Lincoln to Helena

I’d been forewarned that this is one of the toughest sections, with two big climbs crossing the Continental Divide, on very remote, rough roads.  So I fueled up well in Lincoln before setting off (mitt for scale!)

The road started out quite inoccuously, the now familiar wide unpaved farmroads leading up towards the hills, with some helpful notices pinned to the trees (makes a change from ‘No Trespassing’, which is by far the most common sign here).

I then left the side road to the minor track over the 6,300 foot Stemple Pass, a Continental Divide crossing.  This is just 4.4 miles in length, but it is excruciatingly steep in places and broken up, with frequent deep pools like this one (where I went up to my knees in water).

Fortunately, this was followed by a series of stream crossings, where I could wash the mud off and give my boots a good flushing out with icy upland water.

At times I found myself following a set of bike tracks.  I’m assuming these were left by Marco, another Irish cyclist who I’ve been in contact with – he was behind me for a while, but overtook me (without our paths crossing) at Holland Lake, and is now a day or two ahead.

Eventually, exhausted, I topped out the pass.  It took me a ridiculous amount of time, I had to push a lot of the way and I just ran out of energy.  Maybe the breakfast wasn’t big enough!  Once again, the Divide looks quite modest, without the map you’d never know.  A pity they don’t go for prayer flags at passes like they do in the Himalaya.

(note:  battery just died on my camera while downloading here, so no more pics for the moment, I’ll add them on another time).

After going over the pass, the rain started and I had a slow, slippery ride down a very fast and rocky descent.  I hit a valley of Prickly Pear Road, which is where the campsite I was aiming for is located.  On the way down I felt an odd vibration going through my handlebars.  I thought it might be my front brake getting overheated or attracting grit, but I kept going.  When I hit the bottom it was clear something was very wrong.  To my complete astonishment, I found that my front spindle was missing!  Somehow, it had either worked its way loose or (more likely judging from some bits of metal there), it had disintegrated.

I have no idea how this happened.  Its possible that I set it up incorrectly, although I would normally check it every morning before setting out.  Its possible it was a freak occurance – I’ve heard of it happening just once.  Whatever the reason, I couldn’t tackle the next pass.  The forks were riding on just the ‘lawyers tabs’, the extended bits of metal on the hub.  It was just the weight of me leaning on the bars that was stopping the wheel coming off, more or less.

So, I had a choice – I could try to hitch a lift to Helena, the only town for many miles with a bike shop.  It was possible, but although there are a handful of scattered farms in the area, they didn’t seem occupied.  Anyway, I hated the idea of skipping part of the route.  Going over the pass was out of the question.  But a look at the map gave me an option – by going north instead of south along the Road, after about six miles I’d get to the tiny village of Canyon Creek, where I could join the main road between Lincoln and Helena.  So, although it was nearly 6pm already, I set off.  Canyon Creek really consists of just a small shop (closed), so I decided to press on, not really knowing how long it would take.  By 8pm I could see Helena in the distance, but it was a very long ride to cross the plain and get there – it wasn’t until nearly 10pm when I got to the centre of town and a motel (by which time it was pouring rain).  So despite my mechanical, I actually got to Helena a day earlier than planned!  I was completely worn out and starving – I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  So for the first time in my life I sat in a motel room and ordered in from Pizza Hut.

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