I set off from Holland Lake on Monday, with a mixture of trepidation and curiousity. This day promised to be one of the toughest yet, with a huge climb and a very difficult descent on some of the worst roads yet. I climbed steadily south of the Lake on forest roads, making my way to the minor roads going up and over the pass from Flathead National Park and into Lolo National Park. And thats where I hit this barrier:
Now what did this mean? I’d seen lots of road closed signs, but none as definitive as this. Forest road signs tend to be quite specific and informative – saying why a road is closed, and who can, or cannot go through. I went through my maps and book and notes and I couldn’t find a clue as to whether this was meant for Divide Riders as well as everyone else (the route is ‘semi’-official, but not signposted). The only person around was a guy about half a mile back doing some work with a JCB on the forest road. I went back to ask him, and he just said that as far as he knew, the road was off limits to everyone. I was tempted to just go for it, but couldn’t help worrying that there may be a specific safety reason for the closure. I even checked the sign to see if it was new or not – the sign itself was old, but it had clearly been erected very recently, the nuts and bolts were shiny and new.
So…. I decided to backtrack and go to the next stop at Seeley Lakes following the main highway, and any detours I could find. Was it the right decision? Well, since then I’ve met two Divide riders, both of whom went straight through without a problem! That said, as I was riding on the road I could see rain and hail up on the mountains. I’m sure it wasn’t so pleasant up there, but I still have a half regret that I didn’t just go for it.
But the lower road had its rewards. The main road was quiet and well sealed, with plenty of shelter for the occasional heavy shower.
On the way I passed a fascinating roadside shrine, memorialising the road death of a young girl. It was both moving and angry, with messages for the girl, exhortations for changes to the law, and, something I could never permit being allowed in Europe, naming the driver of the car that killed the girl.
I rode on, following a minor road that skirted Seeley Lakes, my next stop. There was hardly any traffic, quiet enough for a tortoise to cross the road (and yes, he did make it).
There was even a nice bit of singletrack through the forest leading to the small town.
As the sun had vanished and rainclouds were gathering again, I opted for a motel in the town rather than camping. The nice thing about heading south (and passing Labor Day), is that costs are reducing all the time. After spending far too much money in Canada, its a relief to be back into a comfortable budget again, mixing motels (usually quite nice and clean) with camping.
The next day started out pretty badly. After following what I thought was the trail, it gradually began to vanish into mud and fallen trees and I realised I’d taken a wrong turn.
I ended up doing a big loop to get back to Seeley, where luckily enough I ran into Eric, another Divide rider, who set me on the right road. Because I hadn’t come the ‘proper’ way, I had picked up the route at the wrong point. So, I was off at what even for me was the very late start of 1pm.
After a slow steady climb, the road drops down to the charming little hamlet of Ovando, where the dogs outnumber the residents (according to the sign).
I got to the campsite south of the town, but decided it was early enough to push on to Nelson Creek campground, about 15 miles on. The road followed a lovely track through an arid little valley.
Eventually, after crossing the main highway, it led to a wide open plain with a real wild west feel to it.
Then I hit a bit of a traffic jam.
This was the first of two animal traffic jams that evening. Later, when I got to the forest road behind the horses a black bear ambled across the road about 50 metres in front of me. I stopped, assuming he would move on. But no, he stayed in the undergrowth, presumably looking for berries. There was nothing I could do but stand by the roadside for about 15 minutes until a car came by and scared him into the forest.
I then went off-route for 2 miles to Big Nelson campground. Its in a beautiful lake nestled among hills – and completely empty now its off season. It was quiet and lovely, I had probably the soundest sleep there I’ve had in weeks.
From Big Nelson it was another big climb of around 2000 foot to get over Huckleberry Pass. On the way up I ran into a guy who was, I would guess, in his mid-70’s, riding an elderly mountain bike. He told me he’s been riding sections of the Divide since 1997, and has just about 150 miles to complete it, but he looked very defeated, he seemed to think he’d never do it. He was suffering on the downhills, he said he doesn’t have the arm strength any more. Mind you, he has in effect done it twice – his method is to drive to a trail head, do a 30 or 50 mile chunk of the Divide, and then ride back to his car. I think he qualifies as a full Divide Rider! The only vehicle I saw for the entire days ride was a van driven by his son, who is helping out.
In the above picture, the dirt road on the left is the one I came up (with the horses blocking it), to the right is the valley sheltering Big Nelson campground and Coopers Lake.
After topping off Huckleberry Pass, it was a fairly straightforward downhill to the town of Lincoln.
Lincoln is an interesting little town – a ‘real’ Montana town if you like. Its all beat up trucks, suitably sleezy little bars and diners, but everyone is very friendly. I stayed at the Three Bears Motel – hard to resist a place with a ‘we welcome adv cyclists’ sign up.