Whitefish is a nice little town, I could easily have stayed there for a few days. I set off with some extra luggage – I’ve been trying to work out how I’ll carry the amount of water I’ll need for later, drier sections, and eventually decided I would have to get a hydration backpack – I usually hate wearing a backpack but I didn’t see an alternative, so I bought a Wingnut with a 3 litre bladder. Its a great pack, but I’m still struggling to get used to the weight of all that water. It is useful though for carrying waterproofs and snacks.
The route from Whitefish started out gently, on local farm roads. The farm road system here can be a little frustrating as it takes multiple side stepping right angled turns following the pattern of the original farm layouts. Seems they subdivided the land according to claims without first figuring out how the roads were going to link up. The farms in the area are an interesting mix of cattle and horse raising, christmas tree growing (a big business in Montana apparently), and the occasional field of corn. Abandoned houses are common, some appealingly wierd in design.
The landscape gradually opened up as the mountain ranges on either side seemed to recede into the distance.
After a relatively easy ride I took a two mile detour along the Swan River to overnight in a motel near Bigfork.
Bigfork is a strange little town, situated next to the Flathead Lake, the largest lake in Montana. Its right next to an early 20th Century hydroelectric station and is on a gorgeous side in a sheltered bay of the lake. There is apparently a historic center here, but the whole town has been done up in such a fake frontier town manner as to make it all seem as genuine olde worlde as Disneyland. My impression of it wasn’t improved by having my dinner interrupted by a drunken idiot who was apparently best of friends with the staff so didn’t get thrown out. So I was quite glad to set off up into the mountains again.
The next stage of the route went straight into Flathead Forest, and a 6 mile climb of 2000 foot to get into the wilderness around Swan Lake. The climb seemed interminable, the road surrounded at all times by thick forest.
The monotony was relieved by some spectacular butterflies that would rise up in waves dozens strong as the bike approached.
After an exhilerating descent down to the Swan River valley, my first introduction to local swampland. Its a highly protected habitat, which means sadly there is little that can be done about the mosquitos, who were even more enthused by my passing than the butterflies.
I camped the night by a lovely riverside fishing area near Fatty Creek – I’m sure there must be an interesting story behind that name!
Unfortunately, my hopes for a sound sleep were dashed by the deafening sound of logging trucks flying down the dirt road next to the campsites, repeatedly hitting the timber bridge with a double crash (logging trucks are double articulated). This started at 3am and kept going all morning. I’ve no idea why they were working that early. Maybe illegal extraction? Or possibly they were trying to finish up work before Labor Day, the last big weekend of the US summer. Whatever the cause, I decided that if those trucks were using the road, I’d bypass the forest road for the next 10 miles, using the main highway on the opposite side of the river instead. I rejoined the route at Cold Creek Road, climbing once again into the forest and hills. After forest tracks, the route then used abandoned roads, overgrown with just simple cycling singletrack remaining.
I then emerged back onto the forest road system. The only blip was the somewhat weird discovery of the front leg of a deer, clearly having been ripped out of its socket. A collision with a truck? A bear attack? Coyote? Whatever, it was somewhat disturbing so i was reminded to keep ringing the bell on the bike (supposedly this forwarns bears that someone is coming).
The road kept rising until I joined the main road system again, and then took a detour up to the magnificent Holland Lake State Forest. I was wondering where I’d stay the night as it was Friday evening on Labor Day weekend, so all campsites were likely to be full. Sure enough, there was a ‘campsite full’ sign up at the entrance, but when I went to ask the camp supervisor where I might wild camp, he said there was a special little corner he always keeps for Divide Riders. And it couldn’t have been more beautiful.