossed it three times!

 Not a lot of oxygen up here. I used to be sucking wind at 5000 feet, now I'm sucking it at 8000. Progress? Hard to tell.

We came across a number of "bikepackers" who were riding the Continental Divide Trail, which is mostly jeep trails and dirt roads. They have mountain bikes with a minimal amount of gear packed into smaller bags distributed around the bike. These bags don't jump around or fall off when the bike hits big bumps. They also work on bikes with front and rear suspension.

Goodbye Yellowstone, hello Tetons. We exited Yellowstone today and rode south into the Tetons. I've had zero connectivity for the past few days but just found some wifi in a cafe.

Yellowstone is an RV and Harley fest. Incredibly loud or extremely close. The speed limits are low and there was enough shoulder but still. Extreme consumerism in a spectacular locale.

 Getting a little tired of the campsite thing so we left our tents set up in the camp and came down to the lake to sleep. We are the only ones here. No car alarms or dogs or diesels.

We are about to start our really long climb out of the Teton Valley up and over a 9500 foot pass. I had to keep stopping to look back at the Tetons because they are so iconic and dramatic. Very new mountains made from very old rock.

 The little brown blob behind the tail light is a grizzly. I saw this truck pass me and start to do a u turn just as I looked left to see the bear. I was happy to have the truck pull up between me and the grizzly. Pretty cool to see one relatively close and in the wild.

Wyoming has a lot of scenic rock formations.

 Taking a day off in Dubois Wyoming. Good time to lube the chains, true the wheels and check the tires for glass. So far, we have only had one flat tire between the two of us.

Yup, the pot is dead. Pat left it on the stove for about 15 minutes while the stove was still on. Way beyond the design specs for a collapsible pot. We ended up getting a replacement for $3 at the local thrift shop. Stainless Steel this time, not silicone rubber.

 Some southwest-looking red rock formations along the road.

Pat dropped his iPhone in Wyoming. He bought some tape and did a field repair that lasted the rest of the trip.

A lot of the town's we pass through allow camping in the city park. The park in Lander Wyoming has set the gold standard. Big shade trees, nicely mowed green grass, and some little creeks running through.

You can just see the last of the Bitterroots in the background

Sometimes bike touring is all romance and glamor. Other times it is just hard and exhausting. Today was the latter. Wind, hills and lousy pavement. You can see the flags trying to rip themselves from the pole. Wyoming is like this. Always wind from somewhere.

Even the church steeple can't compete with the wind in Wyoming. We stayed in the basement of this church one night. Not much else in Jeffrey City.

The church basement. There were a few little bedrooms and a kitchen. Two of the bedrooms had mattresses in them - the kind of mattress you would find a dead junkie on. Whatever. We used them anyway.

We had to ride on the Interstate in Wyoming for about 15 miles. Safe, but loud and tedious.

Smoke from the Beaver Creek fire in Colorado. We are heading that way tomorrow but the cyclists coming from that direction are reporting no problems. Taking a day off today to rest and relax.

Moscow Mules in the campsite using Fever Tree ginger beer, just like the New York Times recommends.

 Made it to Colorado. Wyoming did not want us to leave. Strong headwinds all day and the smoke from the Beaver Creek fires blowing in our direction. Despite all that, we escaped!

The city park in Walden, Colorado. There were about 5 biker groups in this campsite tonight, and it is right next to the high school where the entire state and federal firefighting team is headquartered for fighting the Beaver Creek fires.

Mike's camping tip #1- do not set up your tent with one of these high pressure sprinklers located in-between your tent and your rain fly. Unless, of course, you really need a midnight shower and a good cleaning of all of your gear. I had about a gallon of water sloshing around in the bottom of the tent when this thing went off. I had to use my panniers to block the spray while I moved and shook out my tent and rearranged my gear. 

 You can see storms coming from a long way off here in Big Sky Country. In Virginia, they just hit out of nowhere.

This is our last campsite of the trip. Today, Pat's wife meets us in Breckenridge and then we wander our way to Boulder, taking advantage of hotels and the rental car for our last two days of riding.

It has been overcast, moody and rainy for the past two days and we are mostly wet and dirty. Tonight we get a real shower and possibly a washing machine.

Mike and a friend on the road to Breckenridge.

Leaving Breckenridge, heading for Idaho Springs. We are no longer on the Adventure Cycling maps so we don't really know what kind of hills are facing us for the day. This one was a surprise.

Fresh Salmon on the grill.

Fixing the only flat tire I had on the entire trip.

Bar stools with built-in weaponry.

Finally, it is clearing up in Colorado. Spent last night in Breckenridge, a tourist nightmare. Today, we are riding without bags past Keystone and Arapaho Basin up and over Loveland Pass at 11990 feet. I'm planning to find a 10 foot hill so I can be over 12000 feet.

A snowbank on the way up to Loveland Pass.

11990 feet - highest pass of the trip. Highest pass of my life (on bikes). We had a 4500 foot, 30 mile downhill after the pass. Tomorrow, we roll into Boulder and the bike riding is over. Sherry arrives into Boulder tomorrow and we have an airbnb for a week there.

In Boulder!

I have hiked around the Flatirons several times in the past, bit never actually hiked all the way to the top. There were time limits or we didn't have good shoes or water bottles. Today, I had shoes, water and time. They look monolithic from town, but they are complex and diverse close-up. Flatiron #1 is in the background of the selfie, and Flatiron #3 is in the other photo.

One thing we really like about Boulder is that many of the houses have outdoor living areas with come couches or chairs. It hardly ever rains, and the humidity is low, so we find ourselves living mostly outside. If you are in the shade, even 90 degrees seems pleasant. This photo is from our second Airbnb rental. The first one had a similar space to lounge in.

Sherry on a hike with the Flatirons in the background.

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